The Wretched of the Earth

The Wretched of the Earth

Frantz Fanon's works hold a central place in the realm of "decolonizing" or "post-colonial" literature, with The Wretched of the Earth serving as the foundational text in the graduate seminar on "decolonizing history" that I attended last year.

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961)

Frantz Fanon, an African and Caribbean psychiatrist and intellectual, actively participated in the Algerian National Liberation Front and staunchly supported the Algerian war of independence from France (1954-1962).

In this book, Fanon laid out the blueprint for Algerian national liberation. He shed light on the inherent tensions between colonizers and the colonized, as well as the conflicts within the colonized population itself. Fanon made it clear that the interests of the colonized bourgeoisie were at odds with those who were fighting for independence. Furthermore, he posited that once independence was achieved, the bourgeoisie would seek to establish its dominance and govern autocratically.

Violence is Inescapable

Violence covers for Fanon an essential and inescapable part of the process toward liberation. There is no halfway compromise, given the situation in which the colonized live.

The natives live in a compartmentalized world, with schools designated for 'natives' and separate ones for Europeans. The new borders within their nation are demarcated by police stations on one side and barracks on the other.

Violence is inherent in the true character of any revolution. The very process of decolonization is always violent.

Fanon justifies the use of force for two reasons:

1) Because the natives have only one choice—servitude or sovereignty.

2) It serves as a cleansing force.

It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them and restores their self-confidence.

In contrast, the colonists are eager to avoid violence at all costs, as they wish to avoid negative publicity at home. This is why "they introduce a new notion: Nonviolence."

They want to persuade the natives and themselves that violent methods are ineffective, but this is, for Fanon, merely "an attempt to settle the colonial problem around the negotiating table before the irreparable is done."

The Road Toward Liberation

Fanon envisions a very clear path that the Algerian struggle for independence will follow. However, he recognizes that this path will not be easy at all. In fact, he acknowledges that there are numerous and competing interests at stake, which vary according to one's social and economic class.

The analysis begins with the nationalist parties aiming for liberation, but they regard the rural masses with great mistrust. Indeed, the nationalist parties' desire to dismantle colonialism goes hand in hand with their intention to maintain amicable relations with the colonial authorities.

However, some members criticize this party line and decide to engage with the rural masses.

They choose to isolate themselves from the parties and start considering the possibility of an insurrection by mobilizing the rural masses. They recognize that the insurrection requires control and guidance, leading to a transformation of the movement from a peasant revolt into a revolutionary war. This transformation necessitates a clear set of objectives and a well-defined methodology.

Liberation is eventually achieved.

However, following independence, the bourgeoisie takes power and imposes a single-party system, which is the modern form of bourgeois dictatorship. They establish a popular leader who becomes disconnected from the masses.

The party becomes a genuine instrument of power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and the regime becomes increasingly authoritarian. Consequently, the army becomes an indispensable tool for systematic repression.

This ruling class must now be eliminated.

Once this is accomplished, it becomes evident that no real progress has been made since independence, and that everything needs to be restarted from scratch.


My Take Today

Despite Fanon's support for violence, he can be interpreted as a democratic thinker.

1) He opposes the establishment of a single party and considers democratic participation fundamental for development.

2) He rejects the cult of the leader and military power as means to sustain a newly liberated nation.

3) He believes that the masses should have the ability to convene, discuss, propose suggestions, and receive instructions. Citizens should have opportunities to voice their opinions, express themselves, and foster innovation.

4) He views citizens as the best guardians of democratic rights, and he emphasizes that education should play a role in increasing democratic participation. Intellectuals, according to him, should remain connected with the masses.

"The more the people understand, the more vigilant they become, the more they realize that everything depends on them, and that their salvation lies in their solidarity, in recognizing their interests, and identifying their enemies."

Fanon is also a staunch advocate of decentralization. He believes that political parties should be decentralized to the fullest extent possible because this is "the only way to revive regions that are stagnant, the regions that have not yet awakened to life."