Over the past long weekend, pro-democracy group Free Youth launched their new logo. Using a stylized R and T for Restart Thailand, the logo was provocative to say the least.
The logo was introduced by Free Youth on all their social media accounts where it met with some critical reception.
.@FreeYOUTHth is starting up their own protest campaign to “Restart Thailand” with no leaders, no guards no stages, no negotiation and only one demand. No idea what that demand is yet. #ม็อบ7ธันวา pic.twitter.com/Qq4UShRQ4V— Erich Parpart (@erich_parpart) December 7, 2020
Several Thai Enquirer writers give their take on the rebranding.
In politics, simplicity is key. If a message isn’t intuitive — or indeed, if the intuitive message is the one you don’t intend to convey — then it’s probably a counterproductive message.
For months, defenders of the protest movement have spent time explaining that what they seek is reform, not revolution. That they believe a constitutional monarchy remains Thailand’s ideal form of government. It hasn’t been a message that’s been digested easily by most royalists; one only has to recall the image of Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul standing in front of a screen that screamed “we don’t want reform, we want a revolution.”
And it’s an argument that will become even more difficult still to accept with the Free Youth Movement’s new “Reform Thailand” logo, laid out on a red background with what looks suspiciously similar to a sickle. (Not to mention the the fact that the text on the logo, ‘RT,’ can ostensibly be construed as an abbreviation for another much more controversial term.)
For many who have been less than enamored with the intensified focus on the royal institution, at the exclusion of other demands for change, Free Youth’s recent missteps will feel even more alienating.
Not that this was a one-off occurrence. The Dome Revolution party at Thammasat University, for example, had once released an image of protest leaders Rung and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak depicted on a Maoist poster. For a group that advocates for democracy and human rights, that was decidedly in poor taste. Why protest leaders feel so compelled to evoke the specter of communism, even as a joke, is rather mystifying.
Never mind that the vast majority of the protestors don’t have anything resembling communist leanings. Or that many Thai students may have never touched a single page of Marx. The accusation that student protestors are seeking a communist revolution will now flow even more easily from those opposed to any form of change.
As former US President Barack Obama said recently, with some slogans, “you lose a big audience the minute you say it.”
The same applies here with some logo choices.
Unfortunately, it may also be too late to turn back the clock. The public image of the movement will suffer. Polarization in Thailand will deepen further. And who knows where we are headed next?
In 2013, the French Communist party abandoned the hammer and sickle as its insignia. The Guardian, reporting on the event, asked: “Has the communist hammer and sickle had its day?” Although originally created to symbolize the power of workers (hammer) and peasants (sickle), the article argued, the communist iconography had become tainted by association over the years.
The hammer and the sickle were not a Marxist creation. Rather, the insignia dates back to 1917, to a competition held by Lenin and Lunacharsky for a symbol that would adequately represent the call of the Russian revolution: “Proletarians of the world, unite!”
As the Soviet republic became increasingly centralized, and increasingly corrupt, the symbol came to represent a lie – but it also served as constant reproach to those who carried out the lies.
FreeYOUTH’s choice of the sickle for its new logo is understandable. The sickle still serves to reproach class leaders for their neglect of the peasantry. And it has historically been used against centralized power – the POUM, unorthodox communists in the Spanish civil war, fought Stalinists under the banner of the hammer and sickle.
But, keeping the sickle would be a mistake. In Hong Kong, Thailand’s unofficial sister city of protest, hammer and sickle logos are thrown to the ground – unambiguously a symbol of the draconian Chinese Communist Party. For most around the world, the hammer and the sickle continue to represent the authoritarian one-party rule of the Soviet Union, the DPRK and the CCP – associations which, as the French Communist Party recognized, are deeply stigmatized.
In Thailand, decades long anti-communist indoctrination makes the sickle a dangerous symbol among all classes. To students of the 1970s, especially those who joined the communists after the 1976 crackdown, communism was an idealist vision of governance that would bring about ‘égalité.’ But the state and royal establishment made sure that a different version of ‘communism’ was propagated.
To some in the northernmost villages, bordering then-Burma, ‘communism’ meant Vietnamese invasion. To some rural villagers, ‘communism’ took root when there was poverty – something to be avoided. And to many more, ‘communism’ meant nothing more than the civil wars that ravaged neighboring Laos and South Vietnam during the Cold War.
