The Year of Frantz Fanon

Fifty years ago, Frantz Fanon passed away leaving us with his last testimony, The Wretched of the Earth.

Written in the crucible of the Algerian war of independence and the early years of Third World decolonization, this book achieved an almost biblical status. It became a living source of inspiration for those who opposed the Vietnam War, marched with the civil rights movement, supported revolutionary black struggles in America, the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and countless insurgent movements around the world.

Fanon’s life had led him far away from the island of Martinique in the Caribbean where he was born a French citizen. He took part at the age of nineteen in the war against Nazism only to discover that in the eyes of France he was nothing but a “Negro”, that is, anything but a man like any other man.

By any means necessary

He would end up feeling a deep sense of betrayal. Black Skin, White Mask – his first book – partly relates the story of this and many other fraught encounters with colonial forms of dehumanization.

But it was in Algeria where he worked as a psychiatrist that Fanon finally cut the cord that bound him to France. The country for which he had almost lost his life in the struggle against Hitler had started to replicate Nazi’s methods during a savage and nameless war against a people which it denied the right to self-determination.

About this war Fanon often said it had taken the look of an authentic genocide. Having sided with the Algerian people, France disowned him. He had betrayed the nation. He became an enemy and long after his death, France treated him as such.

For those committed to the cause of oppressed people or fighting for racial justice, his name nevertheless remained not only a sign of hope, but also an injunction to rise up. Indeed to Fanon we owe the idea that in every human being there is something indomitable which no domination – no matter in what form – can eliminate, contain nor suppress, or at least completely.

Fanon tried to grasp how this “something” could be reanimated and brought back to life under conditions of subjugation.

He argued that this irrepressible and relentless pursuit of freedom required the mobilization of all life reserves. It drew the human subject into a fight to the death – a fight he was called upon to assume as his own task, one he could not delegate to others.

Fanon was also convinced that colonialism was a force animated at its core by a genocidal drive.

To destroy colonialism could only be ensured by violent means, an “absolute praxis” whose goal was to produce life and to free the world from the burden of race.

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