Frantz Fanon and the Problems of Independence (1963)

Rudy Shep­herd, The Heal­ers: Frantz Fanon, 2009.

Translators’ Introduction

It often appears as if every­thing that can pos­si­bly be said on the life and work of Frantz Fanon has already been writ­ten. The core texts of his oeu­vre have not only become cor­ner­stones of cur­ric­u­la in post­colo­nial stud­ies, black stud­ies, and polit­i­cal the­o­ry depart­ments; they have also been tak­en up as weapons of strug­gle, tools for ana­lyz­ing episodes of social dis­con­tent, upsurges of polit­i­cal resis­tance, and path­ways to lib­er­a­tion in var­i­ous set­tings. The end­less pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of Fanon’s writ­ings, their capac­i­ty to gen­er­ate new read­ings, new deploy­ments, can make it dif­fi­cult to care­ful­ly recon­struct the dif­fer­ent peri­ods of his recep­tion by both crit­ics and polit­i­cal actors.

“Fanon and the Prob­lems of Inde­pen­dence,” writ­ten in 1963 by Viet­namese his­to­ri­an Nguyen Khac Vien (1913-1997) under the pseu­do­nym Nguyen Nghe and pub­lished in the French Com­mu­nist Par­ty jour­nal La Nou­velle Cri­tique, forms a cru­cial part of one of those bygone con­texts of recep­tion.1 A crit­i­cal review of Fanon’s 1961 Wretched of the Earth, Khac Vien’s text is oft-cit­ed in bib­li­ogra­phies and has as impact­ed stud­ies on both Fanon’s class analy­sis and polit­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy, but has not hereto­fore been trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish.2 Khac Vien takes Fanon seri­ous­ly as a the­o­rist of colo­nial­ism and inter­preter of the dynam­ics of decol­o­niza­tion move­ments in Africa and beyond. A new round of biogra­phies and mono­graphs on Fanon, espe­cial­ly those by Peter Hud­is and Leo Zelig, have direct­ed our atten­tion to this con­junc­tur­al back­drop for Khac Vien’s study, and how the cir­cu­la­tion of tac­tics, strate­gies, and forms of mil­i­tan­cy coa­lesced dur­ing the most intense wave of nation­al lib­er­a­tion move­ments in the 20th cen­tu­ry.3 Khac Vien approach­es Wretched of the Earth from the per­spec­tive of the people’s war in Viet­nam, and reads the text as a con­den­sa­tion of the expe­ri­ence of the Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, com­pli­cat­ing cer­tain entrenched under­stand­ings of Fanon’s thought.

Khac Vien first came to Paris in 1937, when the city was a “con­ver­gence space” for anti-colo­nial emi­gres from across the French empire.4 He pur­sued an advanced degree in med­i­cine, would con­tin­ue reside in France for twen­ty-six years as a doc­tor, writer, and mem­ber of the French Com­mu­nist Par­ty before his expul­sion back to Viet­nam in 1963 (even­tu­al­ly becom­ing a polit­i­cal dis­sent towards the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Par­ty of Viet­nam in the 80s and 90s). Although he was out­side of Viet­nam dur­ing the August Rev­o­lu­tion of 1945, the peri­od of armed resis­tance to the French from 1945 to 1954, the bat­tle of Dien Bien Phu of 1954, and the land reforms that took place dur­ing the ‘50s, he remained a com­mit­ted orga­niz­er and agi­ta­tor for the Viet­namese lib­er­a­tion move­ment in France. Khac Vien pro­duced clan­des­tine pro­pa­gan­da, car­ried out exten­sive cam­paign­ing among French activists and intel­lec­tu­als, and trav­eled to dis­cuss the sig­nif­i­cance of sup­port­ing Viet­namese eman­ci­pa­tion to Viet­namese sol­diers enlist­ed in the French army. In terms of pub­li­ca­tions, Khac Vien might be best known among Anglo­phone read­ers for edit­ing the jour­nals Études Viet­nami­ennes and the Cour­ri­er du Viet­nam, whose Eng­lish trans­la­tions have been pub­lished as Viet­namese Stud­ies and The Viet­nam Couri­er, respec­tive­ly.

Khac Vien was thus part of a larg­er enter­prise of polit­i­cal trans­mis­sion and a Viet­namese strand of anti­colo­nial­ism in France. Ho Chi Minh’s rad­i­cal­iza­tion dur­ing his time in the coun­try in the 1920s is well-known, but net­works of Viet­namese expats remained active for the longue duree of the inde­pen­dence strug­gle. Viet­namese com­mu­nist mil­i­tant Nguyen Kien, pseu­do­nym of Ngo Manh Lan, was an edi­tor of the short lived Rev­o­lu­tion jour­nal with major con­tacts in French rad­i­cal cir­cles, and pub­lished Le Sud-Viet­nam depuis Dien-Bien-Phu in 1963, an update on the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Viet­nam and South­east Asia since the 1954 Gene­va Accords.5 More­over, Khac Vien emi­grat­ed to France the same year as Tran Duc Thao, a philoso­pher who would have an immense impact on the rapid­ly con­ver­gent fields of phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy, exis­ten­tial­ism, and Marx­ism in the imme­di­ate post-World War II the­o­ret­i­cal moment.6 In fact, there is evi­dence to sug­gest that Fanon’s own depic­tion of the “Manichean,” com­part­men­tal­ized world of the col­o­niz­er and col­o­nized harkens back to Duc Thao’s path­break­ing set of arti­cles on Indochi­na that appeared in Les Temps mod­ernes in 1946-47, and which offered the method­olog­i­cal tools for an “anti­colo­nial phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy.”7 Across these arti­cles, Thao works out the rudi­ments of a mate­r­i­al trans­la­tion of Marx­ist philo­soph­i­cal cat­e­gories in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary prac­tices against French colo­nial­ism in Asia, at times direct­ly con­fronting mis­tak­en assump­tions of Euro­pean intel­lec­tu­als.8

There are oth­er his­tor­i­cal rea­sons for close­ly con­sid­er­ing the the­o­ret­i­cal and strate­gic relays at work in the text below. The strength of Khac Vien’s review lies in how he sums up and presents con­crete expe­ri­ences and lessons from the First Indochi­na War, in which Vo Nguyen Giap devel­oped and for­ti­fied the guer­ril­la tac­tics and logis­tics of pro­longed people’s war to the cir­cum­stances of Viet­nam. Viet­nam and Alge­ria, along with Cuba, rep­re­sent­ed lead­ing exem­plars of the strug­gles for inde­pen­dence and recog­ni­tion set in motion in the “Third World,” and were the cor­ner­stones of an entire transna­tion­al appa­ra­tus of polit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and mate­r­i­al assis­tance against sud­den­ly-vul­ner­a­ble impe­ri­al­ist forces. The com­par­a­tive, in situ glimpse Khac Vien offers of the par­al­lels between two major rup­tures with colo­nial­ism dur­ing the Cold War marks this as an impor­tant con­junc­tur­al doc­u­ment. His cri­tique of Fanon came pre­cise­ly at a moment of his­tor­i­cal tran­si­tion, fore­shad­ow­ing the cen­tral­i­ty of the U.S. war in Viet­nam to lat­er forms of anti-impe­ri­al­ist resis­tance and demon­strat­ing how the Alger­ian nation­al lib­er­a­tion as a break­through of armed mobi­liza­tion on the African con­ti­nent. Ques­tions about the com­ple­men­tary nature of pro­le­tar­i­an inter­na­tion­al­ism and nation­al lib­er­a­tion, a crux of “Third World­ism,” were hot­ly debat­ed across the glob­al left.

Khac Vien’s engage­ment with Fanon revolves around four deci­sive points of dis­agree­ment con­cern­ing the tac­ti­cal reper­toire and world out­look ade­quate to con­junc­ture of decol­o­niza­tion: (1) the “sub­jec­tivism” present in Fanons con­cep­tion of the colonized’s insur­rec­tionary force against the col­o­niz­ers, traces of his debt to exis­ten­tial­ist phi­los­o­phy; (2) relat­ed­ly, Fanon’s dis­tort­ed focus on the mobi­liz­ing pow­er of armed strug­gle or vio­lence, thus neglect­ing the mul­ti­fac­eted dimen­sions of guer­ril­la war­fare; (3) his pro­mo­tion of the peas­antry (and the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at, though Khac Vien does not refer to it) to the rank of a cen­tral rev­o­lu­tion­ary class; (4) his thin assess­ment of the prospects of Third World coun­tries against Euro­pean impe­ri­al­ism, and what Khac Vien sees as the ulti­mate­ly neg­a­tive out­comes of a strat­e­gy of non-align­ment.9

On the one hand, Khac Vien’s arti­cle is one of the bet­ter ear­ly “pro­to-cri­tiques” of Fanon, in that he does not con­struct a sen­sa­tion­al­ized or exag­ger­at­ed ver­sion of the Mar­tini­can the­o­rist with lit­tle cor­re­spon­dence to the actu­al argu­ments in Wretched, as often hap­pened in the Euro­pean or U.S. con­texts.10 He rig­or­ous­ly probes the the­o­ret­i­cal sources and effects of Fanon’s notion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary agency, or “resis­tant sub­jec­tiv­i­ty,” in the colo­nial sce­nario: its con­sti­tu­tion and devel­op­ment, meth­ods of orga­ni­za­tion, class com­po­si­tion, and poten­tial rever­sal.11 In oth­er words, Khac Vien fur­nish­es the build­ing blocks for the most informed, and sym­pa­thet­ic, con­sid­er­a­tions of Fanon’s work which would appear over the fol­low­ing decades. Most effec­tive is the way he brings Fanon back into the orbit of anti­colo­nial Marx­ists who defend­ed the pos­si­ble prece­dence of rev­o­lu­tions in the colo­nial and semi-colo­nial coun­tries over the “rev­o­lu­tion in the West,” as con­fla­gra­tions which would break open cer­tain notions of his­tor­i­cal syn­chronic­i­ty (see in par­tic­u­lar his cit­ing of M.N. Roy’s 1920 “Sup­ple­men­tary The­ses on the Nation­al and Colo­nial Ques­tions”).

