What was the Super Great Leap Forward?

What was the Super Great Forward? Quite simply the Super Great Leap Forward was the policy of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, AKA the Khmer Rouge in Democratic Kampuchea. It’s aims were to turn Cambodia into a fully functioning independent socialist state essentially by doing everything “faster” than communists had done before.

Ironically it draws its inspiration from China’s Great Leap Forward, which was championed by Chairman Mao. Again this was a complete failure, with even Maoists largely disavowing the policy. It also caused famine and starvation in China, something that Khmer take on things would also achieve.

The Great Leap Forward in China

The Communist Party of Kampuchea were essentially a Maoist party. In the early days they enjoyed close relations with the Soviets and Vietnamese, but by the time they had come to power they were firmly aligned with the Chinese under Mao.

To read about the foreign relations of Democratic Kampuchea click here.

For a time at least China were very much their sponsor, as well as providing training and ideological advice.

The initial Great Leap Forward in China was instituted by Chairman Mao in 1958 and was to last until 1962. It was instituted as a way for China to “rush” towards socialism. The reasoning being that the country was much more backwards than the USSR was at the time of the October Revolution.

The inspiration came from the Soviet Union who had declared they would surpass the United States within 15 years peacefully and economically. This so impressed Mao he decided he wanted to surpass the UK within 15 years.

Farms were collectivized, and a new focus on steel production was proclaimed. Most of this steel production was to come from home furnaces. Mao it would appear did know that much about metallurgy. Essentially the furnaces were not suitable for steel production, literal whole forests were taken down to provide fuel for them, as well as receiving more focus than on producing food. This combined with a lack of incentive for farm workers and numerous other factors led China into one of the worst famines in modern history.

The Great Leap Forward was in fact such a failure that Mao essentially left the government, remaining leader in name only, that was of course until the Cultural Revolution.

The Super Great Leap Forward

Despite the shortcomings of the Great Leap Forward Pol Pot was an ardent supporter of everything that Mao had done, even the bad things. The most interesting point though is that while Pot Pot was a follower of Mao he also had a rather big ego. Pol Pot genuinely thought he was smarter than Mao, knew more about communism and that the Cambodians could do things a lot better. This was an early sign of the intense nationalism that would be the bedrock of the Khmer Rouge rule of tyranny.

What was the Super Great Leap Forward

It was with this in mind that he formulated the “Super Great Leap Forward”. The basic tenets of the Super Great Leap Forward were that Democratic Kampuchea would race towards socialism and that the revolution would “stand” on agriculture.

The CPK’s basic economic policies are laid out in the Party’s draft “Four-Year Plan to Build Socialism in All Fields”. A very ambitious plan without link to reality.

Building Socialism in 4 years

The Four-Year Plan included a meticulously detailed forecast of expected rice crops for the period of 1977-1980. This relied on Cambodia exporting 6,955,400 tons of rice and receiving $1,390,640,000 USD in return. That’s w hole lot of cash.

Thus everyone was sent from the cities to farm. Industry was ignored and this essentially stayed as the sole policy of the Khmer Rouge. If the Super Great Leap Forward was to fail, so would Democratic Kampuchea.

What was the Super Great Leap Forward – Choeung Ek Killing Fields

To read about street foods inspired by the Khmer Rouge click here.

n order to achieve the massive rice harvests necessary to pursue its Super Great Leap Forward plan, the Khmer Rouge would use the same tactics it had during the 1970-75 civil war of forced collectivization essentially under slave like conditions. Hence why the cities were emptied.

Rice production was compared to warfare in that the country should attack where it thought it could win. Forcing people to farm was seen as the easiest way to do this.

Pol Pot was so enthralled by his own idea that he declared growing this much rice would be “easy” compared to wining the Cambodian Civil War.

He with regards to the Super Great Leap Forward he stated;

“The preparations for offensives to build up the country are like our past military offensives and not even as difficult. In building up the country the obstacles are direct: whether there is water or not, what kind of fertilizer, what kind of seed. As for the military battlefields, they involve sacrifices. Comparing thus, we see that there is nothing to worry about”Pol Pot 1976 on The Super Great Leap Forward

This was echoed by the Khmer Rouge propaganda magazine Tung Padevat (Revolutionary Flag) as official government policy of where the revolution stood.

Reasoning for the Super Great Leap Forward

Despite failure and fantastical figures from Angkar there was reasoning behind their plans. Pol Pot decreed that the country suffered from 3 main problems. Namely they had just emerged from war, and that they lacked technology and capital (money).

Choeung Ek Killing Fields

The plan was basically to grow lots of rice and in 4 years time spent that immense profit on technology for industrialization. All of this without having to rely on loans from any superpower and remaining independent and self-reliant.

What were the effects of the 4 year plan and Super Great Leap Forward?

Whilst the Khmer Rouge might argue that they never got to see out their “4 year plan” it was without doubt a massive failure. Aside from the unrealistic quota of rice they were anticipating, far too much relied on irrigation projects. These irrigation projects were to provide water for the growing of rice, something that was a complete failure.

Khieu Samphan admitted to their failure in a radio address celebrating the second anniversary of the victory of the revolution. He declared that it “did not matter” if the damns worked for only 5, or 10 years because by that time Cambodia would be rich. Again back to the plant rice sell rice get rich policy that was the Super Great Leap Forward.

To read about Khieu Samphan click here.

Aside from irrigation the country was also lacking in almost every respect, from husbandry down to fertilizer. The party would also try and make workarounds, such as using human excrement in its place, but they were generally ill thought out and failures.

Democratic Kampuchea rice exports

As we know the crux of the Super Great Leap Forward had been to grow lots of rice and then sell at a profit. Everyone would have enough to eat and only surplus would be sold. But what do you do when you do not grow enough rice? You sell anyway.

In this was the Khmer Rouge became money obsessed as they knew their military needed modernizing. Therefore despite not having enough rice to feed Cambodia they continued to export what little they had, particularly to Thailand.

Whilst there are no records of how much rice was exported during this time there is numerous evidence that it was. Particularly in reference to the State Commerce Committee. The State Commerce Committee had the function of providing revenue to the Khmer Rouge state, which almost exclusively came from rice and aid from China.

Pure socialism

When it comes to the country trying to achieve socialism is 4 years it was not just completely about money. The Super Great Leap Forward also wanted to achieve every aspect of socialism, or as Pol Pot would put it “pure socialism”.

To read a definition of what is a socialist country click here.

For this part private ownership was taken away in levels never seen in any other socialist revolution. Whereas the Chinese Great Leap Forward had tried to “get rid of money” the Khmer Rouge essentially succeeded in this. No one owned anything and “everything” was provided by the state.

The Killing Fields and the Super Great Leap Forward

Another facet of the “race” to socialism was the killing of enemies. Te Khmer Rouge essentially wanted a new working class, so anyone associated with capitalism, or even wore glasses were subject to killing.

As they chilling stated “To keep you is no gain; to lose you is no loss.”. Thus the Super Great Leap Forward was partly to remove any classes, or people that were deemed hostile to the regime and to do it very quickly.

And it was this that was to lead to one of the worst crimes in modern history, the Killing Fields.

A common theme when people talk about the Killing Fields is “why”. There is of course no firm definitive answer, but by analyzing the Super Great Leap Forward, we can at least see the method behind the intense madness.

Whilst obviously extremely misguided the plan at least was to make Cambodia rich and achieve socialism extremely quickly. Thus a few years of hardship, but due to the Super Great Forward what waited was riches for Democratic Kampuchea and its loyal citizens.

Sadly that was never to pass…