Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist)

The Struggle for Chicano Liberation

IV. The Chicano people today and their struggle for liberation

The Chicano people in their areas of concentration in the Southwest form a distinct nation, but a nation which is oppressed by the U.S. monopoly capitalist class. The oppression of the Chicano people is seen in every aspect of their lives and in turn has created a deep revolutionary sentiment. The struggle of the Chicano people for liberation is a component and important part of the struggle against the U.S. monopoly capitalist class and for socialism.

Communists have the task of fighting national oppression as part of the proletarian revolution. Communists must strive to unite with the Chicano national movement, lead it in a revolutionary direction and unite it with the struggle of the working class to overthrow the monopoly capitalists. At the same time, communists must lead the workers movement to support the just struggles of the Chicano people up to and including the right of self-determination of the Chicano nation.

National oppression manifested in every sphere of life

Today there are between 10-12 million Chicanos and Mexicans in the U.S., and 85% of them continue to live in the Southwest where they have constituted a stable community of people for hundreds of years. The overwhelming majority of Spanish-speaking people in the Southwest are U.S. born. The core of the Chicano nation is New Mexico and southern Colorado, but a look at a map which shows the proportion of the Spanish surnamed population by county clearly shows that the Chicano people constitute a majority or near majority in a continuous band of territory along the entire border with Mexico. This band generally constitutes the Chicano nation.

The vast majority of Chicanos in the Southwest continue to hold Spanish as their native tongue. This is the common language of the Chicano people, despite attempts by the bourgeoisie to deprive them of their language. The big capitalists have systematically tried to suppress Spanish.

In New Mexico, for instance, in 1876 when the first public schools were established in the territory, 111 of 133 schools were conducted in Spanish, 12 in both English and Spanish and only 10 in English alone. The first trial in English was not held until 1912. But since then, due to the pressure of the U.S. state, English became the required language in all schools in New Mexico and throughout the Southwest. As recently as 1970 a Chicano teacher in Crystal City, Texas, was indicted for conducting a high school history class in Spanish.

Despite the discrimination against Spanish, 80% of the Chicano population in the core area of the nation is Spanish-speaking. The 1970 federal census also reveals that 91% of the Chicano and Mexican population in the U.S. reported Spanish as their native language.[1]

The suppression of the Spanish language is one of the blatant forms of national oppression and, of course, this seriously restricts the cultural, educational and political lives of the Chicano people. One of the most outrageous examples of this discrimination against Spanish came to light recently, when it became known that some Chicano children had been put into classes for mentally retarded children, because they did not know English.

Other social statistics clearly show the all-round nature of the oppression of the Chicano people: In 1972, 40% of Chicano families lived on less than $6,000 a year compared to 24% for Anglos. The median income in 1972 for the total population was $10,285 while it was just $7,480 for Chicanos. The percentage of Chicano families living in poverty was 28.9% compared to 12.5% for the total population. (The figure for just the Anglo population, of course, would be much lower than the “total population” as this includes all the minority nationalities.) In the core area of the Chicano nation, the situation is still worse: in 1972, 40% of the Chicano families were in poverty and 50% in Texas. The federal government, itself, just revealed that Brownsville, Texas, which is overwhelmingly Chicano, is the poorest city in the U.S.

National oppression means, too, that the lives of the Chicano people are cut short – the life expectancy for Chicanos is only 56.7 years compared to 67.5 years for Anglos. Chicano farm workers have a life expectancy of only 49 years! This situation is caused by poor nutrition, inadequate health care and brutal exploitation. In the poor rural areas of the Chicano nation, the infant mortality rate is 125% higher than the national average, and the influenza and pneumonia death rates are 200% higher.

But these statistics alone do not tell the entire story – they do not tell of the dozens of police murders of Chicanos that have taken place throughout the Southwest over the past decade. They do not tell of the serious drug problems which enslave many of the young people. The statistics, too, do not tell of the racist social treatment of the Chicano people, including stereotyping in the media, segregation in housing and discrimination in employment.

Should it be at all surprising that the hatred for national oppression runs so deep and strong among the Chicano people!

