Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

August 29th Movement

Historic Alamosa Conference: Reformism or Revolution!

First Published: Revolutionary Cause, Vol. 1, No. 4, April 1, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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On January 16 and 17, in Alamosa in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado, the Conferencia del Ultimo Paso Para Nuestra Liberacion was held. Called by a local United Mexican American Student organization, the purpose of the conference was to bring together the political activists in the Chicano national movement from throughout Colorado and New Mexico. The questions for discussion were dealing with the land the peasant movement, “political party ’76”, the Chicano student movement, political prisoners, the federal grand jury, and others.

While these same questions had also been discussed in the ’60’s ’70’s there were some very significant differences at this conference which crystallized important questions for communists in national movements.

In spite of a relative ebb, the struggle in the southwest has continued to bring new forces to the fore, the advanced, who accept socialism consciously, study the science of Marxism-Leninism, and devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the working class and national movements. Present also were many intermediate elements who also “strive ardently for socialism”, as well as a large number of lower stratum elements who themselves were open to socialist ideas. All who were present demanded direction from the communists and advanced forces, and it was this that was to determine the character of the Alamosa Conference.

The Tasks of Communists

In this article, we will lay out the main lessons we learned through our participation at this conference, lessons which we believe are of general applicability for communists in the United States.

We approached our participation in this conference with our central task of party building in mind, and the stage where political line is the key link to moving our work forward. When our two tactical tasks are to Unite Marxist-Leninists and Win Over the Advanced!!

Our first task then was to consolidate our cadre and the advanced with whom we work around how we were to carry out our central task within the national movement and particularly in struggle against opportunism. This also called for consolidating around our analysis of the national movement (see PALANTE, vol. 1, #’s 9 and 11, 1975. Also REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE, vol. 1, #2, 1976), the main danger in the national movement and the forms in which it appears, and how to link the partial demands of a national movement to the basic demands of that movement and to the struggle for Socialism. All of this training falls within the realm of propaganda as the chief form of activity.

However the task of training does not end here. It is also carried out in the course of implementing the political line, particularly in the struggle against opportunism. As we pointed out in the second issue of REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE (p. 11):

In fact, a close examination of the recent Chicano movement discloses that reformism and not narrow nationalism is the greater danger. This illustrates the danger of proceeding from formulas – i.e., within every national movement, the greatest danger must always be narrow nationalism.

This position is a fundamental aspect of our analysis of the Chicano National Movement. Unless this is grasped – Communists, the advanced, and revolutionary nationalists – can make serious mistakes. We start from the stand of communists on the national question in the era of imperialism, i.e., that our point of departure in determining support for a national movement is its objective relation to imperialism. We support those national movements that weaken imperialism (Palestinians), and oppose those that serve to strengthen or preserve imperialism (Bangladesh).

We see that the Chicano national movement represents a revolutionary force, and that the basic demands of this movement cannot be attained without a revolutionary struggle against imperialism. This is what determines and demands, not only aid and support, but also revolutionary direction from communists. However, within this national movement there are many forces: revolutionary nationalists, cultural nationalists, Bundists (calling for a Chicano Communist Party), centrists and conciliationists (“there is only one superpower – the U.S.”) revisionists and a few Trotskyites. By breaking down the various forces to their essence, we find two main trends – reformism and revolution. By making such a breakdown we expose the chief exponents of reformism whether they mask themselves as super-revolutionary cultural nationalists, or “Marxists” (the OL). We draw the lines and arm the advanced (and the intermediate) on the basis of a revolutionary political line.

The Direction Of The Chicano Movement

Within the Chicano National Movement we see the main thrust of our work as the struggle to give that movement a consistently revolutionary direction on every question facing it. This means that we must link every partial demand to the basic demands of the movement. Although we haven’t finished our work on the Chicano National Question, we have arrived at two basic demands thus far which are necessary whether we uphold the right to regional autonomy or to self-determination. These two basic demands are: (1) the demand for governmental unity of the southwest – the bringing into one governmental unit of all areas where Chicanos form a majority of the population. Such a continuity of territory exists from Southern Texas up to Southern Colorado and parts of Arizona and the state of New Mexico; (2) confiscation of all land and natural resources owned by the bourgeoisie of the oppressor nation. This includes all the natural resources of the area, whether in the hands of the bourgeoisie directly, or in the hands of the bourgeois state.

