Workers at the Yuan Jiao Garment factory in Mae Sot, Thailand, gather outside the compound, April, 2014.
(Photo: Migrant Workers Rights Network)
As history will have it current events continue to raise methodological questions which trace back decades and which when left only partially corrected continue to plague the workers movement's ostensible vanguard. The nature of the workers state, and how to defend it, is a central question for revolutionaries. Our polemic with the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) has demonstrated that getting it wrong on the workers state is a failure of method that shows up on every other question. History always returns to bite those who abuse it.
The RCIT leadership and the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) before them, took close to 7 years to discover that they were wrong on the "moribund workers' state" theory, but they still havn't realised that their “united front” with Yeltsin was flawed and based on false theory. It was not a united front but a popular front with imperialism for the restoration of capitalism. While trying to break from Cliffism to Trotskyism the RCIT Workers Power (WP) progenitors theorized that the post WW2 transitions to post capitalist degenerate workers states originated not with the intention and trajectory of the regime that took state power (the key lessons of The Revolution Betrayed and In Defense of Marxism) but instead characterized the state as a degenerate workers state (DWS) only when the nationalizations, the ascendancy of the plan and the monopoly of foreign trade were implemented, thus suppressing the Law of Value and depriving the bourgeoisie of their profit source.
This entry point into the DWS guided their theory on the nature of the state during the counter-revolutions as well. So despite understanding that Yeltsin was as much a capitalist roader and even a fast tracker compared to the slow trackers behind Yanayev and Pugov they saw him as allowing more of an opening for the working class to self organize. They did not see his coming to power being the collapse of the workers state and the construction of the bourgeois state as the army and parliament turned their allegiance toward the fast track 500 day plan. While the economy still rested to a large extent on the state economy, the LRCI (now the League for a Fifth International-L5I) confounded the government and the state, arriving at the Moribund Workers State Theory to cover for their adaptation to ‘democratic’ imperialism with the revival of the power of the parliament as a democratic opening through which the workers could advance as they broke from the clutches of Stalinism.
This mistake confounded and destroyed the Trotskyist program for Political Revolution in the degenerate workers states and instead guided the workers to embrace the counter-revolution. This hangover from the Cliffite tendency to adapt to all bourgeois democratic forms is what guided them to collapse into the counter-revolutionary Yeltsin camp. Instead of charting an independent course for the workers political revolution to rebuild the democratic soviets by the workers themselves, the L5I reverted to a semi-Cliffite method Given their characterization of the period as ‘revolutionary’, t they projected a political revolution that would rebuild an independent trade union movement and elect labor parliamentarians while propagandistically raising revolutionary slogans But the workers state had collapsed and an immediate independent self-mobilization to defend social property was urgently required.
Although the LRCI/L5I made incremental self-corrections in 1997 and 2000, they never shed the reflexive knee jerk response to liberal opinion and continued to make opportunist adaptations to the forms of bourgeois democracy in successive crisis conjunctures for the workers movement. In each of these they sought to make “united fronts” with the most wretched of bourgeois forces as if they had never studied the Chinese Revolution. Today the 1991 adaptation to the “democratic” restorationist Yeltsin turns into an adaptation to the “democratic” ”red shirts” and the dynasty of the bourgeois billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra. There is a thread that connects these two capitulations and retreats from Marxism and our intention is to convince those truly committed to building a revolutionary workers international to consider that the half way correction of the L5I is incomplete as it stands, and is a recipe for class collaborationist disasters for the workers and the oppressed.
In our polemic, Thailand: Defeat the Coup d’etat - A Polemic and Program in response to the RCIT, responding to their statement, Thailand: Smash the Developing Military Coup!, we pointed out their catering to illusions in bourgeois democracy. This is not a recent gaffe, but is a recurring programmatic thrust to their politics that can be traced back to their political heritage in LRCI. It was the LRCI who in Yeltsin in 1991 “saw the promise of greater democratic rights and opportunities for self organization of the working class, completely misunderstanding the true obtaining situation as a contest between two capitalist restorationist’s forces for the leadership of the counter-revolution against all survivals of the October revolution.” The destruction of the Soviet Workers state, albeit bureaucratically degenerated, was almost complete with the triumph of the Yeltsin counter-coup and was a major defeat for the international working class. The Triumph of the Yeltsin faction with the Gorbachev Yeltsin alliance of August 1991 put the slow road restorationists of the Stalinist bureaucracy out of power altogether and greatly accelerated the collapse of the DWS, with the immediate implementation of the Fast Track restoration plan followed by the banning of the Communist Party and the dissolution of the USSR in December 1991.
For any serious Marxist, the lessons of history are vitally important. Those who cannot defend a proletarian revolution, who cannot analyze the past and learn from mistakes, are certainly not going to lead new workers revolutions today. In their analysis of current events in Thailand and their advice and prescriptions for the Thai left they have compounded their methodological error afresh. This time, the masses are told to re-conquer an abstract democracy, in support of a popular front government of a bourgeois democratic party that is a family dynasty, with connections to the Bush family, and the Carlyle Group. The Shinawatras are CIA contractors represented by the “color revolution” manufacturing firm of Amsterdam and Peroff, behind whom stand James Baker, the former U.S. secretary of State, and an alliance of high power public relations groups for the U.S. ruling class. The RCIT urges the “Red Shirts,” whose official name is The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, to form a “united front” against the coup and the dictatorship and in favor of the return to power of the “democratically elected” Pheu Thai party government!
