Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Barry Litt

Nationalist Reformism Disguised as Marxism

A polemic against the political line of the August 29th Movement

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First Published: Class Struggle, No. 7, Spring 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The growing strength and influence of the genuine Marxist-Leninists, now on the verge of forming a new communist party and re-establishing the proletarian vanguard, has compelled every trend within the communist movement to show whether it stands for Marxism-Leninism or opportunism. In the recent period, the opportunists of all stripes have grown weaker and have been forced to mount more open attacks on Marxism-Leninism. In turn, our Marxist-Leninist trend must settle accounts with every opportunist line and draw firm and definite lines of demarcation. This is particularly important in the current period of the organizational formation of our party.

While the opportunist line has emerged on every question, the task of this article is to expose revisionism in its nationalist disguise. Here it plays the insidious role of undermining the class unity of the multinational U.S. proletariat and its vanguard party.

The August Twenty-Ninth Movement (ATM) has taken the lead in fomenting this petit-bourgeois nationalist deviation in the communist movement. ATM has its origins among students and intellectuals in the Chicano national movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has a history of instability and opportunist blocking–from its strong attraction to the Revolutionary Union; to its participation in the revisionist Continuations Committee of the Communist League; to its membership in the so-called “Revolutionary Wing.” Today, ATM is sinking more and more into the swamp of right opportunism–openly abandoning the urgent task of forming a new communist party; preaching economism in the workers’ movement; conciliating with Soviet social-imperialism internationally; and peddling narrow nationalist, anti-working class ideology and reformism under the cover of Marxism-Leninism.

ATM has put forth a thoroughly anti-Marxist line on the national question and its relationship to the proletarian revolution. It has attacked the correct Marxist-Leninist position that the Chicano people constitute an oppressed Mexican national minority in the U.S., and the Marxist-Leninist program for the Chicano people–socialism, full democratic rights, and regional autonomy in the Southwest and other areas of concentration. It fosters narrow nationalism and anti-communism within the national movements, and white chauvinism among the white workers.

It is especially important to defeat this opportunist line because it is being paraded as Marxism-Leninism and cloaked in a criticism of great nation chauvinism. This can create confusion and do great harm. As Stalin said:

We can always cope with open nationalism, for it can easily be discerned. It is much more difficult to combat nationalism when it is masked and unrecognizable beneath its mask. Protected by the armor of socialism, it is less vulnerable and more tenacious. Implanted among the workers, it poisons the atmosphere and spreads harmful ideas of mutual distrust and segregation among the workers of different nationalities.[1]

This is a very good description of ATM and its effect. This article will first analyze ATM’s stand on the national question in general, and then its stand on the Chicano national question in particular.


The heart of ATM’s line on the national struggles in the U.S. is that the “basic demands” of the Chicano and other national movements “are democratic demands achievable under imperialism.”[2] ATM’s line is that the oppressed nationalities can achieve their liberation without necessitating the complete destruction of the system of U.S. imperialism and its replacement with socialism.

This line is thoroughly reformist. Coupled with ATM’s call for the oppressed nationalities to wage an independent fight against U.S. imperialism, it constitutes an all-round ideology of petit-bourgeois nationalism. It raises the national struggle above the class struggle and liquidates the leading role of the proletariat and the proletarian revolution.

Before discussing ATM’s line in detail, it will be helpful to summarize the Marxist-Leninist teachings on the national question in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution. In the period of the rise of capitalism, the national question was one of the “civilized” nations, of the consolidation of national capitalist development. It was a question of the consolidation of capitalism, not the defeat of imperialism.

Lenin showed that the rise of imperialism and of the first imperialist war created the conditions in which the national-colonial questions became a component part of the world proletarian revolution. As Stalin put it:

Leninism has proved, and the imperialist war and the revolution have confirmed, that the national question can only be solved only in connection with and on the basis of the proletarian revolution, and that the road to victory of the revolution in the West lies through the revolutionary alliance with the liberation movement of the colonies and dependent countries against imperialism. The national question is apart of the general question of the proletarian revolution, a part of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.[3]

Leninism showed that, in the colonies (today the third world), a great revolutionary movement was arising against imperialism. Even when this movement was not led by the proletariat of an oppressed nation, but by feudal or bourgeois forces, it was revolutionary because it objectively weakened, disintegrated and undermined imperialism. When led by the proletariat, this stage of national-democratic revolution was the first step on the path to socialism.


Leninism also showed that, within the capitalist countries, the national question could only be solved by the proletarian revolution. Stalin made this point, not only in general terms, but in very specific ones. In 1925, a debate arose over the national question in Yugoslavia, which was a multinational capitalist country. After making clear that the slogan and fight for self-determination of the oppressed nations within Yugoslavia must be consistently taken up, Stalin explained that the proletarian revolution must be the starting point of the national program:

The starting point of the national program must be the thesis of a Soviet revolution in Yugoslavia, the thesis that the national question cannot be solved at all satisfactorily unless the bourgeoisie is overthrown and the revolution is victorious. Of course, there may be exceptions; there was such an exception, for instance, before the war (WWI) when Norway separated from Sweden–of which Lenin treats in detail in one of his articles. But that was before the war, and under an exceptional combination of favorable circumstances. Since the war, and especially since the victory of the Soviet revolution in Russia, such cases are hardly possible. At any rate, the chances of their being possible are now so slight that they can be put as nil. But if that is so, it is obvious that we cannot construct our programme from elements whose significance is nil. That is why the thesis of a revolution must be the starting point of the national programme.[4] (Emphasis added)

