Selected Thoughts from the Following Works of Paulo Freire 1921 – 1997

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Selected Thoughts from the Following Works of . . .
Paulo Freire 1921 – 1997
Compiled and edited by Dr. Nancy Jean Smith

California State University, Stanislaus

(1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum, ISBN 0-8264-0611-4
(1974). Education for critical consciousness. Continuum, ISBN 0-8264-7795-X
(1987). Literacy; Reading the word and the world. Bergin & Gavey, ISBN 0-89789-126-0
(1989). Learning to question; A pedagogy of liberation. Continuum, ISBN 0-8264-0509-6
(1998). Pedagogy of freedom; Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0-8476-9047-4
(2004). Pedgagoy of indignation. Paradigm, ISBN 1-59451-051-2
To the oppressed,

And to those who suffer with them

And fight at their side

Preface to Pedagogy of the Oppressed

These pages, which introduce Pedagogy of the Oppressed, result from my observations during six years of political exile, observations which have enriched those previously afforded by my educational activities in Brazil.

I have encountered, both in training courses which analyze the role of Conscentization (learning to perceive social, political and economic contradiction, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality) and in actual experimentation with a truly liberating education, the “fear of freedom” discussed in this book. Not infrequently, training course participants call attention to “the danger of conscentization” in a way that reveals their own fear of freedom. Critical consciousness may lead to disorder. Some, however, confess: Why deny it? I was afraid of freedom. I am no longer afraid!

In one of these discussions, the group was debating whether the conscentization of humans to a specific situation of injustice might not lead them to “destructive fanaticism” or to a “sensation of total collapse of their world.” In the midst of the argument, a person who previously had been a factory worker for many years spoke out: “Perhaps I am the only one here of working-class origin. I can’t say that I’ve understood everything you’ve said just now, but I can say one thing – when I began this course I was naïve, and when I found out how naïve I was, I started to get critical. But his discovery hasn’t made me a fanatic, and I don’t feel any collapse either.”

Doubt regarding the possible effects of conscentization implies a premise which the doubter does not always make explicit: It is better for the victims of injustice not to recognize themselves as such. In fact, however, conscentization does not lead people to “destructive fanaticism.” On the contrary, by making it possible for people to enter the historical process as responsible Subjects (those who know and act, in contrast to objects, which are known and acted upon), conscentization enrolls them in the search for self-affirmation and thus avoids fanaticism.

The awakening of critical consciousness leads the way to the expression of social discontents precisely because these discontents are real components of an oppressive situation. (Francisco Weffort, 1967)
Fear of freedom, of which its possessor is not necessarily aware, makes her/him see ghosts. Such an individual is actually taking refuge in an attempt to achieve security, which he or she prefers to the risks of liberty. As Hegel (1967) testifies:
It is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained . . . the individual who has not staked his or her life may, no doubt, be recognized as a Person, but he or she has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness.
Men and women rarely admit their fear of freedom openly, however, tending rather to camouflage it – sometimes unconsciously – by presenting themselves as defenders of freedom. They give their doubts and misgivings an air of profound sobriety, as befitting custodians of freedom. But they confuse freedom with the maintenance of the status quo; so that if conscentization threatens to place that status quo in question, it thereby seems to constitute a threat to freedom itself.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed will probably arouse negative reactions in a number of readers. Some will regard my position vis-à-vis the problem of human liberation as purely idealistic, or may even consider discussion of Ontological (the metaphysical study of the nature of being and existence) vocation, love, dialogue, hope, humility, and sympathy as so much reactionary “blah.” Others will not (or will not wish to) accept my denunciation of a state of oppression that gratifies the oppressors. Sectarianism (bigoted, narrow minded following of doctrine), fed by fanaticism, is always castrating. Radicalization, nourished by a critical spirit, is always creative. Sectarianism mythicizes and thereby alienates; radicalization criticizes and thereby liberates. Radicalization involves increased commitment to the position one has chosen, and thus ever greater engagement in the effort to transform concrete, objective reality. Sectarianism in any quarter is an obstacle to the emancipation of mankind.

