Maoism and the people
Maoist Internationalist Movement
mim3 at nyxfer.blythe.org
Mon Sep 11 13:40:36 MDT 1995
MAOIST INTERNATIONALIST MOVEMENT
POSITION PAPER ON KAMPUCHEA
Last edit: 8/26/92
Maoism and Pol Pot myths
Getting the record on Pol Pot straight
*Pol Pot did not execute 2 or 3 million people.
*The U.S. Indochina war did kill 600,000 Cambodians and
left millions more homeless and starving.
Occasionally critics of Mao Zedong or today's Sendero
Luminoso say that Pol Pot, the political leader
frequently accused of genocide in Cambodia/Kampuchea,
was a Maoist. Bourgeois mouthpieces like the New
Republic also say that the Senderos are admirers of Pol
Since most of the public does not know anything about
Mao or Pol Pot, the effect is to equate Maoism with
genocide. It's just another means that bourgeois
propagandists simplify communism as all that is evil.
Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge, a
revolutionary group that considered itself communist.
The Khmer Rouge seized power in what was previously
called Cambodia in 1975.
Naturally since the Khmer Rouge seized power from a
U.S.-backed right-wing regime, it has suffered abuse
from U.S. imperialist circles ever since, whether the
Khmer Rouge were Maoist or not. Hence, it is necessary
to sort out how much is just anti-communist and pro-
imperialist propaganda from how much is truth in the
charge of genocide against Pol Pot.
By 1975, already an estimated 10% of the Kampuchean
population-- 600,000 had died as a result of the Vietnam
War. (1) Those 600,000 deaths were caused by U.S.
efforts to track down Vietnamese communists into
Nixon's ordering of the bombing of Cambodia and U.S.
troop forays into Cambodia were a turning point in the
movement against the Vietnam War in the United States.
Today, however, many people who never opposed the U.S.
role in Indochina are complaining about Pol Pot's
violence. That's just hypocrisy that is increasingly
easy to get away with as people forget about the U.S.
war in Indochina.
The U.S.-instigated war-- bombing in particular-- also
caused the creation of 2 million refugees, who flooded
the cities. The cities then came to depend on U.S. food
aid to live because of the war and the inefficiency of
the right-wing Lon Nol regime. (2)
Hence, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge seized power from Lon
Nol in 1975 in the worst possible situation: The people
were starving; Kampuchea was the poorest country in the
world and one-third were refugees.
The next charge frequently heard from the imperialist
critics is that Pol Pot oppressed the people by forcing
them out of the cities. It is true that Pol Pot had
Phnom Penh emptied; however, given that these people
were starving and that the economy was a shambles, it
was not a bad move economically. (3) It seems likely to
have saved lives, something not usually considered by
Khmer Rouge critics. Even so, on the negative side, the
Khmer Rouge admitted that 2 or 3,000 people died in the
process of migration out of Phnom Penh. (4)
The next charge is that to carry out supposedly crazy
communist policies, Pol Pot simply executed people for
little or no reason. However, as with propaganda against
Stalin, the bourgeois propagandists overlook certain
Pol Pot did not execute 2 or 3 million people as the
press often leaves the impression without explaining.
Pol Pot executed between 75,000 and 150,000 people, who
were disproportionately urban dwellers, upper class or
intellectual, between 1975 and 1979. Vietnam invaded in
December 1978 and threw the Khmer Rouge out of power in
The 2 or 3 million figure comes from counting all deaths
in the 1975 to 1979 period based on estimates of
population. A Finnish inquiry commission concludes that
1 million or fewer people died in the Pol Pot period.
(6) At least several thousand of those were caused by
repeated military clashes with Vietnam.
Serious famine followed again after the final Vietnamese
invasion of December 1978 and by the time international
aid started it was too late for many. 2 million or 30%
of the population died in the 1970s total from the U.S.
war, the Pol Pot period and the Vietnamese invasions.
Pol Pot is not a Maoist
*Pol Pot never called himself a Maoist while Mao was
*Mao never called Pol Pot a Maoist.
*Pol Pot never supported the Gang of Four, Mao's
successors, and in fact called them
*MIM does not consider Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge a
While it is necessary to sort out truth from imperialist
fiction, it is not possible to defend Pol Pot completely
for the simple fact that he is an opportunist and not a
That is not to say there was no relationship between the
Khmer Rouge and China. At various times, the Maoist
press praised the efforts of the Vietnamese, Cambodian
and Korean peoples to struggle for self-determination
and rebuild their countries, but never called their
communist parties Maoist. China also gave aid to these
countries and others like Tanzania in Africa which did
not even claim to be communist.
