The violence which governed the ordering of the colonial world, which tirelessly punctuated the destruction of the indigenous social fabric, and demolished unchecked the systems of reference of the country’s economy, lifestyles, and modes of dress, this same violence will be vindicated and appropriated when, taking history into their own hands, the colonized swarm into the forbidden cities.
– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
Today the poor of the world have no place to turn, neither the countryside nor the city, they have only the dark interior slums between. As Mike Davis iterates: “
Indeed, peri-urban poverty – a grim human world largely cut off from the subsistence solidarities of the countryside as well as disconnected from the cultural and political life of the traditional city – is the radical new face of inequality. The urban edge is a zone of exile, a new Babylon…1
In many third world countries night after night, hornetlike helicopter gunships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts, pouring hellfire into shanties or fleeing cars. Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions. If the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression, its outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side.(PS 206)
The poor of the world living in excluded realms, zones of invisibility, marginal to even the basic needs of survival. Closed off in the shanty town, the Medina, the reservation, in disreputable places 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” (WE 4-5). In the lands of the oppressed truth is learned each day in the struggle for another life:
Truth is what hastens the dislocation of the colonial regime, what fosters the emergence of the nation. Truth is what protects the “natives” and undoes the foreigners. In the colonial context there is no truthful behavior. And good is quite simply what hurts them most. (WD 14)
One can understand why Fanon thought such dark thoughts, why he felt that violence was a cleansing force. It is not just the oppression, the exclusion, it is the humiliation, the pangs of shame at having had to live under such horrid conditions for so long, having had to watch the masters treat one as a nothing, as a mere tool. Yes, one can understand such thoughts:
At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence. Even if the armed struggle has been symbolic, and even if they have been demobilized by rapid decolonization, the people have time to realize that liberation was the achievement of each and every one and no special merit should go to the leader. Violence hoists the people up to the level of the leader. Hence their aggressive tendency to distrust the system of protocol that young governments are quick to establish. When they have used violence to achieve national liberation, the masses allow nobody to come forward as “liberator.” They prove themselves to be jealous of their achievements and take care not to place their future, their destiny, and the fate of their homeland into the hands of a living god. (WE 51-52)
This was a man who knew the truth, who had lived it, had seen the oppression, had felt the pain of its deathly touch. He also knew that liberation came with a price, that nothing is gotten for nothing. There is always a price to pay for emancipation.
Total liberation involves every facet of the personality. The ambush or the skirmish, the torture or the massacre of one’s comrades entrenches the determination to win, revives the unconscious and nurtures the imagination. When the nation in its totality is set in motion, the new man is not an a posteriori creation of this nation, but coexists with it, matures with it, and triumphs with it. This dialectical prerequisite explains the resistance to accommodating forms of colonization or window dressing. Independence is not a magic ritual but an indispensable condition for men and women to exist in true liberation, in other words to master all the material resources necessary for a radical transformation of society. (WE 233)
1. Davis, Mike (2007-09-17). Planet of Slums (p. 201). Norton. Kindle Edition.
2. Frantz Fanon. The Wretched of the Earth (pp. 4-5). Kindle Edition.