Insurgency In Yangon – Interview

Insurgency In Yangon – Interview

The civil war in Burma has been ongoing for decades, however, it was almost exclusively fought along the country’s borders in the ethnic minority regions. After the coup in February, mass street protests were brutally crushed. Since then, thousands of young people have deserted the cities and fled to ethnic rebel strongholds to undergo military training with the armed ethnic groups in preparation for a final confrontation with the Tatmadaw junta (the Burmese military). 

Out of this exodus, a new army has been formed, The Peoples Defence Force (PDF), which is supposedly under the command of the National Unity Government (NUG), who are currently operating in exile in Thailand and other ethnic minority strongholds within Burma. Members of the PDF are tight-lipped about their strategic plans, but it is no secret that many have returned to the major cities to carry out surveillance, assassinations and make preparations for intense urban guerrilla warfare when the time comes.

The National Unity Government has attempted to ally with the armed ethnic groups to form a united front against the junta, though there are no certain signs yet that these attempts have been successful. Earlier this month the National Unity Government declared war on the junta, vowing to take the country back. Since then there have been daily sporadic assassinations, bombings and sabotaging of infrastructure, but there is yet to be any major fighting.

We spoke to Myo Min, an ethnic Rohingya, Din Deng contributor, activist and Yangon resident about the current situation in the former capital city on the eve of war. 

Can you tell us what Yangon has been like since the February coup?

Yangon is the main economic city in Burma, before it was always extremely busy, with heavy traffic every day. But since the coup it’s been extremely quiet, you don’t see many people and there’s military everywhere, they’re patrolling 24 hours a day and they stop anyone they vaguely suspect. It feels like we’re living in a war zone. If we look outside there’s always heavily armed police and military everywhere. There are also raids every night by the military, they raid houses and apartment blocks arresting people, the general feeling is that we’re extremely insecure.

Everyone is also struggling economically because of both Covid and the military so the prices are hiking up and industry is leaving the country. People are struggling with basic needs because there are no jobs. Also, the civil disobedience campaign is ongoing, people aren’t paying their taxes or paying their electricity bills, stuff like that. 

When people go out they don’t even take their mobile phones with them because at the checkpoints they’ll check your phone and if they find anything they don’t like they’ll arrest you on the spot. 

Is it harder for you as a Rohingya person?

It is hard for us but we don’t identify as Rohingya when we are in Yangon. We hide our identity. On my ID card, it says Bengali, but luckily in my neighbourhood, they’re not so strict, so I don’t take my ID with me if I have to go out. Where I live it’s actually one of the safest places, mostly they stop you in the evening around here, so I just don’t go out in the evening and if I get stopped in the day they just check phones and stuff. However, if they see that I’m Rohingya it’s going to be a big problem. We only reveal our identity among people we can trust. Also, most people don’t take their real phones, they have like a second phone that they take with them in public, although the military can see that like, this is a cheap phone, they know what you’re doing, so that can be a problem too, in that situation you’ll probably have to pay a bribe. 

How many young people have left the city to join the PDF or to go into exile, is it very noticeable?

Most of my friends have left Yangon to join the Kachin, Karen or Shan ethnic groups. It’s very noticeable. I think almost all of the youth that are still here are engaged in some activity against the Tatmadaw even if they didn’t join the armed groups. Still, they’re helping in one way or another. I work at a school teaching short courses, we’re all online and not surprisingly a lot more people are joining political courses.

On the streets, it’s mostly elderly people, not young ones. Also, young people from the rural areas who have moved to Yangon aren’t even going back to their homes in the countryside because even Yangon is safer than those kinds of places, as in more quiet villages if people are organising the military can just tear villages apart with impunity. 

So in my opinion, almost all the young people in Yangon now are fighting the junta in some way or another. We feel like this is the time we need to stand for something. If we don’t do it this time, we have to suffer for generations. It’s like, this short-term sacrifice will be our long-term gain.

Has any guerrilla warfare begun in the cities?

Yeah, some people have returned from training with the ethnic armies to Yangon and other major cities, like Mandalay. But the problem is they don’t have enough equipment and the Tatmadaw are very well equipped. So they are doing something like throwing handmade grenades into military cars, and some shootings also in the street, also targeting Tatmadaw businesses and informants, police stations, checkpoints etc… But the main issue for the insurgents is that they’re underequipped.

How coordinated is this activity?

I think it’s very well coordinated. There are other groups as well as the PDF, but there is still coordination because the common enemy is the Tatmadaw. So we don’t look at those kinds of differences for now. 

How unified do you think these insurgents are? How long will it last?

Well, many of my friends who have gone for military training are not under the PDF. They’re more like… Associated with small groups or are independent. They’re doing it on their own with the help of their friends or from collective donations and they’re not getting help from the NUG, but still, as I said before, they have a common enemy, so they cooperate with each other. They’re thinking that once we get rid of the Tatmadaw it will be much easier for us to negotiate and they believe that they can work it out after.

Urban youth arrive for military training with the rebel Karen National Union military.

At the beginning of the protests, some neighbourhoods tried to become autonomous against the Tatmadaw, are any of those still effectively keeping them out?

No, not like before. That was a tactic at the beginning but now the military is absolutely everywhere all the time, so that’s impossible.

How functional are government services right now?

Well for the police, like every police station, they’re just covering them in sandbags and hiding behind them pointing guns towards the street, or manning checkpoints. Public hospitals are still running but people are avoiding all engagement with the government. They don’t like going to government hospitals, but there are a lot of underground clinics operating, these clinics are mostly helping the poor, while the rich go to private hospitals. There’s like an emergency secondary state infrastructure being operated underground. 

The banking system has almost entirely collapsed like you can’t withdraw or send money and schools and universities are still closed. Pretty much all public institutions are not running. Also, people are not paying taxes, not even for electricity or water, because we don’t want to do anything that will benefit the junta. Then they send someone to come and cut our water or electricity, but thanks to people underground, maybe PDF, they’ll go to whoever’s cutting the power and set them straight.

This is all part of the civil disobedience movement that started after the coup in February and it’s still going strong, and we can keep going for quite a while I think, how long for I can’t predict but the people are still strong. 

Do you expect that there will be guerrilla warfare in Yangon and the other major cities?

Yes absolutely. We are anticipating a much more intense battle with the Tatmadaw here and we are prepared for that. Everyone is expecting it, unfortunately, that means businesses are hiking up prices because people are preparing for the war, collecting food and necessities. Right now we have this low-level insurgency but it will undoubtedly grow to a higher frequency. We will destroy this junta using any method we can and not let them run smoothly at all.

How is this movement different to the one in 1988?

I think the main thing that sets this movement apart from 1988 is that in the past the junta would come to negotiate, to talk about reconciliation. Last time people accepted that, but not this time. This is something we’ve learnt from the past. The junta needs to be completely destroyed. 

Also tactically we’ve learned not to flee to the rebels for training and abandon the cities. A lot of people have returned to the cities already and the movement is strong here. Really the movement has been spread all across the country, everywhere. Also, they’re not going to wait for a long time, like before, 6 months training and return. 

Are you, as a Rohingya minority, sceptical of the NUG?

