Frantz Fanon was the radical exponent of a novel idea: a global insurgency of Black, brown, and yellow peasants purging the Third World of its European winter of colonial despotism.
Fanon's circulating concern was a replacement theory for the post-European colonial world. What then would constitute an alternative social arrangement capable of rupturing with Western imperialism he described as "teetering on the brink of atomic destruction and spiritual disintegration?" How could a new social model avoid the suffocating enclosure of Soviet-style statist socialism and kleptocracy?"
"Let us endeavor to invent a man in full," said Fanon, "something which Europe has been incapable of achieving." The genetic coding of the Fanonian Project was the philosophy of "New Humanism."
In Frantz Fanon's New Humanism and the Florentine Republic, New Black Nationalists trace the genealogy of Humanism's ascent. Its philosophical underpinnings that evolved over six-hundred-years leading to Fanon's construct of New Humanism are excavated.
The republican filaments of Fanon's nation-building model in Algeria's liberation war and Africa's newly independent nations are contrasted with the dominant themes of the Florentine variant of city-state Civic Humanism. Thus, the condominium of theory and praxis so vital to the synthesis of Fanon's oeuvre is preserved in this analysis.
New Humanist Philosophy
New Humanism and the Florentine Republic argues that secular humanism as a philosophical concept was consistent with Fanon's materialist, existential, and phenomenological world view. New Humanism flowed
to the rhythms of Fanon's of analysis that rejected Leopold Senghor's ancient African theories of Vitalism and Animist cosmologies that asserted the existence of a single Black diasporic personality.
Humanism's originalist articulation during the 1300s of Italy's Early Renaissance period attached primacy to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Its first thinkers emphasized the value and goodness of human beings in a manner reminiscent of Fanon's maxim that "Man is a 'yes' resounding from cosmic harmonies...Man is propelled toward the world and his kind. We want to touch the other, feel the other, discover each other."
The first humanists were invested in solving problems through reason, scientific inquiry and contemplating Greek and Roman classics in philosophy and rhetoric. The explosion of Mediterranean trade in the late 1300s, along with the rise of merchants, bankers, and guilds as transformative social actors, infected Italy with the contagion of social change. Constantinople's fall to the Ottomans in 1453 sent Eastern scholars scurrying to Italy and Spain with their libraries of ancient Greek classics. Plato's Republic was translated from Greek to Latin by no less a luminary than Florentine banker Cosimo de Medici.
Resurrecting ancient Greek and Roman republican government archives, Civic Humanism emerged as the subversive language of Florence and Venice, two of Italy's most powerful city-states. These urban centers sought to sever the umbilical cord yoking them to the Dark Ages of Rome and Milan, the Pope, atavistic nobles, and the hierarchal Medieval order.
It will be argued here that although Fanon's philosophical engagement with humanism is not directly connected to Florentine historical antecedents, his political vison of a New Humanist Republic is embedded with numerous concepts consonant with Florentine Civic Humanism of the early 1400's.
Fanon's philosophical attachment to humanism is linked to two variants that emerged in the late 1940s and 1950's. French philosopher-playwright Jean Paul Sartre's 1945 "Existentialism and Humanism" lecture was a seminal work debated across Europe among left-wing radicals, academics, and progressive artists. However, New Black Nationalists' reading suggests French Trotskyite humanists led by Reya Dunayevskaya--founder of the Marxist- Humanism school--had a significant impact on Fanon's theoretical migration to humanist thought.
Marxist humanists argued his work reaffirmed the doctrine that "man is the measure of all things." Humans, they asserted, are essentially different from the rest of the naturalist order and that the wheel of history is not mechanically driven by the development of the forces of production. The connective tissue between Dunayevskaya's Marxist-Humanist strand and Fanon's New Humanism was Karl Marx's 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts articulating his concept of the alienation of the working class.
