[OPE-L] Michael A. Lebowitz, "Human Development and Practice"

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Tue Apr 10 2007 - 07:32:01 EDT

Michael A. Lebowitz, "Human Development and Practice"
Human Development and Practice
by Michael A. Lebowitz
Opening comments at Conference on Participation, Change, and Human
Development at the Centro Internacional Miranda in Caracas, Venezuela on
27 March 2007

The Bolivarian Constitution, in my view, is unique in its explicit
recognition (in Article 299) that the goal of a human society must be that
of "ensuring overall human development."  From the declaration of Article
20 that "everyone has the right to the free development of his or her own
personality" to the focus of Article 102 upon "developing the creative
potential of every human being and the full exercise of his or her
personality in a democratic society," this theme of human development
pervades the Constitution.

Underlying this focus is a theory.  It is a theory which stresses the gap
between what is and what ought to be.  Implicit is the recognition that
the full development of our creative potential is not occurring but that
it is possible.  In other words, what we observe now in the capacities of
human beings is not all that is possible, what we observe now is a
fraction of what we can be.  It is a clear recognition that human
development is not fixed and that we do not know its boundaries.  It is a
political statement -- because it implies that there is an alternative.

There is another very important characteristic of the Bolivarian
Constitution, and that is its focus upon precisely how people develop
their capacities and capabilities -- i.e., how overall human development
occurs.  Article 62 of the Constitution declares that participation by
people in "forming, carrying out and controlling the management of public
affairs is the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their
complete development, both individual and collective."  And, the same
focus upon a democratic, participatory, and protagonistic society is
present in the economic sphere, which is why Article 70 stresses
"self-management, co-management, cooperatives in all forms" and why
Article 102's goal of "developing the creative potential of every human
being" emphasizes "active, conscious and joint participation."

Here, again, the Constitution embodies a theory.  It is a theory that I
immediately recognized when I read the Constitution -- whether it was
conscious or not on the part of the drafters of the Constitution; that
theory is Karl Marx's concept of "revolutionary practice."  Revolutionary
practice, he stressed, is "the coincidence of the changing of
circumstances and of human activity or self-change."  Marx developed this
idea that we develop our capacities and capabilities through our activity
in one of his earliest writings.  But, it is a theme which runs throughout
his work.  He talked, for example, of how people develop through their
struggles -- how this is the only way the working class can "succeed in
ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society
anew."  And he told workers that they would have to go through as much as
50 years of struggles "not only to bring about a change in society but
also to change yourselves, and prepare yourselves for the exercise of
political power." And, again, after the Paris Commune in 1871, over a
quarter of a century after he first began to explore this theme, he
commented that workers know that "they will have to pass through long
struggles, through a series of historical processes, transforming
circumstances and men."

Always the same point -- we change ourselves through our activity.  This
idea of the simultaneous change in circumstances and self-change, however,
was not limited to class struggle itself.  It was present in all
activities of people.  Marx talked quite a bit about the process of
production.  Not everyone recognizes, though, that he stressed that people
transform themselves in the process of production.  The worker, Marx
noted, "acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way, he
simultaneously changes his own nature."  Similarly, he talked about how in
production "the producers change, too, in that they bring out new
qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform
themselves, develop new powers and ideas, . . . new needs and new
language."  In all this, there is the clear conception of the
self-development of people through their activity -- e.g., Marx commented
that "when the worker cooperates in a planned way with others, he strips
off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his

This idea about developing the capabilities of human beings, too, was
central for Marx.  What was his vision?  It was the development of what he
called "the rich human being" -- the person for whom her own development
is an inner necessity, the person who is rich in both abilities and needs.
 This, for Marx, was real wealth -- human wealth, "the developed
productive power of all individuals."  He asked, "what is wealth other
than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures,
productive forces"?  The goal, Marx insisted, is the "totally developed
individual," the "development of the rich individuality which is as
all-sided in its production as in its consumption," the "absolute
working-out of his creative potentialities," the "complete working out of
the human content," the "development of all human powers as such the end
in itself."  Here was Marx's goal -- the creation of a society which would
permit this, a society which encourages "the all-round development of the

Of course, Marx was not alone in stressing the importance of human
development.  This was the theme of most 19th-century socialists -- the
idea that people should have the opportunity to develop and use their
faculties.  And, this goal was described by Marx's partner Frederick
Engels as the organization of a "society in such a way that every member
of it can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete

But, human development has become also a focus of many writers in the late
20th century and at the present time.  Why?  Because it has become so
obvious that the development of human beings and human capacities is not
at all the same as rising national income.  So, in recent years,
literature on social and economic development has emphasized increasingly
the process of human development.  Moving away from the crude
identification of development with statistics on economic growth, this
focus (most obvious in the Human Development Reports published by the UN
Development Program) stresses the necessity to place human beings at the
centre of the meaning of development.

The UN Human Development Reports draw in particular upon the theoretical
work of the economist Amartya Sen.  In this work, the central focus is
upon the development of human capabilities, and this is sometimes
described as the "capabilities approach."  The development of human
capabilities is seen as at the core of human development and as the
condition for people to be able to live lives of respect and value.

