My name is Atipong Pathanasethpong and I am the Spokesperson for the Project for a Social Democracy. You may have heard of my colleague at the Project for a Social Democracy, John Draper, the PhD student in Public Affairs Management at Khon Kaen University in Northeast Thailand who just over week ago offered to organize a mass surrender to the Thai authorities for attending the International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai, in solidarity with five academics and students charged with illegal political assembly there.
Although John received many offers from people to help coordinate the surrender, to whom we now extend our thanks, not one person offered to join him. As one foreign student surrendering is not a mass surrender and therefore could only ever be a quixotic gesture, John is considering calling the surrender off.
There are two reasons why the mass surrender concept may have failed. The first may be because it was a 'bad idea'. However, apparently, many people told John it was a wonderful gesture and the right thing to do. Certainly in the West, mass surrenders in solidarity with those arrested for human rights causes have, historically, been a powerful technique for attracting the media's attention and that of politicians.
The second reason is because the militarized state has already won and because protest, at this stage, is not working. We are already living in a state approaching George Orwell's 1984. Protest has, in other words, become pointless. Leading human rights NGOs and supranational organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, are routinely ignored and side-lined by the militarized state. Enemies of the state die in custody or get put away in jail for years. The militarized state has the technology to tap our telephones and read our email accounts, and they do, and they certainly have the technology to come into our homes and cars at night, to follow us, to coerce and threaten our media, to adjust the attitudes of our intelligentsia, our students, and our human rights defenders, and they do all that too.
And, the militarized state is getting better at it, not worse. It is busy perfecting a strategic plan for social order in which voting and elections are also side-lined, in which a self-serving increasingly militarized oligarchy, far from any possible definition of 'benign', takes over all state enterprises and key committees and inflates the defence budget buying submarines and tanks that have absolutely no strategic value in Thailand's only on-going conflict, the Deep South Insurgency.
And the militarized state is able to do all this by saying that people are not ready for elections, that entire ethnic groups are naive, that every politician is corrupt. As for the nature of reality in this militarized state, the history books and media are manipulated to the extent that the Thai Lao, the largest ethnic minority community in Thailand, does not exist, nor do the Thai Malays, or the Khon Muang of Chiang Mai, or the Northern Khmers, and thus there are no cultural rights for the majority of Thais. And as for progressive economic rights, like wealth transfer, or social rights, such as respect for gender identities or the opening up of a social discourse on female monks, you can forget any of that under a militarized state.
And the fact that few people still actually pay attention to General Prayuth during the weekly Friday delivery of his 'thoughts' does not show a weakness in the militarized state's plans. In fact, as in 1984, it shows the strength of the militarized state's position. The militarized state only needs Prayuth to sign the Section 44 diktats, appear at meetings and abuse the media, and persist, near the top of the oligarchy. There are dozens of General Prayuths standing by who now know exactly what a Thai military dictator can get away with in the 2010s. Eventually their faces will blend into one - Big Brother, or in this case, Big Uncle.
In such a state, protest has become pointless, mass protests out of principle alone unthinkable. Power will stay in the hands of a militarized oligarchy.
Or will it? In Thailand, power comes from four sources. You are either born with it, or you acquire it via wealth, or you obtain power from politics, or you protest. For those on the genuine Thai Center and Left - and we did not see many in Chiang Mai supporting neo Nazis and their 'national socialism', or even former Trump Advisor Steve Bannon's 'economic nationalism' - for two decades now, protesting has been the only resort.
In Thailand, protest has become akin to begging. We beg for attention from patrons. We all know people who are begging for community forestry rights, for corporate social responsibility, for human rights for migrants, for Thailand to reform its judicial and prison system, for Thailand to recognise refugees, for labour standards, the right to unionise, for Thailand to recognise its own minorities, for the plight of the elderly, for the absolute poor, for the environment.
We beg at town hall meetings, we beg in the media, we beg even as we are arrested, or offer to be arrested. And sometimes, we get crumbs, like the vague recognition that a land and property tax _might_ be a good idea, in a country with the third highest wealth inequality in the world, after Russia and India.
We also beg as one of over seventy political parties in a country where only five political parties, only two of which can really claim to be national parties, get any votes because true proportional representation is ignored. We beg with one eye to populism and one eye to borderline ultra-nationalist conservative liberals, in a political system where philosophically driven political principles are not really comprehended, as the organised Left was shot, hung, and garrotted to death in the 1970's and 1980's. Thais are actually not so far apart, but we have been forced into a Yellow versus Ted paradigm by the media and by an 'us versus them' mentality where the good battle the evil.
If we are right in thinking protest over principles is now dead in Thailand, then we have no recourse but to politics. Thailand would greatly benefit from four strong national political parties - the Ultra Right, comprising the ethnic nationalists and militarists, the Center Right, comprising the mainstream Democrats and conservative liberal tradition, the Center Left and the Far Left. Thailand does not need feudal, localised, machine politics parties which are apparently genuinely proud to state they have no principles, which basically only exist to form part of coalitions in exchange for pork barrel politics.
For three decades now, the composition of Thailand's Left has been the problem. Pheu Thai may, in part, be a democratic socialist party, i.e. populism-based statism. Certainly, because of the cult of personality it also adopted, the militarized state fears it could be revolutionary 21st century South American style socialism in disguise and has treated it as such. It may never recover. Even if it partly does, it will be 'the enemy' and will be the target of constant harassment. Still, it is there to serve a role and its constituents are many.
