We are a collective of community members and university students in Durham, North Carolina. We came together around a shared desire to live differently and act politically, and a common dissatisfaction with the single issue and charity-based interventions characteristic of NGO’s and the mainstream Left. We have spent several years together investigating alternative models for social change based in collective self-determination. At a moment when the globalized nature of the contemporary economy has exposed the tragic limitations and planned depoliticization which ensues from an over-reliance on under-funded state institutions, we have been inspired by movements of autonomy to search for concrete projects that are socially and environmentally self-sustainable, responsive to the particular demands and desires of a community, and actively and radically democratic. We attempt to practice our politics by socializing our knowledge, creating spaces where we can form new social relations, and making decisions through collective assembly. We seek to strengthen the collective political struggle of working class and people of color communities in Durham while simultaneously connecting our struggles with the global anti-capitalist movements.
Our collective is composed in its majority by “people of color.” That is, by students, workers, and immigrants who are Asian, African, Latino, and Women (what colors are women?) Perhaps we could be more precise in saying that our “color” is not simply a result of having been born “different” (with our histories and traditions denied through a brutal historical process) but rather a place from which we have learned to understand and act in the wholescale battle lived today between these differences (which are themselves always in a constant process of change and differentiation) and the total indifference of money. Like the Zapatista Army of National Liberation once said, we are dedicated to the struggle between the colors of the earth and the insipid color of money.
Our Global Context
The growth and consolidation of the world market, the information and technology revolutions, as well as innovations in international finance, tele-communications, and entertainment industries have changed the relationship between work and wage, commodity and consumer. Domains of social activity previously “outside” capitalist accumulation—emotional labor, image generation, knowledge production— have been taken up by the world market, collapsing base and superstructure and making value harder to measure. Better said, the increasing profitability of these cooperative, communicative, “immaterial” labors have overcoded all production, not displacing the economic realm with the social/cultural, but rather making evident that the social/cultural is not outside production. “Immaterial” labor also makes clear what has always been the capitalist mode of production—not the production of necessary or desirable objects for needy wanting subjects, but the production of subjects that need and want certain objects.
This capital relation is now actively global. We work in a global configuration of classes, with a global division of labor. But this configuration does not follow the borders established in the modern nation-state system. Under current integrated world capitalism, the “third world” now lives in the “first” and the “first” in the “third.” There is no inside and outside to global capitalism: the pittance paid to peasant artisans in Latin America is just as vital a part of capitalism as the international financial hubs of London and New York; the success of the latter depends on the exploitation of the former. The historical process of primitive accumulation—the theft and violence required to dispossess people of the natural, human, and technical resources they live from and that establishes the capital property relation of owners/employers and those that must sell their labor to buy their survival—continues today not only in the form of the appropriation of “natural” resources—water, land, air, biodiversity—but also in the appropriation of the collective processes of creativity, of knowledge, of imagination, of social relationships in general, making the substance of society itself, life itself, subject to exploitation.
This global interdependence has put into question the relationship between sovereignty and democracy. The loss of nation-state sovereignty has been assumed to imply the lack of democracy. Our studies and experience have shown us that nation-state sovereignty, dependent on a command-obey relationship between ruler and ruled, requires a power relationship of domination, precluding democracy from its very definition. Social movements around the world in the last decades have insisted, in theory and practice, that they will no longer be subject to a sovereign. They demand a democracy that does not consist of choosing someone to rule over them, but to establish a society where all rule, or, as the Zapatistas have said, to “rule by obeying.” The crisis of representational democracy and the figure of the nation-state it sustains is global and irreversible; today we must see democracy not as the recuperation of sovereignty but as the badly needed alternative to it.
Our History and our Moment
As many of us are students in a corporatized university system, we have had to recognize our place in the system of social production—the ideas and practices created with our bodies and minds—as subject to a process of exploitation. We have refused to privilege either an ideological-conceptual production—where ideas transcend and determine the material world, or a base pragmatism that takes the form of an activist anti-intellectualism. Ideas are bodies, too, we have learned, they enter the dialogue of social forces, but the creation of concepts is not the space between life and life, it is a mode of life and as such can have no privilege over the creation of other affects to which it must be relayed.
Durham, North Carolina, like every city contending with the global realities of the twenty-first century, is a city rife with contradictions. The tobacco factories which once served as the city’s economic and physical backbone now stand empty, slowly succumbing to the advances of powerful business interests eager to transform their spacious remains into corporate offices and trendy “urban lofts” (urban used rather loosely here due to the fact that the rest of the city continues to lie in ruins). The troubled legacy of tobacco production, and the fate it has shared with much of North Carolina’s long-standing manufacturing industries, is anything but relegated to Durham’s history. Rather, it is an integral moment in the course of economic, social and political reordering that defines the contours of contemporary life the world over.
