The Wretched of the Earth - Liaqat Baloch

 


The Wretched of the Earth

Reviewed by: Liaqat Baloch

The book "The Wretched of the Earth" was written by the famous political philosopher and writer Frantz Fanon in 1961. This book consists of five chapters.

Concerning Violence

Chapter One concerns violence and its key role in the process of decolonization. Fanon discusses that the national struggle, national liberation, or decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. Decolonization is the meeting of two forces: the colonized and the colonizer. Violence characterizes colonialism, and it is brought into the homes and minds of the colonized by the colonizer.

The colonial world is a Manichaean world divided into two compartments: the part inhabited by the colonizers, with high values and moral standards, living in well-built towns, and the world of the colonized, perceived as having no values or civilization, living in poorly built towns. These two groups, the colonizers and the colonized, are fundamentally different from each other and live in distinct compartments of the colonial world.

Fanon argues, in the first place, that colonialism dehumanizes the colonized people, turning them into a subhuman species, and then uses physical violence to suppress these dehumanized individuals. The colonizer paints the colonized as an evil species with no sense of ethics. They rewrite the history of the colonized, portraying them as uncivilized people, and positioning themselves as saviors. Fanon asserts that colonizers shape the mental image of the native in such a way that the native becomes envious of the settler's world, even as this world rejects the native.

Decolonization is the process of humanizing this species and replacing them with new individuals who have a new language and culture. This transformation can only occur through violence, as the colonized shift from being silent spectators to becoming the main actors in their struggle. During decolonization, individualism disappears, and the colonized people begin to participate in collective struggle. The native is an oppressed individual whose permanent dream is to replace the settler, often referred to as the colonizer.

The use of violence is the process that unifies the colonized people against colonization. During decolonization, the native recognizes their value and worth, prioritizing their land, and providing sustenance, shelter, and dignity. Violence takes the form of open and armed struggle. The native works for the downfall of the settler because life can only spring from the rotting corpse of the settler. Superstitions, myths, and despair begin to fade away from the colonized as they engage in violent actions against the colonizer. They discover that colonialism itself is an unjust phenomenon, so they do not seek justice within the colonial framework.

 

Armed struggle propels the colonized people on a one-way journey, channeling their energy into the process of decolonization. Violence against the colonial regime imbues their characters with positive and creative qualities. Violence becomes their absolute course of action, and they no longer expect anything from the other side.

During decolonization, there are two phases of insurrection. The first phase is characterized by violence by the settlers against the natives and their home governments simultaneously. The second phase focuses on building the natives or colonized into a nation, a process cemented by violence mixed with blood and anger. Violence eradicates regionalism and tribalism, which were propagated among the colonized by the colonizer, transforming it into a national struggle against the colonial government.

If we look at violence at the individual level, it restores self-respect and frees the native from an inferiority complex. The violence of the colonial regime and the counter-violence of the natives balance each other and respond to each other in an extraordinary reciprocal homogeneity.

In Algeria, a "Civil Militia" was established by Lacoste, who famously said, "There will be no bloodshed if there remains no blood to shed," aiming to suppress the violent armed struggle of the Algerians. Every Frenchman was allowed to pursue the suspects and kill them. They were permitted to use their weapons. Assassinations and brutality became common, nurturing the national consciousness of the Algerians under this environment.

Fanon describes the native intellectual as an emancipated slave, a class of natives who initially sought more posts and opposes violence, accepting the ideas of colonialism and defending their positions. However, when they interact with ordinary natives, their idealistic values become irrelevant, and they join the movement. Due to their lack of foresight, they may become disillusioned over minor local issues and withdraw.

Fanon also discusses that the self-serving national parties with ambiguous manifestos demanding "give us more power" are violent in their words but reformist in their attitudes. In the end, Fanon argues that the flight of capital and the withdrawal of infrastructure from colonized countries, with the colonizers saying, "You wanted independence, so take it and go back to the Middle Ages," during decolonization, are constant phenomena, despite these colonies being sources of wealth production and development for centuries. Fanon advises the Europeans, the colonizers, that they should awaken from their slumber, use their intellect, and provide aid to the newly liberated nations instead of economically paralyzing them.

