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Lèse Majesté, the Monarchy, and the Military in Thailand

Excerpt:

Despite the fact that millions of Thais believe that the centre of power among the conservative elites today is the Monarchy or the Privy Council, the real centre of power, lurking behind the Throne, is the Military. . . .  The power of the Military is not unlimited and it relies on the ideology of the Monarchy and an alliance with businessmen, civilian technocrats and corrupt politicians in order to supplement its violent means of coercion. . . .  The dominant academic view which sees the King as all powerful includes Paul Handley, Duncan McCargo, Same Sky (Fa Deaw Kan) Press, Kevin Hewison, Michael Connors and Niti Eawsriwong. . . .  The same view is expressed in the collection of chapters published in the book Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand, edited by Søren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager.  Most contributors to this book believe that Pumipon, as head of “Network Monarchy”, is a powerful king.  The “elephant in the room” which no one writes about in this book is the Military. . . .  Most of these intellectuals rely on the socialised official version of the nature of the Monarchy.  Also, consciously or unconsciously, they rely on the old Maoist analysis, from the Communist Party of Thailand, that under-developed countries like Thailand have yet to complete their bourgeois revolutions and are therefore “semi-feudal”.  This analysis sees the major confrontation among the elites as being between the old semi-feudal order and the new rising capitalists.  It is a mechanical application of the 1789 French Revolution to Thailand in the 21st century.  In fact by 1848 the European capitalist classes had more or less co-opted the remaining kings or feudal lords into their local capitalist class and were no longer prepared to lead any more revolutions for fear of stirring up the masses.  Set into the context of the 2006 coup, the belief among many is that the coup was the result of a conflict between the “feudal” Monarchy and the capitalist Taksin.  This “Neo-Maoist” position has also been proposed in detail by Kasian Tejapira.  The Maoist (and Stalinist) analysis of under-developed countries characterised them as being “semi-feudal”, since the “National Democratic Revolution” or bourgeois revolution had yet to be achieved.  Unlike the analysis of Marx or Trotsky’s theory of Combined and Uneven Development, Capitalism still needed to be established by a grand patriotic coalition of leftists and capitalists in order to fight the feudalists.  This school of thought ignores the fact that the ruling class networks which support the Monarchy also include the major bankers and industrialists and even Taksin.  They also ignore the capitalist nature of the King’s own investments. . . .  In Thailand, the revolutionary transformation towards a capitalist state did not take the same form as the early Bourgeois Revolutions in England and France.  Capitalist transformation occurred in a revolution from above by King Rama 5th of Bangkok, around the 1870s, in order to deal with the threat of Western Imperialism.  In many respects the revolution of King Rama 5th was similar to the Meiji Restoration in Japan.  Both were transformations to capitalist nation states in the face of imperialism. . . .  By struggling against the dictatorship in a collective manner, millions of Red Shirts have ceased to revere the Monarchy but they still retain in their minds the myth about the power of the institution.  They believe that the Monarchy is all powerful and is therefore the force behind all the destruction of Democracy and all the killings.  This has the danger of letting the Military and the rest of the ruling class off the hook.  It also carries with it a sense of deep fear of the omnipotent King, commanding the Military and the Bureaucracy from his hospital bed.  This can lead to paralysis in the struggle for Democracy.  Yet the open discussion and debate about the true nature of the Military-Monarchy alliance, which would help to overcome the lingering belief in this ruling class myth, is very much hindered by the level of censorship and the lèse majesté law.

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Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai socialist.  Visit his Web site: <redthaisocialist.com>.


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