"When it comes to addressing the colonial issue," said Fanon, "a Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched."
Frantz Fanon did more than slightly stretch Marxism: he cannibalized it, inverted it, reverse engineered it, and recalibrated its theoretical coordinates to the colonial and racial imperatives of the Third World's liberatory sunrise. Marxism's utility, said Fanon, was constrained--as were most European philosophies--for not taking the "Black life experience" into account.
Unlike Fanon's criticism of Lacan, Freud, Sartre, and Hegel's constructs, Marxism was modernity's first global system theory. It encompassed a totalizing world view of economics, ideology, politics, and philosophy. Thus, Fanon's critique of Marxism, consumed bandwidth across a wide spectrum of issues.
That being said, Fanon never abandoned Marxism as a philosophical or ideological misadventure. New Black Nationalists view Fanon's critique of Marxism as probing its revolutionary baseline to construct a comprehensive school of thought aimed at liberating colonized Blacks and the Third World.
Fanon's vision of New Humanism contemplated the eventual withering away of race as human destiny. He characterized the transition by saying, "The occupant’s spasmed and rigid culture, now liberated opens at last to the culture of the people who have never really become brothers. The two cultures can affront each other, enrich each other. In conclusion, universality resides in the decision to recognize and accept the reciprocal relativism of different cultures, once the colonial status is irreversibly excluded."
Marx, on the other hand postulated that under communism the forces of production in the hands of the working class would produce material abundance beyond the needs of society and lead to the "withering away" away of the state and classes.
These two schools of thought, however, are not mutually exclusive. What is being stressed here their political proximity and relationship. In this sense, we are reminded of Alice Walker's maxim, "Womanist Is to Feminist as Purple Is to Lavender." Just as womanism's critique embraced feminism but broadened its vistas with the lived experience of Black, brown, and yellow women, it could be said that Fanonism is to Marxism as New Humanism is to Communism.
New Black Nationalists, like Fanon, accept Marxism-Leninism-Mao-Tse-Tung Thought as a revolutionary albeit troubled school of thought, whose oeuvre can be enriched by incorporating the "lived experience" of the Black, brown and yellow people.
Understandably, Marxists stumbled after the reversal of the Russian/Soviet revolution. Decades later they continue to struggle to regain their balance. Further, a number of Marxists compounded the "Russian revolution predicament" by misreading the purpose and character of China's Great Cultural Revolution. The GCR was an attempt to remedy the Soviet Union's reversal of the socialist path following Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 Secret Speech that set the U.S.S.R galloping down the path to capitalism and great power imperialism.
In some respects, Fanon's vision of post-revolution nation-building in Algeria of a pluralist Tertiary State and decentralized economic cooperatives anticipated the Chinese masses efforts to broadly administer the affairs of state during the stormy Cultural Revolution.
Fanon was not averse to the masses engaging in sharp political, ideological, and philosophical battle. His preference for open multi-party governance reflected his democratic impulses. The Chinese Communist Party participated in a multi-party liberation front, and national government briefly after winning the civil war in 1949. Although it too became a one-party state, Mao's point was that the viewpoint of all the competing classes and political programs raged inside the Chinese Communist Party, including the viewpoint and agenda of a capitalist-oriented national bourgeois that Fanon ridiculed. "You are making the socialist revolution, and yet you don’t know where the bourgeoisie is. It is right inside the Communist Party -those in power taking the capitalist road. The capitalist-roaders are still on the capitalist road." One has wonder what Fanon would have thought about the Cultural Revolution, had he lived through it.
Frantz Fanon was well versed in Marxist text. He understood Marxism better than many because he wasn't an ideologue whose objectivity was clouded by devout adherence to a party line. Moreover, Fanon was an exceptional dialectician. He grasped how phenomenon turned into their opposites. He understood at any given moment, the state of play between the principal and the secondary contradiction. And Fanon attached primacy to how human action could transform theory into reality. For Fanon, Marxism was a living science that required political oxygen and action to breathe.
