Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The 1970’s – A decade of struggle for the Chicano Liberation Movement

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 4, February 15-28, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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As the Chicano Movement enters a new decade it can draw some important lessons from the past ten years of struggle for equality and self-determination. During this past decade the Chicano Movement waged a number of significant struggles, won some victories, and to a certain degree achieved a higher level of militancy, political awareness and organization. The Chicano Movement confirmed in the struggles of the 1970’s that it is one of the most critical social forces in the U.S. revolution. The lessons from those struggles can help to further advance the fight for Chicano liberation in the 1980’s.

The legacy of the 1960’s

The Chicano Movement went into the 1970’s with a strong political legacy inherited from the struggles of the 1960’s. The Chicano Movement was an important part of the upheaval which confronted and shook the U.S. monopoly capitalist system. This upheaval was sparked in large part by opposition to the Viet Nam War, and by the powerful upsurge of the Afro-American people.

Within the context of this upheaval the Chicano Movement developed a new and revolutionary orientation. A whole new generation of leaders arose out of the struggle to challenge the old-line reformist leadership of the movement. Organizations like the Brown Berets, the Crusade for Justice, the Alianza de Los Pueblos Libres (the Alliance of Free Peoples), La Raza Unida Party and other organizations became the new and militant spokesmen for the revolutionary aspirations of the Chicano people.

They demanded self-determination for the Chicano nation and organized mass demonstrations, walkouts, urban rebellions, and even armed confrontations with the state as new methods of struggle. The days of reliance on the ballot box and the Democratic Party were over for the Chicano Movement.

This was confirmed at the end of the decade, 1969, when thousands of Chicanos gathered at the First National Chicano Youth Conference and declared that Chicanos were a nation, Aztlan, with the right to self-determination; a right which the movement was prepared to obtain by “any means necessary.”

Revolutionary orientation continues in the 1970’s

Armed with the manifesto from the youth conference (“El Plan de Aztlan”) and the rich political heritage of the 1960’s, the Chicano Movement began the 1970’s. In this period the consciousness of the Chicano people of their status as an oppressed nation would continue to grow. In line with the development of this consciousness the movement also became more aware that to win self-determination they would have to wage a revolutionary struggle against U.S. imperialism, they would have to build a united front among the various sectors of the movement, and they would have to join in solidarity with the struggles of the working and oppressed peoples of the U.S. and the world.

Many of these lessons were brought out in bold relief on August 29, 1970, at the National Chicano Moratorium Against the War. At this Moratorium more than 20,000 Chicanos – workers, students, youth, intellectuals, small businessmen, housewives – marched through the streets of the East Los Angeles barrio against the Viet Nam War and against their oppression at home.

The Moratorium united people of many different political persuasions around the concrete issue of protesting the high death rate of Chicanos in the war, and was the largest anti-imperialist mass action in the history of the Chicano Movement. The Moratorium was supported by people of many different nationalities, as well as by trade unions and workers’ caucuses. The Moratorium clearly targeted U.S. imperialism as the enemy of the Chicano people and linked Chicano liberation with national liberation struggles throughout the world.

In the early 1970’s the struggle of the Farah workers and the farm workers of California gave new impetus to the development of the Chicano united front. These two struggles dealt sharp blows to the system of superexploitation of Chicano and Mexican labor in the Southwest.

The Farah strike broke out in 1972 in El Paso, Texas, part of the Chicano nation. It involved 3,000 Chicano and Mexican workers in a struggle for union recognition, a right extremely difficult for Chicano workers to achieve in the. Southwest. The Chicano Movement was quick to recognize the importance of the strike and soon support committee were developed in barrios throughout the Southwest. The support movement was spearheaded in large part by Chicano Marxist-Leninists and included revolutionaries, trade unionists, students, clergymen and others in its ranks.

The Farah workers proved to be, extremely conscious of their dual role as part of the Chicano liberation struggle and as part of the struggle of the working class. Different strike leaders began to demand self-determination for the Chicano nation, and to call for an alliance between the Chicano Movement and the workers movement to overthrow the capitalist system. When the strike won victory in 1974, it was due both to the political consciousness and militancy of the strikers, and the broad support that the strike received from the Chicano Movement and the labor movement.

Similar support was developed for the farm workers, whose struggle became particularly intense in 1973, when hundreds of strikers in Coachella Valley, California were jailed and beaten in their struggle against the growers and the Teamsters’ bureaucracy. The whole Chicano Movement rose up in defense of the campesinos: revolutionaries, workers, students, intellectuals, youth, and even old-line reformist organizations such as the Mexican American Political Association, the G.I. Forum, League of United Latin American Citizens and others.

