Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2014)
We disagreed almost across the board, for an hour and a half, but without having to offend or abuse each other. We simply argued for our respective, mutually contradictory positions. We did not have to distort anything in each other’s thinking.
The last stop on my long trip was Fiji. Two key events made my journey to such distant corners of the world well worth the while. One was a meeting at the University of the South Pacific, at which the students dealt with me in such a tone of intimacy that it was as if I were their teacher there, and lived there with them in their campus dorms. So familiar were they with my books, thanks to their translation into English.
Still today, I enjoy, genuinely enjoy, the recollection of the evening of that meeting. The huge auditorium, recently dedicated, was crammed to the rafters, with people spilling out into the university gardens, somewhat similarly to what happened this past April (1992) at the State University of Santa Cruz at Itabuna, in Bahia.
On both occasions, in the 1970s in Fiji and more recently in Itabuna, loudspeakers had to be installed facing the gardens of both universities, and the meeting delayed until they were in place.
Obviously we could not have the dialogue that we should have liked to have. On both occasions I simply spoke to the students. In Fiji in the 1970s I spoke about certain matters discussed in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, one of the textbooks they used in their courses. In the 1990s, in Itabuna, my material was from the present book, in which I am revisiting and reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Let the reader not puzzle long over why I set these two meetings in contiguity here, despite their distance in time and space. They had an element of similarity. The participants of both, students of some twenty years ago from the islands of the South Pacific, and students of today in Itabuna, Bahia, were impelled by like motives: they were on fire with a love of freedom, and had found a point of reference in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
The second event was the homage offered me by the native community of a village deep in a beautiful, thick wood.
It was a festival at which politics, religion, and siblingship mingled.
The leaders and other members of the community were abreast of what I was doing and what I was writing about. Some of them had even read Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And so they welcomed me as an intellectual committed to the same cause that mobilized them and stirred them to the struggle. They insisted on stressing this aspect, just as had the natives of Australia, called aborigines, in receiving me with such intimacy, deep in the heart of their own culture.
It was as if, in the spirit and the rituals of their traditions, they had been bestowing an honorary doctorate on me.
For that matter, this becomes one of the reasons why, not out of arrogance, but out of a legitimate sense of satisfaction, I have accepted the homage of the intellectuals of the academies, and the intellectuals of field and factory.
I have no reason, in the name of some false modesty, to hide, on one hand, the fact that I am offered these homages, or on the other, the wholesome fact that I welcome them—that they gladden me, and comfort and encourage me.
The deeply meaningful ritual with which the solemnity or festival proceeded was simple and lighthearted. Yet it touched me deeply. Ultimately, the symbolic act of the ceremony, as I understood it (neither was it explained to me, nor do I think it ought to have been), suggested to me that, though a stranger, and unendowed with certain qualities or certain basic prerequisites, I was nevertheless being invited to “enter” into the spirit of the culture, of its values, of its siblingship. To this purpose, however, I had to “suffer” or undergo experiences calculated to result in my capacity to “communicate” with the loveliness and “ethnicity” of that culture.
It was significant, for example, that, at the beginning of the ceremony, basically one of purification, I might not speak. I was forbidden the right to the word—which is fundamental, indispensable, for communion. But not just any word can seal communion. Hence my silence until certain things should occur during the ceremony that would reestablish my word. Hence also the designation, by the priest, of an “orator” to speak in my name. Unless I could speak, in the intimacy or heart of the culture—even before my own word should be reestablished—it would be impossible for me to “suffer” the experience of the reestablishment of my word in absolute silence. The word that was lent to me by my representative had the function of mediating the reconquest of my own.
Only in the course of the ceremonial process, after the official speech of a delegate of the group, whose discourse was not translated for me, possibly a discourse of requirements being made of me, to which my “representative” responded, and only after taking, from the same “chalice” as he, the purifying drink, without manifesting any reluctance, was I finally ascribed the right to speak in the intimacy of his world.
