Pitfalls and radical mutations: Frantz Fanon’s revolutionary life

Issue: 134
Posted: 27 March 12

Leo Zeilig

Since his death Frantz Fanon has been appropriated for almost every cause. Five years after his death in 1961 he emerged as the preferred theorist of the emergent Black Power movement in the US, influencing Bobby Seale and Huey P Newton in the Black Panther Party. Dan Watts, editor of the radical newspaper Liberator, in 1967 described the extent of Fanon’s influence on the revolt of black America: “You’re going along thinking all the brothers in these riots are old winos. Nothing could be further from the truth. These cats are ready to die for something. And they know why. They all read. Read a lot. Not one of them hasn’t read the Bible… Fanon… You’d better get this book. Every brother on a rooftop can quote Fanon”.1

In the 1960s and 1970s Fanon was the quintessential Third Worldist. He was taken up by movements that looked to guerrilla struggle in the countryside and in the newly independent Third World. His work became a manual to Maoists and the guerrilla intelligentsia predicting an imminent revolutionary wave that would overturn the world from the countryside. The proletariat could not be trusted—these movements would be based on other political forces. In the 1990s Fanon was taken up with renewed vigour by the academy. Cultural critics and postmodernists focused exclusively on his work on identity and presented a largely decontextualised Fanon, shorn of history. Here he was with his revolutionary urgency (and heart) ripped out.

Fanon became the privileged thinker of the “post-colony”, and careers were made researching Fanon’s thought by Anglo-American academics. As Fanon’s biographer David Macey has explained:

In itself there’s nothing wrong with that—better to study Fanon… But I think it is necessary to put Fanon back in his context—stop abstracting from it and start exploring what are the implications today of [Fanon] in a more positive sense…we won’t do that by discussing Fanon in seminars in Yale university…it’s got to go beyond that. And I think that’s the problem with post-colonial studies…it doesn’t actually link up with what virtually anybody goes through every day.2

Yet most of Fanon’s life and writing was dedicated to revolutionary change. Soon after he moved to Algeria in 1953 he devoted himself to the Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front, FLN). He wrote about the revolutionary struggle in Algeria and how people were transformed by their involvement in the struggle. Relationships between men and women, families and their children, that had seemed frozen into the fabric of society and traditions, came apart in a process that Fanon described as “radical mutation” as the battle against the French rippled across Algerian society. But he did more than celebrate these changes; he sought to explain how they could be deepened. He saw how national liberation could become a curse, unless it was extended beyond the immediate goal of independence from former colonial powers and linked to regional and international processes of popular transformation. For this to happen Fanon argued for the right type of organisation to be built and warned against the danger of an absence of ideology.

As North Africa once again becomes the fulcrum of revolutionary change, Fanon’s work is a useful and necessary place to return to. Fanon’s vision of human emancipation through popular and revolutionary struggle continues to tantalise contemporary activists, even if his work is marked by serious pitfalls and contradictions.3

Today’s interest in Fanon coincides with last year’s 50th anniversary of both the publication of The Wretched of the Earth and Fanon’s death of leukaemia. I believe that Fanon can still be useful for those seeking to understand (and undertake) social change. His questions are vital for contemporary students of social change. His lifelong concerns are also ours: What are the limitations of revolutionary movements? What political forces usurp revolutionary struggles? What is the role of leadership in political movements? How are nationalist movements, and national consciousness, inherently restrictive of political and social transformation? Despite the scope of Fanon’s work this article will limit itself to a general introduction to the main contours of his life and work. Modestly it aims to provoke further curiosity and investigation.4

Inside Martinique: racism, war and France

Fanon was born in 1925 to a middle class family in Martinique. His childhood was comfortable, and relatively unremarkable. But life in Martinique permanently marked his identity. The island “department” was, and still is, a place of extreme racism, in its own composition and its relations to metropolitan France. The island’s communities were, in Fanon’s youth, divided into a small class of white planters and businessmen, the békés, and mulatto and black. Obsessively demarcated by colour, these categories signified a family’s place in the world. On the island pigmentation, and specifically the whiteness of the skin, to a large extent determined your trajectory in life and your own sense of self-worth. Fanon’s family had some white ancestry, and were ambitious and mobile. His mother was a proud shop owner, his father a civil servant in the customs service. Fanon attended Lycée Schoelcher in the capital, Fort-de-France, and gained a reputation for being an avid reader and keen footballer who was confident and insistent. The family considered themselves French, and no one felt this more keenly than their brightest son.

In 1944 Fanon fled Martinique and his mother’s orders to join the Free French. He served in Morocco, in Algeria and finally in France. Fanon’s principal biographer explains the effect of the war on Fanon’s identity:

It is hard to imagine how you’d get through the confusion—you invade from the South of France and they pull back the Senegalese troops who could not be allowed to liberate France and somehow you are reclassified as white. So that on the one hand you’re not a black person, you’re French, but you’re not French, you’re a black infantry soldier, fighting in the snow you have never seen before…so it’s not surprising the confusion about who you are, what you are and what on earth France is…a terrible sense of betrayal.5

Fanon had been taught to believe that he was French and schooled in the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, the values of fraternity and equality. The war brought these illusions crashing down. Writing to his parents in April 1945, the 19 year old Fanon explained, “If I don’t come back, and if one day you should hear that I died facing the enemy, console each other, but never say: he died for the good cause… This false ideology that shields the secularists and the idiot politicians must not delude us any longer. I was wrong!”6

Decorated for bravery Fanon returned briefly to Martinique to complete his studies. He met Aimé Césaire—later the most famous radical Caribbean poet—who, for a time taught him. The contact with the poet’s work marked him for the rest of his life. Césaire was a teacher, recently returned from France, of brilliant and precocious intelligence. Fanon memorised large sections of Césaire’s celebrated poem Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal and was struck by the poems forthright pride and courage: “no race has a monopoly on beauty, or intelligence, or strength, and there will be a place for all at the rendezvous of victory”.7

Césaire was a proponent of Négritude, a movement of black renaissance which he, Leopold Senghor and Léon Damas founded in Paris in the 1930s. It was a confident assertion of the vitality and pride in being black, and of African society and culture. Fanon was influenced by the movement but questioned the way Négritude contrasted a contrived African emotionality with European rationality and science. Fanon praised Négritude’s important celebration of being black in a world of overwhelming racism.8

Fanon graduated from his Fort-de-France lycée and moved to Paris to study dentistry. His decision was no longer based on a romance of the motherland, but a pragmatic recognition that Martinique was too small to contain his plans and ambitions. He abandoned dentistry and Paris for medicine and Lyon. In Lyon he specialised in psychiatry and became active on the periphery of the Communist Party (PCF). The PCF was unavoidable and Fanon oriented to the party’s activities. As Ian Birchall has written, “The Communist Party was at the peak of its influence, with five million voters and hegemony over a trade union federation with some five million members”.9

Fanon also launched a student magazine called Tam-tam, which survived for several issues. He plunged himself into a phenomenal and extensive reading programme—consuming literature, medicine and philosophy. He had already worked through the poorly stocked library in Fort-de-France, where he had read the classics of French literature and philosophy, but now his hunger could be properly satisfied. He attended the guest lectures of the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and was attracted by Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on lived experience and how it could be used to explain black people’s lives in France. He read Jean-Paul Sartre with fascination and critical passion—an engagement with the philosopher that he maintained for the rest of his life.

