Pedagogy of the Oppressed : Table of Contents | Foreword | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4


Antidialogics and dialogics as matrices of opposing theories of cultural action: the former as an instrument of oppression and the latter as an instrument of liberation; the theory of antidialogical action and its characteristics: conquest, divide and rule, manipulation, and cultural invasion; the theory of dialogical action and its characteristics: cooperation, unity, organization, and cultural synthesis.

This chapter, which analyses the theories of cultural action which develop from antidialogical and dialogical matrices, will make frequent reference to points presented in the previous chapters, either to expand these points or to clarify new affirmations.

I shall start by reaffirming that humankind, as beings of the praxis, differ from animals, which are beings of pure activity. Animals do not consider the world; they are immersed in it. In contrast, human beings emerge from the world, objectify it, and in so doing can understand it and transform it with their labor.

Animals, which do not labor, live in a setting which they cannot transcend. Hence, each animal species lives in the context appropriate to it, and these contexts, while open to humans, cannot communicate among themselves.

But human activity consists of action and reflection: it is praxis; it is transformation of the world. And as praxis, it requires theory to illuminate it. Human activity is theory and practice; it is reflection and action. It cannot, as I stressed in chapter 2, be reduced to either verbalism or activism.

Lenin's famous statement: "Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement"1 means that a revolution is achieved with neither verbalism nor adtivism, but rather with praxis, that is, with reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed. The revolutionary effort to transform these structures radically cannot designate its leaders as its thinkers and the oppressed as mere doers.

If true commitment to the people, involving the transformation of the reality by which they are oppressed, requires a theory of transforming action, this theory cannot fail to assign the people a fundamental role in the transformation process. The leaders cannot treat the oppressed as mere activists to be denied the opportunity of reflection and allowed merely the illusion of acting, whereas in fact they would continue to be manipulated—and in this case by the presumed foes of manipulation.

The leaders do bear the responsibility for coordination and, at times, direction—but leaders who deny praxis to the oppressed thereby invalidate their own praxis. By imposing their word on others, they falsify that word and establish a contradiction between their methods and their objectives. If they are truly committed to liberation, their action and reflection cannot proceed without the action and reflection of others.

Revolutionary praxis must stand opposed to the praxis of the dominant elites, for they are by nature antithetical. Revolutionary praxis cannot tolerate an absurd dichotomy in which the praxis of the people is merely that of following the leaders decisions—a dichotomy reflecting the prescriptive methods of the dominant elites. Revolutionary praxis is a unity, and the leaders cannot treat the oppressed as their possession.

Manipulation, sloganizing, "depositing," regimentation, and prescription cannot be components of revolutionary praxis, precisely because they are components of the praxis of domination. In order to dominate, the dominator has no choice but to deny true praxis to the people, deny them the right to say their own word and think their own thoughts. He and she cannot act dialogically; for to do so would mean either that they had relinquished their power to dominate and joined the cause of the oppressed, or had lost that power through miscalculation.

Obversely, revolutionary leaders who do not act dialogically in their relations with the people either have retained characteristics of the dominator and are not truly revolutionary; or they are totally misguided in their conception of their role, and, prisoners of their own sectarianism, are equally non-revolutionary. They may even reach power. But the validity of any revolution resulting from antidialogical action is thoroughly doubtful.

It is absolutely essential that the oppressed participate in the revolutionary process with an increasingly critical awareness of their role as Subjects of the transformation. If they are drawn into the process as ambiguous beings, partly themselves and partly the oppressors housed within them—and if they come to power still embodying that ambiguity imposed on them by the situation of oppression—it is my contention that they will merely imagine they have reached power.2 Their existential duality may even facilitate the rise of a sectarian climate leading to the installation of bureaucracies which undermine the revolution. If the oppressed do not become aware of this ambiguity during the course of the revolutionary process, they may participate in that process with a spirit more revanchist than revolutionary.3 They may aspire to revolution as a means of domination, rather than as a road to liberation.

If revolutionary leaders who incarnate a genuine humanism have difficulties and problems, the difficulties and problems will be far greater for a group of leaders who try (even with the best of intentions) to carry out the revolution for the people. To attempt this is equivalent to carrying out a revolution without the people, because the people are drawn into the process by the same methods and procedures used to oppress them.

Dialogue with the people is radically necessary to every authentic revolution. This is what makes it a revolution, as distinguished from a military coup. One does not expect dialogue from a coup—only deceit (in order to achieve "legitimacy") or force (in order to repress). Sooner or later, a true revolution must initiate a courageous dialogue with the people. Its very legitimacy lies in that dialogue.4 It cannot fear the people, their expression, their effective participation in power. It must be accountable to them, must speak frankly to them of its achievements, its mistakes, its miscalculations, and its difficulties.

The earlier dialogue begins, the more truly revolutionary will the movement be. The dialogue which is radically necessary to revolution corresponds to another radical need: that of women and men as beings who cannot be truly human apart from communication, for they are essentially communicative creatures. To impede communication is to reduce men to the status of "things"—and this is a job for oppressors, not for revolutionaries.

Let me emphasize that my defense of the praxis implies no dichotomy by which this praxis could be divided into a prior stage of reflection and a subsequent stage of action. Action and reflection occur simultaneously. A critical analysis of reality may, however, reveal that a particular form of action is impossible or inappropriate at the present time. Those who through reflection perceive the infeasibility or inappropriateness of one or another form of action (which should accordingly be postponed or substituted) cannot thereby be accused of inaction. Critical reflection is also action.

I previously stated that in education the attempt of the teacher-student to understand a cognizable object is not exhausted in that object, because this act extends to other students-teachers in such a way that the cognizable object mediates their capacity for understanding. The same is true of revolutionary action. That is, the oppressed and the leaders are equally the Subjects of revolutionary action, and reality serves as the medium for the transforming action of both groups. In this theory of action one cannot speak of an actor, nor simply of actors, but rather of actors in intercommunication.

This affirmation might appear to imply division, dichotomy, rupture of the revolutionary forces; in fact, it signifies exactly the opposite: their communion. Apart from this communion, we do see dichotomy: leaders on one side and people on the other, in a replica of the relations of oppression. Denial of communion in the revolutionary process, avoidance of dialogue with the people under the pretext of organizing them, of strengthening revolutionary power, or of ensuring a united front, is really a fear of freedom. It is fear of or lack of faith in the people. But if the people cannot be trusted, there is no reason for liberation; in this case the revolution is not even carried out for the people, but "by" the people for the leaders: a complete self-negation.

The revolution is made neither by the leaders for the people, nor by the people for the leaders, but by both acting together in unshakable solidarity. This solidarity is born only when the leaders witness to it by their humble, loving, and courageous encounter with the people. Not all men and women have sufficient courage for this encounter—but when they avoid encounter they become inflexible and treat others as mere objects; instead of nurturing life, they kill life; instead of searching for life, they flee from it. And these are oppressor characteristics.

Some may think that to affirm dialogue—the encounter of women and men in the world in order to transform the world—is naively and subjectively idealistic.5 There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than people in the world and with the world, than humans with other humans—and some people against others, as oppressing and oppressed classes.

Authentic revolution attempts to transform the reality which begets this dehumanizing state of affairs. Those whose interests are served by that reality cannot carry out this transformation; it must be achieved by the tyrannized, with their leaders. This truth, however, must become radically consequential; that is, the leaders must incarnate it, through communion with the people. In this communion both groups grow together, and the leaders, instead of being simply self-appointed, are installed or authenticated in their praxis with the praxis of the people.

Many persons, bound to a mechanistic view of reality, do not perceive that the concrete situation of individuals conditions their consciousness of the world, and that in turn this consciousness conditions their attitudes and their ways of dealing with reality. They think that reality can be transformed mechanistically,6 without posing the persons false consciousness of reality as a problem or, through revolutionary action, developing a consciousness which is less and less false. There is no historical reality which is not human. There is no history without humankind, and no history for human beings; there is only history of humanity, made by people and (as Marx pointed out) in turn making them. It is when the majorities are denied their right to participate in history as Subjects that they become dominated and alienated. Thus, to supersede their condition as objects by the status of Subjects—the objective of any true revolution—requires that the people act, as well as reflect, upon the reality to be transformed.

It would indeed be idealistic to affirm that, by merely reflecting on oppressive reality and discovering their status as objects, persons have thereby already become Subjects. But while this perception in and of itself does not mean that thinkers have become Subjects, it does mean, as one of my co-investigators7 affirmed, that they are "Subjects in expectancy"—an expectancy which leads them to seek to solidify their new status.

On the other hand, it would be a false premise to believe that activism (which is not true action) is the road to revolution. People will be truly critical if they live the plenitude of the praxis, that is, if their action encompasses a critical reflection which increasingly organizes their thinking and thus leads them to move from a purely naive knowledge of reality to a higher level, one which enables them to perceive the causes of reality. If revolutionary leaders deny this right to the people, they impair their own capacity to think—or at least to think correctly. Revolutionary leaders cannot think without the people, nor for the people, but only with the people.

The dominant elites, on the other hand, can—and do—think without the people—although they do not permit themselves the luxury of failing to think about the people in order to know them better and thus dominate them more efficiently. Consequently, any apparent dialogue or communication between the elites and the masses is really the depositing of "communiques," whose contents are intended to exercise a domesticating influence.

Why do the dominant elites not become debilitated when they do not think with the people? Because the latter constitute their antithesis, their very reason for existence. If the elites were to think with the people, the contradiction would be superseded and they could no longer dominate. From the point of view of the dominators in any epoch, correct thinking presupposes the non-thinking of the people.

A Mr. Giddy, later President of the Royal Society raised objections which could be matched in every country: "However specious in theory the project might be of giving education to the laboring classes of the poor, it would be prejudicial to their morals and happiness; it would teach them to despise their lot in life instead of making them good servants in agricultural and other laborious employments; instead of teaching them subordination it would render them fractious and refractory as was evident in the manufacturing counties; Jt would enable them to read seditious pamphlets, vicious books and publications against Christianity; it would render them insolent to their superiors and in a few years the legislature would find it necessary to direct the strong arm of power against them.8

What Mr. Giddy really wanted (and what the elites of today want, although they do not denounce popular education so cynically and openly) was for the people not to think. Since the Mr. Giddys of all epochs, as an oppressor class, cannot think with the people, neither can they let the people think for themselves.

The same is not true, however, of revolutionary leaders; if they do not think with the people, they become devitalized. The people are their constituent matrix, not mere objects thought of. Although revolutionary leaders may also have to think about the people in order to understand them better, this thinking differs from that of the elite; for in thinking about the people in order to liberate (rather than dominate) them, the leaders give of themselves to the thinking of the people. One is the thinking of the master; the other is the thinking of the comrade.

Domination, by its very nature, requires only a dominant pole and a dominated pole in antithetical contradiction; revolutionary liberation, which attempts to resolve this contradiction, implies the existence not only of these poles but also of a leadership group which emerges during this attempt. This leadership group either identifies itself with the oppressed state of the people, or it is not revolutionary. To simply think about the people, as the dominators do, without any self-giving in that thought, to fail to think with the people, is a sure way to cease being revolutionary leaders.

In the process of oppression the elites subsist on the "living death" of the oppressed and find their authentication in the vertical relationship between themselves and the latter; in the revolutionary process there is only one way for the emerging leaders to achieve authenticity: they must "die," in order to be reborn through and with the oppressed.

We can legitimately say that in the process of oppression someone oppresses someone else; we cannot say that in the process of revolution someone liberates someone else, nor yet that someone liberates himself, but rather that human beings in communion liberate each other. This affirmation is not meant to undervalue the importance of revolutionary leaders but, on the contrary, to emphasize their value. What could be more important than to live and work with the oppressed, with the "rejects of life," with the "wretched of the earth"? In this communion, the revolutionary leaders should find not only their raison d'etre but a motive for rejoicing. By their very nature, revolutionary leaders can do what the dominant elites—by their very nature—are unable to do in authentic terms.

