Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist)

The Struggle for Chicano Liberation


I. The historical development of the Chicano nation

The Southwest under Spanish and Mexican rule

The history of the Chicano people goes back over 400 years in North America. The ancestors of today’s Chicanos founded Santa Fe, the oldest provincial capital in the U.S., more than a decade before the pilgrims even left England on the Mayflower.

The history of the Chicano people begins with Spain’s efforts to colonize the “New World” in the 16th century. Over the next three centuries, first under Spanish and then under Mexican rule, the national characteristics of the Chicano people began to evolve: a Spanish-speaking people of Mexican, Indian and Spanish ancestry concentrated in a territory stretching from what is now southern Texas through Arizona and New Mexico to southern California. The ancestors of the Chicano people were a part of the developing modern Mexican nation up to 1848, but the U.S. annexation of the Southwest in that year radically altered the destiny of the Chicano people.

Spanish colonialism

Spain set out to colonize the “New World” in hopes of finding gold and other riches such as copper and silver. In Mexico they discovered tremendous wealth and enslaved the native peoples to work in the mines extracting the precious metals. Between 1560 and 1821, when Mexico declared its independence, the mines of the Americas produced $4 billion for Spain. In this period, two-thirds of the world’s silver passed through the Mexican port of Veracruz. The mines of Zacatecas in northern Mexico alone, produced 20% of the world’s silver supply.

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.[1]

It was the quest for silver and the fabled “seven cities of gold” that brought the Spanish eventually to explore and then colonize the Southwest. The explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado roamed the area in the 1540’s searching for the legendary but nonexistent villages covered with roofs of gold and jewels.

The first colonization effort in the Southwest – or what was called at that time Nuevo Mexico – began in 1598 and grew out of the discovery of silver in Zacatecas and the founding of the mine there in 1584. Juan de Onate, one of the four richest men in Mexico, who made his wealth off of the Zacatecas mine, set off with 400 men, 7,000 head of stock and 83 wagons of supplies bound for the upper Rio Grande Valley.

There the Spanish found hunting and gathering native peoples. Along the river they found settled farming tribes. At the edge of the desert was the Seneca, to the north at the foot of the mountains was the Taos pueblo. On the east of the Rio Grande, beyond the mountains lived the Gran Quivira, Manzano and Falisteo pueblos. And to the west were widely separated clusters of the Acoma, Hopi and Zuni. In the half dozen or so villages of the Rio Grande there were probably 40,000 native people living at the time of the Ofiate expedition, with another six or seven thousand living in the mesas to the west. Surrounding the pueblo Indians were the nomadic Apaches. All in all, some 50,000 Indians lived in this region during the colonization period, but their lives were brutally altered with the coming of the Spanish.

Many of these peoples would be forced to labor for the Spanish colonialists. They and their offspring would till the soil, build the settlements and become the artisans for the Spanish. The Spanish were not able to secure the entire area at first, due to the hostility of the native peoples; but by the latter part of the 17th century 14 Spanish towns and villages in Nuevo Mexico became permanently established. The Mexicans, who had been brought along by the Spaniards, and the Indians became the main inhabitants of these settlements. These were the ancestors of the Chicano people.

The Spanish settlements in Nuevo Mexico clustered about Santa Fe on the upper reaches of the Rio Grande and formed the core of Spain’s attempt to colonize the Southwest. Later the Spaniards sent expeditions to Texas, Arizona and California to expand their settlements.

In southern Arizona the Spanish founded towns beginning in 1687. In Texas, they established 25 missions, the main settlements being San Antonio, Goliad and Nacogdoches. And in California, the Spaniards set up 21 missions and three forts along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco beginning in 1769.

In all of these regions, the Spanish destroyed much of the primitive communal societies of the Indians and introduced feudalism. There were two main ways the Spanish settled the area: through the encomienda (land grant) and mission systems.

There were three principal types of land grants given out by the Spanish crown: individual grants to prominent or wealthy persons; joint grants given out to groups; and communal grants for a number of settlers. Over a period of time though, most of the land became controlled by a handful of the largest landlords. These became the patron class, usually of Spanish nobility or military background. The rest of the society became peones (serfs), most of them being Mexican or Indian, tied to the patron. A small number of others formed an artisan class of blacksmiths, handicraftsmen, weavers, potters and so on.

