Useful Idiots Fellow Travelers and the Khmer Rouge

When it has come to communism and imperialist wars there has always been western left-wing factions standing up to said imperialism. These people have been grouped into many classes, such as card carrying communists, useful idiots and the term fellow travelers.

Many of these people have since had history absolve them, but when it comes to useful idiots and fellow travelers and the Khmer Rouge, history has of course proved their undoing. 

The resistance to the wars in Indochina

Resistance to the Vietnam War and of course conscription was a core part of the 1960’s, but by the 1970’s this had started to taper off somewhat. America had withdrawn defeated from Vietnam, but war of course still raged, particularly the secret ones in Laos and Cambodia.

Thus it in the mid-70’s where the so-called useful idiots and fellow travelers began to came in. With America no longer officially at war in the region and both China and the Soviet Union still flying the red-flag proudly the mantle for anti-imperialism fell on the dyed in the wool left-wingers, as well as their supporters – termed by some as useful idiots and fellow travelers.

What were fellow travelers and useful idiots

The term fellow traveler originated from the people who traveled to Stalinist Russia and came back with glowing reports on the USSR. They were intellectually sympathetic to the ideals and ideology of the Soviet Union while not being card carrying communist party members, or necessarily self-identifying as communist. 

And of course this was lifetime before the current politics of the modern woke era. When it came to fellow travelers and the Khmer Rouge there were of course many, but again there needs to be some context to this. People generally saw the Khmer Rouge as the same as the Viet Cong, or Pathet Lao, with no one realizing just how crazy the Pol Pot regime would become.

When it comes to useful idiots and the Khmer Rouge, a useful idiot was a phrase allegedly coined by Lenin, (although there is literally no evidence of this) as a person who will do propaganda for a cause, usually bad without fully comprehending the ultimate bad goal of the idea. Again very understandable with regards to the Khmer Rouge as was not until much later that the horrors were realized.

Useful Idiots Fellow Travelers and Democratic Kampuchea

As soon as Pol Pot came to power things started to go bad in Cambodia, with reports coming out about the evacuation of the cities, the harsh conditions for the people, as well as what would later be known as the Killing Fields.

Communist Party of Kampuchea

Despite this a sizable community in the west came out in full support of Democratic Kampuchea, with the state itself starting to push out propaganda from the moment Pol Pot and the Central Committee went public at the behest of China, who to their defense at least tried to temper things in the country.

To read why China supported the Khmer Rouge click here.

Groups supporting Democratic Kampuchea and the Khmer Rouge almost exclusively consisted of fronts created by far-left organizations, particularly those of an anti-revisionist (Maoist) persuasion. This included groups such as “Hands Off Kampuchea” in the UK, but also many outspoken intellectuals, such as Naomi Chomsky and most tragically Malcom Caldwell, who would later die after interviewing Pol Pot.

Chomsky has since claimed he was misquoted, which to an extent is true, but Caldwell was full on believer in the Khmer Rouge right up until his death – which we will cover in a operate article.

These groups though would be active even after the fall of Phnom Penh, with much vitriol against the Vietnamese even after the fall of the country. This did die off to some extent, but many continued to support the Khmer Rouge from at least a Maoist anti-revisionist point of view for a long time.

What was the effect of Useful Idiots Fellow Travelers and on the Khmer Rouge?

Initially they gave some legitimacy to the regime and were it not for the extreme policies that eventually led to their overthrow might well have remained a force for whitewashing the regime.

But in the end these people either retconned their beliefs, or simply said they were misled. You will therefore today find almost no one who supports the Khmer Rouge.

To read if anyone still supports the Khmer Rouge click here

Interestingly though many simply moved towards the nuanced and to an extent proven view that the excesses of the Khmer Rouge and indeed their support by the USA, China and the west were a principle cause for the Killing Fields and the suffering of the people of Cambodia right up until 1998 and the final Khmer Rouge state.

To read about the last Khmer Rouge state click here

Overall then one cannot blame the Useful Idiots and Fellow Travelers of the Khmer Rouge, but rather the overall perfect storm of Cold War politics that was to create one of the worst tragedies of the 20th century.