Khmer Rouge, or the Communist Party of Kampuchea, was a radical communist organization that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Under the totalitarian rule of Pol Pot, which caused the deaths of more than 1 million in 4 years, the Khmer Rouge had its name tied to the term killing fields and left a legacy of one of the most atrocious massacres of the 20th century.
The Khmer Rouge was founded in 1951, initially an opposition to French domination, but over a period of 2 decades, it fought successive Cambodian governments. Until 1960, the movements of the Khmer Rouge remained obscure. A systematic armed rebellion against Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s government began only after Pol Pot’s younger group of French-educated radicals had taken over the standing committee of the Khmer Rouge Central Committee in 1963. In fear of imprisonment, the Party’s leaders fled to the hills, during which they made contact with the communist parties in China and Vietnam. In 1967, the Revolutionary Army of the Khmer Rouge, approximately 4,000 men, launched a full scale attack on Sihanouk’s administration, killing village chiefs and other officials throughout Cambodia.
When Cambodia became the Khmer Republic in 1970 under General Lon Nol, who with the support of the United States staged a military coup against Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge had an army of about 15,000 men. But Lon Nol’s approval of the United States’ bombing of Vietnamese communist camps in the eastern portion of Cambodia led to the radicalization of many Cambodians, increasing the number of the Khmer Rouge army to more than 40,000 in 1973. Having the support of Sihanouk living in exile in China, the Khmer Rouge grew stronger in its struggle against the U.S.-backed Lon Nol government and with the termination of United States’ assistance to Lon Nol in 1975, the Khmer Rouge triumphed.
On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge occupied the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, and changed the name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea. In September 1977, Pol Pot spoke of the socialist revolution and reconstruction. A year later the Khmer Rouge started the programs for the reconstruction of Cambodia, aimed at creating an egalitarian society, an economic agrarian revolution and a social revolution of Khmer values. In fear of revolt through support of previous regimes and foreign powers, the Khmer Rouge increased the diplomatic isolation of the country, moving all urban residents out of the cities to rural communes and assassinating the intellectuals and skilled workers. In the name of ethnic purification, they murdered innumerable members of ethnic minorities and forced cultivation opened the Killing Fields. The death of more than 1.5 million during the 4-year rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia was termed an autogenocidal revolution.
The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979 drove the Khmer Rouge out of the capital to the Thai border, where they continued guerrilla warfare. Factional fighting led to the imprisonment of Pol Pot before he died in 1998 and conflicts within the party finally led to its disintegration.
Anti-Colonial Movements, Asia; Communism
A prevalent view of Cambodia prior to the upheavals of the late 1960s and 1970s was of a “gentle land,” with peaceful Buddhist authorities...
Khmer Rouge, or the Communist Party of Kampuchea, was a radical communist organization that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Under the...
The Khmer Rouge is the popular term for the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), which was founded in the early 1950s. The Khmer Rouge was led by...