Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee

Toward a Position on the Chicano National Question

First Published: Unite!, Vol. 2, No. 4, August-September 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The exploitation and oppression of the Chicano people, its character and relation to the socialist revolution, to date remain essentially unanswered questions. Over the last several years, the effects of the general crisis of capitalism have intensified the conditions of exploitation and oppression suffered by the Chicano people. The communist movement is compelled to take a stand on the nature of Chicano exploitation and oppression. Many statements and programs have been advanced, attesting to the urgency of the question. Yet all of them have failed to meet the needs of the Chicano people. The statements that have been advanced reflect, rather, the failure of the communist movement to grasp the importance of the Chicano National Question. On one level, this manifests the inability to apply the Marxist-Leninist theory on the national question when and where it applies, with a dialectical and historical materialist viewpoint and method. In the particular, it leads to the belittling of the Chicano national liberation movement. This inadequacy on the part of the communist movement must be honestly admitted and examined for its source, in the context of a Marxist-Leninist stand on the national question. And more importantly, we must take steps to correct the errors of the past. We must move quickly and resolutely to overcome the neglect of the Chicano peoples’ struggle. We must develop a position on the basis of a proletarian stand, viewpoint, and method that will speak to the Chicano people who have suffered years of abuse at the hands of Yanqui Imperialism.

The essence of the question is whether we are dealing with an oppressed nation or an oppressed national minority, a question about which we are not yet clear. The exploitation and oppression suffered by the Chicano people is of a qualitatively different nature from that experienced by the working class as a whole. Understanding this question will be the basis for formulating an overall program, strategy and tactics for revolution in the U.S., toward building multinational unity of the proletariat, and for the struggle for either self-determination or democratic rights of the Chicano people. Only by a conscious and precise application of Marxism-Leninism to this question can the revolution rove ahead.

This first article focuses on various aspects of the exploitation and oppression of the Chicano people, all as manifestations of imperialism in crisis.

Capitalism in general crisis means the sharpening of all the contradictions of capitalism including that between industry and agriculture. At the same time that the exchange value of agricultural goods drops relative to manufactured goods the farmer finds the market for his goods shrinking due to the impoverishment of the working class and the slackening of demand for raw materials. The price of agricultural necessities, machinery, fertilizer, etc. rises faster due to inflation than the price of farm goods; workers layed off and reduced to subsistence by the high cost of living buy less of both industrial and agricultural goods; and stagnating production leads to a cut in the demand for agricultural raw materials – cotton, wool, etc. The result, as in industry, is a concentration of capital and of the means of production. The small farmer, in general, faces ruin at the hands of monopoly agriculture while for the oppressed nations, the Agrarian Crisis, as in the case of other aspects of the General Crisis, is all the more severe.

The international division of labor allows for the division of agricultural and industrial production within the capitalist country as well. Imperialist domination for agricultural products and raw materials, provides the material basis for heightened exploitation of agricultural workers at home. In an advanced capitalist country like the U.S., the Agrarian Crisis has the least effect on large-scale agricultural producers, as they have the advantage of highly developed technological equipment and capitalist agricultural methods. However, this is the material basis for the disintegration of the small farm and peasant class. Within the U.S., the burden falls upon the oppressed nations and national minorities, who account for a large part of the agricultural workers. The disproportionately greater increase in the prices of industrial products as compared with agricultural products, means that agricultural workers make a relatively lower wage, but must spend a larger portion of it for manufactured goods. This inevitably forces the small farmer and agricultural worker off the land, and into urban areas in search of employment ensuring a higher wage.

Today, more than one-third of all Chicano people in the Southwest are urban residents. In such states as California, it is estimated that 9 out of every 10 Chicanos is a city dweller. In Texas, the percentage is not far behind. The movement of the Chicano people is definitely toward the urban areas. However, this movement and the existing concentration of Chicano people is faced with the combination of complex land ownership patterns and urban redevelopment, which have led and are continuing to lead to a Chicano urban crisis of immense proportions.

As the pattern of urban life has changed, so have the tactics of the Yanqui Imperialists in regard to the urban communities of Chicanos. The “pockets” of Chicano urban concentration characteristic of the early years of the century have given way to a whole fabric of urban poverty and decay which can no longer be isolated as it once was.

