Paulo Freire: Pedagogy of the Oppressed – revolutionary structures and methods

This is a set of quotes summarising Paulo Freire’s thoughts on the structures and methods needed for genuine revolution, taken from The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1996 Penguin Edition).

Appropriate revolutionary structures and methods

Who is a radical?

“What distinguishes revolutionary leaders from the dominant elite is not only their objectives, but their procedures.” (148)

“trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change.” (42)

“The radical… does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he her she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” (21)

“The man or woman who proclaims devotion to the cause of liberation yet is unable to enter communion with the people, whom he or she continues to regard as totally ignorant, is grievously self-deceived.” (43) (What happened in early c20th Russia, with ‘going to the people’?)

“it is necessary to trust in the oppressed and in their ability to reason. Whoever lacks this trust will fail to initiate (or will abandon) dialogue, reflection, and communication, and will fall into using slogans, communiqués, monologues, and instructions.” (48)

“constant, humble, and courageous witness emerging from cooperation in a shared effort – the liberation of women and men – avoids the danger of antidialogical control.” (157)

“The essential elements of witness which do not vary historically include: consistency between words and actions; boldness which urges the witnesses to confront existence as a permanent risk; radicalization (not sectarianism) leading both the witnesses and the ones receiving that witness to increasing action; courage to love (which, far from being accommodation to an unjust world, is rather the transformation of that world in behalf of the increasing liberation of humankind); and faith in the people,…” (157)

“Instead of following predetermined plans, leaders and people, mutually identified, together create the guidelines of their action.” (162)

“if at a given historical moment the basic aspiration of the people goes no further than a demand for salary increases, the leaders can commit one of two errors. They can limit their action to stimulating this one demand or they can overrule this popular aspiration and substitute something more far-reaching – but something which has not yet come to the forefront of the people’s attention. In the first case, the revolutionary leaders follow a line of adaptation to the people’s demands. In the second case, by disrespecting the aspirations of the people, they fall into cultural invasion. the solution lies in synthesis: the leaders must on the one hand identify with the people’s demand for higher salaries, while on the other they must pose the meaning of that very demand as a problem. By doing this, the leaders pose a as a problem a real, concrete, historical situation of which the salary demand is one dimension. It will thereby become clear that salary demands alone cannot comprise a definitive solution.” (163-4)

Emancipation cannot be imposed

“the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.” (26)

“Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift.” (29)

“The correct method for a revolutionary leadership to employ in the task of liberation is, therefore, not ‘libertarian propaganda.’ … The correct method lies in dialogue. The conviction of the oppressed that they must fight for their liberation is not a gift bestowed by the revolutionary leadership, but the result of their own conscientização.” (49)

“The struggle begins with men’s recognition that they have been destroyed. Propaganda, management, manipulation – all arms of domination cannot be the instruments of their rehumanization. The only effective instrument is a humanizing pedagogy in which the revolutionary leadership establishes a permanent relationship of dialogue with the oppressed.” (50)

“The revolutionary’s role is to liberate, and be liberated, with the people – not to win them over.” (76)

“Revolutionary leaders cannot think without the people, nor for the people, but only with the people.” (112)

On charity and deference

“Any attempt to ‘soften’ the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.”(26)

“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life,’ to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands – whether of individuals or entire peoples – need to be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.” (27)

I think this is a useful observation for the UK Labour Party

“In a situation of manipulation, the Left is almost always tempted by a ‘quick return to power,’ forgets the necessity of joining with the oppressed to forge an organization, and strays into an impossible ‘dialogue’ with the dominant elites. It ends up being manipulated by these elites, and not infrequently itself falls into an elitist game, which it calls ‘realism’.” (130)