Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 31, 2014

What’s going on in Thailand?

Filed under: Thailand — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

Given the perception by many leftists that the “yellow shirts” in Thailand are a typical color revolution orchestrated by George Soros and the CIA to thwart the will of the progressive-minded “red shirts” defending the Thaksin presidency, it might come as a surprise that Eric Draitser, who blogs at Land Destroyer and is about as committed to Baathist rule in Syria as can be imagined, has a different take on things:

Thailand: Thaksin Regime Turns on its Own Supporters

Regime sends “red shirt” enforcers to threaten farmers and their families for protesting 6 months of unpaid subsidies – smashing the myth of “rural support.”

January 30, 2014 (ATN) – While the US, UK, and others across the West attempt to sell upcoming sham elections in Thailand as upholding “democratic values,” the regime overseeing the one-party self-mandate in a climate of regime-sanctioned terrorism, political intimidation, and a “state of emergency,” has begun turning on its own supporters – mainly farmers.

http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2014/01/thailand-thaksin-regime-turns-on-its.html

It should be mentioned that Tony Cartalucci, another hard-core “anti-imperialist”, is also rather averse to the Thaksinite/Red Shirt forces:

Thailand: US Sides With Increasingly Violent, Desperate Regime

US State Department condemns protests against sham election, but ignores assassination and thuggery aimed at opposition.

By Tony Cartalucci

The US State Department openly sided with Thaksin Shinawatra and his proxy regime, and backed their planned one-party sham elections being carried out in a climate of political intimidation, terrorism, assassinations, and a draconian “emergency decree” in a statement released after protests disrupted polls across the country Sunday.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/thailand-us-sides-with-increasingly-violent-desperate-regime/5366585

Andrew Vltchek, who despite being in 100 percent agreement with Draitser and Caralucci on the need to defeat the jihadists in Syria, is gung-ho for the “red shirts”. He groups the “yellow shirts” with all the reactionary elements being spawned by George Soros and Samantha Powers:

It is definitely not a set of uprisings that are supposed to improve the lives in all those above-mentioned countries. Instead it appears that these are events sponsored from abroad and their only goal is to bring politically, religiously or economically oppressive or regressive regimes to power: Mubarak and the military in Egypt, jihadi pro-Saudi cadres in Syria, pro-business and pro-Western market fundamentalists in Ukraine and now this feudal clique in Thailand trying to survive by all means.

Of course, I find this all rather amusing. The general tendency of people like Draitser, Cartalucci and Vltchek is to reduce politics to binary oppositions between Western imperialist conspiracies and the “axis of good” state leaders who wander into NATO’s radar screen. That being said, how could you end up with such wildly divergent assessments on Thailand? Isn’t it possible that Thailand, like the Ukraine (notwithstanding Vltchek’s reductionism), is just another example of a society not falling into simple “good” versus “bad” categories? And isn’t it possible that the current cast of players on the front lines of the political struggle in Thailand, just as is the case in the Ukraine, are incapable of moving the country toward a more democratic and a more just future? What is the role of socialism in a society that seems bent on resolving its contradictions within a capitalist framework?

Before answering those questions, it would be helpful to put the current crisis into historical context.

Unlike most other countries in the region, particularly Vietnam, Thailand was never colonized. It also was ruled by a monarchy. The combination of these two factors meant that progressive politics did not historically get channeled into a socialist and nationalist direction. There was no counterpart to Ho Chi Minh, let alone Gandhi.

Even after the nation began to divest itself of feudal social relations in the 20th century, the monarchy continued to exercise a strong hold on politics. Additionally, the army has intervened both in the political sphere and in economics, playing a role somewhat equivalent to Kemalist Turkey or Nasserite Egypt but with far less commitment to nation-building goals.

Primarily agricultural, Thailand was wrenched from its traditional social patterns during the Vietnam War when billions of dollars were poured into the economy to support the American military bases. The investment was not in productive spheres such as infrastructure or manufacturing but in the “service” industries catering to the war machine, such as bars, brothels and airstrips.

