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13 - Class, Inequality, and Politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

Kevin Hewison
Affiliation:
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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Summary

In late March 2010, I made one of several visits to the Phan Fa Bridge, where Red Shirt demonstrators were gathered in large numbers. That evening, my stroll was brought to a halt by a phrase that I had not previously heard from the protestors’ stage: “songkhram chonchan” or class warfare. It was not a term that I had heard much in public discourse, but it did seem to strike a chord with the assembled protestors.

During the second rising of the Red Shirts, from late 2009, the rhetoric of the leadership increasingly came to focus on broadly conceived issues of status and class. The protestors famously adopted the old word for bonded commoner — phrai — to designate their position vis-à-vis the “ammat” or ruling “elite”. Most of the issues that they raised, from double standards to political power, revolved around deeply felt and easily recognised issues of inequality.

Despite some alarmist claims, including from members of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, most notably Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, the Red Shirt leadership of March–May 2010 was not composed of throwback Marxist-Leninist revolutionary communists. One of the leaders, Weng Tojirakan, had been with the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), and others had links with people who had once been with the now longdefunct CPT. But the claim that these others were communists because of links such as these falls on the fact that the deeply royalist, yellow-clad People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) also had many similar links. Even in the darkest days, just before the military crushed the demonstrators on 19 May 2010, a Red Shirt booklet stated, “We want a free capitalist state in which the gap between the rich and the poor is reduced. We want to create more opportunities for the poor.” This is hardly the stuff of Marxist revolutionaries bent on establishing a classless society. Nonetheless, the Red Shirt appeal to class and status both angered and frightened many in the camp supporting the government of Prime Minister Abhisit.

One possible reason for these reactions was the remarkable demonstration of solidarity between Red Shirts and Bangkok's service and working people most vividly seen on 20 March 2010. For much of that day, a Red Shirt convoy wound its way around Bangkok receiving overwhelming displays of support from crowds that lined the city's streets.

Type
Chapter
Information
Bangkok, May 2010
Perspectives on a Divided Thailand
, pp. 143 - 160
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2012

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