HWO’s Radical Books series shares subversive, seminal, and seismic texts that have shaped understandings of radical history, provoked controversy in their time, or sparked social change.
‘The business of obscuring language is a mask behind which stands out the much greater business of plunder… Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you really want them to understand.’
Fetishized as a ‘prophet of violence’ or re-appropriated as a universalising ‘global theorist’, Frantz Fanon was a fearless critic of colonialism and a key figure in Algeria’s struggle for independence. The Wretched of the Earth was his final work, written in a period of ten weeks before his death from leukaemia in December 1961. Following the defeat of French imperialism in Algeria after Fanon’s death, a new wave of revolutions erupted in Africa and Fanon’s so-called ‘wretched’ turned to his work for answers. In the words of David Macey: ‘Fanon had spoken of setting Africa ablaze, and it was on fire’.
Wretched incorporated both a theoretical contribution to the emerging ‘post-colonial’ Africa and an implicit critique of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), the main revolutionary body in Algeria. For Fanon, decolonisation was not the project of the state achieving independence on a merely political level, but a more fundamental dismantling of the cultural and psychological relations of power and their legacies.
While Fanon conceived of himself as writing a new history of the ‘Third World’, the unresolved and open-ended nature of the struggle Fanon depicted in Wretched represented a demand for a continued dialectical engagement with liberation in a ‘post-colonial’ future. In this way, he remained true to the project of individual psychological and cultural transformation outlined in his first book Black Skins, White Masks, with its concluding line ‘my final prayer: O my body, always make me a man who questions!’
May Robson is an MSc International Politics graduate from SOAS, specialising in migration, race and gender. She works for Survivors Speak OUT, a survivor-led activist network based at Freedom From Torture, and is also a play worker at Hayward Adventure Playground. Twitter: @mrobson12.