Fanon and Marx

April 8, 2012

When Terry Moon in her column in the last is­sue asks, “How deep does the dialectic need to become when the subject is woman, is Black woman?” she calls for more discussion of Fanon and Women’s Liberation.

Fanon, in breaking with Sartre’s Existentialist Marxism—which acknowledged only one Subject, labor, and consigned the Black dimension to a “minor term”— did not merely pose the “opposite,” Black as the Sub­ject. A movement at the time which did pose Black as Subject was Negritude. Fanon criticized the “cultural nationalism” of its spokesman, Aimé Césaire, as pro­moting a “vanguardism and a top-down” approach.


L Boogie is remarkable in seeing how profoundly Fanon’s description of Black experience as “crushing objectification” also applies to women. She means being “made to not feel safe in my own body” and being “alien­ated from my own physical self.”

Even as Fanon rejected Sartre’s truncated concept of labor as the only universal, he turned to labor anew starting from the way Hegel worked it out in his master/slave dialectic. Fanon pointed to the fact that, whereas in the master/slave dialectic the master needed the slave’s recognition, once the element of race is introduced, the mas­ter does not want recognition from the slave, but only work.

For Hegel the development of humanity comes only through the slave, not the master. The slave gets a mind of her own because she experiences the power of ideas that shape the world through being disciplined by so­cial relations of slavery and the actuality of her work.


Fanon’s dialectic, with the introduction of race, is deeper and sharper than Hegel’s, because one can no longer take for granted the master’s recognition of the slave’s humanity. There is no reciprocity. In Fanon, the struggle of the laborer whose ideas shape the world in­cludes the struggle to be recognized as a human being.

Fanon here has something in common with Marx, who began with labor in a universal sense, very differ­ent from Sartre’s. Labor, which is humans’ metabolism with nature in any society, is always shaped by abstrac­tions that determine human relations. The extent to which we become fully aware and freely choose the ab­stractions that mediate our relations with each other and with nature is the extent to which we realize our essential human nature. For Marx this was true not only about labor under capitalism, but in the struggle against Black slavery in the U.S. and in the most fun­damental relation: man/woman.

For Fanon, the colonial Subject’s struggle was “an untidy affirmation of an original idea propounded as an absolute,” a radical affirmation of the Subject’s hu­manity in their social being. Fanon’s break with Sartre was a reconnection with Marx, with his recreation of a universal which has to manifest in the particulars but is not exhausted in them.

—Urszula Wislanka

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