Monday, January 11, 2010

Liberals love Pol Pot, probably

"This idea that support for [North Korea and Pol Pot] is all part of the liberal tradition is one of the more bemusing aspects of progressive politics. But the missing factor in the equation is the view that the United States of America is the ultimate villain."

Clothes for Chaps, rehasing ground already covered with respect to Malcolm Caldwell in a Democratiya piece I can't be bothered to chase up. One can't help but notice in passing that Caldwell, despite being a passionate political supporter of some of the worst regimes on earth, nonetheless had lots of very good friends who are still prepared to defend his reputation, while Andrew Anthony, by his own autobiographical account, has managed to lose most of his mates despite being in favour of liberal democracy and human rights. The thorough corruption of "the liberal left" is one possible explanation - that Decency attracts a certain personality type is perhaps another.

Of course, we are told, Pol Pot was bad and "Duch" also a terrible man, but it's important to be clear about who the real villain is here. Noam Chomsky, of course; there's much blah about who did what when in this much-discussed and highly unedifying episode from NC's career. I doubt anyone was expecting C4C to break new ground here and he doesn't; fair do's though, he did look up the relevant Wikipedia entry and that's about as much as can be reasonably expected at the Observer these days.

I'm not really exaggerating there, by the way. By the end of the article, AA has talked himself into such a corner that the head of the victims unit of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is as bad as a Pol Potist because ... well, because she's part of an Australian Leninist party and Stalin! Also Mao! Communism always leads to the gulag why can't you see it you bastards! [1] While Duch himself, well, he doesn't seem such a bad guy, call him what you like, at least he's not a red.

Biggest interest for me is that C4C dips his toes into rehabilitation of the Vietnam War. I have long believed that this is the logical next step for Decency; after all, if you don't like Communism, you do like America, and you do believe that Western states have the right or obligation to use military force to support democratic values, it's hard to see why you would regard Vietnam as a bad war, unless you'd peeked at the answers at the back of the book.

[1] Bonus hilarity. Anthony aims to show that the Leninist Party Faction are terrible people by quoting an open letter which includes the passage

"We too are Marxists and believe that 'the ends justify the means'. But for the means to be justifiable, the ends must also be held to account. In time of revolution and civil war, the most extreme measures will sometimes become necessary and justified. Against the bourgeoisie and their state agencies we don't respect their laws and their fake moral principles".

In the context of Andrew Anthony's article, about the Killing Fields of Cambodia, pretty chilling stuff. In its original context, which was to do with the leadership of the Democratic Socialist Perspective expelling the Leninist Party Faction after getting unauthorised access to an internal LPF email list, perhaps less so. FFS.


Anonymous Phil said...

(Relocated from less relevant post.)

I haven't checked, but quite a lot of this piece appears to be lifted from this long article in Decentiya by Michael Ezra.

What doesn't come through at all from Anthony's piece is how little anybody knew about the Khmer Rouge at the time. Phnom Penh fell in 1975; I remember the stories about the KR clearing the city, and the tone in which they were reported - which was very much "sounds a bit extreme, glad it's not happening here, but I suppose they have their reasons". Nobody knew - "Khmer Rouge" didn't mean "mounds of skulls", it just meant "Cambodian liberation movement". Anthony mentions Ponchaud's book: it appeared in French in 1977 and in English in 1978 - the same year Caldwell died. And it was massively controversial: the story Ponchaud told seemed mightily convenient (the US has bombed the entire region to a pulp, and suddenly it's not their fault?) and far too extreme to be true. The Barron and Paul book, which Anthony mentions approvingly, had a subtitle about "Communist Genocide". As we now know, that was precisely what went on in Cambodia, but the phrase wasn't exactly calculated to win friends on the Left.

There is a story to be told about Chomsky's take on Cambodia - it goes "a small part of the French ultra-left goes collectively insane, with bad consequences for anyone who trusts them" - but being sceptical of the official story wasn't at all unusual at the time.

