Being Karenni

Being Karenni

Photo courtesy of The Karenni Culture Development Committee

Anonymous 

For a few days, every September, the Karenni hills are alive with the sound of children singing and playing as they head into the forest. Carrying axes and saws the adults lead the way to a large tree to cut down. As the group haul the log back into the village, women and younger children come out of their huts. Music plays and sacrifices are offered, chickens are killed and de-feathered, the meat is taken away and offered around to neighbouring villages as a show of good faith, community and tradition. 

The festivities though, are more than just a cultural practice, it’s an act of resistance and revolution. These are the Karenni people, my people. We’ve lived through 50 years of repression, 50 years of war, 50 years of displacement. For us, our culture and our identity is something we dare not let go, in case in the vacuum of war it’s lost forever.

Over one hundred years ago we resisted the strength of the British colonists and still today we live in a state of resistance. As we’re not many in numbers, around 500,000 people, we are often overlooked in the Burma Civil War, but what we lack in numbers we make up for it in strength and resilience. From our rebel soldiers in their bases, to the orphans in the refugee camps, there’s an identity we all share and hold, an identity that few outsiders can understand. 

It’s not just our soldiers who fight imperialism with guns, it’s the farmers, the teachers and the refugees, every single one of whom resist, through embracing their identity, remembering their past and enduring through their present suffering. 

Violence and peace respectively can have very different meanings. Bombs and bullets don’t reach the refugee camps, but who could say the residents live in peace? The violence of a family broken apart by war, the violence of going to bed hungry or the violence in traumatic memories, PTSD and deep depression. 

People in the refugee camps, on the Thai border, have a lot of time on their hands to think about these things. The majority are not permitted to work so they just sit around, thinking, trying to find meaning in their suffering. They drink to find an escape from reality. So many of us have trouble sleeping, it drives you crazy, it makes you sick. 

The Thai government would prefer us to not be there, our existence is a frustration for them. There are people born in the camp, 40 years ago, who have never left, lack of freedom and no options. It can feel like an open-air prison in the middle of the jungle and they’ve been prisoners since birth. 

We’re denied a dignified life. We just want to live peacefully, to sustain ourselves, to work, to be useful, to contribute to the world, but no, we’re forced to be a burden. 

Thai people always ask: “Why don’t you go back to Burma?” I don’t think they can imagine the fear, the danger. Go back to our villages that have been burnt to the ground, the place where our fathers were murdered and our mothers were raped. 

Do we have a choice?

In the forest however, on our sacred days, the children are still singing and the music is still playing. People are smiling, laughing and dancing. This is what it’s like to be Karenni, we’re stoic, funny, easy-going, we don’t give a fuck. If something goes wrong we just laugh it off, we have to, because the trivial things have no meaning. When you’ve lost so much you have to appreciate what can’t be taken away. Your identity. Dancing around a tree with your neighbours, your family, and your people.

Royalist Realism & Lèse-Majesté

Royalist Realism & Lèse-Majesté

Mondor Pakled

The Lèse-Majesté law, also known as Article 112 in Thailand, forbids any criticism of the monarchy in the kingdom under punishment of imprisonment. Even those far removed from the machinations of Thai politics are vaguely aware of this law. In an era where basic freedom of speech is held as sacrosanct, this law is globally recognised as being bizarre and archaic, and hardly used for anything other than protecting an already seemingly beloved institution”. This law, however, is not simply used to protect the dignity of the monarch against insult. Lèse-Majesté laws are in reality a relatively small mechanism which is part of a larger systematic structure of censorship, used as means of social coercion to manufacture what we can term royalist realism

Capitalist realism as defined by Mark Fisher is explained in the quote “It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism.” In Thailand switching out the word capitalist with royalist makes for an eerily similar comparison, that is until very recently. For decades, however, Thai society existed under ‘The Bhumiphol Consensus’, a term coined by professor Kasian Techaphira to define the second half of the reign of King Bhumiphol (Rama 9) who was king of Thailand from 1946 until his death in 2016. Such was the adoration of King Bhumiphol that it was considered sacrilegious to express any doubt in the monarch as well as the wider institution of the monarchy. While Thailand was officially a constitutional democracy, it was clear that King Bhumiphol had the final say in all major matters regarding the governance of the kingdom.

This is not to say that there were no opposition voices to the royalty. Whispers were abound in the kingdom but they were relegated to strictly private circles among trusted friends and family. For decades there were virtually no public displays of dissonance whatsoever. Those few who openly spoke out were immediately punished by Lèse-Majesté laws, while those who were lucky enough to escape into exile abroad remain there to this day. Lèse-Majesté laws are the last legal resort for the Thai superstructure, as part of the multi-layered system for manufacturing consent. 

Lèse-Majesté Law: It is illegal to defame, insult, or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent, heir-presumptive, or regent.

The mechanism of Lèse-Majesté has mostly been used during times of political crisis. Ultra-royalist prime minister Sarit Thanarat was the first to utilize the law in the modern era. During Sarit’s premiership, the monarchy was desperately trying to recapture its hold on the kingdom following the coup that transformed Thailand into a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Sarit used the law to silence his own critics who disapproved of the increasing power of the royal palace. 

In the decades that followed, the law would often be laid down as a means of making an example of any perceived dissonance. For example, at the height of the student democracy movement in 1976, a man was arrested on charges of lèse-majesté for using a royal village scout scarf to wipe clean a table. 

If found guilty perpetrators would typically serve jail sentences between 2-10 years, depending on the severity of the perceived offence. Occasionally sentences of mandatory re-education would be handed out, like in one case in 2014, where a nurse who wore black on King Bhumibol’s birthday was charged with Lèse-Majesté.

There have also been cases where the law has been commandeered by civilians. For example, if two neighbours are having a dispute, one may make a fake social media account in their neighbour’s image and post content that violates Lèse-Majesté so as to have them jailed.

Academia too has been hit hard by the law, one notable case was with the famous scholar Ajarn Sulak who suggested that a legendary 1v1 duel on elephant-back won by a king of Ayutthaya (the kingdom that preceded Thailand) against a Burmese prince 500 years ago may not have happened. This precedent of criminalising insult against, not just the present, but past monarchs, even those from different dynasties, has also been used as a form of censorship for contemporary dissonance. For example, a magazine editor was charged for publishing a satirical cartoon, which depicted a famous statue of 3 former kings wearing face masks, during a bout of severe smog pollution in the northern province of Chiang Mai.

The leftist academic and prominent republican Giles Ji Ungpakorn was also charged with Lèse-Majesté and forced into exile for his book ‘A Coup For The Rich’ in which he criticised King Bhumiphol’s involvement in the coup of 2006. Ungpakorn noted “the lèse-majesté laws are not really designed to protect the institution of the monarchy. In the past, the laws have been used to protect governments and to shield military coups from lawful criticism. This whole [royal] image is created to bolster a conservative elite well beyond the walls of the palace.”

Judges have also said the accuser did not necessarily have to prove the information was factual. One judge famously said, “because if it is true, it is more defamatory, and if it isn’t true, then it’s super-defamatory.”

