Pol Pot's Perspective on Chauvinism
by Lay Vicheka
Pol Pot was actually the initiator of the Revolutionary Organization, whose policy completely transformed the Cambodia’s national administration. From the time he was a child, till he was a Sisowat College professor, Pol Pot was deemed as “nationalist” by many people, especially by his students and those who attended his lectures. Though it was depicted by Keo Samuth that “Under Pol Pot, for three years, eight months, and twenty days, our people lived in hell” (Fox&Ung, 1998, p. vi). Pol Pot deployed the doctrine of “chauvinism” to craze people’s mentalities and to legitimize his aggressive revolution. Understanding Pol Pot’s chauvinism means understanding more about his way of leadership, and Cambodia’s chronology.
II. Pol Pot’s Chauvinism
Educated in France, highly experienced in college teaching, and simple taste, Pol Pot and his ideals represented good virtues, such as social and economic equality, anti-corruption, desired by average Cambodians. At that time of crisis, Pol Pot was deemed as a hero to bring about changes in Cambodian social order to improve basic living conditions of the poor and the uneducated. All of these ideals embraced most of the poor peasants, so they eventually accepted this view and took up arm for the impending victory.
This vision is also apparently seen in the preamble of The Democratic Kampuchea’s constitution, paragraph 4;
whereas the entire Kampuchean people and the entire Kampuchean Revolutionary Army desire an independent, unified, peaceful, neutral, non-aligned, sovereign Kampuchea enjoying territorial integrity, a national society informed by genuine happiness, equality, justice, and democracy without rich or poor and without exploiters or exploited, a society in which all live harmoniously in great national solidarity and join forces to do manual labour together and increase production for the construction and defense of the country . (Jennar, 1995, p. 82).
In March 1988, while teaching about the domestic situation insides Cambodia, he abruptly stopped the lesson and asked, “What can we do to make the people love us?” Several brigade and division commanders suggested exposing the corruption of other factions and demonstrating the Red Khmer’s patriotism; others maintained that the key was economics…Pol Pot kept shaking his head, dissatisfied. Then a battalion commander in the back row raised his hand and responded, “We must put ourselves in the same position as the poorest of the poor, then the people will crowd around us and love us.” “Yes,” cried the teacher, delighted that one of his lowest ranking students had answered correctly. “Yes! Yes!” (Chandler, 1999, p. 175).
In his September 1979 speech, Pol Pot compared the monuments of Angkor favourably with the liberation of Phnom Penh;
Long ago, there was Angkor. Angkor was built in the era of slavery. Slaves like us built Angkor under the exploitation of the exploiter-classes, so that these royal people could be happy. If our people can make Angkor, they can make any thing . (Chandler, 1996, p. 246).
This statement, Pol Pot might want to refer back to during-Mohanokor Cambodia, when Cambodia was a powerful empire, owned many big and small territories outside its own sovereign state. In 27 September 1977, Pol Pot made another talk to revitalize Cambodia’s past; The History of Cambodia dated back more than 2000 years. It shows that like all societies in the world, Cambodian society had experienced many social phrases (Chandler, 1996, p. 237). In the era of primitive communism, there were not yet any divisions between classes. In the era of primitive communism, there were thus no struggles between classes. When Cambodian society entered the era of slave society, society had class divisions, which is to say there were slave-owners and slaves. These were called masters of slaves, masters of workers, and those who were slaves and workers for other people (Chandler, 1996, p. 239). Pot Pot’s new regime’s existence was to bring the complete equalitarianism to the society in all fields, as stated in the preamble of the Democratic Kampuchea’s constitution.
For the three ghosts, communism was the unique political ideology to make Cambodia resurgent. To legitimize this vision as the foundation for Cambodia’s eventual victory, Democratic Kampuchea spokesman claimed, “Enemies have exploited Cambodia’s poor”, he also argued that ever since the country move away from “primitive communism” some “2000 years ago” into a world of class discrimination (Chandler, 1996, p. 235).
