First Published: The Call, Vol. 6, No. 10, March 14, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The August Twenty-Ninth Movement (ATM) took a step deeper into the swamp of opportunism with the publication of their document on the Chicano national question, Fan the Flames.
The heart of ATM’s position is a petty-bourgeois nationalist line, backed up by the idealist notion that the Chicano people are not an oppressed national minority in the U.S. Rather, says ATM, “Chicanos constitute an oppressed nation within the boundaries of the U.S.,” with a distinct development, separate from both the Anglo-American and the Mexican nations.
In their attempt to “prove” this idealist concept, ATM completely distorts the most basic principles of Marxism on the national question. They put forward a thoroughly unscientific analysis of nations and national development, denying the revolutionary character of the national minority movements. They liquidate the role of the working class in the Chicano national movement and also the need to overthrow imperialism as the only road to liberation for the Chicano people.
One example is ATM’s opportunist confusion of the concepts of “nation” and “territory.” They refer to the “Chicano nation” not as the people, but as the territory of the Southwest. From this, they make a false distinction between a nation and a national minority, denying the common national development of the Mexican and Chicano people.
A graphic example of this false separation is ATM’s attack on the October League’s line on the Chicano question. The OL, says ATM, should “explain why the Chicano people are not a nation.”
This is nothing but an opportunist trick, an appeal to nationalism. The OL’s stand on the Chicano question is a scientific Marxist-Leninist stand. It views the Chicano people as part of the Mexican nation which developed over the course of hundreds of years.
Following the scientific analysis of national development as it was formulated by J.V. Stalin, the OL’s “Resolution on the Chicano National Question,” showed how the Mexican nation developed with the rise of capitalism, as a “historically constituted, stable community of people.” The nation was formed on the basis of a common territory (which included northern Mexico, now the Southwest U.S.), as well as common language, economic life and psychological make-up.
In the mid-1800s, when the rise of capitalism and the development of the Mexican nation had already been under way for hundreds of years, the northern part of Mexico was forcibly annexed by the United States.
As a result, the Mexican people living in what became the Southwest U.S. became a national minority, known as Mexican-Americans or Chicanos. They were living outside their native country, dispersed among an alien Anglo-American majority. Since that time, and especially in the last 60 years, millions more Mexicans have crossed the border to make their home in the U.S. as members of the U.S. working class and the Chicano people.
As “proof” of the separate development of the Chicano and Mexican people as two distinct nations, ATM says that l) “the Mexican nation is the result of three revolutions (and) Chicanos in the Southwest were not a part of those revolutions”; 2) that Chicanos and the Mexican people suffered from different forms of oppression; and 3) that “the Chicano masses are much further removed from feudalism than the rural Mexican population.”
But these “explanations” only drive the nails deeper into ATM’s ideological coffin. The development of the Mexican nation was not marked simply by the date of a particular bourgeois revolution. Rather, the Mexican people developed as a nation throughout the whole period of rising capitalism.
As for the “different forms” of oppression in Mexico and the U.S. and the comparative “distance” from feudalism–ATM is describing the conditions of all oppressed national minorities. Is ATM claiming that Filipino-Americans and Chinese-Americans formed separate nations in this country because they suffered different forms of oppression here than they suffered in their homelands?
Of course, Chicanos have special characteristics and a distinct history of oppression within the borders of the U.S. But this does not wipe out their hundreds of years of common development as part of the Mexican nation.
In fact, ATM makes no attempt to define who the Chicano people are and exactly when and how their national development took place. At one point they claim that “the Chicano people were forged in the struggle against national oppression following the conquest and annexation of the Southwest by U.S. capitalism” (in other words sometime during the last 128 years). At another point, they claim that Chicanos have a “history of development dating back over 200 years.”
Let’s suppose for a moment that the distinct national development ATM writes about had really taken place among the people of the northern territories of Mexico. Would this mean that those immigrants who flooded into the U.S. after 1910–the vast majority of the present Chicano population–magically changed their nationality from Mexican to Chicano when they crossed the border? Of course not. Yet this “magic” is exactly what ATM puts forward, because they make no mention at all of a Mexican-American national minority.
By means of their idealist notion of a “Chicano nation,” ATM promotes petty-bourgeois nationalism. ATM’s program for Chicano liberation focuses exclusively on the struggle for land reform in the Southwest. What they call the “three basic demands of the Chicano movement” to “end this vicious system” consists of: 1) “expropriation of the land and natural resources” of the Southwest; 2) “state unity of the Southwest”; and 3) the “right of political secession” for the Chicano nation.
This “program for Chicano liberation” completely ignores the struggle of the Chicano workers for socialism, attacks the strategic alliance between the Chicanos and workers of all nationalities, and incorrectly puts forward the view that Chicano liberation can be attained under capitalism.
It is true that the struggle for land is a component part of the Chicano people’s struggle. Marxist-Leninists must lead the fight to return stolen lands and end monopoly ownership as part of the fight for full democratic rights, regional autonomy and socialism.
However, the leading force in the Chicano liberation movement today is the working class, which makes up all but a tiny percentage of the Chicano people. The demand of the Chicano workers is not simply the expropriation of the land, but the smashing of the whole capitalist system. ATM’s petty-bourgeois reformist theory abandons the struggle of the working class and liquidates the need for unified struggle between Chicano, Black, white and workers of other nationalities, which is the key to victory.
This abandonment of the Chicano workers is also reflected in ATM’s separation of the struggle of Chicanos in the Southwest from the struggle of Chicanos living outside the region. Although they do not take a stand on the exact boundaries, the area they call the “core” of the Southwest is a rural area with no industrial centers. They specifically exclude Los Angeles, the largest urban concentration of Mexican nationality workers outside Mexico City.
In any case, they put forward completely distinct programs for the struggle inside and outside the Southwest, limiting the struggle outside to the fight for “democratic rights,” with no mention of regional autonomy or socialism.
The demand for regional autonomy for Chicanos in the Southwest and other areas of concentration is, in fact, the only demand which recognizes the national rights of the Chicano people and which can unite the Chicano national minority wherever they reside within the U.S. As a demand for political power, it reflects the democratic aspirations of Chicanos of all classes and strata, workers and peasants alike. It is the duty of Marxist-Leninists to uphold this demand, which can only be guaranteed under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Finally, ATM liquidates the role of a Marxist-Leninist party in leading the Chicano people’s struggle to victory, glorifying and tailing the spontaneous mass what direction the Chicano struggle will take in the future–whether for independence, for federation or as part of a direct struggle for proletarian state power. In any case, we are duty-bound to support and to lead that movement.
But Lenin refuted this backward line long ago when he pointed out: “In practice, the proletariat can retain its independence only by subordinating its struggle for all democratic demands, not excluding the demand for a republic, to its revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.” (“The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” in Collected Works Vol. 22, p. 149.)
Bent on getting rich quick by tailing the spontaneous petty-bourgeois movement against national oppression, ATM is putting forward a program that can never lead to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie nor to Chicano liberation. Like numerous other examples of their anti-party maneuvering, ATM’s “Chicano position” can only split the Chicano movement from its strongest allies and lead it to defeat.