But enough cash was floating around in the economy so that Thailand was able to become part of the “Asian tigers” trend that helped it to ramp up per capita GDP from $100 in 1961 to $2750 in 1995.

Like the rest of the tigers, Thailand was bushwhacked by the 1997 meltdown that was triggered largely by currency speculation. Huge numbers of workers left manufacturing jobs in the cities and returned to impoverished countryside villages. After 2001, the economy began to recover but the farming sector largely based in the north and northeast regions remained stagnant.

With ambitions to transform the economy, billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra entered the scene in 1998 at the helm of a party he founded called “Thais Love Thais”, or TRT. In order to break down barriers put up by the old guard of the monarchy, the military, and the state bureaucracy, he needed powerful social sectors to supply the muscle. That was supplied by the millions of farmers who would benefit from his program for rural development, including loan forgiveness, and many of the nation’s poor who would be eligible for a sweeping public health program. In many ways, Thaksin’s approach emulated that of Juan Peron in Argentina. As such, it was understandable why many Marxists would sign up with the “red shirts” who constituted his shock troops. Among them was Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a prolific and ubiquitous commentator on Thai politics who has written for Greenleft Weekly, the Guardian, MRZine, the British SWP, the ISO, and the Fourth International. In many ways, for better or for worse, he is the go-to guy on Thai politics for the left.

While not above criticizing Thaksin, Giles is solidly behind the mass movement that he inspired. Exiled from his homeland for basically being disloyal to the King (anybody who has seen Yul Brynner in “The King and I” knows how risky that can be), Giles sees the red-yellow divide in stark terms. In 2009 he characterized the Red Shirts as being on the right side of history:

A sense of history helps to explain why Red Shirt citizens are now exploding in anger. They have had to endure the military jackboot, repeated theft of their democratic rights, continued acts of violence against them and general abuse from the mainstream media and academia.

The stakes are very high. Any compromise has the risk of instability. The old elites might want to do a deal with Thaksin to stop the Red Shirts from becoming totally republican. But whatever happens, Thai society cannot go back to the old days. The Red Shirts represent millions of Thais who are sick and tired of military and palace intervention in politics. At the very least they will want a non-political constitutional monarchy.

On the other hand, the Yellow Shirts were described in terms very similar to the anti-government protestors in the Ukraine:

The Yellow Shirts are conservative royalists. Some have fascist tendencies. Their guards carry and use firearms. They supported the 2006 coup, wrecked Government House and blocked the international airports last year. Behind them were the army. That is why troops never shot at the Yellow Shirts. That is why the present, Oxford-educated, Thai prime minister has done nothing to punish the Yellow Shirts. After all, he appointed some to his cabinet.

The aims of the Yellow Shirts are to reduce the voting power of the electorate in order to protect the conservative elites and the “bad old ways” of running Thailand. They propose a “new order” dictatorship where people can vote, but most MPs and public positions are not up for election. They are supported by the mainstream Thai media, most middle class academics and even NGO leaders.

Ironically, it a bourgeois politician like Thaksin who is better capable of exploiting contradictions than those on the left committed to analyzing society in Manichean terms.

In a number of articles and books, Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker have been dissecting the “business populism” of the TRT. In an article titled “’Business Populism’ in Thailand” that appeared in the 2005 Journal of Democracy, they put Thaksin’s rise to power under a microscope:

The TRT’s attitude toward governance reflected the party’s business orientation. Somkid Jatusripitak, a key Thaksin lieutenant, worked with Philip Kotler and Michael Porter, who advocated the application of corporate principles and business-school economics to the national economy. Somkid collaborated with Kotler on The Marketing of Nations,9 and compiled his own Thai-language articles into a book titled Thailand Inc. Thaksin adopted his aide’s rhetoric. In one 1997 speech Thaksin said: “A company is a country. A country is a company. They are the same. The management is the same.”10 The TRT’s initial election campaign also reflected its business orientation. In late 1998 and early 1999, the party proposed to restore economic growth in the wake of the crisis by stimulating entrepreneurship, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises.

