What Went Wrong with the Pol Pot Regime
AN OVERVIEW OF THIS ARTICLE
In April 1975, two weeks before the fall of Saigon in Vietnam, an
army of ragged, thin and very young peasant men and women defeated
the US-backed government in neighbouring Cambodia. In January 1979,
some 44 months later, this new regime was swept from power and scattered
by invading Vietnamese soldiers.
The briefness of this period is part of what makes it hard to understand.
Further, there are no sweeping eye-witness accounts, and even some
of the basic facts are in dispute among those who study Cambodia
(or Kampuchea, as it is called in the country's Khmer language).
A major difficulty is that the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK)
led by Pol Pot made a secret of its policies and goals and even
its existence for most of its time in power, and since then none
of its leaders have come forward to defend its line. Yet the main
source of confusion about this period is that a reactionary consensus
has been imposed, both because it has been drummed into people's
heads by the media, and because there have been so few dissenting
Whenever Pol Pot is mentioned (often, considering that it has been
two decades since the demise of his Democratic Kampuchea regime),
the conclusion is always the same: revolution is worse than the
social ills it claims to cure. Many studies focus on unsubstantiated
figures on the number of people who died during the Democratic Kampuchea
period in an effort to prove that the forces who drove the US out
of Southeast Asia turned out to be worse than the imperialists themselves.1
The truth - who and what do you believe - is a big issue here. Any
reader who doesn't ask "Why should I believe that?" isn't
fully awake to the way this issue is being used.
We are out to overthrow "common knowledge" on this question.
Unlike others who falsely claim they have no particular viewpoint
from which they judge, our basic stand is explicit: as Mao said,
"It's right to rebel against reaction." In other words,
here our starting point is that the war waged by the three Indochinese
peoples (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) against imperialism was just.
No matter how critical our conclusions on the Pol Pot regime, the
fact is that they had to deal with the horror that the US created.
If anyone should be on trial for genocide in Southeast Asia, it
should be the US ruling class. The charges of genocide the rulers
of the US want to press against former CPK leaders are an attempt
to reverse right and wrong.
A major problem in other analyses of this experience is the foregone
conclusion that it was "irrational" and therefore basically
inexplicable. We've looked at it through the lens of dialectical
materialist reason, examining who was trying to do what - their
politics and policies - and further, what was possible in that objective
situation, and the results of those policies. This is why we have
focused on basic questions the CPK had to solve.
There are four intertwined, key issues:
The relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam. This question
conditioned the entire development of the Cambodian revolution.
The CPK was born and developed in conflict with the Communist Party
of Vietnam (formerly known as the Workers Party of Vietnam), which
sought to strategically subordinate the Cambodian revolution to
the Vietnamese struggle against imperialism. After the victory in
Cambodia, Vietnam, in the eyes of the CPK leadership, became the
main danger to their revolution. This was a defining question, both
objectively and in the thinking of the CPK leadership. The course
of the revolution in Cambodia depended on it.
The kind of society the CPK sought to build and the role
of the masses in that. This means the path of revolution in Cambodia,
especially the fundamental question of two-stage revolution, in
the specific context of the Indochina war centred in Vietnam, with
all the particular opportunities and constraints that imposed; the
united front during and after the war, including a very complicated
relationship with Cambodia's Prince Sihanouk; and socialist construction
in the shadow of a Vietnam whose failure to carry out social revolution
was linked to an increasing dependence on the USSR. Many people
have heard how the Democratic Kampuchean government completely emptied
the cities, for instance. Here we intend to examine these policies
and why they were carried out.
The question of the party: the state of affairs in the CPK
and its leaders' conception of what a party is for. Until September
1977, the Cambodian people didn't know that what they called "the
Organisation" [Angkar] and what its opponents called the Khmer
Rouge was a communist party. Yet, to a large extent because of the
Vietnamese victory over the US, this Party was suddenly thrust into
power. It also had to deal with a situation in which its own line
and ranks were far from consolidated.
The question of the CPK's attitude toward foreign experience
in general and especially Maoism. It has often been claimed that
the CPK was guided by Maoism and the Chinese revolution. This is
based on little but ignorance of the facts, or, in some cases, a
deliberate effort to slander Maoism.2 The Cambodian Party never
made such a claim. Although Pol Pot lived in China on the eve of
the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and even though this
earth-shaking event, the farthest advance yet achieved by the world
proletarian revolution, had a spontaneous impact on Cambodian political
life, still any support for the GPCR is completely absent from CPK
documents and other statements during Mao's lifetime.3 The CPK was
pro-China because Vietnam was pro-Soviet (and for the same reason
also had relations with North Korea, Albania and Yugoslavia), but
when CPK documents refer to the Chinese revolution it is usually
to belittle it by comparison to Cambodia. The CPK claimed that it
was so advanced that it "exceeds Lenin and is outstripping
Mao",4 leading a revolution so "unique" that, "[i]n
this case, it is better to learn nothing from foreign experience".5
But the "foreignness" of this experience is not the only
reason why the CPK leadership did not want to learn from Mao's development
of Marxism. They didn't like its content. As we shall see, the policies
they carried out were the opposite of those developed by Mao. For
the most part, the CPK leadership maintained their reserve on China
until September 1977, when they established enthusiastic relations
with Deng Xiaoping, the man who overthrew Mao's successors. It didn't
matter much to Pol Pot what class ruled in China when he was looking
for an ally against Vietnam.6
At the same time, our focus means that other important questions
have to be neglected, especially the international context of all
this: the full role of the US (including its support for the CPK
after they were driven from power, and its intentions in Cambodia
today), and of the Soviet Union; and the nature and development
of Vietnam, particularly after the war. Although China was the main
foreign source of support for the Democratic Kampuchea government,
an overall summation of its role is impossible here. That would
necessitate an examination of China's broader policies on a global
level. It would also require an examination of how China's policy
toward Democratic Kampuchea involved different goals by the right
and left in the struggle within the Communist Party of China that
came to a head in this period, a subject about which there has been
speculation but very little documentation or even reliable information.
The point has been made that almost all the available material on
Democratic Kampuchea (especially for non-Khmer speakers) is from
hostile sources. Most research is based on partial and conflicting
reports (often from interviews of refugees in Thailand or elsewhere),
and the interviewers themselves are sometimes flagrantly reactionary.
But the CPK did have a line, which can be discerned in these studies,
and even more importantly, in the internal Party documents translated
and published by academics in the last decade. We've taken some
of the main scholarly studies in this field and looked at them through
the prism of the CPK's stated line and our own understanding.7
Our central theme is this: in that storm-tossed sea of contradictions,
a society which, in the end, was no more complicated than any other
but only caught in the throes of a more acute situation, there was
only one course that could have saved Cambodia: revolutionary politics
had to become embodied in material reality, the conscious activism
of a growing section of the masses who could be relied upon in turn
to unite the vast majority of the people to vanquish and root up
the old society step by step, in unity with the revolutionary interests
of the people of Indochina and the world. This is the standard according
to which we've judged the CPK, and our understanding of the complexity,
the necessity and the possibility of accomplishing this task has
been strengthened by examining this experience.
To this end, part II of this article is a chronologically-based
examination of the context in which the CPK won victory, and part
III an analysis of their policies once in power. Part IV takes a
closer look at key theoretical questions as they posed themselves
in Cambodia. The last section is a brief description of what happened
after the 1979 overthrow of Democratic Kampuchea, especially the
fate of Cambodia in the last decade during which it has been in
the clutches of the UN, the IMF and other Western imperialist institutions.
II. BACKGROUND TO
THE ANGKOR KINGDOM
Cambodia arose out of the Angkor kingdom that flourished from
the ninth through the fourteenth centuries. Half a millennium later,
with the rise of the modern nation, the temple complex those kings
had built (now called Angkor Wat) was to become the icon of the
Khmer national identity for all those who sought to raise the national
When the Hindu civilisation spreading out of India was first taken
up by Khmer monarchs, it brought about a transformation. The rise
of a strong central state enabled the construction of an extensive
irrigation system to control monsoon floods and retain water for
irrigation. Nothing could be more vital in a land flooded half the
year and dry the other half. Some historians say the Angkor kingdom
was able to master dry season rice cultivation, making it possible
to grow two or three crops a year. The wealth of the Khmer court
was legendary, and its dominion spread east across the Mekong Delta
(now southern Vietnam) to the sea, north through much of Laos to
China and west through Thailand and part of Burma. But the temples
fell into ruins, because like the dams and canals, they were built
by corvée labour, the forced work of the peasants, and this order
of exploitation could not endure. The people deserted the Hindu
religion at the core of the Angkor social system and embraced Buddhism.
A strong Siam (Thailand) pressed hard from the West. Vietnam took
over the lower Mekong and swaggered through Cambodia. Later Cambodians
would say that Vietnamese conquerors buried Khmers alive up to their
necks and filled up their mouths with hot coals to warm teapots
set on top of their heads. Whether true or not, this image was to
become a central reference point for all Cambodian political parties.
By the time the French arrived in the mid-19th century, the old
Angkor kingdom had been carved to a sliver. France set out to colonise
all the countries of the Mekong, partly to challenge the British
hold on China. In 1863, it forced Cambodia's King Norodom to accept
a treaty making the country a French "protectorate" in
exchange for saving his throne.
A FRENCH COLONY
The French started out (like the British) drawing their profit
from the opium trade and alcohol, but soon this was not enough.
In 1884, French gunboats sailed up the Mekong from Vietnam. Their
troops marched into the palace and made the king sign over virtually
all power. The point was to establish ownership of the land in Cambodia
so that French plantations could be set up, along with the imposition
of harsh taxes. When peasants rose up against the French, the colonialists
brought in troops from Vietnam. According to some historians, they
killed two hundred thousand people, 20% of the population. Norodom,
who at first had called for the revolt, two years later betrayed
it, once again in return for keeping his kingdom.
The French brought Vietnamese to administer Cambodia, and aside
from the royal court, they developed no local elite. Taxes collected
in Cambodia went to pay for the administration of France's colony
in Vietnam. The French justified their policies by labelling the
Khmers lazy, "a decadent race". Unlike Vietnam, where
the French found it convenient to bring about some limited degree
of modernisation in the interests of profit and their overall Southeast
Asian empire, practically no development was carried out in Cambodia,
except for rubber plantations and other export-oriented crops. Nothing
was done to maintain the irrigation system. French imports killed
the national crafts (silk and cotton weaving) and nascent local
industry. The imposition of taxes brought the proliferation of usurious
money lenders, as peasants with no previous connection to the market
had to borrow cash to pay this tribute. The land was divided into
smaller and smaller parcels and many peasants became bonded labourers,
forced to work for others to whom they all but belonged, rather
than farming their own land. Rice production per capita dropped
to the lowest level in Southeast Asia.
The king's grandson, Norodom Sihanouk, was crowned king by the Vichy
French regime and then ruled under the subsequent Japanese occupation.
After World War 2, he "invited" France to return. Both
capitalism and feudalism became increasingly onerous in the coming
decades. The royal court grew fabulously bloated. In some areas
of the countryside, particularly Battambang and Svay Rieng, landlordism
became rampant. In general, the number of peasants who no longer
owned land but lived as tenants or sharecroppers grew at a quickening
pace, especially in the 1950s and '60s, and reached about one in
five by the end of Sihanouk's reign in 1970. While the bulk of the
peasants still owned some land, a great many families had less than
a hectare (considered the minimum to feed a family of four) and
had to rent both land and tools. The overwhelming majority were
in debt to moneylenders and shopkeepers. Many peasants owed more
than they could make in a year. Moneylenders commonly charged 12%
a month in interest, and worked in tandem with traders, who would
buy rice cheaply at the beginning of the season when it was plentiful
and sell it back at higher prices and on credit to the peasants
at the end of the season when food ran out. Overwhelmingly, these
lenders and merchants were Chinese or Sino-Khmer.
As Mao said, when the productive forces are held back by social
relations, the tools speak through people. Resistance arose against
these social relations that condemned the people to poverty in what
had once been a rich land.
Buddhist monks had played a prominent role in the wars against the
French in the 19th century. By the 1930s and '40s, Buddhist wats
(temples) became centres of national resistance, first against the
French and then against the Japanese. While Buddhism as an ideology
was a main prop of the social system, the Buddhist church was also
the only source of education (the French established no schools),
the centre of intellectual life and the only real national institution
aside from the monarchy. Most young men spent a few years as monks.
This meant that various political trends were nurtured in the monasteries.
THE EARLY COMMUNIST MOVEMENT
In 1930, as winds of revolution began to rise in the world, and
in the context of revolutionary war in China, the Comintern (Communist
International) directed the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh to found
the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). This Party's core was in
Vietnam, where the communist movement was by far the most advanced
in the region. Laos was and remained the Indochinese country where
it was least developed. In Cambodia, at first the only Party members
were Vietnamese rubber plantation workers in the east and middle-class
ethnic Chinese urban dwellers. Later, in the wake of the Buddhist-led
anti-colonial movement of the 1940s, the Party began to recruit
among the young monks, and for the next two decades many Party cadre
and leaders were ex-monks.
World War 2 transformed this struggle for independence. Shortly
afterward, the Vietnamese launched an armed uprising against the
French. At that time, the international communist movement advised
both the Vietnamese and the Chinese not to seek national liberation
through revolutionary war. Neither Party agreed. After the victory
of the Chinese revolution in 1949, the Chinese became the major
external source of support for the Vietnamese revolutionaries, just
as they also did for the Korean people in their war against the
US invasion in the same period. By the time the Vietnamese drove
out the French in 1954, the US was paying for 80% of France's expenses
in this conflict, which they considered an essential part of encircling
Following the dissolution of the ICP in 1951, the Vietnamese had
formed their own communist party (the Workers Party of Vietnam [VWP],
renamed the Communist Party of Vietnam in 1976). They also had their
own army. The situation of the Cambodian communists was very different.
It was not just that the Cambodian revolutionaries were less developed
politically, organisationally and militarily than their Vietnamese
counterparts. Their external dependence on Vietnam was matched by
the fact that they had little distinct communist organisation. Instead
of a communist party, the Cambodians followed Vietnamese advice
and formed a united front organisation, the Khmer People's Revolutionary
Party. Instead of forming their own army, an army that while united
around the immediate tasks of the revolution would also be a key
training ground in the long-term goals and ideology of communism,
they simply worked with the Buddhist and nationalist Issarak guerrillas
who had emerged in the struggle against Japan. In other words, both
the Vietnamese and Cambodian communists treated Cambodia as though
the task there was not to organise a revolution that would be part
of the world-wide proletarian revolution, but simply an adjunct
to the Vietnamese struggle.
The VWP leadership had a theoretical justification for this and
won many Cambodians to it. They saw conditions in Cambodia as unsuitable
for revolution, because, they said, so many Cambodian peasants were
small landholders and social antagonism was insufficiently developed
there. The communist movement in Cambodia was equally doomed to
weakness, they thought, so that they would always have to play the
father party. A 1951 VWP document says, "The Vietnamese party
reserves the right to supervise the activities of its brother parties
in Cambodia and Laos."8
The following contradiction was to mark the decades to come: on
the one hand the Vietnamese movement was strong and pulled the Cambodian
movement forward; on the other, the weakness of the Cambodians suited
the Vietnamese, who attempted to institutionalise this weakness.
The Vietnamese were to carry the main burden of fighting, first
against the French and then the Americans, with all the heroic sacrifice
that entailed, and at the same time they were to subordinate the
struggle in the neighbouring countries to their own. Whether or
not to do so tactically is one question (for instance, whether or
not to concentrate forces in one or another country, etc., for the
good of the Indochinese struggle overall), but the VWP turned this
into a strategy in which revolution in Cambodia or Laos could never
take place except through Vietnamese intervention.
The Vietnamese trapped and completely smashed the French colonial
army in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. France was forced to accept
a negotiated withdrawal from Vietnam in 1954. A Geneva Conference
spelled out the conditions for the end of the Indochina war: Vietnam
was divided, with a revolutionary government in the North and elections
scheduled in the South to create a reunited, independent country.
The situation in Cambodia was more ambiguous. The Issarak movement
was well-rooted and its fighting forces numbered in the thousands.
But Sihanouk, as he so often did, played a double game. He had persuaded
the French to grant Cambodia's independence in 1953, telling them
they could either deal with him or lose Cambodia to the communists
France was fighting in Vietnam. At the Geneva Conference, he succeeded
in getting an agreement to guarantee the continuation of his regime
in return for Cambodia's neutrality.
