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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On the cult of personality – We don’t need them.

By -史蒂夫 奥托
Pol Pot is considered by most leftist to have led a failed revolution. He and his comrades made serious errors and they led to up to a million unnecessary deaths. Yet no one is always wrong and a few things done under his government of the short lived Democratic Kampuchea were actually good ideas.
One of them was to avoid the cult of personality. Even today there are those Maoist who openly support building up a leader who they believe will deserve the kind of admiration, if he (or she) has lead a people’s revolution.
I would argue that such cults detract from important issues and are a throw back to the days of God-heads and divine persons. I consider myself a Maoist because I believe Mao (毛泽东) developed some of the most important political philosophy of the 20th century. I identify with his Ideology. Just as a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ, a Maoist is a follower of the teachings of Mao Zedong. The difference is that I believe Mao was a human, with flaws as everyone else and now that he is dead, his importance is in his writings which he has left us. He is not a divine god-man who can fly around and do magical things. One mistake he made was to allow a cult of personality to be built around him. Aledgedly at the 1958 Party congress in Chengdu, Mao expressed support for the idea of personality cults if they venerated figures who were genuinely worthy of adulation:
“There are two kinds of personality cults. One is a healthy personality cult, that is, to worship men like Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. Because they hold the truth in their hands. The other is a false personality cult, i.e. not analyzed and blind worship.” [1]
In this instance, he was wrong and Pol Pot was right, in creating a faceless government with no personality. It was simply called the Angkar Padevoat or Revolutionary Organization. It was quickly shortened to the Angkar (organization). For the first year this was the leadership and all frazes and slogans were attributed to the Angkar. Later the Communist Party of Kampuchea was introduced and some quotes were attributed to the party. There was no person and God-head to worship and idolize. Towards then end of the regime, after Pol noticed that his government was going badly and did not have the needed popular support, he took advice from his allies, mostly the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China, and began to build a cult around himself. It was too late to create such a cult and it didn’t make any difference or make his regime stronger.
There is little doubt that Pol was influenced by the French Revolution. After the first government of the French Revolution fell, in 1794, an Executive Directory, or simply the Directory was set up, composed of five people. It lasted only five years, then was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte and the revolution came to an end. But it did prove that it is possible to avoid a single dictator to run a country through a cult of personality.
Cults of personality are not
Before coming to power in Nicaragua, in 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front set up a National Directorate to lead their party. They wanted to avoid the personality cult that developed in Cuba. They didn’t want a one-man dictatorship.
The cult of personality is not limited to one party states, such as Joseph Stalin, in the USSR, or right-wing fascist, such as Adolf Hitler. They can also be elected to office as was President Ronald Reagan, in the US.
This is an era I lived through and it was hard to get people to focus on what this man did, rather than who he was. He was, as the press kept saying, “overwhelmingly popular.” Liberals and other opponents found it was necessary to focus on issues without criticizing the great leader. Opponents found themselves on the defensive if they dared to criticise this cult of personality. Even the working class, who he harmed greatly, like him because he told jokes and was witty. He was a song and dance man and was charismatic. This is probably the same for John F. Kennedy. These personalities distracted the public from serious discussion of issues and political direction.
It is fine to have heroes, such as Karl Marx, VI Lenin, and Mao as we see on the mastheads of many Maoist sites. These are the main theoreticians of the ideology and they are not living people we idolise as gods. Che Guevara’s face is on a lot of T-shirts and banners. But he is more a symbol than a god-like figure. He is also dead and not running a country. It is living leaders that cause problems when we make them into god-like figures.
I didn’t like living under a bourgeois cult of personality and I don’t want to live under any kind. We must be the masters of our own destiny and that means we need collective rulers.

To learn more about Pol Pot, my latest book, The Pol Pot Journals, is available on Lu Lu press. To order one, click here.

[1] Wikipedia,


razor said...

You don't know the history, comrade :)
You can easy find photos and videos of Pol Pot's monuments and portaits prepared by infamous Tuol Sleng prisoners - monuments and portraits ready to send to the country. What were they made for ?
For establish personal cult of Pol Pot, of course ..
You can easy find Khmer Rouge top cadres (Ke Pauk, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, Ta Mok )memoiries, which made you sure, that 'Brother nr 1" was a real dictateur and that "collective power" realised by Angkar was a fiction. Of 22 members of Khmer Communist Party in 1975, only 4 was alive after Khmer Rouge lost a power.. - the rest was killed by Santebal - for making a plot against Pol Pot.
You probably have not seen Khmer Rouge propaganda films - where during inauguration of a new dam or something else, the lector speak about "our great and beloved comrade Pol Pot", don't naming any other members of Angkar. So don't say about 'lack of personality cult" in Democratic Kampuchea', comrade :)

razor said...

22 members of KCP Central Comittee, of course ...

Anonymous said...

its really very intresting history
thanks for this great link

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Salamander 奥托 said...

All of that was done after 2 years and after his closest allies suggested he would be able to rally his people behind a father like image. For 2 years he did none of that and his name was almost never mentioned publicly. He changed after his regime experienced serious problems. His personality cult, which was still mild compared to others, didn't help him at all. He was right in the first place. He had other problems that messed up his regime, not a lack of personality.