Eduardo Mondlane and the Role of Intellectuals

” The intellectual historically, is a product of the capitalist system. Its institutions have molded him. His training is such that he fulfills an important function namely to disseminate the ideas of the dominant class whether through schools, universities, the press or the pulpit. Intellectuals by and large do perform that function and thus enslave the minds of the people to the acceptance of the ideas, values and morals of the dominant economic group in society.  But a few intellectuals’ break loose. they cut the umbilical cord that binds them with the ruling class and cast their lot with their people. These men are viewed with hatred by the ruling classes. That is understandable for capitalisms opens the vistas of its world in the fields of science, technology, culture, economics and politics. It also provides the key to the understanding of the system with its various ramifications and intricacies. The intellectual who is given this knowledge is expected to buttress this system, detaches himself from it and ranges himself with the historical forces engaged in its overthrow is regarded as mortal enemy. Such a person is pursued for the rest of his life and if he refuses to be lured back to the fold by inducements, then he is destroyed.”

Panaf Great Lives: Eduardo Mondlane,

Antonio Gramsci on his analysis on the organic intellectual’s reflects that every class which has sought to take power has prepared itself by an autonomous education. The first step in emancipating oneself from political and social slavery is that of freeing the mind. The problem of education is the most important class problem. –  emerging twenty-nine years after Gramsci, Eduardo Mondlane life emboldens every character of a radical organic intellectual.

Born in 1920, Eduardo acquired his education from the Witwatersrand in South Africa; Lisbon and Oberlin College and Northwester Universities in the USA. With such accolades and prestigious resume, he could have chosen conformity and a peaceful life in his academic career. Yet that is not what history remembers him for. He is celebrated for his anti-imperialist struggles and solidarity with the downtrodden and the oppressed. His life demonstrated an acceptance of Paulo Freire critique that there is no such thing as neutral education. Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom. 

By the time imperialism assassinated Mondlane in 1969, he had laid the foundation for independence and waged the long-protracted struggle to freedom in Mozambique. His role as an intellectual who might have chosen otherwise can be emulated by many today in an era of scholar-activism rooted in liberalism, empty sloganeering and hollow populism. To understand the role of intellectuals in Mondlane’s context- I incorporate some of the sections on the chapter ‘role of intellectual’s’ (page 67-69) as they appear on his biography published by Panaf series in 1972. That chapter follows as written;

In a capitalist society the two dominant classes are the bourgeoisie and the workers, that is, the owners of production and the producers of wealth, the modern proletariat. In Africa we also have a small urban proletariat and the rural proletariat, the landless peasants who work for the capitalists in the larger plantations. But sandwiched between the two giants lies the intermediate class, the petty bourgeoisie. This consist of small traders, independent handicraftsmen, professional men and layers of the civil service. It is largely from these strata of the petty bourgeoisie that the intellectuals are drawn. The term ‘intellectual’ refers to all those who have had secondary or high school education. They include university graduates, teachers, students, priest, and other members of the professional class. Civil servants too, by virtue of their education, could be classed in this category, particularly if they identify themselves with one or other of the social groups. Petty bourgeois elements are also in the communications media, for example in newspapers and television services.

In Africa, the intellectuals have occupied a position of importance far greater than the numerical strength. But that is understandable for in the minds of the people they represented progress and enlightenment. Mondlane’s mother told him to go and learn the ‘witchcraft of the white man, so it that it could be used to liberate them from oppression. Yet in a sense the intellectuals are a creation of capitalism. With the conquest of Africa, imperialism was faced with the problem of ruling the colonies. In the intellectuals it saw a link between itself and the colonized people. They occupied positions as teachers, priests and civil servants. Since the dominant class in society was the capitalist class, who were also their masters, the intellectual’s function was to transmit its ideas, values, and mores to the illiterate masses. For this the rulers paid the intellectuals, and treated them a little above the masses, throwing a few concessions and privileges here and there.

If the rulers used the intellectuals to propagate its ideas to the masses, the people also needed their services. As the only literate section, they were expected to tell the people what was happening in society, and what was being planned against them by the rulers. The people also wanted to know the ins and outs of modern industrial society. The militants and rebels amongst the people also expected the intellectuals to show them a way out to bring about liberation. In the eyes of the people, education meant progress, and therefore although they themselves skimped and starved they saw to it their sons and daughters were sent to school. 

Mondlane though of peasant stock was then by education and occupation an intellectual. He thus understood their problems well. With the intellectual there was a gap between theory and practice. To identify himself with the people, he had to cut his links completely with the rulers as well as with the capitalist world. 

The people of Mozambique needed intellectual’s but what was to be their political orientation? In his polemic with the students Mondlane said that there was a need for trained leaders, but leaders must be revolutionary. Academically, qualifications of colonialists’ leaders were often excellent, but they used their knowledge to oppress the people. Mondlane wanted the intellectual’s to be trained in armed struggle. In that way, the poisonous ideas inculcated into the students by the West, that they were superior to the people would be eliminated. It would also do away with the idea that because they were entitled to privileged social and material positions. Mondlane correctly stated that, the struggle is the most important and best training school there is in the world, the revolution also needs and cherishes its students, leaders and revolutionary intellectuals, but they can get more of education in the Revolution than in a university. 

The intellectual by the virtue of his training, is useful to any society, whether capitalist or socialist, and needed particularly by revolutionary parties/organizations. But to be really effective he must be purged of his reactionary ideas which would do harm to the struggle.

While context within African societies and globally have changed since Mondlane era, the realities and conditions of oppressions have not changed and intellectuals are at the center of it either as conformists in the ivory towers or revolutionaries with the people. 

Additional Reading:

PANAF GREAT LIVES: Eduardo Mondlane