Every approach to the oppressed by the elites, as a class, is couched in terms of the false generosity described in chapter 1. But the revolutionary leaders cannot be falsely generous, nor can they manipulate. Whereas the oppressor elites flourish by trampling the people underfoot, the revolutionary leaders can flourish only in communion with the people. Thus it is that the activity of the oppressor cannot be humanist, while that of the revolutionary is necessarily so.

The inhumanity of the oppressors and revolutionary humanism both make use of science. But science and technology at the service of the former are used to reduce the oppressed to the status of "things"; at the service of the latter, they are used to promote humanization. The oppressed must become Subjects of the latter process, however, lest they continue to be seen as mere objects of scientific interest.

Scientific revolutionary humanism cannot, in the name of revolution, treat the oppressed as objects to be analyzed and (based on that analysis) presented with prescriptions for behavior. To do this would be to fall into one of the myths of the oppressor ideology: the absolutizing of ignorance. This myth implies the existence of someone who decrees the ignorance of someone else. The one who is doing the decreeing defines himself and the class to which he belongs as those who know or were born to, know; he thereby defines others as alien entities. The words of his own class come to be the "true" words, which he imposes or attempts to impose on the others: the oppressed, whose words have been stolen from them. Those who steal the words of others develop a deep doubt in the abilities of the others and consider them incompetent. Each time they say their word without hearing the word of those whom they have forbidden to speak, they grow more accustomed to power and acquire a taste for guiding, ordering, and commanding. They can no longer live without having someone to give orders to. Under these circumstances, dialogue is impossible.

Scientific and humanist revolutionary leaders, on the other hand, cannot believe in the myth of the ignorance of the people. They do not have the right to doubt for a single moment that it is only a myth. They cannot believe that they, and only they, know anything—for this means to doubt the people. Although they may legitimately recognize themselves as having, due to their revolutionary consciousness, a level of revolutionary knowledge different from the level of empirical knowledge held by the people, they cannot impose themselves and their knowledge on the people. They cannot sloganize the people, but must enter into dialogue with them, so that the peoples empirical knowledge of reality, nourished by the leaders critical knowledge, gradually becomes transformed into knowledge of the causes of reality.

It would be naive to expect oppressor elites to denounce the myth which absolutizes the ignorance of the people; it would be a contradiction in terms if revolutionary leaders were not to do so, and more contradictory still were they to act in accordance with that myth. The task of revolutionary leaders is to pose as problems not only this myth, but all the other myths used by the oppressor elites to oppress. If, instead, revolutionary leaders persist in imitating the oppressors methods of domination, the people may respond in either of two ways. In certain historical circumstances, they may become domesticated by the new contents which the leaders deposit in them. In other circumstances, they may become frightened by a "word" which threatens the oppressor housed within them.9 In neither event do they become revolutionary. In the first case, the revolution is an illusion; in the second case, an impossibility.

Some well-intentioned but misguided persons suppose that since the dialogical process is prolonged10 (which, incidentally, is not true), they ought to carry out the revolution without communication, by means of "communiques," and that once the revolution is won, they will then develop a thoroughgoing educational effort. They further justify this procedure by saying that it is not possible to carry out education—liberating education—before taking power.

It is worth analyzing some fundamental points of the above assertions. These men and women (or most of them) believe in the necessity for dialogue with the people, but do not believe this dialogue is feasible prior to taking power. When they deny the possibility that the leaders can behave in a critically educational fashion before taking power, they deny the revolutions educational quality as cultural action preparing to become cultural revolution. On the other hand, they confuse cultural action with the new education to be inaugurated once power is taken.

I have already affirmed that it would indeed be naive to expect the oppressor elites to carry out a liberating education. But because the revolution undeniably has an educational nature, in the sense that unless it liberates it is not revolution, the taking of power is only one moment—no matter how decisive—in the revolutionary process. As process, the "before" of the revolution is located within the oppressor society and is apparent only to the revolutionary consciousness.

The revolution is born as a social entity within the oppressor society; to the extent that it is cultural action, it cannot fail to correspond to the potentialities of the social entity in which it originated. Every entity develops (or is transformed) within itself, through the interplay of its contradictions. External conditioners, while necessary, are effective only if they coincide with those potentialities.11 The newness of the revolution is generated within the old, oppressive society; the taking of power constitutes only a decisive moment of the continuing revolutionary process. In a dynamic, rather than static, view of revolution, there is no absolute "before" or "after," with the taking of power as the dividing line.

Object which mediates reality to be transformedObject which mediatesObject—the reality to be preservedObject—the oppressed (as part of reality)
Objectivefor Humanization as a permanent processObjectivefor Objective—the preservation of oppression

Originating in objective conditions, revolution seeks to supersede the situation of oppression by inaugurating a society of women and men in the process of continuing liberation. The educational, dialogical quality of revolution, which makes it a "cultural revolution" as well, must be present in all its stages. This educational quality is one of the most effective instruments for keeping the revolution from becoming institutionalized and stratified in a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy; for counter-revolution is carried out by revolutionaries who become reactionary.

Were it not possible to dialogue with the people before power is taken, because they have no experience with dialogue, neither would it be possible for the people to come to power, for they are equally inexperienced in the use of power. The revolutionary process is dynamic, and it is in this continuing dynamics, in the praxis of the people with the revolutionary leaders, that the people and the leaders will learn both dialogue and the use of power. (This is as obvious as affirming that a person learns to swim in the water, not in a library.)

Dialogue with the people is neither a concession nor a gift, much less a tactic to be used for domination. Dialogue, as the encounter among men to "name" the world, is a fundamental precondition for their true humanization. In the words of Gajo Petrovic:

A free action can only be one by which a man changes his world and himself... A positive condition of freedom is the knowledge of the limits of necessity, the awareness of human creative possibilities . . . The struggle for a free society is not a struggle for a free society unless through it an ever greater degree of individual freedom is created.12

If this view be true, the revolutionary process is eminently educational in character. Thus the road to revolution involves openness to the people, not imperviousness to them; it involves communion with the people, not mistrust. And, as Lenin "pointed out, the more a revolution requires theory, the more its leaders must be with the people in order to stand against the power of oppression.

Based on these general propositions, let us undertake a more lengthy analysis of the theories of antidialogical and dialogical action.


The first characteristic of antidialogical action is the necessity for conquest. The antidialogical individual, in his relations with others, aims at conquering them—increasingly and by every means, from the toughest to the most refined, from the most repressive to the most solicitous (paternalism).

Every act of conquest implies a conqueror and someone or something which is conquered. The conqueror imposes his objectives on the vanquished, and makes of them his possession. He imposes his own contours on the vanquished, who internalize this shape and become ambiguous beings "housing" another. From the first, the act of conquest, which reduces persons to the status of things, is necrophilic.

Just as antidialogical action is a concomitant of the real, concrete situation of oppression, dialogical action is indispensable to the revolutionary supersedence of that situation. An individual is not antidialogical or dialogical in the abstract, but in the world. He or she is not first antidialogical, then oppressor; but both, simultaneously. Within an objective situation of oppression, antidialogue is necessary to the oppressor as a means of further oppression—not only economic, but cultural: the vanquished are dispossessed of their word, their expressiveness, their culture. Further, once a situation of oppression has been initiated, antidialogue becomes indispensable to its preservation.

Because liberating action is dialogical in nature, dialogue cannot be a posteriori to that action, but must be concomitant with it. And since liberation must be a permanent condition, dialogue becomes a continuing aspect of liberating action.13

The desire for conquest (or rather the necessity of conquest) is at all times present in antidialogical action. To this end the oppressors attempt to destroy in the oppressed their quality as "considerers" of the world. Since the oppressors cannot totally achieve this destruction, they must mythicize the world. In order to present for the consideration of the oppressed and subjugated a world of deceit designed to increase their alienation and passivity, the oppressors develop a series of methods precluding any presentation of the world as a problem and showing it rather as a fixed entity, as something given—something to which people, as mere spectators, must adapt.

It is necessary for the oppressors to approach the people in order, via subjugation, to keep them passive. This approximation, however, does not involve being with the people, or require true communication. It is accomplished by the oppressors depositing myths indispensable to the preservation of the status quo: for example, the myth that the oppressive order is a "free society"; the myth that all persons are free to work where they wish, that if they don't like their boss they can leave him and look for another job; the myth that this order respects human rights and is therefore worthy of esteem; the myth that anyone who is industrious can become an entrepreneur—worse yet, the myth that the street vendor is as much an entrepreneur as the owner of a large factory; the myth of the universal right of education, when of all the Brazilian children who enter primary schools only a tiny fraction ever reach the university; the myth of the equality of all individuals, when the question: "Do you know who you're talking to?" is still current among us; the myth of the heroism of the oppressor classes as defenders of "Western Christian civilization" against "materialist barbarism"; the myth of the charity and generosity of the elites, when what they really do as a class is to foster selective "good deeds" (subsequently elaborated into the myth of "disinterested aid," which on the international level was severely criticized by Pope John XXIII);14 the myth that the dominant elites, "recognizing their duties," promote the advancement of the people, so that the people, in a gesture of gratitude, should accept the words of the elites and be conformed to them; the myth that rebellion is a sin against God; the myth of private property as fundamental to personal human development (so long as oppressors are the only true human beings); the myth of the industriousness of the oppressors and the laziness and dishonesty of the oppressed, as well as the myth of the natural inferiority of the latter and the superiority of the former.15

All these myths (and others the reader could list), the internalization of which is essential to the subjugation of the oppressed, are presented to them by well-organized propaganda and slogans, via the mass "communications" media—as if such alienation constituted real communication!16

In sum, there is no oppressive reality which is not at the same time necessarily antidialogical, just as there is no antidialogue in which the oppressors do not untiringly dedicate themselves to the constant conquest of the oppressed In ancient Rome, the dominant elites spoke of the need to give "bread and circus" to the people in order to "soften them up" and to secure their own tranquility. The dominant elites of today, like those of any epoch, continue (in a version of'original sin") to need to conquer others—with or without bread and circus. The content and methods of conquest vary historically; what does not vary (as long as dominant elites exist) is the necrophilic passion to oppress.

Divide and Rule

This is another fundamental dimension of the theory of oppressive action which is as old as oppression itself. As the oppressor minority subordinates and dominates the majority, it must divide it and keep it divided in order to remain in power. The minority cannot permit itself the luxury of tolerating the unification of the people, which would undoubtedly signify a serious threat to their own hegemony. Accordingly, the oppressors halt by any method (including violence) any action which in even incipient fashion could awaken the oppressed to the need for unity. Concepts such as unity, organization, and struggle are immediately labeled as dangerous. In fact, of course, these concepts are dangerous—to the oppressors—for their realization is necessary to actions of liberation.

It is in the interest of the oppressor to weaken the oppressed still farther, to isolate them, to create and deepen rifts among them. This is done by varied means, from the repressive methods of the government bureaucracy to the forms of cultural action with which they manipulate the people by giving them the impression that they are being helped.

One of the characteristics of oppressive cultural action which is almost never perceived by the dedicated but naive professionals who are involved is the emphasis on a focalized view of problems rather than on seeing them as dimensions of a totality. In "community development" projects the more a region or area is broken down into "local communities," without the study of these communities both as totalities in themselves and as parts of another totality (the area, region, and so forth)—which in its turn is part of a still larger totality (the nation, as part of the continental totality)—the more alienation is intensified. And the more alienated people are, the easier it is to divide them and keep them divided. These focalized forms of action, by intensifying the focalized way of life of the oppressed (especially in rural areas), hamper the oppressed from perceiving reality critically and keep them isolated from the problems of oppressed women and men in other areas.17

The same divisive effect occurs in connection with the so-called "leadership training courses," which are (although carried out without any such intention by many of their organizers) in the last analysis alienating. These courses are based on the naive assumption that one can promote the community by training its leaders—as if it were the parts that promote the whole and not the whole which, in being promoted, promotes the parts. Those members of the communities who show sufficient leadership capacities to be chosen for these courses necessarily reflect and express the aspirations of the individuals of their community. They are in harmony with the way of living and thinking about reality which characterizes their comrades, even though they reveal special abilities which give them the status of "leaders." As soon as they complete the course and return to the community with resources they did not formerly possess, they either use these resources to control the submerged and dominated consciousness of their comrades, or they become strangers in their own communities and their former leadership position is thus threatened. In order not to lose their leadership status, they will probably tend to continue manipulating the community, but in a more efficient manner.

