Nigel C. Gibson A Wholly Other Time?

Fanon, the Revolutionary, and the Question of Organization

he fiftieth year after the publication of The Wretched of the Earth and its author’s death was marked by seemingly autonomous and spontaneous rebellions across the world that immediately made concrete some Fanonian concerns. From the Arab Spring that began in Tunisia and spread to create a new form of social organization in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, to the revolts by the Spanish indignados and the Greek aganaktismenoi spurred by eurozone structural adjustment, to the Chilean student movements and “Occupy,” these rebellions raised the problem of spontaneity and organization. At stake was not the old leftist idea of raising the consciousness of the so-called backward masses but how these new forms of organization and their theorizations can maintain an ongoing liberation. Without providing any answers, The Wretched leaves us with a series of warnings.1 This essay, through a conversation with Fanon, gestures to a meditation on the dialectic of organization as a contribution to the present problematic. Fanon (1967a: 15) insisted that he belonged “irreducibly” to his time. We can wonder whether much has changed, but perhaps more important, the enduring Fanonian question is how to sustain
The South Atlantic Quarterly 112:1, Winter 2013 doi 10.1215/00382876-1891224 © 2013 Duke University Press

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social transformation over time. In another register, colonialism means the end of time for the colonized.2 Having been expelled from history, the colonized, Fanon argues, rediscover themselves as temporal beings in the struggle against colonialism (in a Marxian sense, as Fanon puts it, “the thing” becomes human “during the same process by which it frees itself” [1968: 37]), and thus it is in that struggle against colonialism that lost time is recovered. And Fanon insists on rebuilding “the new reality of the nation” (his first title for A Dying Colonialism) in the praxis of the struggle, which sounds akin to the discourse of today’s “movement of movements.” But while reflecting on practical experience might solve immediate problems, it tends to generate new theoretical issues. What I mean is suggested in Fanon’s seemingly banal example of lentil production during the liberation struggle. Writing of the creation of production/consumption committees among the peasants and the National Liberation Front (FLN), an action that he says encouraged theoretical questions about the accumulation of capital, he argues: “In the regions where we were able to conduct these enlightening experiments, where we witnessed the edification of man through revolutionary beginnings,” people began to realize that “one works more with one’s brain and one’s heart than with muscles and sweat” (Fanon 2004: 133). 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] the 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. (Fanon 1968: 192)

Thus it is through practice and experience (that is, social experience in a movement) that new issues and ambiguities are revealed and can become the starting point for new theoretical points of departure. This is the essence of Fanon’s plea to work out new concepts, made at the conclusion of The Wretched. Practice Like Vladimir Lenin, Fanon faced the problem not of starting the revolution but of continuing it. For both, the destruction of the old and the creation of

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the new were not separate processes; as Lenin puts it, “Living, creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves” (1963: 16:289; my emphasis). The problem was how to make sure that the most oppressed, the “wretched of the earth,” direct “the everyday administration of the state” and the decision making of the new society (Lenin 1964b: 25:494). This is far from easy. Indeed, despite such awareness, Lenin failed. To his dismay, he viewed the growing bureaucratization of the party, the increase of Russian national chauvinism, and an “administrative mentality” of the party leaders as the great threat to the revolution (Dunayevskaya 1989: 119). In the context of the country reeling from civil war, imperialist blockade, and famine, what was to be done? The libertarian Lenin (i.e., the Lenin of a “living, creative socialism”) was trumped by the pragmatic organization man who put his trust in the party leaders, a “thin layer” of principled Bolsheviks who would somehow hold on for another revolution “if not through Berlin, then through Peking” (quoted in Dunayevskaya 1989: 126).3 The problem was that the contradiction was internal to the revolution. The problem was that the party became the problem and Lenin could not break with the vanguard party concept. Unlike Fanon, he could not imagine how the party of liberation could become the “modern form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” (Fanon 1968: 165). Like Lenin, Fanon vigorously criticized the rise of national chauvinism and the laziness and conceit of intellectuals;4 in addition, he pointed to the inherent contradictions and “pitfalls” in the anticolonial movements, that is, the arrogance of the party of liberation and the fetish of leadership, and to the absence of a liberatory ideology. By “liberatory,” I mean ideology not simply as critique of other ideologies but what he also called developing a social and political “new humanism” within “the structure of a people” (Fanon 1968: 143), gesturing toward a more inclusive working out of the future from the bottom up. Coming as Fanon did as an insider critic, his critique of the anticolonial movements was one of his great contributions. Fanon remained a loyal member of the FLN even after Ramdane Abane’s assassination in December 1957.5 Though Fanon despised the militarists, narrow nationalists, and anti-intellectuals and was marginalized in Tunis, he kept working on the periodical El Moudjahid. On the revolutionary wing of the organization, he nevertheless remained vital as a diplomat for the Algerian provisional government in West Africa, meeting Patrice Lumumba, Felix Moumié, and Kwame Nkrumah, among others. From these experiences he developed a critique of national consciousness that would be presented in discussions and lectures at the National Liberation Army’s (ALN) headquarters in Ghardimaou on the Tunisian border. 6 By 1961, he was certain that colonialism would be defeated, but at the same time, he foresaw

