by Peter Hallward, The Guardian, Monday 31rst January 2011
From revolutionary France and America to modern north Africa, this is a concept that can topple governments
"Around the same time, one of north Africa's most influential writers and activists, Frantz Fanon, conceived of political practice along comparable lines. The whole of Fanon's contribution to Algeria's liberation struggle (1954-1962) is oriented by a popular "will to independence", the "national will of the oppressed peoples", their "will to break with exploitation and contempt". The outcome of the Algerian revolution would be decided, he argued, by "the will of 12 million people; that is the only reality".
Rejecting all distraction through "negotiation" or "development", Fanon insisted on decisive action here and now – the goal was not to reform an intolerable colonial situation over an interminable series of steps, but to abolish it. The "fundamental characteristic of the struggle of the Algerian people", Fanon maintained, is suggested by their "refusal of progressive solutions, their contempt for the 'stages' that might break the revolutionary torrent, and induce them to abandon the unshakable will to take everything into their hands at once". The fate of their revolution depends on the people's "co-ordinated and conscious" participation in their ongoing self-emancipation.
In today's Tunisia and Egypt, as in 1950s Algeria, to affirm the will of the people is not to invoke an empty phrase. Will and people: rejecting the merely "formal" conceptions of democracy that disguise our status quo, an actively democratic politics will think one term through the other. A will of the people, on the one hand, must involve association and collective action, and will depend on a capacity to invent and preserve forms of inclusive assembly (through demonstrations, meetings, unions, parties, websites, networks). If an action is prescribed by popular will, on the other hand, then what's at stake is a free or voluntary course of action, decided on the basis of informed and reasoned deliberation. Determination of the people's will is a matter of popular participation and empowerment before it is a matter of representation, sanctioned authority or stability. Unlike mere "wish", if it is to persist and prevail then a popular will must remain united in the face of its opponents, and find ways of overcoming their resistance to its aims.
Whether it takes place in Tunis or Cairo, Caracas or Port-au-Prince, Athens or London, to ground political action in the will of the people is to reassert a collective capacity for deliberate and revolutionary transformation. As the people who are defying the governments of north Africa demonstrate, there are circumstances in which collective courage and enthusiasm can be more than a match for coercive state power. The cliche remains hollow until adopted in practice: "Where there's a will there's a way."