Communist Party of Thailand
Initially known as the Communist Party of Siam the party was founded officially on 1 December 1942, although communist activism in the country began as early as 1927. In the 1960s the CPT grew in membership and support and by the early 1970s was the second largest communist movement in mainland South-East Asia (after Vietnam). The party launched a guerrilla war against the Thai government in 1965. Even though the CPT suffered internal divisions, at its political peak the party effectively acted as a state within the state. Its rural support is estimated to have been at least four million people; its military support consisted of 10-14,000 armed fighters. Its influence was concentrated in the North-Eastern, Northern and Southern regions of Thailand. Following a series of internal party disputes, changes in international communist alliances, successful counter-insurgency policies of the Thai government including a widely accepted offer of amnesty for party cadres, and, ultimately, the end of the Cold War, the party disappeared from the political scene in the early 1990s.
The origins of the communist movement in Thailand begin with the founding of the Siam Special Committee of the South Seas Communist Party between 1926 and 1927. An infusion of leftists fleeing China for Thailand in the late 1920s following the Nationalist-Communist split of 1927 also increased support for activities. Accounts vary, but sometime between late 1929 and early 1930 the Communist Party of Siam was inaugurated.
1940s–1950s: Founding of the Party
During its initial phase of existence, the Communist Party of Siam remained a small party. It was mainly based amongst intellectuals in Bangkok and the services. By early 1948, British intelligence sources deemed reports that the party would have had 3,000 members nationwide as 'exaggerated'. The party enjoyed a brief period of legality from 1946 to 1948. The secret party headquarters were located in a wooden building at Si Phraya Road, Bangkok.
CPT held its second party congress in 1952.
1960s: The People's War
In 1960, the party attended the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties held in Moscow.
CPT held its third party congress in September 1961. In the Sino-Soviet split, CPT would side with the Communist Party of China. In October 1964, its position as was declared in a congratulatory message on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. Ideologically, the party aligned with Maoism. In 1961 it formulated a policy of armed struggle along the lines of the Chinese experience, which was brought public in 1964. The party condemned the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as revisionist and social imperialist. As of 1966, relations with the Communist Party of Vietnam began to deteriorate, as CPT criticized CPV for failing to taking a clear pro-China stance.
The party launched the Thai Patriotic Front on January 1, 1965. The TPF had a six-point programme for peace and neutrality. The Front called for the formation of a patriotic and democratic government, and opposed the Thai government and US troop presence in Thailand. TPF was posed to fill the role of the united front in the triangular setting of the people's war strategy (party-army-front).
Low intensity armed struggle began in August 1965, the party declared through its VOPT transmission that 'an era of armed struggle had begun'. At the same time the party intensified began armed actions in the Na Kae District, Nakhon Phanom Province. At the time it was estimated that the party had around 1200 armed fighters under its command.
Opposition to US military presence in Thailand was of high importance to the political discourse of the CPT during the Vietnam War. The CPT alleged that Thailand was a neocolonial country under the direct control of the United States. Emphasis was thus given to the struggle for national independence. As of 1968, the theory of neocolonialism was refuted by large sections of the party, who inspired by the Maoist positions argued that Thailand was a semi-colonial country.
In 1969, the Supreme Command of the People's Liberation Army of Thailand was formed, marking a new phase in the build-up of guerrilla forces. The armed struggle had spread to various districts in the North in the mountainous areas of the Phetchabun Mountains and the Phi Pan Nam Range. The armed forces of the party had also established a presence along the border with Malaysia, in the areas were the armed forces of the Communist Party of Malaya was based.
When Thailand and the People's Republic of China established diplomatic relations in 1975, an announcement on VOPT hailed this development.
In the aftermath of the October 6 massacre at Thammasat University in 1976 and in the climate of increasing repression after the military take-over of the country, the CPT was able to expand its membership base. Many of the new recruits were students, workers, intellectuals, farmers or cadres of the Socialist Party of Thailand. More than 1000 students joined the party, including most elected campus representative throughout the country. A large section of the newly recruited members received political and military training in PLAT camps in Laos. Instructors were Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese.
In many cases, however, students used to urban life had difficulties adopting to the harsh realities of guerrilla struggle, and thus the party decided to place many of them in villages rather in the deep jungles. The new student recruits were divided in groups of five to ten, which were distributed along the approximately 250 'liberated villages' of the country.
By 1977, the party had an estimated 6-8000 armed fighters, and about a million sympathizers. Half of the provinces of the country were declared 'communist infiltrated' by official Thai sources at the time.
The entry of leftist intellectuals to the party strengthened its capability to pursue united front policies. Following the expansion of its membership, CPT began to stretch out a hand to wider sections of Thai society for forming a broad democratic front. On May 7, 1977 the Socialist Party of Thailand declared that it would cooperate in armed struggle with the CPT. On July 2 the two parties declared the formation of a united front.
