History of the Thai pro-democracy movement

Despite attempts by Thailand’s elites to cast ordinary Thais as docile, obedient, and uninterested in politics, evidence of resistance to exploitation and domination in the region pre-dates the formation of the Thai state. The popular uprising that spread across Thailand starting in July 2020 traces its lineage back to the Red Shirt political movement that emerged in 2006, resistance to the 1991 military coup, the coordinated student, labor, and peasant struggles of the 1970s, and the Siamese Revolution of 1932 before that. While Thailand was never formally colonized, it was still economically dominated by the British imperial system since being pried opened to British foreign trade with the signing of the Bowring Treaty of 1855.  The organizers of the Siamese Revolution ended the absolute monarchy and put Thailand on a path towards economic nationalism and modernization; the political ideology of the organizers was not monolithic, however, and the party would eventually split into civilian and military factions. The military faction along with its royalist supporters would ultimately win the dispute, excising any mention of a welfare state or land reform from the new constitution and ushering in fifteen years of authoritarian rule that outlawed communism. Post-World War II prosperity brought with it a more liberal mood and Marxist ideas gained traction in urban Thai society. Progressive political parties, trade unions, literary movements, and the publication of original Thai socialist ideas – as well as translations of Marxist works in other languages – multiplied from 1946 to 1957. These once-banned ideas inspired a generation of student activists, many of whom would go on to organize protests right up until they were banned yet again by another military coup in 1958.

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History of the Thai pro-democracy movement

What it feels like to flatten the curve

Thailand had a very different strategy from the US for managing Covid-19, as well as a spectacularly different outcome. I lived in Northern Thailand from mid-March of this year until late-September, watching the country of my birth and the home of my closest connections mortally fumble as life in my adopted country started to get back to normal. I want the American reader to observe how Thailand responded to Covid-19 and what it was like to live through such measures – not to critique the Trump Administration so much as to dispense with the fiction that hundreds of thousands of deaths were inevitable no matter who was leading the country. Indeed, Thailand is a “democratic dictatorship” with its own dubiously-elected conservative strongman at the helm, but even he yielded to the scientists and public health officers when it came to managing a pandemic. Did these strict – yet ultimately triumphant – measures hurt the Thai economy? Absolutely. But in the context of a *global* pandemic, there isn’t an economy that remains unimpacted. Now a third wave of Covid washes over the US, provoking a discordant patchwork of just-in-time lockdown measures that can only slow the bleeding while delivering blow after blow to the economy, from the micro to the macro. What would it have been like if the US had a plan before Covid even reached our doorstep? If the border-neutral fields of epidemiology and public health had not been drawn into the morass of partisan politics – both through funding cuts and a cynical rejection of science’s apparent “liberal bias”? If we all decided to take this one for the team back in March – knowing that some would have to make greater sacrifices, but that no person would be forced onto the street by eviction or foreclosure or medical bills. What would it have been like if American culture valued all human lives, and not just the unborn or those considered to be economically productive? We cannot know for sure, but it is my hope that by looking at Thailand’s response in parallel to the US response, the reader will be able to think critically about these questions. Continue reading “What it feels like to flatten the curve”

What it feels like to flatten the curve