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Fanon’s Decolonization Essay

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Updated: Dec 13th, 2019


Many countries used violence to end colonial rule. Fanon (37) is a celebrated political radical, who supported the use of violence to end colonial aggression. His works mainly centered on understanding the psychopathology that most colonial powers used to demean their subjects. His book (Wretched of the Earth) was his most celebrated work, as it explored the violent nature of nationalistic movements.

He said, “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” (Fanon 35). In the book, Fanon (36) said colonization resulted in the creation of two polarized societies.

One society comprised of the colonizers, while the other society comprised of the colonized. To affirm this statement, he said, “Decolonization is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature, which in fact owe their originality to that sort of sub-stantification which results from and is nourished by the situation of the colonies” (Fanon 36)

Fanon (236) believed that most colonial powers perceived their subjects as inferior people. They therefore justified their oppressive rule, as a way for bringing “light” to “dark” and uninformed people.

The oppressive nature of colonial rule shows that the practice was a self-destructive concept because it undermined its subjects through harassment, intimidation, and exploitation. Through the same lens of analysis, Wretched of the Earth explores the influences of race, class, and culture on the colonial domination of vulnerable societies.

A key hallmark of the teachings of Fanon (35) was the support for violence, as a way to end colonial dominance. From this assertion, Fanon (35) said, “National liberation, national Renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth, and whatever headings, or the new formulas, introduced in anti-colonialism, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon” (Fanon 35).

Through this assertion, Fanon (35) justified violent means to end colonial aggression because he believed colonialism did not improve the lives of the colonized people. This paper argues that the support for violence during the ouster of colonial rule influenced national liberation movements in many parts of the world.

Particularly, this paper pays a close attention to the Algerian national liberation movement as a product of violent campaigns against colonialism.

Algerian Case

Many historians understand the call for violent means to end colonial aggression from a historical point of view. Many comparisons show the existence of these principles in Algeria’s colonial history. Algeria’s colonial history demonstrates the use of violence to end colonialism because Fanon (309) supported the country’s nationalist movement.

While some researchers criticize violence as a means for ending colonial aggression, Sefa and Simmons (96) question why some people judge the support for violence when French colonialists also used violence to colonize Algeria. This question informs why some researchers supported violence, as the only way for countries to resist colonial oppression (Sefa and Simmons 96).

Unlike other colonial resistance movements that have used violence, as a way to stop colonial dominance, the Algerian anti-colonial movement presents an interesting support for violence because it not only opposes undesirable aspects of colonial governance, but also any ideas that were beneficial to the country as well.

Algerians detested all aspects of colonialism because they understood that the costs of adopting partial colonial ideals were too high to their sovereignty (Hoppe and Nicholls 20). For example, they never adopted the French language because it would bind them to the linguistic framework of colonial ideologies. They also detested technology because they perceived its adoption as a way of embracing colonial ideas.

Therefore, Algerians believed technological gadgets, like radios and television, symbolized French colonial rule. Through this view, when Frantz (cited in Hoppe and Nicholls 20) wrote about the Algerian colonial revolution, he regarded French-speaking radio anchors as colonialists speaking to other colonialists.

Besides the sideline repulsion of colonial influences in Algeria, violence largely underpinned the anti-colonialism sentiments of the National Liberation Front (NLF) army (Algeria’s antagonist movement in the anti-colonial war).

Fanon (309) supported the principles of this movement, as the army engaged in guerilla warfare and terrorism (among other acts of violence) to eliminate colonial dominance in Algeria (Algeria’s long walk to freedom was characterized by a civil war to stem out colonial dominance).

Through the conviction and commitment to violence, as the most effective way to defeat colonial dominance, the NLF united warring factions of the national liberation movement to create one formidable force to fight the French. The violence that characterized the anti-colonial movement led to widespread human deaths.

