Review and Reflection on “Fanon Today: Reasons and Revolt of the Wretched of the Earth”

Frantz Fanon

Yidneckachew A. Zikargie (PhD)


Book: “Fanon Today: Reasons and Revolt of the Wretched of the Earth”, Edited by Nigel C. Gibson (2021), Daraja Press

Introduction: about the book

Following my Ph.D. defense, with kind words, my supervisor presented me with a book gift card. The gift was an invitation to the world of critical African studies offered by Daraja Press which introduced me to "Fanon Today: Reason and Revolt of the Wretched of the Earth". This book, edited by Nigel C. Gibson, brings a diverse collection of essays that engage with Fanon's revolutionary ideas in today's world. The book critically examines the relevance of Fanon's work while comprehending and contesting the legacies of colonialism, the neoliberal world order, national consciousness, and the dynamics of political contestations, liberation movements, and decolonization. Through Fanon's lens, this book offers insights into the struggles against the impacts and remnants of colonial oppression and racial discrimination.

Particularly, the chapter contributors explore specific current movements and reflect on the following major issues: (1) “How can we connect with Fanon, the revolutionary, and develop new beginnings in action and thought (Gibson, 2021: 10)?” (2) How do the current movements resonate with Fanon’s thoughts for social justice? (3) What are the subjects of the current movements in today's world? (4) How does Fanon's work shape the current movement's thoughts and redressing strategies about the legacies of colonialism and racial discrimination? (5) How does the current movement illuminate Fanon's approach to freedom and liberation to transcend the hegemonic neoliberal world realities that perpetuate systems of oppression?

After I read the introduction and a couple of chapters, I became interested in the book. I felt this book was a timely exploration of Fanon's enduring impact in today’s world. Especially, the book offers critical insights for scholars and political activists interested in social change, post-colonial studies, and the philosophy of liberation. I found this book and the works of Fanon a crucial read for those contemplating contemporary social, economic, and political developments and activism globally, particularly in African and Ethiopian contexts. Thus, this piece aims to review this book together with “Wretched of the Earth” and reflect on the relevance of Fanon’s thought for today’s Ethiopian scholars and political activists. The following sections introduce Fanon and his work, review Gibson's edited book “Fanon Today,” and reflect on the significance of Fanon’s work for intellectual pursuits and political activism in today’s Ethiopia.

About Fanon and the “Wretched of the Earth”

Frantz Omar Fanon was born in Martinique island of France and lived from 1925 to 1961. He was one of the most influential philosophers, psychiatrists, revolutionaries, and writers in an age of anti-colonial liberation struggle. His works are still influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory, Marxism, African Studies ….  

Fanon’s "The Wretched of the Earth", one of his most celebrated contributions, was originally written in French "Les Damnés de la Terre" and published in 1961.  In this book, Fanon communicates with his comrades about the creation of a society based on new and real human relations, with a profound analysis of the psychological and social effects of colonialism. His analysis starts with the premise that colonialism is not only a system of political and economic domination but also a psychological weapon that dehumanizes the colonized. He argues that the oppressive structure of colonialism implanted psychological disorders among the colonized, including a sense of inferiority, which can only be overcome through the decolonization process.

Decolonization, according to Fanon, is inherently violent because it is a reaction against the violence of the colonial regime as a necessary process of reclaiming self-worth and identity. Such treatment of violence has been controversial; however, Fanon claims for rationale of violence as a symbolic strategy of breaking the psychological chains of colonialism. Besides, he also warns against the perpetuation of violence in post-liberation and stresses the importance of moving towards a peaceful and constructive nation-building process. Fanon's decolonization also emphasizes the importance of cultural liberation and humanism. He was critical of the post-colonial elites' understanding of the nation-state, their modernist approaches, and their Eurocentric models that dominate and annihilate the socio-economic and political identity and autonomy of the newly independent African, Asian, and Latin American countries. He reproaches these elites for being an echo of Western education and modernist discursive practices. Fanon further envisages the creation of a new humanism, free from the racial prejudices of colonialism, where people are united by their shared humanity rather than divided by artificial constructs.

In "The Wretched of the Earth" Fanon is also critical of the national bourgeoisie of post-colonial societies and accuses it of being an obstacle to genuine liberation. His argument presents the national bourgeoisie as a class that tends to replace the colonizer and perpetuate their oppressive structures against the society. As a counter strategy, Fanon opts for revolutionary leadership with a genuine commitment to the welfare of the masses, the reconstruction of society on new humanism lines, and social justice in the distribution of rights and opportunities equally.