Of alienation Marx said, "The workman sees the results of his power transmuted into objects that increase the power and enrich the life of the capitalist but weaken the laborer physically, reducing him to "cretinism." He is alienated from himself --for his work is no longer voluntary; what he produces is taken by another; the more value he creates, the more worthless and misshapen is he. Alienation is all pervasive: man is alienated from other individuals, his species, "from human nature. "
Fanon's White Skin, Black Masks [WSBM} inverted Marx's formulation of alienation. Fanon's contention was that racism, not capitalism, embedded in European slavocracy and colonization of Black people constituted the most profound form of dehumanization and alienation. Fanon demonstrated how French colonialism's violence, terror, economic, and cultural domination exacted far-reaching psychological damage on colonized Antillean Blacks.
Fanon argued the neuroses engendered by French colonial culture identified Black skin with impurity. His incisive examples portrayed a Martinican middle-class that accepted this association and came to despise themselves. Colonial women identified with whiteness by avoiding black men and co-habituating with white men. Black men equated manhood and achieving Frenchness through erotic fantasies of bedding white women. Black self-contempt was manifest by anxiety in the presence of whites, and existential dread of facing up to one's own blackness.
Fanon theorized Blacks were not only alienated from whites who deemed themselves superior, but also from their own bodies that were physically, sexually and economically exploited. Blacks were alienated from their Black skins that served as cultural and racial markers; alienated from their ancient religions and native tongues; alienated from each other as men and women and loving relationships as families. Blacks were alienated from their own lands and nations.
As author Sylvia Wynter rightly suggested, the Western construct of Black identity was created through colonial imposition, and "it has to be removed through decolonial war." Fanon insisted the violent overthrow of colonialism was preferable to colonies being granted independence by their imperial masters. "Decolonization" he said "infuses a new rhythm, specific to a new generation of men, with a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is truly the creation of new men. The "thing "colonized" becomes a man through the process of liberation."
Fanon's theory of Collective Catharsis held that revolutionary violence functioned as a therapeutic for the oppressed. Revolutionary violence initiated the purging of inferiority complex neuroses inflicted on the colonized. Looking one's enemy in the eye and risking one's life to vanquish the oppressor marked the discovery of an authentic meaning of freedom. Revolutionary violence served as the catalyst to create a new subjective consciousness of a liberated being or what Fanon called a "new species of mankind." As author David Marriott said, revolution was a "redemptive act" creating a new humanity.
Fanon's New Humanist Republic
New Humanism, then represented the possibility of becoming: the transformation of the Black Other into a self-defined, self-actualized subject. Characterizing New Humanism's starting point, Fanon averred that, “This new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for others. It is prefigured in the objectives and methods of struggle."...Let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies that draw their institution from it".
Observing that New Humanism created a theory of a new subject, Sylvia Wynter pointed out that "Colonialists thought the world was created for one race and consider black subjects as reservists. Blacks not only have to demonstrate to the colonizer that the colonial ruse is no longer applicable in the Black society and the whole world, but also that the world belongs to all races, black people included."
To that end, Fanon frames the post-colonial revolutionary period as the transition from a novel type of nationalist revolution to New Humanism. Fanon characterizes the transition as one in which "universality resides in this decision to recognize and accept the reciprocal relativism of different cultures. once the colonial status is irreversibly excluded. “If nationalism is not made explicit, if it is not enriched and deepened by a very rapid transformation into a consciousness of social and political needs, in other words into humanism, it leads up a blind alley."
Decolonization not only changes the Third World colonized, but potentially the colonizers. Fanon's idealism sought to liberate Blacks locked into their blackness and whites locked into their whiteness. Thus, Fanon's Third World revolution would lead this global transition that Cameroon philosopher Achille Mbembe called "a long course of therapy...of becoming human beings in the world while being exposed to the other."
Fanon was unsure whether a "world of reciprocal relations was possible," especially among whites given the historical condominium of racism and colonialism. Sixty years later we know Fanon's concerns were well founded. In 2022, from Russia to Australia to the United States, Global North white nationalism is rising attendant to the immigration flows from the Southern Hemisphere, and the corresponding fears of a Black, brown, and yellow planet.
Fanon clearly envisaged New Humanist societies as polities where ultimately race was not destiny. His more pressing concern, however, was to remedy distorted human relations that generated alienation, division, and the oppression of Third World humanity. Among these distorted relations fostering alienation were the following.
