Revolution and counter-revolution in Thailand ?

posted 24 May 2010, 11:36 by Admin uk   [ updated 25 May 2010, 02:57 ]
Two excellent articles on Marxist.com gave an overview of the situation in Thailand; Thailand: how will it end and Lessons from Thailand. The latter had a rather peculiar last paragraph.

"All this proves that if the Thai workers and peasants had a revolutionary leadership, a party of the working class based on the ideas of revolutionary Marxist,(sic) with a programme to solve the pressing needs of the working people, not only the present regime, but capitalism itself could be brought tumbling down in Thailand." This gem was added by the editor of Marxist.com in London, who likes to have the last say on every issue and article.

Alan Woods, not having anointed the 'revolution' in Kyrgyzstan, (for this was spotted by lesser mortals) was not to be outdone on Thailand. So he made his first foray into 'Marxist' analysis of Thailand, based on a continuation of the above paragraph. 

In truth, the movement of the Red Shirts was smashed precisely because it lacked the support of the masses and workers in Bangkok.  (They probably have a healthy mistrust of Thaksin who inspired the movement and largely organised it.)  Again, on Marxist.com we hear of a so-called revolution. However, the Red shirts never mobilised more than 150,000 people on demonstrations in Bangkok, a city with a  population of over 8 million. What sort of revolution can only mobilise 2% of the city to support it? How could such a movement "call a general strike and move to take power" as Alan proposes?

I shall not dwell on the details but simply reproduce Alan's entire article below and ask comrades to compare this with the two articles by Joe Gold. It seems that, for the IMT leadership, revolutions are popping up everywhere. 

Revolution and Counter revolution in Thailand.

Written by Alan Woods

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Counter-revolutionary offensive

This was a situation that could not be maintained. On the one hand the government had lost control of the streets and had lost its nerve. On the other hand, the leaders of the red-shirts could not summon up the courage to call a general strike and move to take power. The lack of decisive initiative on the part of the leaders of the protest enabled Abhisit to recover his nerve. In the end, the government, pressed by the reactionaries, decided to go onto the offensive.

Abhisit repeated his determination to end the protests and gave warning that losses “will have to be endured”. This meant that a green light was being given for a crackdown by the army – irrespective of the loss of life. The army encircled the site. Demonstrators were being urged to leave, with priority given to women, children and the elderly. Those that stayed faced an uncertain fate.

The situation of the protesters was very difficult. Supplies of food and water were running low, and red-shirt reinforcements were being prevented from joining the protests. The army had a clear advantage in terms of superior weaponry and discipline. But the masses had an even more serious weapon: their willingness to die. This steely determination unnerved the ordinary Thai soldiers and made them hesitant and reluctant fighters.

On 13 May the government launched an attack on the red-Shirt protesters. In the beginning they were cautious, nervous about the outcome and doubtful about the loyalty of the troops. Western journalists reported that the soldiers seemed nervous, even frightened. They fired into the air and threw tear gas bombs. The red-shirts were not intimidated, but replied by building barricades, throwing stones and lumps of concrete, firing slings and home-made rockets and Molotov cocktails.

The big question was: what would be the result of an open clash? From a military point of view, the question answered itself. There was no way that improvised barricades and homemade rockets could stand against the discipline and firepower of a modern army. But this is not a purely military question. In the first place, behind the tanks and guns stand men, who can be powerfully influences by the sight of a people that has risen. The cohesion of the army itself is not something that can be taken for granted.

One Internet report stated:

“Sporadic clashes are occurring in Bangkok and the provinces. The Government is desperately trying to cling to power by murdering pro-democracy demonstrators.Splits are appearing in the security forces with reports of some police or army units returning fire with the advancing troops. This is indeed a civil war situation and the Government cannot hope to control the situation.” (My emphasis, AW)

Is mediation possible?

Unfortunately, the leaders of the protests had no real perspective. They called for UN-brokered talks. This had no chance of success. In the war between rich and poor there can be no referees or arbiters. There are no rules in this game. The only rule is that, in the end, one class must win and the other class must lose.

The government has rejected all offers of negotiation, saying that talks would only begin when the protesters abandoned their barricaded camp in Bangkok. On Sunday, the Thai government rejected the call by the Red Shirts for a ceasefire and UN-moderated talks. For its part, the United Nations has not even responded to this request.

Speaking in a televised address that was shown on all Thai channels, Abhisit said:

"As long as the Red Shirt protest continues, armed terrorists will remain and hurt people and authorities. Risks and violence will escalate. I insist that ending the protest is the only way to prevent losses.

