Craig White's
Literature Courses


Frantz Fanon


Postcolonial Political Theorist


(originally titled "An Essay for the Disalienation of Blacks")


Fanon born 1925 to middle-class African and mixed-race parents in French island colony of Martinique.

During World War 2 naval troops from Vichy France on the island behaved abusively to islanders, reinforcing Fanon's anti-colonial inclinations and deepening his apprehension of colonial racism.

Fanon left Martinique to join French national army, served in France and Algeria (also French colony) before returning to Martinique to work on political campaign of friend and fellow author Aime Cesaire.

Returning to France, Fanon studied at Lyon (including Literature) and became an M.D. and psychiatrist with a special interest in culture.



In 1953 Fanon became Head of Psychiatry at Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria, where the next year the FLN (National Liberation Front) began a war for independence from France.

Meeting Algerian victims and French practitioners of torture led Fanon to resign his position and move to Tunisia to help organize and write for the Algerian resistance.

The provisional Algerian government made him Ambassador to Ghana, where he developed leukemia. In his dying months he dictated The Wretched of the Earth to his wife.

The book was published in Paris in the year of his death by the Existential philosopher and public intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre, who wrote an introduction.

Fanon died in Bethesda, Maryland while receiving treatment at the National Institute of Health, and was buried with honors in Algeria.


Emory U. Postcolonial Studies website biography of Fanon

Notes on and from The Wretched of the Earth

(Les Damnés de la Terre, 1961)

Points of interest:

  • Fanon was well-educated, but his voice speaks authentically and uncomfortablymore directly from experience—compared to later academic theorists of postcolonialism.

  • First-world academics reflexively support non-violent activism as represented by figures like Gandhi, King, Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyii, or movements like Civil / Human Rights, Boycotts or Sanctions, Occupy Wall Street, etc.

    • Fanon, however, posits the violent nature of colonialism, the invention of nonviolence by the western-educated colonized bourgeoisie, and the unifying power of violent combat on an emerging nation. 22-3, 42, 51

  • The Wretched of the Earth is a dialectical historical analysis of colonialism and decolonization written by a witness to French colonialism and an anti-colonial activist in two separate colonies, who also received education and training as a doctor and psychiatrist in France. Dialectics of race: 4-5, 6

    • "Dialectic" identifies Fanon with Marxist or Marxian discourse; other marked terms include struggle, bourgeoisie, masses, lumpenproletariat, historicization. 4-5

    • Fanon's other discursive tradition is psychoanalysis, employing terms like narcissism, psycho-affective, etc.

  • Western journalists, diplomats, and businessmen typically remark the "corruption" endemic to developing countries; Fanon traces this corruption to the undeveloped and uncapitalized nature of the post-independence national bourgeosie. 98, 117, 119

  • Since the colonized intellectuals and bourgeoisie are corrupted by continuing contact with colonists, revolutionary hope lies in the rural masses (as Marx sought revolution from industrial workers). 10-12; 66-7, 129-131

  • The idea of a "post-national" world is fashionable in our time of global capital, transnational migration, multinational corporations, regional trade agreements, and international environmental treaties, but Fanon is insistent on the nation as the foundation for cultural identity and humanistic development. 179
    (He doesn't confront the artificial nature of many postcolonial nations. His home nation of Martinique is an island, and Algeria has a reasonably long history of national consciousness plus some geographical unity.) 150

  • Humanism or humanization of economics and political life (in contrast to capital and extraction of resources): 55-6,

  • Redistribution of wealth: 55 (cf. Kincaid, Lucy, p. 73: " . . . if all those things she wanted to save in the world were saved, she might find herself in reduced circumstances.")

  • Latin America 101-2, 116-17

Literary applications?

The text's application to colonial or postcolonial literature is indirect or implicit, but it might criticize the dominance of postcolonial literature by the rising bourgeois intellectuals of colonized nations who attend First-World universities like Oxford, the Sorbonne, or Berkeley and write in European languages, and instead valorize authors who write in native languages or vernaculars from and for the masses.

The best-known author in this latter tradition may be Ngugi wa Thiong'o, author of A Grain of Wheat, written in English but criticizing the corruptions of African village bourgeoisie in Kenya during decolonization. Later in his career Ngugi stopped writing in English and instead wrote mostly in Kikuyu.