When cultural action, as a totalized and totalizing process, approaches an entire community and not merely its leaders, the opposite process occurs. Either the former leaders grow along with everyone else, or they are replaced by new leaders who emerge as a result of the new social consciousness of the community.

The oppressors do not favor promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders. The latter course, by preserving a state of alienation, hinders the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in a total reality. And without this critical intervention, it is always difficult to achieve the unity of the oppressed as a class.

Class conflict is another concept which upsets the oppressors, since they do not wish to consider themselves an oppressive class. Unable to deny, try as they may, the existence of social classes, they preach the need for understanding and harmony between those who buy and those who are obliged to sell their labor.18 However, the unconcealable antagonism which exists between the two classes makes this "harmony" impossible.19 The elites call for harmony between classes as if classes were fortuitous agglomerations of individuals curiously looking at a shop window on a Sunday afternoon. The only harmony which is viable and demonstrable is that found among the oppressors themselves. Although they may diverge and upon occasion even clash over group interests, they unite immediately at a threat to the class. Similarly, the harmony of the oppressed is only possible when its members are engaged in the struggle for liberation. Only in exceptional cases is it not only possible but necessary for both classes to unite and act in harmony; but when the emergency which united them has passed they will return to the contradiction which defines their existence and which never really disappeared.

All the actions of the dominant class manifest its need to divide in order to facilitate the preservation of the oppressor state. Its interference in the unions, favoring certain "representatives" of the dominated classes (who actually represent the oppressor, not their own comrades); its promotion of individuals who reveal leadership capacity and could signify a threat if they were not "softened up" in this way; its distribution of benefits to some and penalties to others: all these are ways of dividing in order to preserve the system which favors the elite. They are forms of action which exploit, directly or indirectly, one of the weak points of the oppressed: their basic insecurity. The oppressed are insecure in their duality as beings which "house" the oppressor. On the one hand, they resist her or him; on the other hand, at a certain stage in their relationship, they are attracted by him or her. Under these circumstances, the oppressors easily obtain positive results from divisive action.

In addition, the oppressed know from experience the price of not accepting an "invitation" offered with the purpose of preventing their unity as a class: losing their jobs and finding their names on a "black list" signifying closed doors to other jobs is the least that can happen. Their basic insecurity is thus directly linked to the enslavement of their labor (which really implies the enslavement of their person, as Bishop Split emphasized).

People are fulfilled only to the extent that they create their world (which is a human world), and create it with their transforming labor. The fulfillment of humankind as human beings lies, then, in the fulfillment of the world. If for a person to be in the world of work is to be totally dependent, insecure, and permanently threatened—if their work does not belong to them—the person cannot be fulfilled. Work that is not free ceases to be a fulfilling pursuit and becomes an effective means of dehumanization.

Every move by the oppressed towards unity points towards other actions; it means that sooner or later the oppressed will perceive their state of depersonalization and discover that as long as they are divided they will always be easy prey for manipulation and domination. Unity and organization can enable them to change their weakness into a transforming force with which they can re-create the world and make it more human.20 The more human world to which they justly aspire, however, is the antithesis of the "human world" of the oppressors—a world which is the exclusive possession of the oppressors, who preach an impossible harmony between themselves (who dehumanize) and the oppressed (who are dehumanized). Since oppressors and oppressed are antithetical, what serves the interests of one group disserves the interests of the others.

Dividing in order to preserve the status quo, then, is necessarily a fundamental objective of the theory of antidialogical action. In addition, the dominators try to present themselves as saviors of the women and men they dehumanize and divide. This messianism, however, cannot conceal their true intention: to save themselves. They want to save their riches, their power, their way of life: the things that enable them to subjugate others. Their mistake is that men cannot save themselves (no matter how one understands "salvation"), either as individuals or as an oppressor class. Salvation can be achieved only with others. To the extent, however, that the elites oppress, they cannot be with the oppressed; for being against them is the essence of oppression.

A psychoanalysis of oppressive action might reveal the "false generosity" of the oppressor (described in chapter 1) as a dimension of the latters sense of guilt. With this false generosity, he attempts not only to preserve an unjust and necrophilic order, but to "buy" peace for himself. It happens that peace cannot be bought; peace is experienced in solidary and loving acts, which cannot be incarnated in oppression. Hence, the messianic element of the theory of antidialogical action reinforces the first characteristic of this action: the necessity for conquest.

Since it is necessary to divide the people in order to preserve the status quo and (thereby) the power of the dominators, it is essential for the oppressors to keep the oppressed from perceiving their strategy. So the former must convince the latter that they are being "defended" against the demonic action of "marginals, rowdies, and enemies of God" (for these are the epithets directed at men who lived and are living the brave pursuit of man's humanization). In order to divide and confuse the people, the destroyers call themselves builders, and accuse the true builders of being destructive. History, however, always takes it upon itself to modify these designations. Today, although the official terminology continues to call Tiradentes21 a conspirator ("Inconfidente") and the libertarian movement which he led a conspiracy ("Inconjidencia"), the national hero is not the man22 who called Tiradentes a "bandit," ordered him hanged and quartered, and had pieces of the bloody corpse strewn through the streets of the neighboring villages as an example. It is Tiradentes who is the hero. History tore up the "title" given him by the elites, and recognized his action for what it was. It is the men who in their own time sought unity for liberation who are the heroes—not those who used their power to divide and rule.


Manipulation is another dimension of the theory of antidialogical action, and, like the strategy of division, is an instrument of conquest: the objective around which all the dimensions of the theory revolve. By means of manipulation, the dominant elites try to conform the masses to their objectives. And the greater the political immaturity of these people (rural or urban) the more easily the latter can be manipulated by those who do not wish to lose their power.

The people are manipulated by the series of myths described earlier in this chapter, and by yet another myth: the model of itself which the bourgeoisie presents to the people as the possibility for their own ascent. In order for these myths to function, however, the people must accept the word of the bourgeoisie.

Within certain historical conditions, manipulation is accomplished by means of pacts between the dominant and the dominated classes—pacts which, if considered superficially, might give the impression of a dialogue between the classes. In reality, however, these pacts are not dialogue, because their true objectives are determined by the unequivocal interest of the dominant elites. In the last analysis, pacts are used by the dominators to achieve their own ends.23 The support given by the people to the so-called "national bourgeoisie" in defense of so-called "national capitalism" is an example in point. Sooner or later, these pacts always increase the subjugation of the people. They are proposed only when the people begin (even naively) to emerge from the historical process and by this emergence to threaten the dominant elites. The presence of the people in the historical process, no longer as mere spectators, but with the first signs of aggressivity, is sufficiently disquieting to frighten the dominant elites into doubling the tactics of manipulation.

In this historical phase, manipulation becomes a fundamental instrument for the preservation of domination. Prior to the emergence of the people there is no manipulation (precisely speaking), but rather total suppression. When the oppressed are almost completely submerged in reality, it is unnecessary to manipulate them. In the antidialogical theory of action, manipulation is the response of the oppressor to the new concrete conditions of the historical process. Through manipulation, the dominant elites can lead the people into an unauthentic type of "organization," and can thus avoid the threatening alternative: the true organization of the emerged and emerging people.24 The latter have only two possibilities as they enter the historical process: either they must organize authentically for their liberation, or they will be manipulated by the elites. Authentic organization is obviously not going to be stimulated by the dominators; it is the task of the revolutionary leaders.

It happens, however, that large sectors of the oppressed form an urban proletariat, especially in the more industrialized centers of the country. Although these sectors are occasionally restive, they lack revolutionary consciousness and consider themselves privileged. Manipulation, with its series of deceits and promises, usually finds fertile ground here.

The antidote to manipulation lies in a critically conscious revolutionary organization, which will pose to the people as problems their position in the historical process, the national reality, and manipulation itself. In the words of Francisco Weffert:

All the policies of the Left are based on the masses and depend on the consciousness of the latter. If that consciousness is confused, the Left will lose its roots and certain downfall will be imminent, although (as in the Brazilian case) the Left may be deluded into thinking it can achieve the revolution by means of a quick return to power.25

In a situation of manipulation, the Left is almost always tempted by a "quick return to power," forgets the necessity of joining with the oppressed to forge an organization, and strays into an impossible "dialogue" with the dominant elites. It ends by being manipulated by these elites, and not infrequently itself falls into an elitist game, which it calls "realism."

Manipulation, like the conquest whose objectives it serves, attempts to anesthetize the people so they will not think. For if the people join to their presence in the historical process critical thinking about that process, the threat of their emergence materializes in revolution. Whether one calls this correct thinking "revolutionary consciousness" or "class consciousness," it is an indispensable precondition of revolution. The dominant elites are so well aware of this fact that they instinctively use all means, including physical violence, to keep the people from thinking. They have a shrewd intuition of the ability of dialogue to develop a capacity for criticism. While some revolutionary leaders consider dialogue with the people a "bourgeois and reactionary" activity, the bourgeoisie regard dialogue between the oppressed and the revolutionary leaders as a very real danger to be avoided.

One of the methods of manipulation is to inoculate individuals with the bourgeois appetite for personal success. This manipulation is sometimes carried out directly by the elites and sometimes indirectly, through populist leaders. As Weffert points out, these leaders serve as intermediaries between the oligarchical elites and the people. The emergence of populism as a style of political action thus coincides causally with the emergence of the oppressed. The populist leader who rises from this process is an ambiguous being, an "amphibian" who lives in two elements. Shuttling back and forth between the people and the dominant oligarchies, he bears the marks of both groups.

Since the populist leader simply manipulates, instead of fighting for authentic popular organization, this type of leader serves the revolution little if at all. Only by abandoning his ambiguous character and dual action and by opting decisively for the people (thus ceasing to be populist) does he renounce manipulation and dedicate himself to the revolutionary task of organization. At this point he ceases to be an intermediary between the people and the elites, and becomes a contradiction of the latter; thereupon the elites immediately join forces to curb him. Observe the dramatic and finally unequivocal terms in which Getulio Vargas26 spoke to the workers at a May 1 celebration during his last period as head of state:

I want to tell you that the gigantic work of renewal which my Administration is beginning to carry out cannot be completed successfully without the support and the daily, steadfast cooperation of the workers.27

Vargas then spoke of his first ninety days in office, which he called "an estimate of the difficulties and obstacles which, here and there, are being raised in opposition to the actions of the government." He spoke directly to the people about how deeply he felt "the helplessness, poverty, the high cost of living, low salaries . . . the hopelessness of the unfortunate and the demands of the majority who live in hope of better days."

His appeal to the workers then took on more objective tones:

I have come to say that at this moment the Administration does not yet have the laws or the concrete instruments for immediate action to defend the peoples economy. It is thus necessary for the people to organize—not only to defend their own interests, but also to give the government the base of support it requires to carry out its objectives ... I need your unity. I need for you, in solidarity, to organize yourselves in unions. I need for you to form a strong and cohesive bloc to stand beside the government so that it will have all the force it needs to solve your problems. I need your unity so you can fight against saboteurs, so you do not fall prey to the interests of speculators and rapacious scoundrels in detriment of the interests of the people. . . . The hour has come to appeal to the workers; unite in your unions as free and organized forces ... at the present time no Administration can survive or dispose of sufficient force to achieve its social ends if it does not have the support of the laboring organizations.28

In sum, in this speech Vargas appealed vehemently to the people to organize and to unite in defense of their rights; and he told them, as Chief of State, of the obstacles, the hindrances, and the innumerable difficulties involved in governing with them. From that moment on his Administration encountered increasing difficulties, until the tragic climax of August 1954. If Vargas had not in his last term shown such open encouragement to the organization of the people, subsequently linked to a series of measures in defense of the national interest, possibly the reactionary elites would not have taken the extreme measures they did.

