Revolution #90, May 27, 2007

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

Part 3: The 1910 Mexican Revolution and World War 1

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 appeared in issue #88, and part 2 in #89. We continue with another excerpt from the section “The History and Present Conditions of the Chicano People.”

Mexican Revolution of 1910

Revolution broke out in Mexico in 1910 as peasants rose up demanding "Tierra y Libertad--Land and Liberty." Ninety-five percent of the Mexican people were landless peasants and tenant farmers and they fought for the land to be redistributed. Peasant leaders like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata led the Mexican people in resistance. Organizations in the U.S. like the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM), led by Ricardo Flores Magon, actively built support for the revolution among Chicano and Mexicano workers. Magon was later imprisoned by the U.S. government and murdered in prison.

This period saw the first large-scale migration of Mexican workers into the U.S. The political and economic upheaval that accompanied the Mexican Revolution led to hundreds of thousands coming to the U.S.--nearly 10% of Mexico's population. The rapid development of U.S. capitalist agricultural production and its hunt for cheap farm labor greatly encouraged this migration as Mexican laborers poured into the country to work the cotton fields of Texas and Arizona, harvest sugar beets in Colorado, Michigan and the Great Lakes, and to pick California's fruits and vegetables. At the same time, the expansion of U.S. capitalist industry in the first decades of the 20th century sent recruiters to Texas and Mexico to fill jobs in the mines and railroads in the Southwest, in the Detroit auto plants, the Chicago steel mills, the slaughterhouses of Chicago, Omaha, Kansas City, and other growing industries in the Midwest.

The capitalists saw in these workers a source of cheap labor and a force that could be used to divide the working class. But working under dangerous conditions, performing backbreaking work, facing wage discrimination and treated as second-class citizens with no rights, Chicano and Mexicano workers united with the upsurge in the working class movement and fought together with workers of all nationalities in militant strikes in the fields and factories throughout this period. In Ludlow, Colorado in April 1914, one of the most famous strikes in this country's history took place as 9,000 miners, mainly Chicano, Italian, and Slavic, struck for union recognition, wage increases and better working and living conditions. J.D. Rockefeller called in troops to "protect his property" and they machine-gunned workers and then set fire to their homes, killing two women and eleven children in what has been known ever since as the Ludlow massacre.

World War I and the Depression

The stepped-up war economy and the recruitment of workers into the military during WW I (1914-1918) created a labor shortage that further encouraged the influx of Chicanos and Mexicanos into heavy industry. The war also cut off the flow of European immigrants to the U.S., and Mexican workers were turned to as one of the main sources of replacement for these European immigrants. Soon the Midwestern cities had growing Chicano communities. There were 4,000 Chicanos in Chicago in 1917; by 1930 this had increased to 20,000. But, following the Stock Market crash of 1929, and the economic crisis that followed, the 1930s saw tens of millions of workers laid off and wages cut by 50%.

The immigrants were used as scapegoats to take the blame for the economic hard times. Chicanos were cut off relief and were not allowed to work on government public works projects. It's estimated that there were 3 million people of Mexican descent living in the U.S. at the beginning of the depression. Of this number over 500,000--both Chicanos and Mexicanos --were forced to return to Mexico. In Detroit at least 12,000 of the 15,000 Chicanos and Mexicanos were repatriated. Families were split up. Sometimes the parents ended up on one side of the border, the children on the other, or with some of the children in the U.S. while the others were deported. There were many cases of people born in the U.S. being deported. In some cases those who had been born in Mexico but had spent almost no time there were sent back to live in a country they knew little about.

Next: World War 2 and the Bracero Program

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