In the mid-1990s, after completing my Master’s degree in education, I was invited by the internationally renowned Maltese academic and scholar, Peter Mayo to give a couple of lectures on the subject of adult education to Faculty of Education undergraduates at the University of Malta.
I did so for five years and I distinctly remember the most interesting and invigorating intellectual discussions I used to have with my students about the theme of the empowerment of the oppressed classes in a modern society.
Today, more than a quarter of a century later, I cannot fail to recall with a sense of irony what great thinkers, writers and social reformers in the field of adult education such as the Fascist-era Marxist Antonio Gramsci and the Brazilian Paulo Freire, who was exiled by the military junta in the 1960s, wrote about the role of intellectuals/teachers in the empowerment of those citizens suffering oppression.
When I see the state my country is in today I cannot but reflect on the fact that, even in a modern, European Union member state such as Malta, oppression can still exist. Every Maltese citizen today is aware of the hegemony of big business over the interests of the rest of the population, a hegemony that extends to the political, social and cultural spheres of Maltese society.
Although we live in a democratic republic, the reality is that, today, power resides in the hands of an oligarchy of powerful individuals in the world of business whose network of manifest and latent connections influences all the decisions taken by the present Labour government.
The Labour government, on its part, is quite willing to share part of the power it has with this oligarchy as long as the latter provides its material support to keep it in power.
The devastating results of such a disastrous policy can be seen all around us: the progressive degradation of our environment; the lack of enforcement of our laws; the increase in the number of citizens at the risk of poverty and social exclusion; the erosion of values; the existence of a political class on the government side which ignores the needs and wishes of its constituents and bows to the demands of small but powerful lobbies; the manipulation of the political support of the less-educated masses through shortsighted populist measures which, in the long term, will have serious negative effects on our country.
Back to what I stated at the beginning of my article, I cannot but ask: “Where are the Labour intellectuals who will teach the oppressed masses how to fight (in a legal and non-violent manner) for their rights, who, through their words and actions, will empower them to seek what is really in their best interests through presenting them with a picture of reality as it really is and deconstructing the government’s artificial narrative, created to serve its own interests and those of the oligarchic interests it promotes?”
The Labour Party today lacks the social reformers of the past, people such as Ġużè Ellul Mercer, John F. Marks, Ġino Muscat Azzopardi and Paul Boffa. Instead, it is full of self-seeking opportunists and yes-men and yes-women. The very few who dare to speak out are simply voices in the desert, reviled and savaged by the pathetic Labour trolls on social media.
The Labour Party today lacks the social reformers of the past- Desmond Zammit Marmara
The political intellectuals who try to empower the oppressed in Maltese society today can only be found in their writings in the pages of newspapers and news portals.
Theirs is a very difficult task because they have to face a barrage of government propaganda aimed mostly at those citizens whose critical faculties are almost non-existent and, unfortunately, these are rather substantial in number, perhaps a stunning failure of Malta’s educational system which, over the years, has inculcated in students a culture of bowing their heads to authority instead of developing their critical faculties.
Indeed, it is really frustrating to write a well-argued article based on facts and then have somebody try to rebut your arguments with the pathetic statement: “You are wrong, the government has already told you this is not so!”
The big problem facing anyone seeking to empower the oppressed Maltese today lies in the fact that a sizeable number of citizens follow only news outlets which disgorge government propaganda, such as One News. It is extremely difficult to get through to such people since they are so indoctrinated that they will reject your arguments outright and without the least reflection.
This is most worrying as it is the unconditional and unreflective support of such people which emboldens the government to persist in its erroneous ways. When a government knows that, whatever it does, it will retain the support of a substantial number of people whose vote will be decisive at a general election, what incentive does it have to change its ways?
The only hope for Malta is for a Maltese version of Gramsci or Freire to emerge from within the upper ranks of the Labour Party itself.
Is it possible? Yes, it is. As things are going today, it is a question of when. Hopefully, in the not too distant future.
Desmond Zammit Marmarà is a former Labour councillor and activist.
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