In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

xi Preface Between 1975 and 1979, the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), also known as the Khmer Rouge, fundamentally transformed the social, economic , political, and natural landscape of Cambodia. During this time, as many as two million Cambodians died from exposure, disease, and starvation or were executed at the hands of the party. The dominant interpretation, known as the Standard Total View, of Cambodian history during this period presents the CPK as a totalitarian, communist, and autarkic regime seeking to reorganize Cambodian society around a primitive, agrarian political economy.1 Under the STV, the victims of the regime died as a result of misguided economic policies, a draconian security apparatus, and the central leadership’s fanatical belief in the creation of a utopian, communist society. In short, according to the STV, Democratic Kampuchea, as Cambodia was renamed, constituted an isolated, completely self-reliant prison state. This present work disrupts the standard narrative and provides a documentary-based Marxist interpretation of the political economy of Democratic Kampuchea. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels famously write, “It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness.” My reading of CPK policy suggests that Pol Pot and other high-ranking CPK officials most likely internalized this statement, for it is my argument that the CPK recognized that political consciousness was related to a particular production of nature and, specifically, of precise laboring activities that would transform nature into value. Indeed, party documents indicate that another famous Marxist maxim appears to have been internalized. In his Theses on Feuerbach, Marx declared that philosophers had only interpreted the world, while the point is to change it. Marx’s statement was in xii  •  Preface part a critique of idealism, that concrete action is required as opposed to idealist thinking. In a report prepared by the CPK in December 1976, it was stated, “We have not relied on theory. We have acted clearly.”2 The CPK is disingenuous, for they most assuredly did rely on theory . Indeed, a careful review of Khmer Rouge documents illustrates a sustained, although superficial, engagement with Marxist political philosophy . In September 1977, for example, Pol Pot, secretary-general of the CPK, delivered a long-winded speech that appears on the surface as an amateurish amalgamation of Marx’s The Class Struggle in France and Stalin ’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism. Cambodia’s history, according to Pol Pot, passed through a series of stages: primitive accumulation, slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. This sequence, of course, imitates Stalin ’s vulgar caricature of Marx and Engels’s materialist approach to history articulated most clearly in The German Ideology. Cambodia’s communist revolution, according to Pol Pot, arose from the ashes of discontent, a pervasive socioeconomic malaise that included landlessness, usury, and rampant exploitation. Simultaneously a movement against imperialism and the tyranny of a weak monarchy, the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot claimed, achieved victory single-handedly, that it was the perseverance and tenacity—the sheer will—of the revolutionaries that defeated the combined forces of the former republic and its imperial handlers , the French and the Americans. As a historical record, the speech is pure propaganda. Indeed, previous scholarship has thoroughly and convincingly critiqued the “scientific” and “objective” analyses purportedly provided by Pol Pot, and I have no intention of replicating these studies.3 My concern, rather, focuses on the theoretical foundation of Pol Pot’s argument and, by extension, how it informs our understanding of CPK policy and practice. In other words, I am less concerned with assessing the validity of Pol Pot’s conclusions than I am with his epistemology. I take as given that statements made by Pol Pot relating to extant structural conditions of Cambodia, such as landlessness and the indebtedness of the Khmer peasantry, are gross misrepresentations . Likewise, I give short shrift to Pol Pot’s duplicitous claims that the CPK came to power without any foreign assistance—including the aid of the Vietnamese communists. Again, these are fields well plowed; readers Preface  •  xiii are directed to the voluminous writings of, among others, David Chandler , Ben Kiernan, Steve Heder, Craig Etcheson, and Serge Thion.4 Pol Pot’s speech is significant not for its accuracy but for the clues it provides in helping us understand better the philosophical foundations of the Khmer Rouge. Simply put, Pol Pot—and other high-ranking members of the CPK—attempted but failed to put into practice what French Marxist Henri Lefebvre put into words: “A revolution that does not produce a new space...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.