Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Commentary: Marxist-Leninists and the right of self-determination for the Chicano nation

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 18, September 26-October 9, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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One month ago, over 5,000 people marched in the 10th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles, under the slogans “Land, liberty and unity” and “self-determination for the Chicano people.” A successful march by all accounts, the Moratorium demonstrated the rise of the Chicano peoples struggle today.

The current upsurge of activity in the Chicano Movement places important demands on Marxist-Leninists. Communists are grappling with a number of important questions on how to build and lead the struggle for Chicano liberation.

Some forces today in the Marxist-Leninist movement question the validity of raising the demand for the right of self-determination for the Chicano nation. This issue goes to the core of how communists are to concretely fight Chicano oppression and forge the unity of the working class. It is a vital part of the Marxist-Leninist party building efforts to forge a line on the national question in accordance with the conditions of the United States.

A correct stand and policy on the national question has historically been an integral part of the struggle against imperialism and a dividing line between Marxism and opportunism. This goes as far back as Lenin’s struggle with the chauvinists of the Second International; in the U.S., communists struggled against the chauvinist Lovestonites in the old Communist Party in the 1920’s who claimed that there was no national question, but only a “workers question.”

In the 1950’s, the revisionists in the CPUSA betrayed the struggle for Black liberation, asserting that Black people were no longer a nation and no longer wanted self-determination. And in the early 1970’s, the Revolutionary Union, now the Revolutionary Communist Party, said that Blacks were a “dispersed proletarian nation of a new type” whose struggle was not “really” for self-determination. Now today some of these very same arguments are cropping up in the anti-revisionist movement – showing again the need to defend and stand clearly on Marxist-Leninist principle and oppose any attempts, under the fashionable desire to not be “dogmatic,” to sweep Marxist-Leninist principle under the rug.

These arguments against the right of self-determination take the following form in relation to the Chicano national question. The main reasons offered are that self-determination (1) divides Chicanos and Mexicans, (2) is an advocacy of separation and the formation of an independent Chicano state, which “isolates” the Chicano Movement from the general revolutionary movement and the working class, and (3) is a “sectarian” demand which narrows the Chicano united front.

Concrete historical analysis

First it is argued that the right of self-determination does not apply to Chicanos because they are not a nation distinct from Mexico. It is asserted that since Chicanos are descendants of Mexicans, it is “absurd and ahistorical” for a distinct nation to have developed. This kind of logic itself is absurd since it could be similarly argued that there is no Afro-American nation because Black people are the descendants of Africans. But more importantly, Marxist-Leninists must base their conclusions on a concrete analysis of history and the objective conditions.

The Chicano nation was born out of particular historica1 conditions, dating back to the annexation of Mexico’s northern territories by the United States in a predatory colonial war in 1848. The U.S. capitalists plundered this land and forcibly suppressed its people. They trampled on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the U.S. and Mexico, violating the land rights and political rights of the conquered people.

Forcibly separated from the Mexican nation and systematically and forcibly denied equality with the dominant Anglo-American nation, by the turn of the century an oppressed Chicano nation was forged in the southwest part of the U.S., with all the characteristics of a modern nation, albeit distorted due to its subjugation by the U.S.

Since the early 1900’s, large waves of immigration from Mexico have come into the Southwest, due to U.S. imperialism’s continued oppression of Mexico. The fluid nature of the border and the common historical and cultural heritage shared by the Chicanos and Mexican immigrants has had a profound affect on the development of the Chicano nation.

Every wave of Mexican immigrants to the Southwest found existing settled populations of Chicanos already there. The Mexicans faced the same reality as the Chicanos; due to their common historical origins and language, and cultural similarities, they were forced into the same mold of oppression as the Chicanos. They were “united,” as it were, by a common fate of oppression; forcibly assimilated into the Chicano nation, not unlike the assimilation of the children and grandchildren of European immigrants into the Anglo-American nationality. The main difference, of course, is the forced assimilation and the existence of brutal national oppression.

Upholding the right of self-determination for the Chicano nation does not “exclude” Mexican immigrants. The fates and struggles of Chicanos and Mexican immigrants are intertwined. Self-determination, too, could be exerted in a number of ways, including federation with or return to Mexico.

But those who pretend to defend Mexicans and Mexico in this debate do not even uphold the right of the Southwest to return to Mexico, exposing the hypocrisy of their stand. In actuality, the argument that Chicanos are not distinct from Mexicans and therefore do not constitute a nation is a rationalization for what is essentially great nation chauvinism and upholding the sanctity of the “American” imperialist state.

Self-determination and separatism

Chauvinism is revealed in the claim that self-determination is an advocacy of separatism – the formation of an independent political state – which “isolates” Chicanos from the rest of the working class and its struggle for socialism.

