Remembering the 1980 armed uprising against imperalism in Gwangju, Korea

The spirit of Gwangju still burns bright amongst large sections of the Korean people, who yearn to reunite their country and free it from colonial rule.

Very few people outside of Korea are aware that there was an armed uprising against colonial rule and fascist dictatorship in south Korea. Even fewer are aware that the uprising lasted for ten days and established a people's commune in the city.

This article is reproduced from Platform News, with thanks.


The Gwangju people’s uprising was a popular uprising of the people of Gwangju, Jeollanam-do, south Korea, in May 1980, to oppose the fascistic dictatorship and to achieve democratic freedoms and rights. This armed uprising founded a people’s commune that lasted for ten days, from 18 to 27 May 1980.

The antifascist democratisation struggle of young students and people, which had been spreading like wildfire throughout south Korea since March 1980, was transformed into an anti-government people’s armed uprising in Gwangju on 17 May, when the Chun Doo-hwan party declared an ‘emergency martial law’ throughout south Korea to support the ‘restoration’ fascistic dictatorship.

The people’s uprising began on 18 May, with a protest by students at Chonnam national university. On that day, young students in Gwangju, who had been protesting to demand the removal of the emergency martial law, were enraged when the military ruling party brought out the most brutal public security forces (Airborne Force) to carry out a bloody repression, and they violently opposed the oppressors.

The resistance movement of young students swept across Gwangju in a few hours, widening to include all the people in the city, as well as the workers and peasants in surrounding areas. By 21 May, their number had reached three million. The people’s armed militia stormed government offices, city hall and other institutions of martial law and took control of them, raiding their arsenals and seizing thousands of weapons, as well as many of the martial army’s tanks and vehicles. Through their valiant fighting, they drove out the martial army on 21 May and brought Gwangju completely under the control of the popular forces.

The flames of resistance spread to most of the province and to North Jeolla province, with 17 cities and counties, including Mokpo, Raju, Hwasun, Lingguang and Damyang falling under the control of the people. In Gwangju, the masses formed self-governing organisations, the Citizens’ Committees and Democratic Struggle Committees, as well as armed groups for self-defence, the Citizens’ Army, a Special Vigilance Force, and ‘shock troops’. These forces staged large-scale rallies to condemn the dictatorship and inspire the people.

Jeon Doo-hwan’s party, panicked by the resistance, reinforced the forces of martial law and surrounded Gwangju in several concentris rings, threatening military action and an economic blockade, while also trying to appease the masses. However, as the popular forces continued to resist, Jeon Doo-hwan’s military fascist party, under the supervision of US imperialism, launched a vast army of tanks, armoured vehicles, helicopters, and tens of thousands of regular troops at dawn on 27 May. The uprising was ferociously suppressed by the firing of large-calibre artillery and the use of suffocating gas, unprecedented in the history of warfare.

The popular forces suffered more than 5,000 victims and 14,000 serious and light wounds, but they fought without bending their fighting spirit until the last moment, even under harsh conditions when food had run out and water and electricity had been cut off from the city. The murderous villain Jeon Doo-hwan slaughtered more than 1,700 people, not only in Gwangju, but also in Mokpo, Hwasun, Raju, Ryosu, Suncheon, Jangseong, and other places that responded to the uprising of the people of Gwangju.

The heroic Gwangju people’s uprising, in which more than 100,000 people from all of Gwangju and its surroundings participated, was the highest form of antifascist pro-democracy struggle waged in south Korea to date. It aimed to liquidate the fascistic rule imposed by the oppressors through revolutionary violence, and to implement a new democratic government responsive to the will of the people. It was the largest and most militant popular uprising in the history of the modern struggle of the people of the east to oppose dictatorship and realise democracy.

The uprising greatly shook the colonial rule of the USA over south Korea, as well as its proxies in the ruling military fascist party, causing acute anxiety and fear to the USA and its allies.

Through the Gwangju people’s uprising, the south Korean people came to understand more clearly the beastly nature, deceitfulness, unscrupulousness and hypocrisy of the USA, which is fundamental obstruction to the democratisation of south Korean society. They came to recognise the role of the US-sponsored fascistic military dictatorship and opened a new chapter in the anti-US struggle.

The Gwangju Popular Uprising was a historic event that marked a brilliant chapter in the antifascist democratisation struggle of the south Korean people.