Thailand Pt 3: Redshirts and the Split in the State.

posted 10 Jul 2010, 11:39 by Admin uk   [ updated 3 Mar 2011, 04:18 ]
By Joe Gold

Redshirts and the Split in the State.
The killing has stopped, for now, and what passes for peace has returned to the Capital. Prime Minister Abhisit leads prayers for peace and talks of conciliation as the arrests continue and a state of emergency is extended for three more months in Bangkok and a third of Thailand. Tame singers, never much good at the best of times, drone on in censored broadcasts about the return of happiness against a backdrop of burning barricades – a sort of happiness, apparently,  that comes from the barrel of a gun!
The Udd at its height was a movement with revolutionary potential, hugely popular in the rural areas, the towns and cities of Northern Thailand. The protest against dictatorship gathered support from casual workers, taxi drivers and political activists from around Bangkok. There were a few teachers and college lecturers including at least one woman who had supported the Yellow Shirts on the basis that a corrupt Thaksin Government should be replaced but had been shocked that her protest resulted in a military dictatorship. There are aspects of this movement that have not been adequately described, or understood in the media anywhere in the world, which demonstrate a fragile grip on power by the murderous elite.
It could be observed by walking among the Red Shirt supporters and asking questions that they had a surprising mix of political attitudes and were in some respects quite conservative. They had  strong attachment to the monarchy and close links to the army and police. The demonstrators were unarmed,  largely peaceful, but with a military presence somewhere on the periphery. When the Red Shirt supporters said ‘the army cannot fight us. We are the uncles and aunts of the army’ this was not just rhetoric, or a way of saying they came from the same villages and shared the same class background.  A  survey of a  random sample of people was not possible, but it became clear that in many cases they meant literally that they were army families. They had a father a son or a nephew in the police or the military or a retired soldier in the family. Where they had guns they were lovingly cleaned and put on display as trophies captured from the army. Lacking ammunition and logistic support these were of little use as weapons but they showed that army families were in the best position to challenge the allegiance of the troops to the ruling elite and even that an experienced ex-soldier knew how to grab a gun from a new recruit.
They had support from  the ‘renegade officer’  Khattiya Sawasdipol ( Sai Deng) the major general who was suspended , deprived of his rank and shot dead by Army snipers from the Sky Train walkway who may have had a personal following from troops he had trained in the past for combating communist guerillas.  There were allies and class mates of Thaksin who had been  purged after the military coup (probably on the sidelines) and the men in black launching hand grenades appeared to be sympathetic to the UDD but not subject to their discipline.  One of the three men arrested after one of these attacks was said to be a retired soldier and there were even suggestions that a few serving soldiers may have been behind the barricades.
The UDD had impressive technical capabilities from the start and the government censors were unable to keep up with their development.. They could generate their own electricity,  and set up a satellite linked TV station with a streaming transmission from the protest site onto the internet.
‘When the government's expert team analysed the network with the aim of identifying the source and thereby blocking access to, and broadcasting from, the UDD Thailand Player, they found that the Red Shirts had intelligently applied Cloud Computing technology by running Google Appspot and Microsoft Horizon from two locations of servers in the US - Mountain View, California; and Redmond, Washington” Bangkok Post.
There were community radio stations  , multiple  websites and the ability to block transmissions by the PM on national TV chanels.  They had sophisticated  use of cell phones to spread information and had a flow of information from  within the Army and Police. It was known in advance which battalions would be used in the crackdown.