Royalist Realism

Despite all of the numerous cases, as mentioned earlier, Lèse-Majesté laws are a relatively small mechanism in the wider manufacturing of consent for the royalist institution and its proponents. Fealty to the monarchy is demanded and constantly reinforced in the kingdom, it’s intertwined through culture, spirituality and any kind of civic duty. 

Grandiose portraits of the king and company adorn the streets of the country, while almost every home and business has a portrait of King Bhumiphol or his son, the current king Vajiralongkorn. This is so extreme that it’s considered a small show of dissidence to instead hang a portrait of the reformer king Chulalongkorn, Bhumiphol’s grandfather who died in 1910.

The state school curriculum is heavily focused on Thai exceptionalism, which is constantly linked back to the monarchy. Students learn of the innumerable good deeds done by the royal family, which include protecting them from dangerous outside forces, showering them in charity, and even (to this day) providing the weather conditions for a bountiful harvest. Indeed every morning students line up for the national anthem and flag-raising ceremony which marks the start of the school day.

In Buddhist temples portraits of the monarchy are hung side by side with Buddhist and Hindu gods, embellished by flowers and incense, giving them a god-like aura. It is widely believed even, that the monarch carries so much holy merit that when in his presence some will wash onto you as a blessing. As such, believers flock to public appearances of even relatively minor royals in hopes of catching a modicum of grace.

In the spiralling state bureaucracy of Thailand, sometimes compared to Kafka’s castle, all work is dedicated to not just the state but the monarchy. The act of giving your labour to the state is often perceived as giving yourself to the monarchy as the two are so deeply intertwined. Yellow, the royal colour is worn every Monday, as a show of fealty to the king, as both the late King Bhumibol and the current King Vajiralongkorn, were both born on a Monday. On mondays, Bangkok is awash with yellow shirts, particularly among civil servants, for whom the dress code is mandatory.

For any of those who don’t subscribe to the adoration of the monarchy, life can be made unlivable. As well as the legally codified aspects of fealty the social pressure is immense. Families will disown children should they privately express republican leanings or if they refuse to partake in royalist ceremonies and traditions. Ultra-royalist business owners, which make up the majority of big business owners, will also regularly force employees to take part in or display performative acts of adoration for the monarchy, this can range from wearing a yellow shirt on Mondays, to joining in with royalist religious ceremonies. Those who refuse will likely find themselves out of a job, if not worse, reported for Lèse-Majesté.

This super-structural royalism is so powerful and all-encompassing that certainly during the Bhumiphol Consensus era it was, like capitalist realism, impossible to imagine a world without it. Lèse-Majesté laws were only deemed necessary in the small number of instances of actual dissidence, which were, more often than not, tied to greater political concerns. However, after the death of King Bhumiphol in 2016 and the ascension of King Vajiralongkorn to the throne, this paradigm of royalist realism has finally begun to shift. 

A Crack In The Veil

Since becoming king, public adoration for Vajiralongkorn has paled in comparison to his father, while criticisms have grown louder and more vocal. The reasons for this shift can not be explored in this article, lest we find ourselves charged with Lèse-Majesté for naming his perceived transgressions, as so many others have. However, it is fair to say that for a huge number of (mostly younger) Thais, Vajiralongkorn is despised. 

In part due to the perceived egregious nature of the new King’s transgressions, and in part due to social media’s ability to anonymise criticism, 2020 saw the near-total collapse of royalist realism. In the summer, after the Covid 19 lockdown, protests that started as a response to the government’s handling of the pandemic quickly spiralled into anti-monarchy demonstrations which not only rocked Bangkok by the sheer number of protestors but by their radical discourse on the monarchy. 

Personally, when I first witnessed some of the speeches, signs and performances I was astonished by their boldness and lack of fear over the consequences. I was not the only one, after the tide of anti-monarchism had grown online the floodgates had opened so quickly it caught the majority of the country off guard. Once again, due to Lèse-Majesté laws, we would be putting ourselves at great risk of charges by repeating any specific quotations of this sentiment. 

While the protests were at their height the government was uncharacteristically slow to respond. However, since the movement’s momentum has slowed towards the end of 2020 Lèse-Majesté charges have been filed at a rate not only shocking in their quantity, but in their pettiness. While some protestors have been charged with actively trying to physically harm the monarchy, in the now infamous incident where the queen and prince royal’s vehicle was swamped by protestors, others have been charged for such minor offences as wearing inappropriate clothing. 

One woman, for example, was charged for dressing too similarly to the queen in a fashion show, while another was charged for wearing an exercise outfit similar to that of the king. Both were deemed by courts to be offensive parodies of the royals. These cases have drawn scorn from human rights groups, however, during a time of global pandemic the Thai state presumably feels it can get away with such gross censorship.

At the time of writing, there are currently 56 cases of Lèse-Majesté charges in the Thai courts. This goes to show that the court was always the final resort for a monarchy that has reinforced its power through almost every possible facet of life in the kingdom.

However, since the protests, the toothpaste is out the tube and many are sure that it can never go back in. The sheer levels of public dissidence and the dramatic rise of popularity in republican exiles overseas mean controlling this new anti-monarchy tendency, manufacturing monarchist consent, is never going to be as effective as it once was. 

Without question, in the year 2021 royalist realism has been virtually wiped out. The movement to abolish the Lèse-Majesté laws has become the focus of the majority of activists, with smaller demonstrations popping up in the kingdom on a near-daily basis. These activists hope that removing the threat of Lèse-Majesté can make it possible to criticise the greater royalist superstructure. To once again reference Fisher, vast numbers of the population have exited the royal castle, which now begs the new question: What of capitalist realism? 

รัฐประหารในพม่า (Burma coup)

รัฐประหารในพม่า (Burma coup)

ผู้เขียน Gabriel Ernst [EN] & Pathompong Kwangtong [แปลไทย]
บรรณาธิการ Sarutanon Prabute
ภาพ Karuna Tilapaynat

So the million dollar question regarding the coup is: Why now? That’s what’s confusing so many Burma watchers.

คำถามโลกแตกเกี่ยวกับการรัฐประหารครั้งนี้ก็คือ ทำไมเป็นตอนนี้?  คำถามนี้กวนใจผู้ติดตามสถานการณ์ในพม่าตอนนี้อย่างยิ่ง

To begin this article we must openly state that we do not like Suu Kyi. She has failed to really reform Burma during her years in charge. She has been a supporter of devastating neo-liberalism and has done nothing to challenge the on going genocide and civil war that devastates ethnic minorities in the country.

ก่อนอื่นเราต้องขอบอกก่อนเลยว่า เรามิได้พิศมัยอองซานซูจี  เธอล้มเหลวในการปฏิรูปประเทศในช่วงเวลาที่เธออยู่ในตำแหน่ง  เธอคือผู้สนับสนุนแนวทางเสรีนิยมใหม่อันโหดร้ายป่าเถื่อนและหันหลังเมินเฉยต่อการฆ่าล้างเผ่าพันธุ์และสงครามกลางเมืองที่กระทำต่อชนกลุ่มน้อยหลากหลายชาติพันธ์ุในประเทศ

Many have considered Suu Kyi an apologist for the Burma army for years now and her appearance at The Hague international criminal court in 2019, where she literally defended the militaries genocide of the Rohingya, underscored that. That’s what makes it so surprising that the military have bothered with this coup, they still have total control over the armed forces, make tremendous profits through corruption illicit industries and generally are feared by the populace. They can pretty much do whatever they want, regardless of the civilian government. So why bother with the coup?