Any populist leader who moves (even discreetly) towards the people in any way other than as the intermediary of the oligarchies will be curbed by the latter—if they have sufficient force to stop him. But as long as the leader restricts himself to paternalism and social welfare activities, although there may be occasional divergencies between him and groups of oligarchies whose interests have been touched, deep differences are rare. This is because welfare programs as instruments of manipulation ultimately serve the end of conquest. They act as an anesthetic, distracting the oppressed from the true causes of their problems and from the concrete solution of these problems. They splinter the oppressed into groups of individuals hoping to get a few more benefits for themselves. This situation contains, however, a positive element: the individuals who receive some aid always want more; those who do not receive aid, seeing the example of those who do, grow envious and also want assistance. Since the dominant elites cannot "aid" everyone, they end by increasing the restiveness of the oppressed.

The revolutionary leaders should take advantage of the contradictions of manipulation by posing it as a problem to the oppressed, with the objective of organizing them.

Cultural Invasion

The theory of antidialogical action has one last fundamental characteristic: cultural invasion, which like divisive tactics and manipulation also serves the ends of conquest. In this phenomenon, the invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, in disrespect of the latters potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression.

Whether urbane or harsh, cultural invasion is thus always an act of violence against the persons of the invaded culture, who lose their originality or face the threat of losing it. In cultural invasion (as in all the modalities of antidialogical action) the invaders are the authors of, and actors in, the process; those they invade are the objects. The invaders mold; those they invade are molded. The invaders choose; those they invade follow that choice—or are expected to follow it. The invaders act; those they invade have only the illusion of acting, through the action of the invaders.

All domination involves invasion—at times physical and overt, at times camouflaged, with the invader assuming the role of a helping friend. In the last analysis, invasion is a form of economic and cultural domination. Invasion may be practiced by a metropolitan society upon a dependent society, or it may be implicit in the domination of one class over another within the same society.

Cultural conquest leads to the cultural inauthenticity of those who are invaded; they begin to respond to the values, the standards, and the goals of the invaders. In their passion to dominate, to mold others to their patterns and their way of life, the invaders desire to know how those they have invaded apprehend reality—but only so they can dominate the latter more effectively.29 In cultural invasion it is essential that those who are invaded come to see their reality with the outlook of the invaders rather than their own; for the more they mimic the invaders, the more stable the position of the latter becomes.

For cultural invasion to succeed, it is essential that those invaded become convinced of their intrinsic inferiority. Since everything has its opposite, if those who are invaded consider themselves inferior, they must necessarily recognize the superiority of the invaders. The values of the latter thereby become the pattern for the former. The more invasion is accentuated and those invaded are alienated from the spirit of their own culture and from themselves, the more the latter want to be like the invaders: to walk like them, dress like them, talk like them.

The social I of the invaded person, like every social I, is formed in the socio-cultural relations of the social stucture, and therefore reflects the duality of the invaded culture. This duality (which was described earlier) explains why invaded and dominated individuals, at a certain moment of their existential experience, almost "adhere" to the oppressor Thou. The oppressed I must break with this near adhesion to the oppressor Thou, drawing away from the latter in order to see him more objectively, at which point she critically recognizes herself to be in contradiction with the oppressor. In so doing, he "considers" as a dehumanizing reality the structure in which he is being oppressed. This qualitative change in the perception of the world can only be achieved in the praxis.

Cultural invasion is on the one hand an instrument of domination, and on the other, the result of domination. Thus, cultural action of a dominating character (like other forms of antidialogical action), in addition to being deliberate and planned, is in another sense simply a product of oppressive reality.

For example, a rigid and oppressive social structure necessarily influences the institutions of child rearing and education within that structure. These institutions pattern their action after the style of the structure, and transmit the myths of the latter. Homes and schools (from nurseries to universities) exist not in the abstract, but in time and space. Within the structures of domination they function largely as agencies which prepare the invaders of the future.

The parent-child relationship in the home usually reflects the objective cultural conditions of the surrounding social structure. If the conditions which penetrate the home are authoritarian, rigid, and dominating, the home will increase the climate of oppression.30 As these authoritarian relations between parents and children intensify, children in their infancy increasingly internalize the paternal authority.

Presenting (with his customary clarity) the problem of necrophilia and biophilia, Fromm analyzes the objective conditions which generate each condition, whether in the home (parent-child relations in a climate of indifference and oppression or of love and freedom), or in a sociocultural context. If children reared in an atmosphere of lovelessness and oppression, children whose potency has been frustrated, do not manage during their youth to take the path of authentic rebellion, they will either drift into total indifference, alienated from reality by the authorities and the myths the latter have used to "shape" them; or they may engage in forms of destructive action.

The atmosphere of the home is prolonged in the school, where the students soon discover that (as in the home) in order to achieve some satisfaction they must adapt to the precepts which have been set from above. One of these precepts is not to think.

Internalizing paternal authority through the rigid relationship structure emphasized by the school, these young people tend when they become professionals (because of the very fear of freedom instilled by these relationships) to repeat the rigid patterns in which they were miseducated. This phenomenon, in addition to their class position, perhaps explains why so many professionals adhere to antidialogical action.31 Whatever the specialty that brings them into contact with the people, they are almost unshakably convinced that it is their mission to "give" the latter their knowledge and techniques. They see themselves as "promotors" of the people. Their programs of action (which might have been prescribed by any good theorist of oppressive action) include their own objectives, their own convictions, and their own preoccupations. They do not listen to the people, but instead plan to teach them how to "cast off the laziness which creates underdevelopment." To these professionals, it seems absurd to consider the necessity of respecting the "view of the world" held by the people. The professionals are the ones with a "world view." They regard as equally absurd the affirmation that one must necessarily consult the people when organizing the program content of educational action. They feel that the ignorance of the people is so complete that they are unfit for anything except to receive the teachings of the professionals.

When, however, at a certain point of their existential experience, those who have been invaded begin in one way or another to reject this invasion (to which they might earlier have adapted), the professionals, in order to justify their failure, say that the members of the invaded group are "inferior" because they are "ingrates," shiftless," "diseased," or of "mixed blood."

Well-intentioned professionals (those who use "invasion" not as deliberate ideology but as the expression of their own upbringing) eventually discover that certain of their educational failures must be ascribed, not to the intrinsic inferiority of the "simple men of the people," but to the violence of their own act of invasion. Those who make this discovery face a difficult alternative: they feel the need to renounce invasion, but patterns of domination are so entrenched within them that this renunciation would become a threat to their own identities. To renounce invasion would mean ending their dual status as dominated and dominators. It would mean abandoning all the myths which nourish invasion, and starting to incarnate dialogical action. For this very reason, it would mean to cease being over or inside (as foreigners) in order to be with (as comrades). And so the fear of freedom takes hold of these men. During this traumatic process, they naturally tend to rationalize their fear with a series of evasions.

The fear of freedom is greater still in professionals who have not yet discovered for themselves the invasive nature of their action, and who are told that their action is dehumanizing. Not infrequently, especially at the point of decoding concrete situations, training course participants ask the coordinator in an irritated manner: "Where do you think you're steering us, anyway?" The coordinator isn't trying to "steer" them anywhere; it is just that in facing a concrete situation as a problem, the participants begin to realize that if their analysis of the situation goes any deeper they will either have to divest themselves of their myths, or reaffirm them. Divesting themselves of and renouncing their myths represents, at that moment, an act of self-violence. On the other hand, to reaffirm those myths is to reveal themselves. The only way out (which functions as a defense mechanism) is to project onto the coordinator their own usual practices: steering, conquering, and invading.32

This same retreat occurs, though on a smaller scale, among men of the people who have been ground down by the concrete situation of oppression and domesticated by charity. One of the teachers of "Full Circle,"33 which carried out a valuable educational program in New York City under the coordination of Robert Fox, relates the following incident. A group in a New York ghetto was presented a coded situation showing a big pile of garbage on a street corner—the very same street where the group was meeting. One of the participants said at once, "I see a street in Africa or Latin America." "And why not in New York?" asked the teacher. "Because we are the United States and that can't happen here." Beyond a doubt this man and some of his comrades who agreed with him were retreating from a reality so ofFensive to them that even to acknowledge that reality was threatening. For an alienated person, conditioned by a culture of achievement and personal success, to recognize his situation as objectively unfavorable seems to hinder his own possibilities of success.

In the case cited, and in that of the professionals, the determining force of the culture which develops the myths men subsequently internalize is evident. In both cases, the culture of the dominant class hinders the affirmation of men as beings of decision. Neither the professionals nor the discussion participants in the New York slums talk and act for themselves as active Subjects of the historical process. None of them are theoreticians or ideologues of domination. On the contrary, they are effects which in turn become causes of domination. This is one of the most serious problems the revolution must confront when it reaches power. This stage demands maximum political wisdom, decision, and courage from the leaders, who for this very reason must have sufficient judgment not to fall into irrationally sectarian positions.

Professional women and men of any specialty, university graduates or not, are individuals who have been "determined from above"34 by a culture of domination which has constituted them as dual beings. (If they had come from the lower classes this miseducation would be the same, if not worse.) These professionals, however, are necessary to the reorganization of the new society. And since many among them—even though "afraid of freedom" and reluctant to engage in humanizing action—are in truth more misguided than anything else, they not only could be, but ought to be, reclaimed by the revolution.

This reclamation requires that the revolutionary leaders, progressing from what was previously dialogical cultural action, initiate the "cultural revolution." At this point, revolutionary power moves beyond its role as a necessary obstacle confronting those who wish to negate humanity, and assumes a new and bolder position, with a clear invitation to all who wish to participate in the reconstruction of society. In this sense, "cultural revolution" is a necessary continuation of the dialogical cultural action which must be carried out before the revolution reaches power.

"Cultural revolution" takes the total society to be reconstructed, including all human activities, as the object of its remolding action. Society cannot be reconstructed in a mechanistic fashion; the culture which is culturally recreated through revolution is the fundamental instrument for this reconstruction. "Cultural revolution" is the revolutionary regime's maximum effort at conscientização critical consciousness—it should reach everyone, regardless of their personal path.

Cohsequently, this effort at conscientização critical consciousness cannot rest content with the technical or scientific training of intended specialists. The new society becomes qualitatively distinct from the old35 in more than a partial way. Revolutionary society cannot attribute to technology the same ends attributed by the previous society; accordingly, the training of people in the two societies must also differ. Technical and scientific training need not be inimical to humanistic education as long as science and technology in the revolutionary society are at the service of permanent liberation, of humanization.

From this point of view, the training of individuals for any occupation (since all occupations occur in time and space) requires the understanding of (a) culture as a superstructure which can maintain "remnants" of the past36 alive in the substructure undergoing revolutionary transformation and (b) the occupation itself as an instrument for the transformation of culture. As the cultural revolution deepens conscientização critical consciousness in the creative praxis of the new society, people will begin to perceive why mythical remnants of the old society survive in the new. And they will then be able to free themselves more rapidly of these specters, which by hindering the edification of a new society have always constituted a serious problem for every revolution. Through these cultural remnants the oppressor society continues to invade—this time invading the revolutionary society itself.

This invasion is especially terrible because it is carried out not by the dominant elite reorganized as such, but by those who have participated in the revolution. As men who "house" the oppressor, they resist as might the latter themselves the further basic steps which the revolution must take. And as dual beings they also accept (still due to the remnants) power which becomes bureaucratized and which violently represses them. In turn, this violently repressive bureaucratic power can be explained by what Althusser calls the "reactivation of old elements"37in the new society each time special circumstances permit.

For all the above reasons, I interpret the revolutionary process as dialogical cultural action which is prolonged in "cultural revolution" once power is taken. In both stages a serious and profound effort at conscientização critical consciousness—by means of which the people, through a true praxis, leave behind the status of objects to assume the status of historical Subjects—is necessary.