But Khac Vien seems to stum­ble in pars­ing the inter­twined tex­tu­al lev­els of Wretched of the Earth, what Christoph Kalber calls its com­bi­na­tion of a “psy­chopathol­o­gy of colo­nial­ism, the soci­ol­o­gy of decol­o­niza­tion, the philo­soph­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of polit­i­cal vio­lence,” even the inter­pel­la­tion of the read­er to action.12 Khac Vien’s treat­ment of Fanon’s ten­den­cy to iso­late armed strug­gle from polit­i­cal work, for instance, ignores the mul­ti­ple points in the text where he coun­ter­pos­es alter­na­tive strate­gies of grass­roots mobi­liza­tion, ide­o­log­i­cal prac­tice, and mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tion to scle­rot­ic or rei­fied forms that rein­forced pater­nal­is­tic atti­tudes and hier­ar­chi­cal struc­ture of many nation­al­ist par­ties at the time.13 Telling­ly, these pro­pos­als fol­low moments where Fanon devi­ates from cer­tain Marx­ist ortho­doxy: his emphat­ic descrip­tion of the peasantry’s ten­den­cy towards spon­ta­neous upris­ings, the lumpen’s capac­i­ty to more effec­tive­ly spear­head urban insur­rec­tions than the dif­fer­ent sec­tors of the indus­tri­al pro­le­tari­at. At stake is not only an inat­ten­tion to the struc­ture of Fanon’s book, but a neglect of the nuances of Fanon’s rela­tion­ship to Marx­ist analy­sis, and the latter’s sug­ges­tion that Marx­ism must be “stretched when it comes to address­ing colo­nial issue.”14 There is universality/particularity divide here, evinced in Khac Vien’s rather sci­en­tis­tic con­cep­tion of Marx­ism – evinced in claims that the “meth­ods of thought and action that inspired Lenin or Mao Tse-Tung have a uni­ver­sal val­ue.” There are rea­sons for this rigid­i­ty: in Viet­nam and oth­er anti-colo­nial sit­u­a­tions, Marx­ism-Lenin­ism had a real appeal. As Odd Arne Wes­t­ad reminds us in his mag­is­te­r­i­al his­to­ry of the post­war con­junc­ture of decol­o­niza­tion, Marx­ism-Lenin­ism was a potent ide­o­log­i­cal force for Third World lead­ers who wished to avoid the traps of non-align­ment; it pro­vid­ed an instru­ment through which fledg­ling states might become “tru­ly inde­pen­dent. inter­na­tion­al­ist, and eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable,” a struc­tured, defined, and orga­nized socio-polit­i­cal basis.15 And yet, Marx­ism-Lenin­ism offers an impov­er­ished under­stand­ing of the the­o­ret­i­cal his­to­ry in Marx­ism, and the dis­place­ments, rup­tures, and con­fronta­tions which have marked its exis­tence at every step, not to men­tion its reduc­tive strate­gic for­mu­lae.16 Fanon’s class analy­sis is less con­cerned with uphold­ing the “sci­en­tif­ic and just rev­o­lu­tion­ary line” than with the his­tor­i­cal­ly spec­i­fy­ing the “polit­i­cal artic­u­la­tion” of het­ero­ge­neous social groups, their deter­mi­nate place and effi­ca­cy on a con­flict­ual ter­rain.17 Immanuel Wallerstein’s recent reflec­tions on this top­ic are apt: he sug­gests that we trace how Fanon sought a “dif­fer­ent fram­ing of the class strug­gle” in both colo­nial and imme­di­ate post­colo­nial sit­u­a­tions, in order to dis­cern alliances and con­flicts among social stra­ta where the “the urban indus­tri­al pro­le­tari­at was nowhere near a major­i­ty” and mass pol­i­tics took a very form than in the metrop­o­les18

Khac Vien cer­tain­ly over­looks Fanon’s vibrant, vivid descrip­tions of the dynam­ics of polit­i­cal action not only in Wretched, but in oth­er places too – the sit­u­at­ed accounts of the insur­gent prac­tices elab­o­rat­ed dur­ing the Alge­ria Rev­o­lu­tion found in A Dying Colo­nial­ism being the most obvi­ous ref­er­ence.19 And a close read­ing finds that Fanon draws not only from the Alger­ian strug­gle, but a host of revolts and insur­rec­tions on the African con­ti­nent: the Mau-Mau in Kenya, Mada­gas­car, Mali, and espe­cial­ly South Africa. His descrip­tion of the impact of the Sharpeville mas­sacre, for instance, shows an aware­ness of the inter­na­tion­al con­text of the Cold War and its mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of proxy inter­ests, the his­tor­i­cal pow­er of the nation­al lib­er­a­tion wave, and the imper­a­tive to ade­quate­ly cal­i­brate the scope of decolo­nial projects: “Every meet­ing, every act of repres­sion rever­ber­ates around the inter­na­tion­al are­na. The Sharpeville mas­sacre shook pub­lic opin­ion for months. In the press, over the air­waves and in pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions, Sharpeville has become a symbol…Every peas­ant revolt, every insur­rec­tion in the Third World fits into the frame­work of the cold war.”20 In his capac­i­ty as a cor­re­spon­dent and ambas­sador for the FLN and the Gou­verne­ment Pro­vi­soire de la République Algéri­enne, Fanon for­mu­lat­ed a sin­gu­lar vision of African lib­er­a­tion, based on the lessons of the Alger­ian rev­o­lu­tion, the shift­ing blocs of the polit­i­cal land­scape of resis­tance forces (away from advo­ca­cy of non-vio­lence or con­sti­tu­tion­al means to inde­pen­dence), and the intran­si­gence of the remain­ing set­tler-colo­nial pow­ers on the con­ti­nent. As Robert Young fur­ther explains, it was Fanon’s

inter­na­tion­al polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence gained in these last years – his grow­ing inti­ma­cy and involve­ment with rev­o­lu­tion­ary anti-colo­nial lead­ers from all over Africa, and his com­mit­ment to armed strug­gle as the cra­dle of “African great­ness” – that gave Fanon the broad­er per­spec­tive that allowed him to make his pow­er­ful and per­sua­sive gen­er­al argu­ments about colo­nial­ism, anti-colo­nial strug­gle, and lib­er­a­tion that lie at the heart of The Wretched of the Earth.21

Fanon cer­tain­ly made some mis­takes in his assess­ment of the polit­i­cal oppor­tu­ni­ties in sub-Saha­ran Africa – his pre­scrip­tions for armed insur­rec­tion in Ango­la in 1961, made in tan­dem with Hold­en Roberto’s Union of Peo­ples of Ango­la turned out to be dis­as­trous.22 But we should also note that he saw Alger­ian strug­gle as the “weak point of the colo­nial sys­tem and the ram­part of the African peo­ples,” a spark that could thread exist­ing move­ments togeth­er and pro­duce unex­pect­ed forms of rev­o­lu­tion­ary uni­ty. Of course, devel­op­ments in Alge­ria and else­where in Africa would close this win­dow for the rest of the decade.23 It would be fol­lowed up by a dif­fer­ent foci of mil­i­tan­cy in the Third World, that of Che Guevara’s injunc­tion to “Cre­ate one, two, three, Viet­nams.” But the point here is that con­junc­tur­al analy­sis of the shifts and ten­den­cies in colo­nial poli­cies could ini­ti­ate alter­na­tive his­tor­i­cal routes, upset­ting rev­o­lu­tion­ary mod­els – this a last­ing resource of this polit­i­cal sequence.24

It would be mis­guid­ed to think about this encounter between two anti-colo­nial mil­i­tants, two fig­ures of that entire process of polit­i­cal sub­jec­ti­va­tion grouped under the umbrel­la term of the Third World, as a pre­lim­i­nary for the attacks – often unfair or inac­cu­rate – against Fanon and his focus on the peas­antry and the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at that would flour­ish in the 1970s. Rather, we might see it as gen­er­a­tive of two linked path­ways for effec­tive­ly under­stand­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of action in the long strug­gle against colo­nial pow­ers and the fur­ther tar­get, that dif­fuse force-field of impe­ri­al­ism.25 For Khac Vien and Fanon were attuned to the exi­gency to com­bine armed strug­gle with polit­i­cal work and ide­o­log­i­cal prac­tice.26 They rec­og­nized that the inter­ac­tion between these phas­es is not lin­ear or pre­de­ter­mined, and that the orga­ni­za­tion­al forms set in motion dur­ing the course of the above-ground efforts as well as guer­ril­la war – pop­u­lar alliances, blocs of oppressed class­es, par­ties, unions, peas­ant coop­er­a­tives – would have to be diverse, open, and par­tic­i­pa­to­ry, in order to avoid the “snares” of regres­sive nation­al­ism, neo­colo­nial eco­nom­ic exploita­tion, and renewed polit­i­cal sub­ject. This will to exper­i­ment with and artic­u­late dif­fer­ent prac­tices, times, and visions of revolt mesh with words Jose-Car­los Mari­ategui once wrote in an ear­li­er con­text:

With­out rul­ing out the use of any type of anti-impe­ri­al­ist agi­ta­tion or any action to mobi­lize those social sec­tors that might even­tu­al­ly join the strug­gle, our mis­sion is to explain to and show the mass­es that only the social­ist rev­o­lu­tion can stand as a defin­i­tive and real bar­ri­er to the advance of impe­ri­al­ism.

The after-effects of colo­nial moder­ni­ty in the land strug­gles of dis­pos­sessed indige­nous pop­u­la­tions, upris­ings against entrenched regimes and for­eign (state and cor­po­rate) inter­ven­tion, urban explo­sions in the heart of the for­mer metrop­o­les, the labor strug­gles of con­tract­ed and indebt­ed migrants across Europe, Africa, and Asia alike, indi­cate that the crit­i­cal dia­logue between Fanon and Nghe is worth a sec­ond look. 

When all is said and done, after expe­ri­enc­ing the hor­ri­fy­ing mis­ery and great humil­i­a­tion of the col­o­nized mass­es with mil­lions of oth­er peo­ple, you feel the urge to talk about it. After endur­ing the epic of armed strug­gle – bru­tal, hero­ic, but vic­to­ri­ous, you are com­pelled to shout it out for all the world to hear. You are com­pelled to shout it out in front of those who man­age to keep a mod­icum of good con­science (or keep monies in good con­science), such as those like [Hubert] Lyautey or Father de Fou­cauld. In fact, you’re com­pelled to shout it out in front of any­one, regard­less of whether he or she is Asian or African, strid­ing down the hall­ways of the Unit­ed Nations, sat­is­fied with the char­i­ty that colo­nial com­pa­nies pay out while leav­ing the old struc­tures of a cru­el world untouched.

You will nev­er do enough to make this shout­ing heard – this immense clam­or of dis­tress, of fury, and of revolt by the hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple that colo­nial­ism push­es to the brink of despair. Even “lib­er­al” Euro­peans can hard­ly offer faith­ful por­tray­als of colo­nial soci­ety. For, in this soci­ety, all it takes is one drop of white­ness in your skin col­or to cross over to the priv­i­leged sites. Even when apartheid is not for­mal­ly imposed, colo­nial soci­ety is still manichaean. On one side, you will find whites, colonists, police, mis­sion­ar­ies, gov­er­nors, gen­er­als, the Queen of Eng­land, pros­ti­tutes; on the oth­er side, you will find dock­ers, plan­ta­tion work­ers, ule­mas, monks, stu­dents, intel­lec­tu­als, fel­lahs, and nhà quês.