The Cambodian communists were left with empty hands. They were
obligated to dissolve their armed forces. About a thousand people,
about half of the revolutionary activists at that time, left Cambodia
on ships bound for northern Vietnam along with the Vietnamese troops
who had been fighting in Cambodia. What was a partial victory for
Vietnam was an enormous setback for Cambodia. This experience had
a far-reaching impact on the future leadership core of the CPK,
both those who spent these war years at university in Paris and
those like Pol Pot who returned just in time to see their hopes
This was the beginning of what is called the Sihanouk period, in
which the king abdicated in favour of his father, becoming a mere
prince, and ran the country through a combination of parliamentary
manoeuvres, fixed elections and violence until his overthrow in
1970. It is an extremely complex period that only became more complicated
when the Vietnamese returned to the armed struggle in 1959, after
the US refused to allow the promised elections in southern Vietnam.
Sihanouk declared what he called at first "Khmer socialism"
and later "Buddhist socialism". The essence of his doctrine
was to preserve "the barrier which preserves the originality
of our race, of our traditions, of our religious faith, and which
safeguards our independence vis-à-vis certain of our neighbours".
The purpose of this "socialism", he explained, was "to
prevent the triumph of Communism in Cambodia".9 He meant what
he said: the purpose of his policies, foreign and domestic, was
to perpetuate his rule and the whole system it represented.
Things went from bad to worse for the Cambodian communists. They
established the legal Pracheachon Party and took part in the 1955
elections. "The Pracheachon's greatest accomplishment was to
fill the police dossiers with the names of all the leftists who
exposed themselves in the election," writes an observer.10
The Party was allowed a legal existence, and some members worked
secretly within the regime, but Sihanouk carried out a ruthless
policy of hunting down and murdering communists, especially in the
countryside. The communists had some success in organising industrial
workers until Sihanouk turned around and crushed the strike movement.
His police brazenly murdered the publisher of the Pracheachon newspaper
on the sidewalk in front of its office. The Party's leader secretly
betrayed information to Sihanouk's police for several years before
openly going over to the government. It is said that 90% of the
Party's members in the rural areas were lost in the late 1950s.
Many were killed or scattered by the enemy; others just drifted
away. A draft history of the CPK attributed most of these losses
to a passive attitude prevailing within the Party.11
The Communist Party of Kampuchea was founded in 1960. It was then
called the Workers Party of Kampuchea, like the Vietnamese party.
It was clandestine and its existence was secret; publicly, it worked
through the legal Pracheachon Party. The strange dance with Sihanouk
continued; the prince brought two leading communists into his cabinet
and one into the legislature, but had the Party chairman kidnapped
and murdered. Student riots against police repression broke out
in 1963. In response, Sihanouk published a list of the members of
the Party's central committee and promised to wipe out what he labelled
the "Khmer Rouge" (Red Khmers).
Events abroad had a far-reaching impact on both sides in that period.
Sihanouk was upset by the 1963 murder of Diem, the US flunky in
South Vietnam killed by the CIA when deemed no longer useful. The
prince broke relations with the US and made an agreement with the
North Vietnamese government and the National Liberation Front in
the South that would allow them to use Cambodian territory in return
for a promise to respect Cambodia's borders.12 The Cambodian communists,
for their part, were said to have taken sharp note of the 1965 debacle
in Indonesia. The legal, open Communist Party of Indonesia had hoped
to achieve liberation without armed struggle through its association
with the nationalist Sukarno regime; instead both the regime and
the Party were crushed by a US-organised right-wing coup and uncounted
POL POT BECOMES CHAIRMAN
The Cambodian Party's second Party congress in 1966 marked a turning
point. Its name was changed and Pol Pot became the CPK's chairman.
Most of the Party leadership and a large part of its rank and file
(which included many students and teachers) withdrew into the countryside.
The centre of gravity began to shift, first to the eastern border,
where contact and co-operation was re-established with the Vietnamese
communists, and then to Ratanakari province, in the isolated northeast
hills. The Party began to build clandestine organisation in the
countryside in preparation for armed struggle. It won the support
of the tribal hill people who had long suffered under the central
government. With these moves, the CPK was moving away from the Vietnamese
Party, which still held that there was no revolutionary situation
in Cambodia and that therefore it was wrong to endanger co-operation
with Sihanouk.13 Yet ironically, the situation in Cambodia was becoming
increasingly conditioned by the war in Vietnam, and this heating
up was to intensify Cambodia's internal contradictions to the breaking
China was supplying arms to the Vietnamese through Cambodia's ports.
Sihanouk skimmed a certain percentage off the top. Similarly, a
large amount of Cambodian rice was being sold to the National Liberation
Front forces in southern Vietnam. This was a problem for Sihanouk,
because it represented a loss of government income from rice export
taxes. He introduced a system called ramassage, under which government
soldiers went to the villages and forced the peasants to sell the
rice to them at less than market prices. In Samluat, in the west
near Battambang, peasants rose up and attacked military posts. The
CPK, although centred in the opposite end of the country, supported
Pol Pot later explained, "It was in this ripening revolutionary
situation that an armed uprising broke out in 1967 in Samluat....
This was set off by the people through their own movement. The Party
Central Committee had not yet decided on general armed insurrection
throughout the country."14 In fact, the Party had not yet formally
changed the more eclectic line that had predominated since the beginning
of the decade, that of "combined political struggle and armed
struggle", and it is not clear to what degree the Party was
united around making a complete rupture with its past practice.
(The CPK's Eastern Zone, in particular, was said to have been reluctant.)
But circumstances intervened. "It is quite true that our Party
had not yet raised the principle of armed struggle, but in the face
of this massive civil war by the enemy, our Party had to fight back
Sihanouk used planes the Chinese had given him to resist the US
and instead bombed western Cambodian villages. He turned the guns
he had taken as his price for co-operation with the Vietnamese against
the Cambodian peasants. He took public responsibility for an order
that all captured rebels be executed on the spot. The prince bragged
that they would be roasted and fed to the vultures. He gave instructions
to film prisoners being hacked to death and had these newsreels
shown in theatres in the cities. In the countryside, his troops
left severed heads on poles to make the same point.
The rebellion lasted from April through May.
Now the CPK began to organise for a nation-wide uprising in earnest.
In January 1968, it launched its first offensive. The revolutionaries
had very few modern weapons at this point and the Party leadership
had to flee Sihanouk's forces yet again, but a civil war had been
The Vietnamese didn't welcome this development, but co-operation
with the CPK continued. The NLF was preoccupied with preparing for
the February 1968 Tet offensive, a make-it-or-break-it gamble on
urban insurrection whose defeat was to signal the end of a large
measure of reliance on the strategy and tactics of protracted people's
war and the beginning of a more conventional war with the aim of
a negotiated settlement.
But again ironically, and certainly against their will, Sihanouk,
the CPK and the Vietnamese were moving toward a three-way alliance.
THE US "SECRET WAR" IN CAMBODIA
In March 1969 the US launched its "secret" bombing campaign
of Cambodia. Panicked, Sihanouk invited Jackie Kennedy (widow of
the American president) for a visit and re-established relations
with the US But it was too late. In March 1970, Sihanouk's prime
minister, General Lon Nol, on whom Sihanouk had relied to repress
the communists since the beginning, overthrew him in a US-orchestrated
coup. At the end of April, the U.S invaded Cambodia. Some 30,000
US troops and 40,000 troops from South Vietnam rampaged through
eastern Cambodia for two months with the declared aim of rooting
out the Vietnamese NLF fighters, who shifted westward to avoid a
decisive battle. Sihanouk fled to Paris and then Peking. China offered
to support him on the condition that he take up the war against
US imperialism. A few days later, Sihanouk issued a call to arms
to the Cambodian people, as head of a National United Front of Kampuchea
(usually known by its French initials, FUNK) whose core was the
Khmer Rouge. He also called for a summit conference to unite the
Indochinese peoples against US imperialism. Sihanouk was made head
of state of the FUNK's government in exile, the Royal Government
of National Union, but the FUNK's programme was silent on what role
Sihanouk would play in a post-liberation government.
At that point, the CPK had about 50,000 local militia fighters and
an army some 5,000-strong. That would double within a year. Close
military co-operation was established between the liberation forces
of the two countries. "They were poorly equipped; they relied
as much on captured US weapons as on arms and ammunition supplied
by the Chinese or Vietnamese," comments an American writer
who was a journalist in Phnom Penh at that time.16 But she adds,
"Time was the major aid given them by the Vietnamese, and they
used it efficiently."
Clearly there were two sides to this process. The CPK had to build
up its armed forces step by step and had little to rely on but the
support of the Cambodian people. That support, according to all
serious observers, was broad, deep and strong. Nothing else could
explain the steady expansion of the revolutionary army, which reached
40,000 by 1973. Even their purchase of much material and weaponry
from corrupt Lon Nol officials and officers is testament to the
support they won from rubber plantation workers (who enabled them
to sell rubber). But the Vietnamese did the bulk of the fighting
against the Lon Nol army through the end of 1972, and by then they
had broken the reactionaries' teeth. Even more importantly, they
beat US imperialism in Vietnam. Otherwise, the liberation of Cambodia
could not have taken place at that time.
By 1973, the Vietnamese had forced the US to the negotiating table
in Paris and they wanted the CPK to join them. The Vietnamese sought
and won a cessation of bombing and the withdrawal of American troops.
The US was not willing to concede defeat and the war was to continue
for more than two years, yet they had put a limit on what they were
willing to risk to achieve victory. In the context of the US's Indochina
war overall, this was a decisive juncture. But in terms of their
own immediate war aims, the Cambodians saw no reason to agree to
a cease-fire that would only relieve their stranglehold on an all
but isolated Phnom Penh, which seemed about to fall into their hands.
This was why Lon Nol was eager for a cease-fire even if the CPK
did not take part in the Paris accords, and why the CPK refused
Just as the immediate aims of the two main Indochinese liberation
forces at the time of these Paris negotiations were different, the
immediate results were dramatically different. The US withdrawal
from Vietnam meant no let-up for Cambodia. Quite the opposite. Under
the Paris accords, the US could no longer bomb Vietnam, where they
hoped that massive US support could enable the reactionary regime
to hold out for a "decent interval", but they feared that
a Khmer Rouge victory was imminent. CIA director William Colby called
bombing Cambodia "the only game in town".17
Much of Cambodia was declared a "free-fire zone".18 The
Paris peace talks took place in January; in February the US sent
its war planes back over Cambodia. A quarter of a million tonnes
of bombs fell in raids that went on every single day for 140 days.
This was more than three times the amount dropped on Japan in the
last, all-out bombing campaign of World War 2 that culminated with
the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The objective
was to build a fire wall around Phnom Penh. It did gain the Lon
Nol regime two years respite.
There had been friction between the two Indochinese parties in the
best of times, and now relations deteriorated rapidly. According
to the CPK, the Vietnamese proposed setting up joint military command
and units, but the Cambodians preferred to keep their independence.19
Starting in the early 1970s, after the US invasion of Cambodia and
the formation of the FUNK, the Vietnamese had begun to send back
hundreds of the Cambodians who had been in exile in northern Vietnam
for 15 years. The Vietnamese wanted to build up the revolutionary
forces in Cambodia, but they wanted to do so by building up their
own influence within the CPK. Many of these returning Cambodian
cadre had undergone training in the Vietnamese approach to politics
as well as other fields. At first they were welcomed home and integrated
into CPK-led units. Within several years, almost all of them were
removed from the Party and a great many executed. "The group
of former combatants trained in Hanoi", a 1976 document would
later say, "...became 100% Vietnamese and nothing left as Khmers.
They were subservient lackeys of the Vietnamese."20 This bitter
contradiction was reflected within the CPK itself, as firefights
broke out between troops of the CPK's Southwest Zone and the CPK's
Eastern Zone command, considered pro-Vietnamese, "Khmer bodies
with Vietnamese minds". In the Southwestern Zone, leadership
was said to have told people that there were two kinds of enemies,
acute and non-acute. "The Vietnamese were not yet our acute
enemy, which was the US-Lon Nol, but at the time it was said that
Vietnam was our number two enemy." Vietnam was frequently referred
to as "the hereditary enemy".21
THE RICE WAR
If the CPK had little holding it up but the support of the people,
the US had little to hold up the Lon Nol regime up but B-52s. Even
his American advisors considered his regime a disaster. It was so
corrupt and incompetent that as many as half the soldiers on its
roster didn't really exist but were merely a device for the generals
to pocket their pay. Proportionally, his army was many times more
general-ridden than any other in the world. In the face of constant
US carpet-bombing, the CPK, like the Vietnamese, used an effective
tactic: its fighters moved in as close as possible to the government
forces. Most of the casualties were civilians; further, the ravages
of explosives and napalm destruction were turning vast areas of
the countryside into wastelands, while able-bodied young men were
obliged to fight for one side or the other. The question of feeding
the people and the troops became increasingly acute on both sides.
Rice riots shook refugee-swollen Phnom Penh. By now the US had to
supply rice in massive quantities. So much did Lon Nol's survival
depend on this that the US Embassy was cabling home weekly reports
on rice stocks.
In some liberated areas, rice production had improved, despite the
bombing, but the demands of the war were outstripping supply. Until
then, land taken from landlords and other traitors who backed the
US-Lon Nol regime was distributed to landless peasant families individually.
Peasants enthusiastically joined mutual aid teams in which each
helped farm the land of all. Half the country's population lived
in liberated areas, administered by mass organisations such as the
Peasants Association and the Patriotic Monks Association. (The existence
of the Alliance of Communist Youth, through which the Party did
much of its recruiting, was still secret, as was that of the Party
itself.) Moneylending and borrowing on rice crops was abolished,
although merchants continued to ply their trade. No longer were
peasants plagued by corruption, rape, theft, drunkenness and gambling.
In some places peasants had voluntarily formed co-operatives of
10-30 families that raised living standards.
In May 1973 Angkar launched what it called the "Democratic
Revolution". Now these co-operatives were to be moved to a
"higher level" and made universal. The term co-operative
is misleading, since private property was basically abolished. So
were cities in the liberated areas.
The internal CPK publication Tung Padevat (Revolutionary Flags)
was later to explain the situation like this: "There was progress
on the one hand and the same old society on the other.... [T]hose
in possession of the land kept their private ownership. Furthermore,
previously landless peasants and previously landless workers now
received land from the [revolutionary] state. Therefore land remained
in private ownership in general." In the northeastern city
of Kratie, part of a CPK-led liberated area, "our state was
their [the comprador capitalists] satellite." "Kratie
township showed the same signs as the old society. Honda motorcycles
were speeding up and down the streets like before, while our ragged
guerrillas walked in the dust. This showed that they were still
the masters... if we followed that road, we would have gone nowhere."22
Kratie was completely evacuated and turned into a ghost town. In
the countryside, money, credit and trading were abolished; rice
and other basic products were directly collected by the new state.
Private ownership of land, farm tools, motor vehicles and so on
It was unheard of, as the CPK document quoted above admits, for
private property to be completely confiscated during a national
liberation war, when the task is to unite all who can be united
against the imperialists and their puppet regime, including the
national bourgeoisie and even some patriotic big capitalists and
landlords whose existence is completely bound up with reactionary
society but who can sometimes be won to action against the main
enemy (such as Sihanouk himself). Furthermore, this treated all
property as the same, whether it belonged to feudal landlords and
plantation owners (ultimately targets of the revolution) or peasants,
who could only win their own liberation against these forces by
seizing the land. So what was the purpose of these measures?
Pol Pot later described the aim like this: "[T]he landowners
and merchants gathered all the rice to sell to the Lon Nol clique
and to the Vietnamese. The poor strata of our people ran out of
rice... the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea, who were fighting at
the front, they were running out of rice and fed with rice soup
at every meal... that was why in 1973, the Central Committee of
our Party decided to create co-operatives on inferior and superior
levels in the whole liberated area."23 Another CPK leader explained
the 1973 decision more bluntly: "The Vietnamese were the biggest
problem. They would buy the rice. So we abolished money. If the
people did not need money, if they lived in a co-operative where
everything was provided for them by the state, they would not sell
rice to the Vietnamese."24
These measures were taken in the desperate days of war and in the
heat of a revolutionary upsurge. Apparently they were not carried
out everywhere in the liberated areas or all at once. In some areas,
they were applied only to advanced villages; in others, they were
compulsory for all. But they were not meant as temporary or tactical
steps; rather they prefigured the CPK regime to come. The CPK's
main characteristics and the main political and ideological issues
raised by its rule had come to the fore, as did the particular way
in which they were to be inter-tangled.
