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There is a lot of talk about “fascism”, or a late modern expression “neo-fascism”; a word which carries loaded connotation in reference to an extreme right-wing politics. However, it is rarely used in the everyday language of resistance in Thailand; as Surachai Sae Dan told me, “fascism” was a historical moment in Thailand which some of us experienced in the post-war years. In particular we can consider the implications of Sarit’s coup of 1958 supported by the royalist/amaat regime which wanted to regain influence and power through the monarchy. Nevertheless we see Hitler’s face appearing on some web-boards or as street graffiti on posters as a personification of evil with allusions to current political figures (Abhisit and Suthep). It seems to me that users of this term have a slight embarrassment in a contemporary context. So let’s be clear on what we mean. Historian and expert on European fascism Stanley Payne sees fascism as “a form revolutionary ultranationalism for national rebirth ...” structured on “extreme elitism” and mass mobilization in a “vitalist” philosophy that “positively values violence as end as well as means to normalize war and/or military virtues” (2006, A history of fascism, 1914-1945, Routledge, p.14). There are of course reasons for the military state’s deliberate Kerfuffle on the Cambodian border and use of repressive civic apparatus of the state against pro-democracy opposition.

The political climate today is marked by extreme ethnic chauvinism, embellished patriotism and ultra nationalism articulated (poorly at that) from the likes of PAD “aka” khon-Thai hua-jai rak Chaat “the Thai heart that loves the nation” or in short form written as “Thai Patriots Group”. This pseudo confrontational nationalist politics currently affecting everyone in Thailand and the region today is only possible in an authoritarian regime. This we see in the triad of ruling elites/military/Democrat Party. The epithet “fascist” used to explain the behaviour of the current regime may seem to be stating the obvious; at least to many of us. But in reality what we are seeing is a “softer” fascism which has fluoresced in Thailand since the mid-1950s under a façade or veneer of parliamentary democracy (miswritten as “semi-democracy” as one Thai scholar optimistically named the 1980s). The dictatorship in Burma to me has a more honest appeal: what you see is what you get. However, the recent fake “democratic” elections in Burma are starting to look a lot like neighboring Thailand: covering over the inner core of established network of elite interests, institutional privilege and power; a masquerade of parliamentary governance. The soft fascism I call “Thai falangism”— an authoritarian national leadership based on the aspirations of an organic, hierarchical state. Thai of course do not have a word for “fascist”/”fascism”; instead, they use (and even then rarely) a foreign loan word latthi-fasit. The term “falange” comes from the name of a right-wing Spanish movement that imitated elements of German and Italian fascism and emerged in the early 1930s under the leadership of José Antonio Primo de Rivera. The movement was opposed to the Republican regime and supported Francisco Franco’s Nationalist coup of 1936, but only as a minor element. It reappeared momentarily later in European history in the post-war years.

The characteristics of falangism with close affinity to the current Thai experience are a less ideological (softer, but no less insidious) form of new fascism, including an endogenous organic corporatism; ethnic (Thai)-based ultra-nationalism; conservative anti-democratic trade unionism (like EGAT Labour Union, State Railway Union of Thailand, State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation, etc.); conservative modalities of state Buddhism (through elements in the administrative royalist line of the Thammayut (nikai) which frowns on democratic state sangha governance); a dislike for separatism of any kind; anti-communism, anti-anarchism and anti-(new) capitalism where seen as working outside amaat networks; anti-democratic sentiments; paternalistic pastoral values (communal ethnic-Thai’ism and the hypocrisy inscribed in elite visions of the poor establishing “self sufficiency”); dislike of welfare-based neo-liberal economic (efficient) management (as in the case of Thaksin’s Neo-liberal Populist government); and as a union of non-competitive, traditional conservative units seeking to maintain their monopolies and ensuing privilege through nationalist syndicated consensus.

Does all this sound familiar? Finally, and more insidiously, this also includes modalities of para-militarism including the ideological arm of the summit-state the Yellow Shirts/PAD (such as they were; amusingly mis-named as “People’s Alliance for Democracy”) more like the falangist Blue Shirt brigade– a colour in fact which Yellow Shirts adopted in early 2009 – though ostensibly for different symbolic associations. The territorial issue on the border with Cambodia involves former PAD hardliners and the dissenting Santi Asok Buddhist sect clambering for official recognition and shows the extent to which certain fascist tendencies can be articulated.

This complex social and political arrangement is controlled by an alliance of central bureaucratic elites, political representatives of the middle class, civil society, traditional network mafias, and ultra-conservative military factions with close ties to the royalist establishment. Thai elites are opportunistic; every time a new structure of (good) governance is in place they try to control it; with considerable success over the past fifty years or so. The 19 September 2006 coup was a last chance for bureaucratic elites to regain control over the nation-state. Will there be another need for reestablishing control in the coming weeks? The falangists despise democracy through an election where they cannot control the outcome. They equally despise the runaway democracy engendered at the grassroots under Thaksin which would undermine their traditional monopolistic interests.

Great disorder lies around the corner for Thailand. Will Thais allow the last bastion of the falange to close the county for five years and regain control over culture, economy and politics? It is clear that “reform” (patiruup) of existing state structures is no longer possible as the options are narrowing. The election, at best, may only be a temporary train stop on the line to achieving full democracy.

Dr Jim Taylor
University of Adelaide
29 April 2011

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