Laws are the rules or regulations of a given society or state drafted by an individual or group of individuals representing the class that holds economic power in the society or state. The individual or group of individuals that decrees the laws enforced upon the people may truly represent the majority of people in the society, or they may likewise be the representatives of the minority. This depends entirely on the system of rule in the society.
A system of rule in a society is democratic when the people enjoy democracy across politics, economics, and culture. In other words, a society is democratic when the people have complete sovereignty to determine, according to their own desires, how they will live with respect to politics, economics, and culture. This is what it means for the majority of the people to truly hold power in a given society or state. In line with the workings of this system of rule, the people naturally have the opportunity to determine, by democratic means, who will represent them according to their wishes. When the council of representatives, or those who defend the class interests of a given society, are elected by the people, the council that results cannot be anything other than a body that truly represents the entirety or majority of those in society.
On the other hand, if the system is not democratic, and the political, economic, and cultural power falls into the grasp of a minority rather than being in the hands of the majority of the people, this minority will naturally select or appoint representatives of their class in order to protect their interests. Simultaneously, the majority of the people will be swept off the path to political and economic influence and will be left without the opportunity to determine their representatives and for the council of representatives to align with their wishes. Therefore, the council of representatives in such a society will represent only the minority.
In short, only in societies in which the system of rule is democratic does the majority have the opportunity for there to be a council of representatives truly representative of their class to carry out political activities. In societies in which the system of rule is not democratic, the majority of the people do not have the opportunity for their interests to be defended. The council of representatives in a non-democratic society will only safeguard the interests of the minority that clutches economic power in its grasp, which may be feudal or capitalist depending on the era. In other words, the council of representatives in a non-democratic society will carry out political activities to safeguard and advance the interests of the class that wields power.
However, the purpose of a council of representatives will be identical whether it represents the majority or the minority of the people. The purpose of a council is to safeguard and advance the interests of the group they represent, or, in other words, their own inherent class interests.
For this reason, the character and content of laws enacted by the council of representatives of a given class are to safeguard and advance the interests of that class.
For example, law in the era of slavery safeguarded and advanced the interests of the masters. Babylonian law decreed that, “One individual may have authority over another individual, just as he has authority over a cow or buffalo.”
Law during the feudal and capitalist eras are completely the same, but law instead safeguards and advances the interests of the lords and capitalists. Such laws include the constitution, election law, the anti-communist law and many other laws and measures in present-day Thailand.
Law is like everything else in the world in the sense that it is not invulnerable to change. Law is constantly revised and transformed according to the will of the class that holds economic power in society. A given class must capture political power first in order to create law to safeguard and advance its interests. Political power is the first and last requisite to seize economic power, which is the ultimate reason to create law to protest the interests of the masses.
*Suphot Dantrakul (9 September 1923-12 February 2009) was an extraordinarily original and prolific public intellectual, who wrote about Pridi Banomyong, the Free Thai and Peace Rebellion movements, and politics and justice, broadly conceived. Suphot was arrested on 14 November 1952 along with 103 other writers, intellectuals, students, lawyers and citizens as part of the Peace Rebellion. He spent close to five years in Bang Khwang Prison first awaiting trial and then serving part of a sentence of 13 years and 8 months for a conviction of rebellion inside and outside the kingdom until being released as part of an amnesty in January 1957. The essay below is a translation of an entry in his A People’s Political Lexicon of 43 words based on conversations and lectures given by his fellow prisoners, including Kulap Saipradit and Suphat Sukhonthaphirom. The 43 entries are variously of words common to the progressive culture spanning communism, socialism, and other lefts that animated the politics of the time, such as class conflict and bourgeoisie, and critical perspectives on ordinary words, such as law. As I listened to the live feed of the protests of the brave activists calling for elections on the fourth anniversary of the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order today (22 May 2018), and the abuses of law that underlined their arrests, Suphot’s definition of law and the spirit of justice in which he wrote came to mind. The present is again a good time to ask in whose service the law was written and whose interests its enforcement serves.—Tyrell Haberkorn, the translator.
*For the remainder of the lexicon, see สุพจน์ ด่านตระกูล, ปทานุกรมการเมือง ฉบับชาวบ้าน (กรุงเทพฯ: สำนักพิมพ์สันติธรรม, 2528). For an insightful analysis of Suphot’s importance as an intellectual, see ธนาพล อิ๋วสกุล, “รายงานพิเศษ: สุพจน์ ด่านตระกูล,” ฟ้าเดียวกัน ปีที่ 7, ฉบับที่ 1 (มกราคม-เมษายน 2552), หน้า 138-152.