Why did the Khmer Rouge evacuate the cities?

Why did the Khmer Rouge evacuate the cities? Almost as soon as the Khmer Rouge took power and declared Democratic Kampuchea the cities were emptied and most all residents were sent to the countryside, mostly to farm rice. This is generally painted as an extreme version of socialism, a communist experiment, barbarity, or just sheer lunacy.

These theories of course all hold some merit, but there was in reality a method to this madness, and firm reasoning on “why” they should do this. Again whilst the Khmer Rouge are simply painted as pure “evil” the reality was that they had a plan. The plan was obviously seriously flawed, but a plan it was none the less.

Ideology of the Communist Party of Kampuchea

Whether you agree with socialism and communism, or not the lofty ideals are good at heart. Communism teaches the equality of man, that everyone has the right to work and social welfare and a strong powerful state.

The CPK and the Khmer Rouge in this respects were no different. The core leadership of the Khmer Rouge which was spawned from the Paris Clique had all been members of the French Communist Party. They had seen the vast inequalities of Cambodia and wanted to make a better society. Conversely they were also staunchly nationalist, a card that would affect things later down the line.

So, the Khmer Rouge leadership developed their own brand of communism, heavily influenced by Maoism, but with the nationalist belief that the Khmer were so superior to others that whatever they decided would happen would be a success. Fun fact, no.

The actual ideology of the Khmer Rouge was to turn Cambodia into an industrial powerhouse. Which begs the question, why end all industry and send everyone into the countryside? The answer is not only interesting, but alarmingly (bad) in its simplicity.

The Super Great leap Forward and the need for money

Democratic Kampuchea famously got rid of money, not only that but aimed for a truly classless society, something that had been tried for and failed by Chairman Mao. Behind the scenes though things were very different.

The Khmer Rouge not only understood money, but knew that the country needed foreign reserves in order to industrialize the country. Again it is very easy to just pain the CPK as a band of lunatics, but this is simply not the case.

The Super Great Leap Forward was aimed to be a “better” version of the Great Leap Forward which would essentially earn Democratic Kampuchea a ton of cash, which would be used to industrialize the country.

To read an in depth analysis on the Super Great Leap Forward click here

Why did the Khmer Rouge evacuate the cities? And why would this bring cash?

This in essence is almost the biggest tragedy of the whole Khmer Rouge experiment, emptying the cities was simply done as a way to bring cash into the country. The plan was that everyone would leave the cities and that WITH such a huge workforce of Khmer people (this was important) they would be able to farm to bigger levels than the country had ever seen.

This fabulously large output would mean that the country could A, feed itself and B export pice for enormous profits. Said profits would then be used to buy industrial equipment (without needing loans from any superpower), from where the state could industrialize and do it quickly. This was to an extent copied from China, but under the theory that the Khmer were so great that they could do it in less time.

Why did the Khmer Rouge evacuate the cities?  And why was it failure?

A topic we have covered before, and indeed a topic that could and should get its own analysis. Firsty the quotea that the country expected had no link to reality. It was drawn up without taking into account the realities of the situation. This was pure Maoist theory without reaction to the real world. Secondly the country did not have the resources, or the equipment to get even close to the levels needed to make the money. Thirdly they forgot that in a communist society like this people would rather lie than get into trouble. Lastly they were ideological zealots.

Anyone even vaguely suspected of not being pro-regime were killed. Combine this with the lack of food caused by articles 1-2 and 3 and you have not the best workforce. Thus a plan already pretty much doomed to failure was exacerbated to the extreme.

Why did the Khmer Rouge evacuate the cities?  And what was the end game?

It was all about the countries 4 year plan – the crux of the Super Great Leap Forward. 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.The KR core were thus banking on this windfall.

With said cash they would buy top gear, probably from China and become an economic powerhouse eon par with the USSR and China. Now whilst we all know now that this was fantasy and at best poorly thought out, it does at least show they were not simply “crazy”, but had a plan of sorts.

What if it had succeeded?

I’ll throw in a number of caveats to this. Firstly we regularly get accused of being pro Khmer Rouge. We are not in case of any sort of ambiguity. We do though feel it important to understand the reasoning. That is the essence of studying history. Much like the why we need to know why the Nazis anted to kill the jews.

To Read about Ta Mok click here.

Had the Khmer Rouge plan been a success, they would have been rid other enemies, had a huge chunk of cash and been able to industrilaize the country. The theory was never to  have people in the countryside perpateually, but to move to being a super version of the the USSR, or PRC. Industrially and militarily strong and without interference form outside forces.

What would have happened then is anyone guess, but we have written a theoretical “what of the Khmer rouge hadn’t been overthrown” which you can read here.

Why did the Khmer Rouge evacuate the cities? In conclusion…

So, why did the Khmer Rouge evacuate the cities? Quite simply as a cash grab to fund the growth of the great Khmer nation. It is very easy to get bogged down in saying it was warped communism, or extreme Maoism, but the actual reality was oh so very simple. Why did the Khmer Rouge evacuate the cities? The cities of Cambodia were emptied in a sick cash grab, and one that failed to epic levels.