The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a “circle of certainty” within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.

From these pages I hope at least the following will endure: my trust in the people, and my faith in men and women, and in the creation of a world in which it will be easier to love.

The following are some keys to Freirian Thought . . .

which build a conceptual framework towards Critical Consciousness . . .

or the Praxis of the Concientization Process . . .
The problem of humanization has always been humankind’s central problem. Concern for humanization leads to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an Ontological (the metaphysical study of the nature of being and existence) possibility but as an historical reality. As an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. But while both Humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the people’s vocation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice, and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity.

Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. This distortion occurs within history; but to admit of dehumanization as an historical vocation would lead either to cynicism or total despair. The struggle for humanization, for the emancipation of labor, for the overcoming of alienation, for the affirmation of men and women as persons would be meaningless. This struggle is possible only because dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed. Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.

This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed; to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. 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 their “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.

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 people – need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and working transform the world. This lesson and this apprenticeship must come, however, from the oppressed themselves and from those who are truly in solidarity with them. As individuals or as peoples, by fighting for the restoration of their humanity they will be attempting the restoration of true generosity. Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation? They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the Praxis (the dialectic of action and reflection . . . word + work = praxis) of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence, lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity.


Almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or “sub-oppressors.” The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be human; but for them, to be human is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity. This phenomenon derives from the fact that the oppressed, at a certain moment of their existential experience, adopt an attitude of “adhesion” to the oppressor. Under these circumstances they cannot “consider” him or her clearly to objectivize – to discover a being “outside” themselves. This does not necessarily mean that the oppressed are unaware that they are downtrodden. But their perception of themselves as oppressed is impaired by their submersion in the reality of oppression. At this level, their perception of themselves as opposites of the oppressor does not yet signify engagement in a struggle to overcome the Contradiction (dialectical conflict between opposing social forces).

At a certain point in their existential experience the oppressed feel an irresistible attraction towards the oppressors and their way of life. Sharing this way of life becomes an overpowering aspiration. In their alienation, the oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressors, to imitate them, to follow them. Self-depreciation is another characteristic of the oppressed, which derives from their internalization of the opinion the oppressor hold of them. So often do they hear that they are good for nothing, that they become convinced that they are undesirable. They call themselves ignorant and say the “professor” is the one who has knowledge and to whom they should listen. Almost never do they realize that they too, “know things” they have learned in their relations with the world and with other humans. Given the ambiguity forced on them, it is only natural that they distrust themselves. They have a diffuse, magical belief in the invulnerability and power of the oppressor. As they remain unaware of the causes of their condition, they fatalistically “accept” exploitation.

Within their unauthentic view of the world and of themselves, the oppressed feel like “things” owned. For the oppressor, to be is to have. For the oppressed to be is to be under the oppressor, to be emotionally dependent. This emotional dependence can lead the oppressed to what Fromm calls Necrophilic Behavior (Internalized Oppression; the destruction of life – their own or that of their oppressed fellows). When the oppressed become involved in an organized struggle for their liberation, they begin to believe in themselves. Seeing examples of the vulnerability of the oppressor allows a contrary conviction to grow within them. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection; only then will it be praxis.

It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors. The oppressor, as an oppressive class, can free neither others nor themselves. It is therefore essential that the oppressed wage the struggle to resolve the contradiction in which they are caught. For the oppressed to become more fully human, they cannot merely change poles. Resolution of the contradiction implies the disappearance of the dominant class. Even when the contradiction is resolved authentically, the oppressors do not feel liberated. On the contrary, they genuinely consider themselves to be oppressed. This is sometimes named as Reverse Discrimination, which in reality does not exist. It is also called Positivism. Conditioned by their experience of oppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them like oppression. Any restriction on their way of life, in the name of the rights of the community, appears to the former oppressors as a profound violation of their individual rights. “Human beings” refers only to them selves, other people are “things”. For the oppressors, there exists only one right; their right to live in peace, over against the right, not always even recognized, but simply conceded, of the oppressed to survival. They make this concession only because the existence of the oppressed is necessary to their own existence.


