October 20, 2008

Parliamentary Cretinism of the Commentariat

Parliamentary Cretinism of the Commentariat
Appearing in the Bangkok Post, 21 Oct, 2008.

In the next few days it is possible that blood will fall on the streets of Bangkok, as anti-Thaksin hand-clappers meet pro-Thaksin foot stompers. Impending constitutional amendments and the coming judgement on the Rachadapisek case, the proximate cause of the mobilisation, will be met with acclaim or opprobrium depending on which side of the chimerical divide you stand. In time, if found guilty by the courts, ex prime minister Mr Thaksin may be absolved by amendments

In preparation for the war of international opinion, eager propagandists from the pro- and anti- Thaksin sides will have been in touch with their respective Western conduits, spinning tales of arms purchase, blood-letting intentions and military machinations. These Western mouth-pieces can feel the brush of history on their cheeks and readily spray innuendo and hearsay to the media, all the more to be one with the great Event.

Each side speaks of a likely coup from the other side, each of a violent denouement induced by the other. As disciple-zealots go into overdrive, their account of events will be partisan. Prepare for more stories of the kind that followed October 7, of amputated limbs of uncertain status, of naturally combustible people, and of police following ISO standards for crowd dispersal.

As wannabe royalist guardians (the People’s Alliance for Democracy) face off against authoritarian apologists (The National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship) and respectively don the masks of law versus democratic-mandate, the shrill, international media Chorus of Misunderstanding grows louder. “Settle your differences by the ballot”, they say. “Respect the election outcome”, and all other sorts of sanctimonious dross.

The naïve among them will expect that the Thai political system functions like any other electoral democracy, even given the contending forces now antagonistically poised. The pro-Thaksin propagandists will pretend that the system can function – because they hold the House.

The Chorus of Misunderstanding will explain to its attention-deficit audience that middle-class Thais have forgotten the beauty of institutionalised conflict by numbers, that they have given up on parliamentary democracy. And suitably impressed by their superior morals they will move on to the next story, Angelina and Brad’s efforts to save Africa. The Chorus will conveniently forget the very corruption of the institutionalised system of conflict by numbers (2001-2006) by the pro-Thaksin forces they now support; they’ll point an accusing finger only at those who swept away the debris (the coupsters and their backers), and those who now challenge the PPP government.

What might one make of the call made by the pro-Thaksin commentariat to let the government govern and for PAD to go home. Pious and admirable calls no doubt, but the Chorus is talking to itself, while also spinning a tale that says there is a workable system of democracy in Thailand.

Karl Marx in his brilliant reflections on the rise of simpleton Louis Bonaparte (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte 1852) coined the term “parliamentary cretinism”. He scorned the efforts of the effete parliamentary opposition who assumed, even in those exceptional times, that the parliamentary chamber was the locus of power, and who therefore chose to fight there. He noted that such ‘parliamentary cretinism’ robbed people of sense and captured them in an imaginary world of nominal struggle, while all around them ‘the rude external world’ intruded on fundamental questions of power and sovereignty. Marx recounts that these cretins imagined a ministerial scalp was taking them closer to victory, while baton-in-hand the Bonapartist coup of December 1851 approached.

What strikes anyone looking at Thailand right now is the absence of domestic parliamentary cretinism. Few strategic actors believe that things can be settled in orderly parliamentary debate and electoral competition, the struggle is no longer contained by rules of the game. The cretinism is external, imposed by a commentariat that is conceited about their own nation’s democratic credentials, and who are more than willing to take a bet on Thaksin’s pro-Western and pro-democratic stand, while glossing his regime’s authoritarianism.

In the realm of parliamentary politics, the pro-Thaksin forces are unparalleled in their knowledge of the rude external world and what is required to master it. They eschew parliamentary cretinism, even if they realise the value of an electoral majority in the current battle against the conservative establishment that threatens them. They wish to control the state, to penetrate its inner sanctums and to ensure that the state’s general line accords with their party preference.

As for the anti-Thaksin opposition, it too is not to be accused of parliamentary cretinism. Their mobilisation of a mixture of royal liberalism, reactionary nationalism, military apologism and state-corporatism reflects ample knowledge of that ‘rude external world’ which will decide who wins this current battle.

That there are not enough institutional incentives to induce parliamentary cretinism is one reason for the high likelihood that blood will colour red the streets of Bangkok in the coming days.