Military Review

Red partisans in the country of the White Elephant: why the communists did not manage to win in Thailand

In the second half of the twentieth century, partisan movements, primarily of a communist and national liberation orientation, became more active in most countries of Southeast Asia. Their activation was associated with three consecutive causes.

First, the most important role in the formation of numerous communist parties and partisan movements under the control of the communists was played by the Second World War. It was during the war years that real partisan armies were formed in the jungles of Indochina and the Malayan archipelago, which initially battled with the Japanese, but then did not want to give up freedom and opposed the colonialists. It is noteworthy that the colonialists themselves played an important role in this process - initially they armed the rebels, hoping that the latter would help to cope with the Japanese occupiers, and then voluntarily demobilized.

Secondly, the success of the Communist Party of China, which came to power as a result of the liberation struggle, became an example for the Southeast Asian communists. The Chinese revolution inspired the communist activists in other countries of Southeast and East Asia for a revolutionary struggle and made them believe in the success of their own forces.

Thirdly, China’s support for the communist parties in the region played an important role, since, after strengthening the Maoist policy, China began to consider the countries of Southeast and South Asia as its sphere of influence, of course, going on to stimulate the activities of local communists, who almost all switched to positions of Maoism (except Vietnam and Laos). In many ways, the Chinese leadership, supporting the Maoist rebel movements, pursued not only ideological, but also geopolitical goals, seeking to strengthen its position in the Asia-Pacific region and gain leverage on the local ruling elites.

In one way or another, the communist parties in Burma, Indonesia, Malaya, the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos were connected with the guerrilla movements of World War II. Perhaps the exception in this series was the Communist Party of Thailand - it started the guerrilla war relatively late, already in 1960-s, directly influenced by the success of the communists in neighboring Vietnam and Laos and with the direct support of the latter, who were interested in weakening the Thai royal regime - one of the key allies of the United States in Southeast Asia.

Kingdom white elephant

Unlike other countries in the region, Thailand is a country with a special history. Let's start with the fact that only this state of Indochina did not know colonial dependence. The latter factor was promoted by the fact that Siam, as Thailand was formerly called, was located between the British and French spheres of influence in Indochina - it divided the region into the western English part (now Myanmar, former Burma), and the eastern French part (French Indochina, now Vietnam , Laos and Cambodia). The traditions of the Thai monarchy go back to the XVIII century, when the last Thai Chakri dynasty was formed. Since then, Thailand did not know foreign domination, which had the strongest influence on the culture of the country and its political traditions.

Thailand is a traditional Indochinese monarchy. Most of the population here professes Buddhism "southern" direction (Hinayana, or Theravada), but there are a small number of Muslims - Malays, concentrated in the southern provinces of the country. The symbol of Thailand is the white elephant. This sacred animal used to be considered the royal - rare elephants - albinos, of course, gave the royal court. The Order of the White Elephant is Thailand's highest state award, established in 1861.

It should be noted that Siam had good relations with the Russian Empire. Back in 1891, the heir to the imperial throne, Tsarevich Nikolai Alexandrovich, visited Siam, and a Russian representative office was opened in 1897 in the country. In the same year Petersburg was visited by the Siamese king. Siamese monarchs viewed Russia as a possible mediator in relations with Western states, primarily England and France, which were viewed as a potential threat to the territorial integrity of the monarchy.

After the coup in 1932 in Thailand, the power of the king was significantly limited, and the prime ministers received a significant range of powers. Some historians even consider the coup as a revolution, so much has it changed the usual way of life of the Thai monarchy. First of all, the king ceased to be the absolute ruler of the country, the customs independence of the Thai state was restored and a number of “enslaving” contracts with foreign states were abolished. The specific model of the political organization in Thailand, which throughout the subsequent history was characterized by constant military coups that brought new prime ministers to power, usually from among the military, was also established.

Against the backdrop of the spread of modernist ideas in Thailand, which consisted in the realization of the need to improve the country in accordance with Western development models, but with the preservation of national cultural values, the first Thai communists began their activities. Initially, as in Malaya, they were mainly represented by Thai citizens of Chinese origin. This is because the large Chinese diaspora in Thailand was the main supplier of traders, intellectuals and skilled workers, while the indigenous people were either aristocrats, or Buddhist priests, or peasants. Moreover, the Chinese in Thailand initially headed for assimilation - they accepted Thai names and tried not to stand out from the majority of the population.