It is certain that men and women can change the world for the better, can make it less unjust, but they can do so only from the starting point of the concrete reality they “come upon” in their generation. Transformation requires dreaming, but the indispensable authenticity of that dream depends on the faithfulness of those who dream to their historic and materials circumstances and to the levels of technological scientific development of their context. Dreams are visions for which one fights. Their realization cannot take place easily, without obstacles. It implies advances, reversals, lengthy marches. It implies struggle. Transformation is a political act.

The time a generation belongs to, since it is historic, reveals old marks involving understandings of reality, special interests, class interests, prejudices, and the gestation of ideologies that have been perpetuated with contradictions. The nature of all reality is contradictor and process-oriented. To the extent that we accept that the economy, or technology, or science, it doesn’t matter what, exerts inescapable power over us, there is nothing left for us to do other than renounce our ability to think, to conjecture, to compare, to choose, to decide, to envision, to dream. Our presence in the world becomes devoid of any ethics. The very fact that human beings have become equipped to recognize how conditioned or influenced they are by economic structures also makes them capable of intervening in the conditioning reality. Knowing oneself to be conditioned but not fatalistically subjected to this or that destiny opens up the way for one’s intervention in the world. The opposite of intervention is adaptation, is to settle or adapt to a reality that is not questioned.

The future does not make us. We make ourselves in the struggle to make it. While conditioned by economic structures, I am not determined by them. Therein lies the duty, to never, under any circumstance, accept or encourage fatalistic positions, rather to reject fatalism, and encourage critical curiosity and seek the reasons or reasons for the facts.

Essential elements of change: consistency between words and actions; boldness which urges the confrontation of existence as a permanent risk; radicalization, as opposed to Sectarian (bigoted, narrow minded following of doctrine) leading 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 mankind; and faith in the people.

Leaders will always run the risk of not winning the immediate adherence of the people. The people are manipulated by a series of myths. When the people begin to emerge from the historical process they begin to threaten the elites. The presence of the people, not longer as spectators, rather with some aggressiveness, is sufficiently disquieting to frighten the dominant elites into doubling the tactics of manipulation, a fundamental instrument for the preservation of domination. Manipulation anesthetizes the people and facilitates their domination.

The commitment of revolutionary leaders to the oppressed is at the same time a commitment to freedom. Organizing for freedom means leaders organizing themselves with the people, practicing freedom. Organizing the people is the process in which the revolutionary leaders, who are also prevented from saying their own word, initiate the experience of learning how to name the world. This is true learning experience, and therefore dialogical. So it is that the leaders cannot say their own word alone; they must say it with the people. Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people – they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated; they oppress. Leaders must not confuse authoritarianism and authority. There is no freedom without authority, but there is also no authority without freedom. Freedom and authority must be considered in relationship to each other. Authentic authority is not a mere transfer of power, but a delegation of sympathetic adherence, a process, which seeks to transform reality.


The discourse on the impossibility of changing the world is of those who have accepted the status quo, either from despair or because they benefit from it. The ability to resist is lacking or weak in those who settle for what is. It is easier to cozy up to the tepidness of impossibility, rather than to embrace the permanent and uneven struggle for justice and ethics.

It is important, however, to emphasize that there is a fundamental difference between those who settle into hopelessness, subjected as they have been to the asphyxia of necessity that precludes the adventure of freedom and the struggle for it, and those who find in the discourse of settling an effective instrument to block change. The former are the oppressed without horizons the latter are the penitent oppressors.

The constant exercise of “reading the world,” requiring as it does a critical understanding of reality, involves denouncing it and, at the same time, heralding that which does not yet exist. Reading the world can lead beyond conjecture per se to a vision for the world. Critically reading the world is a political-pedagogical doing; it is inseparable from the pedagogical-political, from political action that involves the organization of groups and the reinventing of society. Denouncing and announcing, when part of the process of critically reading the world, give birth to the dream for which one fights. This dream or vision, whose profile becomes clear in the process of critically analyzing the reality one denounces, is a practice that transforms society. Tomorrow is not a tomorrow given ahead of time. I must fight to have it, but I must also have a drawing of it as I struggle to build it.

