Decolonization—the liberation of a nation and the restoration of that nation to the people—will, according to Fanon, always involve violence. In the act of decolonization, one “species” of humankind is substituted by another, and the desire for decolonization is always present in the minds of the colonized. Conversely, fear of decolonization is always present in the minds of colonists. Decolonization cannot be accomplished through a “gentleman’s agreement,” as colonization itself occurred and continues to occur only through the use of violence. To decolonize a nation is to create new men and dismantle the “colonial situation.”
Right away, Fanon makes it clear that liberation cannot occur without violence, which is one of his major arguments throughout the book. The use of the word “species” harkens to the animal terms colonists use to describe the colonized, who the colonists believe are savage and bestial. Decolonization cannot occur through a “gentleman’s agreement,” or handshake, as it absolutely did not start this way. The expectation that the colonized must achieve liberation through nonviolent means reflects the double standards that plague colonialism.
The colonial world is divided into two different and separate worlds, and these worlds are separated by soldier barracks and police stations. Using “rifle butts and napalm,” military soldiers and police officers make sure that the colonized are kept out of the colonists’ world. These two worlds, Fanon writes, are not equal. In the colonists’ world, the streets are impeccably maintained, and no one ever goes hungry. The world of the colonized, however, “is a disreputable place inhabited by disreputable people,” where the people are hungry for food, clothes, light, and warmth. Thus, the colonized are envious people, and there is not one among them who does not wish to take the place of the colonist.
The division of the colonial world highlights the oppression of the colonized people. Control is taken by violent, military means, and there are frequent casualties among the colonized. The colonized people are further oppressed through the poor conditions in which they are forced live. They are completely neglected while the colonists live the high life. This passage also reflects the basic prejudice of colonialism: the colonized are considered “disreputable” simply because they are oppressed.
These two different worlds are likewise inhabited by two different “species,” and what divides these two “species” is race. The “ruling species”—the colonists—are white foreigners. These white people are “the others,” and they come from a different land than the colonized, who are the indigenous population. This colonial world, Fanon says, “is a Manichaean world,” where the colonist makes the colonized into the epitome of evil. To the colonists, the colonized have no values or ethics and their culture and traditions are the mark of evil. This mark of evil has been answered with Christianity—the “white man’s Church”—which, instead of calling the colonized to God, has called them to the ways of their oppressors. Manichaeanism serves to dehumanize the colonized; they are reduced to animals and referred to by the colonists in “bestiary” terms.
Fanon again uses the word “species,” which further reflects animal terms such as “bestiary” used to dehumanize colonized people. Of course, by referring to the colonists as a “species,” too, Fanon implies that the colonists are in fact the animals. Fanon’s use of the word “other” here also upends traditional use of the word. Typically, the colonized are viewed as “other,” because they are something other than the colonist. But here, Fanon makes the colonist the “other,” which effectively dismantles the colonial situation. Fanon’s description of the colonial world as a “Manichaean world” reflects the absolute racism of colonialism, and Christianity, the “white man’s Church,” further perpetuates this racist worldview.
During decolonization, Fanon writes, whenever the colonized begin to resist the colonists and rise up, they are always told to “be reasonable.” The colonized are cited morality and ethics, and they are told that their revolution should not be one of “regression.” The colonized are forced to embrace white morals, but for colonized subjects, to be a moralist means only to break with the violence of the colonialism. After decolonization, the colonists are welcome to coexist with the colonized, but the colonists usually leave once they discover that “the last [has] become the first.”
Fanon frequently describes decolonization as “the last becom[ing] the first,” which again dismantles the colonial situation. In overcoming oppression, the colonized are no longer at the mercy of the colonists. Fanon’s use of words such as “reasonable” and “regression” are highly ironic, as they highlight the fact that there is nothing "reasonable” about colonialism and that regressing beyond the violence and immorality of it seems quite impossible.
