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July 15th, 2007 (09:11 pm)

A Better World in Their Hearts: Praxis of Freire and the EZLN

Many will people will claim that radical and revolutionary change is something that is idealistic and not probable. Many will write it off as an esoteric struggle that ended with the fall of the Soviet Union. However, these claims fail to recognize the struggles that happen globally against repression. These struggles are anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist in nature. In their view- true emancipation as its goal- not just the destruction of the current system that they live under. Anti-authoritarian and humanist philosophies of revolution and social change are abundant. None are so popular and have gained so much attention then that of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This paper will look at how Freire conceptualizes and theorizes revolution and the relationship between elites and the masses. It will also look at the case of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in Latin America. The ideas behind this militant group appear to be infused with Freire’s theory. Also, a quick analysis will be made of the strengths and weaknesses of Freire’s ideas and the EZLN’s praxis.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed asserts that the current system that the world is in is one that is dehumanizing and it is a moral imperative to work against it. Freire gives readers a view that a “radical rejection of a class-based society” is necessary and inevitable (13). However, he approaches this problem in a more refreshing way than traditional Marxist have- in the sense that he is working towards something that is revolutionary and humanist. It is important to look at the way he writes about vanguard groups, because it is apparent that he sees them and the elites as nearly they same thing. He writes: “[t]heir ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors” (45). Both groups are condescending and anti-democratic. Hence, they have programs that are meant to help but “[i]n order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity’, the oppressors must perpetuate injustices as well” (44). These vanguards or saviors that come into communities to liberate will fail to create a better society because they are not in “true solidarity with the oppressed” this means that the revolutionary and teacher must “[fight] at their side to transform [their] objective reality” (49)

In the text Zapatistas! Documents of the New Mexican Revolution, Harry Cleaver writes in the introduction that the EZLN is challenging the traditional vanguard model in its resistance to capitalism. Cleaver writes:

“First, in terms of their own political character, at the very start of its offensive the EZLN sharply differentiated itself from the previous guerrilla movements of Central America (e.g., the Sandinistas or the URNG) and elsewhere (e.g., the Tupamaros), and explicitly rejected the traditional Leninist objectives of "taking power," "the dictatorship of the proletariat," "international communism" and "all that."

Freire and the EZLN conceptualize revolution as something that is bottom up and not top-down imposed. This is something that is “with and not for the oppressed” (48). Revolutionary politics must be directly democratic in every step of the way to be successful. Freire writes that “[t]he revolutions made neither by the leaders for the people, nor by the people for the leaders, but by both acting together in unshakable solidarity” (129). Comparing this writing to the work of the EZLN is nearly uncanny:

“Second, such democratic political processes have given rise to a new political project: AUTONOMY--
a democratic autonomy for all levels of Mexican society, for regions, for Indigenous peoples, for campesino groups, for workers, for students, for women, for townships, for regional governments and so on. There is no utopian blueprint for the construction of such autonomy; the proposal is one of principle, of the direction of movement. "This new voice...is conspiring for a new world, so new that it is barely an intuition in the collective heart that inspires it." But: "When the storm calms, when rain and fire again leave the country in peace, the world will no longer be the world, but something better."

Along with a conception of revolution- a conception of freedom is just as important. Freire writes: “Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes a myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion” (47). Ultimate freedom isn’t in Freire’s view as something that means we get to participate in an oppressive system with little to no interference, but it is something that pushes the boundaries of human potential. Thus, freedom is “creative communion produced by freedom and even the pursuit of freedom” (48).[ It appears that Freire is meaning to negate the claim cynics make by stating that oppression has always been in existence “Fatalism in the guise of docility is the fruit of an historical and sociological situation, not an essential character of a people’s behavior” (61).

Although Freire is democratic in his ideas, it is not that he is falling into the ideology of pacifism, as he writes that: “violence is grounded in the desire to pursue the right to be human” (56). We can see this working with the EZLN as well, who remain militant yet democratic. An example of how the EZLN are conceptualizing new visions of freedom is their work against patriarchy - which Freire is severely lacking in analysis. Cleaver writes that:

“Not only are women encouraged to join the EZLN, but they are treated as equals to the point that many women have officer status and men and women are expected to carry the burdens of work and fighting equally.

Queried about the politics of gender in the organization and in the communities in which it is based, Marcos has affirmed the EZLN's official support for women's struggles against patriarchy.”

Since the EZLN and Freire are working with new ideas it only makes sense that the strategy to get to a free society would be just as different.

Education equals liberation in the theory of Freire. Education must be rooted in the idea of praxis; which is a term that literally means theory and practice. Freire is concerned with a praxis that is democratic. A liberatory praxis is essential for Freire’s strategy for education and thus, liberation. “This can only be done by means of the praxis: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (51). Therefore, people need dialogue that is engaging and empowering:

“The content of that dialogue can and should vary in accordance with historical conditions and the level at which the oppressed perceive reality. But to substitute monologue, slogans, and communiqués for dialogue is to attempt to liberate the oppressed with the instrument of domestication” (65).

“Dialogue […] makes it a revolution, as distinguished from a military coup” it gives it legitimacy (128). Conversely, “the validity of any revolution resulting from anti-dialogical action is thoroughly doubtful” (127). Therefore, to push the ideas of liberation and humanity revolutionaries cannot fall into traditional pedagogy, which relies on the “banking method” of education (72). Instead he purposes the problem-posing method which empowers “people [to] develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves” (83). This involves engendering people to be aware of problems in the world and “involves the constant unveiling of reality” (81). This education must be relevant to peoples’ everyday lives and tie it in with their everyday struggle:

“We must never merely discourse on the present situation, must never provide people with programs which have little or nothing to do with their own preoccupations, doubts hopes, fears- programs which at times in fact increase the fears of the oppressed consciousness” (96).

Hence-the EZLN works towards projects that are relevant. Cleaver writes:

“Outside the EZLN, far beyond Chiapas, they too had been developing networks of cooperation to fight for the things they need: schools, clean water, the return of their lands, freedom from state repression (police and Army torture, jailings and murders), and so on. Given the fierce autonomy of the participating communities-
-sometimes based on traditional ethnic culture and language--these networks have been shaped like the electronic web described above: in a horizontal, non-hierarchical manner.”

It is a dangerous to present Freire and the EZLN as being flawless or beyond criticism. It has been 17 years since they have been organizing and fighting, however; their presence is not known across the globe and probably unknown in regions of Mexico. One might also want to ask if their strategic concentration on the indigenous population in Mexico are hindering their goals from being realized. It is hard to say since groups and politics are not static entities but something that is constantly growing and refining. It is hard to say if the EZLN will ever be successful in its endeavors but it is important to note that these struggles are happening. They are happening without vanguards, without non-profits and with out state support. Both of these concepts rely on the idea that we can trust that ordinary people desire freedom and are struggling with or without the support of elites. These visions of a new society have the ability to push the realities and potentialities of human beings in creative ways that we could hardly imagine.

Works Cited:

1) Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, INC, 1970.

2) Cleaver, Harry. Zapatistas! Documents of the New Mexican Revolution. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1994.</lj-cut>


Posted by: howerose (howerose)
Posted at: April 7th, 2011 06:17 pm (UTC)

Thanks for an idea, you sparked at thought from a angle I hadn’t given thoguht to yet. Now lets see if I can do something with it.

Posted by: bootihore (bootihore)
Posted at: October 31st, 2011 12:05 pm (UTC)

I really enjoyed this post. You write about this topic very well. There are many cherished moments in life, why not wear a beautiful dress! When looking back on special memories of your child wearing a gorgeous dress, it will make a fond memory.

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