I will never forget the comments made by a literacy student in Natal, Rio Grade do Norte, in 1963, during discussions in a cultural circle. This topic was the importance of the tasks we must complete as men and women in history. “I see now,” he said, “that my trade, fixing shoes, is also very valuable. Through my work, I can give back to someone who brings me an old shoe. I protect the feet of the people while helping them spend less than if they had to buy new shoes. I must fight for the dignity of my work and not be ashamed of it. That man was “rereading” the world, and as he did, he came to realize something he had not apprehended in his previous reading the world. The rereading in which he engaged re-created his sense of self worth, one no longer developed from the standpoint of the dominant ideology, which undermines the work of the under trodden and intensifies their subordination to the ruling power. He was becoming literate in the broad and deep sense of the word. He was taking responsibility for himself as a man with a task.

To the extent that we become capable of transforming the world, of naming our own surroundings, of apprehending, of making sense of things, of deciding, of choosing, of valuing, and finally of ethicizing the world, our mobility within it and through history necessarily come to involve dreams toward whose realization we struggle. Thus, it follows that our presence in the world, which implies choice and decision, is not a neutral presence. The ability to observe, to compare and to evaluate, in order to choose, through deciding, how one is to intervene determines our collective possibilities.

Awareness of the world and awareness of oneself is critical not only as a being in the world, but one with the world and with others, a being capable of intervening in the world and not only of adapting to it. It is in this sense that women and men can interfere in the world while other animals can only touch it. That is why not only do we have a history, but we make our history, which equally makes us, and thus makes us historic.

Reading the world always precedes reading the word, and reading the word implies continually reading the world. Reading the word is not preceded merely by reading the world, but by a certain form of writing it, or rewriting it, of transforming it by means of conscious, practical work. Work laden with the meaning of the people’s existential experience.


Cultural action is always a systematic and deliberate form of action, which operates upon the social structure, either with the objective of preserving that structure or of transforming it. Cultural action either serves domination (consciously or unconsciously) or it serves the liberation of men and women, it creates dialectical relations of permanence and change. The social structure, in order to be, must become.

The actors draw the thematic content of their action from their own values and ideology; their starting point is their own world, from which they enter the world. In cultural synthesis, the actors come from “another world” to the world of the people, not as invaders, not as teachers or to transmit or give anything, but rather to learn, with the people, about the people’s world.

In cultural synthesis the actors become integrated with the people, who are co-authors of the action that both perform upon the world. In cultural invasion, both the spectators and the reality to be preserved are objects of the actor’s action. In cultural synthesis, there are no spectators; the object of the actors’ action is the reality to be transformed for human liberation.

Cultural synthesis is thus a mode for confronting culture itself. The investigation of the people’s generative themes constitutes the starting point for the process of action. There are no imposed models, only actors who critically analyze reality, never separating this analysis from action, and who intervene as Subjects in the historical process.

Leaders and people together create the guidelines of their action, and are reborn in new knowledge and new action. Knowledge of the alienated culture leads to transforming action. The more sophisticated knowledge of the leaders is remade in the empirical knowledge of the people, and vise versa. Only in cultural synthesis is it possible to resolve the contradiction between the world view of the leaders and that of the people, and affirms the support each gives to the other.

Revolutionary leaders must avoid organizing themselves apart from the people. Whatever contradictions occur, they must be solved. Leaders commit many errors and miscalculations by not taking into account the people’s view of the world; a view which explicitly and implicitly contains their concerns, their doubts, their hopes, their way of seeing the leaders, their perceptions of themselves and of the oppressors, their religious beliefs, their fatalism, their rebellious reactions. The knowledge of this totality is indispensable to action.

