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Modern Social Thought: Essay III

Parag Bhatnagar
Fanon or Gandhi? Support your position with substantive discussion of the works we have
read on them. You have several ways you can do this. Select ONE of the following strategies:
1. Relate your argument to real world recent or past events; OR. 2. Relate your argument to
the full range of postcolonial thinkers we encountered in the course, including Guha,
Chakrabarty and the Comaroffs; OR, 3. Go back to Tocqueville. For example, speculate
what Tocquevilles puritans would think?

Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy.

Tony Stark (Downey 2008)

In his magnum opus, The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon paints a vivid picture
of the Algerian struggle for independence over their French colonizers, explaining why
violence was not just the best method to achieve liberation, but the only method. Fanon
describes his idealized liberated state free from any trace of colonial settlers. He elaborates on
how violence would inevitably lead to that final stage, as well as the curious case of the
native intellectual who tries to rid the country of the settler but fails to do so. The native
intellectual instead tries to create a caricaturized nation based on his simplistic understanding
of outdated customs that are mistakenly conflated with culture. Gandhi, on the other hand,
is a major proponent of nonviolence and believes that meaningful peace can only be achieved
through nonviolent means. However, he fails to realize that his nonviolent methods are
predicated on the potential violence that can erupt. His idealisation of old practices and
complete rejection of Western civilisation are similar to those of Fanons native intellectual,
and as one, he is often contradictory and nave at best. Together Gandhis lack of
understanding of the very nation he hopes to save as well as his nonviolent methods despite
having worked somewhat in achieving Indian independence are ultimately flawed.

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Fanon describes the process of decolonization as the replacing of a certain species

of men by another species of men [involving] the meeting of two forces, opposed to
each other by their very nature [ the natives and the settlers] This narrow world, strewn
with prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence (Fanon 1963, 35-37).
Ideal decolonization, according to Fanon, involves the removal of every trace of settler
oppression through the spilling of settler blood. He rationalizes this by elaborating on the
dynamic of native-settler relations.
Settlers, according to Fanon, are colonizers who take control of the native land and
maintain this control through means of violence, as well as through the creation of an
inferiority complex (Fanon 1963, 18) through the denial of self-respect to the natives. In
Michael Sonnleitners paper Of Logic and Liberation: Frantz Fanon on Terrorism, he posits
that Fanon wanted to help the black man free himself of the arsenal of complexes that have
been developed by the colonial environment He noted that the non-white natives of
Algeria were encouraged to adopt white French culture and yet, when they subjectively
succeeded, they were not accepted as equally the whites within that culture. (Sonnleitner
1987, 289-290). Fanon, a psychiatrist by profession, goes on to analyse what this structural
dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed does to the psyche of the native. Through structural
institutionalization of this dichotomy (as Sonnleitner puts it), this Manicheism goes to its
logical conclusion and dehumanizes the native, or to speak plainly, it turns him into an animal
(Fanon 1963, 42). Thus through institutionalized racism (making the culture and values and
thus the people appear inferior) and violent oppression, the settlers maintain their dominance
in the colony.
The natives, who find themselves in this situation of inferiority, thus have a source of
anger that has no outlet. Hence this muscular tension finds outlet regularly in bloodthirsty

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explosions (Fanon 1963, 54). In Sonnleitners paper, he discusses Fanons deconstruction of

the native psyche.
Terrorist action thus became justified as a physiological response to internal tensions
that, if not released externally, would result in a high occurrence of self-destructive
forms of mental pathology Fanon also admits that work stoppages, mass
demonstrations, and boycotts allow the people to work off their energy without
becoming hate via bloodthirsty explosions. However, he described nonviolent
activities as a practice of therapy by hibernation (Sonnleitner 1987, 290-291).
Violence in this context becomes psychologically desirable because it both provides a
release from the mental anguish and helps the native realise that in mortality, the settler is no
superior of the native. For the native, life can only spring up again out of the rotting corpse
of the settler (Fanon 1963, 93).
This is where one of the greatest proponents of nonviolence in the world would
disagree. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi believes that diplomacy is not a compromise in
which both parties lose something rather, he is of the opinion that both parties have
something to gain through nonviolence. Moreover, he has a different take on the process of
colonization and the nature of settlers. He describes the English as a nation of shopkeepers
(Gandhi 1946, 29). An apt description, considering they originally came to India as the
English East India Company to trade. Contrary to Fanon, Gandhi states that the English did
not take India by the sword. It was the natives who allowed the English to enter and rule, by
seeking protection from them against neighbouring kingdoms. Then it follows that we keep
the English in India for our base self-interest. We like their commerce, they please us by their
subtle methods, and get what they want from us (Gandhi 1946, 29). Therefore, he does not

