ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Class Struggle, the Thai Way

The Red Shirts' movement has been crushed, but the roots of the political crisis in Thailand run deep.

The democracy movement in Thailand and the military crackdown that suppressed it evoked a sense of déjà vu. Over the last four decades, the power elite have unleashed severe repression in the form of a military crackdown whenever the subalterns have given vent to their aspirations for democracy and social justice through mass mobilisation. This happened in 1973 and 1976 when the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) was a force to reckon with, but the party was banned and ultimately crushed by the mid-1980s. But the popular classes rose once more in 1992, and the military was called in again to show them their place in the established order. With the brutal military assault of 19 May on the Red Shirts – as the protestors from the deprived of Thailand came to be called – the arrests of the main leaders and bloody suppression of the supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the power elite and their backers have got the respite they were hoping for. But the Red Shirts, in one form or the other will be back, for the roots of the upsurge remain. And, the movement for democracy seems to be getting bigger each time it resurfaces.

The movement for democracy in Thailand, despite the fact that the very upholding of republicanism or communism is against the law, is closely intertwined with class struggle. The Red Shirts, the supporters of the UDD, are the wretched of the Thai earth. These are peasants, mainly from the north and the north-east of the country, the very viability of whose agriculture is under threat. They also come from the precarious classes in the urban areas. These are workers whose bargaining power has been totally undermined in a labour surplus economy, the unemployed, and non-wage earners in the informal sector. So the movement for democracy is a grassroots movement. In the absence of the once influential CPT and the lack of a left influence, it largely came to support the party of Thaksin Shinawatra. On becoming prime minister in 2001, he did put in place elements of social welfare – the rudiments of a universal healthcare system, a moratorium on peasants’ debts, and so on.

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