A paper included at the end of Wretched of the Earth applies more directly to the 20th-century pan-African literary movement of negritude, pioneered in part by Fanon's friend and mentor in Martinique, the poet-theorist Aime Cesaire. See pp. 150-1.

Otherwise The Wretched of the Earth stands as a work of literary art or power in its own right, especially given its author's validating experience as an activist in postcolonial struggles in the Caribbean and Africa.


2 Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is clearly an agenda for total disorder. But it cannot be accomplished by the wave of a magic wand, a natural cataclysm, or a gentleman’s agreement. Decolonization, we know, is an historical process. In other words, it can only be understood, it can only find its significance and become self-coherent insofar as we can discern the history-making movement which gives it form and substance. Decolonization is the encounter between two congenitally antagonistic forces that in fact owe their singularity to the kind of reification secreted and nurtured by the colonial situation. Their first confrontation was colored by violence and their cohabitation—or rather the exploitation of the colonized by the colonizer—continued at the point of the bayonet and under cannon fire. The colonist and the colonized are old acquaintances. And consequently the colonist is right when he says he “knows” them. It is the colonist who fabricated and continues to fabricate the colonized subject. The colonist derives his validity, i.e. his wealth, from the colonial system.

4-5 The “native” sector is not complementary to the European sector. The two confront each other, but not in the service of a higher unity. Governed by a purely Aristotelian logic, they follow the dictates of mutual exclusion. There is no conciliation possible, one of them is superfluous. The colonist’s sector is a sector built to last, all stone and steel. It’s a sector of lights and paved roads, where the trash cans constantly overflow with strange and wonderful garbage, undreamed–of leftovers. The colonists’s feet can never be glimpsed, except perhaps in the sea, but then you can never get close enough. They are protected by solid shoes in a sector where the streets are clean and smooth, without a pothole, without a stone. The colonist’s sector is a sated, sluggish sector, its belly is permanently full of good things. The colonist’s sector is a white folks’ sector, a sector of foreigners.

          The colonized’s sector, or at least the “native” quarters, the shanty town, the Medina [traditional, old, Non-European part of a North African Town], the reservation, is a disreputable place inhabited by disreputable people. You are born anywhere, anyhow. You die anywhere, from anything. It’s a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other, the shacks squeezed tightly together. The colonized’s sector is a famished sector, hungry for bread, meat, shoes, coal, and light. The colonized’s sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, a sector on its knees, a sector that is prostrate. It’s a sector of niggers, a sector of towelheads. The gaze that the colonized subject casts at the colonist’s sector is a look of lust, a look of envy. Dreams of possession. Every type of possession: of sitting at the colonist’s table and sleeping in his bed, preferably  with his wife. The colonized man is an envious man. The colonist is aware of this as he catches the furtive glance, and constantly on his guard, realizes bitterly that: “They want to take our place.” And it’s true there is not one colonized subject who at least once a day does not dream of taking the place of the colonist.

          This compartmentalized world, this world divided in two, is inhabited by different species. The singularity of the colonial context lies in the fact that economic reality, inequality, and enormous disparities in lifestyles never manage to mask the human reality. Looking at the immediacies of the colonial context, it is clear that what divides the world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to. In the colonies the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect: You are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich. This is why a Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched when it comes to addressing the colonial issue. It is not just the concept of the precapitalist society, so effectively studied by Marx, which needs to be reexamined here. The serf is essentially different from the knight, but a reference to divine right is needed to justify this difference in status. In the colonies the foreigner imposed himself using his cannons and machines. Despite the success of his pacification, in spite of his appropriation, the colonist always remains a foreigner. It is not the factories, the estates, or the bank account which primarily characterize the “ruling class.” The ruling species is first and foremost the outsider from elsewhere, different from the indigenous population, “the others.”

6 Challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal, but the impassioned claim by the colonized that their world is fundamentally different. The colonial world is a *Manichaean world.

[*Manichaeism. 1. a syncretic, dualistic religion combining elements of Zoroastrian, Christian, and Gnostic thought founded by Iranian prophet Mani, 3c AD; 2. a dualistic philosophy dividing the world between good and evil principles, or regarding matter as intrinsically evil and mind as intrinsically good.]

9 . . . it is the collapse of an entire moral and material universe. The [colonized] intellectual who, for his part, has adopted the abstract, universal values of the colonizer is prepared to fight so that colonist and colonized can live in peace in a new world. But what he does not see, because precisely colonialism and all its modes of thought have seeped into him, is that the colonist is no longer interested in staying on and coexisting once the colonial context has disappeared.

