Revolution #92, June 17, 2007
The Chicano Struggle and Proletarian Revolution in the U.S.
Part 5: Farmworkers Struggle, the 1960s, and Chicano Moratorium
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 revcom.us/s/programme_e.htm.)
Previous parts of this series appeared in issues #87 and #89-#91. We continue with another excerpt from the first section of the paper, “The History and Present Conditions of the Chicano People.”
The Farmworkers Struggle
Chicano and Mexicano farmworkers joined with striking Filipino campesinos in the grape fields of Delano, California in September of 1965. This began a new period of struggle in the fields of California and the Southwest. Under the leadership of what became the United Farmworkers Union, this new drive mounted a major challenge to the agri-business barons. Despite the fierce opposition of the growers and the rest of their class, the farmworkers movement scored significant gains and gave inspiration to workers of all nationalities, and to the awakening Chicano movement. The struggle involved thousands of farmworkers, and mobilized countless other workers (and people of other strata) in solidarity, through the boycott of produce picked by strikebreakers--"scabs"--and other support activity.
Workers from New York to Belgium refused to handle scab grapes and forced union bureaucrats and liberal politicians to give support to the struggle. Mass mobilizations brought workers and students from the cities to the fields of Central California in solidarity, returning with an even greater determination to step up the struggle against oppression. Given its impact and the support it attracted, it's not surprising that the bourgeoisie would do all they could to smash the farmworker movement, while trying to keep it within the bounds of trade unionism and on the reformist path. This did have an impact on the direction the movement took, with its leaders wanting to paint it as a moral, pacifist one while covering up and discouraging the very militancy which made it such an inspiration to the world. The leadership fell in with the ruling class line that "illegals" threaten American-born workers' jobs and should be deported--even though many of the most militant fighters among the farmworkers were workers without papers.
For other sections of the Chicano people the farmworkers movement was an inspiration, not only because of their resistance to exploitation, but also because in their fight the farmworkers drew a spotlight on the national oppression all Chicanos face. And they raised demands around many of the issues that Chicanos in the community were fighting for--including for better housing, schooling and medical care, and an end to all forms of discrimination.
National liberation struggles were raging in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and together with this, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China was sending revolutionary shock waves across the planet. More and more, revolution was becoming the currency. (It was announced in the late 1960s that the Red Book of "Quotations of Chairman Mao" had outsold the Bible worldwide!) Vietnam, a small Third World country, was militarily defeating the "all-powerful" United States. Soldiers in the U.S. armed forces were killing their own officers, deserting, and refusing to fight. All this was the backdrop to the tremendous upheaval that erupted across this country. Millions of young people from all walks of life and different nationalities battled it out on the streets with the system against the bloody Vietnam war. And over one hundred cities burned in rebellion across the U.S. in the days following the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King.
A new generation of Chicano activists hit the scene with the force of an erupting volcano, inspired by the struggles of the farmworkers and by the militant Black liberation movement, as well as by the growing opposition to the Vietnam war among students and others. The struggle of the Chicano people against national oppression reached new heights during this period. Important battles were fought in New Mexico over land grant rights, and a significant Chicano youth movement developed in Colorado. High school "blowouts" shook East L.A. as thousands of Chicano students hit the streets demanding a decent education. Student struggles and organizations also developed in the high schools and college campuses across the Southwest and beyond, demanding Chicano Studies departments and open admissions. All the areas where Chicanos were concentrated became strong centers of resistance.
The question of revolution was being posed as the solution to the problems in society. Chicanos, like others, were demanding an end to the oppressive conditions they lived in, asking what it was going to take to really change this. There was an increasing need to chart a road forward and Chicanos began organizing themselves into a number of different groups. This growing political awareness and search for a way out from under their oppression brought together over 3,000 Chicano activists to a conference in Denver, Colorado in 1969. At this 1st National Youth Conference in Denver the Plan Espiritual de Aztlán was written. And a short time later, at a conference in Santa Barbara, MEChA ( Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán ) was organized as a unified student organization. The struggle developed to a higher level against the war in Vietnam, against language and cultural repression and discrimination in schools and in society at large, against police brutality in the neighborhoods; and political awareness and debate grew over how to liberate the Chicano people and all people. Chicanos spread their struggle in all arenas, including through a flourishing of culture--poetry, songs, theatrical works, paintings, etc.-- all depicting the life and struggles of the Chicano people. Some forces took up Marxism and looked to the overthrow of U.S. imperialism as the solution.
