Quilombo and political action

Image: Eugene Liashchevskyi_


Between Clóvis Moura and Beatriz Nascimento

“in time, breaking down […] the senate barriers will[i] bring the crows to sting the eagles [of oppression]” (Shakespeare, Coriolanus).

No subaltern group, to use Antonio Gramsci's fortunate formulation, was able to fight for its effective emancipation without possessing its own dynamics of political organization, precisely self-organization. It was like that with the Levelers, so well analyzed in the classic of Marxist historical and political thought, the Upside Down World by the English historian Christopher Hill; with Sans-Cullotes in France in 1789, which introduced with its action a new socio-historical temporality in the terms of Rétif de La Bretonne, with the Paris Commune who founded the first eminently workers' government in history, and which Marx called Civil War in France of “selfless champions of a new and better society”, with the Russia of 1917 in which the Soviets in action presented to those seeking redemption “a very complex political structure [of organization], […] [constituted] by the majority of the people” – this is what John Reed told us in his essay Soviets in Action.

Now, in the case of the people enslaved by the agrarian-capitalist aristocracy in Brazil, nothing different happened. In effect – quilombos were the organizational modality of black men and women who yearned for freedom. They were, and still “can be”, the political-subjective-symbolic-discursive arrangement of action of the black-skinned insurrectionists who dared to fight and challenge the current social order imposed by the dominant white classes and elites of the time (again: the big ones “ capitalists” land owners, their “representatives” and their well-armed assassins).

The two main interpreters of the quilombos experience in Brazilian social and political thought are Clóvis Moura and Beatriz Nascimento. Let's see, briefly, what he and she tell us about this political action of our ancestors - and how it can, eventually, if reconfigured in the circumstances of the contemporary class-race struggle, be the modality of political (organizational) action with a view to and on the horizon of combating and overthrowing the various forms of violent and cynical (class) racism in Brazil.

Clóvis Steiger de Assis Moura interprets quilombos based on (classical) Marxist theory. Because, in his fundamental argument they were “a manifestation of the class struggle”, and he adds, “to use the expression already universally recognized”.[1] In precise terms, then, in which it establishes its conceptual, theoretical, intellectual and political position, before any other possible definition that is, in a certain way, adequate, for the sociologist from Piauí, the quilombos when they emerged in Brazilian territory constituted- as a decisive class combat device formed by black men and women – in the face of the slave society and the consequences derived from it (Florestan Fernandes).

The evidence constructed by Clóvis Moura is that wherever modern slavery was established – one of the immanent determinations of establishing capital –, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru, Guianas and, especially, in Brazil, these forms erupted practical-nouns of political action of those with black skin. It is “evident” that every organizational position of subalterns, and especially of singular peoples (transplanted by force and violence from one continent to another), brings cultural dynamics (in a broad sense: memory, language, religiosity, affective relationships, food and clothing) inscribed in the contingencies of its existence.

However, Clóvis Moura is emphatic in asserting that “quilombagem in Brazil was the result of the structural contradictions of the slavery system and reflected, […] [in its dynamism], at the level of social conflict, denial of this system on the part of the oppressed”.[2] So it can be said that the quilombos meant, essentially, the unique, peculiar moment of black revolt and/or rebellion against slavery and those who benefited from it. They were the insurrectionary exclamation of the enslaved.

The virtue of the (Marxist) sociology of Clóvis Moura's quilombos is that it understood their social scope; hence his conception that the “platforms” (that was the name of the quilombos in Cuba) configured, through negativity, the materiality of the class struggle to be concerned with the theoretical elaboration, eminently, consistent. Clóvis Moura's stance is to understand the quilombista system with political-cultural variations, in order to expose their founding aspects within the scope of the “alliance of quilombos”, the “development of quilombos”, the “historical continuity of quilombos” and “ spatial-territorial extension of quilombos”.[3]

