The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Governments War on Dissent
By Ernesto B. Vigil
University of Wisconsin Press 1999
This book is about the Chican@ organization the Crusade for Justice, which was founded by Rudolfo "Corky" Gonzalez, and the repression they endured. Corky was born on 18 June 1928 to parents who were farm workers. His father was a migrant from Mexico and fought in Pancho Villa's army during the Mexican Revolution, while his mother was a Chicana from Colorado. From Boxer, to bourgeois Democrat, to Chican@ militant, Corky developed in the urban setting of Denver.
The Crusade for Justice was formally founded in 1966, in response to murders of Chican@s by pigs. It was an organization which sought self-determination for Chican@s and hoped to serve as a model for the Chican@ nation.
The federal government began surveilling Corky soon after he officially broke with the bourgeois politics of the Democratic party. He broke with them because he saw that they were not really working in the interests of the Raza, rather they served Empire. He really got on the FBI radar in 1966 when the FBI files note an anti-war speech he made in Denver, Colorado. In this speech Corky said:
"Who reaps the profits? If in essence we are sharing in this prosperity by our own personal good life, then we are prospering at the expense of the blood and bones of fellow human beings. If our own economic gain must be earned by such a grisly trade, then we are truly a very sick society ... prolongment of the war means isolation of the most powerful military country in the world, frowned on and hated by millions of people on all the continents of this planet."(p. 28)
Here he clearly understands that the imperialist war on Vietnam was wrong and also saw that those in the First World who benefited via better living standards and privileges were benefitting off of the "blood and bones" of people around the world. So early on we see that Corky was much different than say a Cesar Chavez because he not only sought better treatment for Chican@s but for folks around the world.
I found the portions of the book concerning FBI surveillance very educational. The author obtained FBI reports on Corky via Freedom of Information Act requests, and learned that at one point the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) sent a report to J. Edgar Hoover stating that protesters were released after protesting the death of a New Afrikan who was killed for using a segregated facility, and after walking out of the courtroom the SAC notes of Corky and others: "They all joined hands and sang, 'we shall overcome'."
For the SAC to feel the need to report to Hoover something like this highlights just what kind of beast that we are up against. The unity between oppressed nations is an extreme threat to the safety and security of white supremacy. Calls for unity or a united front between the internal semi-colonies will always threaten our oppressor because this unity challenges the Settler state even before a single rifle is raised. Together we make the occupiers tremble!
Perhaps one of the significant actions that "Crusade for Justice" did was, besides mobilizing the Chican@ nation, it held the 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation conference, which brought Chican@s together for the first time like no other. It was here that the concept of "Aztlán" and Chican@ independence was brought to the Raza like never before. And although this was guiding the Chican@ movement onto the anti-imperialist road and was a revolutionary event, the leaders - Corky and the Crusaders - were not communists and this was their shortcoming. As good as their efforts were and as much as the Chican@ nation needed them at the time, they did suffer some erroneous political line.
At the conference a preamble and three-point plan was adopted. The preamble, also known as "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán" was steeped in patriarchal tone with talk about "brotherhood" of Chicanos and our "Forefathers" in Aztlán. What's more, as Vigil notes, there is no talk of the First Nations who exist within many parts of the land base we call Aztlán. The preamble was written by the poet Alurista and thus the preamble was a little poetic.
The program was written by Corky and reflected some idealism. He speaks of nationalism, self-determination, independence and total liberation from the oppression and exploitation, but not of socialism or communism. From my studies I know that there were Chican@ communists involved in the Chican@ movement, but they were a minority. For most, the Chican@ struggle was simply about breaking from the "Gringo" i.e., national oppression, but liberation divorced from socialist relations of production leads back to capitalism and thus imperialism. We have learned from our foremothers and forefathers and understand that even within the Chican@ Nation there are class contradictions which will continue to be a problem post-liberation, and will not be resolved without dissecting capitalism completely. Without identifying this truth, one is left with the empty shell of bourgeois nationalism and continued oppression only under new management.
The fact that even organizations like Crusade, which did not even seek socialism, but simply to be free from oppression, faced state repression and intense FBI surveillance is shocking. Here was a group who we find out in this book was surveilled by FBI, military intelligence, police intelligence, CIA and others, and they were not even attempting to install socialism. This teaches us all the extent of the settler in protecting its Empire.