Yet, Pheu Thai was and still is not driven by a human rights agenda, whether civil, political, economic, social, or cultural, all of which were present at the International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai. It was driven by economic nationalism, and in some respects, pure capitalism. It did not listen to the Assembly of the Poor and their like, and it rejected the internationalism of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, with Thaksin famously claiming the UN was not his father.
What is missing on the Left then is a political party that is driven by a genuine human rights agenda, a party that would be internationalist. This party would seek to implement UN treaties and genuinely join the international community, standing with the countries that try to make participatory and direct democracy work, the ones who want global minimum standards for labour and the environment, the ones that would seek to stand in solidarity, in many cases with countries they exploited as colonial and imperial powers and now have the responsibility to assist, with untied, unconditional aid, in the face of barbarism.
Because what we are staring at in the face, globally, is a descent into barbarism as a result of the long unfolding of post colonialism and environmental degradation. Steve Bannon's economic nationalism is one step away from national socialism, as we saw in Charlottesville. Donal Trump's anti-immigrant stance, the anti-Islamic stance, the anti-Hispanic stance, in the crucible of democracy itself, the United States, is one step away from national socialism, in what will be the death of the American Project. Global pressures will not be countered under the Trumps, the Dutertes, and yes, the Prayuths of this world, as Trump's abandonment of the Paris Agreement and Prayuth's coal ambitions show.
In Europe, the Center Left has been collapsing in the face of a societal shift to the right as a result of global pressures. And yet, in general, the Center holds. The far right is not winning the control of countries, thanks to a pluralism of parties that provide a range of options for voters. The Trump experiment and Brexit have been so clearly a mistake that they are now being seen as textbook examples of political misdirection, manipulation, and outright lies, with a majority of British voters now wanting back into the EU before Britain has even left. If the Trump presidency and Brexit truly become salutary lessons, the Center Left will rise again.
Internationalism, human solidarity in the face of adversity, cosmopolitanism and the concept of the global citizen and the global village, regulated by human rights, rejecting the economic race to the bottom which has shrouded Beijing in smog and polluted its waterways, these are what the Center and Left stand for, in different degrees. These are values worth fighting for and, in contrast to the barbarism of economic nationalism and the descent into national socialism, they are the essential building blocks of a civilising mission, not of a colonial nature, but of a planetary nature if we are ever to escape this solar system and if we are ever to hold our heads up proudly if we meet another, non-terrestrial civilisation.
Instead of dreaming, without abandoning my core principles or leaving the hard work to others, we at the Project for a Social Democracy are fighting, with words and actions, to help create a Foundation Thai for a Social Democracy, for such a foundation to serve as a transparent market place for Centrist and Left ideas for a better Thailand.
If protest is now pointless in Thailand, the Foundation becomes the obligatory first step towards political power, through a Center Left movement which, at least in Thailand, may actually represent elements of the Radical Left, in principle, better than Pheu Thai. If the Center and Left can organise behind this Foundation, with both blue skying and costed policies, we can prove to the military and the Thai alt-right that forms their core supporters, that we are, by their own logic, organised and not naive, nor popularists, nor uneducated. This will involve providing an umbrella to dozens of single issue Thai political parties through compromises which will give birth to policies in philosophical principle, which will guide us, and policies in practice, which we implement.
In particular, we will need the Greens, the socialists, and the libertarians / small town direct democracy and communal advocates, essentially uniting the Left and Center in a kind of alliance not regularly seen except in Western coalition governments. Once we have a foundation which functions as a town hall for these disparate movements, we open negotiations with the party that at present bears the name 'Social Democrat Party.' This party, also in principle, supports Left concerns such as workers' rights and unionisation, with its backers mainly being state owned enterprise unions, actually of the Center Right.
At this stage, under the full glare of the national and international media, we effect a grand compromise of the kind which the UK underwent in the 1950's and which many of the Nordic Bloc countries underwent in the late twentieth century. In exchange for core elements of the welfare state, wealth transfer, unionisation, and acceptance of economic, social, and cultural rights, we offer political stability for economic growth _better_ than can be obtained under the crisis-coup-constitution that the Thai military offers. This gives us the reach of a national party.
At that stage, we compromise again, to get core corporate backing of the kind necessary to finance a national political party. The result will not be the party you will want to vote for. But it may be the party you have to vote for, in terms of tactical voting, to work towards the society you would like to live in. Once we get 5-8% of the vote, we start to realise our policies in the form of legislation, making concessions to the Greens, to the socialists, to the direct democracy advocates, to all the single issue parties who voted tactically, to fulfil our side of the bargain.
Along the way, we mobilize the dynamism of Thai youth to support the Foundation, via nominating its leaders, staffing, and funding it, or we fail. And if we do mobilize Thai youth, we will go some way to healing the scars of the Thammasat University Massacre, which have haunted Thailand since October 1976 and which disrupted the normal political development of the country. We successfully reimagine Thailand as a country where peaceful street protests are possible.
Where protest will again have a point, as part of the basic civil and political rights which the militarized state ignores.
We are not asking you to stop protesting. Your stance on whether it is pointless at this stage may differ from ours, which is fine, as it is a matter of conscience and ideological perspective. Mass protests may in the end occur.
We are, however, asking you to start acting politically for a human rights-based agenda by working towards a Foundation for a Social Democracy before it is too late, before what will essentially be rigged elections with only two polarized parties and the usual feudal machine politicians, dominated by a militarised upper house, will cause another crisis. Join us at firstname.lastname@example.org.