The patrones gradually took over the common lands, which were usually used for pastures, as their herds of cattle or sheep dominated the grazing space. More and more of the small landowners, too, were forced to give up their property as their plots became too small when succeeding generations divided up the original grants. Villagers were then forced to depend on the large livestock owners to supply meat and supplies and became increasingly indebted to the patron. The most common way to repay the debt was through the corvee system whereby a peon worked a certain amount of time each week on the land of the patron.

The patrones made up only one-fiftieth of the population but they owned almost all of the best land and held the largest share of livestock. The peones counted on the patrones not only for supplies but also for protection from the raids of nomadic Indians. In turn the peones had to give an annual tribute to the patron in the form of maize or cotton as well as labor.

Another form of the patron-peon relationship which developed in Nuevo Mexico was called the partido system. Under this system a small landholder “borrowed” a breeding herd from the patron. At the end of each year he was required to give the patron 20 lambs for every 100 ewes he had borrowed for breeding. All lambs and wool had to be sold through the patron and the borrower was responsible for all costs and losses incurred. The peon had to return a breeding herd of the original size on demand of the patron. In return, the borrower could keep other new lambs and the profits from the sale of the wool. He would also receive rights to graze on the patron’s land. It was a system which also led more and more peones to become indebted to the patron.

While the encomienda system predominated in Nuevo Mexico, the Spanish relied on the mission system in California. There the Spanish did not find a sedentary and concentrated Indian population as in Nuevo Mexico. Rather, the California Indians were more scattered and had to be forcibly assembled to labor for the Spaniards. The missions became the center for this activity.

The labor of the Indians in California had more of a forced character compared to that of the peon system. Under the whip and gun, the Indians were coerced into tending the fields and livestock of the missionaries and producing the handicrafts. The missions were, in essence, religious prisons for the native peoples of California.

All land and property belonged to the Catholic Church, which made California less attractive for individual settlers. This accounted for the slow development of the California colony as compared to Nuevo Mexico.

In other areas of the Southwest such as in southern Colorado, Arizona and Texas, the Spanish settlements also used the land grant or mission systems. These settlements, however, were established only after many years and with great difficulty due to adverse geographical and climatic conditions, and because of the strength of resistance from different Indian peoples.

By 1821, after more than 250 years of rule, the Spanish had established a number of settlements throughout the Southwest. Regardless of the system used, the land grant and mission systems resulted in the division of the settled population into a small class of feudal lords, the patrones, and a large class of peones, who were Indians, Mexicans and their mestizo offspring. In this sense, the Spanish settlements were little different than the rest of Mexico at the time.

The Spanish conquest of the Southwest also brought with it the Spanish language, religion (Catholicism) and customs. Over the years though, these blended with the indigenous Mexican and Indian cultures. A regional culture began to appear with its own characteristic blanket weaving, handicrafts and wood carving.

The region also began to produce its own music and oral ballads that described the difficulties of life in the region, the conflicts with the Apaches and the experiences of the travel along the trade routes from Mexico.

The Southwest had gone through a radical change during the two and one-half centuries of Spanish rule. The Spanish had succeeded in establishing a feudal mode of production in scattered settlements stretching from Texas to California. But over the next several decades the transformation of the region would be accelerated, with a profound impact on the development of the Spanish-speaking people.

Mexican rule

In 1804, war broke out between Great Britain and Spain, and for the next several decades Spain was embroiled in a series of conflicts with other European powers. This turmoil, and internal conflicts between church and state, greatly weakened the Spanish throne. In turn, Madrid stepped up its taxation of its colonies, such as Mexico, to finance its wars.

This situation alienated increasing numbers of the Mexican people including the landowners, merchants and local church officials. In 1810 a Mexican independence movement arose, led by Miguel Hidalgo, himself a wealthy landowner and priest. Although the Spaniards captured and executed Hidalgo a year later, the independence movement he initiated continued.

Finally in 1821, the Mexican revolutionary army succeeded in capturing the Spanish viceroy and forced him to resign. The Mexican clergy, traders and property owners took political power and declared independence from Spain.

The economic state of the country, though, was in ruins. The revolutionary war for independence had been drawn out and destroyed much of the farming land, ranches, mines and cities of Mexico. The new government was weak and its treasury depleted. Spain refused to recognize Mexican independence until 1836 and launched attempts to recapture its lost colony.