The Chicano people hold no political power in their own homeland – they have been forcibly kept within the control of the U.S. capitalist state. One of the reasons for this has been because the big capitalists have so coveted the riches of the Chicano nation. The biggest landowners in New Mexico continue to be the federal government, the railroad companies and mining companies such as Phelps Dodge, Anaconda, Kennecott and Kaiser. The big petroleum companies such as Exxon, Tenneco and Standard Oil, too, have large holdings in New Mexico. The state is still largely plundered for its great mineral and timber wealth.

Once mainly peasant and small farmers, the great majority of the Chicano people are now wage laborers. Eighty percent are workers and close to this same percentage reside in urban areas.

A small Chicano peasantry continues to exist, mainly in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, and there are many small farmers in the south Texas area. In addition, some Chicanos are semi-proletarians, who work for a wage part of the year, and also do some family farming.

With very few exceptions the Chicano bourgeoisie is really a petty bourgeoisie and most of its holdings are in retail and wholesale trade and construction rather than manufacturing or banking. Of the Chicano owned businesses in 1969 only 50 employed more than 50 employees and only 15 employed more than 100. In contract construction there were just under 400 Chicano firms with gross receipts of more than $100,000, eight of which have earned more than a million dollars. In manufacturing there were just over 200 firms with gross receipts of over $100,000. In finance there were 85 with over $100,000 in gross receipts.[2] These figures show that the Chicano business sector is just a mere drop in the bucket when compared to the billions in superprofits that the monopolists extract from the Southwest in the form of mineral wealth, agriculture and manufacturing.

The masses of Chicanas (women) suffer the triple oppression of class, nationality and sex. Like women throughout the U.S., Chicanas receive substantially lower pay for the work they do as compared to men, but Chicanas are paid even less than Anglo women. Almost one-half of Chicanas in the work force earn less than $2,000 a year. Proportionally more Chicanas work than the national average of women and most labor in nonunionized areas in light industry, light assembly and service work. In California in 1970, almost half of Chicano women worked. Nearly 43% of Chicano families were headed by women living close to or below the official poverty line.

Chicanas have had to face an especially brutal form of oppression in recent years in the form of forced sterilization. In Los Angeles, which has a very large population of Chicanos and Mexicans, a number of women were forced to undergo sterilization by threatening them with deportation if they refused, or by making them sign clearance forms printed only in English, or while the women were under sedation, or even while the women were in the middle of their labor.

Chicanas have also had to deal with the particular restrictions which the Catholic Church puts on women. Most Chicanos are Catholic, and this religion fosters the ideas that women’s place is in the home, and that women are meant to be the docile tools of men. This has contributed to the idea and practice of “machismo” which has kept the Chicana suppressed – tied to the nursery and kitchen. The Chicano movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s dealt sharp blows to these ideas, as thousands of Chicanas fought against national oppression, as well as against their oppression as women.

But the struggle of Chicano women did not begin in the 1960’s. It started during the first days of resistance to U.S. domination. Chicanas took part in the Taos uprising, in the defense of Vasquez, Murietta and Cortina, as well as in the great labor struggles of the 1930’s, especially in the agricultural fields. Women like Emma Tenayucca played an important part in the San Antonio Pecan strike. Chicanas also played an important role in the Empire Zinc Strike in the 1950’s. This tradition was carried on by Chicanas in the great farm worker, Farah and other struggles of the 1960’s. Chicanas played important and leading roles in the Brown Berets, in the MEChAs, in the Alianza, and in La Raza Unida Party. History has shown that the struggle of Chicanas is an important and component part of the Chicano struggle for liberation.

Tasks of communists

The enemy of the Chicano people is the monopoly capitalist class. They are responsible for plundering the vast riches of the Southwest, for the long history of the suppression of the Chicano people and for their continuing impoverishment. The monopoly capitalists are responsible for the vicious chauvinism directed against Chicanos and the demeaning of their culture and history.

This national oppression is an integral part of the U.S. imperialist system. It has been the source of great profit for the bourgeoisie – the big capitalists make billions annually off of the superexploitation of Chicano workers.

The bourgeoisie has given some privileges to Anglo workers in the form of making English an official language, higher pay, fostering disdain for the Chicano people, etc. But these divisions are aimed only at benefiting the big Anglo capitalists. The masses of Anglo workers have no stake in preserving national oppression and imperialism.

The multinational working class and the Chicano people have a common enemy in the monopoly capitalists. Only with the overthrow of the imperialists will the suffering of the Chicano and working people be ended.

