By Howard Richards
In our contributions to the global reach of unbounded organization, my branch of it, Chileufu, has been engaged in facilitating necessary conversations. We have also been organizing the excluded. But that is another topic that might wait for another bulletin.
Now I would like to comment on how necessary conversations with people who are not poor or excluded, grew out of a movement that began with a novel method for including the excluded invented by Clodomir de Morais in the early 1960s, before Brazil´s military coup in late March of 1964.
De Morais was a black labour organizer and jazz musician who worked his way through law school. As a lawyer he taught clandestine classes teaching the human rights and the legal rights of the oppressed agricultural workers of Brazil´s northeast. It was the same area where Paulo Freire began his work. Freire said of Morais´s method that it was “the way to do it.” The two once shared a jail cell when both were arrested.
The classes had to be clandestine because even before the coup there was no real democracy in northeast Brazil. Nothing substantial had changed there in the 76 years since slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888. The ex-slaves continued to live in the same quarters, to do the same work, and to obey the same ex-owners. If the police or anybody in the ruling class got wind of a lawyer teaching the oppressed their rights, brutal repression would ensue.
As it turned out, when De Morais evaluated the class, he found that the students had learned more about organization –the careful coordination necessary to avoid detection—than about rights.
This led De Morais to complement Freíre´s consciousness raising with learning how to organize. Later he found an approach to the psychology of education that described and improved what he was already doing –now he was doing it in exile after the coup. He was facilitating “organization laboratories” and “organization workshops” sponsored by FAO in Honduras and other countries. The theory that described and improved De Morais approach was that of the third generation of followers of Lev Vygotsky: Cultural Historical Activity Theory.
So how does a psychology and philosophy of education that historically began teaching poor people who were virtually slaves how to organize to defend their rights, end up adding to its scope, consciousness-raising among the non-poor and convening academic conversations with heterodox economists?
I suggest two sorts of reasons, while noting that the history of De Morasian theory in Africa and Europe would be largely a history of the career and thinking of just one bot from Botswana, Gavin Andersson.
I would suggest two reasons. The first is that when you study CHAT, or any theoretical perspective, you are quite likely to find that the theory has applications far beyond the concerns that first led you to study it.
The second is that the world has changed. In the 1960s it was perhaps reasonable to believe that it was normal for most humans to earn a good living as employees contributing to making a product. The sale of the product would provide revenue sufficient to pay decent wages, all other expenses, and profits for the owners.
If such a belief about normality did not describe daily life in Africa or Latin America, it was perhaps reasonable to believe back then that it soon would — after “development” worked its magic, after people in high places and people in low places ceased to be chronically corrupt, or after the revolution, whichever came first.
Not anymore. Today every thinking person knows that we are all in this together. Most people´s labour is now worth little or nothing in the market place as technology plays social roles formerly played by humans. Mother nature is no longer forgiving homo sapiens for abusing her.
It is time to convene necessary conversations.
Here we are organizing necessary conversations on the following topics. If you are interested in one or more of these topics, please let us know. Assuming that you do not speak Spanish, you can still send us your thoughts, and/or your recommended readings. And you can still join, even if only virtually, English-language conversations that are also now in the offing.
- Is there going to be a new and different rules-based international order?
- Can we fight inflation painlessly with insights from Modern Monetary Theory?
- How to redirect the social surplus to provide dignified livelihoods for all, especially livelihoods devoted to healing Mother Nature?
- What roles can solidarity economics, cooperatives, Ubuntu. local economic development, and other counter-culture economic trends play in solving the problems of macroeconomics, and those of the global economy?