many Christians who once opted for revolutionary commitment but

gradually abandoned  the Church – they “lost their faith.” But there

are also many, very many more in fact, who still declare themselves

Christians and who maintain their militant devotion to liberation.

Che Guevara

Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War  /  Che Guevara: Radical Writings on Guerrilla Warfare, Politics and Revolution

The African Dream: The diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo  / Self- Portrait Che Guevara

Paulo Freire

Pedagogy of the Oppressed  /  Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage 

Education for Critical Consciousness   / Teachers as Cultural Workers

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Liberation for Social Justice: The Common Struggle 

of Christians and Marxists in Latin America

By Julio de Santa Ana

One of the methods which have been used to open breaches in the oppressed Christian consciousness is the liberating pedagogy of Paulo Freire. Its importance lies in the fact that goals and objectives have to be formulated on the basis of popular expectation, without any attempt to impose on the oppressed any preconceived idea of how to do things or of what to seek for by action.

 This method is also capable of correcting the mistaken views of people who want to work with the masses but in reality adopt a paternalist and therefore antiliberating attitude towards them. Freire’s method emphasizes that in a true process of education and popular mobilization no one educates anyone else; rather, all increase together in awareness of their class problems and of how they can be overcome. This has been and remains an especially appropriate method of carrying out the joint programme on the theological level.

 It is clear that it is particularly important here, as we noted earlier, for Christians and Marxists to set aside a priori positions, sectarianism and dogmatic attitudes. Guevara pointed this out to the leading cadres in Cuba.

 To sum up this part of our essay, we can say that Christians and Marxists are agreed on a common goal: to overcome the flagrant injustices and social contradictions which characterize Latin American societies in order to establish a just society. For those who are committed to this process, the road that leads to this goal is that of socialism.

 As the Final Document of the Christians for Socialism meeting put it:

Socialism is the only acceptable means of overcoming class society. For classes are the reflection of the economic basis which in capitalist society creates an antagonistic division between the possessors of capital and the wage earners. The latter have to work for the former and are thus an object of exploitation. Only by replacing private property by social ownership of the means of production can objective conditions be created for the suppression of class antagonism.

Open Questions

 Agreement on such matters as action, tactical, and strategic alliances and joint programmes of ideological struggle is not sufficient to overcome all the problems which can arise in a dialogue between Christians and Marxists. But as we have already noted, such problems need not separate them, but can prompt both partners to deeper reflection. Christians and Marxists call each other to be more faithful tot heir essential bases, and this has led to a restatement of both Christian faith and Marxism.

 In this process Christians discover anew that faith is not restricted to the inner life of a human being, disembodied and separated from action and social responsibility. Consequently, Christians try to understand the Gospel on the basis of the context of conflict in which they live, and this obliges them not only to make a choice but also to engage in specific political activity.

Another element of this restatement of faith (. . .) is the political dimension of faith. Faith cannot be political, since it is a matter of giving concrete form to our love of man by taking a stand in favor of the struggle of the people. When we speak of “political action” in this context, it is no longer a question of the seizure and exercise of power by a group, but of the total struggle, with the aim of creating a socialist society in which the people call the moves. It is also a question of a transformation of man as a whole, in all his dimensions. Faith has a part to play in this process, opening him to the gift of God.

This reformulation of faith leads to a thorough examination of ecclesiological questions within the context of a common struggle for liberation. There are, of course, many Christians who once opted for revolutionary commitment but gradually abandoned the Church – they “lost their faith.” But there are also many, very many more in fact, who still declare themselves Christians and who maintain their militant devotion to liberation. Both, however, are agreed on one point: the Church’s traditional forms of life no longer seem valid to those who are trying to express the faith in the present revolutionary Latin American context.

Miguel Bonino, who deals with the problem particularly well, notes:

Perhaps the gravest disagreements among Christians dedicated to the process of liberation arise in regard to their attitudes to the institutions and objective celebrations of Christian faith, which range from uncritical and sometimes fervent participation at one extreme to systematic refusal to take part in any liturgical form of worship or institutional aspects of the life of the Church including critical participation or the creation of substitute groups and forms of celebration. (. . .)

In fact, the Christian who reflects on his practice in terms of socio-political analysis and of the facts which give him his identity as a Christian is located (however “incarnate” his reflection may be) within two circles of consciousness, not concentric but intersection. Both are essentially communal. And, in my view, the one cannot be substituted for the other. But participation in both in the present situation (and we cannot speak of any other) inevitably involves conflict to a greater or lesser extent.

It is this, it seems to me, and not some subtle theoretical question, which is the real ecclesiological problem. And here again, it will not be resolved by speculation but by concrete commitment. In other words, the Latin American revolutionary Christian has to solve the problem of his church practice, without which his Christian identity is incomplete.

While Christians are restating their faith, the Marxists are undergoing a similar process of reflection. If anything is clear in the dialogue, it is that the Marxists are not maintaining their theoretical and political position with the dogmatism of earlier times, but are showing themselves increasingly ready to consider the problems of Latin America without seeking to judge them from the perspectives which perhaps were correct in other contexts but have no universal validity.

In reality the dialogue has served to bring Marxists themselves to greater openness, since they have found that faith is not an obstacle to revolutionary struggle. Some Marxists are beginning to reconsider Marx’s criticism of religion. This is a subject which needs deeper study, since it is common to Christians and Marxists. Nevertheless, the events which have produced the nucleus of revolutionary Christians demonstrate that the Christian element can serve the cause of liberation.