Raising these two demands are consistent with our task of giving the national movement a consistently revolutionary direction – they lay out the basis for doing so. Without this direction the national movement gets bogged down in struggles for partial demands, struggles become localized and reformists can then use the cover of “community control” to keep the struggle on a reformist path. In fact this is the history of the movement during the late sixties and early seventies. The revolutionary nationalists, lacking revolutionary theory, were easy prey for the reformists (who covered themselves with militant-sounding rhetoric) and were never able to make a complete break with the reformists. By raising these two demands, every partial demand can then be seen as part of a common revolutionary front. These demands, and the struggles waged to achieve them give the national movement a revolutionary character, orientation and the basis for determining friends and enemies of this movement – based on the stand taken on these demands. While these are democratic demands, they are “achievable” only as a result of a revolution or a series of revolutionary struggles prior to the overthrow of U.S. imperialism. (On the question of “achievability”, and for further clarity on the question of the struggle for democratic demands and reforms in advanced capitalist countries in the era of imperialism, we recommend that comrades study the first three articles in Vol. 23 of Lenin’s Collected Works).

“Political Party ’76” Workshop

The workshop was lead by people with a long history of struggle in the national movement. In their presentations they outlined the history of the movement over the last 10 years and their participation in it. They characterized the spontaneous nature of the movement, its fundamentally positive character and its shortcomings. One of these comrades, who is well known throughout Colorado and New Mexico for his role of leadership in the national movement, explained how, in the revolutionary struggle of which he was a part, the more advanced elements began to study the different theories of revolution and how they “came to grasp that the only science that could lead the liberation of Chicanos and the multi-national proletariat was the science of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought.” This set the stage for the struggle that was to follow which found the cultural nationalists attacking Marxism. The comrades leading the discussion were part of a group of individuals and collectives that were to later identify themselves as a group of independent Marxist-Leninists. Throughout the presentation and discussions that followed, the independents drew lines with the cultural nationalists. They upheld the general principles of Marxism-Leninism on such questions as the nature of imperialism, the necessity for violent revolution, the leading role of the working class, and the necessity of building a new communist party. The cultural nationalists were unable to provide any leadership. They put forward vague callings for developing “our own type of Chicano socialism, based on our own culture”, etc., never being capable of spelling out what this meant. And even this position was forced out of them by direct questions. The independents as a result of their long history of honest struggle in the movement were able to win the confidence of the masses at the conference. The Chicanos at this conference, on the basis of line and practice, rejected cultural nationalism. The cultural nationalists, aware of their isolation, were finally forced to state, “We don’t have anything against Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought.”

The independents, however, made a few errors. First, they did not analyze correctly what the main danger was. This became clear in their presentations and the struggles that took place. They zeroed in on cultural nationalism when it was clear that the people had rejected cultural nationalism. What the masses were demanding was concrete direction from the Communists an concrete questions facing the national movement – questions such as the struggle for the land, the role of the Chicano student movement, etc. We are not criticizing the fact that they did not have positions on all these questions. As far as these comrades had grasped Marxism, they applied it in the struggle against opportunism. What we criticize is the error of analyzing cultural nationalism, and not reformism (even when it was covered with cultural nationalism), as the main danger.

The cultural nationalists were not capable of putting forward revolutionary solutions to the questions raised by the movement. They put forward almost exclusively electoral politics and revolutionary phrases – nothing more. Interestingly enough, the independents, in their struggle against cultural nationalism, and the cultural nationalists, in their struggle against Marxism, both liquidated the national question.

ATM also made a serious error in this workshop. We saw that the national question was being liquidated, that there were no answers being given to concrete questions and that the lines were not being drawn with the cultural nationalists as regards their reformism. We took the floor and began by laying out that although ATM had not fully developed a position on the Chicano national question, that we had been able to develop our position on the two basic demands laid out above and the basis for them.

When we first laid this out no one understood what we were saying and it’s no wonder. The CPUSA, CLP, RCP and the OL have all taken positions on the Chicano national question only to pigeon-hole them – failing to even attempt to give a revolutionary direction to the movement. The presentation we made was totally new to those present and we had to clarify our position several times before people began to understand and then support what we were putting forward.

