In the throat
Of Hell, before the very vestibule
Of opening Orcus, sit Remorse and Grief,
And pale Disease, and sad Old Age and Fear,
And Hunger that persuades to crime, and Want:
Forms terrible to see. Suffering and Death
Inhabit here, and Death's own brother Sleep;
And the mind's evil lusts and deadly War,
Lie at the threshold, and the iron beds
Of the Eumenides; and Discord wild
Her viper-locks with bloody fillets bound.
—Virgil, Aeneid VI
Since ancient times, man has tried to imagine both the best and the worst of all possible worlds. For Virgil, hell existed in the hereafter. For Karl Marx, it existed in the here-and-now. Virgil's hell was a metaphorical world of poetic images; Marx's, a materialistic world of industrial sweatshops. Marx could imagine nothing worse than the remorseless wage-labor system associated with the "take-off" period of modern, industrial capitalism. Inhabitants of the 20th century, on the other hand, should have no great difficulty imagining things far worse—the horrors of Stalin's labor camps and Hitler's gas chambers constitute a lesson in evil that ought never to be forgotten. It is a lesson that the erstwhile leaders of the short-lived Communist regime in Cambodia* never learned.
The Cambodian holocaust must now be added to the grim list of 20th-century totalitarian nightmares. The nightmare began in April 1975 and ended approximately four years later when the Vietnamese, following a large-scale military invasion of Kampuchea, took the capital of Phnom Penh and established a puppet government under Heng Samrin.**
UPROOTED AT GUNPOINT
It was in mid-April 1975 that Khmer Rouge guerrillas quietly entered Phnom Penh, the capital, after a protracted war with the government forces of Lon Nol. The conservative, pro-American Lon Nol clique was notoriously corrupt and incompetent. There is little reason to believe that the Cambodian people would have mourned the passing of this crumbling regime. (It seems significant that when the Khmer Rouge enveloped Phnom Penh in the spring of 1975, the city's war-swollen population, estimated at some 2.5 million souls, while understandably apprehensive, apparently put up little or no resistance.)
The Khmer Rouge take-over of the capital was swift and efficient. The young guerrilla soldiers, sandals on their feet and automatic rifles in their hands, moved silently through the streets. An eerie calm descended on the capital. Then, with lightning suddenness, came the unbelievable word from on high: the city must be evacuated immediately! (The word quite literally came from "on high": the Kampuchean Communist Party at first identified itself to the people only as Angka Loeu—in the Khmer language, "the Organization on High.")
The people of Phnom Penh were ordered at gunpoint to leave everything behind and hurl themselves into the river of humanity that began pouring out of the capital. An eyewitness observer, Fr. François Ponchaud, described in Cambodia: Year Zero how this "hallucinatory spectacle" began:
Thousands of sick and wounded were abandoning the city. The strongest dragged pitifully along, others were carried by friends and some were lying on beds pushed by their families with their plasma and IV bumping alongside. I shall never forget one cripple who had neither hands nor feet, writhing along the ground like a severed worm…
The forced march into the country was carried out with murderous haste. In a few short days, the capital was emptied of all inhabitants with the exception of diplomats and missionaries who became temporary prisoners of the Angkar—that is, the invisible government.
Thus began a four-year period of politically organized insanity. The evacuation of Phnom Penh was matched by similar evacuations of every city and town in Cambodia. The entire population was uprooted, resettled, and rusticated.
BY THE SWEAT OF THY BROW
Why? Those who would account for such catastrophes as the Cambodian Revolution without raising nettlesome questions of moral responsibility often incline toward sociological explanations. But, whereas sociological analysis definitely helps to explain why revolutionary upheavals occur, it does not explain why some revolutions, once they have occurred in a particular time and place, move in one direction, while other revolutions move in quite another.
In the case of the Cambodian Revolution, ideology would seem to be the most compelling explanation for the particular direction taken by the Angkar (hereafter referred to as the Organization). To illustrate, Ponchaud writes:
The evacuation of Phnom Penh follows traditional Khmer revolutionary practice: ever since 1972 the guerrilla fighters had been sending all the inhabitants of the villages and towns they occupied into the forest to live, often burning their homes so they would have nothing to come back for. A massive, total operation such as this reflects a new concept of society, in which there is no place even for the idea of a city. The towns of Cambodia had grown up around marketplaces; Phnom Penh itself owed its expansion to French colonialism, Chinese commerce, and the bureaucracy of the monarchy, followed by that of the republic. All this had to be swept away and an egalitarian rural society put in its place.