Thaksin had little leverage in building links to the rural poor who could help catapult his party into power so instead he recruited veterans of the Thai left who were about my age or a bit younger on the basis of bringing significant social change to the country. For many of these erstwhile radicals and Marxists, this was a possibility to have an impact that Maoism failed to have. In a way it was like the “Progressives for Obama” development in the USA but—unlike Obama—Thaksin meant business (in both senses of the word).

While his leftist operatives had visions of class struggle in mind, Thaksin’s program had much more in common with the “third way” that was taking shape in Britain and the USA. In a 2001 speech he said:

The post–Cold War political parties should no longer compete on the basis of ideology, but on the basis of winning the hearts and minds of the people through their actions. . . . those in the opposition try their utmost to topple the government and assume power themselves. . . . Such adversary politics may not be for the best interest of the people. On the contrary, it may be a betrayal of our social contract to the people.

After taking power, Thaksin unleashed a “war on drugs” that was particularly devastating in the south of the country where Muslims had long harbored aspirations to secede from a state seen inimical to their interests. Inter Press Service reported:

In 2003, alone, over 2,500 people were killed in the ‘war on drugs’ that was unleashed by the Thaksin administration to combat growing concern about the high number of Thais – some as young as 15 years – being hooked on methamphetamines.

But Thaksin, who was ousted from power by the military in a September 2006 coup, dismissed charges of extra-judicial killings. Ignored were the directives given by him and others in his administration to show little mercy – which human rights group said, at the time, was a “license to kill.”

And when Thaksin went after Muslims in the south, he made an amalgam between them and the drug users as recounted by Philip Bowning in the October 28, 2004 NY Times:

The deaths this week of 84 unarmed Muslim demonstrators in southern Thailand was tragic enough in itself. Six appear to have been shot dead and more than a dozen wounded, while 78 died later of asphyxiation while being transported in army trucks.

Just as shocking as the deaths themselves, which may have been due to unfortunate accident rather than design, was Thaksin’s callous reaction. He commended the anti-riot forces for their work, claimed that “many of the protesters appeared to be in a drug-induced state” and suggested that those who died did so not because of the military but “because they were in a weak physical condition resulting from fasting.” In short, the dead had only themselves to blame.

As president, Thaksin offered a carrot to the poor at the same time he brandished a stick against his adversaries, particularly those gosh-darned middle-class educated elites living in the big cities. What better way to keep them in line except by managing the message that went out to the masses.

Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker report on a scenario that sounds eerily like the manner in which Vladimir Putin maintains the status quo in Russia:

In order to break with the “old politics” and to suppress critics, Thaksin’s government has set out to restrict the public sphere. Four television channels and all radio stations are still owned by the government or the military. Thaksin has instructed them to broadcast “positive” news only. Two companies that had pioneered public-affairs programs fostering debate lost access to the airwaves. Reporters and producers found themselves dismissed or reassigned. Thaksin’s family company bought Thailand’s only commercially owned television channel, ITV, in 2000. A dozen staffers who objected to the slant of the channel’s election coverage in early 2001 were summarily sacked. On all channels, the time allocated to news and current-affairs programming shrank significantly, and the remaining time was used to broadcast the government line. Even dramatic series adopted themes with a progovernment, even propagandistic, edge.

Finally, there is ample evidence that despite some genuine benefits for the people, Thaksin’s “business populism” was titled toward the business side of the equation. Once again let’s hear what Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker have to say:

Despite pressure from supporters, Thaksin’s government accepted all the existing IMF reforms and even launched a privatization program more ambitious than anything that the IMF had outlined. Proposals to restrict large foreign retail concerns that had gained a foothold in Thai markets during the crisis were dropped “simply because we don’t want to send a wrong signal to the foreign community.” Thaksin insisted that he was an international businessman himself, and firmly committed to free markets. Beginning in late 2001, his government aggressively sought more foreign investment. Thaksin retained some nationalist credentials by repaying the IMF’s crisis loan early and dubbing the occasion “Independence Day,” but this was purely symbolic.