That FreeYOUTH should carry all those associations with its logo – worker empowerment and revolution, but also foreign invasion, civil war, poverty – would be an unwise choice indeed. As Thai political commentator Thai_Talk says, labor – and revolution – has moved beyond the need for the sickle.
‘Restarting Thailand’ means moving beyond the deep impasses that have paralyzed Thai politics. Old symbols will bring up old rivalries and hostilities. New symbols can inaugurate new alliances, new politics.
In Thailand, the communist hammer and sickle has had its day.
The new logo is obviously meant to provoke and provoke over the next few days it will. It will serve as fodder for the right and in this case rightly so. There is no need for it – as a joke or otherwise.
Thai Enquirer has reported on the students since the start of the movement. We’ve watched the evolution and awed at the power of the youth. We’ve seen momentum rise and fall and rise again.
Over the course of the last few weeks, infighting between student groups and protest guards have caused the movement to lose some of its momentum and the government to write the protests off as being spent.
At a time when the students need allies and numbers more than ever, the use of needlessly provocative (and tainted) symbolism will do them no good. The use of the sickle, which should forever be associated with the corruption, destruction, and authoritarianism of the COMINTERN, is short sighted and stupid.
It makes enemies of potential allies and insults those who have supported the movement since its beginning.
What will the allies who have long expressed their solidarity with the Thai students in Hong Kong, in Taiwan, in the Philippines, in Laos think of the use of the sickle? Even as a joke, it is in poor taste – especially because the various members of the Milk Tea Alliance stands under the oppressive and encroaching flag of the CCCP.
Why feed into the army and government propaganda that this is just the second coming of the communist insurgency? As a joke?
The students have blundered consistently for the past few weeks with numbers dwindling and the royalists growing bolder. They need to refocus their fight and draw in allies – this is a step in the wrong direction.
Using the hammer and sickle symbol for a campaign within a democratic movement seems very out of place.
On the surface, this looks like the second wrong move that the Free Youth group has committed recently.
The first was flirting with the idea of a republic for Thailand.
Transforming the Kingdom into a republic is certainly not a reformation, and it could be interpreted as a move to overthrow the constitutional monarchy system.
Now, they have adopted the hammer and sickle symbol — a symbol closely identified with communist movements — to launch its new political campaign called “Restart Thailand.”
The group should explain to people why they are choosing to appropriate the communist symbol to spread democratic values.
Because without any proper explanation, the group is going to alienate more of its supporters. The only reason they have given so far is through a banner that states: “Laborers build countries, not kings.”
If the student-led group wants to make this movement more inclusive by involving more laborer activists, it would be a good move in an effort to boost their followers.
However, there may be other ways to express their solidarity with laborers and farmers without resorting to the hammer and sickle symbol.
Apart from the graphic and banner, Free Youth also launched guidelines which state that there will be no leader, no stage, no volunteer guards and no negotiations under their new campaign. No further explanations were given thus far.
Free Youth also emphasizes that this is their very own campaign, and is not associated with the main pro-democracy protest group, Ratsadon.
This reflects the growing rift between the student protest leaders of Free Youth and the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD) which has become more and more apparent in the past couple of months.
The launch of this separate campaign seems to be pushing them apart even further. Needless to say, the breaking down of this relationship is not going to help the pro-democracy movement, one that has been gradually losing momentum.
The poor showing at last week’s Lat Phrao Intersection demonstration — following the Constitutional Court’s verdict that went in favor of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha — has already led some protest leaders to say that they will have to regroup and come back stronger next year.
The current situation involving volunteer guards — a group that is now prone to instability and major fragmentation — is also destroying their unity and the image of a peaceful protest.
At the moment, the only thing that is going in their way is the government’s decision to bring back the lèse majesté law to prosecute protest leaders.
The use of this outdated law will bring more international attention to the movement, as well as more sympathizers for their cause. However, the deteriorating relationship between protest leaders and volunteer guard groups are major leaks that will need to be plugged before the entire ship sinks.
In regards to the hammer and sickle symbol: If history has taught us anything, it is that coup-makers are willing to promote the widespread fear of communism to discredit any democratic movements that aim to take their power away from them and hand it back to the people.
So, it is better to not give them any more excuses. An explanation on Free Youth’s part on why they are using this symbol is also needed.
If they cannot provide an explanation, then perhaps they should reconsider their decision to use the symbol, as many of their supporters are looking towards a reformation of the constitutional monarchy system, rather than a Russian Revolution.