National Liberation of Puerto Rico and the Responsibilities of the U.S. Proletariat

Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (formerly the Young Lords Organization)

National Liberation of Puerto Rico and the Responsibilities of the U.S. Proletariat


First Published: Palante, Vol. 1, No. 1, November 1974
Republished in: In the U.S. Pregnant with Revisionism: The Struggle for Proletarian Revolution Moves Ahead. The Political Positions of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, November 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.


The present stage of capitalism is its highest and final stage: imperialism or monopoly capitalism. The small enterprises of early capitalism have become the gigantic monopolies of today – branches of industry grew and merged with the banks and have carved out a world-wide empire of oppression and super-exploitation.

V.I. Lenin, great teacher of the proletariat, states:

Imperialism is a world system of financial enslavement and colonial oppression.[1]

He goes on to say:

The characteristic feature of imperialism is that the whole world is divided into a large number of oppressed nations and an insignificant number of oppressing nations which command colossal wealth and powerful armed forces. The overwhelming majority of the world’s people belong to the oppressed nations which are either direct colonies, semi-colonies or neo-colonies.[2]

The aim of this system of world-wide plunder and super-exploitation is to secure ever increasing sources of raw materials and markets, cheap labor and super-profits. This system has brought nothing but suffering and death to the people of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the entire world; while it has filled the pockets of a handful of criminals and murderers.

The Colonies – Reserves of Imperialism

The colonies and dependent countries, oppressed by finance capital, constitute a vast reserve and a very important source of strength for imperialism.[3]

The imperialists use their colonies as markets to invest their profits, a source of raw materials, cheap labor, and further profits. They also use the colonies as a market to sell their products. In the colonies, the imperialists produce very cheaply what they need and sell their surplus very expensively.

With the huge super-profits they make in the colonies like Puerto Rico, the monopoly capitalists bribe and corrupt the upper sectors of the working class (the labor aristocracy)– and petty-bourgeoisie. These people serve their imperialist masters by trying to win the whole working class to support the imperialists’ policies and by promoting racism to divide the working class.

One of the chief causes which retard the revolutionary working-class movement in the developed capitalist countries is that, owing to the colonial possessions and the superprofits of finance capital, etc., capital has succeeded in these countries in singling out a relatively broader and more stable stratum, a small minority, a labor aristocracy. The latter enjoys better terms of employment and is most imbued with the narrow craft spirit and with petty-bourgeois and imperialist prejudices. This is the real social ’bulwark’ of the Second International, of the reformists and ’Centrists’ and at the present time it is almost the principal social bulwark of the bourgeoisie.[4]

Objectively the opportunists are a section of the petty-bourgeoisie and of certain working class strata (the labor aristocracy – editor) that have been bribed out of imperialist super-profits and converted into watchdogs of capitalism and corrupters of the labor movement.[5]

In addition, we would point out that under capitalism, crisis of overproduction are inevitable. So many commodities are produced as each capitalist strives for maximum profits, but under the conditions of the exploiting capitalist system, the workers’ wages, the purchasing power of the broad masses is held down-and therefore the capitalists can find no market for their products. One of the ways the capitalists try to get themselves out of this crisis is by dumping their surplus products onto the captive markets of the colonies.

Finally, the imperialists use the colonies to obtain manpower to form their armies and fight their wars. Also, the colonies themselves are used for military bases.

Puerto Rico – Colony of U.S. Imperialism

The colonial oppression of Puerto Rico by the U.S. began in 1898 when Puerto Rico was invaded by the armed forces of the U.S.

During the first 30 years of the occupation of Puerto Rico, the U.S. set up a military government to make Puerto Rico “safe” for American business; passed the Foraker Act in 1900 which said that all U.S. laws applied to Puerto Rico, and thus they “legalized” total U.S. control over every aspect of life in Puerto Rico. They imposed U.S. citizenship in 1917 through the Jones Act; this was done against the objections of the House of Delegates, the only elected body representing the Puerto Rican people at the time. They established military bases which today cover 14% of Puerto Rico and use these bases to launch military attacks on the other people of the Caribbean who are also fighting for liberation, like the invasion of Santo Domingo in 1965 by U.S. troops which were stationed in Puerto Rico.