This statement of Stalin’s makes the point perfectly clear. In the second period of the national question, fully ushered in with World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, national oppression in the capitalist countries, is a direct question of the socialist revolution. This is the stand of the October League in its Chicano Resolution:

Our program for Chicano liberation is to establish socialism under the dictatorship of the proletariat, regional autonomy for the Chicano people in the Southwest and other areas of high concentration, and full democratic rights.[5]

It is this that ATM attacks–the Leninist line on the national question. Instead of saying that its main demands for the Chicano people can only be accomplished with the socialist revolution, ATM says that its main demands on the Chicano question (which it defines as self-determination, land, and governmental unity for the Southwest) are democratic demands achievable under imperialism. ATM’s line is that democracy and national liberation can be achieved outside of the proletarian revolution.


ATM tries to justify its opportunism with the following quote from Lenin:

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 .. But from this it does not by any means follow that Social-Democracy [i.e., communism] should reject the most 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 .. .drawing the masses into decisive action, extending and intensifying the struggle for every fundamental democratic demand up to a direct proletarian onslaught on the bourgeoisie, i.e., up to the socialist revolution that expropriates the bourgeoisie.[6](Last emphasis added)

But ATM has refuted itself with this quote. Lenin was not arguing that national liberation in an imperialist country could be won without the accomplishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In fact, he pointed out that any democratic demand was only “partially practicable” (he put these words in quotation marks) under imperialism, and then only in a distorted form and by way of exception. Lenin was explaining the connection between the struggle for democratic rights and the proletarian revolution. He showed that the fight for every fundamental democratic demand must be taken up immediately, taken up on the basis of extending and intensifying this fight “up to a direct proletarian onslaught on the bourgeoisie.” This is precisely what ATM does not do. Instead of merging the national struggle into the struggle for socialist revolution, ATM confines them to the imperialist system.

ATM claims that the OL calls on the oppressed nationalities not to fight today for regional autonomy or self-determination, but rather to “recognize their limitations” under capitalism and to recognize that these demands are not “achievable” under imperialism. Of course, the October League educates the masses that national liberation can only come under socialism. But the charge that the OL does not take up these struggles today is preposterous. ATM knows full well that the OL has been the leading force in raising the fight for Afro-American self-determination and socialism, both in the Gary Tyler work and in other places. It knows that, in the pages of The Call and in work among the masses, the demand for regional autonomy for the Chicano people in the Southwest has been broadly taken up. These demands are clearly put forth in the Draft Program of our party as well.

ATM desperately tries to justify its opportunism by quoting a polemic of Lenin’s, written against those who argued that national self-determination should not be upheld on the ground that it was not achievable under imperialism. Lenin attacked this line and pointed out that it was a chauvinist distortion of the nature of imperialism and the struggle against it. But in doing so, Lenin never sowed the illusion that there was a path to national liberation other than the socialist revolution.


ATM’s petit-bourgeois nationalist line, which confines the Chicano people’s struggle to one of reforms within the imperialist system, must be distinguished from revolutionary nationalism. While not guided by the science of Marxism-Leninism, revolutionary nationalism has a revolutionary view of national liberation. We unite with the national revolutionary sentiments of the oppressed nationality masses, and with all those who want to wage revolutionary struggle against the imperialist system. But we cannot unite with those “socialists” who preach reformism and the accomplishment of their goals “under imperialism.”

The real anti-working class content of ATM’s line, their separation of the national and workers’ struggles, and their tailist worship of the spontaneous national struggle regardless of its political direction and class content, can readily be seen in its document on the Chicano national question, Fan the Flames. ATM describes this document as “our [ATM’s] battle cry, our declaration of WAR against the U.S. imperialists.”[7]

ATM says that they “cannot predict exactly what direction the Chicano struggle will take in the future–whether for independence, for federation, or as a part of the direct struggle for proletarian state power. In any case, we are duty-bound to support and to lead that movement.”[8]

ATM adds that a ”revolutionary armed rebellion by the Chicano people” would inspire progressive movements in the U.S. and around the world, and “will inspire” the revolutionary U.S. working class.[9]

But ATM reveals its total betrayal of Marxism-Leninism when it calls Fan the Flames its declaration of war against U.S. imperialism. What is the Marxist-Leninist declaration of war? It is the statement of the working class declaring its struggle to the death for the complete abolition of all exploitation and oppression. That is, it is the party program for the armed overthrow of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the transition to classless, communist society.

But ATM’s declaration of war is its statement on the struggle of a single oppressed nationality in the U.S.–a statement which holds that the revolutionary objectives of the Chicano people’s struggle do not necessitate the complete smashing of the imperialist system and the establishment of socialism. How can ATM claim to be a vanguard organization of the multinational U.S. proletariat? This line can only foster divisions among the workers of different nationalities. ATM could give no more blatant confession of its abandonment of the stand of the working class.


Throughout its literature, ATM mentions many times how it must connect the Chicano struggle to the fight for socialism. However, when we break through this smokescreen, we see that ATM pledges to support and lead the Chicano people’s struggle no matter what direction it goes in. But the Marxist-Leninist view is to lead the alliance and merger of the workers and national struggles for the complete overthrow of U.S. imperialism. Marxist-Leninists, in their work in the national movements, must exert every effort to build them as a component part of one mighty assault on U.S. imperialism. For Marxist-Leninists to win leadership of the national movements means precisely that they will be directed toward, and on the path of, socialist revolution.

