Almost all Thai rightists I interviewed for my recent research perceived that the threats to Thailand today are capitalism and America. Even lifelong anti-communist ‘Phor’, an alias used for this research, who has tenaciously held the idea of national security being under threat from two strands of communism, sees that Thailand has to be cautious of the CIA interfering and agitating groups of Thai people to the point of being a threat to security. Of course, they were well aware that the threats from capitalism and America are not one and the same as the communist threat.
The rightists’ discourse of capitalist threat obviously differs from the leftists’ Maoist anti-capitalist discourse of 30 years ago. These rightists speak pretty much the same anti-neo-liberalism and anti-globalization language which Thai intellectuals and activists have adopted since after Oct 6, 1976.
Although all the interviews were done years after the 1997 economic crisis, the pain caused by the capitalist crisis was still alive in their memories. Their discourse on the cause of the crisis turned out to be nationalist and against ‘farang’ or western capitalism, pointing to western capitalist giants led by the US bullying emergent smaller capitalist nations. For the ease of digestion and propagation, it was made a story of conspiracy among a handful of global political and financial figures, often including George Soros in particular. The ‘Washington Consensus’ was understood simply as a plot by western capitalist neo-conservatives to destroy smaller states. With the calamity besetting Thai nationalist capital which had eagerly embraced globalization over a decade earlier, globalization has become undesirable. Their discourse against western capitalism was therefore not of a socialist bent, but was outright nationalist, against those ugly farangs abusing decent Thais.
Most of the interviews were done during the years of Thaksin administration which was seen as representing the evil western capitalism, subsequently labelled as ‘vicious or immoral capital’. The exasperation against Thaksin and globalization and the global anti-American sentiment fed into one another. Among the rightists I interviewed then, only one person liked the Thaksin government, and the rest were suspicious of Thaksin because he was pushing the agenda of globalization.
The main discourses that have effectively captured the anti-globalization sentiment include Thainess, the sufficiency economy, western threats and globalized capitalism.
The sufficiency economy is thus no theory, or economic or life philosophy, but a powerful discourse that defines ‘Thai’ as ‘non-capitalist’, or even as opposing to capitalism. Capitalism has been perceived to be a western threat against the desirable Thai-style economy and way of life. The sufficiency economy discourse draws a clear line between capitalism as an external threat and the sufficiency economy as a beautiful, inherently Thai solution. That is the most important task of the sufficiency economy.
Several academics have tried to point out the incongruence of sufficiency economy both in terms of theorization and policy formulation, or its irrelevance. It does not matter, nonetheless, as that is not what the sufficiency economy is supposed to do.
Post-Oct 6 left and right alike have adopted this same discourse. Many old-time leftists have jumped on the bandwagon.
Somsak Jeamtheerasakul has proposed that a major shift among leftist intellectuals after Oct 6 is reconciliation with the monarchy. Why is that? Somsak usually explains that those people do not have a right mind or clear thinking, or political correctness, or are opportunistic, etc. In my view, the reconciliation with the monarchy is part of—not causally, but consequentially—the intellectual inclination towards the monarchy, so powerful that the attitude towards the institution has changed and the issue has been sidelined. The post-Oct 6 leftist intellectuals take on globalization from a nationalist, bourgeois moral high ground, prioritizing as the most crucial socio-political agenda the crusade against the western capitalism.
Post-Oct 6 left and right alike thus loathe and fear those they hold as agents of the globalized capitalist ‘farangs’, or the ‘mean capital’ as the ultimate threat to Thai society. This anti-globalization stand, however, does not remind them of the evil of the huge monopolistic capital which has taken a much deeper root in Thai society, having a much broader and firmer economic and business base than any other due to its holding of real estate assets, holding the unmatchable social cost due to the association with sacredness, securing a strong conservative political base underpinned by the bureaucratic and judicial forces, and in essence being also part of globalization. They just turn a blind eye because it is so closely associated with being Thai.
Why is it not labelled as ‘mean’? Its close association with being Thai prevents it from being perceived as a threat against the decent Thainess. It has even hardly been seen as capitalist: being an inseparable part of Thai identity for so long, it is thus not capitalist. The sufficiency economy discourse helps further disguise it. Many old-fashioned leftists still hold the belief that the sakdina (feudal lords) are not as dreadful as western globalized capitalism.
After the fall of the leftist, socialist movement, there are many legacies including:
1. non-left and non-socialist anti-capitalism sentiment, which has become an accessory of the nationalist, conservative, moral, post-colonial bourgeois anti-capitalist mentality, or ultimately a kind of nationalist capital;
2. non-left movements for ‘the people’, which have become a moral, conservative, nationalist and populist movement, also conforming to the post-colonial bourgeois mindset.
After Oct 6, the left has become less left, or just stopped being left.
The anti-capitalism sentiment of the post-Oct 6 ‘people’s movements’ has become of the moral, conservative and nationalist type, with the remaining left, if any, being under its umbrella. Because of that, the post-Oct 6 so-called left can collaborate with the bourgeoisie’s conservatives and nationalists, as well as nationalist capital without problem, as long as the fight against western capitalism is the priority agenda. Certain thinkers in the ‘people’s movements’ believe that ‘the people’ are ‘using’ the institution to fight globalization, the greatest foe. They just ignore the history that points out that Thai-associated capital and the royalists have been the biggest obstacle of Thai democratic development.
The socialist left has long been finished. The post-Oct 6 so-called left are a faction of the moral, bourgeois and nationalist movement.
The ‘reconciliation’ is not about switching sides, but a result of the intellectual inclination mentioned above. One is made to think that the bourgeois, nationalist, moral high ground, in fact, has been their basis since the October period; i.e., they may not have changed much as they are thought to have been, and the seemingly strong stance towards the monarchy may indeed not have been fundamental in their political perspective as has been understood. Therefore, to reconcile or not is not a matter of life and death for them.
At the same time, the old-time right is also finished.
If the major change among the post-Oct 6 leftist intellectuals is the reconciliation with the monarchy, that of the post-Oct 6 right must be the divorce from the west or farangs, with an ever growing distrust. In terms of historical time scale, it can be said that the period of trust in the west during the cold war was just a brief moment. After that, the Thai elite and society have returned to the mode of associating with but distrusting farangs as it had always been from the late 19th century until the cold war.
If the attitudes towards the monarchy and western capitalism are two lines that were drawn between the right and left during the October era, 1973-6, the shifts among the post-Oct 6 rightists and leftists have cancelled out this polarization, and resulted long ago in a regrouping. With regard to attitudes towards western capitalism, the line between left and right has been messed up for quite a long while, perhaps since after the cold war. The regrouping began at the 1997 economic crisis or before that, not just during the recent few years of political turmoil, but the anti-Thaksin movement and the Sept 19 coup were concrete evidence of the changes.
For over a decade at least, the former left and right have agreed that the fight against globalization is the most crucial socio-political agenda.
The royally-composed anti-communist songs and the leftist songs like the Internationale, whose meanings have been deeply associated with the politics during the October era, have been losing their original implications, along with the line dividing the left and right. New and different meanings for those songs are now up for grabs. One gets to hear these songs nastily back to back on the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) stage in 2008, because the PAD is the utterly vicious manifestation of the changes.