My discourse was then the discourse of a quasi-sibling: a formal discourse that conformed to the rules, to the ethico-religious exigencies of the culture.
I now spoke a few words, in English, with a French Catholic priest who had been in Fiji for twenty years as my simultaneous translator, even though nearly everyone present understood English. I told of my joy and sense of honor at having become able to speak after such a long period of silence. My speech, I added, had been augmented by a meaning that it had not had before. Now my speech had been legitimated in a different culture, in which communion was not only among men and women and gods and ancestors, but also among all the other expressions of life. Now the universe of communion included the trees, the animals, the beasts, the birds, the very earth, the rivers, the seas: life in plenitude.
There were days—my days in all that part of the Pacific, and not only in Australia or New Zealand or Papua New Guinea or Fiji—when I was torn inwardly in so many directions. I felt pulled toward the astonishing beauty of nature, of human creation; toward the feeling for life, and love for the earth; toward the populations called aborigines; and I was overwhelmed anew by a wickedness I already knew—the wickedness of racial and class discrimination. Race and class discrimination is an aggressive, ostentatious discrimination, at times. At times, it is covert, instead. But wicked it always is.
I have saved, purposely, a bit of commentary on my last visit to Chile and my first visit to Argentina, for the end. It was in June 1973, while the Popular Unity regime was in power, that I most recently visited Chile, a few months before the violence of the coup burst over the heads of all. It was waiting in the wings, though, that was plain to see. My first visit to Argentina, in November 1973, would be separated from the next by a long interval, on account of the coup that resulted in the banishment of the books of Marx, Darcy Ribiero, and myself.
When I read the decree published in the press I could scarcely resist sending a telegram to the general who had appointed himself president to thank him for the excellent company in which he had placed me.
My trip to Chile in June 1973, regardless of the angle from which I observe it, and far as I am from it today, was one of the most unforgettable I have ever made.
I shall concentrate on two moments that I experienced then, in the extraordinary climate of the struggle of the political ideologies, in the class confrontation that reached such levels of finesse on the part of the dominant classes and was such a powerful learning process for the popular classes. It was apropos of this era that I heard from a worker that he had learned more in one week than in all his life up until then. What the young worker was ultimately referring to was the process of his apprenticeship in the class struggle. He had been serving on a committee of workers who were trying to understand the reasons why, suddenly, countless articles had begun to be absent from the Chilean market—rubber nipples that go on baby bottles, chickens, basic medicines, and so on.
Fathers and mothers spent sleepless nights, their children crying, on account of the shortage of rubber nipples. If you could find one rubber nipple in the pharmacies of Santiago it was a miracle.
“Good day, sir. Do you have any rubber nipples?”
“No, I’m very sorry. Its the fault of those who voted for Allende”—the little memorized ideological speech that was supposed to be recited those days, as I was told, in Santiago.
That is class struggle.
“Do you have a pollo—a chicken?”
“No. It’s the fault of those who voted for Allende.”
The dominant class had buried poultry by the thousands, reasoning that a temporary poultry-shortage was a small price to pay for a win tomorrow, without risk.
That is class struggle.
Some twenty years ago, the dominant class concealed merchandise, diverted products, and lied and said that it was the fault of those who had voted for Allende. Today, it pronounces a neoliberal discourse, in which, not only in Chile, but all over the world, it talks of the nonexistence of classes, and says that to protest the evil of capitalism is to return to the perilous, negative, destructive dream that has already done so much harm.
I hope that we progressives, who suffer, who lose companions, siblings, friends, in the perversity of all the coups we have had come crashing down on us, will be careful not to lend an ear to these falsehoods, which masquerade as postmodernity but are as hoary as the bullying and despotism of the mighty.
