209. The power of the great (VI)
Updated: Jul 28, 2021
The case of Democratic Kampuchea, as Cambodia was known under the Khmer Rouge, is sometimes brought up by the right as an example of the absolute horrors of communism. Under Pol Pot, the country lost about a third of her population—roughly two million people in just four years. This makes Pol Pot’s Cambodia, on a per capita basis, the worst mass murder in history. However, the story of Cambodia has little resonance in the West, for much the same reason as you will find shops and products called “Hitler” in India and Indochina. The Asians are too different from us to feel much empathy towards them, even their women seem to have slightly dead black eyes—inscrutable, you might say.
For the Asians, “Hitler” is just some powerful warlord—almost a joke—and for us men like Mao and Pol Pot are unreal, fodder for ironic t-shirts; the endless stream of humanity in India and China flows on, barely missing an odd 40 million people here or there. We remember the German history of massacre because, frankly, we expected better from the Germans—Asiatic cruelty is not a Western approach; hence only Hitler’s camps seem real to us, the Jews, especially the Ashkenazi, being recognisably European.
Yet Pol Pot’s Cambodia is not really a model of Marxism at its worst; it stands for leftism in the most general sense, including the Parliamentarians of the English Civil War and, particularly, the French Revolution. Pol Pot grew up on the periphery of the Cambodian royal court; he went to France to study radio engineering and it was there he imbibed Marxism. He knew, however, that quasi-feudal Cambodia was more like France in 1789 than Russia in 1917, so he consciously modelled his revolution on the French Revolution. And so he declared “Year Zero” in Cambodia; while it is true the Bolsheviks reformed the calendar in Russia, the notion of an entirely new calendar that commences with the Revolution comes from the French Revolution, not the Bolsheviks.
This explains why, in many ways, Democratic Kampuchea seemed “unMarxist”; it was a more simple form of egalitarian utopian thought. Similarly, Mao, in his student days, was an anarchist, not a Marxist; and, as with his erstwhile ally Pol Pot, he never really shed what Marxists like to call “utopian socialism”, as opposed to the supposedly “scientific” socialism of Marxism. These were highly “moral” men. Pol Pot’s revolution contained a genuine fury against any kind of achievement; notoriously, people who wore glasses were killed—remnants of a corrupt intellectual elite, supposedly; but Marxism usually venerates the technician: Pol Pot, as a pure leftist, hated any distinguishing features, even those nominally useful to the revolution.
Pol Pot evacuated the cities and put the population to work in barrack-like communes; they would be purified by the soil. This is shot through with the romanticism of Rousseau—fear of the corrupting influence of civilisation—and not the veneration of industry found in Marx and Lenin. Leftists weakly claim that this attitude and the callousness of the Khmer Rouge derived from Buddhism and the indifference it taught; yet anyone who knows Buddhism and French liberalism can see that the callousness on display had the hallmarks of the Enlightenment’s Encyclopédistes, not the infinite compassion of the Bodhisattva. Rightists of the anarcho-primitivist variety sometimes fall for the rural appeal of poetic Mao and Pol Pot, great deindustrialisers; but this is illusion, neither man bound people to the soil on family-based Confucian or Buddhist peasant plots—they placed them in perverted communes overseen by networks of informants.
Pol Pot’s Cambodia was eventually terminated by the Soviet-backed Vietnamese, the Marxists against the French revolutionaries. It stands as an example of leftism in essence: a purity spiral to complete egalitarianism that seeks to absolutely level the strong, the able, the intellectual, and the family—all ground down to the true equality of the grave. This is what leftism can bring—even America’s non-Marxist progressivism, so enamoured with moralised racial politics.