To sum up, Pol Pot is classified as chauvinistic by his charisma. His simple taste, sympathetic to the poor (as stated above “to be the poorest of the poor), insightfully understand the status quo of Sihanouk and Lon Nol government, made him legitimate to transform the former (Sihanouk and Lon Nol) administration. Though the consequence was not like what he had promised, but what he said before the 17 April victory, penetrated into most of the poor peasants, until they took up arms to build better foundation for the Revolutionary Organization’s victory.
· Chauvinism Through National Unity.
Criticized corruption, nepotism, class discrimination, the ruling elites looked at the peasants with contempt and disdain. Furthermore, the Lon Nol government was on the verge of total ruin and falling into the hand of Vietminh, Pol Pot regime guaranteed to bring about national solidarity and unity.
From an outset, Democratic Kampuchea government ceased the international relations and aids, particularly the American aids, as Kieve Samphan claimed that American aid, designed to shore up traditional relationships, would be foresworn, but continued the French aid which he thought as less conservative. Pochentong International Airport, all the Western embassies and councils were entirely eliminated.
All the Cambodian citizens, rich and poor alike, were to be evacuated to the rural areas, to form cooperatives, so that they could work growing rice, as already mentioned in the initial eight policies above. Agrarian Utopia was, of course, the political platform of the regime. Even though in the constitution, chapter five, article five started, “… Representing the peasants 150”. The party was working in the city and in the countryside with rural areas as the main base. City could not be used as the base area, because enemies was everywhere, the parliament, court, jail, police, and military were there.
As the Seventeen April Nineteen-seventy-nine approached, Government soldiers were told that fighting was at an end; all Khmer were brothers who should reunite in order to recover Khmer territory lost to the Vietnamese. The reference was to Kampuchea Krom, those parts of southern Vietnam which were once part of the Khmer empire during its great age of dominance over much of mainland Southeast Asia and which were lost Vietnam between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the next three and a half years this irredentist, anti-Vietnamese theme was to be relentlessly and suicidally pursued by the Khmer Rouge. In fact, despite the Vietnamese statements welcoming the victory of the Kampuchean revolution, border provocations by Kampuchean against Vietnam began almost immediately. (Fox&Ung, 1998, p. 6).
Revolutionary Organization was also called “pineapple organization”. Because all people’s routine activities were checked to make sure that the organization uprooted the enemies. In Unity Perspective, only friends were allowed to stay alive, but all enemies had to be uprooted. Not only the Vietnamese, people who were found to have connection with Vietnam, the Lon Nol regime was to be massacred.
Furthermore, the ethnic groups’ cultures were unconditionally fired. Only Khmer language was allowed to be daily communicative language. The Chams were forced to eat pork which is against their religion. Unity means the organization had to embrace all the information, everybody had to be the same in term of clothes, language, food, social status, culture…etc. Any ethnic group dared to protest was murdered, because it was thought as “contradicted to the organization’s policies”. The right to expression, assembly, and vote were all abolished, because all of these were thought as “break the organization’s unity”. The evidence to uproot the ethnic Chams was clearly seen;
It was Document Nº163 page 163 [?]…It said we will not spare the Chams, because if spared they will resist, and [and produce] revisionism…It said that the Cham races not to be spared because it has a history of resisting the socialist revolution, and also in the Champa period… “So we undertake a policy of discarding them now.” They were hand in hand with the Vietnamese, so they must all be killed off. It said that the Chams had already rebelled once, in the Eastern Zone…It said we had fled persecution in our Vietnamese country, and could not be trusted…The document said that now, they must be smashed to pieces. Whatever department they are in, they must be smashed to pieces .” (Kiernan, 1996, p. 280).
All the religions were to be dismantled to the ground, because they would work against the Democratic Kampuchea, as the constitution, chapter fifteen, article twenty; “reactionary religions which are detrimental to Democratic Kampuchean people are absolutely forbidden” (Jennar, 1995, p. 88). In Pol Pot regime, religion would lead to conflicts between people and people and the state and the people. So Khmer Rouge decided to abolish all the pagodas and all the religious worships and they even converted pagodas to be the storehouses or other administrative offices.