Like this; When organizing themselves into the black resistance, any movement towards socio-political isolation was unthinkable, which is why the quilomba insurgents joined other social groups exploited and oppressed by the slave order: there was a “general connection between the quilomba slave and other oppressed social groups not [ …] by chance […] the mining slave, for example, was very frequently linked to the sparkler and the diamond and gold smuggler”.[4]

Like other forms of struggle of those who want effective freedom and equality, the self-organization of black men and women did not dispense with launching strategic and tactical alliances with other groups – other than the settlers. It is true that in one way or another the political subjects of the action, or if one prefers the primordial subjectivity, were still those with black skin; but they learned the material and concrete need for circumstantial articulation with other categories of “humiliated” people on earth. (What was at stake – was the fight and the drive to bring down “the repressive apparatus”[5] which supported slavery imposed by the white oligarchy that illegitimately “owned” the land.)

Studying the vital position of quilombos in the black war for liberation, Clóvis Moura exposes the internal dynamics of these “retreats” cleverly planned for race-class combat. Two characteristics – should – draw the attention of those who intend to revisit the historic-ancestral experience of the platforms today: the first, their political-military power, in the words of the intellectual from Piauí “[there] an industry of war by the [aquilombados and quilombadas] themselves […], who manufactured spears, bows, arrows, knives, and other warlike objects […]; establish[ed], [therefore] defense systems”[6] who had the decisive objective of confronting the forces of the slave state – that is, the spearhead (the katechons) of the dominant white elite-class of the time.

Now, quilombos were organizational structures created to combat the struggle of enslaved people for freedom; to use a formulation of classical Marxism from the beginning of the XNUMXth century, they were forged as arrangements of double or duality of power[7] in the face of “state” slave power. The second characteristic is that quilombos were also formed “as a productive unit”[8].

In this way, they configured an alternative form of survival to economic production based on the exploitation of black arms and shoulders. Food, metallurgy, artisanal clothing: quilombos created an entire dynamic set of existence. In the Marxist language of German Ideology, material and subjective social relations in order to keep their communities in the splendor of life and ready for battle – which they would face with the slave-capitalist mode of production. Says Moura: “they organized themselves to be able, in the event of isolation or war, to maintain themselves without major internal production crises”[9].

This way; quilombos in the theoretical-interpretive context of Mouranian sociology constituted a political device of action, combat and form of life (in germ) against the power structure of the dominant white slave aristocracy: it can be said, they were a constituent power (Toni Negri ) that was being established – a split in the “legitimate” monopoly of force, physical violence (Max Weber) and organizational violence in society.

Palmares was the high point of the revolutionary action of the quilombos. Their political strength placed all the authorities representing the slave owners in a state of attention, as their poignant, daring and fierce existence – imaginative and even insurrectionary – was transformed into “the most serious obstacle to the development, […] stabilization [and consolidation] of the slavery in the region”[10], and nothing could be done to destroy it, if it extended to the entire Brazilian territory. State within the State; double power established by the black-skinned rebels, Palmares covered a considerable geographical space[11] in the region of Porto Calvo, Alagoas. Its revolutionaries were Andalaquiche, Zumbi, Acotirene and Aqualtune.

In Palmares a true alliance was established, a strategic articulation for the political race-class combat, between those subordinated by the slavery system – there was “an adhesion of male and female slaves from the mills, [...] of indigenous people, poor and persecuted whites and as a member of other discriminated ethnicities”.[12] At the height of its existence Palmares had a population of 25 thousand inhabitants; in fact, it was one of the most significant moments of political action – organizational, material, subjective – by black men and women with the aim of liberating the dominant elite from white slavery in Brazil.

It was a revolutionary society that I raised and faced a society of exploitation, oppression, humiliation – and absolutely racist. A beautiful example for today. But quilombos did not only have a place in the Marxist sociology of Clóvis Moura; with an elegant and fine historical-anthropological essay, Beatriz Nascimento narrated the genesis and symbolism of quilombos (in Africa and, later, in Brazil).