Nowhere in the verbose pronouncements of the RCIT do we see the real operating historical materialism. They rush to embrace a popular front and pass it off as a Leninist-Trotskyist united front tactic. They call us bonehead sectarians who do not understand the united front, but we understand perfectlyDimitrov’s intentional confusion of the united front with the popular front when the Comintern adopted the Peoples Front strategy in 1934. And we understand what adaptations to the backward consciousness of the masses are. And we can and will quote Trotsky in the Transitional Program to Pröbsting et.al, although they don’t want to hear it.
The year-on-year industrial output of Thailand was down 3.9% for the year 2013, as reported by BBC America TV on May 23rd. The Business Report editorially opined that they hoped Thailand would be “back on track now” in the wake of the coup. The BBC said this was a revised and more negative figure for 2013 than had previously been reported and likewise the growth forecast for 2014 was reduced by their experts from 2.5 to 1.5 percent. If these figures seem bleak, consider the Thai Chamber of Commerce Report cited in China Economic Net: “Thailand witnessed a decrease of 3.18 percent in production output index in 2013, with production capacity utilization rate lowered according to the Office of Industrial Economics [on] Wednesday. In 2013, the country’s capacity utilization rate fell to 64.38 percent from the previous year’s 66.02 percent amid the escalating political instability. ….the Thai Chamber of Commerce earlier said the country’s Gross Domestic Product is expected to fall below 3 percent in 2014 if anti-government protest is prolonged into the second quarter, as operation of businesses, especially the small and medium enterprises, has been severely impacted, resulting in declining orders from clients.”
Here any astute observer would see the petit bourgeoisie crying out for another coup d’état, and in a country that has witnessed 19 coups in the last century. The consciousness of the masses has not broken with monarchism. In the monarch they see the great stabilizer and they have not made the connection between great fluctuations in employment and the contest between the rival imperialist blocs, U.S. vs. China, in Thailand’s more recent development. The Shinawatra family, nominal democrats, have been playing the monarchical succession game right alongside the army and the “Yellow Shirts” of the Democrat Party. In these circumstances the downward revision of the growth forecast for 2014 was a virtual announcement of the coup d’état. We said in Class War Vol. 1 No. 6 Winter 2013, pp. 3, 10:
“In Thailand the masses are righteously furious with their Bonapartist racket of a state, where one family permits various bourgeois parties to sit in a parliament AND BRIBES THEM ALL! The masses drove Thaksin Shinawatra from power and into exile, but of course they could not shut off his phone to his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who might as well be him and the Thai masses know it. The movement of the “Yellow Shirts” contains dangerously reactionary elements of the urban middle class, bourgeois democrats, monarchists, and can be characterized as a bourgeois movement opposing Thaksin Shinawatra with support for Constitutional Monarchy. Not only due to their own ambitions and calculations, three former Prime Ministers have joined in the call for her ouster, because there is a danger of a military coup by generals in the pocket of U.S. imperialism. None of these nationalist options are cause for any hope of improved material well-being. Thais need a section of their own of a world party of socialist revolution!”
The Party program of the Liaison Committee of Communists (LCC) is not the Cliffite one of subordinating the struggle for socialist revolution to bourgeois democratic rights, but the historical program of the workers movement fighting for the Marxist program in the imperialist countries and specifically for Permanent Revolution in the semi-colonies under the yoke of imperialism, such as Thailand and Egypt (see In Living Marxism, In Defence of Trotskyism: An Open Letter to All Members and Supporters of the LRCI). We are not indifferent to the defense of democratic rights, and in fact are the best defenders of such rights as the defense of the working class and the oppressed masses, as part of the struggle for socialist revolution. But workers must always fight under their own independent banner! The popular front, the political alliance with bourgeois forces and the suppression of the workers program, is a recipe for nothing but defeat; a lesson that has been written in workers’ blood in China, Spain, and Chile.
In the RCIT’s second statement, Thailand: Shall Socialists Defend the Government Against the Military Coup?, (their 5/24/14 reply to the LCC polemic of 5/22/14), Michael Pröbsting accuses the LCC of “ultra-leftism,” of “neo-Bordigism”, of “bonehead sectarianism” and “politically senile stubbornness” for not “defending a bourgeois democratically-elected (emphasis ours) government against a coup d’état.” Just like Yeltsin shelling the Russian parliament to put it out of business, or like Tsar Nicholas dissolving the Duma, Yingluck Shinawatra, the RCIT’s democrat, dissolved the Thailand parliament before turning over power to the interim Prime Minister, another member of the Shinawatra capitalist group, at the behest of the constitutional court. It was Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan the army overthrew on 5/20/2014 and he was elected by nobody! Even “senile couch potatoes” from 14,000 miles away could notice that. Here is how the RCIT put it on 5/21/14 in their article Thailand: Smash the Developing Military Coup, “…we have repeatedly maintained that the united front tactic must be employed by the “Red Shirts” movement to defend the democratically-elected government against the utterly reactionary coup d’état orchestrated by the constitutional court and army command.” The LCC in contrast does not defend bourgeois democracy in the form of the Pheu Thai popular front party as more progressive than the army dictatorship. To do that would put us on the left wing of the popular front. The popular front is far more dangerous than the military dictatorship because it politically disarms the workers movement and prevents workers from militarily arming themselves, telling the workers to trust the army to remain outside politics. More than that, as Chavez and Morales show, the Popular Front regime attacks and kills members of the workers vanguard. This is no bald assertion. The succession of Shinawatra governments have assassinated and massacred more than 10,000 opponents, many of them among the Malay-speaking Muslims of the south between 2004 and 2014. This is the record of the “democratically elected” government the RCIT would have the masses restore.
