Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Exclusive Eyewitness Report from Kampuchea: First of a series by Call editor Dan Burstein


First Published: The Call, Vol. 7, No. 19, May 15, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“You are the first Americans to pay a friendly visit to our country since liberation on April 17, 1975. We welcome you as the true representatives of the American people.”

With these words, officials of the Communist Party of Kampuchea and the Democratic Kampuchean government welcomed our delegation of four Call reporters as we stepped off the airplane into the hot sun of Phnom Penh’s Pochentong Airport on April 22.

Indeed, we were the first Americans to visit Kampuchea in more than three years, and among only a small number of foreigners who have been able to do so. Because of the vast reorganization of the society and the tremendous work of national reconstruction, Kampuchea has been largely closed to tourists and foreign visitors since the great victory of the 1975 revolution which defeated U.S. imperialism and the Lon Nol puppet government.

What would the new Kampuchea be like? What changes have taken place during these last three years of revolution and socialist construction? What about the horror stories of “genocide” and “violations of human rights” in Kampuchea which have appeared with such viciousness and regularity in the U.S. press? These were some of the questions that occupied our minds as we made the four-hour flight from Peking to Phnom Penh.

From the moment we arrived to the moment we left eight days later, we asked these and other questions repeatedly. We asked peasants and workers. We asked young people and old people; men and women. We asked Communist Party leaders as well as non-communists. They answered our questions with a thousand particulars and a thousand different personal experiences. But the general answer that could be drawn from all these experiences was universally the same: The people are free and liberated in the new society, whereas they were inhumanly oppressed, exploited and often on the brink of starvation in the old society.

On Highway 7, a road which winds through many towns and villages that were completely wiped out by U.S. B-52 bombing raids during the war, we stopped a group of peasants who were constructing a new dam by the roadside. We asked them what they thought of the new society. One old man put it this way:

“The old society was like the darkness. There was not one day that I wasn’t in pain the pain of hunger, the pain of disease, the pain of working for the feudal lords. Now there is light everywhere shining on Kampuchea. The pain of the past has ended. We have enough to eat, malaria is almost wiped out, I have even learned how to read! Now we are working for ourselves, not for any masters.”

Everywhere we went, we saw the most tremendous enthusiasm and spirit of hard work imaginable. The efforts of the masses are now directed mainly at agriculture and water conservation to solve the food problem. While there is currently enough rice to feed the whole population of eight million, the rice supply has not been completely ensured against possible drought. For this reason, dams, reservoirs and canals are under construction everywhere.

We saw one dam that had been on the drawing boards of foreign experts for more than ten years. These experts claimed that it couldn’t be built owing to various technical problems.

But after liberation, it was completed in five months, by mobilizing the labor of about 10,000 peasants, who did all the work by hand without any machines. This dam is called the January 5 dam, after the date construction was begun in 1976.

“With water we have rice, and with rice, we have everything.” This is the watchword of the workers and peasants throughout the country as they strive to solve the problem of stabilizing rice supply, and develop industry on the basis of a sound agricultural system.

There is no question that the masses grasp the political importance of this slogan. Even in 100-plus weather, we saw peasants racing each other to remove more buckets of earth, to clear away massive boulders, in the process of digging reservoirs. We saw a people who were joyous in their labor–singing, smiling and laughing because they know that the new world they are shaping in Kampuchea belongs to them.

We saw many massive worksites and not a single sign of coercion.

On another worksite, along Highway 7, we saw several thousand peasants energetically digging a canal. Of course if you read the press reports that circulate in the U.S. by the likes of William F. Buckley or Jack Anderson, you would think that all labor in Kampuchea is performed at gunpoint. Well, we saw many massive worksites such as the one on Highway 7, and not a single sign of coercion.

At this particular worksite, I stopped a group of peasants and asked them if they knew that the Western press was reporting that labor in Kampuchea was all being done at gunpoint. They laughed and said that yes, they had heard some reports that these lies were being spread. One man said to me: “It was in the old days that we were forced to work. Now, no one is forcing us.”

Was all this staged for our benefit, as the propagandists of the imperialists will surely claim?

Impossible! We travelled more than 700 miles over the course of four days through the Kampuchean countryside and stopped where we wanted to stop. The mass support we saw everywhere for the new Kampuchea was genuine and heartfelt.

“The imperialists have a guilty conscience, that’s why they spread lies about our country.”

A Communist Party member explained, “You see, the imperialists have a guilty conscience, that’s why they spread so many lies about our country. In five years of war, from 1970 to ’75, U.S. imperialism was responsible for the deaths of 800,000 of our people–over 12% of the whole population. Now Carter and the rest of the imperialists are trying to accuse us of ’genocide’ and ’mass murder’ in order to divert attention away from the fact that it is they and not us who have committed these barbaric crimes in Kampuchea.”

