Class and politics in Thailand

Communist Party of Thailand fighters in southern Thailand.

Below is an excerpt from Thai socialist Giles Ji Ungpakorn's latest book, Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy. It provides an historical background to Thai politics from the pre-capitalist era, through the turmoil of the 1930s and 1970s, up to the present day. This historical understanding is important in locating the dynamics of the ruling class and the changing politics of revolt from the time of the Communist Party through to the creation of the NGOs. It has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Giles Ji Ungpakorn's permission.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a political commentator and dissident. In February 2009 he had to leave Thailand for exile in Britain because he was charged with lèse majesté for writing a book criticising the 2006 military coup. His latest book will be of interest to activists, academics and journalists who have an interest in Thai politics, democratisation and NGOs.

Readers are encouraged to purchase Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy. To order a copy: email the author directly at, indicating your country of residence. Alternatively, you can try: Amazon UK; Bookmarks UK at; New Internationalist Bookshop, Melbourne, Australia at (August 2010).

* * *

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Before the major transformation of the state into a centralised capitalist model in the 1870s, “Thailand” as a nation-state did not exist[1]. The back-projection of “Thailand’s history” from the modern era to Sukotai (AD 1270) and Ayuttaya (AD 1350-1782) must therefore be seen as rewritings of history, by people such as Luang Wichitwatakarn and Prince Damrong, to serve modern nationalistic ideology.

Before the 1870s the dominant economic and political system in the central and northern region can best be described as a “Mandala”[2], “Galactic Polity”[3] or “Sakdina[4] state. This was a loose political entity based on clusters of powerful cities, such as Sukotai, Ayuttaya, Chiang Mai etc., whose political power changed over time and also decreased proportionately to the distance from each city. Not only was there no such thing as a centralised nation-state under an all-powerful king, but political power to control surplus production was also decentralised.

In this Sakdina system, control of surplus production, over and above self-sufficiency levels, was based on forced labour and the extraction of tribute. This was a system of direct control over humans, rather than the use of land ownership to control labour, and its importance was due to the low population level. One estimate puts the average population density in 1904 as 11 persons per square kilometre, compared to 73 in India[5]. The majority of common people (Prai) living near urban centres were forced to perform corvée labour for monthly periods. There were also debt slaves (Taht) and war slaves (Chaleay Seuk). This direct control of labour was decentralised under various Moon Nai (bosses), nobles and local rulers (Jao Hua Muang), who had powers to mobilise labour. The result was that under the Sakdina system both economic and political power was decentralised[6].

Trade played an important part in the economy. Control of river mouths as export centres became more important as long distance trade increased. Local rulers sought a monopoly on this trade in cooperation with Chinese merchants who ran sailing junks as far as China and the Arab world.Ayuttaya was an important trading port, with ships from Europe, China, Java, Persia and Japan calling on a regular basis. The docks in Ayuttaya were run on an international basis. Official languages of trade included Malay and Chinese and one important port official was a Shia trader from Persia. He was the founder of the Bunnarg family.

War was also important. But war in the Sakdina period was not about controlling territory. It was about gaining war slaves, plundering neigbouring cities and proving power.

Since the Sakdina system was decentralised, it was not the only system of social organisation that existed in what is now Thailand. In areas far away from large towns and cities, people of varying ethnic composition also lived in semi-autonomous villages or small clusters of human habitation in various different ways. Apart from this, before the rise of Ayuttaya, there also existed a multitude of different states such the Khmer or Tawarawadi empires.

Imperialism and capitalist transformation

Although the increasing penetration of capitalism and the world market into the region had already increased the importance of money and trade, especially in the early Bangkok period[7], it was direct pressure from Western imperialism and internal class struggle that finally pushed and dragged the Bangkok rulers towards a capitalist political transformation. Evidence for this comes with looking at the effect of the British-imposed Bowring Treaty of 1855. This treaty established free trade and the freedom for Western capital penetration into the area without the need for direct colonisation. While the monopoly over trade, enjoyed by the Sakdina rulers of Bangkok, was abolished, vast opportunities were created for the capitalist production and trade of rice, sugar, tin, rubber and teak. The king of Bangkok quickly adapted himself to gain from these opportunities and fought to centralise the state under his own power in the face of internal and external challenges. Thailand’s capitalist revolution was not carried out by the bourgeoisie in the same style as the English or Frenchrevolutions. In Thailand’s case, the ruler of Bangkok, king Rama 5th or “king Chulalongkorn” brought about a revolutionary transformation of the political and economic system in response to both pressure from an outside world which was already dominated by capitalism and class struggle within.

Rama 5th’s revolution was to create a centralised and unified nation-state under the rule of Thailand’s first absolute monarchy[8]. This involved destroying the power of his Sakdina rivals, the Moon Nai, nobles and local Jao Hua Muang. Politically this was done by appointing a civil service bureaucracy to rule outer regions and economically, by abolishing their power to control forced labour and hence surplus value. Forced labour was also abolished in response to class struggle from below, since Prai had a habit of trying to escape corvée labour and both Prai and Taht would often deliberately work inefficiently. Forced labour was replaced by wage labour and private property rights in land ownership was introduced for the first time. Furthermore, investment in production of agricultural goods for the world market became more important than the simple use of surplus production for consumption and trade. This can clearly be seen in the various investments in irrigation canals for rice production in the Rungsit area of the central plains. These investments opened up the land for settlement and work by the peasantry, which had been freed from corvée labour. Thus a temporary class alliance was built between the monarchy and the peasantry against the old Sakdina rulers and bosses, which served to support the new ruling -lass interests in the global rice trade.

The shortage of labour for capitalist accumulation was initially solved by recruiting labour from China in the early part of the twentieth century. Much later, beginning in the early 1960s, a large surge in "indigenous" wage labour occurred as a result of poor peasants being pulled off the land, often from the north-east, into more productive workshops and factories in urban areas, especially around Bangkok. Later still, Thai capitalism started to depended on migrant labour from Burma and other neighbouring countries.

The capitalist transformation and the construction of the first Thai nation-state, a product of continuous change, occurred at a time when similar transformations were taking place throughout colonised South-East Asia. In the neighbouring colonies belonging to Britain, France and the Netherlands, state centralisation and the development of a capitalist economy, based upon wage labour was also taking place. In fact we should view the process of Thai state formation as the “internal colonisation” of the north, south and north-east by the Chakri rulers of Bangkok. Certainly the various north and north-eastern revolts against Bangkok indicate this to be true. The civil war today in the Muslim south also has its roots in this process. The main point to bear in mind is that the changes taking place in “un-colonised” Thailand were not very different from the rest of colonised South-East Asia.

Problems with the Stalinist/Maoist analysis of state formation

The left in Thailand has shown considerable confusion about Thailand’s capitalist transformation and this has influenced much intellectual analysis, way beyond the left, to this day. This confusion results from applying a Marxist model in an extremely mechanical and ahistorical manner, typical of the Stalinist and Maoist tradition. This is not surprising given that the only left-wing organisation of any significance, in terms of ideas and numbers of supporters, was the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). A prime example of this mechanical analysis is Jit Pumisak’s argument that land ownership was central to the extraction of surplus value in the Thai Sakdina system[9]. This is one of many attempts at trying to fit Thai history into a Western model. Marx never claimed that Asian history followed the same exact path as European historical processes. As an example of a different production system in Asia, he suggested that in certain areas there existed a society based on irrigation canals called the “Asiatic mode of production” (AMP)[10]. There is no archeological evidence that Marx’s model of the AMP, with its complex irrigation system and centralised state, ever existed in “Thailand”, although it might have existed in the Khmer empire, centred around Ankor. Yet, the mechanical Marxists have also tried to prove that pre-capitalist production in Thailand was a mixture of the Sakdina system and the Asiatic Mode of Production[11]. In doing so, they have been forced to transform the meaning of the AMP to mean only a system of village production.

The mechanical approach by the Thai left also betrays a total lack of understanding about the fundamental nature of capitalism. Capitalism, for them, can only exist in the hands of private capitalists. They are unable to understand the concept of an absolute monarchy or military dictator being part of the capitalist class in much the same way that they are unable to understand the theory of state capitalism in Russia which characterised the Stalinist regime as a form of capitalism[12]. Maoist doctrine, which dominated the CPT, insisted that Thailand in the 1970s and 1980s was “semi-feudal, semi colonial”; a model copied directly from Mao’s analysis of China. Even today many intellectuals try to explain the conflict between Thaksin Shinawatra and the conservative royalists by saying that Thailand has yet to achieve its capitalist revolution.

Capitalism is a system whereby capital is invested in the production process with the aim of realising further capital accumulation. This process requires two things: first a significant population of waged workers who are separated from the means of production, in order that the small minority capitalist class can accumulate capital by the extraction of surplus value. Second, capitalism needs the existence, in one form or another of market forces which lead to competition between different groups of capital. The important point about the capitalist class is not its outward form or title or the issue of personal ownership. The important point is the fact that the capitalist class controls the means of production and accumulation. Therefore it follows that the capitalist class, especially in under-developed countries, can be made up of absolute monarchs, government officials, communist party bureaucratsor private capitalists.

The first Thai capitalist state was controlled by the absolute monarchy, which was a key part of the indigenous capitalist class. Under this state, there were three main capitalist groupings in the Thai economy; the royal capitalists, the Chinese capitalist merchants and the “foreign” (Western and later Japanese) capitalists[13].

From the 1932 revolution to the end of military rule in 1973

Thailand was well integrated into the world market by the 1930s and as a result of this suffered the effects of the 1930s economic depression. The political fall-out from this was that a group of civilian and military state officials, under Pridi Panomyong’s Peoples Party, staged a successful revolution against the absolute monarchy of Rama 7th in June 1932. The first declaration of the revolutionaries clearly identified the economic crisis as bringing things to a head, with mass unemployment, cuts in wages and increased taxation experienced by the mass of the population. The royal family was notably exempted from these tax increases!

The 1932 revolution was carried out on the back of widespread social discontent. Farmers in rural areas were becoming increasingly bold and strident in their written criticism of the monarchy[14]. Working-class activists were involved in the revolution itself, although they were not the main actors, and cheering crowds spontaneously lined Rachadamnern Avenue as the Peoples Party declaration was read out by various representatives stationed along the road. Nakarin Mektrairatdetails this wide movement of social forces which eventually led to the revolution. It is important to stress the role of different social groups in creating the conditions for the 1932 revolution, since the right-wing historians have claimed that it was the work of a “handful of foreign educated bureaucrats”. In fact, there has been a consistent attempt by the right, both inside and outside Thailand, to claim that ordinary Thai people have a culture of respecting authority and therefore show little interest in politics[15].