I’m very sceptical. I think they’re not going to do anything for the minorities. Even if they put some minorities in important, visible positions, it’s an empty gesture. Those who really stand for the minorities weren’t selected. The NUG is more like an NGO, a lot of the members are from NGOs. To solve these political problems, you need to give political guarantees, which they’re not. They’re just making this organisation that looks inclusive, but this solves no political problems. 

Even in the past 7 months, the NUG hasn’t actually formed close ties with the ethnic minorities. It’s like they have no real intention to give away any kind of actual power, just something that looks like representation. 

Are there any Rohingya people in the PDF as far as you’re aware?

Not that I know of, but yes we’re helping back home or here in Yangon, we’re helping financially, helping on a case by case community basis. 

Are Bamar people in Yangon sceptical of the NUG too? 

I would say that the vast majority blindly follow the NUG, that’s the Burmese political culture, they’re very chauvinistic. Even those who have been radicalised, politically, they don’t really understand, it takes a lot of time to change this in mass public opinion, Bamar chauvinism is very deeply intertwined with the political culture. Sometimes when I think about these things, I feel hopeless. 

Now I’m not feeling great about the future, but I will do what I can do in my power to get rid of the junta. Frankly, there has not been much discussion about what’s going to happen after this war. This conflict could definitely continue, we have many armed organisations, each one has different aspirations, there is a real lack of discussion on that. Personally, what I’m really concerned about is that there is no plan to solve the situation for the Rohingya or the other minorities.

Thalugaz Interview

Thalugaz Interview

For the past few weeks, there have been constant violent protests in the Din Daeng neighbourhood of Bangkok. (No relation to the name of this blog). Din Daeng is an extremely deprived area of the capital, particularly after strict lockdowns in the latest wave of the Covid pandemic were implemented with virtually no economic assistance. Since mid-august, predominantly young people have been fighting the police with improvised weapons like fireworks, small homemade bombs, slingshots and Molotov cocktails. The police have responded, as usual, with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. Live rounds have also been used for the first time since the Red Shirt protests. This round of fighting has been notably different from previous protests in the Thai democracy movement. They are distinctly more violent and increasing in frequency. 

Until recently the protests have been taking place without a clear group organising them. Thammasat, DaoDin and FreeYouth are all notably absent from the neighbourhood. However, a new group, Thalugaz, has surfaced to represent and attempt to formalise this localised movement. Thalugaz’s social media has a distinctly anarchist/anti-capitalist tone and claims to speak for the underrepresented working class of Bangkok.

We spoke to the admin of the Thalugaz social media pages (name withheld).

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m the admin for the Thalugaz social media, I’m like an organiser for Thalugaz, a spokesperson and a coordinator. I’m from the Din Daeng area too. Protesters in Din Daeng have many organising teams on the ground in the protests so if they want to communicate to the public, they connect with me.

What is Thalugaz?

It started because some of the protesters in Bangkok, working-class people, felt excluded by the mainstream protest groups who always promote non-violent means of resistance. For us that’s not enough, we can’t wait any longer for this confrontation with the state, we need to do something now, different from the mainstream. So we formed this new group, this new movement, it’s Thalugaz.

Who’s behind Thalugaz?

First, we formed operation teams in the Din Daeng neighbourhood, it was people talking to each other and organising and then I started managing the public page. We made this page because we need to justify our actions to the people more broadly. We also began talking to other local people in the area face to face, because we need them to support and trust us, to understand our actions. It’s important that we know how the people in the area feel about us and to maintain a strong relationship. So operation teams sent reports to me and I spread it around, we still do. But a lot of people in the neighbourhood have fought with the government before, many are former redshirts, they’re the working class, they’re tightly connected with the protests. 

To be clear though, this is the new generation, some don’t really know about the red shirts, they’re too young, some just want to come out to have fun fighting the police, but there are older people there too, the young are learning from the old. 

Thalugaz protesters shooting fireworks at riot police. Photo courtesy of Khao Sod

What’s been the response of the local people to the protests?

To be honest, they don’t like the protests being in their area, but they know it has to happen and they respect it, they don’t blame us, they understand why we’re doing this.

What’s life like in Din Daeng?

It’s a slum, it’s horrible, we’re oppressed people. The police are like a mafia that we have to live under. They take everything we have, they dominate us and we have to totally obey them. They’re the main problem in the area, everyone hates them. It’s like within the neighbourhood we’re living in a totally corrupt mafia-run police state.

Your page has a distinctly Anarchist ideology, why is that?

To be honest, a lot of that comes from me. I’ve been reading a lot of anarchist books, my favourite is Mutual Aid from Kropotkin, but this connects with our movement, connects with the people.

How are the people in Din Daeng politicised?

A lot of people don’t care about who the prime minister is, as long as their lives improve, so a lot of people are very politically transient, like water, they move around a lot. As I said, many of them are former redshirts, a lot of older people support Thaksin because their life was undoubtedly better under Thaksin or Thai Rak Thai. Most people, however, don’t have time to think or read about politics, they’re always working, struggling to survive but they hate Prayut and hate the police. 

How do you connect with wider working-class communities in Thailand?

It’s always a struggle because as I said, people don’t have time to read theory about anything like that. We try to make posts short and understandable for working-class people, make it different from the mainstream news and we can do that right because we are those people, but of course it’s difficult. 

Riot police using chemical laced water cannons on Thalugaz protesters. Photo courtesy of Khao Sod.

In what ways are you not represented by other protest groups?

They are middle-class intellectuals. We are not intellectuals. We’re working class, there’s a gap there. They have this concept about fighting the police, that they wait for the police to strike first and then they respond. For us, we are being assaulted by the police our whole lives, they have always struck first, they treat us like shit, this is our justification. The whole structure of the police and the state is assaulting. How can you say we have to wait for them to hurt us first? They’ve been assaulting us our whole lives and nobody cares or listens. For us this is the only way to like, express ourselves, to have our voices heard. We’ve been completely excluded from society, but people need to know we exist, for us, this is class struggle, there’s no other way.

Having said that, everyone is welcome to join us, we’re totally open, but other protest groups are hesitant to join. It’s not like they’ve been hostile to us, but they keep saying like “let’s wait and see” I think I know why, it’s a class thing. Frankly, a lot of middle-class people in the protests just can’t understand us, they can’t empathise with us, they just don’t know. 

Is there any plan to move forwards from here?

The short term plan is just to grow and express ourselves, create a leftist space for people like us in the protests. Like we don’t use the three fingers, we use the clenched fist. Beyond that, we need to talk, have meetings, organise more deeply, right now we’re collecting data and starting to make plans, but it’s very early days and we need more support.

Are protests in Thailand a colour revolution? No

Are protests in Thailand a colour revolution? No

Samaidaeng Thungdin
Gabriel Ernst

Every time I find a new leftist media outlet I always type Thailand in the search bar to see if there’s been any coverage. More often than not, there’s nothing, but on the rare occasion that Thailand does appear, it’s typically an article denouncing the Thai protest movement at large as a ‘colour revolution’. Often this claim is made with little to no explanation as to what a ‘colour revolution’ is in the opinion of the writers. However, given that this is appearing within the context of leftist media, it’s safe to assume that ‘colour revolution’ refers to a mass protest movement controlled or instigated by foreign (western) powers, much like the colour revolutions in post-Soviet Europe and Central Asia. 

