On 24 June 1932 at Thammasat University, Tha Prachan, the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANC) and the 24 June Democracy Group held a conference on “86 years since 1932: Branches and Fruit of Siam’s Great Revolution”
The conference had Assoc. Prof. Chaiyan Rajchagool, Faculty of Law, Chiang Mai University; Assoc. Prof. Anusorn Unno, Dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University; Rawee Siri-issaranant (Wad Rawee), writer and owner of the Shine Publishing House; Assoc. Prof. Pichit Likitkijsomboon, Faculty of Economics, Thammasat University; and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, core member of the 24 June Democracy Group, executive editor of Voice of Taksin magazine; with Phiengkham Pradabkhwam as a resource person.
Fruits of the 1932 revolution
Somyot stated that today he came with a police car leading him. He considered it was a great honour for the police officers show respect to him by asking him for details and asking about certain matters that are inappropriate to be speaking about. The issue they asked him to not talk about was the disappearance of the Khana Ratsadon plaque. He himself was afraid of offending and scared. He personally didn’t know about this matter because when the plaque disappeared he was in the Bangkok Remand Prison so he probably wouldn’t be able to talk as much as the other speakers.
Somyot continued saying that the 1932 revolution brought about a new era of civilisation to Thai society with, for example, compulsory education and Thammasat University which later on became an institution that produced politicians. It is a shame that these politicians did not inherit the intentions of 1932, so there are politicians who betrayed the democratic system. The people also have freedom where they could open their eyes and mouths at times even if freedom was decaying. The lèse majesté law was changed from 7 years’ imprisonment to 15 years. The sentence was increased when people were slaughtered on 6 Oct 1976. Nevertheless, the 1932 revolution gave the people freedom and the people are still fighting for freedom to this day.
Somyot said that there were some mistakes in the 1932 revolution. One of the mistakes was that Khana Ratsadon was able to create change at the level of power mechanisms by transferring power from the absolute monarchy to Khana Ratsadon, but they did not have a new ideology to replace the absolute monarchy and did not fully exterminate the entire system, so conservatism still persists today. The weeds of dictatorship are still present and have been developed to blossom today. At the same time, the branches of Khana Ratsadon were pruned until there were none left when Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat took power, and in that period the Thai National Day was changed from the original 24 June to 5 December.
The former editor of Voice of Taksin stated that at present there are still descendants of Khana Ratsadon. When news of the missing plaque came out, there was also news that the descendants of Khana Ratsadon went to ask about it. It’s clear that blood relations have disappeared since many descendants did not inherit Khana Ratsadon’s intentions but history isn’t discontinued or erased so easily. The 1932 revolution did not happen in isolation, but was the result of previous efforts to revolutionise Thailand, or what was called the rebellion of 130 Rattanakosin Era during King Rama VI’s reign when a group of military soldiers were ready to overthrow the government into a republican system but it wasn’t successful as their secret was leaked. King Rama VI suppressed the rebels; some instigators were sentenced to death, some were imprisoned, but in the end those people were released when the 1932 revolution occurred.
Somyot said that the disappearance of the plaque is nothing new because there have always been attempts to destroy the symbols of the 1932 revolution all the time, including the misrepresentation of the history of 1932 as premature where the revolution went ahead even though King Rama VII was getting ready to bestow democracy. The historical perception of the 1932 revolution has been limited. The date of the national day has been changed and Khana Ratsadon architecture. such as the Supreme Court building, has been destroyed. The Khana Ratsadon plaque is only one of the memories of the 1932 revolution but the phenomenon we see in the present is that the more that is destroyed, the more appears – people who want an election appear.