Spontaneity: Its Strength and Weakness

 “In the second chapter, Fanon delves into the evolution of the struggle and draws a comparison between the competing strategies of decolonization, which he labels as "Spontaneity" and "Organization." Within colonized countries, there exists a time lag between the urbanized population, including the leaders of national parties, and the rural masses consisting of the peasants. This temporal gap implies that the rural masses are unequivocally anti-colonial and are more fervently engaged in the revolutionary cause than their urban counterparts. Despite living a life fraught with misery due to the oppression of the colonial government, the rural population clings steadfastly to the traditions and cultural heritage passed down by their ancestors.

Conversely, urbanized individuals, while enjoying the privileges bestowed upon them by the colonial regime, do not uphold their cultural identity and traditions. The educational system shaped by the colonizers has steered them away from their indigenous heritage and historical roots. Native intellectuals in urban areas who recognize the reality of the colonial world establish political parties and assert their rights. When faced with suppression, they often seek refuge in rural regions, where they come into contact with peasants who hold strong anti-colonial sentiments and maintain their traditional values and rituals. These intellectuals and peasants unite, marking the inception of a spontaneous uprising in decolonization, a force potent enough to challenge the existing government.

Regrettably, this spontaneous revolution, which began only recently, is ultimately suppressed. This happens because the leadership of these revolutionary movements often comprises urbanized individuals who lean towards reformism, often being referred to as the liberal class. They ended up signing peace treaties with the colonizers. Another factor contributing to suppression lies in the inadequate political education of the people participating in the spontaneous revolution. They are ill-prepared to withstand the minor oppression imposed by the colonizer and are susceptible to withdrawing from the struggle. In the colonial context, relying solely on hatred proves inadequate.

Fanon argues that, for a protracted and fruitful struggle, the formation of organizations is imperative. These organizations can mobilize the masses through systematic strategies, raise awareness about their current circumstances, and provide the necessary political education to ensure that those engaged in decolonization remain resolute and steadfast.

The Pitfalls of National Consciousness

In the third chapter, fanon discusses the trials and tribulations that occur during the development of national consciousness. He argues that decolonization can turn into neo-colonialism. To authenticate his statement, he gives an example of the president of Gabon saying "Between Gabon and France nothing has changed; everything goes on as before. “According to Fanon, After the decolonization a class called " National bourgeoise" dominated the government but due to their incapability and mismanagement couldn’t sustain their role. These devastating conditions result in a new form of colonialism. The people get exploited in many ways. These bourgeoises favor their own regions which develop into inter-regional conflicts. They install favorable projects for their tribes and families which give rise to inter-tribal rivalries. They also support just the development of urban areas thus marginalizing the rural areas making the people of these areas deprived of their basic rights. This whole scenario creates an ambiguous situation and Nationalism which once was a name of unity gets converted into bigotry and chauvinism. In order to prevent this situation fanon argues there must be a true national party which will be the direct expression of the masses of the whole country and it must overthrow the government run by the national bourgeoisie and make a new government truly based on national interests.

On National Culture

Fanon originally delivered this fourth chapter as a speech during the Second Congress of Black Artists and Writers held in Rome in 1959.

He stated, "Each generation, while shrouded in relative obscurity, must identify its mission, whether to fulfill it faithfully or betray it."

In this chapter, Fanon delves into the progression of national culture through the endeavors of native intellectuals, including writers, poets, jazz musicians, and artists. His primary emphasis lies on writers. Within this context, he explores the shortcomings of the Negritude movement, which aimed to depict the shared historical heritage of all black people globally while underscoring the pivotal role of national culture as the bedrock for fostering international awareness.

Fanon asserts that the colonizer, in addition to disrupting the present circumstances of the colonized populace, distorts their history, depicting them as uncivilized and uneducated, all the while presenting themselves as saviors. In response, native intellectuals involved in this movement embark on a journey into their historical roots, uncovering their ancestral origins. During that period, a prominent literary movement, known as the "Negritude movement," emerged, with the goal of securing universal recognition for the cultural identity and history of all black people worldwide. Nevertheless, Fanon identifies limitations within this movement. He substantiates his rejection by reasoning those independent black nations had already existed in each state, each boasting its unique culture and history long before the notion of international identity and universal origins took hold.

