NewsfeaturesThird World Project, or How Poco Failed

Third World Project, or How Poco Failed


by Charlie Samuya Veric

In a novel combining fiction, biography, and memoir, John Edgar Wideman begins with a letter to Frantz Fanon.1 Holding a glass of red wine, the narrator sits in the garden of a small house in Brittany, addressing Fanon, who has been dead for almost half a century. The narrator calls it the Fanon project, a task that has been on his mind since he first read The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon, the narrator says, holds a powerful lesson as a witness of history. “Your witness,” the narrator says of the long-dead figure, “of the separate domains of settler and native, black and white, your understanding of how the separation exploits the native, appropriates the native’s land, and stultifies the being of both settler and native, taught me how divided from myself and others I’ve become.”2 Why, the reader might ask, is Wideman’s narrator still using the seemingly quaint language of decolonization in the age of globalization? To such a question the narrator responds: I want to be free. If the narrator is correct, Fanon represents the possibility of radical freedom today. That is to say, the persistence of the Third World ideal in the age of globalization can be understood as the result of persistent unfreedom. Under siege in Fanon’s time and deemed to be so today, freedom, the narrator says, can only be secured “in the institutions of society, in the consciousness of individuals, and the spirit of culture.”3

So, what exactly is this culture that Fanon represents? What makes it radical? What kind of humanity does it constitute? Answering these questions will require the exploration of the middle of the twentieth century when, as Jean Paul Sartre once put it, 1,500 million natives overthrew the rule of 500 million men. In this essay, I will argue that decolonization constituted a new culture that defined the new subjects of history, the decolonized. Previously thought to be without history and culture, the people of the Third World imagined a decolonizing world system, which allowed them to rethink culture and humanity as historical categories. To describe the nature of this world system, I will return to the decade that yielded three foundational works following the historic Bandung Conference in 1955: Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Jose Maria Sison’s Struggle for National Democracy, and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, texts whose publication coincided with the formal decolonization of several territories, including the independence of South Africa in 1961, of South Yemen in 1967, and of Swaziland in 1968, respectively.4

Drawing on the dialectic of colonization and decolonization, the books discuss similar themes and concerns. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon provides a critique of nationalism and imperialism, discussing the role of the intellectual in liberation movements in Africa. Referencing the Marxian concept of the lumpenproletariat, Fanon reconceptualizes the term to name the peasants in the countryside as the revolutionary agents of colonized countries, arguing that the group has the most potential to stage a revolution against colonial forces. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Fanon’s wretched are Freire’s oppressed who stand to be free if they act as the cocreators of knowledge, a process that constitutes what is now known as critical pedagogy. Freire also explores the notion of conscientization in which education becomes a means of human liberation. Like Fanon and Freire, Sison grapples with the challenges of national liberation in Struggle for National Democracy. A record of the legal struggles of the 1960s in the Philippines, the book identifies the primary problems ailing the country, namely, semicolonialism, semifeudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism.

Why these figures and books? First, I want to illustrate the conceptual unities in Fanon, Freire, and Sison’s political thoughts, focusing on their dual imagination of geopolitical scale, on one hand, and on their rethinking of culture and humanity, on the other. Second, I want to inquire into their critical reception in the West, particularly in the United States, to determine the ideological directions that postcolonial studies has taken. Third, I want to identify planetary forms of thinking from below using works and figures that triangulate the far corners of the Third World — in this case, Algeria, Brazil, and the Philippines.5 Given the relative obscurity of Sison, I will foreground his ideas in relation to Fanon and Freire’s, examining in particular the thematic similarities in their thoughts rather than the differences, historical or otherwise. This essay, then, is not a critique. Rather, it is an intellectual reconstruction whose aim is to lay the foundations for the delineation of what I call the homogeneous time of decolonization and the heterogeneous sites of its practice. As such, this essay contributes to the genealogical elaboration of radical ideas that constitute the Third World as a political project. In what follows, I will accordingly account for the political evolution of Fanon, Freire, and Sison and discuss how they not only constitute a world system of decolonizing thought that is simultaneously local and planetary but also reconstitute culture and humanity as a whole. Finally, I will explore what their critical reception reveals about postcolonial studies in the age of globalization.

World System of Decolonization Imagined

Let us proceed with what connects Fanon, Freire, and Sison. Though they had not met face to face, they were reading each other, if not responding to the same world-historical events in the 1960s. Consider the following. When Freire published his book seven years after Fanon’s death, it was clear that he was referencing The Wretched of the Earth, as well as other texts from the Third World like Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized.6 The book that would prove significant for Freire had its own formation, however. Before Fanon’s death on December 6, 1961, political opponents had murdered Patrice Lumumba on January 17, a crime that ultimately cast doubt on Fanon’s dream of African unity. Seriously ill at that point and utterly depressed, Fanon went on to write the last book of his life, The Wretched of the Earth. Nigel C. Gibson argues that Lumumba’s death, as well as Fanon’s experience in the Algerian revolution and observations about Ghana, served as an important backdrop for the book.7 Meanwhile, the news of Lumumba’s death also reached Sison in Manila where he was then teaching with the Department of English at the University of the Philippines, an institution that the Americans had established in 1908 following the Spanish-A merican War in 1898. Sison subsequently published an article reaffirming his support for Lumumba and his revolutionary legacies.8 The publication alerted the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, making Sison a marked man. The American Embassy in Manila followed suit and blacklisted him, a ban that remains in force to this day. Later that year, his trip to Indonesia to study language and literature would be delayed because he had been branded as a subversive on the strength of his identification with Lumumba and the anticolonial movement in Congo.