10-12 Wherever an authentic liberation struggle has been fought, wherever the blood of the people has been shed and the armed phase has lasted long enough to encourage the intellectuals to withdraw to their rank and file base, there is an effective eradication of the superstructure borrowed by those intellectuals from the colonialist bourgeois circles. In its narcissistic monologue the colonialist bourgeoisie, by way of its academics, had implanted in the midst of the colonized that the essential values—meaning Western values—remain eternal despite all errors attributable to man. The colonized intellectual accepted the cogency of these ideas and there in the back of his mind stood a sentinel on duty guarding the Greco-Roman pedestal. But during the struggle for liberation, when the colonized intellectual touches base again with his people, this artificial sentinel is smashed to smithereens. All the Mediterranean values, the triumph of the individual, of enlightenment and Beauty turn into pale, lifeless trinkets. All those discourses appear a jumble of dead words. Those values which seemed to ennoble the soul prove worthless because they have nothing in common with the real life struggle in which the people are engaged.

           . . . In a kind of *auto-da-fe, the colonized intellectual witnesses the destruction of all his idols: egoism, arrogant recrimination, and the idiotic, childish need to have the last word. This colonized intellectual, pulverized by colonialist culture, will also discover the strength of the village assemblies, the power of the people’s commissions and the extraordinary productiveness of neighborhood and section committee meetings. Personal interests are now the collective interest because in reality every one will be discovered by the French legionnaires and consequently massacred or else everyone will be saved. In such a context, the “every man for himself” concept, the atheist’s form of salvation, is prohibited.

[*auto-da-fe < Portuguese ceremony of faith. 1b execution of a sentence of the Inquisition; esp. the public burning of a heretic]

22-3 The intellectual calls for ways of freeing more and more slaves and ways of organizing a genuine class of the emancipated. The masses, however, have no intention of looking on as the chances of individual success improve. What they demand is not the status of the colonist, but his place. In their immense majority the colonized want the colonist’s farm. There is no question for them of competing with the colonist. They want to take his place.

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 nothing to lose and everything 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. Colonization or decolonization, it is simply a power struggle. . . . [C]olonialism 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.

At the critical, deciding moment the colonialist bourgeoisie, which had remained silent up till then, enters the fray. They introduce a new notion, in actual fact a creation of the colonial situation: nonviolence. In its raw state this nonviolence conveys to the colonized intellectual and business elite that their interests are identical to those of the colonialist bourgeoisie and it is therefore indispensable, a matter of urgency, to reach an agreement for the common good. Nonviolence is an attempt to settle the colonial problem around the negotiating table before the irreparable is done, before any bloodshed or regrettable act is committed. But if the masses, without waiting for the chairs to be placed around the negotiating table, take matters into their own hands and start burning and killing, it is not long before we see the “elite” and the leaders of the bourgeois nationalist parties turn to the colonial authorities and tell them: “This is terribly serious! Goodness knows how it will all end. We must find an answer, we must find a compromise."

42 The very same people who had it constantly drummed into them that the only language they understood was that of force, now decide to express themselves with force. In fact the colonist has always shown them the path they should follow to liberation. The argument chosen by the colonized was conveyed to them by the colonist, and by an ironic twist of fate it is now the colonized who state that it is the colonizer who only understands the language of force. The colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at no time does it ever endeavor to cover up the nature of things.

44 For the colonized, this violence represents the absolute praxis. . . . To work means to work towards the death of the colonist. Claiming responsibility for the violence also allows those members of the group who have strayed or have been outlawed to come back, to retake their place an be reintegrated. Violence can thus be understood to be the perfect mediation. The colonized man liberates himself in and through violence. This praxis enlightens the militant because it shows him the means and the end.

46 The violence of the colonial regime and the counterviolence of the colonized balance each other and respond to each other in an extraordinary reciprocal homogeneity.

51 During the colonial period the people were called upon to fight against oppression. Following national liberation they are urged to fight against poverty, illiteracy, and underdevelopment. The struggle, they say, goes on. The people realize that life is an unending struggle. . . . Violence in its practice is totalizing and national. As a result it harbors in its depths the elimination of regionalism and tribalism. . . . At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude.

