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20 2 Revolution Keo Meas devoted his entire life to the Cambodian communist movement . And like many revolutionaries, his initial foray into communism came from a desire to liberate his homeland from colonial domination. Soon after the Second World War, at the age of fifteen, Keo Meas dropped out of his courses at the Phnom Penh Teacher Training College to join a Khmer Vietminh group in Svay Rieng Province. In 1950 he was one of only twenty-one Khmer members of the Indochinese Communist Party. Having proven himself, he was appointed commissar of the Action Committee for Phnom Penh. In 1952 he traveled to Beijing, becoming the first Khmer revolutionary to meet Chairman Mao Zedong.1 Keo Meas began to see himself as the future leader of the embryonic communist movement in Cambodia. He was diligent in his efforts, disseminating propaganda over the “Voice of Free Cambodia” radio station, often reciting commentaries written by Saloth Sar, a soft-spoken yet charismatic young man who would later be known as Pol Pot. The political fortunes of Keo Meas continued to rise. In 1954 he assumed the position of secretary of the Phnom Penh Committee of the Khmer People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP) that had been established in 1951. Keo Meas participated in national elections as a member of the Pracheachon (People’s Group), a political party that he in fact helped to establish.2 And in 1960 he was elected to the Central Committee of the newly formed Workers’ Party of Kampuchea (WPK). Three years later, Keo Meas lost this coveted position—but he remained in good standing with the party. Indeed, as the communist movement neared victory in the early 1970s, Keo Meas served as ambassador to China on behalf of the Gouvernement Royal d’Union Nationale du Kampuchéa (GRUNK), Revolution  •  21 a coalition government formed by the deposed prince Norodom Sihanouk and the Khmer communists. By April 17, 1975, as victorious communist forces entered the capital of Phnom Penh, the veteran revolutionary Keo Meas could take pride in knowing that his place in history was ensured. But his confidence and his life were to be short-lived. Seventeen months later, on September 20, 1976, Keo Meas was arrested and sent to S-21, a security center located in Phnom Penh. For more than one month, Keo Meas was interrogated and tortured before his eventual execution. Transcripts of his handwritten confession total ninety-six pages and contain countless details of his alleged “traitorous” activities, including a discrepancy on the founding date of Cambodia’s communist party.3 The ordeal of Keo Meas is particularly salient for any account of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, for the Orwellian nature of his captivity and execution personifies the administrative violence typical of the Khmer Rouge. When Keo Meas was arrested, there had been no public announcement of the party’s existence. However, two contradictory magazine stories appeared around the time of his arrest. In 1976 the September issue of the CPK’s youth magazine, Yuvechon Nung Yuvanearei Padevat (Youth of the Revolution), opened with a sixteen-page article celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the party’s founding. The article began: “From the moment of its creation on September 30, 1951, the Communist Party of Kampuchea led everyone, including the revolutionary Cambodian youths, in the struggle against French imperialism.” The following month, however, the CPK’s official journal, Tung Padevat (Revolutionary Flag), opened with a thirty-two-page article, commemorating the party’s sixteenth anniversary. Most likely written by Pol Pot, the article explained: “Last year we informed people . . . that our Party was 24 years-old. . . . But now we celebrate the 16th anniversary of the party, because we are making a new numeration. What rationale is there for this? The revolutionary organization had decided that from now on we must arrange the history of the party into something clean and perfect, in line with our policies of independence and self-mastery.”4 It is likely that Pol Pot wrote both articles in an attempt to draw “1951” factions, including long-term revolutionaries such as Keo Meas, into the open. It was a move seemingly straight out of Stalin’s notebook and provides our entry point into the political 22  •  From Rice Fields to Killing Fields philosophy of the CPK and, by corollary, the political economy of Democratic Kampuchea. The “Nature” of Revolutions Every mode of production, Marx proposed, contains its own potential transformation. Following Hegelian logic, historical change—revolution —occurs when the...


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