Fanon describes those writers associated with the Negritude movement are influenced by Europe's concept of universalism. To support this assertion, he underscores the contrasting challenges faced by black American writers, such as Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, when compared to figures like Léopold Senghor, who served as the first president of Senegal. Fanon maintains that while the allure of becoming a Europhile is enticing, it is ultimately a futile endeavor. Here, Fanon introduces the concept of another movement termed "National culture," which forms the basis of international awareness.

Fanon goes on to describe the highly organized national struggle as the most pronounced expression of cultures throughout history. He subdivides the development of counter-culture in the decolonization process into three distinct stages. The initial stage, referred to as the assimilation stage, sees writers creating their literature in the language of the colonizer, challenging the dominion of the colonizer, and showcasing their ability to attain the level of European culture. The second stage, labeled "Returning to the past," witnesses writers composing their literature and writing their history in their native languages. The third and final stage, the "combat stage," involves writers crafting "combat literature" against the colonizer. During this stage, writers actively participated in the national struggle through their works, contributing to the effort to dismantle colonial rule. The national struggle evolves into an art form of culture, no longer confined to the past but serving as a dynamic force in the ongoing national struggle to overthrow the colonial governance.

Colonial War and Mental Disorders

In the fifth chapter, the author presents the accounts of numerous patients he treated for mental illnesses between 1954 and 1959. He discusses how colonialism, even prior to the colonial war, served as a fertile source of patients for psychiatric hospitals. He introduces the concept of "Reactionary psychoses," which develop in response to the harsh circumstances of the colonial era, emphasizing how the dehumanizing aspects of colonialism lead individuals to question their own identity with the constant query, "In reality, who am I?"

Within this chapter, the author also illustrates how the Algerian War for Independence impacted the mental well-being of both members of national movements and bystanders in Algeria. One such case involves a soldier in the Algerian army who, upon receiving news of his mother's death, retaliates by killing the wife of a colonialist. He is subsequently disarmed by the army and plagued by nightmares in which he is visited by his victim.

Another case involves a European police inspector who had previously been a torturer in jail and began abusing his family. He, too, succumbs to psychosis and mental health problems.

In the end, the author advises his brothers and comrades to distance themselves from Europe's impending doom and embark on journeys of discovery, positioning themselves as benefactors of humanity.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, Frantz Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth" provides a profound analysis of the complexities and challenges of decolonization. It is a passionate call to action for oppressed people seeking liberation from colonial rule. Fanon's message is clear: decolonization is not a passive process, but a violent and transformative struggle that involves reclaiming one's humanity and dignity from the oppressive forces of colonialism.

Fanon emphasizes the role of violence in decolonization, not as an end in itself, but as a means to break the chains of dehumanization and to unify the colonized people against their oppressors. He highlights the psychological and cultural impact of colonialism, and how it distorts self-identity and perpetuates division among the colonized.

The book also underscores the pitfalls of neocolonialism, where the newly independent nations may fall into the hands of a national bourgeoisie that serves the interests of the former colonizers. Fanon's solution lies in the formation of a true national party, representing the aspirations of the masses and genuinely working for the national interest.

Moreover, Fanon explores the crucial role of culture and literature in the decolonization process, advocating for a dynamic and evolving national culture that is intimately linked with the ongoing struggle for freedom.

In the realm of mental health, Fanon illuminates the devastating psychological effects of colonialism and war on individuals, emphasizing the importance of addressing the deep-seated traumas inflicted by colonial rule.

Ultimately, Fanon's message to the oppressed is a call for self-discovery, unity, and a rejection of the old colonial framework. It's a call to forge a new path, one that leads to true independence, dignity, and the realization of a humanity that has been suppressed for far too long. Fanon's words remain as relevant today as they were when he wrote them, offering a guide for those who seek to decolonize themselves and their societies in the pursuit of justice and freedom.


1 Comments

  1. Explained very simply and In a understanding way that every reader can taste that

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