หลายคนมองว่าอองซานซูจีเป็นผู้แก้ต่างให้รัฐบาลทหารในห้วงเวลาหลายปีมานี้ด้วยซ้ำ คำให้การในชั้นศาลของเธอที่ปกป้องการฆ่าล้างเผ่าพันธ์ุชาวโรฮิงยาโดยกองทัพ ณ ศาลอาญาระหว่างประเทศที่กรุงเฮกเมื่อปี 2019 เป็นเครื่องยืนยันได้อย่างดี  นี่ทำให้การรัฐประหารของกองทัพครั้งนี้เป็นเรื่องที่น่าประหลาดใจยิ่งนัก ทำไมพวกเขาต้องรัฐประหารทั้งๆ ที่กองทัพยังคุมกองกำลังติดอาวุธได้เบ็ดเสร็จ กองทัพยังคงทำกำไรมหาศาลจากอุตสาหกรรมทุจริตผิดกฎหมาย อีกทั้งผู้คนก็ยังหวาดกลัวพวกเขาอยู่  กองทัพสามารถทำสิ่งใดๆ ได้ตามใจปราถนาโดยไม่ต้องสนใจรัฐบาลพลเรือน  แล้วทำไมเล่า ทำไมต้องรัฐประหาร?

The best answer we can give right now is that it’s a confluence of reasons. The first being personal. Suu Kyi, in the circles of the higher echelons of the Burma government, is not well liked at all. She’s considered extremely hard to work with and surrounds herself with a gerontocracy of yes men. She’s had major fallings out with a number of people formerly close to her, including a very public feud with her brother. This makes her look weak and thus makes a coup easier.

คำตอบที่ดีที่สุดที่เราจะให้กับทุกท่านได้ ณ ตอนนี้คือ มันมีหลายเหตุปัจจัยด้วยกัน  หนึ่งคือเรื่องส่วนตัว  อองซานซูจีไม่ได้เป็นที่รักในกลุ่มชนชั้นนำระดับสูงของรัฐบาลพม่าแม้แต่น้อย  รอบๆ ตัวเธอมีแต่กลุ่มคนชราที่พร้อมเห็นด้วยกับเธอไปเสียทุกอย่าง การทำงานกับเธอจึงเป็นสิ่งที่ยากยิ่งนัก  เธอเองมีปากเสียงกับหลายต่อหลายคนที่เคยใกล้ชิดเธอ อาทิการวิวาทะกับพี่ชายของเธอเองต่อหน้าสาธารณชน  นี่ทำให้เธอดูอ่อนแอและการรัฐประหารเป็นไปได้ง่ายขึ้น

Secondly the USDP (military backed party) did embarrassingly poorly in the national elections late last year. To explain their bad performance a narrative grew that the elections were rigged, which honestly is quite absurd, but the embarrassment felt by the military certainly is not. These are bravado guys who don’t appreciate being shown up.

สอง พรรค USDP (ที่กองทัพหนุนหลัง) ทำคะแนนได้ย่ำแย่ในการเลือกตั้งระดับชาติเมื่อปีที่ผ่านมา  เรื่องเล่าที่ค่อนข้างไร้สาระว่าด้วยการเลือกตั้งอันสกปรกเกิดขึ้นเพื่ออธิบายความล้มเหลวของพวกเขาครั้งนี้ ทว่าสำหรับพวกกองทัพแล้ว มันไม่ไร้สาระเลยสักนิด  พวกเขาเป็นจอมวางท่าผู้ไม่นิยมการตกเป็นเป้าสายตาเท่าใดนัก

Thirdly Suu Kyi has been surrounding herself with foreign advisors, all of them die hard neoliberals, including one individual who quit the British embassy to join her advisory team. Historically the ideology of the military has been extremely hostile to the west, this was why they were such a isolated country during the junta years. This all traces back to British colonialism and the vein of anti-colonial thought in the higher levels of the military, who sought domestic protectionism from outside interference above all else. As such Suu Kyi’s decision to surround herself by foreign neo-liberal advisors goes hard against that and many of the economic reforms (opening up the country to large foreign business) have been pretty drastic. This likely enraged the military, more so the old brass who still are highly influential.

สาม อองซานซูจี รายล้อมด้วยที่ปรึกษาต่างชาติมากมาย พวกเขาทุกคนเป็นผู้อุทิศตนให้กับอุดมการณ์เสรีนิยมใหม่ หนึ่งในนั้นลาออกจากคณะฑูตสหราชอาณาจักรเพื่อมาเป็นที่ปรึกษาให้เธอ  ว่ากันตามประวัติศาสตร์แล้ว กองทัพมีอุดมการณ์ชิงชังตะวันตกหัวชนฝา นี่เป็นเหตุผลว่าทำไมรัฐบาลทหารของพม่าจึงมีนโยบายปิดประเทศในช่วงก่อนหน้านี้  ทั้งหมดทั้งปวงเป็นผลมาจากลัทธิล่าอาณานิคมอังกฤษและร่องรอยของความคิดต้านอาณานิคมที่ฝังรากลึกอยู่ในกองทัพ ผู้ลุ่มหลงคลั่งไคล้การปกป้องประเทศจากการแทรกแซงของต่างชาติ  การที่อองซานซูจีตัดสินใจให้ฝรั่งมังค่าเสรีนิยมใหม่มาเป็นที่ปรึกษาของเธอนั้น ก็เสมือนการตบหน้าความกองทัพเข้าอย่างจัง และการปฏิรูปเศรษฐกิจ (เปิดประเทศเพื่อกลุ่มทุนต่างชาติขนาดใหญ่) ของเธอนั้นก็ค่อนข้างรุนแรง  สิ่งเหล่านี้น่าจะทำให้กองทัพรวมไปถึงกลุ่มชนชั้นนำเก่าๆ ที่ทรงอิทธิพลอยู่เดือดดาลพอสมควร

Finally the head of the military who enacted the coup General Min Aung Hlaing was due to retire in 6 months. We don’t know a whole lot about his personal ambitions but perhaps he wasn’t content with a quiet retirement. For all we know he could be a staunch reactionary who pines for the old days of the junta. He’s promised elections one year from now so we will see. 

สุดท้าย วาระเกษียณอายุของผู้นำกองทัพที่ทำการรัฐประหารครั้งนี้อย่างนายพลมี่นอองไลง์ก็ใกล้เข้ามาอีกเพียงแค่ 6 เดือนเท่านั้น  เราไม่รู้นิสัยใจคอของเขาในหลายๆ อย่าง ไม่รู้ว่าความทะเยอทะยานส่วนบุคคลมีผลมาเพียงใด แต่เขาก็คงไม่พึงพอใจในการเกษียณอายุเท่าใดนัก  ที่เรารู้ก็คือเขาต้องการรักษาแผลของพวกปฏิกิริยาที่คิดถึงคืนวันเก่าๆ ในห้วงเวลาเผด็จการทหาร  เขาสัญญาว่าจะให้มีการเลือกตั้งในอีกหนึ่งปีถัดจากนี้  เรามารอดูกัน


สำหรับประวัติศาสตร์การเมืองในประเทศพม่า โปรดฟัง podcast #Analysand EP 14 ด้านล่างนี้ (ภาษาอังกฤษ)

Capitalist Realism and The Voluntary Subaltern

Capitalist Realism and The Voluntary Subaltern

Mondor Pakled

Looking beyond the limitations of symbolic protest in an attempt to escape the seemingly omnipresent capitalist state superstructure in which our defiance lacks any material consequences.