The colonist’s lan­guage, when speak­ing about the col­o­nized, is a zoo­log­i­cal lan­guage. One might allude to a yel­low man’s slith­ery way of mov­ing, a reek com­ing from the “native” quar­ters, packs, swarm­ing, pro­lif­er­a­tion, stench­es, or ges­tur­ing […] That population’s mush­room­ing, those crazed mass­es, those faces bereft of any human­i­ty, those bloat­ed bel­lies resem­bling noth­ing else on earth, that head­less, tail­less cohort, its chil­dren who do not seem to belong to any­body in par­tic­u­lar, indulging in sloth [paresse] all day under the sun, and that veg­e­ta­tive pace of life – the colo­nial vocab­u­lary includes all of this. Gen­er­al de Gaulle speaks of “yel­low mul­ti­tudes,” and François Mau­ri­ac, of yel­low, brown, and black mass­es who are going to erupt soon. […] In that fos­silized zone, the sur­face is firm. The sea’s waves ric­o­chet over peb­bles. Legit­i­mat­ing the pres­ence of the col­o­niz­er, raw mate­ri­als are moved in and out, while, crouch­ing, the col­o­nized – more dead than alive – per­sists con­tin­u­ous­ly as if in one nev­er-end­ing dream. The colonist makes his­to­ry. His life is an epic or an odyssey. He is the absolute begin­ning: “We have made this land.” “If we left, all would be lost. This land would revert to the Dark Ages.” Oppo­site him, weary beings, who have been wast­ing away in fevers and “ances­tral cus­toms,” help to form the semi-bar­ren back­ground of colo­nial mercantilism’s inno­v­a­tive enter­pris­ing (Frantz Fanon: Wretched of the Earth).28

This lan­guage might seem unfair, even exag­ger­at­ed, in a peri­od when Gen­er­al Charles de Gaulle invites African pres­i­dents to dine at his table. For many Euro­peans, and many Amer­i­cans, colo­nial human­i­ty has only exist­ed since Dien Bien Phu and the bat­tles in the Aurès moun­tains. Before, in the Belle Époque, colonies exist­ed, but they exist­ed through a mirage of palm trees, pago­das, and fab­u­lous lux­u­ry; the col­o­nized peo­ple did not exist. How many in France know, for instance, that, every Christ­mas Day before 1939 at the Hanoi Cathe­dral, the whites and the natives would enter the House of God by two dif­fer­ent doors!

Frantz Fanon had the mer­it of find­ing the right lan­guage, a lan­guage of fury, to illus­trate a world where:

[b]arracks and police sta­tions mark the bor­der, or the divid­ing line. […] And [it is in these places] where the police offi­cers and sol­diers work as the colonist’s offi­cial, insti­tu­tion­al­ized “spokes­peo­ple,” as the colonist’s mouth­piece (ibid., p. 31).

The colonist’s city is a durable city, set in steel and stone. It is a paved and well-lit city, where dust­bins are always brim­ming with undis­cov­ered left­overs, left­overs which have nev­er been seen, much less dreamed of. […] Oppo­site [this world is] the city of the col­o­nized. The out­skirts of town [le vil­lage nègre], the Med­i­nas, and the reser­va­tions are squalid places, which are pop­u­lat­ed by squalid peo­ple. You are born there: it does not mat­ter where, nor does it mat­ter how. You die there: it does not mat­ter where, nor does it mat­ter how. Every per­son there is crammed against many oth­ers, and every shack there is crammed against the next (p. 32).29

May the Euro­peans who have nev­er lived in the colonies read Fanon to under­stand cer­tain aspects of the colo­nial world. May they read him to account for the mas­sive rock under which they had hereto­fore been liv­ing. May they read him to pic­ture, behind each banana cost­ing them pen­nies at the gro­cery store, an Asian or African child some­where, in Dakar or Hanoi not long ago, emp­ty­ing garbage bins through­out the Euro­pean side of town in the hopes of find­ing a banana peel to appease her hunger.

We shall say no more of this aspect of Fanon’s book, because it is essen­tial that we pay care­ful atten­tion the oth­er chap­ters.

After hav­ing described, from the inside, the colo­nial world before the great upris­ings, Fanon brings us into the world of neo­colo­nial­ism, which is also seen from with­in. The vorac­i­ty of some of the bour­geoisie in colo­nial coun­tries, striv­ing for an arti­fi­cial inde­pen­dence, as well as its inca­pac­i­ty, its ser­vil­i­ty, and the pro­gres­sive alien­ation and sub­jec­tivism of old­er lead­ers and mil­i­tants, trapped in the new sys­tem, are ruth­less­ly revealed by the author:

The nation­al econ­o­my, once pro­tect­ed, is lit­er­al­ly con­trolled today. Loans and dona­tions fund the bud­get. Fish­ing for cap­i­tal, either the heads of state them­selves or their gov­ern­men­tal del­e­gates pay a vis­it to the cap­i­tal cities of their for­mer metrop­o­les each quar­ter. The for­mer colo­nial pow­er makes count­less demands and secures con­ces­sions and guar­an­tees, as it takes less and less care to mask its hold on nation­al pow­er. The peo­ple mis­er­ably stag­nates in unbear­able des­ti­tu­tion and slow­ly becomes increas­ing­ly aware of its lead­ers’ heinous trea­son (p. 125).30

Far more seri­ous than eco­nom­ic sub­jec­tion is the wastage of pop­u­lar enthu­si­asm, aroused by the strug­gle for inde­pen­dence, now suf­fo­cat­ed by dic­ta­tor­ship.

The state that need­ed to inspire con­fi­dence, by its robust­ness and dis­cre­tion, is instead impos­ing itself out­ra­geous­ly. It flaunts its author­i­ty, it harass­es peo­ple, and it bru­tal­izes them, all of which inform the cit­i­zen that he or she is in con­stant dan­ger. […]

The leader appeas­es the peo­ple. In the years fol­low­ing the inde­pen­dence, one might see him reassess the his­to­ry of the inde­pen­dence and evoke the sacred front of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, but he has been nev­er been able to lead the peo­ple in con­crete projects, to open the future to the peo­ple in any real way, or to fling the peo­ple on any path that would per­mit it to con­struct a nation, there­by per­mit­ting it to con­struct itself. Because the leader refus­es to weak­en the nation­al bour­geoisie, he asks the peo­ple to go back in time and intox­i­cate itself with the epic that drove it to inde­pen­dence. […]

The leader has been need­ed much more, now that there is no par­ty. […] The organ­ic par­ty, which need­ed to make pos­si­ble a free prop­a­ga­tion of well-devel­oped think­ing that deals with the mass­es’ real needs, has turned into a syn­di­cate of indi­vid­ual inter­ests. Since the inde­pen­dence, the par­ty no longer helps the peo­ple express its demands, bet­ter under­stand [pren­dre con­science de] its needs, or bet­ter estab­lish itself in the seat of pow­er. The par­ty no longer shows any signs of life. The branch­es it estab­lished dur­ing the colo­nial peri­od are now in a state of total demo­bi­liza­tion (no page num­ber giv­en in orig­i­nal).31

Fanon draft­ed his book in the light and tumult of the Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion. Eight years of war has relent­less­ly exposed regimes and men. It is no longer pos­si­ble to jus­ti­fy colo­nial­ism, even if Queen Victoria’s stat­ue still stands over the city squares of many for­mer colonies. The harsh light pro­ject­ed by the strug­gle of the Alger­ian peo­ple no longer per­mits of a dialec­tic of any sort. No dialec­tic, how­ev­er, could wash away the humil­i­a­tion of African gov­ern­ments that, at the Unit­ed Nations, vot­ed against the Alger­ian Resis­tance. No dialec­tic could mask the degen­er­a­tion of the par­ties and lead­ers who failed their peo­ple.

In the light of the Alger­ian people’s hero­ic armed strug­gle, Fanon dis­cov­ered the immense capac­i­ties of the pop­u­lar mass­es. Any­one who has ever seen the Alger­ian FLN or the People’s Army of Viet­nam at work will nev­er lose the unfor­get­table impres­sion left by the mass­es’ capac­i­ty and intel­li­gence. His or her view of the world and of men has been for­ev­er and irrepara­bly trans­formed by them. The Span­ish guer­rilleros were cer­tain­ly hero­ic, but they fought against Napoleon’s infantry­men on almost exact­ly equal terms: like Napoleon’s infantry­men, they were on foot, and like the infantry­men, just as vul­ner­a­ble. On the oth­er hand, when you find your­self with an old mus­ket in front of a tank, an actu­al mon­ster, or when you are pur­sued by planes or heli­copters, you ini­tial­ly feel a com­plete and utter impo­tence. And yet, these steel mon­sters and the hails of bul­lets and napalm have proven to be com­plete­ly inef­fec­tive (most recent­ly in South Viet­nam, which has been bom­bard­ed by chem­i­cal weapon air­crafts).

Fanon has described in stir­ring words the immense force and dig­ni­ty of the pop­u­lar mass­es. He has used appro­pri­ate terms to put their inten­tion into injunc­tions for action. Echo and reflec­tion of the Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, Fanon’s book – in all its inten­si­ty as well as in the flash­es of truth it casts – retains, to a cer­tain degree, its great­ness and rich­ness.

And if we had to point out its weak­ness­es, it would be nec­es­sary to first lament the pre­ma­ture death of the author, for much of The Wretched of the Earth, if not all of it, had been thrown onto paper as a rough draft. Cer­tain­ly, if the author were still alive, the end of the Alger­ian War, as well as the events that fol­lowed the armistice, would have allowed him to cor­rect some of the ideas and com­plete some of the book’s more affir­ma­tive argu­ments. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Fanon has left us, but the book remains. The respect he is due can­not excuse us from crit­i­ciz­ing the the­ses advanced in his work with­out ask­ing: if Frantz Fanon were still alive, what would he teach us in light of the Alger­ian expe­ri­ence?

