Saloth Sar, and the ‘core’ of the Communist Party of Kampuchea that represented the ideology of the movement (and in essence what they wanted to achieve), were motivated by several factors. We believe we could tie most of these factors together under the banner of ‘independence mastery’, as they put it: aekriech mchah ka / be masters of your own destiny!
More slogans proclaimed that the Angkar ‘ organization’ has liberated you all comrades, liberated our territory, liberated our riches, liberated our liberty, gaining complete independence, and it has equally freed you from the very notion of classes.
This ‘independence mastery’, can mean a few things relating to the ‘aim’ of the party; independence from Vietnam, independence from the former Cambodian society, mastery of the environment, and mastery of a revolutionary zeal that each member of the new social hierarchy was expected to achieve.
Examples that would guide their aims included the French Revolution, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and (although they would prefer not to admit it) Ho Chi Minh. However, like all communist-inspired revolutions, the central ‘orthodoxy’ of Marx and others was transformed through the prism of the people who were carrying it out, so not only do influences come from the outside but also from within the national context of Cambodia and the Khmer people.
What we mean by all of this is that yes, the Khmer Rouge were communist, make no mistake about that. However, they had a particular flavor of communism that we’ve described elsewhere in reference to regional variations on a given recipe. We would say that apart from influences coming from those aforementioned revolutions or prominent figures (Stalin/Mao/French Revolution etc) the CPK brought a lot of ‘Cambodian-ness’ to the period in which they controlled the country. How does this relate to the ‘aims’?
Well, ‘independence mastery’ did not simply relate to committing to a communist revolution of Cambodian society, rather the specific circumstances of the country as well as the influences on the CPK ideologues, produced an extremely radical new society to be imposed on the country.
The CPK wished to impose their revolution quickly. This was part of their independence mastery, they wanted to achieve a complete revolution in record time. This was centered around complete collectivization of the countryside with the goal of reverting to a dedicated agrarian economy that would fund industrialization and propel Cambodia into a pure communist society. They termed this (however unimaginatively) as moha lot phlah moha hah rumlong / the Super Great Leap Forward.
The means of achieving this clearly Maoist inspired program was influenced by collectivization principles and land reform programs that had occurred in other revolutions, but ‘flavored’ with a certain Cambodian-ness. Consider this slogan, ka sang chiet aoy ban cheuen leuen loeh sama angko / through rapid development, our country must surpass the Angkor period.
This kind of rhetoric -harking back to the glory days of the Khmer Empire – as well as the predominant focus on developing a potent agrarian economy, resulted in the impression of Democratic Kampuchea as this place that sought to turn back time completely. While this can be argued – to an extent – we think it is often overemphasized, particularly with reference to this term ‘year zero’, which as far as we can tell was never used by the party and its popularity stems from being used as the title in one of the first publications about the regime.
Yes, under this banner of ‘independence mastery’ the CPK wished to create a rapid, vast, and pure revolution. They thought to purify their own society by enforcing the complete collectivization of the nation, with those thought to be closest to the ‘ideal revolutionary’ and most capable of carrying out this mission being the peasantry.
The CPK proclaimed the need to trou cheh kan vannak athun / embrace the proletarian condition! Meaning that this ‘revolutionary consciousness’ (a phrase borrowed from Leninist ideology but given a Cambodian flavour by virtue of their connection to Theravada Buddhism) would be the single requirement in order for Cambodian society to be transformed and achieve anything. But the aim was never to remain ‘in the past’, it was to surpass it. It was to eventually buy the trappings of an industrialized nation and continue down the path toward communism.
The aims of the CPK were so total however that they also left no room for any mistake, hesitation, ‘wrong think’ or subversion. This would lead to extremely harsh positions taken against anyone who was even close to being an ‘enemy of the revolution’, or even being considered unable to ‘assume the proletarian consciousness’.
Those members of the ‘old society’, (termed ‘new people’ or April 17 people’) were automatically on the further side of the ideal revolutionary and were more likely to die as a result. Likewise, members of the old regime or army were ‘right out’ and often killed immediately, and as the regime took hold of the country certain ethnic groups or religious persons were also similarly deemed ‘counter-revolutionary’ to the aims of the CPK.
So, with reference to your question, Pol Pot had a particular vision of socialism, and as part of that vision – or as a step toward it – radical agrarian collectivization of the country was undertaken, by a completely totalitarian government.