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Who are the “Former Khmer Rouge” who are still alive?

The question of ‘former khmer rouge’ constantly recurrs, like acid after a bad meal. Many people were Khmer Rouge, and are therefore ‘former Khmer Rouge,’ but in an example of social common sense, it seems that the appelation “Former Khmer Rouge” is most often applied to those who use force in ways deemed oppressive and amoral, often regardless of whether or not the people in question are actually former cadre or not.

This has been noticed by others in the metonymic use of the word “Pol Pot” to signify simply “Khmer Rouge Soldiers,” though in both cases it needs to be carefully noted that these are post-experiential uses, since the Khmer Rouge never referred to themselves as Khmer Rouge (They were the minions of Democratic Kampuchea, or more universally, simply “Angkar,” the ‘organization’), and Pol Pot was not widely known inside of Cambodia until after 1979, and became famous largely through the anti-Khmer Rouge propaganda of the new People’s Republic of Kampuchea. But people are still referred to as ‘Pol Pots’ or as ‘Former Khmer Rouge,’ in a way that acts as political shorthand for a shared, constructed historical consciousness.

Villagers have been ordered to leave by Oct 30 or face forced eviction, according to villagers and rights workers. They claim that RCAF soldiers have detained villagers and burned down a total of 27 homes in recent months. Ing Kong Chit the Cambodian Center for Human Rights monitor in Battambang, said villagers have reported that former Khmer Rouge fighters from Regiment 53 of RCAF’s Battalion Two burned down the seven huts on Sunday night and that district authorities did nothing to stop them. ((KI Media))

Nowadays, the untenable violence of state against people, which is translated into the non-ethnic violence of the Khmer Rouge state against the Khmer. See my recent post on Latour for a discussion of how Europe and the ‘modern west’ became a non-ethnic place dominated by the force of state-based reason; the application of this logic is the only way I can see the term ‘genocide’ being appropriately applied to the deaths of Khmers from 1975-1979 – the Khmer Rouge must be understood as having become non-ethnic, the manifestations, avatars, enforcers, and/or slaves, of universal reason and the imposition of Reason’s rule by the (justified) power of the State.

It is far too often ignored that the one thing that Democratic Kampuchea did, did intentionally, and did according to policy, was not terror (though this was accomplished), nor murder (though the murder of approximately one-seventh of their population happened), but the intensification of agriculture against traditional resistance. The intensification of state borders, the adoption of European styles of population control (what Foucault called ‘bio-power’), and the burgeoning population disallowed ‘withdrawal’ from the purview of the state and its power, which had been the most popular means of escaping its grasp in previous areas. ((Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality, Volume I: An introduction. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York: Random House, 1978, p. 188. See also Poovey, Mary. Making a social body: British cultural formation, 1830-1864. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.))

The problems remain: the citation in the newspaper above references Banteay Meanchey and its current land struggles, which are far beyond crisis dimensions. In a recently completed article submitted for publication, I referred to these struggles, and the role of farmer’s traditional ideals of subsistence autonomy in them. Today, the dream of household agricultural self-sufficiency (probably always little more than a dream), is enrolled in the projects of transnational capitalism, which removes land from the productive uses of smallholders and places those same smallholders in the service of plantations. Even in places like Banteay Meanchey, where plantations remain few, the land is being cleared for these projects by smallholders pursuing the dream of subsistence:

Today the forest recedes like the floodwaters of the Tonlé Sap when it begins to disgorge its hoard of rainy-season waters. Poor farmers serve as the vanguard in the struggle against the last of Cambodia’s potentially fertile forestland. In a few years the plantations sweep them off and plant for export and profit. Highlanders protest on the basis of ancestral forest spirits and basic rights to subsistence. Farmers in Pursat protest on the basis of ancestral neak ta spirits and Buddhist ideas of morality and justice. The last ragged parcels of land in Oddar and Banteay Meanchey are the focus of increasingly desperate and violent conflicts, and landlessness has become a new problem in Cambodia ((Erik Davis. n.d. “Imaginary conversations with mothers about death”))

Even formerly non-agricultural ethnic minority groups of the Northeast are increasingly proletarianized, perhaps more so than their Khmer neighbors, as they are given houses by powerful Oknha in areas the oknha and his business partners will plant with rubber plantations. The role of thugs and ‘former Khmer Rouge’ like those in Banteay Meanchey, as elsewhere throughout our world, is to enforce submission of desire and autonomy to the ends of the state, which currently serves capitalist interests, just as previously is served the power interests of the People’s Republic of China.

The questions need to be reformed. Too often we have phrased our choices, be they political, ‘personal,’ journalistic, or academic, as ones between the horrors of capitalism and communism, between the hobbesian savage of pre-state civilizations which revel in violence and the rousseauean noble savage who naturally eschews violence and to whom all goods are indigenous. It seems impossible (and to many, undesirable) to eliminate all violence from social life, but this should not lead us to consider the lesser of two evils (the mass violence of the mob versus the mass violence of the state) as our only options. The hallucination of current agents of capitalism in Banteay Meanchey as former agents of state communism points out to a rejection of both, precisely in their role as agents of state violence.

Pastor Martin Niemoller is famous for his poem, “First they come for the Communists…Social Democrats, Trade Unionists, Jews, and I did not speak up because I was not a ……,” which ends with ” When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.” His poem spoke of the past, and his personal failures to speak out about the direction in which his land was heading. Allow me to speak for the future, in a hazardous premonition:

When they have successfully eaten the land, they will have no choice but to eat our livers.

It does not occur to me that this question, over the use of force by the state, is one whose hazards are limited to communist, capitalist, totalitarian, or democratic states, but one which is native to the form of the state sui generis.

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2 thoughts on “Who are the “Former Khmer Rouge” who are still alive?

  1. Pingback: Deathpower in Cambodia » Blog Archive » The contradictions of capitalism, according to Castoriadis, applied to Cambodia

  2. Pingback: Two Excellent Articles on Preah Vihear « deathpower

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