Political document of the Mãos Estendidas [Mani tese] group – Fr. Ezequiel Ramin (1973)

Fr. Ezequiel Ramin

[Fr. Ezequiel Ramin was an Italian Comboni missionary who was described as a martyr of charity by Pope John Paul II after his murder in Brazil while defending the rights of the farmers and the Suruí natives of the Rondônia area against the local landowners. In 1970, Ramin joined the Florentine section of Mani Tese, showing since then a clear propensity for Marxism, as noted by his biographer Rafael Vigolo. A short documentary about him can be found here. He is cause for beatification began earlier last year, more information can be found on the Amazon Synod website.]

[From: VIGOLO, Rafael (org.). Ezequial Ramin: testemunha de um amor sem limites. São Paulo: Alô Mundo—Sem fronteiras, 2018, pp. 40-48. Translated by V. S. Conttren [@, wordpress], August 2020.]

The group Mãos Estendidas [Mani tese] from Florence, Carmine Square, 21, thought it appropriate to draft this document to clarify its position within the organization Mãos Estendidas [Mani tese]. The group deemed that in this way it could foster a deeper awareness of the problems previously faced by the movement. Before proceeding with its protests about the socio-political situations in which the group operates, there is a need to underline our political commitment.

What Politics

A brief study into the origin of the term ‘political’ led to the conclusion that it conveyed its primary meaning, i.e., that of the incarnation within the polis. To be even more precise, it is to make oneself flesh within the historical reality of the person who is beside me. The same flesh, the same language, the same way of feeling the human problems related to local emergencies. Further, it encompasses all local attempts to get out and solve the problems of daily bread and to float in the tempest of facts. For us, making politics certainly refers to precise and concrete distinctions. There is the game of politicians; and there is the human-political reality. The politicians’ game, their organization into parties, into complex relationships of clientelism, of commitments and of power pressures. The human-political reality, acknowledged in the definition given by Fr. Milani on politics, is: if I solve my own problem alone, it is selfishness; if I solve it with others, it is politics. [1]

Now, our social and political committed activities have, and should have, a particular subtlety both for us and for the movement. In fact, this may soon lead us to do things in the name of Karl Marx or Mao and no longer achieve those commitments in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is partly due to the proximity of the existing active groups, that is, the youth groups with a revolutionary or reactionary commitment; from the non-governmental ones up to the student movements themselves.

The local as a permanent dimension

It is our belief that the local and everyday affairs of each person dominate their attention and intelligence through their problems, their news, the currents of public opinion and the worrying situations of local life. When one belongs to a group such as Mãos Estendidas [Mani tese], whose field of action covers Asia, Africa, Latin America, etc., one does not cease to be in a state of crisis and stress within the local life of ‘their new land’. (…) When we operate as Mãos Estendidas [Mani tese], we are always doing it within local communities. We always re-collect help from within these communities. Here we find other centres of immediate interest (work, unemployment, immigration, etc). We invite dialogue with these communities, with their problems. (…) Communication with others requires, on the one hand, a diversity of attitudes, of particular interests and, on the other, a communion of nature (the commitment to the forgotten). We might be tempted—while seeking to make our motivations more active to our engagement—to diminish the social effort between those living through Mãos Estendidas [Mani tese] into the margins of the diversity of a and of techniques employed. To want to unify the choices amongst believers means to reduce Christianity to an ideology which it is not. From an ideology we can draw unique analyses of a situation and action programmes. Now, Christianity does not find this in its faith. (…)

The Christian matrix of the society model

The model of society that we desire and to which we commit ourselves is born and developed from the Christian vision of the human being, of life, and develop a greater and more specific consistency in the Charter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And here too we wish to underline the vision of the person that the Italian Constitution gives us with specific and particular reference to Articles 2, 3 and 4.