Seen thus, Fanon, Freire, and Sison had a long-distance community mediated by a set of common texts, events, and aspirations. That they never saw each other face to face proved to be their strength, which testified to the power of the Third World project. They each had their own histories to make, but they were bound together by a common language that invoked the national and imagined the planet in the name of the wretched. It was this common language that laid the foundation for the imagination of a planetary community of the wretched, a world-historical moment that announced a radical break from the West. Sartre himself recognized this in Fanon, suggesting that “the Third World discovers itself and speaks to itself through [Fanon’s] voice.”9 For Sartre, Fanon was emblematic of the Third World discovering itself and speaking to itself. More importantly, Sartre knew that Fanon was addressing his kind in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As Homi K. Bhabha would argue, Fanon created “a world system of Third World nations.”10

Sartre and Bhabha were writing about Fanon, but they could have written exactly the same things about Freire and Sison. In many ways, Fanon, Freire, and Sison were among the first political thinkers on the planet to act locally and think planetarily in terms of freedom for the wretched.11 Located separately on the planet, they knew nonetheless that they were living in the homogeneous time of the decolonizing Third World, in its extensive world system, which beckoned to them as a future project for the wretched. It is precisely for this reason that the Third World is a project of futurity, to use Bhabha’s evocative phrase. Seen this way, Fanon, Freire, and Sison are the avatars of the Third World project through which the wretched in distant countries dream of the planet as their city to come.

The Third World, then, is not simply a place but an overarching political vision, a future time in which the contradictions of history are imagined to find their resolution. It is not so much an end as it is a utopia. As such, it defies chronologies, for it is not an event that requires commemoration, but a shared historical horizon, a decolonizing world system emerging in heterogeneous sites from Algeria to Brazil to the Philippines. The imagination of this world system is significant because it permits us to grapple with the more intangible, and even intractable, aspects of the Third World as a planetary political project. That is to say, its imagination compels us to deal with ideas beyond facts, with visions beyond failures, with connections beyond limits.

For what did Sison know about Lumumba other than what the news revealed? Did Freire feel Fanon’s disappointments as he lay dying in bed? Did Fanon or Freire ever become familiar with Sison? It is hard to say. Yet they spoke the same language, saw the same future, and conceived the same time where new historical subjects would reclaim culture and humanity across the planet. Together, they witnessed the emergence of a people whom Richard Wright once called the “despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed — in short the underdogs of the human race.”12 This event constituted the homogeneous time of decolonization, a simultaneous moment that united Fanon, Freire, and Sison even if they had the most tenuous connections in reality. Theirs was a tie no stronger than the Third World of the mind, but that was all they needed to explode the human constraints, information lags, time zones, and territorial borders of their day.

To imagine such homogeneous time is to reconstruct a planetary political project whose condition of possibility lies in the imaginative will to connect the missing and often disparate links. The homogeneous time of decolonization accordingly reminds us that the Third World project is not a history of failed destinies, but a living archive of interconnected experiences. The Third World project is forever. At its heart is an extraordinary conception of a new humanistic planetarity, a belief in the planetary agency of new historical subjects from below, whose significance we will begin to understand more fully.

Homogeneous Time and Heterogeneous Sites of Decolonization

The imagination of the Third World project is perhaps nowhere more evident than in Fanon, Freire, and Sison’s discussion of scale as a problem of radical engagement. Indeed, the question of location, which is the same question that haunts existence and exchange in the age of globalization, lies at the heart of their works. Fanon summed up this matter in his famous injunction on the dual emergence of the national and international. In doing so, Fanon called attention to his organic understanding of the two as the only subtitle in his chapter on national culture, “Mutual Foundations for National Culture and Liberation Struggles,” would suggest. For his part, Freire framed the national and international as the dialectic between what he called the focal and total. Given the fact that Freire was dealing with the oppressed, a group with the least access to totality, it was important for him to stress the role of the total because it would not only provide the oppressed with a consciousness to be free but would also allow them to relate their freedom to the unfreedom of others beyond their locality.

Such concerns preoccupied Sison, who reiterated the unity of the national and international in a chapter originally written for the World Conference against A and H Bombs held in 1966 in Hiroshima, Japan. “At this stage of world history,” Sison said, “no strategy or tactics can be pursued in one part of the world independently or without reference to other parts of the world.”13 Sison understood that strategy as a path toward a self-determining nation. In a sense, the problems that Sison tried to confront were the same problems that Fanon had diagnosed six years before the former gave his speech in Hiroshima: how to decolonize the subject of the nation. There are, however, significant differences between the two. Fanon died a year before Algeria gained its formal liberation from France, whereas Sison was already aware of the anomaly of the postcolonial state when he wrote the book in 1967, more than two decades after the United States had granted the Philippines its independence in 1946, which ended almost 350 years of successive foreign rule.

In the end, however, both Fanon and Sison dealt with the predicamentof building a free nation while drawing at the same time on the experiences of revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world. Needless to say, Sison’s particularizing and universalizing language had its source not only in decolonization but also in the internationalist traditions of socialism, Marxism, and humanism, the common historical spring from which Fanon and Freire had also drawn. Not surprisingly, Sison made repeated references to what he called the vast countryside of the world — Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The references were at times cursory, but in places where the allusions were specific, Sison cited other national liberation movements as object lessons for the national democratic struggle in the Philippines. This is clearly the case in a chapter whose title “Self-determination and Foreign Relations” would recall Fanon’s “Mutual Foundations for National Culture and Liberation Struggles.” First presented as a speech at a student congress in 1965, this chapter referred to revolutions in Algeria, Congo, and Zanzibar. The speech was delivered four years after Lumumba’s death, and yet the lessons of his life, as well as those of African national liberation struggles, remained a great educational resource for Sison. Not surprisingly, he mentioned the Organization of African Unity as an example of internationalist solidarity against colonialism and, in doing so, demonstrated the shared fate of the Philippines and Africa under colonial bondage.

