Farmers, Students, Law, and Violence in Northern Thailand
Publication Year: 2011
In October 1973 a mass movement forced Thailand’s prime minister to step down and leave the country, ending nearly forty years of dictatorship. Three years later, in a brutal reassertion of authoritarian rule, Thai state and para-state forces quashed a demonstration at Thammasat University in Bangkok. In Revolution Interrupted, Tyrell Haberkorn focuses on this period when political activism briefly opened up the possibility for meaningful social change. Tenant farmers and their student allies fomented revolution, she shows, not by picking up guns but by invoking laws—laws that the Thai state ultimately proved unwilling to enforce.
In choosing the law as their tool to fight unjust tenancy practices, farmers and students departed from the tactics of their ancestors and from the insurgent methods of the Communist Party of Thailand. To first imagine and then create a more just future, they drew on their own lived experience and the writings of Thai Marxian radicals of an earlier generation, as well as New Left, socialist, and other progressive thinkers from around the world. Yet their efforts were quickly met with harassment, intimidation, and assassinations of farmer leaders. More than thirty years later, the assassins remain unnamed.
Drawing on hundreds of newspaper articles, cremation volumes, activist and state documents, and oral histories, Haberkorn reveals the ways in which the established order was undone and then reconsolidated. Examining this turbulent period through a new optic—interrupted revolution—she shows how the still unnameable violence continues to constrict political opportunity and to silence dissent in present-day Thailand.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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At the detention building inside the compound of the School for Police Recruits in Bangkok in 1976–77, I was not surprised to find many of my fellow student leaders from the 6 October massacre at Thammasat University, when police and paramilitary forces had killed dozens and arrested hundreds for daring to resist the royalist military rule...
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In her poem “Cartographies of Silence,” Adrienne Rich cautions her readers against failing to recognize the full, active nature of silence. Silence “is a presence / it has a history a form / Do not confuse it / with any kind of absence.”1 The poem traces the fracturing of romance and the growing divide between two people who once cared deeply for one another. Leaving the divide unspoken does not make it disappear...
Note on Language, Translation, and Dates
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All translations in this book are mine unless otherwise indicated. I quote extensively from translations of difficult- to-locate periodical, archival, leftist, and other sources. While the original Thai text is not present in the book, those readers interested can find 70 to 80 percent of the quotations in the footnotes to my dissertation...
List of Abbreviations
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Map of Chiang Mai and Thailand
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Introduction: When Revolution Is Interrupted
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In mid-August 1974, farmers from seven central Thai provinces threatened to renounce their citizenship and burn their state- issued identity cards. In the months following the end of nearly forty years of dictatorship and the democratic opening inaugurated by the events of 14 October 1973, farmers were one of several politicized groups that took to the streets in Thailand...
1. Breaking the Backbone of the Nation
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Housed in the former headquarters of the Railway Labour Union, the Thai Labour Museum is only a short distance from the hotels, banks, and gleaming high-rises on Petchburi Road in Bangkok.1 The permanent exhibits at the museum narrate the struggles of Thai workers from the feudal era to the present day. While many of the displays focus on workers as urban dwellers and producers, one of the Cold War era posters caught my eye...
2. From the Rice Fields to the Cities
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Ongoing power struggles among the members of the ruling triumvirate—Field Marshal Phibun Songkhram, Police General Phao Sriyanond, and Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat—created the space for some forms of dissent in the decade following the end of World War II.1 Pushing through the cracks and fi ssures of repressive rule, the Chiang Mai farmers who called for the decree of the 1950 LRCA in 1951 attempted to expand this space...
3. From the Classrooms to the Rice Fields
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During the three years before the 6 October 1976 massacre, M. was one of thousands of people whose life became oriented around political action and work for justice. One very wet afternoon in the middle of the rainy season we met to drink glass after glass of tea and talk about her experience as a student activist in Chiang Mai. We sat on the porch of a house that once belonged to another woman who cared about justice, Ajarn (Professor) Angun Malik...
4. Violence and Its Denials
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When farmers and students came together in 1974 and 1975 to fi rst pass and then implement the 1974 LRCA in the north, they catalyzed a political and social transformation. Farmers brought their demands to the city streets and became vocal advocates for their own rights. Students learned about rural life, the struggles of farmers for livelihood and justice, and their own places alongside farmers in those struggles...
5. A State in Disarray
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In None to Accompany Me, Nadine Gordimer’s first postapartheid novel, political assassination signaled the lingering effects of a brutal state regime backed by a divided South African society. The end of the state policy of apartheid did not mean that everyone in the country—whether officially part of the ousted regime or simply its beneficiary—supported the end of white, European supremacy...
Conclusion: Resuming Revolution?
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A semblance of open, parliamentary politics remained, at least in name, for over a year until the 6 October 1976 massacre and coup returned Thailand to dictatorship. The intervening fourteen months between August 1975 and October 1976 were filled with mounting contention, polarization, and violence in the electoral, as well as social and grassroots, political spheres...
Appendix: Leaders of the FFT Victimized by Violence, 1974–1979
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Publication Year: 2011