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factional bloodbaths (Cherki 2006: 157). Implicitly critical of what would become of the FLN in Algeria, Fanon, in what would be the central chapter in The Wretched, summed up his West African and Algerian experiences. But since Fanon died before Algeria gained independence, he was in a sense fortunate not to be directly associated with its degeneration, and thus despite all Fanon’s criticisms, and as much as he insisted that everything depends on the consciousness and actions of the masses, the question remains, are his concepts of consciousness adequate to address the counterrevolution he anticipated? And, additionally, do they jibe with his dialogic notion of political education, which he considered an absolutely essential element for the transformation of social consciousness? The Sequence of Anticolonial Struggles In the sequence of anticolonial struggles that Fanon maps out in The Wretched, there is a moment when middle-class, reformist, and often collaborationist urban nationalist parties are thrown aside by a revolutionary national liberation movement. Finding new revolutionary forces, militants begin to herald the potential of the peasantry and the lumpenproletariat, but, argues Fanon, as the movement experiences setbacks, it needs to become critically self-reflective. This is its first crucial turning point. The initial struggle is both radical and absolute, and total and totalitarian, and reflecting on the Algerian struggle, Fanon says that “the art of politics is simply transformed into the art of war” (1968: 132). But Fanon also believes in the revolutionary maturity of the resistance, as his critique of spontaneous impetuosity and the Manichaean certainties that had fueled the initial movement shows. These, he insists, must break apart because the us-them binary is ultimately regressive. Thus the militant’s role is to help the movement’s self-comprehension that ideas matter and thus, for example, not all “settlers” are enemies and that “exploitation can wear a black face, or an Arab one” (145). But political education demands a dialogic engagement, not slogans or formulas. In other words, without a political analysis, without thought, the brutal thought typical of revolutionary voluntarism “invariably leads to . . . defeat” (147). This brutality is not simply a reflection of colonial dehumanization; indeed, the first task of political education is to take the activity of thinking seriously and especially fight those intellectuals and militants who think that for the sake of unity “shades of meaning constitute dangers” (146). Rather than create a real basis for solidarity, such anti-thinking threatens it (Fanon 2004: 95). Often in the name of getting something done,

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those who think that “shades of meaning” are the danger fossilize by endless activism, the decolonization of the mind.7 Yet as Michael Neocosmos contends: “The notion of the party is at the core of the problem in his thought. . . . Broadly speaking, Fanon’s politics conforms to the prevalent view of the twentieth century that ‘the people’ are to be understood as the subject of history and that they effectuate their agency by being represented in the political arena by a party” (2011: 196–97). While the Marxist idea of political representation, 8 which often owes more to Ferdinand Lassalle than to Karl Marx, is resonant in Fanon, there is also another element in The Wretched and in A Dying Colonialism that better underscores Fanon’s notion of liberation. In essence, it is connected to Fanon’s notion of a fighting culture (the new identities and new social relations born not in reaction to colonialism but as social actions that prefigured the new nation [see Gibson 2003]). The newness refers back to Fanon’s use of a quotation from Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire to open “in lieu of a conclusion” in Black Skin, White Masks:9 “The social revolution cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped off all superstition in regard to the past. Earlier revolutions required world-historical recollections in order to drug themselves concerning their own content. In order to arrive at its content, the revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead. Before, the expression exceeded the content; now the content exceeds the expression” (Marx 1963: 18).10 The new revolution—the decolonial revolution—with which Fanon identifies, is one that must constantly criticize and go back over itself: in Césaire’s terms, it is a “revolvolution” (quoted in Fanon 2008: 173), and in The Wretched Fanon immediately relates it to the form of organization that, in contrast to the vanguard and state form, is radically open, decentralized, and democratic in practice. His insistence that an extreme decentralization (Fanon 1968: 198) is essential to building the new nation represents an important shift from his insistence that in the early period of anticolonial activity a “central authority” (135) is required to create and coordinate local and spontaneous revolts into an organized national resistance against colonialism. While decentralization does not equal a new concept of organization, Fanon argues that it is necessary in the immediate period of independence for two reasons: first, to combat the technicism and professionalization of politics that occurs with the concentration of political power among elites in urban areas and, second, almost counterintuitively, to oppose the regionalism, chauvinism, and xenophobia that often fill the void created by