Accordingly, Fanon's Critique of Marxism to Mao-Tse-Tung Thought argues that Fanon's reconfiguration of a suite of Marxist constructs encompasses the following elements.
* That the native bourgeoisie in Africa was incapable of leading the bourgeois stage of the national revolution in underdeveloped countries.
* That the bourgeois stage of development in underdeveloped countries could be bypassed to proceed directly to an anti-imperialist revolution.
* That the working class in Algeria and Sub-Saharan African countries was not the leading revolutionary force to overthrow colonial rule.
* That the peasanty was the most thoroughgoing revolutionary force in Algeria and Sub-Saharan Africa to overthrow colonialism and engage in nation-building on New Humanist principles.
* That the Marxist practice of one-party governance and the concentration of state economic power and resources in its centralized state apparatus was anathema to constructing an alternative nation-building project serving the collective interest of the newly liberated state.
Fanon's Revolutionary Period With Algeria's FLN
Fanon's engagement with Marxism began in his student days in France in the late 1940s. Lyon was an industrialized working-class city in which the fevered minds of socialist, anarchists, and communist competed for political influence. This period of Fanon's life revealed his talent for distilling dense philosophical works into serviceable concepts.
Like a gifted physician with a scalpel, Fanon extracted the radical kernel of Sartrean existentialism, Merlou-Ponty's phenomenalism, and Hegelian dialectics to explain Western philosophers' invention of the Black. In Black Skin, White Masks (1952) Fanon elaborated a theory of the psychological damage colonialism, racism, and gratuitous violence visited on Black flesh.
Fanon's journey from author-intellectual to nationalist insurgent began in 1956, when he joined Algeria's National Liberation Front's war to topple French colonialism. Exiled to Tunisia and still practicing psychiatry, Fanon edited the FLN's newspaper, served as FLN ambassador to Sub-Saharan Africa, and reconnoitered the Saharan Desert to open new FLN weapons smuggling routes.
Fanon also began reconfiguring Marxist text and modernizing his conception of the Third World revolutionary project. The inventory of his personal library listed in "Fanon, Alienation, and Freedom (2018)," points us in the direction Fanon was headed. His archive was filled with Mao-Tse-Tung's works on people's war, Lenin's writings on insurrection from the April Thesis to the October Revolution, Bolshevik policy on the National Question, and the Congresses of the Communist International between 1919 and 1922.
In this period, Fanon was not just pre-occupied with adjusting Marxism to the algorithms of seizing power and nation-building in Algeria. Fanon was pressing to accelerate the pace of revolutionary developments in Algeria and Sub-Saharan Africa. But why?
As 1960 approached and Algeria's armed struggle against France's colonial occupation intensified, Fanon feared the FLN's leadership was preparing to enter negotiations with the French on compromising terms. As FLN Ambassador to Sub-Saharan Africa, Fanon also concluded the native bourgeoisie of Africa's 17 nations slated for independence in 1960, were mostly unfit or unable to sever ties with their former colonial masters.
Fanon was seeking a solution to prevent Algeria and Africa's revolutionary movements from being short-circuited and the people's desire for national liberation being ravaged by post-independence neo-colonial arrangements. In his book, "Fanon, Philosopher of the Barricades," Professor Peter Hudis characterized Fanon's dilemma this way.
"Fanon's efforts to find a pathway beyond the compromises and regression facing the newly independent states informs much of first chapter of Wretched of Earth. How then does Fanon envision "skipping" or surmounting the bourgeois state of development. How does he envision overcoming the stalemate and outright regression he sees prevailing in the newly independent states?
In short, New Black Nationalists hold that Fanon's response to the sabotaging of nationalist liberation movements called for re-designing a suite of Marxism's tenants in which the peasantry would lead a violent revolutionary struggle for power and nation-building to follow.
