In late 1987, the Kampuchean (or Khmer) People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP) continued to be the ruling Marxist- Leninist party of the PRK. It is an offshoot of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), which played a dominant role in Cambodian resistance against the French and the Japanese. Some leaders of the anticolonial Cambodian resistance, or Khmer Issarak, had been members of the ICP, and they had helped found the KPRP in 1951. The party was formed after the decision by the ICP's Second Party Congress in February 1951 to dissolve itself and to establish three independent parties for Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. On September 30, 1960, the KPRP party was renamed the Workers' Party of Kampuchea (WPK). Pol Pot emerged as the key figure. In 1966 shortly after Pol Pot returned from talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing, the party's name was changed to the KCP.
The communist party in Cambodia has a history of bitter factional feuds. After the Second Party Congress in 1960 and the disappearance of party General Secretary Tou Samouth in 1962, the party split into pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions. The dominant faction, led by Pol Pot, adopted a position that was pro-Chinese and anti-Soviet. In January 1979, the split became irreversible as the pro-Vietnamese/pro-Soviet faction under Pen Sovan replaced the Pol Pot faction as the de facto ruler in Phnom Penh. The rival factions even disagreed on the founding date of the communist party in Cambodia: the Pol Pot faction, under Khieu Samphan, in late 1987, claimed September 30, 1960; however, the other group, the mainstream KPRP under Heng Samrin, continued to honor 1951 as the founding year.
The Heng Samrin faction held the Third Party Congress of what would later become the KPRP between January 5 and 8, 1979. Heng Samrin's faction claimed that it alone was the legitimate descendant of the communist party founded in 1951. Very little is known about the Third Party Congress (also known as the Congress for Party Reconstruction) except that Pen Sovan was elected first secretary of the Central Committee and that the party then had between sixty-two and sixty-six regular members.
Some key figures in the Pen Sovan leadership were former collaborators with Pol Pot, but this information, and the communist ideological convictions of the new leadership were not publicized because the leadership feared backlash from people who had been brutalized by the Pol Pot regime. Such concern was implicit in Pen Sovan's political report to the Fourth Party Congress held from May 26 to May 29, 1981. In the report, he was careful to distance the KPRP from Pol Pot's KCP, and he denounced the KCP as a traitor to the party and to the nation.
The KPRP decided at the Fourth Party Congress to operate "openly." This move seemed to reflect the leadership's growing confidence in its ability to stay in power. The move may have had a practical dimension as well because it involved the people more actively in the regime's effort to build the country's political and administrative infrastructure.
The Fourth Party Congress reviewed Pen Sovan's political report and defined the party's strategy for the next several years. The Congress adopted five "basic principles of the party line," which were to uphold the banners of patriotism and of international proletarian solidarity; to defend the country (the primary and sacred task of all people); to restore and to develop the economy and the culture in the course of gradual transition toward socialism; to strengthen military solidarity with Vietnam, Laos, the Soviet Union, and other socialist nations; and to develop "a firm Marxist-Leninist party." At the Congress it was decided that henceforth the party would be known as the KPRP, in order to distinguish it from "the reactionary Pol Pot party and to underline and reassert the community of the party's best traditions." The Fourth Party Congress also proclaimed its resolve to stamp out the "reactionary ultra-nationalist doctrine of Pol Pot," to emphasize a centralized government and collective leadership, and to reject personality cults. The "ultra-nationalist doctrine" issue was an allusion to Pol Pot's racist, anti-Vietnamese stance. The Congress, attended by 162 delegates, elected twenty-one members of the party Central Committee, who in turn elected Pen Sovan as general secretary and the seven members of the party inner circle to the Political Bureau. It also adopted a new statute for the party, but did not release the text.
According to Michael Vickery, veterans of the independence struggle of the 1946 to 1954 period dominated the party Central Committee. A majority of the Central Committee members had spent all or part of the years 1954 to 1970 in exile in Vietnam or in the performance of "duties abroad."
The KPRP's pro-Vietnamese position did not change when Heng Samrin suddenly replaced Pen Sovan as party leader on December 4, 1981. Pen Sovan, who was reportedly flown to Hanoi under Vietnamese guard, was "permitted to take a long rest," but observers believed that he was purged for not being sufficiently pro-Vietnamese. In any case, the new general secretary won Hanoi's endorsement by acknowledging Vietnam's role as senior partner in the Cambodian- Vietnamese relationship. The party recognized the change in leadership symbolically by changing the official founding date of the KPRP from February 19, 1951, to June 28, 1951, in deference to the Vietnam Workers' Party (Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam), which was established in March 1951.