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view the English as the root of the problem, and thus does not believe that simply getting rid
of the English will achieve anything so long as India is not ready for self-rule.
His methods thus do not simply focus on liberation, but the quality of liberation. He
uses the example of desiring a watch and demonstrates three ways of procuring the watch. If
I want to deprive you of your watch, I shall certainly have to fight for it; if I want to buy your
watch, I shall have to pay you for it; and if I want a gift, I shall have to plead for it; and,
according to the means I employ, the watch is stolen property, my own property, or a
donation. Thus we see three different results from different means. (Gandhi 1946, 52). If we
are to accept Fanons definition of the settler however, there is only one way to get the watch,
i.e. by force. He is a strong proponent against diplomatic talks or nonviolent means. Given
his characterisation of the settler, he believes they cannot be reasoned with due to their notion
that natives are inferior. He believes that nonviolence denotes an ultra-conservative policy
where compromises are made with the oppressor while seated around a green baize table
(Sonnleitner 1987, 291). If true liberation is to be achieved, then it had no choice but to
adopt forms of terror which had until then it had rejected (Fanon 1963, 55). However, there
is method to Fanons madness. He believes that anarchic violence with no purpose or
direction achieves no concrete goals. There must be some co-ordination and order for the
violence to be successful, and no more violence than is necessary should be used.
There appears to be some fundamental, irreconcilable difference between Fanon and
Gandhi not only on the matter of the methods to use to achieve decolonization but also on
the nature of decolonization, be it liberation or self-rule. Gandhi is of the opinion that India
is being ground down not under the English heel but under that of modern civilisation
(Gandhi 1946, 30). Some might say that Gandhi would describe Fanons idea of liberation as
want[ing] English rule without the Englishman, [to] want the tigers nature, but not the tiger;
that is to say, [to] make India English (Gandhi 1946, 21). This is somewhat true as Fanons
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liberation by definition involves the replacement of one species with another. However,
Fanons liberated Algeria would have a higher moral authority than the French, as it would
not practice institutionalised racism against its own people. Thus in order to be a successfully
liberated country, not only must the decolonisation movement have a vision for the country
and disciplined leadership, but it must also be a more moral government than the previous
otherwise the decolonisation would have been for naught.
Fanon, on the other hand would classify Gandhis radical reform movements as the
delusions of a native intellectual. He would claim that Gandhis love and admiration for precolonial India is a result of his realization of the danger that he is breaking adrift from his
people. This stated belief in a national culture is in fact an ardent, despairing turning toward
anything that will afford him secure anchorage. In order to ensure his salvation and to escape
from the supremacy of the white mans culture the native feels the need to turn backward
toward his unknown roots and to lose himself at whatever cost in his own barbarous people
(Fanon 1963, 217). He further adds that Going back to your own people means to become a
dirty wog, to go native as much as you can, to become unrecognizable, and to cut off those
wings that before you had allowed to grow (Fanon 1963, 221). Indeed this can be seen
clearly in Gandhis denunciation of everything related to modern civilization trains, post,
modern medicine and doctors, even going so far as to denounce lawyers despite being a
professional lawyer himself. He extols the virtues of Indian culture and claims she must
return to her glorious roots. It therefore seems that Gandhi can be adequately described by
Fanon's theory of the native intellectual. He would therefore claim that Gandhi fails to
actually capture the essence of Indian civilisation and culture and merely bases his ideas of
India on out-dated, inaccurate customs, unaware of the much more fundamental substance
which is constantly being renewed.

