Was Paulo Freire a Leninist? Why or why not?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It would be a little simplistic, but not necessarily inaccurate, to label Paulo Freire a "Leninist." The author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire was intellectually devoted to Marxist-Leninist interpretations of history. Early in the opening chapter of his protracted essay on the nature of education and educational processes and the effects on both of the stifling influence of the oppressive classes, Freire emphasizes the importance and severity of this phenomenon upon the role of pedagogy, or the process by which teachers are taught what and how to teach:

". . .while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the people's vocation. This vocation is constantly negated, yet it is affirmed by that very negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice, and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity."

Throughout his essay, Freire repeatedly displays the influences of Marx, Hegel, Lenin and others upon his own philosophy regarding education. Citing a passage from Georg Lukas' essay Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thoughts, Freire wrote, 

"The oppressor knows full well that this intervention would not be to his interest. What is to his interest is for the people to continue in a state of submersion, impotent in the face of oppressive reality."

And, later, Freire injects into his discussion of the requirements for radically transforming educational processes Lenin's famous statement from What is to be Done, "Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement," by which he means both theory and action are inseparable, the latter inspired and shaped by the former. 

Finally, in their study of Freire's intellectual development, Paulo Freire's Intellectual Roots: Towards Historicity in Praxis, Robert Lake and Tricia Kress meticulously trace the evolution of Freire's intellectual development, noting the enduring influences on their subject's thought not just of Lenin but of Hegel, Gramsci, Louis Althusser, and Georgi Plekhanov, the latter Lenin's teacher and the former, Hegel, a major influence on Lenin and, subsequently, on Freire. In short, Freire's philosophical perspective is indistinguishable from those of Marx, Hegel, and Lenin. He was, basically, the mid-20th century heir to Lenin, which could make him "Leninist."

To Lenin, the ability of the upper classes to oppress the proletariat was contingent upon the former's control of the educational processes that were used to shape the thoughts of the working classes. In this, Freire was entirely in agreement. Freire's arguments have their 21st century acolytes in American education, most prominently teachers and professors across the country who seek to eliminate what they consider European -- read: Caucasian -- influences from the study of history, the humanities, economics, and virtually all fields of academic study. The history of European imperialism, such educators argue, unfairly and inaccurately influenced the writing of history and the study of these other fields, leaving unspoken or unwritten the impact on non-Eurpean or non-Caucasian races and societies of European/American policies.

Was Freire a Leninist? Yeah, sure. More accurately, he was a Marxist-Leninist, drawing considerably from the evolution of Marxist thinking. His Brazilian, or "Third World" roots, indisputably colored his perceptions of history and international affairs, and that he was influenced by Lenin, among others, is beyond dispute.

 

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