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      Back Issues

      Pambazuka News 561: Special issue: 50 years on: Frantz Fanon lives

      The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa

      Pambazuka News (English edition): ISSN 1753-6839

      CONTENTS: 1. Features


      Fanon’s enduring relevance

      Ama Biney


      cc BRQ Network
      What would Fanon make of ‘the myriad socio-economic and political problems facing Africans and people of African descent today,’ asks Ama Biney, on the 50th anniversary of his death.

      Fifty years since the untimely death on 6 December 1961 of Frantz Fanon, he continues to have immense relevance in our times. His writings were focused on the dialectics of the colonised and the coloniser during the era of the 1960s. Whilst that era has passed, new forms of colonialism between Africa and the former colonial powers, or Africa and the developed world, now manifest in the 21st century.

      Fanon had a clear grasp of the problems confronting emerging African states. The core themes pervading his radical perspective forged from his role as a scholar, psychiatrist and political activist are: The indispensability of revolutionary violence to decolonisation, class struggle in Africa, neocolonialism, alienation and his profound commitment to freedom. What he would make of the myriad socio-economic and political problems facing Africans and people of African descent today with the intellectual tools of analysis he bequeathed is the focus of this article.


      The violence Africa experienced in the wake of independence i.e. since 1960 onwards has been of two forms. There have been the protracted national liberation struggles that engulfed countries such as Guinea-Bissau, Algeria, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The material conditions and intransigence of the settler colonial powers in these aforementioned countries forced the nationalist forces to adopt armed struggle as a last resort to secure their political freedom from foreign rulers and settler colonialism. In Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, it is well-known that these forces were ideologically divided and on the formal attainment of independence, the struggle became an internal one of civil war that wrought death, injury and destruction on the lives of millions of Africans.

      In short, the national liberation struggle that was waged to fight an external colonial aggressor soon became one of Africans with opposing ideological visions fighting each other. In Mozambique the Front for Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) fought the Mozambique Resistance Movement (RENAMO); in Angola the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) challenged the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and in Zimbabwe the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) stood opposed to the Zimbabwe African Political Union (ZAPU). Revolutionary forces such as the MPLA and FRELIMO were locked in a dangerous battle against the forces of counter-revolution in the form of UNITA and RENAMO who were supported by the Western countries during a period of heightened Cold War tensions.

      The decades of the 1980s and 1990s saw new forms of violence and genocide emerge in Africa in wars between factions that were not ideologically driven as were the struggles of the previous decades of nationalist liberation. The driving nature of this violence was naked power, material greed, and ego among African warlords and their armies rather than an external force when compared to the struggles of the nationalist period. The wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Chad, Uganda, Rwanda, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and numerous coup d’états of Nigeria, Ghana and elsewhere litter these decades. The fundamental nature of the violence of these decades is partly rooted in the unresolved contradictions of the post-colonial state; problems of nation-building in which particular ethnic groups and political elites have been excluded from access to the state, power and the resources in their society that failed to be redistributed equitably. The abundant resources of Africa, for example the rich oil reserves of Angola or the coltan of the DRC have not been used for the benefit of the people but to purchase weapons of destruction to wage war to maintain the power base of the contending power elites.

      Fanon would not have condoned the horrific gratuitous physical violence that has terrorised innocent communities and individuals in the post-independence phase in Africa (and epitomised in the catastrophe of 9/11 and elsewhere) in which the nationalist elite promised so much and abysmally failed to deliver. Such brutal violence from Africa’s wars of the 80s and 90s has traumatised communities and individuals and necessitates healing of minds and bodies in the reconstruction of new societies and nations. It continues in the rebel groups such as al-Shabab in Somalia and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the various militias in the DRC. The militias in the DRC are sustained by Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, who are US backed autocrats who have been able to siphon the colossal wealth of the DRC by supporting pillage, plunder and rape in this vast country that has not seen peace since its first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba was killed by neocolonial forces in January 1961.

      For Fanon the use of violence to free oneself from colonial rule was legitimate for he argued that colonialism ‘will only yield when confronted with greater violence’ (Wretched of the Earth). That the wars of the decades of the 80s and 90s were fought between Africans and were extremely vicious and brutal is a consequence of the ‘pitfalls of national consciousness’ that Fanon unsparingly exposed. In essence, the consciousness of the governing elite was limited to their own self-preservation.

      What would he make of the call by the ‘rebel forces’ in Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) for military assistance that led to the UN Security Council resolution 1973 that authorised the NATO no-fly zone over Libya and the eventual violent death of Gaddafi along with several thousands Libyans? The call by the NTC for Western intervention bodes the beginning of the neocolonial project in Libya and the continued military re-colonisation of Africa under the ideological pretext of humanitarian intervention i.e. ‘responsibility to protect.’ This figleaf is the latter day doctrine of the 19th century ‘white man’s burden’ and Fanon would have recognised this imperialist agenda and its duplicity which seeks to secure the resources of Africa for foreign benefit.

      Perhaps, we also need to question whether the era of armed revolutionary struggle is now archaic, particularly when we look at how the Tunisians and Egyptians overturned decades of repressive dictatorship in their countries with consistent and peaceful demonstrations that initially united the youth and then the middle classes and other social groups in their societies?

      If Fanon were alive today, his message would remain that it is imperative the wretched of the earth, particularly in Africa, confront the fact that class oppression in Africa comes from fellow Africans with black skins who comprise a conceited oligarchy which takes seriously its role as the intermediary of the international conglomerates plundering the continent.


      Fanon analysed that colonialism gave rise to the development and polarisation of social classes in post-colonial African society. These classes are: The lumpen-proletariat, the peasantry, the working class (or proletariat), and the national bourgeoisie (or middle class). They continue to remain useful analytical categories for examining the phenomenon of socio-economic differences in current Africa. It appears that in Africa the minority African elite or ‘comprador bourgeoisie’ – as Fanon characterised this class, have become entrenched in Africa and the Caribbean today. They continue to perform the role of the ‘transmission line between the nation and capitalism.’ They collude with foreign capitalist interests to further their own narrow class interests. As Fanon eloquently writes: ‘The national bourgeoisie will be quite content with the role of the Western bourgeoisie’s business agent, and it will play its part without any complexes in a most dignified manner.’ Whether in Haiti, where elements of the Haitian business classes have colluded with the US giant conglomerate, Walmart, to exploit the Haitian poor in paltry wages that Jean-Bertrand Aristide sought to increase; or the dumping by countries of the North of obsolete computers that release toxic fumes in waste grounds in Ghana – it is the ‘hopeless dregs of humanity’, as Fanon defined the sufferers in Africa, who are exploited, whilst the African elite benefit alongside their European corporate partners. In South Africa, after decades of apartheid, sections of the black middle class that has benefitted from the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programmes of successive ANC governments boldly assert ‘there is nothing wrong with being filthy rich’ whilst levels of socio-economic inequality increase between the beneficiaries of BEE and those who live in the black townships.

      Therefore, the current struggle in Africa is fundamentally both against the ruthless forms of capitalist exploitation that robs the majority of African people – the peasantry and working class of their labour and the rich resources of their lands – and those Africans who collude in the misappropriation and blatant theft of this wealth that is denied the majority. The unfolding of this internal class struggle will be one of advances and defeats on the African continent.

      The complexity of the class dynamic can be seen in the example of the role of local African Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that did not exist in their plethora during Fanon’s time. Would Fanon see some of them as genuinely aiding the struggles of African people or assisting in the further subjugation of Africans to outside interests? To what extent are the educated African elite who make up these African NGOS, many of which are funded by Western governments or Northern NGOs an integral part of the neo-colonial problem currently confronting Africa?

      What is problematic is that the cycle of psychological dependency remains in such structures and relationships i.e. between Africa and the North, donor and recipient/user. Fundamentally, the majority of the NGOs in Africa are engaged in the provision of services that is the responsibility of the African state to provide for their people i.e. clean water, healthcare, education etc. It is similar with so-called aid that has been pumped into African societies since independence. A proportion of this aid is allocated to pay African civil servants who have not been paid by their governments but are paid by Northern governments in the form of ‘budgetary assistance’ in all forms of complex loan arrangements hidden from the scrutiny of the people. The wretched of the earth receive the crumbs from such aid packages which never radically transform their day to day existence.

      Another example of the complexity of the current nature of class struggle in Africa can be seen in the calls for the New Economic Partnership for Africa (NEPAD) that emerged around 2000. Again, we should ask: What would Fanon make of this economic doctrine that claims to be ‘new’ yet is wedded to the neoliberal discourse of capitalist exploitation and is being propounded by an African elite? In whose interests does NEPAD serve? When the rhetoric of this economic policy is interrogated it is clear that it seeks to further integrate Africa into an unfair global economy and extend the suffering of Africa’s poor through the continued promotion of private-sector investment that is seen as the lynchpin of wealth creation and distribution in partnership with governments and corporate interests of the North that was also integral to the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the 1980s and 1990s. In essence, NEPAD serves to legitimise existing global power relations rather than alter them. In the forefront of the calls for NEPAD are the African business elites in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya as well as African politicians who launched the policy as a means to give this class an opportunity to reposition themselves vis-vis the neoliberal capitalist order.

      The growth of Western military training of African armies in the post-independence phase has quietly and dangerously taken place with the collaboration of Africa’s ruling elite and Western governments. US military training programmes and establishment of the Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007, now surpasses France which continues to have a huge military presence in many of its former African colonies. American training programmes such as the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program (ACOTA) and the Combined Joint Task Force: Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) are just two examples of several American-led training programmes across the African continent that have engaged African military chiefs on the continent. The British and French military involvement in Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast respectively, demonstrate the collaboration of Africa’s neo-colonial elite with Western forces.

      Perhaps Fanon would have warned that there remains the real possibility of African armies being turned into proxy mercenaries for outside interests who under the pretext of fighting terrorism are euphemistically characterised as ‘co-operative partnerships’ but are engaged in fighting neocolonial wars. Such bi-lateral military arrangements entrench the politically repressive capacities of the African ruling class, for their access to the latest military technology enables them to use these weapons against their citizens as we have seen in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt and elsewhere on the African continent.

      The rise of millionaire charlatan preachers in Nigeria and Ghana and elsewhere constitute new members of Africa’s middle classes who are exploiting the African masses through the rise of charismatic Christian churches. Similarly the rise of the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram in Nigeria also uses religion as an opium of the masses but do not promise their converts riches on earth. Within several of these newly emerging charismatic churches are Christian preachers who insist that in order for material riches to be gained ten per cent of a member’s income should be donated to the church in return for the pastor to exorcise bad luck and bless them with miracle healing.

      As African politicians have lost the political legitimacy of their people on account of their failure to deliver basic needs, it appears that such spiritual leaders are winning the hearts and minds of millions of Africans with faith. The reality is that these churches that are mushrooming are founded on a cult of personality around a pastor who preaches that it is acceptable to get rich through God. Fanon would perhaps see that these independent churches, often set up anywhere and unregulated by the state, are multinational millionaire corporations bringing in thousands in what are now referred to as ‘mega churches’ that mirror some of the fundamentalist Christian churches in the US. Disturbingly some of the latter have missionary programmes in Africa such as the Kabbalah sect that operates in Malawi under the patron of the American singer Madonna.

      In Nigeria, where 80 per cent of the population live on less than US$2 a day, poverty remains despite the huge oil wealth of the country. Beneath the seemingly benign surface of worship, many of these churches have become well-oiled capitalist corporations marketing God in their DVDs, books, music CDs, TV stations and radio stations that bring in listeners, viewers, attentive congregationatists who enrich a tiny elite within this corporate “church” apparatus. The ideological justification of socio-economic poverty and political inequality is justified and legitimated by these charismatic church leaders who grow rich at the expense of their congregation i.e. the poor, who are alienated from the truth that they are being exploited by both their political and their religious leaders. The obsession to get rich is the focus of such pastors that they promote and inculcate such specious doctrines of ‘prosperity preaching’ to the wretched of the earth who also despair of their wretchedness.


      The wretched walking Africa’s earth today are the amputees of Angola’s and Mozambique’s wars that shed landmines across the country during the long civil war from 1975-2002 and 1977-1992 respectively. They are those who survived the hacking of their limbs in the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone from 1991-2002. They are the women and girls raped in wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi and elsewhere on the African continent. They are those suffering from diseases such as malaria that continues to kill African people unnecessarily. They are the mothers who needlessly die from childbirth. They are those HIV/Aids sufferers and their families who struggle to obtain anti-viral treatment or those who do not have access to such treatment and die miserable deaths leaving orphans to be cared by grandparents. They are the millions of beggars and homeless in Africa. They are the street children of Africa denied both a childhood and education due to neocolonial impoverishment. They are the albino men and women of Africa, as well as Africans who are gays and lesbians, who across Africa receive discrimination and prejudice. They are the landless whose lands have been sold by neo-colonial African governments to foreign interests in recent land grabs on the continent. They are the Ogoni people of Nigeria (and many others) who have been economically impoverished by oil that has enriched the minority Nigerian and Western elite and ecologically damaged the environment. The untold toll on the health of the Ogoni is a ticking time bomb of wretchedness waiting to be uncovered.

      Africa’s wretched of the earth includes, as Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem poignantly pointed out, all those Africans who have been prematurely killed ‘through inadequate public services compromised by corruption. Monies meant for drugs, roads, hospitals, schools, public security etc… are siphoned away.’ They continue to be the peasants of Africa that Fanon wrote about in his seminal work ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (published in 1962); he considered them to be the most revolutionary class, ‘for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain’ (p. 47). In the Caribbean, the wretched of the earth are not dissimilar from their brothers and sisters in Africa. Take for example, the survivors of Haiti’s devastating earthquake of January 2009 who continue to see little benefit from the millions of dollars of aid pledged to help the survivors of the earthquake. This list of today’s wretched of the earth is not mutually exclusive.

      Is Fanon turning in his grave that the social category of the wretched of the earth has considerably expanded since he wrote that classic work and that the levels of cruelty meted out by despotic African regimes have been just as worse as those perpetrated during the colonial period? In addition to the globalisation of the wretched of the earth – not only in Africa – but across the world, has been the manifestation of new forms of alienation in our times.


      Fanon’s ‘Black Skin White Mask’ is a searing critique of the inherited crippled colonial mentalities of post-colonial society. It is powerfully and skilfully portrayed in Sembene Ousman’s film ‘Xala’. Currently it is reflected in various manifestations and terms such as the ‘wabenzis’ of Kenya – that is the wealthy minority of the Kenyan elite who live in luxurious gated communities with their Mercedes Benzs and are conceitedly cocooned from the squalid lives of their fellow citizens in the rat-infested slum township of Kibera, yet they retain ties with the extended family in the village.

      Whilst the use of the term alienation is sparsely used in Fanon’s works, he is certainly concerned with this phenomenon. In the beginning pages of the aforementioned book he writes: ‘I am speaking here, on the one hand, of alienated (duped) blacks, and, on the other, of no less alienated (duping and duped) whites’ (p. 29). He gives much attention to discussing the psychological and cultural manifestations of alienation of the colonised African man and to a lesser extent the African woman. Fanon’s masculinist focus and language throughout all his work is characteristic of his era of Pan-Africanists who were predominantly male and unconsciously sexist in their thinking, vocabulary and frames of reference. However, he was discerning of destructive social relationships between the colonised and the coloniser, and in his ‘Black Skins White Masks’, has a chapter entitled ‘The Woman of Colour and the White Man’, ‘The Man of Colour and the White Woman’ and ‘The So-Called Dependency Complex of Colonized Peoples.’

      As a psychiatrist who worked in an institutional setting with Algerians psychologically damaged by war in a colonised society, Fanon had considerable professional experience of the perniciousness of colonial values and inferiority complexes on the psyche of Africans. Therefore, Fanon of today would find resonance with the recent school of thought among African-Americans who are interrogating the impact of ‘post-traumatic slavery syndrome’ on Africans born in the diaspora where white privilege and superiority operates alongside the continued maligned image of Africa. The consequence of this has been an internalised racism within the consciousness of some Africans in the diaspora. The manifestations of this are both covert and overt. For example the pursuit of European values and aesthetics of beauty, individualism, glorification of materialism, the objectification of the bodies of African women in particular genres of Hip-Hop music are negative influences on young blacks/Africans born in the diaspora, particularly in the US and the UK. The increasing preponderance of young African women (as well as mature African women) who wear wigs, weaves, skin-bleach, wear false eyelashes, false nails and blue or light brown contact lens in their eyes in the West, is a consequence of the historical denigration of African women and the elevation of Europeanised/Westernised forms of beauty that have had a profound adverse influence on self-perception. It is also a manifestation of the profound alienation that exists on an unconscious level among African women as a consequence of the sophisticated forms of social conditioning and programming in the prevailing racist Western dominated society. The escape from one’s natural self; false synthetic attachments to one’s natural body that are intended to allegedly beautify and imitate European forms of beauty are the epitome of a people who engage in self-contempt and self-hatred of their own skin and representations.

      The effective instrument in promoting this alienation has been the Western media in all its forms (magazines, advertising, newsapers, TV, videos etc). They are powerful mediums to promote and elevate. For example African fashion models and celebrities (both male and female – but predominantly the latter) who conform to Western notions of beauty and attractiveness i.e. are light-skinned, have processed hair or wear a weave and are anorexic in their body proportions are the predominant images presented. The central questions are: Whose concept of beauty is being represented and what is the impact on our African youth of such images and values? Why do Africans buy into such images? In our globalised world, such images are transmitted in advertising and music forms and beamed onto the African continent. Therefore young Africans on the African continent are also influenced by these perceptions and images. Perhaps if all shades of skin colour and body types were equally represented in these media forms, the problem of the internalised inferiority of African women in the West would not be problematic. In the UK and US, at its extreme are the sexualised images of women in Rap videos that reinforce the idea which has its origins in slavery and colonialism that black people are culturally retarded, sexually perverse and morally loose. That there are white equivalents in the form of Britney Spears and Lady Gaga is not an issue; the issue is their past is not linked to hypersexualised images of sexual exploitation, commodification and denigration as is the past of black women.

      In short, there remains in the West a major task of challenging the myth of black/African inferiority or what Na’im Akbar aptly refers to as ‘breaking the psychological chains of slavery’ on the consciousness of Africans born in a racist society that seeks to keep them disconnected from Africa and continues to portray Africa and Africans in a negative manner. Fanon would have recognised the political, psychological and cultural impact of definitions of identity for Africans born in the Diaspora and atomised from their true selves and potential. Also, as a psychiatrist committed to freeing human beings from all forms of oppressive conditions, he would have acknowledged what Na’im Akbar refers to as the ‘ghosts of the plantations’ i.e. patterns, values, attitudes, that have transmitted over generations since slavery and colonisation, yet continue to reconfigure themselves in the society and are unconsciously enacted upon by those who are damaged by such values and attitudes.

      Another example of the alienation of which Fanon wrote about was expressed in the violent uprisings that took place in the summer of 2011 in England. They were in many ways predictable since going back to the 1970s young black men in the UK, and in London in particular, have been disproportionately stopped and searched by the police under the former ‘sus’ laws i.e. on the mere basis of suspicion. In the US the African-American term of ‘driving while black’ is also an experience many black men in Britain who are stopped and searched for driving a car that a racist police officer believes is beyond the means of a black man, is a daily dangerous reality that breeds resentment and hostility towards a racist police force. The uprisings were triggered by the death of the young black man, Mark Duggan on 4 August 2011. However, whilst there are a myriad of reasons why many from different ethnic backgrounds, including black youth, participated in this conflagration, the lack of a focused political agenda of the youth was apparent. The crucial question arises as to how do progressive forces for change tap into the resentment and rage of the youth to channel it towards positive action? Or in other words how can future uprisings be prevented? These are questions for progressive forces in the UK to address.

      Ironically, in the 1960s during the height of the Black Power movement in the US, the Black Panthers appeared menacing to white society as black men carried guns to defend the black community against police brutality; now those guns have been turned inwards. The covert and debilitating reconfigurations of racism in the former metropolitan colonial powers and their current ramifications on the lives and psyche of people of African descent in the diaspora would surely have interested Fanon? The ‘black on black violence’ expressed in the proliferation of gangs in the UK and US; knife crime that has disproportionally claimed the lives of black males in Britain are symptoms of the profound alienation of living in a racist society. It is a society that denies black men legitimate opportunities of employment as the economic recession impacts adversely on minority communities and black males continue to be perceived in threatening racial stereotypes by the larger society. Making money through illegitimate means through criminal activity such as drugs becomes the means by which money to acquire consumer goods, e.g. designer clothes and the perceived ‘good life’ can be easily gained. With an education system that fails to reflect the black/African experience; low self-worth are entangled with the repressed anger of a small section of these black youth who do not value their own lives and consequently see other black lives as equally less than human despite their outward bravado and ostensible fearlessness. Ironically the mantra of some of these young men is ‘respect’ – yet it is genuinely absent from the lives and relationships young men have towards each other as some would not hesitate to kill another for the filmiest of reasons.

      Ultimately, tied to the plethora of issues and reasons as to how and why black/African youth have lost their way in the UK is that at the root of their alienation is that perhaps the worst thing that can be done to a people is to disconnect them from their historical memory of themselves. Such a generation – and I emphasise a particular segment of the black/African youth in the UK and US (for not all the youth are engaged in negative activity as the Western media often portrays) – is a great risk of failing to encounter its mission. For as Fanon stated: ‘Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.’ (Wretched of the Earth, p.166) This specific segment of our youth is in danger of betraying that mission if they fail to be taught an education that reflects the genuine struggles and contribution of African people; that they are given new opportunities to abandon gang life and a life of hopelessness; that they are taught how to channel the rage and frustration many carry around as a result of the oppressive racist society they are in; reconnect to their history in order to acquire a new set of values and ethics in order to know they have skills and talents that can be harnessed for positivity rather than self-destruction and nihilism. Failing this, the fact that four out of 10 young people in youth offending institutions in the UK are black youngsters will continue to rise in the years ahead.

      Similarly, ‘the new Jim Crow’ in the US that has seen an exponential rise in people of colour in the prison industrial system that is disproportionally full of African-Americans and Latinos is equally an issue that Fanon would have refused to remain silent on. Many African-Americans such as Anthony Troy Davis, who was executed on 21 September 2011, have been subjected to a brutal state injustice in America. The iniquitous racial injustice endemic to the legal system in America also casts its shadow on those incarcerated individuals who have served their time and are released. They continue to be denied an opportunity to reintegrate into mainstream society as full citizens. Unable to vote, unable to find decent employment, denied welfare on account of a past criminal conviction, such an experience befalls many African-Americans more than their white counterparts. In short, the stigmatisation of prison impacts their lives profoundly, isolates them from their family and continues to deny them their full humanity.


      Underlying Fanon’s writings was the common nature of the struggle of all the colonised. He linked the fate of the Algerian revolution with that of the continent as a whole. Today he would have been concerned with the struggle against new forms of political, military, economic and cultural exploitation and hegemonic control of the African continent; their consequences on the lives of continental Africans as well as those in the African Diaspora and the fate of our entire suffering humanity. He was passionately committed to the realisation of freedom and a just economic society in which the distribution of wealth met the needs of the vulnerable and needy. However, he was insistent that, ‘Before it can adopt a positive voice, freedom requires an effort at disalienation.’ (Black Skin White Masks p. 231) Fanon did not prescribe methods of how to construct a just and socialist society founded on ethical, moral and philosophical principles in which human beings rather than power, greed, materialism, and profit maximisation are central. In his resignation letter to the resident minister of the psychiatric hospital of Blida-Joinville, Fanon wrote in 1956 that ‘A society that drives its members to desperate solutions is a non-viable society a society to be replaced. It is the duty of the citizen to say this.’ (Toward the African Revolution, p.63-64)

      The intellectual debt of Fanon is a rich one and he continues to have an enduring relevance to Africans in the 21st century. How human beings forge freedom against all forms of tyranny; how we struggle to be human in a dehumanising society and world are the challenges for this generation.


      * Dr Ama Biney is a pan-Africanist and historian living in the United Kingdom.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Frantz Fanon and the current multiple crises

      Mireille Fanon-Mendès-France


      cc Al Jazeera
      Fanon appears more current than ever, writes Mireille Fanon Mendès-France. Thanks to his thought, many people have learnt that the fight for liberty, democracy and human rights is led against local despots and against the tenets of the neo-colonial order which they protect.

      After half-a-century, the toll of independence in the African and Arab worlds has not been mitigated; whether on the social, economic or political plane, the failure is total. The gaining of independence has not liberated the people from the misery, injustice or neglect they suffered under colonial domination. The taking of power by national bourgeoisies – of which Fanon had already identified forerunners in ‘The Misadventures of the National Conscience’ in his book, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, have led a tragic wrong turning in the anti-colonial struggle.

      He describes in his book, years in advance the neo-colonial pathology, as the perpetuation of domination by the submission of corrupt and unpopular national governments to the interests of their former colonial masters.

      ‘The national bourgeoisie that took power at the end of the colonial era is an underdeveloped bourgeoisie. It’s economic power is close to zero and, in any case, is without the standing of the metropolitan bourgeoisie it seeks to replace. In its wilful narcissism the national bourgeoisie has had little difficulty in convincing itself that it can easily replace the metropolitan bourgeoisie. But the independence that put it literally at the foot of the wall will unleash catastrophic reactions at home and oblige it to launch anguished calls in the direction of the former metropolis. It is entirely channelled towards intermediary activities. To be in the loop, in on the joke, that seems to be it’s deepest vocation. The national bourgeoisie has the psychology of a politician, not an industrialist.’

      In the same vein, if he did see the final exit of the colonial state, then the key question would be the evolution of the liberated states. The construction of just and prosperous society should take place through the all-encompassing liberation of the men and women from the colonial legacy. Therefore it was essential to identify the colonial state’s deficiencies, so as not to be just a devastating sequel.

      The gaining of independence has not achieved the liberation or dis-alienation of oppressed peoples. The societies have remained orphans of the stillborn state, the neo-colonial networks supporting despots who come and go according to their interest and pronouncements. If the neo-colonial structures do not entirely explain the failure of independence then this half-century has been a woeful demonstration of the effectiveness of the colonial time bomb.

      The evolution that Fanon anticipated in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ was to a large extent realised. The struggles for power, the tribalism and regionalism fed by the former colonial powers and led by civilian and military populists, have disfigured independence. The leading cliques and the new bourgeoisies supported by the ex-colonisers have to the advantage of the latter replaced the colonial administrators. A firm grip on resources and the capture of rents by the castes in power – civil or military – have trapped these countries in a situation of continued disintegration. The retreat of the colonial administrative powers has not led to a real change in the nature of the existence led by the vast majority of the population.

      In fact the neo-colonial period ends a re-colonisation under new guises of the African continent and the Arab-Islamic arc. Because all authoritarianism is accompanied by catastrophic socio-economic mismanagement the interests of the former colonisers have been preserved and are more present than ever. On the strategic level, defence treaties have allowed for the establishment of air bases across the continent where, in the major airport, customs officials work under foreign supervision; which says a lot about the state of subordination.

      In Africa, in Europe, Asia, Middle East and America, Fanon appears more current than ever. He makes sense to everyone who fights for freedom and human rights, because emancipation is always the first objective of a generation reaching political maturity. Many men and women have learnt that the fight for liberty, democracy and human rights is led against local despots and also against the tenets of the ne-ocolonial order which they protect. They are used to pillage resources and then ejected when they are no longer useful. However, colonialism's transfiguration did not stop there. Humanitarian interventions, which have taken on an overtly militaristic tone in the war with Libya, have allowed for the quiet installation of NGOs who usurp the influence of the state and tie populations, especially in rural areas, into structural relations of dependency.

      It must be noted that many of these NGOs are shut off to local expertise and depend in fact on funds allocated by their own governments, thus neglecting the opportunity to transfer skills. In this way they extend charity-based forms of dependence. By definition, this renewed domination instils and perpetuates a neo-colonial mindset. Direct economic interference is accompanied by a politico-humanitarian discourse, which barely conceals its hegemonic interests. Undoubtedly, the never-ending and generalised war on terror has given the West an excuse to put foreign troops on the ground, who are charged with watching over multinational interests. The regions most affected by this dynamic are those that are home to strategic natural resources, as yet un- or under-exploited. These include Niger, Guinea and, most recently, Libya.

      From civil wars to coups d'etat, independence has seen states fall apart in the pursuit of profit for ‘intermediary’ bureaucracies which are still in the service of former colonisers. More or less quickly, the postcolonial states have transformed themselves into neo-colonial states where recklessness, corruption and the privileging of private interests have become the rule. State bureaucracies are for the most part weighed down by these informal aspects.

      Organised around the pillage of resources, the concentration of wealth, and capital flight, economic governance – whatever the supposed model – has settled the African continent and the Arab world into a pit of vertiginous inequality, massive pauperisation and the inherent weakness of the postcolonial state. At the end of the last century, dictators have sat back and watched as the warmongering redeployment of imperialism has taken place in Iraq, Libya and perhaps tomorrow in Syria. All the while, terrorism, which we pretend to fight, is in fact developing in authoritarian and obscurantist states, allied with and protected by the West.

      The newest stage of imperialism – globalisation – consists in the opening of less developed countries' markets to the advances of multi-nationals. But the strategy of anchoring African and Arab countries in global markets – delivered as a form of financial first aid – is challenged by the emergence of new actors.

      Emerging economies are coming to interrupt the cosy neo-colonial arrangements and we see therefore the order based on fiefdoms has started to tremble as popular support is cut. This can be seen recently in Tunisia and Egypt. (Not to mention quite some time ago in Venezuela, Bolivia...)

