Class Warfare in Cambodia

Cambodian textile workers have been on strike since before Christmas demanding a new minimum wage of $160 a month. Currently they get about $80. However as the New Year opened some workers began to drift back to work as they needed the cash. This intensified the struggle of the more militant workers who took to the streets to prevent the factories being reopened. The army stepped in and on January 2 stormed a factory occupied by striking workers. The Government has also deployed the élite commando Unit 911 against the strikers. Undeterred the next day the workers confronted the police with stones, sticks and Molotov cocktails and the police claim that 9 of their officers were injured. This was their excuse for opening fire on the workers killing at least 4 (the standard international media says 3) and injuring dozens of others. A military police spokesman called Kheng Tito justified the action in the following terms:

If we allowed them to continue to strike it would become anarchy.

In other words the workers were posing a threat to the Cambodian state. And in this situation the Cambodian state has never been slow to kill striking textile workers. Two were shot dead in February 2012, whilst three more were shot dead outside a Puma factory in May 2013 whilst a woman textile worker was shot dead in November 2013 (1)-

Cambodia in the Global Capitalist System

Textiles are Cambodia’s biggest industry by far. 650,000 are employed in the industry in over 500 factories, nearly half a million of them working for famous Western labels like Gap, Nike, Next, Uniqlo, H&M, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger etc. It brings in 80% of Cambodia’s export earnings. A few years ago it became a destination of choice for Western brands as labour costs were one sixth that of China but repeated strikes by workers have gradually pushed up wage levels. However the Cambodian rulers are already aware of their place in the global capitalist competition. As it is the Cambodian garment industry has to import nearly all its fabrics from China. And Bangladesh textile workers after years of bitter struggle have only just been able to get their pay raised to $68 a month. On top of that Bangladesh has a bigger workforce. In this context the regime have offered to raise wages to $95 a month but not more.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Approximately 4 million people live on less than $1.25 per day, and 37% of Cambodian children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. Most of the population are subsistence peasants but as the Government touts for international firms to come and mine bauxite, gold, iron and gems many of these farmers are being forcibly evicted from their land in order that it can be given as concessions. More than 50% of the national budget is provided by donor assistance (mainly from China). Corruption is endemic in all this and the Cambodian People’s Party has ruled for 30 years since its leader, Hun Sen, was installed by a Vietnamese invasion which toppled the bloody regime of the Khmer Rouge under whom at least 1 million Cambodians had been murdered.

Hun Sen has set up various Special Economic Zones to give international capital a free rein to exploit at will on the basis of his own promise that Cambodian workers are docile. The workers are intent on eradicating that premise.

The Future?

However the strike movement is in danger of being derailed by other agendas in particular by the political opposition. Since July’s disputed election, the Cambodia National Rescue Party has been demonstrating every day to have the elections annulled. They have won the support of the 6 unions who are backing the current strikes and have promised if they succeed in overthrowing the Hun Sen regime then they will meet the workers wage demands. The Hun Sen regime has actually boosted the opposition in the eyes of the workers as the instigators of the strikes. The day after the killing of the 4 workers they police moved in Freedom Park (an area designated by the Government in 2010 for legal protest) and attacked monks, women and children with four foot long iron poles to clear the park. All demonstrations and public gatherings have now been banned and the leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party have been summoned to court on charges of inciting the strikers.

So “democracy” is now being touted as the solution to the Cambodian workers’ plight. To older workers in the West we have heard it all before. Every bourgeois faction out of power promises something to the workers only to forget them when it gets hold of power (after all “the national interest” comes first and workers’ living standards a long way second). However the proletariat is relatively young in both age (50% of the population of Cambodia is under 25) and experience so it is likely that they will be seduced by the democratic agenda … for the time being at least …


