Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

E. San Juan Jr.

Book Review: The Challenge of the Kampuchean Revolution

Published Alive, 127, March 17, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Besieged by Soviet-Vietnamese imperialism cloaked in patently fraudulent and self-serving apologetics, the Kampuchean revolution today is the time-tested crucible of revolutionary internationalism. Depending on one’s attitude to Democratic Kampuchea’s resistance, one’s political commitment can be defined as progressive or reactionary in word and deed.

Today it is the Communist Party of Kampuchea headed by Pol Pot that all-sidedly incarnates the dynamic principle of materialist dialectics: people’s war. Pol Pot’s speech on the 17th anniversary of the party is an inspiring model of dialectics in action, “the concrete analysis of concrete conditions.”

In essence, “people’s war” signifies a wide-ranging mobilization of the initiative and energies of the productive masses to overthrow Soviet-Vietnamese oppression and, in the process, construct the foundations of socialism in inter-connected stages.

How people’s war operates in practice is shown vividly in the pamphlet by Chinese journalists who visited Cambodia in March 1975, fighting Cambodia.

During the war against U.S. imperialism, the Kampuchean partisans converted negative into positive factors: “Wherever enemy planes, tanks and armored cars had been destroyed, the people collected the wreckage and sent it to factories and workshops to be made into spades, hoes, knives, axes, pots, plates and other goods.” That accomplishment implies spontaneous creativity unleashed through militant discipline. No more powerful demonstration of the truth of Marxism-Leninism is needed than this resourceful transformation of existential reality into historical projects – the conscious re-structuring of society – undertaken by workers, peasants, and other national-democratic forces.

Self-reliance through organized and politically-informed collective labor is the key to the tremendous upheaval of revolutionary change in Kampuchea. It is not foreign assistance nor technology but the people’s harnessed and directed energies that is the key.

Fighting Cambodia transcribes the dynamic process of qualitative and quantitative transformation in a Third World society classified by bourgeois scholars and Trotskyites as “backward”. “What can you expect from peasants?” these chauvinists ask. But compared to the sophisticated economy of the capitalist superpowers, Kampuchea’s “backward” peasants have wrought miracles.

Relative to its historical past as victim of colonialism, Kampuchea’s socio-economic system has become one of the most advanced in world history. Nature there has become humanized: water conservancy projects – one more triumph against the legacy of imperialist domination – have vindicated once more the axiom that the real heroic makers of history are the working masses. Organizing conscious labor in planting food serves as the authentic weapon for the Kampucheans to defeat the exploiters and liberate their potential. As one of their agitational lyrics puts it: “We no longer rely on heaven in farming./ But on collective strength.”

“Cambodia” has now become “Democratic Kampuchea” after the pivotal victory of April 17, 1975. A magnificent summing-up of the zigzag trajectory of the struggle is offered by Pol Pot in his speech of September 29, 1977. Notwithstanding the youthfulness of the party and given the ordeals experienced by its cadres, Pol Pot is undoubtedly one of the most creative and audacious Marxist-Leninists of our time.

Despite the massive invasion of over 180,000 Vietnamese, the world press throughout January and February reported the telling victories of the Kampucheans on all fronts: the firm control over the whole countryside, including the temple complex at Angkor and the vital highway linking Phnom Penh to the coast. If the Pol Pot government is hated by the majority of the people, as the Western and Soviet-Vietnamese media allege, how was that possible?

We perceive a token of this formidable unity and valiant spirit of the embattled Kampucheans in Pol Pot’s conception of the united front. In organizing the strategic and tactical forces of the revolution based on the worker-peasant alliance led by the party, the Kampuchean leader applied the principle of “differentiating among our enemies, so as to target only the most reactionary.” In this we see a flexible but highly principled application of Mao’s theory of utilizing the internal contradictions among the enemy, a guideline which, projected on a world-scale, becomes the theory of the three worlds.

Pol Pot’s synthesis of the rich and manifold experiences of the Kampuchean revolutionaries deserves close study by everyone. Pol Pot’s genius reveals itself in his sensitive and thorough grasp of class forces in motion; specifically in determining how, given varying contexts, intransigence in principle can be combined with “questions of detail on which we must make concessions for the sake of unity against the principle enemy.” (This explains Sihanouk’s tactical assignment to the United Nations.) His speech affords abundant examples of the unity of theory and practice.