53 Today, national independence and nation building in the underdeveloped regions take on an entirely new aspect. . . . A world of underdevelopment, a world of poverty and inhumanity. But also a world without doctors, without engineers, without administrators. Facing this world, the European nations wallow in the most ostentatious opulence. This European opulence is literally a scandal for it was built on the backs of slaves, it fed on the blood of slaves, and owes its every existence to the soil and subsoil of the underdeveloped world. Europe’s well-being and progress were built with the sweat and corpses of blacks, Arabs, Indians, and Asians. This we are determined never to forget.

55 The formerly colonized territory is now turned into an economically dependent country. . . . The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anticolonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.

55-6 We know, of course, that the capitalist way of life is incapable of allowing us to achieve our national and universal project. Capitalist exploitation, the / cartels and monopolies, are the enemies of the underdeveloped countries. On the other hand, the choices of a socialist regime, of a regime devoted to the people, based on the principle that man is the most precious asset, will allow us to progress faster in greater harmony, consequently ruling out the possibility of a caricature of society where a privileged few hold the reins of political and economic power without a thought for the nation as a whole.

57-9 If working conditions are not modified it will take centuries to humanize this world which the imperialist forces have reduced to the animal level.

          The truth is we must not accept such conditions. We must refuse outright the situation by which the West wants to condemn us. Colonialism and imperialism have not settled their debt to us once they have withdrawn their flag and their police force from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved like war criminals in the underdeveloped world. Deportation, massacres, forced labor, and slavery were the primary methods used by capitalism to increase its gold and diamond reserves, and establish its wealth and power. Not so long ago, Nazism transformed the whole of Europe into a genuine colony. The governments of various European nations demanded reparations and the restitution in money and kind for their stolen treasures. . . . . The wealth of the imperialist nations is also our wealth. . . . The ports of Holland, the docks in Bordeaux and Liverpool owe their importance to the trade and deportation of millions of slaves. . . . The spectacular flight of capital is one of the most constant phenomena of decolonization. . . . [C]apitalists are reluctant to invest in the long term. They are recalcitrant and often openly hostile to the so-called economic planning programs of the young regimes.

62 This colossal task, which consists of reintroducing man into the world, man in his totality, will be achieved with the crucial help of the European masses who would do well to confess that they have often rallied behind the position of our common masters on colonial issues. In order to do this, the European masses must first of all decide to wake up, put on their thinking caps and stop playing the irresponsible game of Sleeping Beauty.



66 The history of bourgeois revolutions and the history of proletarian revolutions have demonstrated that the peasant masses often represent a curb on revolution. In the industrialized countries the peasant masses are generally the least politically conscious, the least organized as well as the most anarchistic elements. They are characterized by a series of features—individualism, lack of discipline, the love of money, fits of rage, and deep depression—defining an objectively reactionary behavior.

66-7 . . . the colonized peasants live in a traditional environment whose structures have remained intact, whereas in the industrialized countries it is these traditional circles which have been splintered by the progress of industrialization. It is within the burgeoning proletariat that we find individualistic behavior in the colonies. Abandoning the countryside and its insoluble problems of demography, the landless peasants, now a lumpenproletariat, are driven into the towns, crammed into shanty towns and endeavor to infiltrate the ports and cities, the creations of colonial domination. As for the mass of the peasantry, they continue to live in a petrified context, and those who cannot scrape a living in the countryside have no other choice but to emigrate to the cities. The peasant who stays put is a staunch defender of tradition, and in a colonial society represents the element of discipline whose social structure remains community-minded. Such a static society, clinging to a rigid context, can of course sporadically generate episodes of religious fanaticism and tribal warfare. But in their spontaneity the rural masses remain disciplined and altruistic. The individual steps aside in favor of the community. [*lumpenproletariat = lowest classes lacking class consciousness or interest in intellectual or financial improvement]


98 The national bourgeoisie, which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime, is an underdeveloped bourgeoisie. Its economic clout is practically zero, and in any case, no way commensurate with that of its metropolitan counterpart which it intends replacing. In its willful narcissism, the national bourgeoisie has lulled itself into thinking that it can supplant the metropolitan bourgeoisie to its own advantage. But independence, which literally forces it back against the wall, triggers catastrophic reactions and obliges it to send out distress signals in the direction of the former metropolis. The business elite and university graduates, who make up the most educated numbers, their concentration in the capital, and their occupations as traders, landowners, and professionals. This national bourgeoisie possess neither industrialists nor financiers. The national bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped countries is not geared to production, invention, creation, or work. All its energy is channeled into intermediary activities. Networking and scheming seem to be its underlying vocation. The national bourgeoisie has the psychology of a businessman, not that of a captain of industry. And it should go without saying that the rapacity of the colonists and the embargo system installed by colonialism hardly left it any choice.