Black Skin, White Masks

Fanon started to write his first book, still a student of medicine, Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (Black Skin, White Masks). The book is an attempt to describe the “lived experience of a black person”. It was not published until 1952. To some extent it is autobiographical as well as a call for “mutual recognition” and an end to racism. Employing Sartre’s work on anti-Semitism Fanon explains that being black is made in confrontation with others and created by the racist’s gaze. Race and racism, Fanon argues in the book, are relationships of intersubjectivity that orbit around a superiority and inferiority complex, with whiteness at the centre of a supposed superiority.10

Fanon argues that he is cast into his blackness by racism, and becomes the categories, the insults and the stereotypes of the racist. When black people are confronted with racism they are broken apart: “I was responsible for my body, responsible for my race, responsible for my ancestors… He is all the clichés of anti-black racism: ‘the negro is stupid, the negro is bad, the negro is wicked, the negro is ugly’.” But as Fanon is confined to his blackness by the racist gaze and insult, so the white person is trapped by his whiteness. There is a tension in the book between Fanon’s need to declare, “Je suis mon propre fondement” (“I am my own foundation”), to assert himself individually, and the realisation that such a foundation can only be established collectively.11

Following Hegel, the book concludes with an appeal for humanism that Fanon maintains throughout his work. This universality and humanism can only be acquired with recognition by others—the acknowledgement of the humanity of black (and colonised) peoples in Europe. Yet this recognition is not a benevolent gesture, bestowed on black people, but one that must be seized and reached for in struggle and collective action. Recognition and humanity cannot be granted.

Fanon writes, “There is no Negro mission; there is no white burden. I find myself suddenly in a world…in which I am summoned into battle… There is no white world; there is no white ethic, any more than there is a white intelligence. There are in every part of the world men who search”.12 Fanon was still not clear what this struggle would entail, or practically how recognition could be sought. Algeria helped to actualise Fanon’s philosophy.

Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks developed a style that was distinct and powerful. His prose is full of poetry and rhythm and demands to be read aloud. He was not satisfied with academic language but craved to reach his readers emotionally. This desire never left him. “The situation that I have examined…is not a classic one. Scientific objectivity was barred to me, for the alienated, the neurotic, was my brother, my sister, my father”.13 In Fanon’s writing in general, but particularly his first book, he is telling a story about race relations as a prose-poet. He does not give the reader an analysis of categories that are distanced and sociological. Rather the book tries to invoke in the reader an experience of what race and racism really mean and how they are felt. This is a phenomenological approach that attempted to penetrate how people experience the world. Fanon had learnt his style, politics and philosophy from the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty and Sartre. So he provided an account of the structures of experience through which racism is lived.14 Nothing like this had been published before.

Fanon tried to submit the manuscript as a dissertation in his final medical degree but, not unfairly, it was rejected. When the book was published it gave Fanon little exposure to Parisian literary circles; there are few readers and fewer reviews. But the book was a marker for Fanon, identifying him as a serious thinker, a young black intellectual whose language and arguments demanded a response.

After graduation he took up his first major post at Saint Albans, the famous psychiatric hospital in France, then headed by Francois Tosquelles. Tosquelles became an important influence on Fanon. He was a proponent of institutional psychiatry which involved the revolutionising of the hospital, introducing, long before it became fashionable, group therapy and social activities in an attempt to create a “neo-society” that would help the patient readjust. Tosquelles was a militant anti-Stalinist who had been a senior member of the far-left POUM in the Spanish Civil War. He was a central intellectual figure in Fanon’s life, and his only mentor.

Algeria: resistance and repression

At the end of 1953 Fanon took up a job in Blida-Joinville, a town a short distance from Algiers. Algeria was then a territory of metropolitan France firmly under the boot of French authority, as it had been since 1848. Invaded by France in 1830, Algeria was not fully integrated for another 18 years, as the French struggled to pacify “native” resistance. When “integration” finally took place the Arab-Berber population (or indigénes) were not accorded French citizenship, and remained subjects with few rights. Fanon, writing to his brother to tell him of the move, explained, “I’m going to Algeria. You understand: the French have enough psychiatrists to take care of their madmen. I’d rather go to a country where they need me”.15

The decision to go to Algeria was not because Fanon had a vision of the future publishing success of Les Damnés de la Terre (The Wretched of the Earth). Fanon was militant and angry maybe, but he was an ambitious doctor who had little chance of finding a post in France. He would have stayed if there were these opportunities.

Algeria was eventually legally constituted as an administrative department within France. The processes of this incorporation were brutal. They involved driving pre-colonial Algerian society further back, so trade, schooling and human development were systematically underdeveloped by French colonialism. Mostefa Lacheraf in an important historical account explains these developments powerfully:

Algeria was no barbarian country inhabited by illiterate people with anarchic or sterile institutions. Its human and economic values attained a high level… Patriarchal, agricultural and civic lifestyles coexisted…throughout there was a marked sense of energy and industry: in maritime and artisanal techniques, in para-industrial methods, in city organisation, in the commerce with Africa and across the Mediterranean, in a system of intellectual values which was strongly impregnated with legal traditions, formal logic, more or less rationalist theology, with Arabic and Maghrebine folk traditions…a widely diffused culture, generalised through its written and oral expression… Algeria in the earlier 19th century displayed far fewer deficiencies, far more chance of progress in relation to the civilisation of the period and the general movement of free peoples than it did by the end of the century, stripped of its millions of hectares of forest, robbed of its mines, of its liberty, of its institutions and thus of the essential prop and motor of any collective progress.16

