Reminiscing on Fanon and how I ounce became a Radical
By Capt. Ebou Jallo
19 May 2020
Frantz Fanon was the radicalizing catalyst in my life during my teenage years in Banjul. This black revolutionary bequeathed a lasting legacy of profound magnitude that still resonates with my dispositions in politics over the years. Fanon was beyond Marxism or your typical quotidian socialist. He was a serious existential phenomenologist of African identity who stumbled through Hegel and Freud during his years hanging around his friend Jean-Paul Sartre in Paris. Fanon’s vision of race and culture is apocalyptic when he announced that “the end of race prejudice begins with a sudden incomprehension.” Hence, the process of deconstructing culture discloses racism and necessitates the construction of new cultural forms. It is important to highlight two concepts critical in Fanon’s phenomenology of race i.e. the idea of deconstruction and freedom which are operative in the works of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre respectively. Ontology, the question of being, is an issue for these great existential phenomenologists who dominated French thought during Fanon’s formative years in France, and their methods, particularly Sartre’s, have a lasting impact on him.
The tension between the negro and the colonials can only be resolved in a dialectical process that ends with the negation of both European colonialism and racism. The existential negation of European episteme of the negro expressed with the ideology of Negritude becomes a dialectical bases for a violent revolt against European colonialism for Fanon. Underlying this theory of revolution is a salient temporality that underscores the identity shifts that must severe the past, break through a radical presence and build a new future for the negro. This insight has a profound impact on the way I see contemporary society and contentious politics. How do we breakaway from past traditions without derogating aged old wisdom that has been useful to us and yet appears anachronistic with our current condition…? This question lured me into the next phase of my life as a libertarian conservative.
The use of violence for Fanon is an indispensable decolonizing praxis necessary for the restoration of the negro dignity, identity and liberation. Violence against egregious tyranny in contentious politics is emancipatory and a categorical difference from that which ensues from the politics of hate based on identity politics. Violence becomes ethical when the victim of oppression has to make an existential judgment between life and death with all resources available before the threat of total domination by tyranny. Violence becomes the court of last resort in order to restore the balance of natural justice. Fanon insists that existence for the downtrodden “does not mean embodying moral values or taking his place in the coherent and fruitful development of the world”, but rather existence is a “triumph for life” with a content soul. One has to escape the primordial attachment to material needs and the fear of death in order to realize an authentic liberation.
True liberation for Fanon, is the realization of socio-economic improvement for the lumpen-proletariat, the lowest classes in any society. Now this a marked difference from Marx who had absolutely no regard for the lumpen. The presence of deep resistance within the ranks of the lumpen-proletariat against an overwhelming Western domination is the ultimate significance of Fanon’s phenomenology of racism. Resistance is the antithesis of ‘negrification’ and liberation becomes the nascent synthesis of this dialectical process. Does this make Fanon a race reductionist…? I would argue that it does not because Fanon understands race as deforming and shaping both the colonized and the colonizer who happens to be black and white respectively. Fanon’s phenomenological narrative stages a richer mode of thinking about differences in human existence within the horizon of culture. He identifies three categories of existence, i.e. the worker, the intellectual and the lumpen proletariat who all define themselves in relation to the Western powers who ounce colonized Africa. The worker’s existence revolves around the capacity to do labor that sustains the capitalism; the colonized intellectual is a compromised figure that mediates between the oppressed and the Western world; and the lumpen is always disposable. What unites these three categories of existence under is their common sensitivity towards a national culture: “The collective thought process of a people to describe, justify, and extol the actions whereby they have joined forces and remained strong.”
Culture and national consciousness are coterminous for Fanon. The phenomenological structure of such consciousness as expressed through the dialectic of experience constructs a national culture of the oppressed. Hence, a new humanism is defined and is “written into the objectives and methods of the struggle. A struggle, which mobilizes every level of society, which expresses the intentions and expectations of the people.” Violence therefore becomes the critical mechanism in cultural formations through a process of a revolutionary struggle- “the substitution of one species of mankind by another” by an agenda of total disorder; an emancipatory creative destruction- a radical praxis that excises the root of all oppression. A country under tyranny is an agonistic space with rigid battle lines continuously drawn between the oppressor and the oppressed both locked in a mortal combat of life and death. This is not a Hegelian master-slave dialectic nor an event for moral calculations between right and wrong but an existential struggle for cultural significance. Once the oppressed discovers the reality of their existential condition that cognition readies them for the ultimate confrontation with the oppressor. The corrupt tyrant will always attempt to maintain a narrative that their project saves the people from “darkness, barbarism, degradation, bestiality” and they are protecting the unfortunate from their ontological misfortune. However, the freedom fighters will always resist with a call for radicalism that entails a soul-searching journey back to the roots of their cultural heritage. Therefore, the liberation struggle and national culture are correlated for the oppressed. The currency of tyranny has always been violence and force the only language that tyrants understand. Hence, violence is a necessary mechanism in the process of emancipation from oppression; and it also sanitizes the downtrodden of their inferiority complex, lethargy and restores their self-confidence. Aluta Continua…!