The Left,  Your View

Malcolm Caldwell: Pol Pot’s Leading Academic Defender in the West

This is a guest Post by Michael Ezra

In the latest issue of Democratiya, I am pleased to report that Alan Johnson, the editor, has selected my essay Malcolm Caldwell: Pol Pot’s Apologist to be published.

Caldwell was a lecturer at SOAS in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, he used the opportunity to support all manner of radical Communist regimes. He was impressed with Kim Il Sung’s North Korea and regarding Vietnam, as I state in my essay:

Caldwell had gone further than vocal critics against the war in Vietnam; he wanted North Vietnam to win. He headed up the South-east London Centre for Socialist Education that staged an event in 1966 to raise money for “the purchase of arms” by the Vietcong for use in “their heroic resistance to foreign military aggression.” His support for Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam went so far that in 1967, the Guardian reported that Caldwell, along with the 1960s radical Tariq Ali, were considering opening up a North Vietnamese restaurant and that Hanoi had been approached who “promised to provide a super-chef.”

But the regime that Caldwell became known to be associated with supporting was Pol Pot’s Cambodia. The Communists coming to power in Cambodia in 1975 was, for Caldwell, “unforgettable and historic.” Despite the increasing evidence of murder on such a massive scale that the term “genocide” was appropriate, Caldwell systematically played down the atrocities and tried to dismiss the reports of refugees from Cambodia of the horrors that they had witnessed. As he stated in article that he wrote for the Guardian:

A refugee may give an honest account (to the best of his own knowledge) without it necessarily being accurate.

He declared refugee reports as “suspect” and as far as he was concerned:

Testimony by “responsible” refugees does not support the massacre claim.

He had no hesitation in quoting and accepting at face value the propaganda emanating from Pol Pot’s regime. It was such articles that led to Bernard Levin in The Times comparing Caldwell the Holocaust Denier Arthur Butz:

Something in Mr Butz needs to believe that the Nazis killed no Jews; something in Dr Caldwell needs to believe that Cambodia under the genocidal dictatorship of the Khmer Rouge is Kampuchea under democracy. Whatever that need is, it is stronger than the facts and more tenacious than the evidence.

Caldwell also did not lose an opportunity to criticise the West. For example, he approvingly quoted a Khmer Rouge spokesman as saying:

There is more terrorism on the streets of New York than in Cambodia.

In 1973, jointly with Lek Hor Tan, he wrote a book that contained a preface by Noam Chomsky dedicated to, amongst others:

the revolutionary masses of the world, in the hope that it will contribute, in however small a way to the ultimate defeat of American imperialism, and thus to opening for all of us – in the West as in the East – the prospect of a better, fuller, and more human and humane life.

In 1978, as a “friend” of the Khmer Rouge, Caldwell travelled to Cambodia where he was “delighted” to have met Pol Pot. Within a few hours of this meeting, Caldwell was assassinated. He was killed in the regime that he had provided so much support for. His death was mourned by all manner of radicals. Noam Chomsky stated:

Malcolm Caldwell was a fine scholar, whose work was distinguished by integrity and passion….There can be no more fitting memorial to Malcolm … than the willingness of others to take on the tasks that he confronted.

Caldwell was not alone and nor was we the last leftist to support murderous regimes or organisations. As I conclude my essay:

“The Truth is,” as Bernard Levin commented in The Times, “there is a Caldwell – or there are several Caldwell’s – for every tyrant, every murderer, every oppressor or torturer, who acts in the name of a political creed.” With the behaviour of those on the left who currently support genocidal organisations in the Middle East, Levin’s comment is as true today as when he wrote it over thirty years ago.