American corporations began to sink massive sums of capital into Puerto Rico to “develop the island”, thereby bringing all of Puerto Rico’s industry and commerce under U.S. control. Today the U.S. controls production in Puerto Rico and monopolizes trade, extracting raw materials and semi-processed materials at a low price from Puerto Rico.

The U.S. drove small farmers and agricultural workers off the land to build huge plantations for the giant American sugar and tobacco corporations. They kept unemployment very high to guarantee a supply of cheap labor. Today, official statistics of the colonial government report unemployment at 30%. They kept wages low by preventing unionization. Only 1 out of every 4 Puerto Rican workers (25%) is unionized. They justified this by saying that unions “frighten” away American businessmen.

Puerto Rico is under total executive, legislative and judicial control by the U.S. The U.S. has exclusive jurisdiction over all questions of citizenship, foreign affairs, defense, immigration, foreign trade, currency, postal service, communications media, air and maritime transport. By passing laws saying Puerto Rico could not trade with any other countries without U.S. approval, the U.S. has made Puerto Rico a captive consumer; today Puerto Rico is the fourth largest consumer of U.S. goods in the world.

Under the guise of turning Puerto Rico into a “Caribbean showcase of development”, the U.S. implemented various economic plans including “Operation Bootstrap”. Operation Bootstrap was nothing more than an attempt to increase, make easier, and legitimize the economic penetration of Puerto Rico by U.S. monopolies. Under this program, the colonial government exempted U.S, corporations from paying taxes for 10-25 years depending on where they locate their plant.

To maintain the image of a “self-governing” Puerto Rico, the U.S. hand-picked politicians, like Munoz Marin, to rule in their interests. It was this colonial lackey who carried out the U.S. policy of murder and repression against the patriots of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico. Today, Hernandez Colon continues this policy of persecution of the independence and workers movements.

Like other colonies, Puerto Rico has provided soldiers for the imperialist armies. 200,000 Puerto Ricans served in World War I. 400,000 served in World War II; 40,000 in the aggression against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1950, and thousands more in the U.S. aggression in Vietnam.

The colonization of Puerto Rico has meant suffering for the Puerto Rican people. The average weekly income in Puerto Rico in 1970 was $70. Statistics reveal that 81.8% of the population earns less than $3,000 a year. Wages in Puerto Rico are half that of the U.S., and the cost of living is 25% higher. Clearly, Puerto Rico has been converted into a reserve for U.S. monopolies that use the Puerto Rican people as cheap labor and exploit the island’s natural resources.

How have the imperialist bourgeoisie profited from the colonization of Puerto Rico?

85% of business in Puerto Rico is controlled by American capital. The profits on these investments amounted to $83,600,000 in 1959; $115 million in 1960; $281 million in 1966. By 1970, these profits had risen to $583 million.

Where There Is Oppression, There Is Resistance

History teaches us that wherever there is oppression, there is resistance; and the super-exploitation of the colonial and dependent peoples is no exception. In spite of desperate shows of force by the imperialists, country after country has taken up arms against U.S. imperialism; and day by day, around the world, the fight against imperialism gains momentum.

National wars against the imperialist powers are not only possible and probable, they are inevitable; they are progressive and revolutionary…[6]

In Puerto Rico, too, this revolutionary momentum is growing. The many years of oppression and exploitation of the Puerto Rican nation has also meant long years of revolutionary struggle by the masses of Puerto Rican people – from the 1937 Ponce Massacre, to the armed uprising in Jayuya and other areas in 1950, to the militant strikes by the working class. In 1969, General Electric workers struck in Palmer. This strike was one of the longest and most militant in Puerto Rico’s history. In 1972, workers of the American-owned newspaper, El Mundo went on strike. The strike lasted 7 months, and was met by intense repression by the colonial state apparatus. In 1973, electrical workers went out on strike, affecting the entire island. Immediately following this, the firemen and sanitation workers in San Juan went on strike.