Ponchaud quotes a political official who explained to him: "The city is bad, for there is money in the city. People can be reformed, but not cities. By sweating to clear the land, sowing and harvesting crops, men will learn the real value of things. Man has to know that he is born from a grain of rice!"
The ideological pedigree of this line of revolutionary thought and action can be traced back to the Maoist reformulation of Marxism-Leninism. Mao's faith in the peasant masses was always a distinctive feature of his own "Oriental" brand of Marxism. This faith prompted him to glorify precisely those aspects of the peasant mentality that most moderns, including Marxists, have seen fit to scorn.
Mao readily admitted that the peasants were "poor and blank," but he insisted that these very qualities rendered them innocent and uncorrupted by comparison with the effete and philistine cityfolk. Maoism made poverty and ignorance a virtue. The benighted state of the Chinese peasantry meant that they were more malleable and less materialistic than their urban(e) counterparts. Mao's ideological mentor, Li Ta-chao, had taught him that the cities were hotbeds of decadence, that salvation could only spring from the simplicity of rural life.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in 1958, when Mao launched his Great Leap Forward, designed to make China the first socialist country to achieve full communism, he made the rural-based people's communes the cornerstone of the movement. Later, after the Great Leap had failed, Mao instituted the hsia hsiang ("Go Back to the Countryside") campaign, forcing a large-scale migration from the cities (between 10 and 20 million people, by most estimates). Mao explained this policy in terms that presaged the Kampuchean experiment:
It is very necessary for educated young people to go to the countryside to be reeducated by the poor and lower-middle peasants. Cadres and other people in the cities should be persuaded to send their sons and daughters who have finished junior or senior middle school, college or university to the countryside.
By putting a hand to the hoe or a shoulder to the plow, city dwellers, Mao believed, would get "a profound class education."
It was just this kind of thinking that apparently guided the Organization in Kampuchea. "It is the people alone who confer true diplomas," was a popular slogan. "Intellectuals are nothing but lazy good-for-nothings," was another. In one of his most important speeches, Pol Pot admonished the youth of Kampuchea: "You should learn while working.…The more you work, the more you learn."
In the history of Western political thought, Marxism stands out as perhaps the single most elaborate defense of equality. "Equality as the groundwork of communism is its political justification," said Marx. Yet Marx never extolled the virtues of poverty. Neither, for that matter, did Lenin or Stalin. Mao was the first "Marxist" to discover the value of poverty as a source of human virtue. Once again, it was the chemical reaction resulting from the combination of Marx's love of equality and Mao's exaltation of poverty that seems to have produced the deadly precipitate that nearly destroyed Cambodian society. Whereas Marx postulated that justice demands total equality and Mao presupposed that only the poor can understand the true meaning of justice, the leaders of Kampuchea, as we are about to see, wrenched both Marx and Mao out of their contexts and made justice synonymous with equal poverty.
EQUAL MISERY FOR ALL
What was life in Kampuchea like? To begin with, Kampuchean society was hermetically sealed. Contact with the outside world was almost completely cut off for nearly four years. The only glimpses we have gotten are based on eyewitness accounts of a few tourists and thousands of refugees who fled across the border into Thailand. The refugees have painted a lurid picture of mass executions and purges. They tell chilling tales of the systematic murder of teachers, civil servants, military officers, Buddhist monks, and intellectuals. They claim that people who complained about long work hours or short food rations were taken away at night and shot—sometimes whole families.
Work was made into the highest duty and greatest joy in Kampuchean life. The work force was strictly regimented. Work was incessant—a few daylight hours were occasionally set aside for "leisure time," which was generally spent in political indoctrination sessions. (Everyone was required to commit to memory the Twelve Commandments of the Angkar. The Eleventh Commandment is especially apposite: "Thou shalt continually join in the people's production and love thy work.") According to some reports, there were no days off; other reports indicate that a day of respite was granted at 10-day intervals. Almost everyone in Kampuchea did one of three things: grow rice; build dams, dikes, and irrigation canals; or work in one of the few factories still operating.
