Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sulak Sivaraksa Advocates Revisionist History and Self-Delusion

Keep dream alive

Real victory at the end of the path begun in 1932 lies in overcoming greed (capitalism), hatred (militarism) and delusion (consumerism), and the awakening of a new consciousness, writes SULAK SIVARAKSA

Bangkok Post

At the break of dawn on 24 June, 1932 Colonel Phya Phahon Phonphayuhasena (Phot Phaholyothin) read aloud the First Declaration of the People's Party at the King Rama V Equestrian Monument at the Royal Plaza. Luang Praditmanutham (Pridi Banomyong) drafted the declaration. It well captured the political ethos and commitment of the revolutionaries who successfully struggled for a political transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, in which, as it was declared, "The supreme power in the country belongs to the people."

This very declaration also appeared in the first (temporary) constitution of the kingdom, which was promulgated three days later.

Funny, the 1932 Constitution was undemocratic and excluded most of the population from participating in politics. Further, the People's Party created a one party state and systematically wiped out anybody who was a royalist or member of the royal family.

Although the 1932 coup/revolution was bloodless, the use of military force to seize state power was not along the lines of nonviolence. Subsequently, a rift developed between the military leaders, and some of them even elevated themselves to become the new masters, once again de-valourising the majority of the people.

Sulak acts as if the intentions behind the coup were noble when there is plenty of evidence to suggest that many bureaucrats and military personel wanted a bigger piece of the state's purse and that was the real reason for the coup, because the People's Party certainly didn't act democratic once it came to power. And Rama 7, before he abdicated, stated the same.

Needless to say, the traditional and the new powers clashed despite several attempts for their reconciliation. The advent of the permanent constitution on 10 December 1932 signalled that the old powers were willing to tolerate the political transition. But their tolerance soon reached its limit, especially because of Pridi Banomyong's Outline Economic Plan, which advocated radical egalitarianism.

Pridi was a Communist. I read his plan. He was more commie than Lenin. And he got a lot of criticism from all quarters regarding his plan, probably because it did advocate radical egalitarianism.

The failure of the Boworadej Rebellion in 1933 not only signified the defeat of the old powers, which contributed to the abdication of King Rama VII, but also the laying of a new foundation for the wielders of military power. Its de-democratising effects need not be spelled out. It also must be pointed out that fascism and military dictatorship were on the rise at the time, especially in Germany, Italy, and Japan.

The People's Party continued its revolution under the new regime. The country reclaimed its full sovereignty in 1939 by successfully revoking all the extraterritorial rights previously enjoyed by foreign powers.

Sulak doesn't mention that it was American Francis Sayre who was greatly responsible for renegotiating the treaties long before 1939. Mr. Sayre actually has a street named after him. It is the little soi right next to the old foreign ministry and located across the street from the Grand Palace. Also, Sayre was also King Prajadhipok's adviser on Thailand's democratic transition.

These unequal treaties were signed since the time of King Rama IV. The country was never formally colonised, but it was under the indirect rule of farang (eventually including Japan) with regard to legal jurisdiction and taxation. These powers ultimately recognised the kingdom as an equal sovereign in 1939.

I don't know where the concept of "unequal treaties" comes from considering Thais had reciprocal rights in western countries. During the reign of King Mongkut, foreign powers negotiated the right to try their own nationals in their own courts on Thai soil, primarily because the Thai justice system was barbaric and unjust. For example, guilt for a crime was determined by who could hold their breath under water the longest, or, in some cases, who could hold their hands under burning oil the longest. Many civil cases were decided by who would pay the biggest bribe. As for taxation, the European powers negotiated a 3% flat tax on trade. Before that, tax was determined by how much you could bribe officials.

Unfortunately, the very year the kingdom regained its complete independence it also destroyed its Siamese essence, which did not lay claim to ethnocentric homogeneity and which respected other races, ethnicities, languages, religions and cultures in the kingdom, by transforming the country's name from Siam to Thailand.

This is an idiotic argument. The change in name of the country did not change the political character of the country. The Chinese, Lao, Vietnamese, the Malay and the Mon still were under the auspices of the Thai state regardless if the name of the country was Siam or Thailand. Nevertheless, Thais always called their country Thailand. There are records that go back hundreds of years that prove this. Loubere, Bowring and Crawfurd mention it in their memoirs.

Along with ethnocentric homogeneity came the centralisation of power and the rejection of traditional wisdom in favour of Western knowledge, which was equated with universalism. The ruling elites, then as well as now, could hardly understand the substance of Western civilisation in both its positive and negative contents.

I think there is some truth in this statement. I don't think it is so black and white. The ruling elites consciously picked and chose what they liked and didn't like about western civilization.

