- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

He was called the "Black Rousseau," which is quite a stretch. He has been described as "one of the most influential figures in Third World revolutionary thought equaled in influence only, perhaps, by Karl Marx," which is an even bigger stretch.
His little book, "The Wretched of the Earth," was christened "the Bible of the Third World." (The book's title comes from the second sentence of the Socialist-Communist anthem, "The Internationale.")
Translated from the author's native French into 19 other languages, the book, boasting as an introduction an inflammatory hymn to violence by Jean-Paul Sartre ("shooting a European means killing two birds with one stone, doing away with oppressed and oppressor at one and at the same time; there remain a dead man and a free man") became a U.S. bestseller during the 1960s and '70s. In those decades it inspired the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, and their later followers like Sister Souljah, who a little belatedly in 1992 announced it was time for blacks to kill whites.
The book was widely read among campus revolutionaries, those who confused Berkeley and Columbia with the Winter Palace and Algerian battlefields. This was the time when from Paris students came the cry, "Imagination is seizing power," whatever that meant. "Revolution" was in the air. Six editions of Frantz Fanon's book, bubbling with revolutionary mysticism, have appeared in Arabic. David Macey, his biographer, calls him a black Frenchman from a still French colonial possession, "an apocalyptic creature."
Born in 1925 to a prosperous middle-class family in the French Caribbean colony of Martinique as one of eight children, Fanon, the apostle of violence and terror against colonialism, is today the forgotten ideologue, forgotten even in Algeria, whose bloody seven-year struggle for independence he served so devotedly both as a French-trained doctor-psychiatrist clinician and as a propagandist-intellectual. He died at 36 of leukemia in 1961, at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in the United States, the scene one might say of the first anti-colonial revolt of modern times.
In one of his first books, "Black Skins, White Masks," Fanon announced that he preferred America to France, because in America, "the Negro battles and is battled. There are laws that, little by little, are invalidated under the Constitution. There are other laws that forbid certain forms of discrimination." His death came the year "The Wretched of the Earth" was first published and just before Algeria became independent. Fame as a leading third world revolutionary ideologist came posthumously. After Fanon's death, the provisional Algerian government flew his body back to North Africa, where the Algerian Army of Liberation buried him with national honors.
Why now this huge, one might say over-detailed, biography of a man who was no revolutionary theorist, like V.I. Lenin or Mao Tse-tung, no glamour-puss like the bereted Che Guevara or the cigar-smoking Fidel Castro? For me, having followed Algerian events since 1957, "Frantz Fanon: A Biography," was fascinating reading. The author is an admirer of his subject. Even though he preached "a gospel of hate and violence," Mr. Macey writes, Fanon's uniqueness lies in "the combination of anger and generosity of spirit" which are "his true legacy." Perhaps.
But whereas he had in earlier books tried to bridge the chasm between violence and civilization, in his last book Fanon had given up that quest.
Most African countries achieved independence rather quickly and peacefully or with little bloodshed, notably Algeria's Arab neighbors, Tunisia and Morocco, by 1956.
But Algeria, a French colony for 130 years, was the only North African territory with a large non-Muslim European settler population of some 850,000 colons or pied-noirs, many of them originally migrants from Provence and southern Spain. They were not about to give up their property and way of life. Algeria was also regarded by France not as a mere colony but as a part of metropolitan France. So there were years of bombing, terror, torture, on both sides until President Charles de Gaulle approved the Evian agreements and Algeria was free.
But free to do what? Create a one-party despotism as was the case in most African ex-colonies? Bloodshed in Algeria, now a sovereign state, continued and then exploded when fundamentalist Muslims in the Islamic Salvation Front won an election in December 1991 but were barred by the Army from taking power. So began a civil war with ISF militants and currently also with the rebellious Muslim Berber mountain tribes in the Kabyle sector of Algeria.
Perhaps 100,000 Algerians, including women and children, have been killed by other Algerians in a country which should be one of the richest in Africa, since its Saharan oil and gas reserves are huge. How reminiscent of William Blake's words: "The iron hand crushed the tyrant's head / And became a tyrant in his stead."
Looking at Algeria today, was the battle worth while? Fanon, the psychiatrist, would say yes, because his social psychiatry, according to the author, exalted violence for therapeutic reasons. Yet the violence that has torn this country apart for a decade can hardly be called therapeutic. "Violence, and violence alone," writes Mr. Macey, summarizing Fanon's credo, "can cauterize the absolute wound of colonialism." But what is the continuing violence in Algeria cauterizing now?
A violent liberation struggle leads to a purer form of independence, said Fanon. Purer than in the neighboring monarchy of Morocco and the semi-democratic Tunisia where little violence preceded their liberation from France? Fanon was captivated by a much quoted (and misquoted) line attributed to Marx and/or Friedrich Engels that "violence is the midwife of history." (Actually it was Marx who in Chapter 31 of the first volume of "Das Kapital," wrote: "Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.")
The reason Fanon has been eclipsed is his monumental error: He saw the third world as a platform for a violent world revolution with color as its dynamo, ignoring the fact that the uniqueness of the struggle in Algeria was that skin pigmentation was not involved anymore than it was in neighboring Morocco and Tunisia. But as the author points out, Mahatma Gandhi's "salt march" didn't preach violence. Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Sekou Toure in Guinea, Leopold Senghor in Senegal won independence with little bloodshed, as did most of Africa.
When Fanon wrote that "decolonization is always a violent phenomenon," he couldn't have been more wrong, as the historical record shows. Moreover, as his biographer points out, Fanon's geography ignores Asia, Latin America or the Middle East.
There were others long before Fanon who preached a romantic revolutionism, but their sermons were based more or less on class warfare. Even the hard-headed George Orwell wrote in 1940: "Only revolution can save England … I dare say the London gutters will have to run with blood. All right, let them, if it is necessary." Albert Camus, in 1944, wrote that France "needs a Saint-Just," one of the most bloodthirsty of the French revolutionaries of 1789. W.H. Auden, in a poem about the civil war in Spain, in 1937, talked about the "necessary murder" perpetrated by one of Joseph Stalin's assassins. (The poem was later revised.)
And before all these came Lord Byron, declaiming that there is "no salvation outside revolution." (For these citations, I am indebted to Renee Weingarten's "Writers and Revolution: The Fatal Lure of Action".)
For me the intellectual villain in Fanon's life was Sartre, who deliberately ignored Fanon's revolutionism based on skin color and twisted him into a Marxist-Leninist enthusiast, which he was not. What would save humanity, said Sartre, was the "proletariat"; only a classless society could eliminate race or color oppression.
But for Fanon only the peasantry could make the revolution, because they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Marxism-Leninism and Sartre regarded this as impermissible heresy, but still Fanon could be exploited. Allan Bloom described Fanon as "an ephemeral writer once promoted by Sartre because of [Fanon's] murderous hatred of Europeans and his espousal of terrorism."
To Fanon's French widow, Josie, Sartre's preface became unwelcome because the French philosopher in June, 1967 had not only supported Israel in the Six-Day War but had also signed a petition denying that Israel was part of "the imperialist camp." She asked the publisher not to include the preface in future printings. The publisher dropped the preface but printed it separately and inserted it into the book as a "supplement" under the title, "Frantz Fanon, son of violence." Was it Fanon's good fortune to have died so young and not lived to see the failure of a dream?
Fanon's biographer has done a superb job, which should make his book a prize winner. David Macey's research and interviews are part of the history of the second half of the 20th century and their publication now is more than warranted.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times. He was the first correspondent to cover the Algerian uprising. Newsweek ran his report in 1957.

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