What was unusual, on the other hand, was being an enthusiast for both Pol Pot and Kim Il Sung - and what irritates me most about Anthony's piece is the way that he alternately acknowledges and denies this. I mean,
p1 Caldwell tolerated mass murder
p2 Caldwell was a leftist
c leftists tolerate mass murder

is a bog-standard excluded middle; what Anthony does is more like
p1 Caldwell was highly unusual among leftists in tolerating mass murder
p2 some people who knew him say that Caldwell was a perfectly ordinary leftist
p2.1 Chomsky!
p3 Caldwell wasn't highly unusual among leftists in tolerating mass murder! Ha!

Rehabilitating Vietnam - maybe, around the edges; there's certainly a suggestion that there was a noble cause lurking in there somewhere, only vitiated by the circumstances, and the tactics, and the outcome. I did like

To make matters worse, an American-supported coup put in place the corrupt government of Lon Nol in Phnom Penh.

D'oh! They've only gone and installed a corrupt client regime! What were they thinking?

1/11/2010 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Although the Vietnam war was more complex than is often acknowledged (the tensions between North and South, for example, long predated the war)
But I can simplify things just fine.

Maybe someone should establish a site called Am I Pol Pot or Not?

1/11/2010 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Wrestling Dick said...

Maybe someone should establish a site called Am I Pol Pot or Not?
I like it but it needs work.I'm thinking more a site called
Am I Pol Pot or Timothy Garton-Ash?
It could utilise flow charts,relative beardiness,Iran hysteria and so on.

1/11/2010 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Invariably missing from Decent's pieces on Pol Pot was that the western journalist who did much to expose the killing fields was... John Pilger. It's obviously too much for them to give him any respect for this, let alone admit he risked rather more than they ever have done in his reporting.

1/11/2010 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...


It's a strange piece, though. Up to "in one form or another" I thought it was perfectly all right - I didn't agree with all of it but I did agree with most of it and the rest was no hatchet-job. But at the end we have to have this bit about "love for the people in a class-based concept" and the It Always Leads To thesis. Do me a favour.

1/11/2010 01:58:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

At the same time Chomsky excoriated a book entitled Murder of A Gentle Land, by two Reader's Digest writers, John Barron and Anthony Paul, which was a flawed but nonetheless accurate documentation of the genocide taking place.

This is a little disengenuous. AA neglects to mention that one of Chomsky's main arguments was that it was unfair to catergorise Cambodia as a 'gentle land' and airbrush out the US bombing of the country which is what Baron & Paul effectively did. Chomsky's argued that the US bombing created the social context for the emergence of the KR. This is a controversial argument which has been contested by other scholars. However it is an arguable case. Monstrous regimes and movements tend to take root in shattered societies.

1/11/2010 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

As I recall it's pretty much the argument pursued by Spalding Gray in Swimming to Cambodia.

One should say that taking a partial view of evidence of contemporary conflicts, is not a habit restricted to the left. Or one stronger on the left than elsewhere on the spectrum. Nor, for that matter, is reassessing one's views in the face of the evidence, unless AA thinks that didn't happen on the left after Pol Pot (which it did, extensively).

This is where I have a problem at the end with working out who he's referring to, because he uses this term "Marxist-Leninist ideology". Who does he mean? If he means "Marxists", why not say so? But if he means people who adhere to something they themselves call Marxism-Leninism, I have to say I've not come across who's used that term to refer to themselves since God, I dunno, my early twenties.

1/11/2010 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger AndyB said...

Writers who worked for the CIA-entangled Readers Digest airbrushing the mass murder of Cambodians by the USAF from history? Who would have thought it?

Whether or not you buy the argument that a ferocious aerial bombardment that killed hundreds of thousands created the conditions for a revolution of nearly unimaginable horror, that the USAF did engage in a ferocious aerial bombardment that killed hundreds of thousands is not in doubt. And we'll never see any of the people responsible for those killing fields face the justice of an 'Extraordinary Chamber'.