Fanon's celebrated chapter on violence in Wretched of the Earth (1961) wasn't only an argument for creating a new subject purged of inferiority complexes and willing to risk death to earn freedom in the Hegelian context. It was an argument for accelerating armed struggle. Fanon was attempting to shift the political initiative away from national bourgeois leaders sitting at negotiating tables on national independence and selling out the interests of the peasant majorities.
Within the FLN, Fanon was also cultivated ties to Algeria's Frontier Army, headed by Houari Boumediene. Fanon wrote that, "Perception of the Frontier Army as the wellspring of renewed revolutionary zeal began to take hold. Their self-acknowledged peasant backgrounds, seemed to resist the idea of settling for a fictitious independence of the neocolonial sort."
As FLN's Ambassador to Sub-Saharan African, Fanon was also pushing for the formation of a multi-state African Legion fighting force to support and train armed liberation movements from Angola to Algeria. Fanon would not live long enough to continue the fight to create the African Legion.
Fanon made invaluable contributions the FLN's struggle that succeeded in overthrowing French imperialism one year after he died of leukemia. Despite his contributions to the FLN, Fanon was not a leading figure in the organization. Even though Fanon disagreed with some FLN leaders on critical issues, Fanon committed his life to ensure the FLN's victory. Twice he survived assassination attempts by the French government. In the last months of his life, he was still visiting battlefields to conduct education sessions with the largely peasant-based Frontier Army on Algeria's Tunisian border.
Fanon was a serious student of Mao-Tse-Tung's extensive writings on guerilla warfare and people's war. They shared similar views on the legitimate role violence plays in winning liberation. However, they emphasized different aspects of violence in the revolutionary struggle. New Black Nationalists do not surmise that Fanon and Mao's different approaches were based on any substantive disagreement. Nevertheless, in the sidebar of this article we have provided a thought-provoking summary of their divergent views.
Fanon's Critique of Marxism
- Fanon argued that the native bourgeoisie in Africa was incapable of leading the bourgeois stage of the national revolution in underdeveloped countries.
"The national bourgeoise," said Fanon, lacked capital, command of the constituent elements of a national economy, a connection to the organic masses of the country, a national vision apart from the metropolitan ideology of their neocolonial masters. The national bourgeoisie also proves incompetent in domestic politics and institutionally. In an undeveloped country, the imperative duty of an authentic national bourgeoisie is to betray the vocation to which it is destined, to learn from the people, and make available to them the intellectual and technical capital it culled from its time in colonial universities. "
The conventional wisdom of anti-colonial movements held that the native bourgeoisie could not be put aside: they were essential to leading a new national unity government.
- Fanon argued that it was possible to bypass a bourgeois stage of development in underdeveloped countries.
"In the underdeveloped countries a bourgeois phase is out of the question. A police dictatorship or a caste of profiteers may well be the case, but a bourgeois society is doomed to failure... It will be clear to everyone that no progress has been made since independence and that everything has to be started over again from scratch," wrote
Karl Marx had long held that a bourgeois revolution was required to develop a national industrial-based economy before a socialist revolution led by the working class was possible. It wasn't until 1881, that Marx reversed his thinking in response to Sara Zasulich's letter averring that Russia could bypass a bourgeois revolution and move directly to a socialist revolution based on Russia's "rural commune" system. Marx replied to Zasulich in the following passage of his letter.
"Theoretically speaking, then, the Russian ‘rural commune’ may preserve its land – by developing its base of common land ownership, and by eliminating the principle of private property which it also implies. lt may become a direct starting-point of the economic system towards which modern society is tending; it may open a new chapter that does not begin with its own suicide; it may reap the fruits with which capitalist production has enriched humanity, without passing through the capitalist regime which, simply in terms of its possible duration, hardly counts in the life of society. But it is necessary to descend from pure theory to Russian reality. system. "
Fanon was invoking a historic Marxist debate going back to the Second International and the historic Congress of the Communist International held in Baku in 1920. This was the first Communist International where declarations were issued supporting colonial revolutions to overthrow imperialism and exercise their right to self-determination and the right to secede.”