The 1932 revolution had the effect of further modernising the capitalist state and expanding the base of the ruling class to include the top members of the civilian and military bureaucracy, especially the military. The reason why the military became so influential in Thai politics, finally resulting in 16 years of uninterrupted military dictatorship from 1957, was the fact that the Peoples Party lacked a solid mass base beyond the bureaucracy. In addition to this, the private capitalists and the working class were still weak as social forces able to compete with the military.

The 1932 revolution meant that the role of the monarchy was significantly changed for the second time in less than a century. In the 1870s king Rama 5th abolished Sakdina rule in favour of a centralised and modern absolute monarchy. Sixty years later, the 1932 revolution destroyed this absolute monarchy so that the king merely became one section of the Thai ruling class. It is important to understand this, because there has been a tendency by both the left and the right to exaggerate the importance and "long-lasting traditions" of the Thai monarchy. Today’s king may seem to have the trappings of "tradition", yet the influence of this institution has fluctuated over the last 60 years and in many cases its "sacredness" has been manufactured by military and civilian rulers to provide themselves with political legitimacy[16].

Many commentators argue that the “weakness” of Marxist or communist ideology in Thailand was mainly due to the fact that there was no mass mobilisation in the struggle for national liberation such as was seen in Indonesia, Burma or Vietnam[17]. It is not true that communist ideology was weak in Thai society, especially in the 1940s, 1950s and mid 1970s, and mass mobilisation for the purpose of nation-building did occur in the 1932 revolution. However, the fact that the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) placed capitalist nation-building as its primary aim, in a similar vein to all other Stalinist-Maoist parties, did mean that the CPT had little to achieve, since the task of nation-building had already been started by the Chulalongkorn and was subsequently followed through by the 1932 revolution.

The rise of the private capitalists or bourgeoisie

Despite the fact that military dictatorships were overthrown by students and workers in 1973 and 1992, the main beneficiaries in terms of gaining political power have been the private sector capitalists. Thailand’s modern private bourgeoisie, including Thaksin, have cleverly taken advantage of the struggle for democracy waged from below in order to gain political power at the expense of the military state capitalists.

Although arising out of demands made by the May 1992 movement against the military, the drafting of the 1997 constitution was, in fact, an important victory for the modern private bourgeoisie[18]. Liberalism was the main political influence among the drafting committee and the aim of this constitution, for the liberals, was to increase government stability and reduce the more blatant forms of corruption. It was a charter for Thailand’s modern capitalists.

The private capitalist class existed from the earliest period of capitalism in Thailand. Initially they were businessmen of Chinese origin who cooperated with the royal state capitalists in the late 19th century, but after the royal family were removed from state power in the 1932 revolution, the royal capitalists joined the ranks of the private sector capitalist class. Today the king controls important interests in the Thai economy, including real estate, the Siam Commercial Bank and the Siam Cement company. He is a fabulously wealthy capitalist.

The importance of ethnic Chinese businesses, especially those associated with the big banks, increased during the Second World War when Western interests were temporarily excluded from Thailand[19]. Another two important sources leading to the development of major ethnic Chinese businesses were the joint venture import substitution industries, which relied on foreign capital, and the growth of agribusinesses such as the giant CP corporation[20].

Another important section of the private capitalist class grew from military and bureaucratic officials who used their state positions for personal enrichment or advantage during the periods of military domination. Early examples were the family dynasties of the various dictators such as Sarit, Tanom and Prapat, but also the Choonhawan family. However, in recent years other families have become prominent, some from provincial backgrounds.

The booming economy of the late 1980s and early 1990s also produced a new crop of Thai capitalists. Thaksin is a good example. Although Thaksin comes from a trading family from the north, his capitalist career started when he left the police force and started selling computers back to his old contacts in the police department. His IT business interests, however, really took off after the partial liberalisation of the Thai telecommunication market. Initially Thaksin entered parliamentary politics in the mid-1990s by helping to bank-roll the Palang Tum Party. He then set himself up as head of Thai Rak Thai party (TRT).

Left to themselves, the private bourgeoisie would never struggle against military dictatorships, but once mass struggle by workers and students achieved democracy, they were quick to take advantage of the new situation.

The 1970s: the people's movement and the `October People’

In order to fully understand the people's movement you need to look at what happened in the so-called “sixties” wave of struggles. Internationally, the sixties movement was characterised by a general rise in the struggle of oppressed groups on a global scale. Central to this struggle was the role of students and a new generation of activists in labour and peasant organisations. This took the form of movements against racism, sexual oppression and especially imperialism. Activists from this period are now to be found playing important roles in political systems throughout the world. However, their present-day role is often in contradiction to their original beliefs during the sixties. In Thailand the “sixties” movement has helped to shape both the policies of TRT and the nature of the NGOs and the people's movement.

It would be more accurate to talk of the “seventies movement” in Thailand, if we actually look at the decade when the struggle for social equality and democracy reached its peak. But it is important to understand that it is not possible to separate this “seventies movement” in Thailand from the struggles of the “sixties” internationally. This link between the sixties and seventies occurs in two ways. First, the wave of student revolts and the activism among young people in Western Europe and the United states, the “1968 movement”, were an inspiration which ignited the left-wing struggles in the early 1970s in Thailand. Libertarian left-wing ideas from the Western movements entered Thai society by way of news reports, articles, books, music and the return of Thai students from the West, especially art students in the first instance. Second, the victory of communist parties in Indochina after the USA began to lose the war in Vietnam had a massive impact in igniting struggles for a new society in Thailand. These Asian communist victories were also directly linked to the “sixties” movement in the West in a dialectical manner. The radicals in the West were inspired by the local struggles against imperialism and injustice in South-East Asia and other areas of the globe. The anti-Vietnam War movement, which was an important part of the latter period of the “Western sixties”, helped to destroy the ability of the US to continue with the war.[21]

What did the Thai “seventies” look like? The first picture in one’s mind should be half a million people, mainly young school and university students, but also ordinary working people, protesting around the democracy Monument on 14th October 1973. This resulted in the overthrow of the military dictatorship. It was the first mass popular uprising in modern Thai history. The 14th October and the following struggles, victories and defeats that make up the “Thai seventies” have continued to shape the nature of politics and society to this day.

The 14th October uprising

The military domination of Thai politics, started soon after the 1932 revolution, but its consolidation of power came with the Sarit military coup in 1957. The economic development during the years of military dictatorship in the 1950s and 1960s took place in the context of a world economic boom and a localised economic boom created by the Korean and Vietnam wars. This economic growth had a profound impact on the nature of Thai society.

Naturally the size of the working class increased as factories and businesses were developed. However, under the dictatorship trade union rights were suppressed and wages and conditions of employment were tightly controlled. By early 1973 the minimum daily wage, fixed at around 10 baht since the early 1950s, remained unchanged while commodity prices had risen by 50%. Illegal strikes had already occurred throughout the period of dictatorship, but strikes increased rapidly due to general economic discontent. The first nine months of 1973, before the 14th October, saw a total of 40 strikes, and a one-month strike at the Thai Steel Company resulted in victory due to a high level of solidarity from other workers.

Economic development also resulted in a massive expansion of student numbers and an increased intake of students from working-class backgrounds. The building of the Ramkamhaeng Open University in 1969 was a significant factor here. Student numbers in higher education increased from 15,000 in 1961 to 50,000 by 1972. The new generation of students, in the early 1970s, were influenced by the revolts and revolutions which occurred throughout the world in that period, May 1968 in Paris, being a prime example. Before that, in 1966 the radical journal, Social Science Review, was established by progressive intellectuals. Students started to attend volunteer development camps in the countryside in order to learn about the problems of rural poverty. By 1971 3500 students had attended a total of 64 camps. In 1972 a movement to boycott Japanese goods was organised as part of the struggle against foreign domination of the economy. Students also agitated against increases in Bangkok bus fares.

In June 1973 the rector of Ramkamhaeng University was forced to resign after attempting to expel a student for writing a pamphlet criticising the military dictatorship[22]. Four months later, the arrest of 11 academics and students for handing out leaflets demanding a democratic constitution resulted in hundreds of thousands of students and workers taking to the streets of Bangkok. As troops with tanks fired on unarmed demonstrators, the people of Bangkok began to fight back. Bus passengers spontaneously alighted from their vehicles to join the demonstrators. Government buildings were set on fire. The “Yellow Tigers”, a militant group of students, sent a jet of high-octane gasoline from a captured fire engine into the police station at Parn-Fa bridge, setting it on fire. Earlier they had been fired upon by the police.

The successful 14th October 1973 mass uprising against the military dictatorship shook the Thai ruling class to its foundations. For the next few days, there was a strange new atmosphere in Bangkok. Uniformed officers of the state disappeared from the streets and ordinary people organised themselves to clean up the city. Boy Scouts directed traffic. It was the first time that the pu-noi (little people) had actually started a revolution from below. It was not planned and those that took part had a multiplicity of ideals about what kind of democracy and society they wanted. But the Thai ruling class could not shoot enough demonstrators to protect their regime. It was not just a student uprising to demand a democratic constitution. It involved thousands of ordinary working-class people and occurred on the crest of a rising wave of workers’ strikes.

Success in overthrowing the military dictatorship bred increased confidence. Workers, peasants and students began to fight for more than just parliamentary democracy. In the two months following the uprising, the new royal appointed civilian government of Sanya Tammasak faced a total of 300 workers’ strikes. A central trade union federation was formed. New radical student bodies sprang up. On the 1st May 1975 a quarter of a million workers rallied in Bangkok and a year later half a million workers took part in a general strike against price increases. In the countryside small farmers began to build organisations and they came to Bangkok to make their voices heard. Workers and peasants wanted social justice and an end to long-held privileges. A triple alliance between students, workers and small farmers was created. Some activists wanted an end to exploitation and capitalism itself. The influence of the CPT increased rapidly, especially among activists in urban areas.

As part of the political reform process, in December 1973, the king presided over a hand-picked National Forum (often referred to as the “horse track assembly”, due to its location). This forum, which had members chosen from various professions, was tasked with selecting a new parliament. Kukrit Pramote was chosen as the chairperson of the new parliament when it opened on the 28th December, while Sanya Tammasak remained prime minister. However, this parliament and the Sanya government could not solve the increasing tensions in society between the conservatives and the left or between the rich and the poor[23].