Furthermore, immediately after winning independence, the new ruling forces began to fight among themselves. On the one side were monarchists (or “Centralists”), which included the feudal landlords, clergy and generally the conservative old order; on the other side were republicans (or “Federalists”), composed of merchants, liberal priests and the rising Mexican bourgeoisie.

This conflict went on throughout the 19th century and was not resolved until the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

At various times, the influence of one or the other force on the central government helped shape the developments in the Southwest.

One of the main concerns of the new Mexican government was to consolidate its northern provinces which were sparsely populated and constantly threatened by the Indians and foreign powers. The Mexican government, therefore, adopted a number of measures to encourage more settlers into the area and promote its development.

In California the Federalists, in 1822, decided to open up the California ports to foreign trade, in particular with England and the U.S. The Mexicans found ready buyers for their California hides, tallow and cattle. Cattle ranching was restricted though, because much of the best grazing lands were held by the Church. The ranchers and merchants of California subsequently pressured the Mexican government to end the mission system.

Finally in 1833, the Mexican government secularized the mission lands of California (that is, they seized and sold or granted the land to private individuals). The huge mission tracts were carved up into ranchos (ranches) and haciendas (large farms) and often stocked with cattle taken from the missions. While there was sale and distribution of small plots to the peones and Indians, most of the land was given out in huge parcels to a few individuals. Eight million acres of land were distributed to just 800 individuals.

As a result of these measures, and other acts such as allowing foreigners to settle in the province, conduct business and own land, California’s population began to grow and its economy develop.

In Nuevo Mexico (which at that time included what is now known as Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and western and southern Texas) the Mexican traders and merchants expanded the trade that had been built up under Spanish rule. This trade was with the Indians, routed between Nuevo Mexico and Mexico City by way of Chihuahua. Some of this trade had developed to substantial proportions. By the time of Mexican independence the sheep drives to Chihuahua from the north reached 400,000 head a year.

After independence, livestock production increased and with the opening up of the famous Santa Fe Trail between Santa Fe and Independence, Missouri, in 1822, the Mexican merchants stepped up their trade with the U.S. This trade included furs from Nuevo Mexico which brought a high price on the East Coast. Mexican handicrafts of wood carvings, wrought iron products, blankets and woolens also stepped up. By the 1820’s some artisans in Nuevo Mexico began producing solely for sale to California, St. Louis or Mexico. This trade was greatly stimulated when the Old Spanish Trail was opened up between Santa Fe and Los Angeles in 1829.

In Arizona, the Mexicans discovered gold and copper, and mining operations quickly developed. There had also been some suppression of the Apaches which allowed for expanded farming and ranching in the region.

The Mexican merchants, traders and handicraft producers in the Southwest represented a rising Mexican capitalist class. The merchants in Nuevo Mexico, in fact, came into increasing conflict with the Church and Centralists in Mexico City who obstructed the growing power of the merchants. An example of one of these merchants of Nuevo Mexico was Antonio Jose Martinez who owned several small ranches and a flour mill. He opposed the power of the Church, seeing the Church-owned lands as its base. In 1834 he published the newspaper, El Crepusculo de la Libertad (The Dawn of Liberty) in which he called for the elimination of the tithe, by which the Church claimed one-tenth of the produce and livestock in the area. He also opposed the policy of large land grants to individuals and instead advocated the popular distribution of the land.

The central government feared the growing strength of the merchants in the Southwest and tried to tighten its grip over the territory, imposing taxes and trade restrictions in 1835. This resulted in a revolt against the Centralist government. The local forces, led by Antonio Martinez, overthrew and executed the Mexican governor and replaced all government posts with local people. While the revolt was eventually suppressed, the incident illustrates the growth of the merchant forces in Nuevo Mexico.

In Texas, a different situation arose having far greater consequences for the Mexican government. Shortly after independence, the Federalists in Mexico City passed a lenient colonization law to encourage the development of Texas. The new law permitted Anglo-American immigration into the area for the purpose of permanent settlement, provided they agree to obey Mexican laws, become Mexican citizens and adopt the Catholic faith.

In 1821 Stephen Austin founded the settlement of San Felipe de Austin (later Austin, Texas). Soon Anglo-Americans received land grants from the government and settled in Texas in increasing numbers. By 1830 there were about 20,000 Anglo-Americans in Texas, along with 2,000 Black slaves. These settlements were concentrated in eastern Texas where the Spanish and Mexican colonies had failed. The Mexican government hoped that these settlements would act as a buffer zone from Indian raids for its territories in southern and western Texas.