As capitalism has developed, it has needed to enlarge its financial and commercial centers in urban areas. This has meant a displacement not only of manufacture but also of the urban barrios which have been targeted for urban removal. The commercial and financial needs of monopoly capitalism make the building of new freeways and commerce areas imperative.

In San Antonio, Texas, the barrio around the old Farmers’ Market has been demolished, driving out thousands of Chicanos. In San Jose, California, a new central city has been built on the ruins of a neighborhood that was once predominantly Chicano. In San Francisco, the threats and pressure pf urban removal are a constant problem to the Mission district’s Chicano population. While in centers like Denver and Tucson, the Chicano people face similar dangers. This forced dispersal of the Chicano population cannot help but have a detrimental effect since the city planners who are preparing it, have not and cannot make plans for resettlement, owing to capitalism’s inherent profit motive.

The problems of urban life have been complicated by the Agrarian Crisis. In agricultural areas lying within 50 to 75 miles of the urban centers, land uses have changed drastically. As land was taken out of agricultural production in the post WWII period, and as rapid mechanization developed, agricultural employment patterns changed drastically. Barrios that were absorbed by urban expansion affected the urban labor pool. By the end of the decade 1950-1960, a new pattern became discernable. The massive farm labor pools had shifted to the large cities-San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Oakland. Well over one-third of the Chicano unemployed in Los Angeles have come from small rural towns.

The most important aspect of this development has been the urbanization of the Chicano people. While approximately 80% of all Chicanos are urban residents, 75% of these live in the major urban concentrations if the Southwest.[1] This is in sharp contrast with the fact that only 65% if the total U.S. population live in such areas.

This process of urbanization of the Chicano people has not brought with it any substantial improvement of economic conditions. The oppressive patterns of rural life have been replaced with more refined and sophisticated patterns of urban exploitation and oppression. This is reflected in such problems as those of employment, education, housing, and living conditions.

The main occupation of urban Chicanos have been in the building trades, the needle trades, building maintenance, printing trades, domestic service, restaurants and hotels, gardening and landscape, trucking and retail trades. The occupational distribution of Chicanos in these trades is reflected in government reports of 1965 and thereafter[2]: Of the Chicano employees, only 2.4% were officials and managers; 2.6% professionals; 2.4% technicians; 3.3% sales; 13.1% office and clerical workers. Of the 76.2% listed as “blue-collar” 40.8% were operatives; 15.6% craftsmen; 15.4% laborers, and 4.4% service workers. Since the time of that report, little change in occupational distribution has been noted and what has occurred has been accomplished by a drastic deterioration of wage and working conditions standards.

Studies which have been done reveal that the over-representation of Chicanos in the “operative” category occurred mainly because of their excessive representation in the “undesirable” jobs, such as furnacemen, smeltermen, filers, grinders, polishers, assemblers, laundry and dry cleaning operators, packers, wrappers, and also in large numbers of them who work in generally lower-paying industries, such as furniture, stone and clay products, and textiles[3] – industries in which most workers are regarded as operatives irregardless of skills. This occupational pattern has been further aggravated by the unfair wage differentials which have meant that Chicanos receive less pay for similar work as that done by Anglos. The lack of employment opportunities is not a passing phenomenon, but rather a component part of the general crisis of capitalism.

Another characteristic feature of the General Crisis which has affected Chicanos is the transformation of the industrial reserve army of labor into the permanent army of the unemployed. This feature, which affects the working class as a whole, has brought devastation to the Chicano people in the Southwest.

The U.S. Department of Labor indicated that the three top areas of “sub-employment” are in the Black Belt South and in the Southwest.[4] These are first, San Antonio, then New Orleans, and third, Phoenix. The significance of these findings become more apparent one year later when the Southwest and Black Belt South are identified as “emergency hunger counties”, and except for California and Colorado, most of the counties of the Southwest are identified as places having serious hunger problems.[5]

In recent years, as the oppressed status of the Chicano people has come more to peoples’ attention, the apparatus of the Yanqui Imperialist state has attempted to cover the character of this exploitation and oppression even more. In February of 1971, the U.S. Bureau of the Census published a report on the Spanish-surnamed population, which flew in the face of other statistical surveys done on Chicanos.[6] This report indicated that California had only two million Spanish-surnamed residents, whereas another report, only one year later, calculated the population as at least 3,140,000.[7]