The first democratic elections, since the October 1973 uprising, were held in January 1975. Parliament had a left colouring and government policies reflected a need to deal with pressing social issues. Left-wing parties, such as the New Force Party, the Socialist Party of Thailand and the Socialist Front Party gained 37 seats (out of a total of 269) but did not join any coalition governments. The first coalition government, made up of the Democrat Party and the Social Agriculture Party, was established under Seni Pramote. This right-leaning government announced that it would follow “social democratic” policies. However, the government lost a vote of no confidence in parliament in March 1975 and was replaced by a new coalition government headed by Kukrit Pramote from the Social Action Party. The new government introduced a number of pro-poor policies, including job creation schemes. This government presided over a period of increasing social tensions. Strikes, demonstrations and political assassinations occurred on a regular basis. Eventually parliament was dissolved in January 1976 and elections held in April. The April elections resulted in a swing to the right. This was due to a combination of factors, such as intimidation of the left and a right-ward shift among the middle classes who were afraid of radicalism.

The student movement after 14th October 1973

It is important to remember that the 14th October 1973 was the peak of the anti-dictatorship struggle which then developed into a broader struggle for social justice and socialism among students, workers and small farmers. It is interesting to consider the activities of newly radicalised young people who later became known as the October People (Kon Duan Tula). It is this generation which has played an important leadership role in both the people's movements and in sections of the establishment political parties in present day Thai society.

In the period leading up to the overthrow of the military on the 14th October 1973, many student centres and coalitions were formed in various regions and different educational institutions. However, there were attempts to coordinate the actions of these different groups under a single umbrella: the National Student Centre of Thailand. This and other student centres became even more active in various social campaigns, often as part of the triple alliance with workers and peasants. Nevertheless, the movement was dogged by personal and political splits. Seksan Prasertkul, one of the 14th October student leaders, formed the Free Tammasart Group and Tirayut Boonmi, another student leader from the 14th October uprising, formed the People for democracy Group[24]. These so-called “independent groups” felt that the National Student Centre leadership was too conservative, often refusing to mobilise students on important issues like the successful protest against the return of the ousted dictator Field Marshal Tanom Kitikajorn in 1974. For this reason these various independent groups formed an alternative centre called the National Coalition Against Dictatorshipwith Sutam Saengpratoom as secretary [25].

One important area of activity for students was the struggle against US imperialism and for so-called “Thai independence”. The military dictatorship had been a close ally of the United states during the Cold War, sending token numbers of Thai troops to support the US in both Korea and Vietnam. In 1973 there were 12 US military bases in the country, with 550 war planes and thousands of troops stationed on Thai soil in order to help the US war effort in Indo-China. These bases were legally US territory, a point highlighted by the arrest and execution, by US military court, of a Thai citizen, Tep Kankla, for the murder of a US soldier in December 1973[26] . Apart from this, after the end of the Indo-China war, the US used U-Tapao naval base to attack Cambodia on 14th May 1975, without consulting the Thai government.

The presence of such a large number of US forces, plus what was seen as the economic dominance of US companies in the local economy, seemed to confirm the Maoist analysis by the CPT that Thailand was a “semi-colony” of the USA. After 1973 there was therefore a growing campaign to kick out US bases. This campaign against US bases, which later received a boost from the defeat of the USA in Vietnam, and the resulting new geopolitical consequences, led to Prime Minister Kukrit’s demand in March 1975 that the US withdraw. This was backed up by a massive anti-US base demonstration on 21st March 1976. The US finally withdrew its troops from Thailand shortly after this[27].

Another important area where the student movement was active was in the area of human rights and democracy. Students campaigned to push for more democratic amendments to the 1974 constitution and they led struggles against state repression. On 24th January 1974 government security forces attacked and burnt the village of Na Sai in the north-eastern province of Nong Kai [28]. Three villagers were killed by government forces. Initially the government claimed that this atrocity was carried out by Communists, but Tirayut Boonmi, was able to prove in public that it was the work of the government. Pressure from the student movement finally forced the government to admit the crime and take steps to pay the villagers compensation. General Saiyut Kertpol, head of the Communist Suppression Unit, was also forced to admit that past government policy had been “too harsh”.

The Na Sai incident was followed by the exposure of another state crime in the southern province of Patalung. It is estimated that between 1971 and 1973 government forces had systematically arrested and interrogated villagers, resulting in more than 3000 deaths. In what became known as the Red Drum (Tang Daeng) incident, villagers were killed and then burnt in petrol drums or pushed out of helicopters[29].

In addition to exposing state repression, student volunteers were also involved in the rather patronising state-sponsored campaign to “spread democracy to the rural people” in the summer vacation of 1974[30]. However, this campaign did provide an opportunity for thousands of urban students to observe social problems in the villages at first hand, thus strengthening future cooperation between students and small farmers in the triple alliance. This helped to broaden the activities of students into areas of social justice and they became more left-wing.

On the cultural front, students campaigned for art and literature to be more in tune with the lives of ordinary people. Often this was influenced by narrow and mechanical ideas of Stalinist “socialist realism”, which could be found in the writings of Jit Pumisak[31]. An exhibition titled “burning literature” condemned conservative books which served “feudal” interests. At the same time there was a flourishing of new “literature for the people”, “theatre for the people” and the birth of the “songs for the people” movement, which sometimes added Thai words to tunes from Western protest songs from the same period. A campaign of criticism was also waged against the elitist and competitive education system. This campaign resulted in a government committee being established in 1975 in order to reform education.

One important organisation which came out of these cultural activities was the Coalition of Thai Artists, which held a street exhibition of “people's art” along Rachadamnern Avenue in October 1975. These artists and art students were also very important in producing agitational posters and banners used in campaigns against the influence of the military and in campaigns against US bases. In many ways the artist movement was more libertarian than many of the student organisations, being influenced by more radical ideas from the 1960s movements in the West, alongside the influence of the CPT[32]. After the 6th October 1976 bloodbath, many artists went to the jungle, but fought to maintain their free spirit amid the narrow Maoist ideology of the CPT.

Student politics within universities and colleges

An important consequence of the successful 14th October 1973 uprising against the dictatorship was the establishment of left-wing student political parties in universities and colleges. These contested elections for the student union. Some won immediate victories, while others gradually increased their influence at the expense of the right-wing. By mid-1976 most universities and colleges had left student bodies, including Kasetsart University, which was previously believed to be a bastion of the right. Once the victory of the left parties was complete, the student body was able to unite once more around the National Student Centre with Kriangkamol Laohapairote [33] as secretary. One effect of the victory of the left in universities and colleges was the temporary demise of the seniority (SOTUS) system[34], as students became more egalitarian and active in trying to change society. Student summer camps were organised in the countryside in order to share experiences with poor villagers and less emphasis was placed on inter-university football matches.

Despite the fact that the various left-wing student parties in various institutions were more or less autonomous in formal structure, they shared the same general ideology which was heavily influenced by the Maoism of the CPT. This can be seen by their concentration on countryside activity, although many groups also worked among urban workers[35]. One prominent labour organiser who was close to the CPT was Terdpum Jaidee. Thirty years later he became a supporter of the semi-fascist Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and an ardent royalist.

The student movement was basically a socialist movement which shared the CPT analysis of Thailand being a semi-feudal semi-colony of the USA. The armed struggle by the CPT in the countryside was seen as the key to building a better society. Many left-wing student groups also took the side of the CPT leadership in ideological disputes with people like ex-CPT leader Pin Bua-orn. Pin was against the CPT adopting armed struggle and wanted to continue the original Stalinist/Maoist cross-class alliance policy of working with the military dictators, which the CPT had advocated during the Pibun and early Sarit dictatorship period[36]. Student groups also became involved in taking the side of the CPT leadership over the faction fights taking place in China towards the end of the Cultural Revolution[37].

The influence of the CPT within the student movement was no secret conspiracy. It reflected the rise of left-wing ideas among many people in Thai society. In practice this CPT influence in the student body came from three main sources. First, the CPT was the only left-wing political party which had a coherent analysis of Thai society and a clear plan of action. This naturally meant that many of those who were looking for answers would turn to the CPT, especially after the victory of various communist parties in neighbouring Indo-China. Second, some CPT youth members (Yor) and full members (Sor) were activists within the student movement. They had either been recruited while at secondary school or were recruited after they entered university. Recruitment was a long drawn out process, involving small secret study groups organised among contacts, but it helped to educate activists in CPT ideology. Third, articles explaining CPT political strategy were printed in student newspapers such as Atipat and the CPT radio station, The Voice of the People of Thailand, was very popular among many people at the time.

It would be quite wrong to assume that student leaders, even those who were party members, were receiving direct orders from the CPT central committee. For a start the party leaders were far away in the countryside and also the party never saw the urban struggle as being central to the overall Maoist revolutionary strategy. For this reason, it can be assumed that in the period between 1973 and 1976, student activists exhibited a high degree of self-leadership and organisation, while accepting the overall political analysis of the party. This is confirmed by many student activists from that period[38].

As already mentioned, between 1973 and 1976 left-wing student parties gradually won elections. At Tammasart University the Palang Tum Party (Moral Force Party) was established just before the October 1973 uprising and it won a number of subsequent elections, standing Pirapon Triyakasem as its candidate. At the Ramkamhaeng Open University, the Saja-Tum Party (Moral Truth Party) made gradual headway against a more middle of the road party, winning leadership of the student body by 1975. At Chulalongkorn University the Chula Prachachon Party (Chula Peoples Party) won elections in 1976 against a right-wing party and Anek Laotamatat[39] became student president. At Mahidol and Sri-Nakarin left-wing parties also won elections and at Chiang Mai Chaturon Chaisang[40] from the Pracha Tum Party (Peoples Morals Party) won the student union election in 1976.

The gradual shift towards left-wing politics among students throughout the period 1973-1976, until the left became the main influence, reflected the polarisation between left and right that was taking place in wider society. From this we can see why the ruling class became determined to use whatever force necessary in order to destroy the left-wing student movement and their attempts came to fruition with the 6th October 1976 bloodbath at Tammasart University.

The 6th October 1976 bloodbath

In the early hours of 6th October 1976, Thai uniformed police, stationed in the grounds of the National Museum, next door to Thammasat University, destroyed a peaceful gathering of students and working people on the university campus under a hail of relentless automatic fire[41]. At the same time a large gang of ultra-right-wing “informal forces”, known as the Village Scouts[42], Krating-Daeng and Nawapon, indulged in an orgy of violence and brutality towards anyone near the front entrance of the university. Students and their supporters were dragged out of the university and hung from the trees around Sanam Luang; others were burnt alive in front of the Ministry of “Justice” while the mob danced round the flames. Women and men, dead or alive, were subjected to the utmost degrading and violent behaviour.