Armed Struggle and Political Struggle

The Wretched of the Earth bears a mark of enthu­si­asm spe­cif­ic to the peri­od of armed strug­gle in which it came to fruition. Armed strug­gle, which Fanon ambigu­ous­ly iden­ti­fies as vio­lence, is ascribed an almost mag­i­cal qual­i­ty:

It is clear that direct armed strug­gle is nec­es­sary [il s’agit … de] […] For the col­o­nized, this vio­lence rep­re­sents absolute prax­is […] The group demands that each indi­vid­ual com­mit that which can­not be undone […] Work is work­ing for the death of the colonist. Assum­ing vio­lence at once lets those who have strayed or been ban­ished return, find once again their place, and to rein­te­grate them­selves there. Vio­lence thus might be under­stood as the ulti­mate medi­a­tion. The col­o­nized human lib­er­ates her­self in and through vio­lence. Such prax­is enlight­ens the agent, because it shows her the means and the end (p. 63).32

One imme­di­ate­ly notices the ambi­gu­i­ty of this lan­guage. When you speak of armed strug­gle, of unarmed strug­gle, of legal or ille­gal forms of action, you are speak­ing a polit­i­cal lan­guage. When Engels stud­ied vio­lence, he did so as a his­to­ri­an. In this chap­ter, as through­out the rest of his book, Fanon moves from polit­i­cal or his­tor­i­cal domains to an “exis­ten­tial” domain with­out any tran­si­tion. Cer­tain­ly, he is nei­ther pro­hib­it­ed from evok­ing the more “exis­ten­tial” dimen­sions of col­o­niza­tion and the strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion, nor from mak­ing psy­chol­o­gy (or, if you wish, phi­los­o­phy) exis­ten­tial. But in doing so, it is essen­tial to take care when dis­tin­guish­ing the frame­works in which thought moves so as to not con­flate pol­i­tics and psy­chol­o­gy.

It is often said that Fanon, as a psy­chi­a­trist, sees pol­i­tics through the per­spec­tive of his pro­fes­sion. How­ev­er, the belief that bias comes with the pro­fes­sion is not an expla­na­tion. Any­one who exer­cis­es sci­en­tif­ic, philo­soph­i­cal, and polit­i­cal rea­son­ing can accli­mate her­self to the med­ical pro­fes­sion, and Dr. Fanon knew that the respec­tive the­o­ret­i­cal approach­es of a doc­tor and a biol­o­gist, despite their treat­ment of the same sub­jects, are not the same. One applies dif­fer­ent the­o­ret­i­cal frame­works when mov­ing from biol­o­gy to med­ical acts. It is the same when one pass­es from social psy­chol­o­gy to pol­i­tics.

Can we sim­ply attribute this aspect of Fanon’s work to his close engage­ment with French exis­ten­tial­ist lit­er­a­ture? While rec­og­niz­ing that Fanon is far more polit­i­cal than he is exis­ten­tial­ist, and that his work is more mil­i­tant than that of the French exis­ten­tial­ists, French existentialism’s influ­ence on Wretched of the Earth is cer­tain. Here as else­where, how­ev­er, when one iden­ti­fies an exter­nal cause, it is essen­tial to ask the ques­tion: why was this exter­nal influ­ence able to take root, and why has it come to ani­mate the author’s per­son­al­i­ty?

The root of the prob­lem can no longer be avoid­ed: Fanon, a deeply engaged mil­i­tant in action, nev­er reached the age where he could exam­ine com­plete­ly the old man he was, the indi­vid­u­al­ist intel­lec­tu­al. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary polit­i­cal thought is an objec­tive thought. Exis­ten­tial­ist thought is a sub­jec­tive way of grasp­ing real­i­ty. It can expose some aspects of real­i­ty that those who are too polit­i­cal dis­re­gard, but it can­not be a sub­sti­tute for polit­i­cal thought. The French exis­ten­tial­ists’ fail­ure to artic­u­late a pol­i­tics, to cre­ate a polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion after the Lib­er­a­tion, is pre­dictable. Fanon cer­tain­ly sur­passed this mode of thought, but he could nev­er ful­ly let go of it.

The traces of sub­jec­tivism are enough to dis­tort Fanon’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, lead­ing him to ascribe a sort of unmit­i­gat­ed glo­ry to armed strug­gle and over­look a fun­da­men­tal rev­o­lu­tion­ary truth: the under­stand­ing that the armed strug­gle, albeit deci­sive, is nonethe­less one moment of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment that is, first and fore­most, polit­i­cal. Fanon may avoid bas­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary action on the spon­tane­ity of the mass­es. Yet, his pre­sen­ta­tion leads the read­er to believe that the mass­es, above all the peas­ant mass­es, by some prov­i­den­tial intu­ition and at once, seize arms and put them in motion, mobi­liz­ing them­selves so as to spread the redemp­tive and puri­fy­ing spir­it of vio­lence every­where.

When armed strug­gle per­sists for years before com­ing to a vic­to­ri­ous end, as in Alge­ria or Viet­nam, it com­plete­ly alters nation­al real­i­ty, trans­form­ing it on an unprece­dent­ed scale while releas­ing an unex­pect­ed ener­gy. But the depth of this trans­for­ma­tion, as well as its per­ma­nence, are com­men­su­rate with what polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal work has pre­pared. Sup­port­ing the armed strug­gle, this work pro­longs the strug­gle once peace arrives. Even in vic­to­ry, when polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal work is dis­re­gard­ed in order to con­cen­trate only on the art of war­fare or mil­i­tary affairs, set­backs are to be expect­ed, espe­cial­ly when con­di­tions of peace are restored.

War sim­pli­fies sit­u­a­tions and prob­lems. Among the maquis, offi­cers and sol­diers sit on the floor and share the same mess tin. They hud­dle togeth­er as close­ly as pos­si­ble to the same cave. Once peace is restored, the need to scale rations and salaries accord­ing rank will need to be explained to the mass­es. The tech­ni­cal experts will be paid much more than the unskilled work­er, even if the for­mer was not in com­bat. The har­ki will no longer be an ene­my but some­one to be re-edu­cat­ed and with patience and re-inte­grat­ed. In times of peace, if polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal edu­ca­tion has not been car­ried out thor­ough­ly enough, the dif­fi­cul­ties of every­day life will be quick to exploit the peri­od of war’s com­mo­tion. In Viet­nam, we have seen for­mer Resis­tance com­bat­ants return to their opi­um dens after nine years in com­bat. We have seen peas­ants, after hav­ing waged guer­ril­la war­fare for years, be once again afraid of ghosts, because their polit­i­cal con­fi­dence in the par­ty lead­ing them was shak­en by errors com­mit­ted over the course agrar­i­an reform.33

In Viet­nam, the gains of nine years of war would have quick­ly van­ished if, in 1956, the Work­ers Par­ty of Viet­nam, after the imple­men­ta­tion of agrar­i­an reform, had not under­tak­en a coura­geous self-crit­i­cism and clear­ly posed the objec­tives of con­struct­ing social­ism in the con­scious­ness of the pop­u­lar mass­es.

It is nec­es­sary to crit­i­cize those who do not dare to throw them­selves in armed strug­gle when need­ed, but it is also cru­cial to dis­trust those who extol it on every occa­sion. In the Viet­namese Rev­o­lu­tion, the denun­ci­a­tion of Trot­sky­ist imposters has been a con­stant. Attribut­ing an absolute, meta­phys­i­cal val­ue to armed strug­gle leads Fanon to neglect anoth­er aspect of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle, which was nev­er men­tioned in his book: the prob­lem of the uni­ty of social class­es among the dif­fer­ent stra­ta of soci­ety for nation­al inde­pen­dence, as well as for the build­ing [édi­fi­ca­tion] of a new soci­ety (once peace has been re-estab­lished). In col­o­nized coun­tries, even the nation­al bour­geoisie, for all its faults, can par­tic­i­pate in the rev­o­lu­tion in one way or anoth­er, includ­ing the con­struc­tion of social­ism. It is cru­cial to know how to find a place for each per­son in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment and to indi­cate to them the con­tri­bu­tion he or she might be able to make to this move­ment. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary, like a sur­geon, cuts and slices into liv­ing flesh. In fact, a good sur­geon does not usu­al­ly slice; a good sur­geon makes inci­sions by cleav­ing. Per­form­ing the long and patient labor of cleav­age, a good sur­geon will use his fin­gers and the blunt tips of sur­gi­cal scis­sors; she will metic­u­lous­ly sep­a­rate organs from tis­sues and avoid cut­ting any more than she must.

Once the war has been won, it is essen­tial to learn how recourse to mil­i­ta­riza­tion can be avoid­ed as much as pos­si­ble. The black mar­ket can­not be done away with by gun­ning down its mer­chants. Prob­lems can­not be solved auto­mat­i­cal­ly by insti­tut­ing the author­i­ty of a sin­gle par­ty. Fore­ground­ing his the­ses on vio­lence, Fanon may offer a sim­pli­fy­ing vision of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle in colo­nial coun­tries, but this vision risks author­i­tar­i­an solu­tions.

Colo­nial­ism is not a think­ing machine. It is not a body endowed with rea­son. It is vio­lence in the state of nature [état de nature] and will bow only to a greater vio­lence (p. 47).34

This con­cep­tion seems dan­ger­ous to us. Until now, impe­ri­al­ism has won out both through vio­lence and a polit­i­cal think­ing supe­ri­or to that of the regimes it has defeat­ed, and it will con­tin­ue to pre­vail so long as we do not advance a supe­ri­or form of polit­i­cal think­ing against it.

Jacquerie or Revolution?

Fanon’s reduc­tive and dan­ger­ous vision cul­mi­nates in the fol­low­ing pas­sage:

In colo­nial coun­tries, it is clear that the peas­antry alone is rev­o­lu­tion­ary. It has noth­ing to lose and every­thing to gain. Declassed and starv­ing, the peas­ant is the exploit­ed who most quick­ly dis­cov­ers that vio­lence, alone, pays. For him, there is nei­ther com­pro­mise nor pos­si­bil­i­ty of agree­ment. Col­o­niza­tion or decol­o­niza­tion: it is pure­ly a rela­tion of forces (p. 40).35

The peas­antry alone is rev­o­lu­tion­ary! This entire pas­sage needs to be re-read, not only to ful­ly grasp the pro­found truth of Fanon’s claim, to not only know peas­ant mass­es’ bound­less con­tri­bu­tion to the rev­o­lu­tion, but also the roots of its error.