Sison, however, viewed the liberation struggles in other parts of the planet with a critical eye, cautioning that such phrases as Cambodian socialism, Arab socialism, African socialism, and Ghanaian socialism signified many things. For Sison, these examples illustrated the misuses of socialism whereby the term “is used as a label without the proletariat actually assuming power.”14 This was an important lesson that only a critical understanding of the national and international could have provided. If the example of negritude emphasized the primacy of location and historical difference for Fanon, who warned against the perils of conflating a black man in Chicago with another in Soweto, Sison called attention to the so-called misuses of socialism to underscore the specificity of the national democratic struggle in the Philippines. Indeed, it was the language of socialism that gave Sison the opportunity to consider the question of scale and the relationship between the national and international. “We know that socialism,” he said, “is basically internationalist in outlook but that it supports the nationalism of oppressed peoples. It is antagonistic to that bourgeois nationalism of the West which is also called imperialism.”15 Thus the principle of self-determination or the existence of a free nation served as the condition for the possibility of international solidarity for Sison, a relationship that he explored more fully in his discussion of foreign policy.

“For a nation to have its own foreign policy,” he wrote, “it must first be free and secure on its foundation, which is no less than its sovereignty.”16 According to Sison, foreign policy signified two things, both of which wererelated to his understanding of nationalism. On the one hand, he regarded
foreign policy as the internationalist stance that socialism inspired. On the other, foreign policy also meant the stance against what he perceived as the historical enemy of Filipino self-determination, colonialism itself. This dual meaning is particularly evident in his definition of nationalism, which he understood “as a historical phenomenon, the commitment and practice of an entire people, which attacks the foreign exploiter but which necessarily builds up the forces of national progress through the process of struggle.”17 Thus, the nation exists as the strategic outcome of the will to destroy colonialism. As such, the nation, though bounded, cannot but confront colonialism’s extraterritorial character. Viewed this way, Sison’s respective definitions of foreign policy and Filipino nationalism reveal the same philosophical foundations in that his sense of anticolonial nationalism actually invokes the immanence of the international in the national, one that recalls Fanon’s similar injunction.

Anticolonial nationalism therefore contains within itself a kind of spatial double consciousness, generating a will to self-determination whose impulse is dual: to establish the national and international as correlative domains of freedom and to consider the two domains as mutual battlegrounds for the elimination of unfreedom. That is to say, the practice of anticolonial nationalism is decidedly local, but planetary in reach. This idea proved to be controversial in the 1960s. In fact, Sison was criticized for focusing too much on foreign policy at the expense of domestic problems. But such criticism ignored the fundamental link between the two in that the national and international were parts of the same chain, as Sison himself would argue. “The exploitation of one nation by another nation and of man by another man or one class by another gives rise,” he said, “to a chain of inequities that should never be posed in isolation of their root causes if we truly stand for freedom, creativity, and dignity of man.”18 If Sartre argued that the Third World discovered itself through Fanon, it could be said that the interconnectedness of the planet was realized in Sison through the interconnectedness of oppression. Such a formulation is significant because it illustrates the fundamental logic that informs Sison’s understanding of national liberation; namely, the planetary represents the political unconscious of national liberation movements. Decolonization therefore imbued the liberation movements across the planet with the same ideal, but the strategy for its achievement depended on actual realities on the ground. That is, the homogeneous time of decolonization enabled heterogeneous sites for its practice: one Third World project, different strategies in Blida, Recife, Manila. In this paradigm, the homogeneous time of decolonization consequently represents the geopolitical imagination of the Third World as a situated yet planetary political project involving the proverbial wretched of the earth.

Decolonization and the Reconstruction of Culture and Humanity

The homogeneous time of decolonization was not enough, however, because the new planetary imagination also required new subjects with a new sense of culture. “Let us,” Fanon famously stated, “reexamine the question of man. Let us reexamine the question of cerebral reality, the brain mass of humanity in its entirety whose affinities must be increased, whose connections must be diversified, and whose communications must be humanized again.”19 Speaking for the wretched, Fanon realized the need not only for a new historical subject, a new humanism if you will, but also for an imaginary with expanded affinities and diversified connections — a world system of decolonizing thought and practice that would prove equal to the plenitude of the new historical subject. For Fanon, the new planetary imaginary and its corresponding historical subject must begin where Europe had failed. “The Third World,” he wrote, “is today facing Europe as one colossal mass whose project must be to try and solve the problems this Europe was incapable of finding the answers to.”20 The Third World, he concluded, “must start over a new history of man.”21

Such declaration proved radical then, as it does today. Indeed, its radicalism emanated not only from the notion of European failure to fulfill the human but also, and perhaps more importantly, from the proposition that the Third World held the key to the crisis of humanity. Fanon knew what such a lofty proposition meant. For him, the touchstones of increased affinities and diversified connections must inform the reconstruction of humanity if it were to prove superordinate to the failed European project. That is to say, he proposed new practices of democracy (how many are we?) and difference (what kinds are we?) as foundations for the reconstitution of the human as a historical subject. For his part, Freire thought of new humanism as a project that would open up the historical agency of the oppressed, a process that involved the making of “subjects in expectancy — an expectancy which [would] lead them to solidify their new status.”22 Such new status signified the liberation of the oppressed, marking their passage from objects to subjects of history. This precisely was the core of Freire’s “pedagogy of humankind” whose task was the advancement of “revolutionary humanism.”23 Seen thus, the pedagogy of the oppressed also imagined the formation of new historical subjects.

