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 is demonstrated in slogans such as: ‘Algerians are brothers and sisters, the people are united, you traitors.’ The movement is youth-led and relatively loosely organized. There are no clearly identifiable leaders or organized structures propelling it. It is a popular uprising that is mobilizing mass forces from the middle classes and from the marginalized classes in urban and rural areas. Unlike Sudan, where the Sudanese Professional Association has played a leading organizing role, in Algeria organizing 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 in shaking up alliances within the ruling class, was organized spontaneously after anonymous calls on social media. While such amorphous, non-structured and leaderless dynamics and movements can generate large inter-class mobilizations, and have the advantage of not offering an easy target for repression, or for the co-option of leaders, they are nevertheless extremely vulnerable, and can manifest fatal weaknesses in the long run.
What can Fanon teach us when it comes to class struggle and organizing?
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.15 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’.16
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.17 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.18
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 concern that if the lumpen-proletariat is left on its own, without organizational structure, it will burn out.19 In order to avoid this in the present situation in Algeria, Fanon’s words are worth attending to: ‘The bourgeoisie should not be allowed to find the conditions necessary for its existence and its growth…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’.20 Fanon insisted on the necessity of a revolutionary political party (or perhaps an organized 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/movement necessitates first of all ridding ourselves of the bourgeois notion of elitism and ‘the contemptuous attitude that the masses are incapable of governing themselves’.21 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. To this end, he 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’.22 He wrote: ‘If building a bridge does not enrich the awareness of those who work on it, it ought not to be built and the citizens can go on swimming across the river or going by boat’.23
For Fanon, 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. For him, just as culture has to become a fighting culture, so too must education become about total liberation. These principles should be heeded in Algeria’s current revolutionary moment.