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the absence of a genuinely participatory politics. The latter indicates that it is not simply decentralism but the very idea of Leninist “democratic centralism” that is at stake.11 However, the problems that anticolonial revolutions raise cannot be answered by simply applying the logic of Marx’s slogan, in light of the defeat of the 1848 revolutions: “Never again with the bourgeoisie.” Fanon’s critique of the timidity and incapacity of the national bourgeoisie to act in a decisive way echoes Marx’s critique, and his advice that the workers’ own organizations encourage and give direction to revolutionary and “popular vengeance” (Marx 1975: 325) is echoed in Fanon’s advice in The Wretched that violence should be channeled toward its “real” cause. But for Fanon, what is at stake is nationalism itself, namely, the difference between the nationalism of the elites characterized by its paucity of ideas and a popular and expansive nationalism that is socially liberatory. Thus, ironically, the end of colonialism offers an opportunity for revolutionary will because the nascent bourgeoisie is structurally weak and, in Fanon’s terms, useless unless it makes an absolute break with colonialism in the most materialistic way. For Fanon, it is a difficult position to navigate. It is almost idealistic because it relies solely on political will and often seems dependent on the aspirant nationalist bourgeoisie’s willingness to take a stand and risk everything and join the popular struggle. This is unlikely and is dependent on individual honesty (Fanon 1968: 166, 177). Moreover, Fanon posits the lack of a unifying liberatory ideology as the clearest threat to the African revolutions (see 1967c: 186). Without it, an empty rhetorical nationalism takes its place, with the military eventually standing in for the nation and reactionary cultural and xenophobic organizations standing in for the national party, both with dire consequences. But this raises the issue of circulatory thinking. The lumpenintelligentsia needs to be educated in the school of the people and the people need to be liberated from reactive thinking, but by whom? A thin layer of enlightened militants schooled in the long history of struggle (in Algeria at least between the period of 1945 and 1954)? This sounds close to Leninism. Nevertheless, for Fanon, the retrogressive devolution of nationalism into racism and xenophobia is almost inevitable once the independence struggle is decoupled from the mass movements. At that point, cause and effect change place. The degeneration of the party of liberation is intimately connected to the suppression of social movements, so that it is precisely a coherent ideology of the future, which also emerges out of the radical changes in social life, that is missing (Fanon 1967c: 189). Perhaps one way to understand this is to consider Fanon’s own implicit practice of theory, his organization of thought and commitment to revolu-

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tionary change. Édouard Glissant (1999: 25) remarks that Fanon, by joining the Algerian revolution, was the only one among the Caribbean intellectuals of his generation to act on his ideas. Fanon made a “complete break,” he argues, and “awakened (in the deepest sense of the word) the peoples of the contemporary world” (69). And yet what I am arguing is that Fanon was not simply acting on ideas; rather, for him, ideas were also alive, both influenced by the practice (and experience) of the freedom struggle and, at the same time, themselves transformational. Before joining the Algerian revolution, for example, Fanon worked to humanize the asylum at Blida-Joinville by establishing a program of institutional therapy where, through problematizing the space and power of the institution, the patient would become “a subject in his/her liberation” and the doctor an “equal partner in the fight for freedom” (Cherki 2006: 36). This was Fanon’s principle that, in a sense, would become his political philosophy. And one can deduce that the problematizing of the institution could be applied to political organization. Organization
For the sake of the cause, I adopted the method of regression. —Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (2008), translation altered

The closest Fanon came to being part of the organized Left was working on Césaire’s Fort de France mayoral campaign on the Communist Party ticket in 1945. In Lyon, in the late 1940s, Fanon did attend a few Trotskyist meetings, but organized political activity was secondary to philosophical reflection (Fanon moved to Lyon not simply for medical school but to study with Maurice Merleau-Ponty, according to his daughter, Mireille) and to his commitment to his subsequent profession as a psychiatrist (mediated by his work in institutional psychiatry as well as readings in psychoanalysis). The project of disalienation of the black in Black Skin, even at its most historically materialist (namely, when Fanon spoke about the necessity to change the world), did not at all refer to the “organizational question.” Though successful anticolonial movements are often in retrospect made synonymous with political organizations and leaders, they also occur in a period of tremendous spontaneous self-organization. Fanon made this point in The Wretched, but when he joined the FLN, that organization became synonymous in his mind with the Algerian revolution and the Algerian revolution synonymous with the self-organization and radical changes that were taking place in social relations as the basis for a new society. And yet, by his death in

