On the legacy of colonialism and the struggles against oppression today

[Nearly 50 years after the death of Frantz Fanon, the author of “The Wretched of the Earth,” this essay traces his legacy and relevance in the oppressive realities and struggles today.  Nigel Gibson, the author of this essay, presents a profound review of the reality of the imperialist stamp on the countries and peoples who have won national independence–but not social or human liberation.  The thinking and orientation of Frantz Fanon contributes much to people who are inexorably driven to challenge their ongoing oppression in the so-called “post-colonial” world.  The essay is long, but deserves attention from all whose lives and possibilities are framed by these questions. — Frontlines ed.]


50 years later: Fanon’s legacy

by Nigel C Gibson

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/78860, Issue 564, 2011-12-21

When I was asked by Dr. Keithley Woolward to address the question of Fanon’s contemporary relevance, I was reminded of a blurb on the back of my recent book Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo which reads, ‘This is not another meditation on Fanon’s continued relevance. Instead, it is an inquiry into how Fanon, the revolutionary, might think and act in the face of contemporary social crisis.’ My comments today should be considered in that spirit.

Frantz Fanon

‘Relevance’ ­ from a Latin word ‘relevare’, to lift, from ‘lavare’, to raise, levitate ­ to levitate a living Fanon who died in the USA nearly 50 years ago this coming Tuesday in cognizance of his own injunction articulated in the opening sentence from his essay ‘On national culture’: ‘Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it’ (1968 206). The challenge was laid down at the opening of this year of Fanon’s 50th (as well as the 50th anniversary of his ‘The Wretched of the Earth’) which began with revolution ­ or at least a series of revolts and resistance across the region, known as the Arab Spring.

Fanon begins ‘The Wretched’, as you know, 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 change 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 25 January: ‘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.’ What started with Tunisia and then Tahrir Square has become a new global revolt, spreading to Spain and the Indignados (indignants) movement, to Athens and the massive and continuous demonstrations against vicious structural adjustment, to the urban revolt in England, to the massive student mobilisation to end education for profit in Chile, to the ‘occupy’ movement of the 99 percent.

And yet, as the revolts inevitably face new repression, elite compromises and political 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?) Surely the question is not whether Fanon is relevant, but why is Fanon relevant now?

In the penultimate chapter of ‘Frantz Fanon: A Portrait’, Alice Cherki notes that Blida Psychiatric Hospital in Algiers still bears his name, that Fanon has a boulevard and a high school for girls named after him, though young people have no idea who he is. After independence in Algeria, Fanon was quite quickly marginalised. A new constitution identified the nation with Islam and that women were actively dissuaded from playing any part in public life did not jibe with Fanon’s vision of politics.

Fanon was dead before Algeria gained its independence, yet ‘The Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ chapter of ‘The Wretched’ (based on his reflections on his West African experiences as well as his concerns about the Algerian revolution) is a fairly accurate portrayal of what Algeria became with oil money playing an enormously important role in pacifying the population and paying for a bloated and ubiquitous security force.

To speak about relevance, then, is also to speak about historic context. Fanon was recruited into the FLN during the battle of Algiers. Although a committed anti-colonialist he had not moved to Algeria to join a revolution but to take up the job as director of psychiatry at Blida-Joinville Hospital. It was a job he wanted and he put enormous energy into fighting to reform how psychiatry was practiced in the hospital. He created space ­ both practical and intellectual (reading groups) for himself and his colleagues ­ to institute a kind of Tosquellean [1] inspired institutional sociotherapy to humanise the asylum where the patient would become ‘a subject in his or her liberation’ and the doctor an ‘equal partner in the fight for freedom’ (Cherki 36). In a sense, that would become Fanon’s political philosophy. The Algerian war of national liberation ­ declared a year after he arrived ­ politicised him and radicalised him, as he began to see and treat its effects in the hospital and in his work. He was asked by the FLN to use his skills as a therapist to treat those who had been tortured. He began to clandestinely treat the tortured while treating the torturer as part of his hospital work. Indeed his comments in ‘L’An cinq de la revolution Algérienne’ (‘Year Five of the Algerian revolution’ published as ‘A Dying Colonialism’ in English) bear this experience out not only on his withering critique of the medical profession involved in torture but also in his desire to find the human being behind the coloniser, believing that liberation would put an end to the colonised and the coloniser (1967c, 24) and his condemnation (though understanding) of those who have thrown themselves into revolutionary action with ‘physiological brutality that centuries of oppression give rise to and feed’ (1967c, 25). At Blida the situation became untenable and he simply couldn’t continue. As he wrote in his letter of resignation, how could he treat mental illness in a society that drives people to a desperate solution? Such a society, he added, needs to be replaced (1967b, 53). With the authorities closing in on the hospital, which was suspected as a hotbed of support for the FLN, he resigned before he was picked up and began to work full time for the revolution.

