Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979. Theirs is among the most brutal regimes in history. In pursuit of a utopia, the Khmer Rouge killed 2 million people in four years through starvation, execution and forced labour – one-quarter of Cambodia’s population.  

The leaders of the Khmer Rouge, or the ‘Communist Party of Kampuchea’, were middle-class, French-educated socialists inspired by Stalin and Chairman Mao. Pol Pot (below), or Brother Number One, operated from the shadows – until 1979 few even knew who he was. The Khmer Rouge saw Cambodia’s impoverished peasants as the only force free from the corruption of modern capitalist society, and the force they could harness to take control of the country. To eliminate inequality for good, Cambodian society needed to be destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up, by whatever means necessary.

Khmer Rouge: Cambodia's years of brutality - BBC News

Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953 under Norodom Sihanouk, who tried to play both sides of the Cold War. He called the guerrillas in the countryside ‘red Khmers’, and the name stuck.

In 1973, the Nixon Administration began bombing the jungles where the Viet Cong operated from across the border. That year, pro-American general Lon Nol took power in a coup. As, American bombs devastated the countryside, the peasants who lived there came to detest the government and its city-dwelling backers. 

Although both communists, the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese did not see eye to eye. The North Vietnamese were aligned with Moscow and the Khmer Rouge with Beijing.

Year Zero began in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over Pnom Penh. On the pretence of an American bombing raid, they evacuated the entire city and forced everyone to abandon their property. Soldiers and members of the old regime were rounded into the Olympic Stadium and shot.

The Khmer Rouge divided Cambodia into two groups: Old People and New People. Old People were peasants who lived in the old, liberated zones in the countryside, whereas New People were relocated city dwellers.They were distributed into agricultural collectives and forced to work ten-hour days without pay. All public institutions, including hospitals and schools were closed. By 1979, up to 80% of Cambodians had malaria.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.pngThe Khmer Rouge were determined to move as quickly as possible to a rural communist society. They envisioned a land free of private property and commerce, where everyone worked as rice farmers – the purest occupation. Everyone wore the same dyed black clothing with red and white headbands and car-tyre sandals. Individualism of any form was prohibited. The only acceptable possession was a spoon.

Filmmaker John Pilger, 1979:

The new rulers of Cambodia call 1975 “Year Zero”, the dawn of an age in which there will be no families, no sentiment, no expressions of love or grief, no medicines, no hospitals, no schools, no books, no learning, no holidays, no music, no song, no post, no money – only work and death. 

Khmer Rouge cadres targeted anyone suspected of impeding their vision; intellectuals too steeped in the old way of life. Those who complained or spoke out were chosen for ‘re-education’ which in practice meant torture and death. Victims included:

  • ethnic minorities.
  • Christians, Muslims, and Buddhist monks.
  • speakers of foreign languages.
  • wearers of eyeglasses.
  • anyone suspected of treason, hoarding, or unliscenced foraging.

To save bullets, the Khmer Rouge used rifle butts and sharpened bamboo sticks. They threw their victims into mass graves, dubbed ‘killing fields’. Children of political victims were killed as well, lest they grow up to take revenge. A Chankiri tree outside Pnom Penh still bears the marks of the infant heads bashed against its trunk. A Khmer Rouge adage was ‘to keep you is no benefit, you destroy you is no loss.’

Most Khmer Rouge cadres were illiterate peasants, both men and women. The most fanatical were teenagers who had grown up in the civil wars.

In 1979, tensions between Cambodia and neighbouring Vietnam reached a boiling point. The communist Vietnamese invaded. They overthrew the Khmer Rouge and set up a new government. Led by China, the international community condemned the invasion and continued to recognise Pol Pot’s ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ as the country’s legitimate government until 1991. The Khmer Rouge survived in the remote countryside until Pol Pot died in 1998.

Although they ultimately failed, the Khmer Rouge changed Cambodia for good. Today the old political elite and much of Cambodian high culture are no more. Many of the country’s leaders are former associates of Democratic Kampuchea.

From Newcastle and New Zealand to the Killing Fields of Cambodia | The  Independent | The Independent

Sources: Asia Pacific Curriculum, Pnom Penh Post, Real Dictators

Arab Nationalism

Why Islamists hate Arab nationalism? | Books on Trial

Arab Nationalism asserts that Arabs are one nation, bound by a common language, religion and culture, and should unite. Its heyday was the 1960s when Arab nationalists overthrew the corrupt monarchies of the Middle East, but its popularity waned after their defeat in the Six Days War.

Key figures: Gamel Abdel Nasser, Yasser Ararat, Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein

Tenets: Republicanism, secularism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, socialism and pan-Arabism

Like Islamic fundamentalists, Arab nationalists seek to reclaim the glory of ages past and defy the Western powers who stand before that dream. Unlike Islamic fundamentalists, Arab nationalists are secular. Islam may be important, but Arab identity is the ultimate guiding principle – transcending differences between Sunni, Shia and Christian. Its colours are red, black, white and green.