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1961, Fanon had become openly critical of the vanguard-type nationalist organization, which he saw as a form for the one-party state preferred by the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” (1968: 165). He did not single out any particular organization, and more important, he did not address the question of organization that was implicitly connected to his criticism of decolonization and the commitment articulated in his final year, to put Africa “in motion . . . behind revolutionary principles” (Fanon 1967c: 177). But let us take a step back. Fanon did not move to Algeria in late 1953 to join a revolution; instead, his goal was to put into practice a program of sociotherapy at Blida psychiatric hospital. But he was at Blida for less than a year before the Algerian revolution began. Alice Cherki (2006: 78) notes that Fanon’s reaction to the FLN’s proclamation of independence on November 1, 1954, is unknown but that his support for Algeria’s national liberation came very quickly. The program of institutional therapy was impossible when the society itself was exactly like the colonial asylum, actively making its members mad and driving them to “desperate solutions” (Fanon 1967c: 53). It was not surprising that Fanon would join a revolutionary movement. He was already a revolutionary, who as Jean Ayme 12 put it, had “been given the opportunity to take part in revolution” (quoted in Cherki 2006: 94). The revolution became Fanon’s identity and his work. The future Algeria came to represent the kind of new humanism that he had only wished for in Black Skin where, as he puts it in A Dying Colonialism, “every kind of genius may grow” (1967b: 32). This vision was also based on the idea of the future society articulated by his mentor, Ramdane Abane, at the Soummam conference of the FLN in 1956 with the “primacy of citizenship over identities,” including religious, as the basis for the new polity (see Abane 2011: 43). Concretely, for Fanon, Algerian citizenship meant that everyone, without any claim to indigeneity—regardless of race, gender, religion—would be involved in the creation of a new Algerian society. It was not a future dream but, he believed, already happening: “In the new society that is being built, there are only Algerians. From the outset, therefore, every individual living in Algeria is an Algerian” (Fanon 1967b: 152). Fanon’s optimism at that time reflected that moment of the Algerian struggle when it seemed everything was possible: “The optimism that prevails today in Africa is not an optimism born of the spectacle of forces of nature that are at last favorable to Africans. Nor is the optimism due to the discovery in the former oppressor of a less inhuman and more kindly state of mind. Optimism in Africa is the direct product of

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the revolutionary action of the African masses” (171). Optimism was simply a product of revolutionary action, but how did this relate to the material resources that were necessary to maintain it? Resources Fanon made contact with the FLN in 1955 and left the country around the beginning of 1957. His identification with and commitment to the Algerian revolution was swift and absolute. Living the double life while at Blida, he prepared a paper for the First Conference of Black Writers, held in Paris in September 1956. “Racism and Culture” was written in the context of a state of emergency and emergence: “the endless student strikes, the curfew that had been imposed on Blida, the attacks on neighboring farms, . . . the summary executions of nationalist sympathizers” (Cherki 2006: 86). The paper presented at the conference had no direct reference to the Algerian struggle, but Fanon’s commitment was obvious in its conclusions:
The logical end of this will to struggle is the total liberation of the national territory. In order to achieve this liberation the inferiorized man brings all his resources into play, all his acquisitions, the old and the new, his own and those of the occupant. The struggle is at once total, absolute. (1967c: 43)

The absolute—the struggle for liberation—Fanon argues, “almost in defiance of reality, objectively indefensible, assumes an incomparable and subjective importance” (43). But revolutionary action is not reducible to voluntarism; it requires the creativity of cognition. In a practical sense, all resources are employed, and in some cases what had been seen as part of the oppressive regime is transformed and used against it. Resources are thus inseparable from social and individual transformations.13 Fanon was then among these resources, and his later public identification with the revolution always meant a practical commitment. During the Battle of Algiers, doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies were secretly tending to the wounded; other sympathizers were helping to distribute materials and information or provide safe houses. Fanon was contacted to help counsel militants. It was a very practical and concrete request, using his training to aid the defeat of the French, while being educated by the “school of the people” (Fanon 1968: 150).14 The situation at Blida grew untenable; it had become known as a “den” of the FLN and was a dangerous place. Soon after returning from Paris,