“I really feel sorry for Thailand because we shouldn’t be talking about an outsider Prime Minister for a long time already, because of Black May when people fought each other and were injured and died protesting against an outsider Primer Minister. What hurts is that they still want a Prime Minister with a … brain like Prayuth, I don’t understand what in history they are confused about. We lost lives on 14 Oct, in Black May, and we still need people who want an election like Bow, Rome, Niw, to speak of one right one vote, equality, elections. We shouldn’t be talking about this anymore, we should have gone further than this, but it can be considered as some colour for politics that doesn’t allow our country to be governed only by someone like Prayuth,” Somyot said.
Somyot also added that the next 10 years should be a period of excitement since he found that there are components that will cause a great political change, because the economy is very bad. The situation is that poverty and debt are rampant, and milking taxes by the Prayuth government, which does not really know how to work, is not able to develop the economy but instead uses money lavishly.
Not long ago, the 24 June group made three requests to Government House. One, to oppose the use of oil excise tax which is one of the factors that makes oil more expensive than in all our neighbouring countries. Two, to oppose the increase in VAT which could become 9%. And three, to cancel the extravagant use of money on weapons, munitions and increased salaries for their cronies.
As for the missing plaque, Somyot said that its disappearance today is alright. When one day we have democracy, and a government, we can install a new one. At least it can be an ideological symbol of democracy and Khana Ratsadon.
1932 revolution through past and present lenses
Chaiyan said that 4 years after the 2014 coup d’état there is one advantage. In the past, the side that obstructs democracy will talk in their homes or inside the military but this time they came out into the streets. This is the first phenomenon in Thai society that shows us which side doesn’t want democracy.
Many people criticise the 1932 revolution. Chaiyan doesn’t agree with the idea of failure, giving the analogy with football, where there is no one who wins and always continues to win. The other side needs to carry on the fight. The political game is something that continues on forever. Khana Ratsadon scored a goal in 1932 but has been counterattacked continuously. The important thing isn’t that the other side can counterattack and it does not mean they will win all the time either.
Chaiyan also indicated that understanding the 1932 revolution must stem from understanding both the past and present. One must suppose that the 1932 revolution is placed in the centre and go back and forward for 86 years before giving a meaning to the 1932 revolution. For example, if someone who dislikes politicians looks at the 1932 revolution, they would say it was the starting point of bad politicians, and view Khana Ratsadon as those who interrupted living conditions that they think were once good.
When King Rama VII abdicated the throne, His Majesty wrote “I am willing to surrender the powers I formerly exercised to the people as a whole, but I am not willing to turn them all over to any individual or any group, especially to use them in an autocratic manner and without heeding the real voice of the people” (Source: nationtv). Think about it. If we rewind from the 1932 revolution for 80 years, i.e. 1852-1932, which starts in the reign of King Rama IV, and asked if there were any governing system that truly listens to the voice of the people, there would be none. This means King Rama VII speaking like this is to make something that has never existed into a new normal (an abnormal normal).
The words new normal are something important if one were to speak about 1932 since it is a great change in thinking. It places the topic of democracy on the table, establishes democracy in our heads. When we see it we cannot return to not seeing it again. Even a dictator or someone who doesn’t want to have an election still speaks of democracy. Having the law, a state of law and the rule of law is considered as marking a new point for people’s thinking.
The issue that Khana Ratsadon brought up is that they wanted to change the people running the state, change the paradigm and importantly, the direction. This was the question and great effort to change. Some historians and some activists after 14 Oct still attack 1932, attack Khana Ratsadon, which they can criticise, and we should criticise Khana Ratsadon, but the point is whether we have continued what Khana Ratsadon started or not. Soon after 14 Oct, Pridi was invited to speak at Thai student associations in various countries. There is one book in which Pridi wrote ‘protect democracy’. At that time Chaiyan didn’t understand the words ‘protect democracy’, but later on understood them when 6 Oct occurred. That is, when you win, also keep it safe.
The panel speakers (from left to right): Chaiyan Rajchagool, Rawee Siri-issaranant (Wad Rawee), Pichit Likitkijsomboon, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and Phiengkham Pradabkhwam