The following is the third and final part of a three part series investigating the recent resurgence of right-wing mass movements across the world. The first section, available here, gives a brief overview of this resurgence. The second section, available here, looks in detail at what I argue is the most developed of these right-wing movements, found in Thailand. This third and final segment returns to the questions raised at the beginning, exploring them from the perspective of the "age of riots" hypothesis and the theory of the "historical party."
The People vs. The People
In the fall of 2010, while the country was still under a state of emergency after the crushing of the Red Shirts, I was living and working on an organic farm an hour or so outside Bangkok. The farm was owned by an expat who had some marginal connections to Santi Asoke, since they ran the most extensive organic agriculture network in the country. But the expat himself had a house off-site, and I was living alongside and working mostly with the farmhand family, who—like the undocumented workers constructing a new railroad down the street—were migrants from Isan, with some family in Laos. They spoke a Laotian-inflected dialect of Thai that, I discovered later, was a clear marker of class and ethnic status, in the same way that a strong Hispanic or redneck accent can be in the US.
The Thai family was paid better than many others in a similar situation, such as the railroad workers. But, after remitting a certain percentage of their income to relatives in the north, they were still unable to afford childcare, meaning that their oldest daughter, at thirteen, was forced to stay home from school to watch the younger children while both parents worked. If they were lucky, the oldest child might be able to find a job in the next few years, and her wages could be used to pay for one of the two youngest to go to school.
In Late October there was massive flooding in the area and I went with a team of volunteers to help emergency-harvest a cassava field that had been partially destroyed. The owners of the field were middle class Thais, friends of the expat, who not only had money to purchase the land to farm cassava, but also ran a small business on the side. They drove an enormous diesel pickup, similar to the ones I was familiar with in the American heartland—though in Thailand they have decals that read “Long Live the King” rather than “God Bless America”—and the glove compartment was stuffed with name-brand snacks for the family’s three children, slightly older than the children who lived on the farm, and all currently in school, despite the fact that both their parents worked.
After ripping several small mountains of cassava from the mud, the volunteers ate lunch with the family at a noodle-shop around the corner from the small, suburban farming plot. Across the street, stray dogs with distended bellies dug through the flood-turned soil. The mother of the family explained that, after lunch, we’d have to load the cassava into the pickup to take it to a processing center, where they’d pay a sum based on the weight. Someone asked if the family made much money from the cassava and the woman shook her head. They hardly made any profit from it at all—the land itself was just barely paid off.
Why do you plant the land, then? Someone else asked. The woman smiled. In broken English, she explained that her “great king Bhumibol” had asked Thai people to farm and become self-sufficient, and that this would help make the country strong. She explained that the government was very corrupt, and this created a dependence on foreign powers. But, led by the king, “good Thai people” could return to their cultural roots and rejuvenate the nation.