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Fanon resigned. He had realized that sociotherapy could not be practiced in Algeria. At least, this is what he maintained in his resignation letter. Lawlessness, torture, and inequality were the “logical consequence” of an “attempt to decerebralize a people,” which he claimed had “put an end to my mission in Algeria” (Fanon 1967c: 53, 54). In reality, he had already begun another mission, to put an end to one Algeria and help bring into being another one. Resigning as full-time director of psychiatry, he became a fulltime revolutionary. Fanon left Algiers for France before the authorities could arrest him. In early 1957, the Parisian Left was full of discussions of the Hungarian revolution and its decentralized councils that had raised the question of the possibility of a socialist humanism before being crushed by Russian tanks in October 1956. Yet the heralding of the Hungarian resistance and the mass resignations from the French Communist Party (which continued to support French colonialism in Algeria) did not translate into a shift in attitudes toward the Algerian question and the liberation struggle. On the contrary, even with the emergence of “New Left” nonvanguard communist organizations such as Cornelius Castoriadis’s Socialism or Barbarism, which was loudly praising the self-activity and self-organization of the Budapest resistance, the French remained mostly quiet about Algeria.15 Fanon, however, who made clear in The Wretched that his sympathies lay with the Budapest revolutionaries (1968: 79), rejected the Parisian Left talk and committed himself to decolonizing Algeria. If Lenin had believed that his was the epoch of imperialism, for Fanon, decolonization was not simply “bacilli,” as Lenin (1964a: 22:357) put it, but the beginning of something wholly new. Colonialism was dying, and from inside the Algerian revolution the problem was the emergence of a democratic, inclusive, and accountable society that could be the basis for a new internationalism (Fanon 1968: 247). This was the problem that Fanon found Lenin grappling with as Fanon read the documents of the early Communist International at Ayme’s apartment in early 1957.16 The Communist International’s thesis that “the capitalist stage of economic development [was not] inevitable” in the colonies (Lenin 1966: 31:244) certainly resonates with Fanon’s later arguments in The Wretched.17 But just as Lenin (in contrast to Rosa Luxemburg as well as the Bolsheviks) advocated national struggles as a new subject of revolution, concretized in the Irish Easter rebellion of 1916, for Fanon new revolutionary forces emerged in the Battle of Algiers, and against the orthodox Marxists of the time, he theorized the lumpenproletariat as such a force in The Wretched.

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Central to Fanon’s (1968: 38) critique of colonial society and conception of the new society is the lived experience of space, so that the reordering of the colonial geography is a central marker to decolonial reorganization. Fanon’s famous description of the zoned cities of colonialism—the dark, cramped, poor, hungry, native town and the light, spacious, rich, satiated colonial town—is based on his own observations from the Antilles to Africa, especially Algiers. In Algiers, the European city, built around the port with its gaze turned away from the Casbah toward the Mediterranean, created implicit boundaries between it and the Muslim city that were keenly “felt by everyone” (Cherki 2006: 42). This meant that Algerians rarely ventured outside the three areas where they were concentrated: the Casbah, the “petite Casbah” near Belcourt, and “the vast slums, groaning with misery, that cropped up in the interstices between established neighborhoods,” as Cherki describes, “places without public works or services of any kind that the rural poor came to settle” (41–42). The urban poor living in the bidonville, or “informal settlements,” on the edges or in the interstices of the Casbah were displaced rural populations seen by the colonial regime as an unruly, threatening mass.18 For Fanon, this subterranean and uncounted mass of people became the crucial actors in the liberation struggle and an important conduit between rural and urban struggles.19 From the late 1940s, Algiers’s shack settlements grew significantly, adding what Zeynep Çelik (1997: 110) calls “a third element” to the Manichaean colonial city that Fanon famously described. 20 This third element formed a rebellious core that, by 1954, on the eve of the Algerian Revolution, had become over 40 percent of Algiers’s native population.21 During the Battle of Algiers, Fanon observed how the bidonvilles began to take on a more practical-critical role, not only as manifestations of the material-spatial divide between European and Algerian zones but as centers of resistance. Algiers’s marginals, poor and unemployed, became Fanonian subjects of history. The bidonville became part of the frontline of the struggle, and in retaliation, “and as part of the war strategy,” remarks Çelik (1997: 112), colonial “military forces bulldozed many squatter settlements, and army trucks transported the residents to dispersed locations to be rehoused.” The policy of “regroupment,” or resettlement, was launched in 1954.22 By 1958, 3 million Algerians (one in every three of the population) had moved from where they had been living in 1954, with 1 million in regroupment camps. 23 The camps “destructure[d] Algerian culture” but also became breeding grounds for the FLN as “new forces had been set in motion” (Fanon 1967a: 19). Resettlement re-creates revolutionaries, but uprooted, decentered,

