A Spanish anarchist reads Fanon
The following review of The Wretched of the Earth appeared in Ruta, the Caracas-based journal of the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth in exile, on 21 June 1964. Although unsigned, it was undoubtedly written by the journal’s editor Germinal Gracia, who wrote under the pseudonym of Víctor García.
Frantz Fanon, Los condenados de la tierra (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1963). English citations taken from Grove Press, New York edition, translated by Constance Farrington.
When Fanon’s book was released in Paris at the end of 1961 – Les Damnés de la terre (Maspero) – the author was in a New York hospital, where he died on 7 December. Leukemia took his life at just thirty-seven years of age.
It is possible that the violence that emanates from the book, and its occasional hatred, is a reflection of Fanon’s sad end. The illness that gnawed away at his insides weighed heavily on his tactical ideas and on his conception of the violent emancipation of the colonised peoples like the legacy of humiliation carried and transmitted from one generation to the next.
In his prologue to the book, Sartre asserts that ‘Fanon is the first since Engels to bring the processes of history into the clear light of day’, referring to the violence that Fanon defends on behalf of the colonised against that of the colonisers: ‘The colonial world’ says Fanon ‘is a world cut in two. The dividing line, the frontiers are shown by barracks and police stations. In the colonies it is the policeman and the soldier who are the official, instituted go-betweens, the spokesmen of the settler and his rule of oppression… by their immediate presence and their frequent and direct action [they] maintain contact with the native and advise him by means of rifle butts and napalm not to budge.’ And confronted with this violence, the colonised is left with violence as the only means of expressing opposition: ‘decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things… can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course, that of violence.’
Fanon makes violence into more than a tactic, for him it is a principle, and on occasion, owing to his being on the other side of this ‘world cut in two’, we interpret his passion as excessive. But it is not. All of the concepts that we apply to the non-colonised world, or those parts decolonised many years ago, have no basis when applied to the world of those who have no political liberty.
Nevertheless, Fanon is far from a dogmatist. His book is the work of a reasoner and a forger of programmes of protest and emancipation. He knows how to distinguish between a genuine movement and a demagogic party that, once in power, after decolonisation, forgets its aims. ‘That is why in certain underdeveloped countries the masses forge ahead very quickly, and realize two or three years after independence that they have been frustrated, that "it wasn't worthwhile" fighting, and that nothing could really change.’ Further on he adds that ‘The notion of the party is a notion imported from the mother country.’ With regard to parties he is unsparing, and he emphasises the divide between urban native populations and the peasantry; it is in the latter, according to Fanon, that the true spirit of revolt resides. His sources are the Marxists, but a Marxism sifted through the reading of a colonised person produces highly unorthodox results that force one into a consideration of that world that finds itself on the other side of the open wound created by the prison, the gendarme, and the violence of the white man. ‘The single party is the modern form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, unmasked’, he claims: ‘unpainted, unscrupulous, and cynical’. And against the ‘leader’ he is no less severe: ‘He acts as a braking-power on the awakening consciousness of the people.’ In the same way he considers that the army has ‘threatened or already undermined the future of the Latin American republics’…
Fanon’s thinking deserves to be widely known.