(1) See

Monday, January 6, 2014


Yes, older workers have heard it all before regarding bourgeois democratic promises, but many have also heard decades of alleged abilities of 'the proletariat', local and/or international, to run economies. We have seen reports of revolutions, riots, occupations, demonstrations and variations of standard protests and, on the media, the waving of placards, without much if any evidence of benefit to the working class. We see the vast lands of Russia and China now running largely market economies. We see hard-line Stalinist North Korea seeming to be very unpopular, despite claims to the contrary by Stalinist parties in the UK and elsewhere. Some of the communist left flirts with anarchism and only has positive regard for historic ideologists of its allegedly pure forms of marxism. It presents no inspiring well-known leaders today who would gain the respect and following of enough workers to make any worthwhile noticeable difference to daily life. To suggest that such leaders would only be a throw-back to the thirties would be to ignore the facts of the parental (not patronising) roles of older workers in regard to youngsters. From this pessimism perhaps the dialectical theoreticians can produce answers widely attractive to workers both in the west and worldwide. It will take more than scattered small groups of like-minded communist lefts with their few workers councils to change the world. The Trots are right to argue that there is a crisis of leadership in the of the working class, a mass movement.

The last thing we want is "well known leaders". What we want is a world-wide communist party that can light up the way forward as we learn to struggle together in solidarity.

It'll certainly take more than a few scattered communists to change the world. It'll take the whole class - more or less. The emancipation of the working class (and thus of the whole of humanity) is the task of the class itself. Somebody else can't do it for us. Having other people do things for us (mainly exploiting and screwing us) is the bourgeoisie's way of life.

The Trots are right to say there's a crisis of leadership in the working class. What they mean is that the class is less and less heeding the bourgeois leadership the Trots themselves, whose own "leadership" leads only to the continued subjugation of the class to bourgeois demands and the bourgeois dictatorship!

We have no need for individual leaders, for political parties that substitute themselves for class rule, for the taken-for-granted assumption that the old know better then the young (if they do they can share what they know with us all, but not use it to dominate or "lead") of for false notions of inspiration as a substitute for class consciousness. We will inspire each other when the day comes. Just you wait and see!

Let's consider carefully what Charlie has just said. Who exactly is calling for a 'world-wide communist party'? Does he imagine that that would be totally devoid of 'well-known leaders'? If so, how would it be led, if not by a non-descript set of committees? Maybe we are then about to be told that it is too early to say, just as we are always being told that we need world-wide planning of a communist economy, but that it is too early to start such planning.

As for his dismissal of Trots, whether or not they represent the bourgeoisie (no doubt hotly denied by them), Rosa Luxemburg's famous imparted choice of 'socialism or barbarism' seems remotely utopian, whereas what seems more likely is that there will always be aspects of greater or lesser barbarism as long as weaponry is being increasingly distributed around the world, and of course no guarantee that it will be used by enough marxist-inspired workers for internationalist proletarian ends. What it will be used for is to defend territories across an increasingly crowded planet in which competition for everything reigns.

Further to preceding references to a 'world-wide communist party', some readers already know of two separate parties considered to be of the 'communist left', namely the International Communist Party based in Italy and the International Communist Party based in Liverpool. (Websites of each are followed by the word org, so please note how the other words are (not) spaced, to avoid confusing one with the other.). The one in Italy has an article of December 2013 entitled 'Internationalism in Deeds, not Words'.

There are at least 4 parties of the Bordigist left all claiming to be THE party based in Italy. The ICP "in Liverpool" consists of at most 2 people and its headquarters are in Firenze (Florence). We call it "The Party of Firenze" to distinquish it from the others. As to "internationalism in deeds" Bordigists only do words. They are awaiting the time for the working class to wake up and recognise that its real leadership is already formed! You will also find it difficult to find well-known "leaders" amongst them since they don't sign articles on principle.

Charlie. Thanks for your comment which adds a sense of perspective. I can make no sense of T34's comments (sorry) unless it is that he wants communism now and on demand.

As most workers have never heard of Bordigists, whether or not they 'only do words' is not of current concern to them. However, it would be interesting if a list of 'deeds' done and in progress by the communist left could be presented. So far, I have been under the impression that 'words' (analysis and theories) were the key element in CL work. As for what the working class needs, now and on demand, opinions vary, but the extent of disagreements amongst organisations claiming to be marxist leaves doubts lingering about the whole communist project, no doubt in the brains of many workers in struggle too. If communists of the world haven't united, nor even united within the lands in which they live, how the hell can they expect workers of the whole world to do so ? It's always a case of 'later', but history is now moving much faster than it was in 1917, and not in ways wanted by millions of the world's population.

