The Struggle for Chicano Liberation

Detail of a mural by David Alafaro Siqueiros

Detail of a mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros

The following article is from the League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist)‘s Forward: Journal of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought – No. 2, August 1979 – “The Struggle for Chicano Liberation”. This number of Forward is divided into four main sections: 1. Resolution on the Chicano national question; 2. History of the Chicano people; 3. Program for Chicano liberation; 4. Chicano art, theater, and struggles in photos. The LRS was a mostly oppressed nationality organization in the New Communist Movement, and was a predecessor group of Freedom Road Socialist Organization. They wrote extensively about the Chicano and African American national questions, in particular. I’m posting here the first part of the LRS’s The Struggle for Chicano Liberation, which is appearing on the internet for the first time. Other documents from the LRS are available in Left Spot’s LRS archive. Conditions change but the Chicano national question is nonetheless at the forefront of the people’s struggle, especially considering its connection to the larger immigrants rights movement. I hope people find this contribution useful to better understanding these issues.

Resolution on the Chicano national question

The development of the oppressed Chicano nation is part of the general historical development of the United States. The murder, enslavement, plunder and oppression of peoples and nations has been an integral part of U.S. history. It begins with the attempted extermination of the American Indians and includes the exploitation of African slaves in the South and the annexation of the Southwest from Mexico. It is within this general context that we must view the development and oppression of the Chicano nation in the Southwest, and its struggle for liberation.

There are between 10 and 12 million Chicanos in the United States. Eighty-five percent of all Chicanos are concentrated in the southwestern part of the United States. In many areas of the Southwest, Chicanos are a majority of the population. Chicanos suffer the most brutal forms of national oppression in every aspect of their lives. They are an oppressed nation in the Southwest, fighting for freedom and equality. The hands which strangle the national aspirations of the Chicano nation belong to the monopoly capitalist class. This class is the source of all oppression and exploitation in the United States.

The working class and the Chicano people have a common enemy. They have the task of rising up and uniting against the rule of the monopoly capitalist class. To win victory over such a powerful enemy there must be unity among the workers of all nationalities, and unity among the oppressed masses of all nationalities. This unity can only come about if the working class fights against all forms of national oppression, and fights for the right of the Chicano nation to self-determination. The working class must support the right of self-determination, not because of any moralistic or humanitarian reasons, but because the oppression of the Chicano nation is a pillar of U.S. imperialist power. Imperialism cannot survive without oppressing nations and peoples. The fight for self-determination is, therefore, against imperialism. The working class supports the right to self-determination in order to win its own emancipation.

The current economic and political crisis of the United States is causing an intensification of the national oppression of Chicanos. The cold-blooded killing of Chicanos by the police has become common fact of life in the Southwest. The minimal health and social services in the Chicano community are being drastically cut back. Chicanos fill the unemployment lines, and their standard of living gets worse all the time. The quality of their education, their health care, their housing, etc., continues on a steady decline. Chicano youth are victimized by drugs, alcohol and the sense that they have no future in U.S. society. Chicano students are being forced out of colleges and universities, under the rationale that their demand for equality in education is “reverse discrimination.” The simple demand of Chicano farm workers to unionize and raise their standard of living is met with the full fury of armed goons, attack dogs, and police helicopters.

The Chicano people, are, of course, fighting against every aspect of their oppression. The working class cannot stand on the sidelines and watch this fight. Its stand must be clear-cut: “Your fight is our fight.” The working class must take up the fight for Chicano liberation and concretely uphold the right of self-determination for the Chicano nation. In order to fulfill this responsibility, it is critical to understand of the history of the Chicano people, and have a profound grasp of the practical aspects of their struggle for liberation.

aztlan-mapThe Chicano people have a 400 year history in the Southwest during which they developed into a nation, “a historically evolved, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” (1) Chicanos have lived in the areas now called southern California, southwestern Arizona, New Mexico, southern Colorado and southwestern Texas. This was then part of the northern territory of Mexico, at that time a colony of Spain. Most of the inhabitants of these early settlements were mestizos (mixed Spanish and Indian heritage) who labored as feudal peones (serfs) on the large farms, ranches and missions of the feudal Spanish ruling class. During the 300 year of Spanish rule the inhabitants of the area developed a common language and culture.