Stalin clearly explained how the proletariat assessed any particular national movement:

This does not mean, of course, that the proletariat must support every national movement, everywhere and always, in every individual concrete case. It means that support must be given to such national movements as tend to weaken, to overthrow imperialism, and not to strengthen and preserve it. Cases occur when the national movements in certain oppressed countries come into conflict with the interests of the development of the proletarian movement. In such cases support is, of course, entirely out of the question.[10]

The proletariat does not pledge itself to support in advance a national movement no matter what direction it goes in. We determine our stand from the angle of the advance of the united working class struggle for socialism.

ATM clearly envisages some form of guerrilla warfare for secession in the Southwest as the path to Chicano liberation:

As yet the national movement as a movement has not taken to armed struggle for political secession, although it has supported it within its ranks. Yet it has a history of such struggle and the conditions for a national revolt have not diminished but have increased, making the upsurge of a national liberation struggle a very strong possibility in the near future.[11]

ATM makes no distinction between the national question in the imperialist countries with the national and colonial question in the third world (just as the Communist Labor Party does). It views the Chicano question as a colonial question and advocates what is essentially a two-stage revolution. It is in direct opposition to the tasks of the proletarian revolution. ATM does not rely on the multinational proletariat, and is thereby forced to rely on the bourgeoisie.

ATM echoes Martin Nicolaus’ revisionist line of relying on the imperialists. Its line is that, if the Chicano people fight hard, they can pressure the imperialists into granting them their liberation. Similarly, ATM puts the Chicano bourgeoisie in the leadership of the national movement. Since ATM will support this “revolution” whatever direction it goes in, apparently it would be fine with ATM if this secession took the form of a bourgeois capitalist state.

Rather than explaining that only a nationwide armed insurrection of the whole working class can topple the imperialists, ATM teaches the Chicano masses to isolate themselves from the overall working class struggle, to go it alone. But the Chicano masses will never accept this reactionary line. They will see that ATM divides the revolutionary struggle against imperialism, abandons the proletariat and embraces the bourgeoisie.


In discussing the historic national divisions in the U.S. working class, ATM observes that the U.S. ruling class has “developed a system of political, social and economic privileges for the workers of the oppressor nation (a system based on the denial of political, social and economic equality to the oppressed nationality workers).”[12]

The question of the relation between the white workers and the oppressed nationality workers is one of prime importance for the revolution. Historically, revisionism in the U.S. communist movement has been integrally connected with a chauvinist stand on the national question. Without a correct political line on the national question, no revolution here is possible.

Lenin discussed the differences between the conditions of the workers of oppressor and oppressed nations as follows:

Is the actual condition of the workers in the oppressor and in the oppressed nations the same, from the standpoint of the national question?
No, it is not the same.
(1) Economically, the difference is that sections of the working class in the oppressor nations receive crumbs from the superprofits the bourgeoisie of these nations obtains by extra exploitation of the workers of the oppressed nations. Besides, economic statistics show that here a larger percentage of the workers become ’straw bosses’ than is the case in the oppressed nations, a larger percentage rise to the labor aristocracy. That is a fact. To a certain degreethe worker of the oppressor nations are partners of their own bourgeoisie in plundering the workers (and the mass of the population of the oppressed nations.
(2) Politically, the difference is that, compared with the workers of the oppressed nations, they occupy a privileged position in many spheres of political life.
(3) Ideologically, or spiritually, the difference is that they are taught, at school and in life, disdain and contempt for the workers of the oppressed nations.[13]

Note the difference between Lenin’s discussion and ATM’s. Lenin says that sections of the oppressor nation workers are bought off economically through imperialist superprofits (i.e., the labor aristocracy). ATM on the other hand says that the broad masses of white workers are economically privileged. It is undoubtedly true that the majority of white workers are economically privileged in a certain relative sense, i.e., the masses of white workers are economically better off in comparison to the masses of minority workers. This is a fact which must be faced squarely and handled correctly by winning the whole working class, especially the white workers, to the fight for the special demands of the oppressed nationality workers and for full economic equality. WHO IS REALLY PRIVILEGED?

But the white workers are not economically privileged in any absolute sense. They are not bribed or bought off. Rather the masses of white workers are subject to brutal exploitation and growing poverty. It is only the relatively small labor aristocracy, bribed by imperialist superprofits, that is actually economically privileged.

Similarly, ATM poses a system of political privileges for the white workers as a whole, while Lenin speaks of this in comparative, relative terms only. Again, it is true that white workers, in relative terms, have a certain privileged position. Politically, the oppressed nationalities are the victims of the most systematic and brutal oppression. This is a typical feature of imperialism. We fight against every manifestation of national oppression, and we must win the whole working class to the fight for full democratic rights, regional autonomy and self-determination. Without this, there can be no successful revolution.

But the white workers are not politically privileged in any absolute sense, just as they are not economically privileged in any absolute sense. Politically, bourgeois democracy is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. It is sham democracy, a dictatorship over the masses of people. This is a Marxist principle. Do the masses of white workers have any genuine political rights? Do they have the ability to practice any real democracy under imperialism? Absolutely not. ATM’s view violates basic Marxist principles on the nature of the state, containing the revisionist thesis that the “privileged” white workers can have democracy under imperialism.

