Revolution #89, May 20, 2007

The Chicano Struggle and Proletarian Revolution in the U.S.

Part 2: Mexican Independence from Spain, and the U.S.-Mexican War

Revolution is running 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 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

There are three sections to the paper: “The History and Present Conditions of the Chicano People”; “The Source of—and Solution to—the Oppression of Chicano People”; and “A Look at Other Viewpoints and Approaches—Where We Have Unity and Where We Have Differences Over What Will Bring True Liberation.”

Part 1 of this series, which appeared in issue 87, traced the historical roots of the oppression of the Chicano people to the original colonization of what is now the southwestern part of the U.S. We continue with another selection from “The History and Present Conditions of the Chicano People.”

Mexican Independence from Spain

Between 1776 and 1836, several colonial independence movements shook the Americas. One of the leaders of the Mexican revolution was Father Miguel Hidalgo, who led a revolt that sparked the outbreak of Mexico's war of independence. On September 16, 1810, Hidalgo shouted the famous "Grito de Dolores"--"Long live our Lady of Guadalupe, down with bad government, down with the Spaniards!" For the next eleven years there were many more uprisings and in 1821 Mexico declared its independence from Spain.

Even though the settlements in the Southwest were considered part of Mexico, they did not participate to a great extent in the independence movement because there was little or no contact between them and Mexico. These borderland settlements were developing more independently from the rest of Mexico. In what is now New Mexico, the suppression of the Apaches led to a revival of immigration from Mexico, resulting in the expansion of ranching and farming.

The Santa Fe Trail was opened in 1822 connecting Santa Fe, New Mexico with U.S. markets. The opening of this trail reduced the isolation of these provinces from the U.S., but increased their separation from the rest of Mexico. Ruling class forces in Mexico did not like the trade between the U.S. and Mexico's provinces and feared they would be lost to the U.S. These Mexican ruling class forces led a revolt in 1835 that brought Lopez de Santa Anna to power. His regime imposed taxes on the people who lived in the northern provinces. Rich and poor despised these taxes--they had already become dependent on the goods the U.S. sold them at a cheaper price. The revolt that followed was suppressed by Mexico and New Mexico's large landowners, who quickly saw they had more to fear from the Indians and peasants who were most active in the revolt than from Mexico's central government.

The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848)

In the early 1800s two economic systems were competing in the U.S.: slavery and capitalism. The southern slave system, with its constant need for new land, was the driving force behind the seizure of the territory of northwest Mexico (what is now the U.S. Southwest). But the capitalists in the North also eyed the territory as a source of land, gold and other mineral resources, and as an opening of trade to the West. In 1836, slave owners, who had moved into the eastern part of Texas, stole the land from Mexico and declared it the Independent Republic of Texas. Despite warnings from the Mexican government, the U.S. annexed this so-called republic in 1845, and this led to the U.S.-Mexican War.

Mexican and Indian peasants fought hard against U.S. aggression in the Mexican provinces. A number of Irish immigrants who were U.S. soldiers deserted to the Mexican side, forming the Batallón San Patricio (Saint Patrick's Battalion). While few of the rich landowners of New Mexico resisted the U.S., the masses of peasants and Indians in these regions did resist. There was struggle throughout the Southwest and California, but despite this resistance against the U.S., Mexico was defeated on February 2, 1848. By then U.S. troops had driven deep into Mexican territory, reaching and encircling Mexico City. In this way they were delivering a message that the U.S. was to be the dominant force in this hemisphere.

At the end of the U.S.-Mexican War the U.S. ripped off approximately 50% of Mexico's territory--the land richest in natural resources, suitable for growing fruit, farming, grazing, rich in minerals like copper and silver, and rich in oil reserves. The theft of this land crippled Mexico's future economic development.

Approximately 75,000 Mexicans were living on settlements in the Southwest at the end of the U.S.-Mexican War, 60,000 of them in New Mexico. They were mainly poor farmers, peasants, ranch hands and miners.