          Under the colonial system a bourgeoisie that accumulates capital is in the realm of the impossible.

101-2 In its decadent aspect the national bourgeoisie gets considerable help from the Western bourgeoisies who happen to be tourists enamored of exoticism, hunting and casinos. The national bourgeoisie establishes holiday resorts and playgrounds for entertaining the Western bourgeoisie. This sector goes by the name of tourism and becomes a national industry for this very purpose. We only have to look at what has happened in Latin America if we want proof of the way the ex-colonized bourgeoisie can be transformed into “party” organizer. The casinos in Havana and Mexico city, the beaches of Rio, Copacabana, and Acapulco, the young Brazilian and Mexican girls, the thirteen-year-old mestizas, are the scars of this depravation of the national bourgeoisie. Because it is lacking in ideas, because it is inward-looking, cut off from the people, sapped by its congenital incapacity to evaluate issues on the basis of the nation as a whole, the national bourgeoisie assumes the role of manager for the companies of the West and turns its country virtually into a bordello for Europe.

          Once again, we need only to look at the pitiful spectacle of certain republics in Latin America. U.S. businessmen, banking magnates and technocrats jet “down to the tropics,” and for a week to ten days wallow in the sweet depravity of their private “reserves.”

112-13 Honest and sincere though he may often be, in objective terms the leader is the virulent champion of the now combined interests of the national bourgeoisie and the ex-colonial companies. His honesty, which is purely a frame of mind, gradually crumbles. . . .

          The economic channels of the young state become irreversibly mired in a neocolonialist system. Once protected, the national economy is now literally state controlled. The budget is funded by loans and donations. . . .

          The people stagnate miserably in intoberable poverty and slowly become aware of the unspeakable treason of their leaders. [The bourgeoisie’s] organized distribution of wealth is not / diversified into sectors, is not staggered, and does not nuance its priorities. This new caste is an insult and outrage, especially since the immense majority, nine tenths of the population, continue to starve to death. The way this caste gets rich quickly, pitilessly and scandalously, is matched by a determined resurgence of the people and the promise of violent days ahead. This bourgeois caste, this branch of the nation that annexes the entire wealth of the country for its own gain, true to its nature, but nevertheless unexpectedly, casts pejorative aspersions about the other blacks or Arabs, which recall in more ways than one the racist doctrines of the former representatives of the colonial power. It is both this wretchedness of the people and this dissolute enrichment of the bourgeois caste, the contempt it flaunts for the rest of the nation, that will harden thoughts and attitudes.

113-14 But the looming threat results in a strengthening of authority and the emergence of a dictatorship. The leader with his militant past as a loyal patriot constitutes a screen between the people and the grasping bourgeoisie because he lends his support to the undertakings of this caste and turns a blind eye to its insolence, mediocrity, and fundamental immorality. He helps to curb the growing awareness of the people. He lends his support to this caste and hides its maneuvers from the people, thus becoming its most vital tool for mystifying and numbing the senses of the masses. Every time he addresses the people he recalls his life, which was often heroic, the battles waged and the victories won in the people’s name, thus conveying to the masses they should continue to place their trust in him. There are many examples of African patriots who have introduced into the cautious political struggle of their elders a bold, nationalistic style. These men came from the interior. Scandalizing the colonizer and shaming the nationalists in the capital, they proclaimed loud and clear their origins and spoke in the name of the black masses. These men who have praised the race, who were not ashamed of the past—its debasement and cannibalism—today find themselves, / alas, leading a team that turns its back on the interior and proclaims that the vocation of the people is to fall in line, always and forever.

          The leader pacifies the people. Years after independence, incapable of offering the people anything of substance, incapable of actually opening up their future, of launching the people into the task of nation building and hence their own development, the leader can be heard churning out the history of independence and recalling the united front of the liberation struggle. Refusing to break up the national bourgeoisie, the leader asks the people to plunge back into the past and drink in the epic that led to independence. The leader objectively places a curb on the people and desperately endeavors either to expel them from history or prevent them from setting foot in it. During the struggle for liberation the leader roused the people and promised them a radical heroic march forward. Today he repeatedly endeavors to lull them to sleep and three or four times a year asks them to remember the colonial period and to take stock of the immense distance they have covered.