Schooling, which had been relatively widespread when the French arrived in 1830, was almost completely wiped out. By 1950 Unesco reported 90 percent illiteracy among the “native” population.17 Under the impact of the invasion millions of Algerians lost their lives, by direct killings, displacement and the collapse of food security. Communities were forced off the land and fertile agricultural regions taken over for the cultivation of vines for the export of wine to Europe. Algeria’s population fell to approximately 3.5 million in 1852, from 6 million in 1830. But the French did not have an easy time. Pacification of “native” resistance was never guaranteed. From 1830 to 1871 there were only a few years without fighting. Though new social forces were beginning to emerge from the dramatic mutation of Algerian society under French occupation, these were inherently contradictory—involving neither the total liquidation of the past, nor a clear project for the future.18

Though Algeria’s modern war of independence and national liberation is popularly seen as starting in 1954, the 1930s and 1940s were dominated by a number of different “constitutional” nationalist parties. One of the most important figures of the period, Messali Hadji, whose Parti Populaire Algérien (PPA) was formed in 1937 and saw its main constituency in the cities and towns with the growing influence of a largely coastal working class in docks, and among agricultural workers and junior civil servants. Throughout the war there was a wave of working class militancy escalating until 1945. In many ways these strikes and demonstrations infused with a combination of nationalist ideas and bread and butter demands were the first phase of a regional explosion of labour activism.

The extent of radicalisation can barely be exaggerated. Roger Murray and Tom Wengraf wrote about this period:

By early 1945 a revolutionary situation existed in Algeria: the political agitation generated by the AML [an organisation bringing together a variety of nationalist parties] was escaping its control. An acute economic crisis, detonated by the notably bad harvest of the previous year, had developed out of the departure of large numbers of troops at a time when the effects of long-term inflation were making themselves felt… Large-scale demonstrations of unemployed and starving men took place in many parts of the country; fights with the police were frequent and anti-French feeling was at a peak…the progressive elus [conservative nationalists] grew increasingly apprehensive as the social situation became more volatile and inflammatory. In May Algeria was shaken by an uprising whose dimensions and violence were unparalleled since 1871.

With massive CGT demos in Oran, Algiers and other cities across Algeria for two days after armistice celebrations, the same account explains that “the whole area was out of military and administrative control”.19

The French were determined to gain the upper hand. On 8 May 1945—as Europe was celebrating victory against the Nazis—in the town of Setif, 250 kilometres from Algiers, there was a crackdown. After a series of pro-independence demonstrations between 20,000 and 30,000 Algerians were massacred by the French authorities in the surrounding areas in the east of the country.20 As one war ended another started. The massacre hardened anger inside the Algerian nationalist movement that had been dominated by several organisations, the Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques (Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Freedoms) and Ferhat Abbas’s Union Démocratique du Manifeste Algérien (Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto).

For France there was never a war. Since Algeria was part of France, it could not launch or fight a war on its own territory. Only in 1999 did the French government accept that a war had taken place. At the time—and for years afterwards—the government in France used linguistic devices to hide the conflict.21 So there were “events” and “terrorist action” but not war. Like the Vichy period of Nazi collaboration, Algeria remains un passé qui ne passe pas (“a past which does not pass”).22

The FLN, activism and psychiatry

In 1954 the FLN was born. The timing of the FLN “insurrection” on
1 November 1954 was carefully chosen. Earlier in the year the French had suffered a humiliating defeat in Vietnam at Diên Biên Phu, which signalled the end of the French colonial presences in South East Asia. The FLN were determined to strike hard on the back of this defeat. The strategy pursued by the old nationalist organisation had reached an impasse. The insurrection was initially led by a group of nine Algerians, who have now become lionised as the forefathers of Algeria’s independence. The FLN was initially a small minority of Algerian nationalists committed to violent and armed confrontation with France. However, it was not until 1955 that there was a fuller regroupment of nationalist forces around the strategy that the FLN had started to develop. Abane Ramdane was the principal force behind these initiatives.23

From early in its life the FLN was a fairly hard-nosed organisation. A low-intensity war was fought on the streets of France and Algeria against supporters of Messali’s party, now called the Mouvement National Algérien (Algerian National Movement, MNA).24 Much of this fighting was to ensure access to Algerian workers in France who paid “taxes” to nationalist organisations. The FLN was dependent on this solidarity to fund the war, but the MNA had deeper roots in many Algerian communities. The FLN sought to maintain hegemony over its own forces and pacify potential competitors.25

Despite attempts to present itself as a monolithic organisation the FLN was divided by important political differences. The Soummam Congress, held in August 1956 in occupied Algeria, was the radical assertion of the importance of an internal leadership over an exiled one and of political supremacy over military decision makers. Organised by the radical nationalist Abane Ramdane, the Soummam declaration established a militant agenda for the Algerian Revolution. The fight, Ramdane argued, would be taken to the cities and towns. The famous film by Gillo Pontecorvo The Battle of Algiers is set in 1956-7 and tells this story. The Battle of Algiers took place at the high point of the urban, Abane-influenced FLN. The combination of terrorist attacks against French settlers in the capital and strike action was finally defeated by the French in 1957. Abane was forced into exile. The Soummam Congress had argued that a “social” republic would follow independence.

Fanon threw himself into the frenzy. If he had arrived a radical in 1953 with notions of political action, he left Algeria three years later a revolutionary determined to dedicate his life to the Algerian cause. Soon after 1955 Fanon helped, with colleagues, to turn Blida-Joinville’s hospital into a place where wounded and traumatised FLN fighters could be treated (and hidden). Fanon ended up treating both war damaged French policemen—who wanted to see “nerve” specialists, so they could continue to torture “terrorist” suspects—and Algerian fighters. For a man widely and inaccurately regarded as the apostle of violence, he treated both with equal concern and in most cases kept their identities and confidences secret.

Fanon was still a student of Tosquelles and continued to experiment in institutional psychiatry with the democratisation of the hospital. His close friend and fellow doctor Pierre Chaulet recalls, “At Blida Fanon not only removed the chains from some of the sick, but he abolished the use of straitjackets, and most importantly he organised social and leisure activities (the Moorish café, football games, Algerian music concerts, Muslim religious festivals and a printer for a hospital newspaper)”.26

There is a degree of historical mythology about Fanon as the hospital’s liberator, casting off chains, freeing patients from their straitjackets. Colleagues at Blida have explained that chains were not used at the hospital and Fanon was a psychiatrist, with radical notions of “democratisation” and “institutional psychiatry”, but also a pragmatic willingness, even enthusiasm, to employ the full panoply of psychiatric methods: strong anti-psychotic drugs, electric shock treatment, narco-therapy. Removing straitjackets was an important part of Fanon’s treatment but, he argued, traumatised and alienated patients might also need medical restraints and aggressive drug therapy.