Food was a constant concern. The Kampuchean authorities told visiting journalists that each peasant was allotted three condensed-milk cans of rice per day (roughly 26 ounces of uncooked rice). That amount would probably have provided sufficient caloric intake, but refugees claim they never actually received a full ration. They tell of gnawing hunger that was seldom appeased by the watery rice gruel they were normally served twice a day. (According to refugees from one district in Battambang Province, authorities announced in the summer of 1978 that the daily ration would be cut to one condensed-milk can of rice for every four people.)
The people of Kampuchea ate in communal kitchens; in most villages and communes, private cooking was forbidden, although most families would have lacked the utensils with which to cook anyway. Material possessions were reduced to a bare minimum: a spoon, a water jar, and a dipper. Everyone was poor and everyone was equal. Indeed, the leaders of Kampuchea seemed to take revolutionary pride in the fact that everyone in the new Cambodia was at last equally poor.
As in most utopian experiments, children were separated from their parents. All children above the age of six became the "children of the Organization," living in their own barracks with their own communal kitchens. The children's biological parents were replaced by political "parents." Biological parents were permitted to see their children only on rare occasions.
The Khmer words for father and mother were expunged. The period of Communist rule was called the "mom-dad period" because all adults were addressed by their juniors as "mom" or "dad." People of the same generation called each other "junior comrade," and parents called children "comrade child"—in this manner, the principle of equal poverty was also applied to family life in Kampuchea.
At the risk of being accused of dwelling on horrors, one must note that estimates of mortality rates under the Pol Pot regime are staggering. A figure generally used suggests that perhaps 2 million or more souls out of a prerevolutionary population of 7 or 8 million may have perished as a direct or indirect consequence of Communist rule in Cambodia. These same estimates frequently place the number of political executions at around 200,000 or about 10 percent of the total deaths due to all causes.
There are at least two pitfalls, however, in all attempts to quantify the horrors of the Cambodian Revolution. Because of the iron curtain of isolation drawn around the country by the Organization during the period when these atrocities were being carried out, there is no way to verify the casualty figures. Political regimes do not publish statistics on deaths due to purges, famines, or plagues—especially when official actions are so deeply implicated in the complex of causes. In most cases, these "statistics" are long since dead and buried.
But there is another, more important reason for avoiding statistical summaries of the Cambodian holocaust. In this case, numbers somehow conceal more than they disclose. The numbers are shrouded in anonymity; the real victims all had names and faces. The cold figures, however much they may overestimate (or underestimate) the actual number of casualties, obscure the larger sense in which every man, woman, and child in Cambodia was a victim of the Organization's political obsessions. Families were torn asunder, children were orphaned, communities were shattered, property was expropriated—in short, the lives of all were wrecked in the name of a better life for all.
Again, sociological explanations do not suffice. The Cambodian Revolution represents both the triumph and the tragedy of an idea that was embroidered into an ideology well over a century ago by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. It goes without saying that Marx made economic equality synonymous with the good life. In order to usher in the coming Age of Equality, Marx believed, it would be necessary to engage in "class struggle" and, ultimately, violent revolution. Marx reserved a special place for the Communist Party in the revolutionary struggle, but he also insisted that "the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself."
It was Lenin, the founder of the Soviet empire, who declared that without the revolutionary "vanguard" (that is, the Bolshevik Party), "there is no conscious activity of the workers." Thus, a seemingly innocuous doctrine laid the groundwork for the building of an omnipotent party organization—an organization christened by Lenin as "the vanguard of the proletariat." In Kampuchea, this organization became "the Organization" with a capital O. It was, literally, the Organization on High: it represented an invisible force with the power of life and death over the people.
The Organization in Kampuchea, according to Ponchaud, became "a new divinity to which the people are to devote themselves body and soul." The radio broadcasts were frequently designed to reinforce the deification of the unseen Angkar: it was something to be "believed in"; it was "loved"; its "blessings" were "remembered"; it was "thanked for the good it has done us, for freeing us from slavery," for "resurrecting the national soul," and so forth. The people were taught to say, "The Angkar gave me a second life!"
JUMPING OFF THE BRIDGE
Neither Marx nor Lenin, of course, had any way of knowing what would happen when "Marxism-Leninism" was introduced into a non-European culture. Marx predicted that proletarian revolution would occur where the proletariat was most fully developed as a class—that is, in the relatively advanced industrial societies of Western Europe.