The RCIT semi-Cliffite impressionism:
The constitutional monarchy government of Thailand under the predominant Pheu Thai Party has been a corrupt popular front regime. We have repeatedly pointed out, but apparently without making an adequate impression, that this is a family racket more than a government and one that pleases U.S. imperialism. The Shinawatras and the leading layers of the Pheu Thai Party are elected bourgeois parliamentarians principally because they are billionaires. For the RCIT the overarching characteristic of the Pheu Thai party government is its elevation to power by bourgeois elections. This is not a small difference.
Even the liberal bourgeois pundits at The Daily Beast have noted…,
“…Westerners reflexively trust elections, and we do not hesitate to recommend them to others who know better. In Thailand, a political machine that purchases votes in the millions makes a mockery of the exercise, a phenomenon that penetrates down to the village level and must be seen to be believed. Skeptics are incredulous that vote-buying on such a scale occurs. It does. Every inhabitant of my family’s village in Isan got paid for their votes, election after election, until this time, when the government left farmers holding the bag for unpaid rice.”
Thus the Pheu Thai electoral campaigns historically are actually more like the Nazis campaigning for votes with truckloads of free bread than like social programs such as Lula’s “bolsa de familia”, which are used to secure the favela base for the Workers' Party (PT-Partido dos Trabalhadores) Popular Front government.
As socialist blogger John Moore wrote in Deformed class war in Thailand – Part 3 in 2009:
“A progressive outcome will not occur through the ascendancy of the Red Shirts’ pro-Thaksin leadership. This element has shown their reactionary nature in the past with the right wing measures carried out by the former Thaksin led government. This government was conspicuous for its record of human right abuses including a curtailing of press freedom, attacks on Muslims in the South and with its ‘war on drugs’. Coupled with these abuses, the Thai Rak Thai government implemented a neo-liberal agenda which put it in direct conflict with public sector unions.
The Red Shirts movement contains all the contradictions of Thaksin’s former political party, which implemented populist social measures for the poor coupled with elements of a neoliberal reforming programme. It is understandable that tens of thousands of Thailand’s poor have aligned themselves with the ‘Red’ movement that calls for the defence of social welfare initiatives as well as for a ‘peoples’ revolution’ against the traditional elite.”
The RCIT measure the neo-liberal program to be next to nothing in their analysis, but Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party delivered a free trade agreement with the U.S.A. in 2004, just as it had committed Thai troops to the U.S.A- led invasion of Iraq the year before and joined the CIA’s special rendition prison and torture scheme component of the imperialists’ “war on terror.”
While neo-liberal warmongering and institutionalized torture is also the calling card of social democracy, the TRT predecessor to the Pheu Thai party did not have the support of the organized working class:
“One immediate reason for organised labour’s absence from the latest political conflicts can be linked to the anti-working class agenda of the Red Shirts’ self-declared leader, Thaksin Shinawatra. From 2001 to 2007 Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai government instituted a mixture of populist policies for the urban and rural poor as well as a number of neo-liberal reforming measures which put the government in direct conflict with elements of the union movement. Populist measures such as the implementation of the universal health care were combined with corporatisation and proposed selling off of state assets along with an opening up of the Thai economy to Western corporate interests.
The Thaksin-led government also gave strong support for US foreign policy in the hope of gaining a United States-Thailand Free Trade Agreement. Working class resistance to the neo-liberal aspect of the TRT government policies culminated in the mass strike of 200,000 electrical sector workers throughout 2004 against electricity privatisation. It is therefore understandable that the most class conscious of Thailand’s working class would be reluctant to align themselves with the former TRT bosses who are now the bourgeois leaders of the Red Shirts movement. (emphasis ours)”
This regime is far from being a left bourgeois government, such as those in Republican Spain or Allende’s Chile, where the politics of the Popular Front betrayed and doomed the workers struggles. Thailand is a prime example of the correctness of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution where he explained that in the colonial and semi-colonial countries with combined and uneven development under imperialist exploitation, the national bourgeoisie in these nations is tied to social backwardness and the remains of feudalism and also to imperialist capital, and are incapable of carrying out the unfinished democratic tasks of the great bourgeois revolutions. Trotsky insisted that these tasks fell to the working class in countries with belated capitalist development, that “democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.” The RCIT tells us not to quote Trotsky to them!
Even in terms of their democratic credentials as opponents of the monarchy, the Pheu Thai Party opposition rings hollow. The ‘down but not yet out’ power behind the scenes, former prime minister Thaksin, has been making a play to cozy up to the crown prince, paying off his gambling debts with hopes that he will be the puppeteer who manipulates the crown prince once he is in power, and thus be able to nationalize the holdings of the monarch under Shinawatra (not workers!) control.
“Thaksin has a plan for the day the King dies, counting on the ascension of the Crown Prince to the throne. The Crown Prince is as reviled among the Thai people as the King, Rama IX, is beloved….. Thaksin has his eye on the prize: He covets the $35 billion dollar holdings of the Crown Property Bureau, and he envisions himself a president of a Thai republic that would nationalize royal assets. ” - The Daily Beast, “The Real Crisis in Thailand is the Coming Royal Succession”
“Since being ousted as Thailand's prime minister in a 2006 military coup, Thaksin Shinawatra has been a very busy man. The billionaire bought and sold England's Manchester City football club, acquired a titanium mine in Zimbabwe, started a lottery in Uganda and acquired a Nicaraguan passport. He met with Vladimir Putin and Nelson Mandela.” – “Thailand's self-exiled ex-PM may never return home“
Now in the period of the obvious decline of U.S. imperialism we see the Shinawatra dynasty shopping for other imperialist sponsors including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and we can surmise from the Mandela meeting that Thaksin is fully informed of the details of the “win-win” South African economic plan and its Chinese imperialist dimension. Mazibuko Jara speaking in May at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library by invitation of Priority Africa, answering a question about Chinese penetration into South Africa (SA), indicated that although much of SA is under US/UK imperialist domination, the ANC has welcomed Chinese capital to use it as a secure foundation and foothold for projecting its business interests continent wide. 