The ultimate solution to national and class oppression in the U.S. requires the victory of socialism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This new social system will wipe out exploitation and achieve genuine equality for all nationalities.

With the power of the state in their hands the masses of people can tackle the massive social and living problems inherited from capitalism. All nationalities will be recognized as equal, and all nationalities will be able to use their languages without discrimination or other interference. The development of culture of the minority nationalities will be encouraged and assisted and not disparaged.

Most importantly, the minority nationalities will be able to hold political power. The oppressed nations such as the Afro-American nation in the Black-belt South, and the Chicano nation in the Southwest, will be able to exercise their right to self-determination. Outside of these areas, minority peoples in areas of concentration can exercise some form of local or regional autonomy over their affairs and take part in the general affairs of the state.

But while socialism is the ultimate solution to national oppression, this cannot be used as an argument against fighting today for the national rights of the Chicano people. In fact, socialism can be achieved only if a determined day-to-day fight is waged against national oppression by the working class.

The fight against national oppression is a particularly important task in the U.S. because the centuries of national oppression have created a profound revolutionary potential among the Chicano people. The contrast between the professed “democracy” and “prosperity” of the U.S. and the reality of life for the masses of Chicanos has created a deep bitterness.

Communists have a responsibility to be the staunchest fighters against the national oppression of the Chicano people. Communists must unite with the struggle of the Chicano people, strive to advance the movement and help forge its unity with the struggle of the working class and other oppressed peoples.

This can be done only if communists show in deeds that they can help lead the Chicano movement in a revolutionary direction and advance the interests of the Chicano people. Words and propaganda are not enough. Many communists already have come from the Chicano people and are continuing to play leading roles in the Chicano struggle.

Communists must also lead the workers of other nationalities to support and unite with the just struggles of the Chicano people. These struggles include the fight against discrimination, for better living conditions, for the equality of languages and against police attacks; but they also include the struggle for basic national democratic demands up to and including the right of self-determination for the Chicano nation.

Fighting for the right of self-determination means fighting for the right of the Chicano people to determine the future of their nation without the interference of outside force or compulsion. This means being able to determine the affairs of their nation up to and including secession from the U.S., if they so desire. Whether or not the Chicano people decide to form an independent nation-state, federate with the U.S., become a Mexican province or some other form is entirely up to the Chicano people to decide.

Communists uphold the right of self-determination for the Chicano nation for the same reason that they uphold all the other just demands of the Chicano people – to forge the internationalist unity of the multinational working class and to help lead the Chicano people in revolutionary struggle.

By upholding the right of self-determination, the workers of the oppressor nation prove to the workers of the Chicano nation that they reject the privileges acquired by conquest. Upholding the right of self-determination will serve to break down the mistrust between the workers of the oppressed and oppressor nationalities and replace it with revolutionary trust.

Communists must uphold the right of self-determination now, even if it is not the principal demand of the movement today, for communists must not look just at the present but to the future. It is only a matter of time (and not a question of if it will come about) when there will be another great upsurge in the struggle of the Chicano people. And it is very likely that this demand will be raised even more widely and militantly than in the past. At that time upholding the right of self-determination will become an immediate issue upon which revolutionaries will be judged on their past and present stand.

Communists must also uphold the right of self-determination for the Chicano nation in order to help lead the Chicano national movement in a revolutionary direction. This demand, once taken up by the Chicano masses, will lead them to struggle against the U.S. monopolists. The right of self-determination presupposes a struggle for political power and is aimed at a central pillar of U.S. imperialism. Self-determination cannot be won without revolutionary struggle.

Can self-determination actually be won? It definitely can be won. It will be realized in its most concrete and genuine way when the proletariat makes revolution, destroys imperialism and constructs socialism. Under socialism the most complete and real democracy can be attained, including the realization of the right of self-determination for oppressed nations.

But it is possible that this right may be won in some form before the victory of the proletariat. War, international and domestic crisis, a great revolutionary upsurge throughout the U.S. or some combination of these may result in the Chicano people being able to win some exercise of the right of self-determination. Of course as along as imperialism exists, this self-determination could only be limited or distorted. This cannot be used though, as a reason not to uphold fighting for self-determination as an immediate demand.