Put another way, we reclaimed full political independence (for a short while) but we lost the freedom of independent thought and the Siamese spirituality henceforth. To this day, we have yet to emancipate our thought from the mainstream intellectual currents of the West.

I agree with his analysis about political independence, but it was a consciously chosen route to take by the kings of the middle Rattanakosin period. Thailand was a small country and it needed a major power as a patron while the international order was constantly in flux. The notion of Siamese spirituality is just a slogan he pulled out of his ass because it means nothing.

Some among the ruling elites have even claimed that democracy is a Western invention, and that it is unsuitable for the country. They have of course overlooked the democratic substance of the sangha-democracy as the originary substance of the sangha. The Wheel of Dhamma had dignifiedly guided the state until the Fifth Reign.

Democracy is a Greek invention. The word democracy literally means "power of the common people." Average Thais never had political power. The nai, the khunnang, and royal family controlled everything. And the current Sangha structure is built on a feudal model that is the antithesis to democracy. Was there democracy in the villages far away from central government? There is evidence for this in the past. Ajarn Charthip talks about this in his research.

The notion that the Wheel of Dhamma guided the state until the 5th Reign is an outrageous lie. What guided the state, from the ancient times to the present, was power politics.

In other words, the Wheel of Dhamma had supported democratisation for hundreds of years at every level throughout the kingdom.

This is a lie. Buddhism for the most part has always been a bourgeoisie religion in Thailand. The notion of Karma-- people's current lives are products of their own actions from previous lives-- really undermines the idea that Buddhist Thais are inherently democratic. The fact is each Thai is taught from a very early age to know his place in society based on a hierarchical order, which is based in Buddhism and Thai formal and informal Sakdinaism. Hierarchy and democracy are mutually exclusive concepts.

Buddhism also has a democratic ethos, which has almost always challenged the abuse of power on the part of the state.

Being a Buddhist and being a Thai are not the same thing. Just because there some democratic elements in Buddhism doesn't make Thailand a democratic country by default. Further, there are many neighboring countries that consider themselves Buddhist to the core that have serious political problems stemming from abuse of power on the part of the state.

When Pridi Banomyong founded the University of Moral and Political Science (Thammasat University) on 27 June 1934, he wanted the dhamma to hone and awaken the consciousness of the students to struggle against the remnants of absolutism, the new militarism, and capitalism. Judging from the conversations Pridi - then serving as Regent to King Rama VIII - had with Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, the former wanted to revolutionise Thai democracy along the lines of Dhammic Socialism.

There is probably some truth to this.

The mysterious death of King Rama VIII on 9 June 1946 served as the final straw that triggered the military coup d'etat on 8 November 1947.

Ironically, some still believe Pridi was responsible for his murder.

The coup set the country on the road of rapid and massive de-democratisation.

There was no democracy to begin with. If the US hadn't dropped two nukes on Japan, Thailand probably would have ceased to exist as a country.

As a result of the coup, Pridi and the democratic revolutionaries of the People's Party were also demonised. Some of them were even assassinated, including through extra-judicial means. All of them had their reputations tarnished. Lies became confused with truths, and the discus came to be seen as a lotus.

Well, because of the worthlessness of the Thai media and the cowardice of many Thai academics, we will probably never know the truth of those dark days.

The Thai state soon became a squirrel carrying pebbles for the American empire and for transnational corporations.

Again, Sulak can't resist lying to serve his political agenda. There is no evidence that multinational corporations had control over the Thai economy during that time.

It is clear what this stance entails in terms of capitalism, consumerism, and militarism. It was also a boon to the belief in magic - the old magic of unreasonable superstitions as well as the new magic of technology, globalisation, and mainstream Western education, which is compartmentalised as opposed to holistic.

Here, Sulak is babbling like an incoherent old fool. Magic and superstitions have been part of Thai culture going back hundreds of years, and those beliefs have nothing to do with corporate capitalism. As for militarism, Thais have been fighting offensive and defensive wars for hundreds of years. Lastly, Thailand was part of a globalized economy long before any farang set foot upon Thai soil.

As a result, moral courage disappeared.

Moral courage still exists in Thailand, but if it isn't part of Sulak's political paradigm, he ignores it.

Beauty, Goodness, and Truth became half-baked.

I don't agree with this. There is beauty, goodness and truth in Thailand, but unfortunately it doesn't make it into the political and public spaces very often.

The freedom to critique was banished as well.

The freedom to critique is a western notion.

The mainstream mass media docilely serve capitalism and consumerism.

I agree with this.

All things considered, the quest for the substance of democracy was abandoned.

There was never a substantial quest for democracy except during the nineties.

Virtually all talks about Nation, Religion, Monarchy and the Constitution could not grasp their substance, despite the fact that we have had numerous constitutions.

