Fanon on Nationalism and Nation Building
by Selwyn Trench
In his master work, The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon once quipped that, “History teaches us the anti-colonialist struggle is not automatically written from a nationalist perspective.”
Fanon’s observation sixty years ago mirrors the dismissive reception Black and African “nationalist perspectives" encounter these days among scholars, historians, and political activists. The downgrading of Fanon’s theories on nationalism and nation-building was spearheaded by a coterie of post-structuralist academics freelancing on the night shifts in post-colonial and cultural studies departments.
The tip of the spear was none other than Henry Louis Gates Jr., who commenced the philippics in 1991, with the publication of a paper called "Critical Fanonism." The venerated Harvard professor derisively posed this question;
"Do we need global imperial theory--in this case [Fanon] a grand unified theory of oppression; or indeed even the whole universalizing model of Theory that it presupposes?"
Like barristers petitioning the court as amicus curiae before a landmark decision hearing, poststructuralist luminaries Houston Baker Jr., Paul Gilroy, Michelle M. Wright, and Achille Mbembe lined up to submit briefs on behalf of the plaintiff. From a myriad of launch points they argued that financial, cultural, human, and technical mobility in the era of globalization had rendered race, nationalism, nation-states, and grand narratives superfluous.
Despite post-modern reductionists' efforts to dissolve Fanon's writings on nationalism and nation-building into subsidiary constructs, the Martinican philosopher's legacy as first architect of Decolonial Theory and avatar of Third World revolution continued to grow.
The slogan "I can't breathe," taken from Eric Garner's dying words and Fanon's metaphor that anti-colonial revolts occur when it becomes “impossible to breathe,” appeared on protest signs from Australia's Aboriginal outback to Brazilian favelas. In the hot summer of 2020, the specter of Fanon's Global South insurgency hovered ubiquitously over the Black Lives Matter 2.0 Lavender Revolution following George Floyd's public police execution.
This Fanonian Predicament, if you will, and the contested intellectual space surrounding his works on nationalism, revolution, and nation-building can be attributed to four developments.
First, Fanon's popular theories on transformative violence, New Humanism, and psychoanalysis of the colonized, rivaled if not overshadowed his writings on nationalism. In addition, Fanon’s theories on women in liberation struggles, Hegelian dialectics, phenomenology, and culture elevated him to iconic status among Black Diaspora, Third World, and revolutionary internationalist thinkers.
Second, the long train of failed post-colonial independence and armed liberation movements in Africa and the Black Diaspora, raised legitimate questions about the viability of Fanon’s nationalist constructs.
Third, the absence of Fanonian-based critiques of revisionist theories like Achille Mbembe's Afropolitanism and Frank Wilderson’s Afropessimism, which invoked the authority of Fanon’s name while rejecting nationalism and revolution, muddled his body of work.
Fourth, there has been considerable reluctance to consider the totality of Fanon works as a logical, coherent, and unified philosophical system. This has unfortunately resulted in cherry picking his constructs, too often in support of short-term passions and political expediency. In this context, Fanon's writings on nationalism and nation-building were not only diminished but their relationship to his other works were distorted or pigeonholed to conform to episodic circumstances.
In February, 2021, New Black Nationalists separated from this corrosive trend: NBN adopted Fanon's corpus of works as its guiding philosophical system. Our review of Fanon's writings on nationalism and nation-building are now part of an external one-year critical reading in conjunction with Fanonists and interested parties around the globe.
The argument presented here in “ A Quarter to Nation Time [QNT],” was drafted as a framework to clarify, redress, and augment Fanon’s writings on nationalism and nation-building. Its purpose is to create a matrix that re-directs Black Nationalists onto the strategic path to create a Black-nation-state in the 2020s.
The accelerating confluence of events--domestically and internationally--requires the urgent retooling of Black Nationalist and Fanonian theory from its current analog configuration to a 5-G architecture.
Over the next eight months, QNT will issue a series of papers that renovate Fanon’s first principles of nationalism and nation-building. The series will also explore Fanon's impact on the 1960s Black Power experience in America's settler state. And finally, New Black Nationalists will identify the congruencies between Fanon's theories and emerging revolutionary opportunities arising out American Empire's spiraling decline.
A final statement will be issued at the end of February 2022, in conjunction with a comprehensive report marking the formal adoption of Fanonism as the New Black Nationalist Movement's guiding philosophy.
As adherents to “the long apprenticeship,” New Black Nationalists are confident that grappling with the victories, defeats, and mishaps of the national liberation experience over the past fifty years will illuminate new paths to liquidate the diseased state of American Empire.
Accordingly, our interrogation of Fanon’s texts has been divided into three phases: 1) the struggle to win political power, 2) establishing a non-heteropatriarchal Black-led nation-state, 3) and post-liberation efforts to eliminate economic exploitation and create new social relations marking the New Humanist journey beyond nationalist and racial identities.
QNT' s calculus addresses five dimensions of Fanon’s theories on nationalism and nation-building that are essential to fabricating a revolutionary model to win power. Our task is to recalibrate these touchstones of the revolutionary process and align them with domestic and international developments that are spiraling towards American Empire's existential collapse. The five strategic pillars dictating the road to nationhood are,
• The role of violence in winning a national liberation war.
• Building nationalist consciousness
• Developing a class analysis of the Black nation
• The role of the state
• Transitioning to a Nationalist-Humanist state
What follows is a listing of 18 bullet points that summarizes the emphasis and direction of our critical reading of Fanon. Each bullet point contains a Fanon citing as a reference point, and a short comment at the conclusion of the each strategic pillar.
By utilizing this format and method, we hope our readers are presented with specific points of discussion that are sequenced to lend coherency and logic to the critical reading process. We also invite you to visit the Fanon Forum and Fanon Global sections of the website for additional articles, references, and background materials.
Ghanaian theorist and Fanon scholar Sekyi-Otu once said, “I read Fanon as an African exercised first and foremost by the disasters of the post-independence experience.” This New Black Nationalist reading reflects the lived experience of Blacks in America's settler state. At the same time, we are mindful that Fanon's writings on nationalism and nation- building in Wretched of the Earth, A Dying Colonialism, and The African Revolution, are drawn primarily from Fanon’s experience as part of the Algeria's nationalist revolution and his role as Ambassador to Sub-Saharan Africa from the mid-1950s to his tragic death in December 1961.
The stateless maroons in the New Black Nationalist Movement invite you to review and comment of the matrix below on Fanon's theories on nationalism. Tweet us @WBBrooksIII