The first moment to which I should like to make reference is that of a meeting in which I participated with a large group of Marxist educators, who lodged criticisms identical with the “Marxist” criticisms to which I have already referred in this book. For example, they would cite my supposed failure to assign sufficient importance to the class struggle, or my “idealism,” or the dialogue that, according to some of them, seemed to smack of “democratism” or humanism—as well as, once more, of the “idealism,” with which Pedagogy of the Oppressed was alleged to be riddled.
It was a lively debate, and we went on for over two hours. It was recorded on tape to be printed as an issue of a Santiago educational periodical.
Unfortunately, I have lost track of my copy of the periodical, and so can now neither transcribe any of the things said, nor report more precisely on the topics addressed. But I can certainly declare the excellence of that encounter in terms of the seriousness with which we conducted our discussions.
I can see their faces now, even as I write, nineteen years to the month since that encounter, those debating companions of mine that evening in Santiago. I had been so full of hope that they had not let themselves so much as be tempted by the language of “pragmatic” accommodation to the world.
Before saying good-bye, and leaving the spacious hall, I asked my interlocutors to turn around and cast a critical glance at a poster they had been using for the literacy campaign. There were several posters hanging on the walls.
A middle-aged workman, sitting at a table, was having showered over his passive head, by a strong, determined hand—as if it were crumbling something between its fingers—pieces of words. The vigorous hand of the educator was sowing letters and syllables in the purely recipient head of the worker.
“This poster,” I then told them, “was drawn by a progressive! That makes it completely inconsistent. Without so much as batting an eyelash, it goes ahead and expresses a barefaced authoritarian ideology. But besides that, it betrays a profound scientific ignorance of the nature of language.
“This is really the kind of poster that ought to be used by reactionaries, who, to their reactionism, join a crying ignorance of language, as I have just said.”
Then there was another poster. It said: Quem sabe, ensina a quem não sabe (The one who knows teaches the one who knows not).
“But for the one who knows to be able to teach the one who knows not,” I said then, and I repeat now, “first, the one who knows must know that he or she does not know all things; second, the one who knows not must know that he or she is not ignorant of everything. Without this dialectical understanding of knowledge and ignorance, it is impossible, in a progressive, democratic outlook, for the one who knows to teach the one who knows not.”
The second specially exciting moment of that visit (a trip I have referred to earlier in this book) was the entire evening I spent, in the company of sociologist Jorge Fiori, in Población Nueba Habana—a “land invasion” that had begun to acquire the aspect of a cidade livre, a free city. I saw and felt, close up, the ability of the popular classes to organize and govern—the wisdom with which the liderança not only detected problems, but also discussed them with the whole population of the quasi cidade. No decisions were ever taken, in the collective life of the “cidade,” without first being submitted to discussion by all.
They believed in the democracy they were building together, in the “popular” law they had begun to codify, in the equally popular, progressive, democratic education they were in the course of shaping. They believed in the individual and social solidarity in which they felt and knew they were growing. And, on account of all of this, they also knew themselves to be, on the one hand, the agents of fright and fear in the dominant class, and on the other, the objects of that class’s unbridled fury.
Nueba Habana was destroyed. Its leader was murdered in September 1973.
Its spirit of freedom, its sibling dream, its socialist ideal, live—perhaps, just possibly, biding their time against a possible return, by way of the defeat or rejection of the neoliberal “pragmatic” discourse.
In August 1973 I received a telephone call from Buenos Aires. It was from the chief of staff of Dr. Taiana, the Argentine minister of education. He told me that the minister himself wished to speak with me.
“Professor Freire,” said Dr. Taiana, “we should be most pleased if you would accept our invitation to come to Buenos Aires as soon as you can. It would be ideal, for example, around the turn of the month.”
I had already committed myself, for this same period, to certain meetings sponsored by the World Council of Churches that I could not afford to miss.
And so the visit was scheduled for November 1973—after the ministry had accepted certain conditions I laid down! Not working in the evening was one; some evenings, when possible, out listening to tango music was another.
The ministry complied. I worked hard in the daytime, but I went out to hear tango music two evenings, there in Buenos Aires!
