Revolution #158, March 8, 2009

From Revolution readers:

Taking Revolution to the Rio Grande

Recently a small crew of REVOLUTION activists made a weekend trip to the U.S. Mexico border at the southern tip of Texas, to bring word of the paper’s new Bold Initiative and hook people into the beginnings of a revolutionary movement. For all of us this was pretty much “new ground.” We expected from the beginning that we would be doing a lot of investigation and learning. What is the social and political reality in an area considered by the ruling class to be such a strategic weak point that thousands of troops have been stationed here for over a decade? How do people see what is shaping up in the world? And what about the need and possibility for revolution—communist revolution?

A lot was revealed in the course of 36 hours—about the fragility of the relationship between a 3rd world country and an Imperialist power; the limited expectations among many we spoke with about what Obama’s promise of “change” would bring to their lives, but on the other hand the heavy weight of religion and beliefs that god is the only solution to the world’s problems; the very proletarian and impoverished base of the population, side by side with newly built malls running alongside Hwy 83; the awareness and deep concern of many we met in this isolated, militarized zone for the events going on in Gaza and Iraq; and above all, the need for a revolutionary communist trend to reach and begin to take hold in this area.

Somewhere south of Kingsville in the long stretch of highway leading into the Rio Grande Valley, one enters a zone of military occupation. It was not obvious to us at first, arriving in the early hours of the morning. But a brief breakfast orientation by some one with history and family here began to paint a picture of life in the shadow of an intensifying “War on Terror,” which is really a war on the people.

This is a place where long time residents proudly call themselves Mexican, but getting a job means constantly being pitted against newer immigrants. Youth are pressured by poverty to join the army or even the border patrol. On the other hand for some one without their papers “in order,” a moment’s indiscretion or a desperate family situation can lead to losing everything, whether they have been here 3 hours or 30 years.

None of this is new. But the War on Terror definitely has brought some changes to this area:

Like a 15-foot-high wall cutting back and forth along the north edge of the Rio Bravo, through people’s back yards, seizing ranch land and a whole section of the University of Texas at Brownsville campus. People who have been allowed to keep their homes within the border wall corridor have to show ID, and not infrequently have trouble coming and going when they make a trip to the store.

There’s the much increased activity of the ICE office right on UTB campus, and the Homeland Security detention center next door where at night one can see 100’s of immigrants being off-loaded from Wackenhut buses into darkened buildings, in preparation for deportation.

There’s the fact that now five federal agencies patrol a six square block area around the Brownsville bus depot where migrant workers from Matamorros, Reynosa and further south enter the U.S. to work the fields or on some contract construction project.

Another thing stood out, though it may not be so new—down here people don’t use the phone to talk about revolution and communism.

The Economy

The U.S. has never put much into developing the infrastructure of its few large border cities, even in the wake of NAFTA. In stark contrast to the small, struggling dry-goods stores along Brownsville ’s main street and the scattered warehouses leading into Reynosa is the world-class robo-cop apparatus of surveillance at the “ International Bridge ” south of McAllen. Even the EPA and park services have been brought into this act, establishing an “environmentally protected” area along the river that subjects people to arrest for simply being near the shore.

It’s not clear how much these increasing mechanisms of control and repression have, by themselves, cut against the plans of capital for economic growth mapped out in the various “Free Trade” agreements. But like Ray Lotta’s recent articles in REVOLUTION point out, the anarchy of super globalized production facilitated by agreements like NAFTA, and driven by the law of maximizing profit, is a key element of the current world economic crisis. This crisis is playing out in very concrete terms along the U.S./Mexico border. We need to do more investigation, but in the short time we were here there were indications. Vendors at the “Pulgas,” i.e. flea markets, we visited, talked about how people had no money, have had no money for months, and that in Mexico it is much worse. Young people worried that there were just no jobs.