The same sense of newness informed Sison’s language. Drawing on the example of late nineteenth-­century Filipino intellectuals who demanded independence from Spain, Sison called for the creation of what he termed the Second Propaganda Movement that would resume the revolution of 1896 whose result was the founding of the first democratic republic in Asia. If Fanon referred to negritude as a historical precedent, Sison drew on the First Propaganda Movement; both were anticolonial campaigns that thrived in colonial capitals like Paris and Madrid. Like negritude, the First Propaganda Movement used journalism and literature to foster anticolonial consciousness. For Sison, however, the new propaganda movement represented a radically different project. It should be, he wrote, “a new type, with a new class leadership and a new alignment of forces and with a new ideological and political orientation more advanced and more progressive.” 24 If the First Propaganda Movement was liberal and bourgeois, the Second Propaganda Movement, Sison said, should recognize the “mobilization and victory of the masses as the main objective.” 25 Hence, Sison thought of producing new historical subjects as replacements for liberal subjects of old just as Fanon thought of supplanting European humanism with new human subjects in the context of the Third World.

Like Fanon and Freire, Sison explicitly located the new historical subject in the peasantry, “the most numerous oppressed class,” as he put it elsewhere. 26 In another essay, Sison would take pains to trace the historical origins of the Filipino proletariat back to nineteenth-century dockworkers whose formation as a community was influenced by the opening of Manila’s ports to Western commerce and liberal thoughts.27 According to Sison, the dockworkers represented the nascent elements of the Filipino proletariat whose exposure to other modes of thinking led to the development of their class consciousness. Not surprisingly, the leader of one of the peasant-based revolutionary movements that helped to overthrow Spanish colonialism was a dockworker himself, Andres Bonifacio. From its nineteenth-century beginnings in Manila’s open ports to its consolidation in the early days of the Filipino postcolony, Sison would name the working class as the new subjects of history.

As must be clear, the rhetoric of new humanism cannot be divorced from the interpretation of culture as consciousness. “We must,” Fanon wrote, “make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavor to create a new man.”28 In framing consciousness as a way of life, that is, as culture, Fanon demonstrated the critical role of pedagogy in the reconstitution of humanity as a new form of consciousness. Similarly, Sison would relate the new consciousness of the proletariat to pedagogy itself. “The party,” he wrote in 1966, “must establish an educational program that will educate the workers in proletarian philosophy, a scientific way of analyzing history, an examination of capitalist economy and imperialism, a nationalism that upholds the anti-imperialist and socialist stance.”29 Thus, the new humanism of the wretched depended on the vigorous pedagogy of culture. Pedagogy enabled the new subject to exist, and the same was thought to secure its flourishing. If, as Freire would say, the wretched “are dispossessed of their word, their expressiveness, their culture,” then the repossession of those lost things would have to involve the pedagogy of new consciousness, so that to be newly human would mean to think radically.30

The flourishing of such new consciousness relied, needless to say, on the dynamism of culture. Fanon, in particular, imagined culture in this manner. “In its essence,” he wrote, “it is the very opposite of custom, which is always a deterioration of culture.”31 Sison would have a comparable understanding, thinking of culture as organic. Just as there could never be a permanent society, there would never be, he said, a permanent culture.32 Such a dynamic conception of culture, one in which the destiny of the new historical subject was imagined to be in flux, made it possible for intellectuals like Fanon, Freire, and Sison to rethink humanity and culture in unprecedented ways. As they presciently saw it, culture emanated from the new agency of the wretched, those without property entering history, reconstructing culture, representing themselves as subjects in radical expectancy. Such, in brief, were the lineaments of the Third World project.

Afterlives of Decolonization in the Age of Globalization

And where, one might ask, is the Third World project today? In the remainder of this essay, I will review Fanon, Freire, and Sison’s critical reception in American higher education to account for the afterlives of their ideas in the context of globalization and comment on the ideological aporia of contemporary postcolonial studies. As I will demonstrate, their academic reception identifies the limitations of postcolonial studies as a critical practice in the West, particularly in the United States. These limitations, I will also suggest, are tied to the containment of the symbolic currency of decolonization in American universities where globalization dominates. But first, let us make an inventory. Of the three, Fanon appears to be the most influential. His work read by Palestinian commandos and Bangladeshi guerrillas, studied by Russians and Western Europeans, and called the Marx of the Third World, Fanon in the 1970s was read more in the United States than in Africa where he had spent a significant part of his life championing the liberation of the continent.33 His career in the United States started in earnest after the English translation of The Wretched of the Earth in 1963. Six years later, Hannah Arendt would cite the book because “of its great influence on the present student generation” to demonstrate the philosophical poverty of violence in late modernity.34 A year after, David Caute’s biography of Fanon was published as part of the Fontana Modern Masters, which Frank Kermode edited.35