Reject­ed by the cities, those men (mil­i­tants) regroup in the out­skirts of town [ban­lieues périphériques]. But police raids expose their hide­outs there, forc­ing them to leave the cities indef­i­nite­ly, that is, to flee that places of polit­i­cal strug­gle. They pro­pel them­selves towards the coun­try­side, towards the moun­tains, and towards the peas­ant mass­es. […] The nation­al­ist mil­i­tants, who decide to resume con­trol of their own des­tiny instead of play­ing hide-and-seek with the police in urban cities, nev­er los­es. In the peas­ant cloak, they are enveloped by an unex­pect­ed strength and ten­der­ness. […] Cafes, dis­cus­sions about upcom­ing elec­tions or about the mal­ice of this or that police offi­cer are for­got­ten. Their ears hear only the true voice of the coun­try, and their eyes see only the people’s extreme pover­ty. They force them­selves to give an account of the pre­cious time that has been wast­ed on vain com­men­taries on the colo­nial regime. Com­pelled by a sort of ver­ti­go, they real­ize that polit­i­cal agi­ta­tion in the cities will always be pow­er­less to dis­rupt, and over­throw, the colo­nial regime (p. 95).36

This descrip­tion of the encounter between the peas­ant mass­es and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant is inac­cu­rate. In the coun­try­side, the police and admin­is­tra­tive appa­ra­tus­es exer­cise an influ­ence infi­nite­ly more lenient than that which they exer­cise in the cities. Still, not for a moment does this sug­gest the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies tak­ing refuge in the vil­lages have an easy task ahead of them: an already pre­pared ter­rain, mass­es ready to wel­come him and take up his call. The peas­ant per se is inca­pable of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­scious­ness. The rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies will need to come from the cities in a patient search of the most gift­ed ele­ments among the poor peas­antry. After find­ing them, the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies have to edu­cate and orga­nize them. Only after a long peri­od of polit­i­cal work can the peas­antry be mobi­lized.

This is far from the notion of down­play­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary capac­i­ties of the peas­antry. Marx insist­ed long ago that the fail­ure of the Paris Com­mune result­ed from the non-par­tic­i­pa­tion of the peas­ant mass­es, and Lenin posed an alliance of work­ers and peas­ants as the basis for the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment.

At a cer­tain point, in the colonies, “nation­al lib­er­a­tion can be under­tak­en only along­side an agrar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion” [la libéra­tion nationale ne fait qu’un avec la révo­lu­tion agraire] (Sup­ple­men­tary The­ses of the Sec­ond Con­gress of the Com­mu­nist Inter­na­tion­al).37 The Viet­namese Com­mu­nist Par­ty, found­ed in 1930 with sup­port from the Com­mu­nist Inter­na­tion­al, was the first Viet­namese par­ty to devel­op a clear agrar­i­an pro­gram that sought to mobi­lize the peas­ant mass­es towards nation­al lib­er­a­tion. The nation­al, anti-impe­ri­al­ist rev­o­lu­tion and the agrar­i­an, anti-feu­dal rev­o­lu­tion are close­ly linked, yet they are irre­ducible. Con­trary to Fanon’s claim, there are oth­er rev­o­lu­tion­ary class­es in colo­nial soci­ety.

Truong Chinh, the­o­rist of the Viet­namese rev­o­lu­tion, writes:

Who must lead the rev­o­lu­tion in order to over­throw impe­ri­al­ism and feu­dal­ism? The four class­es that con­sti­tute the peo­ple: the work­ing class, the labor­ing peas­ant class, the pet­ty-bour­geoisie, and the nation­al bour­geoisie. They con­sti­tute the forces of the rev­o­lu­tion.

The work­ing class, the peas­ant class, the pet­ty-bour­geoisie com­pose the dri­ving force of rev­o­lu­tion.
The work­ing class is to take a lead­ing role.
The labor­ing peas­ant class forms the main army of the rev­o­lu­tion.The pet­ty-bour­geoisie and the nation­al bour­geoisie are allies of the work­ing class, the dif­fer­ence being that the nation­al bour­geoisie is a con­di­tion­al ally (Hoc­tâp, month­ly jour­nal of the Worker’s Par­ty of Viet­nam, Jan­u­ary 1960).

We are at odds here with Fanon’s con­cep­tion:

In the colo­nial ter­ri­to­ries, the pro­le­tari­at is the core of the col­o­nized peo­ple who are most pam­pered by the colo­nial regime. The embry­on­ic pro­le­tari­at in the city is rel­a­tive­ly priv­i­leged. […] In col­o­nized coun­tries, the pro­le­tari­at has every­thing to lose. As a result, he rep­re­sents the ele­ment of the col­o­nized peo­ple nec­es­sary and irre­place­able for the effi­ca­cy of the colo­nial machine: tramway oper­a­tors, taxi dri­vers, minors, doc­tors, inter­preters, nurs­es, etc. […] These are the ele­ments are the nation­al­ist par­ties’ most loy­al pro­po­nents. By the priv­i­leged place they occu­py with­in the colo­nial sys­tem, they con­sti­tute the “bour­geois” ele­ment of the col­o­nized peo­ple (p. 84).38

There first is a mis­take in plac­ing dock­ers and min­ers in the same social class as inter­preters and nurs­es. The for­mer con­sti­tute the real [vrai] pro­le­tari­at, i.e. the indus­tri­al work­ing class (in the colonies, work­ers on large plan­ta­tions are also in this class). By con­trast, the lat­ter are part of the pet­ty-bour­geoisie, which is also rev­o­lu­tion­ary but with less resolve and less con­sis­tent in its atti­tude. It seems like a dream to read that the cities have to be aban­doned in order to be able to under­stand the infi­nite mis­ery of col­o­nized peo­ples, that min­ers and dock­work­ers are a class pam­pered by colo­nial­ism, and that they have every­thing to lose in over­throw­ing the colo­nial regime. To sup­port his the­sis on the peas­ant rev­o­lu­tion, Fanon is inclined to deny the rev­o­lu­tion­ary capac­i­ty of the work­ing class.

In the colonies, the work­ing class is not a priv­i­leged class in the sense Fanon under­stands it to be, i.e., it is not pam­pered by the col­o­niz­ers. Rather, it is priv­i­leged in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sense of the word: it is priv­i­leged by the fact that it is posi­tioned best to see the mech­a­nisms of colo­nial exploita­tion first­hand and to con­ceive the road to the future for the whole of soci­ety.

From a rev­o­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, the min­ers and the dock­ers are in a bet­ter posi­tion than doc­tors and lawyers, or the small peas­ants caught up in their vil­lage. A poor peas­ant is per­haps patri­ot­ic enough to die hero­ical­ly with a gun in her hand. How­ev­er, if she remains a peas­ant, she will not know how to lead the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment. The dri­ving forces of rev­o­lu­tion must be care­ful­ly dis­tin­guished from those who lead it. There has been a long his­to­ry of peas­ant revolts, or jacqueries, which have end­ed in anar­chy or strength­ened feu­dal ele­ments. Nev­er before have the poor peas­ants been able to lead a rev­o­lu­tion in their own right.

In the mod­ern age, the French peas­ants of 1789 obtained land by ral­ly­ing behind the bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion. The Russ­ian peas­ants eman­ci­pat­ed them­selves in a strug­gle led by the Bol­she­vik par­ty. The Chi­nese and Viet­namese peas­ants fol­lowed the work­ers’ par­ties in their respec­tive coun­tries. Peas­ants, for instance, con­sti­tute 75 per­cent of those among the ranks of the Work­ers’ Par­ty of Viet­nam. They con­sti­tute 90 per­cent of the ranks of the Pop­u­lar Viet­namese Army. And yet, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary lead­er­ship does not view itself as a peas­ant lead­er­ship, and the lead­ers try very hard to instill in mil­i­tants a pro­le­tar­i­an ide­ol­o­gy, not derived from the peas­antry.

The rev­o­lu­tion that must cur­rent­ly take place in colo­nial coun­tries should not mere­ly be a nation­al rev­o­lu­tion; it must be mod­ern. This mod­ern dimen­sion can­not be designed by the peas­antry; it can be brought to coun­tries only by the bour­geoisie or by the work­ing class. The chances are that, when the bour­geoisie of colo­nial coun­tries assumes lead­er­ship of the nation­al move­ment, it will be com­plete­ly inca­pable of mod­ern­iz­ing the coun­try. Fanon saw this clear­ly.

Why, then, does he make the mis­take of con­ceiv­ing of the peas­antry as the only rev­o­lu­tion­ary class? We sense that Fanon, who was engaged in rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle – par­tic­u­lar­ly in the most deci­sive moment of armed strug­gle, had ren­dered this moment of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment absolute and lost sight of his­tor­i­cal process in its entire­ty.

When the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment must lead a pro­tract­ed armed strug­gle, the mod­el of the Sovi­et Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917, which was based essen­tial­ly on the armed upris­ing of the urban pro­le­tari­at, is no longer viable. Cre­at­ing long-term, rev­o­lu­tion­ary bases in the coun­try­side, as in Chi­na, Viet­nam, Cuba, and Alge­ria, becomes essen­tial. The poor peas­ants become the most pow­er­ful ele­ments of rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions. When bat­tles take place in the coun­try­side, vic­to­ry comes to the coun­try­side first, spread­ing to cities only in the end. Tak­en togeth­er, these con­di­tions make cer­tain opti­cal illu­sions and errors pos­si­ble.

One might end up infer­ring that only the peas­ants make rev­o­lu­tion and that the work­ing class and the pet­ty-bour­geoisie dwell sleepy-eyed in the cities.

Rur­al rev­o­lu­tion­ary bases are, as a mat­ter of fact, led by mil­i­tants. Com­ing from the cities, where their par­ties are formed, they shape the peas­ant world in their image. Peas­ants will not impose their own world­views. Rather, they will put them­selves in the schools of these work­ers, that is, in the schools of these intel­lec­tu­als from the cities. The rev­o­lu­tion can advance only to the extent that these men come from the cities to trans­form peas­ant lives. Rur­al rev­o­lu­tion­ary bases are not peas­ant cre­ations.

Through­out the dura­tion of their exis­tence, these bases retain dynamism and strength only to the extent that they are in con­stant osmo­sis with the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment of the cities. Even the remote Ya’nan received non­stop mes­sages and men from Shang­hai, locat­ed sev­er­al thou­sand kilo­me­ters away. With­out this osmo­sis, Ya’nan would have become the refuge of a sin­gle fac­tion. Cut off from his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence, it would have been des­tined, soon­er or lat­er, to with­er away.39

In Viet­nam, we have always known the per­pet­u­al com­ing-and-going between the cities, occu­pied by French troops, and the coun­try­side, more or less free. At no moment has the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment of the cities ceased pro­vid­ing the maquis with med­i­cine, machines, infor­ma­tion, and men for com­bat. In South Viet­nam today, although the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front has bases in rur­al vil­lages, Saigon is cov­ered with pam­phlets and shak­en by strikes, demon­stra­tions, and protests. As such, it is pos­si­ble to par­tic­i­pate in rev­o­lu­tion by dis­trib­ut­ing pam­phlets, stick­ing posters to the walls, delay­ing the repair of the enemy’s tank or truck, and by talk­ing with a mem­ber of the bour­geoisie to dis­suade them from col­lab­o­rat­ing with the ene­my.