The distorted government report stated that Spanish origin family income was possibly $1,055. greater than the income of the average Black family, but failed to point out that on the average, “Spanish-origin” families are substantially larger and have more breadwinners within the family. It is with this perspective that a correct analysis of family income can be made:

Except for American-Indians, on a per-capita basis, Spanish-Americans, and, in particular, Mexican-Americans, earn less than any other ethnic or racial group in the United States and their earnings on a per capita basis are $1,300, as opposed to the Anglo population per capita earnings of almost $3,000 per annum.[8]

Another area in which the oppression of the Chicano people is most apparent is the question of education. Over twenty years after two important cases[9] against the segregationist tactics of the bourgeoisie were brought in by Mexican-American parents, more than three-fourths of all Chicanos have less than a high school education.[10] Yet, this situation exists in the midst of the United States’ most impressive area by education standards. The median school years completed by persons over 25 years of age (all nationalities) is higher in all of the Southwest, except Texas, than it is in the United States as a whole. Its rate of nonenrollment in school of persons of school age are impressively lower than the U.S. rate in each of its states. Except for Texas, its expenditures per pupil in average daily membership in public schools is higher than the U.S. average. It is in this context that the situation of the Chicano people must be understood.

In 33 out of 35 metropolitan areas of the Southwest, the gap between Anglos and Chicanos was found to be larger than the gap between Anglos and Blacks.[11]

Due to overwhelming evidence, the imperialist state was itself forced to admit that

Public school pupils of this ethnic group(Chicanos) are severely isolated by school districts and by schools within individual districts.[12]

As for higher education, the recent strike by Chicano students at the nine campuses of the University of California system exposed the sham of “Chicano opportunities in higher education” The report issued by the U.S. Chicano Steering Committee revealed that:

1. Chicanos are 17% of the State’s population, yet comprise 2% of the University wide enrollment since 1971.
2. From a high of 2.1% in the Fall of 1973, Chicano enrollment has dropped to 1.8% in the Fall of 1975, and is expected to decline further in the coming year.
3. Despite more than 6,000 new admissions to the UC Berkeley campus in the Fall of 1975 of first year and transfer students there were only 72 new Chicano admissions.
4. Chicano students are at economic disadvantage with a median parental income of $7,000. as compared to the campus-wide parental income of $18,000.[13]

We have here touched upon a very few of the manifestations of the exploitation and oppression of the Chicano people, but these should serve to make our movement aware of the profound significance of the Chicano peoples just struggle against the rotten and decaying system of U.S. imperialism. As can be seen from the preceding statistics, the Chicano people suffer an exploitation and oppression which is qualitatively different from that of the U.S. proletariat as a whole. Do these conditions point to the situation of an oppressed national minority or of a second oppressed nation within the bounds of the oppressor nation itself? As Marxist- Leninists, it is our duty to grasp these manifestations of national oppression, to learn what the specific essence of this exploitation and oppression is and to develop a program for Chicano liberation which scientifically reflects tit objective needs of the Chicano struggle and correctly places it in the overall context of the struggle in the United States for socialist revolution.


[1] Bureau of the Census Report on Standard Metropolitan Areas.

[2] U.S. Department of Labor Statistics report, 1965.

[3] Mexican-American Study Project, UCLA, 1966, “Advance Report 10”.

[4] U.S. Department of Labor, “Manpower Report of the President”, 1976.

[5] “Hunger U.S.A.” – Report by the Citizens Board of Inquiry into Hunger and Malnutrition in the U.S., New Community Press, Washington D.C., 1968.

[6] “Population Characteristics, Persons of Spanish Origin in the United States, as of November, 1969”, U.S. Bureau of the Census.

[7] Mexican-American Population Commission of California, “Mexican-American Population in California”, June, 1967.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Mendez et al. v. Westminster School District of Orange County”; ”Brown v. the Board of Education”.

[10] “Spanish American in the Labor Market”, Manpower Administration, Dept. of Labor, June 1974, p. 29.

[11] Mexican-American Study Project, “The Schooling Gap: Signs of Progress”, Advance Report 7, UCLA, p.18.

[12] U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Mexican-American Education Study, Report No. 1, April, 1971.

[13] EL TECOLOTE – San Francisco Mission district newspaper, June, 1976, p. 1.