We find the RCIT on a trajectory to the right in its continued semi-Cliffite impressionism. As late as 1991 the leadership of today’s RCIT and we, ourselves, subscribed in practice to the program of the original 1989 edition of the Trotskyist Manifesto:
“The repeated utilisation of such dictatorships by the imperialists and their agents means that the demand for political democracy remains a burning issue for millions of proletarians and non-proletarians around the globe, from Indonesia to Paraguay. Wherever the proletariat fights alongside petit bourgeois and bourgeois forces for democratic rights it must do so from the standpoint of its strategic goal: workers' council power.
What it defends within bourgeois democracy is essentially its organisations of struggle, those legal and constitutional concessions wrung from the bourgeoisie and those forms of bourgeois democracy (parliaments etc) that the working class uses as a tribune to mobilise and agitate among the masses. But workers' council power is the most democratic form of class rule in history and it supersedes the democratic republic as a strategic aim in the imperialist epoch.
Despite our rejection of the confinement of the revolution to a separate democratic stage, we cannot conclude, like the sectarians, that democratic slogans are unnecessary. Brutal dictatorships constantly give rise to democratic aspirations and to illusions in bourgeois democratic institutions.
Only hardened sectarians, disdainful of the necessity of relating to what is progressive in the democratic illusions of the masses can believe that it is possible to “skip over” the consciousness of the masses. If these illusions are to be broken in practice more than the demand for socialism is necessary.
Where the ruling classes attempt to deny the full democratic rights of the masses, we mobilise around democratic slogans including that of the sovereign constituent assembly. We must fight for an election process in which there are no prior limitations or secret agreements, one which is really democratic for the masses: universal, direct, secret and equal suffrage with no property or literacy qualifications.
There should be freedom of publications and assembly for all the parties of the workers and peasants, defended by an armed militia. We must also demand the proportional representation of all parties in the assembly according to votes received, without any minimum threshold.
However, recognising the importance of such demands does not mean embracing the opportunist methods of the centrists who have turned the fight for the constituent assembly into a democratic stage through which the masses must pass. Centrism of a Trotskyist origin (Lambertism, Morenoism, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International) has consistently tailed the Stalinists or petit bourgeois nationalists by using the constituent assembly slogan in a way which relegates the fight for workers' councils and workers' power until after such an assembly has been won.
At the same time the centrists have sown illusions in the “socialist” potential of such assemblies. The “anti-imperialist” left Bonapartists have shown themselves equally adept at this. Be it the Dergue in Ethiopia, Mugabe's “one party state”, Ortega's powerless “popular committees”, or Qadhafi's people's committees, these organisations are actually used to deprive the workers and peasants of their freedom to organise.
The constituent assembly, therefore, contains no inherently progressive essence. It can be, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred has been, merely a bourgeois parliament charged with drawing up a constitution. Worse, in semi-colonial countries (Brazil 1982), and even in some imperialist countries (Portugal 1975) it is only convened subject to military Bonapartist restrictions on its powers, and with a prior pact already made between the reformist parties and the military as to the constitutional outcome.
Often constituent assemblies have proved reactionary bodies counterposed to the revolutionary organs of struggle and power of the workers and peasants. This can happen in the semi-colonies where the huge weight of the peasantry can be used by the bourgeoisie against the working class.
The capitalists mobilise the equal votes of all “citizens” to act as a brake on the revolution. For this reason it is essential to fight for, and convene, the constituent assembly through the building of workers', soldiers' and poor peasants' councils. Only then can the assembly be a weapon of revolutionary democracy and not a tool of Bonapartism, only then can the assembly be pushed aside by the workers' and poor peasants' councils when its role has been exhausted.
Even under constitutional regimes in the semi-colonial countries, massive elements of Bonapartism exist and are repeatedly used against the working class: the presidency with its power to declare states of emergency; the senate, with its ability to check legislation; the unelected judiciary, and above all the paramilitary police and the standing army. All these offices and forces repeatedly reduce “democracy” to a completely empty shell.
Against these assaults on democratic rights, the working class should raise in its action programme the abolition of the presidency and the senate and the creation of a single chamber assembly elected at least biennially, with the power of the electors to recall their deputies. To this we should add the demand for the dissolution of the paramilitary squads, the police and standing army and the creation of an armed popular militia.”
Scarcely had the ink dried on the Revolutionary Trotskyist Tendency’s (RTT) adherence to this program (CWG-US leading members were then in the RTT), when Workers Power trashed this understanding in practice with their support for the program of the Yeltsin counter-revolution. At the time, in 1991, they freely acknowledged that Yeltsin represented the “democratic restorationist” forces yet they called for a limited “united front” against the Yanayev coup. In their bizarre propaganda, they called upon Yeltsin to lead a general strike and create a workers militia to face down the Yanayev coup. Soon afterwards, they were maintaining that the USSR was a Moribund Workers State and that Yeltsin’s coup did not signal a change in the class character of the state. Workers Power’s confusion about both the class character of the state and the date of the triumph of the restoration persisted until their Fifth Congress in 2000. Nevertheless, they never did understand how profoundly they had crossed the class line with their support for Yeltsin. We called this an opportunist deviation and a retreat back toward their Cliffite origins. Today we see the RCIT proposing a “united front” with the Shinawatra family’s “Red Shirt” movement to restore such bourgeois democracy as Thailand enjoyed until recently under the government of Yingluck Shinawatra and they call for this united front to restore her government. Writ small, this is the same old error.