So it was into this atmosphere that we brought REVOLUTION , setting up our colorful 5-foot display on the newspaper’s Bold Initiative when we could, winning a Pulga manager to allow it even as migra vans patrolled the area, running into people from both sides of the border who were drawn to revolution. As could be expected, we got a whole range of responses. More than a few caught the phrase “voice of the revolutionary communist party” and walked on by. Others were heard whispering to one another that “these people are talking about communism.”

A young revolutionary-minded activist whose first contact with the party had been over the Internet, ran with us for a while, and got a taste of taking out the paper. He’s fed up with reformist schemes and action going nowhere, sees Obama as just another ruling class politician, and has been attracted to the RCP’s stand on the need for revolutionary change.

We met a Tejano who wanted to talk to us about the battle against the border wall. To him this is the new Berlin wall and he compares what’s happening here to what Hitler did. These days every time he takes a day trip to Matamorros the authorities pull him aside to check his papers coming back in. He understands it as racism, but knows something more is afoot. He has seen “snow birds”—older couples, white folks from the north who spend the winter months down here—taken into the border patrol offices for questioning when they can’t produce a passport. He sees breaking through in the media as a critical element in this struggle, and wants to hook REVOLUTION up with some of his contacts in the Mexican press. Picked up a copy of the new RCP Constitution too. He is trying to understand the differences between the various opposition political groups he has come into contact with.

Some of the strongest reactions from youth were against the ongoing wars, and in particular the massacre in Palestine. A college student waited while his parents checked out the paper and threw in a few coins, and then let them go ahead so he could talk with us a minute. He’s on the Internet all the time looking at “this kind of stuff.” He was checking out the conspiracy theory sites, but couldn’t figure out why people in power would want war and more war. A 10 year old from Reynosa dug out his own money for the paper, saying that what was happening in Gaza was horrible. In fact, for people of all ages, the wars were a frequent motivation for checking out the paper. They hated the destruction and more deprivation and poverty when there was already so much of it in the world.

Religion has a heavy hold here, limiting people’s thinking about resistance and revolution. But we also found that the more we put forward our worldview, the tighter things got. A young mother responded to our agitation by talking about “End Times.” We let her know we didn’t believe in any god, but rather a material universe we could know—and change. She started digging in her purse to contribute $5. Seems like she has been looking for answers in many directions, and open to learning more from us.

A vendor at one of the Pulgas expressed deep anger at the poverty she sees around her, especially in Mexico, saying that some kind of rebellion is inevitable, but at the same time insisting that the only hope could be found in god. She respected the revolutionary leaders of old, but said that today all of them sell out. We brought out the new RCP Manifesto, and won her to get it based on its analysis of what has been holding back the revolutionary movement, and because the new conception of a revolutionary society challenged her view of what’s possible.

Towards evening we got back to our friend who’d gone out earlier in the day, and dug into his questions. Over a late dinner we talked about everything from the contradictory political and social relations along the border to what he thought a revolution would look like to what Communism has achieved in the world. One interesting point he was working around in his head was what he saw as a link between the deep religious beliefs of people here, their national pride as Mexicanos, and what he sees as a tendency to “respect authority.”

He questioned why it’s more important to defend Bob Avakian than any one else in the revolutionary movement. He had been reading over the RCP’s new Manifesto, so we got into Bob Avakian’s work in scientifically analyzing the experience of humanity’s struggle over the last 150 years to bring into being another kind of society—the real successes and the tremendous challenges that we all face in carrying the struggle forward—and the New Synthesis, the new conception of communism, that has come from that work. We need this kind of leader today, just like people 50 years ago needed Mao Tsetung.

It was a good back and forth in which we all learned something.  After that he wanted to hear a cut from the DVD on revolution here in the U.S. And was really enthused about corresponding with the paper about some of the struggles going on there in the RGV.

No doubt we will be back this way, and next time more prepared—with a plan to draw on a sense among lots of people here that we need a world without borders, and to connect them to this revolutionary internationalist trend.

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