NATIONALISM AND REVISIONISM
To return to the four issues posed at the beginning of this article:
First, the CPK's handling of the Vietnam question: Vietnamese disdain
for the revolution in Cambodia and attempts to subordinate it to
their own national interests was becoming the main factor conditioning
the development of the Cambodian revolution. That this was a condition,
an external factor, cannot be emphasised too much, because this
external factor did not determine the response of the Cambodian
It should be kept in mind that the military connection and interpenetration
of the two national liberation struggles made it possible for the
Vietnamese to influence the course of the Cambodian struggle, but
the opposite was also not impossible, and if an increasingly wrong
line on the part of the VWP was a big problem for Cambodia, it was
to prove even more disastrous for the masses of people in Vietnam.25
Vietnam was a problem for the Cambodian revolution, but it was also
a big advantage. The US had been defeated there and it was full
of people who had sacrificed everything for the anti-imperialist
struggle. The fact that so many Cambodians lived in Vietnam and
vice-versa was a potentially wide-open door through which a revolutionary
line in Cambodia could have impact in the whole region. But the
CPK couldn't see that. All they could see was the negative aspect
of the situation. They couldn't see beyond their own conception
of Cambodian national interests, any more than the Vietnamese revisionists
could understand why they should be concerned about revolution in
Cambodia. In response to the Vietnamese line that tended to reduce
the Indochinese struggle to revolution in Vietnam and support for
that in the other two countries, the CPK was equally incapable of
seeing the need and possibility of spreading thorough-going, proletarian
internationalist revolution throughout Indochina, in unity with
the world's people (including Maoist China, a very important element
in this situation).
Second, this, of course, raises the question of what kind of revolution
they wanted to carry out. That was to become increasingly clear
in the few years in which the CPK held countrywide political power,
as we'll see in the next section. But already, these measures taken
in 1973 herald the line that called for leaping over the stage of
national democratic revolution and even socialism, which was to
take an astonishing form after nation-wide liberation. The target
was skewed: instead of focusing revolutionary fire on the US and
the Lon Nol regime, private property in general was declared the
enemy, in a country where most people had some property, and the
greatest humiliation portrayed as the fact that some middle-class
young men had motorcycles while Khmer Rouge fighters walked in the
dust. (Note that for Tung Padevat, the fact that previously landless
peasants had got land is not considered a factor that could fan
their enthusiasm for revolution to go further; rather the conclusion
is that their land should be confiscated.) The CPK's inability to
even imagine the possibility of uniting the Indochinese people on
a revolutionary basis was matched by its inability to grasp the
importance of uniting the vast majority of people to make revolution
Third, another grave portent was the handling of contradictions
within the Party (particularly the unjust handling of returning
cadre from Vietnam). As we have seen, the struggle against the "Vietnamese"
influence in the CPK was in fact a two-line struggle within the
Cambodian Party, an endeavour to chalk out a revolutionary line
in conflict with the non-revolutionary line that had predominated.
But because this struggle itself was seen from a nationalist perspective,
it was summed up incorrectly as mainly a struggle against an external
enemy (Vietnam and "Vietnamese minds"). This summation
itself became an enormous obstacle to the Party's development, undermining
the more revolutionary orientation that had won out. Because these
questions were not treated politically in a straight-on fashion,
which could have strengthened the understanding and unity of the
CPK, this situation weakened the Party. Rather than learning from
this error, it was to systematise this approach.
Lastly, the CPK needed to develop a critique of the political, ideological
and military line of the Vietnamese Party, whose bearings were never
firm and which had been increasingly drawn into the political and
ideological orbit of the USSR. Such a criticism would have been
essential for clarifying the road to liberation and socialism in
Cambodia and uniting the Party, but it was no less desperately needed
in Vietnam and Laos as well. This was one aspect of "foreign
experience" that the CPK could ignore only at the risk of losing
their own bearings and their ability to lead any revolution at all.
The other was Mao's polemic against Soviet-led modern revisionism
and his developing summation of the historical experience of the
international communist movement, and the line and experience of
the Cultural Revolution. But instead of making the ideology and
interests of the international proletariat their starting point,
they reacted to Vietnamese chauvinism on a nationalist basis themselves,
making this contradiction insoluble. Despite the CPK's very real
and acknowledged leadership over broad masses of the Cambodian people
and its valuable and heroic role in the struggle against US imperialism,
which made an important contribution to the international proletarian
revolution, as the CPK developed a consolidated line in the course
of the war, it was heading further and further up a blind alley.
III. VICTORY WASTED
The liberation of Phnom Penh came on 17 April 1975. The final assault
had begun on the first day of the year. Revolutionary troops cut
off Highway One linking Phnom Penh to Saigon. They strung Chinese-supplied
water mines on cables across the Mekong and pulled them up as ships
approached, cutting off that route as well. Heavy howitzers (supplied
from the Vietnamese, who had captured them from the Americans) pounded
the capital's airport, its sole remaining link with the US. Fearing
what its ambassador called an "uncontrolled solution",26
the United States sent Lon Nol into exile and tried to cut a separate
deal with Sihanouk if he would break his alliance with the CPK.
He rejected that offer, perhaps because it was too late. The hated
reactionary army - the army that had raped and robbed in the city
just as it had in the countryside - collapsed, while the armed forces
led by the CPK encircled the cities and closed in. At some 60,000
strong, including several battalions of women, along with many more
peasants in local militias, the revolutionary army was several times
smaller than Lon Nol's, but under the leadership of the CPK the
justness of its cause had become an irresistible material force.
The US and their puppet regime had tried to paint the war as one
to save Cambodia from a Vietnamese invasion, but now, for the first
time in modern history, Cambodia was entirely in the hands of Cambodians.
Even a US State Department officer in Phnom Penh had to admit, "The
population in the [Lon Nol] Republican zone welcomed surrender when
April 17, 1975 came."27
Yet it could be said that two different Cambodias, or two different
parts of it that had undergone a diverging development, confronted
each other that day. First under the French (and even before), and
then under the Sihanouk years of economic boom, Phnom Penh, like
so many Third World urban concentrations, had always been a city
apart from the rest of the country. Its economy was articulated
to foreign capital, to the export of rice and rubber and a few manufactured
items, and its main role was to serve as a warehouse and distribution
point for foreign goods. Throughout most of the twentieth century
the majority of its population had been Cambodian-born but non-Khmer,
especially Chinese and Vietnamese. Following independence from France,
Sihanouk, in one of his "modernising" moods, issued an
edict that forbade the wearing of traditional peasant clothing in
town or going barefoot. The million refugees who had poured in during
the years of American carpet bombing changed that - doubling the
city's population to about two million - but at the same time it
became even more cut off from the countryside. While millions of
peasants had been part of the revolution for several years at the
time of the taking of Phnom Penh, the people in the capital had
been living almost exclusively off the reactionary war or the charity
the American ambassador's wife dispensed while her husband helped
direct the destruction of the country.
The city captured by the liberation forces was no prize in any immediate
sense. There were few stocks of arms and ammunition and no fighter
jets or tanks or heavy artillery. No raw materials, no spare parts,
and for want of fuel, almost no electricity. Much of the city was
without water. There were no medicines or other hospital supplies.
And above all, no food. The rice supplies on hand were only enough
to feed the city for less than a week.
The country overall was not in much better shape. The Lon Nol regime
had indicated half a million dead on its side; another 600,000 were
reported killed in the liberated areas (out of a total population
of between seven and eight million). Hundreds of thousands of the
survivors were badly maimed or crippled. The last dispatch sent
out by the USAID reported that Cambodia had "slipped in less
than five years from a significant exporter of rice to large-scale
imports, and when these ended in April 1975, to the brink of starvation".28
At least half the rice fields had been dug up by bombs or lay unplanted.
The American air raids and fighting had killed off the bulk of the
water buffalo used to pull ploughs, along with cattle and other
farm animals. Almost half the country's population had been driven
from their homes. The country's motorways and railroads were shattered,
the rivers clogged with the carcasses of sunken ships.
These were the circumstances under which the liberation forces evacuated
Phnom Penh and other major cities almost as soon as they entered.
Further, they had no way to know whether or not the US would renew
its bombing raids. War was still raging in Vietnam. Only a few weeks
later, on May 12th, the US was to stage the Mayaguez incident, in
which the capture of an American freighter carrying military supplies
in Cambodian waters was the pretext for another US attack, destroying
most Cambodian naval facilities and knocking out the country's only
oil refinery at Kampong Song.
The US and other imperialist press wailed that this evacuation was
a death march, but even the most unfavourable reports give no evidence
of that. As a New York Times reporter described it, "in
fact, it was a journey away from certain death by starvation...
[which] was already a reality in the urban centres."29 Liberation
fighters went door to door and asked people to leave as soon as
they could gather up their possessions. There was no violence. People
walked out of the city in families and were given food and drink
on the way. Some medicine was also dispensed. True, as the Western
press complained, the wounded and sick were evacuated from the hospitals,
but for the moment, at least, they were little worse off anywhere
else. Captured high officials and officers of the Lon Nol regime
were executed, but the only reports of mass executions of former
soldiers came from Battambang and elsewhere in the Northwestern
Zone, and the Party centre soon ordered that they be halted. Since
the US press led the pack in howling about "Khmer Rouge atrocities"
on the heels of the American defeat, it seems only fitting to quote
a once-classified report from the US Embassy in Thailand, in charge
of "monitoring" events in Kampuchea, which said that after
the first month, "reports of the wilful killing of former government
officials and soldiers more or less ended".30
Yet the emptying of the cities was not meant as a wartime step,
nor even as a necessary adjustment of an untenable situation. The
fighters who organised the exodus told people that this was only
a temporary measure, but it was not, nor was it ever meant to be.
In a May 1975 Party conference, it had been decided to put an end
to cities once and for all. The evacuation was complete and permanent.
Later, a few skilled workers were to be called back and peasants
sent to replace factory workers, a few government offices and foreign
embassies were to reopen, but for almost four years the living part
of the capital was reduced to the size of a few square blocks. The
rest was cleaned up and then abandoned to the weeds.
The evacuation of the cities was only the first step in a broader
programme adopted in the months before liberation. Markets, private
property, money and religion were abolished. The emptying of the
cities was seen as a decisive step in this. "If we had kept
Phnom Penh," the CPK wrote in its internal organ, "it
[private property] would have had much strength. It is true that
we were stronger and had more influence than the private sector
when we were in the countryside. But in Phnom Penh we would have
become their satellite."31
A "UNIQUE" REVOLUTION?
The CPK understood very well that this ran contrary to the policies
and experience of every socialist revolution. "The expulsion
of the population of Phnom Penh is a measure one will not find in
any other country's revolution," noted an internal CPK document.
Foreign Minister Ieng Sary later explained to a foreign correspondent,
"The Khmer revolution has no precedent. What we are trying
to do has never been done before in history."32
In fact, the CPK leadership considered their revolution totally
unique. In July, Pol Pot told a meeting of 3,000 army representatives:
"We have won total, definitive, and clean victory, meaning
that we have won it without any foreign connection or involvement.
We dared to wage a struggle on a stand completely different from
that of the world revolution.... In the whole world, since the advent
of revolutionary war and since the birth of US imperialism, no country,
no people and no army has been able to drive the imperialists out
to the last man and score total victory over them. Nobody could."33
Pol Pot was making two separate claims that need to be deconstructed.
First, the idea that no one else had ever before defeated the US
was simply false - what about China, Korea and Vietnam? It seems
that the real point here is to contrast Cambodia with Vietnam, which
had received aid from the USSR and China and therefore won an unclean
victory. It is true that the Vietnamese leadership had turned away
from revolutionary Marxism on every front (including military doctrine)
and in the struggle to free Vietnam from the clutches of the US
compromised their country and sold their soul to the equally imperialist
USSR. (After the fall of the Soviet bloc, this approach led them
to fall into the hands of the West again.) But Cambodia did not
win its liberation independently of the world context.34
This first claim, with its blatant nationalism, was inextricably
linked to the second, which was true: the CPK was not adapting Marxism's
lessons (based on historical and world-wide experience) to Cambodia's
specific and unique conditions but instead proceeding from "a
stand completely different from that of the world revolution".
Cambodians returning from Europe were lectured on "the superiority
of the Khmer revolution, in particular because of the abolition
of money and the evacuation of the cities".35 This was explicitly
a criticism of China's revolution: "The Chinese now pay wages
to state workers, etc. Wages lead to private ownership, because
when you have money you save to buy this or that."36
The point of difference - Cambodia's uniqueness - was that the struggle
was not aimed against the old ruling classes, which were considered
irremediably smashed, but against all private property in general
and all who had become tainted by it, including all classes in the
cities. "We have already put down the capitalists and the feudalist
classes and we continue to strike them further. And we are also
hitting the private property of the petty bourgeoisie, the peasants
and the workers.... We evacuated the people from the cities which
is our class struggle."37
The other side of this "class struggle" is what was done
with the people evacuated from the cities. The country's population
was divided into two categories, "old people" (those living
in revolutionary base areas before April 1975) and "new people"
(city dwellers and peasants living in areas under Lon Nol's control,
about 30% of the population according to a CPK document38 and closer
to 40% according to other calculations.39 )
A PROFITABLE DIVISION
These two categories did not correspond to social class. There were
very different classes in the first category, from poor and landless
peasants to rich peasants (by liberation, most non-peasants had
fled the countryside). The second included an even broader range
of classes, from capitalists and feudals, to shopkeepers and intellectuals,
to industrial workers and rickshaw drivers.40 Nor did this classification
correspond to any political category, since it threw together people
who sympathised with the revolution and those who opposed it. For
instance, almost all of Cambodia's Chinese minority (about 430,000),
by now located in the cities, were labelled "new people",
mixing together moneylenders big and small, shopkeepers and students.
Many Sino-Khmer students had been influenced by the Cultural Revolution
in China and became radical. (Sihanouk had banned the Cambodia-China
Friendship Association, even as he was receiving aid from China.)
Speaking Chinese was forbidden.
Students, in fact, had provided important support and many members
for the CPK. Secondary education had been very limited until 1954.
(Khieu Ponnary, married to Pol Pot, was the first Cambodian woman
to graduate from a secular secondary school and later ran a secondary
school herself to provide work and income for CPK leaders.) In a
futile effort to modernise his country without revolution, Sihanouk
spent up to a quarter of the national budget on education and produced
a million educated youth. Many of them, without work or future prospects,
were open to revolutionary ideas, although by liberation the Party
had not carried out mass work in the cities for years. All of them
were sent to be "new people".
At first, many of those who had come from villages originally were
free to return there, and the rest were concentrated in a number
of areas, especially the Southwest and Eastern zones. All were installed
in co-operatives and, like everyone else, went to work in the fields.
But the two categories were not treated equally. The co-operatives
were political as well as economic units - they were the basic local
government, the only mass organisation and the form in which almost
all daily life was organised. The "old people" were "full
rights members". The "new people" were not. They
could not be candidates for the committees that led the co-operatives
or any other post. When the following year, in a manifestation of
national unity and institution-building, the country adopted a constitution
and a national assembly, they were not allowed to vote. Party documents
describe a further division of the "new people" into "probationary
members" and "depositees". It is unclear how widely
this was carried out or how much consequence it had. But Party documents
themselves make little distinction. "New people" were
expected to be neutral at best, and if not all enemies, not potentially
advanced either.41 Often they were told: "To keep you is no
gain, to get rid of you no loss."
There is much evidence that "base people" (as the "old
people" were often called) considered the "new people"
a burden, unable to farm very well. In some areas, they were well
received and well treated. In other areas, they were given less
food, the worst shelter and harsh treatment. Initially they were
concentrated in the zones where the Party was strongest. In September
1975, a second mass exodus took place. "New people" were
sent by foot and rail from the Southwest and East to the less densely
populated Northern and Northwestern zones. About 800,000 were sent
to the Northwest alone, almost doubling its population in the space
of a few months. Here conditions were to become especially harsh.
A NEW STATE RELIGION
At the same time, the CPK was also carrying out another massive
population transfer. Previously, the Lon Nol regime, aptly described
as "Buddhist fascism", had launched pogroms against ethnic
Vietnamese living in Cambodia as part of its holy war against the
Vietnamese "Thimils" (the Sanskrit word for "infidels"
- a term that was meant to simultaneously lash out at the Vietnamese
for being communist atheists and also incorporate the popular Cambodian
scorn for the Vietnamese for having, in Cambodian eyes, surrendered
to Christianity). 300,000 peasant settlers, plantation workers and
other Vietnamese were driven out amid a squall of racist hysteria
whipped up by the US puppet regime, drawing on animosities accumulated
in earlier centuries of Vietnamese occupation. Within five months
after the liberation in Cambodia, most of the remaining 150,000
ethnic Vietnamese were also removed to Vietnam. The Democratic Kampuchea
government labelled them "Vietnamese residents whom Vietnam
had secretly infiltrated into Kampuchea and who lived hidden, mixed
with the population".42 Few of the 10,000 who remained (mostly
with Khmer spouses and families) survived the next few years.