While communists uphold the right of self-determination, communists must also have their own opinion whether or not a particular expression of the right is advantageous to the proletariat. Upholding the right of self-determination does not presuppose communist support for secession or any other specific exercise of the right. Communists decide on their position taking into account the overall conditions of the proletarian struggle and how secession or whatever other form of the right would affect this struggle. In other words, the right of self-determination, as with all democratic demands, is subordinate to the general cause of the proletariat.

For instance, if socialism were achieved in the U.S. and bourgeois elements in the Chicano nation wished to secede, weakening socialism and the proletariat, communists would have a responsibility to agitate against this specific proposal to secede.

Communists can formulate their concrete opinion about a form of self-determination only when the possibility of that expression becomes real. To put forth today for instance, that one is against secession for the Chicano nation now and in the future, is idealist and detrimental to winning the right itself and to leading the Chicano national movement along a revolutionary path.

Some specific questions

The Communist Party USA: The Communist Party USA (CPUSA), as part and parcel of its revisionism, generally has neglected the Chicano national movement. The program it offers for Chicano liberation is similar to that for other minority nationalities. It pivots around trying to “outlaw” racism, and enacting a series of liberal-reformist programs to “uplift” the Chicano people, while leaving the system of monopoly capital intact.[3] The program completely omits any genuine national democratic demands, the question of political power, and the necessity to win liberation through revolutionary struggle. The CPUSA poses a danger to the Chicano movement because their views will leave the Chicano people defenseless in the face of national oppression, and will lead the Chicano people into reliance on this or that “liberal” politician. The program of the CPUSA offers only a dead end to the Chicano struggle, because it leaves untouched the control over society by the monopoly capitalists. The CPUSA is doubly dangerous because it tries to hide behind the mask of Marxism-Leninism and revolution; and because it seeks to tie the Chicano national movement into an alliance with the social-imperialist Soviet Union. It tries to do this by using Cuba.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 against Batista and U.S. imperialism naturally has much prestige among the Spanish-speaking and other people in the western hemisphere. But the CPUSA attempts to manipulate this prestige to win support for their own line, for the present-day aggression of Cuba in Africa, and into support for the Soviet Union.

Genuine communists and revolutionaries in the Chicano national movement have the responsibility of exposing and defeating the poisonous activities of the CPUSA.

On nationalism: How should communists view nationalism? Communists are internationalists; they recognize that the just struggles of all oppressed peoples support one another and the eventual goal is world communism with an end to all national boundaries and divisions. But this does not mean in any way that communists do not recognize and support nationalism in the cause of progress, and make a distinction between reactionary and revolutionary nationalism.

The nationalism of imperialism is reactionary as it is a nationalism aimed at perpetuating exploitation and oppression. It is aimed at keeping the masses of the oppressor nation chained to support the criminal bourgeoisie. The U.S. “Buy America” campaign and “America: Love It or Leave It” are examples of reactionary nationalism in the U.S. today.

But there are national sentiments which are progressive and revolutionary. These are the sentiments of the oppressed peoples who oppose imperialism. The Chicano people have suffered national oppression and this has generated national resistance, national sentiments and national rebellion at times. Directed against their oppressors, such sentiments are revolutionary. Communists support these sentiments.

Communists of oppressor nationalities have a particular responsibility to combat the nationalism of “their” reactionary bourgeoisie. Communists from the oppressed nationalities on the other hand are first and foremost communists, but they should also be the most determined fighters against the oppression of their people. Communism in the U.S. must stand for the emancipation of the working class and the liberation of the oppressed nationalities.

Within the national movements, communists will have to combat narrow nationalism, among other deviations, which hurts the cause of proletarian revolution. The narrow nationalists attempt to manipulate the progressive national sentiments of the oppressed peoples and direct them away from the source of their oppression. Narrow nationalists in the Chicano movement, for instance, target all Anglos as the source of Chicano oppression. In practice the narrow nationalists are splitters who actually work hand in glove with the big Anglo bourgeoisie against the workers and masses of Chicano people. The narrow nationalists attack Marxism and communism as “white” things and attack revolutionary nationalists, who see the common interests of all the oppressed, as vendidos (sellouts). The narrow nationalists however, are only a small handful and they offer only the dead end alternatives of “Chicano capitalism,” or “community control” without a revolutionary struggle for political power.

Communists must unite with the progressive national sentiments of the masses and expose the narrow nationalists as splitters and betrayers of the interests of the masses of oppressed peoples.

