"Frantz Fanon was one of the twentieth century's most important theorists of revolution, colonialism, and racial difference, and this, his masterwork, is a classic alongside Orientalism and The Autobiography of Malcolm X." "The Wretched of the Earth is an analysis of the psychology of the colonized and their path to liberation. Bearing singular insight into the rage of colonized peoples and the role of violence in historical change, the book also incisively attacks postindependence disenfranchisement of the masses by the elite on one hand, and intertribal and interfaith animosities on the other. A veritable handbook of social reorganization for leaders of emerging nations, The Wretched of the Earth has had a major impact on civil rights, anticolonialism, and black-consciousness movements around the world. This new translation updates its language for a new generation of readers and its lessons are more vital now than ever."--Jacket.
First deserving mention is the extended discussion of the peasantry and the intellectual returning to the hills, the rejection not only of the status of second-rate Western humans accorded Africans under Cold War postcolonization but also of the first countervanguard that came with Negritude, which is sort of eulogized as a beautiful rallying cry but one inadequate to the spirit of the times, incapable of making room in its subaltern and undifferentiated approach to blackness for the real particularity of national experience. From a twenty-first century perspective, when we're all hopefully getting a more sophisticated sense of how progressive movements everywhere need to reflect the tribal (conceived broadly and absolutely not excluding former colonizing societies) and the local, this seems important and true. But in Fanon, it descends ever so quickly into Pure Land proto-fascist stuff, and even if you understand how that comes to be and recognize that Black Star Africa was always a mirage, it doesn't seem clear if Fanon realizes that what he's talking about is precluding not only the good outcome but also the moderate one--that he's plumping for a Cultural Revolution at best and a Tutsi genocide at worst.
Part of that is maybe that he doesn't understand the important difference between the repression-for-profit that goes on while the Europeans are there and the repression-for-power-for-power's sake on the part of the homegrown elites that goes on after the Europeans go home. Fanon basically says that it's all the same repressive structures in place and a piratical colon class in a classic colonial arrangement or a frothy scum of local sociopaths in a neocolonial configuration with the former colonial power are six-one/half-dozen-the-other. And you can see how it would seem that way in the midst of the Algerian conflict. But the fact is the Europeans did cut and run when it got expensive enough, in blood and treasure but also in their precious precious humanistic image of themselves, and it just took them some years and way too much killing to get it through their heads. They do not deserve credit for this, but it is a fact. Whereas, as we've seen a lot of this year in the "Arab Spring," your Qaddafis, your Mugabes, your Amins, either hang on till the bitterest end or leave only when it's their ass on the line. When Tripoli is home, you stay in Tripoli and fight, even, or maybe especially, if you're the worst guy.
These blind spots are perhaps a bit more suprising because Fanon's general class analysis is so good--the difference between the genuine national bourgeoisie fulfilling its historic mission with an excelsior-sense of great works and uncharted horizons, and a colonial pseudo-bourgeoisie that make s its money off transactions, finance; conversely, the difference between a genuine national working class that in developed countries has fought for certain rights and won with bravery and action the reapportionment of some of the misappropriated wealth of the colonies, and a colonial situation in which the working class is functionally a technocratic class with its factory jobs and its lathe skills or whatever, and the abused lumpenpeasantry are left excluded, without recourse except to be exploited or, perhaps, awakened. Which awakening is a huge concern for Fanon, as noted above.
Without trying to make any of the ridiculous comparisons that this analogy might otherwise be mistaken to imply: a bloodsucking upper class that doesn't even produce anything anymore; a middle class selling out the dispossessed in the effort to protect its own small privilege; a great mass of dislocated people with no prospects and no protection, who hate those above them but have to struggle even to put themselves in the headspace to understand the true struggle; what does that sound like to you? To me it sounds like North America and the global society, circa 2011. We're obviously much better off materially, much less subject to arbitrary detention or torture or fear; but in the total breakdown of the social compact and the total lack even of class solidarity within the oppressed class, because everybody's looking out for themselves, it's right on. It terrifies me to think that the difference between Algiers in 1958 and Vancouver in 2011 might just be that we can hide from the reality of the matter better longer because of the prosperity that keeps the food in our belly and the jackboot away from our door (impossible to say how much of said prosperity stolen from the African?).
For us, like for them, the trick is to keep reminding ourselves who the enemy is and grant them no quarter, no co-operation. But it's scary! And I guess that's the difference between colonialism and the downtrodden status to which we are reverting: we can buy basic safety with our acquiescence; they couldn't and can't. Fanon, who was a clinical psychologist working with revolutionary fighters suffering from post-traumatic stress, knows this very well, and one of the most fascinating sections of the book are the case studies he presents. The language of "dislocated personalities" and so on is easily translated, and we see that exploitation brutalizes everyone, even the people who stay out of the way and go about their business and feel so worthless and guilty that one day they take a knife to their neighbour for looking at their wife. The experience of oppression damages the oppressed, and so we're back to violence again--in a sick society, all violence directed against the structures of that society is self-defence whether you're immediately threatened or not, because it's official society that's damaging you. And then the violence you engages in damages you as well. The colonized is the one against whom war is by definition always being waged, and--Fanon asserts based on his clinical work--fighting back is the least bad option. That's the sick logic of empire: it always reaches the point where violence, revolutionary violence, is the best option if anyone, imperialists included, is going to avoid being broken to bits inside.
Perhaps the most striking part of this book is the final section, where Fanon discusses his psychological profiles of liberation fighters, colonial guards, and colonial victims.
Liberate your soul from the colonization of everyday life. Find out how in this book.
His psychiatric case studies of the effects of colonization were also fascinating. It really shows the long term psychological effects of oppression.