Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth treats many of the central ideas concerning the struggle for liberation against colonialism. Fanon, who was a psychiatrist, worked in a hospital in Algeria during the war for independence from France, and many of the essay’s ideas are based on his observations and experiences in Algeria. He wrote during the era that would ultimately lead to the collapse of most colonialism in Africa; his ideas, however, are about liberation in general. Fanon sets forth the idea that Marxist notions of history and of the progression toward freedom need to be adapted to the struggle for independence. Analyzing the movement from colonization to independence, he modifies Marxist ideas. For example, Fanon notes that workers, far from being revolutionary, sometimes have an interest in colonialism and in the maintenance of a colonial economy. In sum, in The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon offers ideas that are central to literature on colonialism and on revolution.
The chapter titled “Concerning Violence” lays the groundwork for many of the ideas to come in the rest of the book. Essential in this chapter is Fanon’s assertion that decolonization is always a violent process. Decolonization is also the process of creating a “new person.” The struggle for independence necessarily entails the destruction of the image of the oppressed that the colonizers have set forth in an attempt to define the colonized. There is no reform of colonialism in the struggle for independence, Fanon argues further; the destruction of colonialism must be total.
Central to Fanon’s ideas throughout the work is the role of violence in the struggle for liberation. Fanon’s ideas on violence are complex. First, he notes that only force can meet force: Colonialism is held in place by soldiers and police officers. In addition, the takeover of nations by European countries was a violent phenomenon that tried to obliterate the ways of life of the indigenous peoples and to kill their spirits and their cultures. Hence, from its inception and in its maintenance, colonialism is violent. Moreover, as Fanon knew, the colonialist powers could not be expected to leave colonized areas peacefully. Therefore, violent struggle is a necessary agent for colonized peoples to gain independence.
While Fanon’s discussion of the need for armed struggle might seem obvious, his discussion of violence is complex and thoughtful. He also describes the psychological violence against the colonized that has been perpetuated by the settlers. For example, colonialism hinges in part on the acceptance by the colonized of their inferior status. This inferiority is economic and social. In fact, the one imposed condition of inferiority hinges on the other. Yet, Fanon asserts, the inequality of colonialism sparks in the indigenous people the desire to overthrow the settler. The indigenous people naturally desire to throw off their inferior status. Hence, while psychological violence against the people (which results in their physical and psychological degradation) helps keep colonialism in its place, Fanon suggests that this very degradation makes clear one of the foremost reasons for the need for violent overthrow of the colonizers. He stresses the need for a revolutionary re-creation of the psychological and economic status of the people. A revolution must entail, according to Fanon, violent thought and deeds. Violence for Fanon seems to be both psychological catharsis and historical process, both of which are necessary for the overthrow of oppressors.
In “Concerning Violence” and in “Spontaneity: Its Strength and Weakness,” Fanon discusses some of the problems confronting liberation movements. He clearly has faith in the need for liberation, but he makes evident that liberation is a process, not one quick war that establishes independence. He stresses that in the historical process of attaining liberation, those among the colonized who are part of the struggle must realize the roles they have to play, and this entails a transformation of the consciousness of many people—many received ideas have to go. Central in this process are political activists who can bridge the gap between themselves and the common people. Fanon notes that many political activists and intellectuals are unfamiliar with the people who live in villages and thus have limited their political connections to people who live in towns, and this, he asserts, is a major mistake. Among rural peoples, Fanon believes, one will find those whose cultures have been the least affected by colonialism, and hence those least brainwashed into feeling inferior to the colonizers.
Moreover, people in rural areas cling to their cultures, unlike members of the middle...