restricted access 1. A Critique of Khmer Rouge Political Economy
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

1 1 A Critique of Khmer Rouge Political Economy The Communist Party of Kampuchea constitutes one of the most violent and inhumane apparatuses of organized terror in the twentieth century. Between April 1975 and January 1979, members of the CPK carried out a program of mass violence that is, in many respects, unparalleled in modern history. In just under four years, approximately two million people died from starvation, disease, exhaustion, inadequate medical care, torture, murder, and execution. The total number of deaths translates into onefifth to one-quarter of Cambodia’s pre-1975 population.1 What accounts for such widespread violence? To date, scholars of the Cambodian “genocide” have searched far and wide for causal explanations.2 And, for the most part, scholars have underscored the apparent Marxist roots of the Khmer Rouge.3 Why not? How could the Communist Party of Kampuchea be anything other than communist ? One need only cite the words of Nuon Chea, deputy secretary of the CPK, who, in a statement made to the Communist Workers’ Party of Denmark in July 1978, declared, “It is written in our party program that we shall continue our socialist revolution and advance towards communism after the national democratic revolution.” And indeed, we see this point in the literature, as Scott Straus writes: “The Khmer Rouge were Communist . Pol Pot was the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). In official documents the Khmer Rouge referred to itself as The Party; its stated goal was to bring about a ‘socialist revolution’ in the name of the ‘worker-peasant.’ Numerous Khmer Rouge 2  •  From Rice Fields to Killing Fields idioms and practices directly resonated with other Marxist-Leninist movements , especially Maoism.”4 Given the apparent “obviousness” of the CPK’s Marxist credentials, it next becomes a matter of establishing what “type” of Marxists they were. To this end, the ideology of the Khmer Rouge has long been debated.5 Indeed, what has emerged has become something of a Rorschach test. The CPK has been styled, variously, as “Marxist,” “Marxist-Leninist,” “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist,” and even “ultra-Maoist.” Thus, for example, Leo Cherne argues that the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea marks “the creation of the first pure Communist society anywhere in the world.”6 Boraden Nhem echoes this sentiment, explaining that “the Khmer Rouge was determined to reorganize society into a pure communist society.” And in full transparency, I too have made similar statements in earlier works.7 I have come to realize that “purity” arguments provide little in the way of understanding. “Marxism” has always existed in the form of various (Marxist) trends and schools of thought; indeed, before Marx was dead, it had become apparent that Marxist theory and Marxist analysis would accommodate more than one interpretation and would not evolve on the basis of a single unique theoretical direction. Marxism was never a single monolithic theory, and all those scholars who declare that Marxism is reducible to economic determinism, technological determinism, blind obedience to authority, or any other caricature have either understood nothing or are simply exercising cheap propaganda.8 A similar pronouncement can be made with reference to Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. One need only to think of the many debates engaged by Marxists over the generations , of the competing interpretations provided by, but certainly not limited to, Rosa Luxemburg, Georg Lukács, Karl Kautsky, Leon Trotsky, Georgii Plekhanov, and Eduard Bernstein. It is ironic indeed that contemporary scholars of the Khmer Rouge can entertain the idea that Pol Pot and other high-ranking cadre were so fluent in their understanding of “Marxism” that they alone could erect a pure communist society. For other commentators, the CPK was less an example of “pure” communism as it was an amalgamation of disparate and contradictory Marxist influences. Matthew Edwards avows that “in addition to Maoist Critique of Khmer Rouge Political Economy  •  3 policies . . . Pol Pot and some of the Khmer Rouge leadership gathered a wide range of ideas from their time in France, including European Marxism and Stalinism.” In a series of articles, Stewart Clegg, Miguel Cunha, and Arménio Rego describe the CPK through a combination of Marxistrelated intellects. Thus, for example, they explain that the objective of the CPK was “to construct a radical Marxist-Leninist state of Democratic Kampuchea, inspired in part by Maoist thinking,” whereby the vision was “one of pure socialism, the creation of a society with no traces of feudalism , capitalism or any other exploitative forms of social...


pdf