On my way to Argentina, I stayed overnight with my dear friend Darcy Ribeiro, in Lima. We talked all night, such was our fondness for each other and our restless curiosity to know—the curiosity of those alone who, knowing that they know, know that they know little, and that they need and can know more. Not the curiosity of persons have who know themselves to be glutted with knowing.
Sitting in his pontifical-style armchair, with his legs tucked under him, Darcy talked about his work in Peru, his plans for books, his reflections in the areas of culture and education. He spoke, we spoke, also of our homesickness for Brazil. We saw once more what we had seen, and how we had seen what we had seen, in the days before the 1964 coup, when Darcy was President Goulart’s1 chief of staff and I was running the National Program for Adult Literacy.2
We spoke of Chile. Of his meetings with Allende, of the assassinated president’s genuinely democratic mind and spirit. Of the coup in Chile that would have come even if the Left had not made the mistakes it had made. The fewer the mistakes, the sooner the coup would have come. In the last analysis, the reason for the coup was much more in the correct things the Left had done than in any mistakes it had made.
Our magnificent friend, Darcy’s and mine, the great Peruvian—or rather, Latin American—philosopher Augusto Salazar Bonde, leader of Peru’s great educational reform, whom Darcy and I, along with Ivan Illich, had helped out, picked me up at the airport. A week later, on my way back to Europe, I visited him in the hospital where he was to die within a few days. The cancer that had been killing him was still unrecognized, and was finally diagnosed only the evening before he died.
I remember, now, my conversations with philosopher Salazar in Cuernavaca, Mexico, sitting talking with Illich, or in Geneva in our home, or in Lima with his team. Always the serious, engaged, lucid thinker, Augusto was never an obscurer. He was always an unveiler.
When I met him, toward the end of 1969 in Cuernavaca, he had read a series of my texts, among them some that had been incorporated into Pedagogy of the Oppressed and that had been published by the Center for Intercultural Formation, at Cuernavaca, which Illich directed.
From Augusto I heard some of the analyses in function of which it seemed to him that Pedagogy of the Oppressed, then in process of being translated into English, would not be a book of merely transitory interest. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed is not a ‘conjunctural’ book,” he told me one day, meaning not an “occasional” one, not a composition occasioned by the fortuitous conjunction of concrete phenomena that might not be repeated, or might recur only rarely.
On my way from the Lima airport, in the car with Augusto, I had a painful presentiment that my friend was nearing the end. I did not say anything to him, although something told me that he knew he was dying. My suspicions grew when he began to tell me about a book he was working on. He told me he was so concerned about whether he would have time to get it written that one day he decided to dictate portions of it onto a tape as he drove his car from one place to another. “I give the tapes to the secretary every day,” he said.
I do not know whether my friend managed to record his book—to finish it.
I was glad to have seen him on my way to Argentina, and then, for the last time, on the way back. I only regret that I was unable to talk with him about what I had seen—all I had seen and heard in Argentina: a cultural revolution almost without a power base. A cultural revolution being mounted by a government that was powerless in so many respects. A project in the field of systematic education, and one of huge wealth and creativity. An experiment that moved Darcy Ribeiro to say, excitedly, “Please, pay attention to what you’re doing!”
My week in Buenos Aires was divided thus: two four-hour meetings with the rectors of all of the country’s public universities; an all-day meeting with the ministry’s various technical teams; a meeting with a popular group in a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires; and finally, an evening with political activists, at which we discussed what was happening in the country.
I was actually surprised at the innovative élan with which the universities were hurling themselves into the effort of their own recreation. In all aspects of the experiment, there was something worth watching in each of them. Instruction and research both strove to avoid any dichotomy between them, as it ultimately harms them both. Another effort was in the area of “extension.” In fact, although not all of the universities included extension projects in their renewal, most of them did. And instead of limiting this effort to simply doing social work in popular areas, the universities were beginning to encounter social movements, popular groups. And this encounter sometimes occurred at the university itself, not only in the popular areas. I remember discussing, at some length, not only the political problem, but the epistemological question it involved.