The Anglo-American settlements introduced into Texas cotton production and the use of slave labor. In 1830 the Centralists became concerned that Texas was rapidly being integrated into the economy of the U.S. To stop what they feared would be certain seizure of the land by the Anglo-Americans, the Mexican government decided to outlaw slavery and end the further immigration of Anglo-Americans.

The actions of the Mexican government, however, only hastened the aggression of the Southern slave owners. There had already been several attempts by Southern-backed Anglo-Americans to “liberate” Texas. This “filibustering,” as it was called, stepped up with the new Mexican laws. Using the Centralists’ repeal of the Federalists’ liberal constitution as a pretext, the Texans held a convention to demand repeal of the restrictive immigration laws. In 1833 they met again, this time writing a constitution for a virtually autonomous Texas. In 1835 a provisional government was established and “independence” declared.

To suppress this, the Mexican government dispatched an army of 4,000 led by General Santa Ana, which after several victories – including the Alamo battle – was defeated by the Texan forces at the battle of San Jacinto. The Texans had built their forces by attracting from across the U.S. notorious Indian fighters such as Davy Crockett, slave traders such as Jim Bowie, soldiers of fortune and outlaws to fight the Mexicans.

Shortly after the defeat of Santa Ana, the Texas Republic quickly sought admission into the U.S., something that would not be achieved for nine years due to Northern opposition in the Congress. During this time, the Texas Republic claimed territory extending far west of its actual boundaries, deep into Nuevo Mexico and far south of the Rio Nueces to the Rio Grande. It was this disputed claim that would later be the pretext used by the U.S. for its expansionist war with Mexico in 1846.

The Southwest under U.S. rule: 1848-1900
The Mexican-American War

The southern plantation owners for some time coveted the huge northern area of Mexico as a region in which to expand slavery. They needed to create more slave states to augment their power in Washington in their fight with the northern industrialists. Marx commented that the reactionary slave owners could not maintain their position without “constantly throwing out to their white plebians the bait of prospective conquests within and without the frontiers of the U.S.”[2] The conquest of the Southwest became a key objective of the slavocracy in the 1830’s and 1840’s.

After the “independence” of Texas was declared in 1836, the South hoped to divide the Texas Republic into several states and admit them all as slave states. The North fought the South’s plan for years, but finally all of Texas was admitted as a single state in 1845.

While many of the northern capitalists opposed the expansionist aims of the slave owners, others had their own designs on the Mexican territory. Yankee traders saw the Pacific Coast ports as doorways to expanded trade with India and China. As a result, Washington pressed closer and closer to war with Mexico to fulfill the “Manifest Destiny” of having the U.S. stretch from sea to sea.

The conflict with Mexico came from a dispute over the designation of the boundaries of Texas. The U.S. claimed Texas extended all the way to the Rio Grande river and to the west, far into Nuevo Mexico. The Mexican government maintained that Texas reached only to the Rio Nueces, the traditional border. In 1846 the newly elected president, James Polk, ordered U.S. troops under Zachary Taylor to cross the Nueces and hold the disputed area. A short time later Taylor’s troops engaged a Mexican patrol and the war was on.

The annexationist nature of the war was obvious. Ulysses S. Grant, who fought as an officer in the war (and later became noted in the Civil War and then elected president) wrote:

We were sent to provoke a fight, but it was essential that Mexico should commence it ... . The occupation, separation, and annexation were, from the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American union. Even if annexation itself could be justified, the manner in which the subsequent war was forced on Mexico cannot.[3]

The U.S. forces advanced steadily into Mexican territory and conducted a campaign of extreme brutality. Commanding General Winfield Scott admitted U.S. troops had “committed atrocities to make Heaven weep and every American of Christian morals blush for his country. Murder, robbery and rape of mothers and daughters in the presence of tied up males of the families have been common all along the Rio Grande.”[4] Lieutenant George C. Meade, later distinguished in the Civil War, said the U.S. troops were “driving husbands out of houses and raping their wives. . . . They will fight as gallantly as any men, but they are a set of Goths and Vandals without discipline, making us a terror to innocent people.”[5]

So atrocious were the actions of the U.S. troops that some 250 Irish-Americans deserted and went over to the side of the Mexicans to form the San Patricio battalion.

