The Death of Chicanismo? Re-Wiring Xican@ Politics in the 21st Century
Anarchists and Communists in nineteenth-century Europe bickered amongst themselves on the questions of social organization, property, and the state. Their intellectual ponderings were at the expense of the workers’ material realities as capitalist accumulation reigned forward and dispossessed them of life. Much of the failures of revolutionary struggle in Europe has been the error to ground the struggle in workers’ autonomy for the liberation of the working-class across the capitalist world. Both Anarchist and Communist strands of thought, practice, and organization has suffered great blows from the power of capitalist structures. Perhaps we owe it to the power of nation-states, of the extractivist desires of capitalism, or from bankrupt western philosophy that dates back to Plato and Aristotle. Either way, both Anarchist and Communist traditions have also historically marginalized the role of women in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism. They have also excluded and alienated Black workers and communities in their vision of a liberatory future free from capitalism. It also isn’t a surprise that Indigenous people across the globe have been erased from any Anarchist and Communist future, with no consideration of Indigenous futures that may or may not consider the westernized formulations of the Anarchist or Communist tradition. Furthermore, Anarchist and Communist thought and practice neglects a much-needed analysis of land exploitation and dispossession. Yet, these radical, insurrectionist, and anti-capitalist iterations of freedom from capitalist exploitation emerge and continue to inform the politics of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color struggles across the globe.
Although Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities have historically participated in both Anarchist and Communist struggles, there are particular movements and ideologies that reinforce their analysis of material conditions through Anarchist and Communist thought, both historically and contemporarily. One can point to the Marxist strand of organizations in the late 1960s of Black, Chicano, and Asian groups who developed analyses based on the model of “internal colonialism” that then informed their national liberation movements. Others can point to Mexican Anarchists who organized networks across the US-Mexico border for the struggle of tierra y libertad. What we then see from these historical movements, if we are to study them, are the influences of westernized forms of revolutionary struggle that are then transformed to fit the framework for a people in struggle, that are not European nor white.
I begin in this way to illustrate the topic at hand, one that is overshadowed by historical amnesia in our current political climate: Chicanismo. I state historical amnesia for many reasons, one being the lazy and “critical” engagement of Xican@ politics in the last few years that has dominated the discourse around Xican@ struggles. The mainstream critiques of Chicanismo fall back on the popular notions of Aztlan, as strict territorial mappings of a “Chicano Nation,” and its outdated location in the 21st-century arena of political organizing. I would agree that, as 2019 (Gregorian calendar time) approaches and has come, Chicanismo is seeing its very death. Yet, this premature death is a result of coerced historical amnesia that demands a critical re-interrogation of history and politics. There is a need to re-visit the “original” texts, pamphlets, manifestos, testimonios, and oral histories that shaped, defined, and rooted early Chicano politics that informs current radical Xican@ politics. But, we shouldn’t let this engagement of historical reading cloud current iterations of Chicanismo and the Xican@ struggle for liberation. It isn’t a surprise that dominant voices that echo in college classrooms, organizing spaces, and emerging scholarship refer to a “distant” Chicano Movement that supposes a strong uniformity across organizing and activism that assumes homogeneity in political struggle. Very much like the Anarchists and Communists of Europe, Chican@s in the early movement era disagreed on political visions, and the geographies of resistance many times did not overlap. What remains in contemporary critique is Aztlan and the failures of Chican@ people in regard to articulating freedom.
Most criticisms of Chicanismo fail to offer a strong critique considering selective, mainstream sources for their analysis. Perhaps the need for community-based historiography is needed to re-consider critiques for the impending death of Chicanismo due to historical amnesia. The left-out analysis of many of these critiques is the prominence of Marxism among Chicano groups that organized across the US Southwest. One group we can think of is the August Twenty-Ninth Movement (ATM) that wrote a Marxist-Leninist manifesto about the Chicano national question and the need for a national liberation struggle grounded in statist communism. It would serve our movements and struggles for liberation to study meticulously these previous iterations of a political strategy that informed Marxist notions of Chicanismo. But, the error of critical analyses fails to consider these particular movements influenced by Marxism that dominantly resort to the “cultural nationalist” strands of Chicanismo such as the Crusade for Justice―the Chicano organization that drafted El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan. There is an imperative to take seriously the heterogeneous nature of Chicanismo and how it influences current networks of Xican@ theory and organizing.
What is to become of national student organizations such as El Movimiento Chicanx de Aztlan, when recent national organizational discussions reified critiques of Aztlan as “Chicano homeland”? Where are the critical interrogations that move past 1969 nationalist documents and seek analyses in current organizing strategies and tactics among Xican@s? Many have failed to realize or actualize that Chicanismo is a living synthesis of various strands of thought that finds itself practiced amongst groups and individuals across Turtle Island. Rather than fossilizing Chicanismo to historical movement era philosophy, we should take my anecdote of Anarchist and Communist freedom struggles to re-consider the material manifestations of Chicanismo as a legacy continuously transforming political visions for a self-determined future. Rather than being fixated on the death of “older” and “outdated” political ideologies, we have an imperative to learn, transform, and seek guidance from our history to inform our current material realities under US settler colonialism.
Many of our Elders are neglected today in younger organizing spaces (i.e. student groups) because of their politics rooted in Chicanismo. It is a tragedy to assume that our Elders are insufficient to influence our emerging movements and relegates our veteran@s in struggle to the distant past. The lessons we are to learn from our veterans in the movement era are plenty, and we might rehabilitate a profound analysis if we are to think about re-wiring our current politics as Xican@s. It is our responsibility to think and engage in generative ways the issues of Chicanismo in our current era rather than seeking its death. To re-wire Xican@ politics in the 21st-century we may consider an approach to our organizing, activism, and daily life-struggles in the following manner:
We are witnessing the death of Chicanismo in an increasingly neoliberal, global capitalist era. May a new fire spark amongst those willing to find the spirit of liberation in Xican@ struggle. I hope to generate some type of discussion that finds its way among Xican@ organizers that aren't disillusioned in confusing times. Our hope for a world where many worlds fit is in our everyday struggle toward radical visions of liberation.
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