Articles from our Understanding Thailand, ongoing series, which take a look at the deeper background of the Kingdom, examining its culture, history and material conditions. These are primarily for outsiders to gain a better understanding of Thailand.
The Real Face of Thai Feudalism Today
“The purpose of Jit Phumisak’s 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.”
“In the early Thai Marxist tradition of the 1950s Thailand was famously described as a “semi-colonial” state, in reference to the Berney Treaty (1826) and the Bowring Treaty (1855), both of which were signed under coercion. These treaties granted huge concessions to the British, allowing them to ‘all but’ colonise the Kingdom’s ports, essentially monopolising trade, while beginning the shift from a feudal to a capitalist economy. The treaty also gave extraterritoriality to all Britons, exempting them from prosecution under Siamese law, akin to the Unequal Treaty signed by the Qing Dynasty after the opium wars. Indeed, gunboat diplomacy was integral in the Bowering Treaties signing, after the British threatened to send their navy into Bangkok. Siam, however, was able to retain technical sovereignty, hence the term semi-colonial. “
Was Thailand Colonised?
Euro-fascism With Thai Characteristics
“In the 1930s, Thailand began a project of mass homogeneity based on western Euro-Fascism. This project was refined by the monarchy in the 1950s, leading to a reactionary consensus lasting a half-century. However, many elements in the recent protest movement, so far, fail to recognise their own deep-seated Euro-fascist tendencies when challenging the contemporary Thai state.”
“The version of imperialism in Thailand can be considered ‘auto-imperialism’— though ‘imperialism’ refers to the expansion of a nation’s borders abroad, ‘auto-imperialism’ (like how ‘auto-cannibalism’ refers to the consumption of one’s own body) is a means of imperialism conducted on endemic populations. Specifically, the capture of populations already within a nation’s borders, who were previously living outside of state control and influence.”
Thai Imperialism and Colonisation
Nationalism & Anti-Statehood In Thailand
“Far from Bangkok, in a village deep in the northern hills, sitting with a friend, she tells me frankly: “We are not Thai and we try not to be Thai, “Sometimes I find myself talking to my family in Thai and I think no, try to be Lisu.” She is a member of one of Thailand’s myriads of ethnic minorities, in this case, the Lisu. The Lisu people can be found spread across Thailand’s northern hills deep into northeastern Burma and southern China; they are a stateless people with their own language, culture, religion and practices completely distinct from any of the national states that envelope them.”
“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.”
Royalist Realism & Lèse-Majesté
Are protests in Thailand a colour revolution? No
“Applying this stamp to Thailand, 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.”
May is our month of memory. Beginning with International Workers’ Day, it marches past several anniversaries—the gunning down of Jit Phumisak on the 5th, the Rajprasong crackdown on Red Shirt protesters in mid-May, the 2014 coup on the 22th—only to end with the anniversary of the execution of schoolteacher-turned-politician Krong Chandavong in 1961 on the orders of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat. Here, a poetic ode to Chandavong is translated on the anniversary of his death.
Thaksin Shinawatra defined Thai politics for a generation and forever reshaped it. Somehow, this elite capitalist billionaire became the unquestioned champion for a destitute peasantry. Thaksin’s politics defied left-right categorisations, creating an economic miracle, lifting millions out of poverty while further developing the very same mechanisms of capital that had placed them in said destitution.
In 2017, English football fans were left bemused when the English Football League Cup was rebranded as the Carabao cup. A cursory Google led fans to an energy drink, seldom seen in UK shelves, and an ageing Thai rock band.
Thailand often joins a small list of ‘third world’ or ‘global south’ countries, along with Ethiopia and Afghanistan, that escaped the horrors of European colonisation. However, as with the aforementioned states, the claim is somewhat dubious. In reality, Siam was ‘all but’ colonised starting in the late 19th century and well into the 20th century.
In this second article, we will outline the different periods in Tai history, beginning in the ‘primitive communism era’ and concluding in the formation of the Saktina state, examining how they developed through Jit’s understanding of historical materialism.
Ties between many of the original and most influential radical folk artists and their anti-capitalist beginnings seem to have frayed long ago. In an exercise of separating art from artist, leftists today must analyze the troubling messages espoused by many of these artists during the tumultuous political period from 2008-2014.
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.
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.
In the 1930s, Thailand began a project of mass homogeneity based on western Euro-Fascism. This project was refined by the monarchy in the 1950s, leading to a reactionary consensus lasting a half-century. However, many elements in the recent protest movement, so far, fail to recognise their own deep-seated Euro-fascist tendencies when challenging the contemporary Thai state.
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.
The name Haji Sulong is little known in Thailand proper, despite being considered a hero and the founding father of the modern separatist movement in Thailand’s deep south ‘Patani’ region. Little is known outside the region about the conflict that erupted following his death, showing just how localised a civil war can be. This nescience is embodied in Haji Sulong, a man who lived an extraordinary life, was wildly influential and yet almost totally unknown to Thai society at large.
An examination of Thailand’s internal ‘auto-imperialism’, how the state works to capture populations on the fringes of the kingdom and put them to use for the nation’s imperial core. Exploring the roots, history and present-day effects of Thai ‘auto-imperialism’.
If in the United States, the police are shown to uphold systemic racism, what are some sources and examples of systemic racism in Thailand? Here Capitalism leads to the exploitation of migrant workers, the State alters attitudes towards Chinese people due to National Agenda changes, and the country’s history of Fascism…
Jit Phumisak became the first to truly expose Thai history, to lay it bare for what it really was, and inspire a radical attempt to restructure the kingdom, sometimes referred to as the Che Guevara of Thailand, Jit’s legacy as a folk hero of the working class lives on today.
The soft guitar and haunting vocals ring out: “He died in the outskirts of a jungle. His red blood spilled all over Isaan soil. It’s red colour will last forever. He died worthless, but his name lives on. People asked about him, craving to know more about Jit Phumisak. A philosopher and author who lit the candle for common people.”
How leftist Thai folk radicalised a generation and continues to inspire today.
Ceaseless doses of daily nationalism serve one purpose, to enforce the Thai identity and link it to the state, to make being Thai part of the Thai national state. This grand plan, however, did not come out of nowhere. It is, in fact, a direct response and attack on the long history of anti statehood found inside of Thailand’s borders.