As his solution to the critical situation created by the three simultaneous strikes, the governor of Puerto Rico, comprador bourgeois Hernandez Colon, called out the National Guard. This had not been done since the 1950 uprising. Increasingly, the workers’ struggles are being linked with the independence movement, and the independence movement continues to grow.

Added to this situation has been the militant struggle of the university and high school students, who have confronted the colonial regime with demands around the democratic rights of the students and firm political demonstrations against U.S. imperialism.

In August 1972, the U.N. Special Committee for De-Colonization, after a number of sessions, presented its report and resolutions concerning Puerto Rico. The report said that the Committee:

1. Reaffirms the inalienable right of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence, in accordance with General Assembly-resolution 15H (XV) of 14 December, 1960.

2. Requests the Government of the United States of America to refrain from taking any measures which might obstruct the full and free exercise by the people of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, as well as of their economic, social and other rights, and, in particular, to prevent any violation of these rights by bodies corporate under its jurisdiction.

The report also stated that the U.N. Secretariat would help collect all pertinent information, including “the views of all the parties concerned” for the purpose of facilitating the consideration of the question in 1974; and that the Committee would “keep the question under continuous review.”

The people of the world, most especially we, the people of the U.S., must applaud this decision of the De-Colonization Committee, which demands that the U.S. respect the right of self-determination. The report puts the question of the colonial status of Puerto Rico on the U.N. agenda and therefore puts it before the peoples of the world in terms of getting out information about Puerto Rico’s historic struggle for national liberation.

However, at the same time, we must understand that the national liberation of Puerto Rico will not come out of the decisions of the De-Colonization Committee. The American imperialists do not recognize any people’s right of self-determination. Nor will national liberation come by demanding that the U.S. imperialists celebrate a “Bi-Centennial Without Colonies.” Imperialism is a world-wide system of plunder and subjugation. It is the highest stage of capitalism, not a policy chosen by the bourgeoisie. Imperialism can’t live without colonies. It is parasitic, and as such it is a blood-sucker, sucking the blood of the world’s people. And it is moribund, fighting until its last breath.

The Chinese comrades have said:

Hence, imperialism and all reactionaries must be looked at, in essence, from a long-term point of view, from a strategic point of view, must be seen for what they are…paper tigers. On this we should build our strategic thinking. On the other hand, they are also living tigers, iron tigers, real tigers which can devour people. On this we should build our tactical thinking.

The comrades have made clear that this enemy will not step down from the stage of history on its own accord. No, for in the epoch of imperialism, the contradiction between the colonies and imperialism will be resolved only by the method of national revolutionary war.

The liberation of Puerto Rico must be accomplished by the masses led by the proletariat and its vanguard party, a Marxist-Leninist party, in armed struggle. Today the situation in Puerto Rico is in a revolutionary upsurge – that is the objective situation. However there is still no party of the proletariat and the building of this vanguard party remains the central task for all communists in Puerto Rico. At the same time, the communist forces must lead the masses consciously against U.S. imperialism.

Putting forward such slogans as “Bi-Centennial Without Colonies” does not accomplish this task, and the slogan itself is in contradiction to Marxism-Leninism. It spreads illusions, social-pacifist (socialist in words, pacifist in deeds) illusions, bourgeois illusions. It also belittles the role and responsibility of the communists in Puerto Rico, as well as belittling the responsibility of the proletariat of the U.S.

What is the responsibility of the U.S. proletariat towards, the oppressed nation of Puerto Rico and all other colonies?

Responsibility of the U.S. Proletariat

The responsibility of communists (the advanced detachment of the working class) and the proletariat in the oppressor nation is to first and foremost understand that no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.

We must fight for the right to political secession for the colonies and for nations that the bourgeoisie of the U.S. oppresses, i.e. the right to determine their own destiny. For, as Comrade Lenin said:

Failure to carry out this responsibility means that proletarian internationalism will remain a meaningless phrase, and class solidarity between the workers of the oppressed nation and the oppressing nation will remain impossible.[8]

This means that the proletariat cannot and must not evade this most fundamental question. The recognition of internationalism must not be limited to words – and then implement petty-bourgeois nationalism and pacifism.

