Organized Panel Session
This panel examines the spread of Marxism and Maoism in mainland Southeast Asia through international and cross-ethnic relations on the margins of Cold War history. Although these worldviews flowed from places like Paris, Moscow, and Beijing, each presenter emphasizes the participation of local organizations and intellectuals in their reproduction as political movements in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The liberatory promise of revolution held different meanings related to diverse experiences of oppression and pointed toward a reorganization of society on scales ranging from relations among ethnic groups, to total national economic planning, and finally the rearticulation of geopolitics. Baird examines how Hmong people’s initial attraction to the Communist Party of Thailand as a means to fight government discrimination developed into a commitment to Marxism and Maoism that survives today. Lee demonstrates how Hmong participation in the communist movement in Laos offered a chance to fight for inter-ethnic equality and intra-ethnic leadership. Galway’s paper illustrates how Khieu Samphan’s application of Maoist economic thought to Cambodian society belied an influence of French urban planning and an elite misunderstanding of rural conditions with disastrous consequences. Zeller analyzes aid and diplomacy between the Chinese Communist Party and the Pathet Lao to show how visions of the path to national liberation resulted in short-lived, alternative approaches to international relations. These political projects failed; yet, this panel demonstrates that the key oppositions of the Cold War (capitalism vs. communism, imperialism vs. national liberation) were global phenomena experienced in Southeast Asia at every level of social life.