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.