For a Combative Decoloniality Sixty Years after Fanon’s Death

“For a Combative Decoloniality Sixty Years after Fanon’s Death” is an invitation from the Frantz Fanon Foundation, represented by co-chairs Mireille Fanon Mendès France and Nelson Maldonado-Torres. They posted this article on December 6, which marked sixty years since Fanon’s death in 1961.

“Finally, a third stage, a combat stage where the colonized writer, after having tried to lose himself among the people, with the people, will rouse the people. Instead of letting the people’s lethargy prevail, he turns into a galvanizer of the people.” Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.

“The collective struggle (le combat collectif) presupposes a collective responsibility from the rank and file and a collegial responsibility at the top. Yes, everyone must be involved in the struggle (le combat) for the sake of the common salvation (le salut commun). There are no clean hands, no innocent bystanders. We are all in the process of dirtying our hands in the quagmire of our soil and the terrifying void of our minds. Any bystander is a coward or a traitor.”  Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.    

Readers of The Wretched of the Earth are familiar with the often-cited sentence: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.” It has been sixty years after the publication of The Wretched and sixty years after Fanon’s passing, yet this sentence reads as relevant today as it read then. It might indeed be a timeless sentence, one of those gifts with perennial value from that intense era of decolonization movements towards the middle of the last century. 

That the traditional empire-based juridico-political colonialism of several centuries was largely, but not totally, vanquished last century, does not mean that colonial relations ended then. By the time that European empires fell, nation-states had already assumed the duties of preserving institutions, values, and forms of social organization that reproduced and/or extended the racial logics that characterized the age of modern Western colonialism and that continue to characterize the discourse of modern Western civilization. The conceptualization and treatment of indigenous and racialized populations in Europe, including Blacks, Jews, Gypsies, and Muslims, anticipated the formation of a new model of global power that became the cornerstone of new nation-states in the former colonies. The gospels of “discovery” and civilization legitimated vast genocides, dispossession, and racial enslavement, all of which solidified racial thinking in Europe and became cornerstones in the birth of new nations. Notable examples include the United States, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and Australia, but the list is too long to make it justice here. 

While empire-based colonialism largely ended, nation-based and corporate-based colonialism as well as local and global coloniality endure. Whether formally democratic or dictatorial, nation-states reproduce coloniality. The struggle against coloniality continues even as the context has changed and the forms of domination have often morphed. It is in this situation of relative opacity that Fanon continues to call us to discover our mission sixty years after his death. 

While many today have turned to celebrate liberal tolerance, corporate efficiency, inclusive excellence, and/or resilience in face of climate disasters or evidence of systemic and structural racism, we find that the struggle against coloniality demands first and foremost a combative attitude. We also take this idea from Fanon, who was careful enough to distinguish combativity from mere denunciation and critique. As much as critique and criticism are often praised as the counter-liberal attitudes or actions par excellence, they are often mobilized to take attention away from coloniality and to openly or surreptitiously support the myth of the cognitive superiority of modern Western civilization. Critique is as necessary as insufficient, and it can easily align itself with conservative attitudes if it is not deployed in a combative decolonial direction. 

Different from critique, combativity emerges when racialized subjects start to address other racialized subjects in the effort to generate the sense of a collective struggle. While critique draws its power from crisis, decolonial combativity addresses the catastrophe of modernity/coloniality. Combativity goes beyond cries of protests, laments, and appeals, even as these may be necessary moments of the struggle. Combativity is about the path from individual to collective responsibility, and it requires the will and ability to connect with others and to engage in collective movement against coloniality. The combative attitude is, like combative literature, “resolve situated in historical time” (Fanon, The Wretched) and it is dedicated to the effort of building “the world of you” (Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks).

 The trajectory of Fanon’s life indicates that combativity calls for transcending the roles of the medical doctor and the scholar. These positions can offer important tools for the process of decolonization, but they can also turn counterproductive if they remain isolated and disconnected from collective movements and struggles. Fanon went so far as resigning from these positions in the effort to connect with a collective of racial and colonial subjects who were struggling for their liberation and independence. Combativity requires similar acts of transgression and resignation from the established standards of recognition and merit. Combativity transcends desires for recognition. It is rather about the possibility of maximizing the possibilities of connection between the condemned of the earth and between their various struggles. 

 Since the struggles against dehumanization continue, how should we then conceive of our combative mission today, and how to pursue this mission without betraying it? We invite reflections on the nature of combativity, on contemporary examples of combativity, and on the most important combative tasks of our day. This includes consideration of how doctors, scholars, writers, and professionals like Fanon can assume the challenge of connecting with people in other positions and help generate a sense of collective struggle. It is important to consider how can medical, artistic, and scholarly training best contribute to struggles for decolonization and decoloniality, as well as how these activities can and should be enriched, redefined, and sometimes even set aside as part of this process. What sort of transformations those who practice medicine, who create art, and/or who engage in scholarship need to undergo when working with communities and collectives that come together in the effort to promote change? How can those who work within hegemonic institutions participate in a process of unlearning and relearning with those who work outside these institutions? There is much to learn from those who produce knowledge through organizing and through educating others to organize. How do we support, work with, and learn from those who do not count with institutional resources? How can we effectively counter the extraction of ideas from social movements, community organizers, and social movements’ leaders? How do we transform medical, artistic, and scholarly training and direct them to oppose extractivism in all its forms? How do we transition to more relational forms of engagement, communication, and collaboration in support of movements that combat systemic racism, coloniality, and antiblackness? What can everyone learn from existing combative movements, and what combative movements do we consider particularly critical from our own situated position and point of view? These are urgent questions that are very familiar to combative decolonial movements and community organizations across the globe.   

 Also crucial are questions about the challenges to combativity and combative organizing today in the context of the state-sanctioned violence against social movement leaders and protesters, the eradication of free time, as well as the cooptation, mistranslation, and ensuing domestication of movement-based anti-colonial, decolonial, and abolitionist terminology in state, corporation, and academic projects. This is occurring in the context of the renewal of anti-racist and decolonial movements in multiple parts of the globe, and as a response to demographic shifts in the north that are perceived as threats to the interests and world view of normative populations. Anything is done to contain the impact of these movements and these demographic shifts; everything is mobilized to limit the possibilities of dissenting voices and projects to find a fertile ground. The reinvention of apparently benevolent, but not less modern/colonial, liberalism and neoliberalism through the extension and proliferation of the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” state and corporate industrial complex is one of the most pervasive efforts in this direction today. How to engage in combative struggle when the faces representing the forces of benevolent liberalism are increasingly “diversified,” and when terms like Black and blackness are mobilized to support liberal and neoliberal initiatives and projects? In this vein, how to respond to Black and other racialized intellectuals who are sometimes conveniently positioned as brokers in discussions about racism and colonialism by state leaders of the north while sidelining combative social movements in the north and south? 

Learning about our respective views regarding combativity and what we consider to be urgent and necessary combative struggles of our time can be of great assistance in bringing more clarity to the task of discovering our mission and doing our best not to betray it. The Frantz Fanon Foundation invites you to join us in keeping Fanon’s decolonial spirit of combativeness alive by learning from each other, loving each other, and together contribute to the unfinished project of decolonization and decoloniality today.

–Mireille Fanon Mendès France & Nelson Maldonado-Torres Co-Chairs, Frantz Fanon Foundation

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