To make explicit what the vision of the human being and of life from a Christian perspective consists of, we underline some fundamental themes:

  • The conviction that contradictions not only undermine structures, but are inherent to the human heart.
  • The openness to the Transcendent, accepting the supporting and transforming knowledge of God’s historical presence, so that the definitive and complete problem solution lies in Him alone. May He free the people massacred in the concentration camps, or undone by bombs, or exterminated by starvation, the children killed without being conscious of having ever existed, or the mentally ill, or those who have spent their lives clinging to a bed because of an incurable disease, or those who had no bed at all on which to wait for death. Through Him we are certain to accept a world in which so many people could not have lived to no avail.
  • Choosing love as a discriminating fact for our actions, which presupposes a continuous openness to personal availability, in the spirit of service towards our brothers and sisters. We are convinced that only the one who loves can be free, and there is no authentic love which, in turn, is not liberating. From here, the theme of witness and of constant self-confidence arises first, so that we may not only be believers, but also credible. (…).
  • The refusal of violence, for it is a form of aggressiveness that manifests the inability to accept the other; and the spirit of serving one’s fellow brother.
  • Acceptance of the theme of hope, which allows us to judge the authentic communion between people.

We believe that with this we do not fall into a perfectionist vision. We believe a utopia to be indispensable—which, for us, is the Christian utopia— because nothing can be done in plan or in action without a utopia. The Christian utopia, moreover, is the story of a disillusioned and yet tenacious hope.

‘No’ to Capitalism and Imperialism

From the beginning we must say that our ‘no’ to capitalism and imperialism (whether of the right or the left) implies a yes to an alternative society, of which no one today, due to the complexity of things, can say that it has a definitive project and draft. The lack of such a project does not mean a poverty of general criteria, which we have already underlined, upon which we raise the construction of society. (…)

Towards an effective development

If we genuinely wish to effectively cooperate on development, we must also think of three major phases as movement:

  • Interdisciplinary analysis of the reality on which we wish to work or cooperate.
  • Necessity of utopia: nothing can be done without a mobilizing and inspiring utopia.
  • Political and social strategy: it must have two elements:
    • promotion of a basis to ensure and guarantee the real participation of the people in social change so that the people are never the object but the active subject of change and development.
    • Macro-social and economic planning. This is because we must seek together the promotion and planning in which the people can insert themselves as a multiplier.

We do not think that we can start, as Mãos Estendidas [Mani tese] does, from a motivation like “20,000 people die of hunger each day,” because when we think only through such terms we arrive at debatable strategies, which remain at the level of good intentions. The problem of immediate assistance is necessary for those who are more sensitive to urgency, but it should not be separated from the problem of planning. This sense of urgency must be only a starting point and not an end. (…) Urgency and assistance programs certainly cannot lead to programs of awareness, self-promotion and self-sufficiency of human groups.

We must know the various phases of planning and social promotion within the countries where we intervene [2] and thus try to insert this intervention into an integrated plan that, from assistance, can proceed towards fundamental education, fundamental organization, etc. Here a certain simultaneity between research, action and more research will be necessary. The research that allows me to understand the situation, the action that leads me to commit myself to a solution, the revision to verify if the action is truly adjusted according to the problematic sought and analysed. Research, action and revision must be permanent. (…)

Revolution of Structures and of Consciences

To target people is fair, but also overly limited. Once again, the discourse moves towards the person and the structures. Without returning here to the usual question on the human being and structures, we will say that Extended Hands [Mãos Estendidas/Mani tese] is aimed at the person more than the structures, which will undergo changes due to the consciousness of the people themselves. Marxism aims primarily at structures and builds its discourse through the development of a historical force that expresses itself. People are recuperated within this framework of decisive force to change their own structures.

We can synthesize the topic, underlining that action must establish the objectives it intends to achieve. Then it must create the conscious participation of the people, something extremely important for the continuity of action. (…) The people benefited from our action should realize that the action we have developed should not be continued by us, but instead by them. That is, if it is intended at the same time as a revolution of structures and of consciences.

Choosing Classes

Our decisive ‘no’ to capitalism and to imperialism demands a choice of people. We call this a choice of people and a choice of classes. Let us clarify so as not to be misunderstood. First, such a choice is not a myth, but an instrument intended as a first step towards Charity, presupposing becoming conscious of the sufferings of others. It is not a question of ‘classism’ of those who intend to undertake a struggle with methods and feelings contrary to the values of Christianity, which we always maintain as an irreplaceable base, but one which supports and promotes all conscious initiatives, whether in motivation, purpose or style, a struggle for justice.

