Thailand has had a problematic history with communism. The communist insurgency was a guerrilla civil war that began in 1965 and ended in 1983, following amnesty declared by the Thai government in 1980. The war involved many different groups but was mostly fought between the Communist Party of Thailand(CPT) and the Thai Government. The CPT was backed by many communist countries and cells during that time including China, Laos and Vietnam.
Originally introduced by Ho Chi Minh during one of his visits to Thailand in 1928.He entered the country in the disguise of an old monk named ‘old chin’. He spent the next couple of years trying to organize Soviets throughout the local Vietnamese communities. (Barlett,1973). Ho Chi Minh was later made the head of the Communist International South East Asia branch. In 1932 a revolution by the Peoples Party turned Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy. The revolution was led by Pridi Panomyong who after which he began to have trouble with the conservative prime minister Pya Manopakorn in 1933.
Pridi was named a communist by Pya which resulted in the anti-communist law being passed in Thailand. This law made it possible to imprison people for up to 10 years if they were found to be communists. (Barlett,1973).During the next few years, the various communist groups in Thailand laid low, drafting manifestos and distributing information, there were a few clashes between the Thai police and the Vietnamese communists, however. During the war, the communists in Thailand aligned themselves with the Free Thai Movement against the Japanese.
Chinese communities have always been an issue of content for the Thai authorities, with 50% of Bangkok being of Chinese origins. The Thai government feared the Chinese communities might move against them as they had strong political economics and political power. They also feared the Marxist influence they were spreading. The Thai government spent the next several years putting restrictions on the Chinese communities throughout the country in an effort to stop the rise of communism and other groups which may cause a threat to them.
In the 1950s there were numerous different communist communities and sympathisers in Thailand. A group of 50 Thai communists travelled to Beijing during 1950 for training on communist ideology. Over the next few years, many more Thai communist sympathisers also travelled to Laos and North Vietnam to receive various forms of training on communist propaganda. These training sessions eventually moved onto more physical training on armed conflict and even terror tactics.(Koplowitz, 1967).
Between 1961 and 1965 they had carried out 17 political assassinations. By the end of 1965 more than 350 Thai Nationals had received eight-month training courses in the North of Vietnam. The guerrillas at first had only access to the most basic flintlock weapons, but they began to slowly smuggle weapons intended for the Laos government troops who were supported by the US military. It was at this point that the guerrillas revealed themselves and began a full conflict with the Thai military. The majority of the clashes took place in ‘issan’, the most impoverished and least developed part of the country. During the summer of 1965 13 clashes with the Thai army took place with a further 25 the following half of the year. (Bartlett,1973).
At the start of 1966, the Thai Patriotic Front called the country to join in ‘the people’s war’, this led to a significant escalation in violence and hostilities. More attacks were carried out by the rebels against the Thai army. During the first half of 1966 alone 45 security personnel and 65 civilians were killed in the attacks. Although there were many US Airforce personnel based in this area during that time, the US remained distant and provided very limited support. Between 1967 and 1968 the Thai government carried out a number of raids in Bangkok and surrounding provinces. This resulted in numerous arrests of high ranking CPT members. In 1972 the Thai government carried out an operation where more than 200 militants were killed.
It was later that year that the red drum killings began to take place where up to 3000 unofficial killings took place. The phrase “red drum” began to get used because communist suspects began to get clubbed at the side of the road and were then burnt alive in a semiconscious state in oil filled drums. This was done to try and cover the massacres of the soldiers before this communist suspects were normally shot at the side of the road. (Normn,1975).These killing were most likely carried out by the Communist Operations Suppression Command(CSOC). Between 1971-1973 thousands of civilians died during the clashes or under the belief that they were communists.
The Thammasat Massacre took place on 6th October 1976, now known commonly as “6 October day”. The government began to grow afraid of a communist takeover like what had happened in Vietnam. It was on this day that they attacked a student protest at Thammasat university where 46 students were killed, and 167 were wounded. (Hanley, 2006), It was following this in 1979 that a new surge of Thai nationalism took hold. This coupled with the deteriorating relations between Vietnam and China saw the end of the CPT. An official amnesty was signed on 23rd of Apil 1980 by Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda .
It seems clear that there were external factors at play that contributed greatly to the communist civil conflict in Thailand. It was through the agendas of other countries that the influence of communism began to spread in Thailand. What was not clear however at the time was how many innocent civilians would be hurt during the varying conflicts. The American soldiers that were based in Vietnam and Thailand did little to stop the conflict. There were no serious investigations made into the serious human rights violations of the red drum killings and others like them. The people who carried out these atrocities were left unpunished.
The conflict did give way to a sharp rise in Thai nationalism, not to be confused with Thai patriotism. The effects of which can be seen to this very day. This has not stopped all Thai people from believing and promoting a communist ideology, however. There are still those that are trying to create the CPT again. Perhaps in the next few years, Thailand will be able to elect the communist party officially, if there are elections of course.