The opti­cal illu­sion con­sists in only see­ing the sen­sa­tion­al side of things. Set­ting up an ambush behind a thick­et is cer­tain­ly more roman­tic than writ­ing a slo­gan on the walls. And yet, in a city con­trolled by unre­lent­ing police forces, the capac­i­ty to dis­trib­ute pam­phlets, write slo­gans, and orga­nize strikes requires still more courage and more orga­ni­za­tion­al skill. In a word, it requires a high­er lev­el of rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­scious­ness.

It’s doubt­ful that the dock­ers in Oran, the work­ers in Alge­ria, or the Alger­ian work­ers in France wait­ed with their arms crossed dur­ing the entire dura­tion of the war. The metic­u­lous orga­ni­za­tion of these major demon­stra­tions of Decem­ber 1960 proves that these demon­stra­tions did not emerge spon­ta­neous­ly. Rather, they were the fruit of sev­er­al years’ work. Under­es­ti­mat­ing the invis­i­ble work and see­ing only what occurs on the bat­tle­field leads to errors in lead­er­ship with respect to the ori­en­ta­tion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment. 

We believe that if the peas­ant mass­es present­ly mobi­lized do not fol­low the lead­er­ship of the work­ing class, they will fall under the influ­ence of the bour­geoisie. Or worse, they will pro­vide troops for the feu­dal landown­ers through the inter­ven­tion of reli­gious sects.

Rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tants, in every way, must stick with the peas­ant mass­es. At the same time, they must not let them­selves get caught up in the ide­o­log­i­cal role of the peas­ants. In the begin­ning, the peas­ant has trou­ble wak­ing up to new ideas. But when the peas­ant mass­es move as a whole, they have the ten­den­cy to barge for­ward, like an immense steam­roller. But even when the rev­o­lu­tion takes shape as an armed strug­gle, it is nev­er­the­less one nuanced, mul­ti­form action, draw­ing, above all, from a sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge of the social dialec­tic. The more pre­cise and dis­cern­ing this knowl­edge is, the more eco­nom­ic the rev­o­lu­tion will be.

It is like­ly that some neg­a­tive aspects of the Chi­nese Rev­o­lu­tion owe to the lead­ers and mil­i­tants hav­ing stayed too long in the coun­try­side and to the peas­ants hav­ing had too strong influ­ence on them. The ten­den­cy in the pop­u­lar com­munes to dis­trib­ute rev­enues in equal parts and to orga­nize can­teens and col­lec­tive dor­mi­to­ries pre­ma­ture­ly, for exam­ple, is one aspect of the tra­di­tion­al, peas­ant spir­it. When the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty warns the lead­ers of the pop­u­lar com­munes against these ten­den­cies, it does so in the name of a non-peas­ant ide­ol­o­gy, i.e., in the name of the work­ing class ide­ol­o­gy that rec­ti­fies such ten­den­cies.

A pure­ly peas­ant rev­o­lu­tion can be noth­ing more than a short-lived jacquerie.


The weak­est part of the book remains its con­clu­sion, which is based on an exas­per­at­ed claim of the speci­fici­ty of the Third World against Europe.

Today, the Third World is posi­tioned oppo­site Europe as a colos­sal mass. It is tasked with try­ing to resolve prob­lems to which Europe has not offered any solu­tions. […] Let us attempt to the invent the unmit­i­gat­ed human that Europe could not to make tri­umph. The Third World needs to begin the his­to­ry of the human anew (p. 240). […]

Peo­ple used to think that the time had come for the world in gen­er­al, and for the Third World in par­tic­u­lar, to choose between the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and the social­ist sys­tem. Some under­de­vel­oped coun­tries used the fierce com­pe­ti­tion between the two sys­tems to secure the tri­umph of their nation­al lib­er­a­tion. At the same time, they had to refuse to insti­tute this com­pe­ti­tion. The Third World must not be sat­is­fied to define itself in rela­tion to the val­ues that pre­ced­ed it. On the con­trary, under­de­vel­oped coun­tries should try hard to update their val­ues, meth­ods, styles, revis­ing these things in their own spe­cif­ic way. The con­crete prob­lem that lies before us is not that of the choice between social­ism and cap­i­tal­ism, what­ev­er the cost, such as they have been defined by men from dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents and epochs (p. 74).40

The call is vague. It pro­vides no pre­cise indi­ca­tion for action, because the analy­sis is false. As just as a people’s claim to nation­al orig­i­nal­i­ty is, the notion of a “Third World,” invest­ed with spe­cif­ic qual­i­ties and called by des­tiny to restore human­i­ty by virtue of the unique fact of being the Third World, is devoid of con­tent. Fanon is right to inveigh against those in Asia or Africa who mim­ic cap­i­tal­ist, bour­geois Europe and against those who make their polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary men in the image of French bet­ter­aviers or Her Majesty’s British offi­cers.

But the notion of the Third World yields no pos­i­tive con­tent suf­fi­cient­ly rich and dynam­ic to estab­lish a direc­tive for his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment. This notion boils down to two com­po­nents: pover­ty and inter­na­tion­al neu­tral­i­ty. We are poor. We are neu­tral [neu­tres]. Let us devel­op these two spe­cif­ic qual­i­ties, these two orig­i­nal virtues that make us priv­i­leged nations. Pover­ty is the lega­cy of his­to­ry, and neu­tral­i­ty is only a notion of inter­na­tion­al strat­e­gy, a moment in present his­to­ry. Imag­ine what it is like to a lit­tle shop­keep­er or peas­ant from Africa or Viet­nam. If some­one told him, “Let’s build a cap­i­tal­ist coun­try, or a social­ist coun­try,” he would know what he had, in which way to pro­ceed, and exact­ly what prac­ti­cal steps to fol­low. But the injunc­tion, “We are the Third World, and let us remain so,” leaves a void before him, where we are expect­ed just to tread in place.

We do not begin his­to­ry anew, as Fanon claims. We are sit­u­at­ed amidst the course of his­to­ry. Or, bet­ter yet, it is essen­tial to know how to sit­u­ate our­selves amidst the course of his­to­ry. What­ev­er hatred of impe­ri­al­ism is har­bored, the first duty, for those in Asia and Africa, is to rec­og­nize that, for three cen­turies, the van­guard of his­to­ry has been Europe. At the very least, Europe has thrown two val­ues into the are­na of his­to­ry that are still miss­ing in many Asian and African nations. These two val­ues are inter­linked, even if there are cer­tain moments or places where they are not nec­es­sar­i­ly linked: the trans­for­ma­tion of pro­duc­tive forces and democ­ra­cy.

There is no point in main­tain­ing, as Fanon has done, that self-crit­i­cism already exist­ed in tra­di­tion­al, African com­mu­ni­ties. Here, Fanon joins Viet­namese nation­al­ists claim­ing that the most com­plete democ­ra­cy already reigns through­out the vil­lages of Viet­nam, as well as the Indi­ans who claim that fol­low­ing tra­di­tion­al reli­gions will suf­fi­cient­ly lead to social­ism and that there can be no imi­ta­tion of the West in mat­ters of democ­ra­cy. In oth­er words, the atom of this com­plex real­i­ty was already dis­cov­ered by the Greeks, and mod­ern sci­ence has noth­ing new to teach us.

This refusal of mod­ern val­ues, by virtue of their Euro­pean ori­gin, by men of good will, like Fanon, risks play­ing into the hands of those who bran­dish tra­di­tion­al val­ues in an effort to con­ceal reac­tionary pol­i­tics. Those among the Viet­namese who claim that the Viet­namese peo­ple didn’t have to learn lessons from democ­ra­cy in Europe while refus­ing pure­ly and sim­ply agrar­i­an reform. When Nehru refus­es to give the word social­ism a clear def­i­n­i­tion, a def­i­n­i­tion that Europe had already begun to work out, he seeks sim­ply to hide the fact that, in India, com­pa­nies like Tata, Bir­la, and oth­ers, as well as the landown­ers con­tin­ue to col­lect prof­its, annu­ities, and farm rents, while task­ing the peo­ple with find­ing, amidst the fog and con­fu­sion, an “Indi­an road” to social­ism.

Choos­ing cap­i­tal­ism or social­ism after the advent of inde­pen­dence does not sim­ply con­sist, as Fanon believes, in choos­ing to side with the Unit­ed States or with the Sovi­et Union. First and fore­most, it is an inter­nal prob­lem. It is decid­ing which way to mod­ern­ize the coun­try, trans­form all of the old struc­tures, inspire a cul­ture. It is decid­ing which place and which role to accord each stra­tum of soci­ety: to women, to reli­gion, to eth­nic minori­ties, to a nation­al lan­guage, to folk­lore, etc. For a peas­ant, a work­er, an intel­lec­tu­al, a shop­keep­er in a now inde­pen­dent coun­try, these are the every­day prob­lems that require urgent solu­tions.

Build­ing an inde­pen­dent econ­o­my, as well as the build­ing of a nation­al cul­ture are urgent imper­a­tives for all the col­o­nized coun­tries that reach inde­pen­dence. Still, these notions need to have con­tent. And one would not know to evade the choice: cap­i­tal­ism or social­ism? Undoubt­ed­ly, each coun­try comes into social­ism or cap­i­tal­ism through dif­fer­ent forms and devel­op­men­tal paths. How­ev­er, in his­tor­i­cal terms, the laws that gov­ern the the evo­lu­tion of soci­eties are fun­da­men­tal­ly the same. The orig­i­nal­i­ty of nations and peo­ples do not con­tra­dict the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of his­tor­i­cal laws. Rev­o­lu­tions pro­ceed on the basis of a claim for human dig­ni­ty, but also on the basis of a his­tor­i­cal sci­ence. There is no shame in using a sci­ence, even when the sci­ence was devel­oped by men from anoth­er con­ti­nent.

