thanks to Muslim Stan for this
“After Colonialism”: Fanon and the Process of Decolonization
Frantz Fanon presented the details of his decolonization paradigm in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’. His analyses of colonialism and decolonization have had a profound impact on the philosophies of many thinkers. Furthermore, his seminal work has had a far-reaching influence on resistance movements throughout the world.
It is astounding to consider that in 1800 Western powers held approximately 35 percent of the earth, in 1880 about 67 percent and in 1914 a grand total of 85 percent of the earth was held as colonies, protectorates, dependencies, dominions or commonwealths of European nations. (Said, 1993:8) Throughout colonialism, the colonized people produced many forms of active and passive ‘resistance’. I needed to put quotation marks for the word ‘resistance’, because it was only towards the end of the 19th century, that such resistance developed into coherent political movements; for most the people of the earth, much of the 20th century involved the long struggle and eventual triumph against colonial rule, often at enormous cost of life and resources. After most of the colonized world achieved their ‘independence’, each colonized country moved from colonial to autonomous, postcolonial status. This process, also known as decolonization, went through a painful political, social and economic transition, which ultimately dealt with the crucial question of resistance. Resistance was the core and key element of the liberation program bringing about a result of independence. Although common wisdom argues that resistance may take many different forms, including passivity or remains of cultural representations and reflections, Fanon however believed the only successful resistance is active political resistance, which could possibly bring about freedom and independence from colonial rule. It is because Fanon was not only seeking to achieve autonomy for colonized country but also colonized man to achieve his self-recognition.
One of the most important contributions of Fanon’s work was revitalization of the concept of violence. As Cesaire opened avenues for Fanon, he convinced that ‘[W]e must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism’ (Cesaire, 2000: 35-36) Fanon embraced the constructive value of its destruction against colonizer and colonized. Because, for him, ‘decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.’ Through the violence colonized terminates both his enemy and inferiority complex inherited within his social imagination. In his case, surely, it was the revolutionary counter-violence. Violence, as a huge and complex issue, made an excuse for critics of Fanon to naively damn him. They, indeed, have missed the extremely significant point and vital to the resolution of a crisis of colonized man that Fanon was trying to discern from the violence. For him violence was not the ultimate goal, rather it was a tool for the struggle of colonized man to re-become and achieve self-recognition in the process of decolonization. Therefore, he argued that ‘decolonization is replacing of a certain “species” of men by another “species” of men.’ It was ‘the veritable creation of new men.’ Annals of colonization and imperialism undisputedly convinced him that there would be no successful outcome of resistance without implementing revolutionary counter violence.
According to Fanon, the colonial world was a Manichean and compartmentalized world. In this dualistic and segregated world, Fanon arrived to understanding of Hegelian-like master-slave paradigm where he saw this partition of two different species’ through their residential places within the city. Although both inhabited in the same city, colonial life for colonizer and colonized was extremely different in nature. At this point, one expects Fanon to use Marxist class analysis to explain social and economic disparities between these two ‘classes’. For Fanon, this disparity was due more than class struggle. It involves with the question of race and its severe psychiatric consequences. ‘This is why Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched every time we have to do with the colonial problem.’
Here, the core issue lies in colonial everyday life and its effects on colonized people. Colonization created compartments for ‘native’ and ‘settler.’ For the colonized, ‘the first thing, which the native learns, is to stay in his place, and not to go beyond certain limits.’ In order to crush these limits and constraints, colonization should be dismantled by struggle. This struggle, by any means, would lead violent resistance. Initially Fanon observes the consequences or fruits of individual use of violence.
At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect. (Fanon, 1963: 94)
Then, he theorizes individual use of violence and native’s regain of dignity at the level of society. The nation, colonized country, despised people and oppressed society should use violent means to reestablish their dignified self.
The existence of an armed struggle shows that the people are decided to trust to violent methods only. He of whom they have never stopped saying that the only language he understands is that of force, decides to give utterance by force. (Ibid, 83)
As Fanon states above, an armed struggle and use of violence transforms and metamorphoses an entire nation and individual in their struggle for liberation. Fanon praised violence and theorized it for the process of decolonization; he himself never engaged in any act of violence of the type he considered a prerequisite in order to arrive the level of rebirth.