Small excursion

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us [that it is necessary] to create a true State of exception” (Walter Benjamin, Thesis 8, About the concept of history) – Amarildo where is he – Ítalo – João Pedro – Marielle, who ordered the murder – boy Miguel Otávio Santana – Ágatha – Guarujá – Complexo da Penha – Bahia – Mão Bernadete murdered – “because I need to save the old people, because I need to save the children and the flowers […] because there is little money for us […] for more ammunition, stronger weapons, and a faster engine, more gasoline in the tank, to be equal [to the white bourgeois elite and their assassins]” ( Mano Brown, Crazy life) – “we need to organize hatred, it will save us” (Paulo Galo, PodPah #390) – “if we had summarily shot those in charge of torture [Nazifascists in Auschwitz] together with their orderlies and their extremely powerful protectors, that would have been more moral than opening a case against some of them” (Adorno, Negative Dialectic).

Maria Beatriz Nascimento

An erudite historian in her profession, Maria Beatriz Nascimento, left a decisive work on the historical-political and historical-cultural origins of quilombos. Without much epistemological and conceptual precision it can be said that The Concept of Quilombo and Black Cultural Resistance e Kilombo e Community Memory: a case study, are texts that express the cultural symbolism (of political struggle) into which the quilombola political device was converted by the historical writing of Beatriz Nascimento. Alex Ratts is accurate in formulating that in Beatriz Nascimento’s exquisite narrative, “quilombos are [insignias of] imagined motherlands”[13] for the fight against slavery – for the construction of horizons free from exploitation, oppression and humiliation.

With an incisive temperament similar to that of Clóvis Moura, Atlântica categorically states that the Kilombo (in the original spelling) “represented in the history of our people a milestone in their capacity for resistance and organization [and political action]”.[14] It is not possible here to follow the refined understanding and solid mastery of Beatriz Nascimento; However, we can comment on some points. Thus, originating from “[various] historical complexities and social and political formation”[15] os kilombos were present in the “southern Angola” region[16]. Her ethnicity, Beatriz Nascimento tells us, were the Mbundos.

The Ngola warrior “coming from East Africa”[17] established a decentralized defense community – these were the ones that the Portuguese “in search of the precious metal”[18] faced each other on their way to Africa. Beatriz states that the Ngola descendants were defenders of several African territories; with astute practical science they have always understood the “real intentions of Europeans”[19]. One of the political actions undertaken by the Ngolas, particularly Ngola Mbandi Kiluanji, was to arrest, without further ado, the “Portuguese commissioner Baltar de Castro, paralyzing the beginnings of the international slave trade in his territory”[20].

The Bantu of the regions and “Bantu cities of Central-Eastern Africa”[21] It was another of the groups narrated by Beatriz in order to germinate the experience of resistance, combat and political struggle. But in addition to the Ngolas and the Bantu, there were also the Imbangalas coming from East Africa; of them within the scope of these multiple and splendid existences of political action is what initiated, effectively and institutionally, the grandiose and revolutionary invention of kilombos. Says Beatriz Nascimento: “entering the central African region, the Jaga introduced a truly revolutionary institution in […] human [and black] history: this is exactly the kilombo”[22]. With expertise in hunting, in the war to protect their living space, in the imagination for persevering struggle and in self-organization, the Imbangalas and their kilombos transformed into a broad “warrior society”[23].

It is, therefore, necessary to insist on Atlântica’s interpretative position, the Kilombo in Africa it was the form of action and black tenacity, even combativeness, “like the Portuguese”[24]. Unlike Clóvis Moura, however, Beatriz understands the cultural and symbolic construction of kilombos. The historian at UFRJ and UFF[25] He left us beautiful lines and words about quilombola art, knowledge, habits and civilization. It was about forms of life, to speak with critical theorist Rahel Jaeggi; authentic ways of life.

Indeed; you kilombos they established a place of experimentation in which everyone shared the whole with themselves and with others – it was a cosmological space of recognition. In Beatriz's insinuating formulation, therefore, the African platforms “synthesized[d] all this, [the moment of culture, technology, symbolic production, subjectivity, religiosity and political action] in the individual and in the group of territorialized individuals in any area […]; [it was] a visible, invisible and, [above all] cosmic space”[26]. It is worth saying; power for them did not just mean an instrument of combat and means of defense (even though this was, inevitably, decisive); What the Imbangalas (the Ngolas and the Bantos) forged in Africa – and which was transported to Brazil – had the incandescent sense of a heroic political action due to its existential scope.