Finally, cultural revolution develops the practice of permanent dialogue between leaders and people, and consolidates the participation of the people in power. In this way, as both leaders and people continue their critical activity, the revolution will more easily be able to defend itself against bureaucratic tendencies (which lead to new forms of oppression) and against "invasion" (which is always the same). The invader—whether in a bourgeois or in a revolutionary society—may be an agronomist or a sociologist, an economist or a public health engineer, a priest or a pastor, an educator or a social worker—or a revolutionary.

Cultural invasion, which serves the ends of conquest and the preservation of oppression, always involves a parochial view of reality, a static perception of the world, and the imposition of one world view upon another. It implies the "superiority" of the invader and the "inferiority" of those who are invaded, as well as the imposition of values by the former, who possess the latter and are afraid of losing them.

Cultural invasion further signifies that the ultimate seat of decision regarding the action of those who are invaded lies not with them but with the invaders. And when the power of decision is located outside rather than within the one who should decide, the latter has only the illusion of deciding. This is why there can be no socio-economic development in a dual, "reflex," invaded society. For development to occur it is necessary: a) that there be a movement of search and creativity having its seat of decision in the searcher; b) that this movement occur not only in space, but in the existential time of the conscious searcher.

Thus, while all development is transformation, not all transformation is development. The transformation occurring in a seed which under favorable conditions germinates and sprouts, is not development. In the same way, the transformation of an animal is not development. The transformations of seeds and animals are determined by the species to which they belong; and they occur in a time which does not belong to them, for time belongs to humankind

Women and men, among the uncompleted beings, are the only ones which develop. As historical, autobiographical, "beings for themselves," their transformation (development) occurs in their own existential time, never outside it. Men who are submitted to concrete conditions of oppression in which they become alienated "beings for another" of the false "being for himself" on whom they depend, are not able to develop authentically. Deprived of their own power of decision, which is located in the oppressor, they follow the prescriptions of the latter. The oppressed only begin to develop when, surmounting the contradiction in which they are caught, they become "beings for themselves."

If we consider society as a being, it is obvious that only a society which is a "being for itself" can develop. Societies which are dual, "reflex," invaded, and dependent on the metropolitan society cannot develop because they are alienated; their political, economic, and cultural decision-making power is located outside themselves, in the invader society. In the last analysis, the latter determines the destiny of the former: mere transformation; for it is their transformation—not their development—that is to the interest of the metropolitan society.

It is essential not to confuse modernization with development. The former, although it may affect certain groups in the "satellite society," is almost always induced; and it is the metropolitan society which derives the true benefits therefrom. A society which is merely modernized without developing will continue—even if it takes over some minimal delegated powers of decision—to depend on the outside country. This is the fate of any dependent society, as long as it remains dependent.

In order to determine whether or not a society is developing, one must go beyond criteria based on indices of "per capita" income (which, expressed in statistical form, are misleading) as well as those which concentrate on the study of gross income. The basic, elementary criterion is whether or not the society is a "being for itself." If it is not, the other criteria indicate modernization rather than development.

The principal contradiction of dual societies is the relationship of dependency between them and the metropolitan society. Once the contradiction has been superseded, the transformation hitherto effected through "aid," which has primarily benefitted the metropolitan society, becomes true development, which benefits the "being for itself."

For the above reasons, the purely reformist solutions attempted by these societies (even though some of the reforms may frighten and even panic the more reactionary members of the elite groups) do not resolve their external and internal contradictions. Almost always the metropolitan society induces these reformist solutions in response to the demands of the historical process, as a new way of preserving its hegemony. It is as if the metropolitan society were saying: "Let us carry out reforms before the people carry out a revolution." And in order to achieve this goal, the metropolitan society has no options other than conquest, manipulation, economic and cultural (and sometimes military) invasion of the dependent society—an invasion in which the elite leaders of the dominated society to a large extent act as mere brokers for the leaders of the metropolitan society.

To close this tentative analysis of the theory of antidialogical action, I wish to reaffirm that revolutionary leaders must not use the same antidialogical procedures used by the oppressors; on the contrary, revolutionary leaders must follow the path of dialogue and of communication.

Before proceeding to analyze the theory of dialogical action, it is essential to discuss briefly how the revolutionary leadership group is formed, and some of the historical and sociological consequences for the revolutionary process. Usually this leadership group is made up of men and women who in one way or another have belonged to the social strata of the dominators. At a certain point in their existential experience, under certain historical conditions, these leaders renounce the class to which they belong and join the oppressed, in an act of true solidarity (or so one would hope). Whether or not this adherence results from a scientific analysis of reality, it represents (when authentic) an act of love and true commitment.38 Joining the oppressed requires going to them and communicating with them. The people must find themselves in the emerging leaders, and the latter must find themselves in the people.

The leaders who have emerged necessarily reflect the contradiction of the dominant elites communicated to them by the oppressed, who may not yet, however, clearly perceive their own state of oppression or critically recognize their relationship of antagonism to the oppressors.39 They may still be in the position previously termed "adhesion" to the oppressor. On the other hand, it is possible that due to certain objective historical conditions they have already reached a relatively clear perception of their state of oppression.

In the first case, the adhesion—or partial adhesion—of the people to the oppressor makes it impossible for them (to repeat Fanon's point) to locate him outside themselves. In the second case, they can locate the oppressor and can thus critically recognize their relationship of antagonism to him.

In the first case, the oppressor is "housed" within the people, and their resulting ambiguity makes them fearful of freedom. They resort (stimulated by the oppressor) to magical explanations or a false view of God, to whom they fatalistically transfer the responsibility for their oppressed state.40 It is extremely unlikely that these self-mistrustful, downtrodden, hopeless people will seek their own liberation—an act of rebellion which they may view as a disobedient violation of the will of God, as an unwarranted confrontation with destiny. (Hence, the oft-emphasized necessity of posing as problems the myths fed to the people by the oppressors.) In the second case, when the people have reached a relatively clear picture of oppression which leads them to localize the oppressor outside themselves, they take up the struggle to surmount the contradiction in which they are caught. At this moment they overcome the distance between "class necessity" and "class consciousness,"

In the first case, the revolutionary leaders unfortunately and involuntarily become the contradiction of the people. In the second case, the emerging leaders receive from the people sympathetic and almost instantaneous support, which tends to increase during the process of revolutionary action. The leaders go to the people in a spontaneously dialogical manner. There is an almost immediate empathy between the people and the revolutionary leaders: their mutual commitment is almost instantly sealed. In fellowship, they consider themselves co-equal contradictions of the dominant elites. From this point on, the established practice of dialogue between people and leaders is nearly unshakable. That dialogue will continue when power is reached; and the people will know that they have come to power.

This sharing in no way diminishes the spirit of struggle, courage, capacity for love, or daring required of the revolutionary leaders. Fidel Castro and his comrades (whom many at the time termed "irresponsible adventurers"), an eminently dialogical leadership group, identified with the people who endured the brutal violence of the Batista dictatorship. This adherence was not easy; it required bravery on the part of the leaders to love the people sufficiently to be willing to sacrifice themselves for them. It required courageous witness by the leaders to recommence after each disaster, moved by undying hope in a future victory which (because forged together with the people) would belong not to the leaders alone, but to the leaders and the people—or to the people, including the leaders.

Fidel gradually polarized the adherence of the Cuban people, who due to their historical experience had already begun to break their adhesion to the oppressor. This "drawing away" from the oppressor led the people to objectify him, and to see themselves as his contradiction. So it was that Fidel never entered into contradiction with the people. (The occasional desertions or betrayals registered by Guevara in his Relato de la Guerra Revolucionaria—in which he also refers to the many who adhered—were to be expected.)

Thus, due to certain historical conditions, the movement by the revolutionary leaders to the people is either horizontal—so that leaders and people form one body in contradiction to the oppressor—or it is triangular, with the revolutionary leaders occupying the vertex of the triangle in contradiction to the oppressors and to the oppressed as well. As we have seen, the latter situation is forced on the leaders when the people have not yet achieved a critical perception of oppressive reality.

Almost never, however, does a revolutionary leadership group perceive that it constitutes a contradiction to the people. Indeed, this perception is painful, and the resistance may serve as a defense mechanism. After all, it is not easy for leaders who have emerged through adherence to the oppressed to recognize themselves as being in contradiction with those to whom they adhered. It is important to recognize this reluctance when analyzing certain forms of behavior on the part of revolutionary leaders who involuntarily become a contradiction (although not antagonists) of the people.

In order to carry out the revolution, revolutionary leaders undoubtedly require the adherence of the people. When leaders who constitute a contradiction to the people seek this adherence, and find rather a certain aloofness and mistrust, they often regard this reaction as indicating an inherent defect on the part of the people. They interpret a certain historical moment of the peoples consciousness as evidence of their intrinsic deficiency. Since the leaders need the adherence of the people so that the revolution can be achieved (but at the same time mistrust the mistrustful people), they are tempted to utilize the same procedures used by the dominant elites to oppress. Rationalizing theiir lack of confidence in the people, the leaders say that it is impossible to dialogue with the people before taking power, thus opting for the antidialogical theory of action. Thenceforward—just like the dominant elites:—they try to conquer the people: they become messianic; they use manipulation and carry out cultural invasion. By advancing along these paths, the paths of oppression, they will not achieve revolution; or if they do, it will not be authentic revolution.

The role of revolutionary leadership (under any circumstances, but especially so in those described) is to consider seriously, even as they act, the reasons for any attitude of mistrust on the part of the people, and to seek out true avenues of communion with them, ways of helping the people to help themselves critically perceive the reality which oppresses them.

The dominated consciousness is dual, ambiguous, full of fear and mistrust.41 In his diary about the struggle in Bolivia, Guevara refers several times to the lack of peasant participation:

The peasant mobilization does not exist, except for informative duties which annoy us somewhat. They are neither very rapid nor very efficient; they can be neutralized. . . . Complete lack of incorporation of the peasants, although they are losing their fear of us and we are succeeding in winning their admiration. It is a slow and patient task.42

The internalization of the oppressor by the dominated consciousness of the peasants explains their fear and their inefficiency.

The behavior and reactions of the oppressed, which lead the oppressor to practice cultural invasion, should evoke from the revolutionary a different theory of action. What distinguishes revolutionary leaders from the dominant elite is not only their objectives, but their procedures. If they act in the same way, the objectives become identical. It is as self-contradictory for the dominant elites to pose human-world relations as problems to the people as it is for the revolutionary leaders not to do so.

Let us now analyze the theory of dialogical cultural action and attempt to apprehend its constituent elements.


In the theory of antidialogical action, conquest (as its primary characteristic) involves a Subject who conquers another person and transforms her or him into a "thing." In the dialogical theory of action, Subjects meet in cooperation in order to transform the world. The antidialogical, dominating I transforms the dominated, conquered thou into a mere it.43 The dialogical I, however, knows that it is precisely the thou ("not-I") which has called forth his or her own existence. He also knows that the thou which calls forth his own existence in turn constitutes an I which has in his I its thou. The I and the thou thus become, in the dialectic of these relationships, two thous which become two I's.

The dialogical theory of action does not involve a Subject, who dominates by virtue of conquest, and a dominated object. Instead, there are Subjects who meet to name the world in order to transform it. If at a certain historical moment the oppressed, for the reasons previously described, are unable to fulfill their vocation as Subjects, the posing of their very oppression as a problem (which always involves some form of action) will help them achieve this vocation.

The above does not mean that in the dialogical task there is no role for revolutionary leadership. It means merely that the, leaders—in spite of their important, fundamental, and indispensable role—do not own the people and have no right to steer the people blindly towards their salvation. Such a salvation would be a mere gift from the leaders to the people—a breaking of the dialogical bond between them, and a reducing of the people from co-authors of liberating action into the objects of this action.

