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The Rise of the Khmer Rouge (Part 2)

The Rise of the Khmer Rouge (Part 2)

Furthermore, the very makeup of Cambodian society, the core of all possible indigenous factors, can be argued to have allowed for the rise of the Khmer Rouge. ‘Cambodian society was composed of ‘three main occupational segments: the government bureaucracy, the clergy and the peasantry’, all of which had their own political and social spheres so effectively you were born into a caste system in 20th Century Cambodia; which means a large proportion of the population consisted of resentful peasants. This naturally worked in the favour of the communist left who could offer the lower ranks of society a theoretical system of equality and the option to fight the Government, and thus the large rural body flocked to join the Khmer Rouge and strengthened their numbers greatly in their fight against the Khmer Republic. It is worth noting also that the majority of the defectors from the rural population were the teenage children of peasants who had no ownership of land and therefore no ties to the Government, meaning they had less to lose by joining the communist forces. The importance of this cannot be understated as controlling much of the nation’s youth offered a more sustainable future for the communists and communism is after all meant to be a continuous global revolution. In reality Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge were far more nationalist than communist but the image of them controlling the youth created a more viable image for their regime, aiding in their rise to power. It’s worth mentioning that the Khmer Rouge didn’t suddenly ignite a peasant revolution, in fact the peasant body’s resentment of the Government and Cambodia’s ‘old fashioned’ social hierarchy was already quite evident and in the Samlaut Rebellion of 1967-68 they were alienated from the right wing towns and therefore driven somewhat into hiding with the left. This is not to remove credit from the Khmer Rouge in their own drive to power but to emphasise just how important the internal struggles within Cambodia were in allowing for the rise of Pol Pot’s regime.

The middle ground of mixed influences in the rise of the Khmer Rouge cover largely political, ideological and cultural practises which entail external thoughts but also indigenous actions. Many within Cambodia for example believed that the United States’ CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) were responsible for the removal of Sihanouk which saw Lon Nol’s military regime take power, destabilizing the country, ‘weakening the Government’s hold over the people’ and giving more prominence to its communist opposition, namely the Khmer Rouge. Scholars have since argued that this is rather unlikely as Sihanouk was becoming increasingly friendly towards the US in the latter 1960s and it seems that the coup was rather ‘an internal affair arising from Cambodian social elites’. Unfortunately, we can’t be sure of the truth, but whether or not the US did play a role in the coup, their involvement is nevertheless overshadowed by the internal political and social struggle within Cambodia that allowed Sihanouk to be overthrown and so we can see how the subtle influence of possible CIA action but the pretence of indigenous political instability combined beneficially for the communists in Cambodia. On an ideological level, the Khmer Rouge’s form of communism involved multiple foreign nations and has been described as a ‘post-Leninist amalgam on nostrums of the left’ collaborating seemingly incompatible practises of Mao, Stalin, Frantz Fanon and Samir Amin as well as some of Pol Pot’s own ideals. This was no doubt due at least partially to the Khmer Rouge’s Chairman’s education in France where he studied Marxism in Europe as well as from his time working in communist Yugoslavia, but as previously stated there was definitely new communist practises adopted by the Khmer Rouge as well as existing foreign ones.    



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