Our responsibility is to carry out direct revolutionary propaganda and revolutionary mass action for the liberation of the colonies. We must struggle against all forms of national oppression and spread propaganda among the proletariat of the U.S.

This is how, concretely, we give aid; how, concretely, we turn the colonies from reserves of imperialism into reserves of the proletariat. For Lenin states that failing to do this is acting like lackeys of “the blood and mud-stained imperialist bourgeoisie.” [9]

We can point to organizations that have failed to do this, that have become instead agents of the bourgeoisie, specifically, the “CP”USA (Revisionist). The “CP” has betrayed the cause of the class as well as the liberation struggle of Black people for self-determination and the oppressed national minorities for democratic rights. The “CP” advocates “peaceful transition to socialism” and they, therefore, do not call for the armed overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. These revisionist dogs have killed the essence of Marxism and, as such, are class enemies of the world’s people.

The “CP”USA is a direct appendage and mouthpiece of the modern revisionists of the Soviet Union, who usurped the party of Lenin, restored the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and capitalism in the Soviet Union. Today, the U.S.S.R. is social-imperialist (socialist in words and imperialist and bloodsucking in deeds) and stands alongside the U.S. imperialists as a superpower, enslaving, exploiting and oppressing the world’s people.

These international revisionists are responsible for the temporary setbacks of the proletariat. They work hand-in-hand with international imperialism and reaction. They pave the way for the reactionaries by creating illusions in the people’s minds about the “peaceful road” to socialism. These modern revisionists were responsible for thousands of murders and slaying of the Chilean people, for it was they who disarmed the masses(both ideologically and materially, by opposing the arming of the masses) and left the masses defenseless in the face of the enemy’s fascist attack.

Internationally, the genuine Bolsheviks, led by the Communist Party of China and the Party of Labor of Albania, are struggling against these treacherous enemies and have firmly drawn the line of demarcation in the international communist movement.

The CPC and PLA have provided the international proletariat with valuable experiences and have upheld the teachings of the great teachers of the proletariat: Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. They have staunchly upheld the words of Lenin that the struggle against imperialism is a “sham and a humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism.”

For these reasons, we criticize PSP for uniting with and not struggling against the “CP”USA(R). This is nothing but conciliation with opportunism and class collaboration. To unite with the “CP”USA(R) is to betray the mighty cause of the liberation struggle of Puerto Rico.

Many people have asked, what is the role of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. in these struggles? In the next section, we will address ourselves to this question.

Oppressed Puerto Rican National Minority–Part of Multi-National U.S. Working Class

There is no doubt that in the early stages of capitalism, nations become welded. But there is also no doubt that in the higher stages of capitalism, a process of dispersion of nations sets in, a process whereby whole groups, in search of a livelihood, separate from nations, subsequently settling finally in other regions of the state; in the course of which, these settlers lose their old contacts, acquire new contacts in their new domicile, from generation to generation acquire new habits and new tastes, and possibly a new language…[10]

We must also criticize PSP for their “divided nation” theory; they hold that Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and those in the United States constitute one nation. This theory is counter to the Marxist definition of a nation.

A nation is a historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture…It must be emphasized that none of the above characteristics is by itself sufficient to define a nation. On the other hand, it is sufficient for a single one of these characteristics to be absent and the nation ceases to be a nation.[11]

We hold that the Puerto Rican nation exists in Puerto Rico, and that Puerto Ricans in the U.S. over the decades have become an oppressed national minority – overwhelmingly workers, we are part of the U.S. multi-national proletariat. We do not believe that the case of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in the U.S. is unique – it adheres to a general historical pattern.

Why do we say Puerto Ricans in the U.S. are an oppressed national minority? Living, working and raising our families here in the U.S., Puerto Ricans form part of the U.S. working class. As part of this U.S. multi-national working class, we are rooted in the imperialist economy of the U.S. and not the colonial economy of Puerto Rico.

