What do Algerians think of Frantz Fanon

Award winner 2014: "Concerning Violence - Nine Scenes from the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense"

Andreas Eckert

Prof. Dr. Andreas Eckert is professor for the history of Africa at the Humboldt University in Berlin and heads the International Humanities College "Work and Curriculum Vitae in Global Historical Perspective", which is funded by the BMBF.

Call for violence or a pointed analysis of colonialism? Frantz Fanon's main work The damned of this earth After its publication in 1961, it advanced to become a pamphlet of the anti-colonial left and was rediscovered from the 1990s in connection with post-colonial theories.

Still from "Concerning Violence" (& copy Lennart Malmer)

The book hit like a bomb: In December 1961 it was first published by the left-wing Parisian publisher Maspéro Les damnés des la terre, in German: The damned of this earth. The text, half social-psychological analysis of colonialism, half political campaign script, advanced to become a central revival text of the anti-colonial left in many parts of the world. In the ten years after its publication, the book saw eight editions in France, four in the United States and three in Great Britain. In Germany it was first published in 1966 by the renowned Suhrkamp Verlag, three years later in the "rororo aktuell" series, which was widespread at the time and was surrounded by a progressive spirit.

The author, Frantz Fanon, was, as one of his biographers wrote, a man "with many identities, many talents and many occupations". Born in 1925 on the French-ruled Caribbean island of Martinique, he volunteered for the French army in 1944 to fight against Nazi Germany, and had to experience that as a black soldier he was not treated as an equal by the white French. After the Second World War, he studied medicine and philosophy in France and went to Algeria at the beginning of the 1950s, where he worked for a few years as chief physician in a psychiatric clinic. After the outbreak of the Algerian War of Independence, he joined the party in 1956 Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN / National Liberation Front), for which he was temporarily en route as envoy. However, he did not live to see Algeria's independence. Just three days after the publication of The damned of this earth he died of leukemia in a Washington hospital.

The damned of this earth: mobilization and warning at the same time

Never before had the process of decolonization and the tasks of the "Third World" been brought to the fore in such a radical way. The goal of the "Third World", said Fanon, "must be to solve the problems that Europe has not been able to solve ... So, my comrades in arms, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies that Mankind expects something different from us than this grumpy and obscene imitation ... For Europe, for ourselves and for mankind, comrades, we have to create a new skin, develop a new way of thinking, a new person on their feet put."

The approaching death may explain the existentialist, admonishing and haunted tone of the book, which is conceived as a kind of legacy to Africa, to some extent. Fanon borrowed the title from the "Internationale", the battle song of the socialist labor movement: "Wake up, damned of this earth, ...". The "damned" were no longer the workers of Europe, but the oppressed colonized. She wanted to mobilize Fanon with his book and warn against possible undesirable developments, against neocolonialism and new dictatorships. Incidentally, he thought little of the anti-colonial parties. Their activity is exhausted, he criticized, "in a series of philosophical-political treatises on the right of peoples to self-determination, on the human right to dignity and bread and in the uninterrupted affirmation of the principle of 'one person - one vote' never on the necessity of the trial of strength, because its goal is not the radical upheaval of the system. " The working class, according to Fanon, had become a labor aristocracy that was only out to gain the privileges of white workers. He argues that the peasants and the lumpen proletariat alone are the true freedom fighters; in his famous formulation they were the last who would be the first.

Violence as an antidote to colonialism

"To kill a European means to hit two birds at once ... What is left is a dead person and a free person." Last but not least, such statements have reading from The damned of this earth as instructions for use for the armed liberation struggle. The irony, however, is that this sentence does not come from Fanon himself, but from the foreword to the book. The angry lines were written by none other than Jean-Paul Sartre. Obviously, as the essayist Lothar Baier once mockingly remarked, many have never got beyond reading Sartre's preface and have adopted the rigorous exaggeration of Fanon's theses made there. Its argumentation was uncompromising, but more nuanced and subtle than in the Sartrian abbreviation. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Fanon ultimately propagated violence as the only effective anti-colonial antidote. On the other hand, he explicitly distanced himself from the idea of ​​human dignity as represented in the West: "The colonized has never heard of that ideal person. What he has seen on his soil is that he can be arrested, beaten and starved with impunity. " For him, believing in legal and human rights promises was just a lazy arrangement with the colonial oppressors.

Fanon's view of violence as a counter-instrument to the power of colonialism has inspired a number of other African intellectuals. Above all, however, it addressed intellectuals in the West who did not have to bear the consequences of this violence. Fanon described colonialism in this context as a Manichean world: one of the most common, also in the film "Concerning Violence - Nine Scenes from the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense" (Sweden / USA / Denmark / Finland 2014, D: Göran Hugo Olsson) quoted sentences The damned of this earth reads: "The colonized world is a two-part world." But he missed the ambivalences of the colonial order, the attempts and possibilities of the colonized to deal with the interference of the colonial rulers, even to use them for themselves. Sure, Fanon's criticism of the nationalists of his generation who only pursue their own interests turned out to be far-sighted. Nevertheless, his ideas often provided the legitimation for state projects that by no means served the libertarian goals Fanon had in mind. The government of Guinea, for example, took Fanon's approach that only the true anti-colonialists had a place in the political arena, as an opportunity to ban trade unions, parties and civil society groups.

Fanon's analysis today

Largely forgotten in the 1980s, Fanon has since made a major comeback, especially in the field of post-colonial studies. But to this day, his work is often torn out of its historical context and interpreted as either a justification for violence or as a forerunner of post-colonial theories. Incidentally, the more recent reception shows Fanon's first work published in 1952 Black skin, white masks (Peau noire, masques blancs) is becoming increasingly important and increasingly interprets the book as one of the successor work The damned of this earth equivalent reference text. In Black skin, white masks Fanon unfolds a differentiating phenomenology of racism that incorporates body and language, which in fact - despite its problematic aspects - is still worth considering. And in this book he offers by no means outdated perspectives on colonialism, which is based on highly problematic "values": "Although the equality of people is proclaimed in the name of intelligence and philosophy, it is in their name that one resolves its extermination."