While researching news into the latest military coup in Thailand, we came upon this interesting statistical analysis from a bourgeois perspective on why Thailand has had so many coups. While the analysis predates this latest coup, it does apply in the general sense, and interestingly, it is not a Thailand-specific analysis, but one from the perspective of bourgeois universality, that is, the bourgeois view on the cause of military coups under conditions of global capitalism and bourgeois democracy.
The article is in the form of an interview with a statistician and he declares Thailand to be within the statistical model for coups on a number of things, notably poverty, and yet also being an outlier in terms of the sheer number of coups in its history.
In this article we see the limits of bourgeois thinking and perspective, and why the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist analysis of semifeudalism and semicolonialism is of much values to understand Thailand and its history of coups, and how the principle of universality of Protracted People’s War is reinforced by this example.
Thailand is a statistical outlier because no forces have emerged within it that handle those contradictions in a way that diminishes the occurrence of military coups. These forces do not necessarily have to be popular forces – the USA has not had a military coup in its history – it is far from a people’s country. Yet popular forces in the present period have been behind the bulk of the successful struggles against coups and the defense of democratic rights of the people. And when these forces are not present, the lack of coups results from accommodation to the militarist wings of the ruling class, not from the elimination of the threat of coups. In the USA, for example, military emergency rule is codified into executive directive, which have the weight of law – and has been implemented in the form of martial law at the local level at many points in its history, including at a large-scale during the American Civil War.
Lets question an assumption we feel is incorrect: military coups are not a result of poverty. Even language betrays the falseness of this presumption – in English the words for a military take-over of government are of French and German origin, coup d’etat/bonapartism, putsch/putschism. This is because the take over of the institutions of government by the military in the era of capitalism were the feature of the transition from feudalism and semifeudalism to full capitalist relations as the dominant political economy. Thus Germany and France featured many coups in their history. Britain was the outlier, seemingly, but this is false, Cromwell’s revolution was the first military dictatorship in modernity, the New Model Army and its offshoots being the definers of the new, capitalist, Britain. It just happened earlier, and the British ruling class adapted quicker than in France and Germany. While this is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth mentioning because there is a tendency to examine the history of the countries in Europe and outside of Europe as somehow unique, while the reality is that class struggle is a history of repetition: class struggle is universalized when the problems of class struggle are universalized. The details change, but the general tendencies replicate at each given point in a political-economic history, only skewed in that the countries that emerged as dominant in the stage of imperialism intervene directly and indirectly via colonialism and imperialist domination. While poverty often results from this domination, this is not always the case – and many peripheral nations are as rich as the dominant countries (and in some cases, like oil-rich Gulf States, richer). It is about the social relations, which are of an absolute nature, and not the wealth, which is of a relative nature.
The reasons coups appear to be related to poverty are a result of a lack of a historical materialist analysis, mostly because bourgeois views are opposed to that for their own reasons. It is an artifact of bourgeois thinking and ahistoricity and lack of acceptance of the class struggle as a motor of history. The fact is that coups seem to be a feature of poverty because most countries of the world are poor, and because most rich countries have moved beyond the politico-economic conditions that make coups possible, not because they are rich, but because the historical period of coups in their given political economy happened long ago. Even then, the relative stability of these countries is generally a farce and the direct coup has been substituted by burgeoning and interventionist military-industrial complexes that give direct and indirect political and economic power to the military establishment, which make coups historically unnecessary.
Thailand on the other hand, has been in this period since 1932, when the absolute monarchy of Siam was overthrown and a constitutional monarchy, with a modernist flavor, was established. This existed as a reaction to encroaching colonialism and the dual forces of comprador interest and modern nationalism emerging. Both tendencies felt that the absolute monarchy was obsolete for their purpose, unwilling to play along to the new world and new empires emerging from the post-WWI world, a world in which absolute monarchs fell the world over. It is a complex history with two generally accepted periods, that which begins in 1932 and ends in the early 1970s (towards the end of the Vietnam war and the vast reduction of direct US military presence in the region) and the present period since then. We can roughly divide this as the period of direct engagement of colonialism first (British, Japanese, French, and US imperialism all feature), and the period of neocolonialism/semicolonialism after that, mostly related to the USA, but lately also looking towards China as it emerges as a power. Since this is a short note, we are oversimplifying the history, which is complex in details, to concentrate on the main thrust of our argument – so we apologize in advance for any seeming inaccuracies and over generalizations.