Forced to migrate from Puerto Rico, we find ourselves in a different country, living and developing under different material conditions. Trapped in the urban ghettoes of the U.S., interacting with working people of other nationalities, faced with blatant racism from the mass media (the propaganda arm of the capitalist ruling class), discriminated against by all the society’s institutions (like the schools, courts, hospitals, etc.) and brutalized by the capitalists’ armed protectors, the police, we have developed differently than if we were living in Puerto Rico. Our living conditions, our environment, has shaped how we see the world; and in order to survive, we must deal with the stark reality of life and class struggle within the belly of the monster itself.

It is definitely true that we do retain much of our Puerto Rican culture and tradition from the island, and this is a good thing; we must militantly struggle against all attempts to deny us our history, culture and traditions. However, even in this area, we can see some inevitable changes. Take language, for instance. We must continue and intensify our fight for the right to bilingual education. At the same time, we recognize that while older Puerto Ricans generally speak Spanish, we have thousands of Puerto Rican youth who have been educated in American schools where English is the primary language, and we have another generation within the schools today. (48.6% of the Puerto Ricans in the U.S. are 17 years or younger, and 31.7% are 9 years old or younger). We find that Puerto Rican youth, educated in the U.S., increasingly use English as their main form of communication. As for the future, we believe that this trend can only be further in this direction, as generation after generation develops in a nation that has English as its official language.

Finally, with a change in territory, environment, the pressures upon us as exploited and oppressed people in America, along with our relationship to other oppressed nationalities in the U.S., our culture, too, is undergoing transformation. We can see this in the way we dress, what we eat, our music, the relationship between men and women, family relations, and political, racial and religious attitudes, etc.

For these reasons, we believe it is incorrect to say, as PSP does, that:

Our Party’s General Declaration starts by affirming that Puerto Rico is a Latin American nation with 4 million nationals, of which 2,700,000 live on the island and the rest (more than a third) are concentrated in New York and other places in the United States.[12]

This is nothing but the “divided nation” theory, a theory which is alien to Marxism-Leninism, contrary to the Marxist analysis of what constitutes a nation and how imperialism causes peoples to leave oppressed nations in search of a better life.

We, as the Young Lords Party, once held this erroneous theory, but we have since repudiated it, understanding that it is not in the interests of the oppressed Puerto Rican national minority, the multi-national U.S. proletariat, or the struggle of the Puerto Rican nation.

PSP holds that one part of the nation is in Puerto Rico and another part is in the U.S., and that the two parts are connected by an “air bridge.” This is the theory of Otto Bauer, whom Stalin struggled against. Bauer also said that a nation is “a union of similarly thinking and similarly speaking persons. It is a cultural community of modern people no longer tied to the soil.”[13] (our emphasis) Bauer, like PSP today, divorced the nation from its soil, its territory, and converted it into an invisible, self-contained force. This resulted, as comrade Stalin puts it, in not a living nation, but something mystical and intangible.[14]

The history of the oppressed Puerto Rican national minority has its roots in the colonization of Puerto Rico, which forced 2 million Puerto Ricans to the U.S. in search of a better life. What we found was hunger, humiliation and continual denying of our democratic rights. The racism that was used to justify the colonization of Puerto Rico was used to justify having us slave for the lowest wages and forcing us to live under the most terrible conditions.

This is the life we found in the U.S. We came from Puerto Rico to the U.S. – different territory, language, and different soil. We were now in the multi-national U.S. We were now exploited as part of the multi-national proletariat and oppressed as a national minority. Even the hopes of returning have remained just an idea for the overwhelming majority of us, because the income most of us earn will never make this idea materialize.

There is another important point to note here. Lenin and Stalin pointed out that in a multi-national state, to divide the workers and, indeed, the communists, by nationality weakens the solidarity of the class. The U.S. proletariat must have one multi-national Marxist-Leninist party, not two – with all Puerto Ricans in a separate party.