Not only in hindsight did it seem criminally wrong in our view to maintain that the concept of “united front” permitted agreement for any objective with class enemy political forces. This is never permissible for us and it goes right to the heart of the 1903 split between Lenin and the Mensheviks. Making matters worse, indeed as bad as they could be, Worker’s Power proposed a “united front” with Yeltsin exactly at the moment of the triumph of the capitalist restoration. Like for Shachtmanism in days of old, for Cliffism, liberal public opinion is everything and it leads them by the nose. Therefore, bourgeois democratic rights mean more to Cliff than workers’ social property and its defense. So here we had Yeltsin in August, 1991 counterpoising his popular front with U.S. imperialism in the name of an abstract democracy (in reality his 500 day shock therapy plan) to a united front of the workers for workers democracy and defense of social property, something that was eminently possible. Indeed, Kagarlitsky’s Mensheviks were calling for workers to strike to defend socialized industry. We understood and opposed both factions of the Moscow bureaucracy. We called for the strictest independence of mobilization by the working class against both Stalinisms, the fast-track Yeltsinites and Yanayev’s slow-road variant, as they would later come to be known.
As we have said, at succeeding historic conjunctures we have seen the RCIT, the offspring of the LRCI/L5I collapse in the semi-Cliffite trajectory to the right. Even before failing the critical test of the July, 2013 Cairo events, we saw Pröbsting (then in the L5I leadership) supporting the “Workers Caravan” U.S. imperialism’s democratic Bosnia project, and more recently calling for the freedom of organization of bourgeois political parties in the conditions of the ongoing capitalist counterrevolution in Cuba, all in the name of the extension of an abstract democracy. Indeed it is their method. This opportunism they habitually excuse with the commandment thou shalt not skip over the consciousness of the masses.
The RCIT devotes scant space to the neo-liberal project but they make a big theoretical fuss over the lack of the Republic. Of course Thailand is not a Republic, while Egypt has been the SCAF’s republic since 1952. What are Trotskyists supposed to know about republics in the semi-colonial world? With no political prescription for the class character of the proposed Republic, we don’t share the illusion that achievement of this political project would advance the interests of workers and oppressed, nor would it offer any special hope for political stability. As we said, Thailand has experienced 19 coup d’états in the last century.
The illusions of the masses
Thailand has lived for decades in a state of political instability between coups and “democratic” elections. The RCIT comrades want to make the Thai masses think that now with capitalism in its biggest crisis for generations and with political and social instability on the rise everywhere around the world, the bourgeoisie will be able to offer the masses a stable democratic regime and Republic in Thailand. Precisely because the “yellow” and “red” bourgeoisie are not able to grant democracy, democratic rights, and end the occupations of public buildings and the barricades on the streets, is why the coup was necessary to assuage big capital’s fears. The RCIT justifies their policy of supporting a bourgeois “democratic” government, upon the supposed illusion of the masses in the Pheu Thai party government.
As a consequence of the RCIT’s descent into idealism, their politics and analysis leads to a forecast of a ‘reality’ determined by the masses’ consciousness. The masses’ consciousness is reified as an objective condition that they cannot overcome with no resolution of the crisis of proletarian leadership in sight. Hence, consciousness is made to determine being, and in the negative, so the masses will have to pay the price of the global crisis of capitalism with the neo-liberal austerity program because they lack the consciousness and will to break with the popular front and fight for the permanent revolution. This is much like the Maoist position that defeats are good for the workers because they learn from them.
The onset of a structural crisis of capitalism creates a pre-revolutionary situation in all countries where workers are refusing to pay its costs. The truth is that democratic regimes are being challenged around the world precisely because they cannot make concessions to the masses and instead bring misery as the only way to overcome capitalism’s crisis. This affirms what Trotsky said, that when the bourgeois democratic regimes are no longer able to contain the masses, out they go, and the choice for the bourgeoisie is either the military coup or fascism. Without a revolutionary international in existence it is all the more necessary for Trotskyists to re-double their efforts to expose those who capitulate to the popular front and raise clearly the program for permanent revolution!Facing this double crisis of capitalism and revolutionary leadership, the analysis of the left generally presents the current events as merely the outcome of the struggle between the bourgeois fractions and turns the struggle between antagonistic classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat into a total abstraction. Worse, they only consider the national bourgeoisies, who are increasingly weak and dependent on imperialism, and do not consider that the main dispute within the semi-colonial national bourgeoisie is the inter-imperialist dispute. Where in the past it was a foregone conclusion that Thailand was in the U.S. camp by virtue of its membership in SEATO and while the present shake up and coup do not signal an immediate change the future allegiance of Thailand will at least be influenced by its dominant trading partner. For the present the Thai military is supplied by the Pentagon’s Military Assistance Program (MAP) and the Thai government is a recipient of U.S. foreign aid largesse. Washington wants Thailand to sign on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Pact (TPPA) but this question may finally be settled by the succeeding monarch.
Part of the fight against the TPPA with its ruinous provisions aimed at the international proletariat and military provisions aimed at China, is the struggle against the monarchy and we see that the RCIT has raised the slogan for an end to the monarchy and in favor of a republic. And as we have noted the Red Shirt movement is nominally republican. But in fact, unlike in Spain, there is no mass republican anti-monarchial sentiment being expressed in the streets today. Please don’t tell us this sentiment is only being repressed by the coup because you could not find this sentiment on the streets in February, March or April. We have to ask what the class character of such a republic would be because for us the greatest democracy and the only worthwhile republic issues from the conquest of power by the government of workers and peasants councils. For the RCIT comrades it is not the absence of a revolutionary party causing the lack of advance of the fight for a socialist revolution, but the consequence of the “consciousness of the masses.” Blame the masses in their struggle against the “yellow” and then later against the “reds” for not having had a revolutionary direction.