Vigil describes how in the late 1960s and early '70s many middle class people of all nationalities were protesting for integration of schools, but the Chican@ movement did not care for integrating schools nor did they struggle for this.
"School busing to achieve integration was of little interest to Denver's Chicano activists, who had other priorities; bilingual education, community empowerment, and curriculum reform. For them, integration was misguided 'Liberalism,' a mere cosmetic reform premised on the assumption that minorities could be well educated only when Whites were physically present."(p. 117)
Here Vigil is on point that Chican@s should not focus on integration, not in schools and not with Amerikkka. Our goals are to liberate our people, not to sleep in the oppressor's house. The only integration we want is Aztlán's future economy being integrated with socialist relations of production.
I really enjoyed reading about the Escuela Tlatelolco which was a "Freedom school." Chican@ youth learned "Spanish, history, music, folkloric dancing, geography, printing, sculpturing, and contemporary world and national affairs."(p. 161) Vigil explained: "Three professors were recruited from Monterey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, to teach advanced Spanish, Mexican history, economics, political science and mathematics."(p.162)
Independent institutions such as liberation schools are important for us to decolonize the minds of our youth, but this decolonization must come wrapped in communist ideology — which the Escuela Tlatelolco wasn't. Our contemporary liberation schools will clearly show our youth that only a socialist Aztlán will begin the process of real nation building and is the only way to truly liberate the Chican@ nation. We want schools today that are operating outside U.S. influence and which display what real people's power means.
There was an interesting section on a Chican@ prisoners self-help group which formed in 1969 at Colorado State Penitentiary. This political group was called the Latin American Development Society (LADS). The LADS made it possible for Chican@ community organizations to go into prison and helped to create a bridge of cooperation where Chican@s being released from prison would be funneled into the outside Chican@ activist community where they would find post-prison services such as employment, counseling, etc. Corky Gonzalez was able to go into the prison and speak at the first LADS meeting, so the Chican@ movement was injected into this prison political group.(p. 180-181)
Like prison groups today LADS focused on combatting oppression and providing education for the imprisoned Chican@, and LADS also left us with some good examples to learn from. They created several serve the people programs in the pinta, for one they created a committee that worked with new prisoners, what we may call "first termers" here in pintas in Califas. This was important because a new prisoner or "fish" may be easy prey for some predator in prison. In this way youngsters were given revolutionary clecha once they entered the pinta by LADS "O.G.'s". LADS was comprised of prison vets who were politicized. Within LADS were many sub-committees such as the Committee to Assist Young People (CAYP), as well as a security committee called the Zapatistas.(p. 182) The LADS were anti-dope and combatted drug use or sales in the pinta. They were not trying to poison the imprisoned Raza, rather they were trying to build the Raza.
Criminal acts and lumpen-on-lumpen crime declined once the LADS became active and they were able to establish a Concilio de Unidad (Unity Council) which contained LADS and outside activists who collaborated with one another. This I think is needed in today's pintas where prison revolutionaries via United Struggle from Within (USW) can link up with MIM(Prisons) and ensure released prisoners can be funneled into the revolutionary movement out in society. But prisoners need to step up and prepare ourselves and other prisoners to continue their political work on the outside.
The shortcomings of LADS was it was an above ground (prison approved) organization, so although the prison officials allowed them to have meetings etc., Vigil states that prison officials abolished the LADS once they gained influenced. My question is since when do we allow our oppressor to abolish our efforts to organize or serve the people? At the same time state repression is real and very deadly, this probably explains why many of today's imprisoned Chican@ revolutionary groups operate underground.
Something else I found interesting was something Corky Gonzalez came up with and that was the Congreso de Aztlán (Aztlán Congress). As Vigil explains, "The Congress de Aztlán was a conceptual congress of the 'Chicano nation,' of 'Aztlán.' It would be similar to a government-in-exile in as much as it claimed legitimacy in opposition to the colonizing power that claimed Mexicans as subjects. In this case, however, the congreso was not in exile but operating in occupied territory."(p. 189)
The Congreso de Aztlán was never able to be activated because of inner contradictions within the Chican@ movement. The main political vehicle was the la Raza Unida Party (RUP). RUP made an attempt at establishing dual power, where Raza sought community control of community politics and community services, but this "dual power" was in reality an attempt to use the oppressors' politics to liberate the people, which of course could never really be successful. This approach is a result of those Social Democrats who fall for ballot box "revolution."
