Fanon has become topical again
by Raúl Zibechi
Translation by Chiapas Support Committee
Frantz Fanon’s thinking has returned. Five decades after his death, his books are being read again in universities and in spaces of the organized popular sectors. Some of his central reflections enlighten aspects of the new realities and they contribute to the comprehension of capitalism in this stage of blood and pain for those below.
The re-publication of some of his works like Black Skin, White Masks (published in Spanish by Akal, 2009), with commentary from de Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin, Judith Butler, Lewis R. Gordon, Ramón Grosfoguel, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Sylvia Wynter and Walter Mignolo, has contributed to the spreading of his thinking, as well as periodic re-publications of his principal work, The Wretched of the Earth, with a prologue by Jean Paul Sartre. The republication of his book Sociology of a revolution, published in 1966 by Grove Press would also be important.
However, the renewed interest in Fanon goes way beyond his books and writings. I believe we’re dealing with an epochal interest, in the double sense of the current period that our societies are crossing through and the birth of powerful anti-systemic movements championed by diverse peoples from below. I want to say that we are seeing a political interest more than academic or literary curiosity.
In my opinion, there are five reasons that explain the currency of Fanon.
The first is that capitalism in its current stage, centred on accumulation by dispossession (or the fourth world war), produces some aspects of colonial domination. The occupation of territorial enclaves by the multi-national corporations and the occasional but important military occupation by the imperialisms of various countries with the excuse of the war against terrorism, are two of those aspects.
There are others that it is at least necessary to mention. The population has been converted into a military objective, either for its control or eventual elimination, since it is an “obstacle” to accumulation by dispossession. The war on women, converted into new spoils of the conquest of territories, is another aspect of the new colonialism, as well the growing militarization of popular neighbourhoods on the peripheries of the big cities.
To the extent that capitalism accumulates by robbing the wealth of entire peoples, it permits us to say that we are facing neo-colonialism although, strictly, we’re dealing with the decadence phase of the system that no longer aspires to integrate the dominated classes, but simply, to watch them and exterminate them if they resist.
The second is that it is more evident all the time that current society is divided, as Grosfoguel says based on Fanon, into two zones: the zone of being, where the rights of persons are respected and where violence is exceptional, and the zone of non-being, where violence is the rule. Fanon’s thinking helps us reflect about this reality that places so much distance between XXI Century capitalism with that of the Welfare State.
The third is the criticism that Fanon makes of the world’s left-of-centre parties, in the sense that their forms of work are directed exclusively at a working class elite, setting aside the different bellows that in Marxism are disposed of as belonging to the lumpenproletariat. To the contrary, Fanon deposits in the common people of below his greatest hope as possible subjects of their self-emancipation, or emancipación a secas.
In fourth place, Fanon was not an intellectual or an academic, but rather he put his knowledge at the service of a people in struggle like the Algerians, whose cause he served until the day he died. This figure of the thinker-militant, or as he likes to call himself the professional who was unconditionally committed to those from below, is an extraordinary contribution to the struggle of the popular sectors.
In this sense, it’s worth emphasizing the critique of Euro-centrism of the left, of the pretension of the mechanical transfer of proposals and analysis born in the world of being to that of the non-being. The birth of Indian, Black and popular feminisms on our continent is a sample of the limitations of that first (and fundamental) European feminism that, nevertheless, needed to be reinvented among the women of the colour of the earth, based on their own traditions and realities, among them the centrality of the family in the Latin American feminine world.
Although this brief recapitulation leaves out various important aspects of Fanon’s work, like his reflections on the violence of the oppressed, it seems necessary to me to emphasize an additional aspect, which I believe is central to current critical thought. It questions the reasons why the black man desires to lighten his skin, the reasons the black woman desires to be blonde or get a partner as white as possible. The dominated, Fanon says, the persecuted, don’t just seek to recuperate the hacienda appropriated by the master, but rather want the master’s place. It’s evident that, after the failure of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, this consideration must occupy a central place in the anti-capitalist struggle.
I do not share the place that Fanon grants to the violence of those from below in this process of converting themselves into the subjects of their lives, in their liberation from oppression. Violence is necessary, but is not the solution, as Wallerstein reflects in his commentary on Black skin, white masks.
I think that we must deepen this debate. What to do to not reproduce the history in which the oppressed repeat in one way or another the oppression of which they were victims. The way I see it, we’re dealing with creating something new, a new world or new realities, which are not traced and copied from the world of those above, and which may be sufficiently powerful to make the central place that the oppressor, the master or the boss occupies disappear from the collective imaginary. I continue to believe that the experience of the EZLN support bases is an example in this direction.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee/Comité de Apoyo a Chiapas
Friday, September 4, 2015