This was part of Fanon’s context.

At the same time it was not surprising that, when the opportunity arose, Fanon would join a revolutionary movement, or as Glissant put it (1999 25), to act on his ideas. [2] And yet, at the same time it was not only acting on ideas but that for Fanon ideas were always influenced by practice and also transformative. One can see in ‘Black Skin White Masks’ that he was in a sense already a revolutionary, and given the chance he would ‘take part in a revolution’, as Jean Ayme put it (quoted in Cherki 2006:94). But at the time Fanon was a revolutionary who was not deeply political. Fanon had been introduced to Ayme, a psychiatrist, anti-colonist activist and Trotskyist, in September 1956 when he had given his paper at the first Congress of Black Writers and Artists. And in Ayme’s Paris apartment, in early 1957 ­ where he stayed before leaving to join the FLN in Tunis ­ he spent his time reading about revolutionary politics.

He had been recruited into the FLN by Ramdane Abane, the Kabylian leader of the FLN who became Fanon’s mentor. Abane, who has an airport named after him in Kabylia, had been a key figure in the 1956 FLN conference Soummam which had criticised the militarisation of the revolution, insisting on a collective political control, and put forward a vision of a future Algeria that remained Fanon’s. They both believed in the ‘revolutionary dismantling of the colonial state’ (Cherki 105). The principle adopted as the Soummam platform was a vision of the future Algeria as a secular democratic society with the ‘primacy of citizenship over identities (Arab, Amazigh, Muslim, [Jewish] Christian, European, etc.)’ (Abane 2011): ‘in the new society that is being built,’ Fanon wrote in italics in Year 5, ‘there are only Algerians. From the outset, therefore, every individual living in Algeria is an Algerian … We want an Algeria open to all, in which every kind of genius can grow’ (Fanon, 1967c 152, 32).

Abane was liquidated by the FLN at the turn of 1958. Fanon died before Algeria gained its independence in 1962 and was quickly marginalized, then dismissed as irrelevant and out of touch for not understanding the power of Islam (a charge that has been repeated for 50 years). In France, the story was similar. ‘Les damnés de la terre’ was criticised as romantic and Fanon dismissed as an interloper to the Algerian revolution. The book only sold a few thousand copies.

Translated into English in 1963 by an African-American poet, Constance Farrington, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ was published in 1965 in the United States, going through innumerable printings and becoming a best seller in the revolutionary year of 1968 when it was subtitled ‘a handbook for the Black revolution’.

As Kathleen Cleaver puts it in ‘The Black Panther Party Reconsidered’, ‘The Wretched of the Earth became essential reading for Black revolutionaries in America and profoundly influenced their thinking. Fanon’s analysis seemed to explain and to justify the spontaneous violence ravaging across the country, and linked the incipient insurrections to the rise of a revolutionary movement’ (1998: 214). The colonial world that Fanon wrote about ‘bore a striking resemblance,’ she added, ‘to the world that American blacks lived’ (1998: 215). Of course the influence had been mutual since the descriptions of Black American life by writers such as Richard Wright played an important role in the development of Fanon’s ‘Black Skin White Masks’. For Cleaver, what was especially relevant to the Black Panthers ‘was Fanon’s analysis of colonialism and the necessity of violence’ (1998 216). And associating Algeria with Fanon, some Panthers fled to Algeria in the late 1960s. Thus it was through the Panthers that Fanon returned momentarily to Algeria, but noticeably shorn of his internal critique of the liberation movements and post-independence and thereby reduced to just another anti-colonial figure. Yet just as Eldridge Cleaver was opening the First Pan African Cultural Festival in 1969, Fanon had made his way across the Limpopo into the heart of settler colonial Africa ­ apartheid South Africa. As well as Black Power, Black theology writers provided an importantly link between Fanon and Biko and Fanon became essential for the development of Black Consciousness in South Africa; a movement that was explicitly a praxis oriented philosophy in outlook which became a crucial turning point in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.