The Communist Party

The history of the Thai communist movement began with the founding of the Siam Special Committee of the Communist Party of the South Seas in 1926-1927. The Communist Party of the South Seas, as is known, united Marxists from the countries of Indochina and the Malay Archipelago, including from Siam. In 1930, the Communist Party of Siam was created. December 1 1942, after renaming Siam to Thailand, the party received the name of the Communist Party of Thailand.

Up to 1940's - 1950's. The Communist Party of Siam was a small circle of metropolitan intellectuals in Bangkok, predominantly Chinese, although gradually Thais appeared among the party members. By 1948, British intelligence reported an increase in the number of communists to 3000 people, however, most likely, these figures were exaggerated. During the Second World War, as you know, Thailand acted on the side of Japan.

The military dictator and prime minister of Thailand, Marshal Pibunssongram, supported Japan, hoping to grab large areas from the neighboring Indochinese possessions of England and France. Pibunssongram adopted the model of Pantheism, that is, the unification of all Thai peoples of Southeast Asia around the Thai monarchy (that is, the Thai people themselves - the Khonthai, and also the Lao - Lao, Shan and other Taiyaz peoples of Indochina). However, the defeat of Japan in the war with the allies led to a military coup in Thailand. Between 1946 and 1948 The Communist Party of Thailand was going through a period of legalization. In December, 1946 an agreement was reached with the USSR on the exchange of envoys, but as early as November 1947 a second military coup was made.

Right-wing Marshal Pibunssongram returned to power. The Communist Party of Thailand was banned and went underground. In 1952, communist agitation was banned in the country, the Central Union, which operated under the leadership of the communists, was closed, among which 50 thousands of activists were dominated by citizens of mixed Chinese-Thai origin. Despite the repression, the Communist Party of Thailand continued its activities in educational institutions. First of all, she focused on the agitation of the Chinese population and residents of border areas. In 1959, the CPT turned to the practice of recruiting representatives of mountain peoples - Hmong (Meo) - to train anti-government activities. If in the neighboring Laos the Hmongs were used by the French, and then the Americans, as an anti-communist contingent, in Thailand the communists did not have problems with agitation among the mountain tribes.

Northeastern and southern provinces have traditionally remained areas of increased attention from Thai communists. Northeastern Thailand adjoins the Lao border. In neighboring Laos waged a successful war against the colonialists, and then the post-colonial leadership, the people's patriotic forces from the front of "Patet Lao". Accordingly, the Thai Communists also hoped to enlist the support of the Laotian minority living in the north-east of the country, as well as the backward hill tribes. The active work of the communists in the northeastern provinces gave the pro-government media a reason to accuse the Communist Party of Communists in an effort to reject fifteen northeastern provinces and attach them to Laos.

The south of Thailand was also of interest to the communists as a place of compact residence for Malays, dissatisfied with discrimination by the Thai government, but primarily because of the proximity of Malaya, where the large and militant Communist Party of Malaya operated. Agitating among the Malay population, the Communists sought to reject the southern provinces from Thailand, creating a communist state there, or attach them to Malaysia in case of victory in the last communist movement. The Muslim minority of the Malaysian states of Thailand was viewed as a potential ally of the Communists, not only because of national contradictions with the central government, but also because of the socio-economic backwardness and deprivation of the population of the southern provinces of the kingdom.

However, in Thailand, the Communists did not succeed in obtaining such support from the population as even in neighboring Burma or Malaya, not to mention Laos or Vietnam, where the Communists eventually came to power. The lack of broad support from the population of the country due to the peculiarities of the history of Thailand. Since the country did not know colonial dependence, the Communists of Thailand, unlike the Vietnamese, Laotian, Malay, and Burmese comrades, could not appeal to the colonial theme and present their struggle as national liberation. The stable traditions of the monarchy in Thailand relied on serious popular support and it was very difficult to reorient the peasant masses from the support of the monarchy to the communist ideology. Monarchy and religion were considered as the basis of Thai Buddhist identity, which greatly hindered the assimilation of communist ideology in the common people.

