Funeral books shed light on People's Party

Funeral books shed light on People's Party

Flowers and garlands placed by activists last year adorn the memorial plaque at the Royal Plaza in commemoration of the 1932 revolution by Khana Ratsadon. Apichart Jinakul
Flowers and garlands placed by activists last year adorn the memorial plaque at the Royal Plaza in commemoration of the 1932 revolution by Khana Ratsadon. Apichart Jinakul

The 1932 memorial plaque incident is a key political event that we will be commemorating in what is a markedly different atmosphere relative to years past.

For those interested in this part of history, I would like to recommend an article that compiles information from the "funeral books" of the Khana Ratsadon (People's Party) members by Naris Charaschanyawong, published in Art and Culture magazine.

This article is the primary source of information on this elite group, the first published piece to ever tell the group's stories through funeral literature.

The People's Party members, who paved the way to democracy in 1932 was formed in France around 1926, with core members including Pridi Banomyong and Prayoon Pamonmontri. Later, Lt Col Plaek Khitasangka (who later became Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram) joined the party.

When the first meeting convened in February 1926, there were seven members, with Luang Sirirajmaitree, Tasnai Mitphakdi, Tua Nakanukrom and Naeb Paholyothin joining the list. The meeting appointed Pridi as the temporary head. Another officer Sindhu Kamolnavin (Luang Sindhu Songkramchai) later took on the role of a party leader, representing the navy.

When these students returned to Thailand, their chances of taking power were nil -- until four military officers, namely Col Phraya Phahol Phonphayuhasena (Poj Phaholyothin), Col Phraya Songsuradej (Thep Phantummasen), Col Phraya Ritti-akne (Sala Amasiri) and Lt Col Phra Prasart Wittayayuth (Wan Chuthin) joined the group. Phraya Phahol agreed to take over the leadership, while Phraya Songsuradej, who was Col Phraya Phahol's deputy, formed a strategic plan that enabled the party to seize power in 1932.

Before Mr Naris' article, Thirat Poonthuam made an attempt to gather the biographies of People's Party members though funeral books. He was not a historian, nor a relative of any People's Party members. But Thirat said he wanted to do the job because he was born in 1932 and recognised the virtue of the People's Party members "who dared to risk not only their lives but that of their families members to turn the country into a democracy".

Thirat, an office worker, wrote a book using information gathered from funeral books of the People's Party members. Also included in his book were biographies of the drafters of the country's first constitution, an interim charter, the royal command on the appointment of the prime minister, a list of the cabinets since the 1932 Revolution, the plans for building Democracy Monument, among other details. When Thirat passed away in 1996, his work became his own funeral book.

Mr Naris's article, meanwhile, highlighted some discrepancies regarding the People's Party list of names. Most people tend to follow the list provided by Prayoon Pamornmontri.

An academic Thamrongsak Petchlertanan, who studied Prayoon's list said there were altogether 102 officers, but it is believed that there were many more people involved, given that Prayoon tallied only commissioned officers.

At the very least, the directory list of an article on "The Constitution Makers" contained 17 names that were not on Prayoon's list. These include Sanguan Tularak, a man who called himself "The last People's Party member", who did not appear on this list. It should be noted that there were quite a few junior officers who joined the 1932 movement, and were also not included on the list.

Phra Sitthiruangpol, an officer who was executed after the failed coup in 1938, was cited as an accomplice of the People's Party, with connections to Phraya Songsuradej.

Mr Naris managed to include some interesting information about key incidents that involved funeral events. One of them was the funeral of Col Phraya Phahol in 1947 -- the last time the People's Party members met. It was also the last time Mr Pridi saw Field Marshal Plaek because not long after the funeral, there was a coup attempt on Nov 8, 1947 that saw the two leaders go separate ways.

Phraya Songsuradej was exiled to Cambodia in 1938, and passed away in that country in 1944. His body was cremated at Wat Patum Wadee in Phnom Penh and his ashes were brought back to Thailand after the East Asia war ended. A religious event was held in his honour at Wat Phra Si Maha That in Bang Khen.

Phra Prasart Wittayayuth was made ambassador to Berlin and remained in Germany until 1945. When Germany lost the war and Berlin seized by the Soviet army, he was arrested as Siam was considered a German ally. When he was released, Phra Prasart Wittayayuth authored a book, 225 Days in the Soviet Prison and later on provided behind-the-scenes details about the 1932 revolution before he passed away in 1949.

Readers will find interesting details about the lives of key People's Party members, from Field Marshal Plaek and others from the military, including Maj Luang Amnuaysongkram, who sacrificed his life in the Boworadet Rebellion in 1933.

The article also mentions significant works by the People's Party members from the Navy line, including The Field Marshal in My View, penned in 1949 by Luang Supatchalasai. Luang Sangvornyutthakij captured significant events from the 1932 Revolution to the Palace Rebellion in 1949 in another prominent piece of literature.

The article also highlighted the funeral books of People's Party members who were civil officials. The most outstanding is the Story of Kuang Abhaiwong, written by Nattawut Sutthisongkram, a Democrat party member, with direction from Kuang. Another fascinating work is Life in the Five Reigns, by Prayoon Pamornmontri.

In the final part, Mr Naris compiled a list of funeral books of the wives of these People's Party members. Thanpuying Poonsuk Banomyong's book contains a number of intriguing stories.

As we mark the 85th anniversary of the birth of Thai democracy, I will take this chance to remember the leaders of the movement through their funeral books.

Suthachai Yimprasert is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University. This article appeared in Prachatai.

Suthachai Yimprasert

Assistant Professor of History at Chulalongkorn University

Suthachai Yimprasert is Assistant Professor of History at Chulalongkorn University. He was a member of the so-called October Generation. The article originally appeared on the Prachatai news website (www.prachatai.com).

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