A short biography of Pol Pot

By Tim Lambert

Pol Pot was one of the worst tyrants of the 20th century. Pol Pot was born in Cambodia in 1925. His family was not poor. Instead, his father was a well-off farmer. However, Pol Pot became a Marxist.

Marxism was the creation of Karl Marx (1818-1883). According to him, society went through an inevitable series of stages ending in Communism. The workers, he said, would inevitably rebel against the capitalists and Capitalism would be replaced by Socialism in which the state would own industry. But the state would ‘wither away’ leaving a classless society or Communism. Of course, the promised utopia never materialized.

Pol Pot joined the Communist Party in 1946. In 1949 he won a scholarship to study electronics in Paris. He returned to Cambodia in 1953 and by 1963 he was head of the party. Meanwhile, in 1956 Pol Pot married Khieu Ponnary.

In 1975 a terrible period in the history of Cambodia began. The Khmer Rouge was led by Pol Pot. (He was also known as ‘Brother Number One’. How many people Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killed is uncertain but it was probably at least 1.5 million and it may have been as many as 3 million. Pol Pot declared that history would begin again in Cambodia. The first year of the revolution was now the first year of history.

In 1975 Cambodia was a mainly agricultural country. Pol Pot decided it should be totally agricultural. So people from the towns and cities were forced to move to the countryside. Pol Pot also decided that agricultural output should double in 4 years (which was completely unrealistic). Private property was banned and collective farms were formed. They were supposed to grow 3 tonnes of rice per hectare (again that was unrealistic). People were made to work very long hours to try and grow the extra rice. They were given insufficient food and many fell ill and died from a combination of exhaustion and malnutrition.

Like all Communists, Pol Pot was an atheist so religion was banned. People caught practicing Buddhism were executed and Buddhist temples were desecrated. Family relationships were banned (because it was said, parents exploited their children). People were executed for the smallest infringement of the rules. Although people were half-starved anyone caught foraging for food was executed. People were also executed for being lazy. Of course, anyone who complained was executed.

The Khmer Rouge also murdered intellectuals. Soon people were executed if they could speak a foreign language or if they wore glasses. This nightmarish situation was ended by a war with Vietnam. The Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and quickly prevailed. Unfortunately, Pol Pot escaped and did not die until 1998.