Our error, however, was that in putting forward the two basic demands we dealt only with giving the national movement a revolutionary direction. This is an indispensable part of our work but not the only aspect. Especially when there are advanced elements to win over and intermediate elements who are demanding leadership from communists, it is inexcusable to make such an error and tail behind the political development of the movement. We failed to link the national movement to the struggle for socialism. This doesn’t mean that we will always and everywhere raise the demand for the dictatorship of the proletariat. It does mean that in our mass work we must constantly strive to link the national struggle to the struggle for socialism. The presentation we made, while correct, was incomplete – and there was little to distinguish us from revolutionary nationalists based on this alone. This error was criticized that night and rectified in practice the next day in the Land Workshop (about which we will talk more about later).

In the course of this struggle, the cultural nationalists put forward a resolution calling for the conference to “declare La Raza Unida Party a mass-revolutionary-national party”. This unfolded a very significant struggle, particularly because it was put forward in opposition to the need to build a new communist party. The independents immediately spoke out against it. ATM also rose to speak against it, (but was not recognized by the chair). After discussion, and just when it appeared that a vote was to be taken, the OL did one of their famous numbers – THEY WALKED OUT OF THE WORKSHOP!! Not only did they not even try to speak on a question of principle, they WALKED OUT!! We stopped one of them and told them that they should stay for the vote. The OL’s response? “That’s OK, we’ll catch it in the general assembly.” Today the OL says that ATM hid its politics at the conference. Except for the instance in the political party workshop, where we did not identify ourselves, we openly stated who we were, our positions on different questions and in fact the resolutions that we proposed won over the majority of the participants at the conference. The OL had many chances to put their line forward, especially since they do have a position on the Chicano national question, and refused to do so. It was the OL, who, characteristically, hid their politics.

The Land Workshop

In the 2nd issue of Revolutionary Cause we briefly outline the historic struggle of the Chicano peasantry to keep their land. This struggle continues today. It has been a bloody struggle, one where the oppressor nation has used everything from judicial fraud to open terrorism to drive the campesinos off the land. The campesinos have responded with many forms of struggle, from guerilla warfare to the armed uprisings of the ’60’s. Even today, it is a very common occurrence for campesinos to take up arms to defend their land.

In this workshop the struggle between reform and revolution was crystallized immediately as the campesinos made presentations, some representing reformist views, and some, revolutionary views. During the discussion that followed, the experience of the Chinese and Vietnamese peasantry were given as examples to learn from as to which road the struggle of the campesinos should take. Throughout the conference ATM and friends of ATM continued to put forward our line. The ATM line was clearly presented.

First, the struggle of the land was presented as a part of the overall struggles against national oppression, as a part of the two basic demands. The revolutionary demand for governmental unity was distinguished from the reformist demand for “community control”. The question of land was shown as part of the demand for expropriation of the capitalist class of the oppressor nation in the southwest, and their bourgeois state. It was then pointed out how the struggle must be revolutionary, and that the enemy was not white people but imperialism – who is the target of the revolutionary struggle. We pointed out that the majority of Chicanos are part of the working class and that this was the class that would lead the revolutionary struggle of Chicanos, and also its relationship to the multinational proletariat of which it is a part, and that the struggle of Chicanos is a part of the struggle for socialism. In short, comrades, this is how we see the linking of partial demands to the basic demands of the national movement, and the national movement to the struggle for socialism. In such a presentation we give the national movement a revolutionary direction and we do not liquidate the national question nor the struggle for socialism, but rather, show their interrelationship. It was pointed out that all these questions merited more discussion and the two basic demands were put forward in the form of a resolution.

Immediately the struggle broke out. Those who opposed the resolution can be broken down to: (1) the open reformists, (2) the sham “Marxists” (the October League), and (3) those who were not clear on our position (a very small number). It is important to make such distinctions and not lump everyone together. For example, after the workshop we met with people who voted against our resolution because of unclarity, and we were able to win them over to our position. There were many attempts to get the resolution watered down or withdrawn but this only encouraged more struggle. It was during this struggle and ONLY here, in opposition to this resolution, that the OL spoke out and put forward their line. Their position went like this (this is almost verbatim):

We agree (with the reformists) that the resolution is too narrow (sic!) and that it should be broadened out. First of all we have to understand that we have certain limitations under capitalism and that the solution to this question can only come about under socialism. In the meantime we want to propose the following demands...

This was followed by OL’s shopping list which they call “Program of Democratic Demands For The Chicano People” (e.g., “Drugs Out of the Barrio”), (c.f., Class Struggle, #2, p.44)


We do not intend to go into a complete criticism of OL’s position on the Chicano National Question here, that will follow in subsequent issues of Revolutionary Cause. But we will expose OL’s opportunist position here briefly.