Why Fanon Today?

By the late 1960s, The Wretched of the Earth had become a ‘bible’ of the revolutionary movements and Fanon’s writings became influential as the struggle moved from civil rights to Black Power in the US and took on a global dimension. By the 1970s, it was recognized for its global vision and revolutionary humanism (Turner and Alan, 1986) and was being read by Irish revolutionaries interned in Long Kesh, as well as Black Consciousness intellectuals in South Africa. But by the 1980s, with ‘Third Worldism’ giving way to neoliberalism and structural adjustment, interest in Fanon’s Les damnés de la terre declined. New academic engagements with Fanon in emergent fields such as postcolonial studies in the 1990s elevated Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks as a key text while …. Sixty years after its publication, Fanon’s Les damnés de la terre is again being considered a handbook for social change, as the famous American edition of The Wretched of the Earth declared it to be ‘the handbook for the black revolution that is changing the shape of the world’…. (Gibson, 2021: 4).

Gibson (2021) illustrates Fanon's ongoing impacts in the introductory chapter titled "The Rising of the Damned" by connecting Fanon’s writing to the historical revolutionary spirit of the communist negritude poet from Haiti. Most significantly, Gibson (2021) places Fanon's theories in the context of the current revolutionary movements and resistances. Through a thorough analysis of the book's chapters and movements, Gibson (2021) focused on how Fanon's work is still relevant today. These include [1] illustrating the legacy of colonialism in post-colonial states and the embedded structures and power relations; [2] comprehending these manifestations and how they manifest in contemporary forms like systemic racism and modern forms of exploitation; and [3] encountering global economic disparities and inequalities observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The book explores the post-2010 movements of varying sizes, scales of influences and outcomes, where some fade, others burn out or introduce limited reforms, but most of them resulted in state-sanctioned violence and mass arrest. It looks into the Arab Spring movements of Tunisia and Egypt, and the fearless contestations of Sudanese (2018), Algerians (2019), Chileans (2019) and Hong Kong youth (2014-2020). Besides, the book explores the Arab Winter politics of Syria and the repressive responses of the Assad regime, the global movements for Black Lives (2020-21) in addition to the various ‘politics of blood’ ranging ‘from South Africa to Brazil and from Palestine to Portugal’. Apart from these movements, the book reflects on the economic disparities and inequalities exacerbated by the global pandemic (COVID-19) that catalyses renewed struggles for justice across diverse contexts.

By exploring these movements, the book highlights the critical role of Fanon’s work in understanding and addressing contemporary struggles against injustice, racism, and the legacies of colonialism. The book takes these movements as the continuation of generational trauma and post-traumatic stress of colonialism in new forms, by highlighting the dynamics of power, identity, and resistance to inform and inspire movements for social justice and decolonization globally. Gibson (2021: 6) also noted some of them as part of the ‘new forms of horizontal and democratic organisation, which, however fleeting and messy, are part of a movement from practice that recognises the importance of thinking, of reaching for the future, and of attempting to get rid of ‘mind-forged manacles’ of unfreedom’.

Particularly, I found the book as a showcase for the applications of Fanon's theories in different contexts and perspectives to combat the legacy of colonialism and racism and reimagine a more humane and inclusive world. It offers a critical insight into how Fanon's ideas empower activists, intellectuals, and communities worldwide to critique oppressive structures and cultivate transformative practices towards achieving freedom and dignity, mainly the criticism against inequalities during the global pandemic and the reflection on the movement of Black Lives (2020-21). The book articulates how the pandemic has illuminated and intensified the existing structural disparity and inequality between the colonised and colonisers. Accordingly, the global health crises of COVID-19 ‘continue to highlight the practical and theoretical usefulness of Fanon’s psychiatric praxis for those working in and thinking about health and healing in dehumanized situations’ (Gibson, 2021: 7) that rationalised the recent struggles for justice across diverse contexts. In addition, interestingly, Gibson (2021) elaborates how Fanon's commentary from "Black Skin, White Masks" resonated profoundly during the movement of Black Lives following the assassination of George Floyd. By marking the struggle for breath and existence against systemic racism, Fanon’s concept of "combat breathing" symbolized the movement and challenged the moral integrity of US civilization.

