Thailand: Start the Revolution without Me
One of my favorite movies is Start the Revolution without Me (1970). It’s my kind of flic, weird and silly and satirical. One reviewer called it a “Cult Classic, but not for everyone, you’ll either love it or hate it.” I love it, it brings back pleasant memories. I read an article in The Diplomat recently that brings back mixed memories. Shawn W. Crispin discussed the current social and political situation in Thailand in great detail. That sort of minute detail supporting an array of scenarios for Thailand’s future reminded me of something I’d seen before…yes! A SITREP! (Situation Report for you non-military types). In a previous incarnation I used to read SITREPs every day and contribute to them periodically. It was my job.
One of the scenarios in Mr. Crispin’s SITREP concerned the possibility of a revolution, or insurgency, against Thailand’s Military Dictatorship. Something that would most likely begin in Isaan (Northeast Thailand) as either a grassroots movement among the poor and disenfranchised or a financed-from-abroad revolution stage-managed by Thaksin. He didn’t have high hopes for this scenario. Neither do I. If the Revolution is up to Thaksin it won’t happen. I’m tired of Thaksin, and I think many Thais are too. He can’t seem to decide whether he wants to bring democracy to the Kingdom or protect his fat wallet. He seems to think he can do both. I think he’s wrong about that, the one negates the other.
So if not Thaksin, who? If there is an opposition movement out there it’s keeping a very low profile. That was a good idea for a while, but now it is clear that Prayuth and his crew intend to stick around forever in one form or another.
There may be Constitutions and Elections in Thailand’s future but they will be meaningless window-dressing, no more legitimate than Soviet Constitutions and Elections. I’m old enough to remember when 99.3% of all Soviet citizens adored Stalin, or Brezhnev, or whoever held the whip hand at the time. I’m sure Czar Vlad would score a 99.3 today too.
The only kind of opposition movement that could succeed would be a low level insurgency that could gradually build to a point where it was strong enough to challenge the dictatorship. More déjà vu for me. One of my jobs back in the late 60’s-early 70’s was keeping track of low level insurgencies in Thailand.
When I arrived US Military briefers told me that those Communist-backed insurgencies were a dire threat to the nation’s very existence. I later discovered through my job of monitoring them on a day by day basis that that was a load of hooey. There were three insurgent groups in the North and Northeast at that time, plus one in the far South which was much the same as the one there now so I won’t say anything about it.
One group in the Northeast was backed by Hanoi, but the North Vietnamese had little to back it with so it never amounted to much. It operated mainly in Sakorn Nakon Province and financed itself by robbing banks and holding up buses. It was more a criminal gang than an insurgency. A second group was backed by Beijing, it operated in the far North along the Burmese Border, its financial backing was feeble and it had little grassroots support. It was mainly used as an excuse for the Thai Army to suppress the mountain people and drive them off their ancestral lands.
The third insurgency was the closest of the three to being a real insurgency. Founded by a bunch of young Bangkok intellectuals who had escaped the clutches of the current Thai Dictator’s thugs and had the romantic idea that they would become Thailand’s Che Guevaras. They fled into the rugged heavily jungled spine of mountains that separate the North from the Northeast but found that guerilla warfare was too taxing for them. They weren’t used to camping out. They didn’t have much grassroots support as there weren’t enough folks up in the mountains to provide it, even if they had wanted to provide it. Wags in Bangkok called them “massage parlor revolutionaries” and that wasn’t far from the truth. Without foreign backing and grassroots support they drifted back to Bangkok and got their middle class and wealthy families to bail them out.
So what does this have to do with the current situation in Thailand? I think that what held true in those long-forgotten days is still true. That Thais will tolerate Dictators no matter how repressive they are because they are either unable or unwilling to do what it would take to get rid of them. That there is no such thing as ‘grass roots support’ for much of anything in Thailand, certainly not for anything as big and bloody as it would have to be to remove a Thai Dictator. There is no place in Thailand’s Brahmin Caste system for revolutions that work their way from the bottom up. Thais are used to everything being top down. Even their revolutions must begin in Bangkok. But ‘everything begins in Bangkok’ has already been tried and has failed. Thailand purports itself to be a Buddhist nation. Some Thais would even like Buddhism to be declared the state religion.
But Thai Buddhists, like American Christians, are selective in the parts of their religion they practice, and the parts they ignore, or even contradict. The Lord Buddha was a subversive guy in his day. His interpretation of how the world works was totally at odds with the Brahmin Religion. It was egalitarian not rigidly hierarchical. It had no concern with wealth or power in a Hindu society that was obsessed with the pursuit of both. If the Lord Buddha came back to Thailand today he’d be hauled in for ‘attitude adjustment.’ Thai society is more Brahmin than Buddhist. Prayuth and his cronies will remain in power as long as they want to. The only way they can be removed is by revolution, and the Thai People’s message clearly is “Start the Revolution without Me.”
If you're interested in writing for International Policy Digest - please send us an email via email@example.com