- Denying the subjectivity of women
- Antagonisms between the peasantry, urban workers, and the middle class
- Strife between religious forces and secular forces, practices and viewpoints
- Cultural difference between national minorities and majority ethnic and racial populations
- The equality of culture and languages
- Marginalization of individuals with mental illness.
Unleashing the ingenuity and initiative of the masses to overcome these manifestations of alienation and marginalization, freed from colonial domination was the hallmark of Fanon's New Humanism. As alluded to earlier, Fanon said "This new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for others. It is prefigured in the objectives and methods of struggle."
New Black Nationalists interpret the pre-figuring of "objective methods of struggle" to mean that during the struggle for power, the masses would develop new forms of struggle, organization, and cultural works that would serve as models and prototypes in the post-liberation period. Although Fanon died one-year before Algeria's National Liberation Front defeated the French in 1962, his programmatic writings open a window to glimpse the fundaments of a New Humanist Republic.
Through our exploration of the Florentine city-state model, we examine the intersection of Republican philosophy and institutions, Civic Humanist philosophy, and the architecture of a Fanonian New Humanist Republic.
The Republican Ideal
Florentine Notions of Republican Self-Governance - Republics are self-governing entities. Republicanism as a political philosophy defends the concept of freedom as non-domination and identifies institutions that protect self-governance. Historically, Republicanism has opposed two political theories: despotism manifested as autocratic and one-party rule, and liberalism in which governments assign primacy to promoting the interests of the individual over the collective interests. Republicanism privileges civic engagement in the running of societal affairs and promotes the collective interests. These collective interests are embodied in the state.
A Fanonian Concept of Freedom - Earlier we noted how the colonized risked their lives and deployed violence to overthrow colonial oppressors to win liberation imbued the colonized with an enduring sense of freedom and being. That continuing process in the post-liberation period contemplated decolonized subjects being fundamentally changed and possessing the right to contribute to social and political affairs. A new person, said Sylvia Wynter, "is a person who thinks and questions her or his social life and integration, nationally and internationally." Fanon's statement "Make of me always a man who questions!” expresses the freedom the new subject experiences after being liberated from the zone of non-being and domination. Walking in the sunlight of the zone of being, creativity, and collective social action, Fanon's new subject can breathe.
The Fanonian "Tertiary State"
Fanon's Tertiary State - Frantz Fanon modeled an institutional version of a nation-state that attaches primacy to decentralized "Tertiary State." Fanon's model mobilizes at the village, local, and regional level and strategically links these governance nodes with democratically run economic cooperatives.
"If the authorities want to lift the country out of stagnation," said Fanon, "and take great strides toward development and progress, they first and foremost must nationalize the tertiary sector. For the sake of progress, the decision to nationalize this sector must be made in the first few hours. To nationalize the tertiary sector means organizing democratically the cooperatives for buying and selling. It means decentralizing these cooperatives by involving the masses in the management of public affairs. All this cannot succeed unless the people are politically educated."
What is most important in Fanon's remarks about the "Tertiary State" is his statement concerning "involving the masses in the management of public affairs," and his emphatic assertion that "All this cannot succeed unless the people are politically educated."
Leonardo Bruni, Italy's Father of Civic Humanism, asserted that the great challenge of politics was not the improvement of Florentine laws and institutions but the moral and educational qualities of the leadership; the leadership needed reforming, education, and moral fiber more so than the government. Fanon was relentless in emphasizing the importance of developing the consciousness and education the masses.
Civic Humanism, Class Struggle, and the Democratic Impulse
- Fanon's Rejection of a One-Party State - Fanon was distrustful of the concentration of state power in the hands of a weak national bourgeoisie. In the newly emerging independent African nations Fanon observed, the concentration of state-power primarily took the form of nationalized economies in the hands of a One-Party State that was disconnected from the masses.