Fanon's writings have had a significant influence on anti-colonial movements worldwide. He persuasively presented the critique against the post-colonial state, the psychological effect of colonialism, the intricate process of decolonization and the need for a new humanism. In the discourse surrounding colonialism and its aftermath, Fanon's examination of violence, condemnation of the post-colonial bourgeoisie, and support for cultural and psychological freedom have had a profound impact. The book “Fanon Today” presented how today’s thinkers, activists, and leaders were inspired by Fanon in their fight for justice and liberty. In the study of racism, colonialism, and the pursuit of human dignity, Fanon’s writings continue to be essential reading. His thoughts provide us with powerful insights to face and critically engage with the effects of colonialism and the order of neocolonial orders of globalism. It maintains the decolonial struggle in today’s world and strategies to break from the chains of colonial legacies. Most importantly, Fanon’s new humanism, enables us to envision sustainable relations, where equality and mutual respect are the governing rules rather than domination and exploitation.

Why Fanon for Today’s Ethiopian Intellectuals and Political Activists?

Ethiopia is a nation with a rich history of resistance against colonialism, complex political developments over the past 50-plus years, challenges of governance and nation-building and a series of civil wars. In the imperial era, Ethiopian patriots not only defended the country from European colonial ambitions but also actively supported the decolonization efforts of African countries, the formation of OAU and the revolutionary spirit of Pan-Africanism. The 1960s revolution, inspired by Fanon's call for social justice against feudalism, exhibited Ethiopia's students' revolutionary zeal but it was curtailed by the military Derg regime, which inflicted massive atrocities and civil war. In the post-1991 period, the EPRDF regime brought ethno-cultural justice; yet the struggle for dominance among major ethnic factions persisted, particularly after the political reforms initiated in 2018. Today, Ethiopia's political scene is marked by the quest for democracy, justice, and equality amidst ethnic violence, socioeconomic disparities, and political transitions. Though Ethiopia has never been colonized, the legacy of colonialism influenced Ethiopia's state power dynamics, socio-economic decisions, and global interactions. Its modernist hegemony has profoundly shaped Ethiopia's nation-state structure, including economic models and educational systems, embedding Eurocentric norms, values, and power dynamics at the core of its societal fabric.

In today’s Ethiopia, Fanon's insights into the processes of decolonisation, national consciousness, and the necessity for a new humanism resonate deeply. Fanon's critique of the post-colonial state, his emphasis on the liberating potential of violence in the struggle for independence, and his warnings against the neo-colonial traps set by the new national bourgeoisie offer critical lessons for Ethiopian activists and intellectuals. His argument, which claims the liberation struggle transforms the individual and fosters a new form of consciousness that transcends ethnic or tribal affiliations, addresses the Ethiopian context, where ‘extremist ethnic nationalism’ has often been a divisive force and source of inhumane relationships across ethnic boundaries.

In addition, Fanon's call for a radical restructuring of society to eliminate inequality and his vision of creating a new humanity may provide a roadmap for Ethiopian political activists to put human dignity at the core of their struggle. The ongoing political reforms, debates on ethnic federalism, initiatives for transitional justice, attempts for national reconciliation and dialogue, and movements for social justice in Ethiopia can draw from Fanon's revolutionary humanism, rethink options of violence, reasons for violence, and his insistence on the importance of an ideology rooted in the real conditions and aspirations of the masses. This may enable Ethiopians not only to build a politically free society from external influences but also to make sure of an economically self-sufficient and socially equitable society. Moreover, Fanon's analysis of the psychological effects of colonialism is also relevant for Ethiopian intellectuals, as it offers a lens to understand the continuous impact of historical injustices and their implications in today’s neoliberal world order. His emphasis on the need for self-consciousness to reclaim and shape ‘Ethiopian identities, histories, and cultures’ in the face of globalizing forces that often marginalize non-Western perspectives is a critical assignment for Ethiopian scholars and activists.

As a radical breakaway strategy from inequalities of the past and present, therefore, I encourage Ethiopian intellectuals and political activists to embrace Fanon’s thoughts while engaging in an analysis of their society's challenges and envisioning a future. I believe the situation we are in is not a dead end; perhaps, the reading of “Fanon Today” may permit us to think about the possible role scholars and political activists can play. Possibly, by translating Fanon's theories in their context, Ethiopian thinkers and activists can activate a meaningful change, think about the reasons for violence, draw on the collective strength and diversity of their people to forge a path towards genuine liberation and dignity and transcend Ethiopian politics to a sustainable path. Therefore, if you want to construct a new Ethiopian identity that is inclusive, equitable and just, I invite you to study Fanon’s theories and contemplate their relevance in particular contexts.