||People who had given everything, wonder with their empty hands and bellies, as to the reality of their victory.
Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
In an earlier paper, written in reaction to those who argued that the
African National Congress (ANC) had no alternative but to implement
neoliberal economic policies in the context of the 'Washington
Consensus', I discussed the strategic choices and ideological pitfalls
of the 'political class' who took over state power in South Africa after
the end of apartheid and implemented its own homegrown structural
adjustment programme (Gibson 2001). Much of this transition has
been scripted by political science 'transition literature' and much of it
is proactive, mapping out what should be done to establish a 'pacted',
'elite' democracy overseeing neoliberal economic policies (O'Donnell,
Schmitter & Whitehead 1986). From another vantage point, I
argued that Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth is perhaps one
of the most perceptive critiques of the transition literature available.
This paper continues the discussion.
At the end of the critical chapter, 'Spontaneity, its Strengths and
Weaknesses', Fanon writes, 'The people find out the iniquitous fact
that exploitation can wear a blackface, or an Arab one, and they raise
the cry of "Treason"! But the cry is mistaken; and the mistake must be
corrected. The treason is not national but social' (Fanon 1968: 145,
my emphasis). I want to consider this 'social' treason by looking at
the logic of South Africa's self-limiting political transition from
apartheid in light of Fanon's humanism, which poses not only a theoretical
challenge, but also, grounded in the concrete struggle of ordinary
people, offers an ideological alternative to the existing 'white'
(namely, bourgeois and elite) one that has come to 'wear a black face'. Humanism has become more important in the battle of ideas, as
seen in the Mail & Guardian's 16-page pull-out on South Africa's
decade of democracy compiled by Wiser at the University of the Witwatersrand under tJie editorial title, 'A Critical Humanism' (July
2004). What is noteworthy is that spaces to debate ideas about new humanisms are developing even if, in this particular case, the theoretical discussion is limited and ungrounded in the reality of ordinary people's lives. Namely, the measurement of 'how far we've come' is
made in constitutional changes while the issue of basic survival in post-apartheid South Africa is bracketed off. As part of this dialogue,
however, I want to suggest another standpoint by underlining Fanon's dialectical methodology.
For Fanon, the dialectic was alive: phenomenological rather than abstract; it was about lived experience, yes, but lived experience as resistance, revolt and struggle reflected in actuality and in ideas. Fanon's famous criticism of Jean-Paul Sartre for not understanding the lived experience of the black(the literal title of the fifth chapter in Black Skin White Masks 1967) alludes to a methodological difference I want to underline here between synthetic thought and negativity. This difference is essential to a proper understanding of Fanon's dialectic (Gibson 2003: 24-42).
While Sartre's argument appears dialectical in that negation is eventually subsumed into a higher synthesis, Sartre makes light of Hegel's insight that all negation tends to see itself as absolute and lends momentum to the dialectical process. Instead, Sartre imposes a mechanical schema: thesis = white / antithesis = black / synthesis = multiracialism. Because, for Sartre, black consciousness merely contributes to this inevitable and pre-existing goal, Fanon feels that Sartre has curtailed possible future acts and undermined his subjectivity. In other words, Sartre the existentialist has forgotten the specificity of the lived experience of the black, reducing it to what he called a 'minor' term inthe dialectic; he has sublimated the specificity of black lived experience by a preexisting abstract universal, 'the proletariat'. Interestingly, Sartre also creates a division between race and class, thus skipping their specific— that is, experiential and logical—interrelatedness. Fanon's point here is not only the importance of black consciousness, but also that the dialectic is a movement that develops through contradiction and struggle rather than one that elides them.
Translated politically it can be seen as the difference between a movement emerging from below and working out its ideas in the untidy politics of open discussion and disagreement and a movement whose pre-existing meaning is given in political directives from above.