From before dawn that morning, students had been prevented from leaving the campus by police who were stationed at each gate. Inside the sealed university campus, violence was carried out by heavily armed police from the Crime Suppression Division, the Border Patrol Police and the Special Forces Unit of the Metropolitan Police[43]. Unarmed women and men students who had fled initial rounds of heavy gunfire to take refuge in the commerce faculty building were chased out at gunpoint and made to lie face down on the grass of the football field, without shirts. Uniformed police fired heavy machine guns over their heads. The hot spent shells burnt the skin on their bare backs as they lay on the field. Other students who tried to escape from campus buildings via the rear entrance to the university were hunted down and shot without mercy. State security methods on the 6th October 1976 bear an horrific similarity to methods used by the Thaksin government in the 2004 crackdown at Takbai in southern Thailand, where half a dozen unarmed protesters were shot and 87 prisoners later murdered in the backs of army lorries during transportation to an army camp.

The actions of the police and right-wing mobs on 6th October were the culmination of attempts by the ruling class to stop the further development of a socialist movement in Thailand. The events at Thammasat University were followed by a military coup which brought to power one of the most right-wing governments Thailand has ever known. In the days that followed, offices and houses of organisations and individuals were raided. Trade unionists were arrested and trade union rights were curtailed. Centre-left and left-wing newspapers were closed and their offices ransacked. Political parties, student unions and farmer organisations were banned. The new military regime released a list of 204 banned books[44]. University libraries were searched and books were confiscated and publicly burnt. More than 100,000 books were burnt when Sulak Sivarak’s book shop and warehouse was ransacked. Apart from obvious “communists” like Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao or Jit Pumisak, authors such as Pridi Panomyong, Maxim Gorky, Julius Nyerere, Saneh Chamarik, Chai-anan Samudwanij, Charnvit Kasetsiri and Rangsan Tanapornpan appeared on the list of banned books.

The Thai ruling class’ desire to destroy the further development of the socialist movement, especially in urban areas, can be understood by looking at the political climate at the time. Three years earlier, the 14th October 1973 mass movement had overthrown the military, which had been in power since 1957. However, the establishment of parliamentary democracy on its own did not begin to solve deep-rooted social problems. Therefore the protests, strikes and factory occupations intensified. At the same time the USA was losing the war in Vietnam. By 1975 Communist governments were in power in neighbouring Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia and in Thailand rural insurgency by the CPT was on the increase. The events of the 6th October and the subsequent coup were not a simple return to military rule. They were an attempt to crush the popular movement for social justice, to eradicate the left and strengthen the position of the elite. It was not the first or last time that the Thai elite resorted to violence and military coups to protect their interests.

It would be wrong to think that there was a detailed and tightly coordinated plan, by the entire Thai ruling class, which led to the 6th October events. Conversely, it would also be wrong to suggest that only one or two individuals or groups were behind the crushing of the left. What happened on the 6th October was a result of a consensus among the entire ruling class that an open democratic system was allowing “too much freedom” for the left. However, it is likely that there were both areas of agreement and disagreement within ruling circles on exactly how to act and who should act. The general view that “extra-parliamentary methods” would have to be used, led to the uncoordinated establishment of various right-wing semi-fascist groups.

The role of the king in the 6th October events has been discussed by many writers. Most express the view that the king helped to pave the way for a coup, in a broad sense, by showing open support for the extreme right-wing[45]. What we know is that the royal family openly supported and encouraged the Village Scout movement. In addition, the king was close to the Border Patrol Police who established the Village Scouts and also played a central part in the killing at Thammasat. Finally the king and queen supported the return of ex-dictator Tanom by paying him a visit soon after he arrived back in Thailand, just before the bloody events.

The general picture of the ruling class that emerges during 1976 is one of a degree of unity on the need to crush the left, but disunity on how to do so, and, much more importantly, who would rule the country. This had important consequences on the evolution of the dictatorship post-1976. The immediate impact of the bloodbath at Thammasat was that thousands of students went to the countryside to join the struggle against the Thai state led by the CPT. However, within one year the extreme right-wing government of Tanin Kraiwichien was removed from power. Those gaining the upper hand within the ruling class were convinced, not only that the nature of the 6th October crackdown, but also the way the Tanin government was conducting itself, was creating even greater divisions and instability within society and helping the CPT to grow. Not surprisingly, those army officers who advocated a more liberal line were those actually involved in front-line fighting against the CPT. They understood, like so many military personnel in this position, that the struggle against the left must involve some kind of political settlement in addition to the use of force. As General Prem Tinsulanon, prime minister from 1980-1988, observed in an ITV program in 1999:

The students joined the Communists because they were brutally suppressed. The way to undermine the Communists was to establish justice in society.

Three years after 1976, the government decreed an “amnesty” for those who had left to fight alongside the communists. This coincided with splits and arguments between the student activists and the conservative CPT leaders. By 1988 the student activists had all returned to the city as the CPT collapsed. Thailand returned to an almost full parliamentary democracy, but with one special condition: it was a parliamentary democracy without the left or any political parties representing workers or small farmers. Previously, left-wing political parties, such as the Socialist Party, the Socialist Front and Palang Mai (New Force) had won 14.4% or 2.5 million votes in the 1975 general election. These parties won many seats in the north and north-east of the country and outside the arena of legal politics, the CPT also used to have enormous influence. Now the organised left was destroyed.

The problem with the CPT’s Maoist strategy was that it more or less abandoned the city to the ruling class. The CPT argued that since the cities were the centre of ruling class power, a communist victory in Thailand would only come about by surrounding the cities with “liberated zones”. The fact that the ruling class was planning some kind of urban crackdown against the left before 6th October was not a secret. The CPT started to remove key activists out of Bangkok well before the crackdown actually occurred. Their Maoist strategy meant that they never at any time planned to resist a right-wing backlash in Bangkok. Not only did the CPT’s politics fail to defend the left in Bangkok in 1976, it also ensured massive demoralisation among the left when international events began to undermine Stalinism and Maoism as a world current. On the 20th anniversary of the 6th October, a large gathering of former students and former communists came together at Thammasat for the first time since the massacre. Not one speaker from the platform at any of the meetings believed that there was still a future for socialism. The present revival of the Thai left today[46] has had to depend on an anti-Stalinist, Trotskyist tradition which sees the various “communist” regimes which once existed as being the opposite to socialism and Marxism[47].

The experience of students in the jungle with the CPT

There are many explanations for the exodus of the urban students from the CPT strongholds in the jungle in the early 1980s, which eventually contributed to the collapse of the party. CPT old-timers argue that the students were not “true revolutionaries”, that they “had petty-bourgeois tendencies” and that they only went to the jungle to flee the crackdown in the city. The Thai establishment argues something quite similar. It claims that the students were forced to flee the city and that most of them were not really communists (because presumably, no sane, educated person would be a communist). It also argues that the CPT was an “alien” organisation, dominated by “Chinese ideology”. According to the mainstream explanation, the students only flirted with left-wing ideas in their misguided youth. This idea seems to be supported by student activists themselves, especially those who now hold important positions in society and wish to renounce their past. However, these explanations for the collapse of the CPT are very superficial.

Communist ideas from the CPT had a huge impact among young urban activists in the period 1973-1976. This is hardly surprising for two reasons. First, the conservative ideology of “nation, religion and monarchy” had been the mainstay of the military dictatorships for decades. It went hand in hand with corruption at the top and poverty at the bottom of society. Anyone wanting to build a better world would hardly be looking towards ruling-class ideology for solutions. Second, the 1970s were a period when communist parties throughout the world were achieving victories against imperialism and it seemed that alternative societies were being built by communists in many countries. Therefore, despite later denials, the vast majority of students and young activists of the 1970s regard themselves as left wing and they were dedicated to taking part in the socialist transformation of Thai society.

Thousands do not leave their homes and families to take up the armed struggle for justice in the countryside just for the excitement or as part of a fashion. Life in the jungle strongholds of the CPT was tough. They had to fight the army, to grow their own food and to live in primitive conditions. In the rainy season, often their clothes would never dry, gradually growing mouldy. Food was monotonous[48] and fraternisation between the sexes was frowned upon[49]. For this reason it is fair to say that the students who joined the CPT ranks after 6th October 1976 were totally committed to the struggle for socialism. Naturally, this meant different things to different people. Those who were less committed, or had pressing personal reasons, stayed behind in the cities. Despite the terrible events of 6th October 1976, it would have been possible for most students to just keep their heads down and cease to engage in politics. Many did precisely this and very few students were rounded-up and killed in Bangkok after 6th October.

The real reason for the exodus from the CPT camps a few years later was not a lack of commitment on the part of the students. It was the failure of the CPT to develop a credible strategy for the Thai socialist revolution and a failure to relate to the new generation of young activists who joined in the 1970s. This has everything to do with the Stalinist-Maoist politics of the party. First, the emphasis on rural armed struggle in Thailand did not fit reality. Since 1932 all significant social changes have taken place in the cities. Even rural movements come to the city to demonstrate. In addition to this, the struggle by small farmers was and still is important in terms of defending social justice for the poor, but it is fundamentally a defensive and conservative struggle to survive, not a struggle for a future society. Second, the authoritarian nature of Stalinist and Maoist parties meant that the CPT leadership were afraid to agitate among students in such a way as to let them lead their own struggles. The students were certainly capable of self-leadership. After all, they were key actors in overthrowing the military dictatorship in 1973. The main experience of student activists in the jungle with the CPT was a stifling of all original ideas and a lack of any freedom to debate[50]. This helped to destroy the momentum of the urban movement that went to the jungle after the initial honeymoon period following October 1976.

Finally, the CPT’s Maoism backfired when the Chinese government turned its back on the party in order to build a relationship with the Thai ruling class. The resulting demoralisation among activists has helped to shape the politics of the October People and the Thai social movements today.

As the CPT collapsed and the October People returned to open society, the political regime in Thailand was gradually liberalised throughout the 1980s. Partly this was carried out from above under pressure from the revolts of the 1970s, but a mass uprising against a new military dictatorship in 1992 helped to hasten the process. The 1997 economic crisis was a further stimulus for change. Two important results of this change were the constitution of 1997 and the rise of TRT.

The struggle carried out by all those urbanites who joined the CPT after 1976 and the massive polarisation of Thai society was not totally in vain. The ruling class was forced to acknowledge that it could not win the battle against the pu-noi by violence and coercion alone. By the early 1980s they were forced, by the level of resistance, to liberalise the political system. This occurred especially under the rule of Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanon. The ruling class came to a compromise with the urbanites who had fled to the hills and with the working class who stayed behind in Bangkok to fight the bosses. The result was a form of bourgeois parliamentary democracy which did not challenge the interests of the elite. “Money politics” in parliament became more important to maintaining the interests of the bourgeoisie than military power as the economy expanded.

The `post-communism' shift in ideology

The collapse of the CPT resulted in a shift in ideology within the people's movement and the academic community towards Autonomism, post-modernism and third way reformism[51]. This happened throughout the world, to a greater or lesser degree, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Yet, very few people in the Thai people's movement would admit to being autonomists, post-modernists or third way reformists. This is because the rejection of theory by these two political currents encourages people to deny any political affiliation. Thai activists often articulate various international ideologies while believing that they are uniquely home grown.