Cap­i­tal­ism and social­ism, in our cur­rent world, have pre­cise mean­ings. Choos­ing cap­i­tal­ism is opt­ing for a sys­tem where indi­vid­ual own­ers of the means of pro­duc­tion, fac­to­ries, mines, banks, lands, and busi­ness­es must be respect­ed. It is opt­ing for a sys­tem where the motor of eco­nom­ic evo­lu­tion is the invest­ment of cap­i­tal while seek­ing prof­it. Choos­ing social­ism is to aim to col­lec­tivize the means of pro­duc­tion, to elim­i­nate prof­it as an eco­nom­ic motor, and to remu­ner­ate each per­son accord­ing to her work and not accord­ing to the share of cap­i­tal that she brings about. India, for exam­ple, chose the cap­i­tal­ist road, and not a third way, regard­less of the part state cap­i­tal­ism played. Clever indus­tri­al­ists and shop­keep­ers, pro­vid­ed they have a bit of cap­i­tal, have every chance to expand their eco­nom­ic pow­er, lit­tle by lit­tle. A lit­tle shop­keep­er or arti­san can dream of becom­ing a cap­i­tal­ist some­day. It should be no sur­prise that Indi­an engi­neers pre­ferred to do busi­ness in a coun­try suf­fer­ing a dearth of tech­ni­cal experts. The exis­tence of a state sec­tor in the econ­o­my has no influ­ence on the nature of the regime, giv­en the char­ac­ter of this state. The dif­fi­cul­ties of one stage can bring the state to accept finan­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty for non-prof­itable invest­ments, or to nation­al­ize cer­tain sec­tors under­neath the pres­sure of opin­ion. But the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion remains: does this state machine serve to stim­u­late cap­i­tal­ism, or make it dis­ap­pear? Does the Indi­an gov­ern­ment seek to dis­solve its great trusts and pri­vate com­mer­cial and indus­tri­al com­pa­nies, or does it seek to cre­ate a frame­work in which all these indus­tries can live and pros­per? When it guns down Telangana’s peas­ants or Calcutta’s work­ers, does it seek sim­ply to “restore order” in gen­er­al, or does it seek to re-estab­lish an order nec­es­sary for the smooth func­tion­ing of pri­vate busi­ness­es?

Choos­ing social­ism means insti­tut­ing a spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic regime, cer­tain­ly. But in order to reach it, the resis­tance of those oppos­ing it must be bro­ken down, and by exten­sion, an ade­quate state machine must be insti­tut­ed. This is not to say that kolkhozes should be orga­nized, that sub­ways should be made into palaces, or trade and pri­vate indus­try should be sup­pressed, as in the Sovi­et Union. How­ev­er, the course tak­en by the Sovi­et Union, as well as the meth­ods of thought and action inspired by Lenin and Mao, have a uni­ver­sal val­ue. The dialec­ti­cal rela­tion between pro­duc­tive forces and rela­tion of pro­duc­tion, between infra­struc­ture and super­struc­ture, as well as the con­cep­tions of class strug­gle, the class nature of the state, the prin­ci­ples of mass action, the eco­nom­ic rules for com­pen­sat­ing labor with­in a social­ist econ­o­my, vig­i­lance with respect to coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary maneu­vers induced by impe­ri­al­ism or by its war­mon­ger­ing, and final­ly, rules for demo­c­ra­t­ic cen­tral­ism with­in the orga­ni­za­tion of a polit­i­cal par­ty are con­cepts invalu­able to mil­i­tants from coun­tries seek­ing to progress. Why repu­di­ate them on the pre­text that they were put in place by Euro­peans? Social mobil­i­ty and the rate of his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion have been real­i­ties in Europe since the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry. At the same time, dur­ing this epoch, Asian and African soci­eties knew rel­a­tive stag­na­tion. It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that the knowl­edge of these fun­da­men­tal laws came from Europe.

Today, Asian and African coun­tries, in turn, are begin­ning to move, and some­times chang­ing more quick­ly than Europe. It is not by “begin­ning his­to­ry anew” that these coun­tries enrich the com­mon trea­sure of human­i­ty. Their expe­ri­ence will be all the more enrich­ing so long as it draws on the prac­ti­cal, tech­ni­cal, and the­o­ret­i­cal foun­da­tions that Europe has already estab­lished and ful­fills them by adapt­ing them to the par­tic­u­lar­i­ty of each coun­try.

Fanon’s work reflects both the light cast by the great Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, but also its uncer­tain­ties. The rur­al and urban Alger­ian mass­es have been mobi­lized on an unprece­dent­ed scale. They have proven their hero­ism and exem­plary mil­i­tan­cy. The lead­ers and mil­i­tants of the Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion have proven their their spir­it of sac­ri­fice, their abil­i­ty to orga­nize, as well as their polit­i­cal sense.

But the friends of the Alger­ian peo­ple are nev­er­the­less wor­ried. The reac­tionary forces in Alge­ria are not com­plete­ly sup­pressed, and impe­ri­al­ism has more tricks up its sleeve. The gains of the Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion are immense, but its edi­fice remains frag­ile. One mis­take, just one wrong move, would suf­fice to make the coun­try vul­ner­a­ble to neo­colo­nial­ism or dis­cour­age the mass­es.

Lim­it­ing the inter­na­tion­al dimen­sion of the Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion to the Third World, as Fanon does, or to Pan-Ara­bism, as oth­ers do, ampu­tates and muti­lates it. To reduce its per­spec­tive to sole­ly that of the Third World, or the cult of Ara­bic val­ues, is – let us frankly say it – to guide the rev­o­lu­tion into a dead-end [le lancer dans une impasse].

Frantz Fanon thus did not express each and every aspect of the Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion. The strug­gle, led by the FLN for eight years, enriched a glob­al expe­ri­ence of rev­o­lu­tion. His­to­ry has not yet gone fur­ther. [L’histoire en reste à faire.]

– Trans­lat­ed by Jen­nifer Har­vey and Patrick King

This text orig­i­nal­ly appeared in La Pen­sée, no. 107, Feb­ru­ary 1963, pp. 23-36.

  1. On Khac Vien, see David Marr and Jayne Wern­er, “Pref­ace,” in Tra­di­tion and Rev­o­lu­tion in Viet­nam. ed. David Marr and Jayne Wern­er. (Berke­ley: Indochi­na Resource Cen­ter, 1975); Eliz­a­beth Hodgkin, “Obit­u­ary: Nguyen Khac Vien,” The Inde­pen­dent, May 25, 1997. His pseu­do­nym use is men­tioned in Juli­ette Minces, “Théoricien ou éveilleur de con­sciences?,” Le Monde Diplo­ma­tique (August 1973): 4. 

  2. For two exam­ples of the effects of this text, see Immanuel Wallerstein’s 1979 essay, “Fanon and the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Class,” in The Essen­tial Waller­stein (New York: New Press, 2000), and Peter Hallward’s recent arti­cle “Fanon and Polit­i­cal Will,” Cos­mos and His­to­ry 7.1 (2011): 104-127. There is some evi­dence that an Eng­lish trans­la­tion has been planned in the past. In a 1978 com­par­a­tive arti­cle of Fanon and the Peru­vian Marx­ist José Car­los Mar­iátegui which ran in the African stud­ies jour­nal Ufa­hamu, Nton­gela Masilela indi­cates in a foot­note that a trans­la­tion of “Frantz Fanon and the Prob­lems of Inde­pen­dence” would “appear in the forth­com­ing Fanon Quar­ter­ly (Jan­u­ary 1978) from the Fanon Research and Devel­op­ment Cen­ter, Los Ange­les.” How­ev­er, the first issue of Fanon Quar­ter­ly, whose first issue was not released until May 1980, did not fea­ture Khac Vien’s text. Nton­gela Masilela, “The­o­ry, Prax­is and His­to­ry: Frantz Fanon and José Car­los Mar­iátegui,” Ufa­ham: A Jour­nal of African Stud­ies 8.2.(1978): 66-86. It should be not­ed that the his­to­ry of the Fanon Research and Devel­op­ment Cen­ter, a UCLA-based “nation­al minor­i­ty men­tal health research cen­ter” with fed­er­al fund­ing from the Nation­al Insti­tute of Men­tal Health, but which was also in dia­logue with schol­ars from the fields of African-Amer­i­can stud­ies, lit­er­a­ture, and cul­tur­al stud­ies, deserves greater crit­i­cal atten­tion. The inau­gur­al issue of Fanon Quar­ter­ly includ­ed an arti­cle from Hus­sein A. Bul­han (a sum­ma­ry of the argu­ments lat­er devel­oped in Frantz Fanon and the Psy­chol­o­gy of Oppres­sion) and oth­er efforts to ana­lyze the polit­i­cal and social psy­chol­o­gy of the”black under­class” and oppressed peo­ples, with a decid­ed­ly eman­ci­pa­to­ry ori­en­ta­tion, con­scious­ly fol­low­ing Fanon’s own clin­i­cal prac­tice by view­ing the “role of psy­chol­o­gy as a lib­er­at­ing force.” 

  3. See Leo Zelig, Frantz Fanon: Mil­i­tant Philoso­pher of Third World Rev­o­lu­tion (New York : I.B. Tau­ris, 2016), and Peter Hud­is, Frantz Fanon: Philoso­pher of the Bar­ri­cades (Lon­don; Plu­to Press, 2015). See also Lewis Gor­don, What Fanon Said: A Philo­soph­i­cal Intro­duc­tion to His Life and Thought (New York: Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2005). We would be remiss not to men­tion the recent­ly pub­lished col­lec­tion of Fanon’s ear­ly writ­ings, to be released in Eng­lish this year, Alien­ation and Free­dom, eds. Jean Khal­fa and Robert J.C. Young, trans Steven Cor­co­ran (Lon­don: Blooms­bury, 2018); the French ver­sion was reviewed by Adam Shatz, “Where Life is Seized,Lon­don Review of Books, 19.2 (Jan­u­ary 2017). 

  4. See Michael Goebel, Anti-Impe­r­i­al Metrop­o­lis: Inter­war Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nation­al­ism (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016). 

  5. Nguyên Kiên, Le Sud-Viet­nam depuis Dien-Bien-Phu (Paris: Maspero, 1963). 

  6. See Tran Duc Thao, Phénoménologie et matérialisme dialec­tique (Paris: Minh-Tân, 1951). 

  7. See Matthieu Renault, “Frantz Fanon and Tran Duc Thao: The Mak­ing of French Anti­colo­nial­ism,” in Not­ting­ham French Stud­ies 51.4 (2015): 107-118. 

  8. Tran Duc Thao, “‘Sur l’Indochine,” Les Temps mod­ernes 5 (Feb­ru­ary 1946): 878–900; “Les Rela­tions fran­co-viet­nami­ennes,” Les Temps mod­ernes 18 (March 1947): 1053–67; “Sur l’interpretation trotzkyste des even­e­ments d’Indochine,” Les Temps mod­ernes 21 (June 1947): 1698–1705; and “Le Con­flit fran­co-viet­namien,” La Pensee 22 (Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 1949): 17–19. For a fur­ther dis­cus­sion, see Jérôme Melançon, “Anti­colo­nial­isme et dis­si­dence: Tran Duc Thao et Les Temps mod­ernes,” in L’itinéraire de Tran Duc Thao: Phénoménolo­gie et trans­fert cul­turel, ed. Joce­lyn Benoist and Michel Espagne (Paris: Col­in Armand, 2013), 201-15. 