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Fanon clearly believes that the native intellectual is incapable of getting rid of
colonialism. However, Gandhi is widely credited as responsible for getting India her
independence. While it might seem like this goes against Fanons theory, there are certain
nuances to Indian independence that are not reflected in the nonviolent struggle. Gandhis
nonviolent protests frequently escalated out of his control he even had to call off his second
quit India campaign because it turned too militant for his taste.
Gandhi kept igniting forces that got beyond his control. The basic pattern could be
seen again in the Civil Disobedience Movements of the early 1930s, which began
with the famous campaign to violate the British salt monopoly. Gandhi chose this
hated monopoly as a symbolic target to unite Indians on a nationalist basis while
minimizing the risk that the movement would move on to pose class demands.
But the salt satyagraha escalated quickly. Mass marches to the coast to break the
British salt monopoly led to mass arrests. News of Gandhis own arrest sparked a
strike by textile workers in Maharashtra who attacked police outposts, law courts and
other official buildings (Moradian and Whitehouse 2000, 9).
Gandhis revolutionary ideas generated a massive following of supporters whom he
agitated effectively, but he failed to control the suppressed anger in them that Fanon
predicted. This led to perhaps even worse results than if Gandhi had just allowed violence to
naturally occur and let the events unfold as they would normally have.
Gandhis principle of nonviolence, whose moral force propelled several mass
movements forward in their initial phases, repeatedly held back the struggles at key
moments. The outcome of these struggles was that the privileged groups in town and
country had been able to successfully detach attainment of political independence
from radical social change. The British had gone, but the bureaucracy and police they
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had built up continued with little change, and could prove as oppressive and ruthless
as before (or even more perhaps at times) (Moradian and Whitehouse 2000, 11).
For all intents and purposes, to the English, Gandhi was no different than a terrorist
leader holding himself for ransom with a large cult following. Had his hunger strikes been
ignored and had he died, the violence in the country would be tremendous a fact that the
colonisers were acutely aware of. Despite his radical popularity, his pacifist tendencies meant
that after a long and drawn out Civil Disobedience Movement, he was only able to extract
token concessions the results of compromise after sitting around a green baize table, to put
it in Fanons words. Moreover, he was significantly aided by the fact that the English were
heavily involved in World War II defending Europe against the Axis Powers, leaving their
colonies vulnerable and exposed. Yet, for all that Gandhi had going for him, he was only able
to achieve a country torn apart by a Partition. His backward, religiously motivated policies
brought the Indian economy to a standstill, causing India to regress socio-economically as a
In the postSecond World War movement, the same social forces that had
overthrown the Russian Tsar in 1917 were at the center of the upsurgethe industrial
working class, along with peasants and workers in uniform. But in Indias case, the
countrys only mass party saved the British from being overthrown by taking power
peacefully themselvesat the price of leaving the class rebellion to be consumed in
the fires of communalism (Moradian and Whitehouse 2000, 11).
It therefore seems that no exploiting class leaves without being pushed, and that
violence is not just beneficial, but unavoidable if that result is to be achieved, barring
extraordinary circumstances. This is not to say that peace cannot be a useful tactic at times.
Indeed, nonviolent strategies might indeed help somewhat if, as in Gandhis definition, the

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coloniser is purely economically motivated. Moreover, the nonviolent approach does not
work in and of itself. Even when things went according to plan with Gandhis nonviolent
protests, violence erupted naturally. It requires that there be some force either as a natural
consequence or a Plan B of sorts when things go awry. However, if (as in most cases) we
are to accept Fanons definition of the settler a violent, dominating and exploitative group
of individuals who consider themselves racially superior to natives and use that flawed
rationalization to guide their thinking, then it would be difficult to reason with them without
the use of a clenched fist and a drawn sword.
It seems therefore that in any conflict violence inevitably surrounds peace, lurking in the
shadows waiting for things to go wrong. It is the disincentive that helps motivate peace. But violence
is not necessarily a bad thing all the time. It is possible for good to be achieved through violence a
cleansing of sorts. In death, there are no classes, no race, creed or gender. In death, everyone is equal.
Structured not gratuitous violence, it seems is what it must take to achieve any real, long lasting
liberation. But that does not mean that we abandon peaceful methods completely. There is merit to
peace, and if used effectively, it has the potential to occasionally be a better solution than violence.
However, it is still wise to wield a stick, for when things go bad.

Works Cited
Iron Man. Directed by Jon Favreau. Performed by Robert, Jr. Downey. 2008.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Grove
Press, 1963.
Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Hind Swaraj: Or, Indian Home Rule. 6, revised. Ahmedabad:
Navajivan Publishing House, 1946.
Moradian, Meneejeh, and David Whitehouse. "Gandhis politics: The experiment with nonviolence."
International Socialist Review, no. 14 (October-November 2000): 1-17.
Sonnleitner, Michael W. "Of Logic and Liberation: Frantz Fanon on Terrorism." (Sage Publications,
Inc) 17, no. 3 (March 1987): 287-304.

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