BLACK HISTORY MEANS HEROIC FIGHTBACK
Frantz Fanon and today’s struggles of ‘The Wretched of the Earth’
Published Feb 10, 2011 8:59 PM
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Frantz Fanon, a
revolutionary thinker and practitioner who has had a tremendous impact
politically on the African liberation struggle both on the continent and in the
diaspora. The recent outbreaks of strikes, mass protests and rebellions in
Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt require a reassessment of the significance of the
events that Fanon participated in during his lifetime as well as the views
expressed through a series of articles and books published in the 1950s and
Fanon’s views on the nature of the psychology of the oppressed were
studied systematically in France and in North Africa. His analysis of social
class formations in colonial societies attempted to gauge the response of these
classes to the developing revolutionary struggle against imperialism and for
the construction of a socialist society.
His impact on continuing political movements that have arisen since his death,
such as the African-American movement of the 1960s and 1970s, should be
extended into the current period. This includes examining the U.S. occupation
of Iraq and Afghanistan, the political upheavals in North Africa related to the
influence and presence of U.S. military forces in the region, as well as the
escalating struggles of Africans in the diaspora, battling daily against
intensified oppression, exploitation and racism.
We have to look at both the political context in which Fanon produced his most
significant theoretical formulations and how this context represents a
continuation of struggles against U.S. and European imperialist domination in
North Africa and the Arab Peninsula.
Also, we must examine the extension of that same struggle of 50 years ago to
events taking place today on a global level. Though the form of struggle has
changed, the underlying cause for the intensification of military interventions
by Western imperialism is clearly an effort to regain the perceived losses of
the anti-colonial period beginning with the close of World War II.
Fanon’s time in history
Born in the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1925, Fanon was a social product
of French colonialism. During the post-World War I period there was a
monumental upsurge in political violence throughout the colonized world. In the
Caribbean and the U.S., the influence of Marcus Garvey was paramount.
African Americans also began to produce an abundance of cultural materials,
which together with Garveyism, spread their influence into colonial territories
in Africa and the Caribbean. The triumph of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in
Russia had a tremendous impact on the rise of anti-capitalist sentiments among
oppressed and working people worldwide.
Fanon, who had trained in France as a psychiatrist, was later assigned to work
as a functionary of the colonial regime in Algeria, French-occupied since 1830.
Fanon began to identify with the Algerian masses in their struggle against
Utilizing his observations of the situation involving the liberation of
Algeria, Fanon began to develop specific theoretical ideas related to the
nature of an anti-colonial struggle during this period. He later participated
in the 1956 Black Writer’s Conference in Paris, which examined the notion
of cultural continuity among African peoples internationally. Even during this
early period of his development, Fanon’s ideas were running far ahead of
his literary and philosophical contemporaries.
In December 1958 he attended the historic All-African People’s Conference
in Accra, Ghana, which was convened by the then prime minister and leader of
the ruling Convention People’s Party, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
Fanon was later invited to relocate to Accra as a permanent representative for
the Algerian National Liberation Front. His experiences in Ghana as well as
Tunisia during this time shaped his observations related to the post-colonial
Fanon saw the ideological and political bankruptcy of the post-colonial ruling
elite who constituted the dominant social class within many of the nationalist
parties which led the fight for independence. According to Fanon’s
observations, this elite cannot fulfill its historic role of transforming
itself from a petit-bourgeois stratum to a full-blown national bourgeoisie in
the Western industrial sense of the term.
A class such as the petit-bourgeoisie of Africa can only imitate in a vulgar
fashion the attributes of the former colonial rulers. Without an objective
class basis for the acquisition of capital, the new post-colonial elite became
the automatic junior partners of the international bourgeoisie.
In his ground-breaking book, “The Wretched of the Earth,” Fanon
says, “The national middle class which takes over power at the end of the
colonial regime is an underdeveloped middle class. It has practically no
economic power, and in any case it is no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie
of the mother country which it hopes to replace.”