"The national bourgeoise lacked capital, command of the constituent elements of a national economy, a connection to the organic masses of the country, a national vision apart from the metropolitan ideology of their neocolonial masters. The national bourgeoisie also proves incompetent in domestic politics and institutionally. Economically powerless, unable to establish coherent social relations based on the principle of class domination, the bourgeoisie chooses what seems to be the easiest solution, the single-party system."
Fanon's prediction that the incompetent national bourgeoisie would appropriate the national wealth and collaborate with former imperialist colonizers became the dominant reality. Sub-Saharan Africa became the exotic reserve for resource extraction, arms sales, and sponsoring competing liberation movements in the Horn and Southern Africa by Western and Soviet imperialists. Persistent tribal and mercenary genocidal warfare, poverty, the oppression of women, and LGB people, and authoritarian rule stained the continent.
"The national bourgeoisie never stops calling for the nationalization of the economy and the commercial sector. In its thinking, to nationalize does not mean placing the entire economy at the service of the nation or satisfying all its requirements. To nationalize does not mean organizing the state on the basis of a new program of social relations. For the bourgeoisie, nationalization signifies very precisely, the transfer into indigenous hands of privileges inherited from the colonial period."
As devastating as the failure of most of the eighteen newly independent African countries to sever the umbilical cord of neo-colonialism, Fanon was making a larger point: "nationalism did not mean organizing the state on the basis of a new program of social relations." It is social relations that are transformative, not the forces of production. Fanon's words foreshadowed the largest social explosion in human history to continue a revolution on the basis of reconfiguring social relations. Five years after the Wretched of the Earth was published, the Great Cultural Revolution in China erupted. The Chinese masses in their millions on both sides engaged in a massive debate about the future course of the revolution. It was chaotic, there was some violence, but it was democratic, and looked nothing like a Stalinist purge.
The Florentine Struggle Between the Nobles and the Masses - In the late 1300s and early 1400s, Civic Humanism developed in heat of the struggle between the nobles and the masses or "populo." Civic humanist philosopher Leonardo Bruni theorized that broad participation of Florentines in governance, vigorous debate in the commons, and equality before the law, imposed an effective curb on the wealthy nobles.
The goal was not for the "populo"--which included laborers, guilds, and small merchants--to crush the noble class, but to curb their political excesses, corruption, and appetites. The elite nobles were given to faction, greed, vanity, and political tyranny. Therefore, Florentine Civic Humanism sought to maintain political balance, mitigate class antagonisms, and strive for long-term stability above all, at a time when Italian city-states were addicted to incessant warfare.
Florentine Civic Humanism embraced the "populo" as the dynamic force that could lead the republic in building a meaningful, modest, and politically stable life for the majority of its people. Fanon's conception of a New Humanist social order championed the most unlikely force to lead the most dangerous social revolution in history: the peasantry. In The Wretched of the Earth, he inveighs against the tendencies to dismiss the peasantry.
"The great mistake, the inherent flaw of most of the political parties in the underdeveloped regions has been traditionally to address first and foremost the most politically conscious elements: the urban proletariat, the small tradesmen, and the civil servants, i.e., a tiny section of the population which represents barely more than one percent. The peasantry is systematically left out of most of the nationalist parties’ propaganda. But it is obvious that in colonial countries only the peasantry is revolutionary. It has everything to lose and nothing to gain. The underprivileged and starving peasant is the exploited who very soon discovers that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possibility of concession. There is no question for them of competing with the colonist. They want to take his place."
Fanon's remarks convey his belief that it was the peasant majority in African countries--not the working class--that had nothing to lose but their chains. He also thought they were the least corruptible force in the Algerian revolution.
To narrow the antagonisms between the broad peasant majority and middle-class urban workers, and the middle class - Fanon attached great importance to carrying out land reform. "For a colonized people" he said, "the most essential value, because it the most meaningful, is first and foremost the land; the land, which must provide bread and naturally, dignity. "
Florence as A Secular Republic Tolerant of Religious Practices, Views and Forces
Florentine Civic Humanists' insistence on leaving celestial matters and the afterlife to the church, while its citizens attended to the affairs of statecraft, effectively limited the influence and political reach of the Popes and Rome's Catholic Church's into their civic life.