The primary quote which serves as the thesis for Mark Fisher’s seminal 2009 book Capitalist Realism reads “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. When framing this in the context of The Kingdom of Thailand a similar quote comes to mind, from the great Ursula Le Guin: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.” It would seem right now that Thailand is indeed trying to escape this divine rule of the monarchy, but what of capitalism? Which alongside a kind of neo-feudalism, is also deeply entrenched and intertwined within the very fabric of life in the Kingdom as Alain Badiou terms it the capitalo-parliamentarian system.

There is one more foundational quote I’d like to frame within this snapshot of the Thai protest movement, from Murray Bookchin who wrote: “The assumption that what currently exists must necessarily exist is the acid that corrodes all visionary thinking.” I would argue that the current moment, by beginning to challenge these once concrete assumptions, provides a potential future far beyond the somewhat tacit calls to reform the monarchy, rather there has been a tear in the veil of capitalist realism, a tear which allows us not to see the other side, but lets in a ray of light, beaming with potentialities, which given the appropriate response, could be actualised. 

Iconoclasm –

Iconoclasm: the belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments.

Thailand is clearly a deeply symbolism rich culture, from religious and state iconography collaging nearly every facet of public life, to constant symbolic displays of social and economic hierarchy through consumption, language and even body movements. As such it’s no surprise then that the current protest movement has largely been engaging in symbolic acts of defiance rather than any material attempts at forcing change. 

It was notable during the demonstration on November 17th, when protestors beat back riot police lines, fought yellow shirt agitators and bravely ran through a thick smog of tear gas just to peacefully sit outside the front of the then empty parliament before going home, content with the ultimately symbolic display of their capability rather than actually occupying the parliament and reclaiming it for the people as so many successful movements have done before. Of course, I’m not arguing that the protesters could, at this point, realistically occupy parliament and seize it as a governing institution in order to enact change. Even seizing the parliament itself would ultimately result in yet another symbolic act, devoid of any real change other than sending a message. Understandably, sustaining energy for a movement which is iconoclastic, rather than truly political is going to be fatiguing, as ultimately that desire for real change is never wholly satisfied. 

The same trap of iconoclasm is by no means unique to Thailand. We saw a prime example this year as the Black Lives Matter movement warped from an anti-authoritarian movement against the police and carceral state, literally burning down police stations, to a war waged against racist statues, at which point the momentum began to fade away. Again I find myself very sympathetic towards this problem. As much as the state is attacked, its power, its base and superstructure seem invincible.

Looking at the options for the protest movement reveals the seeming inescapability of capitalist realism. Coming up against the apparent invincible power of the capitalist state reveals the stark need for imaginative thinking, experimentation and an alternative means of protest. 

This is very much the case when examining the last century of Thai history. Typically there is a cycle of Coup, Protest, Election, Protest Coup. Over the years there have been multiple attempts at reformism, entryism and even armed revolution. From even Taksin’s ingenious pragmatism, Future Forwards charm and optimism and The Communist Party Thailand’s determination and utopianism. I’m sure most would agree that none of these have been successful at achieving any real structural change since 1933.

So how can this protest movement be different and how can the cycle be broken?

The Voluntary Subaltern

Here I will make my case for a new kind of protest, not new to the kingdom, but new to its educated classes. I propose the movement take on the role of a voluntary subaltern. Subaltern in this context refers to an individual who is on the fringes of the empire or state, one who’s economic and social activity are not productive towards the capitalo-parliamentarian system, but rather beneficial for their own communities. 

More specifically this means not engaging with the state or capitalism, living on the fringes of hegemonic state society to the most extreme ends as is possible while collectively building institutions with other subaltern people that specifically exclude the state. This last point of collective institution building I must stress as it is the key distinction that separates voluntary subalternism with punk. Punk also attempts to completely obfuscate from the state and mainstream culture, to live outside it, but fails to provide an inherently revolutionary capacity, this is where collective institution building comes in, to allow for a genuinely progressive movement by the people for the people in a voluntary manner, one through which people can actually see a material benefit to their lives as well as a kinship or solidarity with one another. 

The reason I use the term voluntary subaltern instead of anarchism is because Thailand already has a long history of these kinds of social formations outside of the context of western theorised concepts of anarchism. Furthermore, I do not want to be some kind of prescriptivist falling into the trap of telling other communities the formation by which they should structure their social order based on western intellectual writings from over 100 years ago. 

In his book The Art of Not Being Governed, the historian and anthropologist James C Scott makes the case that due to geographic and technological conditions, large swaths of what was Thailand (Siam, Ayuthaya, Sukhothai, Lanna or Laos) were inaccessible to the states who claimed their ownership. Notably during the rainy season, when much of the land would flood leaving communities to self govern, free of the burdens of taxation, conscription and other aspects of imposed authority.

These conditions developed a base subaltern culture which we still see the remnants of today in the linguistic and cultural distinctions between even central Thai provinces. Going slightly further afield into more remote areas of the kingdom we can find still existing social and economic structures which are a far cry from the rigid hegemony of the Bangkok government. We have already covered this phenomenon and the state’s response in-depth on DinDeng. 

Indeed there are also currently a huge number of what we can consider involuntary-subaltern people in Thailand. Sometimes described as the ‘underclass’ these economically bereft and counter-cultural peoples are already, perhaps unintentionally, experimenting with a kind of subaltern existence, which the state or mainstream society have very little control over.

What Is To Be Done?

Of course, I am not suggesting a return to these primitive feudal times, rather that we take inspiration from them to form our own voluntary subaltern protests to state power and hegemony. As mentioned above, attempts by reformers to take part in the system so as to reform it have cataclysmically failed in the past. The key aim of the Thai state is to keep reproducing subjects that are beneficial both economically and socially to its continued existence, as such, what the state (seen as a conscious entity) wants most is to subordinate these mostly middle class, highly educated protestors into productive citizens, a future which at the moment looks likely if the focus of the protests remains on iconoclasm. Even if the protesters current demands are met and some reform of the monarchy or fresh elections are achieved it will do nothing to break the aforementioned cycle of coups, protests and meaningless elections. 

So how does one become a voluntary subaltern? Unfortunately, that is not for me to say, for I too am enveloped by the shroud of capitalist realism. The only way to achieve this is through experimentation, collective decision making and de-aligning ourselves with a statist mentality. 

In recent history there have been many failed attempts at community building along such lines by groups geographically removing themselves into remote intentional communes, typically cut off from wider society. Many of these experiments attempt to restructure their new social order in one fell swoop from the ground up and in many cases, these have collapsed entirely, if they still remain they clearly do not demonstrate any structurally revolutionary potential as they are far too removed from society at large. 

