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The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
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The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

by Frantz Fanon

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Fans of Conrad, Morrison, Friere. Lovers of [Things Fall Apart], [Les Misérables], [The Hunger Games]. Definers of postcolonialism, social justice, revolution. Members of the military, political parties, life itself.

Think on the lies you live by.

The parameters do not matter. Neither do your excuses. If you are for peace, you are for it completely, or you are not for it at all. If you condone violence in any amount, the memorial, the dramatizations, the history of your people, you condone it all. When it comes to crimes against humanity, there is no compartmentalization.

A country colonizes another. The colonizer breaks down the people, breaks down the culture, and bleeds the country dry. The colonized develops a pecking order, a few imbibing the parasitic infection to an extraordinary degree while the rest succumb to violence, starvation, madness. The colonizer manipulates these unavoidable results of unholy oppression into an argument, a Western science proving the natural degeneracy of the colonized, this concept of 'science' having as much truth to it as this concept of 'Western.' Better to call it 'Atlantic', the northeastern corner countries of this seascape infecting every other country within reach.

The native must realize that colonialism never gives anything away for nothing.

Nor will we acquiesce in the help for underdeveloped countries being a program of “sisters of charity.” This help should be the ratification of a double realization: the realization by the colonized peoples that it is their due, and the realization by the capitalist powers that in fact they must pay.


Independence! Independence? Independence is the colonial country making certain concessions to certain people in return for certain benefits. Independence is those colonized souls, infected with Atlantic ideologies and addicted to a level of life standards, choosing the bourgeois over their country as a whole, assuming a well paying part of the colonizers' remaining structure and descending into depraved senility accordingly. Rich is rich and poor is poor, and in times of revolution the contempt of urban academic for rural masses is just as misguided and virulent. The result is a stunted obscenity pandering at the colonizers' ideal; there is no true independence without the entirety of the people.

That famous dictatorship, whose supporters believe that it is called for by the historical process and consider it an indispensable prelude to the dawn of independence, in fact symbolizes the decision of the bourgeois caste to govern the underdeveloped country first with the help of the people, but soon against them.

Because it is bereft of ideas, because it lives by its heredity incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from the point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe.


White is white and black is black, until you realize it is not a question of racism but an endemic of the comfort of the individual versus the blossoming of the people. What is at stake here is not "What do I have to lose?", but "What am I losing?". The question is not of violence or non-violence, unless you apply it to the whole spectrum of history and look just why exactly we have France and the U.S. and how morality is a pitiful question when put into the context of that next mouthful of bread. Neither is the former colonies catching up to the colonizers the solution, for the latter only exceeds in terms of capacity, in both speed and completeness, for obliteration of other and self.

In the colonial context the settler only ends his work of breaking in the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man's values.

The passion with which native intellectuals defend the existence of their national culture may be a source of amazement; but those who condemn this exaggerated passion are strangely apt to forget that their own psyche and their own selves are conveniently sheltered behind a French or German culture which has given full proof of its existence and which is uncontested.


Fact: countries that have progressed beyond Middle Age levels did so through brutal exploitation. Fact: countries that were exploited will return to near Middle Age levels if all colonizer influence is cut off. Fact: the fact that Germany is back on its feet while the 'Third World' continues to exist is not a matter of justice, but international economic dependencies. Fact: 'First World' inhabitants may have more nipples to suck, but that is a matter of luck, not sociocultural fortitude or their health as a human being. Fact: the slogan of the 'Western' world is torture, and torture includes brainwashing.

They find out on the spot that all the piles of speeches on the equality of human beings do not hide the commonplace fact that the seven Frenchmen killed or wounded at Col due Sakamody kindles the indignation of all civilized consciences, whereas the...massacre of whole populations - which had merely called forth the Sakamody ambush as a reprisal - all this is of not the slightest importance.

If your country has never been discredited on all levels of life, you don't understand. If your history has never been castrated and left to desiccate for centuries on end, you don't understand. If your existence has never been deemed by scientific communities to be a degenerate one in need of taming, you don't understand. If you have lived with hope longer than without, you don't understand. If you have given up your right to politically participate on any level due to middling inconvenience or panderings at anarchy, you will never, ever, understand.

To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean, making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people.

Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you really want them to understand.


