“In a short time this continent will be liberated. For my part, the deeper I enter into the cultures and the political circles the surer I am that the great danger that threatens Africa is the absence of ideology.”
Fanon, ‘This Africa to Come’
“All this taking stock of the situation, this enlightening of consciousness and this advance in the knowledge of the history of societies are only possible within the framework of an organization and inside the structure of a people.”
Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
Despite the odds stacked against it, and the state’s efforts to divide, co-opt, and exhaust it, the Hirak has maintained an exemplary unity and peacefulness. This was demonstrated in various slogans such as: ‘Algerians are brothers and sisters, the people are united, you traitors.’
The movement is youth-led and relatively loosely organised. There are no clearly identifiable leaders or organised structures propelling it. It is a popular uprising mobilising mass forces from the middle classes and from the marginalised classes in urban and rural areas. Unlike Sudan, where the Sudanese Professional Association played a leading and organising role, in Algeria organising is done horizontally and mainly through social media. The general strike in the first few weeks of the uprising, which was instrumental in forcing Bouteflika to abdicate and shaking up alliances within the ruling class, was organised spontaneously after anonymous calls on social media. Such amorphous, non-structured and leaderless dynamics and movements are extremely vulnerable. While they can generate large inter-class mobilisations and are not an easy target for repression, or for co-option of leaders, they nevertheless manifest fatal weaknesses in the long run.
But, what can Fanon teach us when it comes to the class struggle and organising?
Class struggle is central to Fanon’s analysis. The Lebanese Marxist, Mahdi Amel, pointing to Fanon’s insights on how the revolutionary praxis differentiates and changes its meaning and direction after independence, writes: ‘While it [revolutionary violence] was before independence, essentially a national struggle, after independence it becomes a real class struggle’ through which the masses discover their true enemy: the national bourgeoisie (Hamdan, 1964a). So from a strictly national level, the fight moves to a socio-economic level of class struggle. Fanon urges us to move from a national consciousness towards a social and political consciousness when he says, ‘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’ (Fanon, 1967a, p165).
However, Fanon invites us to ‘stretch Marxism’ as a way of understanding the particularities of capitalism in the colonial and postcolonial world. To borrow Immanuel Wallerstein’s words, Fanon ‘had rebelled, forcefully, against the ossified Marxism of the communist movements of his era’, asserting a revised version of the class struggle breaking with the dogma that the urban, industrial proletariat is the only revolutionary class against the bourgeoisie (Wallerstein, 2009). Fanon thought of the peasantry and the urbanized lumpenproletariat as the strongest candidate for the role of historical revolutionary subject in colonial Algeria. And here, Fanon meets Che Guevara when both point out that in colonised countries, revolution begins in rural areas and moves to the urban towns. It is launched by the peasantry, which embraces the proletariat rather than the other way around as in the case of European capitalist, and even socialist, countries (Hamdan, 1964b).
In a nutshell, class struggle is essential provided we clearly identify the struggling classes. In this spirit, it’s crucial to determine the revolutionary classes (and their alliances) in the current uprising. We need to go beyond ‘workerism’ and embrace a much broader conception of the proletariat in its contemporary expressions, namely the unemployed youth, the urban/rural working people, informal workers, peasants, etc. It is these classes that have nothing to lose but their chains, which makes them potentially revolutionary.
In his chapter ‘Spontaneity: its strengths and weaknesses’ in The Wretched, Fanon expressed concerns that if the lumpen-proletariat is left on its own, without organisational structure, it will burn out (Wallerstein, 2009). In order to avoid this and to bar the route against the parasitic bourgeoisie that is still ruling in Algeria, Fanon would probably say: ‘The bourgeoisie should not be allowed to find the conditions necessary for its existence and its growth. In other words, the combined effort of the masses led by a party and of intellectuals who are highly conscious and armed with revolutionary principles ought to bar the way to this useless and harmful middle class’ (Fanon, 1967a, p140).
Fanon would also repeat to us an important observation he made on some African revolutions, which is that their unifying character sidelines any thinking of a socio-political ideology on how to radically transform society. This is a great weakness that we are witnessing yet again with the new Algerian revolution. ‘Nationalism is not a political doctrine, nor a programme’, says Fanon (Ibid, p163). He insists on the necessity of a revolutionary political party (or perhaps an organised social movement) that can take the demands of the masses forward, a party/structure that will educate the people politically, that will be ‘a tool in the hands of the people’ and that will be the energetic spokesman and the ‘incorruptible defender of the masses.’ For Fanon, reaching such a conception of a party necessitates first of all ridding ourselves of the bourgeois notion of elitism and ‘the contemptuous attitude that the masses are incapable of governing themselves’ (Ibid, p151).
Fanon abhorred the elitist discourse on the immaturity of the masses and asserted that in the struggle, they (the masses) are equal to the problems which confront them. It is therefore important for them to know just where they are going and why. Nigel Gibson eloquently articulated this view in these words: ‘for Fanon, the “we” was always a creative “we”, a “we” of political action and praxis, thinking and reasoning’ (Gibson, 2011). For him, the nation does not exist except in a socio-political and economic program ‘worked out by revolutionary leaders and taken up with full understanding and enthusiasm by the masses’ (Fanon, 1967a, p164).
Unfortunately, what we see today in Africa is the antithesis of what Fanon strongly argued for. We see the stupidity of the anti-democratic bourgeoisies embodied in their tribal and family dictatorships, banning the people, often with crude force, from participating in their country’s development, and fostering a climate of immense hostility between the rulers and the ruled. Fanon, in his conclusion of The Wretched, argues that we have to work out new concepts through ongoing political education, enriched through mass struggle. Political education for him is not merely about political speeches but rather about ‘opening the minds’ of the people, ‘awakening them, and allowing the birth of their intelligence’ (Ibid, p159). ‘If building a bridge does not enrich the awareness of those who work on it’, then according to Fanon, it ‘ought not to be built and the citizens can go on swimming across the river or going by boat’ (Ibid, p162).
This is perhaps one of the greatest legacies of Fanon. His radical and generous vision is so refreshing and rooted in the people’s daily struggles, which open up spaces for new ideas and imaginings. For him, everything depends on the masses, hence his idea of radical intellectuals engaged in and with people’s movements and capable of coming up with new concepts in non-technical and non-professional language. Just as, for Fanon, culture has to become a fighting culture, so too must education become about total liberation (Gibson, 2011). This is what we need to bear in mind when we talk about education in schools and universities. Decolonial education in the Fanonian sense is an education that helps create a social and political consciousness. The militant or the intellectual, therefore, must not take shortcuts in the name of getting things done, as this is inhuman and sterile. It is all about coming and thinking together, which is the foundation of the liberated society.