Thursday, May 20, 2010

Red or Yellow?

In Bangkok , 40 people killed and hundreds injured so far in street battles between anti-government protesters and the military.The liklihood is of much more bloodshed. SOYMB reminds readers that events occurring on the opposite side of the globe can prove a challenge for socialists to understand and explain since information is difficult to obtain and what news there is can often be filtered by a bias media thus with that caveat we post the following.

Thais from the north and northeast, who make up the majority of Thailand's population, have suffered economically. Since the mid-1980s Thailand has been significantly more unequal than its main regional neighbors. Statistics, which understate the affluence of the survey-avoiding rich, show that Thailand's inequality has grown steadily worse, dipping only temporarily after the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s. The recent Human Development Report produced by the UNDP shows that eight out of the 10 most disadvantaged provinces in Thailand are in the rural north and northeast, precisely the areas where red-shirt support is strongest.

In 1997 , 2001 and in 2005 Thaksin Shinawatra , a populist politician was elected prime minister. Thaksin was a billionaire telecommunications tycoon, and clearly interested in using government power to foster his own family network of companies.Thaksin was accused of corruption and "cronyism". Some of Thaksin's policies smacked of tokenism, others were much more substantial.
He launched social programs, like inexpensive national health care and start-up loans to villages, redistributive policies, dubbed "Thaksinomics" , and that had an impact. He offered farmers a moratorium on debt payments and loaned 1 million baht—around $29,000 at the time—to every Thai village for development projects. (Private banks had stopped lending to farmers, for the most part, after the 1997 Asian economic collapse.) Some hailed the funds as a miracle that spurred the country's economic boom, while others dismissed the program as baksheesh for village leaders friendly to the prime minister. Thaksin also offered heavy government subsidies to bring rural goods into the national economy and ordered state-owned enterprises to buy up his followers' products. But his signature initiative was the "30 baht treat all" health programme offering cheap access to doctors . Analyses have consistently shown that the programme shifted national health care resources away from urban hospitals and toward the rural poor.

But rather than trying to defeat Thaksin at the ballot box, the anti-Thaksin middle class and elites opted for extraconstitutional means. Protests calling for Thaksin's ouster gave way to calls for the army to intercede; in September 2006 the military obliged, deposing the prime minister in a coup. When Thaksin was in power, opponents wore yellow shirts, the traditional color of Thailand's monarchy. Thaksin's loyalists took to wearing red to distinguish their movement from the royalists. Thaksin fled into exile, and today lives mostly in Dubai. The coup was a major mistake. For all his faults, Thaksin was a democratically elected politician. His overthrow was tacitly condoned by the United States, Thailand's most important foreign partner. (Though George W. Bush's administration officially condemned the coup, it did not cancel the pending joint military exercises with Thailand, and the U.S. has since worked easily with the government installed by the military.)

Today, the "red shirt" protesters organised against the ruling government are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva - a British-educated technocrat - hold a new election. There are broader demands as well: Many red shirt leaders want the government to speed up programs to boost political and economic power in the provinces. They also want to start a discussion on how to reduce the power of traditional, urban-elite-dominated institutions like the palace and the military. The protestors' main grievances are real and reasonable.

However, perhaps this interpretation of recent events by Philip Cunningham, a freelance journalist who has taught at Chulalongkorn University and Doshisha University in Thailand , reflect more accurately the reality of the the demonstrations and the Bangkok protests:-

"What we see in Thailand, I think, is a sham revolution, and I think it’s something stirred up primarily by the billionaire tycoon in exile... There are real grievances. There are real poor people. There are fault lines, and in sensitive areas in Thailand, which are very easy to provoke. It would sort of be like Rockefeller funding riots in the ghettos, if he had somehow been arrested and sent into exile or something like that. I mean, it’s a really strange situation. It’s a hugely tragic situation. The people are dying. They’re dying for a billionaire tycoon in exile. It doesn’t make sense...I believe the Red Shirts are a fascist movement. I believe the poverty is real. The need, the hunger, for a systemic change, a kind of change in Thailand, is there. It’s in the air. But there is nothing about the Red Shirts—I listen to them every day. I monitor their broadcasts. I’m doing a media study of that. And they insult foreigners. They insult gays. They engage in ridiculous ad hominem attacks. They are playing to the crowd. It’s kind of like a cross between—with Thaksin. And they sing songs in dedication to Thaksin. I mean, it’s sort of like, you know, Mussolini or something like that. Some people compare Thaksin to Berlusconi. I think it’s a little more like Mussolini. It is fascism, and it is a shame, because these people are hijacking the poor people, hijacking the genuine grievances of the poor, to serve a billionaire in exile so he can get back to Thailand and get his money back...It’s nonsense. There is good rhetoric. There’s good drama. This is money from a TV station from Thaksin’s media people. They’ve put together a media show. They’ve put together a sham demonstration, a sham revolution. It’s not the real thing. I was in a Tiananmen in '89. I know what these things look like. I know what a spontaneous uprising looks like. This is not a spontaneous uprising.What has happened—and I will acknowledge this—is that you've kind of had a chain reaction. You have some real spontaneous uprising now. Thailand is in a very brittle state. It’s very delicate. It’s at the kind of end of an era. And anything could happen, and this could be extremely dangerous. I just don’t want to see Thailand go down a fascist road...I just feel like you’re so hungry for the left to do something that you’re seeing a false dawn, and you’re mistaking it for the real thing. This is a false dawn; this is not the real thing."

So where do socialists stand in all of this? The real conflict is yet to be waged — that between the exploited and the master class. The Thai people, regardless of the colour of their shirts remain prey to the manipulations of feuding factions of their master class. There can be no relief for the oppressed in changing one robber for another one. The person of the robber does not matter — it is the fact of the robbery that spells misery. Divisions are a hindrance to working-class unity and action, and jealousies and differences are fostered by the capitalists for their own ends. The workers and farmers , red or yellow shirts, are being used to fight the battles of their oppressors. Let the thieves fight their own battles!

1 comment:

hallblithe said...

Many thanks for this insightful & informative piece.