The Wretched of the Earth

Why Fanon continues to resonate more than half a century after Algeria’s independence

By Richard Pithouse

“The Wretched of the Earth offers a brilliant illumination and critique of colonial society, the struggle against colonialism and the pathologies of postcolony. What is often forgotten is that it also addresses the damage wrought by the violence that structures the colonial situation.

More than 50 years on, it remains an essential text, one often understood in terms of prophecy rather than critique, for understanding both the colonial and post-colonial situation. In 2015 many South African students encountering it for the first time feel that Fanon offers privileged insight into the grim realities of the country under the increasingly predatory regime headed by Jacob Zuma.

but as Algeria became increasingly authoritarian and distant from Fanon’s vision of “an Algeria open to all, in which every kind of genius can grow”, his evidently resonant critique of the pathologies of postcolony, and his exploration of the lines of continuity between the colony and the postcolony, became increasingly embarrassing to the new order.

Fanon’s name remained in the pantheon of the heroes of the revolution but his ideas were increasingly considered heretical and dismissed as alien.

In October 1988, Josie Fanon, his widow, was watching from the balcony of her flat in Algiers when young men without jobs and homes began burning police cars in the streets. The police responded with the sort of violence that had characterised French colonialism and around 500 people were killed in a few days. A few months later she carefully put her affairs in order and took her own life.

In the wake of the first state massacre to be carried out after apartheid, and as South Africans witness the rapid decline of the African National Congress’s hegemony, many young people encounter Fanon as a window into redemptive possibility of a second struggle against a rotten order that has failed to redeem the promise of the anti-colonial struggle. In that sense, South Africa continues to be entangled with the Algerian revolution.



Article by Richard Pithouse

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