For example, some historical excerpts say French forces killed about 70,000 Muslim people (notable massacres occurred in Oran and Philippevile) (Horne 42). Historians also report similar human deaths in France, where French forces killed about 4,300 people in the Algerian-related anti-colonial revolts of the time. Unconfirmed literatures also say the NLF killed about 30,000-150,000 pro-French Muslims in Algeria (Horne 21).

From the widespread human deaths that characterized Algeria’s anti-colonialism movement, it is correct to say violence was a key strategy in the struggle for independence of the North African country. Fanon (41) justifies such violence and human destruction as important in restoring the dignity of the colonized people.

He says, “To wreck the colonial world is henceforward a mental picture of action which is very clear, very easy to understand and which may be assumed by each one of the individuals which constitute the people” (Fanon 40-41). Through this statement, Fanon (41) believes that anti-colonial violence should not give an opportunity for warring parties to maintain communications after war.

Instead, he suggests that after ousting colonial rule, former colonies should destroy and “bury” colonial forces (Fanon 41). Such ideas explain why some people considered Fanon (132) as a political radical.

His views were undemocratic and left no opportunity for compromise between natives and colonialists. Although some of his ideas have eroded in today’s diplomatic society, it is difficult to oppose the view that his ideas informed the Algerian liberation movement.

The sheer adoption of anti-colonial sentiments in Algeria elevated the North African country to be the epitome of anti-colonialism in North Africa and the Sub-Saharan region. Indeed, the anti-colonialism sentiments in Algeria motivated other countries in North Africa (like Tunisia and Morocco) to resist colonial aggression through violent means.

Algeria’s success in overcoming colonial aggression largely represents the efficacy of violence in the movement. Certainly, through the successful resistance of colonial control in Algeria, the North African protectorate influenced other countries in the Sub-Saharan region to embrace anti-colonialism movements by creating armed resistance groups as well.

Hoppe and Nicholls say, “Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, and across the Sahara itself, the domino effect is unmistakable as Algeria became the pole of anti-colonial struggle in the second half of the 1950s” (117).


Based on the principles underlying the use of violence as the best way for eliminating colonial rule, it is correct to say Fanon (96) used revolutionary principles to articulate the global nature of anti-colonialism. Broadly, this view shows that he successfully explained the nature and purpose of colonial struggles. A deeper analysis of his principles shows that he was able to derive a common purpose of anti-colonialism.

Through Algeria’s struggles against colonial rule, Fanon (96) also popularized the abstract principles of anti-colonialism, beyond Algeria to other parts of the world. Evidence of the adoption and growth of anti-colonialism in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates this principle.

His accounts of the use of violence to stem out colonial aggression also show that the author’s ideas were philosophical because they did not come from an empirical understanding of colonial aggression and anti-colonialism.

Most of the justifications for violence come from the understanding that most people should use violence to stop violence. It is important to understand the contextual understanding of the support for violence here because it existed at a time when countries rarely respected diplomacy. Moreover, unlike today, there was a serious attitudinal divide between white supremacists and other races.

Equality was a rarely understood concept among the colonialists because they believed their subjects were inferior to them. This background provided little room for negotiation and compromise. The same background informs the support for violence against the colonialists because it was the only way for the colonized people to redeem themselves.

Moreover, people thought it was unjustified for the colonialists to impose their rule on a group of people who did not welcome them in the first place. Fanon (164) maintained this view, even when most colonial powers perceived their subjects as “stupid” people.

Overall, he did not see the benefit of colonialism, as it did not improve the lives of the colonized people. Evidence of violent anti-colonial movements in Algeria and Sub-Saharan Africa shows how his principles informed many anti-colonial revolts in Africa.

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth, Broadway, NY: Grove Press, 1965. Print.

Hoppe, Elizabeth, and T. Nicholls. Fanon and the Decolonization of Philosophy, London, UK: Lexington Books, 2010. Print.

Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962, London, UK: Pan Macmillan, 2012. Print.

Sefa , Georgea, and M. Simmons. Fanon & Education: Thinking Through Pedagogical Possibilities, New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2010. Print.

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