Youth Mobilization and Ideology

Cambodia from the Late Colonial Era to the Pol Pot Regime

Author: Anne Raffin


This article, based on archival data, tracks the evolution of youth mobilization in Cambodia from the Vichy French colonial National Revolution during World War II through the country's revolutionary implosion under Pol Pot in 1979.

Successive regimes relied on young people to consolidate power and protect the nation from external and internal threats. An overarching ideology of agrarianism structured the political beliefs of the leaders and committed cadres of these youth corps, ranging from an ideology of civic agrarianism under colonial officials and Sihanouk, to Lon Nol's military agrarianism, and finally to the Pol Pot regime's mobilization of youth via an ideology of revolutionary agrarianism that aimed to create a utopian agrarian nation.

While the lives of young Cambodians had traditionally been shaped by two institutions, the family and the sangha, the advent of state-sponsored youth organizations in the mid twentieth century provided a new space for young people beyond the family and existing religious organizations. In this respect, the author argues, the Cambodian youth corps was part of modernity. In spite of this development, those in power continued to mobilize young people via ideologies based on agrarian values, an idealization of the past, and the desire to create a "new man." The state's instrumental use of youth organizations during this period can thus be seen as a type of reactionary modernism.

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September 2012
© E.D. Starin