Secondly, with 1970's. large flows of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees were sent to Thailand, who told about the negative experience of communist rule (there should be a discount to the fact that the refugees were representatives, as they would say in the Soviet times, “exploiting classes”, naturally they could not see the positive consequences in the activities of the same communists in Vietnam). Finally, the standard of living of the Thai population, at least in large cities, was significantly higher than in Laos, Cambodia or Burma. With the help of the United States, Thailand invested heavily in the strengthening and modernization of its army and police, which were far more well-armed and prepared than the security forces of the other monarchies of Indochina (Laos and Cambodia).

This combination of factors explained the existence of the Communist Party of Thailand, primarily due to external support from the communist governments of China and Vietnam, interested in weakening the Thai monarchy.

The transition to the "people's war"

In 1959, the People's Republic of China and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) began training Thai Communists in military-applied activities, while providing material assistance to the Communist Party of Thailand. On the territory of Vietnam, in military-controlled areas of Laos and in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, military training camps were set up in the front of Patat Lao. From the city of Kunming in Yunnan province at the beginning of 1962, the Voice of the People of Thailand radio station began broadcasting anti-government broadcasts in Thai.

In turn, the Thai government turned to countermeasures. First of all, Bangkok attended to the issues of socio-economic development of the northeastern provinces, where KPT enjoyed the greatest support. Mobile development units were created that went to remote areas and solved the problems of the local population. The role of self-government in the north-eastern provinces has increased, and material assistance from the central government has increased. Among the measures to counter the communist sentiments in the north-east of the country are the construction of schools, hospitals, shops and markets, roads, wells. However, in 1965, the activity of the Communist Party of Thailand increased to an even greater degree.

It should be noted that even in 1960, the Communist Party of Thailand participated in the international meeting of communist and workers parties in Moscow. After the Soviet-Chinese split in the world communist movement, the Communist Party of Thailand took pro-Chinese positions. In 1961, the concept of armed resistance on the Chinese model was formulated and adopted, and in 1964, the Thai Communist Party condemned the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as a revisionist and social-imperialist one. The transition to Maoist positions contributed to the gradual deterioration of relations with the Vietnamese Communists. Although the Vietnamese Communists were the closest territorial allies of the Thai comrades, the latter, by reorienting to China, began to criticize the Vietnamese Communist Party more and more often.

1 January 1965 was created by the Patriotic Front of Thailand, calling for the formation of a patriotic and democratic government, the withdrawal of American troops from the territory of Thailand. The creation of the Patriotic Front became a link in the national party-army-front-war strategy of the trinity. In August, the 1965 of the Thai Communists switched to low-intensity hostilities. Radio Voice of the People of Thailand announced the beginning of an era of warfare. The fighting began in the Nakhon Phanom area. By this time, the party had 1200 armed militants.

One of the most famous figures of the Thai communist movement in this period was Chit Phumisak. A writer, poet, historian and philologist, he is sometimes referred to in various sources as “Thai Che.” The similarity in their biographies is about the same age of death, participation in partisan actions. Chit Phumisak was born 25 September 1930 of the year. From a young age, he began to study the history of his native country, publishing the book "The Face of Thai Feudalism" in 1957. A native of a poor family from the eastern province of Prachinburi, Phumisak received a philological education at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

In 1953, he got a job at the US Embassy, ​​where he helped the American linguist, William Gidney, translate the Communist Manifesto into Thai. This strange decision of the embassy was dictated by the desire to scare the Thai government with the “ghost of communism” and force Bangkok to move to even more decisive measures against the communist movement. However, Phumisak made other conclusions from the translation of the Communist Manifesto. In 1957, Mr. Phumisaka was arrested and thrown into jail for six years.

After six years in prison, he was convicted innocent by the court and released. In 1965, the writer joined the Communist Party of Thailand and settled in the jungles of Phu Phan Mountains in Sakhon Province Nakhon. 5 May 1966. He was shot dead near the village of Nong Kung, the writer's body was burned. Only in 1989, after the liberalization of the political regime, were the remains of Phumisak buried in a stupa in the nearby Buddhist Wat Prasittisangwon.

