This is my 2nd post on debunking some of the myths that have crept in around the “Succession Crisis” thesis as being determinative of Thailand’s present political problems.
True to form, after my last piece, the usual suspects launched into quite silly and pointless personal attacks against me on both twitter and Facebook. It’s a shame they can’t engage with debate in an honest and open manner.
No matter. It certainly wasn’t my intention to get into a slanging match with anyone when I wrote my last piece but it was certainly an attempt to critique some of the rather weak and unsubstantiated strategic arguments - those being that the Succession Crisis defines Thailand’s present political crisis.
|"The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear." Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).|
To add to my previous post what I wanted to look at briefly was the rise of democracy in Thailand and how that has presented an epoch-shifting threat to the dominant, authoritarian hegemony that has coalesced itself around the military and the “network” rather than the historical footnote of the royal succession.
This authoritarian hegemony, which has relied on myths of nation, a militarisation of certain key components of Thai civil society - particularly the academy - a virulently censorious culture that seeks to impose, through use of force, cultural and social homogeneity, and which ultimately relies on Army violence and a politicised judiciary to coerce this onto an increasingly unwilling population, can easily be defined as a political form of Thai fascism.
Those who seek to maintain this fascistic status quo have historically centred themselves, and sought to dominate and control, the armed forces, the Democrat Party, the majority of the Thai media (and, in particular, the English language Thai media), significant elements in the academy and other educational institutes, the aristocracy, the civil service, the so-called “independent institutions”, cultural and religious bodies and the judiciary & legal professions. Thai fascism has also historically been supported internationally by US governments and the US military in exactly the same manner the US aided and abetted violent, anti-democratic and fascistic regimes in Central and South America.
I’ve often been criticised for using the term “fascism” too loosely in the Thai context. I would counter that my use of the term is based on an analysis of the evidence as presented by Thailand’s body politic and that, in fact, I’ve only used the term as a factual descriptor not as a throw-away term of abuse. It is my view that Thai politics and culture is so deeply rooted in a virulent form of fascism that it has become naturalised and unconscious. Stepping out and stating “this is fascism” is far more of a “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment than actually stating that the Emperor, himself, is naked, so to speak.
So, in my view, the word “fascism” has been consciously underused to describe the politics of Thailand - hence my need to balance this up by its repeat use. This deliberate avoidance of the term is particularly so with much of the Western media in Bangkok, many of whom end up becoming subsumed into the unconscious ideology of Thai fascism and then personally invest in maintaining this social and economic status quo that they too benefit from individually. They collude with it - Thai-style Lord Haw Haws.
What is being challenged at the moment in Thailand, the real hegemonic crisis if you like and the precise moment where “a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”, is the threat posed to Thai fascism by the emergence of Thai democracy. In a sense a “new” Thailand is being born, a new political and social consciousness is slowly developing (albeit unevenly), and there’s literally nothing that Thai fascism can do to prevent that - unless, of course, it enacts a genocidal-scale massacre upon the Thai population.
The Succession Crisis in this scenario is a mere detail. One could even argue that without a Succession looming that the situation could be more tense and ready to fracture. The possibility of Succession at least gives the illusion of potential for some room for movement in the over-arching crisis. Without that possibility of change attitudes may be even more entrenched and extreme violence and civil war more likely.
The Succession Crisis as definer of the present political crisis is a nice easy hook. It looks perfect on book covers, as a conference title and also provides a nice, neat, easily identifiable backdrop for the lazy Western media corps in Bangkok. It also means that the Western media corps don’t have to explain their connivance with and refusal to report on the spectre of Thai fascism that has cast such a shadow over the “Land of Smiles.” But it needs to be challenged and it needs to attract the right kind of intellectual rigour before it can ever come close to being considered "determinative". Accepting it as a "received" wisdom should not be the position of progressive thinkers on Thai politics however attractive it may look as an oversimplified marketing device.