And it is precisely the demonstrable and sustained disregard for the lives of hundreds of thousands of non-Americans - indeed, a refusal to even account for these lives historically - through the history of the American 'Empire' that led many people to oppose the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Who could have predicted that American planes would still be butchering people in their hundreds? That death squads would roam the streets? That the US would manage to find local allies even worse that the enemy, if factions are to be indexed according to respect for human dignities? Anyone who looked at post-1945 American involvement in Africa, South East Asia, or Latin and Central America (the butchers in chief of which seemed to be threaded through the Bush administration).

Which suggests that the Decents were either total idiots, unable to understand the fairly simple cautionary lesson from history - that you should trust the unreformed institutions (and in some cases, the self-same people) who have been involved in the casual destruction of hundreds of thousands of people with your 'Humanitarian War'*, or they were utter bastards.

*And if this means that you can't have your 'Humanitarian War', then maybe you should rethink your passion from bombing the shit out of people.

1/11/2010 04:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pol Pot did have support from China from 1975-79, and when Vietnam moved in to oust him they got the same treatment from the Peoples liberation army.

I remember seeing Thatcher being interviewed on Blue Peter in about 1986 she explained why the British governemnt had to continue recognising Pol Pot as Cambodia's legitimate ruler which lasted to 1991 I believe.

Is it really any supprise that the bombing of Cambodia & Laos and the the continued backing of the Khumer Rouge for over a decade is airbrushed from history? its the same story with Ceausescu, fianancing him for decades then take credit for his overthrow and pretending they never supported the dictator in the first place.

1/11/2010 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Which suggests that the Decents were either total idiots, unable to understand the fairly simple cautionary lesson from history - that you should trust the unreformed institutions (and in some cases, the self-same people) who have been involved in the casual destruction of hundreds of thousands of people with your 'Humanitarian War'*, or they were utter bastards.

One of the key elements of the Euston Manifesto was that we were supposed to erase from our memory all of that inconvenient history or as the incomparable GSH put it some thirty years ago:

Put your orders in America. And quick as Kodak your leaders duplicate with the accent being on the dupe - cause all of a sudden we have fallen prey to selective amnesia - remembering what we want to remember and forgetting what we choose to forget. All of a sudden, the man who called for a blood bath on our college campuses is supposed to be Dudley “God-damn” Do-Right?

1/11/2010 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger AndyB said...

"I remember seeing Thatcher being interviewed on Blue Peter in about 1986"

It says something when that our democratic culture has degenerated to the degree that this was a far tougher interrogation than the publicity spots politicians are granted these days.

My apologies for ranting earlier.

1/11/2010 05:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Monstrous regimes and movements tend to take root in shattered societies."

This is an important point. The Russian and Chinese revolutions came out of the chaos of Russia in WW1 and China after more than 12 years of war. They were the only political groupings left standing, and they were able to function in chaos because of their extreme authoritarian tendencies.

This is why starting wars is not a good way of creatung a democractic society. It is one of the reasons why creating a stable society in Afghanistan is so difficult: support by the US to peole like Hekmatyar destabilised Afgan society and destroyed institutions at all levels.


1/11/2010 06:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1/11/2010 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can think of at least one western leftist who was keen on the Pol Pot revolution, only to change his mind dramatically in 1979 when the full facts began to come out. His name is Ben Kiernan.

I wouldn't expect C4C to be familiar with Kiernan's excellent books on Cambodia, because the Decents don't seem to have any real interest in Cambodia beyond attacking Chomsky (for whom the long dead Caldwell acts as a cipher). However, since he's now moved from Cambodia studies, where he's one of the top two or three Anglophone experts, to the much more dubious field of "genocide studies", I expect him to enter the Geras ammunition box soon, if he hasn't already.