At times, the bourgeois regimes will adopt a pose of embarking upon a revolutionary course until there is a revolutionary upsurge by the masses fighting for their democratic rights, whereupon the regime’s fundamental rightism is quickly exposed. Certainly the “mass consciousness” at the beginning of such upsurges is for the bourgeois democratic regime, and not the consciousness of the program of the socialist revolution. Yet, Trotsky said many times against those who feared being ahead of the workers, that the task of revolutionaries is not to match the mood of the workers but to change that mood!
So what is the mood of Thai workers and peasants? The Pheu Thai political leadership is being released and General Prayuth Chan-ocha promises elections in a year but the masses’ demonstrations are being suppressed today (6/1/14). Just as in the eastern Ukraine, we notice that the majority of the protesters are NOT calling for the return of the former regime, i.e. there’s neither a desire to have Yanukovych back nor in Thailand do the masses want Yingluck Shinawatra back. The social media has been shut down and the press has been censored. The release of the Pheu Thai and “Red Shirt” leadership signifies some level of cooperation, some established procedural agreement between factions of the bourgeoisie over the heads of the masses. No faction of the bourgeoisie has a special allegiance to the forms or content of bourgeois democracy. Like the 1989 version of the Trotskyist Manifesto we will defend the gains the workers and peasant masses have made under any bourgeois democratic regime and even the parliamentary institutions themselves against the military coup d’état, but once such a coup has taken place we insist upon not idealizing any bourgeois democratic program, strong man or woman or any of the past and instead champion the demands of the workers own historical program as the alternative solution to the neo-liberal bourgeois-democratic scam.
Two passing trains will be instantaneously at the same location in a photograph even while they head in opposite directions, thus both we of the LCC and the RCIT call for a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly (RCA), but the content of our concept of the RCA derives from Lenin while theirs derives from the adaptation to the “consciousness of the masses…,” (here’s Lenin)
“The Congress resolution states that a provisional revolutionary government on its own — one, moreover, that will be the organ of a victorious popular insurrection — can secure full freedom of agitation in the election campaign and convene an assembly that will really express the will of the people. Is this postulate correct? Whoever took it into his head to dispute it would have to assert that it is possible for the tsarist government not to side with the reaction, that it is capable of being neutral during the elections, that it will see to it that the will of the people is really expressed. Such assertions are so absurd that no one would venture to defend them openly; but they are being surreptitiously smuggled in under liberal colours, by our liberationists (our emphasis). Somebody must convene the constituent assembly, somebody must guarantee the freedom and fairness of the elections; somebody must invest such an assembly with full power and authority. Only a revolutionary government, which is the organ of the insurrection, can desire this in all sincerity and be capable of doing all that is required to achieve this. (our emphasis) The tsarist government will inevitably counteract this. A liberal government, which will come to terms with the tsar, and which does not rely in full on the popular uprising, cannot sincerely desire this, and could not accomplish it even if it most sincerely desired to. Therefore, the resolution of the Congress gives the only correct and entirely consistent democratic slogan.”
What is the “democratic” bourgeois sector that RCIT in their fight against “sectarianism” defends unity of action with, against the military government? These must be, and we can derive no other conclusion from the RCIT’s statements, the very same “Red Shirt” leaders who are being released by the General Officers’ regime. The world wide “Occupy” experience has not led either to a rise of vanguard revolutionary working class consciousness, nor to a rise in the general level of militancy of the masses, and the analyses of the left fails to explain this in terms of the absence of the crystallization of mass workers revolutionary parties. Instead much of the left idealizes the spontaneism of the international movement, as heterogeneous and anti-programmatic as it has been. In the Ukraine this left the political door to the Maidan wide open to every rightist and neo-fascist thug in the western Ukraine. In the east the lack of a crystalized revolutionary party means that it has proved so far impossible to galvanize the real mass opposition to a Yanukovych return in favor of a united Ukraine that is not a subject nation of either the western imperialist bloc or Russian imperialism.
In Egypt the RCIT paints the picture of an amnesiac working class that is only interested in improving its wages, hours and conditions of work and does not care that a ‘democratically’ elected Muslim Brotherhood government has been deposed. We would say that in fact the Muslim Brotherhood government was overthrown by the masses for failing to fulfill the program of the January 25th revolution, but were cheated out of their victory by the prompt reassertion of control by the ultimate power, the deep state of the SCAF. For the RCIT the form is more important than the content, the consciousness of the masses was duped by the SCAF and the Mursi government was overthrown by a military coup, dealing the Egyptian Revolution such a defeat as to necessitate a retreat to a fight for an action program of democratic demands. The implication of calling the July Days a “strategic defeat” signals a retreat from the revolutionary field of battle for Transitional demands for the Egyptian revolution, while mass strikes were defying the anti-Muslim Brotherhood crackdown and the naked re-imposition of total political control by the SCAF. To characterize a SCAF takeover as a military coup and opportunistically call for the return of the Muslim Brotherhood government was to completely miss the point of the actual situation, was objectively to quit offering solutions and leadership and constituted a headlong retreat to a defensive program of democratic demands as the operative crisis program.