It has been suggested that two other Marxist revisionist were also written into the philosophical script for violence. According to Hannah Arendt;
Fanon, who had infinitely greater intimacy with the practice of violence than either [Sorel or Pareto], was greatly influenced by Sorel and used his categories even when his own experiences spoke clearly against them. (Arendt, 1969: 71)
Friends and associates however, deny, this, arguing instead that he was especially impressed with the revolutionary categories of Rosa Luxemburg. From her, he barrowed the theory that if or when capitalist modes of production were introduced into pre-capitalist economies, the difference between the two (which were now sharing the same economic environment) would also be so great that their conjunction would disrupt not only economic forces, but also create social unrest and violence. Although Fanon drew heavily on Marx, the revisionist and especially Sartre for the philosophical script for violence, he, nonetheless, modified their views. By his later years Marx’s alienation was primarily an economic and social experience: the alienation of the producer from the means of production. Fanon modified this alienation to mean two things: the alienation of colonial people from their material resources, and from their national and cultural identity; and the alienation of individuals from themselves as a consequence of French assimilation policies. Disalienation in both cases was however possible through revolutionary violence. (Perinbam, 1982: 91-92)
Fanon, like Césaire, believed deeply that ‘Europe is indefensible.’ Therefore, he did not advise colonized people to try to imitate neither European development model nor its capitalist prosperity. Rather, he investigated the source of European wealth, where he used Marxist schema. He characterizes this ‘wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized, protected robbery.’ When Fanon builds up his argument about how developed world has accumulated capital and wealth, he clearly uses Marxist analysis of capital accumulation, which occurs at the expense of exploited people.
The well being and the progress of Europe have been built up with sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and the yellow races… The wealth of the imperial countries is our wealth too…Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The wealth, which smothers her, is that which was stolen from the underdeveloped peoples. The ports of Holland, the docks of Bordeaux and Liverpool were specialized in the Negro slave trade, and owe their renown to millions of deported slaves. (Fanon, 1963: 96-102)
Although Fanon argues that ‘the wealth of the imperial countries is our wealth too’, he never believes workers would take the foremost or leading position in a movement aiming revolution in colonial world. He stresses his point as following:
In the capitalist countries, the working class has nothing to lose; it is they who in the long run have everything to gain. In the colonial countries the working class has everything to lose; in reality it represents that fraction of the colonized nation, which is necessary and irreplaceable if the colonial machine is to run smoothly. (Ibid, 108)
His discontent towards political parties in colonial context convinced him that they are not genuinely integrated with the colonized masses. That’s why; he developed the idea of ‘illegal party’ and linked this group with the peasantry. Combination of these two forces would lead to emergence of a new kind of revolutionary force which, also, would help to accelerate lumpenproletariat of cities to participate into struggle. Fanon argued that ‘the outbreak of the rebellion in the towns changes the nature of the struggle’ because ‘lumpenproletriat, that horde of starving men, uprooted from their tribe and from their clan, constitutes one of the most spontaneous and the most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people.’ He schematized and constructed his revolutionary forces in a colonial country without political parties. For him peasantry was the only revolutionary force in the nation. He added ‘illegalists’ to stimulate this ‘revolutionary force’.
Fanon details and constructs his arguments on a solid domain when he analyzes issues of bourgeoisie and national consciousness. Looking at the situation in the Colonial World, Fanon defines four main social classes to form the resistance for revolution against colonizers: bourgeoisie, the urban proletariat, the peasants, and the lumpenproletariat. Fanon argues that in the underdeveloped countries the bourgeoisie has not played initial role that Marx outlined in the Communist Manifesto. Another reason why the national bourgeoisie fails to play a progressive role in the decolonization process is its slavish imitation of European patterns of thought and its unquestioning assimilation of ideas to which it was exposed during its training in European universities. (Hansen, 1977:133-35)
Fanon also argued about national culture in the process of decolonization. He was a black-man from Martinique who matured most of his thinking among the white-man in Europe. He evaluated national culture to create a language, which can be used in national struggle. Although there are different views on how to conceptualize national culture in resistance theory, succinctly speaking, he made himself clear by declaring national culture would only have a tangible value if it were for the liberation struggle.