Autonomism, as practiced in Thailand, is a form of “localist” anarchism (Chumchon-Niyom)[52]. It is dominant among the leadership of the Assembly of the Poor and among other rural social movements. It is a political ideology that rejects the state, not by smashing it or overthrowing it, but by ignoring the state in the hope that it will become irrelevant. The aim is self-organisation at community level. Autonomists reject the building of political parties and place activity above political theory. It has many similarities with the ideas expressed by autonomists in other continents, such as John Holloway, Toni Negri and Michael Hardt [53].

The British Marxist Chris Harman explained that the strength of autonomism is that it celebrates initiative and creativity from below and it seeks to reject compromise with the system[54]. This was seen very clearly in the fact that the Assembly of the Poor refused to support the Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The main reason was that they were worried about being dominated by conservative forces inside the PAD, while still being willing to oppose Thaksin. They were also against the call by the PAD, in April 2006, for the king to appoint a new government under section 7 of the 1997 constitution. After the 19th September coup, the Assembly of the Poor also took a principled position against the junta.

On the negative side, autonomists rarely express their views theoretically and this is a weakness in fighting neoliberalism and other ideologies of the ruling class. Again the Assembly of the Poor is a prime example. They warn against the use of theories because many of their activists have had bad experiences with the CPT, which dictated the “ideological line” from above[55]. When autonomists do use theory, such as in the case of Michael Hardt, Toni Negri and John Holloway, they are often highly abstract or they claim their theories are uniquely local. The tendency to reject practical theory means that many autonomists capitulate to right-wing reformism, thus compromising with neoliberalism and the market.

The capitulation of autonomists to neoliberalism and right-wing reformism is due to its de-politicising effect. An important factor is the under estimation of the power of the state. The refusal to build a party of activists, with a united theory and program, means that they turn their back on political agitation and debate within the movement. Nor is it deemed necessary to challenge the prevailing ideology of the ruling class, since each group merely acts autonomously in its own community. Without a serious people's movement political challenge to TRT, the “tank liberal” argument that there was no alternative to the 19th September coup, appears more attractive to a wide audience in the movement.

Autonomist currents in the movement today support “direct democracy”, such as self-organised local community action[56]. This is preferred to the failed “representative democracy” of the parliamentary process. Autonomists claim that “direct democracy” or “direct action” can pressurise the state without the need to go through parliamentary representatives or political parties[57]. They reject the building of political parties and reject the aim of seizing state power, preferring instead to organise networks of autonomous single-issue movements which can turn their back on the state[58].

The problem is that by rejecting a more democratic model of exercising “representative peoples power”, autonomists are forced to accept the class power of the capitalist state in practice. The Assembly of the Poor advertises that it has no wish to take state power, being content to negotiate directly with the government to solve villagers’ problems and Prapart Pintoptang had a brief flirtation with the 2006 military junta. Autonomists also reject the model of “participatory democracy” built into the recallable representative systems invented by the international working-class movement in times of struggle. The Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian soviets before the rise of Stalin, or the various workers' and community councils built through struggle in Poland, Iran and Latin America over the last 40 years are good examples.

In the early days of TRT, Wanida and the Assembly of the Poor had some illusions in Thaksin’s party, welcoming its election victory. Niti Eawsriwong[59] is one of many academics who rejects “representative democracy”, or the present parliamentary system. Instead he favours “direct democracy”. However, in January 2005 Niti argued for a vote for capitalist opposition parties against TRT[60]. The lesson is that “direct democracy” cannot be applied in practice without first dealing with the class power of the capitalist state. To do this we need political parties of workers and peasants. This has been a constant Marxist criticism of anarchism or autonomism.

By rejecting a formal political party in favour of loose networks, autonomists also fail to build internal democratic structures for their own organisations. The Assembly of the Poor is thus led by unelected NGO activists rather than by poor farmers themselves[61]. The rejection of “representative democracy” is applied to the internal workings of the movement with dire consequences. Social movements in Thailand are dominated by unelected Pi-liang (NGO “nannies” or advisors) and Pu-yai (NGO “elders”). There is a real problem with the lack of self-leadership among activists and a lack of internal democracy. Young people are expected to respect and listen to their elders in the movement and positions are never up for election. In addition to this, there is the problem of over funding by NGOs, which discourages the building of self-reliant movements which collect membership fees[62]. Individuals who hold the purse strings also dominate the movement by threatening to cut off funds. Many of the participants at the Thai Social Forum in 2006 received funds to attend[63].


Post-modernism is still popular in Thai universities, despite its decline in other parts of the world. Post-modernism rejects all “grand narratives” or ideologies and is therefore also de-politicising. For post-modernists, individual liberation comes about in the mind, at abstract levels. Post-modernism is the academic sister of autonomism, a theoretical expression of opposition to dictatorship, power and organisation.

Like autonomism, the rise of post-modernism is a product of disillusionment with Stalinism plus a severe demoralisation about the possibilities of struggle, but it can only really exist among academics due to its highly abstract nature[64]. Post-modernism claims to “liberate” humanity by the constant questioning and rejection of grand narratives or big political theories. They therefore reject a class analysis of society and reject Marxism, while also claiming to reject neoliberalism and capitalism. In practice, however, they often end up by accepting the dominant ideology of the market or remaining neutral and passive in the face of a neoliberal onslaught on society.

However, like autonomists, post-modernists have their plus sides. Rejection of authoritarianism and grand narratives by the Midnight University has meant that they rejected the PAD call for the king to appoint a government under Section 7 and that they opposed the 19th September coup, just like the Assembly of the Poor. The Midnight University website was temporarily closed down by the junta because of this. Both the Assembly of the Poor and the Midnight University have also consistently opposed Thai state repression in the Muslim south. This is because they reject narrow-minded nationalism.

Autonomism and post-modernism discourage a class analysis of society. Because of this, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and under-estimation of TRT “populism” among the people's movement. A class analysis of populism explains that it arises, both from pressure from below, and from the needs of the capitalist class simultaneously. Many in the Peoples Movement saw TRT’s populist measures, such as the 30 baht health care scheme and the various village funds, as a cruel hoax[65]. Many also claim that such policies led to a “patron-client” type of dependency by villagers upon the state. This is nothing more than the old neoliberal criticism made against “nanny state” welfare projects made by the likes of Margaret Thatcher and others.

In short, the people's movement criticism of TRT was made from the right-wing free-market position adopted by such neoliberals as Ammar Siamwalla and Tirayut Boonmi, rather than from a left-wing pro-poor position[66]. This kind of analysis fails to grasp that TRT populism actually delivers real benefits to the poor. Low-cost health care for all is a real concrete benefit for millions who were previously uninsured and who faced huge financial worries about sickness and ill health. Populism, carried out by a blatantly capitalist party like TRT could not work otherwise.

At a people's movement Forum in Bangkok, the post-modernist academic Somchai Preechasilapakul, from the Midnight University, stated that the trade union fight against electricity privatisation was nothing to do with the interests of villagers. Yet villagers use electricity and suffer from neoliberalism in other forms.

Another example of the acceptance of the free market can be seen in publications by the NGO-Coordinating Committee which accepted that free trade could be beneficial[67]. Publications circulating at people's forums also advocate separation of electricity generation and distribution in the interests of competition. Even worse was the illusion that an “independent” commercial television company could be genuinely independent of powerful interests. This was the dominant belief in the people's movement in the mid-1990s when ITV was established. These illusions were shattered when large capitalist corporations took over the television station.

Thai autonomists and post-modernists cannot put their theories into practice when confronted by the capitalist state and the capitalist free market. When autonomism and post-modernism prove to be powerless in defending the interests of the poor, in the face of attacks from the free market and the state, autonomists and post-modernists fall back into pessimism and lose all faith in fighting for any reforms. Squeezing modest concessions out of the capitalist class becomes an “impossible dream”. This is the same justification for right-wing social democracy adopting the “third way” or the capitulation to neoliberalism.

Single-issue activism is one of the main weaknesses of the Thai people's movement. In nearly every major forum or grouping, the social movements and NGOs are organised into separate “issue networks”. NGOs also encourage single-issue struggles as they fit with project funding. Autonomism goes hand in glove with the single-issue politics of the NGO movement. They mobilise their own groups to attend meetings and to carry out actions without publicity. This can be seen in the way that the Assembly of the Poor never tried to agitate for solidarity action among other groups and the way in which people's assembly meetings were organised without any publicity. The result is always that new groups of people are not drawn into activity and little political education takes place among the movement. What is more, the mass base of many autonomist social movements was often built solely on trying to solve single-issue problems in the short term. When the TRT government stepped in to solve some of these problems, in a much more efficient manner and with the resources of the state behind it, the social movements and NGOs lost much their non-political mass base[68]. Today the Assembly of the Poor is a mere shadow of what it was in the mid 1990s.

The fragmentation of social analysis, which goes hand in hand with single-issue activism, is also a reflection of the way in which knowledge and consciousness is fragmented under capitalism in order to hide class power relations[69]. Advocates of the so-called “new social movements” argued that non-class single-issue campaigns were the modern, post-Cold War methods of struggle[70]. Yet international anti-capitalist movements and social forums realised that overcoming narrow single-issue struggles was central to strengthening the movement as a whole. Only by having a full political picture of society can we build a new and better world.

Single-issue activism can have benefits in temporarily uniting large numbers of people of different political beliefs behind a particular campaign, such as opposition to war or opposition to dictatorship. However, sooner or later political analyses and debates come to the fore when discussing the strategies and tactics to push the movement forward. Unfortunately single-issue activism in the Thai people's movement is not generally about large temporary campaigns, the anti-FTA campaign being an exception. Most of the time single-issue activism is about long-term struggles by social movements dealing with HIV, dams, land, power plants or Indigenous rights etc. Each “problem network” (Krua-kai Bunha) acts independently and has no overall analysis that can link all the people's movement issues together. Cross-issue solidarity does take place, but it is weak because it is based on “good will”, stemming from putting all the issues together in meetings without actually linking them theoretically. Good will is different from joint struggles based on an understanding of the common political roots of most problems. It is rather like placing each group’s problem files on one table together, rather than explaining that the various problems share the same root cause. A good example of this is the fact that HIV campaigners do not understand why the workings of capitalism, which make HIV/AIDS a problem due to low health funding and drug patents, can also oppress gays, drug users and young peoples’ sexuality, through family morality [71].