The immense commercial, intellectual, and scientific production of Duke and surrounding Universities as well as the neighboring technological powerhouse of Research Triangle Park have guaranteed the city’s stake in transnational research and informational networks, military and technological commerce, and international policymaking. Caught up in the reorganization of transnational business and labor patterns, it has not been immune to the effects of swelling unemployment and the concomitant expansion of the wealth disparity between rich and poor. In the wake of NAFTA’s aggression, North Carolina’s booming immigrant population is the fastest-growing in the United States; while highlighting the general crisis of so-called social services, these demographic changes have also thickened a new dimension in race and class relations in a city that still sees Ku Klux Klan cross burnings. These are the dynamic conditions of Durham’s current life – the intensification of wealth as well as suffering and the incapacity of state and civil institutions to offer redress; the increasing mobility of money, information, business, and people; and the struggle to control that mobility. Durham is the locale in which we find ourselves, and Durham, we must understand, is globalized.
In the past few decades the United States left has been relegated to social and political margins, to a fading traditional industrial working class or to new identity-based “cultural” movements, to party politics or altruistic programs. We saw a need for an analysis of the system of production that took into account the immeasurability of labor and the incommensurability of labor to wage, and thus the limitations of struggles for better working conditions and a better wage relationship, but also one which went beyond legal “recognition,” sectarian rights or “tolerance,” and “cultural” freedom.
We were weary of the ascetic politics of self-denial, the religious politics of self-repression, the oedipal politics of guilt, the identitarian politics of navel-gazing (in which the imposition of White universalism and the false modesty of White guilt loom larger than life), the representative politics that allow us to choose our master. In examining our own context and our collective heart, we found that in the consumerist capitalist world that absorbs the political subjectivity of our communities, it wasn’t that we wanted to reduce our desires but to increase them; not to want more of (what capitalism could give us) but more than.
We were created, as a collective, in the “para todos todo” of Zapatista politics, in the “que se vayan todos” of the piqueteros in Argentina, in the courage and desire of contemporary migrant communities who take flight from relations of domination and create new lives, in the dignity and self-respect of the movements in the United States (that of the IWW and the Black Panther Party, for example) and the rest of the world where we learned to recognize struggle not as a fight for sovereign power but rather as a process of the construction of autonomy, for another organization of life that does not depend on domination.
Kilombo is the Bantu word for an encampment. This word was taken up in the New World within the Portuguese sphere of influence to describe the societies of those African slaves and at times Indigenous peoples of the Americas that sought to end their enslavement through direct flight. This phenomena of runaway slave societies appeared throughout the Western Hemisphere. What has attracted us to this word is the phenomena that called it into existence—slave flight and what it can teach us in our contemporary context. It is these runaways that first understood that it was their sweat and blood that made the “modern world” possible and that it was this same sweat and blood that could bring another such world into existence. It was thus these runaways that were able to demonstrate that liberation is not built through a life and death struggle against the slave-master, but rather through a life and death struggle for the construction of another life, another formation of daily habit, rituals, and beliefs that would in practice make the slave-master function obsolete. In this respect it may be true, as many scholars have observed, that the modern notion of guerrilla warfare is in many respects directly indebted to these runaways and the military resistance they exerted against their would-be captors. But in this sense our insight must go further in order to understand, as did our Maroon predecessors, that an effective warfare against our captors is the one we wage on a daily basis with our hands and tools to create what has yet to be, and not the one limited to tanks, guns, and bullets directed at the destruction of what has already been.
It is important to note that our usage of this term is not a metaphorical borrowing, it is a necessary acknowledgment of a gift handed down to us by courageous Africans and Indigenous peoples, and a commitment to both flight and the trans- and inter-racial character of the original Kilombos.
Every day we ask ourselves, how do we go about constructing our liberation today? What is today’s context? What is today’s map?
In addition to, or within, the creation of a global anti-capitalist network, we need practical experiments in autonomy. Our experiments have taken the form of our webspace and our physical space in Durham, North Carolina. We created our webpage as a way to socialize our studies and experiences as well as to connect to Others and learn from their experiences, and to make this connection immediately global. Locally, after first organizing our thought, we moved forward to connect ourselves with our most immediate neighbors who have also had to learn to think and act in this new global conjuncture (in particular the migrant community). Together we decided to create a concrete space to open the possibility and opportunity for new encounters, autonomous production, and political organization. In May of 2006 we opened a community space with a free technology center (with internet access and computer classes), a bilingual bookstore with a focus on radical thought and social movements in the United States and Latin America, English as a Second Language and Spanish classes, youth programs and alternative education classes for children, and what will soon be a community garden and food distribution program. All of these services are cooperatively administered and freely distributed. Perhaps most importantly, these services have functioned as an impetus for the creation of a community assembly with the capacity to make decisions not only regarding the space but also the future of our communities, and thus to become one more node in the network of anticapitalist movements around the world.