(b. Ayutthaya, Thailand, 11 May 1900; d. Paris, 2 May 1982)
Thai; premier 1946 Pridi has been Thailand's only really significant modern ideologue and international statesman, viewed by some as an important influence on Mao Zedong's ideas, and even the inter-war Burmese nationalist movement. The high point of his career was attained in his mid-forties at the end of the Far Eastern War. This was succeeded by a final thirty-five years in exile, mostly in the People's Republic.
Pridi was born a Sino-Thai, son of a middle-rank official emerging from the growing Westernization of Old Siam in the latter years of the reign of King Chulalongkorn (1868–1910). Amongst the first commoners sent to study in the West on a government scholarship, he was fired by the intellectual ferment of Paris in the 1920s into forming a small secret society dedicated to the overthrow of the absolute monarchy regime.
Amidst the crisis of the Depression and its particularly severe effects on independent Asian states like Thailand, Pridi and his associates were able to make common cause with a group of army officers of similar status to his father, equally excluded from the highest positions in the kingdom, in an organization known as the ‘People's Party’. However, their ambivalence produced a year of uncertainty before a second coup, just a year after the first in June 1932, put a final end to royal absolutism.
Much of Pridi's ideological reputation derives from this year of uncertainty. It saw him father the revolutionary manifesto, Siam/Thailand's first constitution, and in early 1933, a radical economic plan characterized by many of his opponents as communistic, following which, he was driven into exile. From 1934 to 1941 he was back to serve successively as Minister of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Finance. Executively he was not so effective and his role was complicated by his growing rivalry with his early Paris co-conspirator Colonel Phibun over the direction of the revolution.
Ultimately this rivalry was played out against the background of the growing regional insecurity consequent upon the decline of the Western imperial hegemony in Asia. Neither Pridi nor Phibun regretted this, nor objected to the rise of Japan. However, Phibun was chosen as premier in 1938 as the figure best qualified to defend Thailand's national interests, and their disagreement about the alliance with Japan in December 1941, seems to have stemmed principally from this. By 1943–4 Pridi was associating himself with the supposedly underground Free Thai movement, preparing for the expected Allied victory.
1945–6 saw a brief post-war British occupation of Thailand during which, with Phibun imprisoned, Pridi was able to establish a temporary ascendancy. In March 1946 he assumed the premiership, but resigned it in favour of an associate following the still mysterious death of the young King Ananda in June. The subsequent fifteen months featured one further role of significance as a roving ambassador, amongst other things promoting a South East Asia League along with nationalist interests in neighbouring French Indochina. When an anti-Pridi army coup was mounted in November 1947, eventually restoring Phibun to power, the West did not immediately welcome his overthrow. But the strengthening of the Cold War meant that they came to oppose his return, and approve his increasing impotence in post-1949 China. Pridi left Thailand in 1947, going first to China and then to France, where he lived until his death.