Organizational structure of KPT to 1970. included 7 members of the politburo of the Central Committee, 25 members of the Central Committee, provincial and district committees, local organizations. There is very little information about the activities of the CPT and its leaders, since the party has always been distinguished by conspiracy and did not particularly strive to advertise its actions. It is known that in 1977, the post of General Secretary of the Central Committee of KPT was held by Phayom Chulanont. Phayom Chulanont was born into an aristocratic family and in his youth was a professional soldier, receiving the rank of lieutenant colonel of the royal army. In 1947, he attempted a military coup, but the insurgency failed and Phayom fled to China. Apparently, it was in China that he switched to Maoist positions. After returning from China to 1957, Phayom was elected a deputy, after another military coup he went underground and became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Thailand and Chief of Staff of the People’s Liberation Army of Thailand. By the way, the son of Phayoma Chulanont Sureyod Chulanont at one time served as Prime Minister of Thailand. Phayom Chulanont in 1978 went to Beijing for treatment, at the beginning of the 1980s. died.

The only time that the Communists could play very well in the period under review was the presence of American troops on the territory of Thailand and the participation of royal soldiers in the Vietnam War on the side of the United States. Communist propaganda claimed that Thailand had become a colony of the United States under the leadership of the neo-colonial regime. Accordingly, the struggle against neocolonialism was proclaimed. However, in 1968, after the final approval of the Maoist line in the CPT, Thailand began to be considered by the party as a semi-colonial country, as a result of which the communists abandoned the concept of neo-colonialism. In 1969, the command of the People’s Liberation Army of Thailand (NOAT) was formed. Fighting guerrilla groups began in areas of northern Thailand, as well as on the border with Malaysia, where the party interacted with the armed forces of the Communist Party of Malaya. However, the authorities succeeded in July 1969 in arresting nine top CPT leaders, including a member of the Party Central Committee.

Red partisans in the country of the White Elephant: why the communists did not manage to win in Thailand

The peak of the fighting of the party fell on the 1970-s. Since 1970, the People’s Liberation Army of Thailand (NOAT) began to receive significant assistance from the Chinese and Vietnamese command. Militants of NOAA launched an armed attack on US military bases. The next push to strengthen the position of the Communists was a massacre at Thammasat University in 1976. As a result of the repression against left-wing students, many students and intellectuals turned to radical opposition. Over 1000 students have joined the ranks of the Communist Party of Thailand. A significant part of the recruits went to military training at training bases in Laos, where Vietnamese and Lao instructors taught - veterans of the people's liberation wars.

The 1976 University Massacre contributed to the mass “taization” of the Communist Party. Before 1976, the party was predominantly ethnically Chinese. It mainly consisted of people of Chinese and mixed backgrounds. With 1976 in the party, the majority of activists were Thais. Communist guerrilla warfare has become an integral part of life in the kingdom of Thailand. In turn, the Thai government, with the support of the United States, was spending enormous sums on anti-insurgency struggle. Once in the middle of 1970's. The United States eliminated Indo-Chinese problems, the situation has worsened. In 1974, an operational command of internal security was created, headed by Prem Tinsulanon. At the same time, the Thai leadership focused on political rather than military methods in the fight against the rebels of the Communist Party of Thailand. First of all, it was about changing the worldview of residents of the northern and northeastern provinces of Thailand.

Since many students had no previous experience in the jungle, the communist leadership decided to place them in villages in remote areas of the country. Recruits were divided into groups of 9-55 people, distributed in 250 "liberated villages", under the complete control of the People's Liberation Army of Thailand. The size of the PLA against 1977 was estimated at 6-8 by thousands of armed militants, the entire Thai Communist Party had a million supporters, which allowed the media to blame half of the country's provinces for pro-communist sentiments (the “red belt”).

However, the success of the Thai Communists was in many ways constrained by current foreign policy events. The Communist Party of Thailand was in direct material, military and informational dependence on China. Naturally, the improvement in relations between China and royal Thailand, which followed in 1975, after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states, could not but affect the level of support for the “red insurgency” in Thailand by Chinese like-minded people.

Gradual sunset

After the war between Vietnam and Polpot Kampuchea began at the end of 1978, the Thai Communist Party found itself in a difficult situation. After all, both the Vietnamese and Cambodian communists supported the party, helped it to train the militants and were in friendly relations with it. The situation was complicated by the fact that Laos, where the main bases of the People’s Liberation Army of Thailand were located, took the side of Vietnam. The Communist Party of Thailand, acting in the wake of Chinese foreign policy, supported Cambodia. In response, the Lao government expelled the Communist Party of Thailand and the People’s Liberation Army of Thailand from its military bases, causing serious damage to the political and political positions of the CPT. Bunyen Vorthong and several other student leaders split the CPT leadership and formed 22 in October 1979 in the Viennese Vientiane “new party” - the “Liberation Party”, which was in communist positions, but supported Vietnam and Laos.

