The Wretched of the Earth

The Wretched of the Earth Quotes and Analysis

Decolonization is truly the creation of new men. But such a creation cannot be attributed to a supernatural power: The “thing” colonized becomes a man through the very process of liberation.

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 2

For Fanon, colonialism does not just exploit people economically and politically. It also creates subjective categories, like "the colonized," that, when people identify with them, dehumanize or disempower them. Colonialism creates a type of man who is submissive and exploited. In turn, decolonization creates “new men” by creating the possibility for men to go from a dehumanized “thing” to an empowered man with agency in his world. The fight for liberation itself creates new subjectivities people can embody.

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.

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 5

In classical Marxism, the economy determines the “superstructure,” or the social and cultural sphere. In this understanding, social and cultural divisions, like gender inequality and racial inequality, actually derive from economic inequalities. Fanon thinks this kind of analysis no longer applies in a colonial context. In this context, the fundamental division is racial—the division the colonist makes between colonized and colonizer. Economic inequality is based on racial inequality, not the other way around.

The colonial context, as we have said, is characterized by the dichotomy it inflicts on the world. Decolonization unifies this world by a radical decision to remove its heterogeneity, by unifying it on the grounds of nation and sometimes race.

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 10

In this passage, Fanon describes an important turnover point. Colonialism divides the world into “colonist” and “colonized,” that is, white and black, good and evil. This is how it subjugates the colonized. In turn, it also erases many differences within the category of the colonized, for instance gender, ethnicity, and religion. But the colonized can fight back by organizing around this common category of the “colonized,” which becomes a racial category. People within the same race but of different tribes and sects come together to fight the colonist.

The existence of an armed struggle is indicative that the people are determined to put their faith only in violent methods. 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.

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 42

According to Fanon, the colonized are kept powerless because of colonial violence. The police and soldiers of the colonial power maintain the colonized in a state of submission. Ironically, that means that, through violence, the colonized can overthrow their own submission. The colonized learn to redirect the violence they have received from the colonist back at the colonist.

At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude.

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 51

Colonialism teaches the colonized that they are inferior, and it reinforces this belief through violence and the threat of violence. But when the colonized begin to exercise violence themselves, directed back at the colonists, they take the very same power that was used against them. In fighting the colonist, individuals also fight the sense of inferiority the colonists had implanted in them. This is the “cleansing” force that Fanon talks about in this passage.

It is among these masses, in the people of the shanty towns and in the lumpenproletariat that the insurrection will find its urban spearhead. The lumpenproletariat, this cohort of starving men, divorced from tribe and clan, constitutes one of the most spontaneously and radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people.

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 81

In classical Marxism, the lumpenproletariat is a segment of the working class that Marx thinks are essentially hopeless: they cannot teach themselves or develop enough of a class consciousness—an awareness of how their life conditions are shaped by class—in order to subvert the class system. For Fanon, the lumpenproletariat takes on a different sense. Here, being impervious to a certain kind of education is a good thing: the lumpenproletariat in the colonial context refers to those members of the rural masses who have not been influenced by the colonial ideology taught in urban areas. This group of people, relatively liberated from colonial thinking, then become the true leaders of the colonized people in their fight against colonization.

It is commonly thought with criminal flippancy that to politicize the masses means from time to time haranguing them with a major political speech. It is thought that for a leader or head of state to speak on major current issues in a pedantic tone of voice is sufficient as obligation to politicize the masses. But political education means opening up the mind, awakening the mind, and introducing it to the world.

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 138

In this passage, Fanon is talking about the state of the previously colonized people after independence, when the urgent task becomes that of forming a nation. Fanon complains that many of the elite in the new nation try to manipulate the rest of the country through emotional appeals, playing on their feelings instead of addressing their minds. This is the kind of “politicization” Fanon finds dangerous and counterproductive. Instead, he advocates for a politics that is of the mind instead of the heart. People from all walks of life should be invited to discuss the issues that impact their lives, and this is the way to a truly democratic postcolonial nation.

It is clear therefore that the way the cultural problem is posed in certain colonized countries can lead to serious ambiguities. Colonialism's insistence that “niggers” have no culture, and Arabs are by nature barbaric, inevitably leads to a glorification of cultural phenomena that become continental instead of national, and singularly racialized.

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 154

In this passage, Fanon is talking about how colonized intellectuals relate to “culture” under colonialism. In an early phase of national consciousness, which is what Fanon is describing here, the colonized intellectual has a purely reactive opinion about culture. The colonist says all colonized culture is bad, and therefore the intellectual says all colonized culture is good. The problem with this reaction is that it still operates within the terms set by the colonist. Just as the colonist has homogenized all culture—such that everything in Africa is the same—so, too, does the intellectual treat the cultures of all Black people, regardless of nation, tribe, or religion, to be the same. Instead, Fanon calls for a national culture that is more specific and located within a people’s fight for independence.

Because it is a systematized negation of the other, a frenzied determination to deny the other any attribute of humanity, colonialism forces the colonized to constantly ask the question: “Who am I in reality?”

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 182

In this passage, Fanon begins to suggest how colonialism contributes to psychological problems. Colonialism tells the colonized they are barely human, and this not only takes away the agency of the colonized but also takes away the very ground on which they can have a sense of “reality.” In the inferiority complexes, doubts, and self-questioning that follow, it is no wonder the colonized develop a number of psychiatric symptoms. The point is that the craziness the colonized exhibit derives from the craziness of believing they are subhuman. Colonialism makes it impossible for the colonized to be sane, because it makes it seem like their very thinking is irrational and animalistic.

Total liberation involves every facet of the personality.

The Wretched of the Earth, p. 233

If colonialism creates psychological problems in addition to economic and political ones, then, according to Fanon, decolonization implies nothing less than the total transformation of the colonized psyche. Not only does colonialism give the colonized an inferiority complex, but the violence associated with colonialism also creates a number of post-traumatic neuroses in the colonized. Removing colonialism removes these sources of psychological disturbance. In other words, decolonization is actually a psychological “cure.”