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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The rise and fall of the Cambodian revolution : the rationale for Pol Pot's democratic Kampuchea Frieson, Kate G.


The full theoretical and historical significance of the Cambodian revolution will not likely be revealed except with the passage and perspective of time and the uncovering of additional relevant data. While the revolution itself brought unprecedented and sweeping change to Cambodia, so much so that the prerevolutionary society has been almost completely obliterated, there is precious little information available on the architects themselves or on the moral and political impetus behind their actions. Indeed, many of the macabre political battles that accompanied so much destruction in Democratic Kampuchea are still only vaguely understood. In short, there are many stray pieces of the puzzle of the Cambodian revolution that have yet to be put in place to make the picture clear and coherent. This thesis attempts to add to the small but growing body of scholarship that seeks to explain the rationale for one of the most violent and radical revolutions of this century. The narrative traces the major developments of the Cambodian revolution from the inception of the civil war in 1970 to the demise of Pol Pot's revolutionary regime in 1979, the latter occasioned by the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of the country. The first chapter examines the origins and struggle of the peasant-based communist revolution in Cambodia which culminated in the seizure of power by the Communist Party of Kampuchea in April, 1975. The socio-economic and political conditions which prevailed in Cambodia up to 1975 are analysed within the theoretical framework of revolutionary preconditions. The conditions generally believed to be necessary and sufficient for revolution to succeed were present in Cambodia. The second chapter details the process of internal consolidation of the revolution in the post-victory period, from 1975 to 1979. The Communist Party of Kampuchea came to power as an ideologically and militarily fragmented party. The emergence of a dominant faction that insulated itself, temporarily, from internal and external threats, form the substance of this chapter. The third chapter examines the ideas, policies, and actions of the Democratic Kampuchean regime. To explain the violent and radical policies of the period, this chapter investigates a matrix of intricately woven variables, such as the ideology and intentions of the party elite; the need to defeat and purge internal rivals; the ethnocentric orientation of the elite; and the perception of imminent external threats. The final chapter offers some conclusions on the nature of the radical experiment carried out in Democratic Kampuchea. The conclusion reached is that the CPK leadership, while at times proclaiming communist beliefs, was in fact acting from motives similar to those which have driven other Cambodian leaders throughout history, a desire for national survival. The Cambodian revolution is a story about how a zealous group of individuals within the communist party came to impose an ideology of nationalism on a communist organization.

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