This does not mean that the objectives of revolutionary action should be limited by the aspirations expressed in the worldview of the people. The solution lies in synthesis; leaders must on the one hand identify with the people’s vision, while on the other they pose the vision as a problem. To achieve critical consciousness is to go beyond palliative solutions; it is to engage in authentic transformation of reality in order, by humanizing that reality, to humanize women and men.

In the anti dialogical theory of action, cultural invasion serves the ends of manipulation, which in turn serves the ends of conquest, and conquest the ends of domination. Cultural synthesis serves the ends of organization; organization serves the ends of liberation. Just as the oppressor, in order to oppress, needs a theory of oppressive action, so the oppressed, in order to become free, also need a theory of action.

The oppressor elaborates his theory of action without the people, for he stands against them. Nor can the people – as long as they are crushed and oppressed, internalizing the image of the oppressor- construct by themselves the theory of their liberating action. Only in the encounter of the people with the revolutionary leaders – in their communion, in their praxis – can this theory be built.


Education makes sense because the world is not necessarily this or that, because human beings are as much projects, or a vision, for the world. Education makes sense because women and men learn that through learning they can make and remake themselves as beings capable of knowing – of knowing that they know and of knowing that they don’t. They are able to know what they already know better and to come to know what they do not yet know. Education makes sense because in order to be, women and men must keep on being. If women and men simply were, there would be no reason to speak of education.

The capable and serious progressive educator must, not only teach his or her discipline well, but he or she must also challenge the learner to critically think through the social, political, and historic reality within which he or she is a presence.

The teacher who learns to speak by listening is interrupted by the intermittent silence of his or her own capacity to listen, waiting for that voice that may desire to speak from the depths of its own silent listening. The importance of silence in the context of communication is fundamental. Silence makes it possible for the speaker to hear the question, the doubt, the person who is listening. Without silence, communication withers.

In the process of speaking and listening, the discipline of silence, which needs to be developed with serious intent, is an indispensable condition of dialogical communication. The person who knows how to listen demonstrates this, by being able to control the urge to speak (which is right). Those who have something to say should know that they are not the only ones with ideas and opinions that need to be expressed. They should be conscious that, no matter how important the issue, their opinion probably will not be the one truth. They should also be aware that the person listening also has something to say.

In my relations with others, those who may not have had the same experiences as myself or have not made the same political, ethical, aesthetic or pedagogical choices as myself, I cannot begin from the standpoint that I have to conquer them at any cost or from the fear that they may conquer me. On the contrary, the basis of our encounter ought to be a respect for the differences between us, and an acknowledgement of the coherence between what I say and what I do. It is in openness to the world that I construct the inner security that is indispensable for that openness. It is impossible to live this openness to the world without inner security, just as it is impossible to have that security without taking the risk of being open.

How can one fight when courage, will and rebelliousness are lacking, when one does not have a tomorrow, when one lacks hope? For this reason, all liberating educational practice – which values the exercise of will, of decision, of resistance, of limits, the importance of historic awareness, of an ethical human presence in the world, and the understanding of history as possibility and never as determination – produces hope.

The exercise of thinking time, of thinking technique, and of thinking knowledge through as it is discovered; the exercise of thinking through the what of things, their what of, how, in whose favor, and against what or whom they are – this is a fundamental requirement of a critical education that can live up to the challenges of our time. Education never was, is not and never can be neutral or indifferent in regard to the reproduction of the dominant ideology or the interrogation of it.

As Sartre says, “Educators who refuse to transform the ugliness of human misery, social injustices, and inequalities, invariably become educators for Domestication, (the taming, enslaving of the mind for the servitude of the master) who will change nothing and will serve no one, but will succeed only in finding moral comfort in malaise.” Breaking the invisible hegemonic power of alienating domestication is an essential task in critical pedagogy.