Technical resources which would be beyond the reach of other movements against dictatorial rule  in other parts of the world can be understand only on the premise that the UDD protest on the streets in Bangkok and Issan was the public face of another campaign, hidden  and unreported, within the army and police.  There can be no names mentioned and no detailed account of the discussions  in dormitories canteens and the officers mess , or power struggles in  and around the police stations  and at all levels in the military command structure, but the reports of  young soldiers committing suicide rather than take part in the crackdown leave little room for doubt that the real power struggle was within the armed forces.
For the Red Shirts this was their strength and also their weakness. There was a turning point in their campaign when they moved from attack to defence and eventually faced defeat by sections of the Army still loyal to Abhisit.  Reuter reported on April 6th:-
Thousands of protesters streamed towards parts of the Thai capital declared no-go zones by the government on Tuesday, reversing an earlier decision to call off the march to avert possible clashes with security forces.
"Red shirt" protesters occupying the city's plush shopping district for a fourth day were hemmed in by riot police, but called on demonstrators based at Pan Fah Bridge in Bangkok's historic heart to fan out across the city in defiance of government orders.
Thousands of "red shirts" on motorcycles poured into the city's embassy and banking district, blowing whistles, peeping horns and waving flags as riot police quickly moved in.
"From now we will make an offensive move," a protest leader Nattawut Saikua told the crowd. "Let our people from Pan Fah march to all the banned 11 routes immediately.
There were many accounts of the army pulling back and refusing to fire on the crowd, of demonstrators hugging the soldiers, of Red shirts taking back their TV relay station by  just pushing through army lines.  With their movement at its height and the government losing control they changed tactics and moved supporters from Phan Pa and around the City to Ratchaprasong  near the Central Word Shopping Centre.
The offensive move was cancelled but the mood at Ratchaprasong was celebratory, Supporters were cheering the speeches on the stage. Others were singing and dancing. Walking freely among the crowd and talking to as many as possible, mostly through an interpreter, I met one man who was leaving as he thought the army would come with machine guns and shoot them all. I spoke to another 18  people who said they had won and there would be fresh elections. But Abhisit had not resigned and after a  few days the demonstrators had settled in and life around them in Bangkok returned to something like normal. The Sky train was running, there was no general strike in Bangkok, but the luxury shopping centres and private schools were out reach.
The power struggle within the army had led the movement into a world of plots and counter plots, alliances, promises and betrayals . The Red Shirt leadership could easily believe they had succeeded when the police refused to move against them and the army could no longer be ordered to attack, but the situation would be reversible unless they moved against the stronghold of the 11th Infantry Corps where Abhisit was hiding, sending him into  into exile . If they had been  promised a coup to bring democracy then they were victims of duplicity and deceipt.
There were televised negotiations which led nowhere, promises of a compromise in which Abhisit  would resign early but not until he had appointed a hard line Amart loyalist  as head of the army, and leave himself time to break all promises and round up his opponents after they dispersed. All this was a charade to give Abhisit time to prepare his killing fields.
It is not unusual for upper class Thais including Dentists, University professors and diplomats  to demonstrate the outlook  expected of  highly educated and enlightened people. They can be  interested in global political issues  espousing liberal and democratic values, opposed to the death penalty and can show love of humanity in a Buddhist and peace loving way until confronted with dissent from the lower classes, at which point they regress into the most evil, vengeful and criminalized barbarians on the face of the earth. They just know, with no self doubt or hesitation that Redshirts are evil and should be shot.

Thailand has a long history of military coups and dictatorship and  the ruling elite is not capable of seeing any alternative. Abhisit is an extreme example of his class having suffered an education at Eton and Oxford, a system in which a child of the rich can be exposed to maternal deprivation and institutional life in the first few years of life, beaten bullied and humiliated then put in charge to do the same to others as a prefect in the English public School system, forced to achieve high scores with little understanding and propelled into high office without the slightest idea why he is there.

The blend of attitudes between the Thai Amart and the remains of the English aristocracy is especially lethal and this well groomed puppet behaved accordingly. Troops were sent in to operate a siege, cutting off water and electricity. They had a 60m free fire zone in front  not for any military reason but to stop fraternization between troops and demonstrators. Crowds gathered behind the army cordon, local tuk tuk drivers and office workers among them, who started to jeer and force a retreat so the siege became permeable.

Fresh troops were prepared, kept in isolation and  told repeatedly that they were doing their duty to the King and they were faced with terrorists. In preparation for the Crackdown TV broadcasts, the internet and cellphone signals were switched off, not simply in order to disrupt Redshirt communications but in order further to isolate their troops from any knowledge of the protest they were to crush.

The last and most difficult leak of information was from the foreign journalists on the scene and these came under pressure to stop. Rachel Harvey and the BBC team were updating their on the spot accounts of the military build up but stopped abruptly at 6.30 on the Saturday before the crackdown.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) lists  the following incidents.
1Japanese cameraman, Hiroyaki Muramoto  - fatal shooting on April 1                
2Death of Italian freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi on 19 May from gunshot wounds
3Nelson Rand, for France 24 television network, sustained three bullet wounds in his arm, leg and abdomen, whilst Chandler Vandergrift suffered shrapnel wounds to the head.
.4Three Thai photographers and one reporter  were  also wounded, including a veteran Nation senior photographer Chaiwat Phumpuang..