Another non-Khmer minority targeted by the DK regime were the Chams,
a Moslem people numbering several hundred thousand, with their own
distinctive customs, who live throughout Cambodia, especially along
the rivers. In addition to fishing, many worked as butchers (a job
Buddhists preferred to leave to them) or small traders. They were
considered fierce fighters, and during the war both sides recruited
many Cham soldiers. It has been said that they initially supported
the Khmer Rouge because of the discrimination they had suffered
at the hands of the Buddhist governments, but that they turned against
the revolutionaries after 1973 when their language, distinctive
dress, religion and religious trappings (such as beards) were banned
in the new co-operatives - and then the Lon Nol regime turned around
and courted them.43 While it may be true that as a particularly
traditional and religious group, they tended to oppose the revolution,
it is certain that when the new government persecuted them, they
resisted violently, sometimes killing CPK cadre, Khmer and Cham
alike. Their villages were broken up and they were scattered among
the "new people" in co-operatives. There was no attempt
to wipe them out as long as they ate pork (a test repeatedly put
to them) and abandoned their customs. But they were forced to accept
However, Khmer minorities (the "upper Khmer" or tribal
peoples of the hills) were favoured as "real" Cambodians
whose dark skin was favourably contrasted to that of "white"
Chinese, Vietnamese and others.
All this adds up to a systematic approach: religion was abolished
by decree, but the CPK did not hesitate to rely on the most backward
religious and ethnic prejudices, synthesised in the (not very) new
state religion: Khmer superiority.
It also went very well with another aspect of the Democratic Kampuchea
regime that, whether consciously or not, also represented a reluctance
to thoroughly break with traditional ideas. The Democratic Kampuchea
government did not repeat Sihanouk's "Buddhist socialism"
slogans, but he was, in name, at least, the head of the new state
(until he was quietly sent into retirement in September 1977), and
that whole concept of communism (which Sihanouk often condemned
as treason to Buddhism) was never publicly referred to. In this
situation, it was easy for many people to have the impression that
the "Organisation" was simply a more nationalist and radical
component of the united front of which the Buddhist monarch was
the ostensible leader.
THE PLAN FOR SOCIALISM
Shortly after liberation, the new government declared the old
Lon Nol banknotes no longer legal currency. New bills with an image
of the Angkor Wat temples had been printed up, but at the last minute
the government decided not to put them into circulation. Money,
they announced, was history in Cambodia.
This was a radical measure, but not a particularly revolutionary
For one thing, it was not simply an over-hasty step based on a hatred
for what Marx called "the nexus of callous cash payment"
that turns all human relations into ones of naked self-interest.44
Like the 1973 leap to co-operatives, it was justified as a measure
against national enemies who might use it: "If we use money,
it will fall into the hands of individuals.... If the money falls
into the hands of bad people or enemies, they will use it to destroy
our cadres by bribing them with this or that.... They have the money
to bribe the people's sentiment. Then in one year, ten years, twenty
years, our clean Cambodian society will become Vietnam."45
For another thing, currency was abolished but, as we shall see,
money as a category persisted - and, when it came to determining
the plans of the state and the lives of the people, it ruled.
In 1976, the CPK adopted a four-year plan for the country's development,
which in almost comical nationalist one-upsmanship over China was
called the "Super Great Leap Forward". The main target
was to double rice production in the years 1977-1980 so that Cambodia
could export $1.4 billion worth of agricultural goods. Ninety percent
of that was to be rice sold to its traditional buyers (Hong Kong,
Singapore and African countries), with Thailand a vital market for
other products. The profit would be used to buy the machinery and
raw materials needed to achieve modern (mechanised) agriculture
within 10-15 years and modern industry within 15-20 years.
The key to doubling rice production would be to "solve the
water question" by building an extensive system of water-retention
dams and irrigation canals throughout the country, so as to progress
from a pre-Liberation average of one metric tonne a year per hectare
to an average of three tonnes in areas where one crop a year was
harvested and six tonnes or more in a growing number of areas where
irrigation was to make two yearly harvests possible. To that end,
within a year, the co-operatives moved to a "higher level"
- far bigger farms, with up to a thousand people, and roving work
teams able to carry out large-scale projects. All private property
was abolished except for clothes, eating and hygiene utensils, notebooks
and a few other personal items. Collective eating arrangements were
made universal and compulsory; people were forbidden to carry out
sideline activities such as fishing, gathering fruit and nuts, raising
chickens, etc., which had made an important difference in their
Some critics of Democratic Kampuchea have ridiculed its ambitious
economic goals as unobtainable or unnecessary, but that is not our
purpose here. What was wrong with the CPK's plan for "building
socialism quickly" was not that it was too quick, but that
it couldn't lead to socialism.
First of all, it is impossible to build socialism in a country that
hasn't settled accounts with feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism
(capitalism interlocked with feudalism and imperialism). The CPK
did not intend to build an "autarchic [self-contained], peasant
society", as some critics have claimed; instead of liberating
the peasants, they planned to modernise exclusively on the backs
of the peasants. (This will be discussed further in part IV.)
Secondly, the plan confused socialism with modern machinery. That's
why its slogans are so similar to the call for "Four Modernisations"
issued at that same moment by the Right in the Chinese Party, which
argued that increasing production was the most important aspect
of building socialism. In opposition to this, the Maoist slogan
"Grasp revolution, promote production" put forward revolutionising
the relations of production (which means, ultimately, the relations
between people) as key to developing the productive forces (understood
to include both tools and people). This, too, will be taken up again
in part IV, but for now, at least, it has to be said that in building
a society where the basic relationships between people are based
on coercion, the CPK was simply perpetuating the old social relationships
in a new form.
In fact, the CPK's approach to economics was capitalist in essence.
Both socialism and capitalism need surplus product (over and above
what people need to live) to build up the productive forces, but
in the CPK plan rice was taken as capital in the strictly capitalist
sense, as a commodity to be traded for other commodities on the
international market. For all of the CPK's nationalism, the calculations
in this plan to build socialism had to be - and were - expressed
in American dollars.46 Although a socialist country will have to
buy some necessary items abroad, an economy that revolves around
buying and selling on the world market will never achieve the all-around,
balanced internal development necessary to become independent from
imperialism, build socialism and support the world revolution. Even
aside from the problem of how to stand up to external imperialist
pressure (which Cambodia apparently hoped to solve by selling to
colonies and other countries under the thumb of the big powers,
rather than directly to imperialist countries), such a country will
never be able to break free of market considerations internally.
This plan would have enslaved Cambodia ever more thoroughly to the
capitalist world market. Apparently the CPK was not consciously
following the model of Cuba, with its fatal decision to mortgage
the country to the export of sugar, but there was nothing "unique"
about the Cambodian version of this revisionism.47
The application of this plan varied in the CPK's seven zones, which
seems to reflect different lines within the Party more than local
conditions. However, the CPK centre itself, in a document published
in Tung Padevat, emphasised the strategic importance of choosing
where to concentrate offensives, in economic construction as much
as in war, and declared, "The good number one battlefield for
us is the NW zone".48 The Party had taken the decision that
the Northwestern and Northern zones were to provide a large part
of the rice surplus.
The larger Northwestern Zone contained some of Cambodia's most productive
rice fields and before liberation had been the main source of its
rice exports. But of the zone's 1.8 million inhabitants (a quarter
of the country's population), the majority were former city people
from Phnom Penh and Battambang, making this by far the greatest
concentration of "new people". Further, the demands placed
on them were to be higher than anywhere else. Forty percent of the
country's fields chosen to be harvested twice yearly were in the
Northwest, and the state was to keep half the value of the rice
harvested there, as opposed to 20% in other zones.
This was truly a perverse decision from the point of view of socialism,
and stood in sharp contrast to Mao's China. China took up the slogan
of "In agriculture, learn from Tachai" - an agriculturally
difficult area where the advanced consciousness of former poor peasants
propelled rapid economic development by creating new relations of
production. The CPK chose to make its economic breakthroughs in
the agriculturally richest areas by concentrating the greatest number
of people they had excluded from the revolution, in a region where
the Party was relatively weak (it was held by the Lon Nol regime
until the end and the reactionary army staged its last stand there)
and unable to lead. And more, many of these urban people were not
used to this kind of labour and didn't know much about farming.
At the same time, the Southwestern Zone, a poor area that had long
been a CPK stronghold, was given a much smaller place in this economic
offensive and relieved of most of its "new people", as
was the Eastern Zone, where the CPK was also strong and deeply-rooted.
Instead of relying on the conscious activism of the labourers and
giving special emphasis to the efforts of the most advanced, the
CPK was operating according to a very different logic. A revisionist
modernisation scheme was the major factor in this apparently irrational
decision. Capital was working in mysterious ways, but it was definitely
HARVEST OF DISASTER
The harvest at the end of 1975 - truly a battle against the devastation
wreaked by the US imperialists - was surprisingly successful. But
by the next year, the results were disastrous. Especially in the
Northwest, large numbers of people died from malnutrition and disease,
both adults toiling in the fields and youth in the mobile work teams
building irrigation projects. The expanded "co-operatives"
were administered by committees of 30, "old people" and
Party or army cadre. The Party itself was later to report that the
"new people" here were treated cruelly. Ieng Thirith,
Democratic Kampuchea's Minister for Social Affairs, made an inspection
tour of the zone in mid-1977 on behalf of the CPK centre, of which
she was a leading member. "Conditions there were very queer.
In Battambang [province, not the city], I saw they [the cadre] made
all the people go to the rice fields. The fields were very far from
the villages. The people had no homes and they were all very ill....
I know the directives of the Prime Minister [Pol Pot] were that
no old people, pregnant women, women nursing babies or small children
were to work in the fields. But I saw everybody in the open rice
fields, in the open air and very hot sun, and many were ill with
diarrhoea and malaria."49
The CPK leadership understood that something was going very wrong.
Overwork had become a major national problem. "So far this
year, the strength of the labour force is rather feeble. Only in
the East is the labour force not feeble", reads a late 1976
report attributed to Pol Pot.50 Most people were not being adequately
fed. Concerning food reserves, the report continues, "A number
of places have solved it nicely, but three-quarters of the country
has failed to do so."51 "Some of our comrades behave as
if all new people were enemies. They don't trust them to make political
progress, to acquire political consciousness, or to solve the problems
of livelihood. This is a big misinterpretation. If it were true,
we would be unable to round up the people to take the side of the
revolution in terms of politics, consciousness, and in terms of
tasks assigned by the line laid down by the Party."52
This report is striking for what is right in it as well as what
is wrong. The Party recognised that things were going badly, it
expressed concern for the people and correctly understood that it
had to solve problems of livelihood and unite the people if it were
going to retain power. Yet at the same time the report also fails
to recognise the source of these problems.
Because the CPK held that the main target was "individualism,
whether of feudalists, capitalists, or other classes not particularly
poor, such as independent farmers, independent workers, and independent
manual labourers",53 they could not distinguish between contradictions
among the people and those with the enemy. It was impossible to
unite the people with that line. Further, since the co-operatives
were not based on "the principle of voluntary co-operation
and mutual benefit", as Mao wrote of China's co-operative movement,54
and since the CPK could not lead the co-operatives in a way that
would meet the people's basic necessities, at least over time, then
how could people be expected to have any enthusiasm for them?
The inability of Party cadre to win the support of the people and
a tendency to impose policy by force is often criticised in this
and other documents. Part of the solution, the report says, is for
cadre to go "down to live among the people" and "be
trained to solve this problem well so as to unite themselves with
the people".55 Again, this fails to see that no matter how
Party members and committees carried it out, the underlying obstacle
was the Party's line itself. But the CPK leadership was determined
to find the source of the problem in the application of the line.
The report's main focus is not on Party members' shortcomings or
mistakes, but on conspiratorial wrecking activities: "[H]idden
enemies seek to deprive the people of food, while following our
orders to some extent. These people exist in the army. They look
like people conforming with the law. They take our circular instructions
and use them to mistreat the people and to deprive them, forcing
them to work whether they are sick or healthy."56
This was actually the operative section: "[T]here is a sickness
inside the Party, born in the time when we waged a people's and
democratic revolution. [In other words, in the 1960s and '70s.]
We cannot locate it precisely.... We search for the microbes within
the Party without success. They are buried. As our socialist revolution
advances, however, seeping more strongly into every corner of the
Party, the army and among the people, we can locate the ugly microbes.
We are encouraged to expel treacherous elements that pose problems
to the Party and to the revolution. If we wait any longer, the microbes
can do real damage.... To give an example, the string of traitors
that we smashed recently had been organised secretly during the
people's revolution and the democratic revolution. In those days,
that sort of people could get alongside us. In a socialist era,
they must be cast aside. Now 1976 was a year of furious, diligent
class struggle. Many microbes emerged. Many networks came into view."57
Ieng Thirith was more blunt in her interview with a Western correspondent.
"Agents had gotten into our ranks," she said, "and
they had gotten into our highest ranks. We were not yet in full
control in 1976. The power was in the hands of the zone secretaries....
they controlled millions of people, and we, the government, we controlled
nothing but factories [in Phnom Penh]. That's all."58 Her husband,
Ieng Sary, foreign minister and top Party leader, blamed Nhim Ros,
secretary of the Northwestern Zone, and So Phim, secretary of the
Eastern Zone, for exacerbating divisions among the people in order
to carry out sabotage.59 Both men were eventually called Vietnamese
agents. Nhim Ros was executed, So Phim killed while resisting arrest.60
SECRET WAR WITHIN THE PARTY
Who were these hidden enemies? It is more than likely that some
existed. There are many examples of the Right within the Chinese
Party sabotaging socialist construction by applying policies that
did not correspond to the requirements of the situation and the
sentiments of the masses. In fact, one of the greatest lessons Mao
drew from the experience of the Cultural Revolution and of socialist
construction in the USSR was that with the development of the socialist
revolution, the key battles between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat
are those fought within the party itself over what policies and
line to apply. But the CPK was saying something different. The problem
was not one of line, a line that could be identified, criticised,
struggled against and defeated as the party reached a higher unity.
Nor does the reference to people who had joined the party during
the democratic revolution point to what Mao meant when he warned
about "bourgeois democrats becoming capitalist roaders",
people who joined the party during the period of New Democratic
revolution but who opposed the further transformation of society
through continuing socialist revolution. Instead, the CPK claimed
that these hidden enemies were able to sneak in during that period
because of the weaknesses imposed by Vietnamese influence. They
owed their continued power to Vietnam because, in the CPK leadership's
view, now that money had been abolished and the old property-owning
classes had been scattered in co-operatives, there was no longer
any internal social basis for the emergence of antagonistic classes
and thus antagonistic class struggle within Kampuchean society or
Before this late 1976 report quoted above, the CPK leadership had
sent cadre from the Eastern Zone to "sweep" the Northwestern
Zone, rooting out leading cadre suspected of being at fault for
the problems that were arising. Ieng Sary later complained that
the Eastern Zone cadre had punished and killed the wrong people.62
After the report, cadre from the Southwestern Zone were sent in
to repeat this combing. They found little rice on hand, although
the quotas had been reported fulfilled and the required amount had
been turned over to the state. Apparently a number of the Northwestern
"old people" were killed as punishment. At first the "new
people" welcomed the Southwestern Zone cadre, who were more
politically sophisticated and treated them better. Some "new
people" were brought in to leadership of the co-operatives
to replace the removed "old people", and in general this
distinction seems to have lessened in this zone. But by the next
harvest, the problem just repeated itself. The harvest was even
worse. Some reports say that half the rice fields lay unplanted
because the people were too weak from hunger and disease to work.63
However, the centre's rice requisition was not lessened. Instead,
there was a new "sweep".
The CPK set up a prison for those suspected of grave political crimes
in a former school building at Tuol Sleng, not far from the capital.
All of those who entered there were tortured and almost all of them
executed. The killings in the countryside are more difficult to
examine. What makes Tuol Sleng different is that the Party kept
detailed records of every prisoner, their class background and their
confessions, for detailed confessions were the main point of its
existence. The Vietnamese, after they invaded and occupied Cambodia
in 1979, made a museum of Tuol Sleng and used it to discredit the
CPK. But there has never been any claim that the documents there
are forged. The authenticity of some of them was confirmed by Ieng
Sary.64 Kang Kek Iey (better known as "Duch"), who was
in charge at Tuol Sleng, recently corroborated the basic outline
and verified his signature on some of these documents.65
A REACTIONARY METHOD
No socialist regime has ever made systematic use of torture. It
was illegal in China, and it should be noted that Mao points this
out forcefully just before discussing "counter-revolutionaries
who have sneaked into the Party".66 One of many reasons for
this is that while the enemy may be able to use torture to break
some revolutionaries so that they commit the reactionary act of
informing on their comrades, no torture can ever make a reactionary
into a revolutionary - and therefore, the question of the truth
of what people say under torture, always a big question, is even
greater for proletarian revolutionaries. Further, it degrades the
revolution and creates a climate that impedes the correct and necessary
struggle against wrong lines in the party. The Cambodian experience
is proof of this.