The Class Struggle

A second problem has been raised but has not yet been solved: the relation of the Church to the class struggle, or, rather, the Church in the context of class struggle. Once clear feature of Marxist conduct in the last ten years in regard to the Latin American Church has been a firm will not to attack the Church, nor to set it in opposition to the revolution, since Christians are seen as strategical allies.

This implies that the Marxists believe the Christian community has a role to play in the class struggle: in reality this matter is more serious for Christians than for Marxists. For Marxists, the class struggle is the every texture of history, whereas for Christians the Church is the place where human divisions are overcome, since in Christ “there is neither slave nor free; Jew nor Greek.”

How then can a Christian take part in the revolution, the clearest expression of the class war? Given that Christ unites human beings, how is it that Christians, as Christians, can take part in division and conflict? Is this not to admit that Jesus Christ unites some but divides others? But according to the testimony of the Gospel and the New Testament, the unity of Christ is the unity of all. Discussing this problem, Fr, Noel Olaya of Columbia notes:

The unity of Christ, in its fullness, is the unity of all; this unity in process of realization, on the other hand, demands choices, and by that very fact it cannot fail to create division. And these choices at the level of what we call “worldly” matters, are political, economic, and so one. The important thing, therefore, is the criterion which guides them.

The basic criterion in this case is a commitment to the poor and oppressed, by adopting their aspirations of freedom and by dedication to their struggle. ‘The problem of the unity of the Church cannot be separated from the problem of the unity of the world’, says Fr. Giulio Girandi. The two roads to unity go by way of the liberation of the poor.”

The understanding of the unity of the Church as referring to the unity and justice which God has given to men in Christ has brought revolutionary Christians in Latin America to see the class struggle as the “struggle against hatred.” For them, then, the class struggle is an instrument through which Christian love can be shown no longer as a simple relation between an I and a Thou, but between those who constitute the people, the community, us.

When the Church is aware of what the class struggle involves, it will undergo a process of reconversion which will eventually make it possible to overcome the division between clergy  and laity, and to democratize church life, thus enabling Christianity to regain the revolutionary drive of the early Church. This obviously presupposes a questioning of the Church as an agent of social conciliation, and at a time it prompts the Church to examine its own conscience, in case it resembles the “prophets” of the Old Testament who spoke of peace when there was no peace.

A Third unsolved problem for many revolutionary Christians is posed by the use of violence. There are some who have already decided the matter by opting for violence or non-violence. Clearly this problem does not arise for the Marxist conscience; their position is well known (“Violence is the mother of history’—Marx). But for Christians who are committed to liberation, the problem of violence is inescapable. For some, it arises at the level of principles and ethical choices; for others, it must be examined in the light of tactical demands (a means) with liberation (the end).

At the same time, however, it is imperative to lay aside “the shallow sentimentality which passes for Christian ethics in these matters, hiding reactionary attitudes under basic theological categories like reconciliation, forgiveness or peace, which in the long run are more costly in human lives and suffering and less respectful of the human person.” When humane criteria are applied, violence can be an instrument of liberation from structural violence. But this means submitting the use of violence to the requirements of political and social struggles.

Events in Chile since 11 September 1973 put to the test the effectiveness of the alliance between Christians and Marxists and of their common struggle. In fact, they call in question the whole activity of the Latin American left. It is not possible here to deal fully with the subject, but it points to a problem of which Christians and Marxists are not always aware, namely that if their struggle is to be really effective it will take a long time, and it will demand great patience. Above all, they must realize that there is no place for hopes of miraculous change. The struggle for a new society will inevitably demand huge sacrifice, a love which will not admit weakness and the cultivation of a hope which must not be confused with illusion. On this, Christians and Marxists are in full agreement.

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Julio de Santa Ana was born in Uruguay (1934), where he studied Law. Then he moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he followed theological studies. He continued his formation in Strasbourg, France, where he got a Ph.D. in Religious Sciences. Committed since his youth to the Ecumenical movement, he worked in Latin America, and later in Geneva and Brazil. He was also trained in Social Sciences.

He has been Visiting Professor of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey since 1994. Author of several books and many articles published in specialized magazines

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A History of the Black Press By Armistead S. Pride and Clint C. Wilson II

In this work, Dr. Wilson chronicles the development of black newspapers in New York City and draws parallels to the development of presses in Washington, D.C., and in 46 of the 50 United States. He describes the involvement of the press with civil rights and the interaction of black and nonblack columnists who contributed to black- and white-owned newspapers. . . . Through reorganization and exhaustive research to ascertain source materials from among hundreds of original and photocopied documents, clippings, personal notations, and private correspondence in Dr. Pride’s files, Dr. Wilson completed this compelling and inspiring study of the black press from its inception in 1827 to 1997.

This is a major and noteworthy contribution to scholarship on the African American press. As Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam concludes in the foreword, “Pride and Wilson’s comprehensive history is a lasting tribute to the men and women within the black press of both the past and the present and to those who will make it what it will be in the future.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.


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Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi wa Thiong’o

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their country—the teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.—Penguin

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To the Mountaintop

My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement

By Charlayne Hunter-Gault

A personal history of the civil rights movement from activist and acclaimed journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault. On January 20, 2009, 1.8 million people crowded the grounds of the Capitol to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. Among the masses was Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She had flown from South Africa for the occasion, to witness what was for many the culmination of the long struggle for civil rights in the United States. In this compelling personal history, she uses the event to look back on her own involvement in the civil rights movement, as one of two black students who forced the University of Georgia to integrate, and to relate the pivotal events that swept the South as the movement gathered momentum through the early 1960s. With poignant black-and-white photos, original articles from the New York Times, and a unique personal viewpoint, this is a moving tribute to the men and women on whose shoulders Obama stood.

update 28 July 2008 

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