While failing to understand the relationship between the economic and political conditions of the white and minority workers, and the material unity between them, ATM at the same time fails to target the most important question–the propagation and perpetuation of white chauvinist ideology by the bourgeoisie. It is here that the bourgeoisie has been able to penetrate relatively broadly into the masses of white workers.


As Lenin points out, the oppressor nation workers are taught “disdain and contempt” by the ruling class for the oppressed nation workers. Our task is to educate the white workers on the proletarian view of the national question and the fight for socialism, to win them to the fight against national oppression as a component part of the class struggle against the bourgeoisie. Our task is not to call on the white workers to give up some privileged position which they supposedly hold. In fact, national oppression holds down the economic and political condition, not only of the minority workers, but of the white workers as well.

ATM has revived, in a new guise, the long since discredited “white skin privilege” line which had wide circulation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is a thoroughly petit-bourgeois line–held by terrorist groups such as the Weathermen, and economist groups such as Sojourner Truth Organization. Even more telling, it is also the line of the CPUSA, which blames racism on the white workers. It is a line which preaches petit-bourgeois moralism rather than proletarian class unity. It proceeds from the view that the material interests of the white workers really lie with the imperialists. It is a thoroughly rightist line which has no faith in the masses of workers.

But it is not simply a matter of little faith. This white skin privilege line encourages and fans white chauvinism. It tells the white workers that they really do benefit from national oppression. After all, if they are in fact privileged, and they have these privileges because of national oppression, then it is logical that they would want to keep these privileges. This line says that the elimination of national oppression would worsen, rather than better, the conditions of the white workers. It is exactly the same line that the bourgeoisie and the labor aristocrats push.

Of course, given their view of the white workers, who comprise the majority of the U.S. proletariat, it should come as no surprise that ATM views the national struggle in the U.S. as being the leading force in the revolution. As they put it:

The national movements have dealt the sharpest blows internally to U.S. imperialism since the Civil War.[14]

This is a confession that ATM does not believe that the principal contradiction in the U.S. is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Instead, ATM clearly believes that the national question is now and always has been the principal contradiction in the U.S., and that the oppressed nationalities are the leading force, not the multinational U.S. proletariat.

Not only does ATM liquidate the great historic struggles of the U.S. working class. More significantly, this line demonstrates ATM’s consistent undermining of the alliance and merger of the workers’ and national movements. When the CPUSA was a revolutionary party, the class and national struggles were closely bound together. For example, in the 1930s the Scottsboro Boys case was taken up in factories throughout the country, and linked to the questions of Afro-American self-determination and socialist revolution. Was this a national struggle? Of course it was. But, and this is the main thing, it was also a struggle of the whole working class led by the vanguard party of the proletariat. This, and only this, is the path to national liberation.


ATM says that the “political essence of imperialism is national oppression.”[15]

Lenin refuted this line in his critique of the Social-Democrat Kievsky, who held that imperialism was a foreign policy system:

The political superstructure of this new economy, of monopoly capitalism (imperialism is monopoly capitalism) is the change from democracy to political reaction ...
It is fundamentally wrong, un-Marxist and unscientific, to single out ’foreign policy’ from policy in general, let alone counterpose foreign policy to home policy. Both in foreign and home policy imperialism strives towards violations of democracy, towards reaction. In this sense imperialism is indisputably the ’negation’ of democracy in general, of all democracy, and not just of one of its demands, national self-determination.[16]

Lenin repeated this refutation in smashing Karl Kautsky’s line that imperialism was the striving for annexation of foreign agrarian territory. Lenin explained that Kautsky “one-sidedly, i.e., arbitrarily, singles out only the national question.” This is wrong, explained Lenin, “for politically, imperialism is, in general, a striving towards violence and reaction.”[17]

ATM has the same line as Kievsky and Kautsky. It one-sidedly singles out only the national question as the political essence of imperialism. It fails to recognize that imperialism is the negation of all democracy, and that it is the general striving toward violence and reaction. Politically, imperialism is reaction down the line, in every sphere of life. So long as imperialism exists, imperialism must oppress nations, women and youth; it must degrade and exploit the laboring masses: it must subvert and repress the struggles of the masses; it must go to war. This is the character of imperialism.[18]

These ideas of ATM constitute an integral and well defined petit-bourgeois nationalist ideology. ATM’s line on the political essence of imperialism is a logical complement of its line that the white workers are politically privileged. The same is true of its view that the self-determination of an oppressed nation in the U.S. can be achieved without the socialist revolution.


In fact, ATM goes even one step further than Kautsky and Kievsky. These two opportunists argued that imperialism was a foreign policy, a system of annexation and aggression. Neither of them openly put forth that national oppression was the essence of imperialism not only abroad but also at home. Yet this is what ATM has done, arguing that national oppression within the U.S. borders as well as abroad is the political essence of imperialism. Thus, it is no surprise that ATM sees the real revolutionary question in the U.S. to be the national struggle rather than the whole multinational working class struggle for socialism.

ATM represents the flip side of the chauvinism of Kautsky-Kievsky, who refused to uphold and fight for self-determination. All of them separate the national question from the question of the all-round and thoroughly reactionary political character of imperialism. Kautsky and Kievsky did this by liquidating the role of the national struggle, thus standing with imperialism and chauvinism. ATM does it by raising the national struggle above the class struggle, thereby liquidating the leading role of the proletariat in the national movements and breaking the revolutionary unity of the workers’ and national struggles in the fight to overthrow U.S. imperialism. In this way, ATM stands with the bourgeoisie, which does everything it can to separate and tear asunder these two great revolutionary currents within the U.S.