In China, when Mao analysed that there was a bourgeois headquarters
within the Party, he and other Party leaders took the basic issues
at stake to the masses and launched the Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution to subject the bourgeois line and policies to mass criticism,
make the lessons of the material basis for the emergence of a new
bourgeoisie under socialism a mass question and formulate new policies
to continue digging up that "soil" step by step while
raising the consciousness of the Party and the masses through studying
basic Marxist works and thoroughly dissecting and criticising the
bourgeois line. When, as the document quoted above says, the CPK
leadership analysed that a "life-and-death struggle" threatened
their Party, they resorted to secrecy, torture and executions.
At first, in 1976, of the more than 750 executions at Tuol Sleng,
most were considered members of the old society: Lon Nol soldiers,
professionals, students, factory workers, etc. They confessed to
CIA links. Koy Thuon, secretary of the Northern Zone, also admitted
to CIA connections under torture and was executed in 1977. But the
confession of Northwest Zone leader Nhim Rhos was a bombshell: the
Vietnamese, he said, had set up a parallel party within the CPK.
In the next two years, as some 20,000 people in all were tortured
and killed in Tuol Sleng, this theme became a drumbeat, and every
confession led to further arrests, torture and confessions of Party
leaders, members and their spouses and children, in ever-widening
mad spasms of murder.
As could be expected, the meticulous records left behind in this
place of horror make it unmistakably clear that people were tortured
until they gave the confession sought after. The regulations stated
that torture was to be applied "by hand" and slowly, to
facilitate this result; the torturer was considered to have failed
at his duty if a prisoner died before writing what was considered
an acceptable confession (often involving many drafts and a final
Since this was not seen as a political and ideological line struggle
and certainly not as one that had to be taken to the masses, Democratic
Kampuchea's failures were reduced to a police question and dealt
with accordingly. The executions carried out by the regime should
be examined in light of this fundamental line problem and not explained
in terms of "Cambodian psychology", or by some inexplicable
rage gripping the Party and its mass base (or even as the result
of a just rage unleashed by the US-inflicted slaughter).
The question of the differences and contention between the various
zones of Democratic Kampuchea (which had developed pretty much autonomously
until liberation) is one of the most controversial among Cambodia
researchers. There are no documents and not much evidence that would
point to clearly contending lines. But it is clear that there were
major issues at stake. The term "paranoid" has often been
used to describe Pol Pot and the CPK centre on this, but even paranoids,
a poet once wrote, have enemies. There were plots; this was a life-and-death
struggle around basic questions of the line of the Kampuchean revolution.
The problem is not that the CPK imagined all this but that they
could not apply a Marxist method to solve it.
One cluster of issues is obvious: the long-festering controversy
over how to sum up the CPK's history and Vietnam's role in it.
The Vietnamese hardly needed to set up a separate political party
because their influence and line had been within the CPK since the
beginning. Just about the only political question involved in this
mortal combat within the Party about which there are contending
documents revolves around when to date the Party's founding. A pre-liberation
Eastern Zone document puts it in 1951, when the Pracheachon Party
was founded under Vietnamese influence.67 The 1976 "Decision
of the Central Committee on a Variety of Questions" attacks
this directly: "The question of the Party History: Set the
birth of the Party in 1960 instead; do not use 1951, so that we
are close to others - make a clean break."68
An important bone of contention with the Workers Party of Vietnam
and within the ranks and leadership of the CPK itself had always
been how to relate to Sihanouk, in other words, whether or not to
subordinate the revolutionary struggle in Cambodia to hopes for
an anti-US alliance with the prince. The Vietnamese Party clearly
had more confidence in Sihanouk than they did in the Cambodian communists,
in terms of the way the VWP tended to see things, which was in relation
to their own immediate war aims. But no foreign influence was required
to create a reluctance, among some Cambodian Party members, especially
those who had found a place in Sihanouk's two-faced political system,
to thoroughly rupture with the old society and face the uncertainties
of war against it. This is part of the experience of every party
that prepares to launch people's war.
In the most basic strategic sense, the line associated with the
CPK centre was correct: if the CPK had not built up its own revolutionary
army - and it could not have done so without waging war and carrying
out agrarian revolution - then Cambodia would not have been liberated
from the US.69 In fact, it is highly unlikely that Sihanouk would
have joined the united front led by the CPK otherwise. As the Party
correctly wrote about the Sihanouk forces, "Although they did
not want to join us, when the storm came they had to come and take
shelter in our refuge. This is because we had already prepared our
In this, the Cambodian revolution was not so different from the
Chinese revolution, where the question of what attitude to take
towards Chiang Kai-shek was one of the thorniest problems and a
core issue, for it embraced all the basic questions of the class
analysis of Chinese society, the primacy of agrarian revolution
and people's war, the strategic nature of the revolutionary united
front and the question of tactical alliances, the question of independent
armed forces under party leadership and so on. These repeated life-and-death
struggles within the Communist Party of China were the motive force
of the Party's advance, both in terms of the development of its
line and the development of the consciousness and unity of its members.
It is true that some of the standard-bearers of the wrong line,
who at times dominated the Party, eventually committed treason and
went over to the enemy in one form or another; but if Mao had simply
tried to solve the question by terror he would have failed utterly
- in fact, the line developed under his leadership would not have
Once again, the question of "foreign experience" is fundamental.
The problem of class struggle under socialism and two-line struggle
in the party as its concentrated expression is one that the proletariat
has been grappling with since socialism was first established in
the Soviet Union, and the lessons Mao drew from this experience
were paid for at a very high price. The CPK had grasped some immediate
issues - if they had not, they would not have won victory - but
by rejecting those lessons, the CPK was doomed not to "exceed
Lenin and outstrip Mao", but to cut off any possibility of
correcting their increasingly monstrous errors.
Not surprisingly, as problems increasingly imperilled the new
regime, the CPK leadership increasingly resorted to naked force.
This was not necessarily because they wanted to. It was not the
path they had set out on, or they never would have gathered and
organised the mass support to win victory. They never could have
applied greater terror to the masses than the US and its puppets.
This theme of the unintendedness of the consequences of their regime
has been repeatedly emphasised by surviving Party leaders, even
Pol Pot himself. A foreign correspondent described a brief conversation
with Pol Pot shortly before his death like this: "I told him
many people in the city hate him and think he's responsible for
the killings. He said he knew how many people died. When he said
that, he broke down and cried. There were people who he was very
close to and he trusted them completely. Then, in the end, they
made a mess of everything."71 Yet they could find no other
The "Super Great Leap Forward" was spiralling into counter-revolutionary
depths. The Western imperialist media reports about "genocide"
in Cambodia had begun at the moment of liberation - and they were
lies and/or gross exaggerations motivated by wounded reactionary
pride at having "lost" Indochina. But later, particularly
after the first year, amid this turbulent political situation, mass
killings did break out and spread. For instance, until late 1976,
the centre prevented the killing of former rank-and-file soldiers
in the Lon Nol armed forces. This correct policy - while the top
officers had blood debts against the masses under their own rule
as well as the revolutionaries, the soldiers were usually unenthusiastic
conscripts - was later reversed. Former soldiers were sifted out
from among the "new people" and killed, often with their
families (this execution of wives and children was supposedly to
prevent them from seeking revenge against the revolution, but in
fact it seems tinged with a feudalistic view of the family). Once
again the contrast with real revolutions is stunning. This policy
not only made enemies out of hundreds of thousands of people who
had not actively opposed the regime or were even supportive, it
created a climate in which the "new people" and others
were increasingly fearful and opposed to the regime.
In fact, the whole political atmosphere degenerated further and
further. The centre may or may not have given directives regarding
the killing of people in the co-operatives, but at any rate, the
killings of groups of people in far-off fields at night that have
come to be emblematic of the Pol Pot regime in the Western press
were the inevitable result of the centre's line. Tools and farm
animals were scarce and precious; the 1976 report cites their protection
(along with the fulfilment of work quotas in general) as a main
form of class struggle. In China, too, the question of the economic
use of and preservation of the people's resources was considered
a question of class consciousness. But the CPK's treatment of this
was consistent with their overall line. It is not surprising that
city people working many hours a day might ruin a hoe or allow a
water buffalo to break a leg, whether out of ignorance or bad luck,
or even out of backward resentment - which didn't make them unredeemable
enemies of the revolution. Yet that is how such incidents were often
treated, especially if the person had a "bad" class background
or other "problems". The co-operative leadership was becoming
increasingly anxious and desperate (and perhaps cynical) and lashing
There was a certain change of course in Democratic Kampuchea's last
15 months or so. Since the regime was about to end abruptly, it
is hard to know where all this was headed. Perhaps the desire was
to make it a more "normal" revisionist country.
In September 1977, the Cambodian people were finally let in on the
secret that "the Organisation" was a communist party.
While clandestinity is a basic organisational principle for every
party preparing for or waging war against the old order, nonetheless,
since the Communist Manifesto, as Marx and Engels declared
then, "communists have always disdained to conceal their views".
The 1977 move did not signal a changed relationship with the masses
and may have been meant mainly for foreign consumption. It took
place in the context of a campaign to "normalise" Democratic
Kampuchea's status and end its diplomatic isolation, and especially
an attempt to enter into a military alliance with China immediately
following Deng's coup.
In that same context, in mid-1978 the government announced major
policy changes. The CPK leadership, with plans for modern industry,
surely knew that they could not do without engineers and technicians
for long. Intellectuals (especially foreign-educated Cambodian experts
who'd been declared "new people" when they returned after
liberation) were suddenly showered with good food and other inducements
and invited back to Phnom Penh. They were gathered together for
meetings with representatives of the CPK leadership, who told them
that their mistreatment had been a mistake, a provocation against
the revolution organised by the CIA and Vietnam.
This seems to have been a part of a broader effort to recoup popular
support. A March 1978 article in the CPK organ underlines the need
to "gather forces" and says, "And the full rights
and probationary members of the co-operatives and even the depositees
must study and watch and draw experiences as well. However the full-rights
members must study apart first, in order to unite together; and
the probationary and depositee members study together, drawing experiences,
making corrections over and over - they will all progress. We must
educate and build full rights members into progressives...".72
In many areas, at least, the distinction between "old"
and "new people" was ended by mid-year.
A BAD WAR
Negotiations between Cambodia and Vietnam to achieve a final delineation
of their borders had gone on since the two countries were liberated.
Vietnam refused to accept the land border drawn by the French colonialists
(despite the fact that when the French drew up these borders a century
before, they had meant to settle old disputes in Vietnam's favour).
This was a violation of the agreement reached with Sihanouk in 1967
and amounted to a state of permanent pressure against Cambodia.
For its part, Cambodia refused to recognise the French-drawn boundaries
in the sea, rivers and water known as the Brevié line (less was
at stake in this, although the hope that this territory might harbour
oil deposits may have loomed large in a country with apparently
no other hydrocarbon resources). Until 1977, however, the situation
between the two countries was tense but generally stable, as both
sides seemed to be avoiding any decisive diplomatic moves or military
Exactly how that situation unravelled is not altogether clear, nor,
in the end, crucial to our analysis. But the timing is significant.
Hostilities began as both countries were entering internal crisis.
They blossomed into full war a year later, as Vietnam moved entirely
into the Soviet camp and the US began trying to line up an alliance
with China, where power had been seized by revisionists.
The CPK was convinced that Vietnam was trying to organise a coup
from within. This is the gist of the confessions of former Party
leaders Koy Thuon and Hu Nim. There seem to have been bomb explosions
in the capital and Siem Reap in 1976. The movement of 20,000 DK
troops to the capital - equal to its entire civilian population
- indicates extreme concern. The clearest manifestation of what
may have been Vietnamese or pro-Vietnamese infiltration occurred
in late 1978, on the eve of the Vietnamese invasion. The Democratic
Kampuchea government had invited three Western journalists in an
effort to win international support. On their last night in the
country, there was a mysterious attack on the guest house where
they were staying, in the Southwest, not far from the capital. Malcolm
Caldwell, one of the most prominent Western writers sympathetic
to the new regime, who had just come back delighted from a private
interview with Pol Pot, was singled out and shot dead.
Many bourgeois military analysts say the Cambodians mounted small-scale
border raids against historically disputed areas in early 1977;
fighting was generalised by mid-year. A Cambodian offensive meant
to smack the Vietnamese met with defeat, and Vietnam counter-attacked
in force. The CPK's Eastern Zone front collapsed without a major
fight. By the end of 1977, Kampuchea broke off relations with Vietnam.
There was a lull for a while in 1978. The centre sent in two brigades
to arrest the Eastern Zone leadership. Many Eastern Zone troops
fled to link up with the advancing Vietnamese. Vietnam's army recruited
these troops and ethnic Khmers in Vietnam into specially-formed
units meant for fighting on Cambodian soil. Cambodia responded by
deporting massive numbers of Eastern Zone civilians to the Northwest.
Vietnam's war aims were made clear by its actions: eventually it
was not only to invade and knock out the DK army, but also station
150,000 troops in Cambodia in a decade-long occupation that ended
only when the collapse of the USSR made Vietnam's leaders decide
to seek Western investment. In this light, the argument that Vietnam
was merely trying to protect itself against the CPK is not tenable.
Nonetheless, Democratic Kampuchea set out to face this threat in
a reactionary manner. Phnom Penh radio broadcast an appeal to "purify
our armed forces, our Party and the masses of people... in defence
of Cambodian territory and the Cambodian race.... One of us must
kill 30 Vietnamese... two million troops would be more than enough
to fight the Vietnamese, because Vietnam has only 50 million inhabitants....
We need only two million troops to crush the 50 million Vietnamese,
and we would still have six million people left. We must formulate
our combat line in this manner, in order to win victory."73
This was an astonishing call from a self-proclaimed communist party.
It may have seemed to the Democratic Kampuchea leadership that this
kind of appeal was the only way to unite Cambodians behind them
at that point. But by calling for a race war, they ensured their
own defeat. If the Vietnamese government was threatening Cambodia's
sovereignty, it had trampled no less on the revolutionary aspirations
of the people of Vietnam. All of Indochina needed real New Democratic
and socialist revolution. Why couldn't a revolutionary party in
Cambodia do everything possible to unite with the workers and peasants
in Vietnam, including supporting revolutionary politics there? In
fact, why didn't the Cambodian Party do everything possible to avoid
or at least postpone a war that went against the interests of the
masses of both countries?
The CPK appears to have welcomed the prospect of a showdown. It
seems that the Party was convinced that such a final conflict would
finally put an end to their own internal problems, both by setting
off a wave of national unity and ending Vietnamese interference.
Besides, the CPK seemed certain of winning it, which turned out
to be a highly subjective view.
Pol Pot told the two other invited Western journalists that Vietnam
could not defeat Cambodia on its own because "there is nothing
in Vietnam". Vietnam's plan, he said, was for the Soviet Union
to send Warsaw Pact troops from Europe to invade and occupy Cambodia.
The US and its Southeast Asian allies would not accept that; and
more, that would leave the Soviet empire weakened on the European
front and NATO would move against it.74
The Soviet Union, threatened by the prospect of a US/China entente,
continued to back Vietnam. US President Carter's National Security
Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was later to brag that, "I encouraged
the Chinese to support Pol Pot. I encouraged the Thai to support
the DK."75 In February 1979 China would invade Vietnam with
a quarter of a million troops to "teach them a lesson"
- only to be taught a better lesson by the Vietnamese. But the CPK's
hope that reactionary alliances would mean Cambodia's salvation
and that they would emerge victorious turned out to be another wild
On 25 December 1978, Vietnam unleashed the same "blossoming
lotus" strategy they had used to take Saigon. The troops under
Vietnamese command included 100,000 Vietnamese and 30,000 Cambodians.
The bulk of Kampuchea's 80,000 troops were massed at the eastern
border, in expectations of positional warfare. Vietnam's troops
outflanked them, punching through north and south of their positions
to the centre of Cambodia and then unfolded, with part of their
forces moving back east to crush the Cambodian army from behind
and the rest speeding westward and outward in all directions. By
January 7, two weeks later, they seized Phnom Penh.