Cooperation, as a characteristic of dialogical action—which occurs only among Subjects (who may, however, have diverse levels of functions and thus of responsibility)—can only be achieved through communication. Dialogue, as essential communication, must underlie any cooperation. In the theory of dialogical action, there is no place for conquering the people on behalf of the revolutionary cause, but only for gaining their adherence. Dialogue does not impose, does not manipulate, does not domesticate, does not "sloganize." This does not mean, however, that the theory of dialogical action leads nowhere; nor does it mean that the dialogical human does not have a clear idea of what she wants, or of the objectives to which she is committed

The commitment of the revolutionary leaders to the oppressed is at the same time a commitment to freedom. And because of that commitment, the leaders cannot attempt to conquer the oppressed, but must achieve their adherence to liberation. Conquered adherence is not adherence; it is "adhesion" of the vanquished to the conqueror, who prescribes the options open to the former. Authentic adherence is the free coincidence of choices; it cannot occur apart from communication among people, mediated by reality.

Thus cooperation leads dialogical Subjects to focus their attention on the reality which mediates them and which—posed as a problem—challenges them. The response to that challenge is the action of dialogical Subjects upon reality in order to transform it. Let me re-emphasize that posing reality as a problem does not mean sloganizing: it means critical analysis of a problematic reality.

As opposed to the mythicizing practices of the dominant elites, dialogical theory requires that the world be unveiled. No one can, however, unveil the world for another. Although one Subject may initiate the unveiling on behalf of others, the others must also become Subjects of this act. The adherence of the people is made possible by this unveiling of the world and of themselves, in authentic praxis.

This adherence coincides with the trust the people begin to place in themselves and in the revolutionary leaders, as the former perceive the dedication and authenticity of the latter. The trust of the people in the leaders reflects the confidence of the leaders in the people.

This confidence should not, however, be naive. The leaders must believe in the potentialities of the people, whom they cannot treat as mere objects of their own action; they must believe that the people are capable of participating in the pursuit of liberation. But they must always mistrust the ambiguity of oppressed people, mistrust the oppressor "housed" in the latter. Accordingly, when Guevara exhorts the revolutionary to be always mistrustful,44 he is not disregarding the fundamental condition of the theory of dialogical action. He is merely being a realist.

Although trust is basic to dialogue, it is not an a priori condition of the latter; it results from the encounter in which persons are co-Subjects in denouncing the world, as part of the world's transformation. But as long as the oppressor "within" the oppressed is stronger than they themselves are, their natural fear of freedom may lead them to denounce the revolutionary leaders instead! The leaders cannot be credulous, but must be alert for these possibilities. Guevara's Episodes confirms these risks: not only desertions, but even betrayal of the cause. At times in this document, while recognizing the necessity of punishing the deserter in order to preserve the cohesion and discipline of the group, Guevara also recognizes certain factors which explain the desertion. One of them, perhaps the most important, is the deserters ambiguity.

Another portion of Guevara s document, which refers to his presence (not only as a guerrilla but as a medical doctor) in a peasant community in the Sierra Maestra and relates to our discussion of cooperation, is quite striking:

As a result of daily contact with these people and their problems we became firmly convinced of the need for a complete change in the life of our people. The idea of an agrarian reform became crystal-clear. Communion with the people ceased to be a mere theory, to become an integral part of ourselves.
Guerrillas and peasants began to merge into a solid mass. No one can say exactly when, in this long process, the ideas became reality and we became a part of the peasantry. As far as I am concerned, the contact with my patients in the Sierra turned a spontaneous and somewhat lyrical decision into a more serene force, one of an entirely different value. Those poor, suffering, loyal inhabitants of the Sierra cannot even imagine what a great contribution they made to the forging of our revolutionary ideology.45

Note Guevara's emphasis that communion with the people was decisive for the transformation of a "spontaneous and somewhat lyrical decision into a more serene force, one of an entirely different value." It was, then, in dialogue with the peasants that Guevara's revolutionary praxis became definitive. What Guevara did not say, perhaps due to humility, is that it was his own humility and capacity to love that made possible his communion with the people. And this indisputably dialogical communion became cooperation. Note that Guevara (who did not climb the Sierra Maestra with Fidel and his comrades as a frustrated youth in search of adventure) recognizes that his "communion with the people ceased to be a mere theory, to become an integral part of [himself]." He stresses how from the moment of that communion the peasants became "forgers" of his guerrillas' "revolutionary ideology."

Even Guevara's unmistakable style of narrating his and his comrades' experiences, of describing his contacts with the "poor, loyal" peasants in almost evangelical language, reveals this remarkable man's deep capacity for love and communication. Thence emerges the force of his ardent testimony to the work of another loving man: Camilo Torres, "the guerrilla priest."

Without the communion which engenders true cooperation, the Cuban people would have been mere objects of the revolutionary activity of the men of the Sierra Maestra, and as objects, their adherence would have been impossible. At the most, there might have been "adhesion," but that is a component of domination, not revolution.

In dialogical theory, at no stage can revolutionary action forgo communion with the people. Communion in turn elicits cooperation, which brings leaders and people to the fusion described by Guevara. This fusion can exist only if revolutionary action is really human, empathetic, loving, communicative, and humble, in order to be liberating,

The revolution loves and creates life; and in order to create life it may be obliged to prevent some men from circumscribing life. In addition to the life-death cycle basic to nature, there is almost an unnatural living death: life which is denied its fullness.46

It should not be necessary here to cite statistics to show how many Brazilians (and Latin Americans in general) are "living corpses," "shadows" of human beings, hopeless men, women, and children victimized by an endless "invisible war"47 in which their remnants of life are devoured by tuberculosis, schistosomiasis, infant diarrhea ... by the myriad diseases of poverty (most of which, in the terminology of the oppressors, are called "tropical diseases").

Father Chenu makes the following comments regarding possible reactions to situations as extreme as the above:

Many, both among the, priests attending the Council and the informed laymen, fear that in facing the needs and suffering of the world we may simply adopt an emotional protest in favor of palliating the manifestations and symptoms of poverty and injustice without going on to analyze the causes of the latter, to denounce a regime which encompasses this injustice and engenders this poverty.48

Unity for Liberation

Whereas in the antidialogical theory of action the dominators are compelled by necessity to divide the oppressed, the more easily to preserve the state of oppression, in the dialogical theory the leaders must dedicate themselves to an untiring effort for unity among the oppressed—and unity of the leaders with the oppressed—in order to achieve liberation.

The difficulty is that this category of dialogical action (like the others) cannot occur apart from the praxis. The praxis of oppression is easy (or at least not difficult) for the dominant elite; but it is not easy for the revolutionary leaders to carry out a liberating praxis. The former group can rely on using the instruments of power; the latter group has this power directed against it. The former group can organize itself freely, and though it may undergo fortuitous and momentary divisions, it unites rapidly in the face of any threat to its fundamental interests. The latter group cannot exist without the people, and this very condition constitutes the first obstacle to its efforts at organization.

It would indeed be inconsistent of the dominant elite to allow the revolutionary leaders to organize. The internal unity of the dominant elite, which reinforces and organizes its power, requires that the people be divided; the unity of the revolutionary leaders only exists in the unity of the people among themselves and in turn with them. The unity of the elite derives from its antagonism with the people; the unity of the revolutionary leadership group grows out of communion with the (united) people. The concrete situation of oppression—which dualizes the I of the oppressed, thereby making the oppressed person ambiguous, emotionally unstable, and fearful of freedom—facilitates the divisive action of the dominator by hindering the unifying action indispensable to liberation.

Further, domination is itself objectively divisive. It maintains the oppressed I in a position of "adhesion" to a reality which seems all-powerful and overwhelming, and then alienates by presenting mysterious forces to explain this power. Part of the oppressed I is located in the reality to which it "adheres"; part is located outside the self, in the mysterious forces which are regarded as responsible for a reality about which nothing can be done. The individual is divided between an identical past and present, and a future without hope. He or she is a person who does not perceive himself or herself as becoming; hence cannot have a future to be built in unity with others. But as he or she breaks this "adhesion" and objectifies the reality from which he or she starts to emerge, the person begins to integrate as a Subject (an I) confronting an object (reality). At this moment, sundering the false unity of the divided self, one becomes a true individual.

To divide the oppressed, an ideology of oppression is indispensable. In contrast, achieving their unity requires a form of cultural action through which they come to know the why and how of their adhesion to reality—it requires de-ideologizing. Hence, the effort to unify the oppressed does not call for mere ideological "sloganizing." The latter, by distorting the authentic relation between the Subject and objective reality, also separates the cognitive, the affective, and the active aspects of the total, indivisible personality.

The object of dialogical-libertarian action is not to "dislodge" the oppressed from a mythological reality in order to "bind" them to another reality. On the contrary, the object of dialogical action is to make it possible for the oppressed, by perceiving their adhesion, to opt to transform an unjust reality.

Since the unity of the oppressed involves solidarity among them, regardless of their exact status, ths unity unquestionably requires class consciousness. However, the submersion in reality which characterizes the peasants of Latin America means that consciousness of being an oppressed class must be preceded (or at least accompanied) by achieving consciousness of being oppressed individuals.49

Proposing as a problem, to a European peasant, the fact that he or she is a person might strike them as strange. This is not true of Latin-American peasants, whose world usually ends at the boundaries of the latifundium, whose gestures to some extent simulate those of the animals and the trees, and who often consider themselves equal to the latter.

Men who are bound to nature and to the oppressor in this way must come to discern themselves as persons prevented from being. And discovering themselves means in the first instance discovering themselves as Pedro, as Antonio, or as Josefa. This discovery implies a different perception of the meaning of designations: the words "world," "men," "culture," "tree," "work," "animal," reassume their true significance. The peasants now see themselves as transformers of reality (previously a mysterious entity) through their creative labor. They discover that—as people—they can no longer continue to be "things" possessed by others; and they can move from consciousness of themselves as oppressed individuals to the consciousness of an oppressed class.

Any attempt to unify the peasants based on activist methods which rely on "slogans" and do not deal with these fundamental aspects produces a mere juxtaposition of individuals, giving a purely mechanistic character to their action. The unity of the oppressed occurs at the human level, not at the level of things. It occurs in a reality which is only authentically comprehended in the dialectic between the sub- and superstructure.

In order for the oppressed to unite, they must first cut the umbilical cord of magic and myth which binds them to the world of oppression; the unity which links them to each other must be of a different nature. To achieve this indispensable unity the revolutionary process must be, from the beginning, cultural action. The methods used to achieve the unity of the oppressed will depend on the latters historical and existential experience within the social structure.

Peasants live in a "closed" reality with a single, compact center of oppressive decision; the urban oppressed live in an expanding context in which the oppressive command center is plural and complex. Peasants are under the control of a dominant figure who incarnates the oppressive system; in urban areas, the oppressed are subjected to an "oppressive impersonality." In both cases the oppressive power is to a certain extent "invisible": in the rural zone, because of its proximity to the oppressed; in the cities, because of its dispersion.

Forms of cultural action in such different situations as these have nonetheless the same objective: to clarify to the oppressed the objective situation which binds them to the oppressors, visible or not. Only forms of action which avoid mere speech-making and ineffective "blah" on the one hand, and mechanistic activism on the other, can also oppose the divisive action of the dominant elites and move towards the unity of the oppressed.


In the theory of antidialogical action, manipulation is indispensable to conquest and domination; in the dialogical theory of action the organization of the people presents the antagonistic opposite of this manipulation. Organization is not only directly linked to unity, but is a natural development of that unity. Accordingly, the leaders' pursuit of unity is necessarily also an attempt to organize the people, requiring witness to the fact that the struggle for liberation is a common task. This constant, humble, and courageous witness emerging from cooperation in a shared effort—the liberation of women and men—avoids the danger of antidialogical control. The form of witness may vary, depending on the historical conditions of any society; witness itself, however, is an indispensable element of revolutionary action.

In order to determine the what and how of that witness, it is therefore essential to have an increasingly critical knowledge of the current historical context, the view of the world held by the people, the principal contradiction of society, and the principal aspect of that contradiction. Since these dimensions of witness are historical, dialogical, and therefore dialectical, witness cannot simply import them from other contexts without previously analyzing its own. To do otherwise is to absolutize and mythologize the relative; alienation then becomes unavoidable. Witness, in the dialogical theory of action, is one of the principal expressions of the cultural and educational character of the revolution.