Not unlike Egypt, the Thai military has always played a central role in the semi-colonial state. “The military has never come under full control of the civilian government in Thailand,” said Aim Sinpeng, a scholar at the University of British Columbia's Liu Institute of Global Issues.” “The military remains one of the most important institutions in the governing of the country. Some powerful sections of Thailand see the military as the institution of conflict resolution. (emphasis added)”. In Marxist terms this means that the military is always the main agent of imperialist rule in semi-colonies like Thailand and Egypt which we characterize as military Bonapartism. Sisi’s recent election in Egypt proves that the threat of popular revolution to meet the crisis of global capitalism has forced the army to return to direct rule, exposing bourgeois democracy as no more than a figleaf. In Thailand, over a succession of coups interspersed with the return to power of an ‘elected’ government, the military and the popular front can be clearly seen to work together, proving correct Trotsky’s dictum that the popular front is the question of the epoch. The return of the popular front to power and the army to its barracks only perpetuates the illusion that the army is politically neutral. That is why we insist that the masses must oppose both the coup and break from the Thaksin popular front party to defeat military Bonapartism. Like in Egypt, the masses will defeat military Bonapartism only by splitting the army and uniting its ranks with the revolutionary workers and peasants.
Popular Front and United Front
As John Moore asserts in Deformed class war in Thailand – Part 2, Thaksin was able to incorporate the Thai Communist Party (CPT) Maoists into his party, personifying their Stalinist progressive bourgeoisie and the bourgeois democratic stage of two-stage revolution. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) government was not leftist but ‘populist,’ as it introduced IMF neo-liberalism while at the same time introducing “reforms” for peasants. Thaksin’s failure to get the official unions as allies is in part due to the impact of the neo-liberal reforms on urban workers. The TRT followed the Maoists to the countryside and cleansed the CPT members to get their base in order to qualify for the 'bourgeois democracy' franchise (i.e. from the U.S.). The TRT Party was a 'Popular Front party' following Trotsky's analysis of Latin American populism(e.g. the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance - APRA of Peru,) albeit a rightwing one. The APRA example showed that a Popular Front government can be based on ONE cross-class party. The popular front character of the Thaksin regime is derived from the popular front party and not a governmental cross-class bloc of multiple parties (e.g. the CPT was dissolved).
This is the political legacy that defines the Pheu Thai party and “Red Shirt” movement today. For Trotsky, the Popular Front was not a tactic but a betrayal:
“The question of questions at present is the People’s Front. The left centrists seek to present this question as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to peddle their wares in the shadow of the People’s Front. In reality, the People’s Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism. For it is often forgotten that the greatest historical example of the People’s Front is the February 1917 revolution. From February to October, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, who represent a very good parallel to the ‘Communists’ and Social Democrats, were in the closest alliance and in a permanent coalition with the bourgeois party of the Cadets, together with whom they formed a series of coalition governments. Under the sign of this People’s Front stood the whole mass of the people, including the workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ councils. To be sure, the Bolsheviks participated in the councils. But they did not make the slightest concession to the People’s Front. Their demand was to break this People’s Front, to destroy the alliance with the Cadets, and to create a genuine workers’ and peasants’ government.
All the People’s Fronts in Europe are only a pale copy and often a caricature of the Russian People’s Front of 1917, which could after all lay claim to a much greater justification for its existence, for it was still a question of the struggle against czarism and the remnants of feudalism.” - Leon Trotsky, “The Dutch Section and the International” (15-16 July 1936), in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36)
The legacy of Workers Power’s bad method for wanting to always form cross-class blocs lives on today in the RCIT. This same debate took place in the LRCI and was raised by the Revolutionary Trotskyist Tendency (RTT) over 20 years ago:
“Comrades may ask, what does the united front with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and Khomeini have to do with the united front with Yeltsin? The answer is: everything. The method is the same. It is not permissible to form a cross class bloc with reactionary forces at a time when they are destroying the historical gains of the working class. In the case of Khomeini it was the gains from the Iranian revolution – in the case of Yeltsin it is the workers’ state. A cross-class bloc is permissible only in strict times when the bourgeois forces are engaged in a progressive struggle despite themselves. In such strict cases a victory, even if the bourgeoisie remains in the leadership, would be progressive. Thus, in the case of the Gulf war, for example, a victory to Hussein and Iraq would have meant revolutionary struggles throughout the Middle East and even in the US, because the defeat of US imperialism would have had a devastating effect on the imperialist order, far greater than the negative effects of Hussein’s dictatorship. Thus, given the overall progressive character of the war against imperialism, one could not exclude in advance a strict and limited critical military united front with the Iraqi regime (in the sense that workers’ militias and the Iraqi army would be shooting in the same direction). But the cases of Khomeini and Yeltsin were the exact opposite, where a united front could have only led to the historical defeat of the masses.
When we started discussions with the LRCI (then the MRCI) we were aware that the leadership tends to make a fetish out of the united front tactic. We were also aware that the differences involved principled differences. In the case of Khomeini and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the LRCI’s position was a capitulation to progressive petty bourgeois opinion in the centrist Left, which (up to 1981) viewed Khomeini and company as progressive fighters. In the case of Yeltsin, the same public opinion viewed him as a “defender of democracy”…..”
“Despite our sharp criticism, we welcome the change of position. But we are worried that a leadership which refuses to admit that it made a mistake (if the leadership has made an internal criticism, the RTT does not know about it) will not change its method. We are worried that it is not willing to look at the method that led to its wrong opportunist position. We repeat, the method is a simple centrist method: whenever the majority of the people support independence, the LRCI supports the “struggle for independence”, even when it is led by semi-fascists in the struggle for capitalist restoration (Croatia). When Winter was in London he heard the arguments again and again: how can we not support and call for a united front with the Croatian government when it is supported by the masses? How can we just support a phantom workers’ militia when it does not exist? The comrades from the ASt went so far as to sell their paper at right-wing Croatian demonstrations in Austria which called on imperialism to intervene on behalf of Croatia!!!!
