Fanon and Nkrumah on négritude and African socialism

As early as 1961, Fanon critiqued in general the movements and leaders of newly independent African states, whose main concern seemed to have been staying in power and aggrandizing themselves or the elites (the underdeveloped “bourgeoisie of civil servants”) on whose support they relied. Fanon also critiqued the concept of négritude as espoused by Senghor — in particular the idea of returning to a pristine past. “We should not … be content to delve into the people’s past to find concrete examples to counter colonialism’s endeavours to distort and depreciate.” Similarly, Nkrumah repudiated the term “African socialism” in 1966, noting that

the realities of the diverse and irreconcilable social, political, and economic policies being pursued by African states today have made the term ‘African socialism’ meaningless and irrelevant. It appears to be much more closely associated with anthropology than with political economy.

Like Fanon, Nkrumah rejected the call for a return to a pristine pre-colonial Africa, noting that no such pristine, classless or non-hierarchical Africa ever existed in the first place. Fanon and Nkrumah were both asserting that there was nothing unique about Africa that immunized its societies from class conflict. Reaching a proper, socialist Pan-African culture was a matter of political practice, not retreat into an imagined culture. Fanon notes that

The problem is knowing what role [African politicians] have in store for their people, the type of social relations they will establish and their idea of the future of humanity. That is what matters. All else is hot air and mystification.

Nkrumah called for a turn toward socialism focusing on the particular conditions facing particular countries, recognizing that “there is only one nature, subject in all its manifestations to natural laws and that human society is, in this sense, part of nature and subject to its own laws of development” — scientific socialism. Fanon called for the creation of a new national culture based on a collective consciousness reached through the mobilization of the masses (particularly the lumpenproletariat and the peasantry), led by a revolutionary party, to stamp out the “useless and harmful bourgeoisie” — class struggle. In other words: revolutionary theory and practice.


Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2004.

Nkrumah, Kwame. “African Socialism Revisited.” In The Africa Reader: Independent Africa, edited by Wilfred G. Cartey and Martin Kilson, 200-208. New York: Random House, 1970. this!

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