Applying this stamp to Thailand, however, is lazy, ignorant and inaccurate. Those abroad who claim to understand the complexities of the quasi-military dictatorship Kingdom seem confident enough to write off the entire movement with a broad brush, painting protestors as ignorant cannon fodder for the CIA. While little attention is paid to the voices of every single Thai leftist publication, writer and activist, all of whom are broadly aligned with the movement against the reactionary quasi-dictatorship currently in power.

Notably, the most active street protest group at the time of writing is FreeYouth/REDEM, who caused a massive upset among the Thai liberal media establishment when they changed their logo to the Hammer and Sickle late last year. FreeYouth is openly and unapologetically communist, recently they’ve aligned themselves with the wildcat gig economy delivery drivers Riders Union and are working hand in hand with other radical unions to organise mass protests, fighting the Thai state in the streets and supporting union efforts. If you’d like to hear directly from FreeYouth in English we’ve interviewed them a number of times. 1 2 3 4.

RT Logo

On the subject of unions, one collective of labour unions made a deliberate expression of support for the anti-government protesters last year; this group also uses the hammer and sickle in their banners. This is in stark contrast to many western-centric NGO’s with ties to international labour organisations that work to depoliticise unions and strip the Thai labour movement of any political power. If anything, this is a greater threat to Thai workers than any other western involvement. 

While the street protests in 2020 were initially led by the far more liberal figures of Penguin and Rung from the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (Thammasat) group, their popularity and relevance have clearly waned in 2021, giving way to the more radical movements of FreeYouth (avowed Communists) and Dao Din (avowed Anarchists), just by the numbers FreeYouth have four times the follower count of Thammasat. Of course, there are still a large number of liberal groups involved in the protests but FreeYouth and DaoDin would certainly seem like strange comrades for the CIA to align with. It should be noted that DaoDin’s radical credentials are quietly viewed with scepticism by some on the Thai left, you can read about their ideology here.

Pai DaoDin – A key organiser in DaoDin and UNME of Anarchy

The more likely explanation is that those who see the protesters as liberal opposition controlled by the west do not actually speak Thai and have little understanding of Thailand and its politics. To be fair, the English language reportage of Thailand is certainly dismal, hence the need for Din Deng. Of course, western media are reluctant to report on the more radical elements in the movement, nor are they keen to side with the clearly oppressive and reactionary military. Instead, they dedicate their ink to the more western inclined liberal groups, who are keen to parrot western ‘democratic’ tropes back to eager journalists, in effect liberal-washing the movement to outsiders. However, even those who have little insight into the country needn’t look too hard to see western influences meddling in the sovereignty of the kingdom, in fact, it’s staring them right in the face. 

The Royal Thai Armed Forces have been an absolute constant in Thai politics ever since 1932 and a close ally to the USA since the end of WWII, enacting around 13 coups within the period. During the war on Vietnam Thailand was used as a staging point for bringing in US troops and hosted US air force bases for bombing runs across Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Meanwhile, within the Kingdom, The Phoenix Program was in full effect, focused on wiping out the Chinese-backed Communist Party of Thailand insurgency.

Still today the Thai military and US share a close relationship, with the Cobra Gold joint training operations taking place in Thailand every year, one of the largest military exercises in the world. While researching this article we also spoke to a mid-level Thai military officer, who told us that the US Military is still deeply embedded in Thailand, regularly taking part in training and intelligence sharing, though this is no secret. Other more discrete sources have told us of the close intelligence-sharing relationship between Thailand and Israel, who often collaborate tracking Hezbollah members (apparently Pattaya is one of their favourite holiday spots).

US and Thai soldiers during Cobra Gold

Notably, the current Military Dictator turned Prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-Cha comes from a regiment expressly set up by the US military to hunt down and murder communists within Thailand and across Southeast Asia, such operations continued as late as 1983 (as far as we’re aware). Again it should seem strange that the US would dump one of their longest-serving anti-communist allies in favour of the FreeYouth communists, but such is the logic when you don’t actually understand the politics of a country. 

Such uninformed opinions have resulted in online leftist media seemingly being in agreement with Thai conservatives, as they too have been blaming the protests on US involvement, despite their adoration of the military. Far-right Thai conservative media has often been cited in western leftist media as ‘evidence’. 

Many also point to the ‘Milk Tea Alliance’, a seemingly western-backed pan-Asian/ Anti-China ‘alliance’, seen predominantly on Twitter. Indeed, there are suspicious cases of Twitter algorithm manipulation on behalf of Milk Tea Alliance hashtags, whether these are carried out in Langley or by some individual online activist in Hong Kong we just don’t know. Nonetheless, despite the alliance winning the adoration of mainstream western media, thus far it’s little more than a Twitter cheerleading squad with no material solidarity in the real world. Furthermore, defining what the alliance actually is seems to be much like the ‘blind men and an elephant’, in that it depends on what aspect of the phenomenon you’re focused on. For some, it’s an Anti-China movement, for others a pan-Asian recognition of solidarity against domestic dictatorships, while for many of the Thai left, who again aren’t overly active on Twitter, it’s not given a second thought. 

The supposed Anti-China Milk Tea Alliance argument also relies heavily on the assumption that Thailand’s government is drifting towards China’s sphere of influence, hence the US wants to overthrow the military’s grip on the country. However, given the aforementioned extensive Thai-US military cooperation this seems to be highly unlikely. While China’s economic interests are indeed spreading outwards, as they have done for the past two decades, there is little evidence that Thai foreign policy is conducive to China’s interests against that of the US. Rather the Thai establishment is benefiting from Chinese investment for the time being, though ultimately being a reactionary, capitalist system of governance it is clear that, if push came to shove, the Royal Thai Armed Forces would side with their oldest allies, The USA. There have even been alarming reports of US Special Forces newly being stationed at an air force base in Northern Thailand (close to the Chinese border with Laos and Burma), which would be unsurprising given The US military’s extensive activity within the Kingdom today.

Indeed, Sinophobia and anti-Chinese sentiment exist in the country, much of it whipped up by and concentrated in the western allied media, but other than a small handful of liberal activists and their ever reliant Twitter cheerleaders, such sentiment has made little to no transition into the political realm.

Here we should acknowledge that groups like The NED (CIA cut-outs) are actively funding within liberal Thai circles, as they are worldwide. The express purpose for this, however, is not to instigate a colour revolution, but rather to remain friendly with both sides. The USA is just as happy to work with elected liberal capitalists like former Prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as they are with unelected military strongmen like Payut Chan-o-Cha, hence they maintain a relationship with both, unwilling to fall foul of either should the power shift. 

Such funding allows these liberal groups to extend their voices beyond their means, particularly to foreign observers, painting a discoloured picture of the situation. This is compounded by Thai, western orientated, liberals often being far more active online and better educated in English than the more radical constituents in the country. These liberals are described by outspoken communist professor and writer Soravis Jayanama as “frenemies” (friends for now, enemies for later). 

