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Social Move: Leftists still fighting for justice

Small leftist groups such as Social Move often get ignored alongside the bigger political actors, such as the yellow and red-shirt movements, and rarely get media exposure. Their ideological commitment is clear, however. Key Social Move member Saowalux Pongam talks to The Nation's Pravit Rojanaphruk about the left and politics. Excerpts:

What is the political standing of Social Move?

Some of our positions are: we oppose the lese majeste law and want to see Thailand managed as a welfare state in which the state looks after its citizens. To borrow the late Puay Ungpakorn's idea, the state should look after its citizens from cradle to death. We also oppose military coups and, at the moment, we are also campaigning for the unconditional release of political prisoners.

It seems that most leftist groups have now chosen to be in the red-shirt camp. What's your view of the matter?

We must ask why leftist groups chose to be with the red-shirt movement. That is because the movement shows features of a democratic movement. Many things that were done to red shirts after the September 19 2006 coup also show that a class system does exist in Thai society and that the elite class does not accept [political] decisions made by the people. This forced us to stand side by side with the red-shirt movement.

But can the political stance of groups like Social Move be different from the red-shirt movement? Or that of Thaksin Shinawatra, Red Sunday's Sombat Boon-ngam-anong or Somyos Prueksakasemsuk of the June 24 group?

Personally speaking, although many red shirts support people like Thaksin Shinawatra, there are many red-shirt groups who have gone with Sombat. We believe that Social Move, or those who support democracy, must support elected governments. Thaksin's administrations were elected and the important thing for progressive people to bear in mind is to protect governments that are elected. Some elected governments may not be good, or misbehave and so on, but the problem must be dealt with through the electoral system. Many members in Social Move do not like Thaksin and may even criticise him but at the same time but we also recognise what Thaksin did was also beneficial to the people, more so than many other political parties over the past seven decades.

In reality, what percentage of red shirts are actually leftist?

Not many, I think. However, if one regards 'leftists' as those who support democracy, then 100 per cent of red shirts support democracy. There aren't that many self-proclaimed leftist groups in Thailand, however, and their memberships are small.

Some see leftists as exploiting the red-shirt movement for their own ideological gain while others believe that leftists have mistaken reds as being progressive, which may not be the case. What's your take?

I don't think much about it. There were allegations that some leftist red-shirt leaders were exploiting right-wing capitalists. Personally, I have no view on the matter because as long as our main goal is to fight for democracy and reduce socio-economic disparity, as well as oppose things that are not right, we will just do it step by step.

What about the fact that under the Thai Constitution, no communist or socialist political parties can be legally formed, while that is possible in countries like Japan?

The elite do not want people to have a clear political stance, but on the other hand the left are also weak. However, being weak doesn't mean we did nothing. But we found ourselves on the receiving end of actions by the right, be it the constitutional constraints or many other laws. Having a Political Party law is very ludicrous because in a democracy, political parties are formed by people who want to propose certain ideas to the electorate, and if the people do not vote for them it will simply die a natural death. No laws are needed to tell us whether a certain party should be dissolved or not.

It's difficult enough to form a political party here, not to mention a leftist political party.

It seems that the mass media in general do not really pay any attention to groups like Social Move. How do you feel about it?

One thing we must admit is that leftists in Thailand are weak. At the same time, we are trying to open up the debate. But we must also accept the reality that the system is pretty much headed in a right-wing direction. We shall continue to try to tell the public that capitalism cannot take us further and when it cannot do so, we will propose a socialist economic system.

Do you not feel lonely with many believing that socialism is dead?

We do not feel lonely or disheartened. We used to joke that the Thai social movement died on October 6, [1976] or May [1992] but when the [2006] coup occurred many red shirts banded together to fight. This reminded us that there's no justice, and that people are ready to fight even if those fighting may not be leftists.

It made us see what the Thai state is doing today is not right, it's very unjust. There was a massacre at the Ratchaprasong intersection and [the government] still managed to cling to power. For those who refuse to give up, these are the very things that burnish their courage to carry on, a reminder that people haven't given up hope. We're just waiting to intensify the move and make it more unified. This fight may last for years.