One of my dreams is to challenge ourselves to reflect upon the role we play and the responsibility we have to take on the construction and betterment of democracy among us. I do not speak of a democracy that deepens inequities, that is purely conventional, that strengthens the powerful, that watches with crossed arms as the small are outraged and mistreated, one that coddles impunity. I do not speak of a democracy whose dream for the state is for a liberal state that maximizes the freedom of the strong to accumulate capital even if that means poverty, at times total destitution, for the majority.

I dream of a democracy whose state, while refusing permissive or authoritarian positions and indeed respecting the freedom of its citizens, does not abdicate its role as regulator of social relations. This is a state that intervenes, for it is responsible for the development of social solidarity. We need a democracy that, while loyal to human nature which makes us capable of both creating an ethical world and committing ethical transgressions, is able to set limits to men and women’s capacity for ill will.

What seems impossible to me:

√ to accept a democracy founded in the ethics of the market, solely aroused by profit.

√ to accept a democracy where there is no path for fragile economies other than patiently settling for the control and the dictums of globalizing power.

√ to remain silent before this postmodern expression of authoritarianism.
Words should be laden with meaning of the people’s existential experience. They should come from the “word universe” of people who are learning, expressing their actual language, their anxieties, fears, demands, and dreams. The people’s words, pregnant with the world, become words from the people’s reading of the world. We then create, recreate, take back, give the words back to the people inserted in “codifications”, not slogans or domesticating, nationalizing symbols, but pictures representing real situations. In this way, a critical reading, voicing and rethinking the word constitutes an instrument of counter Hegemony. (predominance, privilege, power, supremacy, superiority or dominion of influence by birthright, legislation, class, language, etc. as of a state, region or group over another or others.
Each time that in one way or another, the question of language comes to the fore, that signifies that a series of other problems is about to emerge, the formation and enlarging of the ruling class, the necessity to establish more “intimate” and sure relations between the ruling groups and the national popular masses, that is the reorganization of cultural hegemony. Antonio Gramsci, 1982.
It is not possible to educate for democracy, or to experience it, without the critical exercise of recognizing the real meaning of words, actions, proposals, visions, without questioning. This is the task of men and women who not only speak of democracy, but also live it, who make an effort humbly so, to narrow the distance between what we say and what we do. We must speak about a better world, one less unjust, more human, more democratic.


Explanation of Critical Consciousness Chart

Revolutionary leaders must follow the path of dialogue, dialogic action and of communication. Usually this group is made up of men and women who in one way or another have belonged to the social strata of the dominators. At a certain point in their existential experience, under certain historical conditions, these leaders renounce the class to which they belong and join the oppressed, in an act of true solidarity (or so one would hope) an act of love and true commitment. Joining the oppressed requires going to them and communicating with them. The people must find themselves in the emerging leaders, and the latter must find themselves in the people.

At times the oppressor is “housed” within the people, and their resulting ambiguity makes them fearful of freedom. They resort (stimulated by the oppressor) to magical explanations or a false view of God, to whom they fatalistically transfer the responsibility for their oppressed state. “What can I do? It is the will of God that we live in indescribable poverty.” It is extremely unlikely that these self-mistrustful, downtrodden, hopeless people will seek their own liberation – an act of rebellion, which they may view as a disobedient violation of the will of God. Hence the necessity of Problematizing (posing problems as questions), the myths fed to the people by the oppressors.

When the people have reached a relatively clear picture of oppression, which leads them to localize the oppressor outside themselves, they take up the struggle to surmount the contradiction in which they are caught. At this moment they overcome the distance between “class necessity” and “class consciousness”. A spirit of struggle, courage, capacity for love, or daring is required of the revolutionary leaders. It requires bravery on the part of the leaders to love the people sufficiently to be willing to sacrifice themselves for them. It requires courage by the leaders to recommence after each disaster.

Thus, due to certain historical conditions, the movement by the revolutionary leaders to the people is either horizontal – so that leaders and people form one body in contradiction to the oppressor – or it is triangular, with the revolutionary leaders occupying the vertex of the triangle in contradiction to the oppressors and to the oppressed as well. This is forced on the leaders when the people have not yet achieved a critical perception of oppressive reality.