Fanon raised the question directly whether it was possible for developing societies to bypass a bourgeois stage of development when he said, "The theoretical question which has been posed for the last 50 years when addressing the history of the under developing countries, i.e., whether the bourgeois phase can be effectively skipped, must be resolved through revolutionary action and not through reasoning." Consistent with Fanon' s thinking, he says the issue must be resolved with action.
- Fanon argued that the working class in Algeria and Sub-Saharan African countries was not the leading revolutionary force.
In Algeria and underdeveloped African countries Fanon insisted the working class lacked strategic depth in large-scale industry, and sufficient concentration in urban centers to play a leading and revolutionary force. More importantly, Fanon thought them too easily corruptible by the native bourgeois class.
"The great mistake," said Fanon, "the inherent flaw of most of the political parties in the underdeveloped regions has been traditionally to address first and foremost the most politically conscious elements: the urban proletariat, the small tradesmen, and the civil servants, i.e., a tiny section of the population which represents barely more than one percent. In capitalist countries, the proletariat has everything to lose and everything to gain. In the colonized countries, the proletariat has everything to lose. These elements make up the most loyal clientele of the nationalist parties and by the privileged position they occupy in the colonial system represent the "bourgeois" fraction of the colonized population."
- Fanon argued that the petty-bourgeois was a non-revolutionary class that pre-occupied with its own interest.
"The supporters of nationalist parties are urban voters. These workers, elementary school teachers, small tradesmen, and shopkeepers who have begun to profit from the colonial situation—in a pitiful sort of way of course—have their own interest in mind."
- Fanon argues the peasanty is the revolutionary force in Africa not the entire third world.
Having argued that the native bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, and working class were all non-revolutionary classes in underdeveloped countries, Fanon championed the peasantry as Algeria's and Sub-Saharan Africa's most revolutionary force.
"The peasantry is systematically left out of most of the nationalist parties’ propaganda. But it is obvious that in colonial countries only the peasantry is revolutionary. It has everything to lose and nothing to gain. The underprivileged and starving peasant is the exploited who very soon discovers that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possibility of concession. There is no question for them of competing with the colonist. They want to take his place."
To Fanon, the peasantry was not only the most revolutionary force to overthrow colonialism, but the most reliable force to spearhead building a new republic. In part, Fanon attributed their constancy to the fact that they were furthest removed from the influence of the colonial powers in the remoteness of the countryside, and therefore less corruptible. By dint of long-standing rural traditions Fanon also found the peasantry to be a more coherent class, bound closer by culture and customs. Combined with the relative poverty compared to other classes, Fanon found them the most reliable revolutionary class in Algeria, and generally speaking in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Fanon was opposed to a one-party state and the concentration of state economic power and resources in centralized state apparatus, and a strong standing army.
Most Marxist-led revolutions have been marked by two central governing features. Economic power and resources are concentrated in centralized state organs, and political power in a one-party state. In the first passage below Fanon speaks of the importance of having decentralized elements of a collective-based economy. In the second passage Fanon speaks in favor of decentralized "Tertiary State."
Regarding a highly centralized economic structure Fanon stated the following." If the authorities want to lift the country out of stagnation and take great strides toward development and progress, they first and foremost must nationalize the tertiary sector. For the sake of progress, the decision to nationalize this sector must be made in the first few hours. To nationalize the tertiary sector means organizing democratically the cooperatives for buying and selling. It means decentralizing these cooperatives by involving the masses in the management of public affairs. All this cannot succeed unless the people are politically educated. "
In opposition to a one-party state Fanon averred that, "Economically powerless, unable to establish coherent social relations based on the principle of class domination, the bourgeoisie chooses what seems to be the easiest solution, the single-party system.”
Finally, Fanon's warning about the danger of a strong standing army in the hands of a compromised bourgeoisie, and a one-party state proved to be prescient. Africa has been beset by one-party states run by dictators who used the army as their personal praetorian guard to terrorize its populations, and worse still commit genocide.