Conditions eventually became impossible at the hospital as the war and Fanon’s involvement in it escalated. Towards the end of 1956 Fanon decided he could no longer stay—for his family’s safety but also because he could not practise his profession. He resigned, stating in a letter to Algeria’s Resident-Minister (governor): “If psychiatry is a medical technique which aspires to allow man to cease being alienated from his environment, I owe it to myself to assert that the Arab, who is permanently alienated in his own country, lives in a state of absolute depersonalisation”.27 His last days were not a calm settling of accounts at the hospital. Fanon had now identified himself openly with the enemy. He and his family left for France.

Exile in Tunisia

Fanon’s trajectory was still not entirely clear—he knew was not going to stay in France and although he was now committed to the Algerian struggle he did not leave immediately for Tunisia. In France he spent a prolonged period staying with the French Trotskyist Jean Ayme. Alice Cherki records that Fanon seemed in no particular rush to leave: “He continued to sleep three hours per night and to devour books. Among the documents that Ayme gave him to read, he was fascinated to discover the transcripts of the first four congresses of the Communist International… Fanon spent entire nights in their company”.28 Ayme also observed that although Fanon was incredibly smart, with an impressive knowledge of philosophy and psychiatry, he had little “political training”. He had not been an activist and did not have a thorough knowledge of revolutionary history. He underwent a rapid education.

Eventually the family left for Tunisia. Tunisia had become independent the previous year and was rapidly becoming the principal base for the FLN’s exiled leadership and a large community of Algerians forced out of their country. Fanon lived in Tunis for the rest of his life. He helped write and edit the organisation’s newspaper El Moudjahid. Pierre and Claudine Chaulet, who were close friends and fellow militants of the FLN in Algeria, had also been forced to move to Tunis after Pierre’s release from prison in mid-1957. They were among the few Algerians of French origin who committed themselves to the liberation war. The couple had introduced Fanon to the FLN in Algiers. They vividly describe Fanon during his years in Tunis: “Brilliant talker, charmer, adored using words from the medical and psychiatric lexicon to express a core meaning; he seemed to have read everything, sometimes in a spin of words, taking lyrical flight, attentive to the reactions of his listeners, pushing sometimes reason to the point of paradox to provoke discussion and at the same time a disciplined militant, modest and accepting criticism of certain improper expressions or exaggerations”.29

Fanon continued to work as a psychiatrist, publishing papers on his experiments and attempting to reform the hospital regime in the two psychiatric units where he worked. He also wrote regularly for the newspaper, and devoted himself to the work of the FLN and the propaganda necessary for the war. The paper was a strange beast, produced fortnightly, made up of reports and appeals but with little actual reporting. It was sold widely in France and smuggled into Algeria. Fanon was not a natural journalist. He did not type and instead he would dictate his articles to secretaries and he rarely used interviews or carried out original research. But he had an extraordinary gift for polemical and passionate prose that expressed the spirit of the revolution. Chaulet explains how a collective spirit prevailed on the paper: “Freedom of discussion was total within the editorial board. Each person took turns to speak on the proposed themes… The reciprocal influence of one on another makes it difficult to discern a single influence: we shared the same analysis and we had the same objectives within the editorial board. Fanon was one of us, not more, and what we wrote was the result of a collective reflection”.30

Year Five of the Algerian Revolution

Fanon wrote L’An V de la Revolution Algérienne (Year Five of the Algerian Revolution, published in English with the title Studies in a Dying Colonialism) in 1959. The book was an attempt to garner support for the FLN and engage with the French left. It was a publication of pro-Algerian and FLN propaganda that celebrated the popular involvement in the war of liberation. The French left had equivocated and failed to support the FLN and the war. The PCF was the largest extra-parliamentary force on the left and though individual members supported the war, the party’s pronouncements were scandalous. They argued that the revolution would take place, not in Algeria, but in France, and Algerian nationalists must follow the political lead of the French proletariat. Algeria was not ready for independence. The greatest threat, the PCF stated, was that an independent Algeria could fall into the clutches of US imperialism. In this respect, the party did not demur from the anti-American justification for the war offered by Charles de Gaulle, who after he returned to power in 1958 continued the war, though he eventually conceded defeat.31 However, there were important anti-Stalinists, including les porteurs de valises (literally the “carriers of suitcases”) who supported and smuggled out money for the FLN and refused to take the side of the French republic. Though the achievements of these militants should not be exaggerated, these were courageous and inspiring acts of solidarity.32

By contrast, when the French Socialist Party (SFIO) came to office in 1956, there was jubilation among progressive forces in France and Algeria at the prospect that the new Socialist prime minister Guy Mollet would end the war and lead negotiations towards Algeria’s independence. Instead Mollet capitulated to pressure from the white settlers in Algeria and escalated the war, forcing ever more French conscripts into the bloodbath. He also appointed the odious Robert Lacoste resident-minister. Those who had resisted the FLN—reluctant not because of conservatism but due to genuine doubts about the Front’s politics and strategy—now felt they had no alternative. The FLN, more or less, was the only show on the road. Fanon’s longstanding colleague and collaborator Charles Geromini described how political choice closed down after Mollet’s betrayal: “There was no longer any choice other than between Lacoste and the Front. A third force could have had meaning only if it had been supported by the French left. Since the French left were playing the game of Algerian fascism, any attempt to organise liberal action in Algiers was doomed to failure”.33 Across the spectrum the forces on the left were without a socialist alternative. On the radical left this had been closed off by the PCF while the parliamentary and socialist left were now discredited by their terrible and tragic confrontation with the FLN.

The title of Fanon’s book was a reference to the French Revolution and an indication that Fanon, like leading members of the FLN, saw 1954 as signalling a new epoch of liberation and that all before it could be ignored or, in the case of Messali’s MNA, erased. But Fanon’s arguments, though loyal to the FLN, were more nuanced. The popular mobilisation of the war after 1954 marked a new Algeria. The revolution had seen the extraordinary flowering of human capacity that overturned old attitudes, habits and the deeply embedded sense of colonial and racial inferiority. Algerians were beginning to stand up for themselves and to resist and be proud of themselves.

The book starts with a sense of disbelief that the war, fought so bitterly for five years, for a cause almost universally supported, is still going on: “Five years of struggle have bought no political change”.34 Fanon speaks in an autobiographical tone when he refers to the devastating betrayal of those who fought with the French in the Second World War and are now outraged by the role of the French army in Algeria.