As part of the multi-national U.S. proletariat, Puerto Ricans in the U.S. have the responsibility of struggling here, in the belly of the monster, alongside the rest of our class, to knock this vicious enemy of the world’s people to its knees and finish it off and dump it into the garbage can of history. This is our duty to the national liberation struggle of Puerto Rico and all the oppressed peoples of the world, because as long as U.S. imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism exist, the world’s people can never have a real, everlasting peace.

Ours is the task to struggle against all attacks on the working class and demand freedom of movement for the oppressed nationalities to be able to propagandize and agitate for self-determination, to defend the democratic rights of the oppressed peoples. We know that, in order to do these things, and defeat our enemy, we must also IN DEEDS fight for the liberation of the oppressed peoples of the entire world; and we accept this responsibility and commit ourselves to doing all we can to weaken and destroy our common enemy and to turn the reserves of the imperialists into reserves of the international proletariat.

We dedicate ourselves to the education and organization of the working class, and to the building of the organization that will be able to righteously lead the masses onto the final onslaught against the bourgeoisie – the party of the proletariat. We believe that this is the greatest contribution we can make to the struggle of the world’s people for liberation.

We also believe that the struggle of the entire U.S. working class against the monopoly capitalist butchers, the struggle of the Puerto Rican sector of the U.S. working class against discrimination, for democratic rights and for the liberation of Puerto Rico and all colonies must be led by an ideology, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought, and an organization, the multi-national communist party of the U.S., which we must form if we are to be victorious. It is the only way we can combat the attacks of the imperialists, bring forward and train advanced people to be revolutionaries, sum up and learn from our experiences in a systematic way, expose the opportunists that work to keep the working class divided and confused, give leadership to the many struggles of the people, and link our struggles together, based on a short-range and long-range plan, and ultimately put the imperialists into the grave.

We in the PRRWO, as proletarian internationalists, unite with the Puerto Rican Solidarity Day activity and urge all revolutionary-minded people to come out to extend support to the liberation of Puerto Rico. However, we want to make clear that we do not unite with the slogan, “Bi-Centennial Without Colonies” and most especially denounce the treacherous dogs of the “CP”USA(R) for serving the imperialists by trying to lull the masses to sleep, create confusion, and destroy the revolutionary content of Marxism-Leninism. It is our responsibility to defeat all shades of opportunism in order to effectively destroy U.S. imperialism.

To sum up: The world is in great disorder. This disorder propels the development of the international situation further in the direction favorable to the proletariat and the oppressed peoples and un-favorable to imperialism. Wars of national liberation and proletarian revolutionary struggles are raging all over the world. In the camp of the reactionaries, we have contention and collusion between the superpowers as they maneuver to crush the people’s struggles and further redivide the world. On the other hand, the mighty revolutionary upsurge of the masses places the dictatorship of the proletariat on the agenda for the U.S. proletariat.

If Europe and America may be called the front, the scene of the main engagements between socialism and imperialism, the non-sovereign nations and the colonies, with their raw materials, fuel, food and vast store of human material, should be regarded as the rear, the reserves of imperialism. In order to win a war, one must not only triumph at the front, but must also revolutionize the enemy’s rear, his reserves. Hence, the victory of the world proletarian revolution may be regarded as assured only if the proletariat is able to combine its own revolutionary struggle with the movement for emancipation of the toiling masses of the non-sovereign nations and the colonies against the power of the imperialists and-for a dictatorship of the proletariat.[15]

WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!
WORKERS AND OPPRESSED PEOPLES OF THE WORLD UNITE!
!QUE VIVA PUERTO RICO LIBRE Y SOCIALISTA!

FOOTNOTES

[1] Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Foundations of Leninism, Stalin.

[4] “Thesis on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International”, Lenin.

[5] “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”, Lenin.

[6} “The Pamphlet by Junius”, Lenin.

[7] Ibid. [Not in body of text – EROL]

[8] ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Marxism and the National Question”, Stalin.

[11] “Ibid”.

[12] “Desde las Entranas”, U.S. Branch of PSP.

[13] ”Marxism and the National Question”, Stalin.

[14] Ibid., “The Bund, its Nationalism and its Separatism”, Stalin.

[15] “New Features of the National Question”, Stalin.

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