On the morning of April 17, 1975, Cambodian Communists, the Khmer Rouge, took power in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. From that moment they commenced a reign of terror and murder that would lead to over two million people, approximately 30 percent of the population, being killed before they were ousted from power less than four years later in January 1979.
The slaughter was remorseless. People were being cut down in the street from before 9AM on that first day. But it is what the Khmer Rouge did to make their communist dream come true a few hours later that shocked the world. They forced everyone – 3 million men, women and children – to leave the city at gunpoint. There would be no exceptions: hospital patients had to go first. François Ponchaud was a witness to events. He recounts:
Thousands of the sick and wounded were abandoning the city. The strongest dragged pitifully along, others were carried by friends, and some were lying on beds pushed by their families with their plasma and drip bumping alongside. I shall never forget one cripple who had neither hands nor feet, writhing along the ground like a severed worm, or a weeping father carrying his ten-year-old daughter wrapped in a sheet tied round his neck like a sling, or the man with a foot dangling at the end of a leg to which it was attached by nothing but skin…. That is how the first deportees left, about twenty thousand of them. (Cambodia Year Zero, [Allen Lane, 1978], p. 22.)
Tens of thousands of evacuees died along the route and hundreds of thousands were to perish at the destination. As Fernand Scheller, the chief of the United Nations development project in Phnom Penh declared the following day:
What the Khmer Rouge are doing is pure genocide.
This is not how Socialist Worker reported events. Readers of that newspaper were led to believe that no bloodbath was taking place and that reports of the horrors were lies. Socialist Worker’s genocide denial started immediately. Hence the following item on the Trotskyist rag’s front page:
Cambodia: The Bloodbath That Never Was
Socialist Worker, April 26, 1975, p.1.
A BLOODBATH was unanimously predicted by the press as soldiers of the Khmer Rouge entered the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh last week.
It didn’t happen. Instead the people and sections of the army came out and greeted the liberation forces. From neighbouring Thailand, refugees are moving back into Cambodia. A strange sort of bloodbath…
A few weeks later – in light of the horrors reported in the wicked capitalist press - Socialist Worker went into overdrive: the paper announced that it was all “lies.” Even among the disgraceful outpourings typical of that paper, this next example was remarkable:
The Web of Lies Behind the Phnom Penh ‘Massacre’
Socialist Worker, May 17, 1975, p.7.
THE RIGHT-WING PRESS has been waging an hysterical campaign in a desperate attempt to justify its ten years of support for the war in Indochina. The Daily Mail, for instance, has been talking of the ‘horror’ of Phnom Penh, of the ‘looting, rape and terror’ that allegedly followed the collapse of the US’s puppet government of Lon Nol.
But the evidence it produces to back up this picture is virtually nil…
… the press has been deliberately lying so as to paint a picture of horror, just as it lied for years to cover up what the Americans were doing as they bombed the country and killed one in ten of its population….
Make no mistake about it: The SWP’s whitewash of Pol Pot’s bloodbath is fully comparable to the poison disseminated by Holocaust deniers like Arthur Butz, Richard Verall and David Irving. In fact a good case can be made that Socialist Worker’s coverage in April and May 1975 was more depraved than the lies of Butz, Verall and Irving , who were not denying the Holocaust while the gas chambers were still operating.
The SWP’s paper could do with an accurate strap line: “Socialist Worker: David Irving without the footnotes.”