More than ever before, political decision making, in a progressive mold, ought to be extended into populism, so that a university would place itself in the service of popular interests, as well. This would imply, as well, in practice, a critical comprehension of how university arts and sciences ought to be related with the consciousness of the popular classes: that is, a critical comprehension of the interrelations of popular knowledge, common sense, and scientific cognition.
I had no doubt then, any more than I do today, that, when we think in critical terms of the university and the popular classes, in no way are we admitting that the university should close the door on an altogether-rigorous concern for research and instruction.
It does not pertain to the nature of a university’s relationship with or commitment to the popular classes to tolerate a want of rigor, or any incompetence. On the contrary, the university that fails to strive for greater rigor, more seriousness, in its research activities as in the area of instruction—which are never dichotomizable, true—cannot seriously approach the popular classes or make a commitment to them.
At bottom, the university ought to revolve around two basic concerns, from which others derive and which have to do with the circle of knowledge. The circle of knowledge has but two moments, in permanent relationship with each other: the moment of the cognition of existing, already-produced, knowledge, and the moment of our own production of new knowledge. While insisting on the impossibility of mechanically separating either moment from the other—both are moments of the same circle. I think it is important to bring out the fact that the moment of our cognition of existing knowledge is by and large the moment of instruction, the moment of the teaching and learning of content; while the other, the moment of the production of new knowledge, is, in the main, that of research. But actually, all instruction involves research, and all research involves instruction. There is no genuine instruction in whose process no research is performed by way of question, investigation, curiosity, creativity; just as there is no research in the course of which researchers do not learn—after all, by coming to know, they learn, and after having learned something, they communicate it, they teach.
The role of any university, progressive or conservative, is to immerse itself, utterly seriously, in the moments of this circle. The role of a university is to teach, to train, to research. What distinguishes a conservative university from another, a progressive one, must never be the fact that the one teaches and does research and the other does nothing.
The universities with whose rectors I worked with for eight hours in Buenos Aires in 1973 held this same conviction. None of them was making any attempt to reduce the self-democratization of the university to a simplistic approach to knowledge. This is not what they were concerned about. What they were concerned about was to diminish the distance between the university and what was done there, and the popular classes, without the loss of seriousness and rigor.
Another matter, to which the rectors and their advisers likewise gave attention, in the area of instruction, was the quest for an interdisciplinary understanding of teaching, instead of merely a disciplinary one.
Various academic departments sought to work in this way in an attempt to overcome the compartmentalization of views to which we subject reality, and in which, not infrequently, we become lost.
However, not everything was coming up roses. Inevitably, there were reactions on the part of sectarians—ideologues of Left and Right alike, so deeply rooted in their truth that they never admitted anything that might shake it—a Left and a Right equally endowed with a capacity for hatred of anything different, intolerant persons, private proprietors of a truth not lightly to be doubted, let alone denied.
It was a fine thing, however fragile and threatened, that process I experienced so intensely over the course of a week, and I let no single meeting go by without expressing my concerns and suggesting tactics— tactics that would be consistent with the progressive strategic dream that animated the other participants, of course. It would be necessary (as I always told them, while they sat with frightened eyes, listening to my warnings, which seemed to them so unfounded) to be astute—wise as serpents. Some of them did not understand, and even reacted with annoyance when I told them it seemed to me that there was a big difference between what they were doing in the country, on the level of education, of culture, of the popular movement, of discourse, and the real power bases of their government. Not that they ought to limit themselves to doing just something. No, they ought to do a great deal. Only, they had better keep their eyes peeled when it came to the discrepancy just cited.
It did not seem to me that the fine-tuned sensitivity and knowledge of a good political analyst was needed to sniff the coup in the air, while I was “knocked for a loop” by the June 1973 “street corner coup” in Chile.