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and fragile, the problem is how can national culture grow and aim for fundamentally new social relations (Fanon 1968: 246)? This became the new problem addressed in The Wretched. The New Society (and Its Misadventures) The dialectic of organization is not solely about the forms of organization— whether centralized or decentralized, military or political. Revolutionary organization (understood, as Fanon argues, as an organism “designed to enable the free circulation of an ideology based on the actual needs of the masses” [2004: 115]) also mutates and is implicitly connected with the idea of the whole nation undergoing change. “In an initial phase,” Fanon theorizes, it is the actions and “the plans of the occupier that determine the centers of resistance around which a people’s will to survive becomes organized” (1967b: 47; my emphasis). But the movement from practice creates an optimism, a will to total liberation, reflected in Fanon’s contention that “in the practice of the Revolution the people have understood that problems are resolved in the very movement that raises them” (48). Yet, in facing reality, what happens as these actions are compromised? There is not simply an organizational answer. Fanon argues that the issue is not resolved by a Pan-Africanist or Pan-Arabist consciousness, because each can become a justification to bludgeon popular movements rather than become the basis of a new society. We are at the heart of the dialectic of organization and the dialectic of the new society. “The important theoretical problem,” Fanon argues in “Colonial War and Mental Disorders,” “is that it is necessary at all times and in all places to make explicit, to de-mystify, and to harry the insult to mankind that exists in oneself. There must be no waiting until the nation has produced new men [and women]; there must be no waiting until men [and women] are imperceptibly transformed by revolutionary processes in perpetual renewal. It is quite true that these two processes are essential, but [it is] consciousness [that] must be helped” (1968: 304; my emphasis). Fanon states: “If the revolution in practice is meant to be totally liberating and exceptionally productive everything must be accounted for. The revolutionary feels a particularly strong need to totalize events, to handle everything, to settle everything, to assume responsibility for everything” (2004: 229). The tension between the revolution as “totally liberating” and the revolutionary’s will to “totalize events” is manifested by the ambiguity and tension in the coming to be of the masses’ own self-understanding. Fanon

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understands that the psychological effects of oppression are very real and must be addressed. Rather than substitutionism, to totalize events, to handle everything, to settle everything, to assume responsibility for everything, calls for an ongoing commitment: “Now consciousness no longer balks at thinking back or marking time if necessary” (229). In other words, it is not always a matter of constant “forward movement,” because the revolution is always a cycle (referring us back to The Eighteenth Brumaire). On the basis of this new totality and understanding, consciousness, Fanon adds, “no longer balks at thinking back,” and going back over, over and over in a process of self-critique and clarification. The process of decolonization is gestured to in Fanon’s (2008: 113) critique of Jean-Paul Sartre in Black Skin, White Masks. There he says that Sartre had destroyed revolutionary zeal by applying an a priori meaning. The same can be said of the revolutionary’s will to totalize everything, which is often uncritical and given to frequently thinking that the consciousness of the poor and marginalized is rudimentary and in need of an a priori development. In contrast, Fanon (113–14) insists that a dialectic of liberation “committed to experience” did not need to know but had to be committed to working through all the stages of decolonizing the mind. Central to this working out, checking everything, and settling everything is the idea of the local political meeting—the “privileged occasions given to a human being to listen and to speak . . . and to put forward new ideas” (Fanon 1968: 195). For Fanon, these quotidian but privileged occasions constitute the spatial, practical, and therapeutic foundations that allow the question to be asked “in keeping with human dignity” (195). In Lieu of a Conclusion To return to the contemporary global situation, Fanon advises vigilance toward neoimperial maneuverings as well as the schemes of the local social forces: the nationalist elites, religious elites, military elites, regional elites, ethnic elites, and all the repressive ideologies that justify them. But this is hardly new. A critic could have said, in January 2011 during the occupation of Tahrir Square, that the liberatory moment is going to be closed down by the military or the state just as Fanon warned. So every revolt is defeated before it begins. In contrast, the question is, can Fanon be productively employed? Indeed if Fanon is alive, he is alive to the revolts as they reopen old questions in new ways. In other words, if Fanon’s thought is alive, it cannot be simply applied. And yet the subject of The Wretched of the Earth is the wretched of the earth, the majority of the world’s people, an increasingly urbanized