However new experiments are taking place across the world in the form of horizontally organised co-ops looking to remove the state from targeted areas of our lives. For example in rural areas with farming co-ops to stave off big agriculture and share knowledge, labour and skills. There are also child care co-ops in many cities in the world, relieving some of the burdens of childcare to allow parents to participate in political activity while the collective dependency of the co-op acts as a political organisation in and of itself. The same is true with alternative education and study groups which, outside of an officially institutionalised format, are focused on group education with the aim of freeing us from the higher education system. 

Indeed in Rojava in Northern Syria, a similar movement to what I describe has been taken up en masse in which voluntary-horizontally organised groups are replacing the traditional state model almost entirely. It must be stressed that this became actualised in Rojava after decades of community building, education and critical debate as well as having suffered devastating material conditions due to brutal oppression and war. There is a famous saying among activists in the Rojava freedom movement. “You must spend only 2% of your time attacking the state and 98% community building”.

This may sound like a lot to ask, but when you consider the courage required to charge a police line while being teargassed compared to the bravery needed to establish a community garden it doesn’t seem like too much of a challenge.

Of course, there is always the danger that capitalism will come in to fill the void left by the state. Certainly, this has happened under neo-liberal government programs, in which the carefully managed pullback of state support in people’s daily lives has been replaced by private corporations. For example, the privatisation of once state-run medical facilities in Thailand. This is the importance of the word voluntary. In the aforementioned cases of state withdrawal it happened on a non-consensual basis, those patients did not choose to have their healthcare privatised, it was forced on them, however, if they were to decide to start their own free healthcare co-op/provider in their community it would indeed be voluntary and outside of the purview of capitalism or the state.

The ultimate aim is to both de-commodify and de-state’ify our existence, our communities and our relationships creating our own new realisms disavowing capitalist realism. The tentacles of the state and capital run deep, pervading our decisions, our thoughts and even our dreams. The challenge is to wrestle away these tentacles, regaining control over not just our personal lives, but the immediate world in which we live. It may sound naive or overly utopian, but the state must be subordinated to our whim and the only way to do that is to remove ourselves from allowing it to use us as a mandate for its continued existence.

By no means, however, do I suggest abandoning the direct struggle against state power. While iconoclastic protest has no material ends, the symbolic is nonetheless of some importance, at least to heighten public consciousness of the contradictory relationship between the people and capitalo-parliamentarian system. As such, there is a place for symbolic protest, just not as a means of directly achieving material change. Perhaps later down the line when the heightened contractions of capitalism become more apparent such mass mobilisations will indeed bear fruit.

All of the examples of challenging the state and capitalism mentioned above are but the bare beginnings of a voluntary subaltern movement, a skeleton without any flesh, but by embracing a more holistic view of protest through which, rather than symbolically attacking, we reject the state and its superstructural institutions, grafting on the flesh to create a new voluntary subaltern being through this process. 

The late anthropologist David Graeber along with archaeologist David Wengrow wrote in Eurozine of how human societies in the past experimented endlessly with all manner of different social and economic structures. They claim that we have lost that imagination and agency to even try and live differently. What I propose is bringing back that experimentation and in doing so rejecting the strong arm of the state and the invisible hand of capitalism, finally breaking the cycle and tearing down the veil of capitalist realism. 

Ultimately the protest movement in Thailand is anti-authoritarian, as was Black Lives Matter, a visceral reaction to an oppressive, violent, brutal and humiliating state. Even if we can’t achieve fully automated luxury space communism within our lifetime we can at least claw back some semblance of dignity and try to find some form of spiritual fulfilment in one another.

Please Proletarianise the Protests

Please Proletarianise the Protests

Photo Credit: KhaoSod News/CC

Samaidaeng Tungdin

Winds of Change

Since the involvement of select labour unions, I have begun to see potential in the protests happening in Thailand today. However, the protests need to rapidly take on a working-class character, they need to be brought to consider economic injustice, and they need to involve the people who live on the edge of Thai society if they are to be successful. 

What once started as disillusioned youth protesting against the regime of Prayut’s Junta Party has now grown into a showcase of the different forms of injustice and inequality that plague Thai society. Appropriately, the initial demands put forward by the protest movement have grown in number and variety, now including the reforms on the monarchy and a diverse set of changes being demanded by a range of social groups.

This is all excellent and exciting, but in all of this fervour for social justice, we cannot forget how these injustices and inequalities all relate, come to be, and perpetuate themselves. Injustice and inequality come from an imbalance in power, some have too much, some do not have any at all. If the most powerful people in Thai society also happen to be the richest and most corrupt, is there not then some relationship between wealth and power?  And therefore, wealth and oppression? 

The wealth gap in Thailand is massive, our problems with corruption are no better, and there is little the average Thai citizen can do to overcome this within our current society. However, restructuring Thai society horizontally and around a greater degree of economic democracy would allow for social groups who have once been marginalized and oppressed to finally gain equal footing and create change as they are no longer held back by a barrier of finance capital.

So whilst calling for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, education reform, democratic reform, and even reforms on the monarchy— although I do believe we should go further than reform— we should also remember that what fundamentally keeps us all down is the union between the State and Capitalism.

I outlined the relationship between Thailand, the Protests, and Capitalism already here, but with regards to the State, Mark Cogan, associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies in Osaka’s Kansai Gaidai University, recently opined in an article for Thai Enquirer that:

|| “The only path to undermining a regime is through non-violent means, as violence legitimises force by the state and creates factions within a protest movement”. ||

This take seems to consider the protests in a superstructural way, but not in terms of material realities. It recognises that within the structure of the Thai legislative and executive branches, any physical provocation carried out by the public towards a representative of the State can, and usually does, result in the Thai State retaliating. It also recognises that there are indeed ‘moderates’ within the movement who may withdraw their support for the protests if their support is seen as supporting violence— an alternative to withdrawing their support is diverting it elsewhere, creating parallel movements who differ on the use of violence. 

I understand these two positions as important, however, they seem to be trapped in the socially acceptable discourse of Thai Society— for a lack of a better phrase, they do not think outside the box. Hence, I wish to respond to both points by offering a more hopeful and holistic view.

Legitimization of State Violence— Fighting on Uneven Ground

Under capitalist modernity, the State has a monopoly on violence. The State commands the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Police, Border Patrol, and so on. Non-State violence is also under the purview of the State as it can be subject to judgement by the State’s judicial system— through legislation that is set based on the State’s ideology, as well as due to judgement passed by courts set up by the State and judges working for the State. 

Following the Base-Superstructure model, this Monopoly on violence can be challenged via one of two ways:

  1. On an abstract, ideological level— the battleground that Cogan is concerned with.
  2. On a physical, material level— whereby through the alteration of material conditions, we can improve our chances of succeeding and also take control over the ‘ideological’/’superstructural’ battle as well.

What I mean here is that when you control the material realities that the abstract world is based on, then you can shape that abstraction on an ideological level; if you are a Thai elite, then having more money and material wealth means you have more influence in what laws are passed, what issues are pushed towards the forefront, and what industries get more support, hence the idea of the material influencing the abstract. 

