The Wretched of the Earth and Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War – Comparative Reaction Essay

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The Wretched of the Earth Book Cover

In the selection from The Wretched of the Earth, by Franz Fanon, the author argues that violence is a necessary part of decolonization. At first glance, this seems like a difficult argument to make, but Fanon frames violence in a way that emphasizes its use as a tool and a reaction more than something to be enjoyed and promoted. According to Fanon, violence is necessary because colonialism itself is violence that will not be stopped by other means. Violence is a trigger and point of departure that creates the impetus for decolonization by making the situation untenable for the colonizer and, further, acts as a unifying factor.

Compared to Mouloud Feraoun’s Journal, which is personal and conveys a sense of what it was like to live through the Algerian revolution, Fanon’s work is much more abstract. He was not writing from within an anti-colonial environment, but was rather making observations about colonialism in general. Fanon’s work heavily emphasizes dichotomies, both between capitalism and socialism and the colonizer and the colonized, which is to be expected given the author’s context of the Cold War and how that conflict impacted national struggles around the world.

Is violence a necessary part of the decolonization process? Fanon addresses the voluntary decolonization of some areas as a reaction to violence in other areas. In other words, voluntary decolonization was really forced, because it was done to avoid further violence. When considering this, I thought of Mahatma Gandhi’s movement of non-violence, when he was attempting to free India from British colonial control. Gandhi’s movement was successful (though not entirely because of his movement alone) in pushing out the British, but how does it fit into Fanon’s theory?

Fanon makes the point that violence acts as a vehicle for driving otherwise separate peoples in one direction (73). This sounds like he is arguing that by unifying people, violence constitutes the nation through experiencing a common hardship, which serves as a unifying memory for future generations. The Revolutionary War of the United States against Britain is an example of violence creating a common enemy, but it did not result in a unified nation. The failure of the new country’s economy was the driving force behind greater unification of the former colonies under a stronger central government, which turned those former fighters into a more unified people, or American nation.

India also does not fit neatly into this rubric. Gandhi’s movement called explicitly for non-violence. There was common suffering among those who took part in the movement, but Fanon’s theory seems to suggest that this common suffering must escalate into a violent movement before independence can be attained, or a sense of nationhood can be developed. Does this only work in areas where people did not have a unified sense of culture beforehand? Modern India is composed of a multitude of groups that loosely fit into the same cultural category through religious affiliation, but which were historically multiple kingdoms and other political units. Is non-violence just as strong a unifying factor, or was the violence inflicted on India what caused them to become unified? In other words, does mutual suffering create nationhood rather than mutual violence against another group?

Fanon’s obsession with and aggrandizement of violence reads like intellectualized grand-standing to call attention to his position on socialism as the better option for people in general. He mentions that individualism is a position that must be abandoned. He places capitalist countries firmly on the ‘bad’ side of the dichotomy of good and evil, in terms of colonizers and colonists, and concludes the selection provided with a call for restitution framed in terms of reparations for war damages. It is an interesting argument. How much of what Europe has today is the result of wealth accumulated from exploited countries? How much should be returned? How should it be returned and to whom? To governments? What about regions that are still politically unstable? And is there not an argument that the technological, medical, and social developments invented or refined in the West and disseminated throughout the world are not in and of themselves a form of restitution, in that they better all of humanity?

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