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population, who are not only poor but who are continually actively and violently denied agency and are constantly reminded that politics is above them. How do the wretched of the earth become actional, become political, become social individuals? Fanon’s humanism, not only in contrast to the elite and hypocritical humanism of the West, is based on the axiom that the wretched of the earth, understood socially, think and thus must be a basis of a new politics. But to hear itself think this new politics demands new concepts. This of course is never achieved magically, but it must become an explicit element of the struggle for liberation. This is a Fanonian question, a crucial philosophical-organizational question, one that each generation must “out of relative obscurity” (1968: 204) discover and attempt to work out.
Notes
1 Indeed, Fanon knew that The Wretched of the Earth was far from perfect. Written against time, a rush against the betrayal of the revolution and the betrayal of his body, Fanon acknowledged that “it’s too vehement at times, but things have come down to the wire.” “Who knows?” Cherki reports to him, remarking, “It may even be too late” (quoted in Cherki 2006: 162). A statement reminiscent of the first line of Black Skin. As Amílcar Cabral eloquently puts it, “They made us leave history, our history, to follow them, right at the back, to follow the progress of their history,” but adding, “we want to return to our history by our own means and through our own sacrifices” (1974: 63). My point is not to open up a debate about Lenin (see Anderson 1995); however, note that I am not simply reducing Lenin to the type of vanguardist associated with his name but emphasizing the “libertarian Lenin” of the revolutionary period (see Liebman 1975). At the Ninth Party Congress in 1920, Lenin remarked, “Scratch some Communists and you’ll find a ‘Great Russian Chauvinist’” (1965: 29:194). In Tunis, Abane, still one of the leaders, was maneuvered away from day-to-day political decisions and “relegated,” as Belaïd Abane puts it, “to an ‘intellectual’ function: information and propaganda. He notably directs the journal El Moudjahid [which] he had founded the previous year. Logically, Fanon is integrated into Abane’s team” (2011: 34). For a critical analysis of Fanon’s relationship with the FLN, see Lou Turner (1999). Alice Cherki remarks that Fanon had become “more closely allied to the Frontier Army and its leader, Houari Boumedienne,” and “regularly visited the army post, where he delivered lectures and conducted classes that were attended by the young officers” (2006: 157). Often this is the tactic of counterrevolutionary forces, aware that the mind is a force of revolution. Not simply that of leadership and vanguard but also in the more sophisticated philosophies of Georg Lukács’s (1971) “standpoint of the proletariat” and Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) “philosophy of praxis.” It is worth considering the three epigraphs in Black Skin as an expression of Fanon’s philosophy. Two of the epigraphs are from Césaire. The first, from Discourse on Colonialism, introduces the work: “I am talking of millions of men who have been skillfully

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injected with fear, inferiority complexes” (Fanon 1967a: 9). The second, a quotation from And the Dogs Were Silent, begins chapter 4, echoing a Jasperian ethics for Césaire’s rebel (who of course returns in The Wretched): “In the whole world no poor devil is lynched, no wretch is tortured, in whom I too am not degraded and murdered” (83). This conviction is repeated in the conclusion (210). The conclusion begins with the quotation from Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire and is echoed in Fanon’s existential refusal to be “the slave of the past” or “prisoner of history” (225, 229). While David Macey (2000) sees little of Marx in Fanon’s work, Cherki (2006: 16) says that Fanon read the work of the young Marx but never got around to reading Capital. I have always seen a poetic resonance between Fanon’s black man who goes to France— “Now that we have accompanied him to the port, let him sail away, and we’ll come back to him later on. Let us now go and meet one of those who have returned home” (2008: 7)—and Marx’s worker who goes to the factory: “We therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production” (Marx 1976: 279–80). Namely, because the masses are alienated, reified, and dehumanized, they can only reach a certain consciousness (or common sense, in Gramsci’s terms), and while recognizing the reason for the struggle, there is an external factor in which the political militant and teacher play an educative role. Fanon stayed in Ayme’s Paris apartment, in early 1957, before leaving to join the FLN in Tunis. Certainly, one could say that Fanon uses a similar method in Black Skin as he develops a sociogenic perspective. This experience would become generalized in The Wretched, where he argues that to join the “school of the people,” the middle class needs to be at the service of the revolution, bringing to it all the resources it has “snatched from the colonial universities” (see Fanon 1968: 150). Césaire also resigned from the Communist Party after the uprising in Hungary but remained “loyal” to France and unwilling to support the Algerian struggle. Fanon had met Ayme, who like François Tosquelles was “an institutional psychiatrist with a long history of anticolonial activism” (Cherki 2006: 86), in September 1956 when Fanon was in Paris for the Congress of Black Writers, and Ayme introduced Fanon to his fellow Trotskyist Pierre Broué. The same age as Fanon, Broué had become a revolutionary socialist in 1944 and coauthored one of the most definitive works (published in 1961) on the Spanish revolution and its “betrayal” by Stalinism. According to Cherki (86), all three talked through the night. The next day, Fanon presented “Racism and Culture” at the Congress of Black Writers. Indeed, Lenin insisted in his critique of Nikolai Bukharin’s Economics of the Transition Period that the idea of impossibility (such as skipping the capitalist stage) could only be demonstrated “practically” (quoted in Dunayevskaya 1989: 115–16). It was a remark echoed by Fanon in The Wretched when he insisted that “whether or not the bourgeois phase can be skipped—ought to be answered in the field of revolutionary action, and not by logic” (1968: 175). The term comes from bidon, meaning “metal can” or “drum.” On the edges of the Casbah, shantytowns had been growing since the 1920s as Algerians increasingly made their way to urban areas, which offered more opportunities than