Its true that Communists have to keep looking at themselves and examine if what really divides them is so significant but you are trying to put the proletarian cart before the party horse. A world communist party will emerge as the emanation of a real class movement and the various groupings who recognise this will come together as the movement develops. But as long as the proletariat is fragmented and takes whatever the exploiters throw at them then every organisation is going to insist that it has the best formulation for moving forward. Only the test of real experience will sieve out the significant issues. In the meantime the ICT is actively trying to engage with workers wherever we can (you don't make a revolution just typing on a computer) and we are grouping together different people in different countries. Inadequately it is true (it goes for all other organisations too) but the proletariat only gets the party its level of consciousness demands. History is moving faster and is more complex than in 1917 but at the moment it is moving against us (and may have to do more of such before we get a class movement worthy of the name). The shadow of Stalinism still hangs heavy over the working class and there are still more workers who think Stalinism was a good idea than think it was a massive defeat for the working class. I met some yesterday. Our aim at the moment has to be to encourage and develop any signs of proletarian autonomy to restore their confidence that a collective fight back is possible and that is our priority.

Thank you, Editor, for the preceding reply. As you say, still more workers think that Stalinism was a good idea than a massive defeat for the working class. Do you agree that even more, at least in the UK, think that Trotskyism is a 'good idea' in 2014 ? Of course I have noted the ICT book against Trotskyism, but the fact is that the SWP and SP get noticeable numbers of demonstrators onto the streets focusing on a succession of issues. If the outlook for the working class depends upon mobilising thousands of us, then are your objections to Trotskyism more important than what the Trots actually say and do these days ? The question as to whether they still seek some parliamentary gains might be considered to be incidental when compared with any benefits gained by promoting workers' struggles.

In any case, whilst criticism of 'bourgeois democracy' must be assessed, with all the issues bound up with defence of the capitalist state, it seems likely, at least to me, that most workers actually do want there to be a police force, especially regarding burglaries, street violence, anti-social behaviour and terrorist bombing. Rhetorical responses to that, comparing it with the imperialist bombing of other lands, doesn't really discount the ordinary seen benefits of having a police force. I guess that after a revolution there would also be a general consensus that one would be needed by the workers, except by those still bemused by anarchism.

That workers think there was anything good in Stalinisn is a massive defeat for the class. Stalinism = State Capitalism. That any workers equate that with communism is very sad. In the Second World War, Stalin was an arch-murderer on behalf of the bourgeoisie along with Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman, the Japanese Government and the rest.

That workers think Trotskyism is "a good idea". doesn't mean that it is! Plenty of workers think that the left wing of bourgeois democracy - like the Labour or Democratic parties in the UK and the States - are "good" ideas. This just shows the power of bourgeois ideology.

That the left wing of capitalism, like the SWP, get noticeable numbers of people on the streets supporting dead-end issues, only serves to distract from the main issue: how and when will we get rid of capitalism before it gets rid of all of us and perhaps the planet too? The SWP do invaluable work for our rulers while spouting radical sounding crap.

The police force is there to protect the bourgeoisie, its dictatorship and property rights. Criminal activity is the product of a system that allows a tiny minority to be incredibly rich, while imposing austerity and misery on everyone else, including the working class which produces all the wealth anyway! No wonder the bourgeoisie requires a repressive police force - criminal itself at times - all to preserve their vicious and punitive way of life: that is to say, capitalism.

Let's hope that Charlie never gets burgled, but if he does, then will he not call the police ?

