The Wretched of the Earth | Study Guide

Frantz Fanon

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The Wretched of the Earth | Chapter 3 : The Pitfalls of National Consciousness | Summary

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Summary

This chapter demonstrates the many ways decolonization can turn into neocolonialism. Neocolonialism means the colonial power is still in charge, although on paper the new nation is independent. (In the first chapter Frantz Fanon gives an example of neocolonialism in the president of the then-newly-independent country of Gabon. That president had said, "Between Gabon and France nothing has changed; everything goes on as before.") In this chapter Fanon also describes the right way for the new government to rule.

According to Fanon, the people holding the nation back are the educated urban professionals. The author refers to this class as the "national bourgeoisie." They are doctors, lawyers, and clerks. Fanon notes they are not business owners, but pampered employees. Once the colonizer is overthrown, this class sees itself as the natural one to dominate the new nation's government. But the national bourgeoisie are pitifully small and cannot sustain this role. Moreover, the "innermost vocation" of this national bourgeoisie is "to keep in the running and to be part of the racket." Rather than build the new nation, the national bourgeoisie want to step into the settler's now-empty place. They do not want to develop the nation's industrial capacity, for example. They are content to let the nation go on growing cash crops for Europe and providing a tourist trade (including sex tourism). As Fanon writes, the national bourgeoisie "take on the role of manager ... and set up [the] country as the brothel of Europe."

The national bourgeoisie also indulge in promoting the interests of their own ethnic groups. Fanon agrees it can be liberating to insist on an all-African or all-Arab ruling class. But when the national bourgeois does this to hold onto the settler's power, the call to Africanize the ruling class becomes distorted into ethnic favoritism and tribalism, "a heartbreaking return to chauvinism in its most bitter and detestable form." In this chaotic situation the bourgeoisie may try to unify the nation through a strong leader, but this quickly devolves into a dictatorship. The dictator's true purpose is "perpetuating the domination of the bourgeoisie." Because the colonial economic structures do not change, the poverty of colonial times continues and even worsens: "The immense majority ... continue to die of starvation."

Fanon sets out his proposals. The peasants should be given a real political education, not just speechifying and agitation. The party's leaders should avoid the capital. Fanon believes centralizing government and business in the capital strengthens the national bourgeoisie, the very class holding the nation back. Therefore, Fanon calls for a truly decentralized nation that does not ignore the countryside: "There must be decentralization in the extreme." The "interior, the backcountry" should become "the most privileged part of the country." Ultimately, the new nation must be governed "by the people and for the people, for the outcasts and by the outcasts."

Analysis

Frantz Fanon makes a compelling case for the self-interest of the national bourgeoisie. He also brings to the workings of neocolonialism a novelistic eye for nuance. Here he describes one nationalist bourgeois who wants to profit after liberation has been won: "His honesty, which is his soul's true bent, crumbles away little by little." It is easy to cynically imagine a dishonest person profiting from the nation's misery. But Fanon says this man's "soul's true bent" is toward honesty. In describing the decay of the man's soul, Fanon displays a subtle sense for tragedy.

At this point in the narrative of the revolution Fanon is no longer describing what happens every time. The formula for much of the rest of the book seems to be: given these conditions, here is what happens. For example, given the violent domination of a colonized people, violent overthrow will follow. But by 1961, when Fanon was writing, there was a great deal of empirical evidence of the many ways the newly independent nations could falter. Thus, at the end of the chapter Fanon is describing what should happen.

Fanon's solution for curbing the influence of the national bourgeoisie is reasonable and mild: keep national government out of the big city, and integrate the rural population into government. In the early years of the United States, just after the American Revolution (1775–83), a similar principle was followed for the siting of national and state capitals. However, other revolutions have proposed far harsher solutions, with disastrous results. In 1976–77 in Cambodia, dictator Pol Pot (1925–98) understood the importance of the countryside for revolution. He had people transported to work in the agricultural fields, and those who resisted were executed. (Over the course of Pol Pot's regime, from 1975 to 1979, it is estimated 1.5 million Cambodians were either executed or died from starvation or overwork.) Also, in the late 1960s and early 1970s China's Chairman Mao Zedong (1893–1976) sought to reduce urban elitism, root out bourgeois infiltrators in the party, and promote rural agricultural production. He did this through a movement called the Cultural Revolution. The movement involved verbal and physical attacks on intellectuals and cultural workers, and forced labor in the countryside. These disasters cannot be laid at Fanon's feet, but they are examples of where similar ideas have led.

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