National Sections of the L5I:

Red Shirts facing assault from the army in Bangkok protest

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The Red Shirts encampment in Bangkok is faced with the might of the Thai army as the government declares a "free fire zone" in the city centre

The Thai army is laying siege to the encampment of the Red Shirt protesters in central Bangkok. After surrounding the area they have declared a “free fire zone”, 25 people have already been shot and dozens wounded. The government of Abhisit Vejjajiva - placed in power by the military high command - is moving in for the kill. As many as 5,000 protesters may still be present within the 1.2 square mile camp. If the army finally decides to storm its tire and bamboo stake fortifications a massive loss of life is likely. Around the world we must protest and demand the withdrawal of the army and the granting of the elementary democratic demand of the protesters for a free and fair election
Since April 3 the Red Shirts protesters have occupied the tourist and commercial centre of the Thai capital. Only a few days ago Prime Minister Vejjajiva finally seemed ready to dissolve parliament and call elections for Nov 14. But the Red Shirts demand for the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who unleashed the bloody April 10 crackdown that left 20 protesters dead, led to cancel the deal and send in the army.

It is plain that the entire regime - and behind it the army generals, the King and a court camarilla - is a bitter foe of democracy and the most basic needs of the workers and impoverished rural masses of Thailand. Only a social revolution – made by the mass of the workers and poor peasants - will bring about real democracy in the from of a government of the workers, the peasant and the urban poor.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), whose activists, the Red Shirts, number into the hundreds of thousands, has since March been engaged in mass protests against the government in Bangkok. The movement’s social base is comprised primarily of youth drawn from rural poor and the urban working class. Many have come to Bangkok from their strongholds in the north and northeast of the country. Per capita income in the northeast is about 52 per cent of the national average and just over 20 per cent of that in the Bangkok metropolitan area.

Thailand’s glaring social inequalities lie at the root of this rebellion of the youth. The upper 20 per cent of the population owns 69 per cent of the wealth whereas the lowest 20 per cent owns just one per cent. The average monthly income for this lower fifth of the population is just $45 a month. The Red Shirts militants talk openly of their struggle as a “class struggle” against poverty. Indeed! So it is, at least as far as its their motivation is concerned. Yet it has a leadership financed by the former prime minister and multi-billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra and led by some of his cronies.

Prime Minister from 2001-2006, Thaksin is no socialist - not even of the Hugo Chávez variety. His project is of a modernized Thai capitalism able to compete effectively with China, India, Europe or Japan. He had more “pro-Poor policies” than the current government, by way of limited welfare reforms, but he was certainly not a friend of the poor, happy as he was to run a government committed to the interests of big business and the banks.

The Red Shirts
The UDD is politically a bourgeois populist movement which has tried to imitate the Eastern European “colour revolutions” of a few years ago. But unlike them it has no western NGO backers and is funded mainly by Thaksin’s billions. Some forces of the left have participated in the Red shirts Movement but nevertheless it has weak roots in the Thai industrial and urban working class. Overcoming the contradiction between its social base and capitalist leadership is crucial if its young activists are to wage, as they say, class struggle. Clearly this contradiction is already is pulling the movement apart with some of its leaders calling for compromise with the military and the King, and others determined to fight on, to the death if need be

The Red Shirt movement is made up of many different political tendencies, from socialists through to radical liberals and Thaksin supporters. All of them are united in their hatred of the current regime, even if there is disagreement on what should come after it. However the Red shirts have certainly proved to be a well-organised and powerful force, repeatedly holding regular mass actions over the last two years. The encampment has its militia, wearing protective helmets and armed with heavy sticks. They have fortified entrances to the encampment with concrete blocks, barricades made of car tyres doused in petrol, sharpened bamboo stakes and razor wire. For a while they had the advice of a rebel army Major General Khattiya Sawasdiphol, who had created a black clad armed paramilitary force too. But, in an ominous sign of the plans of military high command, he was assassinated by a sniper on 13 May while talking to reporters on the perimeter of the encampment.

The Thai working class
The working class movement in Thailand is very weak in trade union terms and politically is almost non-existent since the disintegration of the Maoist Thai Communist Party in the 1980s and early 1990s. Statistics from 2001 showed that out of 11 million private sector employees, only about 285,000 or 2.6 per cent were union members. In the small state sector the proportion was much higher - 60.94 per cent in unions - 165,546 union members.

Yet Thailand like other Southeast Asian countries has seen industrial development in recent decades, with foreign owned factories producing cars, electronic goods and computers. The labor force in 2001 totalled some 33.4 million up from 21.7 million in 1981. In the last reported year, about 50 per cent were engaged in agriculture and related occupations, 20 per cent in industry, and 30 per cent in services.

Many of the smaller factories are sweatshops often with migrant workers, women workforces and widespread child labour too. During the Red Shirt protests the prime minister warned that any immigrant workers found on the demonstrations would be instantly sacked and deported. This alone indicates the fear of the elite that the workers should get involved in the struggle for democratic and trade union rights. But Taksin, whilst he was premier, did not show himself any friend of organised labour.

For the youthful Red Shirt militants - whilst their militant self-defence against the army is justified and necessary – it is insufficient to win. The key question is to gain the support of the working class and this requires taking up working class demands. Blocking the commercial district of Bangkok has driven the business class wild with fury but alone it has been unable to break the will of the Courts and the Army High Command. Inevitably the numbers of participants has dwindled, as there seems to be no way forward. The blockade is increasingly looking like a dead-end. Only mass political strike action – centrally a general strike by the workers, supported by mass peasant mobilisations in the countryside - could radically shift the balance of class forces against the country’s élite.

Likewise the political strategy of the youth needs to change. Thaksin declares himself an ardent royalist and indeed any criticism of the King can land you in jail from between 3 to 10 years on charges of Lèse majesté. But the King, the court and the military are an indissoluble core of reaction. The radicalised youth – without giving up their demands for free elections – need to break from Thaksin and create a revolutionary communist party. Otherwise the dictum of the French revolutionary Saint-Just will once again be proved right: “those who make revolutions half way only dig their own graves.”