After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the Spanish-speaking inhabitants of the Southwest started to become pat of the young, but not fully developed, Mexican nation. Capitalism also began to develop in the area, mainly through the beginning process of trade between the different settlements.  Because of the weakness of the Mexican government, it did little with the Southwest and was not able to complete its capitalist development. The area soon fell under the expansionist eye of the United States.

The southern slave owners wanted the Southwest in order to establish new slave states, while the northern mercantile capitalists wanted the ports of California to increase their trade with the Orient. After first taking over Texas, the United States launched the War of 1846 against Mexico. The better-equipped American army swept into Mexico, plundering, murdering and raping the civilian population. The U.S. won a quick and bloody victory, and annexed 45% of Mexico’s territory. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which formally ended the war, the United States pledged to respect the property and land rights of the conquered population of the Southwest. The U.S. also promised that after one year’s time the conquered people would be granted full rights of American citizens. But the U.S. ruling class treated this treaty as a meaningless scrap of paper.

Following the war, the U.S. bourgeoisie consolidated its rule over the Southwest region by region. In 50 years’ time they transformed the semi-feudal character of the area into a capitalist one. First of all, they brutally oppressed the conquered people who continued to resist the U.S. occupation. They then systematically eliminated the feudal and semi-feudal relations of production by seizing Chicano lands and property. Thousands of Chicanos were shot, lynched and burned out their property. Millions of acres of land were stolen by violence and fraud.

The dispossession of the Chicano people cleared the way for the complete capitalist development of the Southwest region. The Chicano people were now to become welded into a nation through the common experience of capitalist exploitation and national oppression. A complete change in the class structure of the Southwest occurred with the elimination of the feudal system. The Chicano people, who had mainly been peones before the annexation, were transformed into proletarians, semi-proletarians, small farmers or tenant farmers. A small part of the former landholding class became capitalists, closely linked economically and politically with the U.S. bourgeoisie. A number were pushed into the working class. The old artisan, craftsmen and trader strata were transformed into a strata of small businessmen, professionals and intelligentsia.

In addition to changing the class structure of the Chicano people, the rise of U.S. capitalism in the Southwest also served to link the formerly scattered areas of the Chicano settlement into a single cohesive market. The railroad played a major role in this development, breaking down the isolation of the Chicano areas of settlement and making possible, at the same time, the rapid and efficient exploitation of the riches of the Chicano nation. The Chicano proletariat, laboring under the most oppressive conditions, helped to build the great railroad network which connected Texas with New Mexico, southern Colorado and Arizona, and those areas with California. Chicanos were also superexploited and forced to dig up the huge deposits of gold, silver, copper, coal and riches of their nation. It was also superexploited Chicano labor which made possible the large-scale farming and ranching operations throughout the Southwest.

At the same time that the economic transformation of the Southwest occurred, the U.S. bourgeoisie consolidated its political domination of the Chicano people. The political rights “guaranteed” by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo offered no protection against the widespread killing and repression of the Chicano people. The U.S. bourgeoisie tried to exterminate the Chicano people. It stripped them of all political rights, robbed them of their lands and property, and denied them of any representation in the political process. The U.S. ruling class also encouraged massive Anglo immigration to the Southwest in order to try to change the character of the region.

The Chicano people were never allowed to assimilate into the dominant Anglo-American nationality. Instead, Chicanos were forced into a subordinate social and economic position, and their common experience of oppression and exploitation helped to forge them into a new nation. Their previous 300 year history had given them a common language and a common culture. The century of domination by U.S. capitalism linked the Chicano people together in a common bond of oppression and resistance to oppression.

By the beginning of the 20th century the Chicano people formed a distinct nationality within the borders of the United States. They still lived in the areas of historic Spanish settlement, spoke the Spanish language, and had a distinct national personality forged in the course of domination by both Spain and the United States.

