“Militarization of the Vietnamese economy was creating serious strains. Industrial development was falling increasingly behind schedule (falling short of planned quotas by 15% at the end of 1978, according to Vietnamese official figures). The agricultural sector, still largely unmodernized, was extended to the utmost and encountering serious difficulties- 1978 saw a rice deficit of three million metric tons- and conscription and austerity were producing discontent and resentment among the people. But to abandon the scheme of conquest would mean risking the loss of aid, now vital, from Moscow; so another step was taken on the path of economic and political dependence, and the Vietnamese leadership went back to the bank in the Kremlin. Vietnam joined the CMEA (‘Comecon’) in June, 1978, and signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation, containing a military assistance clause, with the U.S.S.R. in November. Massive shipments of arms from the U.S.S.R. were received shortly thereafter, along with several thousand Soviet military advisers, and by December Hanoi was ready for another try.
This time, in order to provide a Khmer cover for invasion they set up a ‘Front’- a nicety overlooked in 1977. This ‘Front’ has a certain comical aspect: it seems to be composed of people off the street. None of its leading elements are known to have played any notable role in Kampuchean politics before. For example, Heng Samrin, the chairman of the ‘Front’, is variously described in press reports as an army political commissar at various levels, a divisional commander, battalion commander, and a brigade commander, Khmers active in the revolution for many years have never heard of him.
By late December of 1978, the invasion was well under way. At least thirteen divisions- 130,000 troops- had entered Kampuchea, with extremely heavy air support. (Estimates range as high as eighteen divisions.) At this point, the Vietnamese leaders may have been somewhat concerned for their international reputation, on December 23, in Phnom Penh, assassins attacked a guest house in which three Western journalists- Richard Dudman, Elizabeth Becker, and Malcolm Caldwell- were staying, and murdered Caldwell. His sympathy for Kampuchea and his skepticism about the atrocity stories were well known; and, as a respected progressive journalist, his eyewitness testimony in favor of Kampuchea would have had a significant impact on public opinion.
As we go to press, the invaders are in a position rather worse than that of Lon Nol. They hold some of the major cities- though their hold is precarious: Kompng Som has changed hands three times and Pursat twice. They dare not move along the highways, unless they do so in force, and having to rebuild every bridge they come to slows them down a good deal. Their supply lines are extremely extended and vulnerable. Their troops are not ethnic Khmers, and aerial bombardment does nothing to endear them to the Kampuchean people, who supported the government even before the Vietnamese arrived. It goes without saying that the invaders have failed to pacify the countryside. Fighting continues everywhere, especially near the Vietnamese border, where their control ought to be strongest.
Hanoi will not be able to maintain an army of occupation, numbering over 100,000 men, in Kampuchea for any length of time without a vastly increased militarization of their already troubled economy and the consequent total dependence on the Soviet Union. So they must now hope to throttle off any route of resupply from outside the country, expecting that this will cause resistance to collapse. But even if they do succeed in cutting off all external supplies- by no means a certainty- such supplies are not necessary to forces fighting a people’s war.”
(Source: Democratic Kampuchea waging People’s War)