A national culture in developed countries should therefore take its place at the very heart of the struggle for freedom, which these countries are carrying on. (Fanon, 1963: 233)
In Fanon’s understanding, art and national culture will not be for entertainment; rather they are the tools for colonized people to contribute into the resistance. In his politics, the concept of art for art’s sake will have no place. Art will be didactic and it will aim at promoting the ends of society. (Hansen, 1977: 195)
Throughout his brilliant work, Fanon outlines his perception on colonialism, decolonization and struggle lines for liberation. His main concern is achieving freedom. It may sound as an abstract or common goal, which can be easily found among many theorists whom dealt with colonialism and imperialism. What make Fanon’s ideas distinct are his real life experiences. His apprehension of colonized people’s everyday life taught him clearly that resistance against colonization is a serious business; it is always a life-death matter and certainly violent process. Parry argues that for Fanon, ‘the colonized prior to modern movements for national independence were passive, stultified, unproductive. Presumably this characterization applied only to the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa, since Algeria is credited with sustained military and cultural resistance against the French occupiers.’ (Parry, 1996: n103)
Then, how are we going to establish a resistance theory, a ‘counter hegemonic work’ that will grasp both decolonization process and post-colonial identity? Can we talk about a universally abstract form of resistance against colonization? Why Algerian, Caribbean and Indian decolonization processes are differ from each other? Is it because of their nature of ‘resistance’ or colonizers political economic geopolitics in those particular regions?
Both Parry and Lazarus argued that national ‘anti-colonial’ and ‘resistance’ theories have vague conceptualizations within the postcolonial literature. (Parry, 1998; Lazarus, 1999) Parry charges that,
All anti-colonialist manifestos assail colonialist assumptions; socialist programs register a rupture with dominant forms of Western thinking, and far from articulating nostalgia for the past, contemplate a condition transcending both the precolonial and the colonial. (Parry, 1998: 46)
Parry’s argument above is similar to when Fanon emphasizes on Westernized intellectual (who through the medium of culture has filtered into Western civilization [Fanon, 1963: 219]) and the national liberation party who starts imitating pre-colonial period, mainly attitudes of colonizing power. So, what will be the common authentic ground for resistance and post-colonial recovery? At this point, one should also articulate on national consciousness before and during the decolonization process. A solid and authentic national culture and anticolonial nationalism may well be a productive ground in order to avoid imitation of past colonial power. Parry argues that,
Fanon was not alone in declaring that ‘[I]t is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows’, a dialectical formulation and a Marxist sentiment which neither categorically rejects anticolonial nationalism nor proleptically embraces a contemporary cultural politics of transnationalism. (Ibid, 48)
Lazarus stresses that ‘Fanon addressed himself with such insistence to the question of national liberation, some Marxists have envisioned him as a nationalist –no matter how progressive- rather than as a revolutionary socialist’ and they focused on these issues to criticize him. Fanon’s ideas are charged with ‘abstract totalization against subaltern thought’, ‘theoretical anti-humanism’, ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘Eurocentrism.’ (Clegg, 1979: Bhabha, 1989: Miller, 1990) Among those critics, Miller goes further and argues that Fanon’s discourse on nation and national liberation falls into ‘irreducible Eurocentrism.’ Miller claims that Fanon disregards (when he speaks of African culture) local knowledge and treats precolonial history, as it has never existed. On the other hand, Lazarus believes that Miller misreads Fanon by claiming that ‘Fanon’s representation of African culture in the era of colonialism as representation of a history-less, culture-less precoloniality. Miller fails to reckon with Fanon’s construction of colonialism as a total and elemental rupture within African history.’ (Lazarus, 1999: 83-85)
Lazarus argues that ‘at the theoretical level, Fanon’s error consists in a confusion of dominance with hegemony.’ Under the colonial rule, it is hard to claim that entire population was subject to ‘hegemonic’ oppression. As Ranajit Guha argued, members of the subaltern classes experienced dominance rather than hegemony. There were class divisions among the ‘dominant’ and ‘hegemonic’ reach of colonialism. It is to say, different than urban subjects of colonialism, subaltern masses maintained ‘a certain distance’ to the colonizer’s culture by preserving their traditional culture. (Ibid, 89-91)
For Fanon, regardless of emphasizing on subaltern consciousness, question remains same: ‘In short, is the struggle for liberation a cultural phenomenon or not?’ (Fanon, 1963: 245) He answers this question by returning his central point:
The nation is not the condition of culture, its fruitfulness, its continuous renewal, and its renewal, and it’s deepening. It is also a necessity. It is the fight for national existence, which sets culture moving and opens to it the doors of creation. (Ibid, 244)
Fanon is well aware of the fact that without independence and termination of colonial oppression, there is no point of speaking about culture. Since he argues the colonized can only reach his manhood and dignity by freedom, at the same token culture, too, could be preserved only by national liberation. Otherwise we could only talk about some cultural remains of colonized people, which lost its spirit and productivity.