My recent work on Fanonian Practices in South Africa can be understood in terms of thinking about Fanon’s relevance. It begins with Biko’s engagement with Fanon. Biko, who has a hospital named after him in Pretoria, was murdered in 1977 and argued in a Fanonian vein in the early 1970s that it was possible to create a ‘capitalist black society, black middle class,’ in South Africa, and ‘succeed in putting across to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70 percent of the population being underdogs.’ You see, hospitals, airports, roads and so on, can be renamed after revolutionaries, yet it turns out that not much changes for the bulk of the people. Now nearly 40 years after Biko’s statement, Fanon’s ‘The Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ ­ an essay written from within the Algerian revolution ­ which provides a forecast for the post-independent nation, a keen analysis of the dreadful cost of its failure, is an uncanny portrait of post-apartheid South Africa.

So the second moment of Fanonian practice is a critique of contemporary postcolonial reality. In other words, the lasting value of employing Fanon’s critical insights and method. The source is not only ‘The Wretched’ where he calls the national bourgeoisie ‘unabashedly … antinational,’ opting, he adds, for an ‘abhorrent path of a conventional bourgeoisie, a bourgeois that is dismally, inanely and cynically bourgeois,’ but also ‘Black Skin White Masks’, which concludes with a critique of bourgeois life as sterile and suffocating. In the Antilles there have been struggles for freedom, he argues, but too often they have been conducted in terms and values given by the white master and creating profoundly ambivalent situations and neurotic symptoms described in ‘Black Skin’.

Fanon left the Antilles to study in France, but after his World War Two experiences he already no longer believed in the French mission and profoundly disapproved of Césaire’s support for assimilation. Just recently I was reading Richard Wright’s collection, ‘White Man Listen’, published in 1957, specifically an essay ‘The psychological reactions of oppressed people’ as it articulates with ‘Black Skin White Masks’, specifically Fanon and Wright’s critique of Mannoni. [3] The book is interestingly dedicated to Eric Williams and to ‘the Westernised and tragic elite of Asia, Africa and the West Indies ­ men who are distrusted, misunderstood, maligned by left and right.’ Fanon wrote about these elites in ‘Black Skin’ and in ‘The Wretched’. Indeed they remain crucial to the post-independence situation, but in a review of the book in El Moudjahid in 1959 he was critical of Wright’s book because of its singular focus on the tragedy of these elites while real life and death struggles were taking place across the continent (see Cherki 159).


The damnation of the world’s majority inscribed in the Manichean geographies so well described by Fanon in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ does not end with the negotiated settlement and the withdrawal of formal colonial rule. The violence that orders colonialism, the violence that follows the colonised home and enters every pore of their body, is reconfigured in the contemporary world of razor wire transit camps and detention zones, in rural pauperisation and in the shanty towns and shack settlements. It is the silent scream of much of the world’s population, who appear most of the time without solidarity, without agency, without speech. Beyond the gated citadels, beyond the zones of tourism, in the zone of often bare existence, there seems no way out. And yet, at a moment like ours in 2011, there is all of a sudden made absolutely clear the rationality of rebellion. So, the shocking relevance of a Fanonian political will.

Yet more than a simple us-and-them, the ‘we’ for Fanon was always a creative ‘we,’ a ‘we’ of political action and praxis, thinking and reasoning. Indeed this was not only his critique of colonialism but also of the neo-colonial afterlife. ‘Colonialism is not a thinking machine,’ Fanon argues, but all too often its aftermath, the new nation, is mired in the same mindlessness, indeed a stupidity created by the national bourgeoisie’s will to power often mediated by crude force against the very people who made liberation possible. In contrast, Fanon’s ‘we,’ for example, is wonderfully articulated in Walcott’s poem, ‘the Schooner Flight’: ‘Either I’m nobody or I’m a nation.’ It is the nobodies, the damned, the impoverished and landless who for Fanon become the source, the basis, the truth of the ‘reality of the nation’ (the first title of ‘A Dying Colonialism’). As anti-eviction activists in South Africa say, ‘we are poor but not poor in mind’ and collectively ‘we think our own struggles.’