Over time, the doctrines and ideologies espoused by people with specific interests (the Monarchy, politicians who come from Money or the Military, and so forth) not only become ingrained in our legal documents and legislation, but also part of how we think. This is why I think Cogan and others warn against violence, not necessarily because they themselves do not see it as a viable tool, but rather because it is likely the majority of the Thai population do not see ‘violence’ in a positive light. 

And yes, remaining non-violent should theoretically disable the State from exercising its monopoly of violence, however, it in no way stops those who are ideologically aligned with the State from being violent— i.e. the counter-protesters. As long as the State does not openly associate further with counter-protestors, then just like the paramilitary groups of 1976, the counter-protestors can do whatever they want because they are ‘independent actors’. Whilst the counter-protestors may or may not be funded by the State, they are given silent approval by the State because of what the State and Salim represent ideologically. Hence, there is a war on two fronts, and the fact of the matter is that the non-working class character of the movement detracts from its strength. 

Unity for Unity’s Sake— What about the Moderates?

As for the fear of driving off the ‘moderates’, the middling level of support for the protests that exists is indeed precarious if the movement does not grow the same way it did around October. Comparing our struggle to the Hong Kong protests (as many people often do), there are probably fewer people in Thailand who are physically involved in the demonstrations, however, there is also the large contingent of online supporters who are working to conquer the important battlefield that is the internet— namely the Twitterverse. And so if Cogan is concerned with losing the support of the moderates if there is a turn towards violence, then there is a clear alternative to avoiding violence and trying to get the moderates to stick around. 

‘Moderation’ or being a ‘moderate’ is usually related to not being completely invested in the outcome or implications of an event, movement, idea, etc. In our case, ‘moderates’ might be those who oppose the leadership of the Junta Party, but are not necessarily against the way the system is— meaning they might not be as interested in the reforms on the monarchy as they are interested in securing economic interests which were jeopardized by Prayut’s economic policy and so forth.

Given how quickly protestors turn to examples like 1973, the idea of creating a United Front definitely applied then. The workers in 1973 carried out a series of general strikes that saw the Thai economy in the hands of the working class for a brief time, but long enough for the general societal discontent to catch up with the student movement. Before too long, Thanom fled and a period of democracy followed. Rather than align with ‘moderates’ or the petit-bourgeois, the 1973 students stood in solidarity with workers and had them to thank for their victory— which in turn was a victory for the Thai people as a whole. 

So rather than trying to appease a group of people who might cause the movement to betray its values and core goals, we should expand the themes of social justice, increased liberty, and increased democracy to include the issues and topics that concern the majority of the Thai people. We must create a genuine connection with those who are suffering the most at the hands of the State and Capitalism and invite them to join the struggle, at the forefront, not as a tokenized symbol of situational unity. Because at the end of the day, why try and preserve the current level of support when you can go out and generate more support? Through bolstering our numbers with the working class, we can ensure a growing movement in case anyone does get turned off by the protests. 

Please Proletarianise the Protests

I beg of you, please proletarianize the protests. We don’t have to call for the People’s Republic of Siam, or completely destroy Southeast Asia’s Military-Capitalism, but the few unions who are already involved in the protests won’t be enough— given the low levels of unionisation and the general aversion that many labour groups (most of which are associated with international labour groups— the ILO, the Solidarity Centre) have towards militancy and agitation.

Hence we must extend our hand towards the workers themselves, but rather than espouse the standard Chula Liberal rhetoric of struggling for a more democratic country we should keep our ears to the ground and hear out their concerns first. To illustrate this, consider how over half of the Thai workforce is involved in either industrial or agricultural labour. Further still, consider how migrant labour in Thailand is exploited by companies operating locally, and given access to operate within Thailand by the State. Consider if the workers of Thailand might be more invested in ensuring they can achieve decent and liveable wages than whether hair can be short or not at Thai schools.

Specifically, I recall that last year that farmers and agricultural workers were threatening protests in response to an economic policy that negatively impacted them and curbed their rights. This is an example of what matters to the worker, not whether Pornhub is blocked or not— although I am aware that Pornhub themed protests are symbolic. 

The symbolic battle against censorship is an example of focusing on the superstructural and in the abstract realm of ideology, rather the worker is concerned with the material. Struggling against symbols does not completely eliminate the institutions and systems that create said symbols. For example, ultraroyalist forces in 2017 might have removed the commemorative plaque for the 1932 Revolution, and protestors might have recently installed a pro-democratic plaque, but at the end of the day neither act has done much to alter the quality of democracy or how the State functions— rather the State continues to behave the way it has since 2014 and beyond regardless of what plaque adorns Sanam Luang.

This is not to say that the working class is not concerned with the state of democracy in Thailand. However, when you consider the negative effect of neoliberal Capitalism on the average Thai worker and the average Bangkokian living in, let’s say, Thong Lor, then one is likely to have their immediate economic and material interests in mind, whilst the other has the capacity and capital to spend more time not engaging in wage labour. 

But whilst Capitalism claims that you are the owner of your own labour, if you work for companies like CP you are likely under direct control of not only the interests of the rich but also the State as they are known to collude. Prayut’s Junta Party is strongly supported by CP, Thaibev, Central Group and other large players from the Thai ruling class, yes there has been criticism of this during the protests, but I do not think there has been enough. Also if you are uncertain whether groups like CP would also, therefore, be against the protests, do remember that they ran advertisements against the Hong Kong protestors, and since everyone continues to compare Thailand’s protests with Hong Kong’s and drone on and on about the Milk-Tea Alliance, then would it not be safe to say that CP also disagrees with our protests?

Another example of when we should be more considerate of the working class and their needs is how we discuss the common theme of taxation. Despite the criticism of the PRPP’s use of taxes, we must recognise that taxation comes as a secondary cost to many of us. For example, if someone is earning the minimum daily wage in Korat, then they are not making enough money to even be taxed. However, they may be spending more on other things such as education, transport, food, medicine, purchases for work, and other necessities— expenditures that are exacerbated if they are the main/sole breadwinner.

Naturally, if they were working another job or found a higher paying job, then all of the above would likely still apply, however, now they also must pay taxes. This indicates that for those of us living in nice homes in cities like Bangkok, we are oxymoronically fortunate to be complaining about taxation, but we cannot forget that the way we should judge our society is by the way we treat our poorest, and the downtrodden of Thailand deserve our support. Hence, we must make it known that this movement is a Thai movement and that those who peddle the conspiracies that these protests are being pushed by some shady bankrollers are only trying to divide us more than the ruling class and the State already do. 

So whilst abstract ideas like ‘democracy’ may not be as relevant as economic security to the majority of the country who live outside the larger cities, they can become relevant if we become aware of the working class as a group to be united with— like the United Front that brought down Thanom in ‘73— and work tirelessly to facilitate their integration and, ideally, leadership in our struggle. 

At the end of the day, we must think of ourselves living like the person from Korat, and we must decide whether we will give more importance to the question of “can I put food on my table for my family?” or the question of “can I watch Pornhub?”.

Under No Pretext…

Finally, to unite the two themes of State violence and broadening the movement to be more accommodating of the working class, we must consider the role of violence in a revolutionary context. Granted, this does not mean we must immediately take up arms, but State violence cannot be matched on a 1:1 basis in the current circumstances as not only do the agents of the State have control over tools of violence, they also control the justice system and the ‘official’ narrative(s)— evidenced by their denial of the use of live rounds. 