ATM’s line on the national question leads it to conciliate with the revisionist CPUSA by lumping together Marxism-Leninism and modern revisionism. They do this by slanderously describing the CPUSA and the OL as having basically the same line on the Chicano national question; by describing as a single group of “opportunists” the CPUSA, the PSP, CASA, RCP and OL; and by echoing the revisionist line on the white workers (as discussed earlier).[19]

ATM’s anti-party stand is clearly revealed by this conduct. Frantically attacking the Marxist-Leninists, it takes the heat off the revisionists. It legitimizes the revisionists by telling the masses that the Marxist-Leninist line is the same as the revisionist line. In fact, it is ATM which echoes the revisionists, telling the Chicano people that they can win their liberation without the revolutionary overthrow of the whole U.S. imperialist system and the establishment of socialism.

It is a poisonous weed, indeed, which is sprouting within ATM.


ATM advances the position that the Chicano people in the Southwest constitute an oppressed nation whose territory is centered in the New Mexico-Southern Colorado area. Thus, according to ATM, communists must uphold the right of self-determination, i.e., political secession, of the Chicano nation.

The correct view is that the Chicano people constitute a Mexican national minority within the U.S. The correct program for Chicano liberation is socialism, regional autonomy for the Chicano people in the Southwest and other areas of concentration, and full democratic rights. A review of the historical development of the Chicano people will show why ATM’s view is not only wrong but seriously distorts and, in fact, destroys this history. Analyzing ATM’s position will also show that ATM has contempt for the revolutionary struggles of the many national minorities in this country.

The size and geographical distribution of the Chicano people in the U.S. have been determined by two major historical events–first, the theft of Mexico’s northern lands by the United States; and second, the waves of migration, one of the greatest in all history, to the U.S. from Mexico during the twentieth century. These events were the direct result of U.S. aggression, exploitation and oppression toward the Mexican nation.[20]

In the period of the rise of capitalism, beginning approximately with the 16th century, the Indian, Spanish and Mestizo people developed into the Mexican nation. During a centuries-long process, they developed a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological makeup manifested in a common culture–in short, all the scientific criteria of a nation.

The northern lands of Mexico were sparsely populated colonial settlements. At the time of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), the Mexican population of what is now known as the Southwest was less than 1% of the population of Mexico. It broke down as follows:

California – 7,500
Arizona – 1,000
Texas – 5,000
New Mexico – 60,000

These areas were isolated from one another and, for the most part, from Mexico as well. The economy of the Mexican population was a feudal, agrarian one, with the New Mexican economy being the most deeply rooted. At this time, the Mexican population in the Southwest totaled about 75,000. This was significantly smaller than the population of the Native American peoples in the area, which totaled about 250,000 including the California Indians. The bulk of the territory was still effectively controlled by the Plains Indians (particularly the Apaches), who courageously fought the Spanish, Mexican, and later the U.S. settlement.

After the Civil War, the U.S.–now beginning the transition from pre-monopoly to monopoly capitalism–settled and developed large sections of the former Mexican lands, particularly California. The transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Those lands guaranteed the Mexican people in the U.S. by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were stolen and swindled from them. Homesteading spread throughout the West. Large scale cattle ranching, agriculture, mining and lumber all developed.

Until approximately 1900, immigration from Mexico to the Southwest was relatively small. After 1900, it grew dramatically, particularly in Texas and California, a result of intense imperialist exploitation and oppression. The following chart shows the number of census-recorded Mexican immigrants living in the Southwest in each decade from 1900 to 1930 (no figures are available for Colorado). While understating its magnitude, these figures give some sense of the size and trend of Mexican immigration:

Year..........1900........ 1910........ 1920........ 1930
Arizona.....14,171... 29,987..... 61,580...... 114,173
California. 8,086......3,694 ....... 88,881...... 368,013
New Mexico 6,649.. 11,918... 20,272 ..... 59,340
Texas ... 71,062 ... 125,016 ... 251,827..... 683,681

As these figures show, from 1900 to 1930 well over one million Mexicans emigrated to the U.S., thereby increasing the Mexican population to at least three or four times its previous size. The continuation and intensification of this trend of immigration from Mexico is clearly shown by the following chart, which details the size of the recorded Chicano population in the Southwest for the years 1950, 1960 and 1970:

Arizona..... 128,580..... 206,904......... 246,390
California...758,400.... 1,456,223..... 2,222,185
Colorado... 118,715..... 152,039........ 211,585
New Mexico 248,560.. 275,731........ 324,248
Texas....... 1,027,710.... 1,422,787.... 1,663,567
TOTAL.... 2,281,710.... 3,513,684.... 4,667,975

These figures show the extraordinary continuing growth of the Mexican immigration and the Chicano population in the Southwest. In fact, it is estimated that one eighth of the whole Mexican population has emigrated to the U.S. While the U.S. population as a whole increased by only 35% in the 1950-1970 period, the Chicano population approximately doubled. In California, the Chicano population tripled while the general population less than doubled.

The same 1970 census data reflects that more than a third of all the Chicanos in the Southwest were either born in Mexico or have parents who were born in Mexico. And, it must be emphasized, the census data is notorious for its understatement of the actual size of the Chicano population in general, and of Mexican immigrants in particular.