      In the context of international relations, this forces western powers to reformulate their relationships with countries they had considered to be on the periphery. After the eternal war on terror – which valued highly the support of some of the worst dictators – the idea that part and parcel of these relationships is the right of interference is ever present. The right of interference, sold as the legendary responsibility to protect.


      From the paternalist tone of the post-independence years has arisen, with the guidance of neo-conservatives in the west, a so-called ‘truth-speak’ which presents itself as the discourse of uncomplicated right. It does not hesitate to publicly account for its obviously racist foundations. Direct economic interference is accompanied by a humanito-political discourse which is a poor cover up for its hegemonic intentions. The war on terror has been the justification for putting troops on the ground, with the hidden agenda of watching over the interests of multinationals – primarily in regions with unexploited mineral resources.

      ‘This Europe, which never ceases to talk of 'man', never stops proclaiming that 'man' is all it is worried about, we know today of the suffering of humanity that exists in every country where this European spirit reigns.’ Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.

      It's in the name of this parting gift, accepted as truth, that bit by bit the hierarchy of races has found itself replaced by the so-called ‘war of civilisations’, humanitarian intervention and the propagation of the democratic faith by drones. So begins the tale of the battleground to decide the new propagandists of exclusion and exploitation. Selective memory, the forgetting and the incessant hammering of dominant capitalist values aim to shape opinion, forging a representation of the other, the Muslim, the Arab, the black. The enemy who is genetically incapable of universal values, and thus, an irredeemable barbarian, is de facto excluded from humanity. In this context the Dakar discourse remains an important stage.

      For theoreticians of a repackaged, modernised racism, the failure of independence is not due to the poisoned legacy of colonialism, nor the destructive influences of the former metropolis, nor to the endurance of dictators to whom the former colonisers have given the keys of power, but to the incapacity of people frozen in their own ‘archaicness’ to take control of their destiny. ‘Black skin, white masks’ is a fundamental milestone in the anti-racist struggle: a decoding of these mechanisms of segregation and their political insults, analysing the impulses of colonialism and its impact on the dominated. To him, it was articulated in the fight against racism in a universal movement of dis-alienation for the victims of racism and the racists themselves.

      Faced with these attacks, far from being paralysed, the people have continued to advance and have not abdicated the struggle for dignity, justice and a better life. Whatever may be the public face of syndicated struggles – whether the freedom of press or self-determination – throughout the continent, the voices of the people are getting stronger: women and men engaged in the political struggle for citizens' emancipation and to reject the neoliberal model. The founding myths of the struggles for independence are not dead. It is from this angle that one must understand the popular revolts in the Arab world. To reduce these movements to an expression of social malaise or hunger-riots is a mystification.

      But the lost half-century for development and social progress has been a half-century of settling and political clarification. In effect, the dogmatic prisms have lost their instructive power and the only analytic frameworks which still function are those based firmly on the principle of reality.

      Using Fanon's ideas, the conditions of countries previously under colonial domination is an exercise in confronting reality disentangled from ideological blinkers and liberated of all dogma. (In this regard, contrary to those who would rather see him iconified and forgotten, Fanon is more pertinent than ever. He was at once a psychiatrist, an Algerian Mujahideen, pan-African revolutionary, itinerant ambassador and freedom fighter for all – including those who believe themselves to belong to the dominant world.

      Let us recall the phrase black skin, white masks: ‘Me, a man of colour, I only want one thing, to never be the instrument of domination. To never see one man in servitude to another. That is to say myself to another. That I might discover and to want man wherever he might be.’

      Under Fanon's liberty critique, systems of power are revealed to what they truly are: systems of oppression and pillage at the origin of all economic, social and cultural obstacles. Independence hollowed of its democratic content is vulnerable: the gains of the struggle for liberation are in no way irreversible. Freedom for the peoples who rise up has been confiscated by the powers that be, supported by the former colonisers. Domination has only changed its appearance and liberation is yet to come.

      For Fanon, ‘the freedom of the individual does not follow from national liberation. An authentic national liberation only exists to the extent that individual liberation has irreversibly set in motion its own liberation.’ So, with rare exception, the societies freed from the colonial yoke are societies without citizens.

      The objective, at the dawn of independence’s second stage, is to bring back the political content of independence, to one recognisable to the population and without which the shape of independence is just a caricature. Man's liberation is a universal fight based on the defence of private and public freedoms, the primacy of the general interest, the reduction in inequality, accountability of the elected, and the sovereignty of right.

      Real liberation is that which pursues processes engaged in by independence struggles, which can only be envisioned in the context of institutions which are genuinely democratic, strong and representative. Democratic freedoms are the only way for these countries to escape the impasse between domination and misery. An equally necessary pre-condition is the modification of the relationship between international forces and their rebalancing in favour of countries in the global south. But this also concerns the former colonial countries, to submit to the yoke of markets.

      In the context of international relations, the leaders, without any legitimacy but the strength of their armed forces and external support, command no weight in the international stage. It will be time for the great powers, which consider themselves internally democratic, to end their desire to maintain their hegemony over the less developed world.

      The opinionatedness of Fanon, and his determination, shows that there is no inevitability to failure, so long as the drama is known to be the way of life of the people. The solidarity of progress, and the convergence of struggles, the resistance to dictators and neo-colonial and imperial hegemony, are the milestones on the road to redress. Solidarity and internationalism – which for Fanon were inextricably linked – give a continuing human dimension to peoples' struggles.

      Fanon, with his skills as a psychiatrist, essayist and militant, has turned the spotlight onto the unity of the colonised world, despite the fact it is highly differentiated and riddled with contradictions. Therefore, for Fanon the Mujahideen, there is no difference between the struggle as carried forward by the people of the Caribbean, Africa or Latin America. On can even continue this Fanon-esque analysis: globalisation, with its expansionary tendency, which had transferred liberalism's modes of organisation onto the global south, is now doing the same to the North.

      The political and social divides characteristic of exclusion and exploitation tend to unify the world under the interest of the tiny minorities. The treatment imposed on Greece was a response to a foreign debt racked up with the complicity of the ultra-liberals in the EU and the banks. This case reveals the strategies of dismantling social advances which are now being put to work in the developed world.

      Surveillance culture, constructed in the name of anti-terrorism, contributes to the criminalisation of those excluded and disenfranchised by these processes. The media treatment of the recent riots in the UK recalls that seen in France during the revolts in the working class suburbs in 2005. By successive slides, facilitated by the superimposition of social and ethno-cultural categories – the poor, blacks, Arabs, Muslims – Western regimes have re-injected the colonial discourse into domestic politics. By a paradox with a secret history, the indigene is ever present not only in his original form but equally in what Fanon called, ‘the forbidden towns’ where new forms of discrimination are enforced. He noted in the Wretched of the Earth that,

      ‘The colonised world is cut in two... The zone inhabited by the colonised is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the coloniser. These two zones face each other but not as part of a greater whole... The world is compartmentalised, each occupied by a different species. The originality of the colonial context is that the economic reality, inequality, the enormous difference between ways of life, never manage to mask the human reality.’

      It can be seen that, whilst its mode of operation may have changed, oppression and domination of people is perennial. They have even widened to include in these categories the most fragile populations, under the guise of being ‘protected’ by the dominant nations. The form of alienation has changed, but the ideological underpinnings of exploitation invariably remain, and become elements of globalisation which make the planet conform to a uniform pattern. The economic crisis is a crisis of Western capitalism. For the people of Africa and the Arab world, re-colonisation – under the auspices of military humanitarian intervention – no loner invokes ‘the mission to civilise’ but the responsibility to protect, a slippery invention of the self-proclaimed ‘international community’. It keeps its oppressive nature but with an alienating, depersonalised character.

      For those who would wish to gloss over the colonial past and the present of injustice and dispossession, the works of Fanon will be left by the wayside and portrayed as nothing but an apology for violence. Its detractors will recruit from neoconservative ‘intellectuals’ who have commenced a witch-hunt against him. Through skewed readings and biased representations, they reproduce their own ignorance of Fanon's works and their racism.

      The violence defended by Fanon, as a last resort of those denied, exploited and reduced to slavery, is that of legitimate defence of the oppressed who are subject to a much greater violence: that of domination, dispossession and contempt.

      But, as with all manipulations and propaganda, reality is stubborn. Various mechanisms are always at work reshaping relations between former colonies and former colonisers. The rejection of submission and lies, the spirit of resistance which impregnates the work of Fanon, inspires those who struggle for rights across the word. In Palestine, as elsewhere, in the backyards of those who are waking up to oppression, the thoughts in action of Fanon are real, despite changes in the world.

      Is our world free of dispossession, alienation and injustice? He calls on us to resist and never surrender.


      * Mireille Fanon Mendès-France is a member of the Administrative Council of the Frantz Fanon Foundation.
      * This article was translated from French for Pambazuka News by Portia Roelofs, a masters student of African Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Remembering Fanon: Setting afoot a new humanity

      Lewis Gordon


      cc Wikimedia
      Frantz Fanon ‘respected us enough to understand that, as with his observation about every generation having to find its mission, to fulfill it or betray it, the responsibility for that future is no other than ours,’ writes Lewis Gordon.

      Suffering from leukemia and pneumonia, Frantz Omar Fanon lived his last day in what he called ‘a nation of lynchers.’ Bethesda, Maryland, USA, was hardly the place he expected to take his last breath. But such was the course of history. Although a dying man of only 36 years of age, he lived a life of at least 100.

      Some subsequent critics wished to take him literally at his word for being a man of his times. This was a wish of his that was a paradoxical function of his unusual character. Often a messenger of bad news, this revolutionary humanist wished he was more wrong than right. We read him today because he transcended his time, but this is only so because our epoch is also his. He saw ahead of the Age of Revolution that Counter-Revolution was its evil twin. So, we witness a world in which the conditions of enslavement are valorised, where privatisation rules under the pretence of its not holding the shackles of more rigorous subjugation of humankind. Many of us forget that slavery is consistent with capitalism, and that the only impediment to this thesis is, in the end, human beings who resist the profits to be gained from their subjugation.

      Across the globe, the response of many people to radicalised exploitation has been an assertion of democratic values under the rubric of ‘occupation.’ The term is appropriately Fanonian in the sense that it's a logical consequence of privatisation gobbling up public spaces by which political life could be made manifest. If the streets, the squares, the parks, the countryside, the land, the air, the water, and so forth do not belong to the people, where, then, could there be public spaces through which to articulate political points of view? Would not, under such circumstances, politics itself become an illicit affair?

      Fanon warned of this consequence of colonialism, where the human being, as a relation of each to another, is degraded into a dual system in which for one set of people there are selves and others, and for another set there is the nether-realm of non-selves and non-others. Where ethical relationships are granted to the former, it is outlawed for the others by virtue of them being reduced to beings without rights of appearance. For them, to appear is to violate the field of legitimate appearance. They become, in other words, violence.

      Fanon, as his former student Alice Cherki reminds us in her recent portrait of his life and thought, detested violence. This is because he knew it intimately, what it meant to appear in the world as such. He understood, for instance, that despite the many dark bodies bloodied under the weight of colonialism and slavery, the many tortured and those who died fighting for their right to exist with dignity, no enunciation of violence would be recognised save for assaults on whites. It is what enabled many to write the history of the Civil Rights struggle in the United States and the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa as ‘nonviolent.’ Violence only existed where whites were harmed or where blacks demanded to cross borders toward the construction of an equal society. The attack dogs, the batons, the fire hoses, the cocked rifles, the lynchings, all of these things unleashed against black protestors did not register as ‘violence.’

      What could blacks do when fighting back counted as violence but being attacked by whites did not? What can one do when one’s appearance is illicit? To show that one is not violent is futile. In effect, one faces the subordination of ethics to the demands of social transformation. To be ethical demands no less than changing the world, which, paradoxically, is treated under the status quo as an unethical act. This is because, in the end, those who are advantaged by the current condition consider themselves justly so.

      Fanon, then, like Malcolm X, who, too, was born in 1925, continues to be a challenge to our times. Those who wish him to be passé betray a wish, also, to hide from themselves: His continued relevance is a reflection of their, and our, continued failure.

      Fanon, however, was not cynical of failure. It was, for him, instructive; the message of failure is, in other words, to fail at failure, to make it that from which one not only learns but also thrives. Understanding our failure offers hope, for it would mean, in the end, that we are not crushed.

      So, as this year marks two anniversaries – one of Fanon’s death, the other of the birth of his encomium to the damned of the earth – we should meditate on his ending his last work with a call for us to build new concepts and set afoot a new humanity. He did not tell us what that humanity was or ought to be. That was because he respected us enough to understand that, as with his observation about every generation having to find its mission, to fulfill it or betray it, the responsibility for that future is no other than ours.

      Remembering Fanon and honouring him, then, requires going beyond him through ushering forth the best in ourselves, which for many is too much to ask, and for others, too little, but for us all it is indeed fortunate that, while so many negative forces converge in this stage of history, we may still have time to do what proverbially needs to be done.


      * Lewis R. Gordon is the Laura H. Carnell professor of philosophy and Jewish studies and director of the Center for Afro-Jewish Studies at Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was formerly professor of Africana studies, modern culture and media and contemporary religious thought at Brown University, where he was also the founding chairperson of Africana studies.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Universalism in action

      Richard Pithouse


      cc F E
      ‘Fifty years on, Fanon remains an extraordinary example of an intellectual willing to commit to a living politics waged with and not for the damned of this earth,’ writes Richard Pithouse.

      In his first book, written as a student in Lyon, Frantz Fanon recounts that as a young black man filled with a desire to attain to the source of the world the white world slashed at his joy demanding that he return to his place. He found that in a racist world when he was present, reason was absent and when reason was present, he was absent. He abandoned the futile attempt to accommodate himself to a world that didn't recognise his humanity and committed himself to risk annihilation in the vortex of struggle to end that world in the hope that two or three truths wrought from that struggle would cast some light on the way being forged by others.

      His last book, largely dictated in Tunis in a rush against approaching death, was composed on the eve of Algerian Independence and on the tide of a great international movement against racism and imperialism. He had recently met Malcom X and had been invited to work in Cuba by Che Guevara – people thrown up by this movement and as intensely alive as he was. But Patrice Lumumba, to whom Fanon had been close, was already dead as was Fanon's closest comrade in the Algerian movement, Abane Ramdane. Lumumba had been killed by imperialism but Ramdane was killed by the militarists in the Algerian liberation movement.

      For a dying man who had lived his life in a creative and militant commitment to the demand that the world recognise the open door of every consciousness this was a moment where dawn seemed coloured by dusk. It was clear that political and military victories against direct colonial occupation carried no guarantee against new forms of defeat.

      Fifty years later, after so many disasters, so many long years in the tunnel of structural adjustment policed with despotic rule, we find ourselves amidst a new sequence of rebellion. A spark, lit in Sidi Bouzid and fanned into leaping flame in Tunis, has spiralled out through Cairo, Damascus, Athens, Madrid and New York. The fact that there is a real movement and that history has not been slammed shut cannot be denied. But how far this movement will go towards abolishing the present state of things is altogether more uncertain.

      For many of us the great crowds swirling through the tear gas in Tahrir Square may seem entirely distant from our more prosaic realities. But while the scale and commitment of that sort of mobilisation may be very distant, there are always more local and limited forms of rupture in which there are real possibilities for political openings. Whether we engage them or spurn them is a matter of political choice rather than any function of brute systemic objectivity.

      Amongst university-trained intellectuals it is often assumed, perhaps in a neo-Platonic way, that an abstract concept or principle is more universal, truer and perhaps also more beautiful than the necessarily messier engagement with situated reality. But this fundamentally misunderstands the production of the universal.

      In politics, as in art, the particular is the route to the universal. A political truth emerges from a confrontation with a particular situation. Any denial of the particularity from which a political truth must emerge is, ultimately, a denial of the fullness of the human experience. Any presentation of human being abstracted from context runs a clear risk of illegitimately universalising dominant particularities.
      At the same time the presentation of any human experience as singular and contained rather than specific but nonetheless communicable, a fallacy that is endemic to both colonial and postcolonial thought, but less so to anti-colonial thought, consigns that experience to a sealed existence. We should not forget that the truths that Fanon found in the battles in the back streets of Algiers and the mountains in rural Algeria cast their brilliance from Tehran, to Durban and Chicago.

      If we accept some version of Alain Badiou’s idea that, along with the constant flux of bodies and languages, the human world is also constituted by truths, murmurs of the indiscernible that, via subjective affiliation, via embodied fidelity, attain sufficient force to alter the way in which the elements of a situation are normally counted, then we must ask where such ideas come from. The temptation to assume that spaces of metropolitan power, or spaces networked through metropolitan power, have privileged access to insight is widespread. This is often racialised and for many university-trained intellectuals it is mediated through academic and civil society networks that are, despite the language of justice, often frankly neocolonial and bereft of any real prospect to unite force and reason against oppression.

      In the post-colony it is still often assumed, as Fanon said of Martinique 60 years ago, that the metropole is sacred ground on which one can be sanctified. But while political innovation may certainly be found in New York or London, or in a salon in Johannesburg or Sao Paulo, it is not necessarily to be found there. There’s also the square in Cairo, the backstreets of Port-au-Prince and the shacks in the hills of La Plaz. Badiou is entirely correct to insist that ‘Every world is capable of producing its own truth within itself’. Any assumption that all people do not have the same capacity to think and to be ethical, or that all places do not have the same capacity to be sites for thought and political action, is complicit with domination.

      Theoretical insights worked out in particular situations can be used to illuminate, and sometimes with extraordinary power – as with Gramsci's afterlife in India, other situations across space and time. But when these insights are reified and applied in a dogmatic manner they are far more likely to blind us to the novelties, subtleties and possibilities of the new than to offer any illumination.

      Forms of leftism that reify past struggles, deify individuals and canonise texts as scriptural authority will always be with us. The spirit of the school master, the didactic patronage of well-wishing (bourgeois and non-bourgeois) doctrinaires and activists wishing to impose the dead hand of a pre-existing schema on living struggles will always be with us.

      But a living struggle, a genuine mass struggle, always thinks a time and place. It is always what S'bu Zikode calls a living politics – a home-made politics in the hands of ordinary women and men posing their humanity against oppression. To affirm this is is to affirm the need to think each situation in its particularity, for new generations to think their own politics and for actually existing struggles to be the primary space for this work. Fifty years on, Fanon remains an extraordinary example of an intellectual willing to commit to a living politics waged with and not for the damned of this earth.

      Three months after his death Francis Jeanson wrote that: ‘This Martinican, who was turned by his transition through French culture into an Algerian revolutionary, will remain for us a very living example of universalism in action.’ Indeed.


      * Richard Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      The ghost of Frantz Fanon

      David Austin


      cc M C
      Frantz Fanon's legacy remains with us as a challenge that another world is possible, writes David Austin.

      As a young man growing up in Toronto in the 1980s, I considered Third World Books and Crafts on Bathurst St. a shrine to which I made weekly pilgrimages. In these formative years, I, like so many other young men and women who frequented the store, was exposed to writers and thinkers - Audre Lourde, Claude McKay, bell hooks, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Cheikh Anta Diop, C.L.R. James - and a range of ideas such as Pan-Africanism, socialism, Third Worldism, and anti-imperialism. Sadly, the bookstore no longer exists. It expired with Leonard Johnston, or Lennie, as we affectionately called him, who, along with his wife, Gwendolyn Johnston, was not only the proprietor but also the heart and soul of a remarkable institution.

      It was Lennie who first exposed me to Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’. Like most people who read this book for the first time, I was gripped by the piercing reason and his intense, vivid, and dramatic writing. The Martinican clinical psychiatrist literally wrote the book on his deathbed, ravaged by leukemia as his body teemed with an excess of leucocytes. At the time, he was actively engaged in the Algerian liberation struggle, serving as the Front de libération nationale’s (FLN) ambassador to Ghana.

      The FLN was at the forefront of Algeria’s grueling battle against French colonialism and Fanon had earned the respect of the FLN during his tenure as chef de medicin at the Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria in the mid-1950s. There he put his life at risk by treating FLN fedayin who had been tortured by the French. He would often finish treating an Algerian, and then move on to a French police officer or official suffering from nervous exhaustion or trauma, a direct result of the demands of enforcing an oppressive colonial order. To add to matters, he received anonymous death threats and it was only a matter of time before the hospital would be raided and Fanon arrested for assisting the FLN. Unable to keep up the delicate balancing act, Fanon submitted his letter of resignation to the Resident Minister, Governor General of Algeria. True to his form, he did so dramatically, publicly denouncing the horrors of French colonialism in Algeria.

      ‘For nearly three years I have placed myself wholly at the service of this country and of the men who inhabit it. I have spared neither my efforts nor my enthusiasm. There is not a parcel of my activity that has not had as its objective the unanimously hoped-for emergence of a better world. But what can a man’s enthusiasm and devotion achieve if everyday reality is a tissue of lies, of cowardice, of contempt for man? What good are intentions if their realization is made impossible by the indigence of the heart, the sterility of the mind, the hatred of the natives of this country? If psychiatry is the medical technique that aims to enable man no longer to be a stranger to his environment, I owe it to myself to affirm that the Arab, permanently an alien in his own country, lives in a state of absolute depersonalization. What is the status of Algeria? A systematized de-humanization. It was absurd to undertake, at whatever cost, to bring into existence a certain number of values, when the lawlessness, the inequality, the multi-daily murder of man were raised to the status of legislative principles. The events in Algeria are a logical consequence of an abortive attempt to decerebralize a people. For many months my conscience has been the seat of unpardonable debates. And their conclusion is the determination not to despair of man, in words, myself. The decision I have reached is that I cannot continue to bear a responsibility at no matter what cost, on the false pretext that there is nothing to be done. For all these reasons I have the honour, Monsieur Ministre, to ask you to be good enough to accept my resignation and to put an end to my mission in Algeria.’

      The minister’s response was swift and decisive. Fanon was expelled from Algeria and he eventually made his way to the FLN headquarters in Tunisia.

      In retrospect, Fanon’s destiny appears to have been tied to Algeria from the beginning. As a medical student specialising in clinical psychiatry in France in the 1950s, he treated impoverished Algerians, leading him to sarcastically remark, ‘if the standard of living made available to North Africans in France is higher than the one he was accustomed to at home, then there is a good deal to be done in his country, in that “other France”.’

      Fanon had also trained for combat in Algeria as a soldier in the French army during the Second World War. It was during this first visit to Algeria that he encountered the virus of racism that somehow, apparently, seems to have eluded him in Martinique for most of his life. White French troops were separated from Black West Indians, who were supposed to be French. Black African soldiers were also segregated from French troops, as were Arab Africans, who the French reviled and treated like pariahs on their own soil. Fanon lived this experience at the very moment that the French army set out to confront German fascism, with its notions of racial purity. The irony of this situation was not lost to Fanon.

      The war undoubtedly shaped Fanon’s understanding of violence. Fanon entered the war as an adolescent. But its endless carnage and bloodletting served as his rite of passage to adulthood. It shook him to the core and purged him of the idealism he harbored when he joined the Free French Army. The war represented Fanon’s ‘moment of vision’ and this experience shaped the direction that the rest of his life would take.

      ‘Les damné de la terre’, (‘The Wretched of the Earth’), is Fanon’s last political will and testament. The book was a product of Fanon’s active engagement in the Algerian liberation struggle where he witnessed first hand the brute reality of colonialism. It’s a prophetic work in which Fanon dissects colonialism’s destructive social and psychological impact, using Algeria and the African continent as his model. Since its publication in 1961, the book has been the subject of prolonged controversy, most of which is based on the first chapter of the book entitled ‘On Violence’. Both Fanon supporters and detractors have exploited this chapter in order to support their cause. For many of them, Fanon advocates wanton violence as the sole means of eliminating colonial oppression, and as an antidote to the pent-up anxiety and trauma that colonialism breeds in the colonised.

      Part of the problem lies in the fact that Fanon is generally read too literally when, as York University professor Atu Sekyi-Otu and others have argued, he should be read, at least in part, in a literary way. Like the writing of his fellow Martinicans Édouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Rafaël Confiant - and it is often forgotten that Fanon was a child of the Caribbean - Fanon’s vivid and dramatic prose was influenced by the literary style of the Martinican poet and statesman Aimé Césaire. In his lyrical masterpiece, ‘Return to My Native Country’, Césaire declared,

      ‘my Negritude is not a stone, its deafness dashed against
      the clamor of the day
      my Negritude is not an opaque spot of dead water
      on the dead eye of the earth
      my Negritude is neither a tower nor a cathedral
      it plunges into the red flesh of the soil
      it plunges into the ardent flesh of the sky
      it pierces opaque prostration with its upright patience.’

      Césaire taught Fanon at the Lycée Schoelcher in Martinique and his compelling, highly emotive manipulation of the French language left a lasting impression on Fanon. Whether in his poetry, his prose writing such as ‘Discourse on Colonialism’, or his plays, Césaire the lyricist found resonance in Fanon’s work as the following passage on dance, rites, and ritual under colonisation illustrates. Unable to lash out against the coloniser, the ‘natives’ attempt to exorcise their demons through ceremonial catharsis:

      ‘The native’s relaxation takes precisely the form of muscular orgy in which the most acute aggressivity and the most impelling violence are canalized, transformed and conjured away. The circle of the dance is a permissive circle: it protects and permits. At certain times on certain days, men and women come together at a given place, and there, under the solemn eye of the tribe, fling themselves into a seemingly unorganized pantomime, which is in reality extremely systematic in which by various means - shakes of the head, bending of the spinal column, throwing of the whole body backwards - may be deciphered as in an open book the huge effort of a community to exorcise itself, to liberate itself, to explain itself…There are not limits - for in reality your purpose in coming together is to allow the accumulated libido, the hampered aggressivity, to dissolve as in a volcanic eruption. Symbolic killings, fantastic rites, imaginary mass murders - all must be brought out. The evil humors are undamned, and flow away with a din as of molten lavas.’

      At times, Fanon appears to be making a statement, when in actual fact he is either describing a situation as it exists, or making a theatrical claim, only to recant it in another section, as if he was writing scenes in a play. He wrote with the fluid pen of a playwright and, for him, both the colonised and the coloniser were locked in a dramatic struggle, and each stage of this struggle is like an act or a scene in a play. The stage is set in the opening passages of the book:
      ‘National Liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. At whatever level we study it - relationships between individuals, new names for sports clubs, the human admixture at the cocktail parties, in the police, on the directing boards of national or private banks - decolonization is quite simply the replacing of a certain “species” of men by another “species” of men. Without any period of transition, there is a total, complete, and absolute substitution.’

      Having divided the colonised-coloniser relationship into its solitudes, Fanon recants his statement, or at least modifies it. In the next act he provides a more nuanced picture of the colonised, now consciously enmeshed in a struggle for liberation, but whose leaders constantly betray their ideals and aspirations. Here the image of the altruistic nationalist leader suffers a crucial blow.

      ‘The people who at the beginning of the struggle had adopted the primitive Manicheism of the settler - Blacks and Whites, Arabs and Christians - realize as they go along that it sometimes happens that you get Blacks who are whiter than the Whites and that the fact of having a national flag and the hope of an independent nation does not always tempt certain strata of the population to give up their interests or privileges. The people come to understand that natives like themselves do not lose sight of the main chance, but quite on the contrary seem to make use of the war in order to strengthen their material situation and their growing power. Certain natives continue to profiteer and exploit the war, making their gains at the expense of the people, who as usual are prepared to sacrifice everything, and water their native soil with their blood. This discovery is unpleasant, bitter, sickening: and yet everything seemed to be so simple before: the bad people were on one side, and the good on the other. The clear, unreal, idyllic light of the beginning is followed by a semi-darkness that bewilders the senses.’

      Likewise, Fanon’s treatment of violence in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ represents some of his most vivid, imaginative, and dramatic writing. It brings to life the lived experience of colonial oppression and psychoses, and the desperate desire of the colonised to be liberated. In the first phase of his analysis, colonial oppression is turned inward, manifesting itself in fratricide among the colonised.
      ‘By throwing himself with all his force into the vendetta, the native tries to persuade himself that colonialism does not exist, that everything is going on as before, that history continues. Here on the level of communal organizations we clearly discern the well-known behavior patterns of avoidance. It is as if plunging into a fraternal bloodbath allowed them to ignore obstacle, and to put off till later the choice, nevertheless inevitable, which opens up the question of armed resistance to colonialism. Thus collective autodestruction in a very concrete way is one of the ways in which the native’s muscular tension is set free. All these patterns of conduct are those of the death reflex when faced with danger, a suicidal behaviour which proves to the settler (whose existence and domination is by them all the more justified) that these men are not reasonable human beings.’

      In the next phase of Fanon’s analysis, violence among the colonised is externalised and targeted at the coloniser, in the struggle for liberation. Fanon employs the notion of violence almost metaphorically to illustrate the process that propels the colonised out of the suffocating atmosphere of colonialism towards freedom. Here the once hapless colonial subject canalises its intellectual and physical energies towards the goal of liberation, not simply as something desirable, but as a concrete and attainable goal.
      ‘During the struggle for freedom, a marked alienation from these practices is observed. The native’s back is to the wall, the knife is at his throat (or, more precisely, the electrode at his genitals): he will have no more call for his fancies. After centuries of unreality, after having wallowed in the most outlandish phantoms, at long last the native, gun in hand, stands face to face with the only forces which contend for his life - the forces of colonialism. And the youth of a colonized country, growing up in an atmosphere of shot and fire, may well make a mock of, and does not hesitate to pour scorn upon the zombies of his ancestors, the horses with two heads, the dead who rise again, and the djins who rush into your body while you yawn. The native discovers reality and transforms it into the pattern of this customs, into the practice of violence and into his plan for freedom.’

