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The Communist Party of Kampuchea controlled Kampuchea (Cambodia) from 1975 until 1979. The party had been called the Workers' Party of Kampuchea until it was renamed as the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) in 1971.[1]

Founding conference

The Workers' Party of Kampuchea was founded September 30, 1960 in a room of the Phnom Penh train station. Tou Samouth was elected party secretary. Students who had recently returned from France, and who were the next generation of Cambodian communists, were given prominent positions in the Politburo and central committee. Some issues of concern were to what extent this party would be independent of the Vietnam Workers' Party, as well as how the ramifications of international changes which occurred after the 1956 Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would affect them. The founding meeting has been a point of contention because Vietnam sympathizers see the CPK as having roots in the Khmer People's Revolutionary Party, while supporters of Cambodian self-reliance see the party as a new creation.

In July of 1962 Tou Samouth disappeared, possibly arrested by the Cambodian government. In February 1963 the Workers' Party of Kampuchea (WPK) had a convention and elected Pol Pot as party secretary. In the following months, he and other central committee members left for the countryside to establish base areas. Pol Pot made secret visits to Hanoi and Peking.

In January 1967 a spontaneous peasant revolt in the province of Batdambang broke out in response to a government confiscation of land. Despite being spontaneous, it was blamed on the CPK. In October 1967, Khieu Samphan and other prominent communists left for the base areas.

The beginning of armed struggle

In January 1968 the CPK formed the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea and made a decision to launch an armed struggle. In 1968 there were uprisings in more than half of Cambodia's provinces.

On March 18, 1970 a coup d'etat overthrew the government of King Norodom Sihanouk while he was in Beijing, replacing him with General Lon Nol. Lon Nol was seen as more apt to take orders from Washington DC than Sihanouk was. In April 1970, the United States invaded eastern Cambodia in order to attack Vietnamese bases there. On May 05 1970, Sihanouk formed the Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea which would be run by the National United Front of Kampuchea. Among the appointed ministers were Khieu Samphan and Hou Yuon, both of whom had joined Sihanouk's Samphan party in the late 1950's, but who also had connections with the CPK. The CPK joined the National United Front of Kampuchea.

The Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea's Cambodian People's National Liberation Armed Forces fought with Lon Nol's Khmer National Armed Forces. In northeastern Cambodia, the Cambodian People's National Liberation Armed Forces (CPNLAF) were helped by Vietnamese communists in this fight, the south and southwest of Cambodia, the CPNLAF fought the Khmer National Armed Forces (KNAF) by itself.

In 1971, the party changed its name from the Workers' Party of Kampuchea to the Communist Party of Kampuchea.

In January 1973, the US agreed to a ceasefire with the Vietnamese communists. The Vietnamese had wanted the CPNLAF to make concessions to the US and sign a ceasefire agreement as well, but the Cambodians refused. Thus in 1973, the United States, no longer dealing with fighting in Vietnam, began a massive aerial bombardment of areas of Cambodia that the CPNLAF had control of, killing hundreds of thousands of people. CPK members, especially those who had not gone to Hanoi in 1954, and had not been fighting in northeast Cambodia alongside the Vietnamese, began to distrust the Vietnam communists even more then they had before.

The Liberation of Phnom Penh

It was decided in 1974 that the CPNLAF would liberate Phnom Penh during the dry season of 1975. On April 17, 1975, the CPNLAF entered Phnom Penh.

The US aerial bombardment of Cambodia, along with the civil war had caused many peasants to flee the countryside and head for the cities. This led to a situation where crops were not being grown, while people in the city, including the massive influx of refugees had to be fed. Compounding this, international food aid was cut off as soon the CPNLAF entered Phnom Penh. Many Cambodians had not been eating sufficiently prior to liberation, and Phnom Penh only had several days of food store to feed people. There were also fears the US might begin bombing Phnom Penh. The Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea began sending some peasants back to the country so as to grow food.

On April 30, 1975, Saigon was liberated by the Vietnamese. In the weeks that followed, Cambodian and Vietnamese troops were engaging in minor skirmishes due to border disputes, especially islands off the coast of Indochina.

Vietnam invades Cambodia

On December 02, 1978, the Kampuchea United Front for National Salvation was formed. It was a group of Cambodian communists (and non-communists) dedicating to overthrow the government in Cambodia. It was facilitated and backed by Vietnam. On December 25, 1978, Vietnam and the Kampuchea United Front for National Salvation (KUFNS) invaded Cambodia. On January 07, 1979, Vietnamese and KUFNS troops captured Phnom Penh. The CPK retreated into the countryside. The Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Council was set up as the new government, and on January 10, 1979 the People's Republic of Kampuchea was declared.

The CPK still controlled a part of Cambodia along the border with Thailand. In September 1979, and afterward, the United States fought to keep the Cambodia seat at the UN controlled by the CPK instead of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Council. The US also sent aid to the CPK.

The party disintegrates

The CPK continued fighting the government for years. In 1991 a treaty was signed but it fell apart. By the mid 1990s the CPK was plagued by internal problems. On March 06, 1999, the last leader of the CPK who remained alive and not in prison, Ta Mok, was captured, and the CPK ceased to exist.

See also


  • After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman (ISBN 0896081001)
  • Cambodia 1975-1982 by Michael Vickery (ISBN 9747100819)
  • Burstein, Daniel: "On Cambodia: But, Yet," New York Times, November 21, 1978
  • Caveat: now entering a site with a Point Of View that includes, "The extremism of the Khmer Rouge was not merely rooted in evil."-(Introduction: The Unique Revolution) Apparently there may be worse epithets, and this site is determined to find all of them. However, as this is the only cite available (odd, that)... Averaging Wrong Answers: Noam Chomsky and the Cambodia Controversy by Bruce Sharp on Mekong


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