If you don't understand that 'First World' and 'Third World' are labels signifying nothing but a world that likes to pit one lie against the other, if you don't understand the relationship between the oppression abroad and the violence at home, if you are willing to take the amputation of your individual satisfactions from the communal good lying down, you are doomed.

Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.

A government or a party gets the people it deserves and sooner or later a people gets the government it deserves.


Don't tell me you believe in the future. Tell me why, and how, and just what you are going to do about it.

"In your opinion, what should we have done?"
"I don't know. But you are a child and what is happening concerns grown-up people."
"But they kill children too..."
"That is no reason for killing your friend."
"Well, kill him I did. Now you can do what you like."
( )
1 vote Korrick | Mar 5, 2014 |
Well, I pity the poor revolutionaries who try to use this as a "handbook." It's not What is to be Done, or Kwame Nkrumah, or even Steal This Book. It's sort of J'Accuse, I guess, if we must compare it to a Western analogue (if I was less ignorant I'd probably be able to come up with something more appropriate), but what it is mostly is an unfocused and inspired multi-part essay that ranges over as much ground as the author needs not to prove the truth of an argument but to light you up, to drum up some fucking energy and point you in a direction. It's not what Sartre called it in the controversial introduction, a hymn to violence--the first section does insist, aggressively, on the need for violence in decolonization struggle--and given the experience Fanon had in Algeria, who can blame him--but he's not just pumping up the crowd, he has many real ideas, if broad and sweeping ones.

First deserving mention is the extended discussion of the peasantry and the intellectual returning to the hills, the rejection not only of the status of second-rate Western humans accorded Africans under Cold War postcolonization but also of the first countervanguard that came with Negritude, which is sort of eulogized as a beautiful rallying cry but one inadequate to the spirit of the times, incapable of making room in its subaltern and undifferentiated approach to blackness for the real particularity of national experience. From a twenty-first century perspective, when we're all hopefully getting a more sophisticated sense of how progressive movements everywhere need to reflect the tribal (conceived broadly and absolutely not excluding former colonizing societies) and the local, this seems important and true. But in Fanon, it descends ever so quickly into Pure Land proto-fascist stuff, and even if you understand how that comes to be and recognize that Black Star Africa was always a mirage, it doesn't seem clear if Fanon realizes that what he's talking about is precluding not only the good outcome but also the moderate one--that he's plumping for a Cultural Revolution at best and a Tutsi genocide at worst.

Part of that is maybe that he doesn't understand the important difference between the repression-for-profit that goes on while the Europeans are there and the repression-for-power-for-power's sake on the part of the homegrown elites that goes on after the Europeans go home. Fanon basically says that it's all the same repressive structures in place and a piratical colon class in a classic colonial arrangement or a frothy scum of local sociopaths in a neocolonial configuration with the former colonial power are six-one/half-dozen-the-other. And you can see how it would seem that way in the midst of the Algerian conflict. But the fact is the Europeans did cut and run when it got expensive enough, in blood and treasure but also in their precious precious humanistic image of themselves, and it just took them some years and way too much killing to get it through their heads. They do not deserve credit for this, but it is a fact. Whereas, as we've seen a lot of this year in the "Arab Spring," your Qaddafis, your Mugabes, your Amins, either hang on till the bitterest end or leave only when it's their ass on the line. When Tripoli is home, you stay in Tripoli and fight, even, or maybe especially, if you're the worst guy.

These blind spots are perhaps a bit more suprising because Fanon's general class analysis is so good--the difference between the genuine national bourgeoisie fulfilling its historic mission with an excelsior-sense of great works and uncharted horizons, and a colonial pseudo-bourgeoisie that make s its money off transactions, finance; conversely, the difference between a genuine national working class that in developed countries has fought for certain rights and won with bravery and action the reapportionment of some of the misappropriated wealth of the colonies, and a colonial situation in which the working class is functionally a technocratic class with its factory jobs and its lathe skills or whatever, and the abused lumpenpeasantry are left excluded, without recourse except to be exploited or, perhaps, awakened. Which awakening is a huge concern for Fanon, as noted above.