He will have to if he has an insurance policy. I am writing an article on Amazon and its disgusting treatment of workers but I am not advocating people boycott Amazon (many comrades feel guilty about buying from them) not least because all other warehouse firms are as bad if not worse. We live under capitalism still and are thus constrained against our will to accept things as individuals which we do not tolerate collectively. The issue remains the collective one which Charlie is trying to emphasise of a more generally developed class cosciousness which will lead to the formation of a world communist party which will act as a leavening and guide in the struggles of the proletariat. It is not helpful that you confuse what exists with what we need. In fact it is the lack of a long term perspective which is behind all you shifts in positions. I appreciate your frustration but a real working class revolution depends not on good leaders (at different times and in different places the real movement will find them though the history books do not always recognise their role) but on a generalised class movement. Without it there can be no revolutionary movement let alone a class party. This discussion is one of millions that will have to be carried out to help prepare the framework for such a development.

Many people explore domains of beliefs, religious and political, and sometimes find one that seems to contain much of that with which they agree. When they explore the various organisations promoting those beliefs and contemplate joining one, they realise that each is a package-deal; to become a member obliges them to accept the whole bundle of tenets, hook, line and sinker, otherwise they will be regarded as not entirely reliable by the organisation concerned. At times of crisis, each political organisation needs to know that it can rely on its members to follow the line, to do rather than to keep reasoning why. At present we are not in a revolutionary situation in the UK, which leaves time for more forethought as to the best steps to take or not take as the case may be. The BBC World Service has just had a programme on the situation of ex-Muslims who are adjusting to their changes of beliefs. Fortunately for society, views change, sometimes rapidly, sometimes gradually, sometimes totally, sometiimes only in details. The more fundamentalist an organisation is, the greater tenacity in its beliefs is expected and shown, with mixed results on all beyond it.

An existential psychotherapist has argued for the importance of 'a long term perspective' as being beneficially esseential for people. That might consist of almost anything in terms of beliefs, but would only be beneficial to society if it forms an acceptable set of behaviour. (By this time you might be wondering what all this has got to do with the price of fish !). As Cleishbotham has asserted that I lack a long term perspective, perhaps he should be reminded that long term perspectives are not entirely limited to his own. Prisoners in death camps soon realised that many of their long-held views on humanity were shaken to the core. As for texts, some of them showed what they thought to be vital documents to the guards as they entered the changing room, hoping that those would do them some good. but they were snatched from them and thrown to the floor, only to be trampled on as the crowd was forced forward. Confusing what exists with what we need goes on all the time, matter is primary and consciousness secondary. It has been helpful to follow CWO and Jock's painstakimg writings over many years, resulting in a tidal empathy with some of it, but I really don't expect the working class of the world to run their societies without states, police and money, and run entirely by workers' councils. Worse than that, it could be argued that its negative views on the main organisations of workers, the unions, the parties, whatever its views of their leaderships, is demoralising and thus an attack on the working class in its present form.

T34 said: "...but I really don't expect the working class of the world to run their societies without states, police and money, and run entirely by workers' councils."

Do you expect the working class to run capitalist society then? A society with "states, police and money" is surely the society we endure now? Capitalist society. Why would workers' councils want to run it? There's no fun in organizing and running your own exploitation is there? Do you think T34 that the working class is not then the revolutionary class, the class carrying the seeds of a new society, a society without states, police and money and organized and run - initially, in the early stages - by Workers' Councils? Or do you just think its all pie in the sky? That communism is a utopia and wishful thinking, and that it'll never happen?

In which case we and possibly the planet are all toast aren't we?

Thanks, Charlie, for all the questions. Wading through some possible answers, I recall that when a revolutionary situation was coming onto the boil in Germany under Social Democracy, the capitalists used the nazis to suppress it and seize control. Rioting anywhere tends to provoke police action to put it down. In view of all that, concepts of an advisability of attempted 'overthrowing' a system by 'revolutionary' methods need to be very carefully considered. If adopted, an enormous amount of preparation would be needed to avert a repeat of known adverse results. It's not just a matter of regarding capitalism as exploitative, war-producing and environment-dangerous. A planned communist economy at least needs plans, which, so far, seem to be unavailable, so small wonder that doubts remain as to what to expect, apart from more chaos and wars.

Two recent articles on the latest Ukraine situation, one on Lalkar (Stalinist) and one on Workers Vanguard (see website ) (which is Spartacist) might interest you in raising doubts as to what will emerge there.