Mind you, even if some of his latter-day pronouncements might be helpful to the Decent cause, the thing that strikes me is that Kiernan can have major differences with Vickery - over death tolls or whether the G-word is strictly applicable, not about whether the KR's crimes where monstrous and indefensible - and yet Kiernan, despite polemics that are a bit sharp in academic terms, hasn't seen fit to denounce Vickery as the equivalent of David Irving, an outcast whose books should be anathematised by the academy. This is because Kiernan is a genuine scholar and not a Decent. I say again, one of the defining aspects of Decency is being a cunt about it.

1/11/2010 09:47:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

BTW nick is also agitating for yet another coup against gordon brown. Are the media supporters of this stuff ever going to realise that it's not going to happen - and that even if it did happen, it would be a turn-off for voters?

I've always felt that nick doesn't understand the electorate (witness his continued belief that people love Hazel Blears) and this is another very clear example. One of his reasons is that someone once insulted Brown according to the mail on sunday, ergo Brown will be awful in a TV debate - a point cohen reiterates tice despite its weakness. we also get this: 'David Cameron is a very good politician. Whenever he is on air, the Tory vote rises.'

all of Nick's stats seem to come from the clearly right-wing source,, and that claim is evidently bollocks anyway since nick doesn't even provide a link for it. Nick then tries to claim that the tory landslide will be so great that labour will take 15 yers to recover, but their strength - apparently cameron - is also their weakness, since there is little real talent besides him in the party, and tey won't be able to rely on him getting good press forever.

1/12/2010 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

the leadership of the Democratic Socialist Perspective expelling the Leninist Party Faction after getting unauthorised access to an internal LPF email list

To be fair this sort of thing does usually lead to a fair amount of arseholry, though not usually to mass executions.

1/12/2010 09:34:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

The man's an idiot. There's precisely zero percent chance of a coup in March if only because there would hardly be enough time to elect a new leader before the General Election and I'm sure that backbenchers are quite aware that filling the election campaign with internal Labour fighting won't save them their seats.

1/12/2010 09:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

New game! The first person to find a statement from a political splinter group expressing the sentiment

We stand by the decision to split from you, but on reflection you were right to say that we shouldn't have broken the rules/the law/your nose, and we're sorry about that

wins a Major Prize!

(There aren't a lot of groups called Socialist Magnanimity or Worker's Grace Under Pressure.)

1/12/2010 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

Less OT than it might have been without Nick's latest, but I notice an odd tone in Aaro's defence of David Miliband today, in which Dave takes potshots at "the political aristocracy" and "the commenting classes".

I mean, obviously the meek and feeble Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs needs to be protected from the all-powerful political aristocracy and the dreaded commenting classes by, uh, one of the lead opinion writers for the Times, in the pages of that paper. I just wonder how long Dave can keep churning out columns to this Damn those elitists for oppressing senior cabinet ministers formula.

Plus, I'm not sure what to make of Aaro's extended bitch about the "Yo, Blair" stuff. It looks like he's saying that George W. actually said "Yeah, Blair" at the G8. Because if W. had said "Yeah, Blair" - and it's not clear that he did - that'd be, like, totally better, or something.

Ach well, at least he hasn't launched into a fiery defence of Alistair Campbell, so we've still got that to look forward to.

1/12/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

not got time to fully read the aaro but just on nick being an idiot in this regard - it's genuinely personal for him and martin bright - they do believe that Brown had Bright, Nick's main protector, fired off the Staggers and nick followed after that - they genuinely do blame gordon brown or their losing these jobs, and thus for their 'exile' on right-wing rags.

As a result they have a personal investment in agitating for these obviously unworkable, unpopular, and unhelpful plots - they'd have to, given the total lack of logic at work (eg saints Hazel Blears and Jame Purnell, Nick lining up being the hardest of hardcore Blairites).

1/12/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Meanwhile, in earlier-thread news, apparently you now get ten years in jail for organising media wind-ups.

Then again, perhaps there is a sinister Islamist plot to infiltrate their people into influential positions...

1/12/2010 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Incidentally, we had a couple of people round for dinner last night, and I wonder if posters could help me establish whether this constituted a liberal dinner party.