Without trying to make any of the ridiculous comparisons that this analogy might otherwise be mistaken to imply: a bloodsucking upper class that doesn't even produce anything anymore; a middle class selling out the dispossessed in the effort to protect its own small privilege; a great mass of dislocated people with no prospects and no protection, who hate those above them but have to struggle even to put themselves in the headspace to understand the true struggle; what does that sound like to you? To me it sounds like North America and the global society, circa 2011. We're obviously much better off materially, much less subject to arbitrary detention or torture or fear; but in the total breakdown of the social compact and the total lack even of class solidarity within the oppressed class, because everybody's looking out for themselves, it's right on. It terrifies me to think that the difference between Algiers in 1958 and Vancouver in 2011 might just be that we can hide from the reality of the matter better longer because of the prosperity that keeps the food in our belly and the jackboot away from our door (impossible to say how much of said prosperity stolen from the African?).

For us, like for them, the trick is to keep reminding ourselves who the enemy is and grant them no quarter, no co-operation. But it's scary! And I guess that's the difference between colonialism and the downtrodden status to which we are reverting: we can buy basic safety with our acquiescence; they couldn't and can't. Fanon, who was a clinical psychologist working with revolutionary fighters suffering from post-traumatic stress, knows this very well, and one of the most fascinating sections of the book are the case studies he presents. The language of "dislocated personalities" and so on is easily translated, and we see that exploitation brutalizes everyone, even the people who stay out of the way and go about their business and feel so worthless and guilty that one day they take a knife to their neighbour for looking at their wife. The experience of oppression damages the oppressed, and so we're back to violence again--in a sick society, all violence directed against the structures of that society is self-defence whether you're immediately threatened or not, because it's official society that's damaging you. And then the violence you engages in damages you as well. The colonized is the one against whom war is by definition always being waged, and--Fanon asserts based on his clinical work--fighting back is the least bad option. That's the sick logic of empire: it always reaches the point where violence, revolutionary violence, is the best option if anyone, imperialists included, is going to avoid being broken to bits inside. ( )
11 vote MeditationesMartini | Nov 16, 2011 |
I found this book rather disappointing, but my eyes did perk up a bit when I got to the excellent chapter on colonialism and mental illness, which provided a wealth of fascinating case studies. The conclusion that followed it was powerful as well. The book is worth picking up if only just for these sections. ( )
  owen1218 | Aug 22, 2010 |
An important part of my intellectual history. ( )
  Hanuman2 | Dec 16, 2007 |
The anti-colonial movements now sweeping across Africa and Asia have transformed world politics, creating a new Third World of the emergent countries. In this, their manifest, Frantz Fanon exposes the economic and psychological degradation of imperialism and points the way forward - by violence if necessary - to socialism.

This study of the Algerian revolution has served as a model for other liberation struggles. It is the key to today's politics - and it has itself made history.
1 vote BNR.RDB | Nov 27, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frantz Fanonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Farrington, ConstanceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Philcox, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sartre, Jean-PaulPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802141323, Paperback)

Frantz Fanon (1925-61) was a Martinique-born black psychiatrist and anticolonialist intellectual; The Wretched of the Earth is considered by many to be one of the canonical books on the worldwide black liberation struggles of the 1960s. Within a Marxist framework, using a cutting and nonsentimental writing style, Fanon draws upon his horrific experiences working in Algeria during its war of independence against France. He addresses the role of violence in decolonization and the challenges of political organization and the class collisions and questions of cultural hegemony in the creation and maintenance of a new country's national consciousness. As Fanon eloquently writes, "[T]he unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps."

Although socialism has seemingly collapsed in the years since Fanon's work was first published, there is much in his look into the political, racial, and social psyche of the ever-emerging Third World that still rings true at the cusp of a new century. --Eugene Holley, Jr.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:02 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Frantz Fanon was one of the twentieth century's most important theorists of revolution, colonialism, and racial difference, and this, his masterwork, is a classic alongside Orientalism and The Autobiography of Malcolm X." "The Wretched of the Earth is an analysis of the psychology of the colonized and their path to liberation. Bearing singular insight into the rage of colonized peoples and the role of violence in historical change, the book also incisively attacks postindependence disenfranchisement of the masses by the elite on one hand, and intertribal and interfaith animosities on the other. A veritable handbook of social reorganization for leaders of emerging nations, The Wretched of the Earth has had a major impact on civil rights, anticolonialism, and black-consciousness movements around the world. This new translation updates its language for a new generation of readers and its lessons are more vital now than ever."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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