Fanon, Third World revolutionary and psychiatrist between Moscow and Washington, D.C. (2022)

by Federico Soldani – 23rd March 2022

“Fanon was very ill when he arrived in the US and he only came here out of desperation. His prior medical treatment in Moscow was a failure and our advances in treatment for his disease were the last hope he had for remission.” This is from a 2019 article in the American Historical Review – Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association – by Thomas Meaney, Journalist in Residence at the Max Planck Society in Göttingen, Germany.


According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica online (emphasis and links added in subsequent quotes as well) “Frantz Fanon, in full Frantz Omar Fanon, (born July 20, 1925, Fort-de-France, Martinique — died December 6, 1961, Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.), West Indian psychoanalyst and social philosopher known for his theory that some neuroses are socially generated and for his writings on behalf of the national liberation of colonial peoples. His critiques influenced subsequent generations of thinkers and activists.

After attending schools in Martinique, Fanon served in the Free French Army during World War II and afterward attended school in France, completing his studies in medicine and psychiatry at the University of Lyon. In 1953–56 he served as head of the psychiatry department of Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria, which was then part of France.”

“Fanon’s Peau noire, masques blancs (1952; Black Skin, White Masks) is a multidisciplinary analysis of the effect of colonialism on racial consciousness. Integrating psychoanalysis, phenomenology, existentialism, and Negritude theory, Fanon articulated an expansive view of the psychosocial repercussions of colonialism on colonized people. The publication shortly before his death of his book Les Damnés de la terre (1961; The Wretched of the Earth) established Fanon as a leading intellectual in the international decolonization movement; the preface to his book was written by Jean-Paul Sartre.”

“Fanon’s other writings include Pour la révolution africaine: écrtits politiques (1964; Toward the African Revolution: Political Essays) and L’An V de la Révolution Algérienne (1959; also published as A Dying Colonialism, 1965), collections of essays written during his time with [the newspaper, ed.] El Moudjahid.”


Fanon was indeed a psychiatrist who also wrote scientific articles, see for instance The Psychiatric Writings from Alienation and Freedom: Frantz Fanon (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020): “Frantz Fanon’s psychiatric career was crucial to his thinking as an anti-colonialist writer and activist. Much of his iconic work was shaped by his experiences working in hospitals in France, Algeria and Tunisia. The writing collected here was written from 1951 to 1960 in tandem with his political work and reveals much about how Fanon’s thought developed, showing that, for him, psychiatry was part of a much wider socio-political struggle. His political, revolutionary and literary lives should not then be separated from the psychiatric practice and writings that shaped his thinking about oppression, alienation and the search for freedom.”

Among his psychiatric writings, of note are those on the “annihilation method” by Lucio Bini, using electro-convulsive treatment (a method Bini co-authored with Ugo Cerletti) in which he also described the procedure performed on a nun: “On some cases treated with the Bini method” and “Indications of electroconvulsive therapy within institutional therapies”. See also, among his psychiatric writings “Mental alterations, character modifications, psychic disorders and intellectual deficit in spinocerebellar heredodegeneration: A case of Friedreich’s ataxia with delusions of possession”, “Ethnopsychiatric considerations”, “Conducts of confession in North Africa”, “TAT in Muslim women: Sociology of perception and imagination”, “Letter to the Resident Minister“, “The meeting between society and psychiatry”.

As previously written in PsyPolitics: “Ugo Cerletti, [was] a neuropsychiatrist and Professor in Rome, who with Lucio Bini during the 1930s officially invented the electro-shock method for psychoses, a convulsive therapy induced by electrical shocks which was also proposed for “annihilation therapy” – “l’anéantissement” – and is nowadays known as electro-convulsive therapy; both Cerletti (34 times) and Bini (5 times) were nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine.”

As Joseph Berke wrote in his “Butterfly Man. Madness, Degradation and Redemption” (Hutchinson of London, 1977) Benjamin Franklin was a colleague of [Benjamin] Rush who was also interested in the treatment of the insane. Following his famous experiment with kites and lightning in which he was knocked unconscious and suffered a brief period of amnesia, he suggested “trying the practice on mad people.”


According to the 2019 article by Meaney “The image is not lacking in irony: Frantz Fanon, the intellectual father of Third World revolution, lying in a Maryland hospital bed, watched over by a blue-blooded agent of the CIA [C. Oliver Iselin III 1927-2017, ed., in the photo below. “Third World” was an expression coined by Alfred Sauvy, already encountered in PsyPolitics].

It was out of desperation and his lack of success with Soviet doctors, Fanon’s biographer David Macey reports, that Fanon had agreed to American offers to fly him to the United States — “that country of lynchers,” as he called it — for leukemia treatment.” See also Mokhtefi, Algiers, Third World Capital: Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers (New York, 2018).

“Mr. Iselin’s grandfather, banker and philanthropist C. Oliver Iselin, was considered the pre-eminent American yachtsmen of his time, participating in and winning six consecutive America’s Cup races in 1887, 1893, 1895, 1899, 1901 and 1903.”

“Some members of the family were committed internationalists: in the interwar years, Iselin’s older brother-in-law, Charles L. Marburg, led five American delegations to the International Federation of League of Nations Societies, and he was a founder of the World Federation of United Nations Associations in 1946.”


Britannica online concluded that “While treating Algerians and French soldiers, Fanon began to observe the effects of colonial violence on the human psyche. He began working with the Algerian liberation movement, the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale; FLN), and in 1956 became an editor of its newspaper, El Moudjahid, published in Tunis. In 1960 he was appointed ambassador to Ghana by Algeria’s FLN-led provisional government. That same year Fanon was diagnosed with leukemia. In 1961 he received treatment for the disease in the United States, where he later died.”


[Featured Photograph: Frantz Fanon speaking at the All African People’s Conference (AAPC), which was held in Accra, Ghana, between 5 and 13 December 1958.]

Cite this article as: Federico Soldani, "Fanon, Third World revolutionary and psychiatrist between Moscow and Washington, D.C. (2022)," in PsyPolitics, March 23, 2022,

Last Updated on March 24, 2022 by Federico Soldani

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