Vigil states about the RUP, "The party was a national party in name only and never had a clear central ideology other than the anti-establishment nationalism prevalent in the movement."(p. 191) I would disagree, the RUP did have an ideology but for the most part it was bourgeois ideology. When the Congreso de Aztlán is finally activated in the future it will have a strong ideology. Chican@s have learned a lot since decades past, we know that like Mao said, without a revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary party. The ideology of our Congreso de Aztlán will be communist in nature.
RUP also failed to have a national platform, newspaper or command structure.(p. 192). Their strategy seemed to be to knock on doors and tell Raza to vote Brown. Had RUP enacted a clear revolutionary program and national officers, etc., I believe they would have been neutralized by the U.$. government's COINTELPRO tactics a lot faster than they were, because they attempted to organize above ground in opposition to Amerikka.
Some of the leaders in the Chican@ movement were more revolutionary than others. Reis Tijerina who fought the land grant struggle in New Mexico, for example, got out of prison and made a statement which Vigil quotes: "I don't dig the political philosophy of the Third World. We are here. We have what it takes. I don't go for outside ideologies."(p. 192) His First Worldism shines forth, and had the U.S. miraculously given back the land grants in New Mexico we may never had heard from Tijerina again. Tijerina went on to describe our youth of believing in "imported ideologies" that "serve the Anglo," yet it was his clinging to capitalism which served the imperialists. Here Tijerina displays dogmatism, where facts don't matter in relation to ones narrow-mindedness. Corky responded to Tijerina stating he wanted no "alignment with political prostitutes" in a letter that was published in the Crusade newspaper El Gallo. Corky saw that Tijerina's efforts were opportunistic, relying on familial ownership of land. Corky saw the struggle being to liberate the land for all of the Chican@ nation, not simply for land-owning families, and thus Corky was more correct.
The Chican@ movement during these times also produced some underground revolutionary groups. Some of these groups were the Chicano Liberation Front in El Paso, the Frente de Liberación Chicano of Northern California, and the Continental Revolutionary Army in Colorado. These groups were reportedly involved in bombings within U.S. borders and other operations aimed at U.S. imperialism. Vigil notes how the Continental Revolutionary Army bombed the Texas home of James M. Somerville, who newspapers described as the CIA chief of the Denver field office. As Vigil points out, it was the first physical attack on the CIA on U.S. soil and it was done by Chican@s. It's important to note that in the 1970s Denver was the bombing capital of the U.S.(p. 295)
Prisoners were also forming revolutionary groups at this time, such as Chicanos Organizados Rebeldes de Aztlán (Organized Rebel Chicanos of Aztlán - CORA). CORA put out a newspaper called AZTLAN from prison which was distributed out in society. Another organization was the Movimiento Organizado Socalistas Chicano de Aztlán (MOSCA). Both of these organizations were created in the Federal prison system and some of their miembros left the pinta to remain politically active on the outside. Every generation of prisoners needs their own revolutionary Chican@ organizations. Our oppression continues and so should our resistance. CORA's example of creating a prisoner newspaper is something contemporary prisoners have not been able to pull off, but the example remains that the independent press can be created from within prisons. The imprisoned Chican@ struggle is nothing new, our people have been rising up in these colonial pintas for decades, and so we have a lot of history to learn from if we can access it.
The content of Crusade that dealt with the developments of Chican@ independent institutions was powerful and subjectively pleasing, but the real meat of this book was in learning how state repression — primarily by the FBI — was aimed at the Crusade for Justice and the Chican@ movement of the '60s and '70s. There are many books on COINTELPRO and other political repression, but few focus on it aimed at the Chican@ movement like Crusade does. Not only were field reports generated for local police intelligence units on Crusade activity, but these reports were shared with many others like military intelligence, FBI, CIA, etc. For as little as making a speech critiquing capitalism or Amerikkka, an FBI file was started on a persyn. Attending an event protesting pig brutality was also grounds for investigation. I recommend this book because it helped me understand the extent of political repression by U.S. imperialism. Even journalists were having an FBI file created on them for making a critical statement or article on police or government.
I see the need now more than ever to rebuild the Chican@ nation and mobilize the people on the only path to justice and real equality. Our complete decolonization will manifest in an independent Socialist People's Republic of Aztlán.