      Fanon is writing about freedom which, in the case of Algeria, like other anti-colonial struggles, represented an armed struggle against the barbarity and dehumanisation of French colonial rule. It was an inherently violent process because violence was embedded in colonialism.

      Much of the hullabaloo stems from passages like the following: ‘At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from despair and inaction.’ At a cursory reading, the passage appears to be a promotion of violence as cathartic release. But at a closer read, Fanon’s language is very specific. The words ‘At the level of individuals’ are crucial. Fanon is sharing his first-hand observations as a clinical psychiatrist. He was treating Algerian patients who were engaged in a life and death struggle against French settlers who had killed, brutalised, and maimed Algerian women and men. For some of them, violence was literally a cathartic act which, in absence of an impartial judiciary, police force, or any other official institutions willing to defend the rights of Algerians - sadly and traumatically - became their sole source of release.

      In a chapter of ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ entitled, ‘Colonial War and Mental Disorder’, Fanon describes a series of clinical cases. One of them involved two Algerian brothers who murdered their European friend. They had both lost family members at the hands of the French and appear to have killed the friend simply because he himself was French. Naturally, Fanon did not condone the arbitrary killing by the brothers. But as a psychiatrist, he sought to understand why they did it. He concluded that, like so many of his other patients, the brothers were afflicted with ‘psychiatric phenomena entailing disorders’ that were directly linked to their colonial condition. In other words, for Fanon, random violence was not normal behaviour but a chronic part of an unhealthy and oppressive society.

      Fanon did not prescribe violence. He diagnosed it and sought to explain it. He cringed at wanton acts of violence and, despite his medical training, is said to have had a strong aversion to the sight of blood. And yet he could not ignore Algeria’s reality, or that of any other society where the coloniser used violence to subvert and repress the life chances of those they colonised. It is puzzling how such a common feature of colonial society has been so controversial. Violence and colonialism go hand-in-hand. Violence is not only used to subjugate colonised peoples; it conditions their very existence because it is held in reserve, for when the ‘the natives get out of hand’.

      But there is another reason to carefully read Fanon. At a time when headlines of ‘Black-on-Black’ violence routinely dominate the headlines (does the ‘white-on-white’ crime exist?), Fanon reminds us that alienation, poverty, and marginalisation are responsible for much of the social and psychological ills of our time. And while it might be too formulaic to ascribe a simple cause-effect relationship to all social problems, there is no doubt that the fratricide that continues to clip so many lives in North American and European cities is directly related to high unemployment, diminished life chances, and the profound sense of social estrangement that so many young people feel.

      This picture is clear enough in metropolitan centres like Toronto and Montreal, or cities like London or Glasgow. Scotland’s brutal orgies of ‘booze and blades’ among rival gangs of white youth led the United Nations to designate it the most violent country in the ‘developed’ world several years ago. It is also one of Europe’s poorest countries. A quarter of Scotland’s children alone live in poverty and are dependent on government assistance.

      In his February 2002 National Post column, ‘Frantz Fanon: A Poisonous Thinker Who Refuses to Die’, writer Robert Fulford claims that ‘it was Fanon who brought into modern culture the idea that violence can heal the spiritually wounded’ and that Fanon ‘argued that violence was necessary to Third World peoples not just as a way to win their liberty but, even more, because it would cure the inferiority complex that had been created by the teachings of white men.’ He also informs us that ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ ‘went into six editions in Arabic’, scandalously insinuating a relationship between Arabness and violence. This popular reading of Fanon is sorely misguided, if not disingenuous. It perpetuates the image of Fanon as an apostle of violence. But Fanon was not an avatar of violence any more than Fulford is a proponent of non-violence. Who today questions whether the Vietnamese were justified in taking up arms when US bombs rained down on their villages, killing and maiming tens of thousands of innocent civilians? Did the Americans engage in war to liberate themselves from England?

      Fulford also believes that Fanon ‘has receded into history’, but this point could not be further from the truth. Fanon continues to resonate with the oppressed and dispossessed of the world. He has been the subject of at least two films, with another one soon to be released by Danny Glover’s film company, Louverture Films. His ideas are studied in departments of philosophy and political science, and in post-colonial and cultural studies programs all over the world. His influence in the field of psychiatry and psychology is growing, and a steady flow of Fanon biographies and anthologies suggests that, despite the tremendous impact of his writing in the 1960s and 1970s, we are only now beginning to understand the breadth and depth of his ideas.

      When Robert Fulford suggests that Fanon stubbornly evades death, he is right. Like a festering wound that refuses to heal, the inequalities that Fanon so vividly denounced are still with us today. Like Lennie Johnson, who played his part in wiping the fog from our eyes, the ghost of Fanon continues to haunt us, not as a spooky apparition, but as a challenge to us to imagine that another world is possible, and to concretely commit ourselves to bringing that world into being.


      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Living Fanon: The rationality of revolt

      Nigel C Gibson


      cc F W
      In the context of revolutions in North Africa, Nigel C. Gibson reflects on Frantz Fanon's interpretations of postcolonial politics.

      What better way to celebrate, commemorate and critically reflect on the fiftieth year of Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’[1] than with a new North African syndrome: revolution - or at least a series of revolts and resistance across the region. Fanon begins The Wretched writing of decolonisation as a program of complete disorder, an overturning of order - often against the odds - willed collectively from the bottom up. Without time or space for a transition, there is an absolute replacement of one ‘species’ by another (1968:35). In a period of radical chance such absolutes appear quite normal, when, in spite of everything thrown against it, ideas jump across frontiers and people begin again ‘to make history (1968: 69-71). In short, once the mind of the oppressed experiences freedom in and through collective actions, its reason becomes a force of revolution. As the Egyptians said of January 25th: ‘When we stopped being afraid we knew we would win. We will not again allow ourselves to be scared of a government. This is the revolution in our country, the revolution in our minds.’[2]

      And yet, as the revolts inevitably face new repression and counter-revolution, elite compromises and imperial manoeuvrings, Fanonian questions - echoed across the postcolonial world - become more and more timely. How can the revolution hold onto its epistemological moment, the rationality of revolt? And yet this is exactly what happened on 20 November 2011 as thousands of Egyptians responded to the violent eviction of demonstrators from Tahrir Square by taking it back, vowing to stay until the military left politics and opening up a second act of the Egyptian revolution: ‘We want freedom,’ they said. ‘We will not allow the military to hijack the revolution.’


      What is Fanonian practice? In a word, revolvolution (using Aimé Césaire’s neologism) or a cycle of cycles. On one hand, it is constant return. ‘Black Skin White Masks’ (published in 1952) expresses this as a frustration, a cry of weeping and petrification. The dialectic is blocked and there seems to be no way out. But Fanon begins the conclusion with a quote from Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire that the new revolution - the decolonial revolution - will have to leave Europe to let the dead bury the dead.

      In ‘Year 5 of the Algerian Revolution’ published in 1959[3] the anticolonial revolution, specifically the Algerian - to which Fanon had committed - holds an answer. Fanon writes about a radical change in consciousness that individuals undergo as they use all their collective resources to transform society and themselves. Yet ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (published in 1961) tells another story. In contrast to the opening up of space detailed in ‘Year 5’, the dialectic of ‘The Wretched’ details the suffocation of politics. Reminding us of the spatial experiences of oppression in ‘Black Skin’, now, after independence, the spaces for politics are quickly closed down. The cycle continues.

      If the insurrectionary mobilisations of the rural and urban ‘damned of the earth’ become the epistemological dividing line on which ‘The Wretched’ is grounded, the second dividing line is described by Fanon as a time lag between the leaders of the nationalist party and the mass of the people (1968:107). This time lag is in effect an epistemological division between what Fanon calls the ‘rationality of revolt’ (1968:146) and the (lazy) instrumental or simply cunning rationalism of the nationalist leaders and intellectuals.

      It turns out that the maturity of the decolonising political struggle is in stark contrast to the immaturity and premature senility of the national bourgeoisie. The masses begin to ask ‘was independence worth fighting for’ (1968:75) and the leaders, who simply appear at election times to wave struggle flags, are truly surprised that the people are so discontented. Fanon argues that the lack of practical links (1968:46), the distance - temporal and especially spatial (and also in mindsets) - between them and the mass of people means that they have no idea of what the people think or feel. But the nationalist leaders and national bourgeoisie who are often seduced by a ‘cosmopolitan’ mentality (1968:149) do not adjust their thinking. Substituting themselves for the nation, nationalism becomes defined by exclusion, often taking a xenophobic, religious, or ethnic form, and by socially conservative notions of culture - often heralding patriarchies and women’s submission -as political means to control dissent. While the cynics and opportunists see the neo-colonial state as a personal money bag, even the honest politician still believes what the colonial system has ingrained into their heads, that the mass of poor people are backward and need ‘enlightened’ dictatorship. The party simply creates a screen reinforcing its centralised hierarchical and authoritarian form and practices, which Fanon argues creates a type of dictatorship, often in military fatigues. It is the perfect form for an arrogant and unscrupulous bourgeoisie (1968:165), Fanon says, which sees the state as simply the prize to be taken and its oppressive apparatus to be wielded against anyone who challenges it. The party aided by the police becomes the means to hem in and immobilise the people. This is the story of Fanon’s ‘Wretched of the Earth’, repeated across the African continent.

      And yet the struggle continues. The masses implicitly understand what has happened because it is their daily reality.

      At a seminar that I attended on Fanon with members of the shack dwellers organisation Abahlali baseMjondolo and the rural network in Pietmaritzburg, South Africa in May 2011, Ntombifuthi Shandu from the latter organisation wondered whether ‘we are led by people who were damaged by the struggle during apartheid’; that is by brutalised people who act brutally against the people. I found this comment particularly insightful. Concerned about brutality and the building up of another system of exploitation at the very moment when we destroy the old one, Fanon’s case notes in ‘The Wretched’ focussed on the traumas and stresses on the psyche that the struggle for liberation creates. Indeed, at one level the corruption and crude materialism can be understood as a reaction formation to the internalisation of this brutality often reduced to the standpoint of the gun. Shandu’s point was also concrete and specific, perhaps referring to the violence in the rural areas of Natal in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and was reminiscent of Fanon’s thesis that hatred, resentment and revenge, feelings often encouraged during the struggle to create action, cannot sustain liberation. In contrast, he insists that the work of the rebellion is to uncover its own thinking and reason in defiance of the brutality that is manifested by those ‘who tend to think that shades of meaning constitute danger’. Indeed he suggests that the logic of the militant’s voluntarism to get thing done, to take short cuts and to force action, is shockingly ‘inhuman and in the long run sterile’ (199). In contrast, Fanon argues that the search for truth in the locale is the responsibility of the conscious and coordinated praxis of the local community.

      Fanon warns in ‘The Wretched’ that all progressive organisations, parties and social movements can degenerate. Just as organisations of national liberation can become chauvinistic, democratic movements can become professionalised and authoritarian. The transformation into its opposite is, however, neither an iron law nor simply the result of external pressure. In fact, inasmuch as Fanon believes that it is the subjective powers - namely, the hands and brains - of Africans that will create new beginnings on the continent, Fanon’s politics insists on absolute vigilance and checking practice by principle. The achievements of liberation movements become part of the struggle’s history; they are never lost, even if the movements later degenerate.

      Vigilance is made more difficult, Fanon argues, because there is no independently truthful behaviour. Instead there is a veracity produced by the situation: the poor, the unemployed, the excluded, in short the damned of the earth, are ‘the truth’ (1968: 49-50) because they express the truth of the ‘national cause’, namely promised land, promised bread and promised freedom. This claim has been a cause of some concern among some critics, dismissed as essentialist. Yet the problem is that moving from substantive truth is never guaranteed and requires human action. When Fanon adds, ‘we have every right to ask ourselves whether this truth is reality’ (1968: 225), he demands political commitment.

      Rather than as a directive, truth is a collective and open political endeavour and like Fanon’s concept of political education, it emerges with political subjectivity through careful relationships, trials, and mishaps, aware as Marx put it in the ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’ of the ‘inadequacies, weaknesses and paltriness of their first attempts’.

      Fanon, the revolutionary, looks to continuing the work, the deepening cycle - wary of the blind alleys, the intellectual laziness and arrogance, and ideological failings of the first iterations; regional and local threats, not only that politics and political organisation be decentralised, but that radically different notions of time be developed; time to deepen, democratise and make clear the relationships between militants and the mass movements; time to discuss with the people, who have long been told to be silent, as they become the decision makers. Without that fundamental temporal change, ‘development’, whether called capitalist or socialist, is just technical and hierarchical. The necessity to decentralise politics, to encourage grassroots democracy and to make discussion and decision making absolutely open is the task of being a protagonist and the intellectual can only do so through a fundamental shift in hearing inside the ‘school of the people’.

      Thus when Fanon calls on those ‘comrades’ who have embraced decolonisation to ‘work out new concepts’ (1968: 316) and take the ‘rationality of revolt’ (1968: 146) as the point of departure, a wholly different attitude to praxis is required, one that begins from a new conception of time: time is the yardstick, the space of human development. Time must be found to explain and struggle against the spirit of discouragement and against an uncritical developmentalism; he insists that the time supposedly lost treating a worker like a human being will be gained by rethinking everything from the ground up.


      My focus on ‘Fanonian Practices’ in South Africa begins with Biko’s engagement with Fanon. It is an engagement made possible by the two-way road of revolutionary ideas between Black USA and the imminent Black Consciousness movement in South Africa at a moment (1968) when ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ had become the ‘bible of the Black revolution’ (and gestures to the importance of American Black struggle to Fanon’s afterlife since it was through the Black Freedom movements in the United States, not through France or Algeria, that Fanon’s stature as a revolutionary thinker became internationally recognised[4]). James Cone’s Black theology provided the first point of contact around the same time that George Jackson was shot and killed in the hellhole of San Quentin maximum security prison in California. In George Jackson, Fanon found a militant intellectual. In Fanon, Jackson found a source of revolutionary hope for ‘a new form of political activity which in no way resembles the old’.[5]

      New forms of political activity are becoming more apparent and concrete expressions of the idea of freedom (just as we witness, the self-organisation of Tahrir Square). And so too with the struggles against unfreedom in post-apartheid South Africa. Fanon argues in ‘The Wretched’ that at a certain moment the people realise that the new nation has not brought freedom at all. Their lives have not improved, land has not been redistributed, work has not become humanised, cities have not become open to all and the despotism in the rural areas has not ended. And they begin to understand the social treason of the huckster politicians. Fanon provides the method to subject post-apartheid South Africa to a test. One Fanonian praxis is the thinking of the shack dweller movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, which puts South Africa’s ‘Freedom Day’ (April 27) on trial by organising ‘Unfreedom Day’, asking the concrete and philosophical question, ‘Are we free?’ and adding, in contrast to the flattening discourse of ‘service delivery’, that ‘delivering houses will do away with the lack of houses but it won't make us free’.

      ‘Fanon believed that everyone could think,’ S’bu Zikode, the former president of Abahlali, wrote in his foreword to ‘Fanonian Practices’.[6] ‘He believed that the role of the university-trained intellectual was to be inside the struggles of the people and to be inside the discussions inside the struggles of the people.’ Abahlali did not know of Fanon when they first organised, and why should they? The question was: how would Fanon speak to their struggle? In ‘Fanonian Practices’ Zikode replies, ‘There is no doubt that Fanon would have recognised the shack intellectuals in our movement. He would have discussed and debated with us as equals. Fanon believed that democracy was the rule of the people and not the rule of experts. He did not think that democracy was just about voting every five years. He saw it as a daily practice of the people.’

      What is interesting about Abahlali now, six years after its self-organisation, is its thinking born of experience and discussion. They call it living learning. Press statements are written collectively; quite in contrast to technical education, learning is a collective and living thing that always needs to be nurtured. Their idea of ‘citizenship’ (including all who live in the shacks in democratic decision making regardless of ancestry, ethnicity, gender, age etc.) connects with Fanon’s political notion of citizenship formed in the social struggle (of everyone who wants to play a part in the creation of the new nation, as he puts it in ‘Year 5’), in which he includes himself in that ‘we’ construction: ‘We want an Algeria open to all, in which every kind of genius may grow.[7] The shack dwellers, in other words, have given meaning and a new concreteness to Fanon’s critique of national consciousness that remains important today, arguing that it is either deepened into a humanism - a consciousness of political and social awareness (from the needs of the people from the ground up) - or it degenerates into a narrow nationalism based on claims of indigeneity and chauvinism. The former is based on a politics structured by the rationality of revolt, while the latter is encouraged by colonialism and remains one of its enduring and destructive legacies.


      * Nigel C. Gibson is an activist and scholar.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


      [1] In text citations are based on the 1968 Black Cat repagination of the Grove Press Constance Farrington translation.
      [2] See
      [3] A Dying Colonialism in English
      [4] Banned in France, Les damnés de la terre only sold a few thousand copies. Published in the U.S. in 1965 it underwent three printings in a year with a mass market edition appearing in 1968.
      [5] George Jackson, Blood in My Eye Black Classic Press p.27
      [6] S’bu Zikode, foreword to Nigel C. Gibson, Fanonian Practices in South Africa Pietermaritzburg:UKZN Press, 2011
      [7] Fanon, A Dying Colonialism New York: Grove Press, p.32

      Frantz Fanon and the global African worker

      Bill Fletcher, Jr


      cc A H
      Workers should be ‘centrally involved in leading the national democratic/revolutionary process’ rather than joining labour unions ‘subordinated’ to a national liberation party or post-independence ruling authority, argues Bill Fletcher, in a revisiting of Fanon’s thinking on class struggle and the national project.

      It has been more than 30 years since I last read Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Pitfalls of National Consciousness,’ (hereafter referred to as ‘Pitfalls’) contained in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’. It had been so long, in fact, that when I opened my paperback copy of ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, the pages started to come out. That said, the essay read as if from just yesterday with warnings that it turned out were very prescient, including and ironically, with regard to his beloved Algeria.

      Fanon’s ‘Pitfalls’ is an intense, biting and analytical critique of the national bourgeoisie (and segments of the pro-nationalist petty bourgeoisie) in oppressed nations. It warns of the role of this class in the post-independence environment and specifically that it is bound to betray the national project, not to mention the Pan-African project, in the interests of its own class ambitions. The essay then turns to recommendations as to the approach that revolutionary forces in the oppressed nations and formerly oppressed nations should take with regard to moving a process of fundamental social transformation. In this regard he upholds positive lessons that he saw unfolding in the Algerian Revolution (a national liberations struggle which would result in Algeria’s independence from France in the year following Fanon’s premature death).

      There are many important observations one can make concerning Fanon’s essay, including noting his recognition of the dangers of tribalism, regionalism and religious conflict, all of which have emerged in post-independence societies. Yet for purposes of this commentary what was enlightening were Fanon’s observations of the national bourgeoisie’s betrayal and abandonment of the national project all the while they were holding high the banner of the national liberation. Using the rhetoric of the national liberation struggle, the national bourgeoisie and its political representatives have de-mobilised the populace and created structures that repress rather than liberate. Fanon describes how, given this scenario, so much ends up revolving around the ‘great leader’ rather than around the masses that carried out the national liberation process. Regardless of rhetoric, then, these national bourgeois forces suppress domestic social movements while making the best deals that they can with imperialism. Unfortunately, and contrary to Fanon’s hopes and expectations, the great Algerian Revolution fell prey to such a course despite the uniqueness of the organisation and struggle carried out by Algerian national liberation fighters.

      Most national liberation and independence movements contained within them a flaw, which was not necessarily apparent to outside observers, and to some extent remains hidden or ignored by many today. In the face of an obvious social contradiction between the people of the oppressed nations on the one hand and the forces of imperialism and colonialism on the other, a series of internal contradictions within the oppressed nations have often been subordinated, all in the name of national unity. Such internal contradictions have ranged from ethnicity to region to gender to class. In each case, in the name of national liberation these contradictions or challenges were either ignored or placed on the ‘back burner’ to be resolved at some later moment. This phenomenon was not reserved for national liberation struggles in Africa or the global South. In the African American freedom struggle this played itself out as well, often with similar negative consequences.

      The downplaying of so-called secondary contradictions (secondary only in the sense that at a particular moment the principal contradiction was between the people of the oppressed nation and the imperial/colonial opponent, e.g. Algeria vs. France pre-1962) has often been attributed to matters of will or, in some cases, to a bad political line. In the case of Algeria, for instance, the argument might be raised by some that the Front de Liberation National (FLN, the leading force in the struggle against France and subsequently the ruling political party) erred in not addressing the struggles of the workers or of women, etc. While this may be objectively true, what such an approach misses is the class content behind certain decisions. In other words, yes, there was an ‘error’ committed, but only from the standpoint of the oppressed. From the standpoint of the national bourgeoisie, however, there was a course of action being followed in order to help it consolidate its hold on the national movement and the post-colonial state.

      Fanon’s ‘Pitfalls’ helps to provide a framework, even 50 years after his death, for understanding this challenge. By grappling with the class forces that are engaged in shaping the process of a national project, one can come to understand precisely why appeals for an alternative direction so often fall on deaf ears. This was the case with Algeria and I would argue has also been the case of Zimbabwe under the increasingly repressive President Robert Mugabe. Dazzled as many foreign and domestic observers have been with various national liberation processes and the rhetoric associated with them, there has often been an assumption that the leading forces in these project are operating on revolutionary principles. We have to recognise, standing with Fanon, that this may simply not be the case. That, in fact, they may be operating in the interest of a non-revolutionary class or class fraction in order to advance their own personal and/or class interests.

      With this in mind it then becomes all the more important that independent social movements exist, are recognised and permitted to operate freely in the course of any transformative project. With regard to working people, there has been a routine in too many national liberation processes by which workers are encouraged to form labour unions (or other worker organisations) that are then subordinated to the national liberation front or party, or post-independence ruling authority. Subordination does not mean simply playing a lesser role in the overall political hierarchy, but also means that workers’ organisations are controlled, directly or indirectly, by the ruling political party. Such an existence objectively aims at stifling, if not ignoring, the existence of class struggle. It is as if the new ruling elite believe that by subordinating the unions that class struggle ceases and the workers are kept in place. Instead what comes into existence is a different sort of class state; in this case one representing the aspiration of a rising national bourgeoisie (or in some cases petty bourgeoisie) that seeks to shape the national freedom/liberation project in a manner that advances said aspirations. In either case, the class struggle has not disappeared, only changed form.

      Fanon emphasises, in ‘Pitfalls’, the necessity for a genuine revolutionary party linked with the masses as the antidote to this process of national corruption that unfolds when the national bourgeoisie is hegemonic. While it would be difficult to disagree with such a suggestion, it is, with all due respect, insufficient, a point which should be apparent in reviewing the history of revolutionary struggles over the last century. This is the case for at least two reasons.

      First, parties cannot substitute for all social forces. Workers, for instance, need their own organisations. Such organisations must be broad and democratic. They must be a means of fighting for social and economic justice, inside and outside the context of a national democratic context. And that fight must involve a struggle to guarantee that workers are centrally involved in leading the national democratic/revolutionary process. In other words, that there are institutions that are created that advance worker control, not only over their immediate work process but also in society as a whole.

      Second, it is often within genuinely revolutionary parties that the seeds of regression may be found. Particularly in societies that have had a single, leading party, class struggle and other struggles will take place within that leading party, as well as in the broader society. Irrespective of whether there is a single-party state, the outcome of internal struggles within a revolutionary party is not predetermined. Thus, the best political line and the best leaders are not enough to guarantee that the movement will stay the course. A democratic reality to the process of social transformation plus the existence of viable, progressive social movements is every bit as important.

      Fanon’s observations are compelling and frightening in their accuracy regarding the challenges that have faced countless national democratic and freedom movements. In that sense, this essay should remain required reading for all freedom fighters not simply to understand how national populist and national democratic processes have so often disintegrated, but in order to serve as a jumping off point for a 21st century radical transformative project rooted among workers and other oppressed sectors. Or, to borrow from Fanon’s own words: ‘The colonized man [or woman—BF] who writes for his people ought to use the past with the intention of opening the future, as an invitation to action and a basis for hope.’[1]


      * Bill Fletcher, Jr is a long-time racial justice, labour and international activist and writer. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, Visiting Scholar with the City University of New York Graduate Center, editorial board member of, and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He is the co-author of Solidarity Divided.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


      [1] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. By Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1968), p. 232.

      Fanon and 'The Wretched of the Earth'

      A political-pedagogical force


      cc ITTO ITTO
      ‘In the fifty years since Fanon’s passing to the other side and since the first publication of The Wretched of the Earth, both continue to live on, challenging us to not give up, to not become complacent, and to take arms, albeit symbolic, social, political, epistemic, and most of all pedagogical ones.’

      In many places in Latin America today, particularly those outside the confines of westernized academia, people first ask the permission of the ancestors before they publically speak. The ancestors are not thought of as the dead, but as the living in another form, as those that continue to walk with us, related not necessarily by blood, but by vision, political project, and social commitment.

      Without a doubt, in this space in which we are gathered today one can feel the presence of the ancestors and elders that are Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, but also those of Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko, present as well in their children who sit among us. I respectfully ask their permission to share these reflections and words, and thank Nelson Maldonado-Torres for inviting me to be a part of this emotionally charged, momentous, and historical encounter.

      Today’s event is to commemorate the fifty years since Frantz Fanon’s passing and since the publication of his Wretched of the Earth. One way to celebrate not just the legacy and importance of Fanon, but his continuing presence, is to give testimony to how his thought, work, and praxis have impacted us and how they continue to live on today. That is, how they push in each of one of us forms of struggle, learning, unlearning and relearning, and transformation in our heads, in our souls and hearts, and on the ground.

      It is from this perspective and stance that I wish to share some reflections with regard to the political-pedagogical force of Frantz Fanon in my own life and formation over the last 40 years, and in the context of the lived processes of decolonization and social transformation occurring in Latin America today.

      My first political-pedagogical encounter with Fanon was in 1971, soon after the English translation of Wretched of the Earth became available. This text became the guiding tool to stimulate discussion and debate between the SDS-Students’ for a Democratic Society chapter I was involved with at the time and a cell of the Black Panthers.

      Our collective reading of Fanon brought to the fore the constitutive role of race and dehumanization in colonial-imperial struggles, something that the traditional Left in the United States and elsewhere, neglected to see and consider in it’s thought and actions then, but also, one could argue, continues to be neglected in large part today. The text forced people to define their position and commitment; while many chose to negate Fanon’s admonishments, a few, like myself, found meaning in his arguments and consequence in his political-pedagogical challenge. I refer here not only to the unlearning and relearning required in decolonization and social transformation, but also the unlearning and relearning required in addressing white privilege and in working in alliance and co-struggle.

      Fanon and the Wretched of the Earth pushed me to define my position, to begin to confront at the personal and socio-political levels the defining role of race, and move toward a commitment and stance that, over the years, has come to be crucial in defining and shaping my self and my life project.

      My second political-pedagogical encounter with Fanon and this text was in the 1980s, in the context of collaborative work with the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire. Others and myself were able to negotiate with Harvard University, where Paulo was at the time (living and teaching in exile), for him to spend a semester a year for three years at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where I was finishing my doctorate and teaching. During this period, I had the privilege of working closely with Paulo, co-facilitating with him dialogic seminars with Puerto Rican activists, students, and community members where Wretched of the Earth was a central text.

      It was through Paulo’s re-reading of Fanon, and in the context of understanding the colonial condition of Puerto Ricans in the U.S., that he began to rethink out loud his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. A rethinking reflected in his last books: Pedagogy of Hope and Pedagogy of Indignation in which he also comes to re-see Brazil as an African nation, but in which he much more clearly and directly dialogues with Frantz Fanon.

      Those who have read Pedagogy of the Oppressed may recall Freire’s somewhat timid citing of Fanon. Here, Freire assumed that his “oppressed” and Fanon’s “damnes” or “wretched of the earth” were one and the same. Yet the readings done in the context of the politics of US communities of color, and most specifically of Puerto Ricans as colonial subjects, and after an important lived experience in Guinea Bissau, pushed distinct political-pedagogical imperatives in Freire; the intertwine of race-racialization and dehumanization began to take on a new significance. This experience still remains vivid. For me, the simultaneous dialogue with Freire, Fanon and with the community remains a central pillar in my own political-pedagogical formation. Here, Fanon’s force as a pedagogue became much more apparent to me.

      The third political-pedagogical encounter is much more recent and comes in the context of Latin America, and most specifically Ecuador, where I have lived for the past 17 years, accompanying social movements and the struggles and processes of and for change. In this place, Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth affords important lessons today not only for decolonization but also for, and in a related sense, rethinking the national question.

      In 2008 Ecuador initiated a historic project of rethinking and refounding society, nation, and State. The formation of a national Constituent Assembly made up, not of political parties or elected party officials, but members of civil society interested in and committed to profound change, pushed forth a new radical Constitution that names a plurinational and intercultural State. In the surrounding debates and discussions, some of which I was privy to as an invitee to the Assembly and as a member of an unofficial advisory team to an Afroecuadorian assembly woman, the question of the national was central. The consideration of Afroecuadorians within the past and present national project was of particular significance given the fact that Afrodescendants had no official recognition in Ecuador until 1998; their humanity and existence was, beginning with the system of kidnapping and enslavement until very recent times, continually put in doubt and subject to negation.