The articulation of these movements with Fanon, is the third element of Fanonian practices. Since this notion of truth has created some concern among scholars, let me try to explain it, for it can’t be understood without a notion of how social change creates a radical mutation in consciousness, as Fanon puts it.

In other words, in a period of social change what is now obvious seemed just a few months ago outrageous. Who could have imagined great political changes such as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of apartheid? Below these rather grand events are the local and grassroots movements that open up space for thinking that seem not only outside the realm of the possible but that also include voices that are often unheard.

This week a UN conference on climate change is taking place in Durban, South Africa. The poor, who experience the full force of extreme weather and have to spend their time dealing with its effects, are not invited. A couple of days ago I received an article by Reverend Mavuso of the Rural Network in South Africa, an organisation of poor and landless rural people and part of the poor people’s alliance, that reminded me of Fanon’s critique of tourism, which he viewed as a quintessential postcolonial industry with the nationalist elites becoming the ‘organizers of parties.’ This is not just a Caribbean experience; it has become the experience of post-apartheid South Africa with private game parks and Safaris taking over land.

Presented to the world as ‘eco-tourism’, Mavuso (2011) writes, ‘game farming and the tourism industry are evicting the poor, ‘rob[ing us of our] … land … and replac[ing us] … with animals’ (my emphasis). In post-apartheid South Africa, thousands are evicted with the promise of jobs but the jobs turn out to be few poorly paid domestic workers or security guards.

In short, in contrast to exclusive global conferences, a truly humanist environmentalism begins with the needs and experiences of the poor. It is an epistemological challenge, a shift in the geography of reason.

Fanon argues in the conclusion to ‘The Wretched’ that we have to work out new concepts. Where will those new concepts come from? How is political education developed? What is it for? Fifty years after ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ I am suggesting that we consider the maturity of the struggle that is expressed in the rationality of the rebellions. For Fanon, to engage this reason is not synonymous with systematising ‘indigenous knowledge’ or culture. It is the rebellion ­ which is at the same time always for Fanon a mental liberation ­ that encourages nuance and encourages radical intellectuals engaged in and with these movements to work out new concepts in a non-technical and non-professional language. Often in defiance to those (intellectuals and militants) who consider thinking a hindrance to action, the ‘opening of minds’ and imagination is encouraged.

‘We imagine cities where politicians, policy makers, engineers and urban planners think with us and not for us,’ argues S’bu Zikode, the former president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, expressing the right to the city in the most concrete terms. Abahlali baseMjondolo ­ part of the subtitle of ‘Fanonian Practices’, which translates as people who live in shacks, is an organisation of about 30,000 shack dwellers in South Africa that was created six years ago after the residents of one shack community realised that land that had been promised was being cleared for other buildings. The organization is decentralized, autonomous, self-reliant and deeply democratic. What is interesting about Abahlali now six years after its self-organization is its thinking born of experience and discussion in what they call the ‘university of the shacks.’ They call it living learning. Press statements are written collectively; and 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. So when Zikode speaks of imagination, it is one produced collectively by long discussions in the shack settlements. ‘We imagine cities where the social value of land is put before its commercial value,’ he continues. ‘We imagine cities where shack settlements are all offered the option of participatory upgrades and where people will only move elsewhere when that is their free choice. We imagine the quick improvement of local living conditions by the provision of water, electricity, paths, stairs and roads while housing is being discussed, planned and built. We imagine cities without evictions, without state violence being used to disconnect people from electricity and water and without any repression of organisations and movements. We imagine cities without the transit camps that have become the permanent alternative housing solution for many poor people since the declaration of the Millennium Development Goals by the United Nations. We reject, completely, the way in which the Millennium Development Goals have reduced the measure of progress to the numbers of ‘housing opportunities delivered’ when in fact progress should be measured in terms of people’s dignity as this is understood by the people themselves’ (Zikode 2011).

