Fixated on nationhood, Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, prioritizes a revolutionary call for educating the masses, equipping them and liberating them to build national unity and culture. When we consider the ways in which we can go about building society, there is a common thread of asking how to do so and redefining the relation between nation and culture seems central to this question. In agreement with his aspiration for a democratic nation, I sadly align with Fanon’s decry for violence as necessary because violence seems like the only way to break the colonial cycle of oppression. Some say we are living in a postcolonial era, but I fear that today we seem to still sit comfortably in the second stage of embracing and discovering a common transnational culture—in that intellectual phase that Fanon seems to suggest as Negritude. Beyond breaking the colonial cycle of violence, we nevertheless lack a map toward a postcolonial, post-racial nation.
Though Fanon embodies metaphors of muscularity and rhythm similar to Negritude poets like Aimé Césaire or Leopold Senghor, he, unlike his predecessors, prioritizes nationhood over unity based on race. He emphasizes that to build a national culture, a revolutionary act of violence must take place. Moreover, through a national revolution, culture is derived from national consciousness, rather than an inherent essence in a racialized consciousness like Césaire and Senghor might suggest. Thus, Fanon aims to prioritize liberation through a national consciousness rather than a racialized essentialism. If the poets of Negritude were to respond, surely one argument might be that Fanon is interpellated in a Western rationality that refutes the Negritude notion of common culture based on physical, physiological and psychological make-up as a manner of legitimizing a nation. Additionally, another possible issue is that Fanon seems to reduce the relationship of culture and nation through an argument of causality.
Beyond these possible limitations, if we agree with Fanon in that we need to prioritize nation building rather than culture as a source for identification and political action, the question of blueprints crosses my mind. Focused on a collective, decentralized movement, he argues for educating the masses to resolve collective problems, yet in imagining a world that does not exist, Fanon moves into the theoretical abstract, which to be fair may be because we have not reached that postcolonial, post-racial stage. Still, this idealism of a utopian nation slightly lacks not a solution (as he suggests is the masses), but a strategy or plan on how to achieve liberation, consciousness-awakening and nation building. Perhaps Fanon intentionally omits a strategic roadmap to suggest that there are various ways to build a nation. If so, then a static blueprint would seem insufficient, but we are still left with the question of how. How do we begin if we do not even know what methods and means are effective in enacting that change? How do we reach the solution that Fanon proposes?
On the topic of nation building, I struggle in what I realize is probably a Western political economist argument. Situated in a world of nations built in a Western rationality, what is the purpose of building a nation? Is it to join the neoliberal stage to take part in the flows of the global economy? If a revolution occurs and creates an independent nation and national culture, does the developing country still remain at the mercy of its impoverish socioeconomic conditions? How does a country that has recently attained independence build and compete with industrial nations that have exploited these former colonies? To break from the Marxist lens, does a former colony have to participate in the global economy and the world of nations to exist? Can such exist outside, independently? Perhaps Fanon himself can be the circuit through which we discover a new conception of the world. To me, I find The Wretched of the Earth humbling as it breaks from and complicates traditional Western thought. Introspectively, Fanon seems to publicly self-critique himself as an intellectual aiming to produce work that mobilizes collectivistic political action. He argues for decolonization, but as an intellectual privileged with Western education, this at first seems to reverse the dualistic Manichaeism. However, when he focuses on the dualisms of the colonizer and the colonized, the bourgeoisie/intellectual/town-dweller and the rural/peasant/proletariat, Fanon, while appreciating the attractive nature of Negritude, ultimately moves beyond Manichaeism and prioritizes a collective consciousness based on nationhood, arguing that the masses must unite and play an active role in politics and society. If my read is correct, I agree with Fanon’s critique of Negritude. Still, if the focus is then on national unity based on the masses, does Fanon argue for a form of populism?
By focusing on decentralizing politics, erasing the capital and calling for a redistribution of wealth, Fanon seems to be anti-establishment in his attacks against interests of the elite, systemic hierarchies, and the colonial regime. Further, though advocating a democratic mode of sovereignty and the welfare for the common people, Fanon’s argument tends to idealize the mass, giving them full agency to control the political sensibility. Through this glorification of the masses, Fanon plays into a rather populist argument and neglects the disadvantages of this type of governance. Even though populism can be designed to encourage government to act as a guide in achieving the public good for the greatest number of people, populism can also be the cause of rejecting centralized government socialist services like universal health care, armed protection, legal and political policy and work place rights. Today, the term populism carries a negative undertone in that it often is used to attack the “ignorant” masses that are not consciously-awake. Masked as a call-to-action to awaken and mobilize the white America, President Trump has been called a capitalistic populist exploiting masses and propelling a conversation agenda that further pushes the marginalized to the peripheries of politics. Though Fanon seems to shine a beacon of optimism in the masses, the risk of nation building through a populist governance like with Trump can inadvertently lead to marginalization and exclusion in ways that might prove counterproductive to nation building. Still, criticizing Fanon’s solution is easier than finding an alternative to nation building, let alone a blueprint in how to do so.
Fanon, F. (1961). The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press: New York.