The Thai Social Forum (TSF) in October 2006 attempted to go some way in correcting the problem of single-issue activism by organising “cross-issue plenary meetings”. The organising committee of the TSF made a verbal commitment to encouraging cross-issue discussions. The Peoples Democracy Forum which was later built out of the TSF, in order to push forward political reform, was also verbally committed to such discussions. Yet, most meetings at the TSF were still organised by “issue networks” where activists came to listen to discussions on their own problems without any attempts at building a wider political analysis which could cover all issues together. The public hearings of the Peoples Democracy Forum were also organised in such a way as to encourage single-issue discussions.

Third way reformism and lobby politics

Third way reformism is the dominant ideology of the Thai NGO movement. It is an acceptance of neoliberalism and the free market and the rejection of the state’s ability to transform society for the benefit of the poor[72]. The reasoning behind this belief is, again, the collapse of “communism” and the rapid development of globalisation. Another related reason is the pessimistic view that open class struggle is doomed to failure. In fact it is a rejection of the possibilities of serious reforms by those who would like to reform society. Instead, NGO activists turn to “lobby politics”, lobbying any government, whether democratic or not, and even multinational companies.

Yet, during the TRT government there were many examples of open class struggle. One of the most powerful challenges to Thaksin’s TRT government occurred in 2004 when the Electricity Generating Authority Workers Union staged a long drawn-out protest, including unofficial work stoppages of non-essential workers, at the EGAT headquarters just north of Bangkok. This protest was supported by other trade unions in the public sector and many activists from the people's movement. It was unique in drawing together the rural movements and the state enterprise unions. The annual May Day march in 2004 was much more militant than previous years, with the majority of workers splitting away from the usual government sponsored event to form a clear political protest. Apart from the issue of privatisation, other issues, such as opposition to the war in Iraq and demands for a woman’s right to choose abortion were also raised, mainly by textile workers.

Apart from the electricity workers, pressure from the Assembly of the Poor protests forced the TRT government to open the sluice gates of the Pak Moon dam for limited periods of time. A massive anti-FTA protest in early 2006, involving thousands of well-organised and highly motivated HIV+ activists, forced the negotiations between Thailand and the USA to be postponed. Finally, it should not be forgotten that many aspects of the TRT government’s populist program reflected pressure from below from the people's movement.

Maoism: its `de-politicising' effect and its defeat

Maoism is a de-politicising force. It discourages self organisation, political analysis and education. Members of the CPT were encouraged to read only a few texts written by Mao. Marxist works were ignored. The urban working class was also ignored as a force to change society. After the students went to the jungle, urban-based politics with its intellectual debate, open struggle and experimentation were exchanged for the mind-numbing politics of the most politically backward sections peasantry. Political though and analysis were the preserve of a handful of top cadres. Theory was therefore down-played. When the CPT collapsed, and later, when the authoritarian Thai state was liberalised, the left was slow to recover. The booming Thai economy in the 1990s also played a part in keeping the left weak. Until the economic crisis of 1997, things just seemed to be getting better all the time. The overall effect was that the more the people's movement rejected theory, the more it came to rely on ruling-class ideology. Acceptance of the market and nationalism are examples.

The 1997 economic crisis

The period leading up to the 1997 economic crisis was a period in which the Thai economy grew at a phenomenal rate. Average GDP growth rates reached 8% and on occasions the annual rate was in double figures. The main beneficiaries, naturally, were the rich. Between 1975 and 1988 the richest 20% of the population increased their share of national wealth from 43% to 55.4%, while the share controlled by the poorest 20% dropped from 6% to 4.5%[73]. Many claims were made about the rapid transformation of Thai society. Following the end of the Cold War, pro-capitalist commentators crowed about the “victory of free-market capitalism” and the demise of socialism and class struggle. These claims were supported by many from the “October People”, the ex-student activists who joined the Communists in the 1970s but who were now successful mainstream politicians and wealthy business men and women.

The economic crisis was a shock to everyone for no one had predicted it. Once the crisis broke, political scapegoats were quickly found in order to protect the status quo. The more neoliberal sections of the big business community, who had always harboured a dislike for the “populist” and “unreliable” New Aspiration Party (NAP), quickly suggested the idea that the crisis was all the fault of Prime Minister Chawalit Yongjaiyut‘s government. This ridiculous message was put across at the “Silom Road Business People’s Protests” in October 1997, where businesspeople and professional people came down from their office blocks to demonstrate. They demanded and soon achieved the resignation of Chawalit’s government. The rich were not, however, very good at demonstrating. Many complained about the heat and others brought their servants to make up the numbers and, no doubt, to serve them with cold drinks and drive them to the protest. Chawalit’s resignation served as a public sacrifice in an attempt to satisfy those elements in society who were discontented with the sudden recession.

Once Chawalit resigned, his government was replaced by a Democrat Party-led coalition under Chuan Leekpai, which seemed to have a more modern and international image, but in fact was little different from the previous government. Nevertheless, the new finance minister, Tarrin Nimmanhaemind, was regarded as a reliable “bankers’ man”. This suggestion was borne out by the fact that the government quickly moved to nationalise the private debts of 56 failed banks and finance companies, which the Chawalit government had already closed, and then proceeded to set aside a further 300 billion baht of state funds to boost the capital of existing banks. In total, the government committed at least 1.2 trillion baht of public money to prop up the banking system.

The same enthusiasm for the use of public finances was not shown towards helping the poor and the unemployed who were worst hit by the crisis. The government passed a bill allowing it to withhold state contribution to the private sector employees’ Social Insurance Fund and repeatedly delayed the implementation of an unemployment benefit scheme. Because there was no unemployment social insurance, no reliable unemployment figures were available. The World Bank estimated that in early 1999 the unemployment figure was 2.6 million or 8% of the workforce. Figures quoted by academics varied from 1.5 million to 4 million. The fact that some government agencies defined “those employed” as anyone who has managed to find at least one hour of paid employment per week could only help the confusion. However, a much more reliable indicator of the effect of the crisis on jobs was the “quality of employment”. According to one survey carried out for the National Economic & Social Development Board, there was a 12.6% decline in earnings rates and a 4.4% decline in hours of employment in the first half of 1998. These were the main factors behind a fall in real incomes of 19.2% over this period[74].

In addition to this, the Health Intelligence Unit observed that there was an increase in the number of underweight children born to women with low incomes during the crisis. Finally, the number of students dropping out of school due to poverty in 1998 was estimated to be around 300,000. The absurd nature of the market system can be seen by the fact that while millions were facing a drop in living standards, the financial sector was “overwhelmed by excess liquidity” which could not be shifted. Investing in the poverty alleviation has never been a profitable business.

The racist explanations of the Asian crisis which talked about Asian corruption, Asian crony capitalism and lack of good governance in Asia, are hardly worthy of serious consideration. This is because before the crisis, the same commentators were using such cultural explanations for the “miracle” Asian economic boom. More serious mainstream explanation for the crisis pin the blame on lack of proper controls over investment after economic liberalisation in the late 1980s[75].Although it is true that the increased free movement of capital in and out of Thailand made the boom and the crisis more spectacular, these highly visible movements of money were more a symptom of what was happening in the real economy rather than the cause of the crisis. The implication of the neoliberal explanation was also that if proper controls were established, then crises would never occur again. Clearly a review of Western economies shows this to be nonsense.

The Marxist theory of capitalist crisis identifies overproduction and falling rates of profit as the key underlying factors causing a crisis. Both these factors result from the uncontrolled competition for profit found under capitalism. The main cause of the general fall in the rate of profit is the increased investment in fixed capital as compared to the hiring of labour (from which surplus value is extracted). However, the falling rate of profit is only an overall tendency with many countervailing factors. Profit rates can be restored temporarily by increased labour efficiency, increased exploitation or the destruction of competitors[76].

In Thailand over-capacity and falling rates of return were not merely confined to the well-publicised real estate sector, which happened to be the initial trigger for the crisis[77]. overproduction should not merely be seen as a national problem, confined to the Thai economy. The declining rate of Thai exports, one important factor which lead to the run on the baht, was due to overproduction of export products on a global scale.

Overproduction in an unplanned world market and the tendency for a decline in the rate of profit caused a shift in the direction of investment away from industry to real estate and share speculation. It is estimated that in 1996 about half of all investment was property related and this accounted for half of annual GDP growth[78].

The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky once explained during the 1930s that economic crises do not automatically lead to increased class struggle. The crisis can have contradictory effects. On the one hand many ordinary working people can become very angry about what is happening to their standards of living, especially when they feel that they themselves had no part to play in the creation of the crisis. However, on the other hand, the enormity of the scale of the crisis and the threat of losing their jobs understandably plants fear in the hearts of many workers, leading to passivity and a willingness to believe that current political rulers are the only people capable of solving the crisis.

This contradiction can be seen in the way the Thai working class reacted to the crisis. On the one hand, significant groups of workers were very angry when their annual bonus payments were cut. On one occasion, a Japanese-owned electronics factory was burnt to the ground. At many workers’ protest gatherings after that, someone could be relied upon to scare the management with a cry of “Set fire to the bloody place!” Most of the time it was just a bluff. On another occasion workers at Summit Auto Parts blocked a main highway in response to a bonus cut, but they were eventually physically beaten by riot police, supported by volunteer “emergency rescue workers” and right-wing journalists from The Nation and their struggle was defeated.

A more organised response to a bonus cut came when the workers at Century Textiles occupied their factory in April 1998. Unfortunately even this strong response went down to defeat because of a lack of solidarity action by other workers. Only at the Triumph underwear factory, where women workers had a long tradition of building a strong shop stewards network, were workers able to achieve a respectable wage increase after a 20-day dispute in July 1999. The unique nature of the union organisation at Triumph could be seen by the fact that they felt strong enough to reject NGO advisors.

The rate of inflation, which quickly fell (after an initial rise) as the economy went into recession, was also a factor in determining the will to fight. For those who retained their jobs, a further sharp fall in living standards was avoided by the decline in inflation.

Ideology also played an important role in weakening working-class response to the crisis. Most workers did not feel confident that workers’ self-activity could win real benefits in the climate of a crisis. Part of this feeling came from workers being told that they were weak and in need of pity. This has been the line pushed for many years by the CPT, various labour NGOs and “sympathetic” academics.

The dominant ideological response among organised workers and left-wing intellectuals to the crisis, and to the manner in which governments handled economic policy, was in the form of left nationalism. This ideology was a mirror image of ruling-class nationalism. A quick glance through the new book titles in any Thai book shop during the early part of the crisis would quickly have revealed the growing number of publications on “saving the country from the crisis”. In the main these publications were written by left-of-centre academics, many of them ex-CPT sympathisers, who regarded the 1997 crisis as a serious threat to “national independence”.