If it helps:

- Bordeaux was drunk
- the main dish was quinoa
- classical music accompanied the meal
- no journalists were present
- university entrance and financing was among the topics of conversation
- we at no point condemned any Stalinist governments or Islamist atrocities.

What do the panel think?

1/12/2010 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

What do the panel think?

Did you remember to compare Tony Blair to Hitler and kick off on a rabid and gratuitous denunciation of the Israelis (see: MacShane MP, Dennis)?

1/12/2010 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

No. We didn't see the point without having a journalist available to record the whole disgraceful scene.

1/12/2010 01:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Louis M said...

What do the panel think?

ejh Bordeaux with quinoa!?

1/12/2010 01:58:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Am guessing it wasn't in Islington and/or Hampstead either.

1/12/2010 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

No, but it was in our charming rural retreat.

1/12/2010 02:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Louis M said...

I recently attended a dinner party which included the following...

-Former Labour Party members
-Butternut squash soup
-Palestinian (Christian)guest
-condemnation of Israel & USA
-Buana Vista social club was played
-Yugoslavia was disscussed
-How to rear one's own Chickens was the main topic of conversation

Liberal or not?

1/12/2010 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well, I can't match that, so back to Pol Pot and some political timelines. I was always under the impression (perhaps through having come into things a few years later) that Kampuchea was one of the main influences on the development of the nouveaux philosophes but loooking at André Glucksmann's oddly-short Wikipedia entry (in English anyway, my French isn't what it was) the suggestion seems to be that they'd all gone walkies already by the time Pol Pot was in Phnom Penh and that Solzhenitsyn was a greater influence. Would that be right?

1/12/2010 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Just to return to the topic of EJH's dinner party, I think the absence of Carol Gould counts against it.

1/12/2010 05:49:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

I'm very rusty on all this, but insofar as the NPs had -- some of them -- started out as (French) Maoists, Solzhenitsyn would have kicked in as useful artillery against the (French) Stalinists in the v.early 70s. Solzhenitsyn was also pretty important to Foucault, IIRC: and Foucault was -- oddly, given that he was never a marxist -- close to (some of) the Maoists. Pol Pot et al would surely have been more like useful artillery for (pro-Vietnam) Stalinist back against the Maoists, had it been the initial point of mind-changing?

1/12/2010 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

It could be pointed out here that Kampuchea (and the Gang of Four trials) did, absolutely, lead to the end of Maoism as an ideology in the West, in precisely the way that AA would like it to. It didn't mean an end to revolutionary Marxism - not that it's in rude health, mind - if that's actually what he means, but:

a. perhaps some people might consider AA's conclusions, or Glucksmann's*, too sweeping, and have good reasons to do so:

b. perhaps, if the alternatives, notably actually existing Western society, are healthy, AA and everybody else might prefer to have confidence in their survival? This is the thing that I can never get my head round - if it's democratic pluralism or the death camps, why do some people worry so much that we might all opt for the latter?

[* = or indeed Penny Rimbaud's, as I recall]

1/12/2010 07:55:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

Kammbodia - wouldn't you know it, John Pilger did once get a mention for sterling work during his time in-country.

Readers will be stunned to learn that for Ollie, Pilger is a disgusting apologist... For the Vietnamese. And that's it.

Because the comrade is not merely wrong, evil and traitorous now, but has always been wrong, evil and traitorous - we just didn't realise it until we went back and checked.

(Without a word of a lie, the verification is "Ollys").

1/15/2010 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'd think that if you were to say "The invasion was illegal, and condemned by a lot of bleeding hearts and others with narrow national interest at heart. But it stopped an ongoing genocide and removed an evil governing party from power. Given that context, surely we can forgive the people who carried it out some minor and understandable excesses?" to a representative sample of Eustonites, they'd lap it up, wouldn't you? Til you told them the punchline, of course.

Chris Williams

1/15/2010 11:54:00 PM  

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