This seems to echo the sentiment across the Thai left, who are willing to work with liberal groups at present to achieve their immediate aim of toppling the government, but aren’t willing to compromise their positions for liberal support. As Baimaii, a lead coordinator for FreeYouth told us “Right now we’re hot, it’s time for them (liberals) to follow us.”

Certainly, this isn’t to say that the movement in Thailand is a leftist one, rather that there are significant leftist elements, who at times are leading it (right now they’re on the front foot). Liberal thinking is definitely still dominant in the minds of the majority of those opposed to the government, but we’re without a doubt seeing a shift in a leftward direction. 

The desire to denounce any protest movement which isn’t explicitly communicating its Marxist-Leninist intent in the English language as a colour revolution ultimately is both ignorant and self-defeating. It ignores the hard work and radical action of comrades who aren’t extremely active on sites like Reddit or Twitter catering to the whims of the western left. Such denouncements instead promote a liberal-washed account of events drawn from western media. It also denies agency to our comrades in the global south if we start with the baseline assumption that they are powerless to the mastery of the west. A classic trope in the western canon, that ‘the world revolves around Cleethorpes’. Regions in the global south have their own complex political cultures that don’t always fit the same paradigms seen in the west. In Thailand for example, it’s common to see Maoist forming non-hierarchical mutual aid groups and Anarchists raising the hammer and sickle flag. The cooperation between the comrades behind this very publication is further evidence of that.

Uninformed colour revolution denouncements defeat the purpose of international solidarity, which ironically, is exactly the purpose of western political hegemony, to alienate and destroy cross border anti-capitalist movements. This by no means decries the right for comrades to speak on leftwing movements anywhere other than where they are. We simply hope to stress the importance of not presenting an opinion as informed and authoritative when it may not be. Perhaps we could even be as harsh as to say: no investigation, no right to speak. 

Some leftist Thai accounts:

FreeYouth

https://twitter.com/FreeYOUTHth

DinDeng

https://twitter.com/DinDengTh

Analysand

https://twitter.com/the_analysand

Thammasat University Marxism Studies

https://www.facebook.com/Tumarxisms

Pud

https://www.facebook.com/pudproduction

Kengkit

https://twitter.com/Kengkij2

Museum of popular history
https://twitter.com/commonners

Aum Neko

https://twitter.com/cuteaum

บทสัมภาษณ์อาสากลุ่มคนดูแลกันเอง: แคมป์แรงงาน

บทสัมภาษณ์อาสากลุ่มคนดูแลกันเอง: แคมป์แรงงาน

English Language please click here

แปลเป็นภาษาไทยโดย Kunlanat Jirawong-aram
บรรณาธิการโดย Editorial Team

ดีโยน ณ มานดารูน แอคติวิสท์และนักเขียนของดินแดง หนึ่งในอาสาสมัครกลุ่มคนดูแลกันเองที่กรุงเทพ กลุ่มนี้เป็นอาสามาสมัครที่จัดตั้งขึ้นในลักษณะความสัมพันธ์แบบแนวราบ (horizontally organized) ประกอบด้วยสมาชิกประมาณ 20 คน รวมตัวกันหลังจากรัฐบาลไทยสั่งล็อกดาวน์ครั้งที่ 2 เพื่อให้การช่วยเหลือฉุกเฉิน เช่น หยูกยาและของกินของใช้ ให้กับแคมป์คนงานในกรุงเทพฯ ซึ่งถูกปิดตามคำสั่งล่าสุด


บทสัมภาษณ์อาสากลุ่มคนดูแลกันเอง: แคมป์แรงงาน

ก่อนหน้าสถานการณ์โควิด แคมป์คนงานเป็นอย่างไรบ้าง เขาเจอปัญหาอะไรบ้างก่อนระบาด

แคมป์คนงานเป็นที่อยู่อาศัยชั่วคราวที่บริษัทสร้างให้แรงงานก่อสร้างอาศัยอยู่ใกล้ๆ ไซต์งานก่อสร้างหรือไม่ก็อยู่ในนั้นเลย ปกติแล้วจะมีคนประมาณ 70-100 คน แต่บางที่ก็สูงถึง 700 คน ที่อยู่พวกนี้คุณภาพต่ำมาก ส่วนใหญ่ก็เป็นผนังหลังคาสังกะสี ไม่ก็เป็นแค่เต็นท์ผ้าใบที่มีคนนอนกันเต็มพื้น บางที่มีคุณภาพสูงขึ้นมาหน่อย เป็นพวกบ้านประกอบบ้างถ้าโชคดี คนงานส่วนมากก็อาศัยอยู่กับครอบครัว ภายในแคมป์จึงมีเด็กอยู่หลายคนเลย วิถีชีวิตก็… พอเสร็จงานที่หนึ่งก็ไปอยู่อีกแคมป์ต่อ ได้ค่าแรงน้อยแล้วก็ส่งเงินกลับบ้าน แต่ตอนนี้ถูกห้ามไม่ให้ทำงานก็ไม่ได้ค่าแรงเลย

ส่วนใหญ่แล้วเป็นคนงานต่างชาติรึเปล่า

ส่วนมากแล้วเป็นคนจากพม่า กัมพูชา ลาว คนไทยก็มีเยอะประมาณ 60% แรงงานต่างชาติบางคนก็ถูกกฎหมาย บางคนก็ผิดกฎหมาย คนที่ไม่ถูกกฎหมายก็ไม่ได้รับความช่วยเหลืออะไรจากรัฐเลย แม้ว่าจะติดเชื้อโควิด ป่วย หรือบาดเจ็บอย่างรุนแรง

ตามกฎหมายแล้วพวกเขาเป็นลูกจ้างชั่วคราวไหม มีสัญญาจ้างงานรึเปล่า

ก็ขึ้นอยู่กับว่าเคสไหน ก็ปนๆ กันไป บางคนก็เป็นบางคนก็ไม่เป็น ปกติแล้วขึ้นอยู่กับว่าบริษัทนั้นเป็นบริษัทใหญ่รึเปล่า แน่นอนว่าบริษัทพวกนี้ทำผิดกฎหมายแรงงาน ตำรวจแค่ทำเป็นมองไม่เห็น เพราะคิดว่าไม่ได้เป็นปัญหาของตัวเอง พอโควิดระลอกนี้มา ตำรวจก็พยายามไม่ยุ่งเลย

ตอนล็อกดาวน์รอบแรก คนงานในแคมป์ได้รับผลกระทบไหม

ไม่นะครับ ปีที่แล้วเขาก็สามารถทำงานได้ เพิ่งมาได้รับผลกระทบตอนปิดแคมป์ครั้งนี้แหละ ประมาณหนึ่งเดือนที่แล้ว

ล็อกดาวน์ครั้งนี้ไม่เหมือนครั้งก่อนยังไงหรือครับ เกิดอะไรขึ้น

ครั้งนี้จำนวนผู้เชื้อโควิดสูงกว่าครั้งก่อนๆ มาก รัฐบาลเลยตัดสินใจปิดแคมป์คนงานและขังพวกเขาอยู่ด้านใน เพราะคิดว่าถ้าปล่อยให้คนงานเหล่านี้กลับบ้านก็ต้องเอาเชื้อไปติดจังหวัดอื่นๆ ด้วย แต่ตอนนี้ก็ชัดแล้วว่ามาตรการนี้ไม่มีประสิทธิภาพ เพราะจำนวนผู้ติดเชื้อโควิดก็พุ่งสูงขึ้นเรื่อยๆ ทั่วประเทศ