Meaningless sentence.

Losing self-attachment

In Buddhism, the causes of suffering are greed (i.e., capitalism), hatred (i.e., militarism), and delusion (i.e., consumerism).

True. But you can't blame these problems on the farang, which is Sulak's modus operandi.

All these are manifested in the form of self-attachment, of endeavours to prop up and amass the self - for me, for my family, for my group, etc. This can be pervasively witnessed throughout society, not only among politicians and military figures but also businesspeople and leading mainstream academics.

I agree with this.

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and Pridi engaged in a long Buddhist discussion at the latter's Ta Chang Residence during 18-22 June 1942. Pridi wanted a distilled version of the dhamma from Buddhadasa Bhikkhu in order to adapt it to democracy. In particular, Pridi wanted to employ self-contentment as the anti-dote to craving, which is at the source of greed, hatred, and delusion.

I seriously doubt that Pridi was only about being a Buddhist socialist democrat.

If we are able to grasp the gist of this matter, we will be able to tread on the path of the Three-fold Training in order to bring normalcy to ourselves and society (sila), to practise mindful breathing and unite the mind with the heart (samadhi), and to reduce selfishness, which will enable us to traverse the narrowness of nationalism and serve humanity at large, especially the poor and the exploited.

I agree with this.

In fact, we may not be aware that we are exploiting many others. Once we have practised our minds and conduct to fathom the four noble sentiments, we will be able to overcome prejudices and see the truth of any situation (panna). We may even be able to foster a network of virtuous companions among diverse and disperse groupings in terms of religion, ethnicity and culture.

I agree with this, but Sulak is a liar and a bigot, so I seriously doubt he is heeding his own message.

A good sign is that the poor are once again "awakened" politically.

One could make the argument that the poor were awakened under Thaksin, which is why they voted for him.

The Assembly of the Poor (AOP) is a good example. In addition, the middle class are beginning to be "awakened". Many of them see the poor as worthy as opposed to unworthy human beings.

From my own experience, the Thai middle classes have nothing but contempt for the farmers and working poor. And the very wealthy feel contempt for anybody who is not part of the elite, which is why the Thai social and economic structure is the way it is.

And they have formed NGOs with interesting projects and campaigns. These can be seen as constituting real civic rights.

Civil society is small potatoes in Thailand, but I applaud those who put themselves put there who care more about society than themselves.

Similar networks and movements can also be found in neighbouring countries and elsewhere - even at the heart of the American empire. Capitalism, consumerism, and militarism are being challenged. Alternative forms of education, politics, economics, and even medical science are contesting mainstream dominance.

This has always been going on.

With the birth of "Thailand" in 1939, our ruling elites emulated the militarism and authoritarianism of Germany, Italy, and Japan. They were all defeated in the Second World War. But their military defeat is only temporary. The same can be said about America in Vietnam - and ultimately in Iraq.

Yes, nothing is permanent.

Real victory lies in overcoming greed, hatred, and delusion enslaving the self and in the awakening of a new consciousness by learning from the past in order to move forward with mindfulness and wisdom.

Agree with this.

In rough paraphrase, His Holiness the Dalai Lama states that world peace is impossible unless we first cultivate inner peace. The cultivation of inner peace is terribly difficult, but it is the only way to bring about a lasting peace in the world. Although the wisdom of the Dalai Lama is increasingly gaining currency even among the world's ruling elites, it is still considered an "alternative" line of thinking. Siam must likewise turn to this alternative stream to realise Dhammic Socialism.

Dhammic Socialism is nothing but a catch phrase that will die a quick death just like sufficiency theory will.

The things I have said may sound like a dream. But it is a dream that can be realised. If we maintain fidelity to this vision, struggle for it, and try to materialise it, the objectives of the Siamese revolution of 1932 may be accomplished on its 100th anniversary in 2032. And Siam will serve as a model - a choice - for the peoples of the world.

Yeah, this is wishful thinking, especially if Sulak continues to support military coups and blame the farang for all of Thailand's problems.


Unknown said...

I'm ignorant and always believe people should do their own maths. Someone should point out to the Fontz that he has made many false assumptions/analogies in this blogging.

Unknown said...

"The Thai state soon became a squirrel carrying pebbles for the American empire and for transnational corporations."

You pointed this out, but I noticed that the piece was much more full of more subtle throws at "west = has brought evil". Seems that Thai legal and capital/commercial and even political systems et al. would have been better off without western influence. There were so, so many little strikes, a filler word here and there, against West in this piece...Which is sad as the guy otherwise, I have thought, has healthy ideas and attitude towards constitutional monarchy. But yes, I like the guys overall ideas, if only he didn't have this unfounded attitude towards West in matters he likes to blame it.