The questions raised by the OL are:

1. The question of “achievability”,
2. The question of partial demands,
3. The national question as an internal state question,
4. The national movement and the struggle for socialism.

Our contention is that the OL’s line is thoroughly opportunist. That it fosters reformist illusions, liquidates the national question, strengthens the hand of the bourgeoisie, destroys the interests of chicanos and the world revolutionary movement, that it breaks the link between the national movement and the struggle for socialism – in short that they are what Lenin termed Imperialist Economists.

Now we shall prove it.

1. The question of “achievability”.

The OL calls for recognizing our “limitations under capitalism.” They approach the question as true imperialist economists. In dealing with the question of “achievability” in regard to self-determination (this applies also to regional autonomy, OL’s slogan for the Chicano national movement) in the era of imperialism, Lenin states:

...the assertion is incomplete and inaccurate. This is because not only the right of nations to self-determination, but all the fundamental demands of political democracy are only partially ’practicable’ under imperialism, and then in a distorted form and by way of exception (for example, the secession of Norway from Sweden in 1905). The demand for the immediate liberation of the colonies that is put forward by all revolutionary Social-Democrats is also ’impracticable’ under capitalism without a series of revolutions. But from this it does not by any means follow that Social-Democracy should reject the immediate and most determined struggle for all these demands – such a rejection would only play into the hands of the bourgeoisie and reaction – but, on the contrary, it follows that these demands must be formulated and put through in a revolutionary and not a reformist manner, going beyond the bounds of bourgeois legality, breaking them down, going beyond speeches in parliament and verbal protests, and drawing the masses into decisive action, extending and intensifying the struggle for ever) fundamental democratic demand up to a direct proletarian onslaught on the bourgeoisie, i.e., up to the socialist revolution that expropriates the bourgeoisie. The socialist revolution may flare up not only through some big strike, street demonstration or hunger riot or a military insurrection or colonial revolt, but also as a result of a political crisis such as the Dreyfus case or the Zabern incident, or in connection with a referendum on the secession of an oppressed nation, etc.

Increased national oppression under imperialism does not mean that Social-Democracy should reject what the bourgeoisie calls the ’Utopian’ struggle for the freedom of nations to secede, but, on the contrary, it should make greater use of the conflicts that arise in this sphere, too as grounds for mass action and for revolutionary attacks on the bourgeoisie. (LCW, vol. 22, pp. 145-146)

But this did not convince Pyatakov or Bukharin (nor has it convinced the OL) and so Lenin again wrote a series of articles dealing with this question, (the first three articles in volume 23 of his collected works):

That is the ’crux’ of his misadventures: he cannot solve the problem of how to link the advent of imperialism with the struggle for reforms and democracy – just as the Economists of blessed memory could not link the advent of capitalism with the struggle for democracy. (LCW, vol. 23, p. 15)

The opponents of self-determination are hopelessly confused in their references to its being ’unachievable’. (ibid., p. 17)

The independence Norway ’achieved’ in 1905 was only political. It could not affect its economic dependence nor was this the intention. That is exactly the point made in our theses. We indicated that self-determination concerns only politics, and, it would therefore be wrong to raise the question of its economic achievement. (op cit., p.48)

The two basic demands raised by ATM are democratic demands achievable under imperialism. If the OL feels that they are unachievable (see “Islands of Socialism” section on page 43, Class Struggle #2) they should then lay out why the Comintern was wrong in making these two demands part of the three basic demands for the National Movement in the Black Belt South (the third demand was self-determination – 1930 resolution). The demand for governmental unity is a democratic demand. The demand for expropriation too is a democratic demand. Today countries throughout the Third World are expropriating the enterprises of multinational corporations, not because they are socialist countries, for in fact they have capitalist regimes, but because this is a fundamental democratic right. But the OL cannot support such demands, not only because they are social-chauvinist, but also because they are reformists, militant reformists, but reformists nonetheless. The “achievability” of these demands presupposes “That the demands be formulated and put through in a revolutionary and not a reformist manner, going beyond the bounds of bourgeois legality, breaking them down, going beyond speeches, in parliament and verbal protests, and drawing the masses into decisive action, ...”