      In this context, Fanon and the Wretched of the Earth once again are of political-pedagogical utility. The reading and re-reading of this text affords ever-new insights on revolutionary projects, the national as question and project, and on decolonization as a continual process of learning, unlearning, relearning. Its reading, for example, by Afroecuadorian lawyers in a class I just recently taught on the application of Afro rights in light of the new Constitution and the plurinational intercultural State, was crucial in raising once again the concern of dehumanization and its interrelation with the structures of race, racism and racialization, constitutive elements of the coloniality of power still present. Photocopies of his text circulate among Afro leaders and activists, Fanon not as an “iconic” figure or referent, but again as a political-pedagogical guide, facilitator, and tool useful for “reading” and comprehending the struggles and processes of the present, where the past and future are, without a doubt, inextricably intertwined. As Fanon the pedagogue once said: “to unlearn that imposed and assumed through colonization and dehumanization, and the relearning to be men and women.” Fanon in this context is one of the elders.

      It is the pedagogy of Frantz Fanon and Frantz Fanon as a pedagogue that I wish to recall today. A pedagogy and a pedagogical stance that, in essence and foundation, are of the decolonial; a decolonial pedagogy of sorts grounded in three key processes and components:

      - In affirmation and in articulation as a form of co-relationality that pushes a thinking and acting “from” and “with”;
      - In humanization as liberation, as the constructing of a radically different collective existence -or “re-existence” as the Afrocolombian Adofo Albán has described it-, all of which point to decolonizing visions, philosophies, and practices of LIFE and living;
      - In collective hope and love, two components so central to Frantz Fanon’s work, so necessary for radical nation building, and so central to a decolonial project.

      In the fifty years since Fanon’s passing to the other side and since the first publication of the Wretched of the Earth, both continue to live on, challenging us to not give up, to not become complacent, and to take arms, albeit symbolic, social, political, epistemic, and most of all pedagogical ones. Fanon, the decolonial pedagogue, Fanon the elder whose words continue to guide and challenge us in the path to unlearn and relearn, to think and act from and with the struggles still present today for humanization, liberation, and decolonization.


      * This article first appeared on the website of the Frantz Fanon Foundation.
      * The author is an intellectual-activist long involved in processes of social justice, struggle, and change first in the US and in the last 17 years in Ecuador and Latin America.
      * These comments were presented at the special session of the Caribbean Philosophical Conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passing of Frantz Fanon, held at the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Memorial Center, NYC, 2 October 2011.

      Frantz Fanon, globalisation and the African revolution

      Helmi Sharawy


      cc Wikimedia
      The need to revisit Fanon’s work has ‘never been greater’, argues Helmi Sharawi, in an analysis of its relevance to ‘the process of globalisation’ in contemporary Africa.


      What makes us recall Frantz Fanon now, particularly his memorable works on the “African revolution” and the “wretched of the earth”? Has Fanon been long gone already? It is barely a decade since racism disappeared from South Africa and since national popular conferences made their voice heard across the continent. It is barely a few years since the Durban anti-racism conference was held. Since Fanon wrote “Black Skin, White Masks” in 1952 and the Wretched of the Earth” in 1961, hardly a decade went by without someone rediscovering the value of “human consciousness” and the need for a “second wave of national liberation, for a continual African revolution in the broadest sense of the word: a catharsis.

      As globalization marches ahead, clad in arms, equipped with precise tools, versed in international machination, trumpeted by a pliant but wide-reaching media, how alienated have we become, caught in the iron grip of a new empire? How far do our “peasants” feel the crisis overshadowing fields? How far do the nations of the South feel the “new apartheid” rearing its head in the international trade agreements? How far do we all feel the need for a “new humanism?” And how much does the land of Algeria itself, in which Fanon wrote the bulk of his work, entice us to reconsider the “problematic” of “national culture”?

      The need to revisit Fanon’s views has never been greater. And he is not the only one worthy of a fresh reading. The writings of Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, Claude Ake are as relevant today as ever. The language of the revolution has taken on new meanings from Ben Bella to Nelson Mandela. And the spontaneity of the masses have left its mark in Seattle, Mexico and Porto Alegre. All these are reminders of Frantz Fanon, of the legacy – and controversy – he left behind. Here we are, in Africa his beloved land – contemplating the meaning of his work. In this paper, I will go over some of Fanon’s favorite topics and see how relevant they still are to the issues surrounding the process of globalization:

      1. From colonialism to imperialism; violence and liberation.
      2. Alienation and presence.
      3. Which social analysis?
      4. The African revolution and Fanon’s dialectics in a new world.
      5. Fanon’s presence in the Arab world.
      6. Conclusion.


      Fanon was not just preoccupied with probing the political or economic origins of colonialism; he dealt with colonialism as a situation of dehumanization caused by Euro-centricity and its negation of the other. He methodically applied psychological research – among other things - to the colonial phenomenon, focusing more on the general social situation than on individual case studies. This helped him identify the global aspect of colonialism. With the first wave of political independence, 1950s Fanon was able to grasp the meaning of neo-colonialism as it transpired in regimes that grappled, less than successfully, with the issue of liberation. The term “neo-colonialism” had to wait for the All African Peoples’ Conference in Cairo in 1961 to gain currency.

      With this wide-reaching understanding of colonialism and imperialism, Fanon invented the terms “containment” and “negation” to analyze the situation in Third World countries ruled by colonial powers. He gave much thought to this state of affairs – which extended from the Caribbean to the Arab world and encompassed large parts of Africa – focusing particularly on settler colonialism and apartheid. Although some of his critics deny it, Fanon’s insight went beyond these specific points, particularly as he discussed the Congo and other colonized regions. He examined the significance of “colonial hegemony” in the colonized communities, their cultures, and the human situation in general. He defined “colonial violence” in a broad sense, incorporating the way in which blacks would assume “white masks” as a result of the tension between colonizer and colonized.

      This early understanding of the concept of “negation” makes Fanon both a philosopher and sociologist. This concept was generalized by Walter Rodney and Cabral a few years later, when they spoke of “negation from history”, in reference to the impact of colonialism on Africans. Fanon spoke at length about the alienation of the individuals and communities from themselves not just from their homeland.

      Were Fanon’s social and philosophical ideas a case of a reverse racism? If so, the value of his work would be gone with the disappearance of settler colonialism and conventional racism. It didn’t. His work is still relevant, particularly his early humanist approach in Black Skin, White Masks. Fanon’s work throws much light on the human conditions now imposed by the nations of the North on those of the South, or the “apartheid on a global scale,” as Samir Amin and others would call it.

      Fanon did not stop at the physical sense of racism. His lecture on “Racism and Culture” at the African Writers Conference, 1956, makes this abundantly clear. There is more to colonialism and racism than super- and infra- structures, he insisted in the course of his interpretation of the colonial phenomenon. The whites, who were invariably rich and in control of the super- and infra-structures, dominated the life and wealth of the colonial people. They were not just racists; they contained and subsumed “the blacks and their homelands.” Fanon has thus responded early on to the scholars who, using social and class interpretations, reject the totality of colonialism and racism. He used social analysis effectively to further his “national” interpretation.

      Imperial containment, as described by Fanon, works in the physical, psychological, social and economic aspects of the life of the colonized. I am tempted to link Fanon’s understanding of racism and the “management of color” with Gramsci concept of “hegemeny.” Fanon, makes rare references to Gramsci, perhaps because the containment/domination concept of Gramsci does not fully explain the cultural complexities of colonial life in the Third World, in which Fanon was fully versed. The Martinique, Fanon’s birthplace, was, for instance, so contained by France that it actually declared itself part of the latter. Fanon went beyond hegemony and containment to label colonialism an act of complete violence, an act that can only be confronted with revolutionary and spontaneous violence, the violence of emancipation and liberation, not just counter class domination, as Gramsci suggested.

      The “negation of the African soul” by the colonists is not just a material or social act. It is, Fanon maintains, an act of depersonalization that can only be reversed through cleansing revolutionary violence. Here, Fanon turns “consciousness” from an abstract term into an all-embracing force. Fanon does not stop long at the consciousness of color, or the issue of black versus white, during his north African phase. White Masks outline a situation describing the way the dispossessed view the “other”. Fanon was more interested in the overall colonialist process than in the conventional methods of apartheid.

      According to Fanon, the White Masks denote an insidious “oneness” between colonizer and colonized. Whiteness becomes a symbol, a situation that cannot be terminated except through absolute violence, through the destruction of the society and state associated with this symbol. This is why Fanon linked liberation with emancipation, with a new humanity. This is why he opposed the ideas adopted by the assimilated classes on reform and gradual change. Fanon dismissed the philosophy of non-violence and looked skeptically upon the transition from one “state” to another. “The freedom of the state does not mean - as neo-colonial leaders claim - the freedom of the human being,” he warned.

      Fanon’s contemporaries would remember how he railed, at the All African Peoples’ Conference in Accra in 1958, at peaceful solutions and the non-violence approach. He was appalled by the influence Gandhi had on Nkrumah and other nationalists in South Africa and Kenya. The latter, at least for a while, subscribed to pacifist gradualism.

      In the age of imperialist hegemony and imperial powers, we find them recalling colonial violence, in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. Recalling Fanon, it is not just “colour” issue or militarization of colonial situation it is also the containment, he mentioned, on global level.


      Although not as cohesive as the “Wretched of the Earth”, “Toward the African Revolution” is perhaps the key to Fanon’s lifework. In this thought-provoking book, Fanon’s traces his journey as a revolutionary intellectual, a man of commitment, an individual who was alienated and found himself only through praxis. He merges philosophical ideas with psychiatric ones, drawing freely on his experience in the Antilles, Europe, North Africa, and the sub-Sahara. He comments on the Algerian revolution then moves on to discuss revolution in Angola, criticize Ghana. Fanon expresses sorrow over the death of Lumumba and is dismayed with the experience of the Congo with the UN. He brings forth many new ideas, including the alienation of doctor and patient, colonizer and colonized. This latter idea Fanon first described in the “North African Syndrome,” a study first published in Esprit in Paris in 1952 and republished in 1958 in “Toward the African Revolution.” In White Masks (1952), Fanon discusses alienation due to the color of the skin and the status of western (northern?) colonizer. Drawing upon his experience with colonialism in Algeria, he concludes that individual alienation is both a human and general phenomenon. A thorough reading of White Masks, the North African Syndrome, and the Wretched of the Earth, makes it clear that Fanon gave prominence to culture over economy and science. His approach to the “world colonialist phenomenon” has been often described as being “culturist”. But he spared no effort in uncovering the element of exploitation in physical and oppressive colonialism. Even so, the main thrust of his argument was that “usurpation” or alienation takes place on the individual human level, as an act of overwhelming and direct violence. The collective violence among the downtrodden is a reaction to this act of direct violence. In Fanon’s writing, alienation is described in individual terms, whereas oppression and counter-oppression are described in collective terms. And culture remains the “vehicle of truth” in all matters concerning repression and rebellion.

      Unlike most psychiatrists, Fanon did not confine himself to the pathological phenomena, but kept a close look at the entire process of imposed and repressing modernization, analyzing its effect on women, for example, as well as individual technocrat who poses as mediator with the West. He kept track of how the indigenous culture tries to shelter its members from contact with modern culture in order to avoid contamination. When insecurity becomes the norm and one lives in constant, daily, expectation of death, the indigenous culture becomes an ultimate safe haven.

      Far from denouncing modernization, Fanon saw it as a requisite for the formation of a true national culture. Elaborate references to this topic can be found in “North African Syndrome,” and “Racism and Culture” (also in the letter of resignation Fanon submitted to the resident French minister). In the course of such works, Fanon describes how doctor and patient remain trapped into their pre-conceptions. He concludes that silence, in the colonies, is treasonous, and that the patients should be led down the path to revolutionary awareness, for this alone would save them from self-destruction. At which point, Fanon trades post for position, turning from a philosopher and doctor to a journalist with the Algerian newspaper el-Moudjahid (1958). He later became an emissary, then ambassador, of the revolution.

      Modernization, in Fanon’s thinking, is inextricably linked with liberation. But what type of modernization should one pursue? Modernization can be imposed from abroad (globalization and the one village?). Or, it can be an essential part of the evolvement of national culture. How can the world transcend “new apartheid,” benefit from modernization and world culture, and maintain a stance of liberation? Occasionally, Fanon will come across as conservative. This is why an intensive effort by Third World intellectuals is needed to update his ideas. To do so, scholars are advised to consult the works of Nghe, himself a conservative Marxist; Herbert Marcuse, who was sympathetic to Fanon’s ideas; and Emmanuel Hansen, who deserves a careful reading, as his writings during the 1970s are just as inspiring as Fanon’s.

      Fanon was neither a strategic planner or an angry prophet, but his insights on culture remain relevant to this day. Speaking at a gathering of African writers in Paris in 1956, Fanon maintains that western colonialism has moved from a hierarchical view of culture (during the renaissance) to banishing the culture of certain communities (the colonized nations), and then to cultural relativity (anthropology). For him, the repression of “cultural existence” is only a part of the biological and economic process of enslavement. Racism is born out of “cultural hierarchy” (note the relevance to today’s much-hyped clash of cultures). When culture is seen as something pertaining to one race to the exclusion of others, conflicts take on a crusader-like style. Racism, Fanon believes, is a systematic repression of the culture of the vanquished. Colonialist culture may not necessarily negate the vanquished culture, but it invariably manages to stunt the latter and limit the choices of the vanquished communities. This same trend is still in action today, in the early twenty-first century.

      We should be aware herein that Fanon, was not that type of writers who are trying to theories the “non- western knowledge” or to build –as fundamentalist- a “reverse culture racism” despite his presence in Islamic- traditional culture.

      Fanon was concerned with new human political culture against the mode of cultural mobility on lineage context according to the colonial –imperialist type.

      Fanon’s interest in the “culture of the people” and in the spirit and spontaneity of the masses - particularly the peasantry with their conventional outlook – was tempered by his knowledge of the risk involved in “the perpetuation of backwardness.” He spoke at length of the risk of ethnic isolation and the “reverse racism” (which Sartre was encouraging him to endorse) involved in the question of “color.” Fanon warned of “national culture” when adopted as an absolute value for North and sub-Saharan leaders. In doing so, he was issuing an early warning to the Arabs and Africans of the pitfall of “national” and continental sense of culture. For him, national culture is something that should unfold, in a creative manner, during the process of revolutionary violence as far as it is a product of the new national consciousness.

      In other words, national culture is born of the womb of the revolution and takes shape through self-awareness. Fanon foresaw that a crusader-style war may result from the persistence of backward cultural formulas. In particular, he spoke of a potential religious onslaught in Algeria and contemplated the implications of negritude - advocated by his friend Cesaire – in the Martinique and Africa. He saw the mass appeal of both religion and negritude and warned that their rise may isolate the intellectual strata, who – due to their false awareness – would drift closer to colonialists and to western culture. These strata, while calling for modernization, would adopt cultural ways that are alien to the domestic scene.

      Fanon advocated a national culture that can evolve, and an international scene that maintains its sense of variety. He would not approve of the concept of a global village, or the triumph of a single oppressive and colonial culture. His views on such matters deserve our full attention at a time of globalization. We now have proof of how ethnic strife has undermined the stability of Africa and how religious fundamentalism has affected Arab and Islamic countries. We also have reason to believe that religious fundamentalism is making inroads in the western hemisphere.

      One of Fanon’s favorite themes was self-awareness among the masses. He remained an intellectual committed to the masses, a man immersed in praxis in the Marxist and Gramscist tradition. Although he believed in the role of an enlightened popular leadership, he was skeptical of those committed to the promotion of awareness among the people, for many among them, he suspected, were little more than self-seeking opportunists.


      For all his interest in the class issue, Fanon did not conduct a dialectic social analysis of classes. Instead, he focused on the role of class in revolution and liberation. Profoundly knowledgeable about the development of Third World societies, Fanon was a structuralist revolutionary, not a sociologist or a political economist. He preferred to speak of social forces rather than class, although he was profoundly aware of the latter. He saw Third World communities as lacking any affinity with Europe’s capitalist development and industrial revolutions. The aim of Third World countries, he maintained, was not to achieve western liberalism or even socialism, but to resist total containment by a capitalist system with a global agenda. Fanon was particularly adept at describing the colonialist phenomenon and identifying its inherent violence and dehumanizing effect.

      As a nationalist revolutionary, Fanon chose not to examine the domestic social composition except to identify the elements of revolution and the susceptibility of various social groups to western domination. He wrote extensively on the situation governed by violence, racism, and alienation, while devising methods for ridding the colonized of the oppressive presence of the “great white error.” This is why Hansen describes Fanon’s classifications as a description of the agents of violence, rather than a categorization of classes. Fanon’s vision was more powerful than his analysis with regards to the social forces in the Third World. In 1961, when he wrote the Wretched of the Earth, the national bourgeoisie, which he–too early suspected of treason – had not yet basically appeared in the sub-Sahara, although it was already taking root in the Arab world.

      Being a nationalist, Fanon zealously advocates a process of liberation both in his writings in el-Moudjahid (1958-1961) and his books. As his work took shape, colonialist powers were already offering formal independence to the colonies, imposing “conciliatory” leaderships, and guaranteeing the pattern of exploitation (this pattern continued through the nationalization phase. The economy was handed over to so-called national bourgeoisie but in essence remained under colonial control). Fanon dedicated the strongest chapter of his Wretched of the Earth to the “pitfalls of national consciousness” and the problems of national culture. He did so, in my opinion, because he was afraid of falling into the trap of deformed populism, although he did not escaped altogether unscathed. Fanon’s clash with European democrats and progressive figures was not over the scant support the latter gave to the revolution in Africa and the rest of the Third World. It was over their social dialectic analysis, which Fanon said as irrelevant in a Third World context.

      I do not wish here to give a detailed review of Fanon’s social analysis, or the elements of revolution and counter revolution as he saw them. But let’s pause to consider how much weight he attached to the revolutionary force of the peasantry, of women’s power, and of the latent power of the lumpen proletariat. Let’s also ponder his unflattering profile of the urban proletariat, which he suspects – as much as he does the national bourgeoisie – of identifying with the colonizers. Fanon was not a conventional dialectician, nor did he depend on history as an analytical tool. He felt the strength of the current “colonialist phenomenon” and he railed against the rape of cities and countryside alike by capitalism. This is why he was interested in the class he refers to as the middle classes but more often as the national bourgeoisie. He blames this particular class for its identification with the racist colonialists and criticizes its “treasonous” failure to carry out its historic role as a national tool of progress.

      Armed with this vision, Fanon concluded that the proletariat was a subsidiary force that sought the crumbs of colonialist bridges. The only redeeming elements of the proletariat are, for him, the revolutionaries, the women, and their supporters from the ranks of the lumpen proletariat. His view of cities is barely flattering. He was right, perhaps, as far as cities created by the colonialists or apartheid systems are concerned. But for many historic cities, he obviously missed the mark. Having said so, Fanon’s assessment of the indigenous bourgeoisie still holds true, from the point of view of material dialectics and considering the course taken by the current world capitalist order.

      The indigenous bourgeoisie in the former colonies seems to have learned little from its European counterpart, and the world capitalist order is not allowing it to learn anything new, apart from what it learned between the two great wars. I agree with Fanon that, in its current state, the indigenous bourgeoisie is much worse than before, for it has succumbed to the media, cultural, and consumerist invasions. It has adopted new patterns of consumption and embraced new life styles. It has also shown indifference, bordering on persecution, to the fate of the urban working classes. Its acceptance to the “peace policies” imposed on it from abroad has magnified its sense of inferiority versus the West. Its tendency to equate violence, or rebellion, with suicide is something would have appalled Fanon. The Egyptian Camp David accords, the Palestinian Oslo accords, the Lancaster House and Komati arrangements in southern Africa, and the IMF and WTO treaties are all cases in point.

      Some of Fanon’s ideas and early notions of national bourgeoisie and its socio-economic and political options are worthy of rehabilitation, regardless of how far one agrees or disagrees with them. It is perhaps such early ideas of Fanon that inspired his views of the countryside, local and global, and the power of the peasantry as a spontaneous force of rejection. The power Fanon attributes to the peasantry has generated wide-scale debate. For some of his critics, the sanctity he accorded to this class, and the spontaneity which rarely played the role he hoped for in the Third World, gives his writings an ahistoric touch, a hint of revolutionary romanticism. Yet, he may have an excuse, if one is to consider the developments that the Third World has undergone. The peasants, according to Fanon, are a revolutionary class ready to embrace the revolutionary system and capable of retaining a communal spirit while upholding pre-colonial creeds and legacy. Unlike city dwellers, the peasants are not subjected to westernization. Unlike the national bourgeoisie, they have no feelings of inferiority. Their folklore supports the notion of resistance and their impoverished status makes them ripe for revolutionary ideas as well as self-awareness. Fanon backed such views with examples from Algeria and Morocco, from the Mao Mao revolution in Kenya, from the central and eastern Congo, or from the Matabele, Shona, and Zulu history in southern Africa, showing the patterns in which the locals clashed with settler colonialism.

      Fanon was not a great fan of conventional Marxism, not of its European manifestations, and not of the Soviet school that supported it. It was this Marxism, he argued, that provided protection for the petit or national bourgeoisie and its pitfalls. What Fanon truly admired was the far eastern revolutions, those in China and Indo-China, where “revolutionary consciousness” seemed pure and true revolutionaries were in charge. Therefore, Fanon was not a romantic rebel or an isolated intellectual, but someone intent on identifying a global pattern. He was also certain that colonialist violence would trigger spontaneous and systematic violence among the peasants, and that the violence would banish their sense of negation. This, he maintained, is something that should happen before the peasantry moves to the cities. Once they emigrate to urban areas, the peasants would become a tool in the hand of the bourgeoisie. Ultimately, they would only swell the ranks of the lumpen proletariat.

      Not being a patient dialectician, Fanon failed to see that the implications of the peasantry’s isolation from the process of capitalist accumulation (Marcuse criticism hits the nail on that point). He also failed to see that the peasantry’s lack of alienation would limit their awareness of the ongoing contradictions. Fanon did not realize that historical traditions, particularly in the Arab and Muslim countries in which he lived, would hinder the level of awareness required for the revolution he hoped for.

      One mustn’t forget that Fanon saw the Chinese revolution as a landmark in the confrontation of colonialism. This revolution popularized the idea of the peasant revolution and suggested a pattern in which the countryside would encircle the imperial cities - to use the words of Mao’s doctrinaire Lin Piao. Fanon was obsessed by notions of ending the “old system”, whether conventional or inherited from colonialism. Revolution, and revolutionary violence, he hoped, would bring down the inherited structures to the benefit of the more oppressed class, the peasantry. Unless the peasants are moved by their revolutionary consciousness, their own social structure would not entice them into action. This is why the sense of consciousness, for Fanon, was existential rather than super-imposed.

      From the ranks of the impoverished peasants, a new stratum emerges, one that caused controversy among Marxists and liberals alike; the lumpen proletariat. Marx was harsh about the lumpen proletariat, whereas Lenin was relatively sympathetic, for he saw this stratum as a revolutionary reserve that can be tapped by the Bolsheviks. In the lumpen proletariat, Fanon saw a great potential. Those countryside people, much praised by Fanon, seek the cities to make a living, but end up living in shanty towns bordering the cities, leaving their families behind. They, Fanon argued, were allies of the revolution because of their spontaneity, their courageous ability to rebel, and their resentment of the social colonial system. Unless the revolutionaries recruit the lumpen proletariat – as Lenin advised – the colonialists would. Fanon tried to figure out ways to keep this class separate from the petit bourgeoisie and the traditional proletariat. Perhaps Fanon’s concern about this stratum should draw our attention to the armies of the unemployed in our midst, the millions of impoverished city dwellers who often – quite spontaneously – carry out bread riots, stage popular uprising against corruption, and mount protests against unemployment (an affliction they share with their peers in the industrial countries).

      Studies in political sociology often warn that neo-colonial states and the local forces of globalization, may use this category of people to their advantage. They could recruit the lumpen proletariat as well as shanties population during referendums or entice them to support the presidents against the opposition.... etc One must here recall Fanon’s warnings about the role of this local bourgeoisie.

      Therefore Fanon critics were worried of the space Fanon gave to the peasants and their sponteinity but I think they are not yet fortunate as the globalization impact nowadays on agrarian issues (WTO) are changing the rural structure and developing consciousness of peasants.

      We may recall Samir Amin current writings on these issues after Porto alegre and Cancun to recall Fanon arguments in this connection.

      Having mentioned political sociology, perhaps this is time to refer to the sociology of the revolution, as Fanon saw it, and the status he gave to women in revolutionary work – as opposed to the colonialists’ attempt to alter the situation of women through modernization. The last thing the colonialists want is a society wrapped up in tradition. Fanon, for his part, saw women as part of the cohesive social structure facing the colonialists, as part of the revolution. He was not interested in modernizing women in the way the colonialists suggested.

      It is easy to understand the modernist schemes of colonialists, who want to integrate the “active forces” of society in the capitalist economy. Fanon dedicates the most part of his book “Year Five of the Algerian Revolution” to the matter of women and family and their links with the revolution. When he speaks of the liberation of women, Fanon means their liberation from the colonialists’ attempt to liberate them. This is why the above book was translated in Arabic, aptly, under the title “Sociology of the Revolution.”

      Fanon saw through this, the French intentions, discussed often at the time by French sociologists and parliamentarians. The French, he maintained, want to destroy the so-called stagnant social environment and introduce European-style modernism in its place. The revolution had to encourage women to be liberated from this type of colonialist liberation. The dress code of women and their appearance alongside men on the Algerian street were hotly debated. The colonialists, Fanon claimed, wanted to lure Algerian men and women into French lifestyle so as to create a new “social condition” and thereby undermine the traditional society.

      The colonialist interest in the lot of women was so great that the Algerian revolution had to give the matter considerable thought. Meetings of the higher bodies of the revolution were held specially to discuss this topic. The situation of women became central to the revolution, and various decisions were made concerning the dress code women should follow, their participation in combat, and their role in protecting the cadres of the revolution. The program of the Algerian revolution contained analysis of these issues as early as 1955, only one year after the revolution started. Comprehensive war against colonialism meant that women should have a comprehensive role, not just be a reserve army for the revolution. It is unfortunate that the revolution – and also Fanon – were too busy formulating a solution for a specific era to conceive of a lasting political and social culture.

      Those who know the nature of Arab and Muslim society would be surprised at how Fanon pushed the case of women into new horizons, far beyond anything yet accepted in most Third World countries. The way in which most Arab – and African countries – still deny the role of women in society, transformation, and modernization is in sharp contrast with the ideas that Fanon advocated. Current debates about gender could use some of the insight of Fanon and the Algerian revolutionaries, at that time if only to break free from the limited formulas, those that confine gender to the question of poverty and unemployment and to programs sponsored by international capitalism.


      Fanon left the Antilles to fight with the Allies for promised liberation from Nazism and Fascism. Following the war, he was so frustrated by the realities of colonialism and the denial of self-determination for many nations that he decided to turn his back to colonial citizenship and extricate himself from the “white great error”, as he called it, Fanon went in search of another identity, one that he referred to as the “new human.” Having tried unsuccessfully to find a chance in Senegal, and just at the time when his Black Skin, White Masks came out, he landed a job in Algeria. In a letter he wrote when he was 27 old, he remarks that colonialism and capitalist exploitation are world phenomena and that the confrontation of colonialism is a personal, national, and world choice.

      Having arrived in North Africa, Fanon abandoned his French citizenship to join the Algerian revolution. The situation in Africa and the Far East inspired him to voice strong opposition to the Antilles’ decision to join the Francophone. He maintained that acceptance of colonialism is detrimental to individuals as well as nations. Because Colonialism is a form of material and moral violence, he argued, it has to be confronted with revolutionary violence. Solidarity among the colonized is a form of absolute praxis, a true act of commitment, he stated. It was early in his life that Fanon concluded that resistance to imperialism is a global mission as well as an individual and collective task.

      As a journalist with the Algerian newspaper el-Moudjahid, Fanon played a major role in spreading daily awareness of the revolution. His semi-daily articles were later incorporated in his book “Toward the African Revolution”. Fanon warned the revolutionary cadres and the Algerian liberation movement against liberalist deception, maintaining that the liberals speak out only because of the revolutionary violence the colonized mount against colonialism. Colonialists do not understand the dynamism of national resolve and are bound to continue their violence. Meanwhile, the “national bourgeoisie” and its affiliated intellectuals would be desperately seeking reconciliation with the colonists. The national bourgeoisie is more interested in partnership with the colonists than in protest against them, he said. The colonialist powers understand this psychology of capitulation and allow a certain margin of opposition to take place, as they feel safe from counteraction.

      In his constant search for a unified African stand, one with which to confront the unity of colonialism, Fanon maintains that it is untenable to have an Africa that fights colonialism and another Africa that collaborates with it. The colonialists are not going to withdraw easily, he said, pointing to the situation in Congo and the assassination of Lumumba. Fanon was convinced that the unity of the African revolution calls for solidarity against settler colonialism as well as the new forms of colonialism (the latter, I believe, was in reference to countries that won independence only in name). He kept calling for the creation of “another Algeria” in Angola, Congo, and South Africa.

      Fanon, who fought with the Allies against the Axis, was apparently hoping that European leftists, democrats, and working classes would act in solidarity with revolutions among the colonized nations. His disappointment was clear in scattered paragraphs of his books and in a whole chapter in “Toward the African Revolution”. This chapter is a worthy reference for anti-globalization activists in the third world, for it throws light on the nature of global alliances and clears out any lingering doubts concerning the position of European democrats. Fanon offers several hints here, some still relevant and others are controversial, the most aggressive is that colonialism creates a repressive presence that marks every European in the continent as a repressor. He argued the apologists among the European democrats. They, he maintained- speculates on the natural end of colonialism, mentioning the Bandung conference, which he deals with aside from the issue of Algeria specifically. Others argues that colonialism is connected to the ills of the French system or those who considered the assessment of the cost of war.