  9. Besides the Hall­ward and Waller­stein arti­cles ref­er­enced above, see Hus­sein Abdi­lahi Bul­han, Fanon and the Psy­chol­o­gy of Oppres­sion (New York: Plenum Press, 1985), 145, 148-50; and David Caute, Frantz Fanon (New York: Viking Press, 1970). 

  10. One of the more bizarre exam­ples can be found in Aris­tide and Vera Zolberg’s oth­er­wise inter­est­ing text con­cerned the impor­ta­tion of Fanon’s writ­ings and influ­ence in the black lib­er­a­tion move­ment in the Unit­ed States, when they briefly com­pare Fanon’s pass­ing at a young age and ris­ing stature there­after to James Dean’s lega­cy: see “The Amer­i­can­iza­tion of Frantz Fanon,” Pub­lic Inter­est 9 (1968). For con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous engage­ments with Fanon which broach sim­i­lar con­cerns to Khac Vien, see Imre Mar­ton, A pro­pos des thès­es de Fanon,” Action: revue théorique et poli­tique du Par­ti Com­mu­niste Mar­tini­quais, 7.2 (1965): 39-55, and 8/9.3/4 (1965): 45-66; Enri­ca Col­lot­ti-Pis­chel, “‘Fanon­is­mo’ e ‘ques­tione colo­niale,’” Prob­le­mi del social­is­mo 5 (1962):834-64; Amady Ali Dieng, “Les damnés de la terre et les prob­lèmes de l’Afrique noire, Présence africaine 62.2 (1967): 15-30. 

  11. For an excel­lent pre­sen­ta­tion of the “capac­i­ty to resist” and its place in Fanon’s work, see Howard Cay­gill, On Resis­tance: A Phi­los­o­phy of Defi­ance (Lon­don: Blooms­bury, 2012), 99-104. 

  12. See Christoph Kalber, The Dis­cov­ery of the Third World (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge UP, 2016), 216. 

  13. See Irene L. Gendzi­er, Frantz Fanon: A Crit­i­cal Study (Ann Arbor: Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan Press, 1974), for a thor­ough rebut­tal. 

  14. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2004 [1963]), 5. 

  15. See Odd Arne Wes­t­ad, The Glob­al Cold War: Third World Inter­ven­tions and the Mak­ing of Our Times (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2006). Fanon rec­og­nized the pow­er of a rig­or­ous ide­o­log­i­cal frame­work for state-build­ing and the polit­i­cal sol­i­dar­i­ty in the inde­pen­dence process: “Colo­nial­ism and its deriv­a­tives do not, as a mat­ter of fact, con­sti­tute the present ene­mies of Africa. In a short time this con­ti­nent will be lib­er­at­ed. For my part, the deep­er I enter into the cul­tures and the polit­i­cal cir­cles the sur­er I am that the great dan­ger that threat­ens Africa is the absence of ide­ol­o­gy.” See “This Africa to Come,” in Toward the African Rev­o­lu­tion, trans. Haakon Cheva­lier (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 186. 

  16. For anoth­er take on Khac Vien’s mis­read­ing of Fanon on this score, see Matthieu Renault, “Rup­ture and New Begin­ning in Fanon,” in Liv­ing Fanon: Glob­al Per­spec­tives, ed. Nigel Gib­son (Lon­don: Pal­grave, 2011), 111-13. Renault’s larg­er study of Fanon, Frantz Fanon: De l’anticolonialisme à la cri­tique post­colo­niale (Paris: Edi­tions Ams­ter­dam, 2014), is a land­mark of recent post­colo­nial stud­ies schol­ar­ship. 

  17. See Peter Stally­brass, “Marx and Het­ero­gene­ity: Think­ing the Lumpen­pro­le­tari­at,” in Rep­re­sen­ta­tions (Sum­mer 1990): 69-95. See also Peter Linebaugh, “Karl Marx, the Theft of Wood, and Work­ing Class Com­po­si­tion: A Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cur­rent Debate,” Crime and Social Jus­tice 6 (Fall-Win­ter 1976): 5-16. 

  18. Immanuel Waller­stein, “Read­ing Fanon in the 21st Cen­tu­ry,” New Left Review II/51 (May-June 2009). 

  19. For excel­lent accounts of A Dying Colo­nial­ism, see Dru­cil­la Cor­nell, “The Secret Behind the Veil: A Rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of Fanon’s Alge­ria Unveiled,” Philosophia Africana 4.2 (August 2001): 27-35; Robert Bernasconi, “Elim­i­nat­ing the Cycle of Vio­lence: The Place of A Dying Colo­nial­ism With­in Fanon’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Thought,” Philosophia Africana 4.2 (2001): 17-25; Ato Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialec­tic of Expe­ri­ence (Cam­bridge, MA: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1997). 

  20. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 35. 

  21. Robert Young, “Frantz Fanon and the Turn to Armed Strug­gle in Africa, Wasafiri 20.44 (2005): 33-41. 

  22. On Fanon’s impa­tience in foment­ing armed strug­gle in Ango­la, see Leo Zeilig, Frantz Fanon: The Mil­i­tant Philoso­pher of Third World Rev­o­lu­tion, 120. 

  23. For the quote, see Fanon, “Alge­ria in Accra,” in Toward the African Rev­o­lu­tion, 151. For a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the ulti­mate stakes and out­comes of the Alger­ian war of inde­pen­dence than Fanon, see Matthew Con­nel­ly, A Diplo­mat­ic Rev­o­lu­tion: Algeria’s Fight for Inde­pen­dence (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003). See also the round­table on “The After­lives of the Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion,” edit­ed by Miri­am Haleh Davis and James McDougall, Jadaliyya, Novem­ber 6, 2013. 

  24. Khac Viên also demon­strat­ed a sim­i­lar ana­lyt­i­cal démarche in his “Quelques clés pour le Viet­nam,” Par­ti­sans 40 (Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 1968): 19–31, which attempt­ed to explain the effec­tive­ness of Viet­namese pop­u­lar mobi­liza­tion and gueril­la tac­tics against the Unit­ed States. For a his­tor­i­cal analy­sis of these link­ages and con­nec­tions glob­al­ly, see Christo­pher Leigh Con­nery, “The World Six­ties,” in The World­ing Project: Doing Cul­tur­al Stud­ies in the Era of Glob­al­iza­tion, ed. Rob Wil­son and Christo­pher Leigh Con­nery (San­ta Cruz: New Pcif­ic Press, 2007), 77-107. 

  25. And their over­lap­ping time­lines: Khac Vien makes the claim in a 1973 arti­cle that the US war in Viet­nam might be more suf­fi­cient­ly under­stood as essen­tial­ly a “neo­colo­nial war,” fought to main­tain influ­ence over a for­eign gov­ern­ment and to break the will of the nation­al lib­er­a­tion move­ment. Nguyen Khac Vien, “Sous d’autres formes, d’autres Viet­nams?,” Le Monde diplo­ma­tique (Feb­ru­ary 1973): 3. 

  26. Though see Priyam­va­da Gopal, “Con­cern­ing Mao­ism: Fanon, Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Vio­lence, and Post­colo­nial India,” South Atlantic Quar­ter­ly 112.1 (Win­ter 2013): 115-28, for a search­ing take on the con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance of Fanon’s the­o­ry of vio­lence. 

  27. see Hashim Aidi, “‘What Will Hap­pen to All that Beau­ty?’: Black Pow­er in the Ban­lieues,” World Pol­i­cy Jour­nal 33.1 (Spring 2016): 5-10. 

  28. Trans­la­tors’ Note: Nghe does not pro­vide details on the edi­tion of The Wretched of the Earth he is using, but one must assume that it is the ini­tial François Maspéro print­ing: Frantz Fanon, Les damnés de la terre (Paris: Maspéro, 1961). Due to the inevitable ques­tions which arise con­cern­ing the var­i­ous approach­es to trans­lat­ing Fanon, we have decid­ed to work from the orig­i­nal French. Nghe’s cita­tions will be retained in-text, while foot­notes will refer to a more recent French edi­tion. Frantz Fanon, Les damnés de la terre (Paris: La Décou­verte, 2002), 45-6, 52-3. 

  29. Ibid., 41-3. 

  30. Ibid., 161. 

  31. Ibid., 159, 162-4. 

  32. Ibid., 81, 82-3. 

  33. It should be not­ed that the author of these lines has tak­en his exam­ples from the Viet­namese Rev­o­lu­tion, sim­ply because he is bet­ter acquaint­ed with the episodes of its his­to­ry than with those of oth­er coun­tries. 

  34. Ibid., 61. 

  35. Ibid. 

  36. Ibid., 122-23. 

  37. TN: It’s pos­si­ble that Nghe is offer­ing a mis­tak­en ref­er­ence here. While the gen­er­al rela­tion­ship between agrar­i­an reform, anti-colo­nial rev­o­lu­tion, and com­mu­nist agi­ta­tion is present in MN Roy’s “Sup­ple­men­tary The­ses on the Nation­al and Colo­nial Ques­tion” sub­mit­ted to the Sec­ond Com­intern Con­gress, the exact phras­ing is not found there. Nghe could be refer­ring to Roy’s “The­ses on the Sit­u­a­tion in Chi­na,” giv­en at the Sev­enth Plenum of the Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Inter­na­tion­al, on Novem­ber 22–December 16, 1926, where he makes this pre­cise claim: “The nation­al Gov­ern­ment of Can­ton will not be able to retain pow­er, the rev­o­lu­tion will not advance towards the com­plete vic­to­ry over for­eign impe­ri­al­ism and native reac­tion, unless nation­al lib­er­a­tion is iden­ti­fied with agrar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion.” See Robert Carv­er North and Xenia Joukoff Eudin, M.N. Roy’s Mis­sion to Chi­na: The Com­mu­nist-Kuom­intang Split of 1927, with doc­u­ments trans­lat­ed by Helen Pow­ers (Berke­ley: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 1963), 138. 

  38. Fanon, Les damnés de la terre, 108. 

  39. Recall that Ya’nan had been the base where the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty set­tled dur­ing the long peri­od that it was pur­sued by Chi­ang Kai-Shek’s troops. 

  40. Ibid., 304, 96. 

Author of the article

was the pseudonym of Nguyễn Khắc Viện, a Vietnamese historian and writer (1913-1997). From 1937 to 1963, he was a key liaison and propagandist for the Vietnamese Workers' Party (now the Communist Party of Vietnam) in France.