The cause of the crisis, according to the nationalists, was the imperialist designs of the G7 powers, especially the United states, in attempting to put the Asian tigers under the yoke of economic colonialism. This could be seen from the proposal that the crisis was merely a crisis of a certain model of capitalism: “fast-track” or foreign-investment-led export orientated manufacturing[79]. Much of the left nationalist analysis also leant heavily on dependency theory, which saw the main divide in the world as between the “northern” industrial countries and the “southern” developing countries[80].

A number of solutions were proposed by the left nationalists; all within the framework of the capitalist system. First, there were the naive and utopian ideas of the “community economists” who believed that the Thai economy could somehow “turn back” to a self-sufficient low technology agricultural economy[81]. Instead of foreign capital and technology, Thailand should use traditional “Thai intellectual resources”. The last time this kind of thing was attempted with any real vigour it resulted in the “killing fields” of Cambodia under Pol Pot. However, no one in Thailand was suggesting that such policies be introduced using Khmer Rouge tactics.

Second, there was a proposal to use Keynesian style economics[82]. It was argued that the state should increase public expenditure in order to stimulate consumption. This strategy was eventually used by TRT after their election victory in 2001.

Election of the TRT government

In the general election of January 2001, TRTwon a landslide victory. The election victory was in response to previous government policy under the Democrat Party, which had totally ignored the plight of the rural and urban poor. TRT also made three important promises to the electorate. These were (1) a promise to introduce a universal heath care scheme for all citizens, (2) a promise to provide a 1 million baht loan to each village in order to stimulate economic activity and (3) a promise to introduce a debt moratorium for poor peasants.

The policies of TRT arose from a number of factors, mainly the 1997 economic crisis and the influence of both big-business and some ex-student activists from the 1970s within the party. When considering the “October People” today, it is necessary to divide them into two groups according to the trajectory of their political and social careers. On the one hand many activists became part of the people's movement that we see today, leading social movements and NGOs which flourished from the 1980s onwards. These people ended up supporting the right-wing PAD and the 2006 coup. They also include people who became neoliberal academics and politicians in the Democrat Party. On the other hand, sections of the ruling class also managed to co-opt a number of ex-activists into the political elite in order to help police the movement or in order to produce populist policies, which won the hearts and minds of the people. This process started with Prime Minister Chawalit Yongjaiyut and his New Aspirations Party, but later rose to a fine art under Thaksin’s TRT.

`October People’ who entered the TRT government

Before the first election victory of TRT, the party made very serious attempts to canvas a wide range of views in Thai society in order to come up with serious policies to modernise the country and deal with a number of social evils, such as poverty[83]. There was a growing sense of frustration and unease about the complacency of the Democrat Party government to act in decisive and imaginative ways in order to pull the country out of the 1997 economic crisis. Ex-student and NGO activists, such as Pumtam Wejjayachai, were recruited to TRT and became important links with the people's movement. Dr Sanguan Nitayarumpong, who had for a long time been an advocate of a universal health care policy, became an important designer of the new 30 baht health care scheme. October People encouraged the prime minister to meet with social movements like the Assembly of the Poor and they coordinated with movement and NGO leaders in order to solve disputes or dampen down protest actions against the government[84].

Pumtam Wejjayachai was the director of the Thai Volunteer Service, which trained young people to become NGO workers. He became an important leader of TRT and held cabinet posts. He was very close to Thaksin. “October People” like Pumtam used their previous involvement with social movements to the benefit of the government. For example, in June 2005, he intervened to demobolise a protest by 5000 farmers who were angry about lack of debt relief. On the other hand, some NGO activists felt that by talking to him they had the ear of the government.

Pumtam explained that Thailand needed a “dual track” development policy, where “capitalism” and the “people's economy” (community-based activities) went hand in hand [85]. He believed that you could not use one single economic development or political theory and criticised many on the left who he claimed were “unable to adapt their thinking to the modern world”. He attacked the old left for clinging to idealism, thinking, for example, that capitalists automatically exploited the poor. For such people he had a simple suggestion: go back and live in the jungle like in the old CPT days!

Echoing the terminology of “direct democracy” used by the people's movement, he argued that TRT was using a “direct (sales) approach” to dealing with the problems of villagers, without having to pass through middle men: political or state representatives. For Pumtam the various government schemes to encourage community entrepreneurs were designed to allow villagers to raise themselves out of poverty. He concluded that NGOs needed to adapt themselves in order to cooperate fully with the government and not hinder its work, because, unlike the government, NGOs could not claim to be elected representatives of the people.

October People argued that by entering the TRT government they had seized state power “without having to eat taro and sweet potatoes in the jungle”, a reference to the previous hardships of life with the CPT. Despite serious accusations of betrayal and turning their backs on the movement, in some ways their alliance with what they regarded as the “progressives and modernising capitalists in TRT”, was not much of a departure from the old CPT cross-class alliance strategy. Many old CPT leaders even suggested that it was necessary to back TRT in order to confront the “old feudal power” in society, in other words, the influence of the palace. Of course, we must not forget that this Stalinist/Maoist cross-class strategy has been a proven failure in such diverse countries as China, Indonesia and Iraq.

Most October People in TRT probably sincerely believed that their actions were benefiting society, but as with trade union bureaucrats throughout the world, as their lifestyles became more and more like the capitalists and high-ranking ministers, with whom they rubbed shoulders, they became ever more distant from the people's movement. Even more importantly, the strategy of co-opting left-wingers into government had the aim of policing the social movements for the benefit of capital. It is widespread throughout the world. The Philippines after Marcos and various Labour and social-democratic governments in the West are good examples. No matter what they may have believed about being close to the corridors of power, they become more of an instrument of the ruling class than advocates for the poor. TRT was no exception. It was a party of the rich capitalists for the rich capitalists and any reasonable social policies it might have had were designed to buy social peace at the cheapest possible price. For example, the government had no intention of taxing the rich and the large corporations in order to properly fund the health care scheme and its support for the rights of drug multinationals in the Thai-US Free Trade Agreement, undermined the efficiency of the 30 baht health care scheme.


What this chapter has tried to do is to set the present political crisis in an historical context so as to avoid over-emphasis on personalities of political leaders. The main argument is that the present situation cannot be understood without using a class analysis which looks at all sections of society in such an historical context. Without this big picture class analysis, commentators are tempted to explain what is now happening in Thai society by only talking about the “corruption” or “authoritarian nature” of Thaksin and his government while totally ignoring the brutal actions of the conservative elites.

For articles by (or about) Giles Ji Ungpakorn published by Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, click HERE.

[1] Thongchai Winichakul (1994) Siam Mapped. University of Hawaii Press.

[2] O. W. Wolters (1968) "Ayudhaya and the Rearward Part of the World". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society3 / 4,166-178 & 173-176.

[3] S. J. Tambiah (1977) "The Galactic Polity". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 293, 69-97.

[4] The term used in Thai to indicate the pre-capitalist political system.

[5] Chattip Nartsupa (1985) The economy of Thai villages in the past. Sarng-San Press, Bangkok (In Thai).

[6] R.B. Cruikshank (1975) "Slavery in nineteenth century Siam". Journal of the Siam Society. 63(2), 315. Chatchai Panananon (1988) "Phrai, neither free nor bonded". Asian Review (Chulalongkorn University, Thailand) 2, 1.

[7] Niti Eawsriwong (1984) “Pak-gai la Rua-bai”. Collection of essays on literature and history in the early Bangkok period. Amarin Press, Bangkok. (In Thai).

[8] Chaiyan Rajchagool (1994) The rise and fall of the absolute monarchy. White Lotus, Bangkok. Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead (2004) The rise and decline of Thai absolutism. Routledge. Giles Ji Ungpakorn (1997) The struggle for democracy and Social Justice in Thailand. Arom Pongpangan Foundation, Bangkok.

[9] Jit Pumisak (1995) The nature of the Thai Sakdina system. Nok Hook Press, Bangkok. (In Thai).

[10] Karl Marx (1992) "Articles on India and China". In: Surveys from exile, Political Writings, volume 2. Penguin Books, London.

[11] Pakpat Tipayaprapai (1997) The Asiatic Mode of Production as an explanation of Thai Villages. The Office of Research Supporting Grants, Bangkok. (In Thai).

[12] Tony Cliff (1974) state capitalism in Russia. Pluto Press, London.

[13] Akira Suehiro (1989) Capital accumulation in Thailand 1855-1985. Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies, Tokyo.

[14] Nakarin Mektrairat (1990) Beliefs, knowledge and political power in the 1932 revolution. Social Science Association of Thailand, Bangkok. (In Thai).

[15] Fred Riggs (1966) Thailand. The modernisation of a Bureaucratic Polity. East West Press. USA. David Morell & Chai-anan Samudavanija (1981) Political conflict in Thailand: reform, reaction and revolution. Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain. David Wilson (1962) Politics in Thailand. Cornell University Press. John Girling (1981) Thailand. Society and politics. Cornell University Press, USA.

[16] See Chapter 3.

[17] Chai-anan Samudavanija (1989) "Thailand: a stable semi-democracy." In L. Diamond, J.J. Linz & S.M. Lipset (eds) democracy in developing countries. Vol 3, Asia. Lynne Rienner & Adamantine Press.

[18] Michael Connors (1999) "Political reform and the state in Thailand". Journal of Contemporary Asia 29(2), 202-225.

[19] Hewison, Kevin (1989) Power and politics in Thailand. Journal of Contemporary Asia Publishers, Philippines.

[20] Akira Suehiro (1992) "Capitalist development in postwar Thailand: commercial bankers, industrial elite and agribusiness groups". In: Southeast Asian Capitalists. Ruth McVey (ed), Cornell University Press, USA.

[21] Jonathan Neal (2001) The American War: Vietnam 1960-1975. London: Bookmarks.

[22] Much later, after the 19th September 2006 coup, most university rectors again collaborated with the military junta.

[23] Charnwit Kasetsiri & Thamrongsak Petchlertanun (1998) From 14 to 6 October. Bangkok: Social Science and

Anthropology Book Foundation. (InThai).

[24] Both Seksan Prasertkul and Tirayut Boonmi joined up with the Communist Party of Thailand for a period in 1976. They are now lecturers at Thammasat University.

[25] Sutam Saengpratoom was arrested in Bangkok on 6th October 1976. Much later he became a junior minister in the first Thai Rak Thai government.

[26] Sutachai Yimprasert (2001) ‘How did the 6th October incident occur?’ In: Ji Ungpakorn & Sutachai Yimprasert (eds)State crime in a period of crisis and change. Bangkok: The 6th October 1976 fact-finding and witness interviewingcommittee. (In Thai).

[27] Since 9-11 the USA has sought to increase its military presence in South-East Asia under the banner of the war on terror. However, the real reason behind US military expansion in the area may well be its rivalry with China. The Singapore military recently became the first foreign state to be allowed to station troops permanently on Thai soil since the 1970s US withdrawal.

