Ten Suggestions for Leftist Engagement in 2008
By Frei Betto
[This article published February 24, 2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.itpol.de/?p=243
. Frei Betto is a liberation theologian in Brazil.]
1. Keep your indignation alive!
Examine yourself from time to time whether you are really a leftist. The rightwing regard social inequality as just as natural as the difference of day and night. The left is regarded as an atrocity that must be overcome.
Be careful. You could be seized by the social-democratic virus whose main symptoms include using rightwing methods to achieve leftist results and agreeing on small matters to avoid problems on great matters.
2. The head thinks where the feet stand
One cannot be a leftist without getting one’s shoes dirty where the poor people live and suffer. Rejoice, and share their faith and their victories! A theory without practice means playing the game of the right.
3. Don’t be ashamed of believing in socialism
The scandal of the Inquisition did not dissuade Christians from the values and directives of the gospel. The defeat of socialism in Eastern Europe should not seduce us to distance ourselves from the horizons of human history.
The capitalism in force for 200 years has been a defeat for the majority of the world’s population. According to World Bank data, 2.8 billion live with less than two dollars a day and 1.2 billion with less than one dollar. The globalization of misery is not even greater because Chinese socialism despite its mistakes ensures the food, health and education of 1.2 billion people.
4. Be critical and self-critical
Many militants of the left change sides out of frustration. Separated from power, they become bitter and accuse their companeros for their errors and inconsistencies. Jesus said we see the speck in our brother’s eye but not the log (or the bomb) in our own eye. Fault-finders are not engaged to improve conditions. The estranged remain simple spectators and judges and some are won by the system.
Self-criticism means being criticized by compatriots, not only accepting one’s own mistakes.
5. Distinguish between the activist (militante) and the dumb conformist
The dumb conformist boasts of always being there and fighting on all fronts in all events and movements. While full of explanations, the effects of his actions are superficial.
The activist deepens his commitment to the people, studies, reflects, meditates and in a certain way assesses the terrain of his actions and activities while treasuring the organic connections and communitarian projects.
6. Be rigorous in the ethic of you9r engagement!
The left acts out of principles and the right out of interests. A leftist activist can lose everything, freedom, work and life but not moral standards. When he demoralizes himself, he demoralizes the cause he defends and represents. When this happens, he does an inestimable service to the rightwing.
There are upstarts who disguise themselves as left activists. These persons join to expand their power. In the name of a collective cause, they pursue first their personal interest.
The real activist – like Jesus, Gandhi and Che Guevara – is a servant, giving his own life so others have life. He doesn’t feel humiliated because he doesn’t have power or proud because he is a critic. He doesn’t misunderstand his function.
7. Nourish yourself with the traditions of the left!
Prayer is necessary to cultivate faith and tenderness and nourish the love of a people, to return to the sources and keep the mysticism of militancy aflame. Know the history of the left. Read the autobiographies, for example the journals of Che Guevara in Bolivia, novels like “The Mothers” by Gorki or “The Grapes of Wrath” by Steinbeck.
8. Prefer to err with the poor than to be right without them
Living with the poor is not easy. First of all, there is the tendency to idealize them. Then one discovers the same vices exist among them that are found in other social classes. They are not better or worse than other human beings. The difference is that they are poor. Therefore we side with them for the sake of justice.
9. Always defend the oppressed, even if they are apparently not in the right!
The sufferings of the poor are so numerous that one can’t expect of them behavior patterns occurring with those who enjoy a fine education.
In all sectors of society, there are corrupt persons and bandits. The difference is that the corruption in the state happens under the protection of the law and the bandits are protected by cunning economic mechanisms, allowing a speculator to plunge a whole nation into disaster.
Life is God’s gift. The existence of the poor cries to heaven. Never expect those furthering oppression to understand.
10. Make prayer an antidote against estrangement!
Praying means being put in question by God’s spirit. Often we stop praying to avoid hearing God’s call demanding our conversion, that is changing the direction of our life. We talk like activists but live like the bourgeoisie, adjusted in a comfortable position from which we turn into judges over those who struggle.
Praying means allowing God to subversively change our existence by teaching us to love what Jesus loved.