Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The Asian national minorities in the U.S.: A struggle for equality, power and socialism

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 20, October 24-November 6, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In past issues, UNITY has printed numerous articles on the struggles of the Black and Chicano nations, and the tasks f Marxist-Leninists in fighting for self-determination as a crucial part of the struggle for socialism. The following commentary draws some lessons from the history of the Asian nationalities in the U.S. and outlines a Marxist-Leninist approach toward the Asian national movements, as part of developing a communist policy toward the oppressed national minorities in the U.S.

Popular bourgeois propaganda would have it that Asian people in the U.S. are not really a part of this country. Asians have always been portrayed as aliens, or continuous immigrants, marginal to the rest of society. The capitalists try to belittle the role that Asians have played and bury their history of oppression and resistance, in order to blunt their struggle today to be treated as equal nationalities the U.S.

But Asians have been an integral and crucial part of the building of the United States. They have received in return only the most bitter treatment at the hands of the capitalists, both historically and today.

History of oppression and resistance

When the African slave trade was ended, the same ships which had brought Black people to the U.S. were diverted to the Chinese coolie trade. Chinese were brought here to toil in the mines, railroads and fields of the West. They were often tricked, kidnapped or sold into service, but the Chinese did not simply accept their fate. They rose in rebellions, as in 1852, when 450 Chinese coolies on the ship Robert Browne bound for San Francisco rose up, killed the crew, took over the ship and returned to China.

Once in the U.S., the Chinese toiled at the bottom of the working class. But here, too, the Chinese refused to meekly accept their hardships. A great example of their courage was in the 1867 strike conducted by 3,000 Chinese railroad workers who sought equal pay with white workers and an eight-hour day. In the 20th century, Chinese engaged in various revolutionary movements. They ardently supported Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary efforts in China and even set up scores of military schools to train soldiers to fight in China. Many supported the 1949 Chinese revolution. Many also linked up with the left and then later with communists in trade union organizing such as in the canneries.

There are similar lessons in the history of Japanese in the U.S. They too were brought to the U.S. as the lowest of laborers. Tens of thousands of Japanese were brought to Hawaii where they became the mainstay of the sugar and pineapple plantations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There they lived under the lash of the overseer, who treated the Japanese as chattel.

They too fought back courageously. Between 1860 and 1920, Japanese plantation workers in Hawaii conducted over 60 work stoppages, acts of sabotage and strikes that involved over 72,000 Japanese workers.

Here on the mainland of the U.S., Japanese workers played an important role in the developing labor movement in the West. They were active organizers in the fields, such as in 1903 when they, together with Chicano and Mexican laborers, went on strike against sugar beet growers in Oxnard, California. In 1914, Japanese coal miners were among those killed by J.D. Rockefeller’s goons in the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado.

The most cruel outrage against Japanese Americans was the concentration camps of World War II. Such an act will forever expose the hypocrisy of the U.S. during the war against fascism. The forced removal of 110,000 Japanese from the West Coast destroyed many communities and, after the war, dispersed the Japanese people.

Pilipinos in the U.S. had another type of experience. They lived as U.S. subjects, since the Philippines was a colony of the U.S. from 1910until 1946. The chauvinist bourgeoisie called them “little brown brothers,” when they served as docile workers, and “monkeys,” when they rebelled. Brought to the U.S. as contract laborers in the early 1900’s, the Pilipinos replaced the Japanese in the sugar plantations of Hawaii.

In California, they toiled alongside other oppressed nationalities in the fields and in the service industries in the cities. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Pilipinos played a central role in organizing migrant farm workers and cannery workers. In 1965, Pilipino grape pickers launched the Delano strike which set the basis for the formation of the United Farm Workers union.

The history of oppression of the Asian nationalities in the U.S. is unbroken and continues up through today. The bourgeois myth paints Asians as the “model minority” which has achieved prosperity and assimilation, but this too turns reality upside down.

The Chinatown communities in New York and San Francisco, for example, have the most crowded housing and highest rate of tuberculosis in the entire country. Asians with the same level of education as whites systematically receive lower pay; the income gap between Asians and whites, in fact, is roughly the same as that between Blacks and whites.

The so-called middle class strata of Chinese, Japanese, Pilipino and Korean small shopkeepers and businessmen actually teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, with an average annual gross income of $6,000 to $ 14,000. Most are actually a disguised form of unemployment, since they are run on unpaid family labor.

The Asian nationalities, too, are still denied political representation and power. Asians constitute concentrated communities in a number of urban areas across the country and on the West Coast, yet they are grossly under-represented in political office. Discriminatory immigration laws, which make it difficult for Asians to become citizens, further serve to undermine and deny political power to the Asian communities.