For example, in one of the meetings I had with the ministry technologists, someone from the police got in, and even asked me some rather provocative questions. After two sessions, one of the educators, a bit surprised, and disgusted, communicated the fact to me. I spoke to the coordinator, who replied that this would have no consequences. The educators with whom I was conversing were not discussing anything not public. Still, the presence of the police official meant more than how he might be able to use what he heard us say: his presence betrayed the imbalance between power and the government. Finally: true, this was an official meeting, sponsored by the government and convoked by the minister of education; yet, the repressive organs held the real power, and had infiltrated the meeting to do some “policing.” It was as if—in fact it was actually the case—the reactionary forces running the country had, out of purely tactical considerations, permitted Peron’s return, but meanwhile kept a very close eye on his government.
I think I should not be off the mark if, now, so long afterward, I were to say that, in none of the workshops in which I participated, not even in the one I held with the political activists, did anyone agree with my observations. Sometimes, like the Chileans in the early months of the Christian Democratic government, they said I was still showing the scars of the trauma I had sustained on the occasion of the 1964 Brazilian military coup.
The further they went with their programs, either in the universities or in the popular regions, in various areas of endeavor, practically all of these programs being in response to, and stimulating, popular curiosity, the more enraged the watchful forces of the coup became as they prepared the final debacle.
I expressed, in my conversations, my serious concern for my hearers in terms of sheer survival—at least in the case of some of them, those whose political participation might be, or might have been, major, or more in view, those whose practice had closer visible ties with the popular classes, or those whose picture the repressive service might have elected to paint in stronger colors.
Regrettably, my warnings were only too well-founded. The coup came after Peron’s death. It was violent and wicked. Some of my friends who had not seen any basis for my analyses had to leave the country in hasty secrecy, while others, unfortunately, disappeared forever.
To them, and to all of the men and women in Latin America, in the Caribbean, in Africa, who have fallen in the just fight, I offer my respectful and loving homage, in this Pedagogy of Hope.
And now I shall bring my book to a conclusion, with a succinct report of the visit my spouse Nita and I paid to El Salvador in July of 1992.
In El Salvador, the peasant men and women who had been struggling, all through these years—with weapons in their hands and, at the same time, with curious eyes for sentences and words, as they read and reread the world, as they fought to make that world less ugly and less unjust by learning to read and write words—had invited me to celebrate with them, in hope, an interval of peace in the war. They wished to tell me of what they were doing, and show me what they were doing. It was their way of rendering me homage.
They were joined by their teachers, some of the lideranças in the battle, and the National University of El Salvador, which bestowed on me its doctorate honoris causa.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed was once more the nucleus around which our discussions revolved. Its basic theses were even more current and vital now than they had been at the time of its first editions in the 1970s. Not only had these peasant strugglers become familiar with adult literacy campaigns since then, as these campaigns were being conducted in the guerrilla encampments, but they saw Pedagogy itself, across the board, as a book of great import precisely for the historical moment in which they were living. I might put it this way: Pedagogy of the Oppressed was here the heart and soul of the literacy campaign being waged in favor of a reading of the world and a reading of the word—a reading that was at once a reading of context and a reading of text, a practice and a theory in dialectical oneness.
It is even possible that what Nita and I saw in El Salvador—first, guerrilla wars fusing militants together in their very differences, in function of their strategic objectives, militants who had matured in the crucible of suffering (radicals and not sectarians, then, educators with open, critically optimistic eyes); second, the Right, while unsatisfied, nevertheless more or less well behaved; third, the needed presence and example of the United Nations, ensuring the peace accord—it is even possible that all of this might collapse, be undone, and that would be profoundly regrettable, from the viewpoint of how much all this is coming to mean for current history.
What cannot be denied is that there is something relatively unprecedented in this experiment: Right and Left making mutual concessions in order to assure peace and thereby diminish the social cost—the suffering that overwhelmingly and almost exclusively befalls the popular classes and then extends to broad middle sectors of society, and even, less rigorously and in a different way, the dominant classes.