Abhisit had announced that the protest would be ended and calculated that 5000 deaths would be acceptable. His snipers killed Sae Deng and the armored personel carriers crashed through the makeshift barriers. As the killing got under way the Red Shirt leaders ended the protest and some walked into the police station. At that point they were isolated from their mass base in the North, had been let down by their allies in the military and had not mobilized support from the working class around Bangkok who at this stage took no part in the action. The trade union leadership had been compromised as they supported the moves to oust Thaksin.
This limited the  massacre but the leadership were hunted down- not just the National leaders at Ratchaprasong but the newly emerging leadership that came forward in the course of the campaign, speaking on the stages of the  UDD sit down demonstrations in  The North and Northeast of the country.  The government had a list of 500 leaders and those under arrest were transferred to army bases for interrogation.s“No country in the world got democracy just by asking — you have to fight for it.”

Where is Phusadee?
Just one of many among the 88 dead, 3000 injured and others missing and unaccounted for, (including two corpses), Phusadee Ngamkam  is now the focal point of investigations into the truth of how Thai PM Abhisit and the thinly veiled military regime dealt with the Red Shirt insurrection.

As the occupation at the Ratchaprasang intersection and Red Shirt leaders walked into the police headquarters nearby Phusadee stood alone by the empty stage saying to the photographers  “No country in the world got democracy just by asking — you have to fight for it.” Now she is missing, not even on the official list of people unaccounted for.

The Mission  
‘We just want Democracy’ said the  banner behind the stage at Ratchaprasong. The problem for The UDD and for Thailand is that  democracy has become a  revolutionary worth fighting for because of the weakness and instability of the ruling class, which can use loyalty to the king as its trump card but has no hope of an electoral victory. Their ambivalent view of monarchy and the class struggle is reflected in the UDD Mission statement:-
  1. Achieving the goal of establishing a genuine democracy that has the King as our Head of State, with political power belonging exclusively to the people. We reject any attempt, past or future, at using the monarchy to silence dissent or advance a particular agenda.
    .2) Dissolving the 2007 Constitution and restoring the 1997 Constitution, which may then be amended through a transparent, consultative, and democratic process...3) Bringing Thais together in an effort to solve our political and socio-economic problems, recognising that such efforts must stem from the power of the people...4) Implementing the rule of law, due process and a system of equal justice for all, free of any obstructions or double-standards...5) Uniting all Thais who love democracy, equality, and equal justice within all facets of society, in an effort to deconstruct and move beyond the Amartyatippatai (Aristocracy) system...6) Using exclusively non-violent means to achieve these objectives.

Their mission calls for a  for a mass revolutionary movement, power of the people, which will usher in a constitutional monarchy and break the Aristocratic stranglehold on power, but without a fight. Loyalty to the King is to be expected so far, as no Thai would sit down while the National Anthem is playing or would dare to mention the possibility of a future Republic, risking the very serious charge of lese majeste.  Nevertheless it must be said with all due respect to the Red Shirt leaders, who showed initiative and remarkable courage in their peaceful challenge to the Military backed regime,  that violence always comes from the State in dealing with a popular movement of the poor and oppressed. Democrats will have no choice in the matter, unless their movement has such overwhelming strength on the streets that it can brush all threats aside and take power without hesitation.
The state today, just as when Lenin wrote his ‘State and Revolution’ is made up of armed forces and bureaucrats charged with protecting the temporary and shifting borders which define a nation (Siem Reap in nearby Cambodia names  the spot where the Thais were defeated and there is still a border dispute between the two states) and also to regulate society in the interests of the ruling elite.
The first constitutional monarchy in the world, in England, was produced not by discussions and a social contract but as the outcome of a bloody civil war between supporters of the Parliament on one side and the Lords and landowners (the English Amart) on the other.
In the early stages King Charles 1st refused to compromise and had his head cut off. The Commonwealth led by Oliver Cromwell was eventually defeated but the restoration of the monarchy under Charles 2nd was a compromise between the Lords and the emerging manufacturers and traders who became the capitalists of the Industrial Revolution. The hereditary Lords retained an Upper house and had some power until recent times and the monarchy remains a threat to democracy through the Privy Council. Once in the UK and once in Australia the institution of the monarchy has been used to overthrow an elected Government. Just as a Border is the outcome of war these institutions are an outcome for shorter or more extended periods of time of ongoing conflict between the classes in society. They are ‘dynamic equilibrium’ when they seem most unchangeable.
Revolutionary  character of the UDD
The UDD was representing parties which had won elections and been deprived of power, either by military coup, banning of parties by a rigged judiciary, or manipulation of the votes within Parliament. It was a mass revolutionary movement at its height, especially in Issan among the rural poor. That is not to say that its followers were trained revolutionaries or had a clearer view of a future and more just society than anyone else. Bill Durodie, writing on the ‘spiked’website explains this with extracts from Trotsky’s three volume history of the Russian Revolution. For example :-
One trend that Trotsky identified was the use of ‘conspiracy’ as one of the prime accusations made by the ruling class – consciously or not – in their attempts to demobilise the masses at a time of insurrection. Members of the elite are unable to understand through their ‘police mind’ that periods of rapid change stem, not from ‘the activities of “demagogues”’, but from the precise opposite – the ‘deep conservatism’ of the masses, whose views lag chronically ‘behind new objective conditions’. As a result, the elite focuses narrowly on ‘the deliberate undertaking of the minority’, whilst ignoring ‘the spontaneous movement of the majority’. Trotsky adds: ‘Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box… But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.’

