Malcolm Caldwell

James Alexander Malcolm Caldwell (27 September 1931 – 23 December 1978)[1] was a British academic and a prolific Marxist writer. He was a consistent critic of American foreign policy, a campaigner for Asian communist and socialist movements and a supporter of the Khmer Rouge. Caldwell was murdered under mysterious circumstances a few hours after meeting Pol Pot in Cambodia.[2]

Malcolm Caldwell
James Alexander Malcolm Caldwell

(1931-09-27)September 27, 1931
DiedDecember 23, 1978(1978-12-23) (aged 47)
Nationality United Kingdom
OccupationWriter, activist

Early life and careerEdit

Malcolm Caldwell was born in Stirling, Scotland, the son of an architect. The family moved to Kirkcudbright where his father, Archibald Thomson Caldwell was appointed the County Architect for Kirkcudbrightshire; a post he held from 1950 until his early death in 1957.[3] Malcolm was educated at Kirkcudbright Academy where he was Dux in 1949. [1] He obtained degrees from University of Nottingham and University of Edinburgh. He completed two years' national service in the British army, becoming a sergeant in the Army Education Corps. In 1959 he joined the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London as a Research Fellow. Although he met with conservative opposition within the School, he remained on its faculty throughout his life. As well as being an academic, he was an energetic and committed radical political activist. He was dedicated to criticising Western foreign policy and capitalist economics, paying particular attention to American policy.[4] He was a founding editor of the Journal of Contemporary Asia, a journal concerned with revolutionary movements in Asia. In 1978 Caldwell was one of the Labour Party candidates in St Mary's ward in the local elections for the Bexley London Borough Council.[5]

Murder in CambodiaEdit

Caldwell was one of the staunchest defenders of the Pol Pot regime. He frequently attempted to downplay reports of mass executions by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and was widely criticized by many authorities for doing so.[6]

In December 1978, Caldwell was a member, along with Elizabeth Becker and Richard Dudman, of one of the few groups of Western journalists and writers invited to visit Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge had taken power in April 1975. The three visitors were given a highly structured tour of the country. "We traveled in a bubble," wrote Becker. "No one was allowed to speak to me freely." On 22 December, Caldwell had a private audience with Pol Pot, the leader of Cambodia. After the meeting, he came back to the guest house in Phnom Penh where the three were staying in a mood described as "euphoric". At about 11:00 p.m. that night Becker was awakened by the sound of gunfire. She stepped out of her bedroom and saw a heavily armed Cambodian man who pointed a pistol at her. She ran back into her room and heard people moving and more gunshots. An hour later a Cambodian came to her bedroom door and told her that Caldwell was dead. She and Dudman went to his room. He had been shot in the chest and the body of a Cambodian man was also in the room, possibly the same man who had pointed the pistol at Becker.[7]

The motives for Caldwell's murder remain unexplained.[8] Andrew Anthony, writing in The Guardian, notes: "Certainly there must have been some kind of in-house involvement, as the guests were guarded. But who instructed the guards, and why they did so, remains a subject of speculation." Journalist Wilfred Burchett and some of Caldwell's family members believe that Caldwell was killed on the orders of Pol Pot, possibly following a disagreement between the two during their meeting. Alternatively, four of the guards at the guest house were arrested and two of them "confessed" after torture at the Khmer Rouge's S-21 prison that the killers were subversives attempting to undermine the Khmer Rouge regime and that Caldwell was killed "to prevent the Party from gathering friends in the world". Three days after Caldwell was killed, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and soon put an end to the Khmer Rouge government. According to Becker, "Malcolm Caldwell's death was caused by the madness of the regime he openly admired."[2]


  • Hunger and the Bomb (pamphlet). CND. c. 1967.
  • The Modern World: Indonesia. Oxford University Press. 1968.
  • (with James Lewis Henderson) (1968). The Chainless Mind: A Study of Resistance and Liberation (Twentieth Century Themes). Hamish Hamilton.
  • (as editor) (1972). Socialism and the environment: essays. Nottingham: Spokesman Books.
  • The Energy of Imperialism and the Imperialism of Energy (booklet). 1972.
  • (with Lek Tan) (1973). Cambodia in the Southeast Asian War. Monthly Review Press.
  • Ten years' military terror in Indonesia. Nottingham: Spokesman Books. 1976.
  • (with Umberto Melotti) (1977). Marx and the Third World. Macmillan.
  • The Wealth of Some Nations: Introduction to the Study of Political Economy. London: Zed Books. 1977.
  • (with David Elliott) (1978). Thailand: Origins of Military Rule. London: Zed Books.
  • (with others) (1978). Thailand: Roots of Conflict. Nottingham: Spokesman Books.
  • (with N. Jeffrey) (1978). Planning and Urbanism in China (Progress in Planning). Elsevier.
  • (with Mohamed Amin) (1978). Malaya: The Making of a Neo-colony. Nottingham: Spokesman Books.
  • (1979) Lee Kuan Yew: The Man, His Mayoralty and His Mafia.
  • (with Ernst Utrecht) (1979). Indonesia: An Alternative History. Sydney: Alternative Publishing Co-operative Ltd.
Preceded by Chair of CND
Succeeded by

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "No. 47754". The London Gazette. 25 January 1979. p. 1147.
  2. ^ a b "Lost in Cambodia", The Guardian, 10 January 2010
  3. ^ DSA Architect Biography Report: Archibald Thomson Caldwell, 27 February 2019.
  4. ^ Peter F. Bell, Mark Selden Extract from a biography of Malcolm Caldwell, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars vol. 11, 1979
  5. ^ "London Borough Council Elections, 4 May 1978", GLC Intelligence Department, p. 20.
  6. ^ Thompson, Larry Clinton "Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975–1982. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing Co., 2010, p. 136
  7. ^ Becker, Elizabeth, When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution New York: Public Affairs Books, 1998, pp. 426–430
  8. ^ Milton Osborne, Sihanouk, Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness. Silkworm 1994

External linksEdit