It could seem that the concessions being made by the dominant classes are indicative of a greater detachment on their part. After all, by continuing to fight they would suffer less than the popular classes. Indeed, it could seem that, in making their concessions, the dominant classes are demonstrating a spirit of magnanimity. After all, they have reasons for confidence in their strength, which, enhanced by help from the outside, from the North, would crush the guerrillas, so that the dominant classes would have complete power over the country.
I do not believe, however, in the magnanimity of the dominant classes as such. The existence of magnanimous individuals is possible, and demonstrable—among members of the dominant classes—but not of the dominant classes as a class.
Historical conditions have simply placed that class today in a position in which the peace accord has become a moment in the struggle, for them as for the popular classes under arms. It is a moment in the struggle, not the end of the struggle. The popular forces need to be—and I am sure that they are, to judge by what I heard from some of their leaders—on the alert, at the ready, eyes wide open, ready for anything. They must not “doze off,” as if nothing could happen while they “sleep.” They must not demobilize, fail to keep prepared, under pain of being crushed.
At all events, this way of confronting the truce (nor is it a truce that is always explicit on the part of the parties to the conflict)—truce as a moment in the struggle, as an attempt at building or inventing a peace from which might result a different, democratic experiment—reveals or proclaims a new historical phase. But this is not a “new history,” without social classes, without the struggle between them, without ideology, as if, suddenly, by some sleight of hand, the social classes, their conflicts, their ideologies, had suddenly been swished away by the sleeves of some great magician’s black cloak.
Such things do not occur, of course, especially in the domain of politics, except as engendered in the interplay of tactics in which two sides, in function of their respective strategic positions, measure their own stride against the steps taken by the other side. At bottom, the antagonists regard their reciprocal concessions as lesser evils, which could one day, in retrospect, for one side or the other, be seen to have been victories.
If it had already been difficult, some years before, for the Left to take power with impunity, never mind the means by which it had done so, as in Chile, Nicaragua, or Grenada, now, after the decline of “realistic socialism”—which is not socialism, let me repeat—when conservatism had become even more bold the world over—then the limits on the Left, for the short term, have shrunken still further.
Realistically, then, to strike a peace in El Salvador, despite its obvious limitations, and despite, at times, larger concessions than one could have hoped to have to make, is the best way, because it is the only way, to make advances. It is the best way for the people to assert themselves, to win a voice, a presence, in the reinvention of their society, it is the best path to the lessening of injustice. For that matter, it is the best way of creating, and gradually consolidating, a democratic lifestyle, in which a process might appear that would even enable those accustomed to holding all power in their hands to learn that what seems to them to be a threat to their privileges—understood by them, of course, as inalienable rights—is only the implementation of the rights of those who have come to be forbidden to exercise them. A learning process might appear whereby the powerful would learn that their privileges, such as that of exploiting the weak, prohibiting the weak from being, denying them hope, are immoral, and as such need to be eradicated. It might be a learning process, at the same time, for the crushed, the forbidden-to-be, the rejected, that would teach them that, through serious, just, determined, untiring struggle, it is possible to remake the world. The oppressed may learn that hope born in the creative unrest of the battle, will continue to have meaning when, and only when, it can in its own turn give birth to new struggles on other levels.
And finally, it may be learned that, in a new democratic process, it is possible gradually to expand the space for pacts between the classes, and gradually consolidate a dialogue among the different—in other words, gradually to deepen radical positions and overcome sectarian ones.
In no way, however, does this mean, for a society with this sort of living experience of democracy, the inauguration of a history without social classes, without ideology, as a certain pragmatically postmodern discourse proclaims. In fact, the truth is just the opposite, or nearly the opposite. Postmodernity, as I see it, has a different, substantially democratic, way of dealing with conflict, working out its ideology, struggling for the ongoing and ever more decisive defeat of injustice, and arriving at a democratic socialism. There is a postmodernity of the Right; but there is a postmodernity of the Left, as well, nor does the latter—as is almost always insinuated, if not insisted—regard postmodernity as an altogether special time that has suppressed social classes, ideologies, Left and Right, dreams, and utopias. And one of the basic elements of the postmodernity of the Left is the reinvention of power—and not its mere acquisition, as with modernity.