116-17 Just as the national bourgeoisie sidesteps its formulative phase to revel in materialism, likewise, at the institutional level, it skips the parliamentary phase and chooses a national –socialist-type dictatorship. We now know that the shortsighted fascism that has triumphed for half a century in Latin America is the dialectical result of the semicolonial State which has prevailed since independence.

117 In these poor, underdeveloped countries where, according to the rule, enormous wealth rubs shoulders with abject poverty, the army and the police force form the pillars of the regime, both of which, in accordance with another rule, are advised by foreign experts. The strength of this police force and the power of this army are proportional to the marasmus [malnutrition] that afflicts the rest of the nation. The national bourgeoisie sells itself increasingly openly to the major foreign companies. Foreigners grab concessions through kickbacks, scandals abound, ministers get rich, their wives become floozies, members of the legislature line their pockets, and everybody, down to police officers and customs officials, joins hands in this huge caravan of corruption.

119 The bourgeoisie, which evolved in Europe, was able to elaborate an ideology while strengthening its own influence. This dynamic, educated, and secular bourgeoisie fully succeeded in its undertaking of capital accumulation and endowed the nation with a minimum of prosperity. In the underdeveloped countries we have seen that there was no genuine bourgeoisie but rather an acquisitive, voracious, and ambitious petty caste, dominated by a small-time racketeer mentality, content with the dividends paid out by the former colonial power. This short-sighted bourgeoisie lacks vision and inventiveness. It has learned by heart what it has read in the manuals of the west and subtly transforms itself not into a replica of Europe but rather its caricature.

120 This bourgeoisie, which increasingly turns its back on the overall population, fails even to squeeze from the West such spectacular concessions as valuable investments in the country’s economy or the installation of certain industries. Assembly plants, however, are on the increase—a tendency that confirms the neo-colonialist model in which the national economy is struggling.

128-9 In an underdeveloped country the creation of dynamic regional bureaus halts the process of urban macrocephaly and the chaotic exodus of the rural masses toward the towns. The establishment, during the very first days of independence, of regional bureaus with the power to simulate, revive, and accelerate the citizens consciousness is an inevitable prerequisite for any country that wants to progress. Otherwise, the party leaders and dignitaries of the regime congregate around the leader. The administration swells out of all proportion, not because it is expanding or specializing, but because more cousins and more militants expect a position and hope to slip into the works. And the dream of every citizen is to reach the capital, to have his piece of the pie. The towns and villages are deserted, the unaided, uneducated, and untrained rural masses turn their backs on an unrewarding soil and set off for the urban periphery, swelling the lumpenproletariat* out of all proportion. [*lumpenproletariat = lowest classes lacking class consciousness or interest in intellectual or financial improvement]

129 Instead of delving into their diagrams and statistics, indigenous civil servants and technicians should delve into the body of the population.

130 One of the greatest services the Algerian revolution has rendered to Algerian intellectuals was to put them in touch with the masses, to allow them to see the extreme, unspeakable poverty of the people and at the same time witness the awakening of their intelligence and the development of their consciousness.

130-1 Of course if we choose to use a language comprehensible only to law and economics graduates, it will be easy to prove that the masses need to have their life run for them. But if we speak in plain language, if we are not obsessed with a perverse determination to confuse the issues and exclude the people, then it will be clear that the masses comprehend all the finer points and every artifice. Resorting to technical language means you are determined to treat the masses as uninitiated. . . . Yet when the people are asked to participate in the government, instead of being a hindrance they are a driving force.

137 We must not cultivate the spirit of the exceptional or look for the hero, another form of leader. We must elevate the people, expand their minds, equip them, differentiate them, and humanize them.

138 Once again we turn to the obsession that we would like to see shared by every African politician—the need to shed light on the people’s effort, to rehabilitate work, and rid it of its historical opacity.