“We should avoid transforming the army into an autonomous body that sooner or later, idle and aimless, will “go into politics” and threaten the authorities. By dint of haunting the corridors of power, armchair generals dream of pronunciamientos. The only way of avoiding this is to politicize the army, i.e., nationalize it. To politicize and nationalize the army was to imbue it with civic activism and involve the army in nation-building projects.
- Fanon argued that colonialism's anti-Black racism and violence constituted the most profound form of alienation and dehumanization, not the alienation of the working- class.
Of alienation Karl Marx said, "The workman sees the results of his power transmuted into objects that increase the power and enrich the life of the capitalist but weaken the laborer physically, reducing him to "cretinism." He is alienated from himself --for his work is no longer voluntary; what he produces is taken by another; the more value he creates, the more worthless and misshapen is he. Alienation is all pervasive: man is alienated from other individuals, his species, "from human nature. "
In Fanon's White Skin, Black Masks, he inverted Marx's formulation of alienation. Fanon's contention was that racism, not capitalism, embedded in European slavocracy and colonization of Black people constituted the most profound form of dehumanization and alienation. Fanon demonstrated how French colonialism's violence, terror, economic, and cultural domination exacted far-reaching psychological damage on colonized Antillean Blacks.
Some Final Thoughts
During his lifetime and for some time after his death, Fanon was condemned by Marxists of various and sundry ideological stripes. His refusal to the join the French Communist Party, which claimed every major leftist philosopher, theorist, artist, and Negritude leader as a member, put him in bad odor. Fanon was excoriated as a narrow nationalist, purveyor of terrorist violence, and even a traitor to France by French communists who supported De Gaulle's war to drown Algeria's liberation struggle in blood. Nor did the fact that Fanon supported the Third World being non-aligned between the two imperialist superpowers endear him to many on the left.
Marxists have a long history of refusing to support struggles for self-determination of colonial nations and oppressed nationalities. Since nineteenth-century socialists refused to support self-determination in the non-Western world--notwithstanding Marx's admonition to do so, to socialist leader Eugene Debs in the United States saying that there is no race question outside the class question, Marxist, anarchists and independent leftist have stubbornly adhered to a view that struggles for national liberation are inherently reactionary or a "diversion from the real fight."
Neither were Black Marxist during the Black Power era in the United States immune from this retrograde tendency. Most of the Black Arts Movement's [BAM] main architects that founded the organization in 1965 in Harlem, New York, renounced its revolutionary legacy. In 1974, BAM Co-Founder Amiri Baraka, reorganized the Congress of African People as a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organization, forming part of the New Communist Movement (NCM). In his autobiography, speaking of the Black Arts Movement experience; 'It is still my contention that we were revolutionaries, albeit saddled with the weight of nationalism which does not even serve the people.'
Over the decades, however, Fanon's stature grew as the authoritative voice of Decolonial Theory. Marxist criticism of Fanon eventually softened and more than a few socialists these days are not averse to claiming Fanon as one of their own.
Fanon's radical critique of Marxism gained currency over time because a broad and irrefutable consensus finally emerged that the post-World War 2 international situation had indeed shifted from inter-European imperialist rivalry to wars of national liberation in Latin America, Asia, and Africa against Western colonialism.
In that context, the Marxist nostrum that colonialism and national oppression were incidental to capitalism's development and a distraction to building a multi-racial worker's movement have been widely debunked. The Manichean divide between Western imperialism and the Third World exposed Marxism's limitations and blind spots in supporting burgeoning independence movements.
Today, immigration flows from the Global South to Global North has fueled a resurgence of white nationalism from Russia to Western Europe to the United States. The liberalist assumption that most whites would eventually get over their anti-Black phobias were nothing more than wishful thinking. Racism and scapegoating Black people have been more enduring that most people could ever imagine. Thus, Fanon's Decolonial Theory continues to haunt Marxists who remain trapped by the stale orthodoxies of the past.
