Marx’s Ideas Fueled the Cambodian Killing Fields

Far too many people are unaware of the Khmer Rouge regime, the communist government that ruled Cambodia for several years after the Vietnam War. Some may have heard of its leader, Pol Pot, the monstrous dictator who ruled over the once-prosperous and peaceful nation with an iron fist for far too long. The Khmer Rouge should be studied because it arguably enacted the furthest reaches of Marxist ideology.  After gaining power, the Khmer Rouge forced all citizens from major urban population centers to the countryside. In an attempt to fully abolish all remnants of private property and all notions of freedom, the Khmer Rouge engaged in a mass murder beyond comprehension. Millions of helpless, innocent Cambodians were mercilessly killed throughout the vast countryside. Children were literally beaten to death with hoes, all in an effort to save bullets.

Along with the atrocities committed during this forced relocation, the Khmer Rouge also instituted several Marxist economic policies that led to mass famines and poverty. For example, the regime outlawed all trade, except between communes, in a misguided attempt to encourage self-sufficiency. The actual result was utter devastation. As if this were not bad enough, Pol Pot and other government leaders also raided banks, canceled debts, and destroyed the nation’s currency, which caused a total halt to lending and severely undermined the nation’s already fledgling economic prospects. Making matters even worse, the Khmer Rouge subsequently outlawed commercial fishing in 1976, which undercut the food supply and caused more economic turmoil. Suffice to say, the Khmer Rouge’s extreme Marxist policies were a total failure that led to the deaths of millions.

Yet, despite this horror, the actions of the Cambodian Communists have been swept under the rug. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) never mention what took place in the most Marxist regime to date. Instead, Pol Pot has become a historical ghost, never to be mentioned by modern-day communists and socialists. And the reason is obvious: The Cambodian killing fields truly represent the sick and twisted Marxist ideology in its full and horrific scope. This isn’t just an opinion, but rather a historical fact. The Cambodian killing fields ought to be inextricably linked with Marxism, because it stands as a symbol of what communism and socialism inevitably create: the will of the collective over the rights of the individual.

PHOTO: POL POT AND DENG XIAOPING. Pol Pot (left), Prime Minister of Cambodia and leader of the Khmer Rouge, shaking hands with Chinese Communist leader Deng Xiaoping at Phnom Penh, 1978. Photo provided by Flickr user manhhai. Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is the editorial director and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, as well as a researcher and contributing editor at