During decolonization, many colonized intellectuals have modified the demand that the last become the first and have rushed to fill important positions, such as administrators and experts. The colonized masses see this move as nepotism, and it causes them to question the very point of independence. The colonialist bourgeoisie has convinced colonized intellectuals that Western values are supreme, Fanon says, but those values have nothing to do with the actual struggles of the colonized. During true decolonization, the superstructure that the colonized intellectuals have borrowed from the colonialist bourgeoisie is destroyed.
As the colonized intellectuals often take the place of the colonialist bourgeoisie after decolonization, the channels and oppression of colonialism remain intact, even in the official absence of the colonial power. This is known as neocolonialism, and Fanon argues that it is just as bad as colonialism. He goes deeper into the implications of neocolonialism later in the book, arguing that it is the absolute enemy of decolonization despite initially seeming like progress in the right direction.
The colonialist bourgeoisie has convinced the colonized intellectuals that they must exert individualism and that there is wealth and power in thought; however, Fanon says, this theory is false. Comradery and brotherhood are forbidden by the colonialist bourgeoisie for a reason: during decolonization, the colonized intellectual will find power in the people and the notion of meetings and assemblies. The interest of all colonized people, Fanon asserts, is in the collective—either everyone is saved, or no one is. When decolonization occurs where the struggle for independence has yet to make sufficient impact, colonized intellectuals hold fast to the values of the colonialist bourgeoisie, creating anger and violence among the colonized.
Fanon ultimately argues that true decolonization can only occur if the people band together and, most importantly, strip the bourgeoisie of their power. Just as the best interests of the colonists have nothing to do with the best interests of the colonized, the bourgeoisie do not accurately represent the people, and what is in their best interest is not in the best interest of the nation as a whole. A nation must be driven by and for the majority—in this case the peasants—not the minority bourgeoisie.
To assimilate to the culture of their oppressors—the colonists—the colonized intellectuals have had to assimilate to colonialist bourgeoisie thinking and are thus always in danger of becoming “demagogues.” The colonized intellectual is a “mimic man,” but the masses do not recognize colonialist bourgeoisie thought. The colonized intellectual easily forgets the purpose of decolonization—to defeat colonialism—and they forget the main question fueling it: “Bread and land: how do we go about getting bread and land?” This question, Fanon says, may seem limited and narrow, but it is the best working model for decolonization.
Decolonization is simple: get back the nation and find a way to sustain the people. “Bread and land” are the absolute bare bones of this struggle. A “demagogue” is a political leader who uses exploitation and prejudice (like the colonists) to rule. By becoming demagogues, the colonized intellectuals become the oppressors in more ways than one. Thus, the intellectual is a “mimic man,” following suit after the example set by the colonialists.
The Manichaeanism of colonial society is left intact during decolonization, only the colonists are the evil ones. The colonized are “penned in” by colonial society, and the only place they are free is in their dreams. Each night the colonized run and jump freely, building muscles and aggressive energy, but the only place they can release this aggression during waking hours is on their own people. This aggression pits black against black, Fanon says, and places the colonized subject is a continual state of tension. The colonized must always be on guard and be careful not to step out of line, and they are always presumed guilty by the colonists. Yet the colonized do not believe they are guilty and do not accept the colonists as an authority, so they are, understandably, always tense.
Again, Fanon’s use of the word “penned in” connotes a racist and dehumanizing colonial interpretation of the colonized, as it hearkens to animals and cages. The colonists believe the colonized are savages, thus they pen them in. Fanon repeatedly mentions the tense muscles of the colonized individual, and these muscles are a symbol of the stress and violence of colonialism, but they also represent the colonized people’s dedication to and readiness for decolonization. They are tense, which obviously suggests anger, but they are also ready to rise and fight for their dignity and right to exist.
In the colonial world, Fanon says, the emotions of the colonized are “kept on edge like a running sore flinching from a caustic agent,” and their bodies respond with spastic muscles. To understand the colonial world, one must understand dance and possession, which is the way in which the colonized relax their tense muscles. The dance circle brings the people together, and liberation and a sense of community are expressed in their movements, which releases the aggression stored in the muscles. In addition to dance, muscular tension is also released during deep possession—organized séances that include stories of vampirism and zombies—but these rituals are lost during decolonization.