The essential elements of witness which do not vary historically include: consistency between words and actions; boldness which urges the witnesses to confront existence as a permanent risk; radicalization (not sectarianism) leading both the witnesses and the ones receiving that witness to increasing action; courage to love (which, far from being accommodation to an unjust world, is rather the transformation of that world in behalf of the increasing liberation of humankind); and faith in the people, since it is to them that witness is made—although witness to the people, because of their dialectical relations with the dominant elites, also affects the latter (who respond to that witness in their customary way).

All authentic (that is, critical) witness involves the daring to run risks, including the possibility that the leaders will not always win the immediate adherence of the people. Witness which has not borne fruit at a certain moment and under certain conditions is not thereby rendered incapable of bearing fruit tomorrow. Since witness is not an abstract gesture, but an action—a confrontation with the world and with people—it is not static. It is a dynamic element which becomes part of the societal context in which it occurred; from that moment, it does not cease to affect that context.50

In antidialogical action, manipulation anesthetizes the people and facilitates their domination; in dialogical action manipulation is superseded by authentic organization. In antidialogical action, manipulation serves the ends of conquest; in dialogical action, daring and loving witness serve the ends of organization.

For the dominant elites, organization means organizing themselves. For the revolutionary leaders, organization means organizing themselves with the people. In the first event, the dominant elite increasingly structures its power so that it can more efficiently dominate and depersonalize; in the second, organization only corresponds to its nature and objective if in itself it constitutes the practice of freedom. Accordingly, the discipline necessary to any organization must not be confused with regimentation. It is quite true that without leadership, discipline, determination, and objectives—without tasks to fulfill and accounts to be rendered—an organization cannot survive, and revolutionary action is thereby diluted. This fact, however, can never justify treating the people as things to be used. The people are already depersonalized by oppression—if the revolutionary leaders manipulate them, instead of working towards their conscientização critical consciousness, the very objective of organization (that is, liberation) is thereby negated.

Organizing the people is the process in which the revolutionary leaders, who are also prevented from saying their own word,51 initiate the experience of learning how to name the world. This is true learning experience, and therefore dialogical. So it is that the leaders cannot say their word alone; they must say it with the people. Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people—they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.

The fact that the leaders who organize the people do not have the right to arbitrarily impose their word does not mean that they must therefore take a liberalist position which would encourage license among the people, who are accustomed to oppression. The dialogical theory of action opposes both authoritarianism and license, and thereby affirms authority and freedom. There is no freedom without authority, but there is also no authority without freedom. All freedom contains the possibility that under special circumstances (and at different existential levels) it may become authority. Freedom and authority cannot be isolated, but must be considered in relationship to each other.52

Authentic authority is not affirmed as such by a mere transfer of power, but through delegation or in sympathetic adherence. If authority is merely transferred from one group to another, or is imposed upon the majority, it degenerates into authoritarianism. Authority can avoid conflict with freedom only if it is "freedom-become-authority." Hypertrophy of the one provokes atrophy of the other. Just as authority cannot exist without freedom, and vice versa, authoritarianism cannot exist without denying freedom, nor license without denying authority.

In the theory of dialogical action, organization requires authority, so it cannot be authoritarian; it requires freedom, so it cannot be licentious. Organization is, rather, a highly educational process in which leaders and people together experience true authority and freedom, which they then seek to establish in society by transforming the reality which mediates them.

Cultural Synthesis

Cultural action is always a systematic and deliberate form of action which operates upon the social structure, either with the objective of preserving that structure or of transforming it. As a form of deliberate and systematic action, all cultural action has its theory which determines its ends and thereby defines its methods. Cultural action either serves domination (consciously or unconsciously) or it serves the liberation of men and women. As these dialectically opposed types of cultural action operate in and upon the social structure, they create dialectical relations of permanence and change.

The social structure, in order to be, must become; in other words, becoming is the way the social structure expresses "duration," in the Bergsonian sense of the term.53

Dialogical cultural action does not have as its aim the disappearance of the permanence-change dialectic (an impossible aim, since disappearance of the dialectic would require the disappearance of the social structure itself and thus of men); it aims, rather, at surmounting the antagonistic contradictions of the social structure, thereby achieving the liberation of human beings.

Antidialogical cultural action, on the other hand, aims at mythicizing such contradictions, thereby hoping to avoid (or hinder insofar as possible) the radical transformation of reality. Antidialogical action explicitly or implicitly aims to preserve, within the social structure, situations which favor its own agents. While the latter would never accept a transformation of the structure sufficiently radical to overcome its antagonistic contradictions, they may accept reforms which do not affect their power of decision over the oppressed. Hence, this modality of action involves the conquest of the people, their division, their manipulation, and cultural invasion. It is necessarily and fundamentally an induced action. Dialogical action, however, is characterized by the supersedence of any induced aspect. The incapacity of antidialogical cultural action to supersede its induced character results from its objective: domination; the capacity of dialogical cultural action to do this lies in its objective: liberation.

In cultural invasion, the actors draw the thematic content of their action from their own values and ideology; their starting point is their own world, from which they enter the world of those they invade. In cultural synthesis, the actors who come from "another world" to the world of the people do so not as invaders. They do not come to teach or to transmit or to give anything, but rather to learn, with the people, about the people's world.

In cultural invasion the actors (who need not even go personally to the invaded culture; increasingly, their action is carried out by technological instruments) superimpose themselves on the people, who are assigned the role of spectators, of objects. In cultural synthesis, the actors become integrated with the people, who are coauthors of the action that both perform upon the world.

In cultural invasion, both the spectators and the reality to be preserved are objects of the actors' action. In cultural synthesis, there are no spectators; the object of the actors action is the reality to be transformed for the liberation of men.

Cultural synthesis is thus a mode of action for confronting culture itself, as the preserver of the very structures by which it was formed. Cultural action, as historical action, is an instrument for superseding the dominant alienated and alienating culture. In this sense, every authentic revolution is a cultural revolution.

The investigation of the peoples generative themes or meaningful thematics described in chapter 3 constitutes the starting point for the process of action as cultural synthesis. Indeed, it is not really possible to divide this process into two separate steps; first, thematic investigation, and then action as cultural synthesis. Such a dichotomy would imply an initial phase in which the people, as passive objects, would be studied, analyzed, and investigated by the investigators—a procedure congruent with antidialogical action. Such division would lead to the naive conclusion that action as synthesis follows from action as invasion.

In dialogical theory, this division cannot occur. The Subjects of thematic investigation are not only the professional investigators but also the men and women of the people whose thematic universe is being sought. Investigation—the first moment of action as cultural synthesis—establishes a climate of creativity which will tend to develop in the subsequent stages of action. Such a climate does not exist in cultural invasion, which through alienation kills the creative enthusiasm of those who are invaded, leaving them hopeless and fearful of risking experimentation, without which there is no true creativity.

Those who are invaded, whatever their level, rarely go beyond the models which the invaders prescribe for them. In cultural synthesis there are no invaders; hence, there are no imposed models. In their stead, there are actors who critically analyze reality (never separating this analysis from action) and intervene as Subjects in the historical process.

Instead of following predetermined plans, leaders and people, mutually identified, together create the guidelines of their action. In this synthesis, leaders and people are somehow reborn in new knowledge and new action. Knowledge of the alienated culture leads to transforming action resulting in a culture which is being freed from alienation. The more sophisticated knowledge of the leaders is remade in the empirical knowledge of the people, while the latter is refined by the former.

In cultural synthesis—and only in cultural synthesis—it is possible to resolve the contradiction between the world view of the leaders and that of the people, to the enrichment of both. Cultural synthesis does not deny the differences between the two views; indeed, it is based on these differences. It does deny the invasion of one by the other, but affirms the undeniable support each gives to the other.

Revolutionary leaders must avoid organizing themselves apart from the people; whatever contradiction to the people may occur fortuitously, due to certain historical conditions, must be solved—not augmented by the cultural invasion of an imposed relationship. Cultural synthesis is the only way.

Revolutionary leaders cofrimit many errors and miscalculations by not taking into account something so real as the people's view of the world: a view which explicitly and implicitly contains their concerns, their doubts, their hopes, their way of seeing the leaders, their perceptions of themselves and of the oppressors, their religious beliefs (almost always syncretic), their fatalism, their rebellious reactions. None of these elements can be seen separately, for in interaction all of them compose a totality. The oppressor is interested in knowing this totality only as an aid to his action of invasion in order to dominate or preserve domination. For the revolutionary leaders, the knowledge of this totality is indispensable to their action as cultural synthesis.

Cultural synthesis (precisely because it is a synthesis) does not mean that the objectives of revolutionary action should be limited by the aspirations expressed in the world view of the people. If this were to happen (in the guise of respect for that view), the revolutionary leaders would be passively bound to that vision. Neither invasion by the leaders of the people's world view nor mere adaptation by the leaders to the (often naive) aspirations of the people is acceptable.

To be concrete: if at a given historical moment the basic aspiration of the people goes no further than a demand for salary increases, the leaders can commit one of two errors. They can limit their action to stimulating this one demand54 or they can overrule this popular aspiration and substitute something more far-reaching—but something which has not yet come to the forefront of the people's attention. In the first case, the revolutionary leaders follow a line of adaptation to the people's demands. In the second case, by disrespecting the aspirations of the people, they fall into cultural invasion.

The solution lies in synthesis: the leaders must on the one hand identify with the people's demand for higher salaries, while on the other they must pose the meaning of that very demand as a problem. By doing this, the leaders pose as a problem a real, concrete, historical situation of which the salary demand is one dimension. It will thereby become clear that salary demands alone cannot comprise a definitive solution. The essence of this solution can be found in the previously cited statement by bishops of the Third World that "if the workers do not somehow come to be owners of their own labor, all structural reforms will be ineffective . . . they [must] be owners, not sellers, of their labor . . . [for] any purchase or sale of labor is a type of slavery"

To achieve critical consciousness of the facts that it is necessary to be the "owner of one's own labor," that labor "constitutes part of the human person," and that "a human being can neither be sold nor can he sell himself" is to go a step beyond the deception of palliative solutions. It is to engage in authentic transformation of reality in order, by humanizing that reality, to humanize women and men.

In the antidialogical theory of action, cultural invasion serves the ends of manipulation, which in turn serves the ends of conquest, and conquest the ends of domination. Cultural synthesis serves the ends of organization; organization serves the ends of liberation.

This work deals with a very obvious truth: just as the oppressor, in order to oppress, needs a theory of oppressive action, so the oppressed, in order to become free, also need a theory of action.

The oppressor elaborates his theory of action without the people, for he stands against them. Nor can the people—as long as they are crushed and oppressed, internalizing the image of the oppressor—construct by themselves the theory of their liberating action. Only in the encounter of the people with the revolutionary leaders—in their communion, in their praxis—can this theory be built.


  1. 1. Vladimir Lenin, "What is to be Done," in Essential Works of Lenin, Henry M. Christman, ed (New York, 1966), p. 69.

  2. 2. This danger further requires the revolutionary leaders to resist imitating the procedures of the oppressors, who "enter" the oppressed and are "housed" by the latter. The revolutionaries, in their praxis with the oppressed, cannot try to "reside" in the latter. On the contrary, when they try (with the oppressed) to "throw out" the oppressors, they do this in order to live with the oppressed—not to live within them.

  3. 3. Although the oppressed, who have always been subject to a regime of exploitation, may understandably impart a revanchist dimension to the revolutionary struggle, the revolution must not exhaust its forces in this dimension.

  4. 4. "While we might obtain some benefit from doubt," said Fidel Castro to the Cuban people as he confirmed the death of Guevara, "lies, fear of the truth, complicity with false illusions, and complicity with lies have never been weapons of the revolution." Quoted in Gramma. October 17, 1967. Emphasis added.

  5. 5. Once more, let me repeat that this dialogical encounter cannot take place between antagonists.

  6. 6. 'The epochs during which the dominant classes are stable, epochs in which the workers* movement must defend itself against a powerful adversary which is occasionally threatening and is in every case solidly seated in power, produces naturally a socialist literature which emphasizes the 'material' element of reality, the obstacles to be overcome, and the scant efficacy of human awareness and action." Goldman, op. cit., pp. 80-81.