These struggles helped to show the important role that Chicano workers play in the struggle against national oppression and the objective basis for the unity of the various sectors of the Chicano Movement.

This unity, was further strengthened in 1977 in the great anti-Bakke struggle. This struggle began when the California court system struck down a law providing for affirmative action for minorities in the schools. Immediately Chicano students, along with students of other nationalities, began to organize against the Bakke decision.

This movement gave a spark to the development of a state-wide organization of MEChA’s (Chicano student organizations) who helped to mobilize thousands of students into the struggle and to build support among Chicano professionals, teachers, community activists, workers and others.

The Bakke struggle was also significant in that it helped to educate the Chicano student movement about the whole system of national oppression faced by minorities in the U.S. and of the necessity to rely on the masses in the struggle against this system. The Bakke struggle pointed out the importance of building the base among the working and oppressed masses while at the same time uniting broadly with as many forces as is possible.

These same lessons were brought out again at the close of the decade in 1979, when the California farm workers went out on strike again in a life and death battle to defend the United Farm Workers union. Once again, broad support was built among many different sectors of the Chicano Movement.

The demand for self-determination

The 1970’s saw Chicanos become much more conscious of their being an oppressed nation in the Southwest with the right to self-determination. This demand, which many came to recognize as the essential basis for the unity of the Chicano Movement, was expressed on a number of important occasions in the 1970’s, including the program adopted by the national Congreso of La Raza Unida Party in 1973, the 1976 publication of Fan the Flames: For a Revolutionary Position on the National Question, by the August 29th Movement (M-L) and at the 1978 National Chicano March Against Police Repression held in El Paso, Texas.

While there were some differences in how the demand for self-determination was put forward, the essential thrust in every case was that Chicanos in the Southwest are an oppressed nation whose denial of the right to self-determination lies at the root of the inequality Chicanos face in U.S. society; and that the right to self-determination can only be won through a revolutionary struggle against imperialism.

Another struggle which aroused broad support from the Chicano Movement in the 1970’s was that of the Mexican immigrants against la migra (U.S. immigration authorities). This was exemplified in the February 1979, anti-migra march of over 3,000 Chicanos and Mexicans in San Ysidro, California. Chicano and Mexican unity was greatly strengthened in the past decade.

The tasks of the 1980’s

Going into the 1980’s the Chicano Movement is confronted with escalating attacks in the form of increased police repression, cutbacks in social programs, massive deportations of Mexicans, and a worsening of the working conditions and living standards of Chicano workers. In the Chicano nation the defense of Chicano lands is becoming even more critical as the nuclear monopolies move to turn those lands into nuclear waste dumps. In the face of all this the Chicano Movement has several important tasks.

First of all, the movement must build up and strengthen the unity of the revolutionary forces. There is still too much fragmentation among the “left wing” of the Chicano Movement. Steps must be taken to build the unity of the Marxist-Leninists and revolutionary nationalists.

Broad common ground exists today on which to build this unity on the basis of respect and in a common struggle around local and national issues. A struggle must be waged against the sectarianism which often plagues some of the revolutionary nationalist forces – sectarianism towards Marxist-Leninists, towards honest reformist forces, and towards other revolutionary nationalists.

Secondly, there must be a continued strengthening of the Chicano united front. The basis for this front is the objective struggle against national oppression and for the right of self-determination. There are, of course, different perspectives within the united front on the question of self-determination and how to achieve it, but the major struggles of the past decade show that on certain issues even groups like the G.I. Forum, League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Mexican American Political Association can be part of the united front. The revolutionary forces, while uniting with all who can be united, must work to develop the consciousness of the people of, being an oppressed nation, and should combat the reformist orientation of various forces in a down to earth and patient manner.

Lastly, in the 1980’s the revolutionary elements in the Chicano Movement must work to build the movement’s unity with the struggles of all working and oppressed peoples. In every major Chicano struggle of the 1970’s the Chicano Movement received the support of other working and oppressed people. And throughout the 1970’s, the movement expressed its solidarity with other oppressed peoples – from Viet Nam to Nicaragua to Iran. Revolutionaries should strive to build and consolidate this unity in the 1980’s to give a new impetus to the struggle for Chicano self-determination and the general struggle to overthrow the system of monopoly capitalism.