It is commonly said that Mao was the "theorist" who adapted Marxism, an ideology tailored to fit the contours of industrial capitalism, to the needs of a downtrodden, overpopulated, peasant society. Perhaps. But Lenin faced the same sort of "theoretical" problem—how to launch a proletarian revolution in a peasant society—long before Mao came of political age. Lenin solved the problem in the same pragmatic spirit Mao was to emulate later: he called for "the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry."
Here is how Stalin explained the meaning of the new "Leninist theory of revolution":
Where will the revolution begin? Where industry is more developed, where the proletariat constitute the majority, where there is more democracy—that was the reply usually given formerly.
No, objects the Leninist theory of revolution; not necessarily where industry is more developed, and so forth. The front of capitalism will be pierced where the chain of imperialism is weakest, for the proletarian revolution is the result of the breaking of the chain of the world imperialist front at its weakest link; and it may turn out that the country which has started the revolution, which has made a breach in the front of capital, is less developed in a capitalist sense than other, more developed, countries, which have, however, remained within the framework of capitalism.
Lenin's "weakest link" theory thus rejected the "industrial" component of Marx's concept of industrial revolution without, of course, rejecting the "revolution" component. In this regard, Lenin represents a kind of bridge over the chasm that divides Marx's "Western" theory of revolution from Mao's "Eastern" theory.
When the "Marxist" leaders of Kampuchea looked down into the abyss yawning beneath their feet, they were overcome with vertigo: what they saw was the same thing Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao had seen before them. They saw the Holy Grail of Absolute Equality. What they failed to realize, like their ideological precursors, is that there is no way to retrieve the prize without jumping off the bridge.
Having made the "great leap," there is no turning back. Stalin, for example, would stop at nothing to bring about the collectivization of agriculture. Isaac Deutscher, in his well-known political biography of Stalin, describes this episode:
Within a short time rural Russia became pandemonium. The overwhelming majority of the peasantry confronted the government with desperate opposition. Collectivization degenerated into a military operation, a cruel civil war. Rebellious villages were surrounded by machine-guns and forced to surrender. Masses of kulaks were deported to remote unpopulated lands in Siberia. Their houses, barns, and farm implements were turned over to the collective farms—Stalin himself put the value of their property so transferred at over 400 million roubles. The bulk of the peasants decided to bring in as little as possible of their property to the collective farms which they imagined to be state-owned factories, in which they themselves would become mere factory hands. In desperation they slaughtered their cattle, smashed implements, and burned crops. This was the muzhiks' great Luddite-like rebellion. Only three years later, in January 1934, did Stalin disclose some of its results. In 1929 Russia possessed 34 million horses. Only 16.6 millions were left in 1933—18 million horses had been slaughtered. So were 30 millions of large cattle, or about 45 percent of the total, and nearly 100 million, or two-thirds of all, sheep and goats. Vast tracts of land were left untilled. Famine stalked the towns and the black soil steppe of the Ukraine.
To a detached observer of these tumultuous events in Stalinist Russia, it may well have appeared that Stalin had gone to the outer limits of the politically possible in pursuing his program of social transformation. The leaders of Kampuchea would prove otherwise.
In pushing their utopian program to new extremes, the demigods of the new Cambodia drew heavily upon the thought of Mao Tse-tung. China's Great Leap Forward represented a massive assault on elitism, conservatism, capitalism, careerism, commandism, individualism, philistinism, and countless other bourgeois deviations. But Mao not only wanted to root out specific "poison weeds"—he also wanted to institute a new science of horticulture. His goal was to create an absolutely classless society of unselfish comrades based upon the commune as the principal unit of economic and social activity.
It is generally believed that the communes were an original contribution of Mao to the Marxist revolutionary tradition. Actually, Stalin broached the idea at the beginning of the First Five-Year Plan. Adam Ulam has pointed out that in January 1930 it was announced that "the Central Committee directs the Commissariat of Agriculture…to work out in the shortest possible time a Model Charter of the artel form of the collective farm, as a transitional stage toward full commune, taking into consideration the impermissibility of admitting kulaks into it." Ulam comments that this resolution "suggests that had the plan worked as intended, even then the fully collectivized peasantry would not be left in peace: there would be (sooner rather than later) a new campaign to turn all the remaining artels into communes. It is not difficult to see where Mao Tse-tung got the idea for the Great Leap Forward and for turning Chinese collectivized farms into communes with the result that famine and other catastrophes struck the Chinese economy in the 1950s and early 1960s."