  7. 7. Fernando Garcia, a Honduran, in a course for Latin Americans (Santiago, 1967).

  8. 8. Niebuhr, op. cit.t pp. 117-118.

  9. 9. Sometimes this "word" is not even spoken. The presence of someone (not necessarily belonging to a revolutionary group) who can threaten the oppressor "housed" in the people is sufficient for the latter to assume destructive positions.

    A student once told me how; in a certain Latin American peasant community, a fanatical priest had denounced the presence in the community of two "communists" who were "endangering" what he called the "Catholic faith." That very night the peasants, to a man, joined together to burn alive the two simple elementary school teachers who had been educating the local children. Perhaps that priest had seen in the house of the teachers a book with a bearded man on the cover . . .

  10. 10. Once more, I wish to emphasize that there is no dichotomy between dialogue and revolutionary action. There is not one stage for dialogue and another for revolution. On the contrary, dialogue is the essence of revolutionary action. In the theory of this action, the actors intersubjectively direct their action upon an object (reality, which mediates them) with the humanization of men (to be achieved by transforming that reality) as their objective.
    In the theory of oppressor action, antidialogical in essence, the above scheme is simplified. The actors have as simultaneous objects of their action both reality and the oppressed, and the preservation of oppression (through the preservation of oppressive reality) as their objective.
    (revolutionary leaders)
    (the oppressed)
    (dominant elites)

  11. 11. See Mao Tse Tung, op. cit.

  12. 12. Gajo Petrovic, "Man and Freedom," in Socialist Humanism, edited by Erich Fromm (New York, 1965), pp. 274-276. By the same author, see Marx in the Mid-Twentieth Century (New York, 1967).

  13. 13. Once a popular revolution has come to power, the fact that the new power has the ethical duty to repress any attempt to restore the old oppressive power by no means signifies that the revolution is contradicting its dialogical character. Dialogue between the former oppressors and the oppressed as antagonistic classes was not possible before the revolution; it continues to be impossible afterward.

  14. 14. "Moreover, economically developed countries should take particular care lest, in giving aid to poorer countries, they endeavor to turn the prevailing political situation to their own advantage, and seek to dominate them.

    Should perchance such attempts be made, this clearly would be but another form of colonialism which, although disguised in name, merely reflects their earlier but outdated dominion, now abandoned by many countries. When international relations are thus obstructed, the orderly progress of all peoples is endangered" Pope John XXIII, "Christianity and Social Progress/' from the Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra, articles 171 and 172.

  15. 15. Memmi refers to the image the colonizer constructs of the colonized: "By his accusation the colonizer establishes the colonized as being lazy. He decides that laziness is constitutional in the very nature of the colonized/' Memmi, op. cit.t p. 81.

  16. 16. It is not the media themselves which I criticize, but the way they are used.

  17. 17. This criticism of course does not apply to actions within a dialectical perspective, based on the understanding of the local community both as a totality in itself and as part of a larger totality. It is directed at those who do not realize that the development of the local community cannot occur except in the total context of which it is a part, in interaction with other parts. This requirement implies the consciousness of unity in diversification, of organization which channels forces in dispersion, and a clear awareness of the necessity to transform reality. This (understandably) is what frightens the oppressors.

  18. 18. Bishop Franic Split refers eloquently to this point: "If the workers do not become in some way the owners of their labor, all structural reforms will be ineffective. [This is true] even if the workers receive a higher salary in an economic system but are not content with these raises. They want to be owners, not sellers, of their labor. ... At present the workers are increasingly aware that labor represents a part of the human person. A person, however cannot be bought; neither can he sell himself. Any purchase or sale of labor is a type of slavery. The evolution of human society in this respect is clearly progressing within a system said to be less responsive than our own to the question of human dignity, i.e., Marxism." "15 Obispos hablan en prol del Tercer Mundo." CIDOC Informa (Mexico, 1967), Doc. 67/35, pp. 1-11.

  19. 19. With respect to social classes and the struggle between them (which Karl Marx is often accused of inventing), see Marx's letter to J. Weydemeyer dated March 1, 1852: ". . . no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production; (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to classless society ..." Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works (New York, 1968), p. 679.

  20. 20. For this reason it is indispensable for the oppressors to keep the peasants isolated from the urban workers, just as it is indispensable to keep both groups isolated from the students. The testimony of rebellion of the latter (although they do not sociologically constitute a class) makes them dangerous in the event they join the people. It is thus necessary to convince the lower classes that students are irresponsible and disorderly, that their testimony is false because as students they should be studying, just as the factory workers and the peasants should be working towards the "nation's progress."

  21. 21. Tiradentes was leader of an abortive revolt for the independence of Brazil from Portugal in 1789 in Ouro Preto, State of Minas Gerais. This movement is historically called the Inconjidencia Mineira.—Translator's note.

  22. 22. Visconde de Barbacena, royal administrator of the province.—Translators note.

  23. 23. Pacts are only valid for the masses (and in this case they are no longer pacts) when the objectives of the action in process or to be developed are subject to their decision.

  24. 24. In the "organization" which results from acts of manipulation, the people—mere guided objects—are adapted to the objectives of the manipulators. In true organization, the individuals are active in the organizing process, and the objectives of the organization are not imposed by others. In the first case, the organization is a means of "massification," in the second, a means of liberation. [In Brazilian political terminology, "massification" is the process of reducing the people to a manageable, unthinking agglomeration.—Translator]

  25. 25. Francisco Weffert, "Politica de massas," Politico e Revolugao social no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro, 1967), p. 187.

  26. 26. Getulio Vargas led the revolution which overthrew Brazilian President Washington Luis in 1930. He remained in power as a dictator until 1945. In 1950 he returned to power as elected president. In August 1954, when the opposition was about to overthrow him, he committed suicide.—Translator's note.

  27. 27. Speech given in Vasco da Gama Stadium on May 1, 1950, O Governo TrabaU hista no Brasil (Rio), pp. 322-324.

  28. 28. Ibid. Emphasis added.

  29. 29. To this end, the invaders are making increasing use of the social sciences and technology, and to some extent the physical sciences as well, to improve and refine their action. It is indispensable for the invaders to know the past and present of those invaded in order to discern the alternatives of the latter s future and thereby attempt to guide the evolution of that future along lines that will favor their own interests.

  30. 30. Young people increasingly view parent and teacher authoritarianism as inimical to their own freedom. For this very reason, they increasingly oppose forms of action which minimize their expressiveness and hinder their self-affirmation. This very positive phenomenon is not accidental. It is actually a symptom of the historical climate which (as mentioned in chapter 1) characterizes our epoch as an anthropological one. For this reason one cannot (unless he has a personal interest in doing so) see the youth rebellion as a mere example of the traditional differences between generations. Something deeper is involved here. Young people in their rebellion are denouncing and condemning the unjust model of a society of domination. This rebellion with its special dimension, however, is very recent; society continues to be authoritarian in character.

  31. 31. It perhaps also explains the antidialogical behavior of persons who, although convinced of their revolutionary commitment, continue to mistrust the people and fear communion with them. Unconsciously, such persons retain the oppressor within themselves; and because they "house" the master, they fear freedom.

  32. 32. See my "Extensao ou Comunicacao?" in Introduccidn a la Accidn Cultural (Santiago, 1969).

  33. 33. Regarding the activities of this institution, see Mary Cole, Summer in the City (New York, 1968).

  34. 34. See Louis Althusser, Pour Marx (Paris, 1967), in which he dedicates an entire chapter to "la dialectique de la surdttermination"

  35. 35. This process, however, does not occur suddenly, as mechanistic thinkers naiVely assume.

  36. 36. Althusser, op. cit.

  37. 37. On this matter, Althusser comments "Cette reactivation serait proprement inconcevable dans une dialectique depourvue de sur'determination" Althusser, op. cit., p. 116.

  38. 38. The thoughts of Guevara on this subject are cited in the preceding chapter, German Guzman says of Camilo Torres: ". . . he gave everything. At all times he maintained a vital posture of commitment to the people—as a priest, as a Christian, and as a revolutionary." Translated from German Guzman, Camilo—El Cura Guer-rillero (Bogata\ 1967), p. 5.

  39. 39. "Class necessity" is one thing; "class consciousness" is another.

  40. 40. A Chilean priest of high intellectual and moral caliber visiting Recife in 1966 told me: "When a Pernambucan colleague and I went to see several families living in shanties [mocambos] in indescribable poverty, I asked them how they could bear to live like that, and the answer was always the same: 'What can I do? It is the will of God and I must accept it'."

  41. 41. On this point, see Erich Fromm, 'The Application of Humanist Psychoanalysis to Marxist Theory/' in Socialist Humanism (New York, 1966); and Reuben Os-born, Marxism and Psychoanalysis (London, 1965).

  42. 42. Che Guevara, The Secret Papers of a Revolutionary: The Diary of Che Guevara (The Ramparts Edition, 1968), pp. 105-106, 120.

  43. 43. See Martin Buber, / and Thou (New York, 1958).

  44. 44. Guevara to El Patojoy a young Guatemalan leaving Cuba to engage in guerrilla activity in his own country: "Mistrust: at the beginning, do not trust your own shadow; never trust friendly peasants, informers, guides, or contact men. Do not trust anything or anybody until a zone is completely liberated." Che Guevara, Episodes of the Revolutionary War (New York, 1968), p. 102.

  45. 45. Ibid., pp. 56-57. Emphasis added.

  46. 46. With regard to man's defenses against his own death, following the "death of God," in current thought, see Mikel Dufrenne, Pour LHomme (Paris, 1968).

  47. 47. "Many [peasants] sell themselves or members of their families into slavery to escape [starvation]. One Belo Horizonte newspaper discovered as many as 50,000 victims (sold for $1,500,000), and one reporter, to prove it, bought a man and his wife for $30. 'I have seen many a good man starve,' explained the slave; 4that is why I did not mind being sold.' When one slave dealer was arrested in Sao Paulo in 1959, he admitted having contacts with Sao Paulo ranchers, coffee plantations, and construction projects for his commodity—except teenage girls who were sold to brothels." John Gerassi, The Great Fear (New York, 1963).

  48. 48. M.-D. Chenu, Temoignage Chretien, April 1964, as cited by Andre Moine, in Christianos y Marxistas despue's del Concilio (Bueno Aires, 1965), p. 167.

  49. 49. For someone to achieve critical consciousness of his status as an oppressed man requires recognition of his reality as an oppressive reality. For this very reason, it requires reaching the "comprehension de Xessence de la society," which is for Lukacs "un facteur de puissance de tout premier ordre, pouquoi cest meme sans doute Varme purement et simplement divisive ..." Georg Lukacs, Histoire et Conscience de Classe (Paris, 1960), p. 93.

  50. 50. Regarded as process, authentic witness which does not bear immediate fruit cannot Be judged an absolute failure. The men who butchered Tiradentes could quarter his body, but they could not erase his witness.

  51. 51. Dr. Orlando Aguirre Ortiz, Director of a Medical School at a Cuban university, once told me: "The revolution involves three "P's": palavra, povo, e pdlvora [word, people, and gunpowder]. The explosion of the gunpowder clears the people s perception of their concrete situation, in pursuit, through action, of their liberation." It was interesting to observe how this revolutionary physician stressed the word in the sense it has been used in this essay: as action and reflection, as praxis.

  52. 52. This relationship will be conflictive if the objective situation is one of oppression or of license.

  53. 53. What makes a structure a social structure (and thus historical-cultural) is neither permanence nor change, taken absolutely, but the dialectical relations between the two. In the last analysis, what endures in the social structure is neither permanence nor change; it is the permanence-change dialectic itself.

  54. 54. Lenin severely attacked the tendency of the Russian Social Democratic Party to emphasize economic demands of the proletariat as an instrument of the revolutionary struggle, a practice he termed "economic spontaneity." "What is to be Done?" in On Politics and Revolution, Selected Writings (New York, 1968).

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