Frantz Fanon: a classic to understand colonialism | Africa is not a country | Future Planet

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), psychoanalyst/social philosopher.
Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), psychoanalyst/social philosopher.CSU Archives/Everett Collection

On December 3, 1961, the psychiatrist and intellectual from the French Martinique Ibrahim Frantz Fanon succumbed to the merciless leukemia that cut off his life at the height of his academic production; with only 36 years, and in the year of publication of his last work, the classic The damned of the Earth. The thinker marked a time from his writings and died at a key moment in African history, that of the arrival of independence, a time of which he was a witness and protagonist when he was a member of the National Liberation Front (FLN, en French) during the war for the emancipation of Algeria (1954-1962). His experience, as a psychiatrist, was fundamental to the effect of portraying the profile of colonized people in the book, which became an obligatory reference in studies on colonialism.

Colonialism and alienation

In the heat of the war in Algeria, which at the time of writing The damned of the earth For seven years, Fanon wrote that decolonization is always about a violent process and that it dehumanizes the colonized, denying them their past, their essence and their values. Colonialism is not a thinking machine, it is not a body endowed with reason. It is violence in a state of nature ”, he opined in the first pages of his essay.

The colonial system builds and perpetuates stereotypes. Fanon constantly denounced them. In 1961 he explained that the oppressor was defined by the colonized as an enemy of values, devoid of these, as well as morality. Dehumanization led to the extreme of comparing the African with the animals. “The language of the colonist is a zoo language,” added the psychiatrist.

The enunciated appreciations were endorsed in the scientific discourse of the time. In this field, in France before 1954, it had been concluded that the Algerian was a born criminal, an impulsive and ruthless murderer, who killed for nothing, and always robbed violently. Even some similar observations were made in Tunisia and Morocco that the stereotype of a North African criminal was concluded.

Fanon denounced the content of French teaching about subjects based on metropolitan theories that associated them with inferiority and aggressiveness. In one of these studies, the North African indigenous appears as almost devoid of cerebral cortex or, in another, the African is compared to a lobotomized European. In conclusion, for several French specialists, the mental structure of the African predisposed him to be almost an animal.

The author of The damned of the earth He defined it in a framework of certain ambiguity as a being cornered. On the one hand, fearful and even hostile to the oppressor; on the other hand she envied him, wanting to take his place and even sleep in his bed, possessing his wife. The city of this was forbidden to the indigenous, the separation between the two worlds was a reality and because of that distance and the inherent violence of the system, the colonized lived in a state of permanent tension.

The Caribbean author thought of the colonized as a persecuted person who always dreams of becoming a persecutor

This tension was manifested in the desire to go beyond the limits that were imposed under the threat or application of coercion. For this reason, these tensions were sublimated during sleep: “They are muscular dreams, action dreams, aggressive dreams. I dream that I jump, that I swim, that I run, that I jump. I dream that I laugh out loud (…). During colonization, the colonized does not stop freeing itself between nine at night and six in the morning ”, he synthesized. As the African did not unleash his violence against the European, he did it with others of his peers, through internal struggles, or religion. In trance states he forgot his condition of submission, even for a little while. It is no coincidence that during colonialism hospitals were saturated with individuals with highly altered psyches.

Liberation and war

If colonialism, Fanon explained, is pure violence, the response must be just as violent. As that system is built by force of arms, the subject knew that through it his time would come. “Colonized man liberates himself in and through violence,” said the author.

If colonialism, Fanon explained, is pure violence, the response of the colonized must be just as violent.

There is no alternative, he explains on its pages. The new society must be born as a product of violence and struggle revolutionary army. Fanon recommended forming a common front against the oppressor. The colonized was cornered by misery and hunger that pushed him more and more to the desperate act of open and organized fighting. It was time to enter the colonizer’s forbidden abode. “Progressively and imperceptibly the need for a decisive confrontation becomes urgent and is experienced by the great majority of the people,” he warned.

And the beginning of liberation brought relief. Its beginning relaxed the colonized, artistic production became expressive and there was a greening of expressions in general, more creativity in cultural manifestations and a resurgence of the imagination. In addition, Fanon found that since 1954 in Algeria common crimes almost disappeared. This means that the aggressiveness of the Algerian was overcome through the liberation brought about by the war for independence.

The liberation, in addition to the redemption of the people, the leading actor, also demanded the expulsion of the foreigner, a process consummated, for example, in Algeria after independence, in 1962. But the problems of the organization of the new State would soon arise.

First the people

The armed struggle is the product of the people, the birth of a new nation. Fanon evidenced that the violence unified the people, putting pressure on the colonial regime. Despite the fact that its machinery tried to divide, fostering tribes everywhere and other devices, however, the violence in its practice would be totalizing and national, tending to eliminate regionalism and tribalism. But the unit did not end at these points.

Each colonized in arms is a piece of the living nation

In relation to the most neglected sectors, these actors recomposed themselves by joining the efforts of the struggle for national liberation at the individual level, invading, paraphrasing Martinique, the citadel of the colonizer. Therefore, recognizing that it was the only way, all these individuals were unified because the struggle promised them a restorative horizon under the umbrella of nation-building. However, fragments of these groups also aligned themselves with the oppressor.

“Each colonized in arms is a piece of the living nation,” celebrated the author. The purpose was to build a nation to drive out intruders. But the departure of the last ones did not clarify the panorama. The national bourgeoisie took the reins of power once decolonization had occurred and little changed. Misery prevailed again. This new group betrayed the people and allied itself with external actors, leading to neocolonialism and keeping popular aspirations at bay. Fanon denounced the way in which this bourgeoisie lost its renovating airs and became an instrument of the the status quo previous.

The author of Black skin, white masks, He held a very strong complaint. The independent countries, pointing to the previous description, turned their governments into tribal dictatorships, no longer bourgeois. “That party that claimed to be the servant of the people, which sought to promote the development of the people, since the colonial power handed over the country hastened to lead the people back to their cave,” the intellectual deepened. In other words, he criticized the parties for being distant from the people, from the masses.

The politician must not ignore that the future will remain closed as long as the consciousness of the people is rudimentary, primary, opaque.

Their urgent request consisted of re-building bridges with them and that the people be the protagonists of the armed struggle and of the subsequent process of transformation. He postulated the importance of the government and party being at the service of the people. “The politician must not ignore that the future will remain closed while the consciousness of the people is rudimentary, primary, opaque,” he concluded.

As the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in the prologue to the work of Martinique, the colonized is cured of the colonial neurosis by expelling the colonist with arms. However, somehow neocolonialism is perpetuated 60 years after the publication of The damned of the earth. The ex-metropolises have not completely left Africa as most of continental political liberation in the 1960s supposed. Even today various mechanisms subject African populations and governments, as Frantz Fanon warned and wrote in 1961.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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