The Ottoman Turks ruled the Arab world until 1918. The British and French who defeated them drew up the new borders. Rather than granting a single state, they split up the Arab territories into borders that suited their interests and appointed pro-Western kings out of touch with the people they ruled. Of particular frustration was the creation of Israel – a Jewish state on Arab land.

Egypt announced revolutionary new beginning today | Gamal ...

In 1951, Colonel Gamel Abdel Nasser and a group of like-minded young officers overthrew King Farouk of Egypt. Charismatic and driven, Nasser dreamed of uniting the Arab world into one state. Ending British and French influence and reclaiming Palestine from the Israelis required Arab unity. In 1956, Nasser nationalised the Suez Canel and defied the Anglo-French-Israeli force who tried to reclaim it, instantly becoming the hero of the Arab nationalist cause.

Nasser’s triumph inspired nationalist coups in Iraq (1963), Algeria (1963), Libya (1969) and Sudan (1969). Arab nationalists established presidential dictatorships based on socialist principles and aligned with the Soviet Union against Israel and the West. In 1958, Syria and Egypt united into a single country – the United Arab Republic – until Syria seceded in 1961.

Baathism is a form of Arab Nationalism which grew out of the Palestinian struggle and Syrian intellectual circles that favoured a strong vanguard party. Syria under Hafez Al-Assad and Iraq under Saddam Hussein were Baathist states.

Arab Nationalism failed to catch on in the oil-rich nations of the Persian Gulf. To this day, most remain in the hands of pro-Western monarchies.

The Six Days War of 1967
crushed the pan-Arab dream. Israel defeated Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan and ended hopes of a united front. Nasser died of a heart attack in 1970, and the movement split between different factions. Local rulers gave up on pan-Arabism and focused on maintaining power. In 1977, Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel. Many Arab nationalists and their successors ruled until the Arab Spring of 2011.

The Saudis had rejected the socialist and revolutionary aspects of Arab nationalism and championed Islamic fundamentalism instead. From the 1980s onwards, Jihad took over as the main ideological struggle against Israel and the West. Fatah, who rules the Palestinian West Bank, is an Arab nationalist movement, while Hamas, who rules the Gaza Strip, is fundamentalist.

The Spartacist Uprising

Image result for spartakusbundThe Spartacist Uprising was a failed attempt by German communists to overthrow the Weimer Republic in 1919.  The rebellion was crushed by the German army and far-right paramilitaries.

The German Empire fell in 1918. In October the High Command faced certain defeat in the First World War. Sailors and soldiers mutinied, strikes paralysed the economy and socialists seized power. On November 9th the Kaiser abdicated, the German Empire was dissolved and the Weimer Republic proclaimed in its place. The new government surrendered to the allies and signed the Treaty of Versailles.Image result for friedrich ebert

Freidrich Ebert of the Social Democrats was named chancellor. His party were left-leaning and held the most seats in the Reichstag but were despised by both the radical right and left. The German military supported the new government on the condition it would suppress the far-left.

The Spartacus League opposed Ebert’s government. They were radical leftists who split from the Social Democrats in 1915 over support for the war and hoped for a full-scale revolution like the one in Russia. The party was named after the Roman gladiator Spartacus who led a slave revolt in the 1st century BC.

Today in history – the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl ...

Karl Leibknecht (left), a lawyer and active member of the Socialist International, and Rosa Luxembourg (right), a Polish-born Marxist thinker were its leaders. Both were of Jewish descent. The Spartacus League opposed capitalism, militarism and the aristocracy and demanded ‘All Power to the Workers and Councils’. Although they had supported the 1918 Revolution, for them the Social Democrat compromise fell short.

In January 1919 Ebert fired popular Berlin police chief and communist sympathiser Emil Eichorn. Eichorn’s dismissal triggered public demonstrations and a general strike across the city. On the 5th of January the workers revolted. Though Leibknecht and Luxembourg had previously opposed an armed insurrection so soon, this was their opportunity. 500,000 workers armed themselves, took over the city and proclaimed a new government under the Spartacus League.

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Ebert enlisted the Freikorps to quell the uprising. These were right-wing paramilitaries formed by disillusioned veterans who blamed Germany’s defeat on socialists and Jews – the ‘Stab in the Back Myth’. Well-armed and battle-hardened, the Freikorps used menacing imagery such as swastikas and skull and crossbones and were a law unto their own. Though no fans of Ebert’s Social Democrat government, they hated the communists more.

On the 6th of January Freikorps units stormed Berlin. The revolutionaries were no match for the well-armed militias who crushed the uprising in a matter of days. On the 15th January, Leibknecht was shot in the back and Luxembourg beaten to death with rifle butts. Many years later, the Spartacist leaders became martyrs to the East German regime and the modern German left.

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Beset by inflation, economic turmoil and a bruised national ego, Weimar Germany existed in a perilous state threatened by both political extremes. The Spartacist Uprising was the first of many failed insurrections until the Nazis seized power in 1933. Had Germany fallen to communism instead of fascism, history could have taken a very different turn.

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