Our merger was based on a united view that we needed a socialist revolution in the United States and that we needed a revolutionary party to help lead that revolution. We wanted a revolutionary party that was rooted among the working class and oppressed nationalities, that was internationalist, and that the struggles of oppressed peoples in the US and their unity with the multinational working class must be at the center of our strategy for revolution. Another central element of our political unity was our agreement on the “Chicano National Question”. But before I delve more deeply in that process I would like to provide some background on my history and the history of ATM. And I should add that I was the Chairman of ATM at the time of that merger.
Developing revolutionary consciousness
My family is originally from New Mexico and Colorado, and like thousands of other Chicano families we were connected to the land. Members of my family were curaderas (healers) and artistic adobistas (adobe-makers), and they knew the culinary and medicinal benefits of nearly all the local plants and yerbas (herbs). I became political in 1969, my last year at the University of Colorado and the first year that institution had a Chicano History class. The outstanding Chicano revolutionary leader Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, founder of the Crusade for Justice, was a guest speaker in the class and he literally removed the social and historical blinders from eyes. Never had I heard about our 500-year history in what became the US Southwest (Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, California). Corky explained how our people were not “immigrants” but that they had lived in the southwestern U.S. for centuries. He pointed out that we were not mainly “Spanish” as many of us called ourselves; we were actually Indigenous people who should identify first of all with the Indigenous struggles against the Spanish and later Anglo colonizer.
I learned of our deep Indigenous roots, our contributions to the development of agriculture, architecture, art, and the economy of that region. And most importantly, I learned about our more than a century of resistance to the US conquest and the racism and national oppression it used to consolidate that conquest. In all of my years of education, I had never learned a single positive thing about our people. I believe that only reference to Chicanos at all was that the outstanding Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa – characterized as a “bandit” — had once invaded into Texas.
I now knew that my Chicano roots are in New Mexico and Southern Colorado, a part of the territory stolen by the U.S. when it annexed Mexico’s northern territories in 1846-48. Our family were farmers, but like thousands of other Chicano familias, we lost our land and ended up working in the coal mines of Southern Colorado. My grandfather Leandro and two of my tios were miners who died from black lung disease, an illness that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of coal miners. Members of our family were active in the efforts to unionize the coal mines, some of main ones which were owned by the Rockefeller family. We had familia at the infamous Ludlow Massacre when armed thugs controlled by the mine owners gunned down striking miners and their families, slaughtering nearly two dozen people, mostly women and children, most of whom were Chicano.
That Chicano studies class inspired my political activism – first with the Crusade, later with the Brown Berets, followed by the La Raza Unida Party (LRUP). It was during my participation in the Partido that I was introduced to Marxism, by a fantastic leader named Roberto Hernandez. Roberto was from a working-class family in Union City, a small town near Oakland, California. He had served in Viet Nam with US Special Forces, and became a Marxist through influence from the Black Panther Party and after going with the Venceremos Brigade to Cuba.
My own activism included labor, community, and campus organizing. (Sometimes when I spoke in public, I was introduced as someone with that varied organizing experience. My mother used to tease by saying “Mijo, it sounds like you couldn’t hold a job”). With Roberto’s encouragement, our East Bay chapter of the LRUP began a systematic study of Marxism-Leninism. We soon connected with other chapters in California, New Mexico, and Texas that had also become Marxist. And all of us applied the Marxist theory we were learning to our common work supporting as strike of the mostly Chicana workers at the Farah clothing factory in El Paso, a strike that was ultimately successful, in many ways due to the national support network that was created in large part by the newly-developed communists in LRUP.
The Revolutionary Union (RU), the precursor to the Revolutionary Communist Party, was among the strike supporters in California. As you can imagine that partnership was challenging, largely due to the differences we had on the Chicano national question. Our side saw the strike as having a dual character – as a struggle of workers within a multi-racial working class, and as members of an oppressed Chicano people, fighting for their national rights. The RU viewed the strike as solely a class struggle, failing to grasp the issues of racism and national oppression that also motivated the strikers, and which also helped to explain the broad cross-class support for the strike from Chicanos in the Southwest. The struggles we had then with the RU were later replicated with other organizations in the New Communist Movement that also failed to understand and appreciate the Chicano struggle as one for national liberation.