2. The Struggle for Partial Demands.

We layed out above how we linked partial demands to the basic slogans of the national movement and to the struggle for socialism. The OL does the opposite. First, they liquidate the basis for giving the partial demands a revolutionary direction by rejecting the two basic demands. Then they claim that the question must await resolution until after the socialist revolution. In the meantime the OL’s shopping list of reforms can be struggled for “militantly” (read militant reformism) and that somewhere, someday, as a result of militant economism they will be linked to socialism.

The CI, in 1930, condemned this petty-bourgeois reformist approach to the Afro-American movement:

One should not venture to draw up a complete program of some kind, or a system of ’positive partial demands’. Such programs on the part of petty-bourgeois politicians should be exposed as attempts to divert the masses from the necessary hard struggles by fostering reformist and democratic illusions among them. Every positive partial demand which might crop up is to be considered from the viewpoint of whether it is in keeping with our revolutionary fundamental slogans (governmental unity, expropriation, self-determination – ATM) or whether it is of a reformist or reactionary tendency. Every kind of national oppression which arouses the indignation of the Negro masses can be used as a suitable point of departure for the development of partial struggles, during which the abolition of such oppressions, as well as their prevention through revolutionary struggle against the ruling exploiting dictatorship (of the oppressor nation – ATM) must be demanded. (1930 CI resolution on the Negro Question in the U.S.)

Now then, where do we find the OL? Precisely what the CI condemns is what the OL upholds – militantly, of course. The CI correctly characterizes this as the politics of “petty-bourgeois politicians”, “fostering reformist and democratic illusions” (just like calling for the national guard to “protect” the Afro-Americans in Boston – a consistently reformist line!), and of course “reactionary”.

3. The National Question as an Internal State Question.

Unlike the RCP, the OL is not so bold as to claim that the national question is an internal state question. The OL hides essentially the same position by reminding us to “recognize our limitations under capitalism” – i.e., the rule of the U.S. bourgeois state. More than this we must stop dreaming up schemes about “islands of socialism” (a strawman), drop any revolutionary demands from the struggle of the national movement (too narrow!), take up only the “shopping list” program of OL, tell the national movement that regional autonomy must await socialist revolution – and here it is – nowhere is the national movement in practice or program shown to be a part of the world revolutionary movement. The CI, instructing the CPUSA in the 1930 resolution, pointed out:

Communists must fight in the forefront of the national liberation movement and must do their utmost for the progress of this mass movement and its revolutionization.

The OL, on the other hand, calls for “recognizing our limitations under capitalism.” What we wish to point out here is (1) the tasks of communists in a national movement, and (2) that the national movement is part of a world revolutionary front against imperialism and social-imperialism. That is what makes it a component part of the U.S. socialist revolution. The OL claims to see this, but in practice it calls for “recognizing our limitations.” We see this movement as part of a world revolutionary front and that one way in which we support the struggles of oppressed peoples and nations around the world is by intensifying the struggle against imperialism in the national movement, by doing our “utmost for the progress of this mass movement and its revolutionization”, not by “recognizing our limitations.”

The social-chauvinist stance of the OL betrays the fundamental interests of the Chicano masses and all oppressed nationalities. It betrays the struggle of the proletariat for socialism by spreading chauvinist and reformist ideas and propping up the imperialists. And it betrays the world revolutionary movement. The struggles of the world’s peoples support each other and social-chauvinists who call for “recognizing our limitations” render support only to the imperialists. Or perhaps the OL should have called on the heroic peoples of Indo-China to “recognize their limitations” in the struggle against U.S. imperialism.

Political Line is the Key Link!

The conference brought out many lessons for communists, particularly in this stage of party building where political line is the key link! It confirmed the correctness of the line of the revolutionary wing in carrying out our two tactical tasks – uniting genuine Marxist-Leninists and winning over the Advanced, and of propaganda as the chief form of activity. It confirmed also the correctness of ATM’s line, as far as it is developed, on the tasks of communists in the national movement.

The Alamosa Conference brought together many new forces from the national movement in the southwest. This came out clearly when a comrade from Colorado, speaking in behalf of the Independent Marxist-Leninists, gave a presentation in the final general assembly and stated:

“Brothers and sisters, the history of the world revolutionary movement has taught us that the only ideology that can lead to the liberation of oppressed peoples and the emancipation of the working class is the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought!” As the comrade was finishing this statement, hundreds of Chicanos jumped to their feet in a standing ovation! Only the few die-hard cultural nationalists refused to stand and stared open-mouthed in disbelief.