Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

The classic anti-colonialist text, with foreword by Jean-Paul Sartre, explaining and legitimising violence against a colonial regime; the author was thinking particularly of Algeria to which he gave the last few years of his life, but also of the whole area dominated by European colonisation, particularly the rest of Africa. It's passionate and well-argued, and I can see why it has remained a key political text for the last half-century (and will endure much longer). He is particularly good on the psychological consequences of manipulation by unaccountable regimes for those governed by them.

However, I have several problems with Fanon's analysis. The biggest is that in justfying violence, he rather fetishises it - I've seen this with other commentators too, the assumption that a resort to violence is in itself evidence for the purity and legitimacy of its perpetrators. I'm not convinced by that. The IRA's supporters used to argue that violence was the natural outcome of the situation in Northern Ireland, and convinced a lot of people of the purity and legitimacy of their cause, before they settled for a deal which was essentially what had been on offer 25 years and hundreds of deaths earlier. Some politically motivated violence is really crime, even if perpetuated by the oppressed.

That's tactics, in a way; there's an error also of strategy, in that Fanon calls on internal differences in a country to be ironed out, or preferably just ignored, in favour of making common cause against the colonial oppressor. That's all very well; but it doesn't address the issue of sharing out power and other resources internally once the colonial oppressor has withdrawn (or even beforehand). Questions of regional autonomy, deals between ethnic and religious groups, and indeed emancipation of women, sexual minorities and other groups, can't simply be handwaved away by focussing on the national struggle. Privileging the national struggle above all else allows for discrimination against groups who are deemed insufficiently committed to the cause, and Fanon's arguments legitimise this.

He also gets wrong the economic and political trajectory of post-colonial states, though I don't think he can really be blamed for this as nobody else saw it coming either. And he rejects any connection between the Algerian war and the struggle for civil rights in the USA; which is one link that I'm quite happy to allow, given the parallels in power and wealth structures and the use of state coercion as a political tool.

Still, I'm glad I have now read it.
Tags: bookblog 2015
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