Revolution #87, May 6, 2007
The Chicano Struggle and Proletarian Revolution in the U.S.
Part 1: Colonization, Conquest and Capitalist Development
With this issue, Revolution is beginning a series of excerpts from “The Chicano Struggle and Proletarian Revolution in the U.S.” This position paper, which originally appeared in June 2001, is by a writing group of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. The research and investigation that is reflected in this paper was carried out as part of producing the new Draft Programme of the RCP. (The Draft Programme and the full text of the position paper are available online at revcom.us/s/programme_e.htm.)
There are three sections to the paper: Part I: The History and Present Conditions of the Chicano People; Part II: The Source of—and Solution to—the Oppression of Chicano People; Part III: A Look at Other Viewpoints and Approaches—Where We Have Unity and Where We Have Differences Over What Will Bring True Liberation.
We begin our series of excerpts with a section from Part I.
The day-to-day reality of the Chicano people is marked with the scars of oppression and exploitation: the young, bald and brown Chicano who has had his face pushed up against a wall by the police more times than he can remember; the Chicano families where the parents have slaved a lifetime making capitalists rich while they can barely make ends meet; the Chicano college freshman who has overcome the "savage inequalities" of an inner city education only to hear in not-so-soft whispers that he or she is "only there because of affirmative action"; all the Chicanos slapped on the back of the hand with a ruler for speaking Spanish in school or swept into Special Ed classes because their first language is Spanish; the Chicanos who are constantly fed the "John Wayne" myth that the defenders of the Alamo were "heroes" who died at the hands of those "bad" Mexicans. All this and more is the weight the Chicano people bear.
Historically, the U.S. has benefited from murderous plunder against the Mexicano and Chicano people. And today the system continues to profit from maintaining the majority of Chicano people in the lower rungs of the working class. National oppression enables the ruling class to systematically oppress an entire people on the basis of their Mexican heritage, their skin color and the way they speak--forcing them into menial and often backbreaking work for the lowest wages. Chicanos are overworked and underpaid, or pushed onto the unemployment lines. Chicanos are segregated into poor, run down neighborhoods with the worst schools and medical care, and where police brutality is rampant. It has been over 150 years since the U.S. stole nearly half of Mexico's land, but Chicanos still live with the effects of this history of theft and conquest, and the continued domination of Mexico.
This oppressor/oppressed relationship is embedded in the social fabric of the Southwest and the rest of the country--a whole superstructure of prejudice and discrimination has been built up by the system that demeans, disrespects and criminalizes the culture, language, and even the existence of the Chicano people. Chicanos are constantly told that they are an inferior people, that their Mexican heritage and Spanish language are inferior, and that the reason they are treated like criminals is because they act like them.
While the U.S. has a history of oppression and exploitation against the Chicano people, Chicanos have a rich history of struggle against national oppression and against capitalist exploitation as part of the multinational proletariat. They are a living example of that most basic law of class society--"oppression breeds resistance."
Colonization, Conquest and Capitalist Development
The Chicano, or Mexican-American, people are an oppressed nationality in the U.S. whose roots of oppression trace back to the original colonization of what is now the southwestern portion of the U.S. Their forced subjugation as a people and their long history of struggle against this subjugation is rooted in the conquest of the Southwest by the U.S. ruling class in the U.S.-Mexican War, the continuous domination of Mexico by U.S. imperialism, and the maintenance of large parts of the Southwest as an oppressed region.
The year 1492 marked the beginning of a new stage in human history when Columbus drifted onto the Americas. In Europe it triggered tremendous activity among the rising merchant classes--the budding capitalists straining against the constraints of feudalism--who saw in the Americas a new source of wealth and power. Spain was one of the leading countries scrambling to stake its claim on the Western Hemisphere.
In 1519 Hernán Cortés led a small band of Spanish soldiers into the territory of Mexico, where they encountered a number of different peoples, including the dominant Aztecs, who commanded an advanced civilization and large empire, and others such as the Zapotec, Mixtec, and Mayan peoples. For various reasons, they were able to conquer the Aztecs within a few years and then proceed to take over the areas under their control, and the rest of the surrounding populations. Eventually, this led to the establishment of a new civilization that covered a large part of the continents of North and South America--including what is now Central America, Mexico, and the U.S. Southwest--dominated by the Spanish conquerors and populated by the indigenous peoples. The Spanish faced great resistance on the part of the native peoples as they spread their empire throughout the Americas. Spain conquered Mexico gradually, through warfare and the devastation caused by the diseases they brought with them. But throughout this period, resistance to their rule continued on the part of the Native American and Mexican peoples.