ในแคมป์มีจำนวนผู้ติดเชื้อโควิดสูงไหม

3 อาทิตย์ก่อน ตอนแรกไม่ค่อยมีเคสในแคมป์ แต่ตอนนี้หลายแคมป์ก็มีรายงานมาว่าติดเชื้อหนักแล้ว ซึ่งรัฐบาลก็ไม่ทำอะไรเลย เรามีทีมหมออาสาสมัครช่วยดูแลอาการ แต่คนก็กำลังตายอยู่ในแคมป์ คนไร้บ้านก็ตายอยู่ตามท้องถนนเหมือนกัน 

เข้าร่วมกลุ่มดูแลกันเองได้ไง ในกลุ่มทำงานกันอย่างไร

ตอนเริ่มล็อกดาวน์ เราเปิดรับบริจาคจากเพื่อนกันเองและซื้อของไปให้บางแคมป์ ทีนี้ก็เห็นว่าคนอื่นทำแบบนี้เหมือนกัน เลยรวมตัวคนที่คิดเหมือนกัน เพื่อนของเพื่อนผม Neeraj Kim ก็เริ่มรวมตัวเพื่อนๆ ในเครือข่ายของเขาและเราก็มีสมาชิกมากขึ้นเรื่อยๆ ตอนนั้นพอเห็นจำนวนแคมป์ก็รู้สึกตกใจเลย นี่มันเพิ่งผ่านมาประมาณสามอาทิตย์เอง ตอนแรกเราต้องดูก่อนว่าแต่ละแคมป์ตั้งอยู่ตรงไหนเพราะไม่มีฐานข้อมูลของหน่วยงานรัฐ เราเลยหาอาสาสมัครรวบรวมข้อมูลตรงนี้ให้ รวมเป็นสเปรดชีต ว่าแคมป์อยู่ที่ไหนบ้าง มีคนกี่คน ใครที่เราสามารถติดต่อได้บ้าง เขาต้องการอะไร ฯลฯ

ตอนนี้ฐานข้อมูลครอบคลุม 700 แคมป์และมีข้อมูลเพิ่มมากขึ้นเรื่อยๆ เราเปิด OpenChat ในไลน์ คนอื่นจะได้ช่วยประสานงานกันได้ เรามีทีมแมทช์ผู้บริจาคกับแคมป์ที่ต้องการของกินของใช้ด่วน เราให้ข้อมูลติดต่อแคมป์กับผู้บริจาค เขาจะได้ช่วยเหลือโดยตรงเลย ถ้าด่วนมากๆ เราก็มีคนของเราคอยส่งของจากบ้านไปที่แคมป์ เรามีหมออาสาที่คอยสั่งยาให้แคมป์ ตอนนี้เหมือนเป็นแก๊งค้ายาเลย ต้องมาแพ็คยาให้พร้อมสำหรับแคมป์ต่างๆ ที่ต้องการ

ที่เห็นๆ ก็คือความเป็นน้ำหนึ่งใจเดียวกันของผู้บริจาคในแชทไลน์ บางคนมีแค่ข้าว คนอื่นมีไข่ เขาก็รวมกันให้แคมป์เองโดยที่ทีมไม่ได้ไปบอก มันเหมือนเป็นความพยายามช่วยเหลือกันเอง (mutual aid) เราเปิดทางสื่อสารระหว่างคนที่ไม่ได้ทำไปเพื่อตัวเอง เห็นอย่างนี้ก็น่าดีใจมาก เราเน้นเสมอว่าที่เราทำอยู่ไม่ใช่การกุศล เราก็บอกคนที่บริจาคอย่างนั้นเหมือนกัน หลักๆ ที่เราอยากสื่อคือคนเท่ากัน พยายามทำให้คนเห็นสำนึกทางชนชั้นโดยที่ไม่ต้องบอกว่าเป็นฝ่ายซ้ายอย่างเปิดเผย

มีกลุ่มอื่นคอยช่วยเหลือเหมือนกันมั้ย

มีกลุ่มอื่นที่คอยช่วยเหลือกันเองเหมือนกัน แต่เราเป็นกลุ่มแรกและกลุ่มเดียวที่เน้นเรื่องคนงานที่ติดอยู่ในแคมป์

แล้วแบ่งของที่มีกันยังไงบ้าง

เราใช้เกณฑ์ความเร่งด่วนแบ่งแคมป์ ตามระบบสีจราจร เขียวก็คือโอเค อยู่ได้ มีของกินจากนายจ้างหรือไม่ก็หน่วยงานรัฐเกือบทุกวัน ซึ่งเคสพวกนี้ไม่ค่อยมี สีส้มคือเคสที่ได้อาหารจากบริษัทบ้าง อาจจะสักหนึ่งครั้งในสองอาทิตย์ ส่วนสีแดงคือแคมป์ที่อาหารกำลังจะหมดหรือโควิดกำลังระบาด แล้วบริษัทไม่ได้ช่วยเหลือ สิ่งที่เราทำได้ก็คือการเอายาสามัญประจำบ้านไปให้ เช่น พาราเซตามอล หรือของให้เด็ก เช่น นมผง และผ้าอ้อม รวมทั้งให้คำแนะนำทางการแพทย์

แสดงว่ารัฐบาลก็ช่วยเหลือบ้าง

หน่วยงานรัฐหลายหน่วยงานก็ช่วย แต่ที่ช่วยมาก็ไม่พอ รัฐมีอาหารให้แค่แรงงานต่างชาติเพราะเขามีโควต้าให้ เป็นอาหารปรุงเสร็จแล้ว หนึ่งมื้อต่อวัน คนในแคมป์ก็พยายามแบ่งๆ กัน แต่มันก็ยังไม่พอ

ที่พูดว่าปิดแคมป์ นี่คือไม่มีใครเข้าออกได้ใช่มั้ย

ใช่ครับ หน้าประตูแคมป์ก็มีทหารหรือไม่ก็ตำรวจเฝ้าด้วยซ้ำ

แล้วทางการทำไงบ้างกับการช่วยเหลือจากกลุ่ม

จริงๆ แล้วคนที่แจ้งเคสเข้ามาบางครั้งก็มาจากทหารที่เฝ้าพื้นที่ตรงนั้น พวกเขาไม่ได้รับคำสั่งมาให้แจ้งหรอก แต่เป็นทหารชั้นผู้น้อยที่ต้องการจะช่วยเพราะกองทัพไม่ได้ทำอะไรเลย ส่วนใหญ่แล้วทหารก็ไม่ได้ให้ความร่วมมือขนาดนั้น บางครั้งเวลาเราออกไปเก็บข้อมูลก็ถูกปฏิเสธ ไม่ให้ข้อมูลเลย คอยขัดขวางการช่วยเหลือจากเราตลอด