In mid-1981, the KPRP was essentially a skeletal organization. It had few party branches except for those in Phnom Penh, in Kampong Saom, and in the eighteen provincial capitals. Party membership was estimated at between 600 and 1,000, a considerable increase over 1979 but still only a fraction of the number of cadres needed to run the party and the government. In 1981 several of the 18 provinces had only 1 party member each, and Kampong Cham, the largest province with a population of more than 1 million, had only 30 regular members, according to Cambodia specialist Ben Kiernan.
The party held its Fifth Party Congress from October 13 to October 16, 1985, to reflect on the previous five years and to chart a new course for the next several years. The party's membership had increased to 7,500 regulars (4,000 new members joined in 1985 alone). The party had an additional pool of 37,000 "core" members from which it could recruit tested party regulars. There were only 4,000 core members in mid-1981. According to General Secretary Heng Samrin's political report, the KPRP had twenty-two regional committees and an undisclosed number of branches, circles, and cells in government agencies, armed forces units, internal security organs, mass organizations, enterprises, factories, and farms. The report expressed satisfaction with party reconstruction since 1981, especially with the removal of the "danger of authoritarianism" and the restoration of the principles of democratic centralism and of collective leadership. It pointed out "some weaknesses" that had to be overcome, however. For example, the party was "still too thin and weak" at the district and the grass-roots levels. Ideological work lagged and lacked depth and consistency; party policies were implemented very slowly, if at all, with few, if any, timely steps to rectify failings; and party cadres, because of their propensities for narrow-mindedness, arrogance, and bureaucratism, were unable to win popular trust and support. Another major problem was the serious shortage of political cadres (for party chapters), economic and managerial cadres, and technical cadres. Still another problem that had to be addressed "in the years to come" was the lack of a documented history of the KPRP. Heng Samrin's political report stressed the importance of party history for understanding "the good traditions of the party."
The report to the Fifth Congress noted that Heng Samrin's administration, in coordination with "Vietnamese volunteers," had destroyed "all types" of resistance guerrilla bases. The report also struck a sobering note: the economy remained backward and unbalanced, with its material and technical bases still below pre- war levels, and the country's industries were languishing from lack of fuel, spare parts, and raw materials. Transition toward socialism, the report warned, would take "dozens of years."
To hasten the transition to socialism, the Fifth Congress unveiled the PRK's First Plan, covering the years 1986 to 1990. The program included the addition of the "private economy" to the three sectors of the economy mentioned in the Constitution (the state sector, collective sector, and the family sector). Including the private economy was necessary because of the "very heavy and very complex task" that lay ahead in order to transform the "nonsocialist components" of the economy to an advanced stage. According to the political report submitted to the congress, mass mobilization of the population was considered crucial to the successful outcome of the First Plan. The report also noted the need to cultivate "new socialist men" if Cambodia were to succeed in its nation-building. These men were supposed to be loyal to the fatherland and to socialism; to respect manual labor, production, public property, and discipline; and to possess "scientific knowledge."
Heng Samrin's political report also focused on foreign affairs. He recommended that Phnom Penh strengthen its policy of alliance with Vietnam, Laos, the Soviet Union, and other socialist countries. He stressed--as Pen Sovan had in May 1981--that such an alliance was, in effect, "a law" that guaranteed the success of the Cambodian revolution. At the same time, he urged the congress and the Cambodian people to spurn "narrow-minded chauvinism, every opportunistic tendency, and every act and attitude infringing on the friendship" between Cambodia and its Indochinese neighbors. (He was apparently alluding to the continued Cambodian sensitivity to the presence of Vietnamese troops and of about 60,000 Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia. CGDK sources maintained that there were really about 700,000 Vietnamese settlers in the country.)
The KPRP's three objectives for the period 1986 to 1990 were to demonstrate military superiority "along the border and inside the country" for complete elimination of all anti-PRK activities; to develop political, military, and economic capabilities; and to strengthen special relations with Vietnam as well as mutual cooperation with other fraternal countries. Before Heng Samrin's closing address on October 16, the 250 party delegates to the congress elected a new Central Committee of 45 members (31 full members and 14 alternates). The Central Committee in turn elected Heng Samrin as general secretary, a new Political Bureau (nine full members and two alternates), a five-member Secretariat, and seven members of the Central Committee Control Commission.
After the Fifth Congress, the party's organizational work was intensified substantially. The KPRP claimed that by the end of 1986 it had more than 10,000 regular members and 40,000 candidate members who were being groomed for regular status.
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