To summarize: The facts show that the theft of the Southwest from Mexico marked the beginning of the Chicano people as an oppressed national minority. With the rise of U.S. imperialist oppression of Mexico, large scale Mexican migration to the U.S. occurred, swelling the size of the Chicano population from approximately less than a half million in 1900 to some ten million or more today. This migration has been concentrated in the former Mexican territory of the Southwest, particularly in California and Texas.


Bearing these facts in mind, let us now look at ATM’s analysis and see how it totally distorts this history. ATM, looking at the long and courageous history of the Chicano people in the New Mexico-Southern Colorado area, (where the Chicano people have been a majority for many decades dating back to the 19th century) concludes that an oppressed nation was forged there. Arguing that around this concentration, there are large portions of Southwest Texas and Southeast Arizona where Chicanos are a majority or near-majority, ATM concludes that these two areas combined roughly correspond to the national territory, the national homeland, of the Chicano people.

In this territory, the 1970 census shows that the Chicano population was 1,021,892 out of a total population of 1,675,542 (i.e., 61 % Chicano). Thus, approximately 22% of the Chicano people in the Southwest–and well under 20% of the Chicano people throughout the country–live in what ATM defines as the territory of the Chicano nation. These figures, coupled with the facts we have already shown, clearly demonstrate that the great majority of Chicano people in the U.S. never lived in ATM’s Chicano national territory, nor had any role in the development of the Chicano “nation,” nor did their ancestors.

ATM has posited the development of a Chicano nation, the formation of which most Chicanos had no role in. Such a formulation runs counter to materialism and all historical experience in national development. While it is true that imperialism causes the dispersal of large numbers of people from their national homeland (e.g., Mexico), the common nationality of a people clearly lies in the fact that there was a common process of national development in their national homeland. While ATM correctly cautions against a dogmatic and ahistoric application of Stalin’s definition of a nation, it uses this as a cover to liquidate a scientific analysis of national development.

In reality, of course, the Chicano people throughout the U.S. have emerged from a common process of national development, i.e., the development of the Mexican nation. The Chicano people have their origins in Mexico. This is precisely the reason that the Chicano people constitute an oppressed Mexican national minority in the U.S.

A brief comparison of the development of the Afro-American people will clarify this point. The Afro-American people were developed from the enslavement of many different African peoples. Brought to the U.S. in chains, concentrated overwhelmingly in the Deep South, chained to the land for centuries, suffering the most brutal exploitation and oppression, the Afro-American people grew and struggled as one people, a distinct people, whose homeland was the Black Belt South.


The Chicano people, on the other hand, grew and developed from a single nation and a single people–Mexico. A relatively small proportion of Chicanos have lived in the U.S. dating back to the Mexican-American War; the Mexicans in the Southwest at that time were clearly a part of the Mexican people. The great majority of Chicanos who came to the U.S. were driven from Mexico in search of a livelihood, and they too were part of the Mexican people. The Chicano people today are either themselves Mexican immigrants or the descendants of Mexicans. Stalin explains this phenomenon:

The persons constituting a nation do not always live in one compact mass; they are frequently divided into groups, and in that form are interspersed among alien national organisms. It is capitalism which drives them into various regions and cities in search of a livelihood. But when they enter foreign national territories and there form minorities, these groups are made to suffer by the local national majorities in the way of restrictions on their language, schools, etc.[21]

ATM supports its argument that the Chicano people are a nation with the statement that they suffer a special oppression within the U.S., distinct from that of the Mexican nation, and that the Chicano people have developed some characteristics distinct from those of the Mexican people. This is, of course, true, and is in fact a typical feature of the lives of all national minorities. We can plainly see this with regard to all the oppressed national minorities within the U.S.–e.g., Filipino, Japanese, Chinese. Stalin also described this:

These settlers (i.e., national minorities) lose their old connections and acquire new ones in their new domicile, and from generation to generation acquire new habits and new tastes, and possibly a new language.[22]

As Stalin points out, a national minority is affected in its character and consciousness by the conditions in which it finds itself living. The revolutionary struggle of a national minority is aimed at winning the revolution in its new homeland (although the revolutionary struggle in their country of national origin is of great importance and inspiration to them as well). Specifically, that means that the Chicano people’s struggle is aimed at the victory of the proletarian revolution here in the U.S., as a part of the whole international movement against imperialism.

ATM has caught itself in an inextricable web. Who are the several million Chicano people who do not originate from the Chicano “national territory?” Are they a part of the Chicano nation? Are they a separate Mexican national minority? The questions go on, and there is no logical answer to them under ATM’s analysis. This theory of a “third nation” which is neither U.S. nor Mexican divides rather than unites the masses of the exploited and oppressed people in the U.S. It destroys the revolutionary struggle of the Chicano people, artificially separating them from each other, from their Mexican ancestry and from the whole working class.


ATM has revived, in a new guise, the Revolutionary Union’s (now RCP) infamous “nation of a new type.” Just as the RU did, ATM has fashioned mythical historical categories, and has created a new and hitherto unheard of theory of national development. Just as the RU divorced the Afro-American people from their historic development as an oppressed nation in the Black Belt South, so ATM divorces the Chicano people from their historic development as part of the oppressed Mexican nation. And as the RU’s “theory” was a cover for its blatant chauvinism and betrayal of the Black liberation struggle, so ATM’s is a cover for its narrow nationalism.

