The Thai ruling class is seriously split. The royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) is set against supporters of the government and populist leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
The nature of the divisions among the rulers have led to unpredictable alliances. The PAD has fascists at its core, but also includes supporters of some NGOs and even trade unionists.
Trade unions have organised significant protests in recent times. There was large scale working class resistance to electricity privatisation in 2004, for instance, when 200,000 workers came onto the streets.
The PAD argues that the impoverished rural population benefited unfairly from reforms under Thaksin at the expense of the urban population – both middle and working class.
The weakness of the left has allowed the PAD to win a serious influence on the opposition.
One of the main PAD organisers during the recent airport occupations was Somsak Kosaisuk, a retired leader of the railway workers’ union and one of the leaders of the 1992 democracy movement.
The government side in the conflict is preferable, if only because its victory is more likely to allow a space for a genuine workers’ opposition to develop.
However, it idolises billionaire Thaksin – former owner of Manchester City football club – who was prime minister from 2001 until the constitutional court removed him in 2006.
In power his ideology was neoliberal but he also offered popular reforms, including Thailand’s first ever universal healthcare scheme and economic help to the neglected rural areas.
Though his government also waged a “war on drugs” which killed 3,000 people, mainly in the rural south.
Though “royalists” head the opposition, this is not a struggle between an age-old monarchy and capitalism. In the 1870s the monarchy reinvented itself to allow the development of Thai capitalism – first through extreme autocracy and later as a constitutional monarchy.
The present day monarchy is a dynamic institution which has changed itself to remain relevant. It has happily accommodated with imperialism.
During the Vietnam War thousands of US troops were stationed in the country.
The main opposition was led by the Communist Party, which relied on guerrilla fighting in the countryside, with no plan to relate to the urban poor.
The party collapsed 20 years ago, but its legacy is a weak Thai left, wedded to nationalism.
For a more detailed analysis read Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s A Coup For the Rich, written after the 2006 coup. Go to » www.isj.org.uk/docs/CFRbook.pdf [440kb PDF]