Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Young people are a vital force in the new Kampuchea

First Published: The Call, Vol. 7, No. 29, July 24, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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This is the sixth in a series of articles by Call Journalists who visited Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia) in April. They were the first Americans to visit that country since its liberation in 1975.

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What could a battle-hardened guerrilla fighter and a 14-year-old electronics student have in common?

Everything, if the student happens to be Kampuchean. In fact, many of the young teenagers we met during our stay in Kampuchea were battle-experienced fighters. Both young boys and young girls joined their parents in waging Kampuchea’s war of liberation against U.S. imperialism and many thousands lost their lives.

This fact of recent life in Kampuchea is significant. Unless it is kept in mind, the vital role of youth in today’s socialist revolution and construction cannot be fully understood.

This is what we discovered during a visit to an electronics trade school in Phnom Penh, one of the first technical schools opened up by the revolutionary government after liberation.

“Before liberation,” the school’s director told us. “only foreigners, and the sons and daughters of the Kampuchean capitalists, could go to school.” The majority of the people were kept uneducated, unemployed, and forced to work as unskilled cheap labor.

“Then when liberation came,” he continued, “many of the skilled people, the experts, abandoned the country and fled. We were left with practically no trained people.”

So the newly-liberated country, still under attack by the imperialists, was faced with a huge problem: How to modernize and build up the country without modern industry, agriculture, machines or technology?

While Kampuchea’s enemies figured that the revolutionary government would collapse under the weight of these problems, just the opposite happened. Relying on the patriotism and spirit of hard work of the masses of people, Kampuchea today is achieving step-by-step progress in all fields.

The education of young people, their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn the skills their country needs is playing a central role in this progress.

The school we visited, one year old, is already training its second group of 150 students. The 10 to 14-year-old students, both boys and girls, receive six months of training.

About 2 and a half months of their course is devoted to learning reading and writing and to political instruction. The remaining months are devoted to learning specialized electronics skills.

We saw some young people being trained as linesmen, while others were being taught to rebuild generators, construct transformers and test electrical equipment. They were doing complicated mathematical work usually seen only in college classrooms in this country.

After six months of studying, the students are sent to industrial enterprises where they will acquire work experience.

How do the young people themselves feel about their schooling? One 12-year-old peasant boy we spoke to at the school was typical in his attitude: “I like this job. I want to do something for my country.”

This combination of work and study, theoretical knowledge with practical experience, is a basic policy in Kampuchea today. Under socialism, the educational system serves the people and the entire country is the students’ “classroom.”

Education is now universal for young people, though still limited to three hours daily because of scarce books and teachers. Adult classes have also been set up in the agricultural cooperatives.

Now 80% of the people can read and write. Just three years ago, 80% of the people could not.

Yet these achievements have constantly been slandered in the U.S. as part of imperialism’s “propaganda war” against Kampuchea. For example, when a Yugoslav journalists’ film about Kampuchea was shown on American television, the media ran wild with claims of “child labor” taking place in Kampuchea. Showing young people working, the TV commentary distorted the conditions under which the youth are engaged in productive labor.

Answering the charges that “forced child labor” is used in Kampuchea, or that “children are forcibly separated from their parents,” the school director said:

“You have to look at the real life of these youth. During the war the father or both parents would often have to leave home and come to Phnom Penh to look for work, leaving their families behind. Many of these students’ parents were killed during the war or starved to death.

“So, at an early age the children became independent and took on responsibilities,” the director added. “They had to grow up very quickly because of the conditions imposed on us by U.S. imperialism.”

Seen in this light, we understood how the work the Kampuchean youth willingly perform plays a major role in bringing their country up from the destruction and backwardness of the past.

From everything we saw, it was clear that Kampuchean youth are eager to build up their country and know that they have a great responsibility to do so. That’s because Kampuchean youth live in a socialist society that has eliminated starvation, unemployment, and disease which, under U.S. imperialist domination, ran rampant.

How does that stack up against the so-called “freedom” of youth in the U.S.? Is a life of poverty, drug addiction an unemployment to which so many youth are condemned in America really such great thing?

Obviously, things are not very good for young people in the U.S. today, and millions are becoming disillusioned wit the whole system.

This is precisely why the media cooked up so many slanders against revolutionary countries like Kampuchea, and especially so many slanders against the life of youth there. The capitalists are doing their best to get young people convinced that whatever is wrong with capitalist it’s still “better” than socialism.

The facts, as we saw, tell a completely different story. Young people have a very bright future in socialist Kampuchea.