Thaksin did a similar two-step in key areas of foreign relations. After 9/11, no doubt with an eye on the Muslim minority long concentrated in southern Thailand, he kept a certain public distance from the U.S.-led war on terrorism while quietly lending assistance in keeping with Thailand’s treaty obligations. An official visit to Washington in mid-2003 produced a U.S. designation of Thailand as a “major non-NATO ally,” as well as favorable references to Thaksin’s campaign against drugs—a significant legitimation given that the UN and the U.S. State Department had raised human rights concerns related to the antidrug campaign. Shortly thereafter, Thaksin committed 440 Thai troops to humanitarian missions in Iraq and signed Thailand on to a new U.S.-orchestrated security grouping designed to combat violent Islamism in Southeast Asia.

While I am generally leery of anything that Eric Draitser and Tony Cartalucci have to say on anything, I do recommend a look at what they have written. But I especially recommend the article titled “More Dishonesty About Thailand’s Upheaval From the International New York Times”, an article in the December 15, 2013 Truthout by Michael Pirsch. For those of you following the Times’s coverage on Thailand, you might have noticed that the paper tilts toward the “red shirts” rather than the “yellow shirts”—as does The Economist. Thomas Fuller, who covers the Thailand beat for the NYT, is in the habit of reminding his readers about the Thaksin carrots, less so the stick.

(I should hasten to add that I found out about Pirsch’s article from my old friend Jeffrey who learned about it in turn from the pro-“yellow shirts” proprietors of an outstanding Thai restaurant in the Rockaways called Thai Rock. (http://thairock.us/) I have eaten there twice and can assure you that it really does rock.)

I strongly urge you to read Pirsch’s entire article but will reproduce the concluding paragraphs that  I think are essential reading:

The universal health-care policy is popular everywhere in the country. The same cannot be said about the corruption-riddled rice-pledging scheme, which pays farmers a price 40 to 50 percent above world market price. It is estimated the government has lost $13 billion over the last 2 years funding this scheme. Not all farmers qualify for payment, as a minimum weight of harvested rice is required. Many of the poor rice farmers in the northeastern part have farms too small to grow the minimum. Some analysts estimate 20 percent of the funds go to farmers, the other 80 percent go to middle men and rice millers. Again, it isn’t the rice price supports people are angry about, it is the corruption surrounding the policy. There are several ongoing investigations regarding corruption in the program.

A telling encounter between the late long-time Thai politician Snoh Thienthong and Thaksin’s wife, Pojaman, reveals the motivation behind the policies of Thaksin’s proxy political parties. Snoh claimed he asked Pojaman why she needed so many billions of dollars and was told, “In politics, you have to hand out money. It has to be considered a business.” Snoh asked her what would happen if things blew up, and she replied, “If Thaksin falls, the Thai Rak Thai party will have to stay in power for at least two more terms for safety.”* Since Thaksin fell in 2006, there have been 3 proxy regimes, and none has served a full term. It becomes clear from the single-minded Phuea Thai party goal of absolving Thaksin that Thaksin is more important than anyone or anything else in Thailand.

 At every opportunity, Fuller writes with sympathy about Thaksin. He calls the one conviction of Thaksin in the government land sale to his wife the result of a “highly politicized trial.” He does not even mention the 2,500-plus murders in Thaksin’s “War on Drugs.” He does not reference the torture and murders in the Malay-Muslim South, nor the forced disappearances of 18 human rights activists. He also does not mention the multiple corruption allegations against Thaksin. He does not credit the protestors with demanding an end to corruption; instead, he belittles the focus on corruption.