138 To politicize the masses is not and cannot be to make a political speech. It means driving home to the masses that everything depends on them, that if we stagnate the fault is theirs, and that if we progress, they too are responsible, that there is no demiurge*, no illustrious man taking responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge* is the people and the magic lies in their hands and their hands alone. [*demiurge = neoplatonic “producer” or “creator”]

139-40 It sometimes occurs during a meeting that a militant’s answer to a difficult problem is: "All we need do is . . . " This voluntary shortcut, which dangerously combines spontaneity, simplistic syncretism, and little intellectual elaboration, frequently wins the day. Every time we encounter this abdication of responsibility in a militant it is not enough to say he is wrong. He has to be made responsible, encouraged to follow through his chain of reasoning to its conclusion, and taught to grasp the often atrocious, inhuman, and finally sterile nature of this “All we need do is . . . .” Nobody has a monopoly on truth, neither the leader nor the militant. The search for truth in local situations is the responsibility of the community. . . . Yes, everyone must be involved in the struggle for the sake of the common salvation. There are no clean hands, no innocent bystanders. We are all in the process of dirtying our hands in the quagmire of our soil and the terrifying void of our minds. Any bystander is a coward or a traitor.

140 To politicize the masses is to make the nation in its totality a reality for every citizen.


(Paper presented at the Second Congress of Black Writers and Artists, Rome, 1959.)

145-6 Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray in, in relative opacity. . . . Now that we are in the heat of combat, we must shed the habit of decrying the efforts of our forefathers or feigning incomprehension at their silence or passiveness. They fought as best they could with the weapons they possessed at the time, and if their struggle did not reverberate throughout the international arena, the reason should be attributed not so much to a / lack of heroism but to a fundamentally different international situation.

148 . . . this passionate quest for a national culture prior to the colonial era can be justified by the colonized intellectuals’ shared interest in stepping back and taking a hard look at the Western culture in which they risk becoming ensnared. Fully aware they are in the process of losing themselves, and consequently of being lost to their people, these men work away with raging heart and furious mind to renew contact with their people’s oldest, inner essence, the farthest removed from colonial times. . . . some magnificent and shining era that redeems us in our own eyes and those of others. . . . Reclaiming the past does not only rehabilitate or justify the promise of a national culture. It triggers a change of fundamental importance in the colonized’s psycho-affective equilibrium.

149 . . . the final aim of colonization was to convince the indigenous population it would save them from darkness. The result was to hammer into the heads of the indigenous population that if the colonist were to leave they would regress into barbarism, degradation, and bestiality. At the level of the unconscious, therefore, colonialism was not seeking to be perceived by the indigenous population as a sweet, kind-hearted mother who protects her child from a hostile environment, but rather a mother who constantly prevents her basically perverse child from committing suicide or giving free rein to its malevolent instincts.

150 Colonialism, little troubled by nuances, has always claimed that the “nigger” was a savage, not an Angolan or a Nigerian, but a “nigger.” For colonialism, this vast continent was a den of savages, infested with superstitions and fanaticism, destined to be despised, cursed by God, a land of cannibals, a land of “niggers.” Colonialism’s condemnation is continental in scale. Colonialism’s claim that the precolonial period was akin to a darkness of the human soul refers to the entire continent of Africa. The colonized’s endeavors to rehabilitate himself and escape the sting of colonialism obey the same rules of logic. The colonized intellectual, steeped in Western culture and set on proving the existence of his own culture, never does so in the name of Angola or Dahomey. The culture proclaimed is African culture. When the black man, who has never felt as much a “Negro” as he has under white domination, decides to prove his culture and act as a cultivated person, he realizes that history imposes on him a terrain already mapped out, that history sets him along a very precise path and that he is expected to demonstrate the existence of a “Negro” culture.

And it is all too true that the major responsibility for this racialization of thought, or at least the way it is applied, lies with the Europeans who have never stopped placing white culture in opposition to the other noncultures. Colonialism did not think it worth its while denying one national culture after the other. Consequently the colonized’s response was immediately continental in scope. In Africa, colonized literature over the last twenty years has not been a national literature but a “Negro” literature. The concept of negritude for example was the affective if not logical antithesis of that insult which the white man had leveled at the rest of humanity. This negritude, hurled against the contempt of the white man, has alone proved capable in some sectors of lifting taboos and maledictions. Because the Kenyan and Guinean intellectuals were above all confronted with a generalized ostracism and the syncretic contempt of the colonizer, their reaction was one of self-regard and celebration. Following the unconditional affirmation of European culture came the unconditional affirmation of African culture. Generally speaking the bards of negritude would contrast old Europe versus young Africa, dull reason versus poetry, and stifling logic versus exuberant Nature; on the one hand there stood rigidity, ceremony, protocol, and skepticism, and on the other, naïveté, petulance, freedom, and, indeed, luxuriance. But also irresponsibility.

