6 November 2009

Liberation Theology

[CU for Monday, 9 November 2009]

In the last third of the 20th Century a phenomenon arose that recalled Marx’s “Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”, where Marx said:

“…the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.”


“The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

In other words the criticism of religion was only a starting-point and not the main business. The main business is the restoration of humanity to itself, not so much from out of the clutches of the clerics, but more so from the under the boot of the bourgeoisie. The struggle begins, not so much against religion, but within religion.

And so it came to pass that in the 1960s arose, within and among the ranks of the religious, a movement which had all the essential aims that Marx had. This was Liberation Theology. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in particular recognised it for what it was, and suppressed it. The hierarchy of the Protestant denominations saw it for what it was, and co-opted and neutered its remnants, revising the “base community” idea into the sectarian “basic Christian community”, and thereby reversing the liberation that Liberation Theology had brought. But in the mean time it had a life and it left a legacy.

Father Joe Falkiner used sometimes to attend the Communist University. The first attached/linked item begins with an article of his from 2006 on Liberation Theology and Scripture, and continues with a short history of Liberation Theology from two more of its well-known practitioners, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff.

Father Joe quickly mentions that Liberation Theology “often used the educational methods of Paulo Friere”, and that they used original scriptural texts, just as the Communist University uses mainly original texts, and preferably not second-hand commentary or analysis. Father Joe writes: “… the theology was done jointly by these people in the shantytowns and their priests, not solely by traditional theologians based in seminaries and universities.”

This is what we do with politics, using Paulo Freire’s methods.

Father Joe also mentions Gramsci, and organic intellectuals. The second, supporting, item in this penultimate part of our current course has the long title: Rethinking Critical Pedagogy and the Gramscian and Freirean Legacies: From Organic to Committed Intellectuals or Critical Pedagogy, Commitment, and Praxis. It is by Gustavo Fischman and Peter McLaren, who are present-day exponents of Critical Pedagogy, or in other words what is referred to above, by Joe Falkiner, as “the educational methods of Paulo Friere”.

The article immediately starts to grapple with “the notion of teachers as transformative intellectuals”. We are back with Cyril Smith’s problem with Lenin – the problem of the legitimacy or otherwise of “outside agitators” – and the problem of Marx's aim of “development of communist consciousness on a mass scale” (which Cyril Smith somehow managed to simultaneously approve of).

How are you going to make revolution, if the maker of revolution must be the masses, and not yourself? Alternatively, if you had a method of educating the masses, what else would you need in the way of revolution? Is there any difference between politics and political education? Or is it a trinity that is at the same time a unity, namely: Educate, Organise, Mobilise? Paulo Freire concentrated his intellectual fire on the single most practical priority, which at the same time requires the deepest philosophical clarity, and called it “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”.

Fischman and McLaren make clear, by reference to Gramsci, that such a Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a direct form of class struggle. It is a direct confrontation with the interests of the bourgeois state. It is an open contradiction of the bourgeois class dictatorship as applied through state-led education as well as through the instructive function of the judiciary.

The authors note that Gramsci is often misappropriated (see also CU). They write: Because Gramsci identified civil society as an arena used by the ruling class to exert its hegemony over the society, the struggle for Gramsci was not to transform civil society but rather, as Holst points out, ‘to build proletarian hegemony’ (p. 106).” That is, proletarian ascendancy, also known as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Fischman and McLaren are rejecting the view of hegemony as a “Third Way” that could by-pass revolutionary confrontation.

After discussing Gramsci’s organic intellectuals, and as if to answer Cyril Smith’s doubts, they quote Gramsci as follows:

“Critical self-consciousness means, historically and politically, the construction of an elite of intellectuals. A human mass does not ‘distinguish’ itself, does not become independent in its own right without, in the widest sense, organizing itself; and there is no organization without intellectuals, that is without organizers and leaders, in other words, without the theoretical aspect of the theory-practice nexus being distinguished concretely by the existence of a group of ‘specialized’ in conceptual and philosophical elaboration of ideas. (p. 334)"

Fischman and McLaren go on to argue for the “committed intellectual”, with “an unwavering commitment to the struggle against injustice”. What is the difference between a committed intellectual and a communist party member? None.

We do not have a good picture of Father Joe Falkiner. Instead, the second picture is of Bartolomé de las Casas, a member of the same orderas Father Joe. (Order of Preachers, also known as "Dominicans")

Click on these links:

Liberation Theology, 2006, Falkiner, L & C Boff (5590 words)

Organic Intellectuals, 2005, McLaren and Fischman (10053 words)


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