Such imaginings come from thinking and discussions that jibe with Fanon’s notion of political education. He presents what he calls the militant who wants to take shortcuts in the name of getting things done not only as anti-intellectual but atrocious, inhuman and sterile. Instead, he insists the search for truth is the ‘responsibility of the community’ (2004, 139). In ‘The Wretched’, Fanon speaks of the meeting, of this coming together, as the practical and ethical foundation of the liberated society, as ‘a liturgical act’ (un acte liturgique [2002, 185]); liturgical acts which ‘are privileged occasions given to a human being to listen and to speak … and put forward new ideas …’ (1968 195).

Again at the local level, in ‘The Wretched’ Fanon gives the seemingly banal example of lentil production during the liberation struggle, writing of the creation of production/consumption committees among the peasants and FLN which he says encouraged theoretical questions about the accumulation of capital: ‘In the regions where we were able to conduct these enlightening experiments,’ he argues, ‘we witnessed the edification of man through revolutionary beginnings’ because people began to realize that ‘one works more with one’s brain and ones heart than with one’s muscles’ (2004, 133; see 1968, 292).

Talking of the political economy of food he adds: ‘We did not have any technicians or planners coming from big Western universities; but in these liberated regions the daily ration went up to the hitherto unheard-of figure of 3,200 calories. [But t]he people were not content with [this] …. They started asking themselves theoretical questions: for example, why did certain districts never see an orange before the war of liberation, while thousands of tons are exported every year abroad? Why were grapes unknown to a great many Algerians whereas the European peoples enjoyed them by the million? Today, the people have a very clear notion of what belongs to them.’

This type of shift in cognition represents a shift in epistemology.


The mandate for the College of the Bahamas is to ‘foster the intellectual development of students and the wider community by encouraging critical analysis and independent thought’ and the meeting today is considered part of the project to attain university through contributing to that discussion. Yet critical and independent thought can never be guaranteed and certainly can’t be assured by a university. In this final section of my presentation I want to consider the problematic of a university in the post-colony as it articulates with movements and thinking outside of it.

Real grassroots social movements open up new spaces for thinking. Yet on the other hand the global university of the 21st century not only often looks elsewhere but actively seeks to suppress these spaces. The quest to be ‘world class,’ such as that which the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal announces, is couched by the term excellence seen through a neo-colonial prism of donors and global elites. At best the new movements become researched ­ the paradigms often developed by the World Bank or other funding agencies ­ they are never allowed to ask theoretical questions. It is a neo-colonial arrangement.

Recognising that the colonised intellectual committed to social change is fundamentally alienated from the people, Fanon suggests a methodology that fundamentally challenges the elitism, internalised values and ways of thinking they have imbibed. Perhaps the same, often depending on context, can be said of the postcolonial intellectual. In ‘Black Skin White Masks’, for example, Fanon argues that this alienation and neurosis is quite normal; that is to say a product of books, newspapers, schools, and their texts, advertisements, films, radio ­ what we might call hegemonic culture. How then do we go about creating space for a critical humanities as a consciously decolonizing project (by decolonizing I do not simply mean the formal end of colonialism but, following Fanon, the form and content of pedagogies and practices devoted to the decolonization of the mind)? Since such a conception runs counter to the university in the global market place that judges itself in those terms, what is to be done within the situation and places we find ourselves? Also on what philosophic ground and from what principle do we ask the question? Certainly, we cannot take the existence of a public sphere, of public intellectuals, and any claim of intellectual autonomy as either guaranteed or unproblematic.

