The Black Rousseau

The Wretched of the Earth

by Frantz Fanon
Grove, 255 pp., $1.95 (paper)

Frantz Fanon
Frantz Fanon; drawing by David Levine

Frantz Fanon, a Negro doctor born in Martinique, died of leukemia in a Washington hospital in 1961, before the end of the Algerian war. He had already become a hero to the leaders of the Algerian Revolution. The “provisional government” had his body brought to Tunis and “in the middle of the war the Algerians paused to honor one of their own in a national funeral.” So Simone de Beauvoir tells us in the last volume of her Memoirs. In contrast to many of Mme. de Beauvoir’s recollections, the portrait of Frantz Fanon is both sympathetic and objective. Frantz Fanon, whom the provisional government had not only considered to be a citizen of the new Algerian nation, but sent as an Ambassador to Accra, had formerly been a psychiatrist at the French military hospital of Blida in Algeria; he had observed there the effect of torture on the personalities of the tortured and torturers alike. Having become, not without difficulty, a French M.D., and having married a white Frenchwoman, Fanon was “integrated” in Paris. He chose to join the revolutionary forces, to uproot himself from France. But did he do so? Fanon seems, in retrospect, much more a typical voice of the left-wing Parisian intelligentsia than an expression of the “emergent” colonial nations which Sartre and his followers thought were replacing the European proletariat as the true “wretched of the earth” (a quote from “L’Internationale”).

As much as his own Martiniquean background, it was Fanon’s experience in Blida that compelled him to go beyond sympathy for the colonized and to identify himself completely with their struggle. He became a militant of the F.L.N. Fanon was a kind man who preached violence as the only hope for human dignity; a man of critical intelligence, who justified extreme simplifications; a wholehearted “Sartrian,” who yet believed that European thought had nothing to offer the “Third World” in its revolt and search for a new identity.

WHAT CAN ONE make today of this collection of essays which constitute his manifesto and have elevated him—next to Lumumba, who also died in 1961—to the rank of a hero and saint of “negritude” and of the war against “imperialism”? Fanon had watched the beginnings of a peaceful evolution to independence in the Black African States. He felt that it meant a shift of power to a Negro bourgeoisie more parasitic and corrupt than the European; he predicted that the former colonial power would take “fewer and fewer pains to mask the hold it has over the national government” (p. 153). The “independence” of the new African states was therefore for him a sham and a betrayal. His criticism of the new one-party states and their glorified leaders was often as savage as his description of life in cities under colonial rule. Those critics who have seen Fanon as nothing more than an ideologue of the “one-party states” have…

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