Meanwhile, Black Panther Party members were reading The Wretched of the Earth as civil violence overtook the civil rights movement in American ghettos. According to Kathleen Neal Cleaver, the African colonial world that Fanon described in his book was similar to the one in which black Americans found themselves. “The condition of Blacks in the United States, in the perspective of the Black Panther Party,” she said, “was analogous to that of the colonized people — a captive nation dispersed throughout the White population.”36 By 1976, Edmund Burke would note the rise and fall of The Wretched of the Earth. “With the liberation of most of Africa,” he said, “its popularity is in decline and its utopian vision no longer seems convincing.”37 But interest in Fanon continued, disproving Burke’s conclusion. When the Berlin Wall fell, Nigel Gibson published an essay in which he concluded that the Fanonian task “of creating a totally new society still remains to be done.”38 A few years later, Henry Louis Gates Jr. would speak of “critical Fanonism,” a body of contradictory interpretations so big it could constitute an entire field.39 Fanon, Gates said, is a Rorschach blot with legs. In 2001, David Macey’s definitive biography of Fanon came out as the Twin Towers in New York City became history. Five years later, a French biography of Fanon in English translation would see print in the United States.40 More recently, a Fanon revival is afoot, with no less than Immanuel Wallerstein arguing that Fanon provides us today with “a brilliant delineation of our collective dilemmas” when old questions of violence, identity, and class struggle are returning with a vengeance.41

Similarly, Freire entered the American imagination in English translation in 1970, two years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In his foreword to the first English edition, Richard Shaull called attention to the similarity between the experiences of the dispossessed in Latin America and of marginalized communities in the United States. “Their struggle to become free Subjects and to participate in the transformation of their society,” Shaull wrote, “is similar, in many ways, to the struggle not only of blacks and Mexican-Americans but also of middle-class young people in the country. And the sharpness and intensity of that struggle in the developing world may well provide us new insight, new models, and a new hope as we face our own situation.”42 Following the American reception of his book, Freire, then a political exile, became visiting professor at Harvard in 1969 where he finished his monograph, Cultural Action for Freedom.43 In some ways, his time at Harvard signaled the beginning of his intellectual career in American higher education.

His ideas, however, would extend far beyond the walls of elite universities as he collaborated with Myles Horton, who founded the Highlander Folk School, the institution that played an important role in the civil rights movement.44 According to Freire, his collaboration with Horton demonstrated the utility of his ideas in the First World.45 In the 1990s, Peter McLaren and Henry Giroux affirmed Freire’s impact on American education in a book series that they coedited entitled, “Teacher Empowerment and School Reform.” With their help, Freire would secure his place in American higher education especially in the field of critical pedagogy. At the height of the culture wars, McLaren would declare that the “perspectives of Freire can help deepen the debate over the role of the university in contemporary North American culture.”46 In 2002, a study reaffirmed Freire’s influence on the formation of American teachers and revealed how syllabi in education schools at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Eastern Michigan University, and Sonoma State University, among others, often included the Brazilian intellectual.47

Unlike his two contemporaries, Sison would tortuously enter the American imagination, his work met with scant critical attention. Nonetheless, Sison would take his place in the American academy, but there would be no Gates Jr. or Giroux for him. Sison’s advocates would come from elsewhere. Consider the following. Four years after Struggle for National Democracy was published, Sison, as Amado Guerrero, released Philippine Society and Revolution in the Philippines. A sustained elaboration of his ideas laid out earlier in Struggle for National Democracy, Philippine Society and Revolution drew on Marxist-Leninist philosophy and the thoughts of Mao Zedong in illuminating Philippine history, including its modes of production and liberation movements. Eight years later, the International Association of Filipino Patriots issued the third edition of Philippine Society and Revolution in the United States, which also contained the first edition of the shorter monograph, Specific Characteristics of Our People’s War, a treatise discussing how the revolution could be won in the Philippines in the context of its geographic and political realities.48 Philippine Society and Revolution, which had been translated into several Philippine languages, would consistently serve as a basic course for peasants joining the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The strength of the insurgency would alarm the American government when the Pentagon warned the US congress about the insurgency’s growing strength on 7 February 1984. One-fifth of the 40,000 villages in the Philippines were believed to be under the sway of the New People’s Army at that point.49 After Sison’s release from imprisonment and subsequent exile in the Netherlands, a book of interviews came out in the United States.50 Two years after his branding as a terrorist following the attack on the Twin Towers, another book of interviews was printed.51 Sison’s interviewer was a US-based Filipina writer who won the 1993 American Book Award for her novel Twice Blessed, a satire of Philippine politics during the Marcos dictatorship.52 Today, Sison’s most passionate advocates are Filipino American students in universities across the United States, many of whom visit the Philippines during the summer to rediscover their roots. Take the case of San Francisco State University, which is home to the international arm of the League of Filipino Students. In this organization, Struggle for National Democracy is a standard reading for members as it has been for generations of Filipino intellectuals, revolutionaries, and activists across the planet.

Given this inventory, Fanon and Freire prove to be more current compared with Sison, their works gaining wider recognition because of their capacity to ponder cultural questions that resonate well with American concerns. Indeed, it is not accidental that Fanon and Freire’s entry into American higher education coincided with the emergence of multiculturalism at the height of the civil rights struggle and the attendant popularization of grassroots movements. More significantly, their eventual popularization would signal the sedimentation of multiculturalism in American popular consciousness. Dead since 1961 and 1997, respectively, Fanon and Freire are standard readings in American universities today. Meanwhile, Sison, a hot target for Philippine and American governments, is currently exiled in the Netherlands. Though alive, he is far less read than the dead. This is something of an anomaly because Sison, unlike Fanon and Freire, has a direct historical connection to the United States. Namely, the Philippines was an American territory until 1946, making Sison a de facto colonial subject from the time of his birth in 1939 until he turned seven years old.53 Why, then, is Sison not as well received in the United States as his two other contemporaries?