For Fanon education is always political education. In practice all education is political and education is political in all its forms of socialization and in its disciplines. In other words education helps us organize our lives, helps us think and act, help us think and create images of justice. Fanon means something different by political education. Just as for Fanon culture has to become a fighting culture, education has to become about total liberation. De-colonial education has to be a total critique and a transformative experiential process. Indeed this notion of education as transformative is often recognized on the private level in the rhetoric of individual entrepreneurship that often powers the discourse of the university’s value, but the issue for a de-colonial national education is an education that helps create a social consciousness and a social individual. Fanon is not concerned with educating the power elites to lead but to promote self-confidence among the mass of people, to teach the masses, as he puts it, that everything depends on them. This is not simply a version of community or adult education and certainly not of a hyperdermic notion of conscientization. Let me give an example that focuses less on content than form. In ‘Year 5 of the Algerian Revolution’ (‘A Dying Colonialism’) Fanon has an essay on the radio, ‘the voice of Algeria.’ What becomes clear is the importance of the form of the meeting. He describes a room of people listening to the radio, and the militant ­ namely the teacher ­ is among them, but (jammed by the French) there is only white noise on the radio. After a long discussion the participants agree about what has taken place; the teacher becomes an informed discussant, not a director. The form of the classroom is a democratic space, and the result is in a sense the point that political education is about self-empowerment as social individuals. It is a new collectivity, a new solidarity. The reference to the voice of Algeria is simply an example that helps to emphasize the processes at stake. The wider issue of the politics of pedagogy and curriculum must include the geography of the postcolonial university, its buildings, its gates, its barriers, its classrooms and all its spatial set ups. Colonialism, Fanon argues, is totalitarian. It inhabits every relationship and every space. The university produces and reproduces reification and thus has to be thoroughly reconsidered. But that reconsideration doesn’t come in one fell swoop; it is a process and a praxis, but one that also must include its philosophy and its raison d’être.

This is not a call to the barricades even if it is a call to ideological combat to have one’s ears open, to not confine new development in a priori categories. In other words, a de-colonial praxis would have to begin from the movement from practice not simply where the people dwell in those thousands of revolts taking place across the country but in their self-organization. Ideological combat, or a fighting culture, as Fanon explains in ‘The Wretched’, is quite simply engaged intellectual work. In other words, and this is obvious, it is not about intellectuals going to the rural areas to pick up a scythe and be with the people. I am not saying that that can’t be done, but that is not intellectual work, and it certainly does not challenge the division between mental and manual labour. So to conclude, what makes possible the intellectual capacity to see into the reasons for popular action, or in short, the rationality of revolt?

In the revolutionary moment of the anti-colonial struggle Fanon writes of the ‘honest intellectual,’ who, committed to social change, enters what he calls an ‘occult zone,’ engaging the notion of the transformation of reality with a real sense of uncertainty while also coming to understand what is humanly possible. This zone is a space that is being shaped by a movement which, he says, in ‘On National Culture,’ is beginning to call everything into question (1968, 227). ‘The zone of hidden fluctuation’ (2004, 163) or ‘occult instability’ (1968, 227) [C’est dans ce lieu de déséquilibre occulte 2002 215] ‘where the people dwell’ is not a ghostly movement but corporeally alive. If honest intellectuals feel the instability of it, it is because they cannot really take a living role, that is to say a disalienated role, in this movement unless they recognise the extent of their alienation from it (1968, 226). But the intellectual’s role need not be a mysterious one. Rather it can be quite practical, grounded in a sharing of reason where trust is implicit. This of course means that the intellectual must give up the position of privilege and begin to comprehend that the ‘workless,’ ‘less than human’ and ‘useless’ people do think concretely in terms of social transformation (see 1968 127). After all this new zone of movement and self-movement ­ what one might also call a radical zone of dialectical leaps in thought and activity (see James 1980) ­ is a space where souls ‘are crystallized and perceptions and lives transfigured’ (translation altered 227; 2004,163). Fanon’s language is almost transcendental here, and one may argue that such heavenly ‘authenticity’ born of this revolutionary moment seems as impossible as the idea of the excluded, the uncounted and unaccountable, the damned of the earth, upsetting the household arrangements of the here and now, creating a genuine moment (and zone) or community where trust and the sharing of reason is implicit. Fanon is not speaking of some heavenly space of some future afterlife; he locates the space very much in the contingent now and that is being lived, quite practically and unstably, in the present. This ramshackle movement from practice as a form of theory (see Dunayevskaya 1988), that is to say as both force and reason, is inherently uncertain and also, at the same time, unexceptional. It challenges reason as it is commonly accepted (instrumental, technical or even the professionally ‘critical’) and decenters it, moving it closer to the reason or reasoning of so many of those who have been considered unreasonable, but who in a dialectical logic are implicitly proposing a new humanism.