But Fanon holds back his greatest condemnation for the hypocrisy of French supporters of the war for independence, lampooning their position: “In a war of liberation, the colonised people must win, but they must do so…without barbarity”.35 When a European nation, he continues, indulges in torture and barbarity it is a blight on their civilisation and history. Yet when the colonised respond it is the fulfilment of their “underdeveloped” nature. So an “underdeveloped nation is obliged to practise fair play, even while its adversary ventures, with a clear conscience, into unlimited…terror”.36 Therefore the colonised are imprisoned again when they fight back because they are merely confirming their primitive essence. They will only be given European support if they fight and resist as “we” dictate.37

Fanon presents an argument for revolutionary terror, based on a pragmatic assessment of the violence of the oppressed. “Because we want a democratic…Algeria, because we believe one cannot rise and liberate oneself in one area and sink in another, we condemn, with pain in our hearts, those brothers who have flung themselves into revolutionary action with…brutality that centuries of oppression give rise to and feed”.38 Violence emerges because of the horrors of colonisation and occupation, and the expression of this initial violence, of “revolutionary action”, contains elements of brutality, pride, freedom from humiliation and a desire to cast off servility.

The French democrat, Fanon tells us, wants liberation without the dreadful cries of the oppressed. He is prepared to celebrate the struggle for independence, but “with a minimum of errors”. This, Fanon argues, is an abstraction that exists only in the salons and cafes of the Parisian intelligentsia. The “democrats” are neither honest about the role of their “enlightened” European nation, nor realistic about the struggles of the colonised. Instead they are caught in a racist trap, blind to the way “colonisation” and violence are inextricably linked. Torture is not an aberration of settler colonialism but an intrinsic and natural outgrowth.

But full support for the war is important for another reason. Fanon argues that a colonising nation cannot free itself while holding down another. The colonial state is caught in a racist world, as the colonised are caught in a web of repression and violence. Real transcendence will come when the humanity and transformation of the oppressed are recognised, and the European working class throws off racist myths. This change in consciousness is only possible by breaking with one’s past—a break that can only be made through struggle.

Struggle—the real struggle—was the key for Fanon. This involved the popular participation of ordinary Algerians in the revolution. The book is in part a declaration of this popular ownership of revolutionary struggle, and of the liberating wind sweeping through Algerian society. It is also, in part, a lyrical and poetic celebration of how people are, in Fanon’s medical lexicon, “re-cerebralised” by revolution often in their most private and intimate relationships. Describing the transformation taking place between men and women, Fanon writes, “The couple is no longer shut in upon itself. It no longer finds its end in itself. It is no longer the result of the natural instinct of perpetuation of the species, nor the institutionalised means of satisfying one’s sexuality… The Algerian couple, in becoming a link in the revolutionary organisation, is transformed into a unit of existence”.39

Contrary to the accusations made against him, Fanon was not exaggerating.40 Algeria during this period was undergoing profound changes. The years 1956 to 1960 showed all the signs of radical transformation. The struggle that had been launched in 1954 by a small group of men had become a mass movement that pulled in urban and rural areas, men and women, the armed struggles and city demonstrations, riots and strikes. Political discussions became widespread, and the radio, previously an object treated with suspicion, was commandeered by the population as an alternative source of information. There was a wide sense of expectation and hope and the collapse of old servile relationships. Cultural habits and traditions changed as women became active in the war. The French could be resisted, and their power broken. These changes were not limited to narrow groups of fighters but tens of thousands of ordinary Algerians began to contemplate independence and freedom for the first time. These were the years of Algeria’s revolution.

The brilliance of Fanon’s 1959 book is that it captured the nature of Algeria’s popular revolution. As the Fanon scholar and activist Nigel Gibson explained, “L’An V really speaks of this experience of revolution. It is interesting that many criticised Fanon as a ‘romantic’ or ‘utopian’ but…the revolution, as revolutions do, turned things upside down, upset the old social relations. That these changes did not remain, that they were turned back does not mean that they didn’t happen. I think Fanon also understood the fragility of new social relations, not only from outside but also from inside the revolution, and that is a reason why he remains relevant today”.41 Fanon’s involvement in the FLN grew and he assumed more responsibilities, writing and now speaking on behalf of the FLN in press conferences and attending international conferences.

The Wretched of the Earth

Fanon was diagnosed with leukaemia at the end of 1960 and knew immediately that he was dying, and that he had, at best, only a year or two to live. His life bunched up. A man not used to living in reserve, he pushed himself to almost inhuman lengths to write and influence a movement about which he had begun to have serious misgivings and fears. He had recently been made ambassador of the Algerian provisional government to Ghana, where he met leaders of the nationalist movement from the continent. Initially he refused treatment in the US, a country of “racists and lynch mobs”. Instead he went to Moscow. The death sentence drove Fanon on and he became possessed with the need to assist the FLN and its armed wing, the ALN. In 1961, months before his death, he completed his final work, The Wretched of the Earth, which shows Fanon as a revolutionary thinker in continual development. The book is extremely rich and complex (it even includes a discussion on pottery and sculpture). I will limit my observations to a few key themes:

(1) The “profiteering caste”: Even though Fanon was intimately involved in the FLN and the national liberation movement, he was drawing, almost uniquely in his generation, critical lessons about the limitations of the very national freedom and independence they were fighting for. The book can be read as a warning to Algeria—and the rest of the decolonised/ing world—about how the national bourgeoisie decays into “a sort of little greedy caste, avid and voracious, with the mind of a huckster, only too glad to accept the dividends that the former colonial power hands out to it. This get rich quick middle class shows itself incapable of great ideas or of inventiveness. It remembers what it has read in European textbooks and imperceptibly it becomes not even the replica of Europe, but its caricature”.42 But Fanon also attempted to address how this degeneration could be avoided.

The Wretched of the Earth grasped the predicament that independence presented to the movements and leadership of national liberation. Post-colonial power was caught between an enfeebled national bourgeoisie and the global limitations imposed on any newly developing nation in the modern world. In this context, it was inevitable that these new national bourgeoisies would act to suppress those among their own people whose demands could not be met within the existing economic and political system. The pseudo-bourgeoisie—described in a variety of terms, often as a “profiteering caste”—are not a real bourgeoisie. They own nothing, Fanon tells us, and they will bring nothing. They have no national programme of development, seeking simply to become the favoured middlemen for metropolitan capital.