Forming the August 29th Movement and the LRS
In 1974, the August 29th Movement (Marxist-Leninist) was formed by LRUP collectives from East Los Angeles, San Francisco Mission District, Union City, Albuquerque, and El Paso. Although ATM was mostly of young activists, we had an extensive history of union organizing, leading strikes, campus organizing (primarily through MEChA), community organizing, and experience in the land struggle in New Mexico. One of the first tasks ATM set for itself after we formed was to develop a theory on Chicano Liberation. We did this because the US socialist and communist movements had failed to do so. Most of these organizations either reduced our liberation struggle to only a class struggle or saw it as analogous to the experience of European immigrants who were able to assimilate into the Euro-American population within a generation or two.
This shallow and lazy treatment of our history really pissed us off. We could not understand how organizations that considered themselves revolutionaries could ignore the social, political, and economic implications of the US annexation of Mexico’s northern territories, especially how that annexation had impacted the conquered Mexican people who had lived in much of that region for 500 years.
Based on our own varied and rich experience in the Chicano National Movement, and on our study of Chicano history and our application of the methodology of historical materialism, we concluded that following the U.S. annexation of northwest Mexcio, Mexican Americans (Chicanos) had developed into an oppressed nation, precluded by that annexation from developing as a part of the evolving Mexican nation, and precluded by racism and national oppression from assimilating with the dominant white population of the US. And like all oppressed nations that we had studied, the Chicano Nation was also had the right to self-determination, i.e., the right to freely choose its relationship to the United States, to Mexico, or to independence.
I am sharing all of this background because it was a critical component of our unity with I Wor Kuen. When we began unity discussions with IWK in 1977, we had already worked with them in the San Francisco Bay Area in the struggle to save the I-Hotel in San Francisco, in the Dasco strike in Oakland, and in support for strike and boycott of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW).
The discussions between IWK and ATM to achieve political unity involved the major themes mentioned in the first part of this article, with a special emphasis on the importance of the struggle of oppressed peoples of color in US to (1) the revolutionary party we were hoping to help build; (2) how we built the labor and social movements in which we worked; and (3)our vision of socialism.
The leadership of IWK had studied “Fan the Flames,” the ATM position on Chicano Liberation and we had several discussions on this topic, discussions in which we share the ATM historical analysis, our experience in the Chicano liberation movement, and our assessment of the state of that movement at that time.
As important as these discussions were, an essential element of that process was common and collaborative work to defeat the Bakke decision, a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision aimed at eliminating affirmative action in education. Together ATM and IWK built a nationwide coalition to defeat Bakke and it enabled us to build our unity as we endeavored to put into practice our line on the strategic importance of oppressed nationality movements. Both of our organizations emphasized in our anti-Bakke work that it represented an attack on oppressed communities of color, as well as an attack on the US working class. And as we did this work together the leadership and rank-and-file members of ATM and IWK were not only able to build a deep level of trust and respect for each other, but we were able to see how our line on the national question, including the Chicano national question, was carried out in practice.
And what we saw was Chicanos by the thousands rallying to the anti-Bakke struggle – not only in our historic areas of concentration in California and the Southwest but also in places like Chicago which had a very large Chicano population. We garnered support from unions with large Chicano memberships, like the UFW, Hotel and Restaurant Workers, Teamsters (cannery workers), as well as from middle class organizations like the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), and others.
So when ATM and IWK merged to form the League of Revolutionary Struggle, we had all witnessed – through struggle, through building a nationwide movement – the validity and relevance and importance of the Chicano national question. I want to emphasize that what I am sharing is not simply an interesting historical experience. I believe that this experience holds critical lessons for the struggles we are engaged in today — against a racist, neo-fascist right-wing movement that is working to create a brutal theocratic apartheid state. We will never be able to effectively challenge that movement or to build a truly effective movement to transcend US racial capitalism and imperialism without the participation and leadership from the 40 million Chican@s who suffer so deeply from that system, and who continue to struggle in so many creative ways for the true equality and self-determination that can only be realized with socialism.
Author’s bio: Bill Gallegos is a longtime Chicano Movement and environmental justice activist. He is presently a member of Liberation Road Socialist Organization where he participates in the Mexico Solidarity Project. He is also the author of “The Struggle for Chicano Liberation”, “The Sunbelt Strategy and Chicano Liberation”, and “The Historical and Political Significance of the US Annexation of Mexico’s Northern Territories.”