Sometimes leaders interpret a certain historical moment of the people’s consciousness as evidence of their intrinsic deficiency. Since leaders need the adherence of the people, they are tempted to utilize the same procedures used by dominant elites to oppress. Rationalizing their lack of confidence in the people, the leaders say that it is impossible to dialogue with the people, i.e. Dominated Consciousness (ambiguous, full of fear and mistrust manifested in inefficiency, Erich Fromm, “The Application of Humanist Psychoanalysis to Marxist Theory,” in Socialist Humanism).

The role of leadership is to consider seriously, even as they act, the reasons for any attitude of mistrust on the part of the people, and to seek out true avenues of communion with them, ways of helping the people to help them selves critically perceive the reality which oppresses them.

Leaders must dedicate themselves to an untiring effort for unity among the oppressed – and unity of the leaders with the oppressed – in order to achieve liberation. The praxis of oppression is not easy for revolutionary leaders to carry out. Oppressors can rely on using instruments of power to preserve the state of oppression, can unite rapidly in the face of any threat to its fundamental interests. But revolutionary leaders cannot exist without the people, and this very condition constitutes the first obstacle to its efforts at organization.


there is no path,

we make the path,

by walking. Antonio Machado

This theory involves a subject who conquers another person and transforms her to him into a “thing”. In the dialogical theory of action, subjects meet in cooperation in order to transform the world. The anti dialogical, dominating I transforms the dominated, conquered thou into a mere it. The dialogical I, however, knows that it is precisely the thou which has called forth his or her own existence. He also knows that the thou which calls forth his own existence in turn constitutes an I which has in his I its thou. The I and the thou thus become, in the dialectic of these relationships, two thous which become two I’s. (I see you and through seeing you see myself). These Subjects meet to name the world in order to transform it.

Cooperation occurs only among Subjects and can only be achieved through communication. Dialogue, as essential communication, must underlie any cooperation. Dialogue does not impose, does not manipulate, does not domesticate. Dialogue means a relationship with the people, is does not mean leaders own the people and have to right to steer the people blindly towards their salvation. Such a salvation would be a mere gift from the leaders to the people – a breaking of the dialogical bond, reducing the people from co-authors of liberating action into the objects of this action.

Dialogical theory requires that the world be unveiled. No one can, however, unveil the world for another. Although one Subject may initiate the unveiling on behalf of others, the others must also become Subjects of this act. The adherence of the people is made possible by this unveiling of the world and of themselves, in authentic praxis. This adherence coincides with the trust the people begin to place in themselves and in the revolutionary leaders. The trust of the people in the leaders reflects the confidence of the leaders in the people.

This confidence should not, however be naive. The leaders must believe in the potentialities of the people, whom they cannot treat as mere objects of their own action; they must believe that the people are capable of participating in the pursuit of liberation. But they must always mistrust the ambiguity of oppressed people, mistrust the oppressor “housed” in them. The leader must be a realist.

Although trust is basic to dialogue, it is not an a priori condition. It results from the encounter in which persons are co-Subjects in denouncing the world, as part of the world’s transformation. As long as the oppressor “within” the oppressed is stronger than they themselves are, their natural fear of freedom may lead them to denounce the revolutionary leaders instead!

It is humility and the capacity to love that makes communion with the people possible, a path to cooperation. Communion with the people should cease to be a mere theory, it should become an integral part of oneself. In dialogic theory, at no stage can revolutionary action forgo communion with the people. Communion in turn elicits cooperation which brings leaders and people to fusion. This fusion can exist only if revolutionary action is really human, empathetic, loving, communicative and humble, in order to be liberating. The revolution loves and creates life; and in order to create life it may be obliged to prevent some men from circumscribing life. In addition to the life-death cycle basic to nature, there is almost an unnatural living death: life which is denied its fullness.

Thank you Paulo . . . for your life, and your word. We can together study, reflect and act to make a better world. You smile upon us and remind us of the deep rivers we need to continue to work.
Nancy Jean

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