Another one of the “big lies” that has circulated about Kampuchea is that Phnom Penh has become a “ghost town” and that all its population was “forcibly deported” or killed.

We spent several days in Phnom Penh and found out the truth about what has happened there. After liberation in 1975, the city was almost completely evacuated. This step was taken for many reasons.

To begin with, there was no food supply in the city (which has swollen from a pre-war population of 600,000 to a 1975 population of 3.1 million). All the roads and rail lines leading to the countryside had been bombed and wrecked. The rice fields around the city had been defoliated by U.S. chemical spray, and the liberation forces were almost completely lacking in trucks to move food into the city. The only solution to the food problem lay in moving the population out to the countryside where the cooperative agricultural system that had been thriving for several years in the liberated zones could feed them.

Moreover, the enemy was plotting to take power back by using Phnom Penh as its base. CIA and KGB agents lurked everywhere in the city, along with agents of a variety of other reactionary forces. They all had spectacular arms caches and electronic communication equipment to stay in touch with their masters. (Vast quantities of these items were found hidden in the city after the evacuation.)

Actual documents were discovered which proved that these reactionaries planned to wait for an opportune moment when the new government would be faced by many difficulties, and stage a coup d’etat in Phnom Penh supported by invasions across Kampuchea’s borders. We were given an extensive briefing on these plans, which will be the subject of a future Call article.

The evacuation of Phnom Penh was a brilliant strategic move which foiled these plans. Furthermore, the evacuation was not a “forced deportation” as charged by Jimmy Carter in his recent speech to the U.S. Congress. (How dare the U.S. imperialists talk about “forced deportations” anyway, when they are the ones forcibly deporting a million Mexican workers every year!)

“Our life in the cooperative is much better than it ever was in Phnom Penh.”

For ten days after the April 17 liberation, the cadres of the Communist Party explained the evacuation measures to the masses in Phnom Penh. And for the most part, the masses supported this decision once they understood it. In fact, the majority of people left the city on their own, returning to their native places from which they had become refugees after U.S. bombing had destroyed their homes and rice fields.

In the countryside, we met a worker who had formerly lived in Phnom Penh and had worked for the French-owned brewery, BGI, until liberation. He told us:

“At first I didn’t understand why we had to leave the city. I was reluctant to go. But now I understand and agree with it. Our life in the cooperative is much better than it ever was in Phnom Penh. We have plenty to eat, and the local peasants shared everything they had with those of us who came from the city.”

Today, Phnom Penh is actually growing as workers are returning to the city to establish new workshops and small-scale factories. We were told that the current population of the city is close to 200,000.

There is so much to be said about the new Kampuchea and its people! We learned about the cooperative system into which 90% of the population is organized, and we had the chance to actually visit a cooperative. We learned about education and medical care, visiting a training school and a pharmaceutical supply station.

Ieng Sary told us: “Now the situation is excellent.”

We gathered material on the history of the war of liberation, including first-hand accounts from guerrilla fighters. And we even toured the “War Room” in Phnom Penh–preserved exactly as it was when liberation troops entered the city April 17, 1975 –from which the U.S. imperialists and their Lon Nol puppets directed the war.

We learned about the history of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, whose organizational existence was actually secret from the time of its founding in 1960 until its Secretary Pol Pot announced its existence in a major speech last September.

We also had the chance to interview Comrade Ieng Sary, the Deputy Premier, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and member of the Standing Committee of the CPK Central Committee, asking him a wide range of questions about the Party’s history and the present situation in Kampuchea.

Ieng Sary told us: “We have overcome many difficulties since 1975. We have basically solved the problems of food, clothing and housing. We have defeated every attempt of the enemy to overthrow our political power through coup d’etats or invasions. Now the situation is excellent.”

Our delegation also toured Angkor Wat, the ancient cultural relic of the Kampuchean people, and learned about the whole last millenium of class struggle in Kampuchea. We saw evidence of the napalm bombs that the U.S. dropped on Angkor Wat in an attempt to kill the liberation troops protecting it.

Finally, we toured the Kampuchea-Vietnam border area, getting to within six miles of the border. We saw the remains of both the Soviet and American tanks as well as other signs of the Vietnamese invasion that penetrated 20 miles inside Kampuchea’s territory. While all the Vietnamese troops have now been expelled from their positions in Kampuchea, the conflict is far from over.

In the coming weeks and months, we will try to present all this material to Call readers– including many exclusive photographs. In this way, we hope to give our readers a true picture of the revolution in Kampuchea and deepen the bonds of solidarity between the American and Kampuchean peoples.