After the First World War, the population of the Chicano nation rapidly increased due to the large migrations of Mexicans over the border. Many of these immigrants became incorporated into the Chicano nation because of the common experience of oppression and exploitation, common historical experiences, a common language and cultural similarities. For the most part, while most Mexican immigrants were welded into the Chicano nation, they also retained certain distinctions in terms of culture and their kinship to Mexico. In practice Chicanos and Mexicans faced common oppression and often united in common struggle. But not all immigrants viewed themselves as Chicanos. Besides settling the Southwest, many Mexicans also immigrated to the Midwest, following the rail lines to Chicago, Detroit, Gary and other industrial cities. Large concentrations of Mexicans and Chicanos developed in these cities, living in barrios and facing a similar oppression to that of their brothers and sisters in the Southwest. Like many other nationalities who immigrate to the U.S., and who become part of a particular nation or national minority, Mexicans face their own particular situation which is not exactly like that of Chicanos. Spanish is often their only language and this is made a handicap by the bourgeoisie to finding decent employment, obtaining necessary medical and social services, credit, etc. More than any other nationality, Mexicans are victimized by the use of deportations. Of the million or so persons who are deported by the U.S. each year, the overwhelming majority are Mexicans. This hangs as a constant threat over their heads, and is one of the most bitter forms of that oppression.

Today the Chicano people remain concentrated in the Southwest and constitue  a majority, or near majority, throughout New Mexico and in contiguous parts of Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California. Although they make up only about 12% of the total population of the five southwestern states, they make up over one-third of the poor families in that region. Most Chicanos still live in overcrowded and overpriced barrios, suffer police repression on a wide scale, and are discriminated against on the job, in the schools and in their own communities. They must fight a continual battle for their survival of their language and culture against a ruling class which teaches the Anglo-American population to look down upon them. The laboring people suffer the most as they are still being driven off their lands, and are forced to work for the lowest wages and under the worst conditions.

An important part of the history of the Southwest is that of different American Indian peoples in the area. American Indians trace their history in the Southwest back for thousands of years. They have withstood the attempts of both Spain and the United States to exterminate them. All of their lands have been stolen and they have no political rights. Many of them have been forced onto reservations which resemble concentration camps, and which are run completely by the U.S. government without any regard for the rights, customs or sentiments of the Indian peoples. During the course of their long history, the different American Indian peoples have developed their own distinct national characteristics. At the same time, their common experience of oppression and their common struggle against it has created a common bond of solidarity among the various Indian nationalities. The Indian nationalities, like the Chicano nationality, have also been denied their national rights and are waging a struggle for their complete national liberation from U.S. imperialism.

A revolutionary solution to the Chicano national question

The national question in any country is always a complex question. All peoples and nations develop differently, according to their own concrete historical conditions. Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought serves as a guide to finding a solution to the national question. Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought represents a scientific summation of the struggle of the working class. Armed with this theory, communists are able to analyze the history and present conditions of the revolutionary struggle in order to determine how to lead it to victory in the socialist revolution.

A scientific analysis of the Chicano national question shows that the source of the oppression of the Chicano people today is the monopoly capitalist class. To end national oppression, the working class and its allies must overthrow the capitalists, and replace the imperialist system with socialism. With the power of the state in its hands, the proletariat will recognize the equality of all nationalities, including the right of self-determination for oppressed nations, and solve the problems left over from the old society.

It is not enough, however, to know the goal we want to achieve. We must also know how to achieve it. In order to defeat the bourgeoisie, communists must be able to unite the proletariat, win the leadership of the Chicano national movement, and direct these two movements against the monopoly capitalist class.

To do these things it is necessary to uphold the right of self-determination for the oppressed Chicano nation. This right means that the Chicano nation has the right to determine its own destiny free the force or coercion of another nation. The Chicano nation may decide to secede and form its own state; it may decide to federate with Mexico, or even with the United States. In any case, only the Chicano people have the right to determine the future of their nation.

