||It's been 40 years since Frantz Fanon's second and perhaps least examined work, A DYING COLONIALISM, was published and immediately banned by France's colonial-imperialist government of Charles de Gaulle. Recently, I shared a panel in Philadelphia at the African Studies Association Conference and the following day, in New York, at a Columbia University African Institute round-table with scholars discussing the significance of this most dialectical work on the Algerian Revolution.
Dying at the all-too-early age of 36, in December 1961, Fanon didn't live to see Algeria gain its independence, nor to witness its incompleteness retrogress into the fratricidal violence that presently engulfs it. The fate of such Third World revolutions was the subject of Fanon's last and greatest work on the dialectics of revolution, THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH.
The one exception to the judgment that A DYING COLONIALISM is Fanon's least studied work is the book's first chapter, "Algeria Unveiled," on women in the revolution. At the other end of Fanon's book, which he originally titled "The Fifth Year of the Revolution" in homage to Karl Marx's 18th BRUMAIRE, the last chapter of A DYING COLONIALISM on the Minorities Question has received scant attention. And yet, in today's world of faddish multiculturalism, crises of multiethnic democracy and identity politics, let alone the near daily savagery of "ethnic cleansings," this overlooked chapter leaves no doubt as to Fanon's continuing significance.
In fact, what Fanon means by "minority" is POLITICAL minority. He had written three sharply critical articles at the end of 1957 for the Algerian journal, EL MOUDJAHID, on "French Intellectuals and Democrats and the Algerian Revolution." In them he takes the French Left to task for blackmailing the liberation movement regarding its conduct of the revolution. A year or so later, in A DYING COLONIALISM, his attitude is considerably changed.
The National Liberation Front (FLN) of the Algerian Revolution had, as had its nationalist predecessors, sought the support and solidarity of French democrats,workers, students and the Left from the beginning of the revolution in 1954. However, as Fanon noted, "Other things being equal, it can be said of Algeria's European democrats what has been endlessly repeated of the French parties of the Left: for a long time history is made without them." Though the Left is unable to prevent the imperialist adventures of France, "Nevertheless," Fanon adds, "their existence has forced the neo-fascists of Algeria and France to be on the defensive. THE LEFT HAS DONE NOTHING FOR A LONG TIME IN FRANCE. Yet by its action, its denunciations, and its analyses, it has prevented a certain number of things."
It is precisely this political duality of the Left, unable to act but having prevented a certain number of things by its denunciations of French imperialism, that reveals France's vaunted democracy being shed, even as its neo-fascism was being exposed in Algeria. Left support movements, Fanon informed his French democratic audience (the chapter on minorities having been published originally in LES TEMPS MODERNES), both elicit and expose the social fascism of so-called democratic governments when it (the Left) denounces the imperialist-militarist foreign policies of its own government. Left forces in Algeria and in France were in this way "constantly forcing the extremists to unmask themselves, and hence progressively to adopt the positions that will precipitate their defeat."
So crucial were political minorities for making the revolution and for the reconstruction of Algerian society afterwards that Fanon singled out two "minorities" in particular to demonstrate his dialectical approach to both of these historic tasks. Of Algeria's Jewish minority Fanon wrote that "Even today, the Jewish lawyers and doctors who in the camps or in prison share the fate of millions of Algerians attest to the multiracial reality of the Algerian Nation."
He described the broad mass of Algerian Jews (some three-fourths of the Algerian Jewish population) as "a floating, highly Arabized mass having only a poor knowledge of French, considering itself by tradition and sometimes by dress as authentic 'natives.'"
Fanon went further. He lets us hear the voices of Algeria's Jewish dimension. As one Jewish group in Constantine wrote in August 1956, on the eve of the Battle of Algiers: "One of the most pernicious maneuvers of colonialism in Algeria was and remains the division between Jews and Moslems.... The Jews have been in Algeria for more than two thousand years; they are thus an integral part of the Algerian people.... Moslems and Jews, children of the same earth, must not fall into the trap of provocation. Rather, they must make a common front against it, not letting themselves be duped by those who, not so long ago, were offhandedly contemplating the total extermination of the Jews as a salutary step in the evolution of humanity."
Fanon made common cause with another political minority, one which to our way of thinking today would appear extraordinary. He found that even a segment of European settlers had greatly aided and supported the liberation movement, allowing their farms to be used as "infirmaries, refuges, or relay stations..., and granaries." Not only would FLN weapons caches be located on settler farms, but, "in many areas, [FLN] meetings would be held on European farms."
Fanon's point, which was also his original point of departure for this last chapter of A DYING COLONIALISM on minorities, is that "Algeria's European minority is far from being the monolithic block that one imagines." There are twin aspects to the point of Fanon's essay, aspects that are as practical as they are dialectical, namely, that being a revolutionary under the whip of counter-revolution or, as in our own day, in a period of retrogression, makes one a political minority. It is a political reality that makes it more imperative than ever to practice a dialectical approach to reality that digs deep for the other, revolutionary dimension that lies in every country, in every oppressed minority. From Rwanda to the Balkans, to right here in the U.S., we see that Frantz Fanon was a practicing, thinking dialectician who continues to speak to our age.