Stalin, of course, did not get around to implementing this plan. It was Mao who actually devised a strategy for the communization of the countryside. As it evolved in the late 1940s, the initial stages involved land reform and redistribution. In the early 1950s, the results of land reform (putting land in the hands of peasant landowners) began to be reversed. So-called mutual aid teams consisting of 5 to 10 households were established. These units would pool their efforts during the planting, growing, and harvesting seasons. Participation was voluntary, and property—including land, tools, and animals—remained in private hands.
Within a year or two, Mao began introducing into the rural areas "lower producers cooperatives." These consisted of 20 to 25 households; they pooled their land, tools, and animals but were paid according to their individual contributions of capital as well as labor. In this way, the form of property ownership was preserved at the same time as the substance was being changed.
When the government announced in 1953 that all surplus grain had to be delivered to the state-controlled market at fixed prices, considerable peasant resistance developed. The collectivization movement stalled for a short time until, in 1955, Mao once again personally intervened. The year 1955 was a good year for Chinese agriculture—good enough, Mao decided, to launch a new stage in the drive for complete collectivization.
This advanced stage involved the reorganization of Chinese agriculture into "higher producers cooperatives." Private land ownership was now put to an end, and peasants were paid according to work points and work days. Higher producers cooperatives resembled Soviet collective farms: they were large enough to encompass whole villages and in some cases whole counties. During 1956, perhaps 75 percent of the agricultural land was brought into these Chinese-style collective farms. Again, the peasants resisted. Again, Mao was undaunted; in 1958, despite several years of domestic turbulence, the chairman launched the Great Leap Forward—the final drive to bring full communism to the People's Republic of China.
The fact that the Great Leap was a disastrous failure did not deter the Kampuchean leadership from emulating it. The extent to which the Cambodian Communist Party consciously imitated Mao Tse-tung's policies is little short of astonishing. The Kampuchean leaders even called their communization drive the "great leap forward."
China's Great Leap Forward had apparently made a deep impression on Cambodia's future Communist rulers long before their assent to power. Already in the 1950s, Mao's strategy of rural-based revolution was of sufficient interest to Hou Youn and Khieu Samphan (two of Kampuchea's top-ranking officials) to serve as the focus of their Ph.D. dissertations at the Sorbonne in Paris. Well before the Khmer Rouge victory in April 1975, Chinese-style mutual aid teams were set up in the "liberated" zones of Cambodia. By 1973, lower-level cooperatives began to appear; these cooperatives, like their earlier Chinese counterparts, pooled land, tools, and draft animals, as well as labor. The following year, higher-level cooperatives, wherein everything was shared, including the fruits of the harvest, were initiated. It was no accident that this pattern was almost an exact replication of the Chinese prototype for agrarian communization.
Ponchaud takes note of this striking parallelism and the paradoxes it produced:
The Chinese revolutionary principles embodied in the writings of Mao Tsetung have been taken over and pushed as far as they will logically go, and Marxist praxis undertaken to apply them. "The revolution draws its strength from the peasant masses." "Wars are won by encircling the town with the countryside." Carried to extremes, this theory leads to the abolition of towns. "Rely on nothing but your own strength" is a golden rule which China can follow with no trouble at all, for China is a continent in herself. But little Kampuchea, with its meager economic resources, is inviting total asphyxiation by trying to apply the same principle all at once without qualification. "Capitalism is bad"—therefore, the Khmer revolutionaries conclude, they must do away with money and return to a barter economy. In this respect they even boast they are the most advanced Communists in the world.
For the Cambodian Communists, progress became synonymous with an infinite regression toward what can only be described as a primitive state of social existence.
IN THE NAME OF PARADISE
The foregoing observations point to four general conclusions. First, ideas really do matter in political life. Sociological explanations of the major revolutions of our times are inadequate. They help to explain the frustration and anger that spawn revolutionary heroes and energize the huddled masses, but they do not account for the channels into which mass energies are ultimately directed. Only when ideas are converted into mass ideologies is there a motive force sufficient to propel a revolutionary mass movement in one direction or another.
Second, Marx's heirs have committed the double sin of simultaneously taking their progenitor too seriously and not taking him seriously enough. They have taken his utopian egalitarianism too seriously and have largely disregarded his "dialectical materialism." This criticism has nothing to do with the "scientific" validity of Marx's theory of history; it has everything to do with the political consequences of rejecting the basis for the Marxist prophecy while continuing to embrace the utopia that presumably awaits the prophecy's fulfillment.
