Chulalongkorn University political scientist Kanokrat Lertchoosakul said commemorations of the Oct 14, 1973 uprising and Oct 6, 1976 massacre originally were reunions of disappointed leftists and fighters then under the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT).
They have evolved into commemorations and celebrations by democracy advocates, Ms Kanokrat said at a seminar, titled "Beyond 14 October" held on Saturday at Thammasat University.
Society now recognises the students who took part in the 1970s movements as heroes and has labelled them the "October Generation", she said.
Many of the former student activists are now prominent academics, politicians, artists and business figures.
Australian National University scholar Tyrell Haberkorn said more should be done to remember the role of three key behind-the-scenes facilitators of the two October movements.
Artist and educator A-ngun Malik, rural doctor Apichet Naklekha and Poh Luang Intha of the Northern Farmers Confederation of Thailand helped link democracy advocates upcountry with leftist student groups in the 1970s.
"These people were indispensable connectors linking young and eager souls to the change that was beginning then, and they tried to make society realise that democratisation could take place now," Ms Haberkorn said.
Ms Kanokrat said that since the student movement was seen as a pure fight for democracy, she said some October figures were disappointed that some of their peers had joined colour-coded political movements, such as the red, yellow or multi-coloured shirts.
She said the former student activists who were not colour-aligned feared these groups were exploiting the October Generation for their political gain.
Thammasat history scholar Somsak Jeamteerasakul said the October Generation was a major contributor to the politics, academia and culture of modern Thai society.
The activists, their protests and the commemorative events since have provided reminders that the biggest problems in Thai society have stemmed from the class divide and rifts among the elitist institutions, Mr Somsak said.
He said the struggle for true democracy has continued ever since, as the October events failed to achieve their goals.
This led to the May 1992 and the May 2010 uprisings, which were violently quelled by authorities.