Fanon was able to describe, with extraordinary power, how national freedom often became its opposite, the “curse of independence”. How could he recognise, with such shearing accuracy, developments that had hardly started to emerge? There are several indications. Abane Ramdane, associated with the radical wing of the FLN, was assassinated in 1958. Some elements of the FLN would “deal with” internal opponents they disagreed with. Fanon carefully noted what was happening within the FLN. He also saw, and attempted to analyse, the parties of national independence in Ghana and Senegal. The contrast was great in Ghana. The radical rhetoric of the country’s first independent leader, Kwame Nkrumah, contrasted with the continuity of colonial power after independence in 1957. Fanon’s personal disappointment can also be felt in the pages of his classic. Césaire, for a short time his school teacher and hero, turned his back on independence and accepted continued incorporation into France under a deal set out by de Gaulle in 1958. This was not all. The great poet of Négritude and new president of Senegal, Leopold Senghor, betrayed the Algerian Revolution—voting in the French assembly for an extension of emergency powers to prosecute the war. Senghor also accepted de Gaulle’s compromise of a French community of African states.

But there were two events, one contemporary and the other historical, that pulled back the curtains on independence. Fanon saw the Congo crisis unfold before him. A nationalist party was elected to power in 1960 in democratic and transparent elections and to the jubilations of the Congolese. But days after the ceremony of independence the country ruptured. Two mineral-rich provinces, Katanga and Kasai, broke away, backed and armed by Belgium, the former colonial power. Seven months after his election, in January 1961, the leader of the nationalist MDC and the elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba—who Fanon had met in Ghana and the Congo—was murdered by the Belgians and their Congolese “puppets”. Real economic and political independence would not be countenanced by the parting colonial powers. The conclusion that Fanon drew was that Africa must craft its own tools and wage a relentless battle against imperial invasion and the “pseudo-bourgeoisie” who usurp the forces of national liberation.

Secondly, as a voracious reader Fanon studied history and philosophy with a gusto that left his contemporaries astonished; he “seemed to have read everything”. Latin America had experienced independence generations before Africa. Independence, he noted, had been keenly fought for, but hopelessly compromised. He concurred with Aimé Césaire that in Haiti—the country that had won independence from France after a slave revolution in the 1790s—the “colonial problem” had first been posed in its great contradictions, as the country fought for, won and then saw the impotence of this “freedom” in a world dominated by several imperialist states.43 Fanon writes despairingly in The Wretched of the Earth, “The African bourgeoisie of certain under-developed countries have learnt nothing from books. If they had looked closer at the Latin American countries they doubtless would have recognised the dangers which threatened them”.44 Fanon was a figure of the black Atlantic. His life, experiences and thinking criss-crossed the Atlantic, picking up and developing insights from the Caribbean and the Americas, which then enriched and expanded his analysis of the struggles being fought for in Africa.

The Wretched of the Earth sounded the emergency alarm. He saw how the FLN itself was developing in a similar way to these other nationalist formations. The book was an attempt to pull back the FLN—as much as he could in a single volume—and prevent the development of the “caste of profiteers”. Fanon has been criticised for his “sweeping generalisations” in the book, but on preventing the growth of a national bourgeoisie, he is quite specific about what needs to be done.45

(2) The peasantry or workers? Fanon, like many thinkers of his time, was influenced by Maoist interpretations of socialism, which emphasised the central role of the peasantry in revolutionary struggle while holding a deep suspicion towards the proletariat. Fanon wrote, “The proletariat is the nucleus of the colonised population which has been most pampered by the colonial regime. The embryonic proletariat of the towns is in a comparatively privileged position. In capitalist countries the working class has nothing to lose; it is they who in the long run have everything to gain. In the colonial countries the working class has everything to lose; in reality it represents that fraction of the colonised nation which is necessary and irreplaceable if the colonial machine is to run smoothly: it includes tram conductors, taxi-drivers, miners, dockers, interpreters, nurses and so on”.46 Fanon accepted the widespread argument that the organised working class had been effectively “bought off” with the profits of imperialist exploitation, and that revolutionary action against the new African ruling classes would only come from the poorest rural masses and the lumpenproletariat of unemployed and semi-employed in urban areas.

It was to the peasantry that Fanon turned for his revolutionary agents: “It is clear that in the colonial countries the peasants alone are revolutionary, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The starving peasant, outside the class system, is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonisation and decolonisation are simply a question of relative strength.” There is a real sense in The Wretched of the Earth that the role Marx gave to the working class could be taken over by the peasantry. This displays a failure to understand what Marx meant by the pivotal role of the working class and its relationship to the oppressed.

The actual history of decolonisation in Africa reveals a boisterous working class, often leading the struggle for national liberation. This group was able to paralyse the colonial machine by its position at the heart of the system’s profit-making in factories, mines and docks.47 This is true for these forces in many parts of late colonial sub-Saharan Africa and even more so in North Africa and the Middle East. For example, there was a widening and radicalising wave of working class militancy after 1945 in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Arguably it was the working class demonstrations in the cities and towns across Algeria in December 1960 that forced the French to accept that they would have to leave—this was a movement that was not controlled or organised by the FLN.48

But there were also important weaknesses—which Fanon’s own analysis of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia points to. There was an absence of working class leadership within these strikes and protests that could have made an argument for an urban and worker-led movement of national and socialist revolution in a single and ongoing process of revolutionary change linked to the countryside. There were, of course, many reasons why these politics could not emerge, not least the role of Stalinised Communist parties who sought to either limit these revolts to nationhood, or argue, in the case of Algeria, the need to follow the lead of the European working class. There were also serious weaknesses in working class politics. Faced with these problems the leadership of these movements fell into other hands—quite distinct from the working class and the poor. A nationalist intelligentsia assumed control of diverse movements for national liberation. The intelligentsia were often educated in the West, with a strong sense of the humiliation at “their” national backwardness. In Egypt in 1952 it was a class of nationalist “Free Officers” who led the “revolution” in deposing King Farouk’s regime.

In addition many labour movements on the continent were able to resist their total incorporation into the nationalist project and maintain their own autonomy from hegemonic nationalist parties, but their biggest problem was their inability to generate intellectual or ideological alternatives to the focus on national economic development dominant among both Stalinists and nationalists. As a consequence, trade unions sometimes adopted syndicalist or economistic approaches, rejecting nationalist or new state ideologies in arguing that their role was “non-political”. This unfortunately dovetailed and seemed to confirm the accusation, present in The Wretched of the Earth, that organised workers represented, in an African context, a labour aristocracy whose selfish defence of their privileges was at the expense of other, particularly rural sections of society.49

The idea of combining national democratic and social transformation into a permanent regional and global revolution was lost with the degeneration of the Russian Revolution after 1917. Yet Fanon tantalises us with insights into the role of the national bourgeoisie in a colonised and Third World setting—he also recognised the need in his last book to “enrich” the revolution with social transformation, and that the project for a “new humanism” could only be achieved on a global scale.