The CPK leadership had to be ferried out by helicopter as ignominiously
as Lon Nol before them.
SOME THEORETICAL QUESTIONS
ON PRIVATE PROPERTY AND EQUALITY
To be provocative, let's recall what Marx and Engels wrote in the
Communist Manifesto: "In a sense, the theory of the
Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of
Isn't this what the CPK set out to do? And why shouldn't they have
tried to do so at one stroke, overnight?
There are two aspects to what was wrong with their understanding,
both inextricably interrelated. One is a wrong conception of private
property and its contradictory nature and role in a country like
Cambodia - the question of New Democratic revolution. The other
is a wrong conception about what it means to negate capitalism through
socialism. In both aspects, CPK line and policy was, despite its
occasional Marxist terminology, profoundly anti-Marxist.
In the Manifesto, the founders of Marxism explain that they
do not mean that socialism will abolish the property of "the
petty artisan and of the small peasant". "There is no
need to abolish that; the development of industry has to a great
extent already destroyed it, and is destroying it daily." That
kind of private property existed long before capitalism and, the
experience of socialist revolution has proven, will exist for a
long time after capitalism as a system has been overthrown. The
main target of socialism is capital, "that kind of property
which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon
conditions of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation".
Thus capital is a very particular kind of private property: it is
the collective product of the labourers that is expropriated, snatched
from them, by a class with antagonistic interests, the bourgeoisie.
"To be a capitalist is, therefore, not a personal, it is a
social power." This point cannot be emphasised enough. The
aim is not to abolish the "personal appropriation of the products
of labour... for the maintenance and reproduction of human life....
All we want to do away with is the miserable character of this appropriation,
under which the labourer lives merely to increase capital, and is
allowed to live only in so far as the interests of the ruling class
To explain, expand and apply this analysis to Cambodia, first let's
look at the aspect of private property. Contrary to what Marx and
Engels foresaw in the mid-19th century, every socialist revolution
so far has taken place in countries where small-scale property,
not capitalist property, was the most prevalent form (even though
Russia, where the majority of people were peasants, was an imperialist
country). China was ruled over by "the three mountains",
imperialism, feudalism and what Mao called bureaucrat capital capital
tied up with imperialism, the landlords and the state.
Cambodia was different from China in many ways and yet it was not
very different in some fundamental ones. The vast majority of the
people were oppressed and exploited by all three mountains. In particular,
the peasants' ability to make the land produce a living was constantly
undermined and held back by the tribute taken from them by these
three forces, sometimes as rent and other forms of exploitation
by feudal landowners, and sometimes at the hands of the tax collectors
and usurers, who also sucked up the surplus created by the peasants'
toil. This surplus was not principally reinvested in production
(and even more rarely in agricultural production). It went to support
a feudal aristocracy (especially the court) and the colonialist
administration and its successor, Sihanouk's feudal-bureaucrat capitalist
government, and other forms of parasitism as well (including the
usurers themselves and the Buddhist hierarchy).
NEW DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION
In countries of this kind, as the Declaration of RIM succinctly
puts it, "The target of the revolution... is foreign imperialism
and the comprador-bureaucrat bourgeoisie and feudals, which are
classes closely linked to and dependent on imperialism. In these
countries, the revolution will pass through two stages: a first,
new democratic revolution which leads directly to the second, socialist
revolution. The character, target and tasks of the first stage of
the revolution enables and requires the proletariat to form a broad
united front of all classes and strata that can be won to support
the new democratic programme. It must do so, however, on the basis
of developing and strengthening the independent forces of the proletariat,
including in appropriate conditions its own armed forces and establishing
the hegemony of the proletariat among other sections of the revolutionary
masses, especially the poor peasants. The cornerstone of this alliance
is the worker-peasant alliance and the carrying out of the agrarian
revolution (i.e., the struggle against semi-feudal exploitation
in the countryside and/or the fulfilment of the slogan 'land to
the tiller') occupies a central part of the new democratic programme."77
Even this first, new democratic stage of the revolution was not
thoroughly carried out in Cambodia. Initially, the targets were
correctly selected and the peasants mobilised in a war of national
liberation and agrarian revolution, but even in the two years or
so before liberation there was a tendency to confuse the aims. By
1976, contrasting Cambodia's "Super Great Leap Forward",
one year after liberation, to China's mere Great Leap Forward seven
years after liberation there, the CPK was to write: "Certainly
our Party didn't hesitate. We didn't go through a period of land
reform or social change. We leaped from a people's democratic revolution
into socialism."78 This means that the difference was not just
one of pace, but of road.
Cambodia's "co-operatives" were not a sequel to a revolutionary
redistribution of the land. Instead, they simply amounted to confiscation
of whatever land many peasants did have by a state whose economic
plans would effectively chain them more tightly to the world market.
The claim that Cambodia had become "basically a collective
society"79 cannot be accepted if we accept the Manifesto's
distinction between capitalism and socialism: "In bourgeois
society, living labour is but a means to increase accumulated labour.
In Communist society [here Marx and Engels mean to include the first
stage of communist society, i.e. socialism], accumulated labour
is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of
the labourer." In light of all we have seen about Democratic
Kampuchea, which category best describes the existence of the masses
of people there is obvious. The leap was not into socialism but
China's agricultural co-operatives were one of the basic building
blocks of socialism. But the formation of high-level agricultural
co-operatives (the people's communes) was the culmination of a process
that began with the New Democratic revolution. Immediately following
the nation-wide seizure of power (and even before, in some liberated
areas), the peasants were led to seize the land. Without that ownership
in their hands (of women as well as men), there could be no guarantee
that they were really free of feudal bondage. Otherwise, they would
have felt that nothing had changed, and in fact there would have
been a tendency for feudal relations to reappear in new forms. As
Mao pointed out, the New Democratic revolution had opened the door
to capitalism. But at the same time, it opened the door even wider
to socialism. The peasants could see the advantages of pooling their
land and labour, and they could also see that the polarisation between
rich and poor that inevitably accompanies capitalist development
in agriculture means that socialism is the only way out for the
vast majority. With little time wasted, they were organised to form
mutual aid teams and small, lower-level co-operatives in which land
was farmed collectively but people received a share of the harvest
in proportion to the land, animals and tools they had provided.
(This was done extensively in the liberated areas of Cambodia until
1973 and in some places after that, and was very popular with the
peasants.) Then, in the mid-1950s, the Chinese Party began "to
call on the peasants, with the same principles of voluntary co-operation
and mutual benefit, to unite further on the basis of these small,
semi-socialist co-operatives and organise large agricultural producers'
co-operatives which are fully socialist in nature. [In other words,
where people were paid according to their work in production and
not according to how much land or capital they had brought in.]
These steps make it possible for the peasants to gradually raise
their socialist consciousness, through their personal experience
and gradually change their mode of life, thus lessening any feeling
of an abrupt change. These steps can generally avoid any drop in
crop yields during, say, the first year or two; indeed, they must
ensure a year-by-year increase, and this can be done."80
While in Cambodia, almost everyone was forced to live on a "co-operative"
farm, in China the co-operatives built by relying on the poor and
lower-middle peasants were so clearly superior that for a short
period of time at first the better-off peasants had to be prevented
from flooding into them and taking them over before the other peasants
could develop their own political strength.
WHAT IS A SOCIALIST ECONOMY?
The CPK was no less wrong about socialism than about New Democracy.
It wrongly held that all public property is automatically socialist.
Marx identified socialist public property not with state ownership
but social ownership. In other words, state ownership, too, can
be (and certainly was in pre-liberation Cambodia) a form of private
ownership in the Marxist sense, a form in which the surplus produced
by the labourers is appropriated by a handful of people for their
own interests while the "labourer lives merely to increase
capital, and is allowed to live only in so far as the interests
of the ruling class require".
Whether or not a society is truly socialist depends on whether or
not the labouring masses increasingly, and in waves, are becoming
the masters of production (the process of production itself, the
relations of people in production and the allocation of the surplus),
of the state and of all society, leading step by step but steadily
toward the abolition of what the Chinese revolutionaries called
"the four alls": class distinctions generally, the relations
of production on which they rest, the social relations that correspond
to these production relations and all the ideas that result from
these social relations. This point deserves the most profound study
(see Maoist Economics: The Shanghai Textbook), but even this relatively
brief overview here makes it all too plain that despite the CPK's
claims to be "20 or 30 years ahead of China", it had embarked
on a different road.
Mao's study of the experience of socialist construction in the world,
including especially the USSR, as well as China, led him to understand
that socialism is a relatively long historical period of transition.
The Shanghai Textbook explains, "For a certain period of time
in socialist society, there still exist nonsocialist relations of
production.... On the other hand, the socialist relations of production
themselves undergo a process of development from a less mature to
a more mature state. In socialist society, 'communism cannot as
yet be fully ripe economically and entirely free from traditions
or traces of capitalism.' The establishment of the system of socialist
public ownership was a fundamental negation of the system of private
ownership. But this does not imply that the issue of ownership is
completely settled; bourgeois right has not been abolished entirely
in the sphere of ownership. Furthermore, owing to the practice of
the commodity system, exchange through money, distribution according
to work, and the existence of basic differences between workers
and peasants, town and country, and mental and manual labour, bourgeois
right still exists to a serious extent in the mutual relations between
people, and holds a dominant position in distribution. This kind
of bourgeois right in the historical period of socialism cannot
be entirely abolished, and, in certain aspects it is still allowed
to exist legally and is protected by the state. It can only be restricted
under the dictatorship of the proletariat, which actively creates
the conditions for the elimination of bourgeois right from the stage
Bourgeois right refers to economic and social relations that uphold
formal equality but actually contain elements of inequality.82 While
the CPK thought that it had solved the problem of social inequalities
and therefore of classes overnight by getting rid of money and wages,
bourgeois right inevitably continued to exist. For instance, to
speak only of "natural" inequalities, under its distribution
system able-bodied young people got larger rations than the handicapped
or the elderly. Since the productive level was so low, there was
not enough surplus to feed everyone equally. Another example is
certain indispensable privileges extended to leading cadre, such
as access to transport, radios, etc., as well as extra food rations
and medicines to ensure their survival. Absolute egalitarianism
proved impossible. As Mao said, criticising this idea when it arose
in the early days of the Red Army in China, "We should point
out that, before the abolition of capitalism, absolute egalitarianism
is a mere illusion of peasants and small proprietors, and that even
under socialism there can be no absolute equality, for material
things will then be distributed according to the principle of 'from
each according to his ability, to each according to his work' as
well as on that of meeting the needs of the work."83
Under communism, Marx said, society will be guided by the principle
"from each according to their ability, to each according to
their need". But until then bourgeois right can only be eliminated
gradually and step by step. In brief, the leap from "according
to their work" to "according to their need" will
be made possible by the increasing communist consciousness of the
masses (which is the driving factor) and the development of production
(so that people's needs can actually be satisfied). Not only was
the apparent abolition of bourgeois right under the DK regime an
illusion, it hid actual injustices, a denial of rights, such as
"old people" getting privileges over "new people"
(in fact, once again this smelled of feudalism, since family relations
could play a determinate role in whether an individual was classified
as "new" or "old"). If the regime had lasted
longer and especially if it had succeeded in industrialising, these
inequalities (which were already potentially fatal) would only have
become more pronounced.
The CPK muddled socialism and communism by doing away with wages,
money, etc., but met neither the criterion of communism (in fact,
not meeting the needs of the masses at all) nor that of socialism
(by not taking into account people's productive labour at all in
determining what they receive, but simply giving them starvation
rations and sometimes less, which actually hampered production by
dampening their enthusiasm for work and often leaving them unable
to do so). As Mao said in a different context, this was like wanting
a cow to produce milk but not letting it eat grass.
Pol Pot looked at the problem like this: "Where can we find
capital to build our industry? Our capital comes essentially from
the work of our people. Our people, by their work, develop agricultural
production.... We also have another important source of capital.
That is the fact that we have no salary. The absence of salary constitutes
in itself a great source of capital."84 While it is true that
the surplus created by production is the source of capital under
socialism as well as capitalism, this completely and deliberately
ignores the difference between this surplus under capitalism and
socialism, where "accumulated labour is but a means to widen,
to enrich, to promote the existence of the labourer". They
adopted the basic capitalist principle of squeezing the labouring
people as much as possible... in many cases, to death.85 In this
view, similar to the one that attracts Western capital to set up
garment factories in Cambodia today, the country's main comparative
advantage is not rice but the fact that its backward social relations
make for very cheap labour.
Historically, by far the main error committed in relation to bourgeois
right has been to resist moving step by step to eliminate it. Until
the "four alls" are eliminated, it will not be "impossible
for the bourgeoisie to exist or a new bourgeoisie to arise".86
In one of his most far-reaching contributions, made amidst the struggle
to prevent Deng and others like him from seizing control of the
Party and the state, Mao warned the people, "Our country at
present practices a commodity system, the wage system is unequal
too, as in the eight-grade scale, and so forth. Under the dictatorship
of the proletariat such things can only be restricted. Therefore,
if people like Lin Piao come to power [here Mao was summing up the
lessons of a previous two-line struggle within the party to serve
a new one, against Deng Xiaoping], it will be quite easy for them
to rig up the capitalist system. That is why we should do more reading
of Marxist-Leninist works."87
But the CPK was committing this same error in another, "unique"
fashion. Money had been abolished, but commodity production still
prevailed: co-operatives gave the state a certain amount of rice
and other products (valued in dollars) and received other commodities
in exchange; rice itself was considered the most important commodity
not because it could feed people but because it could be exchanged
on the international market. It was deemed unprofitable to divert
efforts from this capital formation to the struggle against malaria
and other diseases that were ravishing the people.88 In fact, labour
power itself remained a commodity, since the purpose of production
was not to satisfy the people's needs but to accumulate capital.
Under these conditions, the abolition of money simply served as
a very threadbare cloak to hide the dominance of capitalism, and
the absence of wages an attempt to hide the most bone-cutting exploitation.
Actually, the CPK's line was not entirely "unique". In
China, the revisionist ringleaders Liu Shao-chi and Chen Po-ta called
for the premature abolition of commodity production, the Shanghai
Textbook recounts. Mao retorted, "This way of thinking
which attempts to prematurely abolish commodity production and exchange,
prematurely negate the constructive role of commodities, value,
money and price is detrimental to developing socialist construction
and is therefore incorrect." The textbook goes on to say, "Socialist
commodity production must not only be retained, but must be developed
to consolidate the economic link between China's industry and agriculture
and between urban and rural areas in order to promote the development
of socialist construction."89
Chang Chun-chiao, one of Mao's closest comrades in arms (and a leader
of the "Gang of Four" whose arrest signalled a reactionary
coup in China after Mao's death) put it this way: "The wind
of 'communisation' as stirred up by Liu Shao-chi and Chen Po-ta
shall never be allowed to rise again. We have always held that,
instead of having too much in the way of commodities, our country
has not yet a sufficient abundance of them. So as long as the communes
cannot yet offer a great deal to be 'communised' along with what
the production teams and the work brigades would bring in, and enterprises
under ownership by the whole people cannot offer a great abundance
of products for distribution to each according to his needs among
our 800 million people, we will have to continue practising commodity
production, exchange through money and distribution according to
work. We have taken and will continue to take proper measures to
curb the harm caused by these things. The dictatorship of the proletariat
is a dictatorship by the masses."90
In other words, the point is not to enshrine money and commodity
production, but to work to develop the political and material conditions
for their abolition and not just "abolish" them in words
while protecting the actual relations they represent.
NOTHING TO LOSE
There is another universally significant political lesson to be
drawn from the Cambodian experience. Every country in the world
is an enormous ball of contradictions in which the contradiction
between socialised production (represented by the proletariat) and
private appropriation (represented by the bourgeoisie) drives and/or
intersects with a myriad of others. The class that really has nothing
to lose is no less a minority in the imperialist countries than
in the predominantly peasant ones. And yet by taking the interests
and standpoint of the international proletarian revolution, the
party has to rely on the poorest in society to unite the broadest
number of people possible at any given moment to fight and ultimately
overthrow the source of the ills that plague the vast majority,
in that country and in the whole world. This means that the communists
must unite with the class feelings of the most exploited and work
to transform them into the liberating outlook of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
Communists everywhere are grappling with this.
The words of the Internationale, "We want no condescending
saviours/To rule us from their judgement hall/We workers ask not
for their favours/Let us consult for all" refer to the fact
that no one else, with the best or worst intentions, can emancipate
the world's labouring people. The concluding words, "The Internationale
shall be the human race", signify that the proletariat can
free itself only by doing away with all classes and everything that
arises from them, or in other words, by freeing the human race.