      Some democrats prefer to keep their peace and refrain from supporting colonialism. Some prefer to focus on the Anglo-Saxon competition on international level or towards the role of certain individuals, such as Gamal Abdel- Nasser.... etc Some discuss alternative forms to maintain the ties with the metropolitan, while giving advice to the Algerian revolution, or criticizing its methods whenever revolutionary action leads to casualties, some begin using the term “terrorists”. This is a rudimentary summary of Fanon’s essay, which deserves the full attention of the anti- globalization movement.

      Colonialism is indivisible. This is a point on which Fanon was not ready to compromise neither with communists nor democrats. As a result, he had trouble staying on good terms with Aime Cesaire. To the last days of his life, Fanon was arguing with Sartre over that matter; this alone indicates how much it meant to him.

      Fanon took part in every African conference he could attend, including those held in Accra, Tunis, and Conakry. In Accra, his assault on the philosophy of non-violence prompted Nkrumah to change his position and support armed struggle even in the framework of the Organization of African Unity.

      Fanon was particularly interested in furthering African support to the Algerian revolution, noting that political solidarity is not enough and that actual action is needed. He supported the idea of forming an African legion, composed of African volunteers, to support the movements of African liberation, starting with Algeria. When the Algerian revolution appointed him ambassador of the Algerian interim government in 1961, he visited Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, and Mali, all the time making preparations to smuggle weapons to southern Algeria.

      In the course of his struggle to rally solidarity with national liberation, Fanon discussed two important issues. One is major powers, socialist and capitalist; the other is the United Nations.

      He saw the Cold war and the conflict between the superpowers as a peaceful form of violence toward Third World Nations, warning that the Cold War may impose certain choices on Third World countries, and urging that nations choosing between capitalism and socialism should do so based on their own preferences. He viewed the Suez battle and Nassir as a model for Third World opposition to western imperialism, and the Budapest events of 1957 as a model for human liberation of communist totalitarianism. This epitomizes his view of liberation as a human ideal. Not hiding his socialist leanings, Fanon maintained that socialism in Third World countries is possible, even necessary to avoid authoritarianism and prevent bourgeois control of the one-party system. While deeply suspicious of the Soviet system, Fanon acclaimed to the peasant revolution in China as a triumph for human liberation worldwide, Fanon did not go too far dealing with the multiple form of this nation of peasants!

      Concerning the institutional international system, Fanon spoke at length of the United Nations. The UN intervention in Congo, which ended in the killing of Lumumba, made him see the UN practices as a model and vehicle for imperialist violence. Fanon’s references to the UN in “Toward the African Revolution” are quite relevant today. “The UN did not fail in Congo because of the difficulty of the situation,” he said, “but because it is used as a legitimate cover by the imperialists at times when brute force fails. Partition, arbitration, and mandates are international legitimate tools used to torment and crush the resolve for independence and spread chaos, plundering, and havoc, as in the cases of Vietnam and Laos.” Lumumba was wrong to trust the UN, Fanon concluded. I wonder what his views would be had he lived to see militarized globalization and the events in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq!

      Fanon was not a romantic sentimentalist, although many portray him as such in order to discredit him, belittle his contribution to African thinking, and question his relevance to events inside and outside Africa. There is no room in this essay to review the insightful debate on Fanon’s theories by revolutionaries in Vietnam (Nghei), Dar Es- Salaam, Guinea-Bissau (Cabral), and Angola (Mario de Andrade). In the 1970s, this debate enriched the course of the Soweto revolution in South Africa. Fanon’s political and social discourse inspired much of Steve Biko’s ideas about black consciousness. Such matters call for a comparative study involving national liberation and civil rights movements of Afro-Americans, the Black Panthers, and other wings of the liberation movement among blacks in northern America.

      Surprisingly, or not, Fanon`s topics are still there in Durban and Cape town post apartheid universities as well as amongst the Afro American groups and scholars.

      More surprising is in the files of post modernists and post colonialism writers and their daily chatting on internet! (basically relevant to National culture and modernization). I am really aware of the anthropological approach they are framing Fanon in.


      Despite the special status of the Algerian revolution in political cultural life in the Arab world, the special nature of the July 1952 revolution, its leaders Nassir and the Free Officers, the Egyptian national militariat), and its demonstration in Arab world, left little room for much else. The July revolution reached its climax in the first half of the 1960s, just as Fanon star as an intellectual figure and works were on the rise. Several Beirut-based magazines and publishing houses were at the time actively promoting the works of Jean-Paul Sartre. The introduction the latter wrote for the “Wretched of the Earth” more than Algeria revolution literature called their attention to Fanon, and they began translating his works. From then on, Fanon became well-known in the region. Some writers took special interest in “Year Five of the Algerian Revolution” (translated to Arabic as Sociology of a Revolution in 1970) due to its important analysis of the situation of Arab women.

      I have consulted seven leading Algerian works on political culture and the Algerian revolution, all written between 1965 and 1983 by key intellectnal figures in Algerian society. (references annexed) In five of these, there was no mention of Fanon altogether, either as a source for analysis or as a figure of certain influence. One well- documented academic study by Souliman el-Sheikh could not avoid mentioning Fanon as an authority on violence in the Algerian revolution. Academic writers and seminars could celebrate him but I could- and I wanted to go only to the political cultures works. “Fanon and the Algerian Revolution,” written in 1972 by Mohammad el-Meili, a pan-Arab Algerian thinker, strongly put the point of belittling Fanon’s contribution to the Algerian revolution. The same book goes to lengths to prove that Fanon benefited more, morally and intellectually, from the revolution than the other way around.

      The Wretched of the Earth is arguably Fanon’s most popular book in the Arab world, perhaps because it appeared at the right time. The rest of Fanon’s work was published in Arabic only on – or just after - the tenth anniversary of the Algerian revolution.

      How does one explain Fanon’s spectacular absence from the depth of Arab political culture, both in North Africa and the Middle East? There are several possible explanations. One is that successful modern Arab “revolutions”, which recreated the “national state” after removing the colonial situation, were led mostly by the nationalist military, as in Egypt and Syria for example. Nationalist military figures of armed struggle also controlled the destiny of Algeria after the independence in 1962.

      This means that we are faced with the regulated army that achieves “revolution” from above with a view to launching national revival. It was therefore difficult to propagate the ideas of someone who favors spontaneous popular uprisings, speaks highly of the peasantry, and scorns the indigenous (national) and petit bourgeoisie.

      Fanon’s ideas posed certain contradictions to the ruling classes. One cannot forget also that the Arab left in general was a hostage to Marxist Stalinism and its internationalism. The Arab left, largely close to the Soviets, hastily adopted the ideas of “democratic revolutionaries” and used it to justify the rule of the national military and single party elites, as well as their chosen path of non-capitalist development. None of this sits well with Fanon’s view of the urban society and how corrupted the latter is by subsidiary nationalist bourgeoisie, nor with his rejection of totalitarian parties, his denunciation of East European events, his criticism of French communists and democrats, and his views of the Soviet bloc.

      In view of the failures of the choices associated with the “national state” of the 1960s, and the liquidation of the legacy of such leaders as Nassir and Boumedienne, would alert the Arab world today – as happened elsewhere – of the importance of Fanon’s views. Fanon wrote of the negative role of peasant-based bourgeoisie, explaining its eagerness to dependency programs which is too similar to structural adjustment and globalization ones. At a time when Arab nationalist and Nasserite intellectuals and a small contingent of leftists, are once again addressing the question of the national state, it is necessary to recall Fanon’s works.


      In the final lines of this essay, I will turn to the question I posed at the beginning. Why do we need to revisit Fanon’s ideas today? In my view – contrary to those who recall fanon as romantic – Fanon offers excellent analysis of the spontaneous role of the marginalized masses and their movement toward potential consciousness and away from tangible subconscious. Lacking in political organization and deprived from a democratic civil society and intellectuals speaking on their behalf, the masses of the Third World (particularly in Africa and the Arab world) are now prone to spontaneous uprisings, particularly in cities filled with the unemployed and the excluded surrounded by shanty towns. Their situation matches the one Fanon so aptly described.

      As for the peasants, the circumstances surrounding the agricultural question worldwide, the actions of the WTO, the ongoing exchanges between Europe and the US, food shortages, the alienation of African and South peasants in matters concerning food supplies, all of the above is related to the mechanisms of world capitalism. All of this should remind us of the “peasant question” that Fanon spoke about, as well as his references to the “indigenous bourgeoisie” in “dependent” countries.

      The question of women and gender also recalls Fanon’s ideas on the sociological position of women and the need for a comprehensive approach to address women’s problems in developing countries. Women need more than just a few rights. They deserve more than nominal participation in power structures they didn’t help create, they need to be part and parcel the structural change.

      The bulk of Fanon’s work and life focuses on “imperial repression”, a phenomenon now visible across the Third World. As the globalization proceeds with overwhelming military force to negate people and societies and suppress freedom and choices, one is tempted to foresee a “second wave of national liberation”, a conversion between the self-awareness of the intellectual and the collective awareness of the oppressed masses. In less than half a century, we are back to the questions Fanon raised in the Wretched of the Earth as well as we are in need of new Bandung.

      The crisis of the agricultural situation brings us back to the roots of the peasant question. As the situation of the unemployed and marginalized in cities deteriorates because of current policies, and as unorganized popular uprisings become regular events in the Arab- African region and elsewhere, Fanon’s work becomes as relevant as ever.


      * This paper was drafted and presented first at CODESRIA Seminar on ‘canonical works’ in Accra in September 2003. It was revised and selected for CODESRIA’s 30th anniversary conference in Dakar, 10-12 December 2003.
      * Helmi Sharawi is director of the Arab & African Research Center, Cairo.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


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      2-Al Ibrahim, A.T (in Arabic) from decolonization to cultural Revolution, Algeria National co. for distribution,
      3-Bulhan, Hussein Abdilahi: Frantz Fanon, and the psychology of oppression: plenum press. New York and
      London, 1985.
      4-Caute, David, Fanon, Fontana, Collins, London, 1970.
      5-Djaghlol, A (in Arabic) contemporary History of Algeria, Buirut, Dar El Hadatha, 1981.
      6-Djaghlol, A (in Arabic) colonialism and cultural conflicts in Algeria, Buirut, Dar El Hadatha 1984.
      7-El Cheikh, Suleiman, (in Arabic) Armed struggle, or time of certainity, Cairo Al Dar misriya Al Libnania, Cairo
      8-Fanon, Frantz: Peau noire, masques blancs, Paris, ed le seuil, 1952.
      9-Fanon. F. (in Arabic) wretched of the Earth, Dar El Talea, Buirut- 1962-66.
      10-Fanon, F. (in Arabic) 5 years of Algerian Revolution (sociology of a revolution)- Dar El Talea- Buirut 1970.
      11-Fanon, Frantz: Towards the African Revolution, Penguin Book, London, 1970.
      12-Hansen, Emmanuel: frantz fanon, social and political thought, ohio state university press, 1977.
      13-Harbi, Mohammed (in Arabic) the National liberation front- Dar El kalema- Buirut 1983.
      14-Macey David: Frantz Fanon, A Biography, picador USA, New York, 2000.
      15-Memorial international: Frantz Fanon (31 mars- 3 Avril 1982, Fort- de- france), presence Africaine, Paris,
      16-Al Meili, Mohamed (in Arabic) Frantz Fanon and Algerian Revolution, Dar El Thakafa- Buirut, 1972-80.
      17-Turner Lou Alan John: Frantz Fanon, Soweto& American Black Thought, News & letters, Chicago, Illinois,
      18-Zahar, Renate, Frantz Fanon, colonialism& Alienation, Monthly Review Press, New York and London, 1969.

      ‘Toward the African Revolution’

      In the wake of Frantz Fanon

      Aziz Salmone Fall


      cc L W
      Inspired by the revolutionary insights of Fanon, Aziz Salmone Fall proposes ‘pan-Africentrage’: A process of acquiring political and historic awareness of the collective autonomy of the continent by breaking away from dominant capitalism and revaluing our traditions and ways of being in solidarity.

      On my way by plane to the pan-African Congress being held in Munich [1], I re-read ‘Toward the African Revolution’ to fire myself up and reassure myself that this was still the right path. ‘Toward the African Revolution’ will be the theme of our round table on 6 December this year as we mark the 50th anniversary of Fanon’s death. This round table will follow the film we are showing in his honour.

      The revolutionary outbreaks in North Africa are like a boomerang of history and the springtime that has spread has a tang of optimism. ‘The optimism that reigns in Africa today is not born of spectacular natural forces that are at last turning in favour of Africans. Nor is this optimism due to the discovery that the attitudes of the former oppressor are now less inhuman and more benevolent. The optimism in Africa is the direct result of revolutionary action by the African masses, whether political or martial – and sometimes both.’ [2]

      Returning recently from Tunisia and Egypt, I realised that, behind this optimism, there certainly lies a long road and that these advances may well not give birth to revolution, so affected are they by culturalism, integrism and imperialism. I noted, too, how fragile these progressive forces still are and incapable of steering this historic movement. The same applies to the Congo which remains, as Fanon had predicted, the trigger of Africa, and which, instead of turning the violence against imperialism, turns it on itself. This Congo is a geological horror story that has experienced what Fanon feared most. Its millions of dead, sacrificed at the altar of our post-modern consumerism and our disputes that are maintained by a truncated capitalism implore Africa, through their tragedy, to become united. Fanon is right again: we need to complete the progress begun in North Africa and push Africa towards total emancipation.

      It is not only the people of the Maghreb and the Congolese that need to read or re-read ‘Toward the African Revolution’, but all Africans. It is a collection of political texts, logbooks and letters by Frantz Fanon first published by Maspero. It spans the time from his youth when he wrote Black Skin, White Masks in 1952 until he penned The Wretched of the Earth in 1961, the year he died. As a synthesis of the anti-imperialist and class struggles, this work speaks of the colonial evolution and the hidden traps inherent in decolonisation. It gave Fanon an opportunity for introspection, an understanding of alienation, of the depersonalisation of the colonised and of racism in all its forms. In it Fanon illustrated the necessity for those colonised to consider their psyche and prepare their retort. The universe he depicts shows that the world of the colonised is a mirror broken at every level by the oppression and alienation of the coloniser and that national liberation has to be preceded by individual liberation.

      Combining his experience as a psychiatrist with that of a man caught up in the Algerian war, he calls upon his left wing comrades and urges those from the continent to join forces in a revolutionary, Panafrican movement.

      During the 25 years of the Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa (GRILA’s) existence [3], we have we have advocated the total liberation of Africa as seen by Fanon whose analysis is still relevant and current for pan-Africanism. In other words, he still challenges us to consider what form social transformation in the post-colonial era should take.

      In the 21st century, pan-Africanism is at a crossroads while our continent is being attacked by new and complex forms of imperialism. I am giving the name ‘supraimperialism’ to the particular form of hegemon that neoliberali financialised oligopolies has imposed through globalisation during the past 30 years . Its contradictions impel it to intensify the capitalist mode of production and predatory consumption although this is bound to be a blind alley. The most critical tension in the system will be played out between three declining centres – the US, Japan and Europe – and the emerging countries whose leading runners BRICS, - Brazil, Russia, India and China South Africa - are as much capable of reinvigorating capitalism as of speeding up its chances of being steered in another direction. The latter can only happen if they opt to start in a self-centred surge within a more multi-centred world.

      In this regard, the class interests of their leaders and of their people will be decisive; the case of South Africa is a microcosm of the whole. Africa, which contributes so much to global growth, is nevertheless, still very much locked in the cash economy of the old international division of labour. This order is increasingly synonymous with the resources sold off by transnational corporations and local business people unconcerned about the condition and fate of the Africans. The strategy of imperialistic forces to control our resources and our resistance by military power will not fade.

      Fanon gave us a clear warning of this: ‘Africa will be free. Yes, but she must get down to work and not lose sight of her own unity. It was in this spirit that, among others, one of the most important points of the first meeting of All-African Peoples' Conference at Accra in 1958 was adopted. The African peoples, it was said in this resolution, commit themselves to forming a militia that will be responsible for supporting the African peoples in their struggle for independence.’ [4]

      Instead, after a 20th century full of brutal imperialist interventions, our people, paralysed and divided, are participating in a 21st century that looks as though it will continue in the same way. This year, 2011, we have been presented with some 14,000 incidents of NATO combat aircraft bombing targets, often civilian, in Libya. We also saw the neo-colonial recolonisation of the Ivory Coast, and the creeping extension of AFRICOM, for various pretexts, in the ranks of our armies and territories.

      ‘It may be that the colonial expeditions conform to a given, known pattern – the need to impose order among the barbarians, the protection of the concessions and interests of European countries, the generous gift of western civilisation – but we have not publicised sufficiently the stereotypical ways that the founding cities use to remain attached to their colonies.’ [5] In reality the barbarity is fostered by the unyielding expansion of a capitalism in crisis that replies with counter-revolution every time we make advances in our struggles. Everywhere, it leads to compromises to which the social democratic and even radical left forces succumb, afraid of putting up opposition on an uneven playing field. However, there is nothing left to reform. The international cooperation, the declaration of Paris with its ‘aid’ effectiveness and the apologetic bilateral enthusiasms no longer deceive people.

      The instrumentalisation of multilateral forums is even more pronounced than in the last century. The IMF, the World Bank and WTO have been preserved, despite their obsolescence and their obvious failure, as instruments reproducing the international order. However, the latter has been slowly overtaken by a transnational order where the role of the large corporations, as well as major culturalist ditch and civilisational gaps, cannot be regulated by the G20. This means a gradual world governance by a G20 that has no democratic mandate to do so. The UN had the regulatory mandate but has been transformed into a chamber for recording the wishes of NATO, and new tools such as the right to interfere at a humanitarian level and the responsibility to protect have torn to pieces the international right to some of the most powerful strategic benefits.

      What Fanon said about the sequestration of Congo still resonates: ‘Lumumba’s mistake was firstly to believe in the good-natured impartiality of the UN. He strangely forgot that the UN currently is no more than a reserve assembly set up by the powerful to continue between two armed conflicts the ‘peaceful struggle’ over how to share out the world’… ‘Our mistake as Africans is to have forgotten that the enemy’s retreat is never trustworthy. He never understands. He capitulates, but does not change’. [6]

      More than ever, the revolutionary imperative seems appropriate and the progress enabled by the fall of apartheid, and the recent upset of senile autocracies in North Africa must be followed through. Along the same lines, the colonial struggle of Fanon’s days has been substituted by the struggle against neocolonialism and the retrogressive influences that are as ‘comprador’ as those vast sections of our societies that have been alienated and confused by the mirages of capitalism.

      ‘The inter-African solidarity must be real, a solidarity in action, a concrete solidarity of people, resources and money.’ [7]

      The African Union - that replaced the Organisation for African Unity - is for many of our fellow citizens an institution that is distant from their real concerns; it resembles a union of heads of state that cannot afford its own policies. Libya was the only African country without debt. The assassination of Gaddafi is bringing about a loss of finances for the African Union that was so unfortunately dependent on Libyan funds. Libya had ended up paying a third of the operational costs of the organisation as numerous countries were no longer contributing. In fact, with Libya, Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt each contribute a little less than 15 percent of the expenses. Apart from this embarrassing quirk, surely we must deplore the fact that these African countries only contribute on average eight percent of the AU budget, while 92 percent comes from foreign partners and donors. Jean Ping would say that finance from outside Africa amounts to more like 77 percent. (Officially, the AU budget for 2011 was predicted to be US$256,754,447 of which $122602.045 would come from member states and $134.152.402 from international donors).

      It is not only the funding that is problematic. The debate about the sort of pan-Africanism we want to construct has not started yet. There is a patent lack of political will and the Monrovia group, which has symbolically taken over from the Casablanca group, is dominating thinking. The most important aspects of this thinking – which may by chance be progressive – turn out to be unworkable. The members of the organisation still believe in the feasibility of NEPAD, a scarcely viable project left to the discretion of the West and whose futility for the continent we had already demonstrated at its launch at the Kananaskis G8 summit. [8] Today, Fanon would be deploring the fact that Africa still does not have a continental developing plan and that is why we are encouraging a move in this direction by offering the alternative of pan-African self-reliance (panafricentrage). [9]

      Pan-Africanism would gain in fact by being geared towards two requirements suggested by pan-Africentrage: the reconstruction of what it is to be African and a forward-looking renewal to control accumulation and develop our productive capacity. Both need to return to the question of progress and modernity and, therefore, development and decide on other homeomorphic imperatives (that is, those that challenge their local equivalent). ‘Africanity’ and the pan-African renewal could both be based on a balance between maat and internationalism – in other words, the fertile roots that provide for a harmonious future for Africa and its diaspora. To reconnect, without narcissistic attachment to the past, with our common roots; to regenerate them scientifically after all the assaults in our history that have led to amnesia and apathy. The revitalisation of pan-Africanism rely on many urgent needs.

      Among them, the fact that the moment has come to set up an international and pan-African conference on the grabbing of land and resources in Africa, especially agricultural land, following the example of Trinidadian lawyer Henry Sylvester Williams who launched a similar event in 1900 thereby inspiring the pan-African movement. The work of WEB Dubois, de Marcus Garvey, Lamine Senghor, Garan Kouyate, Price Mars CLR James, Casely Hayford, Alioune Diop and Présence africaine since 1947 were to fire the pan-African congresses and projects. Their legacy is perpetuated by their successors such as Lumumba, Ben Barka, Fanon, Nkrumah, Cabral, Sankara, Rosa Parks, Makonnen, Malcom X, Booker T Washington, Kenyatta, Diop, Rodney, Mandela… These future ancestors are still a shining light for us.

      The reconstruction of revolutionary pan-Africanism offers us not only a critique of Eurocentric Africanism, but also a rigorous and above all objective and historical review of Africa and its contribution to the arrival of globalisation. We must first fully recognise humanity’s monocentric origin that refuses all forms of racism and eugenics; the anteriority of the ancient negro-african civilisations needs to be re-established as does their contribution, like those of subsequent traditional periods, to the building up of global systems. There is also the need to understand how Africa was of service to Europe’s periphery, that is the Americas, before herself moving onto the fringes of capitalism. This is where she still is, in an unjust and outdated division of labour that is perpetuated by internal, predatory dynamics. UNICEF seems powerless to prevent the death of about 29,000 children under five every day – 21 a minute – chiefly from preventable causes. One child in eight in Africa dies before reaching the age of five. [10]

      ‘We Africans have been saying that for more than 100 years the life of 200,000,000 Africans has been life on the cheap, life that is put in question and perpetually haunted by death. We have been saying that we should not put our trust in the good faith of the colonialists but that we should arm ourselves with fortitude and a fighting spirit. Africa will not be liberated by the mechanical development of material assets; it will be the hand and brain of the African that inspire and successfully complete the dialectic of the continent’s liberation.’ [11]

      Nobody will save our people; we must do it ourselves and soon we will number one billion of whom three quarters still live as described above. The need for renewal involves the struggle against the almost collective amnesia relating to the real history of Africa and its diaspora, but above all it involves the need to start learning lessons from the anti-imperialist struggles and decolonisation; independence that had to be negotiated, struggles for national liberation and, most of all, the failure of institutional Panafricanism. It entails admitting that the complete liberation of Africa and its diaspora has yet to be achieved.

      This requires a bold reorganisation of the forces of change, especially our youth who, despite their capacity for outrage and reaction, have lived through more than two decades of depoliticisation and political disaffection. This phenomenon was maintained as much by our states being disengaged from the economy and functioning as puppets of the Bretton-Woods institutions and other donors as by the diminishing field of vision of many of our political parties mired in scenarios of artificial pluralist democracies and co-opted civil society. We have to make an essential and immense effort to create strategies and unity, but we also need a certain introspection in order to have respect for ourselves and others. In doing this, while many would wish to label ‘panafricentrage’ as one of the African doctrines, I want to make it clear that ‘afrocenticity is preferable to ‘afrocentrism’. Afrocentrism, like eurocentrism, is precisely a form of culturalism and other integrisms, blind alleys that need to be critiqued and surpassed.

      ‘Panafricentrage’, rather, is a doctrine that draws on its reactivated roots. It can be expressed on the one hand in terms of a philosophy that stresses maa’t (in its sense of cosmic, terrestrial and personal balances and of truth and social justice) and the rediscovery of our historic, socio-cultural and political programmes for regulation. On the other hand, it also depends on a practice of integrity that leads to pan-African and internationalist autocentred progress which is ecological and not sexist and which can contribute to a multi-centred world.

      This is a historic maaterialism, which begins with the historic conditions of material existence of Africans and understands their process of transformation and reproduction in order to achieve a revolutionary praxis. It is up to working people and the organic intellectuals of Africa and the diaspora to build this alternative against the predatory phases of globalisation that only allow comprador options and their chimeric efforts at continental integration. We have to learn to endure and counter oppression by multiplying and channeling thousands of networks and ramifications that are moving in the same direction as this panafrican impetus.

      ‘Panafricentrage’ is a process of acquiring a political and historic awareness of the collective autonomy of the continent. By breaking away discerningly from the dominant capitalism, it favours the control of accumulation and equitable redistribution. It promotes the revaluing of our traditions and ways of being in solidarity and is a socio-cultural renewal that enables Africa to make an active contribution to our age.

      Moreover, the conditions for the revolutionary awakening are becoming clearer: the global financial crisis; the closure of islands of prosperity to our disillusioned youth wishing to emigrate; the combination of the exasperation that is now affecting not only the poorest classes with the despair that narrows horizons that are clouded by the autumn of senile, predatory capitalist models. Finally, there is a ray of hope, glimpses of dawn that enable us to see the revolutionary advances that have started, timidly, here and there on the continent. Space is short, but let us illustrate one dimension of it.


      The devices of neoliberal recolonisation must be tirelessly combatted, as much with land grabbing as with rapacious commercial crops or the introduction of GMOs. [12] One of the battle fields is the issue of world food and for Africa this is an issue of prime importance as more and more of its land is being sold off while the food problem remains chronic. The world’s current food production could feed the planet, but much of the cereals – 40 percent - is used as concentrated fodder for cattle to provide meat for the most affluent. Moreover, the FAO – the UN organisation for food and agriculture – advocates a second green revolution, doubling food production between now and 2050. In the meantime, the rise in food prices is putting more than a billion people at risk of famine and is triggering the cycle of hunger riots. Autocentred development requires agrarian reform and self-sufficiency in food. We need organic farming methods and appropriate technology. It means production and processing, throughout an agricultural system that is as organic as possible, conforms to a different law of value, with more balance of income between town and country, a strategy for full employment, the fair cost of production and processing, etc. This project takes the form of collective self-reliance, in other words it enables the exchange of products between areas and cross-subsidies between regions of surplus and deficit. The productivity in all types of activities can be spectacular while at the same time generating full employment in the preparation and processing stages of production.

      A bio-organic approach to agriculture refuses to use chemical inputs and recycles all its rubbish. It is easy to envisage production of biogas that can be used both to clean the villages and towns and to provide energy. This could be coupled with solar energy to meet the energy needs of the communities. The jobs in growing and processing the crops encourage the people to stay local as their improved incomes and quality of life make the rural exodus less interesting. Biological farming (biomass, rotation, percolation, green pesticides, etc.) is falsely said to be less productive by the industrial producers of pesticides and chemical fertilisers and biotechnologies. An improved concentration per hectare is possible with this integrated, intensive model that preserves the adjoining environment as well as the sustainability of the arable ecosystems. We advocate, therefore, not sustainable, but endurable development. This is at the heart of the construction of an internal market of goods for consumption by the people, based on our products and selective imports that respond to our essential needs. But here, as elsewhere, there are several obstacles in the way of Panafricentrage. Let us briefly identify the immediate strategic horizons that condition the future struggles of Africa and its diaspora and that are likely to help them triumph with the help of internationalists from the North:

      • Self-sufficiency in food, agrarian reform, modernisation of agriculture to the rhythm of each society; arrival of markets with goods for mass consumption, to satisfy basic needs.
      • Nationalisation of resources conditional to popular, patriotic participation
      • Light industrialisation that complements the agriculture and the rebalancing of urban/rural income.
      • Regional and continental integration accelerated by complementarity and levelling out.
      • Backing patents and technology that are within our grasp and our means.
      • A central bank, continental currency; bi- or tri-continental parliament for the main issues regarding development and security.
      • A continental army and a civil brigade for prevention of conflicts and post-conflict reconstruction.
      • Tricontinental cooperation against speculation, with internationalists from the North who share with us the fight against impunity, illicit amassment of wealth and the violation of human rights.
      • Collective fight against paying the debt; disengage from programmes capping poverty-prsp etc.. and weigh up how to reform the international institutions in favour of internationalist cooperation with a 0.7%,untied ODA.
      • Full emancipation of women and change of male mentalities.
      • Democratic repolitisation of the people and their own organised efforts to counter imperialism, comprador regimes and anti-progressive behaviours. Active participation of young people in socio-political mechanisms for the making and implementation of decisions.
      • Decipher the irresponsible, ostentatious consumerist behaviour and rediscover ways of living solidarity.
      • Safeguard natural and environmental resources, by living ecologically and with a social conscience.
      Steer the energy of the progressive diaspora and the life forces of the continent towards Panafricentrage.
      Arrange the return to Africa from the Americas and elsewhere of the African diaspora
      • Work for a progressive, humanist, multi-centred world and for the preservation of common ‘goods’ via development that is both responsible and of the people.