(3) On violence: It is for the chapter dedicated to violence in The Wretched of the Earth that Fanon has suffered his greatest misreadings and denunciations. Fanon writes clearly that “at the level of individuals, 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”.50 Shorn of its context, statements such as this seem to extol violence, but this was not Fanon’s intention. He was writing about the necessity of resistance that will involve violence, against overwhelming odds. The experience of colonialism, he explains, has been of unremitting violence and its overthrow will require force. The violence of the oppressed, he argues, is a necessary and inevitable part of decolonisation. Liberation without it is impossible—a cruel dream shimmering beautifully in the distance, always out of reach.

But there was a further element to his argument. The violence of the oppressed has the therapeutic effect of ridding the colonialised of their deeply held feelings of inferiority. The colonisers can be hurt, their violence countered and broken. The result will be, as it is with all popular upheavals, a sense of strength and pride in the oppressed’s own value and self-worth—a collective struggle, involving violence, maybe, but an inherently personal
transformation from inferiority to self-assertion and self-recognition. Therefore any real struggle of the oppressed will require counter-violence. Non-violence, Fanon writes, is an invention of the colonial intelligentsia. “Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organised and educated 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”.51 Fanon was not the apostle of violence, but its subtle and pragmatic analyst.

Endgame

After a brief respite in the sickness, knowing that he had only a short time to live, Fanon insisted on lecturing ALN troops in Ghaudimaou on the Tunisian/Algerian border, on the famous chapter in “Mésaventures de la conscience nationale” (“Pitfalls of national consciousness”). But he was also inspired to speak to them on the lessons from Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason which he had recently and enthusiastically read. As important as their cause was it had to be extended and deepened into the social and economic life of the new nation. Independence was no panacea and unless the transformation that these ALN troops were committed to was enriched and spread inside Algerian society, but also regionally and globally, the national liberation they sought was in danger of becoming its opposite—a “curse” that would solve few of the problems that Algerians had given their lives for.52

Returning to Tunis, Fanon dictated the last chapters of his book, in a period of intense activity and tragedy captured by Pierre Chaulet: “The Wretched of the Earth is to be read like an urgent message, delivered in a raw state, uncorrected—we did not dare question certain passages in front of a man who was reading his text to the close friends that we were, while pacing up and down his room in Tunis, sick and aware that he was condemned, desiring with all his force, in a superb language, to say what he had to say”.53 As night spread quickly across the sky, Fanon’s life did not wane but seemed to become focused more sharply. But there is a limit to what one book (and one extraordinary life-force) as brilliant and problematic as Fanon’s could do.

Finally accepting that treatment in the US might prolong his life, Fanon left for Washington in early October 1961. Eight weeks later he died at the National Institute of Health in Maryland. His last request was that his body be buried in liberated Algeria. Before he left for the US, he lamented to his brothers and sisters in the FLN, “You are lucky; you will see the independence of Algeria, but I will not”.54

Legacy

Among the most effective oppositional organisations in contemporary Pakistan is the Baloch Student Federation (BSO)—which is not strictly a student opposition, but more a secular nationalist organisation. Its membership is found among rural youth who have fled to Pakistan’s growing cities looking for work. Its manifesto is the Urdu translation of The Wretched of the Earth. It has an armed wing, the Baloch Liberation Army. The BSO’s ideological orientation is characterised by a degree of confusion, as the Pakistani socialist Sartaj Khan has explained: “The BSO was inspired by the guerrilla struggle of Che Guevara, and in the past was influenced by both Maoism and Stalinism. Many of its leaders, like Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, claim to be Marxists. But, like others, the Baluchi nationalist movement suffered serious political disorientation in the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall”.55

It would be unfair to leave Fanon’s legacy here. His influence was far greater, and more difficult to chart. But the confusing combination of Marxism, Maoism and guerrilla war does point to an uncomfortable reality. Fanon was the brilliant and angry champion of national liberation and revolution, but his refusal to see how a movement could be centred on the power of the organised working class and independent working class politics limited the positive reach of his ideas. Instead Fanon’s orientation on the countryside and the lumpenproletariat won him many supporters in the 1960s and 1970s but tied up his alternatives into a delimiting prison.56 The real history of working class action in the “Third World” has often been concealed. Fanon’s role in helping to conceal this reality makes his legacy decidedly ambiguous for those of us who seek to develop (and recover) such a politics today.

However, the removal of the working class from Fanon’s paradigm can be contextualised. The setback of the urban movement after the Battle of Algiers led to a withdrawal of the FLN from the towns. Increasingly union members and urban FLN sympathisers and members were encouraged to leave the cities and workplaces and move to the countryside to work in wilayas (FLN-organised districts). The war had shifted to the countryside, the military campaign and the exiled leadership. What became known as Fanonist revolutionary strategy spoke, in large part, of the failures and divisions of the Algerian war and the political choices made by the FLN.57

Fanon also tended to fetishise the armed struggle as the real struggle.58 He was right to confront the hypocrisy of the European left, who frequently refused to support and defend Algeria’s right to violent resistance against the French. But his championing of the Algerian method of “insurrection” was deeply problematic. At times he presented this model to countries that were ill-suited to such a tactic, condemning Angola’s nationalists for refusing to launch their own “insurrection” regardless of timing or local circumstances.59

Yet Fanon’s writing and life offer us so much to celebrate and study. Fanon belongs to the radical tradition of decolonisation. Modestly he helped to promote and influence the FLN, but Studies in a Dying Colonialism and especially The Wretched of the Earth—with its capacity to capture the anger of the world’s oppressed—had an important impact on national liberation movements around the world. He was perhaps the most important figure in the ideological struggle against colonialism in the 20th century.

But there is much more to celebrate in Fanon’s life than his relatively limited literary output. He was a reluctant writer. He dictated all his books and articles. He needed to pace around the room when he was dictating, his arms flying, his mind searching for another metaphor or expression that would encapsulate the passion and anger he felt, or synthesise the philosophy of praxis that the revolution needed.

