Kampuchea, Democratic

Kampuchea, Democratic
   The 1975 attainment of power by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge movement in modern-day Cambodia led to a tyrannical reign of power cut short only by the Vietnamese capture of the capital Phnom Penh in 1979. Espousing a distorted form of MarxismLeninism that owed more to the worst excesses of Stalinism than genuine Marxian analysis, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for about a million fatalities within Kampuchea’s borders. Having held considerable sway in the left-leaning government of King Norodom Sihanouk that had come to power in 1970, the thinly veiled communists of the Khmer Rouge attained outright power for themselves in April 1975. They renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea, and built an impenetrable power bloc by placing senior party officials in lofty state positions. Though the Khmer Rouge only outwardly professed their adherence to Marxism–Leninism for the first time in September 1976, right from the beginning of their reign they implemented their interpretation of the ideology. The primary strand of this Kampuchean Marxism was the relocation of urban dwellers to the countryside, where they were to partake in forced labor on newly collectivized farms, but more commonly perished in the alien territory of rural surroundings. This radical program was buttressed by a brutal system of state terror, as Pol Pot ordered the mass execution of “counter revolutionary” groups from teachers, intellectuals and civil servants to police and army officers. Religious groups faced persecution too, as the Khmer Rouge sought to wipe out organized faith in anything but the party line. Reflecting the coziness between Phnom Penh and Beijing that emerged after Deng Xiaoping’s 1976 succeeding of Mao Zedong, the Kampuchean dictator initiated a cull of educational influence similar to that witnessed in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as the major goal of learning became the installment of revolutionary values among the young.
   There was one discernible departure from orthodox Maoism, however, in the form of the Kampuchean regime’s fanatical pursuit of economic self-sufficiency. To that end, currency was liquidated, a barter system introduced, and foreign trade almost completely eradicated, though limited dealings with China and France among others began again in 1977. Claiming that the country was free from the shackles of foreign economic hegemony for the first time in two millennia, and having mobilized the populace into military-like work brigades, Pol Pot was able to announce the achievement of full (albeit forced) employment.
   From the very opening of the Khmer Rouge epoch, hostilities with neighboring Vietnam rarely abated. Border skirmishes, mutual military encroachment into one another’s territory, and clandestine Vietnamese support for anti-Pol Pot forces such as the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK) constantly undermined the Khmer Rouge’s hold on power. Hanoi finally lost patience with Kampuchea’s rampant bellicosity in late 1978, sending into the country a force of 120,000 soldiers to overthrow the government. Phnom Penh fell in early 1979; the dictatorship of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge soon crumbled with it. The Vietnamese established rule in the country, though they faced constant insecurity and insurrectionary threats throughout the 1980s and beyond from Pol Pot and his loyal henchmen who had fled into the jungle and then into hiding in Thailand. The resultant state of civil war finally ceased with the staging of a United Nations–supervised election in 1993 that saw King Sihanouk reclaim his throne. Five years later, Pol Pot was dead and his remaining supporters had surrendered.
   In the 1976 Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge claimed to be the only Marxist–Leninist state on earth to have eradicated class distinctions between peasants, workers, the bourgeoisie, industrialists and feudalists, chiefly by literally eradicating many of the constituents of those groups. Pol Pot claimed the country had become a three-tier society of workers, peasants and “all other Kampuchean working people,” in which measures such as the relocation of urban dwellers and the devastation of the education system had eliminated industrialists and the bourgeoisie respectively. Kampuchean Marxism–Leninism entirely negated the doctrines of stage theory and aimed to leap straight to an almost primeval form of communism, leaping over any obstructive intermediate steps such as the “new democracy” phase adopted in China. The denouement of this haphazard approach to Marxist analysis, though, was the destruction of an entire people and land.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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