This brings us back to the question of the party. A party whose
existence, line, policies and ideology is secret from the masses
can only build a "socialism" whose secret is that it is
The CPK was very small in relation to the task of leading millions
of Cambodian masses in constructing a new society. Since there were
only about 14,000 members and membership was frozen from Liberation
until late 1977, only half the co-operatives at most had a Party
branch.91 In a sense, the Vietnamese had "robbed" the
CPK by creating the conditions for its victory too soon, before
the Party and the revolutionary movement were in a position to wield
power, that is, to lead all of society. In China, the rapid achievement
of socialism after liberation took place on the basis of two decades
of people's war, in which the Party had been trained and tempered
and vast sections of the masses transformed through the experience
of agrarian revolution, revolutionary political power and armed
Yet it would have been a betrayal of the interests of the Kampuchean
people and revolution internationally if the CPK had not taken power
when it was all but thrust on them by force of circumstances. Without
speculating on what might have been, it is clear that their approach
needed to be the opposite of what it was: they had to take particular
account of the always-necessary vision of revolution as a long-term
process in which the communists must fight to transform conditions
and neither bow to them nor ignore them. For instance, take Ieng
Thirith's complaint that, "We controlled nothing but the factories
[in the capital]", so often echoed after the debacle by other
CPK leaders, including Pol Pot - a startling admission for a Party
that had emptied the cities! Even if that was the situation, the
problem for communists would be how to solve it. The Communist Party
of the USSR, since it had emerged mainly in the biggest cities,
faced a similar situation in the countryside. Transforming this
situation would have meant developing particular policies based
on investigating the actual needs and desires of various sections
of the peasants and the people to be able to lead them forward step
by step, while carrying out broad socialist education and training
the most advanced to become Party members. Instead, because the
CPK tried to use force to impose its views, like the sorcerer's
apprentice it was soon overwhelmed by the workings of an objective
world it could not understand nor, in the end, control.
How could there be any real communist leadership at all by a party
kept secret from the masses? Such a party can lead in the bourgeois
sense, of making decisions and co-ordinating their fulfilment, but
how can it lead in the communist sense, without carrying out the
process of mass line, a back-and-forth of learning from the people
and teaching the people, and without even explaining its policies,
goals and ideology to the masses, winning them to that and in that
way making its line a material force?
A proletarian party is a class party, not just in terms of its ideas,
but in material terms. That is a major difference between it and
conspiratorial revolutionary organisations of the bourgeois type
(Blanquism). The ideology and the line of the party must correspond
to the outlook and interests of the international proletarian revolution,
but we are talking about something more than a group of men and
women with socialist ideas. If it is not a conscious expression
of a movement of a section of the masses who are being trained in
communism, then it can hold some correct ideas and strive to move
in a revolutionary direction, but it cannot even formulate the correct
policies that would enable it to navigate amid the swirl of revolutionary
struggle, let alone succeed in carrying out such policies. It will,
at best, lose its bearings.
In the end, the CPK could be considered more a small circle than
a party, not because of its size but because of its attitude. As
Mao wrote, "Those who have this small circle mentality resist
the idea of bringing all positive forces into play, of uniting with
everyone that can be united with, and doing everything possible
to turn negative factors into positive ones so as to serve the great
cause of building a socialist society."92
This does not mean that the CPK did not have a social base. It seems
that the CPK had enthusiastic support from among the poorest peasants
and especially the young men and women and adolescents among them,
particularly downpressed in patriarchal Cambodian society. But instead
of relying on the advanced to win over the people, this social base
was appealed to in terms of their own immediate interests and given
privileges over other sections of the people, who were simply subject
to dictatorship, with little distinction between the former ruling
classes and those they oppressed.
The same line arose several times in the course of the Chinese revolution,
a "poor peasant" line that instead of mobilising the poor
masses to unite the people, tried to appeal to their most narrow
feelings of rancour and self-interest, the kind of sentiments Lenin
described as "they grabbed, now let me grab too" - the
ideology of capitalism and a vehicle for a new class of exploiters.
The CPK wrote, "Concretely, we did not rely on the forces of
the workers. The workers were the overt vanguard [i.e., in name],
but in concrete fact they did not become the vanguard. In concrete
fact, there were only peasants. Therefore we did not copy anyone...."93
This is certainly true: in Mao's China and in every other country
where genuine people's war has been waged ever since, the communists
have paid great attention to recruiting and training proletarians
for this task, and further, to relying on the propertyless to lead
the broad strata of peasants by transforming their world outlook
and helping them become socialist peasants with proletarian consciousness.
The CPK's absolute lack of interest in identifying key sections
of the working class and training and recruiting revolutionary proletarians94
went with an equal disinterest in training a section of the peasants
in Marxism in any form, and especially not in the stand, method
and line developed by the international proletariat.
But this did not make the CPK a peasant party either, although its
views seem to have coincided to some extent with certain spontaneous
tendencies among some peasants, especially a class hatred that should
have been a door to training in all-around class consciousness.
Instead, these sentiments were used against the peasants' broad
Because the CPK could not apply the mass line to lead the people,
because what it was trying to lead the people to do was, in fact,
against their interests, it is not hard to see why they fell into
imposing dictatorship over the people.
Mao was categorical about this: "Dictatorship does not apply
within the ranks of people. The people cannot exercise dictatorship
over themselves, nor must one section of the people oppress another.
Law-breaking elements among the people will be punished according
to law, but this is different in principle from the exercise of
dictatorship to suppress enemies of the people. What applies among
the people is democratic centralism. Our Constitution lays it down
that citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of
speech, of the press, assembly, association, procession, demonstration,
religious belief, and so on. ... In advocating freedom with leadership
and democracy under centralised guidance, we in no way mean that
coercive measures should be taken to settle ideological questions
or questions involving the distinction between right and wrong among
The CPK may have wanted to unite the people, if only because otherwise
they could not stay in power. But they couldn't. On the one hand,
they turned a deaf ear to the Cultural Revolution and its theory
and practice of "the all-around dictatorship of the proletariat",
through which the proletarian party leads the masses in wielding
their political power to transform all of society, and on the other
they had no conception whatever of the complexity, the enormous
contradictoriness, of socialist society, and could not distinguish
contradictions among the people (whose long-term interests are basically
the same) from contradictions with the enemy (whose interests are
antagonistic to those of the masses). One can find all sorts of
references in their documents to "mass line", "cadre
going down to the people", the need to "listen to the
people" and especially "unite the people". If we
didn't take this into account and judged them as identical to the
reactionaries who ruled before and after them, we would be missing
the point. The point is that they had an increasingly wrong line,
and that line was more than just a wrong idea. It became an irresistible
material force because it corresponded to the reactionary way the
world is already organised.
In today's world, no small producers or petit-bourgeois forces can
establish their rule over any society, and all capitalist logic,
big or small, must ultimately capitulate to the demands of imperialist
capital. Perhaps, in its unique way, the CPK was on its way to establishing
the kind of rule seen in many Third World countries in recent decades,
where national bourgeois forces became bureaucrat capitalists, and
where squeezing the peasants to extract surplus through state and
other collective forms of exploitation goes hand in hand with a
fundamental acquiescence to the world market.
In a document on Party history, the CPK held that while studying
experiences of foreign parties had played a positive role in its
development in the 1960s, "the Party has also had numerous
bad experiences resulting from the learning and copying of foreign
experiences. This learning often had bad results for the Party with
regard to both large and small problems. On the one hand, it made
us completely ignorant; on the other hand, it hindered and sometimes
destroyed the revolutionary movement and progress in organising
the Party. In this case, it is better to learn nothing from foreign
experience."96 This was mainly a wrong summation of the relationship
with the Vietnamese, but it is a slap at Mao's China as well. The
most important reason they didn't want to learn anything from anyone
else was that they didn't like what was being taught. They rejected
Mao's line not because it was Chinese but because it represented
an outlook and interests utterly different from their own. That's
why this problem seems to have become worse over time. While there
are reports of cadre studying Mao and Stalin in the early days when
the Party was casting around for a correct understanding, as it
developed its own consolidated line there seems to have been much
less of that.
One thing they may not have liked in Marxism is its ridicule of
the concept of "national communism". No party can represent
the interests of the broad masses of the people of a country (which
of course doesn't mean that they can be won over all at once, or
that there are not advanced, intermediate and backward among the
masses) if they don't represent those of the vast majority of the
world's people. As the Manifesto said, "In the national
struggles of the proletarians of different countries, they [the
communists] point out and bring to the fore the common interests
of the entire proletariat, independently of nationality." Whether
a party is leading a revolution in an oppressed country or an imperialist
one, it is only one detachment of an international revolutionary
proletarian movement whose goal is world communism.
As it was, for the people of the world and the Cambodian people
alike, the country's liberation was truly a victory wasted.
V. CAMBODIA'S FATE
Once the Pol Pot regime was overthrown, the US had no problem
supporting its remaining army. In the late 1970s and early 1980s,
international aid directed by the US helped sustain the thousands
of fighters in the jungles of the western Cambodian border region
and in refugee camps in Thailand.97 For a decade, the US and its
ever-subservient United Nations recognised the FUNK (the CPK's united
front, of which Sihanouk was still the formal head) as the legal
government of Cambodia.
Just as the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia might have gone on
even longer if it hadn't been for the collapse of the Soviet bloc,
so, too, American aid (and sponsorship in the UN) might have gone
on much longer if it hadn't been for that same radically changed
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not only has the US found
no further use for the Khmer Rouge, it has some specific reasons
to act otherwise. For one thing, because of its own efforts to brutally
impose its interests through B-52s operating under various "humanitarian"
banners, the US has more reason than ever to try to revise the history
of Indochina, and indeed to paint itself as the main opponent of
genocide instead of its main perpetrator in today's world. And for
another, by demanding a trial of remaining CPK leaders, the US can
better bring to heel the present government in Phnom Penh, led by
former Eastern Zone commander Hun Sen for whom such a trial could
be a problem and an embarrassment. (Once reviled as a "Khmer
body with a Vietnamese mind", Hun is now supported by China.)
Famine continued to ravage Cambodia under Vietnamese occupation.
The occupiers and their People's Republic of Kampuchea encouraged
peasants to form "solidarity teams" to maintain the earthen
waterworks built under the CPK and pursued some of its economic
goals as well. The CPK's successor in power, the Kampuchean People's
Revolutionary Party, called itself a continuation of the CPK founded,
they declared, in 1951.
To facilitate Western support, and perhaps to bury their own past,
in 1981 the CPK leadership announced the dissolution of their Party
in favour of the united front against Vietnam.
Eventually they were to be deserted even by Sihanouk, in whose name
they were supposedly fighting. In 1989, the US brokered a coalition
government of old pro-US forces and new pro-Vietnam forces. Sihanouk
became king and head of state again. His son, Prince Ranariddh,
who does not seem to have enjoyed his father's support, jostled
with Hun Sen for control for years, before Hun Sen ousted him in
a coup in the late 1990s.
The fortunes of the Khmer Rouge had dwindled along with their reactionary
foreign support. They maintained a few thousand soldiers and seemed
to have some mass support. But they ended up little more than aimless
rebels at best and bandits at worst. They lived by smuggling opium,
gems and illegally-cut hardwood through Thailand. Without the support
of the reactionary Thai government, they would have all but vanished.
Then starting in the mid-1990s, they made a deal with Hun Sen. In
return for their backing, he allowed them a certain resurgence and
even some political power, this time as his silent partners in the
reactionary "stabilisation" of Cambodia. Ieng Sary surrendered
in 1996 and received a royal pardon. He was followed within the
next two years by Khieu Samphan (Democratic Kampuchea's second head
of state) and Party deputy secretary Nuon Chea, along with many
of the surviving Paris-trained intellectuals who formed the initial
core of Pol Pot's cadre and supporters.
The border town of Pailin (west of Battambang, in the old Northwestern
Zone) and the region around it became their fiefdom, in the same
way that much of provincial Cambodia is ruled by local warlords.
Until his appointment by the central government, the governor of
the region was a top Khmer Rouge military commander. The deputy
governor is Ieng Sary's son. The region's soldiers and police are
former Khmer Rouge fighters. Their old units and command structures
are intact but now instead of black pyjamas these 2,000 men wear
new government uniforms. Now many of the men on Honda motorcycles
tearing up the dust are former guerrillas. The ex-CPK leadership
rule over vast smuggling and "legitimate" business operations
and their city, Pailin, boasts a Caesar International Casino (meant
to attract Thai businessmen), dozens of houses of prostitution,
a bank and innumerable karaoke bars that cater to former guerrilla
fighters. Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan live in guarded villas overlooking
the city.98 Pol Pot died in April 1998 shortly after having been
sentenced to life under house arrest by his former comrades. They
invited a Western reporter to briefly interview him just before
his death, in what was basically a "photo opportunity"
to prove that they had disassociated themselves from him. In the
internal struggle leading up to his arrest, Pol Pot had ordered
the execution of the Party's military leader and 14 of his family
members (Pol Pot was to explain later that the killing of Son Sen's
infant grandchildren was unintended). The last historic CPK leader
in the jungle, the Southwestern Zone chief Ta Mok, who overthrew
Pol Pot, tried to negotiate his own surrender in 1999 but was arrested
instead. He awaits trial, although by whom remains the object of
contention between the US and Hun Sen. It is only fair to ask, then,
just what the West has done with Cambodia in the decade since they
got it back in their clutches.
The "industrialisation" of Cambodia is supposed to be
the up side of the situation. As of January 1999, there were 110
legally recognised garment factories with 72,000 workers, and 39
more factories (110,000 new jobs) authorised to open shortly. US
and EU policies give Cambodian products access to their domestic
markets at reduced tariffs. But the capital, of course, is Western:
the West gets the profit and Cambodians the pain. Wages for many
workers in the booming garment industry were recently reduced from
$40 to $30/month for a 48-hour work week. Even better-paid workers
getting 80 cents an hour were cut back to 50 cents.
Cambodia still, it seems, hardly has its own currency; workers are
paid in US dollars. In the context of the Asian financial crisis,
this has penalised Cambodia severely, since currencies in Indonesia
and Thailand have been devaluated against the dollar, leaving the
country behind in the race for the cheapest labour.
The country's other major "industry" and a far bigger
employer is prostitution: local and foreign exploiters prey on hundreds
of thousands of prostitutes, mostly unemployed young women and men
from the countryside. Estimates run as high as 600,000, half of
them HIV-positive. Cambodia has the fastest-growing rate of AIDS
infection in Asia.
The situation of the 85% percent (out of a current population of
11.4 million) who still live in the countryside is more difficult
to see from abroad, since they are of scant concern to imperialist-controlled
media. One fact now widely known is that in a country where peasants
once pulled many tonnes of fish from an acre of water, the fish
are nearing extinction. Tonle Sap, the country's vast central lake,
the biggest fresh water body in Southeast Asia, is silting up due
to unrestrained logging operations for the Western luxury market.
It has been reported that the country may become completely deforested
in the next five years. Casinos on the lake front are pushing out
the remaining fishing villages and fish breeding grounds. Relief
agencies warn of the threat of massive famine.
Cambodia has become so literally a rubbish heap for imperialism
that waste so toxic no other country will permit it is brought there.
The seriousness of this was recently forced to the attention of
the Western press when rioting broke out to protest the deaths of
workers at one such enormous dump near the southwestern port of
Sihanoukville, where Chinese weapons for the Vietnamese National
Liberation Front were once unloaded.
The situation can be summed up like this: as a consequence of the
US invasion and subsequent wars, Cambodia has a higher proportion
of crippled people and amputees than any other country in the world.
There is still no real medical system. The rail and road system
destroyed by the US bombing was never rebuilt. Rice harvests never
recovered. Half of the country's children are starving or chronically
malnourished and the death rates for children at birth and before
the age of five are among the world's highest.
The situation can also be summed up like this: politically under
the tutelage of the UN, economically under the tutelage of the IMF,
investment controlled directly and indirectly from the US and Europe,
government a pro-imperialist coalition of every party that ruled
Cambodia in the past half-century.
Nobody, of course, would ever call this genocide or demand trials.
It's just ordinary life under imperialism.
1 This is why the US Congress and the Clinton administration appropriated
millions of dollars for "Cambodian genocide" studies at
a time when they were slashing research funding in general. One
of the highest estimates for the number of dead was formulated by
Ben Kiernan, a leading scholar in the field who once supported Vietnam
and is now head of the US government-financed Yale University Cambodian
Genocide Program. He subtracted certain estimates for the population
of Cambodia in 1979 from those for its 1975 population and came
up with the figure of 1.5 million people dead of starvation, disease
and execution during the Democratic Kampuchea government. But these
figures are highly problematic. Those were war years and such figures
were not obtained by counting heads; further, the pro-US pre-1975
Cambodian government and the pro-Vietnamese post-1979 government
had their reasons to exaggerate upward (in the first case) and downward
(in the second). Even DK government figures given at various times
are mutually inconsistent. Kiernan arbitrarily decided to accept
the unsubstantiated (and unpublished) figures of a private researcher.