Fanon’s activism, the need to practically do something, lived in him deeply. In 1955 he wanted actively to fight—take up arms—for the FLN; the organisation was forced to tell him in no uncertain terms that it had enough volunteers. In the late 1950s he tried to argue and lobby for an “African legion”—an all-African military force—to counter Western imperialism. In 1960 he tried to establish a southern front in the Algerian war, leading an expeditionary force on a clandestine 2,000-mile mission through West Africa, to assess possible supply routes for an eventual rearguard force that could liberate Algeria from sub-Saharan Africa.60

Fanon only dictated his books when there was a force beyond his control that ground him to a halt, after his accident in Morocco in 1959 or when he was dying of leukaemia in 1961 and he wrote The Wretched of the Earth: desperate to make a contribution that he thought might prevent the revolution from possible degeneration and decay. In his final months of life, knowing he was probably not going to see the year out, Fanon rushed to the Algerian/Tunisian border to tell those fighting for independence the message (we can guess): “Don’t be betrayed”, “Fight on” and “There can be no restructuring of Algerian society unless there is a pitiless struggle against the national bourgeoisie and this will require continued mobilisation”. Fanon was a bristling and ferocious revolutionary in constant movement.

In his commitment to the FLN, as a propagandist and with militant discipline, Fanon was the champion of the Algerian Revolution and African liberation. He also provided us with a warning, even if he could not adequately pose an alternative, of the limitations threatening the very freedom that he devoted himself to. This is the tantalising failure in Fanon’s work. Unique among his contemporaries he examined the dangers of post-colonial power. So he wrote how after independence the aspirations of real independence are jettisoned. For much of Africa the seemingly radical structures of the nationalist revolution hardened into the quasi-Stalinist mould of the one-party state.61 Fanon diagnosed the snare of national liberation but his conception of a nation as the dynamic creation of popular action did not provide a solution to the prison of independence that he described. Still, his monumental contribution was posing questions and explaining the “curse” which national liberation would become for the newly decolonised nations. It was for other movements and leaders, influenced by Fanon’s work, to propose alternatives to the failures and imprisonment of independence.

Fanon also understood that transforming the world, creating a new and socialist humanity, would ultimately necessitate unity between the North and South, but that this could only happen once the European working class stopped playing the game of “sleeping beauty”. Today, in the context of the struggles taking place across North Africa and the Middle East—and the possibility of these spreading elsewhere—we need to revisit Fanon for his extraordinary insights into revolutionary processes and his warnings of the pitfalls of national consciousness and the national bourgeoisie.


Notes

1: Singh, 1998, p76.

2: Macey, interview in Leeds, England (14 October 2010). Sadly Macey died in October 2011. I am indebted to his impressive work on Fanon but particularly the patience and generosity he showed me.

3: There been no shortage of excellent biographies, memoirs and serious studies. Among the long list are several that stand out: Macey, 2000; Gibson, 1999, 2003; Cherki, 2000 (perhaps the best account); Gendzier, 1976. But in some studies there is an emphasis on his writing and philosophy at the sacrifice of context or the opposite, context and a frustrating inability to integrate his thought.

4: This article is part of ongoing research into the life and thought of Fanon and some material has appeared earlier-Zeilig, 2011. The study is based on interviews with those who knew Fanon, or were involved in the same struggles. Many ideas in the article have benefited immensely from suggestions and conversations with Ian Birchall. I have also benefited from comments by Alex Callinicos and Pierre Chaulet’s severe but justified criticism of an earlier version.

5: Macey, interview, 2010.

6: Quoted in Macey, 2000, pp103-104.

7: Césaire, 1983, pp57-58.

8: Fanon, 1952.

9: Birchall, 1998, p70.

10: Macey, 2011, p41.

11: Fanon, 1952, pp116, 117.

12: Fanon, 1952, p220.

13: Fanon, 1952, p216.

14: I am grateful to Kim Wale for this insight.

15: Quoted in Macey, 2000, p203.

16: Quoted in Murray and Wengraf, 1963, pp22-23.

17: Jeanson, 1962, p29.

18: Murray and Wengraf, 1963, pp15-30.

19: Murray and Wengraf, 1963, pp53-54.

20: Planche, 2006.

21: The war, lasting until 1962, cost an estimated 1 million Algerian lives.

22: Macey, 2011, p37.

23: I am grateful to Pierre Chaulet for these insights-interview, Algiers, Algeria (28 September 2011).

24: The “war” within a war is brilliantly captured in Rachid Bouchareb’s film Outside the Law.

25: See Harbi and Stora, 2004.

26: Pierre and Claudine Chaulet, interview, 2010.

27: Fanon, 1964, p60.

28: Cherki, 2000, p135.

29: Pierre and Claudine Chaulet, interview, 2010.

30: Pierre and Claudine Chaulet, interview, 2010.

31: The PCF did have a point. The US was determined to break the power of European imperialisms, in order to extend its own global hegemony. The Suez Crisis illustrated this point. It was also the reason why the Soviet Union was reluctant to give the FLN full support.

32: Pattieu, 2002.

33: Geromini, 2001, p174. However, the Algerian Communist Party played a much more positive role supporting the armed struggle.

34: Fanon, 2001, p5.

35: Fanon, 2001, p6.

36: Fanon, 2001, p6.

37: This argument neatly reflects the hypocritical support of European and American politicians and commentators for the recent revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The “masses” on the streets of North Africa can be celebrated as long as they are “non-violent” and “peace-loving”.

38: Fanon, 2001, p7.

39: Fanon, 2001, p114.

40: Macey, 2000, p402.

41: Gibson, personal communication, 3 November, 2010.

42: Fanon, 1961, p131.

43: See Høgsbjerg, 2010.

44: Fanon, 1961, p130.

45: Caute, 1970, pp73-74.

46: Fanon, 1961, p84.

47: Zeilig, 2009.

48: Elsenhans, 2010, pp29-62.

49: But it is hard to escape the feeling that Fanon’s approach reflected Abane Ramdane’s failure to turn the Algerian Revolution to the cities and urban areas, rather than a serious consideration and critique of the role of the working class in the developing world.

50: Fanon, 1961, p70.

51: Fanon, 1961, p110.

52: Bernasconi, 2010.

53: Pierre and Claudine Chaulet, interview, 2010.

54: Pierre and Claudine Chaulet, interview, 2010.

55: Khan and Prasad, 2010, p31.

56: Chaulet highlights another weakness, which he argues comes from Fanon’s celebrated strengths: “Fanon’s vivid style-of a psychiatrist, philosopher and poet, more than a political thinker-gives a particular power to his flashes of prophetic brilliance and even to his errors”-interview, 2010. Fanon’s general and unspecific statements give them an enormous power but also a tendency to broad and problematic interpretation.

57: It should be clear that Fanon was not trying to develop such a “strategy”, whatever subsequent writers and activists have said. His last book was a work in progress. It is also important not to present a Manichean version of the Algerian Revolution-divided neatly between city and countryside phases.

58: For a discussion on Fanon as a “voluntarist”, see Hallward, 2011.

59: Davidson, 1986, p31.

60: See Turner, 1999.

61: Molyneux, 1983.


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