FRANZ FANON: MY HOPE AND HERO
It is impossible to do justice to this remarkable work in the short space I have at my disposal. Fanon’s The Dammed is one of those rare books which stands out not only through the brilliance of its penetrating social and psychological insights, or through the sheer vigour and originality of its style, but derives its greatest importance from the fact of being the key work which embodies the Zeitgeist of a revolutionary social movement. That same relationship which the works of Voltaire and Rousseau bore to the French Revolution, which the Communist Manifesto bore to the revolutionary labour movements of the 19th century, is to be found in the relationship between The Damned and the movement of the colonised peoples of the world in overthrowing their oppressors.
For The Damned is not only a reflection, not just another run-of-the-mill analysis of colonialism and the process of decolonisation. This it certainly does better than any other work on the subject I have yet read. However, it goes far beyond this and not to realize it, is to miss the whole significance of the work. And this is the fact that The Damned is itself a part of the revolution which, on one level, it is analyzing. It is the heart and soul of a movement, written, as it could only have been written, by one who fully participated in it. The Damned goes beyond the normal relationship of a writer and his material. It is art which transcends the reality of the separation of the creator from the thing created. It is the synthesis which emerges from the dialectical confrontation between Fanon, the colonial; Fanon, the rebel; Fanon, the child and agent of violence; and the institutionalized violence against which he fought, the colonial situation.
The work begins with an exploration of the role of violence in the fight for national liberation and unity. The theme is stark, simple and direct — the process of decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. This, it must be understood, is not only a statement concerning what is the case, but of what ought to be the case. Colonialism is seen not just as a system of material exploitation, but worse, one of spiritual impoverishment. To the European colonizer:
“Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values. It is not for the colonist to affirm that those values have disappeared from, or still better never existed in, the colonial world. The native is declared insensible to ethics. He represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense, he is the absolute evil.”
Thus the native is dehumanized. He becomes an animal, and through the processes of colonial mystification, he sometimes comes to accept this degrading conception of himself. In this process of mystification the native elite, nurtured by the colonialists, plays a vital role; and Fanon is as critical and as violent toward them as he is toward the colonialists.
The people however — and it is the people who stand at the centre of Fanon’s thought — the people are never to him an abstract intellectual concept to be played about with, but the beginning and the end of the revolution, its creative force, the living, vital entity who in their simple, crude cry for more bread and more land, take up the most revolutionary of all positions. It is the people who on finally deciding that they can take no more, that their liberty must be won, and won now, instinctively take the right path. And that is the path of violence. There can be no other way. Certainly not the pathetic farce of constitutional transfer from foreign exploiters to a local born elite who have betrayed both themselves and their people into the economic chains of neo-colonialism. What the people want is their land, their bread and their dignity. And they know that they can only achieve this through the exercise of their “muscular prowess”, through action and aggression. It is “the intuition of the colonized masses that their liberation must, and can only, be achieved by force.
On the collective level, the people have to be mobilized in the armed struggle for liberation:
“The mobilization of the masses, when it arises out of the war of liberation, introduces into each man’s consciousness the ideas of the common cause, of a national destiny and of a collective history. In the same way the second phase, that of the building up of the nation, is helped on by the existence of this cement which has been mixed with blood and anger. Thus we come to a fuller appreciation of the originality of the words used in these under-developed countries. During the colonial period the people are called upon to fight against oppression; after national liberation, they are called upon to fight against poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment. The struggle, they say, goes on. The people realize that life is an unending struggle. …”
And on the individual level we find that “violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction: it makes him fearless and restores his selfrespect….”
Fanon then places the role of violence in its international context. He demonstrates the uselessness of constitutional independence and the fact that
“the national liberation of colonized countries unveils their true economic state and makes it seem even more unbearable…. what counts today, the question which is looming on the horizon is the need for a re-distribution of wealth. Humanity must reply to this question, or be shaken to pieces by it “
Next comes a brilliant analysis of the “strength and weaknesses of spontaneity”. It is here that Fanon exhibits most strikingly his total commitment to the people, the masses, and particularly to the rural masses of the Third World. The great mistake, he points out, of political parties in the Third World is their tendency to concentrate on the more politically conscious urban proletariat and middle-classes. Indeed, he suggests that there is a positive suspicion of the peasantry on the part of most of the new leaders, who tend to take the view that the rural population constitute the most backward, least progressive and most in the way of economic development. However, while the peasantry may well be, in normal situations, too individualistic, too ill-disciplined and uncontrollable, it remains a basic truth that a thorough-going social and political revolution is impossible without them. It is not just that they are expected to play a passive role. Rather, that the initiative must always come from them, must spring from the rage which is built up during centuries of suffering and which, when it finally explodes, has the power to mould an entirely new national consciousness.