Being the inland landing strip for the USA, having a nationalities question, and an economy that vacillates between modern (state/bureaucrat) capitalism and semifeudalism are quite important factors. This is perhaps exemplified best by the strength of the monarchy, on whose name all these coups happen. The monarchy is supposed to be constitutional, symbolic, much like the British monarchy. Yet in practice and in the law, it has vastly more power than this as an institution. While it is true that the monarch is personally weak, the monarchy as an institution is the State. Lèse–majesté laws are routinely used against political opponents, republicanism is basically illegal, and of course, in this matters of coups all of them are done in the name of the King, who has never publicly confronted them.
An interesting contrast in the region would be Nepal – in which the question of monarchy was resolved conclusively by a revolution within a revolution pursued by a Protracted People’s War led by the CPN(Maoist). Regardless of the end result of this process (which is ongoing) you see Thailand-like features emerging in Nepal. A revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy in 1990, but the constitutional monarchy retained a lot of power and in particular the loyalty and control of the Armed Forces, much like in Thailand. This quickly reversed many of the gains of the revolution, with the support of many of the forces which had supported the revolution. Thus the CPN(Maoist) correctly determined that as long as the Armed Forces were a branch of the monarchy, and this political power was not confronted militarily, the monarchy will remain in de facto power.
Nepal is way poorer and way less integrated into the global economy, yet they have been able to land this death-blow to semifeudalism and destroy the monarchy. This national democratic task is complete – and it was completed by means of a Protracted People’s War led by a proletarian party. Nepal does have a long path to walk, but no one thinks it is possible for the monarchy to return to its path – and the armed forces have understood that the people are capable of organizing themselves militarily for victory. The Rubicon of history has been crossed – and once the people understand their power, it is next to impossible to push them back to the past.
These Thai coups show that the claim in the West that the monarchy is merely symbolic – a British-like constitutional monarchy – is false. Nearly all of them have been monarchist coups, and those which have not been under the aegis of the monarch himself have been in the name of the monarchy as an institution. In Nepal, the resolution of this questions lays down a historical materialist basis for Thailand to follow.
Monarchies that retain semifeudal relations are a recipe for coup after coup, and the destruction of this institution in Thailand is a primary task of national democracy. Republicanism is not a precondition for socialism – Lenin’s April Theses explain this eloquently enough – but Republicanism is in the present period a task best taken upon by the proletarian party engaged in Protracted People’s War. How this struggle transitions to one for socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat as a historical epoch is also best served by resolute engagement in continuous cultural revolution, the prosecution of this Protracted People’s War until communism. This is the error in Nepal – stopping at the Republic – in our estimation, but we are not in Nepal and as such we wouldn’t be proletarian internationalists if we didn’t respect their process in which forces continue to contend for proletarian victory. Yet Nepal did show, completely, the value of Protracted People’s War as a way to overthrow monarchy as a step forward in the overthrow of semifeudalism, and thus representing a concrete counter-example to Thailand. The absence in Thailand of a revolutionary party that successfully leads the movement for the overthrow of the monarchy is why coups happen. The continued existence of the monarchy not as a symbol but as a living, interventionist, political headquarters of semifeudal relations in a capitalist global economy, as both capitalist semicolonial comprador and gatekeeper and as protector of the semifeudal relations in Thailand is the problem. Protracted People’s War is the solution.
Of course, it is up to the Thai people to engage in this process – and they have tried, as the heroic yet tragic history of the Communist Party of Thailand shows. We are confident that at some point in the future they will rise again and once and for all take on the historic task of overthrowing the scourge of monarchism from Thailand, as so many other nations in the world still ravished by this naked representative of semifeudalism will do. Protracted People’s War led by a proletarian party has been, as shown by Nepal, the best way to achieve this.