restricted access 4. Production
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98 4 Production In this chapter I provide a detailed discussion of the generation of surplus value under the Communist Party of Kampuchea. I argue that, rhetoric aside, the political economy of Democratic Kampuchea was neither Marxist, socialist, nor communist and that the economic system planned and implemented by the CPK was an exploitative system of production for exchange. Despite the brutal elimination of landlords and private property, class distinctions in Democratic Kampuchea were not eliminated; indeed, exploitation remained, in that the surplus labor produced by the workers was appropriated and distributed not by the workers themselves, but rather by the state apparatus. This argument provides the material foundation for an understanding of the CPK’s conceptualization of nature and in so doing addresses specifically how the Khmer Rouge’s attempt to transform nature was necessary—and necessarily wrong—in their greater objective of building a socialist consciousness. To fully articulate the CPK’s attempt to accumulate capital through the production and exchange of rice specifically , it is necessary to first situate rice production more broadly within the Cambodian context. Rice Systems in Cambodia Rice is an extremely adaptable plant. It thrives in swampy, low-lying areas but also grows well in arid, hilly environments. Compared with other crops, rice also has many advantages. Rice is a relatively high-yield crop, even under adverse conditions. In fact, provided an adequate water supply , nitrogen-fixing organisms (which occur naturally in paddy fields) enable farmers to harvest upwards of two tons per hectare per year without Production  •  99 applying any mineral fertilizers. In areas where highly developed farming techniques are used, annual yields may approach seven tons per hectare. Also, rice has a high-yield-to-seed ratio. Under proper conditions, each plant can produce two thousand grains; by comparison, wheat, barley, and rye may give rise to only four hundred or so grains per plant.1 The cultivation of rice, moreover, does not significantly deplete the fertility of soils. Indeed, if fields are continuously planted, soil fertility does not diminish over time but in fact increases. Relatedly, double-cropping techniques may significantly increase yields without significant depletion of soil fertility. Rice has long been a staple in Khmer society. Khmer farmers have been growing low-land, rain-fed rice for at least two thousand years, and irrigated rice has been cultivated for at least fifteen hundred years.2 And over the millennia, farmers have developed and refined countless farming strategies based on a combination of seed selection, planning techniques (for example, broadcast or transplanting), and water management. Quick (or early) maturing varieties, for example, are best suited for conditions where the availability of water is uncertain or insufficient. These varieties, because of a short-growing cycle, also permit double-cropping. However, the yield for quick-ripening varieties is often significantly less than it is for late-maturing varieties. Given the complexities of rice production, indigenous knowledge is of great importance. Cultivation techniques, for optimal harvests, need to be adapted to local conditions, including topography, precipitation, and soil. Cambodia’s climate is monsoonal, with distinct wet and dry seasons. Sometime around May the “mango washing rains” (plieng daem vorsa) arrive. These showers bring welcome relief to the end of the dry period and generally mark the onset of rice production.3 The timing, however, is irregular, and farmers must make adjustments to their planting schedule accordingly. Precipitation amounts also vary widely. Whereas most of the prime rice-growing regions of Cambodia receive between 1,250 and 1,750 mm annually, other areas experience more or less. The coastal areas surrounding the Cardamom Mountains, for example, receive upwards of 4,000 mm per year. To these differences, one must add variation in soil, slope, and hydrology. Given the multiple combinations of these variables , it is perhaps not surprising that more than two thousand traditional 100  •  From Rice Fields to Killing Fields varieties of rice have been identified as being unique to Cambodia.4 This makes for an exceptionally diverse agricultural landscape. Throughout Cambodia, it is not uncommon to see a range of activities occurring in close proximity. In one field, for example, farmers may be planting rice, while in a nearby field farmers are harvesting rice, and still other fields may be fallow. Despite this diversity, Cambodia’s rice ecosystems may be classified into four broad categories: rain-fed lowland rice, dry-season rice, deepwater rice, and rain-fed upland rice. The most prevalent type, constituting approximately 86 percent of all land cultivated...