While communists uphold the right of self-determination, they must evaluate how it is to be exercised according to the concrete conditions which exist at the time. The state of the revolutionary movement in the United States and Mexico, international conditions, the strength of different forces in the Chicano national movement, among others, are factors which must be taken into account.

As long as imperialism rules in the U.S. it will be very difficult for the Chicano people to win their right to self-determination. To do so would require a protracted revolutionary struggle and a favorable combination of international and domestic crises which would weaken the hold of the U.S. bourgeoisie over the Southwest. Even so, without the complete overthrow of U.S. capitalism the national oppression of the Chicanos cannot be totally eliminated.

In the final analysis, to uphold the right of self-determination means that the working class of the oppressor nation repudiates the annexation of the Southwest, fights to end all national privileges and inequalities and is the most consistent fighter against national oppression. Annexation, national inequality, national privileges and national oppression are a component part of imperialism. To fight for the Chicano people’s right to self-determination is, therefore, to fight against imperialism. This is the only way that the bitterness and mistrust of the Chicano people towards the oppressor nation, including the oppressor nation proletariat, can be overcome. This mistrust is rooted in their domination and enslavement by another nation. There is no other way to unite the multinational proletariat.

The bourgeoisie tries in every way that it can to sabotage the struggle for socialism. It tries to divide the workers through a system of national privileges and by spreading the poison of nation chauvinism and racism. The capitalists try to justify, in the minds of white workers, the oppression of nations and peoples by saying that the oppressed nationalities are “inferior.” To overcome these divisions and raise the political consciousness of white workers, communists must educate the proletariat about the oppression of the Chicano people, fight every manifestation of chauvinism and racism, and uphold all the just demands of the Chicano people, including the right of self-determination. This stand, better than any other, will show the Chicano people that the working class has absolutely no unity with the imperialists who oppress the Chicano nation.

It is also important for communists to uphold the right of self-determination of the Chicano nation in order to help lead the Chicano national movement in a revolutionary direction. This demand, once taken up by the Chicano masses, will lead them into struggle against the U.S. capitalist class. As opposed to other partial demands, the right of self-determination presupposes a struggle for power and is aimed at a central pillar of imperialism. Self-determination simply cannot be won without a revolutionary struggle.

The Chicano people have a long and glorious history of struggle against their oppression, beginning with Spanish colonialism, through the days of U.S. conquest, up to the present. Their resistance has included armed fighting, revolts, mass demonstrations, campaigns, strikes and other forms. Chicanos have played an important role in the history of the U.S. labor movement through their struggles in the mines, railroads, fields and factories of the Southwest. The Chicano struggle has produced a large number of revolutionary fighters, many of whom have become communists. The demand for self-determination itself has been raised consistently throughout the history of the Chicano people.

Communists have a long history of struggle in the Chicano national movement. Many U.S. Marxist-Leninists developed out of the Chicano national movement of the 1960′s and 1970′s. They have continued to play an important role in helping to organize and lead many struggles of the Chicano people. Communists must consistently uphold their responsibility to fight in the forefront of the Chicano national movement, taking up all of the day-to-day struggles of the Chicano masses, linking these struggles to the demand for socialism and the struggle for socialism. Lenin said that, “Every act of national oppression calls forth resistance on the part of the masses of the population, and the tendency of every act of resistance on the part of oppressed peoples is the national uprising.” (2) Communists today must, as many have in the past, take the lead in combating national chauvinism and narrow nationalism, strive to unite all who can be united in the struggle against national oppression, overcome the influence of reformism and revisionism in the national movement, and win over and recruit the most advanced elements from that struggle to become communists. A systematic and patient carrying out of these tasks will help communists to win, during the course of the long struggle, the leadership of the Chicano revolutionary movement. By doing so we will be upholding the basic interests of the working class, the Chicano people, and the interests of the proletarian revolution.

Notes:

1. J. V. Stalin, Marxism and the National Question, (Calcutta: Calcutta Book House, 1970), p. 68

2. Lenin, A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), p. 53

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