This charge is hurled by all chauvinists in order to put a “secessionist” jacket on those who uphold the right of self-determination. The accusation itself is incorrect. The right of self-determination is just that – a right, a right to choose. Self-determination could be exercised by the Chicano nation in a number of ways: by choosing to remain part of the U.S., by choosing to be a part of Mexico or by choosing to establish an independent state.

It is also chauvinist to raise the bogey of separatism as if it were the worst of all possible evils – worse even than living within the borders of imperialism. We Marxists are for socialism and the voluntary unity of nationalities. But we cannot predict either the exact course of the struggle, and proclaim out of hand that under all conditions separation would be detrimental to the Chicano people and the working class. What the working class opposes or supports must be based on a concrete analysis of how imperialism is affected and not on some abstract view of “unity.” To blanketly oppose one option of self-determination actually liquidates the right of self-determination. It is like saying, “You have the right to choose, but you can only choose one thing.” Communists then begin to sound like the imperialists.

It is no coincidence that this same view, while claiming to uphold the right of self-determination for the Black nation in the South, opposes secession there too. The right of self-determination for the Black nation is so clearly defended by all Marxist-Leninists, including Lenin, that to deny the Black nation the right to self-determination would be too much. But some forces oppose secession now, when it is not a practical question, and even devote considerable effort to arguing against it, in order to oppose the right of self-determination of the Black nation in the South.

This same chauvinism continues further with the claim that the Chicano struggle is not for self-determination because most Chicanos are part of the working class, and self-determination “isolates” Chicanos from the working class and the “general revolutionary struggle.”

To begin with, reducing the Chicano question to a workers question liquidates its fundamental character as a national question. And far from isolating Chicanos from the working class struggle, upholding the right of self-determination is necessary in order to forge the multinational unity of the working class. Lenin correctly stated that “the proletariat must struggle against the forced retention of oppressed nations within the bounds of a given state, which means they must fight for the right of self-determination. The proletariat must demand freedom of political separation for . . . the nations oppressed by their own nation. Otherwise, the internationalism of the proletariat would be nothing but empty words; neither confidence nor class solidarity would be possible between the workers of oppressed and oppressor nation.” (The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-determination.)

Thus it is the opponents of self-determination who help perpetuate divisions in the working class and stand in defense of the annexation of the Southwest and its “forced retention” by the U.S.

Liquidation of communist tasks

This chauvinism is closely linked to a tendency to liquidate the role of communists and Marxist-Leninist principles. It is asserted that self-determination is not a “mass demand” and furthermore that it is an impediment to building the united front because not all in the Chicano Movement call for self-determination.

Based on this logic, the very existence, much less growth, of communists should be considered “sectarian” since most people in the United States at this time are not communists or even favorable to communists. Do we stop calling for socialism because it is not a “mass demand?” Or do we Marxists stand on principle – the principle of equality of nationalities and the forthright rejection of annexation and national oppression – as the only way to unite the working class and end imperialism’s rule of the Chicano people?

In any event, it should be obvious to anyone familiar with the Chicano Movement that self-determination is a mass demand. It arises spontaneously, in mass expressions like Chicano Power and Tierra y Libertad. And many Chicano groups, from different class strata, raise the demand for self-determination. While they may ascribe different meanings to it, such as community control or political representation, they all have in common the demand for political power.

What communists must do is to unite the Chicano Movement around the struggle against national oppression, showing that self-determination means fighting for political power, allying with the working class and overthrowing the domination of U.S. monopoly capital, and ultimately, achieving socialism.

It goes without saying that Marxist-Leninists must address the day-to-day issues of the Chicano people and fight for their immediate demands. And in fact the upholders for the right to self-determination do much more in fighting for immediate demands than do those Marxists who claim the paramount importance of fighting for im- mediate demands. The point though is not to reduce the struggle to one for partial demands, one without any general orientation, as this results only in tailism and reformism. It is tailist because it reduces the tasks of communists to simply organizing one immediate struggle after another, with no clear revolutionary perspective or aim. It is reformist because the fight for immediate issues in itself cannot “galvanize” the masses into a political movement for power. Such “galvanization” can only occur when communists help to raise the political consciousness of the Chicano people to understand that they are an oppressed nation, that monopoly capitalism is their enemy, that they must unite with the working class and that revolution is the only solution. Otherwise, we would be forever stuck in a reformist treadmill, running after this or that spontaneous issue.

For all their theoretical pretense, the advocates of the “day-to-day” struggle are liquidating the basic tasks of communists in the hopes of getting rich quick by hitching onto the tail of reform elements.

* * *

What stand and policies communists adopt towards the oppressed nationalities such as the Chicanos has far reaching implications for the U.S revolution and Marxist-Leninist unity. Marxist-Leninists need to develop a line based on the realities of the U.S. and develop policies which concretely guide the struggle against Chicano oppression. Such a line must be based on Marxist-Leninist principles in accordance with U.S. conditions.