So we are back to square one. When we discuss the national question, it boils down to a united front with reactionary forces, who are in the process of destroying the gains of the working class and the toiling masses. That has been the discussion between the RTT and the LRCI in each case: Khomeini and the semi-fascist Pasdaran; the Bonapartist dictator Yeltsin; the reactionary nationalists in Lithuania, and the semi-fascists in Croatia. The discussion between us is about the difference between a popular front and a united front. We have barely started it. We ask every member of the LRCI not to allow the leadership to break fraternal relations. This is the most important discussion that the LRCI has held – a discussion that delimits Marxism from centrism. (“A centrist swears readily by the policy of the united front, emptying it of its revolutionary content and transforming it from a tactical method into a supreme principle.” Trotsky, Writings, 1933-4, p 234).” - In Defence of Trotskyism: An Open Letter to All Members and Supporters of the LRCI
For Permanent Revolution!
The democratic demands alone do not make the program that will complete the democratic revolution. For these demands (such as national independence, land reform, etc.) to be realized in the epoch of imperialism requires socialist demands and the socialist revolution itself, i.e., permanent revolution. The call to defend a popular front party in the name of defending bourgeois democracy against a military coup is a capitulation to imperialism. Only the armed workers leading the peasantry and other oppressed groups based on Trotsky’s transitional program can finish the bourgeois democratic revolution as the socialist revolution. As part of that transitional program we do not fight for a bourgeois republic but a workers and peasants republic. The demand for the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly is raised as a transitional demand towards a Workers & Peasants socialist republic. The point of the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly is to drive the revolution from the bourgeois to the socialist revolution – that is permanent revolution.
The call for a Workers & Peasants republic is used in the same sense as a call for a Workers & Peasants government, which as we all should know is shorthand for the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. While the RCIT may call for a break from the Thaksin government/party, it also calls for its defense even after the coup, maintaining this as a progressive step against the coup. The LCC says no, it is not progressive to reinstall a popular front only then to break from it. The popular front was already in danger of breaking up. The “Red Shirts” threatened to intervene, against the instruction of the government (which was toadying with the army), finally forcing the army to intervene (still talking with the Thaksin leadership even now!).
All this proves that the popular front is but the preparation for the military dictatorship or fascism. It is necessary to politically break the working class and peasant base from the “Red Shirt” leadership. To break the vicious partnership of coup and popular front, the workers must unite across city and countryside under the leadership of a Leninist Trotskyist party with a program of permanent revolution.
And despite the wishes of the RCIT, we will unabashedly quote from the Transitional Program:
“The relative weight of the individual democratic and transitional demands in the proletariat’s struggle, their mutual ties and their order of presentation, is determined by the peculiarities and specific conditions of each backward country and to a considerable extent by the degree of its backwardness. Nevertheless, the general trend of revolutionary development in all backward countries can be determined by the formula of the permanent revolution in the sense definitely imparted to it by the three revolutions in Russia (1905, February 1917, October 1917).
The Comintern has provided backward countries with a classic example of how it is possible to ruin a powerful and promising revolution. During the stormy mass upsurge in China in 1925-27, the Comintern failed to advance the slogan for a National Assembly, and at the same time forbade the creation of soviets. (The bourgeois party, the Kuomintang, was to replace, according to Stalin’s plan, both the National Assembly and soviets.) After the masses had been smashed by the Kuomintang, the Comintern organized a caricature of a soviet in Canton. Following the inevitable collapse of the Canton uprising, the Comintern took the road of guerrilla warfare a peasant soviets with complete passivity on the part of the industrial proletariat. Landing thus in a blind alley, the Comintern took advantage of the Sino-Japanese War to liquidate “Soviet China” with a stroke of the pen, subordinating not only the peasant “Red Army” but also the so-called “Communist” Party to the identical Kuomintang, i.e., the bourgeoisie.
Having betrayed the international proletarian revolution for the sake of friendship with the “democratic” slavemasters, the Comintern could not help betraying simultaneously also the struggle for liberation of the colonial masses, and, indeed, with even greater cynicism than did the Second International before it. One of the tasks of People’s Front and “national defense” politics is to turn hundreds of millions of the colonial population into cannon fodder for “democratic” imperialism. The banner on which is emblazoned the struggle for the liberation of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples, i.e., a good half of mankind, has definitely passed into the hands of the Fourth International.”
- Defeat the reactionary coup d’état! Prepare for mass demonstrations and an indefinite general strike!
- For a Revolutionary Constitutional Assembly convened and defended by armed, mass organizations of the workers and peasants!
- Organize workers and peasants councils.
- Form up soldiers councils elect your own officers and abolish the authority of the army command and the constitutional court!
- Repudiate the reactionary constitution! Publish all secret treaties. The Pheu Thai government has a worldwide reputation for corruption; open the government’s books.
- For the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ republic!
- Expropriate big business and the banks and run them under workers’ control! Place industrial and all large service enterprises under workers’ control! Nationalize the media under workers’ control!
- Expropriate the big landowners and distribute the land to the poor peasants!
- Unconditional support for the right of national self-determination for the Muslim people of Patani in the south of Thailand
- Build a Leninist-Trotskyist Workers Party in Thailand! For a Workers’ and Peasants’ Government!
- For Permanent Revolution in South-East Asia! For a Federation of Socialist Republics in South-East Asia!
- For a World Party of Socialism!
 Those like the FLTI who see Chinese overseas investment as a transshipment of Wall St. capitals and Chinese stock markets as the clearing houses for the U.S. bourgeoisie fail to explain the significance of the SCO and the increasing collisions between the Russia/China bloc and the designs of the U.S.A. led bloc both in Europe and the Pacific. Neither do they take into account the Trans Pacific Partnership act project or the U.S. military Pacific Pivot. This failure is informed by a target fixation on Imperialismo Yankee and permits an adaptation to apologist for the Bolivarian left and the World Social Forum and Popular Fronts in the ALBA countries.