From the sweep of historical materialism to the epiphenomenal moment Frantz Fanon was a hardcore materialist, whose writings were principally grounded in his real-life experiences. For Fanon, religion and spiritualism found no purchase. Indeed, he seemed contemptuous of all things deemed supernatural in the Third World, as a neurosurgeon would look with distain upon the sorcery of a witchdoctor's potions. But Fanon was imbued with a consummate democratic spirit and tolerance of religion.
Just as Fanon rejected African Vitalism and Animism as the source code of a single Black/African personality, he still saw Negritude as making an important philosophical and political contribution to Black Diaspora. After joining Algeria's National Liberation Front, Fanon had to address the issue of the role of Islam. As noted earlier, Fanon's writings on Algerian women, Islamic traditions, the wearing of the veil and the role Algeria's women played in the revolution were controversial.
Fanon's general view of Islam's role in the war of liberation was positive. However, in a letter to the popular radical Iranian Cleric Ali Shariati Fanon candidly set forth some of his concerns. In-part the letter read as follows.
"The world of Islam has fought against the west and colonialism more than all Asia and all Africa...I would like to emphasize, more than you do yourself, your remark that Islam harbors, more than any other social powers of ideological alternatives in the third world, both an anti-colonialist capacity and an anti-western character.". Fanon then pivoted to voice his prophetic fear " I think that reviving sectarian and religious mindsets could impede this necessary unification--already difficult enough to attain--and divert that nation yet to come, which is at best a 'nation in becoming', from its ideal future, bringing it instead closer to its past. This is what I continue to dread and what makes me anxious about the efforts of the upstanding militants of the Association of Maghrebin Ulemas--with all my respect for their effective contribution to the struggle against French cultural colonialism. "
Fanon's prediction came true 30 years later. From 1991 to 2002, the Algerian government and coalition of Islamic rebel groups fought a bloody city war in which more than 150,000 people were killed. Fanon's wife Josie, who remained in Algeria after his death, was beaten badly during a clash between Islamic students and Algiers police in front of her apartment in 1989. The next day, she committed suicide jumping from her apartment balcony to the street below where she been attacked.
Citizens Defense Militias and the Right to Bear Arms - To defend Florence, which included the surrounding countryside and smaller towns in Tuscany, the first Civil Humanists believed the broad masses should serve in citizens militia force. In the 1300 and 1400's most city-states and Rome's Papal States ostensibly used mercenary armies. Florentine thought contemplated a certain economy of violence. They believed that in corrupt societies, violence represented the only means for arresting decadence. Mercenary and unreliable armies were inefficient instruments of violence as they multiplied devastation and plunder, thereby diminishing the fruits of victory. Mercenary forces were also costly to maintain and prone to switching sides in service to the highest bidder.
Citizens Defense Militias reflected the values and commitment of their societies and shared concept of sacrifice. While Fanon was unapologetic in his advocacy of the colonized using violence to overcome the violence of colonial rule, he was clear that proportion and restraint was an important principle to uphold. Fanon would go on to say, “In a war of liberation, the colonized people must win, but they must do so cleanly, without ‘barbarity."
Fanon Advocated Restricting the Growth of an Autonomous Professional Standing Army - Rather he said, "To nationalize the army was to imbue it with civic consciousness and to have it engaged in national building projects. An idle and aimless autonomous army will into politics. The only way of avoiding this is to politicize the army, i.e., to nationalize it.” Otherwise, suggested Fanon, such an autonomous army was "a coup in waiting. "
The failure of post-independence African nations to build robust nationalist consciousness, has been paid for in blood for millions of lives across Africa for decades. National armies that turned into corrupt killing machines for political factions, tribes, clans, foreign countries. Raw profiteering to plunder their own countries precious metals, gems and oil, human trafficking, and pressganging children into the service of death squads is one of the greatest crimes against African people.