On October 4 VOPT declared the formation of the Committee for Coordination of Patriotic and Democratic Forces on September 28. The nine-member coordination committee consisted of
- Chairman: Udom Srisuwan (CPT Central Committee Member)
- Vice Chairman: Boonyen Wothong (SPT)
- Committee Member: Monkon Na Nakhon (CPT)
- Committee Member: Therdphum Chaidee
- Committee Member: Sithon Yotkantha (farmers movement)
- Committee Member: Samak Chalikun (Socialist United Front Party)
- Committee Member: Chamni Sakdiset
- Spokesman and Committee Member: Sri Inthapathi (formerly working for the Public Relations Department of the government)
- Secretary: Thirayut Boonmi (students movement and editor of Samakhi Surop (United to Fight), a magazine being circulated among students and intellectuals both in Thailand and abroad.)
The military and political growth would however be hampered by developments in the diplomatic area. The party depended on support from states and communist parties in the neighbouring countries, and as international alliances shifted the CPT found itself in a cornered position.
In late 1978 the Sino-Soviet split developed into armed hostilities in South-East Asia as war broke out between Vietnam and Kampuchea, two countries that supported the CPT. Laos, a country which hosted many PLAT bases, sided with Vietnam in the dispute. And in January 1979 CPT and PLAT were expelled from Laos by the Laotian government, resulting in a military backlash for the party. Bunyen Worthong and a small section of other ex-student leaders/intellectuals broke with the party leadership and on October 22, 1979 they formed the Thai Isan Liberation Party (generally called Pak Mai, the 'New Party') in Vientiane. Pak Mai was a communist party that supported Vietnamese-Laotian positions. Pak Mai was based in Laos.
Initially, CPT adopted a neutral stance in the emerging conflict between Vietnam and Kampuchea, causing relations to deteriorate with both the Chinese and the Vietnamese parties. However, as Vietnam intervened militarily in Kampuchea, CPT condemned the Vietnamese action in a statement issued on June 7, 1979.
As diplomatic and trade relations between Thailand and China improved, and Thai and Chinese governments found a common enemy in pro-Soviet Vietnam, the moral and logistical support for the CPT on behalf of the Chinese declined sharply. The Communist Party of China began advising the CPT to tone down their revolutionary discourse against the Thai government in their radio broadcasts, with the backdrop of the necessity to support the Democratic Kampuchea forces against the Vietnamese. On July 10, 1979 VOPT declared that it would cease to its broadcasting service. On July 11 the last VOPT broadcast was transmitted. Renmin Ribao carried a congratulatory message from CPT on the 30th anniversary of the People's Republic of China on September 30, which called for militant unity between Thai and Chinese communists, but thereafter news about the CPT in Chinese media became scarse.
In March 1981 the Socialist Party of Thailand broke its relation with the CPT, claiming that CPT was controlled by foreign influences.
In April 1981 the CPT leadership proposed the Thai government to initiate peace talks. The Thai government responded that the CPT fighters had to demobilize before any talks could be initiated. In a declaration on October 25, 1981 Major General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the director of the Thai Army Operations Department, said that the war against CPT armed forces was approaching its end as all major bases of the PLAT in the North and North-East had been destroyed.
In 1982–1983 CPT experienced mass defections of its cadres, and its military potential was severely reduced. Many of those that defected in the early 1980s were the students and intellectuals that joined CPT after the 1976 massacre. The defectors generally rejected the Maoist ideological positions of the CPT, arguing that Thailand was emerging as an industrial nation and the peasant war strategy had to be abandoned.
At the time, the arrests of two high-profile CPT leaders occurred. Damri Ruangsutham, influential politburo member, and Surachai Sae Dan, a leading figure of the party in southern Thailand, were captured by state forces.
There have been no reports of CPT activity since the beginning of the 1990s. However, the exact fate of the party is not known, and it remains banned to this day.
As of the 1970s, the party was led by a 7-member politburo, elected by a 25-member Central Committee. Under the Central Committee there were various provincial (changwat) committees and under them district (amphoe) committees. In the local level there were tambol and muban party structures.
Information on the leadership of CPT is scarse. The CPT itself was always secretive of revealing the identity of its leaders. According to a 1977 Kampuchean document, it was claimed that the General Secretary of the CPT was 'Khamtan' (nom de guerre of Phayom Chulanont). Other sources mention 'Comrade Samanan' (Jaroen Wanngam) as the party leader during the same period.
Prior to the formation of the Communist Party of Siam, the Communist Party of China had an active exile branch working amongst the ethnically Chinese in the country. The party obtained legal status in 1946, and had a major influence in trade unions and amongst Chinese students. The party had around 2000 active members and another 3000 sympathizers in Siam. However, after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 most of the Chinese communists in the country joined the CPT. Thus from this period until 1976, the party membership was largely ethnically Chinese. However, following the rapid expansion of the party following the 1976 massacre the profile of the party changed and ethnic Thais came to constitute the dominant group amongst the party ranks.
There was also a strong presence of other ethnic minorities amongst the party ranks. Notably, whilst many Hmongs in neighbouring Laos tended to side with anti-communist forces, the CPT was able to build a strong base amongst Hmong people in Thailand.
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