1970s >> 1979 >> no-904-december-1979

Blood on Their Hands

On 7 January this year Pol Pot was toppled from power, and a few days later the founding of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea was announced, the president being Heng Samrin. The new government was installed in power with the help of Vietnamese troops, and was very much a Vietnamese creation. The Heng Samrin regime was immediately recognised by the Russian-bloc states, but most countries still regard the Khmers Rouges as the “legitimate” rulers, in spite of the horrors they inflicted on the country and manifest fact that they control no more than a small part of its territory. Norodom Sihanouk, who has distinguished himself solely by often and abruptly changing sides. has prostrated himself before the United Nations, begging for international assistance and support for the barbarians who helped destroy his country. Kampuchea and its people have become entangled in a web of hypocrisy, deceit and suffering which is remarkable even by capitalism’s gruesome standards.

China supported and supports the Khmers Rouges, hence those western capitalist states which are becoming increasingly friendly with China and foresee better trade opportunities there are unwilling to upset them by supporting Heng Samrin. The Americans, having done their best to “bomb Vietnam back into the Stone Age”, as one of their more candid generals put it, raise their hands in horror at the sudden discovery that wars kill people. Meanwhile the Vietnamese rulers have taken a leaf out of Uncle Sam’s book and installed a puppet regime in Kampuchea. A treaty signed in March allows Vietnamese troops to be stationed in Laos and Kampuchea, enabling Vietnam (and its Russian mentor) to dominate Indo-China. This is basically what the dispute is about: over the last thirty years a succession of ruling classes have striven for control of Southeast Asia. After the defeat of the French and then of the Americans, the region was up for grabs between Russia and China. In spite of the Chinese attempt to force a Vietnamese withdrawal from Kampuchea by invading Vietnam, the Russians and their satellites have, for the moment at least, won the contest.

The losers, as ever, are the ordinary people, the peasants and workers of Kampuchea. Out of a 1975 population of around seven million, about three million are now believed to have died under Pol Pot. A further two million are currently starving as a result of the disruptions caused by evacuation and fighting. Only five per cent of the country’s arable land is under cultivation, and the food situation is likely to be even worse next year. Millions of pounds’ worth of aid has been sitting around unused while presidents and prime ministers play their deadly games. Heng Samrin’s regime has refused to allow the Red Cross to distribute aid to the Kampuchean population, on the grounds that this would mean sharing it with the Khmers Rouges and their supporters. And all the while, countless human beings die and suffer horribly, with their safest place the overcrowded and insanitary refugee camps in Thailand.

Anyone who thought that the defeat of American imperialism would lead to peace and prosperity for Southeast Asia has now been disillusioned. Post-“liberation” Vietnam has turned into such a paradise that hundreds have been prepared to risk drowning in order to escape, after the government has thoughtfully reduced the weight of the ships by relieving them of large sums of gold. Capitalist states like Vietnam and China are now exposed, to all but the wilfully blind, as hypocritical murderers and oppressors no more deserving of support than Britain or the United States.

An “independent” country is simply one where a home-grown ruling class lord it over their subjects, to whom the nationality of their exploiters should be of no concern at all. Under capitalism, all countries are forced to behave like predators, including those that have but recently thrown off the “imperialist yoke”.

No one who has seen, on their television, or in newspapers, the walking skeletons of Kampuchean children could fail to be moved. The instinctive response may be to dig into one’s pocket, but charity will not prevent such horrors happening again and again. Starvation may be rare in industrialised countries nowadays, but for a large proportion of humanity it is it is either an everyday experience or an ever-present threat. It is capitalism, with its inequalities and its wars and its artificial shortages, that is responsible for this situation.

Paul Bennett

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