On August 29, 1970, over 25,000 Chicanos from across the country gathered in Los Angeles to demand an end to the Vietnam War and an end to national oppression. This was the first time in history that there was this type of gathering among Chicanos. On the morning of August 29th people began to assemble at Laguna Park (later renamed Ruben Salazar Park). There were Chicanos from Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago, the Southwest -- they had all come that day, along with Chicano and Mexicano families from the Los Angeles area, to express their outrage at the fact that thousands of Chicanos who had died in Vietnam and to demand an end to the war. There were thousands of signs and banners with different slogans, including "Raza S�! Guerra No!" and among a revolutionary section--"Raza Is! Guerra Aquí!" People marched down Whittier Blvd. in East Los Angeles receiving applause and support from the Chicano community.
Once the rally began, the police used a minor incident a block away as an excuse to attack the crowd with teargas and clubs. The people fought back with whatever was at hand. The battle soon spread throughout the community, with older people as well as the youth taking part.
A member of the RCP who was at the Chicano Moratorium explained that "the police attacked the demonstration not because of a few unruly demonstrators but because the U.S. ruling class was under siege around the world and inside the U.S. Only 3 months earlier national guardsmen had murdered students at Kent State and at the all-Black Jackson State campus. In this situation they could not allow an aroused Chicano people to take matters into their own hands."
The battle lasted several hours. People who ordinarily might not have gotten involved were compelled to support the demonstrators because they saw that the attack on the Moratorium was unjustified. Many allowed the demonstrators into their houses and then refused to let the Sheriffs search for them.1
Three people were murdered by the Sheriffs that day, including the well-known journalist Ruben Salazar who was shot in the head with a tear gas canister inside a bar. But the ruling class and the cops received a taste of the fury and strength of the Chicano people.
By the early 1970s, for a number of reasons, the great upsurges of the '60s began to wind down.2
Some important struggles involving the masses of Chicanos did take place in the years that followed, like the strike by thousands of predominantly Chicana workers in 1972 against the Farah pants plants of Texas and New Mexico, which rallied support around the country and ended in 1974 with the workers winning most of their demands. And there were important battles against police brutality, like the Moody Park rebellion in Houston's North Side in 1978 that saw thousands of Chicanos rise up in two nights of fighting against the police after police came in to mess with their Cinco de Mayo celebration. The backdrop to this uprising was a year-long battle for justice for José Campos Torres, who was beaten within an inch of his life by police and then thrown into the bayou where he drowned--for which the police involved were given a year's probation and a $1 fine!3
Next: The Conditions of the Chicano People Today
1. As the comrade also recalls: "There was a cop defending this building. He looked up and realized, 'I'm defending this building, but there is nobody defending me.' And by then he was surrounded and the crowd came toward him. So he gets in the cop car and rolls up the window. That didn't do any good. People turned the car upside down, kicked the windows out, dragged him out and really let him have it.
"I'll never forget this young Chicana who pushed her way through the crowd and walked up to him and said: 'Motherfucker, this is for what you have done to me and my people for all my fucking life.' And she let him have it again.
"When the people have a justifiable hatred and an anger at being treated like this, that's going to find expression . . . You can't sit on people's anger and hatred for the way that they have to live and tell them to accept it. Because then what you are saying is that it's all right for the imperialists to plunder you, to do all this to you, but you have no right to try to do anything about it . . . A righteous anger is a wonderful thing--it can help change the world.
"There were a lot of examples like that. This older man came up_and he brought us empty coke bottles by the case and he said when you guys get done with those, there's more in the back. He was a small merchant, he wasn't a flaming radical. He saw what happened on Whittier Blvd. everyday. He could look through his window and see life as it passed in front of his store. The first chance he got of allying himself with people who were trying to do something about all that, that's what he did." [back]
2. The U.S. was forced to confront defeat in Vietnam and withdraw its forces; certain concessions were forced on the system which pacified some who had been active in the struggle around various reforms; and there was a shift in world contradictions that was bringing the contention between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the forefront. (The Soviet Union was by then an imperialist power itself, following the restoration of capitalism there in the mid-1950s.) [back]
3. Travis Morales, a supporter of the RCP, and two other revolutionaries went out into the rebellion and then held a press conference upholding the rebellion as a glorious day in the history of the Chicano people. For this they were arrested and charged with felony riot. A battle to uphold the Moody Park rebellion and "Defend the Moody Park 3" was waged. In the end the state was never able to put Travis or the other 2 revolutionaries behind bars. [back]
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