This postmodern moment that we are living in the 1990s is not a time so utterly special that it knows no more social classes—not in Switzerland any more than in Brazil, and certainly not in El Salvador. In fact, this is why one of the learning processes that a progressive postmodernity calls upon us to accept is the process of our apprehension that the total victory of the revolution in the present does not guarantee its existence in the future. A revolution can perish at the very height of its power, which it has simply acquired, and not reinvented, not re-created. In that case, it is lost on account of the excessive arrogance of its certitudes, and the inevitable lack of humility that such certitudes entail: it is lost by virtue of the authoritarian exercise of its power. It is lost by virtue of its modernity.
Concessions, then, are the best way of coming to win, only if, sooner or later, they actually win the fight that is never over and done. Winning the fight is a process of which it can never be said, “We’ve won, period.” When this point is absolutized, the revolution is paralyzed.
We visited various regions of the country, and participated in regional education seminars in two of them. We paid a visit to a lovely clearing in the forest, a kind of theatrical stage on which the guerrillas met, then as today, to engage in discussion, dreaming, self-appraisal, recreation.
We attended a “culture circle” session at which armed activists were learning to read and write, learning to read words while doing a rereading of the world. The process of writing and reading the word, which is what they were doing in the course of their understanding of discourse, emerged from, or was part of, a larger, more meaningful process—that of the taking up of their citizenship, the taking of history into their hands. This is what I have always been for, this is why I have always fought for literacy campaigns that, being so acutely aware of the social nature of the acquisition of language, I have never dichotomized from the political process of the battle for citizenship. What I have never been for is a “neutral” approach to literacy, a sheer shower of syllables, which, to boot, would start right out with the language of the educators rather than with that of the educands. We conversed with the combatants, and with their comandante, in a climate of hope.
In just such a climate of hope we spent nearly an entire day in a kind of new city, peopled by exiles who had managed to survive in a neighboring country.
From the peak of an elevation, we descried a whole world to be built differently.3
We took lunch with the leader of the brand-new city-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, and he spoke to us of what this return to their country was coming to mean for all of them, men and women, what it meant to them to participate in the transformations that would be needed in order for El Salvador to change its “face,” and gradually become a less-wicked, less-unjust society, little by little more decent, more human and humane.
This dream—as far as we could gather from our conversations, and by reading the wonderful book by Ana Guadalupe Martinez,* one of the leaders of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front or FMLN, as well as on the visit we made to Radio Venceremos (We shall prevail)—this dream is the utopia for which these Salvadoran militants had begun to struggle from the outset. But they had set out for the clash and the fray without ever scorning education and its importance for the battle itself. As far as was possible, they were avoiding both the illusions of an idealism that ascribes a power to education that it does not have, and the mechanistic objectivism that denies any value to education until after there is a revolution. I do not know that I have ever found, in popular groups, a stronger expression of a critical confidence in educational practice. The same must be said of their lideranças.
I cannot refrain from transcribing here the dedication I read on a piece of artwork on the occasion of my visit to the FMLN headquarters:
With your education for liberation, you have contributed to the very struggle of the Salvadoran people for social justice.
With gratitude and respect,
FMLN, July 1992
The harshest difficulties, the wants and needs of the people, the ebb and flow of the process that depends on so many different factors for its solidification—none of this diminished in us, in Nita and me, the hope with which we came to El Salvador, with which we lived a week in El Salvador, and with which we left El Salvador—
—The same hope with which I bring to its conclusion this Pedagogy of Hope.
* Ana Guadalupe Martinez, Las cárceres clandestinas (San Salvador: Central American University, 1992).