On the relation between Chicanos and Mexicans: The Chicano people in the U.S. are the people whose ancestors were the Spanish-speaking people of northern Mexico (before annexation), and include the many generations of migrants from Mexico who traveled across the border after 1848. The vast majority of these migrants have remained in the areas of the former Mexican territories.

The culture of the Chicano people was first a blend of Spanish, Mexican and Indian inheritances. Since annexation though, the culture of the Chicano people has developed under the conditions of national oppression by Anglo capital. An identity evolved which was neither Mexican nor Anglo-American. The migrations from Mexico reinforced the Mexican aspects of the Chicano culture, but likewise over a period of time the immigrants from Mexico begin to adopt Chicano culture. It is important to understand the experience which binds Chicanos and Mexicans in the U.S. together.

The migrations from Mexico have been due in large part to imperialist domination of that country which has kept it impoverished, and caused large numbers of Mexicans to come to the U.S. When Mexicans arrive in the U.S. they are immediately superexploited in such jobs as the garment sweatshops, the foundries, the restaurants or in the fields. They are subjected to the constant terror of la migra. They face severe discrimination because they speak only Spanish. The monopoly capitalists, as well as unscrupulous loan sharks, insurance companies and landlords prey on the Mexican immigrants like vultures as soon as they set foot in the U.S.

For generation after generation this pattern has continued. These are the conditions which face the first generation of Mexican immigrants. But succeeding generations do not escape from oppression. Even if they acquire U.S. citizenship, or their children are born in the U.S., they are never allowed to achieve equal status with Anglo-Americans, no matter how long they live in the U.S. The vast majority of both immigrant and American-born are kept as a superexploited and unorganized part of the work force. Even when some Mexicans are able to get into a professional occupation or small business, their overall status remains much lower than that of their Anglo counterparts.

This is what binds together the Mexican and Chicano experience – a common experience of oppression. Over a generation or two, for all practical purposes the distinctions between the two disappear.

Regional autonomy: Regional autonomy is a policy of granting regional administrative flexibility in governing an area within a state because of its particular national characteristics. It is a policy which was used in the socialist Soviet Union, and is used today in China to help solve the national question.

In the U.S. after socialism is won, this policy may be utilized to help solve the national question too. In areas of minority concentrations, this policy would help enable minorities to take part in government, taking into account the particularities of the nationality.

Regional autonomy also may be desired by the oppressed nations in the U.S. This may be how the right of self-determination will be exercised, within the boundaries of the socialist U.S. state. The Chicano nation may decide to become an autonomous region rather than secede, or become a federated republic. Regional autonomy may also be the solution for the administration of areas of Chicano concentration outside the Southwest.

Regional autonomy may be an expression of an oppressed nation’s right of self-determination, but it is not the same thing as the right itself. The recognition of the existence of a nation demands that that nation have the right to have full sovereignty over its destiny, which may or may not include regional autonomy.

Relation to Mexico: There are many ties between Mexico and the Southwest. The area once belonged to Mexico – many of the people in the Southwest have their origins in Mexico and continue to have family ties to Mexico. Economically both sides of the border are linked by trade, investments – the economy is similar along the border with agriculture, mining and manufacturing. Even the geography and climate are alike.

Undoubtedly whatever happens on one side of the border will affect the other side. This is a further reason to uphold the right of self-determination in addition to the other historical and contemporary arguments.

An upsurge of the Chicano people demanding self-determination in the Southwest is bound to have an electrifying effect on the entire U.S. It will be a great encouragement to the other oppressed nationalities, especially to the Afro-American nation in the South. And if communists do their work correctly, it will also be a tremendous inspiration to the workers of all nationalities for they will correctly see the upsurge as a powerful blow against the monopoly bourgeoisie. A massive struggle in the Southwest will irrevocably alter the economic and political life of the country.

It is therefore imperative to develop the solution to the Chicano national question not in some academic way, not just by reading some books and declaring what everyone already knows, i.e., that the Chicano people are oppressed – but in a way that takes revolution against the monopolists as the starting point. A revolutionary program for Chicano liberation – there is no other way to solve the Chicano national question.


[1] U.S., Bureau of the Census, Current Population Report, Series P-20, No. 213 (February 1971)

[2] U.S., Bureau of the Census, Minority-Owned Businesses (1969), Table 2, Part C, pp. 72-73, 148-150, 156

[3] Communist Party (USA), Toward Chicano Liberation