The U.S. sent armed forces to attack the Mexicans in northern and southern California as well as expeditions throughout New Mexico and Arizona. But the end of the war came when Scott led his troops to Mexico City. The fight began on September 13, 1847, and soon the U.S. troops occupied the capital. The war was over.

The U.S. extracted a huge booty from the defeated Mexican government. The U.S. took almost 50% of Mexico’s territory, the entire Southwest. (The U.S. continued to have designs on the rest of Mexico throughout the 19th century.) Nuevo Mexico alone was equal to five times the size of New York state. The Southwest, too, was extremely rich in mineral wealth, agricultural land, forests, pastures, rivers and ports.

The annexation was formalized with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. This treaty was an important document as it contained provisions concerning the treatment of the 100,000 Mexicans remaining in the Southwest. The U.S. agreed to safeguard the property rights of the Mexicans and guaranteed their civil and religious rights. Their culture as well as their land grants were to be respected. The Mexicans were to receive full U.S. citizenship within one year.

If the U.S. had adhered to the treaty the Mexican people in the Southwest very well might have escaped national oppression. The U.S., however, never lived up to its promises and immediately violated all the rights of the Mexican people in the Southwest.

Post annexation

Following annexation, the U.S. set out to confirm its rule over its newly conquered territory and economically exploit it. In this process, the U.S. bourgeoisie systematically subjugated the Chicano people in the region and firmly established capitalism over the existing feudal system.

The U.S. capitalists, however, were unable to do this all at once throughout the entire Southwest and so adopted a step by step process to consolidate each territory. Texas and California quickly became states in 1845 and 1851 respectively, while New Mexico and Arizona remained colonies and were not admitted into the Union until 1912, a full 64 years after they were taken from Mexico. The U.S. government was also becoming increasingly preoccupied with the conflict between the North and the South which culminated in the Civil War of 1861-65. This hampered its efforts to rapidly consolidate its rule over the entire Southwest.

One of the first things the U.S. bourgeoisie did throughout the Southwest was to unleash a campaign of violence against the Chicanos. Thousands of Chicano and Mexican farmers, herders, peasants, miners and laborers were shot or lynched. Between 1850 and 1930, more Chicanos were lynched in this area than Blacks in the South during the same period.

Hired guns such as the notorious Billy the Kid, the Clanton Gang, Kit Carson and others made their reputations shooting down Chicanos. Will Hale, a cowboy associate of Billy the Kid, wrote in his memoirs:

I wrote father a letter telling him I wanted to come out and help him shoot Mexicans and Indians, but father wrote me back a letter saying it would be better shooting crawfish than Indians and Mexicans.[6]

Big U.S. ranchers like Richard King of the immense King Ranch in Texas set up groups like the Texas and Arizona Rangers to “legally” terrorize and subdue the conquered population. A stanza from a Chicano ballad of the times said this about the rangers (los rinches):

The ’rinches’ are very brave
that cannot be denied.
They hunt us down like deer
in order to kill us.[7]

The big Anglo ranchers and merchants hoped this terrorism would drive the Chicano people out of the area to Mexico or at least decimate much of the population. In Los Angeles, in the one year of 1854 alone, an estimated 360 Chicanos were killed in that city. All this, of course, was rationalized by the most vicious, racist slander against the Chicano people.

The U.S. government at the same time vigorously promoted Anglo migration into the Southwest to try to stabilize their political rule and to change the character of the area. The overall population of Texas and California quickly became predominantly Anglo, although the southern parts of both states along the border remained mainly Chicano. This is one of the reasons why Texas and California were the first areas of former Mexican territory to be admitted into the Union. In New Mexico, however, where Chicanos constituted over 90% of the territory’s population up into the 20th century, the federal government relied on establishing a number of military bases to rule over the people.

The Anglo capitalists also deprived the Chicano people of political rights and power. In California by 1880 no Chicanos could be found in public offices where previously they held legislative, judicial and executive positions throughout the state. Originally designated as a bilingual state (Spanish and English), the second state constitution for California in 1878 wrote out Spanish. As early as 1855 the California government required all schools to teach exclusively in English. Special taxes and restrictions were levied on the Chicanos in California as well, such as the “Foreign Miners’ Tax,”(The tax was also used against Chinese miners) which was used to drive Chicano miners out of the gold fields. There were also laws prohibiting or restricting traditional Chicano customs such as fiestas.