Fuller describes the protestors in his November 27 article, “Among the protestors are elegantly dressed Bangkok residents, supporters of the Democrat Party, and rubber farmers . . . ” On December 3, he described the protestors as “. . . a diverse group varying from upper class Thais who have attended the rallies in high heels and office attire to rubber farmers . . . also include groups of students known for their brawling, which compounded the political tensions.” The reference to vocational students, known for their brawling with rival schools is true. What Fuller hides from the reader is that, for the first time in history, vocational students have joined together in a single goal without violence against each other. They are fighting the corruption of Thaksinism.

I have walked through the demonstrators’ main encampments near Democracy Monument during both day and night. I have yet to see the high-society matrons Fuller sees in his dreams. I have seen the faces of everyday Thais who appear to come from all walks of life. I have seen the calloused and weathered hands of men and women who have performed manual labor their entire lives. I have seen artists, roadside food vendors, elders, children, shop owners, factory workers wearing their company’s jackets. Fuller’s descriptions insult the many diverse Thai people who have attended the protests. All are sick of the corrupt nature of their government.

He also implies that the demonstrations are an affront to democracy since Thaksin’s proxy parties have won recent elections. The most recent election in 2011 saw the “Thaksin Thinks-Phuea Thai Acts” party receiving 48 percent of the vote. This total was not enough for the party to form a government, so they had to invite other smaller parties to join. They were more than happy to do so given the corrupt nature of Phuea Thai and the opportunities and rewards that follow from being part of the majority. The Phuea Thai percentages drop when we factor in the number of eligible voters. Phuea Thai received only 32 percent of the number of eligible voters. That means 68 percent either did not vote for Phuea Thai or did not vote at all. If it would be possible to factor in the number of bought votes, the percentages might be less in both calculations. Eliminating vote-buying is the number one point of the six-point reform plan presented by the protest leaders. Thailand does not come even close to having a democracy and neither does my country, the United States of America. We make a big mistake confusing the 2 to 5 minutes it takes to cast our votes as the expression of democracy. As Howard Zinn pointed out, the time we spend voting is not as important as what we do in the intervening years between those 2 to 5 minutes. This is what Thailand is doing today.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I am a partisan of the “yellow shirts”. As was the case with my post on the Ukraine, my main interest is in highlighting the complexities of the struggle. In the world of schematic Marxism, you always end up with all of the good guys on one side of the barricade and all the bad guys on the other.

Thailand, like the Ukraine, suffers from a deficit of class consciousness. In a way, both societies are victims of the collapse of official Marxism. In Thailand, Marxism meant Maoism. Most of the activists who emerged in the 1970s were attracted to Maoism and some went so far as to join guerrilla detachments in the countryside. The failure of that movement left many activists in a quandary as to how to move the struggle forward. When Thaksin came along with promises (and intent) to change Thai society, they jumped on board. Whether or not that change went to the heart of class relations became a secondary consideration.

In the Ukraine, activists made headlines by toppling a Lenin statue. In all of the protests over the country’s desperate attempts to avoid the consequence of neoliberal assaults, the solutions have revolved around more neoliberalism—either EU or Kremlin in nature. It is up to the anarchists mainly to draw class distinctions.

Taking the long term view, the Thai left has the same mission that we all do, namely to resurrect Marxism and develop a party that can fight for social transformation. That might sound utopian, but I don’t know of any other solution that is worth fighting for.

7 Comments »

  1. In other words, there is no hope. Worldwide, what’s left of the left (i.e., what remains of the left) is fragmented and powerless. With the right’s corporate neoliberal assault all over the world, it would seem like the perfect time for a new version of the IWW. While we can look back and find analogous economic conditions, it is harder to find similar analogies in left organization and “consciousness.” After forty years of the right’s counter-revolution, seventy years of propaganda via the most powerful tools ever invented, generations of class war, we are on our backs with a boot on our face.

