Despite the Khmer Rouge in some respects being the forebears o the current ruling Cambodian People’s Party, the Kingdom is about as far from communist as you can get. Is there still a movement though and does Cambodia have a communist party, no matter how small?
Who are the Cambodian Peoples Party?
The ruling party of Cambodia, they have either been inn power since 1975, or 1979 depending on your take on things. Regardless of which year you adhere to, their beginnings came from with the Cambodian and wider Indochinese communist movement.
The CPP themselves count their start date as 1951 with the formation of the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP), which in turn became the Workers Party of Kampuchea in 1960, the key year of division.
When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 they claimed the “real” party was formed in 1960, yet when they were overthrown, this was retconned by the precursors of the CPP as 1951.
Initially at least this left Cambodia with two opposing sides, both communist, but ideologically at least enemies.
Communism in 1980’s Cambodia
The new communist government of Cambodia formed the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea and were officially and indeed in practice Marxist-Leninists of the Soviet brand. They were officially at least so good that they were concerned a “socialist state” by the mid 1980’s by the USSR.
In opposition was the “anti-Vietnamese” and technically broad Coolation Government of Democratic Kampuchea, which included Royalists, such as Sihanouk, republicans, but mots importantly the Khmer Rouge.
To read about the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea click here (link to YPT).
The later had changed their name from the Communist Party of Kampuchea to the Party of Democratic Kampuchea, officially nationalist and “Social Democratic”, in actuality it retained its zealot like adherence to Maoism that had caused the Killing Fields.
Civil war was to ravage on until the peace process that brought about the 1993 elections and some degree of peace, but this wa snot to be the end of the Khmer Rouge.
Communism in Cambodia at the end of the Cold War
In 1989 the Kampuchean Peoples Revolutionary Party had rebranded to the Cambodian Peoples Party, as well as starting to implement Doi Moi style economic reforms.
By the elections of 1993 very little about their economic policy was socialistic, yet they retained their militaristic elements, as well as the former communist leaders. This was to prove paramount to them retaining power despite losing to FUNCINPEC, as well as in the civil war of 1997 against the same party.
During this period both factions in Cambodia were actively courting the Khmer Rouge now known as the……, before the death off Pol Pot, the splinter of what remained, as well as the final end of the movement.
To read about the last Khmer Rouge state click here.
Post Khmer Rouge Communism
Following the fall of the Khmer Rouge forever and the vanquishing of FUNCINPEC, the only realistic opposition to the CPP the party brought in a raft of economic reforms,. Which resulted in an average of 7.7 percent economic growth for many years.
Growth though was not there for everyone and much of the country still lives in poverty. There have been accusation of cronyism and corruption and the party is now seen as pro-business and big tent, but certainly not a Cambodian Communist Party in any way.
Therefore when asking does Cambodia have a communist party it is folly to say the CPP merely due to their links to past communist movements. As much of eastern Europe has seen many formerly communist parties have gone on to rule in their new guise.
Perhaps ironically the “Communist Party” the party probably most looks up to now is the Communist Party of China (CPP) at least from a governance and economic perspective.
And much like their Chinese cousins they do take pride in the socialistic and nationalistic beginnings, with some government ministers I have spoken to stating the modern party was still idealistic, but also pragmatic. Indeed as Deng said, “Some people will get richer quicker than others”.
Does Cambodia have a Communist Party in Opposition?
While technically having a broad ranging opposition, almost no Cambodian opposition parties espouse socialism, while none are considered communist in either name, or policy.
The one unifying factor of the opposition seems to be anti-government and funding from the west, particularly the USA. Most also have Xenophobic anti-Vietnamese traits.
You can read about Cambodian Political Parties here.
The irony of course being that this is exactly what happened in the 1970’s when Sihanouk was overthrown by the US for being leftist, only to be replaced eventually by the hell that was the Khmer Rouge.
So, does Cambodia have a communist party in 2023? Not in the traditional sense, but it does have a single party born from the communist struggle that is not only holding the country together, but also driving it forward on the international arena.