But, what exactly do people like Amartya Sen and others in this school
(such as Martha Nussbaum, a feminist philosopher) mean by capabilities?
What they emphasize is the removal of barriers.  Having capabilities for
them is having opportunities.  So, this approach stresses the broadening
of opportunities -- e.g., removing racism, removing sexism, removing
inadequate education, removing conditions which generate poor health,
removing restrictions on the opportunities that people have for a life of

And, that's what the UN Human Development Reports do -- they record the
achievements of different societies in terms of what they provide in areas
such as education and health.  But, they say nothing about how the
struggle to end racism, sexism, inequality in education and health itself
transforms people and develops their capacities.  They say nothing about
the role of human activity.  Rather, their focus is upon creating a level
playing field and removing the barriers to equality which restrict

Essentially, this perspective is liberalism, liberal reformism.  It
certainly rejects the neo-liberal worship of the market with all its
inhuman effects, and it accepts the importance of the role of the State in
supporting human welfare.  However, it implicitly argues that broadening
and equalizing opportunities -- something that States should do -- is the
answer to neo-liberalism.  The difference between this liberal reformism
which dominates current discussions of human development and the concept
of revolutionary practice that we see in the Bolivarian Constitution is
most obvious when it comes to talking about education.

In the capabilities approach, what matters is how much States choose to
spend on education -- i.e., what their priorities are.  What proportion of
the society is illiterate?  What proportion has completed high school?
What proportion has gone to university?  And, it would also ask what are
the gender differences in this data -- in order to explore the effect of
sexism and patriarchy in preventing human development.  Do all castes and
races have the opportunity for education or are they excluded?

But, what it doesn't ask is -- what kind of education?  Is it education
delivered vertically from the top to the bottom?  Is it education that
involves the memorization by students of accepted truths?  Truths accepted
by and acceptable to those at the top?  Is it education that supports the
maintenance of existing power structures?  Or, is it education as a
process in which people learn through their own activity?

These are the very types of questions posed by Paulo Freire, who was
himself profoundly influenced by Marx.  Freire distinguishes very clearly
between the delivery of "banked knowledge" and knowledge which develops
from a critical process which examines the world and our place in the
world.  "In the banking concept of knowledge," Freire pointed out,
"knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves
knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing" (Pedagogy of
the Oppressed, 72).  In other words, it is a gift from above.  The state
provides a gift; the teacher provides a gift.

In contrast, Freire's own concept of education (what he calls
"problem-posing education") stresses revolutionary practice -- this
relation between our activity and the development of our capacities."
Problem-posing education," he notes, "affirms men and women as being in
the process of becoming -- as unfinished, uncompleted beings"; it is, he
stresses, a "humanist and liberating praxis" -- one which "posits as
fundamental that the people subjected to domination must fight for their
emancipation" (84, 86).

There is no place in the liberal concept of human development for this
emphasis upon practice. Whether education comes as a gift from above to
the deprived who are below or whether it emerges from our critical
problem-posing and reflections appears irrelevant.  Again, let me stress
the relationship to Marx's point.  When he first developed his concept of
the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and self-change, it was
in a particular context.  He was criticizing the idea that we can give
people a gift, that we just change their circumstances for them and they
will be themselves different people.  And what Marx said right before
introducing his concept of revolutionary practice was . . .  you are
forgetting something rather important.  You are forgetting that it is
human beings who change circumstances.  You are forgetting that "the
educator must himself be educated."  This idea that we can change
circumstances for people and thus change them, he noted, divides society
into two parts -- one part of which is superior to the other.  In other
words, the same point that Paulo Freire was making -- the idea that
knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves
knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.

The fact that the liberal concept of human development does not put human
activity and practice at its core means that it is essential to develop a
revolutionary concept of human development.  That is especially essential
here in Venezuela.  Why?  Because what is the Bolivarian Revolution about
if it is not about development through practice?  Revolutionary practice
is not a concept buried in the Constitution.  It lives every day in the
idea of combining education and work -- a concept not only at the core of
Mision Vuelvan Caras but also in the new ideas of education in workplaces
and in Moral y Luces.  And, it is obviously present in the idea of the
communal councils, where people can work together in their neighborhoods
to diagnose and begin to resolve their needs.

Precisely because there is little explicit consideration of this
revolutionary concept of human development, it is important to develop
these ideas here.  Once you understand the concept of revolutionary
practice, you recognise that without practice, you can not have the full
development of human capacities.  People don't develop all their potential
if they can't make decisions in their communities.  If the State is
hierarchical and issues instructions from above through transmission
belts, you cannot have people's complete development, both individual and
collective.  If people are prevented from using their minds within the
workplace but instead follow directions from above, you have what Marx
described as the crippling of body and mind, producers who are fragmented,
degraded, alienated from "the intellectual potentialities of the labour
process."  The more we explore these ideas, the more we recognise that
this is what socialism for the 21st century must be -- a profound
democracy as practice, a process in which we simultaneously transform
society and ourselves.

That is what our program at CIM on Transformative Practice and Human
Development is all about -- it is an attempt to develop these ideas and to
spread them.  It is a way to spread the concept of socialism for the 21st
century.  And, it is not simply a process of developing the idea.  We also
want to try to develop measures that can demonstrate the link between
practice and human development.  Because a process of demonstrating that
human beings develop through their own activity points the way beyond the
despotism of capitalism (in which the only real practice in which people
engage is shopping) to a new socialist society.

 Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser
University in Vancouver, Canada, and the author of Beyond Capital: Marx's
Political Economy of the Working Class, winner of the Isaac Deutscher
memorial prize for 2004, and Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First
Century, just published by Monthly Review Press.
URL: <http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/lebowitz090407.html>

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