Fanon contends that much of the preexisting culture is lost during decolonization. Nation building drastically changes the national consciousness, which means that culture will change radically as well. Fanon is a medical doctor—a practicing psychiatrist—and medical lingo is frequently incorporated into the book, such as his description of the emotions of the colonized like a “running sore flinching from a caustic agent.” Fanon again mentions the muscles, where these emotions seem to be stored.
During the colonial period, political parties and the intellectual and business elite offer ways for the colonized to express the aggressiveness stored in their muscles. But, Fanon says, while their principles may be strong, they refrain from actually doing anything. Their attempts to express their aggressiveness amount only to talk. Political parties of the colonized ask the colonists for more power but get nothing. Nationalist political parties are supported mostly by urban voters—like teachers, tradespeople, and store owners—and they profit from the colonial situation. The colonized intellectual wants to assimilate to the colonizer’s world and compete with the colonists, Fanon writes, but the colonized masses don’t want to complete with the colonist. Instead, the colonized masses want to take the place of the colonists.
In order to completely dismantle colonialism and challenge the colonial situation, colonial thinking must be eliminated. The new nation cannot be realized in a Western image and ideal, as it does not exist in the West and the same rules don’t apply. In taking the place of the colonists, instead of competing with them, Western thoughts and ideas are eliminated by the colonized masses. To maintain the colonial situation as the colonized intellectuals want (according to their Western education and political views) does not challenge the colonial situation, it merely modifies it, allowing it to continue in another form.
The peasantry is most often left out of nationalist political parties, but according to Fanon, only the peasantry is truly revolutionary. In a colonial situation, the colonist bourgeoisie convince the colonized intellectuals and business elite that nonviolence is in everyone’s best interest, but nonviolence is ineffective in decolonization. Colonialism “is naked violence,” Fanon says, and it “only gives in when confronted with greater violence.”
Fanon again draws attention to violence and the fact that colonialism cannot be overcome in a peaceful way. His argument is simple: that which is violent only responds to violence. Fanon’s theories on decolonization and overcoming oppression were quite popular during the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. during the 1960s. Notably, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers were proponents of Fanon’s theories.
When colonization began, one military power could occupy large stretches of land, but the struggle of the colonized today is a different fight. Capitalism in the early days viewed the colonies as a source of raw materials to be processed and sold on the European market; however, the colonial population today has become a consumer market. Moderate nationalist political parties of the colonized try to come to a solution with colonists that protect the interests of both sides, and their methods are generally peaceful. They utilize work stoppages, demonstrations, and boycotts that put pressure on colonists and allow the colonized to expend some of their pent-up aggressiveness, but, Fanon says, they are still ultimately under the control of the colonists.
The demonstrations and boycotts are ultimately unsuccessful because they are peaceful. Violence is needed for successful decolonization, Fanon insists, and anything less basically amounts to a waste of time. Fanon implies several times that capitalism is needed in a developing nation. While it is most certainly damaging—the colonized people have been used as slaves to satisfy capitalist greed—capitalism is much like violence as it is wholly necessary to decolonize and grow as a nation.
The colonist bourgeoisie calm the colonized with religion, and the colonized are given saints who forgave trespassing as examples of heroes. The colonized elite, who run the nationalist political parties and themselves come from freed slaves, appeal to the slaves but do not mobilize them. There are some rebels in the nationalist parties, Fanon says, but they upset the party as a whole and are usually rejected and hounded publically until they move to the country. There, the rejected politician has no trouble gaining the support of the peasant masses. Political leaders give speeches using national language, like “We blacks, we Arabs,” and this gives the people the idea that it is time to do something, but the rise of a new nation and the removal of the colonial system are only possible if the colonized violently rebel against the colonists.
