January 15, 2020
PHILADELPHIA: Yesterday, FTP-PHL finished our second and final week of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed reading group. These two meetings were public events, using the radical educator Paulo Freire’s pedagogy to understand and explore the mass-line, a revolutionary method of leadership, and even education, that seeks to be “from the masses, to the masses.” Mao Zedong summed up the method concisely to French novelist André Malraux: “We must teach the masses clearly what we received from them confusedly.”
We found many aspects of Freire’s dialogic understanding of revolutionary leadership to be helpful in understanding the mass-line. He reveals a leadership that lives in communion with the masses; does not impose or dictate but rather co-creates; is humble, willing to take criticism, and rectify their mistakes, always listening. Though none of us necessarily identify with Marxist humanism, and have some critiques, we found the ways Freire talked about love, hope, and even faith, helpful. These words can feel meaningless and even at times suspicious, especially when living in a country of fascist Hallmark film indoctrination and capitalist megachurches. But to Freire, these words weren’t abstract or fluffy, but vital, worth reflection, and at the foundation of liberation:
“As an act of bravery, love cannot be sentimental; as an act of freedom, it must not serve as a pretext for manipulation. It must generate other acts of freedom; otherwise, it is not love. Only by abolishing the situation of oppression is it possible to restore the love which that situation made impossible. If I do not love the world—if I do not love life—if I do not love people—I cannot enter into dialogue.”
Both Freire and Mao have a way of confronting the individual in their sense of conviction. They call us to ruthlessly seek liberation, and to destroy the remnants of this dying capitalist world even within ourselves. They call us to the people. To listen to the people. To be with people. To serve the people. And to love the people. Freire aptly quotes Che Guevara: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”
Twenty folks gathered for the first week’s discussion, and about ten the following week. Still both weeks, most people in the room were strangers to one another. Sometimes we felt clumsy as we spoke; sometimes silence felt like it stretched for too long – and for an organizer, this can feel like a disaster. But the truth is, awkwardness in these sorts of situations is not the end of the world, and unavoidable to some extent. Do what you can to make people feel comfortable, but it isn’t a crisis if twenty strangers aren’t completely comfortable and confident with one another. We can lose important dialogue, and moments of co-creation, when we anxiously avoid awkwardness. As naive as it may sound, as a newly formed FTP chapter, this felt like an important lesson to learn.
This educational project isn’t done, but will continue with different books, texts, and even films and other media. Next week we are gathering again to discuss “The Progressive Plantation,” black anarchist and former Black Panther Party member Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s critique of the white left. If you’re in the Philly area, you’re welcome to join us on Tuesday, January 21, 7pm, at First Unitarian Church in Center City.