Pol Pot himself never declared himself a Maoist until
after Mao died. Even then, Pol Pot, acting as prime
minister, denounced Mao's still living successors, the
Gang of Four on October 22, 1976. (8)
After more than 20 years of organizing and insisting
that he did not follow any particular revolutionary
leader abroad, Pol Pot declared himself a Maoist to
China's new leader, Hua Guofeng (who also claimed to be
Mao's successor) in October, 1977, one month after
Vietnam had sent troops 10 miles deep into Kampuchea
across a 650-mile border. (9)
Even then Pol Pot's comrades in Kampuchea stressed to
each other and the people that the Khmer Rouge is
independent and follows no one. In any case, by October,
1977, Mao was not only dead but Hua had arrested Mao's
supporters, the Gang of Four, which includes Mao's wife
Hua also rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping and in a reversal
of fortune, works under Deng Xiaoping today. One of the
last things Mao did before he died was to purge Deng
Xiaoping from government posts and high party
In other words, Pol Pot was calling himself Maoist, but
he was accepting the arrest of the Gang of Four. Hence,
there was never a time when Pol Pot was a real Maoist by
In 1977, Pol Pot was criticizing Deng Xiaoping as a
counterrevolutionary. Yet, by 1979, and after Vietnam's
invasion of Kampuchea, Pol Pot was praising Deng
Xiaoping. The stuff about being Maoist went out the
window because Deng Xiaoping had become China's top
leader by replacing Hua Guofeng.
Pol Pot only called himself a Maoist to obtain military
aid and sanctuary from China. He changed his line to
flatter whoever was in power in Beijing and never
supported the Gang of Four.
Taken literally, the charge that the Sendero Luminoso
are admirers of Pol Pot is a lie. Like MIM, the Senderos
support the Gang of Four.
To say that Pol Pot is a Maoist is also a lie.
One shred of truth possible in the critics' charges is
that some theories of Pol Pot's resembled Mao's. (10)
But that would be true of many Third World
While it is an interesting question to what extent the
Khmer Rouge picked and chose some policies that were
Maoist or more extreme versions of Maoism and while it
is interesting to evaluate the success or failure of
these policies, it is simply inappropriate for a
journalist to refer to the Khmer Rouge as Maoist. An
appreciation of the issues requires much more study than
possible in a Time or New Republic article.
(1) Kimmo Kiljunen, ed., Kampuchea: Decade of the
Genocide: Report of a Finnish Inquiry Commission
(London: Zed Books, 1984), 5.
(2) Ibid., 5, 6.
(3) See for example, G. Hildebrand and G. Porter,
Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution. New York: Monthly
(4) Kiljunen, ed., op. cit., 33.
(5) One book examining many inaccuracies and lies in the
bourgeois media reporting is M. Vickery's Cambodia:
1975-1982 (Boston: South End Press, 1984).
(6) Kiljunen, ed., op. cit., 33. Karl Jackson, who
edited Cambodia 1975-1978: Rendezvous with Death
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989)
estimates over one million dead under Pol Pot but
forgets to count several hundred thousand refugees who
left the country as people who should not be counted as
dead. (p. 3)
(7) Ibid., 33, 98.
(8) Craig Etcheson, The Rise and Demise of Democratic
Kampuchea (Boulder: Westview Press, 1984), 176.
(9) Ibid., 246.
(10) Scholars disagree on the influence of Mao on Pol
Pot. Kenneth Quinn ("Explaining the Terror," Cambodia
1975-1978: Rendezvous with Death (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1989) sees Pol Pot declaring
himself Maoist just as Craig Etcheson sees the Maoist
faction of the Khmer Rouge losing out.
Remember the Vietnam War
*Vietnam Laos and Cambodia (now called Kampuchea) are
countries in Southeast Asia.
*At the peak of the war the United States sent 500,000
troops to this area called Indochina to fight communist
*The United States dropped bombs totaling twice the
explosive power of all those dropped in World War II.
The economic devastation, including famine caused by
disruption of agriculture is incalculable.
*According to the United States Army, it killed 1
million Vietnamese directly in combat. That does not
count the effects of bombing.
*According to the Finnish Inquiry Commission, the United
States' war also killed 600,000 in Cambodia.
*The total U.S.-caused deaths in Indochina run into the
millions, which is why people around the world called it
a war of genocide.
If you had been reading MIM Notes, the newspaper of the
Maoist Internationalist Movement, you would know all this
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