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the increasingly pauperized rural “reserves” often ruled by a despotic, colonial-backed, “customary” authority. Expropriated from the better land, the rural poor become landless squatters and casual laborers through colonial taxations and forced labor, turning the Algerian population, as Sartre argued, “into an immense agricultural proletariat” (2001: 36). During this period, connections began to develop between young French and Algerian men and women, establishing the associations that “later contacted Fanon and provided him entry to the struggle for Algeria’s liberation” (Cherki 2006: 42). It was estimated that 125,000 people lived in the “shantytowns” in 1953, up from 4,800 in 1938 (Çelik 1997: 82). The timing of this strategy is important, but, at the same time, the “state of exception” that Walter Benjamin brilliantly conceptualized about the Nazi regime, which has been recently popularized with reference to Giorgio Agamben, is a colonial mission, as Steve Biko most succinctly puts it: “Hitler is not dead, he is likely to be found in Pretoria” (1978: 75). As argued in the language of improvement and development, the resettlement camps, far from the people’s homes and livelihoods, were set up along military lines so they could be easily supervised and cheaply constructed (Çelik 1997: 129). The camps became centers of poverty, misery, sickness, and, of course, resistance. As Time magazine put it in 1959: “In some centers the villagers are resettled in tents ringed with barbed wire. Saharan nomads, used to constant roaming, waste away by the hundreds when cooped up in camps. The 400,000 Moslem refugees outside the regrouped camps drift into cities, and rapidly join the ragged, seldom-employed urban proletariat choking the slums.”

References
Abane, Belaïd. 2011. “Frantz Fanon and Abane Ramdane: Brief Encounter in the Algerian Revolution.” In Living Fanon: Global Perspectives, edited by Nigel C. Gibson, 27–43. New York: Palgrave. Anderson, Kevin. 1995. Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. Biko, Steve. 1978. I Write What I Like. London: Heinemann. Cabral, Amílcar. 1974. Revolution in Guinea: An African People’s Struggle; Selected Texts. Translated by Richard Handyside. London: Stage 1. Çelik, Zeynep. 1997. Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations: Algiers under French Rule. Berkeley: University of California Press. Cherki, Alice. 2006. Fanon: A Portrait. Translated by Nadia Benabid. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Dunayevskaya, Raya. 1989. Philosophy and Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao. New York: Columbia University Press. Fanon, Frantz. 1967a. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove. ———. 1967b. A Dying Colonialism. Translated by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove. ———. 1967c. Toward the African Revolution. Translated by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove.

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———. 1968. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Grove. ———. 2004. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove. ———. 2008. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove. Gibson, Nigel C. 2003. Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination. Oxford: Polity. Glissant, Édouard. 1999. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Translated by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Lenin, Vladimir I. 1963. Collected Works, vol. 16, translated and edited by Clemens Dutt. Moscow: Progress. ———. 1964a. Collected Works, vol. 22, translated by Yuri Sdobnikov, edited by George Hanna. Moscow: Progress. ———. 1964b. Collected Works, vol. 25, edited by Stepan Apresyan and Jim Riordan. Moscow: Progress. ———. 1965. Collected Works, vol. 29, edited by George Hanna. Moscow: Progress. ———. 1966. Collected Works, vol. 31, translated and edited by Julius Katzer. Moscow: Progress. Liebman, Marcel. 1975. Leninism under Lenin. London: Merlin. Lukács, Georg. 1971. History and Class Consciousness. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. London: Merlin. Macey, David. 2000. Frantz Fanon: A Biography. London: Granta. Marx, Karl. 1963. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International. ———. 1976. Capital, vol. 1, translated by Ben Fowkes. London: Penguin. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. 1973. “Address of the Central Committee (March 1850).” In The Revolutions of 1848, edited by David Fernbach, 319–30. London: Penguin. Neocosmos, Michael. 2011. “The Nation and Its Politics: Fanon, Emancipatory Nationalism, and Political Sequences.” In Living Fanon, edited by Nigel C. Gibson, 187–99. New York: Palgrave. Sartre, Jean-Paul. 2001. Colonial and Neocolonialism. Translated by Azzedine Haddour, Steve Brewer, and Terry McWilliams. London: Routledge. Time. 1959. “Algeria: A Million Uprooted.” June 8. www.time.com/time/magazine/article /0,9171,892577,00.html#ixzz19Ru1nj8a. Turner, Lou. 1999. “Fanon and the FLN: Dialectics of Organization and the Algerian Revolution.” In Rethinking Fanon: The Continuing Dialogue, edited by Nigel C. Gibson, 369–407. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books.

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