He was born on 1 October 1904 in Peralassery. By the time he became a teacher, India's independence movement was becoming energized by Mahatma Gandhi. Gopalan took part in the Khilafat Movement which prompted a marked change in his outlook, transforming him into a dedicated fulltime social and political worker.
In 1927 he joined the Indian National Congress and began playing an active role in the Khadi Movement and the upliftment of Harijans. He was arrested for participating in the salt satyagraha in 1930.
While in prison he got acquainted with communism and became a member of the Congress Socialist Party and later the Communist Party of India when it finally took shape in Kerala in 1939. He led the hunger march from Malabar region to Madras in 1937 and the Malabar march in support of the movement for responsible government in Travancore.
He was jailed in 1939, but escaped from the jail in 1942. When India got independence A.K.G was again in jail. He was elected to the Lok Sabha five times. He was the leader of the opposition in the Parliament. He was one among the 32 members who walked out of the CPI National council in 1964. He was the member of Polit Bureau.
AKG was married to Susheela Gopalan, who was a prominent Marxist and trade union activist. His daughter, Laila, is married to P. Karunakaran, the Member of Parliament for the Kasargode constituency.
AKG played an important role in the formation of Indian Coffee House, a worker cooperative initiative by organising the thrown out employees of Coffee Houses of Coffee Board to establish ICHs in late 1950s. His contribution is documented in Coffee Housinte Katha, a Malayalam alternative history book by Nadakkal parameswaran pillai the founder of ICHs in Kerala with the Communist Leader of Thrissur Advocate T. K. Krishnan.
A.K Gopalan died on 22 March 1977. His valiant struggles for protecting the interest of the working class inside and outside the Parliament earned him the title the “Crusader of the downtrodden”