Decolonization and the Aporia of Postcolonial Studies

If Neil Lazarus is correct in historicizing the rise of postcolonial studies, then I would suggest that the vanishing of Sison is instructive. For Lazarus, the historical roots of postcolonial studies go back to 1898 when the United States occupied the Philippines as well as Puerto Rico following the defeat of the Spanish empire.54 Given this chronology alone, Sison should have a starring role in postcolonial studies, but that would not be the case. More interestingly, Lazarus locates the establishment of post-colonial studies as an academic discipline in the 1970s and actually names Fanon and Sison’s works, though not Freire’s, as signal publications from the 1960s. Seen this way, their works serve as accurate barometers for the fortunes of postcolonial studies since its formalization as a discipline in the West, particularly in the United States. For if Lazarus argues elsewhere that the prevailing political sentiment in the West after 1975 “turned sharply against anticolonial nationalist insurgency and revolutionary anti-imperialism,” if he argues further that postcolonial studies “was party to the general anti-liberationism then rising to hegemony in the wider society,” then the rise of postcolonial studies would mark the mounting defeat of insurgent thoughts in the university.55 There is no better proof of this ideological turn in the history of postcolonial studies than Sison’s disappearance, if not willful suppression, one that reflects the precepts of the contemporary political establishment. A terrorist to bureaucrats in Washington, Sison is also a disappeared in universities across the nation, and no less than postcolonial studies is responsible for it.

Lazarus’s account, it seems to me, is useful because it allows us to understand the thorny relationship between decolonization and globalization. In naming the ideological turn against revolutionary anti-imperialism following 1975, Lazarus implicitly calls attention to the parallel development of globalization soon after. The intensifying defeat of revolutionary anti-imperialism coincides, in other words, with the rising predominance of globalization and its end of history triumphalism. Anti anti-imperialism, it turns out, is the exact analogue of globalization in that both assume the passing of a moment associated with the post – World War II phenomenon of decolonization. Seen this way, it is possible to understand the virtual expulsion of Sison from academic circles in that his disappearance conveniently marks, as Francis Fukuyama would say, the end of history as such.56 That is, the age of three worlds falls away as the moment of monoculture takes root. As a disappeared in the canon of postcolonial studies, Sison accordingly represents the collateral damage from the war of ages, his astonishing neglect becoming more conspicuous as globalization and postcolonial studies cultivate, in the words of Revathi Krishnaswamy, a “cozier fit.”57

Surprisingly, even progressive accounts of the Third World have been quick to capitulate to the necrotemporality or death time of globalization, embracing the demise of decolonization as a historical moment too hastily. Viewed from this paradigm, history and ideology are vestiges of a previous epoch whose passing marks the collapse of insurgent thoughts. Take the case of Vijay Prashad who calls his narrative, which focuses on dead state leaders rather than on living mass movements, a biography of the short-lived Third World.58 The same necrotemporal tendency can be found in Michael Denning who argues that the cultural turn in the last century is an epiphenomenon of the age of three worlds as the emergence, spread, and crisis of cultural studies demonstrate.59 “If cultural studies is now in crisis or in question,” he writes, “it is less because it was overvalued than because its moment, the age of three worlds, is over.”60 Cultural studies stands on shaky ground, as it were, because its history has ended. In fact, Denning describes his book as “an attempt to reckon with that break, that line between our own moment — the moment of ‘globalization’ — and the period that now appears to have ended, the age of three worlds.”61 Scholars like Prashad and Denning can hardly be called champions of globalization, but their embrace of it has unwittingly promoted the Third World as a relic of the past, a notion that has given ideological ballast to globalization at the expense of the living political project that decolonization embodies.

Perhaps nothing testifies more clearly to the currency of globalist necrotemporality than the disrepute of the Third World as a nomenclature. Consider Robert Young’s account of postcolonialism in which Fanon occupies a prominent place, though Michel Foucault gets cited more than Freire, and Sison, of course, is gone.62 According to Young, his use of the tricontinental avoids the problems of the Third World as a geopolitical category that denotes economic backwardness. Young has a valid point, but he unnecessarily deflects the power of the Third World by yielding its radical meaning to economic reductionism just as scholars like Prashad and Denning diminish decolonization by embracing globalization as a clean break from the past.

Sison, I modestly propose, refutes the obsolescence of decolonization in the age of globalization. Indeed, he has much to tell us about the living character of the Third World, about the continuing relevance of decolonization, about the unmitigated disaster of postcolonial studies itself. He reminds us that although decolonization has long been claimed to be dead, its task remains unfinished. A defiant hostage of globalization in American universities, Sison shows us that the Third World as a political project is alive; that it does not belong to the past; that its dreamworld is future perfect. He embodies what Neferti Tadiar calls revolutionary time, “the season of an otherworldly and human cultivation, the time of pure potentiality, the time of freedom.”63 As such, he throws postcolonial time out of joint, compelling us to reconsider the terms and consequences of historical periodization. Sison suitably teaches us that decolonization and globalization are not separate. Rather, they are competing historical temporalities that generate equally competing ends; namely, the promise of freedom that is inherent in the Third World project is a powerful alternative to globalization’s logic of dispossessing development. Seen this way, Sison proves that decolonization is not the remnant of globalization but, rather, its contemporary critique, one that provides us with the language and will to imagine a better present. Sison, in that case, is the thorn in the side of depoliticized postcolonial studies, and the Third World project, the thorn in the side of necrotemporal globalization.

