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Pol Pot and the 'Little Red Book'

Pol Pot and the 'Little Red Book'


I was very glad that your paper, whose high quality I appreciate, published a detailed

summary of the Sorbonne international symposium on the "Historical sources of

the Khmer Land" (History on Trial, Nov. 5 - 18).

I am afraid the two paragraphs devoted to my paper are more a refutation of my study

than an objective summary of the points I was trying to make. That the Polpotists

were essentially a radical Maoist group is now a well-established historical fact

and there is massive evidence to support this.

First, I was not making a comparison "between Maoist slogans of the Cultural

Revolution period" (of which I don't know a single one) and the Khmer Rouge

slogans, but, more modestly, between Mao Zedong's Little Red Book and the 150 or

so Khmer Rouge slogans I have collected.

Secondly, my talk had two obvious parts: first, I attempted to determine how far

Polpotist thoughts modeled themselves on the Chinese leader's, the better to assess

what was specifically Khmer Rouge in those abrupt slogans.

You already find in the Little Red Book many of the themes taken up in the slogans

about self-reliance, absolute submission to the will of the Party (Angkar for the

Polpotists). The fact that collective work is organized like a fight in the battlefield,

criticism and self-criticism, the use of violence. But the most important point of

this comparison is the ruthless tracking of enemies. As Mao wrote, distinguishing

friends from foes amounted to a kind of philosophical task, for it amounted to discerning

the truth from lies.

In a second part, I pointed out a number of Khmer Rouge slogans which are not to

be found in the Chinese source. These concern Pol Pot's obsession with secrecy, but

mainly all the slogans dealing with the categories of citizens marked for annihilation

- the Vietnamese, the "17th April people" and, most odious, the sick who

deserved no pity at all from their torturers, for they could be nothing but shams

as they were unable to work.

Nevertheless, the majority of these sayings betray an outlook on society and revolutionary

government directly borrowed from Peking. Although transcribed in genuinely Khmer

metaphors and cultural environment, they show Polpotists were fundamentalist Maoists

of a kind, in favor of a literal interpretation of the thoughts of the Great Helmsman.

As to the very complex question of the autonomy/subservience of the Polpotists leadership

vis-a-vis Peking, one could summarize it by reminding the readers of a number of

established facts.

Saloth Sar, after his years in France where he was introduced to Stalinism by the

French Communist Party, and his close collaboration with Hanoi over a long period

of time, probably had his true illumination during a lengthy stay in Peking in late

1965 and early 1966.

In the early days of the Cultural Revolution that was to sweep not only throughout

the Chinese subcontinent but - it was hoped - the entire Third World, and even shake

the Sorbonne, Saloth Sar was at the core of events, even before they happened.

Is it there and then, in the course of the long and intensive study sessions he attended

he might have hoped that, if he seized power in Cambodia, he would bring communism

to this country without transition at one fell swoop, using simultaneously the recipes

of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Although soon after the Khmer Rouge take-over, even before the death of Mao in September

1976, the two lines - the radical (who wholeheartedly supported the Pol Pot group)

and the modernist with Deng Xiaoping - competed for controlling the Party in China,

the later emerged as the unchallenged leader only at the end of 1978.

Throughout the Pol Pot years, the diehards had the upper hand in Peking, in spite

of the arrest of the notorious "Gang of Four" only a few weeks after Mao's


True, by the second half of 1978, Pol Pot and his crew, although living in the paranoid

world, turning a deaf ear to any sensible piece of advice, must have realized that

the Vietnamese threat was serious.

They appealed to Peking not only to send arms massively for which Peking obligingly

organized an airlift to Pochentong - but also soldiers, a suggestion the Chinese

refused to comply with. However, experts and technicians were in their thousands.

They had a very narrow escape from the Vietnamese troops, and shamefully fled through

Pochentong, Poipet and Kompong Som.

I doubt they were received as heroes on their way back home, as Pol Pot was on Sept.

28, 1977, when 100,000 Peking residents were lined to greet the great Cambodian hero.

Hua Guofeng, the Chinese Premier and Party chairman, proclaimed at a banquet in Pol

Pot's honor: "The heroic Kampuchean people are not only good at destroying the

old world, but also good at building a new one...As your brothers and comrade-in-arms,

the Chinese people are overjoyed at your brilliant victories."

The refusal of the Pol Pot group to allow Zou Enlai's widow, Madame Deng Yingchao,

on a visit to Phnom Penh, to see Prince Norodom Sihanouk, then a prisoner in his

Royal Palace, has always been quoted as a proof that the Pol Pot group did not tow

the Peking line.

But this instance only proves: (a) that the political line the widow represented

did not control politics in Peking at the time; (b) that if the Pol Pot group did

show some autonomy vis-a-vis Peking (to the Chinese leaders' greater and greater

annoyance, no doubt), the Polpotists' relation to the Big Brother from the north

can be compared to earlier relations between Peking and Moscow on the one hand, and

Pyongyang, Peking and Moscow on the other.

A study of the repressive institutions of these four countries would clearly demonstrate

this, I presume. Lenin and Stalin were the great path-breakers in this respect. And

yet Mao, after Stalin's death, and more dramatically from 1964 with the spread of

Khruschev's "revisionism", became independent from his original model.

Kim Il Sung would never have violently seized power in North Korea, purging all his

friends and rivals, without Stalin's massive aid, no more than Pol Pot would have

entered Phnom Penh without the tireless efforts of Peking to help his group in all


Finally, if there were debates among the Chinese leadership about how strongly the

Pol Pot group should be supported, geopolitical factors always prevailed: Cambodia

was to be center of Chinese influence in South East Asia.

I invite those who have doubts about this to make the journey to Kompong Chhnang

and visit Phum Krang Lieou, the huge Chinese air base complete with underground headquarters,

for whose construction an indeterminate number of Cambodians died.

I am attempting to constitute a collection, which I would like to be as complete

as possible, of Khmer Rouge slogans and aphorisms, for an eventual publication in

Khmer, English and French. I am taking this opportunity to appeal to your readers

with a good memory to help me. I am also trying to collect the revolutionary songs

which, in particular every child was made to learn and sing - with accompanying gestures

- in Pol Pot days.

- Henri Locard, University of Phnom Penh


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