      Nobody can predict the outcome of these struggles; the immediate future will rise out of the disruption of the balances of power – the socio-political, economo-cultural, gender and generational. In the meantime, it is a question of consolidating the gains, broadening the scope of a social, humanist and progressive (and, if possible, socialist) response to the unilateral market model with its global apartheid. We must advance into our future, eyes open, uncompromisingly and without nostalgic attachment to the past.

      However, for this future to be realised, we need concrete projects, on the scale of social formations, that is state-nations, major social reforms, indeed viable social projects. This does not seem possible to me without attempting selective disengagement and anti-capitalist self-centering and, above all, mutual support by integrating collectively those who opt for such an alternative.

      The option for a people’s national and democratic movement for Africa (states and peoples) -within a dynamic of Panafrican self-reliance that opposes the logic of compradorisation - would be able to form, through consultation and consistency, a response to defend such a project, even the birth of another world.

      ‘Africa must be free,’ said Dr N’Krumah in his inaugural speech. We have nothing to lose but our chains and we have a huge continent to conquer. In Accra, Africans swore loyalty and support to each other.’ [13]

      A luta continua. Amandla Ngawethu ! UHURU !!


      * Aziz Salmone Fall is coordinator of the International Justice for the Sankara Campaign.
      * This article was translated from French for Pambazuka News by Anne Rutter.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


      [1] and the talk on Panafrican Self Reliance Panafricentrage
      [2] Fanon Frantz, Pour la révolution africaine, FM/Petite collection Maspero, Paris, 1978, p172
      [3] Grila
      [4] Fanon Frantz, ibid, p 175
      [5] ibid p54
      [6] ibid p194-195
      [7] ibid p175
      [8] GRILA, Annotated critique of the 200 points in NEPAD.
      [10] UNICEF
      [11] Fanon, op cit p175
      [12] Fanon, op cit p 159

      Frantz Fanon in Africa and Asia

      Samir Amin


      cc A W
      Frantz Fanon is a loved and respected figure all over Africa and Asia. Samir Amin argues that his writing and the choice to join the liberation struggle in Algeria show Fanon was a genuine revolutionary.

      Fanon was a person with a wide-ranging mind, a bright man with great qualities be it through the rationality of his ideas or for his courage to tell the truth. Specialised in psychiatry, he possessed all what was needed to be a very good psychiatrist. His publications, ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ among others, dealing with the mental trauma of the colonised patients of Algeria testify to the pertinence of his great ideas. His book, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ makes explicit his vision of the revolution that need to take place to pull the human race out of the barbarism of the capitalist system. And it is by virtue of this great vision that he has won over the hearts and minds of all Africans and Asian freedom lovers.


      Fanon was born in the Caribbean. The history of his people (the indigenous population which has been exterminated by the French), of slavery and of the indentured workers (brought in respectively from Africa and India) and the subservient relationship of the colonised Caribbeans by the French colonial masters trigerred his capacity to think critically. The unique and very first social uprising that the American continent has known until recently is that of the slaves of Saint Domingue in Haiti who, by themselves, conquered their freedom. This Saint Domingue revolution coincided with the French Revolution. The radical faction of the French Revolution did spontaneously sympathise with the slaves who snatched their freedom to become full fledged citizens. But, of course, the colonial masters in power were not agreeable to that. The defference of the French Revolution had as consequence the reinstitution of slavery in the Caribbean which was once more abolished by the Second Republic in 1948, without however doing away with their status of colony until 1945, on which date came a new chapter of their history.

      What was being sought? A seemingly remote independence - or political integration or the setting up of a ‘Real French Union’ - a multinational state. The communist political parties of the Caribbeans and of Reunion Island (Indian Ocean) fought for political integration and were, at the end of the day, succesful. Today the outcome of this political choice imposes itself : political integration has build up such a strong economic and social dependency that makes it extremely difficult to even imagine a shift from this integration movement towards real political freedom. Paradoxically, it would appear that if today the Caribbeans and Reunion Island are integral parts of France, this is an outcome of the effort of the communists of France and of the latter’s colonies, crowned with success. As for the Conservative parties who have traditionally opposed political integration with equality of rights, who were former supporters of slavery and, subsequently, of colonialism, they would not have avoided that the fact that the movement leads here, in the British Caribbeans and in Mauritius, to the claim for independence.

      Of course, notwithstanding the profound changes brought in by the departmentalisation implemented from 1945 onwards, the scars of the aftermaths of both slavery and colonisation couldn’t be wiped off the collective mind of the victimised peoples, and surely not from the living conception of their identity, in their relationship with France. ‘Black Skin, White mask’ (published in 1952 when Fanon was aged 27 years) gives a very lucid insight of this experience of being black in an anti-black society. The extraordinary approach to the issues dealt with in this simultaneously searing and beautiful book gives a picture of the oddness, beyond the common denominator – contrary to the challenges faced by the black people of the United States those of the British Caribbeans, Brazil, the blacks of Africa at large and particularly those of South Africa. I would refer this difference to the distinction I make between external and internal colonialism (‘From capitalism to civilisation’, 2008, pages 145- 151).


      The accumulation of wealth by some through the dispossession of others has been ongoing throughout history. Fanon had fully understood that the expansion of capitalism was founded on the dispossession of the peoples of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbeans; that is of the big majority of peoples of planet earth. The major victims bearing the brunt of this expansion – ‘the wretched of the earth’ - were therefore these peoples, called by the force of circumstances to legitimately and perpetually surge against the world of imperialism order.

      Historical capitalism founded on the conquest of the world by the imperialist centres kills by its very nature the possibilities for the societies living on the outskirts of the capitalism system which try to ‘catch up’ and, as is the case for the imperialist centres, to become wealthy capitalist societies. The capitalist system as a way out for these peoples is a dead-end one, an impediment. Therefore the alternative is either socialism or barbarism. The widely prevailing belief that as a prerequisite, going through a capitalist phase in the form of an accumulation of wealth is necessary and is an absolute must prior to a shift to socialism is unfounded, once the real challenges that historical capitalism is are taken into consideration.

      The conquest of the world by the Europeans constitutes an immeasurable dispossession of the indigenous Indian Americans. The subsequent slave trade taking over and exercised on a great part of Africa caused a trauma constantly holding back the progress of the continent for half a millenium. A similar phenomenon can be seen in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Algeria and in a more pronounced manner Australia and New Zealand. This practice of accumulating wealth through the disposseion of others is true for the state of Israel – now colonising. Not less visible are the consequences of colonial exploitation of the peasantry submissive to British India, Dutch India, the Philippines and Africa as demonstrated by the widespread famines. The method was introduced by the British in Ireland whose population at that time was equal to that of the UK and which nowadays represents only one tenth, torn by organised famine that Marx denounced.

      This dispossession has not only destroyed the peasant population ; it did devastate a great majority of indigenous peoples. It destroyed the peoples’s industrial production (handicrafts and textiles), capacities that made these parts of the world much more prosperous than Europe itself : among others, China and India.

      The 19th century marked the apogee of this globalised capitalist/imperialist system to a point where, henceforth the expansion of capitalism and its shadow, westernisation, made it impossible to distinguish between the economic dimension of that conquest and its cultural dimension, ‘eurocentrism’.


      The apogee of the system is short: barely one century. The 20th century is that of the first series of uprisings conducted in the name of socialism (Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba) and of the radicalisation of the struggles of Asia, Africa and Latin America, their ambitions expressed in the ‘project of Bandoung’ (1955-1981). Such concomitance is not a stroke of luck. The worldwide spread of capitalism/imperialism has been the biggest tragedy in human history for the concerned peripheral people, thereby illustrating the destructive character of accumulation of capital. The law of impoverishment formulated by Marx, made real at the level of the system bringing along much more destruction than the father of the socialist idea would have himself imagined.

      This chapter of history is now over. The peoples of the periphery do not accept any more the fate that capitalism reserves for them. This fundamental change of attitude is irreversible. This is the indication that capitalism has entered into its declining phase. This, however, does not prevent some persisting illusions: those pertaining to the idea that some kind of reforms are possible to give capitalism a human face (something that has never happened for the majority of people), a possible catching up in the system, so cherished by the ruling class of the emerging countries intoxicated by the apparent success of the moment. These illusions seem to be diehards ones being due to the fact that we are down in the dumps. The waves of the 20th century uprisings have already ended but those of the 21 century’s new radicalism have not yet affirmed themselves. And in the dark confusions of the transitions some monsters are emerging, as Gramski wrote.

      The governments and the peoples of Asia and of Africa proclaimed their commitment to reconstruct a new world order on the basis of the recognition of the rights of dominated nations. This ‘right to development’ constituted the basis of globalisation of that time, implemented in an agreed multipolar framework, imposed on an imperialism compelled to adjust itself to the exigencies of the day. The Bandoung era is that of the ‘African Renaissance’. It is not by mere coincidence that African states are engaging in reform projects which impose socialist values mainly because the freedom of the people at the periphery should not necessarily match an anti socialism point of view. No need to disparage the numerous attempt on the continent, as is doing today: the abominable regime of Mobutu had, in only 30 years allowed the formation in Congo of a capital of education 40 times higher than what the Belgians had realised in 80 years. Whether it is liked or not, it is a fact that the African states are builders of genuine nations. And it is the ‘trans-ethnic’ option of its leaders that has encouraged this to take shape. The ethnic failures are subsequent to and consequent upon the exhaustion of the Bandoung model, resulting in the loss of legitimacy of powers and recourse to fractions who use ethnicity to suit their own personal interests. I refer here to my book ‘Ethnicity storming Nations’.

      Is it right to believe that the long decline of capitalism is synonymous with a long positive transition to socialism? For this to be realised, the 21st century should be consistent with the 20th century while radicalising the objectives of the social transformation. This is absolutely achievable but still the conditions have to be made clear. Otherwise the long decline of capitalism is explained by the continuous degradation of human civilisation. (Here I would refer to what I wrote in that connection more than 20 years back: ‘Revolution or decadence?’ Nation and Class, Midnight 1979, pp 238-245).

      The decline is neither a linear nor continuous process. It does not exclude some upward movements, the counteraction of capital. Such is the nature of things today. The 20th century constitutes a first chapter of a long apprenticeship by the people, of the surpassing of capitalism and of the invention of new forms of socialist experience (to quote Domenico Losurdo, ‘Running away from history’, Delga 2007). With him I do not analyse its development in terms of ‘failure’ (of socialism, of national independence). Contrary to this, it is the success rather than the failures of these first nationally popular movements that are the basis of the problems of the contemporary world. An analysis of the social contradictions specific to the respective systems, the groping inherent to such first advancement, explain their lost of momentum and their subsequent defeat, not failure. ( Samir Amin, ‘Beyond capitalism’, PUF 2002, pp 11-19). It is therefore this loss of strength that has created the conditions necessary to counteract the prevailing capital: a new perillous transition of the 20th century liberations to those of the 21st century.

      Fanon’s political action lies wholly in this point in history, Bandoung era (1955-1981) and that of the pioneering struggles for victorious liberation. The choice he made to join the Algerian National Liberation Front and other African liberation movements was one worthy of a genuine revolutionary.


      * Samir Amin is director of the Third World Forum. A selection of his books is available from Pambazuka Press.
      * This article was translated from French for Pambazuka News by Joseph Robertson.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Fanon and ‘The Fact of Blackness’

      Chambi Chachage


      cc W E C
      'The Fact of Blackness', the seminal 1952 essay by Frantz Fanon, is still relevant today, argues Chambi Chachage. 'It is relevant simply because Du Bois’ problem of colour line has not yet disappeared.'

      ‘ What does a black man want?’- Frantz Fanon’
      ‘Look not upon me, because I am black’- The Song of Solomon 1:6
      ‘The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself’- Steve Biko
      ‘I propose nothing short of the liberation of the man of colour from himself’ - Frantz Fanon


      In the beginning of the 20th century the great black intellectual William. E. B Dubois, writing concerning ‘The Souls of Black Folk’, stated that the ‘the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of colour line’ (Charters, 1999, p.1411). Incidentally, in the middle of the 20th century a young black intellectual by the name of Frantz Fanon emerged as a great champion in the art of problematising the study of ‘colour line’, for indeed the issue of ‘colour line’ had become a global problem. Now history tells us that the 20th century is behind us, yet as we live in the beginning of the 21st century the problem of ‘colour line’ is still a part and parcel of our society. In this essay, I attempt to critique one of Fanon’s essays entitled ‘The Fact of Blackness’, which deals with this problem.

      I have divided the main body of my essay into three sections. The first one deals with the social-psychological notion of ‘self-identity’ in relation to the so-called ‘fact of being a black person’. The second section deals with the economical and social-political notion of ‘self-determination’ in relation to the ‘fact of being a dominated black person’. And the final section deals with the contradictory nature of affirming the ‘fact of being a black person’ vis-à-vis the ‘non-homogeneity of blackness’. But before delving into these sections, it is important to sketch a brief biographical background of Fanon in the context of his politics and the intellectual currents of his time i.e. the time he wrote ‘The Fact of Blackness’.

      According to McCulloch (1983), Fanon was born in 1925 on the small Island of Martinique. He received his early education from an elite school in Martinique where one of his teachers and mentors was Aime Cesaire, who, according to Irele (1972), was the black intellectual who coined the term ‘negritude’. Moreover, McCulloch (1983) notes that Fanon went on to fight in World War II on the side of the Free French forces in Europe and in 1945 Colonel Raoul Salan awarded him the ‘Croix de Guerre’ for his heroism in combat. Ironically, ten years later, Fanon and Salan found themselves fighting as opposites in the Algerian revolution. And of course it was Fanon, not Salan who threw his lot in with the Algerian ‘rebels’. A short biographical note accompanying his book ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, attributes this decision of Fanon to his experiences and observations in an Algerian hospital - a hospital he was assigned to, after graduating as a medical student in Paris. It should be noted that Fanon returned home after the World War and completed his secondary education before heading to Paris in 1947 where he ended up studying medicine. He specialised in psychiatry under ‘one of the most radical psychiatric teaching programmes then available’ (McCulloch, 1983, p. 1).

      According to Panaf (1975), it was while he was at Lyon University in France that Fanon wrote ‘Black Skin, White Mask’ in 1952. Its fifth chapter entitled ‘The Fact of Blackness’ was, according to Macey (2000), an essay that appeared in May 1951 in the journal ‘Espirit’ and it took a form of the ‘lament of the black man’. It should be noted this was the time the process of decolonisation and self-determination among colonies was starting to gain momentum. India, for instance, had gained independence in 1947. France was starting to think about giving the option of independence within or without the French territory to its colonies such as Martinique. It was the time of the emergence of the educated elite among the colonised. These were groomed to be the leaders of the new independent countries. In the Francophone colonial world the names that loom large include that of Leopold Senghor, Aimer Cesaire and Cheikh-Anta Diop. Imperial France had been defeated by the wretched of Vietnam. The cold war was forming its camps while the problem of colour was gaining its momentum in places such as South Africa and Algeria. The white world was producing more progressive white thinkers such as Josie Duble, who was to become Josie Fanon in 1952 when she married Fanon. This was a stimulating environment for a young intellectual like Fanon who wished to write a different kind of book and thus be as great as his mentor Aimer Cesaire.

      Macey (2000) alerts me that ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ is not a pure autobiography of Fanon. The ‘I’ that speaks in its pages is often what literary scholars call a persona. Since I agree with this, I have decided to treat 'The Fact of Blackness' as a non-pure autobiographical narrative whereby Fanon’s ‘I’ sometimes conflates with the black man’s ‘I’. But it should be stressed here that this black man is not universal, but rather he is the black man Fanon was writing about. Probably aware of what his critics would do if he universalised a black man, Fanon in his introduction to ‘Black Skin, White Mask’ categorically gave the following concluding statement: ‘Since I was born in the Antilles, my observations and my conclusions are valid only for the Antilles - at least concerning the black man at home. Another book could be dedicated to explaining the differences that separate the Negro of the Antilles from the Negro of Africa. Perhaps one day I shall write it. Perhaps too it will no longer be necessary - a fact for which we could only congratulate ourselves’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 16). At the risk of appearing patriarchal, most of the times I have also followed Fanon’s use of the masculine in referring to the black person he is writing about. Although Bhabha (1986) argues that Fanon’s use of the word ‘man’ is inclusive of man and woman in the sense that it connotes a phenomenological quality of humanness, I, like many feminine critics of Fanon, disagree with that. Concerning the black woman, I have decided to take Fanon (1986) at his word, that he does not her.


      In his introduction to his book ‘Black skin, White Masks’, Fanon (1986) poses what appear to be a rhetoric question. It’s a question, which he tries to answer at length in the fifth chapter of the book i.e. the chapter entitled ‘The Fact of Blackness’. Although it is an open-ended question, the brief answer he provides in the introduction has to do with a question of identity. The question is, ‘what does a black man want?’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 10) But instead of directly asking this question, he prefixes it with a prior question, ‘what does a man want?’ From a psychoanalytical point of view, of which Fanon was subscribing to, it is important to note this deliberation in the light of the quest for identity. Note the following statement, which immediately follows those two questions, ‘At the risk of arousing the resentment of my coloured brothers, I will say that the black is not a man’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 10). If the black is not a man, then what is the biological, psychological and cultural identity of the black? If the black is not a man, what and who is black? Fanon’s answer to this is equally enigmatic: ‘The black is a black man.’ Moreover, his answer to what a black man wants is more enigmatic: ‘The black man want to be white’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 11).

      All these are enigmatic because prior to his questions, he sarcastically describes his fragmented thought processes as follows: ‘Toward a new humanism…Understanding among men...Our colored brothers...Mankind I believe in you...Race prejudice...To understand and to love...From all sides dozens and hundreds of pages assail me and try to impose their will on me. But a single line would be enough. Supply a single answer and the color problem would be stripped of its importance’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 10). A single answer was and is indeed not enough to deal with Dubois’ old problem of color line. Thus, drawing from his experience as a black man in the Antilles, Fanon attempts to analyze the black man’s burden vis-à-vis a white man


      According to Fanon (1986), one of the importances of 'The Fact of Blackness' is that it portrays the Negro face to face with his race. In it we ‘observe the desperate struggles of a Negro who is driven to discover the meaning of black identity’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 16). Since this was an ontological problem which had to do with the essence or the nature of being of blackness, it was natural for Fanon, as Macey (2000) also notes, to make use of the existentialist phenomenology of Sartre, the negritude of Cesaire and fragments of psychoanalytical theory in his attempt to diagnose and prescribe a remedy to the problem of blackness. To Fanon (1986), the problem started as early as when he came to the world imbued with an inquisitive mind. He came with a quest that led him to realise that he was an object in the midst of other objects. Like a child, modeling from his/her parents and siblings in the process of identity-formation, Fanon turned to his own blacks and their attention temporarily liberated him from this crushing objecthood. An objecthood which had suddenly sealed him into nonbeing. It was a temporary liberation because when Fanon reached the other side, that is the whites’ side, the glances of the other fixed him there: ‘Look, a Negro!’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 109)

      The above white gaze problematises the whole notion of ontology as far as a black man is concerned. Although Fanon accepts that there are some exceptions, he states that there is no room for a black man to experience his being through others when he is among his fellow blacks. But the black man Fanon was writing about was living in a colonised and civilised society which was characterised by the above-mentioned gaze. A society which, according to Fanon, makes every ontology unattainable. According to Fanon, this is so because in the worldview or schema of the colonised people there is an impurity or flaw, which makes it impossible for one to have any ontological explanation. Since it is very crucial here to understand what Fanon is saying, it is worthwhile to allude to the classical definition of ontology. The Chambers’ 21st dictionary defines it as the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature and essence of things or of existence. Thus, when Fanon talks about the limits of ontology in explaining the being of the black man, he simply means that ontology can only explain the being of the black man if and only if it deals with his existence as a black man per se and not as black man in relation to a white man. But this is unattainable because a colonised black man is Manicheanly constructed or brought into being in relation to an opposite, that is, a white man. Without a white man there is no black man. As far as skin colour is concerned, a black man can indeed be ontologically brown or even posses a skin shade that can make him pass for white as history has shown us. But a black man in Fanon’s time was not brown or white because the white gaze had ensured that he must not only be black, but he must be black in relation to the white man: ‘Look A Negro!’ ‘Dirty nigger!’

      Since ontology leaves the existence of a black man aside, the quest for his self-identity becomes a painstakingly task because it does not permit him to understand his being. This is so because the ‘black man has not ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 110). This white gaze leaves a black man ontologically disturbed for overnight he is given two points of references within which he has to simultaneously position himself while going on with his quest for self-identity. This is aggravated by the fact that the black man’s customs and the source that they were based on were wiped out. Fanon tells us that this was so because these customs were in conflict with the white civilisation that he, the black man, did not know and that imposed itself on him. Even though Fanon was aware of this, he, like many other black intellectuals of his time, were allured by the concept of negritude, which tried to trace the residues of these customs as an attempt to seek a black identity and a black ontology. Fanon, knowingly or unknowingly, alluded to one of the pitfalls of negritude inherent in its advocates when he stated that the ‘black man among his own in the twentieth century does not know at what moment his inferiority comes into being through the other’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 110). Moreover, Fanon alluded to another pitfall when he noted in his observation the little difference that existed among the almost-white i.e. the mulattos and the nigger in the Antilles. This observation in relation to his identity was not dramatic until he met the white man’s eyes: ‘Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened!’

      This encounter with the white man’s eye made it difficult for Fanon and his fellow men of colours to develop their bodily schema. The consciousness of his body became what he calls a solely negating activity since it makes a black man have a third-person consciousness in relation to his self and the world. Negating because the structuring of one’s self and the world creates what he calls a real dialectic between one’s body and the world. Here it should be reiterated that the world Fanon is referring to is a Manichean world whereby the corporeal or bodily schema implies that a black body is bad. This is a world, which according to Fanon, had some of it’s laboratories spend several years trying to produce a serum for ‘denegrification’ so as to whiten the miserable Negro and thus save him from his burden of corporeal malediction. Keeping faith with his quest for self-identity, Fanon sketched below this corporeal schema as a ‘historico-racial schema’ but as we have noted above, the sources of black man’s custom and thus, his authentic history were virtually wiped out. The implication of this is that Fanon relied on elements provided for him by the other i.e. the white man such as Jaspers who had woven Fanon, a black man out of numerous legends, anecdotes, stories and historicity. Thus, in order for Fanon and any black man of his time to construct his self-identity, it was not enough to just construct a physiological self or to balance space and localise sensations. And Fanon realised this painfully in that train when he couldn’t laugh at the fact that whites were afraid of him. He couldn’t laugh for his corporeal schema, being assailed at various points, crumbled.

      Fanon tells us that this crumbling resulted in the corporeal schema being replaced by a ‘racial epidermal schema’. Thus, Fanon’s self-identity formation process entered another phase i.e. from a phase where he was aware of his body in the third person he entered a phase where he was aware of his body in a triple person. In a tone of someone who has discovered himself, he exclaims, ‘I existed triply: I occupied space. I moved toward the other…and the evanescent other, hostile but not opaque, transparent, not there, disappeared. Nausea…’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 112) He realised that like any matter, he as a body occupied space. He also realised that when he moves toward the other he moves as a member of a black race. And he also realised the other is uneasy because of what the other attributes to be the character of the black race in relation to what the other has done during the history of the black race. But contrary to someone who joyfully celebrates his self-discovery, he painfully exclaims: ‘I was responsible at the same time for my body, for my race, for my ancestors. I subjected myself to an objective examination, I discovered my blackness, my ethnic characteristics; and I was battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectually deficiency, fetichism, racial defects, slave-ships, and above else: ‘sho’ good eatin’.’ (Fanon, 1986, p.112)

      The above-discovered self-identity reminiscent of psychoanalytical conditions such as schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders was not what Fanon wanted and probably it is not what black men have wanted throughout history. Fanon tell us that all that he wanted was to be a man among other men - nothing but a man. But where could he hide and be free from the white man’s imprisoning gaze and its related colonial discourses? Where could he hide for indeed to a white Frenchman he was not just Fanon, but also a ‘ Martinican, a native of “our” old colonies.’ (Fanon, 1986, p.113) And to ‘the handsome little white boy’, he is not just a man but also a nigger who is quivering with rage: ‘Mama, the nigger is going to eat me up’ (Fanon, 1986, p.114). Thus, the above-discovered identity proved to be just an illusion for it does not boost the black man’s self-esteem and confidence in himself. It does not make him a man. Contrary, it sprawls, distorts and recolors his body. It actually tells his self that a Negro is not only an animal, but he is also bad, mean and ugly. Instead of telling Fanon who his self really is, it actually helps him identify his enemies. The Negro realised that the white world is indeed its enemy. While he attempts to forget and forgive what had been to Negroes and only to love, this white world despises, rejects and denies him the slightest of recognition: Why is he trying to behave as if he is expected to behave like a man? Doesn’t he know the ontology of a black man? Doesn’t he know where a black man belongs? Doesn’t he know that a black man is inferior to the white man? And here Fanon realises that it impossible to get from an inborn complex. Therefore, like many black essentialists, he resolved to assert himself as a BLACK MAN. He does not do so because he believes that there is an ontological black man but because his quest for a self-identity is forced to take one and only one path: ‘Since the other hesitated to recognize me, there remained only one solution: to make myself known’ (Fanon, 1986, p.115).

      This decision of the Negro to make himself known is self-contradictory. This is so because the Negro is well known to whoever constructed blackness as a supposedly essence of a Negro. Sartre, a white man Fanon referred to as a friend of Negroes, lead Fanon to realise that contrary to the Jews who were disliked from the moment they were tracked down, the Negroes do not have to be tracked down for he cannot go unnoticed: ‘I am given no chance. I am overdetermined from without. I am a slave not of the “idea” that others have of me but of my own appearance.’ (Fanon, 1986, p.116) Surely there is no hiding place and there is no room for anonymity or invisibility: to the ‘other’ one is not just my friend but ‘my black friend’; one is not just a university graduate but ‘a black man and a university graduate’; one is not just one of the finest singers but ‘the finest of Negro singers’ and one is not just a friend but a ‘friend from Martinique’. This problem of colour line makes it almost imperative to the others to qualify the black man’s self-identity with the prior or post term ‘black’. And sadly enough in his quest for self-identity the black man has often fallen into this trap: Nelson Mandela is the first black president in South Africa; so-and-so is the first black vice-chancellor, the first black Olympic medallist and the list goes on and on. To Fanon this qualifying process was a shame and a self-contempt: ‘Nausea. When people like me, they tell me it is in spite of my color. When they dislike me, they point out that it is not because of my color. Either way, I am locked into an infernal circle’ (Fanon, 1986, p.116). And when he attached to his fellow Negroes, he was shocked for they too rejected him since they were almost white: ‘I want you to understand, sir, I am one of the best friends the Negro has in Lyon’ (Fanon, 1986, p.117).

      With all these version of Negroes, which Negro was to be made known? Although for centuries Negroes have been supposedly known as savages, brutes and illiterates it was a fact that Fanon and French men alike knew that this was false. France and Martinique, in Fanon’s time, was full of literate Negro teachers, gentle Negro doctors and civilised Negro priests. Or probably they were not ‘essential Negroes’ or they were probably what Joseph Conrad would call ‘just a fine specimen’ of Negroes. Whatever the case, Fanon realised that there was indeed a myth of the Negro that had to be destroyed. A kind of destruction that will lead a Negro to establish an authentic self-identity that is free from being made to feel as being inhuman. In his attempt to know why this myth of a Negro prevailed even if the Negro as refined in his manner and knowledge, the intellectual of Fanon’s time refereed him to the then prevalent psychological explanations of colour prejudice, which was championed by the likes of Allport and Burns. He was simply told that he was ‘unreasoningly’ hated, despised and detested by an entire race just because of his colour. But as a reasoning and rational being, Fanon felt he needed to show to the white man that he was mistaken. But reason with all its confidence of victory proved to be elusive for though the white scientists, using their reasoning capacity, reluctantly came to the consensus that a Negro was indeed a human being just like the white man, yet their consensus was only abstract. Abstract because the white man, whether using his reason or unreason, still viewed himself as intractable on certain points. And that’s why Fanon insists that the white man under no conditions wished to have any intimacy between races until he had the full knowledge of the effects of race-crossings.

      It appears that the more Fanon read and learned about what the white man had written about the black man, the more he, a black man, was not and not what he was. For instance, he tells us that in the first chapter of the history that the white man had compiled for him he was taught that his chromosomes were supposed to have a few thicker or thinner genes, which represented cannibalism. Fanon was indeed right in exclaiming that this was shameful science. Shameful for how could an idea of one eating one’s father find a central place in the reason of those who two centuries earlier had worshiped the so-called god of reason. The more Fanon learned about this the more he learned about the enemies he had discovered earlier. The enemies, who though champions of reasoning decided to hide there, anticipated and reasoned colour prejudices under the disguising garb of ‘unreasoning hate’. Thus, Fanon’s rational journey in his quest for self-identity reached a juncture: ‘If I were asked for a definition of myself, I would say that I am one who waits; I investigate my surroundings, I interpret everything in terms what I discover, I become sensitive’ (Fanon, 1986, p.120). And it was this failure of reason that made Fanon more prone to the nostalgic concept of negritude and its quest for black identity and self-determination. This concept tried to offer Fanon a connection in his juncture of self-identification. Looking back one can see why this was so appealing to the anti-racialist and anti self-negating Fanon, for Senghor was to write many years after Fanon’s death that what they, the champions of negritude, have been proclaiming for the past 30 years as negritude is ‘neither racialism nor self-negating. Yet it is not just an affirmation; it is rooting oneself in oneself, and self-confirmation: confirmation of one’s being’ (Senghor, 1993, p. 27).