แล้วคิดมั้ยว่ารัฐอยากให้คนงานเหล่านี้ตาย

เราคิดจริงๆ ว่ารัฐไม่ได้มีความสามารถ ไม่ได้มีเจตนาร้ายหรอก ถึงแม้ว่าเราจะไม่สามารถแยกได้ก็ตาม คิดว่าเวลารัฐขัดขาเรา มันคือเรื่องคำสั่งต่อกันมาเป็นทอดๆ มากกว่าอย่างอื่น กองทัพมักมองประชาชนเป็นศัตรู ถ้ามองในเชิงโครงสร้างก็คงเรียกได้แหละว่ามีเจตนาร้าย

แล้วข้างในแคมป์เป็นอย่างไรบ้าง

มีแคมป์หนึ่งที่เขาแยกคนงานที่ติดโควิดออก คนที่ติดโควิดต้องนอนบนพื้นด้านนอก มีผ้าใบกันแดดกันฝน แต่พอฝนตกตอนกลางคืนน้ำก็ท่วมพื้น ก็ไม่มีแม้แต่ที่จะนอน ที่พวกเราทำได้คือเอาฟูกลมไปให้ แล้วก็พวกของกินของใช้ พวกเขาก็ขอบคุณ สื่อก็เห็น รัฐมนตรีกระทรวงแรงงานก็มาแล้วเอาหน้าเสียยกใหญ่ ทำเหมือนว่าได้ช่วยเหลือ ส่วนอีกแคมป์หนึ่งที่เราไป อาหารก็กำลังจะหมดแล้ว เลยเอาข้าวเข้าไปให้ เขาก็ขอบคุณ ถึงกับขนาดไหว้เลย

พอเป็นแรงงานต่างชาติ เขาก็ไม่ค่อยคาดหวังการช่วยเหลือจากรัฐมากนัก โดยเฉพาะคนที่เป็นแรงงานผิดกฎหมาย แต่สำหรับคนไทยล่ะ เขาช็อกมั้ยที่รัฐทำแย่ๆ กับเขาแบบนี

พูดไม่ได้หรอกว่าเขาช็อก กระทรวงแรงงานไม่ได้ทำตัวดีอะไรอยู่แล้ว ทุกคนรู้กันดีว่าหวังอะไรไม่ได้จากกระทรวง พอแคมป์ถูกปิดก็คงคิดกันแล้วว่าไม่ได้อะไรหรอกแม้แต่ความช่วยเหลือจากกระทรวงอื่นก็ตาม ขนาดกระทรวงสาธารณสุขก็ไม่โผล่มาเลย

สิ่งที่ต้องการตอนนี้คืออะไร

เราไม่รับบริจาค ถ้าทำได้เราก็คอยเชื่อมคนบริจาคให้กับคนในแคมป์ เขาจะได้เอาของไปวางด้านหน้าและคนงานก็มาเอาได้ แต่เรามีที่เก็บของจำเป็นพื้นฐานไว้ ตอนนี้เราต้องการยาหลากหลายประเภท เรามียาสำหรับอาการโควิดขั้นต้นเท่านั้น ไม่ใช่ในเคสที่อาการรุนแรง ตอนนี้ก็พยายามหายามาเพิ่ม มียาพ่น (Budesonine) และยาบรรเทาอาการ Prednisolone มีเครื่องผลิตออกซิเจนด้วย แต่ไว้สำหรับเคสที่รุนแรงจริงๆ

คิดว่าเหตุการณ์นี้จะอยู่อีกนานเท่าไร ทางกลุ่มคิดว่าจะทำอย่างไรในระยะยาว

ก็หวังว่าจะไม่นานไปมากกว่านี้เท่าไรนะครับ เราก็พยายามกดดันรัฐให้ทำอะไรสักอย่าง มีทีมงานเฉพาะสำหรับเรื่องนี้เลย ก็ไม่รู้เหมือนกันในระยะยาวจะเป็นไง ตอนนี้ก็ทำเท่าที่ทำได้

ก่อนโควิด คนงานก็อยู่ในสภาพที่แย่มากอยู่แล้ว มีแผนจะทำกลุ่มนี้ต่อมั้ยหลังเหตุการณ์นี้

ก็ยังไม่แน่ใจเท่าไร กลุ่มก็สามารถคุยกันเรื่องจุดประสงค์ใหม่ได้ เรามีข้อมูลและคนรู้จักในแคมป์ แต่ตอนนี้เป็นการช่วยเหลือเร่งด่วนให้คนยังมีชีวิตอยู่ต่อได้ในแต่ละวันก่อนละกัน



The Real Face of Thai Feudalism Today TLDR – Part I

The Real Face of Thai Feudalism Today TLDR – Part I

Samaidaeng Thungdin

Jit Phumisak (1930-1966) is regarded as Thailand’s preeminent leftist artist, thinker, writer and analyst, even decades after his murder at the hands of the Thai state. He was known for his poetry, wit, love of linguistics and being a devoted Marxist revolutionary. In 1965 he put down his pen for a rifle and joined the rural Communist Party of Thailand’s insurgency. Always a free thinker, Jit often found himself at odds with the CPT leadership. Certainly, his analysis stands in contrast to the Maoist tendency common to leftist circles in Thailand at the time. However, his texts were still widely circulated among all leftist radicals and still are to this day, even valued by reactionary elements within Thailand. 

Jit’s seminal text The Real Face of Thai Feudalism Today (1957) remains an essential read for anyone trying to understand the origins of Thai society from a Marxist perspective. However, while the book makes constant references to Thai society, Jit’s analysis is a global one, not tied to the kingdom, making it a welcome example of early analysis of the development of capitalism from the global south. Readers could extrapolate his works to apply to not just Southeast Asia, but to any feudal society. Furthermore, given the resurgence of the term Saktina (feudalism) in the current Thai political discourse (often used in reference to the current iteration of the monarchy), understanding the term has become all the more important in the Thai context.

The purpose of the book was to expose how the plight of the rural Thai peasant in the 1950’s was a vestige rooted in the old feudal system, laying bare its horrors and its exploitative framework. Jit wrote this book as an antagonistic rebuttal against the revisionist history of the ruling classes taught to most Thai’s at the time (and still today), which typically depicts a utopian agrarian past, rather than the brutal exploitative reality. 

This series of articles hopes to provide a summary and general overview of the major themes and conclusions found in The Real Face of Thai Feudalism Today — written in Thai under the pseudonym Somsamai Srisudravarna. These articles are based on the translation by Craig J. Reynolds. It is worth noting that Jit’s original text was rushed and partially unfinished.

Jit understood that the two key means of oppression of the Thai working class were imperialism and the vestiges of the feudal system. This is where we acquire the rationale for the ‘semi-feudal, semi-colonial’ analysis of Thai conditions at the time of Jit’s writing (which I would argue can still be applicable today). Jit focuses on the development and persistence of the Thai feudal system, as well as giving a general overview of its mode of production, he calls it ‘Saktina’, and so shall I.

Part I: The Saktina Production System as a Whole

Land ownership is intrinsically tied to the literal translation of ‘Saktina’, as it means ‘power in controlling the fields’. This is the defining feature of this mode of production. In the same way that capital is an accumulated economic factor under Capitalism, during the Saktina system, it was land. This meant that the ‘big landlords’ (akin to landed gentry) were in possession of the means of production, whereas the ‘phrai’ or ‘lek’ (agricultural slave/serf class) were not. While there were some independent peasants (free people) who did own small portions of land, they were not big landowners— these can be seen as analogous to the petit-bourgeois or middle-class today.