[28] Sutachai (2001) Already quoted.

[29] Yos Juntornkiri (1975) ‘Kicked down the mountain and burnt in Tang Daeng’, in Social Science Review 13 (1), 41-71.Also Prachachart (1975) 21 February, 12. (In Thai).

[30] The Middle Classes have always regarded the poor as stupid and lacking in understanding of democracy. This is seen clearly in the case of the 19th September 2006 coup.

[31] Jit Pumisak (1957) Art for Life, Art for the People. Tewawet Publishing Company. (In Thai).

[32] Ji Ungpakorn & Numnual Yapparat (2004) Revival of the struggle. From the old left to the new left in Thailand. Workers’Democracy Publishers, (In Thai).

[33] Kriangkamol Laohapairote later took up a position as a special advisor to the Thai Rak Thai government.

[34] The SOTUS system returned with a vengeance after the 6th October 1976 crackdown. Today new first year students at Chulalongkorn, Chiangmai and Kasetsart universities are subjected to systematic mental cruelty so that they conform to the seniority hierarchy and learn to be loyal to their institutions. But with the new green shoots of student activism today it may well be facing another left-wing challenge.

[35] Seksan Prasertkul was one of many student activist working with trade unions.

[36] Stalinist and Maoist parties throughout the world advocated cross-class alliances with “progressive” leaders and capitalists, including Chiang Kai-shek in China, Sukarno in Indonesia and Nasser in Egypt. See Ian Birchall (1986) Bailing out the system. Bookmarks, London. Also Charlie Hore (1991) The road to Tiananmen Square. Bookmarks, London . In Thailand the CPT pushed for an alliance with the military dictators Pibun and Sarit. See Somsak Jeamteerasakul (1991) The Communist Movement in Thailand. PhD thesis, Department of Politics, Monash University, Australia.

[37] Sutachai (2001). Already quoted.

[38] Tongchai Winichakul and others confirmed this picture in interviews conducted by the author for the 6th October 1976 fact-finding and witness interviewing committee in 2000.

[39] Anek is known for his academic writings on the rise of the middle class and the political split between rural and urban Thailand. He went to the jungle to join with the CPT after 1976. Much later he became a party-list MP for the Democrat Party in 2001. Before the 2005 election he helped to establish the Mahachon Party, which was “bought” from a local gangster-politician using funds from the personal wealth of Sanan Kajornprasart. But the party only won two seats in the 2005 election. In 2006 Anek supported the military coup.

[40] He held cabinet positions in the Thai Rak Thai government and became acting party leader after the 19th September 2006 coup.

[41] This account is compiled from witness statements given to The 6 October 1976 fact-finding and witness interviewingcommittee in September 2000. The accounts have been published in Ji Ungpakorn & Sutachai Yimprasert (eds) (2001) State crime in a period of crisis and change. The 6th October 1976 fact-finding and witness interviewing committee. (In Thai).

[42] See Katherine Bowie (1997) Rituals of National Loyalty. New York: University of Columbia Press.

[43] The police played a major role on 6th October 1976 because the military was divided and still recovering from its overthrow 3 years earlier.

[44] Samak Suntarawej signed the order as interior minister.

[45] Katherine Bowie (1997). Already quoted.

[46] Turn left organisation.

[47] Since the formation of the Red Shirts, some ex-CPT activists have talked about reviving the CPT, but no concrete organisation has been built and the politics of these activists is indistinguishable from the pro-business TRT. The politics of the newly revived Socialist Party are also indistinguishable from TRT and its members are mostly pensioners.

[48] See Seksan Prasertkul’s account in the film The Moonhunter.

[49] See Wipa Daomanee, writing under her nom de guerre Sung(2003) ‘Looking back to when I first wanted to be aCommunist’. In Ji Giles Ungpakorn (ed.) Radicalising Thailand. New Political Perspectives. Bangkok: Institute of Asian Studies,Chulalongkorn University.

[50] Kasian Tejapira stated that the CPT leadership managed to destroy intellectuals who went to the jungle’. See his article in 1996 published in My University. Somsak Jeamtirasakul and co (eds). Tammasat University Student Union. ( In Thai). Even Udom Srisuwan from the CPT central committee, writing under the pen name Po Muangchompoo acknowledges that the CPT made mistakes in handling students. See Po Muangchompoo (2000) To the battlefield of Pu-Parn. Matichon Press. (In Thai).

[51] Right-wing reformism which accepts that there is no alternative to the capitalist free market. The ideas of Anthony Giddens.

[52] One good example in the Thai literature is Chattip Nartsupa et al. (1998) The Theory of Peasant Community Economics. Witeetat 7.

[53] John Holloway (2002) Change the world without taking power. Pluto Press. Michael Hardt & Toni Negri (2000) Empire. Harvard University Press.

[54] Chris Harman (2004) "Spontaneity, strategy and politics". International Socialism Journal # 104, U.K. p 8.

[55] Wanida Tantiwitayapitak, a founding member of the Assembly of the Poor, was in the CPT and experienced its authoritarianism. (Personal communication).

[56] See Prapart Pintoptang (1998) Street Politics: 99 days of the Assembly of the Poor. Krerg University, Bangkok. (In Thai). Pitaya Wongkul (2002) Direct democracy. Wititat Publications (In Thai). Also D. Morland & J. Carter (2004) "Anarchism and Democracy". In: M.J. Todd & G. Taylor (eds) Democracy and participation. Merlin Press, U.K.

[57] See John Holloway in “Can we change the world without taking power?, A debate with Alex Callinicos at the 2005 World Social Forum". International Socialism Journal, 106, Spring 2005, p. 114.

[58] Seksan (2005) The politics of the peoples movement in Thai democracy, Amarin Press, does not use the term “autonomist” to describe this kind of politics in the Thai movement. Instead he calls them part of a “Radical Democratic Movement”, p. 173. While seeming to agree with much of autonomist-community politics, Seksan is not an autonomist himself, since he supports a form of nationalism and the importance of using the state to counter the free market, p.83 & 211.

[59] Niti was one of the founders of the Midnight University.

[60] Matichon Daily. 31/1/ 2005. “Getting the dogs to bite each other”.

[61] See Bruce Missingham (2003) The Assembly of the Poor in Thailand. Silkworm Books,, p.187 and Ji Giles Ungpakorn (2003) "Challenges to the Thai NGO Movement from the dawn of a new opposition to global capital". In: Ji Giles Ungpakorn (ed.) Radicalising Thailand. Already quoted.

[62] See Ji Giles Ungpakorn (2003) Radicalising Thailand. Already quoted, p. 311.

[63] There is a dilemma here because rural activists are often extremely poor, but even the Assembly of the Poor has often managed to mobilise using villagers’ own resources.

[64] See Alex Callinicos (1992) Against post-modernism. Polity Press.

[65] Statement by Wanida Tantiwittayapitak, advisor to the Assembly of the Poor, Peoples Assembly meeting 23/1/2005.

[66] See Tirayut Boonmi “Analysis of Thai society” 5/1/2003. Also Tirayut Boonmi and Ammar Siamwalla, Nation 4-page specials 9 May and 28 July 2003. Ammar Siamwalla was also an invited guest speaker at the 2nd Peoples Assembly held at Tammasart University in October 2003.

[67]NGO-COD (2002a) Thai Working Group on the People's Agenda for Sustainable Development, NGO Coordinating Committee on Development. Alternative Country Report. Thailand's Progress on Agenda 21 Proposals for Sustainable Development. p. 25.

[68] A view also shared by Seksan (2005) already quoted, p. 185.

[69] George Lukács (1971) History and Class Consciousness. Merlin, London. p. 5.

[70] See J.L. Cohen & A. Arato (1997) Civil Society and political theory. M.I.T. Press, USA A. Touraine (2001) Translated by D. Macey. Beyond Neo-Liberalism. Polity Press, Cambridge, U.K.

[71] The pamphlet “Why capitalism makes AIDS a serious disease”, published by this author for the Peoples’ Coalition Party, received some interest because it showed how capitalism linked various problems about HIV together. This had not been previously considered by single-issue activists.

[72] Anthony Giddens (1998) The Third Way. The Renewal of Social democracy. Polity Press, Cambridge.

[73] Voravidh Charoenlert & Teeranart Kanchana-aksorn (1998) "The economic crisis, the problem of unemployment and poverty", in Poor people in Thailand, edited by Narong Petprasert , Political Economy No 7, Bangkok. (In Thai).

[74] Nanak Kakwanee & Jaroen-jit Po-tong (1998) "The effect of the economic crisis on the lives of Thais". Newsletter of the National Economic and Social Development Board, 24, October. (In Thai).

[75] Siamwalla, Ammar (1997) "Trying to figure out how Thailand got into such a mess". The Nation, Bangkok, 12/11/1997. Jomo, K. S. (ed) (1998) Tigers in Trouble. Financial Governance, Liberalisation and Crises in East Asia. Hong Kong University Press, IPSR Books (Cape Town), University Press Dhaka, White Lotus (Bangkok) and Zed Books (London & New York). Rangsun Thanapornpun (1998) Financial crisis and the financial sector in the Thai economy. Kop Fai publishers, Bangkok. (In Thai).

[76] Chris Harman (2009) Zombie Capitalism. Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx. Bookmarks, London.

[77] Jim Glassman (2003) Interpreting the economic crisis in Thailand: Lessons learned and lessons obscured. In: Ji Giles Ungpakorn (ed.) Radicalising Thailand. Already quoted.

[78] Kevin Hewison (1999) "Thailand’s Capitalism: The impact of the economic crisis". UNEAC Asia Papers No. 1, University of New England, Armidale, Australia.

[79] Walden Bello (1997) "Southeast Asia’s 'fast track' capitalism". The Nation, Bangkok, 4/12/1997.

[80] Kramon Kramontrakun (1997) IMF Meritmaker or sinner? Ming Mit Publications, Bangkok. (In Thai).

[81] Chattip Nartsupa (ed) (1998) Already quoted.

[82] Walden Bello, Shea Cunningham & Li Kheng Poh (1998) A Siamese Tragedy. Development and disintegration in modern Thailand. Zed Books, London & New York.

[83] Pasuk Phongpaichit & Chris Baker (2004) Taksin. The business of politics in Thailand. Silkworm Books.

[84] In 2002, when leading NGO organisers found themselves under investigation by the Anti-Money Laundering Office on orders from the Thai Rak Thai government, some NGO leaders complained that they had previously worked hard to dissolve demonstrations by farmers groups at the request of the government and were now being attacked! (Bangkok Post 3/10/ 2002).

[85] See interview in ADayweekly (2005) In Thai.