Decolonization as Critique

Needless to say, a lot depends on the critique that Sison poses to globalization in that it allows us to create alternative knowledges that do not merely challenge the accepted understanding of the so-­called division of social scientific labor, but also interrupt the prevailing norms of historical periodization.64 The political thoughts of Sison, and by extension those of Fanon and Freire, represent one such challenge. They testify to the ways in which a profoundly modern and original project can come from the Third World and transform cultural politics far beyond its putative zones. As Sison’s forced disappearance in American universities illustrates, the untimely capitulation to necrotemporal globalization is inimical to postcolonial reason. For the point of postcolonial studies is to practice the politics of the possible, not sustain the time of death. The stakes involved in the reformation of the postcolonial canon have accordingly never been higher. If postcolonial studies wishes to be more pertinent, it must acknowledge the organic character of the Third World as a political project and understand decolonization not as a failed history but as a homogeneous time, a utopia whose promise resides in heterogeneous sites, awaiting ultimate fulfillment. Thus, to restore Sison to the postcolonial canon is to restore the vitality of the Third ­World project to our time.

Such is the living dream of decolonization, and that dream, as I have tried to show, is not Sison’s alone but Fanon and Freire’s as well. At the core of this common dream is the rethinking of culture and humanity whose aim is to renew the planet and its future. In reconstructing the collective investment of Fanon, Freire, and Sison in new humanistic planetarity, that is, in the planetary agency of new historical subjects from below, I hope to have explained the Third World as a project of futurity whose potential lives on as a critique of globalization.65 In doing so, I also hope to have contributed to the genealogical elaboration of radical ideas that comprise the world system of decolonization in multiple sites. Indeed, the correspondences in Fanon, Freire, and Sison’s political thoughts are significant because they demonstrate the planetary scale of the Third World project as a decidedly local intervention. In this sense, the relevance of the Third World project cannot be emphasized enough because it forms the template of our political present where the winds of radical fortunes blow steadily from Sidi Bouzid to New York to Khartoum: sounds, memories, ideas, images, gestures, desires that export the revolution. The planetary springtime of radicalism is among us once again, and we take comfort in the knowledge that Fanon, Freire, and Sison have long prefigured the extraordinary possibility to which we play witness today, their collective imagination a chronicle of our present foretold.

Wideman provides a remarkable description of such possibility toward the end of his novel. So, let Wideman’s ending be ours as he imagines Fanon making his way to the stage to speak before a congress of African people, thinking of the “old map of the continents, countries, islands, seas, the map drawn by few dreaming hands, by the same ones, their numbers still small, who retain the power in their hands.”66 Fanon stands before a sea of faces, about to speak, thinking still. “Unless the map, as Fanon understands it,” Wideman writes, “the map that erases him by erasing itself by erasing him, can be flipped over to its unwritten side and then perhaps you could begin a fresh drawing of the world.”67 Now it can be said. The Third World project is the new living map of the planet.


Drafted in New Haven and completed in Manila, this essay has survived the long battery of questions from friends and colleagues. I therefore owe whatever clarity this work might possess to their care. I especially acknowledge Michael Denning and the members of the Working Group on Globalization and Culture who have taught me, with candor and cheer, that the obligation of intellectual exchange is critique. My conversations with Andrew Friedman, Josh Glick, and Dara Orenstein during the early stages of this essay proved to be crucial. I also wish to thank my colleagues at De La Salle University – Manila where I presented a version of this essay at a conference hosted by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. Finally, I am grateful to Livia Tenzer for her steady hand, to Neferti Tadiar for her editorial advice, and to the anonymous readers at Social Text for their unyielding rigor. This essay is dedicated to Ericson Acosta, living testament to the Third World project.