Michael Vickery, who used CIA statistics, put the number of dead
of all causes at 800,000. See Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime
(Yale University Press, 1996), p. 457; Vickery's claims are also
cited and discussed here. In a 1997 interview, CPK leader Ta Mok
told the Far Eastern Economic Review (23 October 1997), "It
is clear that Pol Pot has committed crimes against humanity. I don't
agree with the American figure that millions died. But hundreds
of thousands, yes."
We do not accept the reactionary approach that would try to absolve
one set of crimes by claiming that someone else's were bigger. But
even in these terms - the sheer numbers of people murdered - the
US is by far the biggest criminal. Their war on Indochina stands
as one of the bloodiest crimes the world has ever seen. The US and
its allies dropped three times as many bombs on Vietnam as fell
in all of World War 2. They killed at least two million Vietnamese
and created ten million refugees in that country. In Cambodia, the
US installed a puppet government in 1970 and then sent in troops.
B-52 carpet bombing raids went on almost without interruption for
more than three years. Half a million tonnes of explosives and napalm
devastated the countryside, unleashing unprecedented famine. That
war killed a million Cambodians. Yet the Cambodia Genocide Program
does not consider this part of its mission.
2 The original assertion that the CPK was Maoist came from the Soviets
(Vladimir Simonov, Kampuchea: Crimes of Maoists and Their Route
[Novosti, 1979]). Their motive, of course, was to tar Maoism
and Mao's China by association. The USSR refused to break relations
with the US-installed Lon Nol regime.
3 Kiernan, who does tend to paint the CPK as Maoist, admits, "Neither
Pol Pot, nor Ieng Sary, Son Sen, Khieu Samphan, or anyone else in
the CPK Center, however, is known to have expressed sympathy with
the Cultural Revolution while it was occurring." (PPR,
p. 127.) Another prominent scholar writes: "No evidence so
far links the Cambodian party with China's radicals in the period
1965-1971." (Timothy Carney, "Unexpected Victory",
in Karl D. Jackson, ed., Cambodia 1975-1978: Rendezvous with
Death [Princeton University Press, 1989], p. 24.)
4 Interviews cited by Kiernan, PPR, p. 148.
5 "Summary of Annotated Party History", CPK Eastern Zone
document, in Jackson, p. 264.
6 The facts are these: "In late 1967, Pol Pot ran a CPK training
school in the jungle of Cambodia's northeast. In nine days of political
lectures, he rarely mentioned China and never the Cultural Revolution
raging there. 'China is a big country,' he remarked at one point."
(Kiernan, PPR, p. 127, citing an interview with a participant
in this school.)
Just after taking power, in June 1975, Pol Pot made a secret trip
to Hanoi and Peking and some accounts say he met with Mao. Nothing
is known about this alleged meeting. After this, China gave Democratic
Kampuchea extensive economic (but not military) aid.
When Mao died in September 1976, Democratic Kampuchea called for
a five-day period of mourning. Pol Pot, who had just become Prime
Minister, made a radio speech in which he described Mao as "the
most eminent teacher since Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin".
A message to the Chinese Party praised the Cultural Revolution against
"the counter-revolutionary headquarters of Liu Shao-chi and
Deng Xiaoping". (Kenneth Quinn, "Explaining the Terror",
in Jackson, pp. 219-21; also Becker, pp. 277-8.)
Kiernan cites second-hand sources who say that during the year of
intense struggle within the Communist Party of China following Mao's
death, CPK leaders expressed their hatred for the "Gang of
Four", Mao's closest comrades and successors whose arrest in
1977 marked Deng Xiaoping's revisionist coup. (PPR, pp. 155-6.)
However, none of this is convincingly documented or given explicit
political content, and so it can't be used as a pillar of serious
analysis. Several writers have tried to link the Pol Pot regime
to the "Gang of Four" (and above all Mao) on the basis
of alleged similarities between CPK policies and the Great Leap
Forward and the Cultural Revolution in China; we will disprove that
claim by examining and comparing those policies.
What is known without the shadow of a doubt is this: after Deng's
coup, when he was still trying to pose as a revolutionary and rally
support from communist parties that had looked to Maoist China,
Pol Pot and the other CPK leaders came to Peking and literally embraced
Deng at the airport. Pol Pot gave a speech in which the existence
of the CPK was publicly revealed for the first time. Referring to
the Party's history, he said, "We also learned from the experience
of the world revolution and in particular Comrade Mao Tsetung's
works and the experience of the Chinese revolution played an important
role at the time." (Quinn, in Jackson, pp. 219-20.) But this
was invoking Mao only to join hands with the betrayers of his legacy.
The speech was broadcast over Chinese radio but not rebroadcast
7 Most CPK documents, captured by the US or Vietnam, are only in
Khmer, and even those translated are often not generally accessible.
Many radio speeches (the major mass media in Democratic Kampuchea)
were recorded and translated by the US government Foreign Broadcast
Service. In referring to these two kinds of sources, we have cited
primary researchers. In addition to the four complete CPK documents
published in the previously-cited Jackson book, the most comprehensive
and readily available set of CPK documents in English is David Chandler,
Ben Kiernan and Chanthou Boua, eds. and translators, Pol Pot
Plans the Future: Confidential Leadership Documents from Democratic
Kampuchea, 1976-1977 (Yale University Southeast Studies Monograph
33, 1988), which can be ordered by mail from Yale University Press,
P.O. Box 208206, New Haven, CT 06520?8206, USA. A few can be downloaded
from the Yale University Cambodian Genocide Program web site at
8 Cited in Elizabeth Becker, When the War Was Over (Simon
and Schuster, 1986), p. 345. On this point also, see David
Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History (Yale University
Press, 1991), p. 48.
9 Cited in Chandler, p. 87.
10 Becker, p. 97.
11 "Summary of Annotated Party History", in Jackson, p.
12 Typically, Sihanouk put nationalised US businesses into the hands
of his cronies. Cambodia's gold reserves were moved from the US
to France and French President de Gaulle invited for an enthusiastic
13 Wilfred Burchett, one of the few Western journalists to report
on the war from the point of view of the Vietnamese and who was
privy to the thinking of the VWP, wrote that in 1967 he turned down
a request that he write about an "armed struggle about to be
launched against Sihanouk". "It was absurd to speak of
a 'revolutionary situation' in Cambodia at that time." Wilfred
Burchett, At the Barricades (London, 1979), p. 324.
14 1977 Pol Pot speech, cited by Chandler, pp. 166-7.
15 Provatt nei Pak Kommyunis Kampuchea (History of the Communist
Party of Kampuchea), mimeographed document said to be distributed
by Ieng Sary in 1974, cited in Kiernan, How Pol Pot Came to Power
(Verso/New Left Books, 1985), pp. 250-1.
16 Becker, p. 148.
17 Cited in Chandler, p. 224.
18 An area where American pilots could bomb or strafe any suspected
enemy target without prior permission, which basically meant all
people, animals, houses and fields outside government-held areas.
19 Government of Democratic Kampuchea, Black Paper - Facts and
Evidences of the Acts of Aggression and Annexation of Vietnam Against
20 "The Last Plan", in Jackson, p. 301.
21 Kiernan, HPPCP, p. 362.
22 Tung Padevat, August 1975, translated by T.M. Carney and
cited by Kiernan, HPPCP, pp. 368-9.
23 September 1978 speech by Pol Pot, cited by Becker, pp. 162-3.
24 Interview with Thiounn Prasith cited by Becker, p. 163.
25 For an analysis of the political and military line of the VWP
through the late 1970s, see "Vietnam: Miscarriage of the Revolution",
Revolution (Organ of the Central Committee of the RCP,USA),Vol.4,
No.7-8, July/August 1979.
26 Chandler, p. 234.
27 Timothy Carney, "The Organization of Power", in Jackson,
28 Cited in Kiernan, PPR, p. 163.
29 Cited by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, After the Cataclysm:
Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology
(South End Press, 1979), p. 161.
30 Embassy airgram of August 26, 1975, cited in Kiernan, PPR,
31 Cited in Kiernan, PPR, p. 96.
32 Both cited in Chandler, p. 240.
33 Tung Padevat, August 1975, cited in Kiernan, PPR,
p. 94. Emphasis in original.
34 While principally relying on its own forces, Cambodia received
important aid from China during the war and after it as well. (The
first shipload of food supplies from China arrived less than a week
after liberation. By mid-September, China offered $1 billion in
interest-free economic aid, including a $20 million outright gift
- the most aid China ever gave any one country. Statistics from
China Quarterly, quoted in Kiernan, PPR, p. 129.
35 Interviews cited by Kiernan, PPR, p. 148.
36 CPK document "Examine the Control", cited by Kiernan,
PPR, p. 147.
37 "Sharpen the Consciousness of the Proletarian Class to
Be as Keen and Strong as Possible," Tung Padevat, in
Jackson, pp. 271-9.
38 "On the Control and Implementation of the Political Line
of Gathering Forces for the Party's National Democratic Front",
22 September 1975, cited in Kiernan, PPR, p. 16.
39 Kiernan, PPR, p. 458.
40 "Sharpen the Consciousness", p. 278.
41 See "Pay Attention to Pushing the Work of Building Party
and People's Collective Strength Even Stronger", in Jackson,
especially p. 296.
42 This description of ethnic Vietnamese who had lived in Cambodia
for generations, in the same way as many Cambodians lived in Vietnam,
could have been taken from Lon Nol's fascist propaganda, but in
fact it comes from the DK government's Black Paper.
43 Becker, pp. 262-3.
44 "Manifesto of the Communist Party", in The
Marx-Engels Reader, Robert Tucker, ed. (W.W. Norton & Co,
1972), p. 337.
45 "Examine the Control", cited in Kiernan, PPR, pp. 98-9.
46 Literally. This plan and related political documents are in Pol
Pot Plans the Future.
47 See "Notes on the Political Economy of Cuba", A
World To Win nos. 14 and 15 (1990/1991).
48 "Excerpted Report on the Leading Views of the Comrade Representing
the Party Organization at a Zone Assembly", in PPPF,
p. 25. Note that this plan was discussed within the Party for a
time, although the Party's existence was still secret.
49 Interview with Ieng Thirith, Becker, p. 247.
50 "Report of Activities of the Party Centre According to the
General Political Tasks of 1976," PPPF, p. 197.
51 Ibid., p. 188.
52 Ibid., p. 206.
53 Ibid., p. 182.
54 Mao Tsetung, "On the Question of Agricultural Cooperatives",
Selected Readings (Foreign Languages Press, 1971), p. 399.
55 "Report", PPPF, p. 205.
56 Ibid., p. 207.
57 Ibid., pp. 184-5.
58 Interview with Becker, p. 247.
59 Interview with Becker, p. 245.
60 So Phim had purged the Cambodian returnees from Vietnam, which
is a counter?argument to the charge that he was a simple Vietnamese
tool, but there did seem to be a dispute between the Eastern Zone
and the Party centre over how to deal with Vietnam.
61 It should be noted that this document concludes that in light
of these "hidden enemies" and "networks" within
the Party, its existence should remain secret. "Enemies also
want us to emerge so that they can observe us clearly, and so they
can proceed to accomplish their long-term objectives. The emergence
of the Party poses the problem of defending the leadership. Back
in September and October, we had thought to emerge also, but since
that time documents have revealed that enemies have tried to defeat
us by using every possible method...." The conclusion was "to
defer our decision on the emergence of the Party". The argument
that revealing the Party's existence would endanger its leadership
is made less convincing by the fact that by this time Pol Pot and
the other top Party leadership were now publicly identified as running
the government. What was secret was both that they were supposed
to be communists and the existence of the Party itself
62 Interview with Becker, p. 275
63 Charles H. Twining, "The Economy", in Jackson, p. 145.
64 Interview with Becker, p. 275.
65 "Duch" became a born-again Christian in 1992 and spent
the next few years working under an assumed name for the UN and
NGOs in western Cambodia. In May 1999 he gave extensive interviews
to Far Eastern Economic Review writer Nat Thayer (FEER,
13 May 1999.)
66 Mao, "Main Points of the Resolution of the Political Bureau",
Selected Works, Vol. 5 (Foreign Languages Press, 1977), p.
67 "Summary of Annotated Party History", in Jackson, p.
68 PPPF, p. 4.
69 Within that, there are some tactical questions. It was not wrong
for China to encourage Sihanouk to act against the US, particularly
insofar as Sihanouk did provide concrete aid to the anti-imperialist
war. China also provided aid to the CPK, long before and at the
time of liberation, and there is no evidence that they ever pressured
the CPK to follow suite on China's state-to-state policy. The CPK
itself later held that it had concentrated its political fire on
Sihanouk's prime minister Lon Nol and his coup preparations, and
not on the prince himself during the last year of that period. (Black
70 "Abbreviated Lessons," PPPF, p. 220.
71 Nat Thayer, Far Eastern Economic Review, 23 October 1997.
72 "Pay Attention to Pushing the Work of Building Party and
People's Collective Strength Even Stronger", in Jackson, p.
73 A BBC recording cited by Kiernan, PPR, pp. 393-4.
74 Becker, pp. 431-2.
75 Quoted in Becker, p. 440.
76 "Manifesto of the Communist Party", in The Marx-Engels
Reader, Robert Tucker, ed. (W.W. Norton & Co., 1972), pp.
77 Declaration of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement
(Keralam, India, 1998), p. 35.
78 "The Party's Four Year Plan to Build Socialism in All Fields",
PPPF, p. 46.
79 "The Party's Four Year Plan", p. 45.
80 Mao, "On the Question of Agricultural Cooperatives",
81 Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism:
The Shanghai Textbook, Raymond Lotta, ed. (Banner Press, 1994),
pp. 24-5. Translation of the 1975 Chinese textbook Fundamentals
of Political Economy.
82 See Lotta's introduction to Maoist Economics, p. xliii.
83 "On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party", Selected
Works, vol. 1, p. 111.
84 Speech by Pol Pot, "Let Us Continue to Firmly Hold Aloft
the Banner of the Victory of the Glorious Communist Party of Kampuchea
In Order to Defend Democratic Kampuchea, Carry On Socialist Revolution
and Build up Socialism," cited in Becker, p. 198.
85 The 1976 plan says, "We must provide the people with 50-100
percent of their material necessities from 1977 on." ("The
Party's Four Year Plan", p. 111.) This represents such stunning
indifference to whether or not people lived or died that it's not
hard to understand why the plan was kept a secret. The IMF and the
World Bank make similar calculations, but their language is less
86 Textbook, p. 21.
87 Cited in Textbook, p. 9.
88 The 1976 plan put off the manufacture of insecticides and medicines
until the end of the four-year period. Although the plan mentions
mobilising traditional medicine, there seems to have been no effort
to do so scientifically; rather people were often given remedies
without regard to whether they cured or killed. China offered to
send "barefoot doctors" to share its experiences of combining
traditional and modern medicine, but as with other such offers from
China, the regime was not anxious to allow outsiders into the villages.
89 Textbook, p. 109.
90 Chang Chun-chiao, "On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship
Over the Bourgeoisie", in And Mao Makes Five: Mao Tsetung's
Last Battle, Raymond Lotta, ed. (Banner Press, 1978), p. 219.
91 PPR, p. 313. For the CPK's views on the party, see "Sharpen
92 "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People",
Selected Readings, p. 461.
93 "Abbreviated Lesson on the History of the Kampuchean Revolutionary
Movement Led by the Communist Party of Kampuchea", in Jackson,
94 The report speaks of the political situation among the factory
workers as "too complicated" to allow them to remain in
the urban areas, and refers to "people from the lower layers
who have recently emerged from the cities" as "too diverse"
to be trusted. The conclusion is that they, like the "upper
layers of society", should not be allowed to enter the leadership
of the co-operatives or given political rights. This, incidentally,
is in a section discussing the danger of "buried enemy networks"!
("Report of Activities of the Party Center According to General
Political Tasks of 1976", PPPF, p. 208.)
95 "On the Correct Handling...", pp. 436 & 438.
96 "Summary of Annotated Party History", Jackson, p. 264.
97 As the US government's Brzezinski hinted. See Becker, p. 440.
98 See The New York Times, 24 July and 28 December 1998,
and The Sunday Times (London) 19 April 1998.