I would argue that to remain both safe and effective, any use of violence by the anti-government camp must be done with great secrecy, efficiency, and care. Whatever that manifests itself into, is to be seen, and not for me to say. But the lesson here is simple, opening our arms to the plight of the workers secures us a base of support that is greater than any physical or violent threat the State can levy against us— in a word, win over the workers, win the war.

พญาอินทรี ไม่ใช่พี่ใหญ่ของพวกเรา: สหรัฐอเมริกา มิตรไม่แท้ ศัตรูถาวร?

พญาอินทรี ไม่ใช่พี่ใหญ่ของพวกเรา: สหรัฐอเมริกา มิตรไม่แท้ ศัตรูถาวร?

ผู้เขียน Gabriel Ernst
ผู้แปล Pathompong Kwangtong
บรรณาธิการ Sarutanon Prabute
ที่มาของภาพ Khaosod Online

เดือนพฤศจิกายน 2019 ท่ามกลางกระแสการชุมนุมอันพลุ่งพล่าน ผู้ประท้วงชาวฮ่องกงรวมตัวกันต่อหน้ากงสุลสหรัฐอเมริกา เรียกร้องให้นายโดนัลด์ ทรัมป์ช่วย ‘ปลดปล่อย’ เกาะเล็กๆ นั้นให้เป็นอิสระจากการควบคุมของทางปักกิ่ง พวกเขาชูแผ่นป้ายที่มีข้อความว่า ‘โดนัลด์ ทรัมป์ ได้โปรดช่วยปลดปล่อยฮ่องกงด้วย’ เหตุการณ์ดังกล่าวที่เกิดขึ้น กอปรกับการกวัดแกว่งธงชาติสหรัฐฯ กลายเป็นเรื่องขำขันในหมู่ฝรั่งมังค่าทั้งหลาย ด้วยความเข้าใจที่ว่าสหรัฐฯเชื่ออย่างสนิทใจ ในโฆษณาชวนเชื่อของตัวเองที่ว่าพวกเขาจะ ‘ปกป้องสิทธิมนุษยชนและประชาธิปไตย’ เป็นเรื่องที่สร้างความขำขันไม่น้อยเลยทีเดียว

เป็นเรื่องน่าเศร้าที่เราเริ่มเห็นสิ่งเหล่านี้เกิดขึ้นในขบวนการประชาธิปไตยของไทยเช่นเดียวกัน เราเริ่มเห็นบัญชีผู้ใช้ทางทวิตเตอร์ที่มีธงชาติอเมริกาประดับบนชื่อ เราเริ่มเห็นธงไต้หวันและทิเบตโบกสะบัดในที่ชุมนุม สิ่งเหล่านี้ส่งสัญญาณว่าเรายืนเคียงข้างรัฐ(กึ่ง)บริวารของอเมริกา ซึ่งทำทีเป็นจักรวรรดินิยมที่เข้ามาคัดง้างกับจักรพรรดิผู้โหดร้าย น่าเสียดายที่เราจำเป็นต้องกล่าวให้ชัดว่า อเมริกานั้นไม่ใช่พี่ใหญ่หรือมิตรสหายของเรา

เราควรจะเริ่มพิจารณาข้อเสนอนี้จากจุดไหนก่อนดี? เราอาจเริ่มจากตัวอย่างความโหดร้ายป่าเถื่อนของตำรวจอเมริกาที่มีให้เห็นมากมายในช่วงปีที่ผ่านมานี้ สหรัฐอเมริกาใช้กำลังและแม้กระทั่งการสังหารพลเมืองของตนเอง เช่นนี้แล้วพวกเขาจะหันมาเหลียวแลการใช้รถน้ำสลายการชุมนุมที่อยู่ห่างออกไปอีกฝั่งมหาสมุทรแปซิฟิกหรือ? ผู้ประท้วงในประเทศไทยควรเห็นคุณค่าและยืนเคียงบ่าเคียงไหลกับขบวนการ #BlackLiveMatter มากกว่ารัฐป่าเถื่อนที่กดขี่เพื่อนของเรา แท้จริงแล้ว เราและสหายชาวผิวสีต่างต่อสู้กับศัตรูคนเดียวกัน นั่นคือโครงสร้างอำนาจของสังคมชนชั้นอันแข็งแกร่ง เทียบกับรัฐไทยแล้ว สหรัฐอเมริกาใช้ความรุนแรงต่อผู้ชุมนุม (ในช่วงพีคสุด) อย่างโหดร้ายป่าเถื่อนแทบทุกวัน พวกเขาใช้แก๊สน้ำตา จับกุมผู้ชุมนุม ใช้กระสุนยาง ใช้กองกำลังตำรวจ รวมถึงเปิดโอกาสให้ม็อบขวาจัดติดอาวุธสังหารผู้ชุมนุมอีกด้วย มากไปกว่านั้น สหรัฐอเมริกายังมีการลักพาตัวและเป็นที่น่าสงสัยว่าอาจมีการฆาตกรรม เหล่าแกนนำผู้ชุมนุม สิ่งต่างๆ เหล่านี้ บ่งชี้ว่าสหรัฐอเมริกาเองก็โหดร้ายไม่น้อยไปกว่ารัฐไทยเลย

สิ่งเหล่านี้เกิดขึ้นภายใต้รัฐบาลอเมริกันของนายโดนัลด์ ทรัมป์และพรรครีพับลิกันซึ่งมีนโยบายในรูปแบบปฏิกิริยาต่อต้านการเปลี่ยนแปลง ผู้คนที่สนใจการเมืองรู้ดีว่า รัฐบาลอเมริกัน โดยเฉพาะภายใต้การนำของนายโดนัลด์ ทรัมป์ เป็นศัตรูกับสามัญชนอย่างชัดเจน เห็นได้จากการจาบจ้วงประชาราษฎร์เพื่อการสะสมทุนและแสวงหาอำนาจ พรรครีพับลิกันมีผลงานมากมายเป็นที่ประจักษ์ ทั้งการลดมาตรการควบคุมด้านสิ่งแวดล้อม กีดกันสตรีไม่ให้เข้าถึงกระบวนการยุติการตั้งครรภ์และบริการด้านสุขภาพ จับชาวแอฟริกันอเมริกันเข้าคุก ปกป้องผลประโยชน์ของอาชญากรผู้ร่ำรวย รวมถึงมีการคอรัปชั่นอย่างมหาศาล การกระทำที่น่ารังเกียจเหล่านี้บอกเราว่า เขาไม่ใช่เพื่อนของเรา เขาเป็นศัตรูของเราเสียมากกว่า เว้นแต่ว่าคุณจะเป็นคริสต์เตียนอเมริกันผิวขาวมีทรัพย์สินมากมายมหาศาลเท่านั้น ซึ่งผมว่าท่านผู้อ่านก็คงไม่น่าใช่ กระทั่งทั้งหมดที่กล่าวมานี้ ก็ยังมีชาวทวิตภพคนไทยรีทวีตนักการเมืองพรรครีพับลิกัน และขอความช่วยเหลือเพื่อให้เขาปลดปล่อยชาวไทยจากระบอบอันกดขี่ ระบอบที่เกือบเหมือนภาพสะท้อนของสังคมอเมริกัน สังคมที่ปกครองโดยนักการเมืองที่เราบางคนคิดว่าจะมาเป็นพระผู้ไถ่บาปให้นั่นแหละ