Similar situations developed throughout the Southwest.

Chicanos were made “aliens” in the area of their historical concentration. In 1856 for instance, in the Texas counties of Colorado and Morta Gorda, the Chicano population was suspected of sympathizing with a planned Black slave revolt. As a result, a local newspaper reported, “Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated. They were arrested, and ordered to leave the county within five days, and never again to return, under the penalty of death.”[8]

The persecution of the Chicano people went hand in hand with the theft of their lands. In many cases, the objective of the murder and violence against the Chicanos was to take over their property, regardless of the promises in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The great land grab in the Southwest by the big Anglo merchants and ranchers is second only to the massive theft of Indian lands. The loss of this property had a profound impact on the Chicanos and was a cornerstone of their national oppression.

In Texas, the Rangers and vigilante groups simply shot hundreds of Chicanos and took over their property. Not a single Anglo, however, was ever convicted of killing a Chicano in Texas in the 50 years immediately following annexation. Many Chicanos simply abandoned their land out of fear of murder. Chicano towns such as Victoria and Goliad became nearly deserted after Texas broke off from Mexico. All in all, it is estimated Chicanos lost 20 million acres of land in Texas alone.

In California and New Mexico the Chicanos lost much of their land through legal maneuvers, squatting, claim jumping and exorbitant taxes. In 1851 California passed a “Land Act” which required that Chicanos go through a complex process to prove title to their land. This was very difficult to do in many cases since the lands often were owned in common or accurate records never kept. Furthermore, the government dragged out the process – the average time for processing settlements was 17 years, causing much land to be given up by default alone.

In New Mexico, 80% of the grant holders lost their property. Most of these were held by small farmers and herders. In particular, unscrupulous lawyers from the East preyed upon the Chicanos. One out of every ten Anglos who went to New Mexico in the 1880’s was a lawyer. The Chicanos nicknamed them the “black vultures.”

A particularly infamous group of mainly Anglo merchants, lawyers, bankers and politicians became known as the Santa Fe Ring. The conspiracies of this group included land speculation, seizures of cattle ranches, public lands, mines, treasury notes, manipulation of the Indian Bureau and monopolizing army contracts. They controlled the territory’s courts and government. The Ring consisted of people such as Stephen Elkins, president of the First National Bank of Santa Fe; Le Baron Bradford Prince, who became Chief Justice of New Mexico in 1879; and Thomas Catron. Catron himself accumulated some two million acres of land and another four million in partnership through his swindles.

Because of growing Chicano protest to the land theft, the federal government in 1891 finally established a Court of Private Land Claims to settle land “disputes” in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. In its 13 years of existence the court, composed entirely of Anglos and conducted in English, heard cases involving 35.5 million acres. The court upheld the original claims of less than two million acres. All the rest were denied and the claimants lost their land. Ninety-five percent of these were Chicanos. The court, in actuality, gave legal sanction to the land grab.

The federal government itself was involved in this property theft, especially in New Mexico. Between 1850 and 1900 the federal government accumulated 14.5 million acres of land, the majority of this from individual or communal Chicano land.

During this period the U.S. government also waged a systematic war against the Indian peoples aimed at exterminating them and stealing their lands. Tens of thousands of Indians were killed in these wars, and millions of acres of land were stolen by the U.S.

The disposition of the land from the Chicano and Indian peoples cleared the way for full-scale development of capitalist mining, farming, ranching and commerce in the Southwest, but only after the issue of slavery had been settled.

Texas was admitted into the Union as a slave state and eventually joined the Confederacy. The New Mexico and Arizona territories were legally open to slavery, but it did not develop. California, on the other hand, was admitted into the Union as non-slave. It was only after the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the subsequent construction of the railroad system in the Southwest in the 1870’s that capitalism could rapidly develop.

California, that is northern California, developed most rapidly. The gold rush of 1849-52, its ports and large cattle ranches were foundations for California’s initial growth. With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the markets of the Midwest and East Coast were opened up to California’s products (cattle products, light industry and later, agriculture).

The first rail lines in New Mexico appeared in the 1870’s and were built along the old trade routes. They first were built along north-south routes connecting Denver with Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and El Paso. By 1885 track had been laid linking Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. Other lines soon opened up the markets to the East for the products of the Southwest.