It is an irony that the cloud that hangs over Marxism and Fanonism today suggests history has proven both theories were profoundly wrong in predicting the demise of capitalism. New Black Nationalists categorically reject those assertions. The historical era of socialist/communist revolutions, and anti-imperialist nationalist revolutions in the Third World/Global South is still in its early phases. What is most important now is to build on the past advances and grapple with the lessons of their shortfalls.
New Black Nationalists have set about the difficult work of renovating Fanonian theory in preparation for the existential crisis that will engulf American Empire in the 2020s. We look forward to the unprecedented opportunities on the horizon to forge a new Black nation-state in the midst of the gathering tumult in the days ahead. We trust that well intentioned Marxist will be found on the front lines, doing the same.
** Below see Karl Marx's response to Sara Zasuhlich on the Russian Commune.
*The analysis in Capital therefore provides no reasons either for or against the vitality of the Russian commune. But the special study I have made of it, including a search for original source material, has convinced me that the commune is the fulcrum for social regeneration in Russia. But in order that it might function as such, the harmful influences assailing it on all sides must first be eliminated, and it must then be assured the normal conditions for spontaneous development."
**[Theoretically speaking, then, the Russian ‘rural commune’ may preserve its land – by developing its base of common land ownership, and by eliminating the principle of private property which it also implies. lt may become a direct starting-point of the economic system towards which modern society is tending; it may open a new chapter that does not begin with its own suicide; it may reap the fruits with which capitalist production has enriched humanity, without passing through the capitalist regime which, simply in terms of its possible duration, hardly counts in the life of society. But it is necessary to descend from pure theory to Russian reality.
Mao and Fanon: Competing Theories of Violence in the Era of Decolonization
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon offers a powerful critique of colonial rule, while at the same time providing a call for violent and revolutionary struggle against European imperialism. Written in 1961 and in the context of the Algerian War of Independence, Fanon extols the virtues of violence as a means to liberate colonial subjects both politically and physiologically.
Yet while The Wretched of the Earth is often lauded, or condemned as a revolutionary or dangerous treatise, Fanon’s philosophies on violence cannot and should not be viewed in isolation.
In this respect, it is useful to compare Fanon’s writings, and in particular his theories on violence in de-colonial and revolutionary struggles, with those of Mao Zedong, who I argue provided an equally attractive, and at the time more influential, justification of violence. There are remarkable similarities between both authors, in terms of their analysis of the inherent violence in colonial rule, as well an in their perspective of violence as a cleansing or legitimizing force in revolutionary struggles.
Both rely on Hegelian philosophy, in particular is dialectic reasoning, as well as Marxist interpretations of class struggle to underpin their philosophies, although they depart from classical Marxists in advocating for armed resistance amongst the peasantry rather than the urban proletariat. However, where Fanon’s analysis is primarily existential, in that he seeks to explore the nature of violence itself, Mao’s view of violence is primarily instrumental, in that it seeks to provide a practical guide for the use of violence in guerrilla operations.
No aspect of The Wretched of the Earth has been as debated as Fanon’s justification of violence. Though by no means exhaustive, it is useful I think to consider Frazer and Hutchings summary of Fanon’s philosophy of violence.
“First, it [violence] is a means necessary to political action – that is, his justification is instrumental. Second, it is an organic force or energy that follows its own logic.”
However, this summary should be taken with caution, for in my view Frazer and Hutchings overemphasis the instrumentalist aspect of Fanon’s philosophy. While Fanon certainly justified the use of violence in instrumentalist terms, which is to say that violence is a means to a political end (i.e. decolonization), his analysis of violence in de-colonial struggles is primarily centered on exploring the nature of violence itself. In this sense, Fanon’s view of violence is primarily existential.