      According to McCulloch (1983), Fanon’s allusion to negritude reflected his quest for personal identity while that of African socialism reflected his desire to return to Africa. Moreover, McCulloch (1983) argues that the concept of negritude had its origin among children of the Diaspora who had little or no first-hand knowledge of Africa and therefore they decided to celebrate the black African cultural values. It was both a protest against domination and an attempt to seek relief from the discomfort of colonial racism. When Fanon was writing the 'The Fact of Blackness', the champions of negritude were prospective statesmen and major political figures of the soon-to-be-independent colonies. For instance, in Africa there was Leopold Sedar Senghor who was to become a president of Senegal and in Martinique there was Aime Cesaire who was to be a prominent politician in that former French colony. In their quest for both self-identity and self-determination, the champions of negritude ‘ sought to understand and to change colonial reality by explaining the colonial relationship in terms of a clash of fundamentally different cultures’ (McCulloch, 1983, p. 8).

      Thus, from an opposite of the white world a magical Negro culture with is basic element i.e. Rhythm hailed Fanon. Skinner (1999) tells us that Fanon, sympathetic to the need of many young people in Paris for a cultural renaissance that would establish an African orientation, championed negritude and spent innumerable long evenings with black colleagues in the cafes of Paris debating the nature of African culture. It should be noted that the white intellectual of his time had told Fanon that there will always be a white world between him and them because of the other’s failure to liquidate the past once and for all. And here was Fanon joining the negritude rhythmical tune of solidifying the past that they hardly knew. A past that claims that a Negro was and is still governed more by emotions more than reason. A Negro who is the only one who can convey and decipher the meaning of the cosmic message chattered by a tom-tom. Negritude tells him that surely black men are the eldest sons of the world who rule the world with their intuition. But this journey brought him face to face with what would certainly amuse Freud, the father of psychoanalysis: ‘I walk on white nails. Sheets of water threaten my soul on fire. Face to face with these rites, I am doubly alert. Black magic! Orgies, witches’ sabbaths, heathen ceremonies, amulets. Coitus is an occasion to call on the gods of the clan. It is a sacred act, pure, absolute, bringing invisible forces into action’ (Fanon, 1986, p.126). Fanon realises that this the white man had taught him as being typical of the people that have not kept pace with the evolution of the human race. Having reached this point, he becomes reluctant to commit himself to this course that was actually affirming the white man’s discourse - that constructed Negroes as backward, simple and free in their behaviour.


      Magubane (1994), commenting on the Negro consciousness, argues that Fanon’s encounter with Hegel’s phenomenology helped him to grasp that colonial domination of African people destroyed the spirit and personality of the Africans. As a result the self-consciousness and the black situation in a white world was in a dialectic interrelationship of independence and dependence: ‘That is, Fanon stressed that self-consciousness of blacks has been sublated by oppression; and that the other, the white oppressors, do not regard black self-consciousness as real, but see in the black only their own self-consciousness. As long as the black self-consciousness is not recognized by the other, the other will remain the them of his [the black’s] actions.’ If there is no reciprocity between the real self-consciousness of Blacks and the white other, the circuit is closed and ultimately Blacks are deprived of being for themselves. The search for self-recognition necessarily led to a search for roots in Africa. Blacks had to rediscover their lost humanity and fashion it in their own image (Magubane, 1994, p. 230). But as we have seen above, Fanon started to realise the self-contradictory nature of this nostalgic search for the elusive past.

      Thus, Fanon’s journey in his quest for self-identity now reached what appeared to be a cul-de-sac. It was impossible for him to be a typical Negro. He needed to completely lose his self in the depths of that unhappy romanticism of negritude, but Sartre’s Orphee Noir destroyed this black zeal that characterises what Fanon calls the black consciousness. This experience led him to realise that the affirmation of black essentialism is self-contradictory for blackness is not an essence. This appears to be one of the highest points Fanon reached in his journey of self-discovery because he realised that the dialectic that brings necessity into the foundation of his freedom actually drives him from himself: ‘I am not a potentiality of something. I am wholly what I am. I do not have to look for the universal. No probability has any place inside me. My Negro consciousness does not hold itself as a lack. It is. It is its own follower’ (Fanon, 1986, p.135).

      Any quest for self-identity or self-determination that uses black essentialism as its basis overlooks or ignores the fact that ‘Negro experience is not whole, for there is not merely one Negro, there are Negroes’ (Fanon, 1986, p. 136). This ignorance will sooner or later make one realise, as Fanon realised, that when s/he is trying to express his/her essence or existence, s/he will run the risk of finding only the non-essence or nonexistent: if one will attempt to claim that blacks are essentially dark, s/he will run the obvious risk of finding blacks who are not essentially dark but light; if one attempt to claim that blacks are essentially rhythmical s/he will be shocked to find that some of us blacks have no rhythm.

      If blackness is not an essence why is Fanon writing about ‘the fact of blackness’? Indeed there is no fact of blackness in the fact of blackness, thanks to Macey (2000) who has added weight to my wariness of translations: ‘Fanon is one of the very few non-Anglophones to be admitted to the post-colonial canon, and alarmingly few of the theorists involved realize or admit that they read him in very poor translations. The most obvious example of the problems posed by the translations is the title of the fifth chapter of ‘Peau noire, masques blancs’ (Black Skin, White Mask). Fanon’s ‘L’Experience vecue de l’homme noir’ (the lived Experience of the Black Man’) becomes ‘The Fact of Blackness’. The mistranslation obliterates Fanon’s philosophical frame of reference, which is supplied by a phenomenological theory of experience, but it also perverts his whole argument; for Fanon, there is no fact of blackness (sic), but that experience is defined in situational terms and not by some trans-historical ‘fact’ (Macey, 2000, p. 26).


      The above exposition has shown why 'The Fact of Blackness' is still relevant today. It is relevant simply because Du Bois’ problem of colour line has not yet disappeared. Fanon’s experiences as a black man as analysed in 'The Fact of Blackness' have proved to be influential among black intellectuals in the world. His work has also drawn critics from both the white and the black world. It has also drawn an ambivalent relationship between black feminists and Fanon. For instance, hooks (1995), the black feminist and author of the famous ‘Postmodern Blackness’ admits that Fanon, more than any other thinker, has provided her with a model for insurgent black intellectual life that shaped her works. However, for a long time she abandoned Fanon’s ‘Black Skin, White Mask’ because of in its patriarchal nature it forgot about the black woman. One of the statements that disturbed hooks had to do with ontological resistance: ‘When Fanon declares that “the black person has no ontological resistance to the white gaze” he denies that the interaction between black males and black females might serve as just such a site’ (hooks, 1996, p. 84). Actually, hooks revealed these insights during a programme made by black artists who, according to Hall (1960), acknowledged some debt of influence to Fanon’s work. Incidentally the intellectual insights that developed in this programme, which included the likes of the pro-Fanon Homi Bhabha and the feminist critic Lola Young, were published as 'The Fact of Blackness'. It is interesting to note that Macey (2000), argues that the choice of this title was a result of their obliviousness to mistranslation of Fanon’s title of his fifth chapter of ‘Black Skin, White Mask’.

      This work of Fanon has ironically led some to argue that the major problem of blacks is not racism. For instance, D’Souza (1997), drawing from Fanon, argues that African Americans cannot find any self-esteem in Africa or in dubious ideologies of blackness. What they need is to develop and not regress to their backward past: ‘For generations, blacks have attempted to straighten their hair; lightens their skins, and pass for white. But what blacks need to do is to “act white”, which is to say, to abandon idiotic Back-to-Africa schemes and embrace mainstream cultural norms, so that they can effectively compete with other groups’ (D’Souza, 1997, p. 288). To others, Fanon has appeared as a champion of ontological description: ‘Lewis Gordon argues that for a leading black philosopher such as Frantz Fanon, “classical ontological descriptions” of the black conditions are to be rejected in favor of a “sociogenic” approach that locates the anthropological in the socially existential’ (Mills, 1998, p. 12). This shows why Macey (2000) laments the fact that Fanon is read by post-colonial scholars as an inverted image of the ‘revolutionary’ Fanon of the 1960s. A revolutionary Fanon who was angry, not because of the ‘fact’ of his blackness, but because of his experience as a black man in a world defined as ontologically white and therefore sociogenically white.

      ‘The Fact of Blackness’, though full of anti-black essentialist sentiments, has not stopped it being an inspiration to the Pan African Movement. For instance, in its biographical series of great lives, Panaf (1975) apologetically argues that the Fanon who wrote ‘The Fact of Blackness’ was only a rebel who was attempting to merely interpret the world. His views only crystallised during the Algerian revolution. No wonder many pages of the biography deal with those themes developed by Fanon after ‘The Fact of Blackness’. However, Fanon is recommended for challenging what it calls the ‘bogus philosophy Negritude’. This is obvious because the champion of Negritude were obstacles to the Pan African Movement. According to Panaf (1975), Senghor did not support the Algerian Revolution while Cesaire, while chanting black is beautiful to Fanon, was busy ensuring that Martinique became a part of France.

      Without doubt, Steve Biko, the father of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, read ‘The Fact of Blackness.’ It seems that Biko (1996), like Fanon, reached that point that forced a black person, out of the quest for self-identity and self-determination, to make himself known. That is to affirm his blackness. He agreed with Fanon that blacks were suffering from an inferiority complex. It seems that he agreed with Fanon that a black man was not a man: ‘To a large extent the evil-doers have succeeded in producing at the output end of their machine a kind of Black man who is man only in form. This is the extent the process of dehumanization has advanced. Black people under the Smuts government were oppressed but they were still men...All in all the black man has become a shell, a shadow or man’ (Biko, 1996, pp. 28-29). But while Fanon (1986) advocated the liberation of the black man from himself, Biko (1996) decided to advocate black pride: ‘The first step is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity...This is what we mean by an inward-looking process.This is the definition of black consciousness’ (Biko, 1996, p. 29). However, a close examination of the conditions that necessitate the emergence of black consciousness as well as the difficulty Biko had in defining who was black in South Africa reveals that Biko (1996) was aware of the same dilemma of black essentialism that faced Fanon. No wonder that the seventh chapter of ‘I write what I like’ is entitled ‘Fragmentation of the Black Resistance’.

      As a closing remark I would like to stress that it is difficult to know the true extent of the influence of ‘The Fact of Blackness’ because its influence is conflated with the influence of other revolutionary works of Fanon such as his work on violence in the ‘Wretched of the Earth’. Thus, when the champions of black power such as Stokely Carmichael call Fanon their ‘patron saint’ one needs to offer a close reading of their work to see how much the notion of black power has drawn from the violence of the ‘Wretched of the Earth’ and blackness of ‘Black Skin, White Mask’. All in all ‘The Fact of Blackness’ is a work that touches all those who encountered experiences which are more or less like the one Fanon encountered in the white world. I personally have encountered them in trains and tunnels, and like Ndebele’s (1998) experience in the white dominated game lodges, I have found them ontologically disturbing. Even reading Fanon proves to be ontologically disturbing, let alone offering a close reading of him. Ontologically disturbing for even Fanon himself could not explain everything he wrote: ‘I cannot explain that sentence. When I write things like that, I am trying to touch my reader affectively, or in other words irrationally, almost sensually. For me, words have a charge. I find myself incapable of escaping the bite of a word, the vertigo of a question mark’ (Macey, 2000, p. 159). No wonder, after the friends of black men had shattered his last illusion of salvation from ‘Nothingness’, Fanon (1986) concluded ‘The Fact of Blackness’ in tears - ‘I began to weep’!


      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


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      Senghor, L. S. (1993). ‘Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century.’ In P. Williams & L. Chrisman (Eds.). ‘Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader’. pp. 27-35. New York, USA: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

      Skinner, E. P. (1999). ‘The Restoration of African Identity for a New Millennium’. In I. Okpeulu, C. B. Davies & A. A. Mazrui (Eds.) ‘The African Diaspora’. pp. 28-44. Indianapolis, USA: Indiana University Press.

      Frantz Fanon: My hope and hero

      Orlando Patterson


      cc Y A B
      Not just a brilliant analysis of colonialism and the process of decolonisation, Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ is ‘the heart and soul of a movement’ written by ‘one who fully participated in it,’ writes Orlando Patterson.

      It is impossible to do justice to this remarkable work in the short space I have at my disposal.

      Fanon’s The Damned is one of those rare books which stands out not only through the brilliance of its penetrating social and psychological insights, or through the sheer vigour and originality of its style, but derives its greatest importance from the fact of being the key work which embodies the zeitgeist of a revolutionary social movement. That same relationship which the works of Voltaire and Rousseau bore to the French Revolution, which the Communist Manifesto to the revolutionary labour movements of the 19th century, is to be found in the relationship between The Damned and the movement of the colonised peoples of the world in overthrowing their oppressors.

      For The Damned is not only a reflection, not just another run‐of‐the‐mill analysis of colonialism and the process of decolonisation. This it certainly does better than any other work on the subject I have yet read. However, it goes far beyond this and not to realise it is to miss the whole significance of the work. And this is the fact that The Damned is itself a part of the revolution which, on one level, it is analysing. It is the heart and soul of a movement, written, as it could only have been written, by one who fully participated in it. The Damned goes beyond the normal relationship of a writer and his material. It is art which transcends the reality of the separation of the creator from the thing created. It is the synthesis which emerges from the dialectical confrontation between Fanon, the colonial; Fanon, the rebel: Fanon, the child and agent of Violence; and the institutionalized violence against which he fought – the colonial situation.


      The work begins with an exploration of the role of violence in the fight for national liberation and unity. The theme is stark, simple and direct – the process of decolonisation is always a violent phenomenon. This, it must be understood, is not only a statement concerning what is the case, but of what ought to be the case. Colonialism is seen not just as a system of material exploitation, but worse, one of spiritual impoverishment. To the European coloniser: “Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values. It is not for the colonist to affirm that those values have disappeared from, or still better never existed in, the colonial world. The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil.”

      Thus the native is dehumanised; he becomes an animal, and through the processes of colonial mystification he sometimes comes to accept this degrading conception of himself. In this process of mystification the native Elite, nurtured by the colonialists, plays a vital role; and Fanon is as critical and as violent toward them as he is toward the colonialists. The people however – and it is the people who stand at the centre of Fanon’s thought – the people are never to him an abstract intellectual concept to be played about with, but the beginning and the end of the revolution, its creative force, the living, vital entity who in their simple, crude cry for more bread and more land, take up the most revolutionary of all positions – it is the people who on finally deciding that they can take no more, that their liberty must be won, and won now, instinctively take the right path.

      And that is the path of violence. There can be no other way. Certainly not the pathetic farce of constitutional transfer from foreign exploiters to a local born elite who have betrayed both themselves and their people into the economic chains of neo‐colonialism.

      What the people want is their land, their bread and their dignity. And they know that they can only achieve this through the exercise of their “muscular prowess”, through action and aggression. It is “the intuition of the colonised masses that their liberation must, and can only, be achieved by force.” On the collective level the people have to be mobilised in the armed struggle for liberation:

      "The mobilisation of the masses, when it arises out of the war of liberation, introduces into each man's consciousnesss the ideas of the common cause, of a national destiny and of a collective history. In the same way the second phase, that of the building up of the nation, is helped on by the exsitence of this cement which has been mixed with blood and anger. This we come to a fuller appreciation of the originality of the words used in these under-developed countries. During the colonial period the people are called upon to fight against poverty, illiteracy and undr-development. The struggle, they say, goes on. The people realise that life is an unending struggle..."

      And on the individual level we find that “violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction: it makes him fearless and restores his self‐respect. . . .”

      Fanon then places the role of violence in its international context. He demonstrates the usefulness of constitutional independence and the fact that “the national liberation of colonised countries unveils their true economic state and makes it seem even more unbearable . . . . what counts today, the question which is looming on the horizon is the need for a re‐ distribution of wealth. Humanity must reply to this question, or be shaken to pieces by it . . . . .”


      Next comes a brilliant analysis of the “strength and weaknesses or spontaneity”. It is here that Fanon exhibits most strikingly his total commitment to the people, the masses, and particularly to the rural masses of the Third World. The great mistake, he points out, of political parties in the Third World is their tendency to concentrate on the more politically conscious urban proletariat and middle‐classes. Indeed, he suggests that there is a positive suspicion of the peasantry on the part of most of the new leaders who tend to take the view that the rural population constitute the most backward, least progressive and most in the way of economic development. However, while the peasantry may well be, in normal situations, too individualistic, too ill ‐disciplined and uncontrollable, it remains a basic truth that a thorough‐ going social and political revolution is impossible without them. It is not just that they are expected to play a passive role. Rather, that the initiative must always come from them, must spring from the age which is built up during centuries of suffering and which, when it finally explodes, has the power to mould an entirely new national consciousness.

      The trouble with this sort of violence, however, is that it is likely to subside just as spontaneously and as unexpectedly as it erupted. The revolutionary leader must therefore take care to anticipate this and, instead of being shocked at what may appear to be the betrayal of their own cause on the part of the peasants, be prepared to exploit the revolutionary fervour while it lasts, to channel it in the right path, and, if possible, to seize the opportunity to increase the consciousness of the masses, making them less liable to spontaneously forces. The leader in a Third World society, then, if he wishes to be truly revolutionary, must abandon the limelight of the town and the pseudo‐refinements of the coffee‐bars and university circles and move to the countryside where he must live and work among his people, especially the lumpen‐proletariat,

      "that horde of starving men, uprooted from their tribe and from their clan (who) constitute one of the most spontaneous and most radically revolutionary forces of a colonised people".

      By doing so the potential leader will soon come to feel the needs, the desires and the power of his people. He will also inevitably come to realise that:

      "Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organised and edicated by its leaders, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them. Without that struggle, without that knowledge of the practice of action, there's nothing but a fancy-dress parade and the blare of trumpets. There's nothing save a minimum of re-adaptation,a few reforms at the top, a flag waving: and down there at the bottom an undivided mass, still living in the middle ages, endlessly marking time."


      The argument is further elaborated in a discussion of the “pitfalls of national consciousness”. Fanon goes beyond mere analysis and prescribes the right path for leaders in the Third World. The nation must not be identified with the state, or, still worse, with the political party. The level of consciousness of all sectors of the society must be increased, especially among the youth of the country, whose labour, he suggests, should be recruited on a voluntary basis for work in the national interest. Where there is an army it must be properly educated, “nationalised”, so to speak, and not allowed to drift in a vacuum, for there is nothing more dangerous than a pack of idle officers who inevitably will get ideas into their heads concerning how the country ought to be run.


      "...if you really wish your country to avoid regression, for at best halts and uncertaintoes, a rapid step must be taken from national consciousness to political and social consiousness. The nation does not exist except in a programme which has been worked out bu revolutionary leaders and taken up with full understanding and enthusiasm by the masses..."

      The argument then proceeds to an analysis of national culture. This section I found to be the most penetrating and rewarding part of the book for me, personally. Here, it is the artist, the intellectual generally, and his role in the new nation that Fanon is concerned with. How does a country legitimize its claim to nationhood? It is the task of the men of “culture” to provide an answer. One of the most common methods they have employed is that of history. The local historian ploughs back into his past to rediscover the golden era which was not only shattered by the impact of colonialism but completely denied or derided by the European masters. Thus, the “claim to a national culture in the past does not only rehabilitate that nation and serve as a justification for the hope of a future national culture”, but it performs a useful psychological function in restoring national dignity and self‐respect.

      But Fanon is far too subtle and penetrating a thinker to leave the matter at that. This use of history may be all well and good in the early stages of creating a national culture, but it has its pitfalls. The dialectics of colonialism compels a counter‐attack on its own terms. Since the colonialists never bother to distinguish between different African cultures, or Arab cultures, in their condemnation of the native civilization, so in like manner, in his intellectual retaliation the native feels obliged to assert the goodness and greatness, not of his own national culture, but that of the group to which he was ascribed by the former colonial propagandists. Thus the emphasis among Africans, not on Ashanti, or Congo, or Ugandan cultures, but on African civilization; likewise among the Arabs not so long ago. Negritude went even further, for here an attempt was made to counter‐attack on a racial level:

      "...The negro, never so much a negro as since he has been dominated by the whites, when he decides to prove he has a culture and to behave like a cultured person, comes to realise that history points out a well-defined path to him: he must demonstrate that a negro culture exists..."

      But of course, to pursue the demands of history in this way is to be led “up a blind alley”. For the truth is that there is no such thing as a universal African culture, des pite what Senghor, in his metaphysical speculations, would care to say; nor can the uniformity of pre‐colonial Arab civilization between the 12th and 14th centuries be ever recaptured, for the economic and political realities of the modern world do not permit it. And as for the claim which Negritude makes of a universal negro culture, this, as I have recently argued, is pure atavistic absurdity.

      The fundamental problems facing the African Negro differ radically from those facing the American Negro and both in turn differ greatly from those facing the West Indian Negro. There may be historical and racial ties; certainly, there is mutual sympathy for the peculiar plights of each group; but these are no bases for common action. Thus the West Indian artist or intellectual may be far better occupied in pursuing cultural and other links with his Latin American neighbours than waste his time tracing African elements in his culture back to their roots – roots which are essentially meaningless to the mass of the people.

      The artist and intellectuals of the newly emerged nation must be careful not to return “to his people by way of cultural achievements” for he will soon discover that he is no better than a stranger among them. That is, he must be fully aware of the cult ural limitations of his educational experience at Oxford or the L.S.E. or Yale, or whatever other foreign institution of learning he acquired his training. Secondly, having returned home, he should not then proceed to take another journey, this time into the past, for he will find no answers there:

      " ...The native intellectual who wishes to create an authentic work of art must realise that the truths of a nation are, in the first place, its realities. He must go on until he has found the seething pot out of which the learning of the future will emerge..."

      And it is in the people, in their turmoil, their restlessness, their desires, their suffering, yes, let me add, their very ignorance, that the truth shall be found and from which a national art and a national culture will spring. I can do no better, than to give Fanon’s own poetic summary of his position with which, I may add, I am in complete agreement:

      "...A national culture is not a folklore, nor an abstract populism that believes it can discover the people's true nature. It is not made up of the inner dregs of gratuitous actions, that is to say, actions which are less and less attached to the ever=present reality of the people. A national culture is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence. A national culture in under-developed countries should therefore take its place at the very heart of the struggle for freedom which thesr countries are carrying on. Men of African cultures who are still fighting in the name of African negro cultures and who have called many congresses in the name of the unity of that culture should today realise that all their efforts amount to is to make comparisons between coins and sarcophagi..."


      The final section of the book is more specialized in nature, dealing with psychoanalytic case studies of mental disorder arising out of the setting of the Algerian war of liberation. I strongly suggest to the reader that he does not succumb to the temptation to skip these studies, for they contain some remarkable insights on personality‐types which may not be altogether irrelevant to the West Indies. Who knows? These may, one day, become dangerously apposite.

      The work closes, properly, on an appeal to the people of the Third World not to make the mistakes which Europe has made – those in particular of bigotry, of national arrogance, of cruelty, of the very negation of all that humanity stands for. We must seek to live up to our own expectations and not to those of Europe (or for that matter the U.S.A.):

      "...For Europe, for ourselves and for Humanity, comrades, we must turn over a newleaf, we must work out new concepts and try to set afoot a new man..."

      In this work, as well as his other publications, and in his actions when he was alive, Fanon has pointed the way to the creation of the new man. Let us follow in his footsteps.


      * Copyright Orlando Patterson 1966
      * This article first appeared in New World Quarterly, Volume 2, Nos. 3 & 4, 1966 (Guyana Independence Issue), edited by George Lamming.
      * Orlando Patterson, who was born in Jamaica, is John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. His books include The Sociology of Slavery, Slavery and Social Death and Freedom in the Making of Western Culture. He is the also the author of The Children of Sisyphus and other novels.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Caribbean Fanonism revisited

      A note

      Norman Girvan


      cc Peta-de-Artlan
      The greatest value of the Fanonist thesis, writes Norman Girvan, might lie in its analysis of the ‘psychology of liberation’ at personal level. But the thesis cannot be used as the basis for a theory of the preconditions of successful postcolonial reconstruction.


      The impending republication of Louis Lindsay’s paper ‘The Myth of Independence: Middle Class Politics and Non-Mobilization in Jamaica’, (Lindsay 1975) provides a timely opportunity for a reappraisal of the influence of the Martiniquan psychiatrist and political scientist, Franz Fanon, on radical Caribbean thought in the 1970s [1]. Appearing in the mid-1970s, Lindsay's paper is a classic piece of post/anti-colonial psycho-political science. Appearing at the height—and in the heat—of the ideological ferment of that turbulent decade, it is written in an explicitly Fanonist mould. The thesis was clearly, consistently, and indeed brilliantly articulated. Jamaica's independence was ‘granted’ by the British rather than taken as the culmination of a militant, popular, anti-colonial mobilization. Hence it was not independence at all [2], but a myth, created jointly by the colonial powers and the middle-class ‘nationalist’ leaders. The British sought to maintain the essence of the colonial status quo, while the nationalists merely wished to substitute their formal authority for that of the colonial rulers, with all the trappings and perquisites of office that that brings. The result, Lindsay argued, was to cripple the collective capacity of the Jamaican people to forge a new society in the postcolonial era.

      Lindsay was unstinting in his critique of the role of the icons of Jamaica's nationalist movement. Norman Manley and the other mainstream PNP leaders were portrayed as indisputably Anglophile in their personal, political and philosophical orientations. They lustily sang ‘God Save the King’ at Party conclaves and believed in the inherent superiority of Westminster institutions. Their quest for self-government was limited to a desire to take their rightful places as equal members of the British Empire. They had no confidence in the innate capacities of the mass of the Jamaican people. The PNP's Marxist Left was itself shackled by the value-system of the brown middle class. Its members, distrusting their own abilities to mobilize the masses, sought to manipulate the Anglo-Saxon derived prestige of Norman Manley to their own ends. Richard Hart, the most intellectually capable, derived his own influence partly from his social standing as a scion of white Jamaica. According to Lindsay, Hart himself suffered from the Mother Country Complex, seeking to substitute the Soviet Union for Britain as Jamaica's patron and benefactor.

      Lindsay’s withering critique was extended to the WPJ-led Marxist Left of the 1970s, which was seen as having reproduced the pathologies of the PNP's Marxist Left of the 1940s. The new Left was depicted as seeking to capitalise politically back on the popularity of Michael Manley, while deriving its theory and inspiration from Moscow. Michael Manley's own kareba-suited and highly publicised campaign to ‘put work into Labour Day’ by himself performing manual labour was dismissed as a blatant use of the technique of ‘symbolic manipulation’. And Rex Nettleford's portrayal of Norman Manley as a true leader of the Jamaican people towards independence and nationhood was treated as at best misguided and at worst dishonest.

      Perhaps the only figure who emerged with an enhanced reputation from Lindsay’s devastating analysis was Alexander Bustamante. Caring little for the English and initially indifferent to the debate over self-government, Bustamante was regarded as an authentic leader who devoted himself to bread and butter issues of immediate concern to the masses. As a political type, he did not conform to any of Lindsay's sharply drawn categories: he was interested neither in negotiated independence (at least initially) [3], nor in armed struggle; he was neither an Anglophile nor an Anglophobe, and certainly not a Russophile. Lindsay admired the Bustamante of the 1940s for his total lack of deference to the British, and for his indifference to the classist contempt which the middle-class PNP leadership openly displayed towards him.

      For his paper, Lindsay drew heavily on primary archival sources and on his original elite interviews with many of the leading protagonists, amply reflected in the lavish footnotes, which he wished to be read as integral parts of argument. This material alone, together with Lindsay’s acutely drawn political profiles of the chief personalities of Jamaica's independence movement, constitutes one of the most aspects of the paper, and helps to account for its enduring appeal over the years.

      I have called this note ‘Caribbean Fanonism Revisited’ because Lindsay's piece adopts an explicitly Fanonist theoretical framework and the paper is one of the clearest expressions of the application of Fanonist ideas to the de/re/colonization experience of Jamaica. My own observations are oriented by own interest in the political economy of decolonisation and selected developments in this field over the past quarter of a century. Hopefully others with specialist credentials in the politics of decolonisation, which was Lindsay’s primary concern, will take up the debate.


      Events since 1975 certainly appear to vindicate Lindsay's position that Jamaica's independence was ‘mythical’, in the sense of being more formal/constitutional than substantive. (Whether it was deliberately shambolic is another matter, as I argue below). Ironically, in retrospect the year 1975 may have marked a high point in the degree of effective sovereignty achieved in postcolonial Jamaica. The Bauxite Levy had just been imposed, over the opposition of the powerful aluminium companies. Michael Manley's PNP Government had defied the United States by supporting the Cuban involvement in Angola to resist the invasion from the forces of apartheid, had instituted a number of reforms to enlarge local control over the economy, and was campaigning strongly for a New International Economic Order.