Jit’s understanding of the term Saktina includes economic, political and cultural dimensions. He uses the term Saktina as an adjective and noun (i.e. as both ‘Feudal’ and ‘Feudalism’ as well as ‘the ruling class’ under Feudalism). 

The Economic Characteristics of the Saktina System

Social Classes and their Relations of Production

As society was divided into those who owned land and those who did not, these are generally the key ‘classes’ within Saktina.

Phraiagricultural slaves/ serfs, they were bound to a specific plot of land and were bought and sold alongside it. They paid ‘Suai’ (a tax-in-kind, a proportion of their harvest) to keep some of their yield from the land that they worked on. Their Suai ranged from 50-80% of an annual yield. 

Thay— freemen, they were not bound to land, but had to rent it from landlords and pay a Suai of anywhere between 30%-50% of their yields.

Independent Peasants— small scale landowners, they did not rent land, but they did pay land tax (in hard currency) to the Saktina class (which was composed of big landlords).

Landlords (Jao)— typically aristocracy, characterised by their ownership of land and phrai, in large and small quantities (those who held smaller parcels of land would later become part of the emergent middle class).

In addition to the above, a system of corvée labour forced peasants into performing hard labour for their landlords or regional lords lasting from 3-6 months a year. This was justified by the ruling class as a means to give thanks for the lord’s supposed ‘generosity’.

The Form and Purpose of Production

Technological developments in agriculture allowed peasants to increase their crop yields, reducing time and labour spent in the fields. This permitted them to spend more time supplementing their income through handicrafts. However, this led to landlords expropriating a greater proportion of their yields. The purpose of agricultural production for the peasantry was subsistence. The expropriated surplus produce was for the landlords to consume or it was used to pay for the upkeep of their military forces and general maintenance of their land and later to trade.

The Trade Monopoly System of the Ruling Masters

Over time regional trade arose as a new purpose for production. This was due to more productive farming techniques, the acquisition of more land by landlords, the increased safety of maritime travel, and the expansion of small-scale trading for luxury goods. These developments allowed for a greater accumulation of wealth for the landowning class, who then cemented their control by ensuring that they had a monopoly on the trade system. They did this by enacting laws that made landlords middlemen between merchants and peasants— forbidding direct trade between the two— as well as monopolising shipbuilding and increasing taxes to limit the excess produce the peasantry could use to barter or trade with.

Jit identified three periods of exploitation within the Saktina period, as well as a final period illustrating the decline of the economic system as a whole:

  • Pre-Monopoly: The extraction of labour, taxes, and levies from peasants. This occurred to such a degree that peasants were forced to borrow at extortionate rates (usury) pushing them further into dependence and debt. 
  • Emerging Monopoly: A sharp increase in the rate of Suai paid for the purpose of trading surplus produce for foreign goods.
  • Established Monopoly: This could be considered the peak of the Saktina system as it saw the highest level of exploitation and wealth extraction from the peasantry, as a result of the established trade monopoly system.
  • Declining Monopoly: Due to restrictions imposed by the ruling class, people who were neither large landlords nor peasants started freely associating to promote a more laissez-faire conception of trade. They formed guilds to protect themselves and further their material interests. This group became the bourgeoisie, the middle class, or the ‘kadumphi’. Opposed to those who controlled the monopolistic nature of the economy, they wanted to utilise new technologies and techniques to advance small-time handicrafts to large-scale manufacturing, giving rise to ‘industry’. With that, they began developing the commercial system of ‘seriniyom’ (liberalism) and the productive system of ‘thunniyom’ (capitalism). The ‘kadumphi’ soon became the ‘naithun’ (capitalist class). This era was in Jit’s analysis, the origins of capitalism. 

The Economic Characteristics of the Final Era of the Saktina System

  • ‘Agricultural Backwardness’: The height of technology for Saktina agricultural production was characterised by the use of natural fertiliser, draft animals, seasonal cultivation and excavated irrigation. Jit argues that there was no further technological potential to develop due to the Saktina economic structure. This upper limit on technological development resulted in a ceiling on productivity, causing the economy to be unable to create any more wealth— the kadumphi would therefore continue to miss out, unless they were able to develop wealth outside of the agricultural means of production.
  • ‘Ruin of the Peasantry’: The extreme exploitation of peasants restricted any social mobility, as such they would begin flocking to newly formed cities due to new opportunities for income— creating industrial centres.

The Political Characteristics of the Saktina System

The Rule of the Saktina Class

The centralisation of land (economic power) in the hands of the landlord class permitted them total political power over the peasantry. The institutions that they could afford to set up focused on ensuring the perpetuation of their wealth and ownership of the means of production. At the head of these institutions were the ‘Kshatriya’, or ‘prachao phaendin’ (the Monarch). These words are etymologically linked to the notions of land ownership, governance, control, and authority. Further, territory governed by the Monarch called the ‘lord’s domain’ or the ‘phrarajanakhet’, again etymologically linking authority with the word ‘khett’ meaning ‘arable land’. 

Conflict within the Saktina Class

At the beginning of the Saktina period, the Monarchy found that it could not maintain direct and total control over its kingdom. Oftentimes, in these Saktina institutions, members of the ruling class who did not find the Monarch’s policies financially favourable would enter periods of conflict either with the Monarchy, representatives of the Monarchy (puppets/vassals etc), or other nearby muangs (provincial capitals). This necessitated a political hierarchy of the Monarch at the top, lords in the middle, and the peasantry at the very bottom. 

The Monarchy began to understand that there needed to be rapid decentralisation of power in order to ease tensions between the Monarch and lords within his domain. However, as time went on and these conflicts continued, the Monarchy grew tired of granting concessions to these rebellious lords and started to find new mechanisms to increase the degree of direct control over the lords.

The Monarchy had two main methods: 

  1. The replacement of rebelling lords with members of the Saktina class that were loyal to the current Monarchy. However, this maintained the distinction between vassal land and the Monarch’s land, which perpetuated the Saktina system, without any kind of structural development. 
  2. The cultivation of a new breed of ruling masters whose interests were the same as the Monarchy. This was the creation of jaomuang (provincial governors), ensuring that any previously dispersed power and land was now completely under the authority of the Monarchy.

The Struggles of the Peasantry

The division of the peasantry into separated plots of land meant it was difficult to develop solidarity and organise to protect their class interests. The dominant Saktina class also developed ideological doctrines that repressed the wills of the peasantry. This caused the peasant class to only rise up in intermittent disorganised rebellions that were easily crushed.

As a result, the peasants turned to other classes for leadership. Their closest point of contact with the Saktina system was their landlord, who at the beginning of the Saktina period, could harness the formless and seemingly directionless anger of the peasantry as a means to their own ends to further their own interests. 

The peasantry also later turned to the emergent middle class for allyship as they both shared grievances with the Saktina class, but the emergent middle class’ antagonism with the Saktina class was more economic than existential, hence they were willing to collaborate to develop an economic structure that prioritised a ‘liberal trade-and-industry’ system (capitalism), while maintaining the caste characteristics of Saktina.