    The only thing I can imagine reincarnating a left today would be every fragment of the left joining together in some way under the broadest of banners, i.e., pro-human rights, anti-neoliberalism, pooling resources and then formulating practical step-by-step plans. The only way I could see this happening would be for trusted individual leaders and established organizations worldwide to organize themselves first and come up with a general plan of action, presenting a unified front. It could be a party, or plan of action, or some kind of umbrella organization, but we would need something to act as a magnet to draw in resources of all kinds. Essentially the left needs some kind of actually democratic institution capable of supporting left action. I’m not saying this is happening. I’m saying, barring something like this, the future for all but the few of us looks grim indeed. Needless to say, the present is grim for many of us.

    In my humble opinion, this is the kind of discussion and action that needs to happen. I see nothing like this – in fact, for the most part, I see more infighting and more fragmentation amongst left groups. Some of you might point out that we tried to start something like this with the WSF. Well, it was well intentioned, but obviously it didn’t work. Some of you might be saying, “he’s talking about soviets.” Well, not really. Not in today’s context.

    In the tens of thousands of talks Chomsky has given, invariably some sincere soul asks, “what can I do?” Chomsky always answers something like, “follow your interests, find other people and start or join a group. Do something.” Well, there is great truth in that advice, but over the past few decades that has rung less and less true. I think it is clear that starting or joining yet another fragmented, stratified group has been ineffective in the face of corporate neollberalism, to say the very least.
    path to beginning something like I described would be for a complete takeover of unions by the rank and file to remake them as democratic institutions – or forming new unions that were actually democratic from the start, but I can hear the laughter already…but really, in the end, this might lead to more of the same.

    Which brings me to this point: maybe most left organizations – especially if you include left liberals who probably control most of the resources on the left – are, charity-like, keeping the system alive and well. So, here we are. Of course historical currents are carrying us along like twigs caught in a flooding river and that river will inevitably push out onto new land, creating new pathways we have never known. But in the meantime, wealth consolidation and inequality continues apace, corporate control of state power is unprecedented and the left remains unorganized without a unified voice.

    Comment by 21st Century Poet — February 1, 2014 @ 12:02 am

  2. Reblogged this on 21st Century Theater.

    Comment by 21st Century Poet — February 1, 2014 @ 12:30 am

  3. Louis, I don’t think you’re right in implying that Giles Ji Ungpakorn for one is part of some naive anti-imperialist pro-Thaksin bloc. When I interviewed Ungpakorn in his university office in Bangkok in 2004, before the anti-Thaksin coup and Ungpathorn’s subsequent exile for lese majeste, the dapper Thai-English socialist was highly critical of Thaksin’s privatizations, repressions against the Muslim south and so on – in very similar terms to what you quote from Phongpaichit and Baker – and his small IST-aligned group was doing what it could to support the struggles against the government (https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/30080 – this BTW is one of the older GL articles that due to some bug all have a 1993 date at the beginning: the correct 2004 date is at the end). More recently he has been quite critical of the Yingluck government’s pro-business and authoritarian tendencies. His orientation to the Red Shirts is one one of a united front of a form we should be familiar with: with a party the leadership of which is pro-capitalist and opportunist, but the base of which is fighting for progressive ends and open to radical ideas. Some activists are certainly pro-socialist, such as the Thai Red Australia group which collaborates with Socialist Alliance. Whether or not some workers, urban poor and petty bourgeois of modest means have joined Yellow Shirt protest, there isn’t anything progressive about the movement’s aims or leadership. I wouldn’t swear by the correctness of the positions of Unpathorn and the Turn Left Thailand group http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/329 but to the extent I’ve followed things they makes sense to me.

    Comment by Nick Fredman — February 1, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

  4. There were a lot of ‘working people’ in the Nazi party, or less stridently, there are a lot of poor people who vote for extremely right wing Republicans.

    The fact that a party has workers voting for it doesn’t means it is progressive or socialist in any sense.