Fanon continues by pointing out, “In its narcissism, the national middle
class is easily convinced that it can advantageously replace the middle class
of the mother country. But that same independence which literally drives it
into a corner will give rise within its ranks to catastrophic reactions, and
will oblige it to send out frenzied appeals for help to the former mother
This is the crisis of leadership, organization and ideology facing the peoples
of the Third World. At the mass base this phenomena of political marginality is
manifested in the socio-psychological alienation of the popular classes. It is
among this section of the overwhelming majority of the people that Fanon places
his hopes for revolutionary transformation.
In Fanon’s estimate the only salvation for the national bourgeoisie in
the Third World is to abandon its own ostensible class interests and move to
integrate completely with the mass struggles aimed at the abolition of the
colonial legacy. This failure to assimilate Western values by the popular
classes of workers and peasants has created mental disorders peculiar to the
colonized masses, which Fanon has written on extensively.
Beyond alienation to self-emancipation
By transcending the subjective state that the colonial powers had placed on the
oppressed, this became the focal point in arousing mass consciousness for
social transformation. According to Renate Zahar, “In the same measure as
the individual’s contact with the colonial power and its institutions
grow closer, he [and she] increasingly undergoes processes of alienation. He
[and she] becomes more and more uncertain with regard to the conduct he [and
she] should adopt. His [and her] potential of revolutionary resistance
decreases proportionately, since his [and her] acceptance of the colonialist
ideology prevents him [and her] from realizing the causes of alienation.”
(Zahar, Frantz Fanon: Colonialism & Alienation, Monthly Review, 1974)
In order for the process of liberation to begin, there must be an understanding
by the oppressed that their existence can no longer remain static and that the
possibility of change, although its consequences can be quite violent, is a
much brighter prospect than remaining in the oppressed state.
This is the attitude that permeates the masses in the early stages of revolt.
It is the underlying basis of the level of consciousness rising among those who
are engaged in broad ranging industrial action or armed revolutionary
Even after the attainment of national independence, the potential for perpetual
rebellion still exists if the governing regime has not moved to re-correct the
exploitative conditions which were characteristic of colonial society.
Fanon states that the decolonization process is inherently violent: “It
transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors,
with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them. It brings a
natural rhythm into existence, introduced by new men [and women], and with it a
new language and a new humanity.” (“The Wretched of the
Therefore, the socio-psychological alienation of the oppressed masses can only
be effectively treated and cured within the context of the revolutionary
national liberation movement for the creation of a genuinely equal and
Fanon’s lasting legacy
Many people may be tempted to make the argument that Fanon’s theory of
the redemptive nature of revolutionary violence by the oppressed against
colonial and neocolonial domination would not be applicable in analyzing the
current struggles raging throughout North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Yet
despite the contradictions which have arisen within the post-colonial states
and societies over the last five decades, there is still a continuing desire
among the workers and the oppressed for genuine emancipation, unity and
The ideas of Frantz Fanon played an instrumental role in revolutionizing the
U.S. Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s. The Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee studied Fanon, and his influence was also
profound within the Black Panther Party.
James Forman of SNCC wrote in his political biography, “There was no real
division between the sugar cane fields of Martinique and the cotton fields of
the American South, between the French racists and the American ones, between
the mental colonization that Fanon fought and the psychological oppression of
young black Sammy Younge,” a civil rights student activist killed in
Alabama in January 1966. (“The Making of Black
Although it is not clear which direction the unfolding movements in the Arab
world will take, it is obvious that the impact of this crisis for U.S.
imperialism can potentially change the political character of the North African
and Arabian Peninsula regions. Such a loss of influence within the region could
fuel the working-class and national struggles inside the confines of the U.S.,
where the exploitation and oppression of the people has intensified with the
advent of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
There are various political and social currents involved in this historical
conjuncture: the struggle for Palestinian self-determination and nationhood;
the necessity for a democratic revolution throughout the feudal monarchies of
the area, particularly within the Gulf States; and the rising tide of Islamic
and left tendencies on the front lines against imperialism.
None of these struggles in the North Africa and Arabian Peninsula regions can
reach fruition without a fundamental challenge to transform the leading
imperialist country, the U.S.
Fanon’s significance for this current situation as well as the relevance
of other African revolutionary thinkers and practitioners of the modern period,
is that these developments provide the working class and the oppressed with
profound lessons and guides to action aimed at self-emancipation and the
construction of truly revolutionary societies.
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