Thinking Dialectically about Solidarity

The recent visit of two Afro-Colombians to the Boggs Center started me thinking dialectically about the paradigm shift in the concept and practice of Solidarity made necessary and possible by corporate globalization.

In 1997 these Afro-Colombians, members of a small farming community in Uraba, Colombia, were among those displaced when a joint paramilitary and U.S.-backed military operation, under the pretext of fighting guerrilla forces, took over their resource-rich homeland so that global corporations could produce palm oil for the world market and carry on large-scale cattle ranging and logging.

Determined to reclaim their territory, the farmers created “humanitarian zones” in the neighboring area as enclaves of peaceful civil resistance.  These Humanitarian Zones are internationally recognized and protected by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  They are supported by Witness for Peace.

After we had heard their story and viewed a DVD of their struggle we gave them a tour of our east side neighborhood.

Visiting the Hope District, Earthworks, and the Feedom Freedom Growers, these South Americans got a sense of how in a North American city which has also been devastated by corporate globalization, we are resisting by growing our own food, struggling to bring the neighbor back into the hood, creating Peace Zones out of War Zones, and redefining Work to mean making a Life and not just a Living.

They were thrilled, honored, and encouraged to connect with grassroots Detroiters who are also reclaiming our land, community, and humanity.

Reflecting on this experience, I was able to recognize and appreciate the paradigm shift in the meaning of Solidarity that globalization has made both necessary and possible.

For most of the 20th century, Solidarity meant “Workers of the World Unite” and/or “The Union Makes Us Strong.”

But in the age of corporate globalization and the outsourcing and downsizing of jobs, Solidarity is beginning to mean connecting grassroots communities who are resisting corporate devastation and displacement by creating ways of living that give us control over our lives.

The emergence of the Zapatistas in 1994 at Chiapas in response to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was the first announcement to the world that grassroots people are creating new self-healing civic groups in response to corporate globalization.

A decade later, according to one estimate by Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest, there may be as many as half a million of these groups, most of them small and barely visible in every country around the world.

In two widely-read books, Empire (2000) and Multitude (2004), political theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri emphasize the singularity or diversity of these groups.  They do not fuse into some unity like “the people” or the “workers of the world.”  Nor are they connected in centralized organizations like the 2nd or 3rd Internationals, as in the Marxist-Leninist era.  What they have in common is that they are each imagining and creating the new social identities, the new political subjects that will take the place of the cogs and consumers to which global capitalism seeks to reduce us,

These self-healing civic groups and communities connect mainly through networks.

So Solidarity is beginning to mean the linking or networking of these communities in North and South America and around the world.

Grace Lee Boggs is a philosopher and activist based in Detroit.  The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she has chronicled her life in struggle in the autobiographical Living for Change.  The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership was founded in 1995 in Detroit to carry on their work and honor their legacy.  This article was first published in the 2-19 December 2010 issue of Living For Change News; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.  Among her publications is Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century (co-authored with James Boggs).  For more information about Boggs, go to <>.

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