Fanon does not discuss tactics and as such The Wretched of the Earth cannot be viewed as offering practical guidance to guerrilla movements to the same extent that Mao’s military writings did, which were based on his own experience of guerrilla warfare against first the Japanese and then the Kuomintang. Rather, Fanon focuses on the nature of the colonial regime (which he views as inherently and systemically violent), and as such the necessity for violent struggle rather than political accommodation as necessary pre-requisites to independence.
Fanon’s justification of violence is rationalized by his analysis of European colonial rule, which he characterizes as inherently violent. In the opening lines of the Wretched of the Earth, Fanon declares that “decolonization is always a violent event….it reeks of red-hot cannonballs and bloody knives.” This notion of violence as an integral part of the colonial system is a central theme throughout the work, and Fanon addresses it repeatedly. Later on, Fanon notes that, “colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is naked violence and only gives in when confronted with greater violence.” Violence is justified, but only insofar as it is used to overthrow an inherently violent system.
Though it is not the focus of this paper, it is important to note that Fanon’s views on violent revolution stand in marked contrast with those of M. K. Gandhi, who argued that non-violence was the best means to overthrow colonial rule. For Gandhi, independence could only be gained through ‘internal self-control’. For his part, Fanon decried non-violence as, “an attempt to settle the colonial problem around the negotiating table”, thereby ensuring that a corrupted and co-opted colonial bourgeoisie merely replaced the old European overlords. Non-violence was a path to bourgeois siege oppression. Only through violent struggle could the masses free themselves from both forms of despotism.
However, that is not to say that Fanon glorifies violence even within the context of decolonization, and certainly not to the same extent as Jean-Paul Sartre does in his preface to The Wretched of the Earth, who declared that “violence, like Achilles’ spear, can heal the wounds it has inflicted”. For Sartre, violence is the ‘only means of historical change’. Even Hannah Arendt, whose book On Violence devotes a great deal of time to refuting what she describes as an “undeniable glorification of violence” in The Wretched of the Earth, recognized that Sartre went further than Fanon in justifying the virtues of violence.
Homi K. Bhabha goes further, and notes in his forward to The Wretched of the Earth that “the man [Fanon], deep down hated it [violence]”.Fanon is deeply conscious of the effects of such violent acts upon the individual psychosis; indeed the last section of The Wretched of the Earth, titled ‘Colonial War and Mental Disorders’, explores this theme in depth. As such, it is perhaps best to view Fanon’s philosophy of violence within the decolonization, in which violence is an inevitable part of the struggle for freedom given the nature of the system it is attempting to overthrow.
This notion that only a greater exertion of violence can overthrow a violent system is significant in relation to Fanon’s justification of violence as a cleansing force. Not only is violence a tool to be utilized in the struggle for political freedom and independence, but it is also the means by which a colonial subject frees himself psychologically from colonial rule and a colonial mindset.
“At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized from their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence”.
In this sense, Fanon is more clearly in line with Sartre. Yet, even though Fanon provides a powerful critique of colonialism, especially in respect in its inherent violent nature, and proceeds to rationalize violent struggle as the only means to overthrow a violent system, he does not explain how such a revolution is to be achieved. True, Fanon discusses at length the need for guerrilla operations and notes various guerrilla movements in Africa (most notable is his discussion of the FLN in Algeria), but he does not explain how such operations are to be achieved or how violence can to be applied as an instrument of war.
Given the absence in The Wretched of the Earth of any discussion on the application of violence, I believe Fanon’s theories of violence must be compared with the contemporary political thought of Mao Zedong, which I would argue during the 1960s and 1970s provided an equally attractive and more influential rationale for violence in de-colonial struggles.
Mao’s political thought was especially attractive to leftist organizations in European colonies during the 1960s and 1970s for numerous reasons, chief amongst them was the fact that Mao had successfully led the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to victory over the Chinese Nationalists and Japanese in the 1940s. As such, Mao’s writings on revolutionary struggle (most of which date from the period of the CCP’s guerrilla campaigns in the 1930s and 1940s) could be seen as offering practical guidance to other revolutionary movements around the world.