"We cannot allow unlawful elements to take Bangkok hostage. We will not allow an armed group unhappy with the government to attack and hurt authorities. There is no turning back in our efforts to maintain a legal state. Losses will have to be endured. It is the only way to righteousness."

The victims of the counter-revolutionary violence are unarmed protesters. Officials say soldiers have a right to fire in self-defence. But eyewitnesses speak of trigger-happy soldiers and snipers firing from rooftops. Abhisit defended the army's actions: ''The government must move forward,'' he said. ''We cannot retreat because we are doing things that will benefit the entire country. If we want to see an end to the loss of life, the only way is to have the protesters end their protest.”

The government was playing games with the protesters’ leaders, appearing to offer concessions while systematically preparing for a bloody showdown. In order to distract public and international attention from these plans, Abhisit offered new elections – but only in November, and on condition that the mass protest ended. Even if the November election was held, why should one expect that the royalists would not overturn an unwelcome result, either by more street politics or by corrupt judges?

Sensing a trap, the Red Shirt leaders prevaricated. The Prime Minister immediately declared that his offer had been rejected, withdrew the ''road map'' to elections, and called in the army, which he had been intending to do all along.

Heroism of the insurgents

The deadly street battles between security forces and red-shirt protesters showed no sign of abating yesterday. On the contrary, fighting had spread to other parts of the capital, and also to the provinces. Nor was the firing all one way. Reporters referred to black-clad young men armed with guns returning the fire of the army. Other reports (unconfirmed) say there is evidence of some military or police returning fire in the direction of the army. The Sydney Morning Heralddescribed the scene:

“But on the streets, there is fear. Fear is in the eyes of the Red Shirts' guards standing defiantly, but nervously, at the fortified entrance to the camp.

“Full of bravado, Annan demonstrates his slingshot, pulling the rubber back and forth, aimed at a sniper, real or imaginary, in a nearby building. At his feet is a pile of rocks and lumps of concrete to hurl at oncoming troops. In his back pocket is a homemade rocket launcher fashioned from bamboo and scrap metal, to shoot fireworks at soldiers and police helicopters. They are a feeble riposte to the rifles and M-16s of the soldiers crouched behind sandbags and razor wire a few hundred metres away.

“The barricade behind which Annan stands, built up over weeks of protest, is a enormous wall of tyres and sharpened bamboo staves, four metres high. It reeks of petrol. Expecting troops to march on them any day, the Red Shirts have filled their barricades with fuel, ready to burn their city down before they give it up.

''’We are getting killed. We are all scared to get killed, but we stay.’

“But fear is written, too, on the faces of the troops on Rama IV Road, at the southern end of the Red Shirts' zone. Over loudspeakers, they plead with protesters for peace. ‘We are the people's army. We are just doing our duty for the nation. Brothers and sisters, let's talk together.' There is little hope of that.”

Under these conditions it was astonishing to see the tremendous courage and resilience of ordinary men and women: farmer’s boys, shop assistants, builders’ labourer’s and market women – all standing shoulder to shoulder in the face of bullets and armoured vehicles. This is the final answer to all the sceptics, cowards and traitors who doubt the ability of the working class to change society.

Despite fearful odds, the red-shirts stood firm, looking death straight in the eyes without flinching. An internet report by a Thai dissident living in London states: "The deputy chairman of the Bangkok Metropolitan Electricity Workers Union has brought people to join the Red Shirt protest at Rajprasong" --- Red Shirt leader just said that "We are like Spartacus!!!"

Weakness of leadership

As the death toll from four days of bloody street battles rose to 67 and hundreds more injured, the army demanded that women and children leave the area. But yesterday, save for a small group of elderly women and some children, the offer was largely ignored. The protesters were prepared to stick it out till the end. At Rajprasong they are singing "This is a class war to sweep away the autocracy”.

Unfortunately, the same determination was not shown by the leadership. Some Red Shirt leaders indicated they would be prepared to return to the negotiating table, but only if troops were immediately withdrawn from the streets and the UN brought in to mediate: "We want the UN to moderate it because we do not trust anyone else. There is no group in Thailand that is neutral enough," said Nattawut Saikua, one of the main leaders of the protest. This was naïve in the extreme.