Here a word of explanation is in order. The principal bearers of the Marxist revolutionary tradition in the 20th century have elevated their own role, and that of the movements they spearheaded, to a much higher plane than a strict interpretation of Marx's theory of history would have permitted. In every case, they found Marx's dialectical materialism, with its inexorable succession of discrete historical stages, far too confining for their own political ambitions. From Lenin and Stalin to Mao and Pol Pot, Marx's 20th-century heirs have sought to replace his historical determinism with their own special brands of political voluntarism. Once Marx's theory of history was abandoned, there was nothing the omnipotent Party, or Movement, or Leader could not do. In Soviet Russia, Stalin built a "cult of personality"; in Kampuchea, "the Organization" was deified. As a result, Marx's materialistic political ideology has been turned into a totalitarian instrument of voluntaristic political action.
Third, when ideologies are transplanted from their native culture to an alien culture, the results are unpredictable. François Ponchaud provides a glimpse of the explosive mixture that resulted from the combination of a European ideology with an Asiatic culture:
[One] cause of the radicality of the Khmer revolution lies in the Khmer way of reasoning, which is bewildering to Cartesian minds. The Khmer thinks by accretions or juxtapositions, but adheres strictly to the rules of his own internal logic. In the past, before beginning to act, every committee or council spent long hours and sometimes days drawing up statutes from which nothing was omitted, and constructing schemes, each more impracticable than the last. A simple idea, intuitively perceived, was pushed to the limits of its internal logic and often to the point of absurdity, without any regard for the realities or any forethought for practical consequences.
It is not difficult to see how Marxism-Leninism, "pushed to the limits of its internal logic," could have produced the tragic experiment that demolished Cambodian society. The "simple idea" Ponchaud refers to might well have been the "intuitively perceived justice" of social and economic equality. Maoist revolutionary principles were then seized upon and pushed "to the point of absurdity." So also were Lenin's practical lessons in organization and propaganda. And Stalin's methods of labor regimentation. And so forth.
The fourth and final conclusion is that utopianism in any cultural context can too easily be turned into a justification for tyranny. This is the paradox of unbounded idealism. The history of Marxism in the 20th century has demonstrated only too clearly that it is possible to wish mankind too well. By holding out the prospect of unlimited good, Marxism's practitioners have been able to justify unlimited evil. It was Stalin who said, "If you want to make an omelette you have to break some eggs." Mao was less delicate:
A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.
Stalin and Mao were both indebted to Lenin for this novel doctrine of "revolutionary morality." In Lenin's own words: "Our morality is completely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat.…Morality is that which serves to destroy the old exploiting society." As a consequence, Lenin said:
We deny all morality that is drawn from some conception beyond men, beyond class. We say that it is a deception…a fraud and a stultification of the minds of the workers and peasants in the interests of the landowners and capitalists."
When the leaders of Democratic Kampuchea finally got their chance to make an omelette, they broke a lot of eggs. They subordinated all civilized standards of morality to "the interests of the class struggle"—interests that were defined and dictated by the omniscient Organization. The egalitarian paradise they set out to create degenerated into an impoverished hell that differed from the poet Virgil's description in only one detail—in Kampuchea, it was not a metaphor.
Thomas Magstadt is chairman of the Department of Government and International Affairs at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He has written for National Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, and other publications.
*Communist Cambodia was given the official name of Democratic Kampuchea. For semantic convenience, I will use the name Kampuchea to refer to Cambodia between April 1975 and early 1979.
**The Vietnamese invasion, although it "liberated" Cambodia from a brutal tyranny, was denounced by Prince Sihanouk at the United Nations. The UN Security Council's attempt to pass a resolution calling for Vietnam's withdrawal was vetoed by the Soviet Union. Heng Samrin's Vietnamese-backed government is now in control of the major cities and most of the Cambodian countryside, but the forces of the deposed Pol Pot regime continue to carry on a protracted guerrilla war from their base areas along the Thai-Cambodian border. Due to the support of the People's Republic of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ousted Pol Pot government continues to hold Cambodia's seat in the United Nations. In July 1981, a conference on Cambodia met at the United Nations and passed a unanimous resolution calling for Vietnamese withdrawal. The same conference also asked for UN-supervised elections and a guarantee of Cambodian independence. Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the conference.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Great Leap Downward".