The colonist giving the colonized examples of heroes who forgave trespassing is subtle brainwashing. Of course the colonists want the colonized to be forgiving people, especially in terms of trespassing, since the colonizers quite literally trespass on the land of the colonized. Again, Fanon implies that liberation will not be won with talk. There is no way to convince the colonialist power with language, even if that language strongly represents the nation and its people.
Colonized people know that violence is “atmospheric,” Fanon writes, and that it breaks out from time to time, so they identify their enemy—the colonists—and focus all their hate and anger on them. The isolated colonists, like those on farms, become worried and demand the authorities do something to ensure their safety. The colonial authorities arrest a few nationalist leaders and demonstrate military power to intimidate, and all of this makes everyone “trigger-happy.” Oppression strengthens national consciousness, and violence is the only solution. The colonized masses believe that independence can only be achieved through violent means because the people of the Third World “are in the process of shattering their chains.”
The people of the Third World are “shattering their chains” because they will not be slaves to the West anymore. For centuries Europe has taken those from the Third World, shackled them in chains, and sold them into slavery against their will. This atrocity is the epitome of violence, and it can’t be overcome with anything less than violence. This violence is also reflected in Fanon’s language. The violence is “atmospheric,” meaning it is in the air—essentially everywhere—which makes the people “trigger-happy” and ready to fight at all times.
However, the masses of developing countries who have achieved independence believe “they have been robbed.” In fact, Fanon claims, for over 90 percent of the population of developing countries, independence does not bring change immediately. In newly liberated countries, those in power spend most of their time defending their borders from threats, and the “atmospheric” violence of colonial times is thus still felt in national politics.
Fanon later implies that the colonized have been “robbed” by the West, particularly Europe. Europe is exceedingly wealthy, especially when compared to the Third World. But that wealth, Fanon contends, was essentially stolen from the Third World in the form of people, culture, and national resources.
The colonized, who are completely supported by socialist countries, will use any weapon to fight the colonists, including the Cold War. The Americans closely guard international capitalism, and they recommend that Europe decolonize. But the greatest threat, according to the colonists, is socialism, and the colonized masses can be easily infiltrated and contaminated by socialist propaganda. Therefore, capitalism has everything to lose if there are national conflicts, and the colonized people know all about the imperatives of international politics.
America wants Europe to decolonize not because it is the right thing to do, but because decolonizing is better for the current global economic climate. Politically speaking, it is better for Europe to keep the Third World under control and away from socialism. The colonized individuals know that they are little more than pawns for the rest of the world, and they use this knowledge to their benefit whenever possible.
Violence does not intimidate the colonized. They have been overtaken and subsequently held by violent means, and they perfectly understand violence. The colonized have adapted to a world of nothing but violence, and they are not frightened by violence on a global scale. The colonized, Fanon says, is “a political creature in the most global sense of the term.” Independence may have given colonized countries freedom and dignity, but there has not yet been time for them to build a new society or establish new values. Newly independent colonized countries are in an “indeterminate state,” which is why political leaders in such countries maintain neutrality.
The colonized individual is a “political creature in the most global sense of the term” because they have been created by everyone else’s politics. Newly independent nations are “indeterminate” because it is not yet known what they will be. The postcolonial situation is an entirely new situation to which old precolonial views and thoughts cannot be applied. Everything must born anew in the postcolonial period, Fanon argues, which takes time. Thus, Fanon implies that the suffering of colonialism will be felt for years to come.
Neutrality, Fanon says, “consist of taking handouts left and right,” and it is a system that has been created by the Cold War. With Neutrality, an underdeveloped country can receive economic aid from either of the two Blocs, but it cannot expect that either Bloc will come to their aid in any other way. Thus, underdeveloped countries have no real interest in the Cold War.
Neutrality during the Cold War was often seen as “taking handouts,” but Fanon argues this isn’t the case with the Third World, since the West owes the Third World more than could ever be repaid. Still, the West begrudgingly gives to the Third World and believes that they should just be thankful for the “handout.”
