Thursday, 23 June 2011

Mark Butler introduces: Richard Pithouse, "Fidelity to Fanon"

Pithouse crisply extracts key features of Fanon's philosophy to illuminate aspects
of our contemporary situation.

Fanon's commitment to the struggle of his day against colonialism didn't blind
him to the insight that "while revolutionary nationalism defeated colonialism it has
failed to create a human prospect". Fanon saw "the moment when the 'liberating
lava' of the great anti-colonial struggles was diverted as the people were expelled
from history, 'sent back to their caves' by leaders who 'instead of welcoming the
expression of popular discontentment' and the 'free flow of ideas' proclaim that
the vocation of their people is to obey".

Pithouse reminds us that Fanon's revolutionary humanism always implies "an
affirmation of absolute equality, an orientation to all of humanity, a commitment
to the self management of property held in common. ... He is a philosopher of
popular political empowerment - of the will of the people, of a 'deliberate,
emancipatory and inclusive process of collective self determination'". The latter
must also and always mean that the place of the 'militant intellectual' is "to be
present in the real movements that abolish the present state of things".

The power of all these insights for our current situation is clear - especially
where the independent agency of the poor is either viewed as perverse, violent
and threatening, or simply not recognised as a possibility at all. For Pithouse
it is important to recognise that:

This refusal to recognise subaltern political consciousness and agency ... 
has passed seamlessly from apartheid to parliamentary democracy... And ... 
it is not the sole preserve of the state. ... [I]t is endemic amongst some of 
the leading figures of the middle class left ... [who] adopt precisely the 
same discourses of malevolent external manipulation and criminality to 
explain away, and thereby symbolically annihilate, the emergence of a 
politics of the poor outside of their control.

The paper also uses Fanon's insights to explore the role of intellectuals and
mainstream civil society where "the anti-democratic orientation inherent in
the assumption that progressive change will come from above has remained
constant". Says Pithouse:

South Africa has one of the highest rates of popular protest anywhere 
in the world ... [b]ut it has become clear that for much of the middle-class
left, whether in the academy or NGOs, it is simply impossible to accept that
there is a grassroots left. .... Real politics, it is assumed, is inevitably a 
contestation between the ideas of competing elites... But Fanon insisted
that we should not lose sight of the real.

Click here to read 'Fidelity to Fanon' by Richard Pithouse