Unity means “no political rivalry”. In one of the elections in Maesor Prachan in 20 March 1976, more than 10,000 people, including inhabitants of other hamlets situated near the Tuol Don Teov work site, gathered to vote for the Assembly of the People’s Representatives. The 250 member Assembly was to comprise 150 peasant representatives, 50 industrial workers, and 50 from the Revolutionary Army. No other classes existed in Democratic Kampuchea. Everyone sat in rows in the newly-constructed square paddies. Several speeches were made praising Khmer Rouge Policies, then each person was given a piece of paper on which was written one name, that of the officially-selected candidate, Tum Choen. Voting consisted of rows of people in order filing past the voting box into which they placed the votes they had been given, all under the careful scrutiny of Khmer Rouge cadres. As expressed by Bun, the co-author of the book, entitled “The Murderous Revolution”, was that this Assembly vote, which had to be performed “with a smiling face”, was nothing but a “shameful face” (Fox&Ung, 1998, p. 70).
Democratic Kampuchea regime did not provide equality to all its inhabitants at all. After the 17 April victory, all the evacuees were segregated between the “base people” and “new people” (or the Seventeen April people). New people were treated much harsher than the base people. Besides this, nepotism still existed. Ta Mok promoted his relatives to the high-ranking officials, and the Khmer Rouge cadres had enough food, while the people were starving. International relations were to be closed, but Pol Pot still retained his relationship to China, and even received China’s aids.
I would call Democratic Kampuchea, “a totalitarian regime”. Everything, everywhere were devoted to Revolutionary Organization, even the national anthem, “the glorious seventeen April”, devoted to the organization. People had to attend the political lectures, devoted to praise the organization. The graffiti, organization’s slogans, poems, daily errands, and even the mentalities had to be organization-oriented.
Two final questions have been arisen; did Pol Pot single-mindedly to gain his power? Was it a Revolution or Revenge?
Democratic Kampuchea’s administration occurred from 1975 to 1979, which the world was in the state of “forward looking”. Nationalism is right in any country’s perspective, but not chauvinism, that mean aggressive nationalism. Hitler got rid of all the Jews, presented in Germany. Pol Pot, on the other hand, massacred his own people, is it really “chauvinism” to murder millions of his own people? This question, until now, remains mysterious to the world. The lesson of Pol Pot could be a useful example for the later leaders. The world is increasingly become boundless, and interdependent. The extremism of “chauvinism” is of no use in this progressive world. The world is revolutionary, and the more we are open to criticism, acceptance, and active listening; the more we become more philosophical, and the more we are open to development.
1. Martin Stuart-Fox & Bunheang Ung (1998). THE MURDEROUS REVOLUTION. Orchid Press, Bangkok.: Thailand.
2. David P. Chandler (1999). BROTHER NUMBER ONE. O.S. Printing House, Bangkok.: Thailand.
3. Raoul M. Jennar (1995). THE CAMBODIAN CONSTITUTION (1953-1993). White Lotus Co. Ltd, Bangkok.: Thailand.
4. David P. Chandler (1996). Facing The Cambodian Past. O.S. Printing House, Bangkok.: Thailand.
5. Ben Kiernan (1996). THE POL POT REGIME. Vail-Ballou Press, New York.:USA.
The author is a second year student of law at the University of Phnom Penh.
Opinions expressed on Readers' Submissions pages do not necessarily reflect those of talesofasia.com, its publisher, or anyone else that could be remotely affiliated with the talesofasia name.
Unless otherwise credited, the copyright on all text and photographs appearing on a Readers' Submissions page belong to the credited author and are not the property of talesofasia.com. Inquirires regarding this material should be made to the author. Unless stated otherwise, all other text and photographs on talesofasia.com are © 1998 - 2005 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.