The situation has gone far beyond the limits of legal and parliamentary institutions, which can only succeed to the degree that the decisive majority of society recognizes them as valid. But in the last analysis, all the fundamental questions will be settled outside parliament: in the streets and factories and in the army barracks. Australian journalists Walker and Farrelly wrote:

''Thailand's fatal flaw is its loss of faith in the electoral process. This loss of faith has opened the way for hardliners to pursue violent alternatives. Violence on all sides is deplorable, but remember that those who condemn the Red Shirt provocations most vigorously are also those who have consistently denied the legitimacy of their peaceful statements at the ballot box.''

The government treated the demand for UN intervention with contempt: "If they really want to talk, they should not set conditions like asking us to withdraw troops," Korbsak Sabhavasu, the Prime Minister's secretary-general, said. There was no real prospect of mediation. Behind this test of strength and willpower there is a clash between mutually exclusive interests. The government was determined to remove the protesters, and the latter were equally determined to stay where they were.

Abhisit warned that his government would not “bow to demonstrators”, and the army would move to crush the protesters. Thailand’s foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, criticized foreign diplomats for even talking to the red shirts, who he called “terrorists”. This is the authentic voice of the Thai ruling class. It is the voice of a class that is prepared to go to the end in defence of its class privileges.

But what of the leaders of the protest? From the beginning the leaders of the Red Shirts made repeated offers to negotiate with the government, all of which were rejected. The government understands what the leaders of the protest do not understand: that this movement poses a fundamental threat to the ruling class, which can only be met by the use of force.

The rank and file was prepared to fight. But at the last minute the UDD leadership announced from the stage that they were giving themselves up to the police and ending the protest because they “cannot stand to see more deaths”. By showing weakness the leaders gave the green light to the army to attack, knowing that they would meet no resistance.

This will have had a profoundly depressing effect on the mass movement. The same leaders who have been encouraging them to resist now tells them to surrender. Reports from Bangkok say that the rank and file women and men in the protest site are very angry about this. That is not surprising. The history of class struggle shows that it is better to go down to defeat fighting than to surrender without a fight.

The fight for democracy

The achievement of true democracy is not possible without the overthrow of the oligarchy. But the overthrow of the oligarchy is not possible without the overthrow of the Thai monarchy. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is 82 and in poor health. But he is a rallying-point for all the forces of reaction.

The International Marxist Tendency expresses its firm support for the revolutionary movement of the Thai masses. We stand for the immediate resignation of the Abhisit government and the holding of free and democratic elections. We defend all democratic rights, and above all the right of the people to organize, to protest and to strike. In order to guarantee these rights we demand the calling of a constituent assembly to elaborate a genuinely democratic constitution, the first point of which must be the abolition of the monarchy.

It is said that the Thai monarchy is a venerable institution, sanctified by religion and the power of an age-old tradition. But that could also have been said of the Romanov dynasty in tsarist Russia. But it only took one bloody clash on the ninth of January 1905 for all the old monarchist prejudices to be swept from the minds of the Russian people. Whatever the immediate result of the present bloody clashes on the streets of Bangkok, they will have the same effect.

The burning hatred of the government of the rich will inevitably be transferred to that bulwark of privilege, the monarchy. The demand for a Republic will grow, uniting broad layers of the masses. And with each step forward the masses take, it will become clear that the only way forward is through a government of workers and poor farmers.

As in all countries, so in Thailand, the institution of monarchy is not merely a meaningless survival of the past, a colourful but essentially meaningless anachronism, something for the tourists to admire. It is a bulwark of reaction, a symbol of property, power, wealth and privilege, a rallying point for all the forces of the counter-revolution. It must be swept aside if the revolution is to advance.

As we write these words, the fate of the mass protest movement in Bangkok is being settled. Given the capitulation of the leadership, it seems likely that the first round will end in a defeat. But this explosion of the class struggle will have profound consequences. Thailand will never be the same again. Whatever government emerges from a chaotic situation will be inherently unstable. No lasting settlement is possible on the present basis. New upheavals are inevitable.

The revolutionary democratic movement has been filled with class content. It will inevitably go beyond the bounds initially set by the leadership. It is in the interest of the Thai working class to fight for the most advanced democratic demands. Only by clearing away all the old feudal rubbish can the workers achieve the necessary conditions for developing the class struggle. But the workers will fight for democracy with their own class weapons: it is necessary to call a general strike to bring down the government!

A general strike, organized through action committees, is the only way to disorganize the counter-revolutionary forces and to give organizational form and cohesion to the revolutionary movement of the masses. The conquest of democracy would require the complete revolutionary reconstruction of Thai society from top to bottom. And this aim can only be achieved when the working class places itself at the head of society to overthrow the hated oligarchy, following the example of the Russian workers and peasants in 1917.

London, 19th May, 2010.

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