Were the Khmer Rouge communists?
Although theoretically a communist party, the personal statements of all the Khmer Rouge top leaders who remained alive after 1996 (including the three on trial now), suggest the Khmer Rouge were more accurately characterized as ultra-nationalists and xenophobic racists (with many similarities to fascism) intent on creating their own version of organized power deeply rooted in current Khmer political culture and history based on no external models. Of the 18 members of the central committee of the communist party that took power in 1975, only four spoke a foreign language. Since neither Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Marx, or Engels were ever translated into Khmer, it is hard to argue that the unspeakable failure and suffering that occurred under the KR was a result of communist—or, for that matter, any outside--ideology. The KR movement was in essence very Khmer. It's demand for obsequies loyalty to a single entity; its refusal to allow for even internal debate or opposition political thought or organization; its fixation on being a victim of foreign designs or trickery; its racial hatred towards non-Khmer; its unspoken inferiority complex to that of its more properly organized neighbors; its use of harsh violence as a central tool of consolidating and maintaining power; and its belief that it had only to unleash its unique abilities superior to other nations to achieve a superior society than the world had previously known were all central psychological and concrete ingredients of the feudal monarchies and regimes which had preceded the KR for centuries. These were all tenets in the tradition of their predecessors but allowed the Khmer Rouge, with its Stalinist power structure, to metastasize like an inoperable cancer throughout the body politic. Within three years 18 of the 22 members of the central committee of the Party had been executed or named as targets for execution. The irony is that, the KR so weakened the Cambodian nation and provoked its neighbors, that it guaranteed the requirement of its delusional prophecy come true--a foreign invasion by Vietnam to save the very nation and race from self extermination.
The Khmer Rouge sought the elimination of any vestiges of recent Cambodian political, social, and economic society. They refused assistance, advice, and even diplomatic relations with most every other nation. They demanded absolute obsequiousness to their policies from the citizenry, attempted to create an agrarian utopia based on emptying of the population from urban areas, demanded anti-intellectualism as state policy and demonized all things foreign—particularly Vietnam--as irredeemable historical enemies intent on conquering Cambodia and eliminating it as a sovereign nation.
They families of the entire population were separated, their children taken to live separately in labor brigades in an attempt to destroy traditional loyalties to be replaced by supine and unmitigated allegiance to the party. There was a near total renunciation of foreign trade, and a radical sealing of the borders and all access of information to and from the outside. Their largest manufacturing plant recycled old rubber vehicle tires to make shoes.
Perhaps their primary focus was an impossible to exaggerate paranoia of enemies everywhere, both “internal” from within their own ranks and the external designs of all foreigners as enemies—with a particular focus on Vietnam—who, the Khmer Rouge leadership were convinced, were poised and aggressively intent on conquering and eliminating Cambodia as a nation and the Khmer as a race.
In the process of implementation of these policies they combined the failures of Cambodia’s political culture--of which they vowed to eliminate and instead mimicked and exacerbated--with delusional, absurd, ill-planned and technically impossible utopian fantasies of what they deemed the “Super Great Leap Forward” in an economic strategy implemented in 1977. A direct reference to being more capable than China itself (in its Great Leap Forward), it was designed to prove their superior talents and abilities demonstrating they were racially, culturally, and as a nation-state more advanced than any other economic model in world history, not just rejecting any foreign model but unsupervised by any Cambodian trained cadre. They forced compliance to these policies with rule through the centrally directed harsh use of violence and forced implantation of delusional central agricultural, economic, and social policies. They relied on manual labour, and arrested and executed cadre who suggested that mechanized machines such as tractors would be a superior method than the forced labour of a starving population. When impossible production quotas weren’t met, the KR cadre in the area were deemed as foreign agents intentionally sabotaging the Cambodian nation. These combined to create a recipe destined for disaster. They allowed no internal debate for their policies contributing to the astonishing failures of central policy as a whole, utter collapse of any normal government functions, extraordinary suffering of the population, a petrified and robotic Party rank and file, and finally a war they provoked which ended in the loss of their country to Vietnamese occupation. These dominant features underlined their tenure in power.
These themes are all consistent with the Khmer Rouge absolute policy of what they called “self reliance-self mastery” and their belief that they were capable of alone creating an agrarian utopia that harked back to their glorious Angkorean past. Pol Pot’s “Super Great Leap Forward” was an example that Cambodia could make achievements superior to that of even China, and reflected both the fact they were far from subservient minions of Beijing and a psychological penchant for vengeance against all things foreign which, they believed, had stripped them of their cultural and racial dignity. The fact that Cambodia had been a failed state in the 600 years since the demise of the Angkor empire created an inferiority complex of which they were determined to prove a misconception or a reflection of the rapacious, corrupt, and incompetent rulers that preceded them. In the end, they proved themselves even more incompetent and inhumane than their political enemies. Those who resisted or questioned their impossible vision for a utopia unique in history were often killed with the sincere belief they were enemies of the very Cambodian race, people, and nation.