With the improvement of Sino-Thai relations, primarily on the basis of joint hostility to the Vietnamese and Lao regimes, support for the Chinese Communist Party of Thailand from China began to decline. The Chinese comrades recommended that the Thai Communists soften the criticism of the Bangkok government and give full support to the Cambodians in the anti-Vietnamese struggle. 10 July 1979 radio station "Voice of the People of Thailand" announced the termination of its existence, and 11 July aired last broadcast. At the same time, the activities of the Communist Party of Thailand and in the Chinese mass media were much less highlighted. In 1980, the Thai government issued a decree on an amnesty for communist militants who had fallen over to its side. In March 1981, the Socialist Party of Thailand, at the end of the 1970-s. blocked with the CPT, broke with the last relationship, accusing the communists of working for foreign countries.

In 1981, Khao Hop bases were captured and destroyed on the border of the provinces of Phetchabun and Phitsanulok in northern Thailand. It was a serious blow to the communist partisans. In the south of the country, the Thai armed forces acted even more aggressively, often conducting joint operations with the Malaysian troops against the Thai and Malaysian communists. In parallel with the military operations, the Thai leadership resorted to methods of real improvement of the socio-economic infrastructure in remote areas of the country, which were the site of the activities of the communist rebels.

In 1981, the leadership of the Communist Party appealed to the Thai government with a proposal for peace talks. The government responded by demanding the demobilization of all the armed units of the Communist Party before the start of negotiations. By this time, the war was already nearing its end, since almost all PLAAT bases were destroyed in the northern and northeastern provinces of Thailand. In 1982, Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanon appealed to the communists, offering an amnesty to the PLA fighters in response to their demobilization. By this time, many militants who were not able to see further meaning in the jungle in the changed conditions were ready to leave the ranks of the armed resistance.

At the same time, a gradual outflow of activists from the Communist Party began. Students and intellectuals left the party, abandoning Maoist positions. One of the arguments was the transformation of Thailand into an industrialized country, in connection with which there was no need to implement the strategy of the peasant war. The number of armed units declined from 12 000 militants in the late 1970-s. to less than 2 000 people. Two prominent Communist Party leaders were arrested - Damri Rwangsutham - a member of the political bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Europe, and Suratchai Sae Dan, who led the communists in Southern Thailand, on the Malaysian border.

By the middle of 1987, there were no more 600 armed militants of the Communist Party in Thailand, including around 65-70 partisans in the northern provinces of Thailand, 85-115 partisans - in the north-eastern provinces, 55-60 partisans - in the central provinces. The largest detachment of 260-350 guerrillas operated in the southern provinces of Thailand - on the border with Malaysia. Despite the fact that most of the militants were defeated, some revolutionaries remained in Thailand and in neighboring countries. In this regard, the Thai leadership was very concerned about the possible transition of the Communists to the tactics of the urban guerrilla war and terrorist acts in the cities of Thailand (which would be a serious problem for the country, given the importance of the tourism sector for the Thai economy). By the beginning of the 1990s, due to the end of the Cold War, the Thai Communist Party had virtually ceased its activities as an armed organization fighting a partisan war. So ended another page post-war history. The communists who took power in Vietnam, Laos and, for a while, in Cambodia, did not manage to break the centuries-old Siamese monarchy.

Today, the communist guerrilla war is in the past of Thailand, although individual communist groups continue to operate in the country to this day. There are great dangers for the modern kingdom of religious fundamentalists operating in the Muslim provinces of Thailand’s southern provinces of Thailand, as well as national liberation armies of small nations operating on the Thai-Burmese border (first of all, we are talking about Karen and Shan formations).
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  1. parusnik
    parusnik 21 October 2014 10: 37
    Thank you Ilya, very informative ...
  2. Prager
    Prager 31 October 2014 15: 15
    excellent article, thanks to the author, gladly gave it a try!
  3. Monarchist
    Monarchist April 27 2017 19: 25
    That is, did the Thai Communists exist at the expense of China, and if China decided to destroy the Communists, would they destroy themselves?