Similar to nature of colonialism new nations are built with a cement of blood and anger. Fanon lived in the middle of violence, and wrote about prime necessity of political violence. Fanon transformed his theory of violence into a resistance metaphor in order to activate and revitalize whom he called the ‘masses’. He has been criticized for using the term violence without making any distinction between power and coercion. This loose usage of terms also reflected in his perception of national culture. Although fanon’s work and his critics’ claims should be studied in a lengthy paper, I think, we should emphasize on his core ideas within the constraints of colonial situation(s). Because whatever Fanon argued was due to practical circumstances he went through. His analysis of the decolonization, roles of peasantry, proletariat, lumpenproletariat and national bourgeoisie still opens new avenues for the contemporary thinkers. In addition, current world affairs, new face of capital, and economic expansions of North forces us to rethink about Fanon’s ideas and observe that they are still extremely relevant.
i In his Phenomenology of the Mind, Hegel constructed a solid ‘master-slave’ paradigm based on ‘recognition.’ Hegel asserts “self-consciousness exists in and for itself only in being recognized by another self-consciousness.” Hegel goes on the show how the process of this pure Notion of recognition “appears to self-consciousness”. To put this in another way, the self-consciousness is embodied as an individual being of Life, the “I”. What the other is for the “I” is an “unessential, negatively characterized object.” Though the fact is that each of them is self-consciousness, and it is one individual confronted by another individual, they do not yet recognize each other as independent individual but as merely the purely negative being of self-identical consciousness. Hegel asserts that it is a necessity that each individual will engage in a life-and-death struggle. It’s necessary because “they must raise their certainty of being for themselves to truth…. And it is only through staking one’s life that freedom is won.” Now, we have one being “only recognized” and the other “only recognizing”. This leads to the master/slave situation. The independence the master has achieved is based on a mediated relation. The slave works on the objects in accordance with the forms of the master’s desires. The slave relates to the master as a provider and produced of the objects of desire satisfying. The objects relate to the master through the shaping efforts of the slave. However, the master’s desires are met immediately in the sense that he confronts no independent beings but merely negative things. The immediacy of the satisfaction of master’s desires makes his desires fleeting, without check.
ii See Lazarus’ summary of debate at pages: 84-95
Arendt Hannan, On Violence, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1969
Cesaire Aime, Discourse on Colinialism, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2000
Fanon Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth, Grove Press, New York1963
Hansen Emmanual, Frantz Fanon, Social and Political Thought, Ohio State University Press, 1977
Lazarus Neil, Nationalism and Cultural Practice in the Postcolonial World, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 1999
Perinbam, B. Marie, Holy violence: the revolutionary thought of Frantz Fanon : an intellectual biography, Three Continents Press, Washington, D.C.,1982
Parry Benita, Contemporary Postcolonial Theory, Resistance Theory/Theorising Resistance or Two Cheers for Nativism, Arnold, London, 1996
Liberation Movements: Memories of the Future, Interventions, Vol.1(1) 45-51, Routledge, 1998
Said W.Edward, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage, New York