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Frantz Fanon’s Call to Anti-Colonial Violence
(Released October 2011)

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  by Erin McCoy  

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Fanon’s Description of the Violent Revolution

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Perhaps because Fanon was writing in the context of a specific revolution — the Algerian uprising against the French — he offers a description of the violent uprising of the colonized, either as he imagines it or as he has seen it first-hand.

The individual works for the sake of the group in a violent revolution, Fanon said, and offers himself as part of a single will. Fanon discussed the necessity of this mentality of unity, and abandonment of individualism, in Black Skin, White Masks, but elaborated on it in The Wretched of the Earth. “Each individual represents a violent link in the great chain, in the almighty body of violence rearing up in reaction to the primary violence of the colonizer. … The armed struggle mobilizes the people, i.e., it pitches them in a single direction” (50). This unidirectional flow toward independence engulfs all factions, absorbs European influences as well as the much older chieftainships and alliances that previously defined the nation. It engulfs all of this and creates a new entity, one of an indestructible national unity. Casualties are a “necessary evil”; each person is willing to sacrifice his life to strengthen the unifying force that will thrust the colonist out in one blow (49).

Newsreel of the Algerian War
Universal Newsreels Rebellion Spreads in North Africa, 1955

This unity is nurtured by the Manichean “them or us” mentality that originally brought the Europeans to Africa. Violence “forges among the oppressed the consciousness of a shared condition and the habit of solidarity” (Sekyi-Otu 98). In many cases, the loyalty required of the revolutionaries is so absolute that they are required to prove it through a violent act; a revolutionary with colonist blood on his hands is all the more tied to the cause (Wretched of the Earth 44). Anyone who is not willing to kill is incapable of contributing, for the means to independence is violence.

This sense of a national unity survives long after independence has been attained, Fanon further states, and continues to characterize the nation, influencing the form that it eventually takes and its lawmaking thereafter. The revolutionary vocabulary of “struggle” persists in new applications, being used to describe issues of illiteracy and poverty (51). The notion of being “all in it together” precludes the championing of any single revolutionary or political leader as particularly outstanding; everyone contributed equally to the revolution. And although the native bourgeoisie has acquired the connections to rise to a significant level of power once the colonists have cleared out, they are met with suspicion by Fanon’s peasantry, all too wary of powerful individuals (51).

For this reason, Fanon saw socialism as the best fit for young nations. Capitalism, he believed, is the enemy of underdeveloped nations, refusing to invest in their development and preferring to exploit them whenever the opportunity arises. Socialism in the traditional sense may not be the best system for postcolonial nations — “The Third World must not be content to define itself in relation to values which preceded it.” But a redistribution of wealth is in order, Fanon insisted, “no matter how devastating the consequences may be” (55).

Fanon recognized that underdeveloped nations must build new governments based on the values that define them, but this often happens simultaneously with the birth of those values. Postcolonial Algeria was certainly not wholly European, nor could it be defined any longer in terms of traditional tribal affiliations and racial, ethnic, or religious affiliations. The revolution birthed a new people out of the mire of an oppressive existence. Fanon offered no substantive blueprint for the type of government such a nation would need — he left that decision to his generation and the next.

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