Resistance to Imperial Domination - A distinct current of civic humanism in Florence its tradition of patriotic resistance to imperial domination. Florence had to continuously fend off aggression from the Papal See in Rome, predatory foreign powers like France and Spain, and authoritarian city states like Milan. Resistance to imperial domination was not just resistance to big and arrogant powers: it was the defense of Florentine notions of liberty, morals, and the arts from imperial predatory marauders.
Fanonism as the authoritative voice of decolonial theory since the 1960s, embodies the spirit of Florentine resistance to imperial domination. That being said, Fanon's call for national liberation struggles to seize power and resist the reimposition of neo-imperialist, economic, political, cultural, and military domination has proven to be more difficult propositions than initially thought.
A serious analysis is needed to grapple with the difficulties national liberation movements have encountered. Nevertheless, there have been significant advances, notwithstanding their short-term shelf life. The revolutions in Burkina Faso and Grenada experienced some promising successes before Thomas Sankara was assassinated and American Empire's invasion of Grenada.
Florentine resistance to imperial dominance has few transferrable lessons to contemporary national liberation movements. But the Florentine concept of resistance in the defense of one's own liberty, morals, and culture more so than defending the land, warrant's some consideration.
We would argue that Russia from 1917 to 1956, China from 1949 to 1976, and Iran from 1979 to the present, were all Third World countries that overthrew foreign imperialists and resisted the reimposition of imperialist domination. What did they all have in common? Russia's Kievan Rus, China's Middle Kingdom and the Persian Empire were all minimally 1000-year-old civilizational spaces with an aristocratic culture to defend, as did Florence. They also shared a history of having developed strong traditions of a centralized state bureaucratic apparatus.
Non-Florentine Features of Fanon's New Humanist Republic
Finally, we would like to highlight one additional issue of Fanon's New Humanist Republic that lies outside the scope of this comparative analysis with the Florentine New Humanist Experiment.
Towards a Non-Heteropatriarchal Nation-State
New Black Nationalists aspire to do achieve something no revolutionary movement has yet to accomplish. We seek to lead an authentic non-heteropatriarchal nationalist revolution in which women, LGBTQ and non-Binary people are both mass participants and the architects of the liberation movement.
Frantz Fanon was staunch advocate for liberating women from the time-honored traditions of silence, invisibility, and sequestration. Anticipating the victory of Algeria's FLN over French imperialism, Fanon cautioned the FLN that, "The underdeveloped country must take precautions not to perpetuate feudal traditions that gives priority to man over woman.” In Toward the African Revolution Fanon also wrote the following.
“From the very beginning, the FLN (Algerian National Liberation Front) defined its program: to put an end to French occupation, to give the land to the Algerians to establish a policy of social democracy in which man and women have an equal right to culture, to material well-being, and to dignity. The unveiled Algerian woman, who assumed an increasingly important place in the revolutionary action, developed her personality, discovered the exalting realm of responsibility...This woman who, in the avenues of Algiers or Constantine, would carry the grenades or the submachine guns charges, who tomorrow would be outraged, violated, tortured, could not put herself back into her former state of mind, and relive her behavior of the past. "
If the essence of Fanon's New Humanism Project is the reconfiguration of social relations on a grand scale, the incorporation of women into the estate of full subjectivity stands as the lynchpin of revolution's success.
A Final Thought
In reviewing the various works of Fanon scholars, there seems to be a consensus view that while the concept of New Humanism permeates his writings, Fanon was reluctant address the subject in detail. It appears he viewed enriching the archive of New Humanism with accumulating experience and revolutionary analysis of the events of the day was the only meaningful way to chart the course of New Humanism. We close with a passage of Fanon Scholar Professor Peter Hudis, from Frantz Fanon, Philosopher of the Barricades
Although Fanon developed his ideas from the zero point of his orientation, there is nothing that stops us from reaching for a new humanism for the zero point of our orientation. A movement is "Fanonian" not because it consists of peasants, lumpenproletarians, or shack dwellers, any more than it is "Fanonian" because it consists of the working class, students, women, gays and lesbians, or blacks and other national minorities. A movement is 'Fanonian" insofar, and only insofar, as it examines the question of 'humanity,' rejuvenates it, and actualizes it. "