Frantz Fanon

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How is the idea of individualism shown in Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Do you think he took the idea of collectivism too far?

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Frantz Fanon's 1961 The Wretched of the Earth is the seminal psychological work to explore the effects of imperialism on colonized peoples. Fanon grew up in Martinique, a colony of France, and came of age as imperial powers were either withdrawing or being forced out of their colonies around...

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Frantz Fanon's 1961 The Wretched of the Earth is the seminal psychological work to explore the effects of imperialism on colonized peoples. Fanon grew up in Martinique, a colony of France, and came of age as imperial powers were either withdrawing or being forced out of their colonies around the world.

While Fanon was himself an intellectual, psychiatrist, and valued individuals (particularly intellectuals) for their abilities to galvanize the masses, he believed the only way to free the colonized from the colonizer was through force. Therefore, only through a group will and brute strength would the colonized be able to reclaim their identity and personal well-being. Fanon encouraged the recruitment of the underclass, referred to by Marxists as the lumpenproletariat, to fight with the proletariat and anti-colonial intellectuals and throw off the yoke of imperialism. This was in contrast to early Marxists, who believed the lumpenproletariat were not educated enough to know what political actions could serve them best, and so they need not be recruited into revolution.

The strengths of Fanon's argument would be, first, literal strength. The more bodies in service to a cause, particularly before the Third Industrial Revolution, the better the opportunity to gain attention; the better the opportunity to gain attention, the better the opportunity to make demands. The second strength would be an afterthought to Fanon, but the fact that whether or not the underclass were intellectually invested in a revolution mattered little, because they would be affected by revolution just the same. Therefore, they deserve a stake in the process.

In terms of weaknesses, and whether Fanon took the idea of collectivism too far, is hard to say without looking at the role of psychology in the era. As different parts of the world were coming out from under oppressive regimes, including the Southern United States under Jim Crow, the cult of the individual was taking shape in the West, thanks in no small part to mass media. Individuals were being encouraged to explore their psyches, cast off social inhibitions, and pursue counter-cultural desires in ways not possible before. In some ways, the strength of an individual activist—to use American examples, like MLK Jr., JFK Jr., Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem—was a necessary catalyst for mobilizing others to a cause. Without the cult of personality an individual could provide, one could argue that many of these movements would go nowhere, particularly in the era of Fanon's ideas.

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