Mãos Estendidas [Mani tese], as a movement that is inspired by a Christian vision of the person and of life, ought to realize that Christianity does not in itself encourage a well-defined political choice; there is political commitment, but not a political choice. How should the Christian place themselves before such a problem? In our opinion, we must appeal to a social analysis of reality and, after having clarified their positions including their societal role, only then can they make their choice. A choice that is always in favour of the person and of all people. (…)

Perhaps our rejection of capitalism may mean, as a consequence, an alignment with a capitalist-like proposal. If this is true, we should also stress the choice of Christianity more than a certain ideology. Indeed, an ideology can induce only unique analyses of reality which are, at the outset, determined by ideology itself. Now, Christianity is not an ideology and cannot induce unanimous voices in the interpretation of reality. (…)

The method of non-violence

Within the methodology of the Mãos Estendidas [Mani tese] group, the method of non-violence comes in. To move beyond common places and to assist in the search for thoughts and working hypotheses, inside a framework that encompasses a serious commitment of a generation that suffers from the greatest of evils which is to be aware of the problems and not to be able to involve in their solution all those who, even though they may be able to do so thanks to their social position, deny their contribution, we will say:

  • the method of non-violence should not be confused with a determined rejection of violence, or with pacifism: we must assume our responsibility before events to the utmost extent. Non-violence does not presuppose a world without conflict. Every declaration of human rights is at the same time a declaration of war.
  • how does non-violence face the problem of laws? In all societies they have a function of their own. The function of law is not primarily to maintain order, but to promote a certain justice. Therefore, this is the safe point which leads us to add, consequently, that there is not only law, but also the duty to disobey laws whenever they are sources of injustices. It is not a question of preaching systematic disobedience to the law, but rather of not systematically preaching its obedience. (…)
  • the strategy of non-violence consists in never giving pretexts to the adversary that would serve to justify, afterwards, the repression. The method of non-violence cannot be limited to actions of denunciation or simple condemnation of the facts. Müller, a theorist of non-violence, would say that after all the possibilities of dialogue have been exhausted, it is necessary to move on to direct action. More often than not, dialogue is not possible with those who are excessively powerful and want to remain so and those who are poor and who, indeed, do not want to remain so. When, for example, conflicts in the public sphere happen, valuable people immediately call their opponents to the negotiating table. Usually, these appeals to reason become dead letter. Thus, we should turn the process around and say that negotiations are not the means to resolve conflicts, but, instead, that conflict is a means to achieve the negotiations. It is, actually, precisely when negotiations are not possible that people come down to the square, in conflict, to make negotiations possible and to create the conditions under which dialogue and negotiations are possible.

What are the methods for non-violent action? Substantially they are four:

  • Strike, understood as action of non-cooperation with unjust structures.
  • Boycott as a method of non-cooperation at the economic and social levels.
  • Refusal to give someone else the benefit of my purchasing power, thus exercising a power opposed to the power of my opponent.
  • Civil disobedience as an action of non-collaboration and non-co-operation.

Let us remember that we constitute an enormous force in this sense, we truly are capable of not cooperating with the structures. We can truly refuse to give others the benefit of our purchasing power. Present-day consumerism makes it extremely feasible for each one of us.

It is necessary to study where we can attack and through which channels we can reach the desired conclusions. It is here, precisely at this point, that the discourse of the testimony makes itself felt and compels us. True revolution always departs from us. It is the discourse of poverty and of continuous love. With openness towards others always and in all manner of ways, it is the discourse of charity and compassion, which does not consist in feeling pity, but of involving oneself in the problems of others and feeling them as one’s own, concentrating on those who are concerned with solving them.

Then, to speak of love does not mean that no one will suffer ever again. Talking about justice does not mean that we should give up what is rightfully ours. When we talk about peace, we do not talk before our security. When we talk about peace, it is not because of our haste to do everything we want. When we talk about faith we do not make any calculations. When we tell the truth, it is not to say that we are always correct (…). [3]

[1] A well-known definition found in the book Letter to a Professor (Livraria Editorial Florentina, 1967) written by the students of the Barbiana School, directed by Father Venanzio Milan
[2] Reference is made here to the interventions of Mãos Estendidas throughout the South of the World.
[3] Hereafter, four pages are dedicated to the theme “Mãos Estendidas and School.”