1. John Edgar Wideman, Fanon (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008).
2. Ibid., 5.
3. Ibid., 6.
4. See Frantz Fanon, Les Damnés de la Terre (Paris: Maspero, 1961); Jose Maria Sison, Struggle for National Democracy, ed. Luis V. Teodoro, with an introduction by Teodoro Agoncillo (Quezon City: Progressive Publications, 1967); Paulo Freire, Pedagogia do Oprimido (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1968).
5. I explore the subject of planetary thinking from below in a related article on the history of cultural studies from decolonization to globalization in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. See Charlie Samuya Veric, “Subaltern Planet of Cultural Studies,” Kritika Kultura 17 (2011): 105 – 17,
6. See Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized, trans. Howard Greenfeld, with an introduction by Jean-­Paul Sartre and afterword by Gilson Miller (Boston: Beacon Press, [1957] 1991).
7. See Nigel C. Gibson, Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination (Cambridge, UK:Polity, 2003).
8. For an account of this event, see Jose Maria Sison and Rainer Werning, The Philippine Revolution: The Leader’s View (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1989).
9. Jean-­Paul Sartre, preface, in Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox, with a foreword by Homi K. Bhabha (New York: Grove Press, 2004), xlvi.
10. Bhabha, foreword, in Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, xxvi.
11. Bhabha argues, for instance, that Fanon provides us with “a genealogy for globalization that reaches back to the complex problems of decolonization.” I quote him at length here: “In my view, The Wretched of the Earth does indeed allow us to look well beyond the immediacies of its anticolonial context — the Algerian war of independence and the African continent — toward a critique of the configurations of contemporary globalization. This is not because the text prophetically transcends its own time, but because of the peculiarly grounded, historical stance it takes toward the future. The critical language of duality — whether colonial or global — is part of the spatial imagination that seems to come so naturally to geopolitical thinking of a progressive, postcolonial cast of mind: margin and metropole, center and periphery, the global and local, the nation and the world.” Bhabha, foreword, xv, xiii – xiv.
12. Richard Wright, The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference, with a foreword by Gunnar Myrdal (Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1956), 12.
13. Sison, Struggle, 176.
14. Ibid., 109.
15. Ibid., 113.
16. Ibid., 164.
17. Ibid., 26.
18. Ibid., 18.
19. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 237.
20. Ibid., 238.
21. Ibid.
22. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: Continuum, 1993), 112.
23. Ibid., 36, 114.
24. Sison, Struggle, 128.
25. Ibid.
26. Jose Maria Sison, Recto and the National Democratic Struggle: A Re-appraisal (Manila: Progressive Publications, 1969), 6.
27. Jose Maria Sison, Ang Nasyonalismo at ang Kilusang Manggagawa [Nationalism and the Labor Movement] (Manila: Union de Impresores de Filipinas, 1966).
28. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 239.
29. Sison, Ang Nasyonalismo, my translation, 17.
30. Freire, Pedagogy, 119.
31. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 160.
32. Sison, Struggle.
33. See, for instance, Y. Krasin, The Dialectics of Revolutionary Process: Problems of Methodology (Moscow: Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, 1972); Irene Gendzier, Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973); Dennis Forsythe, “Frantz Fanon: The Marx of the Third World,” Phylon 34, no. 2 (1973): 160 – 70; and Emmanuel Hansen, “Frantz Fanon: Portrait of a Revolutionary Intellectual,” Transition, no. 46 (1974): 25 – 36.
34. See Hannah Arendt, On Violence (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969), 14.
35. See David Caute, Frantz Fanon (New York: Viking Press, 1970).
36. Kathleen Neal Cleaver, “The Black Panther Reconsidered,” in Target Zero: Eldridge Cleaver, A Life in Writing, ed. Kathleen Neal Cleaver, foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and afterword by Cecil Brown (New York: Palgrave, 2006), 214.
37. See Edmund Burke, “Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth,” Daedalus 105, no. 1 (1976): 127 – 35, quotation on 135.
38. See Nigel Gibson, “Three Books on Frantz Fanon,” Africa Today 36, no. 2 (1989): 49 – 53, quotation on 53.
39. See Henry Louis Gates Jr., “Critical Fanonism,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 3 (1991): 457 – 70.
40. See Alice Cherki, Frantz Fanon: A Portrait, trans. Nadia Benabid (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006).
41. See Immanuel Wallerstein, “Reading Fanon in the Twenty-First Century,” New Left Review, no. 57 (May–­June 2009): 117 – 25, quotation on 124.
42. See Richard Shaull, foreword, in Freire, Pedagogy, 11.
43. See Paulo Freire, Cultural Action for Freedom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Review Monograph Series, 1970).
44. See Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change, ed. Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and John Peters (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).
45. See Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and John Peters, editors’ introduction, in Horton and Freire, We Make the Road.
46. See Peter McLaren, “Paulo Freire and the Academy: A Challenge from the US Left,” Cultural Critique, no. 33 (1996): 151 – 84, quotation on 179.
47. See David M. Steiner and Susan D. Rozen, “Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers: An Analysis of Syllabi from a Sample of America’s Schools of Education,” in A Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom? Appraising Old and New Ideas, ed. Frederick M. Hess, Andrew J. Rotherham, and Kate Walsh (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2004).
48. See Amado Guerrero, Philippine Society and Revolution (Oakland, CA: International Association of Filipino Patriots, 1979).
49. See Walden Bello, “From the Ashes: The Rebirth of the Philippine Revolution,” Third World Quarterly 8, no. 1 (1986): 258 – 76.
50. Sison and Werning, The Philippine Revolution.
51. See Jose Maria Sison and Ninotchka Rosca, Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World, Portrait of a Revolutionary (Manila: IBON Books, 2004).
52. See Ninotchka Rosca, Twice Blessed (New York: Norton, 1992).
53. The critical neglect of Sison’s work may also signify the denial of the US colonial past that he embodies. He is, in short, the living proof of this continuing past, a specter that cannot be wished away. I am thinking here of a similar argument that Paul Gilroy makes in relation to blacks in the United Kingdom. See Paul Gilroy, Postcolonial Melancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).
54. See Neil Lazarus, ed., Cambridge Companion to Postcolonial Literary Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
55. See Neil Lazarus, Postcolonial Unconscious (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 9.
56. See Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992).
57. See Revathi Krishnaswamy, “Postcolonial and Globalization Studies: Connections, Conflicts, Complicities,” in The Postcolonial and Global, ed. Revathi Krishnaswamy and John C. Hawley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
58. See Vijay Prashad, Darker Nations: A Biography of the Short-Lived Third World (New Delhi: LeftWord, 2007).
59. See Michael Denning, Culture in the Age of Three Worlds (London: Verso, 2004).
60. Ibid., 10.
61. Ibid., 3.
62. See Robert Young, Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2001).
63. Neferti Tadiar, Things Fall Away: Philippine Historical Experience and the Makings of Globalization (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 373.
64. See Carl E. Pletsch, “The Three Worlds, or the Division of Social Scientific Labor, circa 1950 – 1975,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 23, no. 4
(1981): 565 – 90.
65. By beginning with the Third World in defining political imaginaries that emanate from the place itself, I hope to have departed from discussions of culture and freedom that situate alternative conceptions within European thought. Henry Louis Gates Jr. suggests, for instance, that the anticolonial tradition can be traced all the way back to the thought of Edmund Burke, an eighteenth-century figure whom Gates considers to have anticipated the postcolonialist critique of Enlightenment rationalism and founded the contemporary discourse against imperialism. The analysis of Western intellectual tradition is important, but there are other routes that can be explored. Beginning with the Third World is one of them. See Henry Louis Gates Jr., “The Third World of Theory: Enlightenment’s Esau,” Critical Inquiry
34, no. S2 (2008): S191 – S205. See also the following works that try to achieve the same end, Andrew Sartori, Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); and Pheng Cheah, Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).
66. Wideman, Fanon, 222.
67. Ibid.

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