However, now that the industrial bourgeoisie had begun to develop, so too did the industrial proletariat, which Jit deems a greater source of leadership for the disorganised peasantry, as the proletariat worked in productive settings more conducive to class consciousness and solidarity— factories etc.

The Struggle between the Middle and Saktina Classes

The emergent middle class was continually repressed by the Saktina class, as the Saktina class stridently worked to maintain their trade monopoly system. This imbued the middle class with revolutionary potential and they worked towards overturning the Saktina system by creating their own political, economic and social institutions. However, this emergent middle class required popular support from the peasantry as a political mandate. As previously mentioned, this was granted by the peasantry, but only resulted in changes to the nature of exploitation they faced, rather than eliminating it. 

The Cultural Characteristics of the Saktina System

Social Relations and Generational Wealth, Power, and Inequality

Social mobility and high social standing were only achievable if one was of high birth or a highly savvy landowner, this made emancipation impossible for much of the peasantry. They were also looked down upon as beings for whom boon (merit) was unfathomable, indeed, the phrai were not even deemed worthy of personhood. 

To ensure a family maintained their standing, Saktina class families intermarried. High class men did occasionally marry phrai women, who were deemed property and thus the subject of his every whim. Saktina women were not permitted to marry phrai men as women were not seen as equal to their male counterparts. 

Additionally, the Saktina class popularised the notion that their success came as the result of holy merit which was seen as granted or honoured by ‘the lords and deities’.  Again painting the peasantry as dishonourable and not worthy of respect, thus perpetuating their oppression, a kind of Saktina realism. 

The Continuation of Slavery

As phrai were simply agricultural slaves with no sense of personhood, their eventual emancipation, at the end of the Saktina era, had no real benefit to their economic conditions as they were still not landowners and now as free people they had no capital to become so. Therefore, they were forced into extortive labour, selling themselves in the newly developed capitalist mode of production. 

Nationalism

As polities and kingdoms were under the control of their Monarchs, conflict amongst the Monarchs translated to conflict between polities. As such, the Monarchy was able to cultivate hostility between different nationalities or ethnic groups, as a means to deter inter-ethnic solidarity within the peasant class. These cultivated antagonisms included those within the borders of polities presided over by the same Monarch, giving rise to inter-ethnic conflicts.

Patriarchy

Saktina also upheld patriarchy, and women were seen as objects of the Saktina class’ desire. Children were also considered to be nothing more than tools of expanding control, via extending lineages, or they were deemed expendable by-products of evenings of desire produced by members of the Monarch’s harem. 

Customs and Traditions

Only customs and traditions that upheld the Saktina system were encouraged by the Saktina class. This meant most practices originated from the Saktina class, however some traditions emerging from the peasantry were able to be co-opted, reinforcing their own continued oppression. Such practices were ingrained into the cultural norms and customs of all classes, often unknowingly to those practising them. 

The emergent middle class considered many of these traditions to be oppressive, the emergent bourgeoisie capitalist system managed to change some of these restrictive traditions. However, the middle-class’ tendency to compromise with the Saktina class resulted in the long-running persistence and prevalence of Saktina traditions to this day.

Art and Literature

Art and literature were encouraged only when they upheld the Saktina system; any art produced by the peasantry was seen as vulgar. The Saktina concept of ‘art for life’ was intended to promote the Saktina way of life (similar to romanticism) which was not agreeable to the new bourgeois artists who wanted to cultivate an ‘art for art’s sake’ (similar to aestheticism).

Education

Education and the development of knowledge were structured and permitted in order to maintain a narrative that upheld the Saktina system at the expense of the peasantry. Jit identified history as a field of study wherein popular movements can be analysed and learned from, however, the Saktina class taught their own version of history which deified Kings and excluded the role of the masses.

Formal education generally occurred in the households of the ruling masters, ensuring only the Saktina class were permitted to have an education. This resulted in learned peoples being solely found in regional courts. The ruling class required educated individuals for the express purpose of managing their lands, as such only limited fields of study were available, thus upholding the Saktina system. These fields were primarily related to commerce, finance and law.

The emergent bourgeoisie took umbrage with the monopoly on education and founded their own bourgeois educational institutions to promote their liberal ideas. However, they adopted the Saktina method of teaching their narrative to sustain their system as soon as they established their own class’ political and economic structure (capitalism). 

Religion

The early Saktina class was in conflict with organised religion. However, the economic and political dominance of the Saktina class pressured religious institutions to acquiesce to Saktina rule. This was achieved through the mechanism of patronage, thus incorporating these institutions into the body of the Saktina system as a means for further wealth extraction and as a mechanism to control the peasantry through a divine mandate. This was also incorporated into the aforementioned education system.

However, as the middle class amassed their own wealth, they seemed to be better at financing organised religion, shifting the institutions’ loyalty. As the nature of religion had been altered by its relationship to the Saktina class, religion in the capitalist era, once again, perpetuated elements of the previous system within the new framework.

A Broad Overview

So far, Jit has provided an outline of the nature of Saktina and how its economic, political and cultural characteristics developed whilst it was the prevalent socio-economic system.

Jit’s analysis focuses almost as much on the emergence of capitalism as it does on the Saktina system itself. Indeed, he often uses the Saktina framework as a means to interpret the fundamental economic and power dynamics that developed into the birth of the middle class and liberal capitalism, tracing the roots of exploitation of the working class to their origins and underscoring how little has changed in their material lives, despite the apparent progress made in liberal systems of governance.

To further examine the Saktina system’s foundations and characteristics, Jit later reflects on the origins of the system (both in Thailand and worldwide), as well as the transition from what he terms the ‘First Thai Communal System’ to the ‘Slave System’ and then finally, the transition from the ‘Slave System’ to the ‘Saktina System’. We will explore this in a later article. 

Glossary:

Below are some words present in the original translation used hitherto. Here they are anglicised and with their meanings (not all have been used in this summary).

Phraior lek— serfs, labourers bonded to land, essentially agricultural slaves.

Thay— Freemen, similar to ‘phrai’ but were not bonded to specific pieces of land, possibly linked to the name ‘Thai’ referring to ‘free people’.

‘Suai’ — a Tax in Kind, where agricultural yields are given to Land-Lords by those working their land (more to come on this later in Jit’s section on Taxes).

‘Kadumphi’ — the bourgeoisie 

‘Seriniyom’ — Liberalism

‘Thunniyom’ — capitalism

‘Naithun’ — a Capitalist

‘Kshatriya’ — essentially the ruling class (it can be used in place of ‘King’)  this word comes from the second-highest Hindu caste. 

‘Prachao paendin’ — Lord of the land, see ‘Kshatriya’.

‘Phrarajanankhet’ — ‘the Lord Raja’s Domain’, a combination of words meaning ‘Lord Raja’ and ‘arable land’, implying the relationship between political control of territory and economic control of land.

‘Khaluang’; ’jaomuang’; ’phuwa ratchakan muang’ — governors of Thai polities (I’m not sure if they are interchangeable)

‘Muang’ — a polity, essentially a city-state.

‘Phaphapwai’ the obedient woman that Saktina men wanted to promote for their patriarchal desires