When building her research agenda, Beatriz Nascimento, more than proposing working hypotheses and theoretical-interpretive problematizations,[27] – even though such elaborations of academic matrices were within the latitude of the intellectual training constructed for herself as a black woman – she tried to build a frame of reference in which the black struggle against the violent racism that pervades Brazilian society could have symbolic anchorage. For her, the subterranean temporality of kilombos it held subversive latencies, so that the work of investigation and deep and serious knowledge of this black experience elsewhere and here would be extremely important – and at its time (and now) urgent.

As historian Raquel Barreto states, Atlântica's intervention “intended to advocate a [complete] history of black people that took into account their agency and the dimensions of their subjectivity, highlighting that, even in adverse conditions and contexts, black people sought ways to establish […] [a] way of life”[28] and political action to combat slavery-based political and social structures. (It was his divine violence and black state of exception to say with Walter Benjamin.)

Os kilombos by Beatriz Nascimento created the beauty of the practical language of the black revolutionary war in search of redemption, effective freedom and equality and emancipation. They were sublime seditions against the domination of the white European colonialist bourgeoisie and against the slavery imposed by the white Brazilian aristocracy of the land – and they could become the very moment of insurrectionary black political action to free themselves, today, from the “chains” of class racism that is still in force among us in Brazil. (The lessons of Clóvis Moura and Beatriz Nascimento, finally, need to be urgently revisited in this situation of “conformist” indecision of the Brazilian “black movement”.)

*Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza is a professor of political science at the Department of Social Sciences at UFSCar and a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science at USP.


[1] Clovis Moura – Quilombos: resistance to slavery. Ed. Expressão Popular, p. 20.

[2] Ibidem, P. 23.

[3] Ibidem, pp. 40-49.

[4] Ibidem, P. 40.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibidem, p. 41.

[7] Regarding the debate on the double or duality of power, see Lenin's interventions in the context of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and immediately after it. And regarding the State or political power as a legitimate unit of monopoly on physical violence, see Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation, several editions.

[8] Op. Cit., P. 41.

[9] Ibidem, P. 42.

[10] Ibidem, P. 67.

[11] VIEW ibid, P. 66.

[12] Ibidem, P. 66.

[13] Alex Rattz – I Am Atlântica: about the life trajectory of Beatriz Nascimento. Official Press Ed./Instituto Kuanza, p. 59.

[14] Beatriz Nascimento – The Concept of Quilombo and Black Cultural Resistance. In: Beatriz Nascimento – quilombola and intellectual: possibilities in days of destruction. Ed. Union of Pan-Africanist Collectives, p. 274.

[15] Ibidem, P. 275.

[16] Ibidem.

[17] Ibidem.

[18] Ibidem.

[19] Ibidem.

[20] Ibidem.

[21] Ibidem, P. 277.

[22] Ibidem, P. 278.

[23] Ibidem, P. 279.

[24] Ibidem.

[25] About Beatriz Nascimento’s career, see Alex Ratts – I Am Atlântica: about the life trajectory of Beatriz Nascimento. Official Press Ed./Instituto Kuanza.

[26] Op. Cit., P. 278.

[27] About Beatriz Nascimento's research agenda, see Beatriz Nascimento – Kilombo and Community Memory: a case study. In: Alex Ratts – I Am Atlântica: about the life trajectory of Beatriz Nascimento. Official Press Ed./Instituto Kuanza.

[28] Raquel Barreto – Quilombo, Word that Means Union: Beatriz Nascimento and black protagonism in the history of Brazil. Supplement Pernambucano, January 2020. https://www.academia.edu/41946456/QUILOMBO_PALAVRA_QUE_SIGNIFICA_UNI%C3%83O.

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