Communist Party of Kampuchea
The Communist Party of Kampuchea (Khmer: បក្សកុម្មុយនីស្តកម្ពុជា or បក្សកុម្មុយនីសកម្ពុជា; CPK, French: Parti communiste du Kampuchéa), also known as the Khmer Communist Party, was a communist party in Cambodia. Its leader was Pol Pot and its followers were generally known as Khmer Rouge (Red Khmers). The party was underground for most of its existence and took power in the country in April 1975 and established the state known as Democratic Kampuchea.
The party lost power in 1979 with the establishment of the People's Republic of Kampuchea by the pro-Vietnam Cambodian People's Party, who were mostly comprised of leftists who were dissatisfied by the Pol Pot regime and by the intervention of Vietnamese military forces after the Cambodian Genocide. The party was officially dissolved in 1981, with the Party of Democratic Kampuchea claiming its legacy.
The party was founded in 1951, when the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) was divided into separate Cambodian, Lao, and Vietnamese communist parties. The decision to form a separate Cambodian communist party had been taken at the ICP Congress in February the same year. Different sources claim different dates for the exact founding and the first congress of the party.
Son Ngoc Minh was appointed as Acting Chairman of the party. The party congress did not elect a full Central Committee but instead appointed a Party Propagation and Formation Committee. At the time of its formation, the Cambodian party was called Khmer People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP). The ICP had been heavily dominated by Vietnamese and the KPRP was actively supported by the Vietnamese party during its initial phase of existence. Due to the reliance on Vietnamese support in the joint struggle against French colonial rule, the history of the party would later be rewritten, stating 1960 as the year of the foundation of the party.
In July 1963, Pol Pot and most of the central committee left Phnom Penh to establish an insurgent base in Ratanakiri Province in the northeast. Pol Pot had shortly before been put on a list of thirty-four leftists who were summoned by Norodom Sihanouk to join the government and sign statements saying Sihanouk was the only possible leader for the country. Pol Pot and Chou Chet were the only people on the list who escaped. All the others agreed to cooperate with the government and were afterward under 24-hour watch by the police.
In the mid-1960s, the United States Department of State estimated the party membership to be approximately 100.
The region Pol Pot and the others moved to was inhabited by tribal minorities, the Khmer Loeu, whose rough treatment (including resettlement and forced assimilation) at the hands of the central government made them willing recruits for a guerrilla struggle.
In 1965, Pol Pot made a visit of several months to North Vietnam and China. He probably received some training in China, which must have enhanced his prestige when he returned to the WPK's liberated areas. Despite friendly relations between Sihanouk and the Chinese, the latter kept Pol Pot's visit a secret from Sihanouk. In 1971, the party changed its name to the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). The party statutes, published in the mid-1970s, claiming that the name change was approved by the party congress in 1971. The change in the name of the party was a closely guarded secret. Lower-ranking members of the party and even the Vietnamese were not told of it and neither was the membership until many years later.
The party leadership endorsed armed struggle against the government, then led by Sihanouk. In 1967, several small-scale attempts at insurgency were made by the CPK but they met with little success.
In 1968, the Khmer Rouge launched a national insurgency across Cambodia. Though North Vietnam had not been informed of the decision, its forces provided shelter and weapons to the Khmer Rouge after the insurgency started. The guerrilla forces of the party were baptized as the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army. Vietnamese support for the insurgency made it impossible for the ineffective and poorly motivated Royal Cambodian Army to effectively counter it.
By 1973, Vietnamese support of the Khmer Rouge had largely disappeared. China "armed and trained" the Khmer Rouge both during the civil war and the years afterward.
When the United States Congress suspended military aid to the Lon Nol government in 1973, the Khmer Rouge made sweeping gains in the country, completely overwhelming the Khmer National Armed Forces. On 17 April 1975, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and overthrew the Khmer Republic, executing all its officers.