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Marxist group small but big on ideas

There is a group, little known to the general public, whose members must observe rules that include: "Every member must read the newsletter and help sell it to the public. Members must also participate in 'group studies' at least once a month."

This may sound like an edict from a fundamentalist religious group or cult, but it is in fact part of the rules for members of the Thai Marxist group Liew Sai, or Turn Left.

The group has only 10 active members but they are confident they are making some impact, even if most members of the general public may never have heard of it before.

As for the rules, Patchanee Kumnak, a 35-year-old bespectacled and shy-looking member, said some members may not have read all the articles in each issue of the news letter, which is sold by members at various political symposiums and gatherings at Bt20 per issue - but that's okay. Three hundred copies are published of each edition.

As for the resemblance to religious fundamentalism, Patchanee said she and other members have faith - not in God, but in human progress. And the rules, she said, are a "tradition" that has been passed down over the years.

"Each member must be able to analyse politics and we encourage every member to present topics during group study," said Patchanee, who came from a humble background but managed to finish her postgraduate degree in politics at Chulalongkorn University.

Patchanee said not enough is being said about this labour movement, a genuine political party that belongs to the people, although issues like the welfare state, which the group has been advocating for years, are now part of the mainstream political discourse. They also believe that genuine political struggle must be based on organised struggle, and not on a single or a few charismatic leaders. The Thai capitalist system, she said, has blinded the public from seeing the issue of class consciousness and class exploitation which continue to exist, even with many saying that communism is dead.

This, she explains, is one of the major reasons why there was never anything like the Occupy Wall Street movement in Thailand, although something similar occurred in Hong Kong.

One of its key former members, former political science lecturer-cum-Marxist activist Ji Ungparkorn, left the group after he fled to England to escape a possible lese majeste charge a few years ago. But today, Turn Left is determined to make a political difference, even if it takes a bit longer.

"As a group we may be small, but as a thinking group, we influence ideas," Patchanee told The Nation.

Patchanee said that although the group tries to spread its influence among the so-called progressive parts of the red shirt movement, she said many reds continued to behave more like members of "fan clubs" of their political leaders.

Instead of having "fans", said Boonphin Sunthrarak, 57, a factory worker in Samut Prakan province and another member, there are close to a thousand supporters of the group, and he believes Turn Left can contribute more to society in the future.