    There are reactionary layers in the working classes, particularly the lower middle class, based usually around religion, notions of tradition, or just keeping a stick on someone else who can be lower. I mean, you lived in Houston in the 70’s.

    Comment by purple — February 1, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

  5. Purple, I have no idea what this has to do with Thailand. Neither party is particularly fascist. Both defend different strata of the Thai ruling class, neither of which appears determined to impose a “final solution” on the working class.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 1, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

  6. Louis, thanks for this frank look at Thaksin and TRT, particularly regarding the horrible war on drugs and the anti-Muslim butchery in the south under Thaksin. It is a good reminder in case SOMETIMES Giles may appear to go a little far due to his just struggle against yellow-shirted anti-democrats in seeming to be soft on the Thaksin camp.
    However, I think this is mainly just due to the nature of argument, when we tend to bend the stick for the debate. I can vouch for what Nick Fredman says about Giles attitude to TRT from a conference I attended in Thailand way back about 2004 also, he was severely critical of the regime for all the right reasons, and in fact slammed its nationalism as well (I note this because one of the authors you quote above notes that Thaksin backtracked on proposals to curb large foreign retail concerns, but at that time Giles was pointing out that such proposals themselves merely aimed to boost the Thai business elite and that this was not necessarily good for the working class consumers in Thailand).

    Are some of the yellow shirt protestors also working people with tough looking skins? No doubt. Are many there for the “right” reasons, just in the wrong crowd, in other words out protesting Thaksin’s notorious corruption? No doubt. Does Giles rabid (if critical) support for the red-shirts risk alienating some of the more decent elements in the anti-Thaksin crowd? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t want to be giving advice in such a case. The reality is that the clearly more peasant and lower working class base of the red-shirt movement is there for very good reasons: whatever the nature of Thaksin himself – a corrupt mega-capitalist for sure – they see that he is the first member of the elite that actually did something concretely useful for them, particularly the health care reform.

    But even if we dispute how progressive even the progressive measures were (and the above is right-on about other non-health care hand-outs to the villages, which naturally went to the village petty-bourgeois officials etc, not the poor), and even if we raise tactical issues re Giles orientation, there cannot really be any equivalence between the red and yellow shirts. Every election in the last decade has been won by Thaksin folk; every time they have been overthrown by the Thai military-security state (ie, those who actually carried out the “war on drugs” and the war on Muslims in the south in alliance with Thaksin), or by judicial coup (via judges appointed by the military), while the yellow-shirts explicitly advocate the masses not having the democratic right to vote in their leaders because they believe they are too stupid to vote in the “right” people (ie, the traditional elite). The masses right to vote must be defended against this reactionary alliance of royal family/generals/trad elite/yuppie anti-democrats, even if the elections, like most bourgeois elections, might not be completely clean. For one of the critiques of Thaksin above to point out that no Thaksin related regime has survived full term for a decade and a half, as a critique of Thaksin, is deeply ironic.
    None of that should imply any support for the regime and reintroducing some more “complexity” is a good thing in my view; however, one is reminded of the wing of the Egyptian democratic movement that turned so anti-MB – for very good reason – that they welcomed the coup, and still support the Mubarakist military – after all, like in Thailand, the “uneducated” masses voted for the wrong people. In Syria, you gotta flatten whole cities to stop the wrong people.
    And in most of these cases, the “wrong” people are largely rural. To say this is “crisis of leadership” of the rural masses is stating the bleeding obvious, and of course just because they are rural poor doesn’t make shitty bourgeois/backward leadership OK. But one way or another their right to be represented has to be defended, in order for them to eventually move beyond this, and in this sense I think Giles is basically correct.

    Comment by Michael Karadjis — February 2, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

  7. The importance of Japanese capitalist investment in Thailand was left out of the analysis. The Japanese imperialist bourgeoisie has always had a soft spot for one of the few remaining monarchs in Asia (besides their own).

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — February 3, 2014 @ 7:39 pm


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