ที่กล่าวมาทั้งหมดเป็นเพียงแค่นโยบายภายในประเทศของสหรัฐฯต่อพลเมืองของตนเองเท่านั้น แต่การจะเข้าใจความสัมพันธ์ของสหรัฐฯต่อประเทศไทย เราจำเป็นอย่างยิ่งที่จะต้องพิจารณานโยบายต่างประเทศของพญาอินทรีด้วย อันดับแรกเราต้องสำเหนียกไว้เลยก็คือว่าสหรัฐฯมีความสัมพันธ์อันดีกับรัฐบาลประยุทธ์และกองทัพไทยเป็นอันมาก รัฐไทยและสหรัฐฯมีการซ้อมรบประจำปีอยู่ตลอด สหรัฐฯขายอาวุธให้รัฐไทย และรัฐไทยอนุญาตให้สหรัฐฯตั้งคุกลับเพื่อทรมานนักโทษอีกด้วย ที่กล่าวมานี้เป็นหลักฐานยืนยันชัดเจนว่า ทั้งสองรัฐมีความสัมพันธ์อันดีต่อกันและรักษามิตรภาพนี้ไว้ได้ดีเสมอมา ทำให้ความคิดที่ว่า อเมริกาอาจจะโค่นล้มรัฐบาลนี้เพื่อประโยชน์ของผู้ชุมนุมช่างเป็นเรื่องที่ไร้สาระเสียเหลือเกิน

ต่อมาเราก็มาพิจารณาการแทรกแซงทางการเมืองของสหรัฐฯต่อนานาประเทศ เพื่อประชาธิปไตยเป็นอย่างไรในภาคปฏิบัติกันบ้าง เหตุการณ์ที่สหรัฐฯเข้าแทรกแซงอิรักในปี 2003 เพื่อ สนับสนุนประชาธิปไตยได้คร่าชีวิตผู้คนกว่า 1 ล้านนั้นเป็นที่รู้จักกันดี ทั้งนี้เหตุการณ์ที่ว่าเกิดขึ้นหลังจากการแทรกแซงอัฟกานิสถานเพื่อ สนับสนุนประชาธิปไตยที่ได้พรากชีวิตคนกว่า 100,000 ศพไปไม่นาน เหตุการณ์เมื่อเร็วๆ นี้ ที่ประธานาธิบดีโอบามาเข้าแทรกแซงลิเบียเพื่อ สนับสนุนประชาธิปไตยทำให้เกิดความตายอันประมาณไม่ได้จากการที่ลิเบียเข้าสู่ภาวะมิคสัญญี และกลายเป็นรัฐที่มีตลาดค้าทาสและซื้อขายมนุษย์ขึ้นมา ทั้งหมดนี้เป็นเหตุการณ์ที่จัดอยู่ในประเภท เหตุการณ์เมื่อไม่นานมานี้แต่อาชญากรรมของจักรวรรดิอเมริกันนั้นช่างยาวนาน ป่าเถื่อนโหดร้ายหลากหลายกว่านี้ยิ่งนัก

อันที่จริงสหรัฐฯสนับสนุน และหลายครั้งเป็นผู้ก่อการรัฐประหารต่อรัฐบาลที่ได้รับการเลือกตั้งมาอย่างเป็นประชาธิปไตยนับครั้งไม่ถ้วน นี่รวมถึงการรัฐประหารของไทยในยุคสงครามเย็น โดยเฉพาะเมื่อมีเวียดนามเกี่ยวข้อง สหรัฐฯเป็นกำลังหลักสำคัญในการสนับสนุนเผด็จการและการต่อต้านขบวนการประชาธิปไตยในไทยผ่านทางความช่วยเหลือด้านการเงิน การทหาร และเทคโนโลยี ข้อมูลเพิ่มเติมเกี่ยวกับประเด็นเหล่านี้หาได้ตามหนังสือมีชื่อที่ทางการไทย(เคยและอาจจะ)แบน(ในอนาคต) ซึ่งแน่นอนว่าดินแดงไม่ได้สนับสนุนให้คุณอ่านแต่อย่างใด

แล้วทำไมชาวไทยหลายคน และแม้แต่ประชาสังคมโลกถึงมองอเมริกาเป็นผู้นำด้านประชาธิปไตยและสิทธิมนุษยชนกันเล่า? คำตอบอย่างง่ายคือการโฆษณาชวนเชื่อนั่นแหละ องคาพยพในการโฆษณาชวนเชื่อของสหรัฐฯทำงานแข็งขันอย่างยิ่งในช่วงสงครามเย็น พวกคนรวยและผู้มีอำนาจบาตรใหญ่ทำทุกวิถีทางในการปกป้องความร่ำรวยของตนให้พ้นภัยลัทธิคอมมิวนิสม์หรือแม้กระทั่งประชาธิปไตยทางเศรษฐกิจก็ตาม ผลคือแผนกโฆษณาชวนเชื่อของอเมริกาโหมกระหน่ำกระทำการอย่างไม่รู้เหน็ดเหนื่อย เกิดภาพยนตร์ หนังสือ รายการโทรทัศน์ และกระทั่งวิชาเรียนในมหาวิทยาลัย ที่หล่อหลอมให้เกิดความเชื่อที่ว่าอเมริกาคือผู้พิทักษ์ประชาธิปไตยและเสรีภาพขึ้นมา แม้สงครามเย็นจะจบสิ้นไปแล้ว องคาพยพของจักรกลโฆษณาชวนเชื่อก็ไม่เคยหยุดตัวลง เห็นได้จากความคิดความเชื่ออันแปลกประหลาดพิสดารและผิดฝาผิดตัวยังคงเหลืออยู่ในจิตสำนักของผู้คนในที่สาธารณะจนถึงทุกวันนี้

ท้ายสุดแล้ว หากมันเป็นดังที่ชื่อบทความกล่าวไว้ พญาอินทรี ไม่ใช่พี่ใหญ่เรา: มิตรไม่แท้ ศัตรูถาวร? แล้วใครเล่าคือเพื่อนเรา? ใช่ผู้คนทั่วโลกที่กำลังต่อสู้เพื่อประชาธิปไตยและการปกครองตัวเองหรือเปล่า? พวกเขาเหล่านี้คือชาวปาเลสไตน์ ชนกลุ่มน้อยในพม่า พลเมืองชั้นสองชาวโบลิเวียกับชิลีซึ่งเพิ่งได้รับชัยชนะในประเทศของเขาทั้งคู่ และแน่นอนว่ารวมไปถึงชาวผิวสีผู้ประท้วงด้วยสโลแกน #BlackLiveMatter ผู้ต่อสู้กับอำนาจทมิฬของรัฐบาลมหาพญาอินทรี ช่างเป็นที่น่าเสียใจที่รัฐอำนาจเถื่อนเดียวกันนี้นี่เอง ที่ชาวไทยหลายคนเรียกร้องให้เข้ามาช่วย