Ahead of the publication of my biography on Frantz Fanon, The Militant Philosopher of Third World Liberation, I thought I would publish a few teasers on certain aspects of Fanon’s extraordinary life and work.
‘…For Fanon it was not enough to celebrate the achievements of decolonization, it was necessary to educate, to strain at the limits of national freedom and to provoke and generate debate. The All-African Peoples Conference in 1958 in Ghana was the place to do this, and to learn about the movements on the continent. Ghana was both a sub-Saharan headquarters for movements on the continent still reaching towards independence and a laboratory for real-existing nationhood and independence. The country was already a collection of vivid and painful contradictions. Many white people had stayed on to assist the new government. Even the Ghanaian army was run by British officers who were on lease to the new country until its own officers had been trained. At the same time the Nkrumah was an outspoken advocate for pan-Africanism. For a generation of young militants he was a figure to emulate. Fanon would learn much from his temporary posting in Ghana.
Three years later, in 1961, recently diagnosed with leukaemia and understanding severity of the prognosis, with life ebbing from him Fanon dictated his masterwork, The Wretched of the Earth to his wife, friends and secretaries. When he seemed to recover temporarily and find some strength after a new round of treatment he travelled to the Tunisian/Algerian border (Ghardimaou in Tunisia) and spoke to the assembled troops of the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN). Many were illiterate, readying themselves to fight the French (and enter a free Algeria). He spoke to them from his recently drafted and now most famous chapter in The Wretched of the Earth about the pitfalls of national consciousness. He described how the national bourgeoisie after independence is only too happy to accept crumbs thrown to it from the departing colonial powers. Without social reform, without political and economic transformation, national liberation would be an empty shell. Fanon’s parting gesture in his last public appearance was a warning to militants of the anti-colonial struggle: make this independence for yourselves, ensure that the self-organisation and confidence you have developed in the fight against the French becomes a sustained and continuous programme of revolutionary transformation after the Algerian flag is raised. On the threshold of victory Fanon said be warned of your leaders, ‘No leader, however valuable he may be, can substitute himself for the popular will; and the national government … ought first to give back their dignity to all citizens, fill their minds and feast their eyes with human things, and create a prospect that is human because conscious and sovereign men dwell therein.’ Fanon’s final act was to the revolutionary movement that he devoted the last and most important years of his life, but he was also subversive of that revolution.
After Fanon’s final and exhausting resurrection from his terminal sickness he accepted treatment in the United States and flew there in October 1961 from his exiled Tunisian home. Fanon had stubbornly refuse treatment in the United States, condemning the country for its lynching and discrimination of black people. He crossed the Atlantic for the last time, but to no avail. On 6 December 1961 he died. He was 36 years old…’