One of the challenges of Fanonian Practices in South Africa, from Biko to Abahlali is epistemological; it is to think of thinking from the underside, if you will. The struggle school is a struggle, as Richard Pithouse puts it. And let’s be clear sometimes that school comes into contradiction with the university system and can have dire costs both in terms of employment and in terms of threats of violence. Fanon talks about ‘snatching’ knowledge from the colonial universities; he is also aware of the great sacrifices that this can entail. In ‘The Wretched’ he makes a point to distinguish between the hobnobbing postcolonial intelligentsia and the honest intellectual who abhors careerism, distrusts the race for positions, and who is still committed to fundamental change even if he or she presently does not see its possibility.

What if the vaunted position of ‘intellectual’ does not require a degree from a ‘world class’ institution? The public intellectual without a university accreditation is becoming almost unthinkable. But to be relevant the national university has to be transformative, self-critical and also open to the experiences and minds of the common people who have been often excluded; not simply an accrediting agency for service industries, the university instead must be dedicated to the growth of every kind of genius.


* This was a keynote address delivered at the Critical Caribbean Symposium Series ‘50 Years Later: Frantz Fanon’s Legacy to the Caribbean and the Bahamas,’ Friday 2, December 2011 at The College of the Bahamas. It was first published in Thinking Africa.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


1. Abane, Beläid. 2011 in Nigel C. Gibson, editor, Living Fanon. New York: Palgrave
2. Cherki, Alice. 2006. Fanon: A Portrait. Ithaca: Cornell University Press
Cleaver, Kathleen, Neal. 1998. “Back to Africa: The Evolution of the International Section of the Black Panther Party” in Charles E. Jones eds. The Black Panther Party Reconsidered. Baltimore MD: Black Classic Press
3. Dunayevskaya. Raya. 1988. Marxism and Freedom. New York: Columbia University Press
4. Fanon, Frantz. 2002. Les damnés de la terre. Paris: La Découverte, 2002.
5. __________. 1967a. Black Skin White Masks. Translated by Lars Markman. New York: Grove.
6. __________. 1967b. Toward the African Revolution. Translated by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove.
7. __________. 1967c. A Dying Colonialism. Translated by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove.
8. __________. 1968. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Grove.
9. __________. 2004. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove.
10. Glissant, E 1999. Caribbean Discourses: Selected Essays. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1999.
11. James, C.L.R. 1980. Notes on Dialectics London: Allison and Busby.
Reverend Mavuso. 2011. “Climate Change and Global Warming are perpetuated by the capitalists to oppress the poor to make profit”.
12. Wright, Richard. 1956. “The Neuroses of Conquest,” The Nation, October 20. pp. 33-331
13. Wright, Richard. 1995. White Man Listen. New York: Harper Collins.
Zikode, S’bu. 2011. “Upgrades v Evictions,” September 29 at abalhali.org.


[1] Fanon studied and practiced with Tosquelles before leaving France for Algiers. Tosquelles who was carrying out a revolution in psychiatry at Saint Alban and was an anticolonialist grew up in Catalonia and had been an active anti-stalinist during the Spanish civil war.
[2] Glissant writes that “it is difficult for a French Caribbean individual to be the brother, friend, or quite simply the associate or fellow countryman of Fanon. Because, of all the French Caribbean intellectuals, he is the only one to have acted on his ideas, through his involvement in the Algerian struggle” (1999 25). Fanon made a “complete break” and yet Martinican intellectuals have failed to recognize him almost at all. He adds that they could not find in Fanon a figure who “awakened (in the deepest sense of the word) the peoples of the contemporary world” (1999 69).
[3] Wright’s review of the English translation of Mannoni’s book (which was published in 1956) in The Nation (Oct 20, 1956) was similar to Fanon’s critique in Black Skin White Masks. Titled “The Neuroses of Conquest,” Wright praised Mannoni’s book for focusing on the psychology of the “restless” Europeans who set out for world “that would permit free play for their repressed instincts” but he criticized Mannoni for creating the impression that the Madagascar “natives are somehow the White man’s Burden.” Like Fanon’s alienated Black, the native, Wright argues, vainly attempts “to embrace the world of white faces that rejects it” and in reaction to this rejection ”seeks refuge in tradition. But he concludes “but it is too late” there is “haven in neither.”

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