As a result, capitalist manufacturing and industry were stimulated in the Southwest. Mining was one of the first big industries. Copper production in Arizona increased from 800,000 pounds in 1874 to 830,628,411 pounds in 1929. By the 1870’s U.S. sheep production shifted to the Southwest. In 1860, the ranches produced 498,000 pounds of wool but by 1880 this zoomed to 4,000,000 pounds. Cotton production also quickly spread throughout the Southwest, as well as large-scale production of other agricultural products. The new railroads also gave a big boost to the cattle industry in the Southwest.

As a result of these economic developments, the isolation of the Southwest ended. The centers of population were connected with each other, and trade vastly expanded. The Southwest became a relatively cohesive economic unit. The previously scattered and economically backward settlements of Chicanos were brought together by modern capitalism. By the turn of the century capitalism triumphed over the entire system of feudalism.

Forging of the Chicano nation

As a result of the massive changes in the Southwest in the 50 years following U.S. annexation, the Chicano people were forged together as a nation, as a “historically evolved, stable community of people with a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”[9] Their national characteristics, though, were very much distorted as they were a nation which developed under conditions of oppression.

By the turn of the century more than 200,000 Chicanos lived in the Southwest, concentrated in an area stretching from southwestern Texas to western Arizona, New Mexico and southern Colorado to the southern extreme of California, an area in which their ancestors had lived for 300 years. Their common language was Spanish and their culture was a mixture of their Spanish Mexican inheritance, Indian influences and their experience at the hands of the Anglo-American capitalists.

All of these elements existed before annexation to lesser or greater degrees, but it required the end of economic feudalism in the Southwest, the development of new classes among the Chicano people, and their severe oppression to transform them into a distinct nation.

Before annexation, the Spanish-speaking settlements in the Southwest were relatively isolated from one another. By the 1840’s the Mexican merchant class had developed and stepped up their trade in the region. As embryonic modern capitalists these merchants, along with other merchants throughout Mexico, were beginning to break down the isolation and stagnation of Mexico’s various regions under the rule of the landlords. U.S. capital after annexation rapidly accelerated this process in the Southwest.

Modern communications and transportation linked up the separate settlements. A clearer distinction between town and country emerged and the overall economic life of the region grew.

While capitalism gradually tied the Southwest in with the rest of the U.S. economy, it also developed the Southwest in a particular way which created a common, but distorted economic life. New Mexico, Arizona and the border areas of Texas and California developed as conquered and “colonial-type” areas. U.S. capital investment, primarily East Coast capital, in these areas was very similar to that which was put into the northern Mexican economy at the same time. Arizona and New Mexico were developed primarily to exploit the vast mineral and timber wealth; the large-scale ranching and later farming grew up with many of the characteristics of the previous patriarchal ranchero and hacienda systems. Manufacturing was not introduced into Arizona and New Mexico and the border areas until well into the 20th century.

The particular way capitalism developed in the Southwest is also reflected in the classes which emerged from the Chicano people. The landlord class was largely destroyed since their large holdings were taken. Some landlords and Chicano merchants, however, developed into modern capitalists closely connected to the Anglo interests. Miguel Otero, for instance, became part of the Santa Fe Ring. He later became a vice-president of the Atchison-Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company and director of businesses and banks throughout the territory. His son was appointed governor of the territory from 1896-1906.

Other Chicano traders and merchants developed as a small petty bourgeoisie concentrated in some urban commercial trade and handicraft production. They led a precarious existence as the flood of eastern manufactured goods ruined many of the small local industries. An intelligentsia also emerged as teachers, journalists and writers.

The vast majority of Chicanos who were formerly peones and small farmers were transformed into peasants, wage slaves and semi-proletarians, who worked for a wage part of the time and worked their own land at other times. Due to the land grab tens of thousands of small Chicano farmers and herders were forced to become tenant farmers or sharecroppers having to lease their land. The wage workers became laborers in the mines, railroads and ranches of the capitalists.

All of these various classes, though, developed in a restricted and distorted way as they emerged under the domination of Anglo-American capital. By the late 19th century, Anglo-American capital was developing into its monopoly stage and was so strong that the Chicano bourgeoisie had extreme difficulty in developing. The discrimination against the Spanish language put the Chicano intelligentsia at a disadvantage. Chicano wage workers had to work under a dual wage system: one wage for Anglo workers and another for Chicanos. In the 1850’s Arizona Chicano miners received $12.50 plus some grain per month while Anglo miners made $30 per month.