Trotsky had also been through  the 1905 revolution and remembered how a group of peasants led by a priest, Father Gapon, had gone to see the Tsar, the ‘little father’ who loved all his people and ask him to plead their case with the landowners, not able to imagine that their Tsar would send out the troops and have them shot down.

The causes of an uprising are not to be found in waves of idealism or the genius of agitators but in blind rage on the part of the people involved. Democracy itself might not be worth fighting and dying for, especially if nothing more is at stake than the date of the next election. But what they hope and intend can be achieved through democratic means,  an end to serial dictatorships, a lasting change in the balance of power between rich and poor, prospects of better health and education for their children, all these issues are grievances which can accumulate to a point of explosion. Enough is enough and Thailand must change.
After the Crackdown,
This uprising is over and the government prepares for the next, placing an order for an airship despite reports that the prototype had failed to cruise at an altitude sufficient to be safe from ground fire. Plans are discussed for a more effective methods of blocking internet sites so that it will not have to be switched off, and the purge of the police and army continues.
In a nauseating display of religiose hypocrisy Abhisit with rows of monks leads prayers for the dead and talks of conciliation – with the UDD leaders locked up, opposition parties closed down and no prospect of a free and fair election. The ruling class cannot face an election but is too weak to enforce an authoritarian regime, lacking a mass party of reaction based on the middle class or an army that can be trusted. Without sons of the farmers, there is no army. His government is still unstable and could be brought down by  coalition partners or a few MPs changing sides. The next election or a succession of the monarchy are likely reopen the question of who rules Thailand. Meanwhile General Khattiya founded a new party and his Daughter is taking over the leadership, and one of the Redshirt leaders got permission from the court to be  released from prison under guard just long enough to sign the papers so he can stand for the opposition in a Bangkok by-election. His party has appealed for a robot which can make speeches and wave its arms on his behalf as he campaigns from prison.

Thaksin has raised the possibility of Guerilla warfare and some of the UDD have prepared to go underground. There will be more discussion of methods and objectives of the next stage of this ongoing struggle. Marxism is not simplistically prescriptive but can be used as a guide to those wishing to transform society through an understanding of the relationship between contending classes and through the study of revolutionary history.
Suggestions for an amended mission might include:-
1 To achieve a genuine democracy.
2 All politicians to be accountable with full declaration of interests.
3 Politicians fairly convicted of corruption  should be banned from holding office.
4 The corruption of leaders should never be used as an excuse for closing down opposition parties.
5Abolition of the law of Lese Majeste
6 Democratisation of the Army so that it can never again be used to oppress the people of Thailand.
7. To deconstruct and move beyond the Amartyatippatai (Aristocracy) system.
8 The right of self determination for the Malay speaking areas in the South.
9Advanced Health services and free education, full Trade union rights, modernization fund for rural life, full equality of opportunity and the rights of ethnic minorities including the Malays.

10Building of a combined mass movement of the workers soldiers and farmers of Thailand   capable of removing the dictatorial Abhisit regime.

In the early stages it would be necessary to demand in Thailand , and to repeat from abroad,
1 Immediate release of political prisoners.
2 Drop all charges of terrorism and Lese Majeste.
3 It can be promised on behalf of the future and legitimate government of Thailand that those who torture prisoners will be punished, and that punishment will go right up the chain of command.
4 If  Phusadee Ngamkam  is not found or accounted for Abhisit will be held personally responsible for her murder and will suffer the consequences.

Joe Gold
Thai border

first published