      By 1977 the constraints arising out of Jamaica's dependence on the global economy—and especially on the goodwill of the United States—had begun to reassert themselves. Collapse of tourism, cut-backs in bauxite production, and capital flight, provoked a grave economic crisis and forced the government into the first of a series of humiliating agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The JLP election victory of 1980 confirmed the restoration of the conservative policies both domestic and foreign relations. The conditionalities imposed through loans from the IMF, and by World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank structural adjustment programmes, resulted in a steady erosion of economic sovereignty through the late 1970s to the mid-1990s [4]. At one time, budgetary supervision exercised by these agencies may have been as strong, if not stronger, as that exercised by the British Colonial Office in the twilight of colonial rule. By the 1990s, the fall of the Soviet Union, the establishment of the World Trade Organization and the globalization of financial ushered in a new world economic order under the rule of the O.E.C.D. and especially the United States. Under the mantra of globalization the relevance of the principle of national economic independence is either questioned or dismissed outright, and the idea of independence itself is held by many to be a myth (Power 1997: 75-80).

      Other writers have argued the conclusion is not only premature but ideologically loaded (Hirst and Thompson 1996: 1-17; Chomsky 1998). It would be interesting to apply Lindsay’s the idea of ‘symbolic manipulation’ to ‘the myth of globalization’, seen as a device to induce developing countries into a state of helpless passivity in the face of the strategies of the rich and powerful.


      Yet certain questions arise as to the implications of the Fanonist thesis in the postcolonial world generally and in Jamaica in particular. It is not clear, for example, that the comparative experience of postcolonial countries since 1975 provides support for the thesis that liberation secured by violent struggle creates the conditions for ‘true’—or at least ‘truer’—independence, and for the construction of a more viable post-colonial society, than that which is secured by non-violent means (Lindsay 1975:8,10, quoting Fanon 1967b: 83,84,104). Consider for example the tragic case of Algeria, the model for Fanon's work, which by the 1990s was afflicted by a bloody civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives. Civil wars also afflicted Guinea-Bissau and Angola some two decades after the triumph of the armed liberation struggle. The experience of these countries show that, while revolutionary warfare may succeed in expelling the colonialists, it may become the prelude to prolonged and violent contention for power domestically, in the context of fragile state institutions.

      Other cases suggest that the distinction between armed struggle and negotiation as routes to independence is not at clear-cut as depicted by the Fanonist model. In Zimbabwe and South Africa the two strategies went hand-in-hand, or rather, were used in stages where the former became the means of forcing the colonialists to the negotiating table. Further, how does the Fanonist model handle the case of India, where Gandhi's campaign of non-violent civil disobedience was the crucial weapon used in the struggle against British imperialism? Can we be sure that a resort to a war of national liberation on the part of the Indian nationalists (a) would have been consistent with the cultural traditions of Hindu India, or (b) would have prevented, rather than exacerbated, the subsequent fragmentation of the country along religious lines?

      Another question dramatised by the experiences of Zimbabwe and South Africa, is the following: once the war is over, what happens with the warriors, and with the arms and ammunition they have accumulated? Institutionalizing and regularizing the revolutionary army presents difficulties when there are many other demands on fiscal resources, and employment opportunities in the civilian economy are limited. Yesterday's heroic freedom fighters can all too easily become today's bandits. This is a problem that the Fanonist thesis apparently failed to anticipate. The cases of Mozambique and Vietnam also suggest that the problems of winning a revolutionary war can pale into insignificance by comparison with those of rebuilding the infrastructure destroyed by the imperialists. There are also the difficulties of addressing the profound social and economic dislocation that a protracted revolutionary war inevitably generates. Hence there seems to be no unambiguous evidence that an experience of prior armed struggle necessarily provides an advantage in postcolonial reconstruction and development.

      Let us also consider the experience of other countries that have achieved independence practically as a ‘gift’. Here the record is also mixed. In the Caribbean some, like Barbados and the O.E.C.S. countries, have fared reasonably well, others, like Jamaica and Guyana, not so well at all. Similar observations could be made about the fate of ‘gift-independent’ states in Africa and Asia—for example Singapore and Malaysia have progressed rapidly in economic terms for most of the postcolonial period, whereas most of sub-Saharan Africa has encountered severe economic and political problems.

      In short, the historical record shows no simple correspondence between the means by which formal political independence is achieved, and the subsequent success of states in postcolonial reconstruction. Indeed, a review of the Fanonist thesis might lead to the conclusion that its greatest value lies in its analysis of the ‘psychology of liberation’ at the personal, individual and hence micro-political levels. Problems arise when its theory of the psychologically liberating effects of armed struggle at the individual level is used as the basis for a theory of the preconditions of successful postcolonial reconstruction at the macro-social and macro-political levels. Fanon himself appears to have fallen into this trap: he directed his greatest anger and sarcasm at the neo-colonial Ivory Coast and its collaborationist Francophile leader Houphouet-Boigny, which were presented as the polar opposites of revolutionary Algeria and the leaders of its liberation struggle (Fanon 1967b: 117; Cited by Lindsay 1975: 11).


      If the Fanonist foundation is flawed, can the Lindseyan edifice stand? Fanon's treatment of Houphouet-Boigny and the Ivory Coast appears to be the model which Lindsay used in his treatment of Norman Manley and the Jamaican decolonization process. At this point, several problems arise. Lindsay does not explicitly argue that armed struggle would have been a feasible and desirable option for the Jamaican nationalist movement to employ. But the clear implication is that this route would have been preferable, if not necessarily feasible (Lindsay 1975: 12-14). Yet, as we have suggested, the historical experience does not support the view that, even if feasible, this route would have meant that Jamaica's postcolonial experience would necessarily have been more successful or ‘independent’.

      One of the most controversial aspects of Lindsay's paper lies in his portrayal of Norman Manley and the mainstream PNP leadership as rank Anglophiles with no confidence in the Jamaican masses—the Caribbean equivalent of Houphouet-Boigny and his cronies. The evidence for this is Manley's professed admiration for Westminster institutions around the time of Jamaica's Independence in 1962, the strong expressions of loyalty to Britain made by PNP leaders immediately after the outbreak of World War II, and the fact that the PNP's goal of self-government always retained a strong element of attachment to Empire/Commonwealth and to things British. According to Lindsay, the PNP's Anglophilism made it unnecessary to adopt a strategy of militant anti-colonial popular mobilization as the preferred route to national independence. Indeed such a strategy would have been dangerous to their own leadership position, which was based on their possession of Anglo-Saxon credentials of education, speech, and personal culture. And in any case such a strategy would have been ruled out by their deep-seated Anglophilism, which did not admit of confidence in the creative capacities of the majority of the Jamaican people who were yet to be fully socialized into Anglo-Saxon characteristics (Lindsay 1975: 12-21, 26-27).

      In retrospect, the argument appears overstated and in need of some refinement. One could question whether Manley's belief in the superiority of Westminster institutions is necessarily and logically inconsistent with confidence in the capacities of the Jamaican people. As Lindsay's own quotation shows, Manley was not about rejecting British institutions merely because they were British: if he considered that Jamaica could use them to its advantage, why not use them? (Lindsay 1975: 13). In this context, it seems possible for Manley to have had confidence in the capacities of the Jamaican people while simultaneously holding that Westminster institutions provide the most effective vehicle within which these capacities can be realized at the level of national politics.

      My own belief is that this more closely approximates Norman Manley's true position. Let us look, for instance, at an example of his thinking in 1942:

      ‘I once met a man walking down a dusty road with bare feet and dirty clothes. For every square inch of cloth that made his old garments there were two square inches of patch and most of the patches had burst the stitches and hung loose leaving little windows that opened on bare skin.’

      Manley goes on to describe the abject poverty in which this rural labourer lives with his woman and flock of children. He goes on:

      ‘This is the circle of life as nine-tenths of all the world knows it. Men and women born with nature's great gift to us all, the fresh ability of each generation to achieve what is born in us unharmed by the hurts of our parents, are doomed to become only what the last generation have been……

      Suppose, I cried, all these men and all these women could see themselves and their children and the generations to come as they really are with all the waste of the lovely beautiful new life that comes up and is spoilt and passes; suppose I said, they could feel the power in their million hands and the will of their million hearts, what could they not do to end this old badness and make a better world! (Manley 1942:237).

      These are hardly the words of a man who does not believe in the inherent capacities of the unlettered and the illiterate Jamaican. Later, in 1948, Manley was to declare to a gathering apprehensive of Bustamante's accession to power:

      ‘I have an abounding faith in the people of this country. They are great people to lead in any field of activity, in any sort of life. They have their faults, but these are the faults of the social and economic condition under which they live, and the fruit of the historical legacy they suffer from. They have endured all these things and are enduring today with the great potentialities which they possess. It is the greatest proof of the unquenchable power of the human spirit. Greater potentialities could not be found anywhere in the world. You have only got to move among our own people of the poorest classes today to know what are in their minds, and the hopes and ambitions they possess (and you see it most markedly in the young) to know what a power there is in the spirit of this country when we can harness it and mould it into one whole’. (Manley 1948:243).

      To be sure, in both of the passages from which the above quotes are taken, Manley also points to the critical role of leadership in realizing the potential of ordinary people. A close reading of his text, however, suggests that he did not necessarily equate leadership with Anglo-Saxon characteristics (although clearly, as Lindsay points out, his colleagues and followers undoubtedly put great store by his impeccable Anglo-Saxon credentials). Manley spoke of leadership in terms of his vision of what could be accomplished by masses of ordinary people when they were mobilized in support of their own interests and their own salvation, and of the ability of the leader to communicate this vision to the people themselves. In his belief that the solutions to the problems of the masses lay within the masses themselves, he came close to the Fanonist ideal of ‘liberation of self.

      Still, Lindsay may choose to dismiss such words as mere rhetorical flourishes (though much of Lindsay's own evidence of PNP Anglophilism is indeed rhetorical) [5]. As he points out, it is action that matters, not words. And while the PNP was preaching loyalty to the Empire, he points out, Bustamante in contrast was campaigning for better wages and working conditions for the pauperised working class. Bustamante's role in this regard is not to be denied. But surely the ‘proof-in-action’ of the PNP conviction is that from the early 1940s it was campaigning for self-government based on universal adult suffrage, when the majority of upper-class and many middle-class Jamaicans believed that the illiterate and culturally backward Jamaican masses were ‘not yet ready’ for this. In other words, Manley and the PNP leadership had to argue against those who held that ordinary Jamaicans were incapable of responsibly exercising the political power that the vote would confer. Manley himself held this position with unswerving conviction even after the victory of the allegedly ‘semi-literate’ Bustamante in 1945 and again in 1949 appeared to vindicate the doubts of many PNP followers. He was to maintain it to his own political detriment in the Federation referendum of 1961. For him, it appears to have been a fundamental principle. And the doubts Manley harboured about his own capacity, as an upper class professional Jamaican, to effectively mobilize the Jamaican masses, may speak more to a sense of his own inadequacy, rather than to his belief in the inadequacy of those whom he aspired to lead [6].

      It may also be necessary to set in context the declarations of loyalty to ‘Mother England’ made by PNP leaders in the period 1939-1941 (Lindsay 1975: 17-18). During this period the PNP also took a conscious decision to put demands for constitutional reform on the back burner. At this time the threat to England from fascist Germany was at its highest. The Axis countries controlled the entire European continent and Scandinavia. Germany had launched devastating air raids on the British Isles and had assembled a huge force for the invasion of England. The United States had not yet entered the War. A German victory was very much on the cards. Given the ‘master race’ ideology of the Nazis, and their ruthless treatment of other European peoples in the occupied territories, the possibility of German victory could hardly have been regarded in Jamaica and other colonies with equanimity, let alone enthusiasm.

      One should, therefore, concede the potential weight of thinking based on both tactical considerations (‘ease off Britain whilst the threat of defeat is very real’) as well as self-preservation (‘better the British than the Germans’). This interpretation is consistent with the PNP's resumption of agitation for self-government after 1941, which Lindsay attributes to the realisation that the British Government was ‘largely indifferent to the self-imposed truce of silence which had been imposed by the PNP and its Anglophile allies’ (Lindsay 1975: 43). It is also possible that the PNP felt it was "safe" to resume agitation insofar as the immediate threat to Britain had receded: by this time the United States had entered the war, and the German invasion had been launched eastwards, towards the Soviet Union.

      Here, Lindsay draws interesting contrasts between the attitude of the PNP leadership with that of the leaders of the anti-colonial movements in Africa and Asia who, he says, refused to compromise the struggle for independence by supporting a ‘Mother Country’ which had been viciously exploiting them (Lindsay 1975: 19, and note 25). But we also need to know whether this position was consistently maintained throughout the entire duration of the war, or developed with the changing fortunes of the war in the European, African and Asian theatres. We also need a consideration of whether the concrete possibilities for anti-colonial struggle would have been the same Jamaica, a small island of just over 1 million people, as they would have been for countries on the African and Asian land masses with tens and hundreds of millions of people.


      Lindsay’s paper remains a fertile source of further enquiry and discussion. Apart from the issues visited above, there is continuing interest in his treatment of Alexander Bustamante, of Ken and Frank Hills, of Richard Hart and Arthur Henry, of Florizel Glasspole, of Manley's relationship with Governor Denham, and of the Marxist Left of the 1970s; and there is his cynical vignette on Michael Manley. These merit careful study and further research, and will provide fodder for further debate. The burning questions of Jamaica's independence are: What went wrong? Could it have been otherwise? Can it be set right? And if so, how? The ultimate rationale of a work of this kind is its potential to take us nearer to finding answers for these questions.

      (July 31, 1998; revised August 28, 2001.)


      * This article was first published in Social and Economic Studies, vol. 51, No. 1, March 2002; 167-178 .
      * Norman Girvan is a professorial research fellow at the Graduate Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


      1. Chomsky, Noam (1998) Neoliberalism and Global Order: Doctrine and Reality
      2. Fanon, Frantz (1965a) A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press.
      3. Fanon, Frantz (1965b) The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press
      4. Fanon, Frantz (1967a) Black Skin: White Masks. New York: Grove Press
      5. Fanon, Frantz (1967b) Toward the African Revolution. New York: Grove Press.
      6. Hirst, Paul and Grahame Thompson (1996) Globalization in Question. Cambridge: Polity Press
      7. Lindsay, Louis (1975). The Myth of Independence: Middle Class Politics and Non-Mobilization in Jamaica .
      8. Mona: ISER Working Paper, No. 6. (Reprinted 1981).
      9. Manley, Norman (1942) "A Better Jamaica", The Welfare Reporter. (March). Reprinted in Norman Girvan (ed.), Working Together for Development: Selected Papers by D.T.M. Girvan on Cooperatives and Community Development, 1938- 1968., 237-238. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica Publications, 1994.
      10. Manley, Norman (1948) "Farewell to Jamaica Welfare", The Welfare Reporter. ( September). Reprinted in Norman Girvan (ed.), Working Together for Development: Selected Papers by D.T.M. Girvan on Cooperatives and Community Development, 1938- 1968., 241-243. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica Publications, 1994.
      11. Meeks, Brain and Folke Lindahl, eds. (2000) New Caribbean Thought. Mona, UWI Press.
      12. Nettleford, Rex (1971). Manley and the New Jamaica: Selected Writings, 1938-1968. London: Longman Caribbean.
      13. Power, Grant (1997). Globalization and its Discontents", Development, 40, 2; 75-80


      [1] Reappraisal of the radical tradition in the Caribbean social sciences is an on-going exercise. See for example Meeks and Lindahl (eds.) 2000.
      [2] It seems significant that much of the literature on postcolonial affairs in the English-speaking Caribbean refers to the "post-Independence" period, as if in implicit/subconscious recognition that "Independence" is an event, rather than a condition.
      [3] Lindsay's account of Bustamante's meeting with the Colonial Office in 1948, in which he surprised the British by announcing that he was not interested in independence, but if they wanted to give him he wouldn't turn it down, makes hilarious reading (pp. 45-46).
      [4] This has been the trend: there have been moments of relatively autonomous action, as in the 1986-1989 period under Seaga's JLP Administration; and since 1996 under the current PNP Administration.
      [5] Particularly revealing is Lindsay"s account of the dismay of the PNP leadership when the British Socialist, Stafford Cripps, launched a blistering attack on British colonialism at the Party's Founding Conference in 1938 (Lindsay 1975:15, and note 18).
      [6] Lindsay's references to these doubts, garnered from Manley's personal diaries quoted by Nettleford (1971) and from interviews with Manley' s contemporaries, are especially instructive (Lindsay 1975: 22-23, note 30). It is also interesting to speculate that Norman's son, Michael, sought to rectify this inadequacy by combining the intellectual acumen of his father with the skills in popular communication of Bustamante.

      The day I met Frantz Fanon

      Fatma Alloo


      cc C F
      Writers like Frantz Fanon put pen to paper so that the next generation could understand history and its atrocities, says Fatma Alloo.

      Yes, he was introduced to me not as a person but as the writer of ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, published by Penguin Books in 1961. It was 1976 at the University of Dar es Salaam when I was young and green about the world and its movements for change. I did not know it then but to the pundits of this movement at the campus I was being recruited to believe in a better world. Frantz Fanon’s ‘Wretched of the Earth’ and ‘Black Skins, White Masks’ were two of the books I was given to read, besides others.

      All I remember is that the book had a forward by Jean-Paul Sartre, who heralded Fanon’s work as: ‘A classic of anti-colonialism in which the Third World finds itself and speaks to itself through his voice.’ I was curious as to what was this third world he was talking about. Later on I discovered that Satre also had a very interesting story on how human beings live and I was to read his books too. More recently though, I had the privilege of meeting Fanon’s daughter, Mireille, at the World Social Forum.

      Fanon hailed from Martinique, studied in France, but talked of the Algerian revolution. He called on men to decolonise the mind, but lucky for him then, I was not yet awakened as a woman. In that era it was a man’s world where man meant woman also. It is still the case in this era too, except now we, as women, are more aware of it.

      ‘When I search for man in the technique and the style of Europe, I see only a succession of negations of man, and an avalanche of murders,’ is one phrase from his book which is still in my diary of those days. He called: ‘Comrades let us flee from this motionless movement where gradually dialectic is changing into the logic of equilibrium…’ He constantly talked of how lost Europe was spiritually and called for a ‘re-humanized’ world.

      Fanon saw ‘the Third World starting a new history of Man…a history which will not forget Europe’s crimes…consisting of the pathological tearing apart of his functions and crumbling away at his unity…” As I read his pages and his psychiatric analysis of European society, the words, I remember, made sense at that time. We in Tanzania were going through the process of the decolonisation of the mind which Ngugi wa Thiong'o talked about and Mwalimu Julius Kabaranga Nyerere was eluding to with his Ujamaa policies and the Arusha Declaration.

      These inspirational words resurrected with us then as we self-built our children’s schools and believed in upliftment of society through adult education in workers’ factories and peasant communities. Mwalimu talked of the breaking of barriers between mental and manual labour. We actually believed we were making a difference and took upon ourselves emotionally the task of rebuilding our nation – a dream that we felt could become a reality.

      Frantz Fanon’s work contributed to that hope of a new dawn. He talked of not wanting to create a new Europe in Africa, ‘if we are to create humanity to try and set afoot a new man’ then imitating Europe was not the solution.

      In retrospect, it is particularly sad when one looks around and sees the devastation of our continent. We cannot say we did not know for lack of literature, for the intellectuals of the time gave us much food for thought about how to come out of colonialism and the dangers of the colonised mind. But it seems it takes a lifetime, if ever.

      Is it because our leaders do not read? That cannot be. Why do they feel skyscrapers mean development? Why do they feel destruction of architectural history means progress? Why do they feel inviting NATO to bomb a country is the solution to dictators? Why do they feel inviting foreign soldiers to take care of internal strife and rebels, as they call them, is a solution to this continent? In the past, we claimed that we were hoodwinked with superior arms and we gave beads and took the bible, but what do we say now?

      Fanon had studied in France and had faced racism and come out believing that the system was the problem. Other writers of his time did so too. They did their task by putting their thoughts to paper so that the next generation can understand history and its atrocities to the continent. By celebrating Frantz Fanon we are also playing our part in putting history on the agenda of Africa – lest they forget.


      * Fatma Alloo is the founder of Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA).
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      Fanon, coloniality and emancipation

      Eunice N. Sahle


      cc N C
      Fifty years after his death, Fanon remains ‘the entry point in any project geared to the realisation of substantive emancipation, as opposed to elite-led projects,’ writes Eunice N. Sahle.

      At a recent conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, my colleague Professor Joseph Jordan brought together a group of scholars whose papers and commentaries reminded us of the centrality and continuing relevance of Frantz Fanon for people who have been subjected to colonial and neocolonial political, cultural, and economic practices. The conference also greatly benefitted from the presence and insights of Fanon’s daughter. Why is it, some might ask, does Fanon matter? After all, we live in a post imperial world, in which the only thing each of us needs to do is to work hard, and then the markers of the good life – leading among them absolute individual freedom and personal wealth – will follow, regardless of one’s historical experiences and the power dynamics that characterise our political, cultural and economic landscapes at various national and world spatial scales.

      Fanon’s philosophical and political work matters because at the bare minimum, it challenges the preceding hegemonic discourse. For many reasons, Fanon remains the entry point in any project geared to the realisation of substantive emancipation, as opposed to elite-led projects, such as the recently re-defined, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).[1] I develop two of these reasons here.

      First, for political agents to construct and engage in ‘practices of freedom’ (Tully, 2008)[2] aimed at substantive emancipation at all levels of the social body in a given political geography in Africa, an understanding of the historical and political-structural roots of such a formation are a crucial starting point. In this regard, Fanon’s work provides an important entry point to struggles for emancipation. For instance, at the structural level, while if he were with us today he may be disappointed by the current economic crisis in various parts of the African continent, he would not be surprised by what is occurring mainly because he was one of the earliest voices to signal the limits of political projects that characterised nationalist movements in Africa in the 1940s and 1950s. According to Fanon, the ahistorical approach to the colonial order of these movements ignored the underpinnings of economic structures that emerged under colonial rule and the imprint they would have on future economic processes in the continent (1963). For Fanon, colonial orders had established structural conditions that would lead to the emergence of neocolonialism in the guise of independence (1963). Like critical thinkers from Latin America, Fanon’s work suggests that the end of formal imperial rule did not mean the end of imperialism and its attendant logics and effects. Consequently, the transitions to independence in Africa saw the reproduction of what the Peruvian critical scholar Aníbal Quijano has conceptualised as ‘coloniality of power’ (2007 and 2009; Sahle 2010). For Quijano, coloniality of power represents the reproduction of colonial practices at the economic, epistemological and cultural levels following the end of legalised and formal colonial order. Expanding his arguments along these lines, he contends that ‘if we observe the main lines of exploitation and social domination on a global scale, the main lines of world power today, and the distribution of resources and work among the world population, it is very clear that the large majority of the exploited, the dominated, the discriminated against, are precisely the members of the ‘races’, ‘ethnies’, or ‘nations’ into which the colonised populations were categorised in the formative process of that world power, from the conquest of America and onward’ (Quijano, 2007:168-169).

      Fanon’s understanding of the colonial roots of contemporary social realities is crucial not only at the theoretical level, but also at the political level. Fanon’s work challenges the ahistorical approaches that pepper hegemonic intellectual and policy perspectives on Africa which represent the contemporary structural crisis in the continent as a natural order of things that is the result of failure by Africans to make the necessary, natural, unproblematic, and easy transition to economic and political modernity similar to that of social formations in the dominant global North. Yet, as Fanon’s (1963) work reminds us, African economic developments cannot be understood outside the exploitation and violence that characterised the making of the world economic and political system which brought about the emergence of dominant social classes at the national level. Given the formation of these classes under colonial political economy, they emerged as key actors in the reproduction of coloniality of power. In this regard Fanon posits that ‘the national middle class discovers its historical mission: That of intermediary. Seen through its eyes, its mission has nothing of to do with transforming the nation; it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged, which today puts on the mask of neo-colonialism’ (1963.: 152). From a Fanonian perspective then, the rise of the global North and its attendant dominance in the world political and economic order, and the marginalisation of the African continent within this order are closely linked.

      At the political level, Fanon’s historical approach to the study of Africa’s political and economic processes enables Africans, as agents of their history, to de-naturalise not only the representation of the continent as a place without history, but also to use their political agency to challenge contemporary modes of coloniality of power, such as the intense competition for the continent’s resources and the militarisation of their social and political geographies by a range of powerful actors in the name of promoting human security, development, stability and peace (Sahle 2010). In 2011, African political agency is there for all to see even for those who would rather ignore it or represent it as something new, or unintelligible. In any event, demonstration of African agency and the deconstruction of ahistorical, simplistic, and normalised representations of African political-economic geographies are emerging in emancipatory spaces in Egypt, Malawi, Tunisia, South Africa, Uganda and many others places. These processes represent what Firoze Manji recently termed as ‘political awakenings’ (2011)[3] and echo the spirit of Fanon who always celebrated the existing and potential agency for Africans to make their own history and struggle for substantive emancipation in the context of constraints generated by historical and contemporary imperial orders.

      Fanon resonates and remains an important intellectual and political figure in imagining substantive emancipation in Africa for the following second reason: His involvement in emancipatory struggles as an intellectual and his calls on intellectuals to generate knowledge geared to emancipation. Fanon’s involvement in the anti-colonial struggles in Algeria is well known, thus its discussion need not detain us here. Nonetheless, it is important to highlight his emphasis on the importance of practical involvement by intellectuals in struggles for emancipation. In his influential work, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (1963), he declares that an intellectual ‘must take part in action and throw himself body and soul into the national struggle’ (1963: ibid.).

      For Fanon, intellectuals much also engage in theproduction of ideas that challenge hegemonic knowledge and its apparatus. When it comes to Africa, the hegemonic apparatus of knowledge production and dissemination represents neo-colonising ideas and systems as natural and as the only hope for African people to become modern consumer citizens like their counterparts in the modern global North; a socio-cultural geography that is represented in these knowledge regimes as the universal norm for all peoples of the world. From a Fanonian perspective, as I have suggested in a different context (Sahle, forthcoming)[4], ‘ideas generated by intellectuals are significant in anti-oppression struggles ‘because they enable the framing of…social grievances and demands’. Further, they are crucial ‘in the liberation of consciousness that’ was ‘brutalized under colonial conditions’ and in the contemporary epoch underpinned by projects of coloniality of power’ (ibid). In the main and as Fanon argues, ‘the consciousness of self is not the closing of a door to communication. Philosophic thought teaches us, on the contrary, that it is its guarantee” (Fanon 1963: 247). In essence, ‘the liberation of consciousness leads to liberated forms of subjectivity and formation of new political identities; developments that contribute to social mobilising for the transformation of oppressive social orders’ (Sahle, forthcoming). Fanon’s work therefore challenges us to reflect on a question that a colleague from Malawi, Ollen Mwalubunji, posed to me in 2006, as to whether our practices of knowledge production concerning political, cultural and economic processes in any part of Africa are contributing to what he termed as ‘the auctioning of our continent or its liberation’. The preceding question by Mwalubunji – which is deeply embedded in my memory – reminds us of the many reasons why on this 50th Anniversary of Fanon’s death, his work forms the central building block to projects aimed at substantive emancipation in contemporary Africa.


      * This article was updated on 8 December 2011.
      * Eunice N. Sahle, Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a Ph.D. in political studies from Queen’s University in Canada. She has an M.A. in political science, and a B.A. with honors in political science and international development from the University of Toronto.
      * Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

      [1] For more details see, NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency: A technical body of the African Union,
      [2] For extended discussion see, James Tully, Public Philosophy in a New Key: Volume I, Democracy and Civic Freedom (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008) and James Tully Public Philosophy in a New Key: Volume II, Imperialism and Civic Freedom (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
      [3] Firoze Manji, ‘Public Lecture’, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, April, 2011.
      [4] For further discussion see, Eunice N. Sahle (forthcoming) , ‘Intellectuals, Oppression, and Anti-Racist Movements in South Africa’, in Abigail Bakan and Ena Dua (eds), Theorizing Anti-Racism: Rethinking the Tensions Between Marxism and Post-Colonial/Critical Race Theory

      Frantz, F. (1963) The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Weidenfeld).
      Firoze Manji, F. ‘Public Lecture’, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, April, 2011.
      Gramsci, A. (1971) Quintin Hoare, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (translators). Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (New York: International Publishers)
      Quijano, A. (2007) ‘Coloniality and modernity/rationality’, Cultural Studies, 21 (2–3): 168–178.
      ——— (2008) ‘Coloniality of power, eurocentrism, and social classification’, in M. Moraña, M., E. Dussel, and C. A. Jáuregui (eds), Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate (Durham and London: Duke University Press): 181–224.

      Sahle, E. (2010) World Orders, Development and Transformation (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).
      ________ (forthcoming) , ‘Intellectuals, Oppression, and Anti-Racist Movements in South Africa’, in Abigail Bakan and Ena Dua (eds), Theorizing Anti-Racism: Rethinking the Tensions Between Marxism and Post-Colonial/Critical Race Theory
      James Tully, Public Philosophy in a New Key: Volume I, Democracy and Civic Freedom (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
      _____ Public Philosophy in a New Key: Volume II, Imperialism and Civic Freedom (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

      Thinking Africa: The Frantz Fanon Blog

      Department of Political and International Studies

      Rhodes University


      cc Désinteret
      The Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes University launched its flagship project, Thinking Africa, in 2010 with the objective of creating an internationally renowned postgraduate programme on African studies.

      The project was officially launched in July this year with a range of different events including a Colloquium, a Winter School and a Postgraduate Proposal Writing Workshop. The theme of this year's Colloquium and Winter School was Fanon: 50 Years Later in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the death of Frantz Fanon.

      Visit their blog for a collection of essays on Frantz Fanon's work and legacy.

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