A component part of ATM’s theory is its contempt for the revolutionary struggle of oppressed national minorities. It believes that the struggle of national minorities is only a reformist struggle, not a revolutionary one. Thus it strives to create artificial nations.

ATM believes that imperialism can in fact provide full democracy for national minorities. This is why ATM states that revolutionary struggle is not required to end police repression, deportations and forced sterilizations; to provide equal and quality housing, education, and health care; to end discrimination in employment and provide jobs or income for all Chicano people, etc.

ATM understands little indeed about imperialism. On the one hand, it does not understand that imperialism is the negation of democracy (as we discussed before). On the other hand, it does not understand that the fuller the democratic rights won under imperialism, the more clearly will it be revealed to the masses that no democratic rights won within the confines of the imperialist system can abolish either class exploitation or national oppression.

Despite ATM’s slanders on national minorities, these struggles are revolutionary ones for socialism, regional autonomy in areas of concentration, and full democratic rights. It is ATM, not the struggles of the oppressed national minorities, that is reformist. Despite all its talk of revolution, ATM’s strategic line leaves the imperialist system intact. This is the essence of reformism. The Marxist-Leninist view is that every fundamental democratic demand must be formulated and put through in a revolutionary way–must be bound up with the working class struggle for socialism. No demand that ATM raises– including its call for self-determination and land–can be fought for in a revolutionary way because ATM directs itself to the reform, not the overthrow, of the imperialist system.


In addition to totally distorting the Chicano people’s history and the revolutionary character of the national minority struggles, ATM muddles the role of economics in the development of oppressed nations under imperialism. It totally divorces economics from politics. ATM admits that the economy of the Chicano “nation” during its development was not distinct from that of the U.S. economy as a whole. But oppressed nations under imperialism are in fact formed on the basis of a common economic life distinct from that of the oppressor nation’s economy (while also connected to it).

Here is ATM’s analysis of the economic development of the Southwest:

The export of capital into the Southwest broke down the isolation and self-sufficiency of the scattered towns and villages, established commercial and manufacturing centers, trade between town and country, class divisions corresponding to the development of capitalism, transportation and communication of the towns throughout the Southwest.[23]

ATM goes on:

Economically, the export of capital to the Southwest and the consolidation of the border-region market show us that the economy of the Southwest does not represent an integral whole, distinct from the economy of the U.S.[24]

ATM argues that, even though the Southwest’s economy was not distinct from that of the U.S. as a whole, this does not matter because the national question in the imperialist era (as opposed to the era of bourgeois-democratic revolutions) is not a question of the struggle for the home market. But, while the struggle over the home market (which is a struggle among the bourgeois classes) is not the main struggle in the imperialist era, there is still a question of market and common economic life. A nation must have a common economic life, however underdeveloped and suppressed it may be. Imperialism does not negate the objective laws of national development, and a scientific analysis must still be applied. ATM’s analysis is a totally subjective one.

A helpful way to understand this question is to summarize the economic development of the oppressed Afro-American nation and contrast it to the economic development of the Southwest.

In the Black Belt, from the Civil War until early in the 20th century, the economic relations–although fully functioning within the capitalist commodity system–were characterized also by the semi-slave, semi-feudal relations of the sharecroppping system. The fact that the Black Belt was held in a distinct semi-feudal’ state is a significant factor in grasping the consolidation of the Afro-American people as an oppressed nation. For if this were not the case, if a revolutionary solution of the Afro-American question had been adopted–i.e., the seizure of the plantations and their distribution to the former slaves, and the establishment of full equality in all spheres of life–then the economic and political conditions for democratic integration rather than the national oppression of the Afro-American people would have existed.

Similarly, the Afro-American nation did develop a common economic life with an integrated division of labor between town and country as well as the development of class stratification. While the home market of the Afro-American nation was highly distorted and oppressed by U.S. imperialism, it did exist and develop as a market which had its own separate existence while also being integrated into the overall U.S. market.


ATM does not even claim that Chicanos in the Southwest had a common, distinct economic life. In fact most of the Southwest rapidly developed as an integral part of the U.S. capitalist system. This explains why the massive Mexican migrations could occur–it is a typical example of a peasantry of an oppressed nation being forced into the proletariat of the oppressor nation. For, overwhelmingly, the Mexicans who came to the U.S. came as wage workers seeking a capitalist market in which to sell their labor power.

This difference in the economic life of the Southwest and the Black Belt is confirmed by the fact that, in 1910, there were over 1,000,000 Black sharecroppers in the South while in the whole of the West and Southwest there were 25,000.[25] Similarly, the South had an extremely low level of in-migration due to its stultifying economic conditions, while the Southwest experienced rapid population growth through new migrations.[26]

In saying this, we should at the same time be careful to take account of the actual feudal survivals in the Southwest and the effect of the national oppression of the Chicano people in the Southwest’s economic development. In the New Mexico–Southern Colorado area in particular, the lingering of feudal production relations, such as peonage, were an important factor in that area’s slower capitalist development and lower living standards. Even more significantly, the oppression of the Mexican immigrants (as well as other minorities) was a vehicle for the U.S. bourgeoisie to hold down the economic and political struggle of the working class throughout the Southwest.