Neutrality makes the citizens of Third World countries behave defiantly. They refuse to compromise in any way, and this makes Western countries nervous. Third World countries have no money and no troops—it makes sense that they would be ignored in a global war, but instead they are flattered. “Everyone wants a piece of them,” Fanon says.
Both the East and West want to gain the support of the Third World so they can just continue to exploit them in a slightly different—but essentially the same—way. “Everyone wants a piece of them,” Fanon says, which is ironic because the West, namely Europe, already has most of them.
Returning to the violence between the colonists and the colonized, Fanon says, this violence is an armed conflict, and it can break out wherever colonialism is practiced. An armed struggle means that the colonized have put their faith in violence alone, and it is the same language they have learned from the colonists. The colonists have long since used violence as the only way to communicate with the colonized, and the colonized respond in kind. The colonized have always known that colonialism can only end in a violent way, and they are completely prepared for it.
Fanon repeatedly hammers home how important violence is to the struggle for nationhood. He doesn’t just imply it; he explicitly says it time and time again. This gained Fanon a bit of a reputation among intellectuals—especially white intellectuals—as a proponent of violence. However, Fanon does imply that since those white intellectuals have not experienced the violence and oppression of colonialism firsthand, they can’t possibly understand the absolute and ever-present threat of violence that is colonialism.
To the colonized, violence is the only response. For instance, in Algeria, nearly all the men who rallied support for the national struggle were wanted by the French police, and some were even sentenced to death. The national struggle itself is rooted in and works toward the death of the colonist. The colonized are liberated only through violence. The violence of the colonists and the counterviolence of the colonized have a reciprocal relationship, and once the colonized engage in counterviolence, they must expect police and military reprisals. These reprisals, however, are incredibly unequal, and the colonists’ violence outweighs any violence exerted by the colonized.
The Algerian War of Independence, which Fanon mentions several times, lasted eight years. By the end of the war, Algeria was free, but they had lost nearly 300,000 Algerians, and another 2,000,000 had been displaced or fled the country. Conservative numbers of French and other European losses during the war are around 25,000. Clearly, the force and violence are incredibly unequal, but the viewpoint of the Manichaean world is that the colonized is automatically evil and in the wrong.
During any armed struggle there is what is known as “the point of no return.” In Algeria, this point was reached in 1955. This is the point when the colonists realize that things cannot continue to go on and must change, but the colonized are prepared to keep going. To the colonized, any reciprocal violence they are forced to suffer at the hands of colonists is to be expected. Whenever the colonized are beaten or their wives are raped or killed, they do not complain. They know that there can be no real justice in a colonized country, and they do not expect it. With the colonist came the death of indigenous culture and society, and for the colonized, life can only be realized through the death of the colonist.
Again, Fanon’s assessment is very bleak and violent. Algerians are killed every day under colonial rule. So, Fanon therefore asks, shouldn’t violence be expected in overcoming that rule? The fact that the colonized expect violence and don’t complain speaks to the dire nature of their position. Their everyday lives are unimaginable to many Europeans or Westerners, who would likely be the first to react in a profoundly violent way if their own existence and dignity were threatened in the same way.
After the armed struggle comes nation building, and it, too, is steeped by violence. During colonial times, the colonized had to fight against oppression; after independence, the formerly colonized must fight poverty, illiteracy, and other problems of underdevelopment, like hunger and illness. It is a never-ending struggle, and the violence of the colonized unifies them. Violence has a cleansing power on an individual level. It rids the indigenous people of the inferiority complex imposed on them by the colonists, and it gives them confidence.
Here, Fanon implies that viewing violence as a wholly bad thing is a Western ideal. To the Third World, after independence is won through violent means, this violence serves a positive purpose. Fanon later writes about the mental health issues associated with colonialism, and this “cleansing” violent uprising is a way to treat and quell this psychological stress. In many, if not all, of the medical cases Fanon presents, colonialism is the direct cause of symptoms. Here, that causative agent is removed.