Kampuchea Today, an eyewitness report by journalists of The Call (newspaper of the Communist Party, Marxist-Leninist USA), documents in a popular and highly readable style the performance of the “mass line” in Kampuchea. We can encapsulate the thrust of this “mass line” in two provisional slogans: Dare to experiment! Dare to innovate!

This book vigorously belies the rumors of large-scale “massacres” disseminated by the capitalist media and Soviet-Vietnamese propagandists with illustrative anecdotes and first-hand interviews of Kampucheans. Instead of people being bludgeoned to death, eight million Kampucheans have successfully built dams with their bare hands, organized self-sufficient cooperatives, and attained a decent standard of living compared to the wretched subsistence inflicted on them by the U.S. and its puppets. Peasant cooperatives, which have dispensed with money by common agreement, stand out as an epochal milestone. This rapid if uneven transition from a colonized and under-developed country to a nation competently resolving what Marx noted as the fundamental contradictions in class society – those between manual and mental labor, workers and peasants, base and superstructure (alluded to by Ieng Sary, Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs, p. 57) – I consider an unprecedented achievement in the annals of world history.

The Call editor Daniel Burstein explains lucidly the problematic (for many Western observers) issues of the carefully planned evacuation of the cities devastated by the retreating enemy, the temporary non-use of money, and the Soviet-Vietnamese plots to subvert Kampuchean sovereignty. He also reminds the U.S. public in particular that even after its defeat in 1975, the U.S. government continued to bomb Kampuchea and sabotage its revolution. Aside from providing adequate historical background, Burstein gives us a lively graphic description of one cooperative, Ang Tasom in Takeo province, virtually a microcosm of a future society already germinating in the guerilla bases portrayed in fighting Cambodia. Subsequent visitors (American journalists Becker and Dudman; and Professor Malcolm Caldwell, murdered by Vietnamese agents just hours after his talk with Pol Pot) have independently confirmed Burstein’s judgements and conclusions.

An interview with Minister Sary in Kampuchea Today renders incontrovertibly clear the self-sacrificing policy of genuine proletarian internationalism that the Kampucheans demonstrated in their solidarity with Vietnam during their common struggle against U.S. imperialism. Sary states: “We went hungry ourselves so that our Vietnamese brothers could have our rice, and yet they did not deliver the arms and equipment that were intended for us.” Thus, even before the border disputes, the Vietnamese leadership has already practiced open treachery.

Today, with their Soviet and Cuban advisers (some of whom were recently killed in a Kampuchean attack on Pochen-tong airport in the capital), the Vietnamese revisionists and their puppet “National Front” have aroused international condemnation, censured alike by non-aligned Third World countries and socialist nations (Rumania, Yugoslavia, Democratic Republic of Korea), for their calculated and brazen violation of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Democratic Kampuchea. As Pol Pot presciently asserts in his 1977 speech, now verified by events: “World history records that it is only the reactionary ruling classes of big countries, those of the Hitler type, who invent pretexts to provoke and accuse small countries of encroachment, and then use these pretexts to justify their own aggression and expansion.” Vietnam, manipulated by the Soviet super-power, is following Hitler’s footsteps.

For those people still unable to wake up to the vastly changed world situation today where the Soviet Union has become the main danger to world peace and the most vicious (because disguised) foe of all peoples struggling for national independence and freedom, these three books will be found to be useful and necessary primers. Elementary and unpretentious on the surface, they actually abound with profound insights into the complex and multifaceted process of revolutionary change. They will surely serve as effective antidotes to the sentimental nostalgia of Vietnam sympathizers reluctant to recognize and oppose the unscrupulous betrayal of the Indochinese peoples committed by Pham Van Dong, Giap, and other Soviet lackeys.

The People’s Republic of China has formulated in a succinct dialectical fashion the major lesson we can draw from the hegemonist blitzkrieg: “An aggressor’s day of ascendancy is the beginning of his defeat.... In a weak nation’s war against aggression, what counts is not the seizure or loss of a city but the power of the whole people who, being the victim of aggression and mobilized and united in their profound hatred for the enemy, unfolds an extensive people’s war to wipe out the effective strength of the aggressor in a protracted war of resistance.... The occupation of Phnom Penh is no victory of the Vietnamese authorities, but a major political defeat” (Beijing Review, Jan. 7 & 9, 1979).

With the formation of a broad national, democratic and patriotic united front announced on 11 January, protracted people’s war in Kampuchea against Soviet social-imperialism and its Vietnamese pawn is now the challenging reality to which all radicals and progressives must address themselves.