Red shirts as communists

18 05 2010

PPT is having difficulty posting on things other than current events. However, we wish to comment on an Asia Times Online report from 13 May 2010 by William Barnes. Barnes is a journalist with long experience in Thailand and has a bit of a scoop in getting Therdpoum Chaidee, a former communist and union leader from the 1970s to speak to him about the red shirts.

Therdpoum, if PPT’s memory is correct, was a strong supporter of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. But as a former member of the CPT, he can claim to have been a “colleague of key protest leaders” of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship’s (UDD). His argument is that the “relative success of Thailand’s red-garbed anti-government protest group in outmaneuvering the government and military owes much to Maoist revolutionary thought and guerrilla tactics.”

PPT is not sure how much credibility to give such a claim when the PAD were supported by many former members of the CPT – at one time they had almost the whole last politburo of the CPT on stage! This point is made later in the article. However, the attempt to link red shirts to communists is at least an interesting claim to make,and not for the first time.

The claim is that some of the red shirt leaders learned their political strategies with the CPT. We suppose that is a truism, but what is claimed? The main point seems to be that the CPT decided that “strategy has necessarily required violence…”. Well, yes, they were fighting a people’s war. And it is that claim that was made earlier , for red shirts. But it wasn’t the CPT red shirts making the claim. Rather it was their former enemies from the military – Seh Daeng and Panlop Pinmanee.

If the CPT-ified strategy was to use the “threat of violence, to divide and immobilize Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government,” it hasn’t worked. Therdpoom is cited on old CPT strategy: “The revolution walks on two legs. One political leg and one army leg. Violence is the essential ingredient in the mix. That is what we were taught,” but is this a “revolutionary situation”? The claim is that the “UDD has publicly portrayed itself as a non-violent, pro-democracy movement, a line many international media outlets have perpetuated.” That’s only partly true. The international media has spent a lot of time trying to show that some red shirts are armed.

It is said that “UDD leaders have threatened ‘civil war’ if security forces crack down on their supporters…”. Again, that’s partly true. The red shirts have warned of a civil war if there is a crackdown, as a consequence of such an action. And, Abhisit has used the term as a threat and claimed the need to crackdown to avoid a civil war.

The article spends some time on Thaksin, but doesn’t explain how this big-time capitalist has become a communist…. Or why the red shirt demand has been for a dissolution of parliament rather than a revolution (although there might be a hint of republicanism as being revolutionary, but that would be a bit of a yawn for a communist revolutionary).

Therdpoum claims that the “people who are the real planners, not the people up on stage making protest speeches, these people probably keep a very low profile, but they must calculate that aggression is vital…. Aggression paralyzes and divides opponents. This is what we were taught, this is how a smaller force can defeat overwhelming power. The message was: divide and conquer.” This claim is one that does the rounds regularly amongst academics and journalists – that the on-stage red shirt leaders are stooges (usually for Thaksin).

Therdpoum is said to have been a communist but “later renounced the ideology.” It says that , Seksan Prasertkun and “current UDD leaders Weng Tochirakan and Jaran Dittapichai, were drilled in Maoist revolutionary theory” in Hanoi.

PPT is unable to immediately check this for accuracy; maybe a reader can confirm or deny it.

The “five tactics they learned for unseating a government included: divide your enemies; form a united front; use provocative violence; secure the loyalty of people inside the ruling regime; and, finally, win over the army.” He adds: “That is what we have seen. The government people have been quarrelling about what to do. Some senior figures have a divided loyalty. The army and the police cannot move. Provocative violence has been very successful…”.

The article suggests that the UDD’s shunning of  “hard policy debates in favor of simple credos of justice denied and the hypocrisy of elites” is communist strategy. PPT doesn’t recall a lot of hard policy from the yellow shirts either, and this is suggestive of street and rally politics rather than communism.

The claim that the red shirts have been “pumped full of toy-town leftism and told to hate every institution that has held this country together” is a somewhat arrogant claim made by Therdphoom. PPT attended a number of red shirt rallies and saw none of this. Some of the red shirt literature is more leftist, deriving from particular groups, but that is more sphisticated than Therdphoom allows. He seems to have become a monarchist and that is where his fear lies: “I worry that the bitterness and hatred produced by this propaganda now runs so deep it will cause tension and problems for a long time…”.

He claims: “Many of them [red shirts] are now absolutely convinced that Thaksin was the best leader in Thai history, that he was a kind and generous man who holds the solution to all their problems. They don’t need a program – they just need a new Thai state with Thaksin in charge. It has become very emotional – as it was designed to be…”.

PPT agrees that many red shirts are convinced that they did better under Thaksin than any previous leader. We disagree that the idea that Thaksin should return to head government is so widely held. But if we are talking of beliefs held, perhaps Therdphoom should also ask why his allies simply hate Thaksin and think that all his supporters are ignorant, duped or paid.

Therdphoom makes a claim that yellow-shirted intellectuals and journalists are passing about: “The red shirts …  now… [have] a hand-picked core of ‘professional revolutionaries’ chosen for their loyalty and street smarts…”. These people hide the “deep secrets” and “hidden messages” that are “revealed to only a privileged few in the movement, while an even smaller number know the entire strategy…”.

It seems that “Therdpoum believes that the UDD’s sincere left-wing members are using Thaksin and anticipate the opportunity to eventually dump his personal agenda in favor of the establishment of a more socialist society. Some of the former communists who took up arms and fled into the jungle in the 1970s and 1980s and were once in Thaksin’s inner circle include Prommin Lertsuridej, Phumtham Wechayachai, Sutham Saengprathum, Phinit Jarusombat, Adisorn Piangket and Kriangkamon Laohapairot.”

But, as the article points out after mischievously naming these people: “Its unclear how many of those former communists are now active from behind-the-scenes in the UDD’s planning and strategy.”

The article’s author claims that “UDD organizer Jaran Dittapichai told this correspondent that the protest group had adopted ‘Mao Zedong’s method of thinking’ and some of his techniques, including the establishment of a united front.” But this seems to amount to nothing when Jaran adds: “I was a communist and several leaders were former communists … but the red shirt people don’t like communism or socialism. We use his principles to build up our front and to work with people who are not red shirts, but who are fighting for democracy like us.” In other words, they adopt united front tactics that long predate Mao. In any case, Mao’s main revolutionary strategy was countryside encircling the cities and peasant revolution. The current actions look more like the Paris Commune than a rural-based armed revolution.

While it is interesting to be regaled by former CPT member Therdphoom, his ideas amount to little more than a guess, made into a rumor that satisfies some in the trembling middle classes who fear that the red shirts are cousins of the Khmer Rouge.


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20 05 2010
What makes a social movement? « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] in Asia Times Online runs a line of argument on the red shirts that is worthy of comment. PPT commented on an earlier article by Barnes, claiming that the “radical” red shirts were actually communists. We made the point […]

21 05 2010
What makes a social movement? | Politicalprisonersofthailand's Blog

[…] in Asia Times Online runs a line of argument on the red shirts that is worthy of comment. PPT commented on an earlier article by Barnes, claiming that the “radical” red shirts were actually communists. We made the point […]

8 12 2020
Memes, communism, and a republic | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] played with symbols, redefining, re-engineering and using irony and parody. We recall, too, that red shirts and other opponents of the military-monarchy regime are regularly accused of being communists […]