The Spanish conquest of these peoples all but destroyed the previous societies, not just in terms of the institutions and customs, but also large numbers of the existing populations. Few Spanish women traveled to the "New World"--which came to be called New Spain (Nueva España)--so the physical blending between the Spanish and the indigenous people--often the result of plunder and rape--created the mestizo. Out of all this, over several centuries, arose a new culture, the modern culture of Mexico. In New Spain the mestizo was looked down upon and exploited, and the remaining indigenous peoples were kept in extremely oppressive conditions as a result of new social relations imposed and enforced by the Spanish conquerors.
It was the search for mineral wealth that drove early Spanish explorers into what is now the Southwest of the U.S. Later, permanent settlements were encouraged to fortify the frontier against rival European powers. Colonizing these areas was not easy--the fierce resistance of the Utes, Apaches, Comanches and Navajos made it difficult for the settlers to gain control over the area.
These Spanish settlements were able to survive by conquering and enslaving the Pueblo Indians, who had developed agriculture and were a more settled people. In 1680 the Pueblos rose up against a century of abuse, torture and disease in an organized, coordinated revolt that drove all of the Spanish settlements out of the region for the next fifteen years.
But by 1700 the Spanish were finally able to defeat this revolt of the Pueblos. The conquest eventually decimated the Pueblos, so the Spanish looked for new ways to settle and control the area. In the northern part of New Mexico a large population of Indians and Mexican peasants were granted communal land by the Spanish crown to encourage the growth of settlements that would protect their interests in that area against others who wanted to force them out--other Indians and the French. In these areas villagers lived off subsistence crops, raised sheep on communal land, and had communal water rights. Their isolation from Central Mexico and relative stability enabled the people of northern New Mexico to begin developing a society of their own, based on communal land grants and distinct from other parts of Mexico and other Southwestern settlements. These settlements started in the 1700s and still exist today.
The Southern part of New Mexico was settled differently. In this area large tracts of land were granted to a few Spanish elite who forced very poor Indian and Mexican peasants to work their land. In this colony, just like in other parts of Mexico, Spanish nobility ruled, while the Indians and the mestizos were at the bottom of society. But, because of constant Indian raids these settlements grew slowly. At the end of the 18th century there were only 8,000 settlers in all of New Mexico.
In Texas, the Spaniards arrived with a cross in one hand and a sword in the other. In East Texas they tried to establish Catholic missions and armed garrisons, but the Comanches gave them no peace. Settlers were more successful in the south of Texas between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River. Here Spanish ranchers viciously exploited the mestizos brought from Mexico to work their land. However, long distances and hostile Indians prevented contact between this settlement and those in New Mexico and California.
In contrast, in California the mission system was successful. Twenty-one missions, three towns and three garrisons were built between San Diego and San Francisco. The coastal Indians offered little resistance and many were converted to Christianity and forced to "serve God" by becoming slaves. The resistance of the nomadic Indians of central California prevented the development of missions there. California was the farthest from central Mexico and had the smallest population of all the Spanish colonies by the 1820s.
In Arizona there were many attempts to settle. But as a result of the resistance and attacks on settlements by the native people, lack of money, and the Spanish struggle to keep control over Mexico, the Spanish found it difficult to protect their interests in Arizona.
To sum up: The first settlements in what is now the U.S. Southwest and California were sparsely settled between 1600 and 1800 by the Spanish, relying on Mexican and Indian labor. Only Northern New Mexico developed communal land grants. And the mission system based mainly on Indian labor developed only in California. These colonized areas had little or no contact with each other or with central Mexico. The distance between them, difficult terrain, and the constant resistance and attacks from Indigenous tribes, meant that each region had its own unique development and had little in common, other than their general Mexican heritage.
Next: Mexican Independence from Spain; The U.S.-Mexican War
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.