On May 18, 1980, the citizens of Gwangju, South Korea, started a protest in response to General Chun Du-hwan’s expansion of martial law. Soon, the protest became a major uprising as over 300,000 seized their entire city, demanding not only an end to martial law but for an expansion of democracy and human rights and a minimum wage. South Korea had been in major turmoil after the assassination of President Park Chung-hee the previous spring, which ended his 18-year dictatorship that had allowed the ruling elite to squeeze immense wealth out of the working class.
Gwangju’s people struggled to end this exploitation and the brutal dictatorships that had ruled the South since the U.S. Army divided the peninsula in 1945. Chun ordered the military to blockade the city as the media smeared and Red-baited the people. After notifying the U.S. of his regime’s intentions, Chun sent paratroopers into the city and massacred over 2,000 people.
In the name of anti-communism, Chun thus consolidated his power as president. Until 1988, he ruled a fascist state that would continue to seek out, capture and torture activists and dissenters.
The Gwangju massacre recalled the massacre of tens of thousands during the Jeju Uprising that began in 1948, when the Workers’ Party of South Korea led an insurgency against the U.S.-puppet government and the United States Army Military Government in Korea, which ruled Jeju island. Some sources believe that up to 100,000 Koreans were murdered at the behest of the U.S. This massacre ignited a civil war that over time led to the slaughter of over 2.5 million Koreans to satisfy the strategic needs of U.S. imperialism.
In a call for unity, newly elected ROK President Yoon Seok-youl has visited Gwangju. He was the first of his far-right party (whose ties reach back to Park Chung-hee) to appear on the May 18 Memorial Day. Yoon’s narrow election victory came on a platform of anti-feminism, 120-hour work weeks and a hard-line stance against the DPRK.
Working-class organizations worldwide must reject Yoon’s anti-labor, misogynist and pro-war style of unity. Rather, we must support our comrades in the South in their struggle for Korean reunification and the end to U.S. occupation. In the U.S., we must educate the people by counteracting anti-North propaganda and support the fight for a free, unified Korea and the end of U.S. imperialism worldwide!