The bards of negritude did not hesitate to reach beyond the borders of the continent. Black voices from America took up the refrain on a larger scale. The “black world” came into being, and Busia from Ghana, Birago Diop from Senegal, Hampate Ba from Mali and Saint-Clair Drake from Chicago were quick to claim common ties and identical lines of thought. . . .

153 The African Society for Culture was to become the Cultural Society for the Black World and was forced to include the black diaspora, i.e., the dozens of millions of blacks throughout the Americas.

          The blacks who lived in the United States, Central, and Latin America in fact needed a cultural matrix to cling to. The problem they were faced with was not basically any different from that of the Africans. The whites in America had not behaved any differently to them than the white colonizers had to the Africans. We have seen how the whites were used to putting all “Negroes” in the same basket. During the First Congress of the American Society for Culture in Paris in 1956 the black Americans spontaneously considered their problems from the same standpoint as their fellow Africans. By integrating the former slaves into African civilization, the African intellectuals accorded them an acceptable civil status. But gradually the black Americans realized that their existential problems differed from those faced by the Africans. The only common denomination between the blacks from Chicago and the Nigerians or Tanganyikans [present-day Tanzania] was that they all defined themselves in relation to the whites. But once the initial comparisons had been made and subjective feelings had settled down, the black Americans realized that the objective problems were fundamentally different. . . .

154 Negritude thus came up against its first limitation, namely, those phenomena that take into account the historicizing of men. “Negro” or “Negro-African” culture broke up because the men who set out to embody it realized that every culture is first and foremost nation, and that the problems for which Richard Wright or Langston Hughes had to be on the alert were fundamentally different from those faced by Leopold Senghor or Jomo Kenyatta. Likewise certain Arab states, who had struck up the glorious hymn to an Arab renaissance, were forced to realize that their geographical position and their region’s economic interdependence were more important than the revival of their past.

158-9 If we decide to trace these various phases of development in the works of colonized writers, three stages emerge. First, the colonized intellectual proves he has assimilated the colonizer’s / culture. His works correspond point by point with those of the metropolitan counterparts. The inspiration is European and his works can be easily linked to a well-defined trend in metropolitan literature. This is the phase of full assimilation where we find Parnassians, Symbolists, and Surrealists among the colonized writers.

          In a second stage, the colonized writer has his convictions shaken and decides to cast his mind back. . . . Old childhood memories will surface, old legends be reinterpreted on the basis of a borrowed aesthetic, and a concept of the world discovered under other skies. . . .

          Finally , a third stage, a combat stage where the colonized writer, after having tried to lose himself among the people, with the people, will rouse the people. . . . Combat literature, revolutionary literature, national literature emerges. During this phase a great many men and women who previously would never have thought of writing, now that they find themselves in exceptional circumstances, in prison, in the resistance or on the eve of their execution, feel the need to proclaim their nation, to portray their people and become the spokesperson of a new reality in action.

163 Yes, the first duty of the colonized poet is to clearly define the people, the subject of his creation. We cannot go resolutely forward unless we first realize our alienation. We have taken everything from the other side. Yet the other side has given us nothing except to sway us in its direction through a thousand twists, except lure us, seduce us, and imprison us by ten thousand devices, by a hundred thousand tricks. . . . It is not enough to reunite with the people in a past where they no longer exist . . . we must focus on that zone of hidden fluctuation where the people can be found . . . .

175 In artisanship, the congealed, petrified forms loosen up. Wood-carving, for example, which turned out set paces and poses by the thousands, starts to diversify.

177 The nation is not only a precondition for culture, its ebullition, its perpetual renewal and maturation. It is a necessity. First of all it is the struggle for nationhood that unlocks culture and opens the doors of creation. . . . It is also the national character that makes culture permeable to other cultures and enables it to influence and penetrate them.

179 . . . and now the moment has come to denounce certain Pharisees. Humanity, some say, has got past the stage of nationalist claims. The time has come to build larger political unions, and consequently the old fashioned nationalists should correct their mistakes. We believe on the contrary that the mistake, heavy with consequences, would be to miss out on the national stage. If culture is the expression of the national consciousness, I shall have no hesitation in saying, in the case in point, that national consciousness is the highest form of culture.