FRANZ FANON: MY HOPE AND HERO

The trouble with this sort of violence, however, is that it is likely to subside just as spontaneously and as unexpectedly as it erupted. The revolutionary leader must therefore take care to anticipate this and, instead of being shocked at what may appear to be the betrayal of their own cause on the part of the peasants, be prepared to exploit the revolutionary fervour while it lasts, to channel it in the right path, and, if possible, to seize the opportunity to increase the consciousness of the masses, making them less liable to spontaneous forces. The leader in a Third World society, then, if he wishes to be truly revolu­tionary, must abandon the limelight of the town and the pseudo-refinements of the coffee-bars and univer­sity circles and move to the countryside where he must live and work among his people, especially the lumpen-proletariat:

“that horde of starving men. uprooted from their tribe and from their clan (who) con­stitute one of the most spontaneous and most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people”.

By doing so, the potential leader will soon come to feel the needs, the desires and the power of his people. He will also inevitably come to realize that: “Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organized 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.”

The argument is further elaborated in a dis­cussion of the “pitfalls of national consciousness”. Fanon goes beyond mere analysis and prescribes the right path for leaders in the Third World. The nation must not be identified with the state, or, still worse, with the political party. The level of con­sciousness of all sectors of the society must be in­creased, especially among the youth of the country, whose labour, he suggests, should be recruited on a voluntary basis for work in the national interest. Where there is an army, it must be properly educated, “nationalized”, so to speak, and not allowed to drift in a vaccum, for there is nothing more dangerous than a pack of idle officers who inevitably will get ideas into their heads concerning how the country ought to be run.

Further:

“….if you really wish your country to avoid regression, or at best halts and un­certainties, a rapid step must be taken from national consciousness to political and social consciousness. The nation does not exist except in a programme which has been worked out by revolutionary leaders and taken up with full understanding and enthusiasm by the masses. …”

The argument then proceeds to an analysis of national culture. This section I found to be the most penetrating and rewarding part of the book for me, personally. Here, it is the artist, the intellectual gene­rally, and his role in the new nation that Fanon is concerned with. How does a country legitimize its claim to nationhood? It is the task of the men of “culture” to provide an answer. One of the most common methods they have employed is that of his­tory. The local historian ploughs back into his past to rediscover the golden era which was not only shat­tered by the impact of colonialism but completely de­nied or derided by the European masters. Thus, the “claim to a national culture in the past does not only rehabilitate that nation and serve as a justification for the hope of a future national culture, but it performs a useful psychological function in restoring national dignity and self-respect”.

But Fanon is far too subtle and penetrating a thinker to leave the matter at that. This use of history may be all well and good in the early stages of creating a national culture, but it has its pitfalls. The dialectics of colonialism compels a counter­attack on its own terms. Since the colonialists never bother to distinguish between different African cultures, or Arab cultures, in their condemnation of the native civilization, so, in like manner, in his in­tellectual retaliation the native feels obliged to assert the goodness and greatness, not of his own national culture, but that of the group to which he was ascribed by the former colonial propagandists. Thus the emphasis among Africans, not on Ashanti, or Congo, or Ugandan cultures, but on African civilization, like­wise among the Arabs not so long ago. Negritude went even further, for here an attempt was made to counter-attack on a racial level:

“… . The negro, never so much a negro as since he has been dominated by the whites, when he decides to prove that he has a culture and to behave like a cultured person, comes to realize that history points out a well defined path to him. He must demon­strate that a negro culture exists.”

But of course, to pursue the demands of history in this way is to be led “up a blind alley”. For the truth is that there is no such thing as a universal African culture, despite what Senghor, in his metaphysical speculations, would care to say, nor can the uniformity of pre-colonial Arab civilization between the 12th and 14th centuries be ever re­captured, for the economic and political realities of the modern world do not permit it. And as for the claim which Negritude makes of a universal negro culture, this, as I have recently argued, is pure atavi­stic absurdity.

The fundamental problems facing the African Negro differ radically from those facing the American Negro, and both in turn, differ greatly from those facing the West Indian Negro. There may be historical and racial ties certainly. There is mutual sympathy for the peculiar plights of each group; but these are no bases for common action. Thus, the West Indian artist or intellectual may be far better occupied in pursuing cultural and other links with his Latin American neighbours than waste his time tracing African elements in his culture back to their roots which are essentially meaningless to the mass of the people.

The artist and intellectuals of the newly emerged nation must be careful not to return “to his people by way of cultural achievements” for he will soon discover that he is no better than a stranger among them. That is, he must be fully aware of the cultural limitations of his educational experience at Oxford or the LSE or Yale, or whatever other foreign institution of learning he acquired his training. Secondly, having returned home, he should not then proceed to take another journey, this time into the past, for he will find no answers there:

“…the native intellectual who wishes to create an authentic work of art must realize that the truths of a nation are, in the first place, its realities. He must go on until he has found the seething pot out of which the learning of the future will emerge….” And it is in the people, in their turmoil, their restlessness, their desires, their suffering, yes, let me add, their very ignorance, that the truth shall be found and from which a national art and a national culture will spring. I can do no better, than to give Fanon’s own poetic summary of his position with which, I may add. I am in complete agreement:

“…A national culture is not a folklore, nor an abstract populism that believes it can discover the people’s true nature. It is not made up of the inner dregs of gratuitous actions, that is to say, actions which are less and less attached to the ever-present reality of the people. A national culture is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence. A national culture in under­developed countries should therefore take its place at the very heart of the struggle for freedom which these countries are carrying on. Men of African cultures who are still fighting in the name of African negro cul­tures and who have called many congresses in the name of the unity of that culture should today realize that all their efforts amount to is to make comparisons between coins and sarcophagi……”

The final section of the book is more specialized in nature, dealing with psychoanalytic case studies of mental disorder arising out of the setting of the Algerian war of liberation. I strongly suggest to the reader that he does not succumb to the temptation to skip these studies, for they contain some remarkable insights on personality types which may not be alto­gether irrelevant to the West Indies. Who knows? These may, one day, become dangerously apposite.

The work closes, properly, on an appeal to the people of the Third World not to make the mistakes which Europe has made — those in particular of bigotry, of national arrogance, of cruelty, of the very negation of all that humanity stands for. We must seek to live up to our own expectations and not to those of Europe (or for that matter the U.S.A.):

“….For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts and try to set afoot a new man….”

In this work, as well as his other publications, and in his actions when he was alive, Fanon has pointed the way to the creation of the new man.  Let us follow in his footsteps.