These restrictions inhibited the development of the Chicano people, but at the same time also contributed to forging them together through a common experience of oppression.

At this point it might be helpful to summarize some of the general history of the development of modern nations to compare the development of the Chicano nation with other experiences.

Nations, as was pointed out previously, are historically constituted communities of “language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”

For most nations these features existed in some form under feudalism, but generally speaking it required capitalism to develop full national characteristics. Stalin uses the history of Georgia in the U.S.S.R. to illustrate this point:

Georgia came onto the scene as a nation only in the latter half of the 19th century, when the fall of serfdom and the growth of the economic life of the country, the development of means of communication and the rise of capitalism instituted a division of labor between the various districts of Georgia, completely shattered the economic self-sufficiency of the principalities and bound them together into a single whole.[10]

The fall of feudalism and the development of some nations at the same time meant their conversion into independent nation states. The Gauls, Romans, Britons and others became amalgamated into a single modern French nation-state. In other areas of the world, however, a different process occurred. Stalin pointed out that in Eastern Europe where feudalism was not thoroughly eliminated and capitalism was feeble, a politically, militarily or economically dominant nationality formed multinational states consisting of several distinct nationalities. As capitalism arose in these multinational states, the subordinate nationalities were “aroused to independent life.” But they

could no longer shape themselves into independent national states, they encountered the powerful resistance of the ruling strata of the dominant nations, which had long ago assumed the control of the state. They were too late![11]

The awakened nations found themselves restricted in political rights, language, economic activity and education, among other things. At first the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations played the leading role in opposing these restrictions, but in many instances as time went on the masses of proletarians and peasants also entered the struggle against national oppression. As a result the national movement in Eastern Europe was born.

Of course, this is just a broad picture of the general development of some nations. Each nation, however, must be studied on its own as each has its own particularities of development. This is why Stalin stressed:

The economic, political and cultural conditions of a given nation constitute the only key to the question how a particular nation ought to arrange its life and what forms its future constitution ought to take. It is possible that a specific solution of the problem will be required for each nation. If, indeed, a dialectical approach to a question is required anywhere it is required here, in the national question.[12]

In examining the history of the Chicano people, it is clear that the rise of the Chicano nation in the late 19th century has its own particularities but also has many similarities to the historical experience of other nations. It developed as an oppressed nation within the boundaries of a multinational state.

By the turn of the century, the Chicano nation was forged. During the 50 years following annexation, Anglo-American capital had launched two contradictory but simultaneous processes. On the one hand, the Anglo-American capitalists strived to transform the Southwest, ridding it of its “Mexican” character. The federal government encouraged massive migrations into the area, particularly into Texas and California. The economic development of these areas also quickly integrated most of these two states into the rest of the country. Anglo capital had tried to exterminate the Indian and Mexican people of the Southwest, killing them, placing them on reservations, stealing their land or dispersing them into Mexico or the rest of the U.S.

On the other hand, these processes welded the Mexican people into a new nationality, the Chicanos, who endured common experiences at the hands of the Anglo capitalist conquerors. Their former settlements were linked together. Their territory was taken over and exploited. In their areas of concentration in Texas and California they lived as “despised peoples.” In Arizona and New Mexico where they formed the vast majority of the population, they lived as a colonized people.

The Chicano people never forgot that fire and sword had put them under the brutal rule of the U.S. state and kept them there.


[1] Marx, Capital, Volume I, (New York: 1947), p. 775

[2] Saul Padaver (ed), Karl Marx on America and the Civil War (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972) p. 58

[3] C. L. Webster, Personal Memoirs of General U.S. Grant, (New York: 1894), pp. 54-55

[4] Lopez y Rivas, “Chapter 1,” The Chicanos, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), p. 22

[5] Ibid., p. 22

[6] Stan Steiner, La Raza (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1970), p. 36

[7] Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau, with Eve Pell, To Serve the Devil, (New York: Vintage Books, 1971), p. 240

[8] David J. Weber, Foreigners In Their Native Land, (Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1973), p. 153

[9] J. V. Stalin, Marxism and the National Question, (New York: International Publishers, 1941) p. 12

[10] Ibid., p. 12

[11] Ibid., p. 11

[12] Ibid., p. 18