Fight for equality and power

The oppression of the Asian nationalities today continues to give rise to struggle, which communists must unite with and strive to lead in a revolutionary way. A Marxist-Leninist policy and program for the Asian national movements must proceed fundamentally from the recognition that the socialist revolution in the United States necessitates that the movements of the working class and oppressed nationalities be united in a strategic alliance to overthrow the ruling class. The basis for this strategic alliance is that both the working class and the oppressed nationalities’ have a common enemy – the U.S. monopoly capitalist class.

In order to forge this alliance, the working class and its vanguard, a Marxist-Leninist party, must fight for the special demands of the oppressed nationalities. The reality of the United States, both historically and today, is that there is not equality of nationalities. Not all members of the working class are equally oppressed and exploited. Thus to unite the working class and to forge the strategic alliance, the working class must recognize this fact and fight for full equality and political power for the oppressed nations and nationalities in the U.S.

This takes the form of the right of self-determination, including the right to secede, for the oppressed Afro-American nation in the Black-belt South and the oppressed Chicano nation in the Southwest, and the right to regional or administrative autonomy for the oppressed national minorities, including the Asian nationalities.

The demand for the Asian national movements is for full equality, full democratic rights and for political power in the form of regional or administrative autonomy in areas of concentration. Within these regions or areas, the Asian national minorities would have the right to control certain aspects of economic development, make decisions on how best to carry out equality in education, housing, health care and other concrete steps toward achieving equality, and ensure the use and preservation of the language, culture and history of the people.

These democratic demands articulate the strivings of Asian people; it is these aspirations which exist at the heart of all the various struggles of Asian people today – struggles to save the community from destruction, for bilingual education and Asian studies, for unionization, etc. Communists should participate in and try to lead these struggles, and strive to unite the Asian national movements around the strategic demands for equality and political power.

Revolution and socialism

Marxist-Leninists strive to build these movements as a revolutionary struggle, as the democratic demands of the oppressed nationalities can be achieved only in a most limited and distorted way under the bourgeois system. This is especially true at this stage of the degeneration of imperialism. Democracy can only be fully exercised in the interests of the masses under socialism.

The capitalist system, which is the source of national oppression and inequality, must be overthrown. Under socialism, the working class is the ruling class; it will eliminate oppression and exploitation. Under socialism, the minority nationalities have the right to determine their own affairs; they will be able to practice and develop their own language and culture, and will receive special attention in social reforms and economic assistance in order to close the gaps created by years of capitalist national oppression. Under socialism, the voluntary unity of different nationalities will be possible to build on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

That is why communists advocate socialism as the only guarantee for democracy and the only fundamental solution to national oppression. Socialism is not an abstract goal, but serves as the context for the struggle for equality in all spheres, beginning here and now. The fight today for equality in housing, health care, education and so on, serves as the direct fuel for the fight for political power for Asians and for socialism.

The struggle for democracy and socialism are interrelated. The struggle for socialism must include a consistent fight for democracy, for the equality of nationalities. And waging the struggle for democratic demands helps win the Asian national movements to fight for socialism. As Lenin commented, “The fuller national equality, the clearer the workers of the oppressed nations will see that the source of their oppression is capitalism, not lack of rights.” (From “A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism.”)

Call for unity

The main vehicle for the Asian national movements to achieve their demands is the formation of a broad united front of all classes and strata to fight for full equality and political power in all spheres of life.

Communists must build up the working class forces while uniting broadly with other classes and strata. Particular attention should be paid to uniting the immigrant and American-born sectors of the Asian nationalities, fighting against any arrogant attitudes towards immigrants and bridging the gap which the bourgeoisie has placed in the national movements.

Unity also should be forged among the students, community residents and workers, and their struggles. The struggles on the campuses for Asian studies, in the communities for better housing or health care, or in the workplaces for unionization and equal contracts – all have common roots and common goals, and their unity is essential to be victorious.

While each Asian national movement has its particular dynamics rooted in its particular history, culture and experience in the U.S., there is also a growing trend among Asian and Pacific Islander peoples to unite and struggle together around common demands. Among youth and the American-born Asians in particular, there is a growing consciousness of being Asian-American, a political concept which recognizes the common history of oppression and resistance of the Asian peoples in the U.S. and the need to work together. This is a positive development which can bring greater unity and strength to the struggle of Asian people.

* * *

The 1980’s present a decade of challenge. Asian and Pacific Islander peoples are among the fastest growing minorities in the U.S. Projections for the 1980 census estimate that there are more than three million Asian and Pacific Islander people in the U.S., nearly double the figure of ten years ago.

The struggle of Asian people in this country is on the rise, and will undoubtedly continue to grow as the economic situation worsens and as the ruling class continues in its rightward trend. Already in the communities there is a severe housing crisis and social services are being cut back; Chinese and Japanese restaurant workers are calling for unionization; in more than a few instances, Asian immigrants have been the victims of vicious racist attacks.

Communists face increasing tasks and responsibilities to integrate with the masses of Asian working people, to unite the Asian national movements in their fight for equality and political power, and to forge the unity of the Asian national movements with that of the working class in the struggle for socialism.