Thailand's Communist Party (CPT) has fallen on hard times. Externally, it lacks support from Asia's major communist parties. Internally , it is riddled with desertions.
Until last year it was wooed and assisted by the two leading Asian communist centers: Peking and Hanoi. But when the feud between these two giants erupted into open warfare, the CPT lost its major external props.
The earlier Sino-Soviet rivalry had little adverse impact on the Thai Communists. The 1975 communist victories in Indo-China, which created a backlash in Thailand and brought in the right-wing regime of Thanin Kraivichien in Bangkok, benefited the CPT as hundreds of Thai left-wingers joined the Communists in the jungles by the end of 1976.
But the rift between Peking and Hanoi put an end to all that. Vietnam invaded Cambodia (Kampuchea) in December 1978, and the CPT, dominated by Thais of Chinese origin, denounced the invasion and supported China.
Vietnam cut off all support to the CPT, and the pro- Hanoi Laos government threatened to close the CPT's sanctuaries along the Thai-Laos border. Much to the Thai Communists' dismay, Peking moved closer to the government in Bangkok. And the desertions from the Thai Communist ranks, mainly from the new converts, began in earnest.
According to diplomatic sources, the Chinese have advised the Thai Communists that they should make common cause with the generals in Bangkok to defeat the Vietnamese "expansionists." Last year the Chinese even closed down the CPT's broadcast station located in south China.
While a united front made sense to some Thai Communists, it also exacerbated the latent ethnic and generational contradictions within the party. The older generation that had fought in the jungles for over 30 years had little use for a united front with the right-wing generals in Bangkok. The younger and less committed new converts who were better educated in Maoist literature thought otherwise.
Crossing the generational line, the party was also divided by ethnic origins. Party members of Chinese origin -- descendents of migrant Chinese -- distrusted those who were native Thais or those of Thai-Lao ancestry.
Anyone with an ideological past closely tied with Peking, Hanoi, or Moscow also became suspect. According to unconfirmed reports, one member of the CPT politburo, alleged to be a Soviet agent, is under detention pending execution.
Meanwhile many party members and others belonging to allied left-wing bodies began taking advantage of the general amnesty granted by the former Thai government of Gen. Kriangsak Chamanan. The amnesty has been continued by the present regime of Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda.
Many left-wing firebrands who had advocated friendship with Indo-China have returned to Thailand and joined the mainstream parliamentary parties. A few others have sought refuge in the US and Scandinavia. Some of these returnees are known to have become police informants against the CPT, especially against ethnic Chinese members of the CPT.
As a result, the CPT clamped down on would-be deserters. Some who tried to escape were executed by the hard core of the party. The desertions continued nevertheless.
Some of the returnees have been helped by right- wingers in their rehabilitation in Bangkok. For instance, former student leaders who returned from the jungles, like Mr. Bunsong Chlaythorm and Sombat Thamrongtanyawong, were helped by right-wing Gen. Sudsai Hasdin and are now editing a monthly magazine.
Diplomatic observers agree that the disillusionment among the left-wingers in Thailand is so deep that the beleaguered CPT in unlikely to gather more strength , given the ongoing Sino-Vietnamese rift.