ATM’s economic line also shows how it adheres to the reformist line of a two-stage revolution for the U.S. oppressed nationalities. Just as its political line did. ATM refers to the export of capital to both the Southwest and the Black Belt. It also states that superprofits are extracted from the Afro-American and Chicano peoples.[27] It is true that the U.S. bourgeoisie obtains additional profits from the discrimination practiced against minority nationalities in the U.S., but this does not approach the magnitude of the superprofits plundered from the colonies and semi-colonies abroad. Capital export, moreover, does not occur within the borders of a multinational capitalist state. The U.S. bourgeoisie does not export capital to New Mexico or Mississippi. Imperialists export capital to foreign countries. As Lenin put it:

The export of capital is made possible by a number of backward countries having already been drawn into world capitalist intercourse .. .The need to export capital arises from the fact that in a few countries capitalism has become ’overripe’ and .. .capital cannot find a field for ’profitable’ investment.[28]

This capital export allows the imperialists to extract superprofits. Lenin adds: “Out of such enormous superprofits (since they are obtained over and above the profits which capitalists squeeze out of the workers of their ’own’ country) it is possible to bribe the labor leaders and the upper stratum of the labor aristocracy.”[29]

In the oppressed nations of the third world, the elimination of imperialist economic control is one of the main tasks of the new democratic revolution. By stating that the U.S. bourgeoisie exports capital to the Southwest and the Black Belt and extracts superprofits, rather than additional profits, from the Afro-American and Chicano workers, ATM is promoting a colonial theory, a theory of two-stage revolution for the oppressed nationalities in the U.S.

This analysis of the historic development of the Chicano people in the Southwest scientifically demonstrates the thorough opportunism of ATM’s line on the Chicano national question. Thus, on every front of the Chicano question, ATM reveals its all-round deviation from Marxism-Leninism.


ATM’s petit-bourgeois nationalism is intimately connected with the Menshevism of its small circle mentality. While at one time in the history of our movement, national forms of communist organization played a progressive role, today such forms represent a retrograde trend. While ATM is technically a multinational organization, in practice it is mainly Chicano. Its main work is related to the Chicano liberation struggle, not the whole working class movement and its alliance with the national movements. Its call for several years of united practice before the conditions will exist for the formation of a new communist party is a screen for maintaining backward and narrow forms of organization, with each nationality having its own main communist organization. This line confines and holds back the proletarian struggle at a time when conditions call for boldly moving forward. It is an anti-party and anti-working class stand.

ATM’s line on the national question in general, and the Chicano question in particular, has nothing in common with Marxism-Lenin-ism. In its methodology, it represents metaphysics and idealism. In its politics it represents petit-bourgeois nationalism and opposition to the working class. Although dressed up as very revolutionary, it is actually reformist–advocating radical change within the confines of the imperialist system rather than aiming the arrow of proletarian revolution at the imperialist target.

But, like all opportunist theories, it cannot last long. When held up to the scrutiny of scientific socialism. ATM’s nationalism will fall into rapid disrepute, just as RU’s chauvinism did. With the formation of the new communist party and the intensification of our work among the masses, the revolutionary line on the national question will be an inspiration and guide for the oppressed nationalities and the whole working class in the fight to smash all national oppression through the victory of the socialist revolution.


[1] Stalin, J., “Marxism and the National Question,” Selections from V.I. Lenin and J.V. Stalin on National Colonial Question, (Calcutta, India: Calcutta Book House, 1970), p. 86.

[2] Revolutionary Cause, (hereafter RC), April 1976, pp. 12-13.

[3] Stalin, J., “Foundations of Leninism,” Collected Works, Vol.6, p. 146.

[4] Stalin, J., “Concerning the National Question in Yugoslavia,” Collected Works, Vol. 7, pp. 74-75.

[5] Class Struggle, Vol. 2, p. 42.

[6] Lenin, V., “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 145.

[7] Fan the Flames, (August 29th Movement, 1976), pp. 10-11.

[8] Ibid., p. 9

[9] Ibid., p. 9

[10] Stalin, J., “Foundations...” Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 147.

[11] Fan the Flames, p. 15.

[12] RC, Vol. 1, No. 8, 1976, p. 3.

[13] Lenin, V., “A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism,” Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 55-56.

[14] RC, Vol. 1, No. 6, 1976, p. 11.

[15] Eg., RC, Jan 1976, p. 1; Fan the Flames, p. 13.

[16] Lenin, V., “A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism,” Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 43.

[17] Lenin, V., “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 268.

[18] ATM tries to justify its line by citing a quote from Lenin which states that the “division of nations into oppressor and oppressed nations .. .forms the essence of imperialism” (LC W, Vol. 21, p. 409). While Lenin made this statement, he did so before the struggle around this question had been fully sharpened. Thus, the quotes in the text represent Lenin’s all-round views after the political struggle over this question had unfolded. In addition, Lenin was specifically discussing the international effects of imperialism when he made the above statement.

[19] Red Banner, Winter 1976-77, p. 49; RC, Vol. 1, No. 10, p. 1.

[20] The facts given in this section are taken from the following main sources and are not individually footnoted here: Carey McWilliams, North From Mexico; Rodolfo Acuna, Occupied America; and 1970 U.S. Census materials.

[21] Stalin, J., “Marxism and the National Question,” Selections, p. 82.

[22] Ibid. p. 84.

[23] Fan the Flames, p. 16.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Lenin, V., “New Data on the Laws Governing the Development of Capitalism in Agriculture,” Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 26.

[26] Ibid., p. 27.

[27] Fan the Flames, pp. 3, 40.

[28] Lenin, V. “Imperialism...,” Collected Works, Vol. 22, pp. 241-42.

[29] Ibid., p. 193-94.