restricted access 5. Manufacturing Indifference
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135 5 Manufacturing Indifference “Spare them, no profit; remove them, no loss.” The terseness of this widely evoked phrase of the Khmer Rouge calls to mind images of swift punishment , of an unyielding authority that quickly passes judgment on life or death. For Henri Locard, the slogan “suggests the clearing of a field, to uproot all poisonous weeds, before sowing the good seed.” This, according to Locard, implies the need to start anew and underscores the argument that the Khmer Rouge sought to create a “pure” utopian society. Thus, drawing mostly on slogans and Khmer Rouge rhetoric, many commentators —myself included—have argued that the Communist Party of Kampuchea sought to create a “pure” society; doing so entailed the elimination of both external and internal enemies, as well as those who purportedly did not conform to the rigid dictates of the CPK. Miguel Cunha and colleagues, for example, conclude that CPK “leaders saw their country as a paragon of virtue. In fact, the new [Democratic Kampuchea] would be an example to the entire world: purity turned real. In this case, purity was built around categories: the new people, bourgeois, were the impure, and base people, the agrarian class, were depicted as the pure.” Elsewhere, these authors explain that the “Khmer Rouge utopia would be one in which the evils and miseries of Khmer feudalism had vanished, to be replaced by peace, harmony and happiness by subordinating the individual to the collective; reckoning a-historically, and de-contextualizing human beings so that the collective will is total and controls individuals in detail, unavoidably using violence and power to keep everything under control and to ward off foreign influences.”1 There is no doubt the Khmer Rouge used a litany of dehumanizing terms, such as microbes, parasites, and worms, in reference to perceived 136  •  From Rice Fields to Killing Fields enemies, including anyone thought to be associated with capitalism, feudalism , the previous Lon Nol government, foreign governments, April 17 people, and so on. Likewise, countless aphorisms, contained in slogans, songs, and magazines, spoke to these undesirable elements. One slogan, for example, warned, “The winnowing basket separates the wheat from the chaff,” a not so subtle reference that Angkar would weed out undesirable elements.2 Alexander Hinton is correct in his conclusion that for the Khmer Rouge, these groupings were constructed as evil and required purification from Democratic Kampuchea.3 At this juncture, I want to contribute to Hinton’s key insights and to consider how dehumanizing practices align with the CPK’s form of state capitalism. My title for this chapter is thus in homage to Hinton’s chapter titled “Manufacturing Difference.” Hinton draws heavily on Buddhist theory in an attempt to understand how and why the Khmer Rouge manufactured a “difference” that provided justification for torture, execution, and murder. Here, I complement Hinton’s work by drawing on Marxist economics to propose that Khmer Rouge attitudes of the dehumanized Other were based not only on difference but also on indifference. Following Marx, ideology is dialectically related to economic production , to the extent that “men [sic] are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc., that is, real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces.”4 Consequently, it is worthwhile to consider to what extent the Khmer Rouge’s dehumanizing ideology is connected to their embryonic social organization of production. In other words, by applying a Marxist critique to CPK ideology, what insights might be gained that may flesh out the social classifications forwarded by the Khmer Rouge? In the Grundrisse, Marx writes, “Indifference towards specific labors corresponds to a form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer from one labor to another, and where the specific kind is a matter of chance for them, hence of indifference.” Here, Marx highlights an abstract form of labor, a form that is vitally necessary for determinations of socially necessary labor. Marx explains, “Indifference towards any specific kind of Manufacturing Indifference  •  137 labor presupposes a very developed totality of real kinds of labor, of which no single one is any longer predominant.”5 Under systems of production for exchange, for example, it is essential that equivalencies be established to facilitate commodity exchange, such as how many bushels of corn are equivalent to yards of cloth. Likewise, it is necessary to establish equivalencies among workers. Marx critiqued the homogenization of labor under capitalism; it formed a core component of his desire to promote communism, whereby workers would be...


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