Mexico was forced to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which while stripping it of half its land, promised that Mexicans in the Southwest of what was now U.S. territory were entitled to Constitutional rights and "shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property." This treaty and the protocol that was also signed guaranteed the Mexican people their land grants, language and civil rights. But the treaty was treated as a mere scrap of paper and never respected by the U.S. government.

Only nine days after the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed gold was discovered in California. Thousands of people flooded the area and the small Mexican population of 7,500 was completely overrun. The state's population leaped to 67,000 by the end of 1848 and soared to 250,000 by 1849. Taxes, squatters, and court costs to affirm land titles ruined Mexican ranchers. Some Mexicans worked as ranch hands or were self-employed as artisans and craftsmen. But Mexicans who attempted to mine gold were hit with "foreign" miner taxes that prevented them from mining. The Mexican people resisted this wholesale rip-off. Tiburcio Vasquez and Joaquin Murrieta, dismissed as criminals by prevailing versions of California history, became outlaws rather than accept the injustices coming down on Mexicans, and both of them headed up armed bands that roamed California until they were captured and killed.

In Texas the war was over, but the people's struggle wasn't. Big U.S. cattle barons and plantation owners set out to take over everything and push the Mexicans out of the way. This is where the Texas Rangers got their start--as the strong-armed thugs for the big ranchers, using murder and robbery to terrorize the Mexican people into submission. Poor Mexicans and displaced landowners rose up in resistance. Juan Cortina led an important and heroic resistance movement in Texas, avoiding capture and carrying out armed battles for over a decade.

In Southwest Texas and New Mexico U.S. expansion came slower. At first the Anglo-Americans who migrated there married into prominent Mexican families and became part of the elite. Step by step they bought out or stole outright the land from the small Mexican farmers in violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Between 1850 and 1900, two million acres belonging to individuals, 1.7 million acres of communal land and 1.8 million acres of other New Mexican land were seized by the U.S. government. The Anglo settlers in Texas set up new towns alongside and separate from the old ones, while the Mexican people ended up as peons and ranch hands. In this way, the conquest brought with it the beginnings of institutionalized segregation and discrimination of the Mexican population that remained.

A notorious alliance of politicians and twenty rich New Mexican families, known as the Santa Fe Ring, worked together to acquire large tracts of land. Conducting court only in English, imposing high taxes, arbitrary laws, and expensive confirmation of land deeds, and through outright robbery and murder, they seized the communal lands away from the people. Many Mexicans lost their homes, and Mexican peasants moved northward into the southern portion of Colorado where their settlements still exist today.

The victory of capitalism over slavery in 1865 brought bigger changes to the Southwest. This victory accelerated the downfall of the feudal landlord-tenant setup that had existed in parts of the Southwest. The development of the railroads encouraged the expansion of large-scale capitalist agriculture, which ruined the landowners and forced the peasants into the ranks of the working class in the mines, railroads and truck farms, along with Irish and Chinese immigrants. The railroads also encouraged the development of large cattle ranchers who could ship their beef to the east. These powerful interests drove the smaller Mexican sheepherders and small farmers out of business and into the working class as well.

For the vast majority of Mexican people in the Southwest, capitalism advanced by running roughshod over them and subjugating them to its needs. A reign of terror was unleashed on them, and their resistance to its domination was drowned in blood. Through this brutal process the oppressed minority of Mexicans were transformed into a new and distinct oppressed national minority within the U.S.--the Mexican-American or Chicano people.

To sum up: as this history shows, when the U.S. seized what is now the Southwest from Mexico the various Mexican settlements in that region were small and isolated, not only from Mexico, but also from each other. The conquest cut these settlements off from the nation-building process that was taking place in Mexico. The consolidation of U.S. capitalism over the Southwest held back the independent economic, cultural, political and social development of the Mexican people in the area. In so doing it forged them together into a single oppressed nationality--Mexican-Americans or Chicanos--and welded them in their great majority together with workers of other nationalities into the single U.S. working class. All this set the stage for a higher level of struggle against the common enemy in the decades to come.

Next: Mexican Revolution of 1910

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond