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Concerning Violence – FRANTZ FANON (Excerpted from The Wretched Of The Earth)

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. At whatever level we study it— relationships
between individuals, new names for sports clubs, the human admixture at cocktail parties, in the
police, on the directing boards of national or private banks— decolonization is quite simply the
replacing of a certain “species” of men by another “species” of men. Without any period of
transition, there is a total, complete, and absolute substitution. It is true that we could equally
well stress the rise of a new nation, the setting up of a new state, its diplomatic relations, and its
economic and political trends. But we have precisely chosen to speak of that kind of tabula rasa
which characterizes at the outset all decolonization. Its unusual importance is that it constitutes,
from the very first day, the minimum demands of the colonized. To tell the truth, the proof of
success lies in a whole social structure being changed from the bottom up. The extraordinary
importance of this change is that it is willed, called for, demanded. The need for this change
exists in its crude state, impetuous and compelling, in the consciousness and in the lives of the
men and women who are colonized. But the possibility of this change is equally experienced in
the form of a terrifying future in the consciousness of another “species” of men and women: the
colonizers. Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a
program of complete disorder. But it cannot come as a result of magical practices, nor of a
natural shock, nor of a friendly understanding. Decolonization, as we know, is a historical
process: that is to say that it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself
except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and
content. 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 substantification which results from and is
nourished by the situation in the colonies. Their first encounter was marked by violence and their
existence together— that is to say the exploitation of the native by the settler— was carried on
by dint of a great array of bayonets and cannons. The settler and the native are old acquaintances.
In fact, the settler is right when he speaks of knowing “them” well. For it is the settler who has
brought the native into existence and who perpetuates his existence. The settler owes the fact of
his very existence, that is to say, his property, to the colonial system. Decolonization never takes
place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms
spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of
history’s floodlights upon them. It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduced by new
men, and with it a new language and new humanity. Decolonization is the veritable creation of
new men. But this creation owes nothing of its legitimacy to any supernatural power; the “thing”
which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself. In
decolonization, there is therefore the need of a complete calling in question of the colonial
situation. If we wish to describe it precisely, we might find it in the well-known words: “The last
shall be first and the first last.” Decolonization is the putting into practice of this sentence. That
is why, if we try to describe it, all decolonization is successful. The naked truth of decolonization
evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last
shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two
protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things, and to make them
climb at a pace (too quickly, some say) the well-known steps which characterize an organized
society, can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course, that of

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violence. You do not turn any society, however primitive it may be, upside down with such a
program if you have not decided from the very beginning, that is to say from the actual
formulation of that program, to overcome all the obstacles that you will come across in so doing.
The native who decides to put the program into practice, and to become its moving force, is
ready for violence at all times. From birth it is clear to him that this narrow world, strewn with
prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence. The colonial world is a world
divided into compartments. It is probably unnecessary to recall the existence of native quarters
and European quarters, of schools for natives and schools for Europeans; in the same way we
need not recall apartheid in South Africa. Yet, if we examine closely this system of
compartments, we will at least be able to reveal the lines of force it implies. This approach to the
colonial world, its ordering, and its geographical layout will allow us to mark out the lines on
which a decolonized society will be reorganized. The colonial world is a world cut in two. The
dividing line, the frontiers are shown by barracks and police stations. In the colonies it is the
policeman and the soldier who are the official, instituted go-betweens, the spokesmen of the
settler and his rule of oppression. In capitalist societies the educational system, whether lay or
clerical, the structure of moral reflexes handed down from father to son, the exemplary honesty
of workers who are given a medal after fifty years of good and loyal service, and the affection
which springs from harmonious relations and good behavior— all these aesthetic expressions of
respect for the established order serve to create around the exploited person an atmosphere of
submission and of inhibition which lightens the task of policing considerably. In the capitalist
countries a multitude of moral teachers, counselors, and “be-wilderers” separate the exploited
from those in power. In the colonial countries, on the contrary, the policeman and the soldier, by
their immediate presence and their frequent and direct action maintain contact with the native
and advise him by means of rifle butts and napalm not to budge. It is obvious here that the agents
of government speak the language of pure force. The intermediary does not lighten the
oppression, nor seek to hide the domination; he shows them up and puts them into practice with
the clear conscience of an upholder of the peace; yet he is the bringer of violence into the home
and into the mind of the native. The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the
zone inhabited by the settlers. The two zones are opposed, but not in the service of a higher
unity. Obedient to the rules of pure Aristotelian logic, they both follow the principle of reciprocal
exclusivity. No conciliation is possible, for of the two terms, one is superfluous. The settlers’
town is a strongly built town, all made of stone and steel. It is a brightly lit town; the streets are
covered with asphalt, and the garbage cans swallow all the leavings, unseen, unknown, and
hardly thought about. The settler’s feet are never visible, except perhaps in the sea; but there
you’re never close enough to see them. His feet are protected by strong shoes although the streets
of his town are clean and even, with no holes or stones. The settler’s town is a well-fed town, an
easygoing town; its belly is always full of good things. The settlers’ town is a town of white
people, of foreigners. The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the
Negro village, the medina, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute.
They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where, nor how.
It is a world without spaciousness; men live there on top of each other, and their huts are built
one on top of the other. The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of
coal, of light. The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in
the mire. It is a town of niggers and dirty Arabs. The look that the native turns on the settler’s
town is a look of lust, a look of envy; it expresses his dreams of possession— all manner of
possession: to sit at the settler’s table, to sleep in the settler’s bed, with his wife if possible. The

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colonized man is an envious man. And this the settler knows very well; when their glances meet
he ascertains bitterly, always on the defensive, “They want to take our place.” It is true, for there
is no native who does not dream at least once a day of setting himself up in the settler’s place.
This world divided into compartments, this world cut in two is inhabited by two different
species. The originality of the colonial context is that economic reality, inequality, and the
immense difference of ways of life never come to mask the human realities. When you examine
at close quarters the colonial context, it is evident that what parcels out the world is to begin with
the fact of belonging to or not belonging to a given race, a given species. In the colonies the
economic substructure is also a superstructure. The cause is the consequence; you are rich
because you are white, you are white because you are rich. This is why Marxist analysis should
always be slightly stretched every time we have to do with the colonial problem.
Everything up to and including the very nature of pre-capitalist society, so well explained
by Marx, must here be thought out again. The serf is in essence different from the knight, but a
reference to divine right is necessary to legitimize this statutory difference. In the colonies, the
foreigner coming from another country imposed his rule by means of guns and machines. In
defiance of his successful transplantation, in spite of his appropriation, the settler still remains a
foreigner. It is neither the act of owning factories, nor estates, nor a bank balance which
distinguishes the governing classes. The governing race is first and foremost those who come
from elsewhere, those who are unlike the original inhabitants, “the others.” The violence which
has ruled over the ordering of the colonial world, which has ceaselessly drummed the rhythm for
the destruction of native social forms and broken up without reserve the systems of reference of
the economy, the customs of dress and external life, that same violence will be claimed and taken
over by the native at the moment when, deciding to embody history in his own person, he surges
into the forbidden quarters. 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 colonized people. To break up the colonial world does not
mean that after the frontiers have been abolished lines of communication will be set up between
the two zones. The destruction of the colonial world is no more and no less that the abolition of
one zone, its burial in the depths of the earth or its expulsion from the country.

. . . . .

The problem of truth ought also to be considered. In every age, among the people, truth is the
property of the national cause. No absolute verity, no discourse on the purity of the soul, can
shake this position. The native replies to the living lie of the colonial situation by an equal
falsehood. His dealings with his fellow-nationals are open; they are strained and
incomprehensible with regard to the settlers. Truth is that which hurries on the break-up of the
colonialist regime; it is that which promotes the emergence of the nation; it is all that protects the
natives, and ruins the foreigners. In this colonialist context there is no truthful behavior, and the
good is quite simply that which is evil for “them.” Thus we see that the primary Manicheanism
which governed colonial society is preserved intact during the period of decolonization; that is to
say that the settler never ceases to be the enemy, the opponent, the foe that must be overthrown.
The oppressor, in his own sphere, starts the process, a process of domination, of exploitation, and
of pillage, and in the other sphere, the coiled plundered creature which is the native provides
fodder for the process as best he can, the process which moves uninterruptedly from the banks of
the colonial territory to the palaces and the docks of the mother country. In this becalmed zone

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the sea has a smooth surface, the palm tree stirs gently in the breeze, the waves lap against the
pebbles, and raw materials are ceaselessly transported, justifying the presence of the settler: and
all the while the native, bent double, more dead than alive, exists interminably in an unchanging
dream. The settler makes history; his life is an epoch, an Odyssey. He is the absolute beginning:
“This land was created by us”; he is the unceasing cause: “If we leave, all is lost, and the country
will go back to the Middle Ages.” Over against him torpid creatures, wasted by fevers, obsessed
by ancestral customs, form an almost inorganic background for the innovating dynamism
of colonial mercantilism. The settler makes history and is conscious of making it. And because
he constantly refers to the history of his mother country, he clearly indicates that he himself is
the extension of that mother country. Thus the history which he writes is not the history of the
country which he plunders but the history of his own nation in regard to all that she skims off, all
that she violates and starves. The immobility to which the native is condemned can only be
called in question if the native decides to put an end to the history of colonization— the history
of pillage— and to bring into existence the history of the nation— the history of decolonization.
A world divided into compartments, a motionless, Manichean world, a world of statues: the
statue of the general who carried out the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the
bridge: a world which is sure of itself, which crushes with its stones the backs flayed by whips;
this is the colonial world. The native is a being hemmed in; apartheid is simply one form of the
division into compartments of the colonial world. The first thing which the native learns is to
stay in his place, and not to go beyond certain limits. This is why the dreams of the native are
always of muscular prowess; his dreams are of action and of aggression. I dream I am jumping,
swimming, running, climbing; I dream that I burst out laughing, that I span a river in one stride,
or that I am followed by a flood of motorcars which never catch up with me. During the period
of colonization, the native never stops achieving his freedom from nine in the evening until six in
the morning. The colonized man will first manifest this aggressiveness which has been deposited
in his bones against his own people. This is the period when the niggers beat each other up, and
the police and magistrates do not know which way to turn when faced with the astonishing
waves of crime in North Africa. We shall see later how this phenomenon should be judged.
When the native is confronted with the colonial order of things, he finds he is in a state of
permanent tension. The settler’s world is a hostile world, which spurns the native, but at the
same time it is a world of which he is envious. We have seen that the native never ceases to
dream of putting himself in the place of the settler— not of becoming the settler but of
substituting himself for the settler. This hostile world, ponderous and aggressive because it fends
off the colonized masses with all the harshness it is capable of, represents not merely a hell from
which the swiftest flight possible is desirable, but also a paradise close at hand which is guarded
by terrible watchdogs.

. . . . .

The peasantry is systematically disregarded for the most part by the propaganda put out by the
nationalist parties. And is clear that in the colonial countries the peasants alone are revolutionary,
for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The starving peasant, outside the class
system, is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no
compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization are simply a question
of relative strength. The exploited man sees that his liberation implies the use of all means, and
that of force first and foremost. When in 1956, after the capitulation of Monsieur Guy Mollet to

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the settlers in Algeria, the Front de Liberation Nationale, in a famous leaflet, stated that
colonialism only loosens its hold when the knife is at its throat, no Algerian really found these
terms too violent. The leaflet only expressed what every Algerian felt at heart: colonialism is not
a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural
state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence. At the decisive moment, the
colonialist bourgeoisie, which up till then has remained inactive, comes into the field. It
introduces that new idea which is in proper parlance a creation of the colonial situation: non-
violence. In its simplest form this non-violence signifies to the intellectual and economic elite of
the colonized country that the bourgeoisie has the same interests as they and that it is therefore
urgent and indispensable to come to terms for the public good. Non-violence is an attempt to
settle the colonial problem around a green baize table, before any regrettable act has been
performed or irreparable gesture made, before any blood has been shed. But if the masses,
without waiting for the chairs to be arranged around the baize table, listen to their own voice and
begin committing outrages and setting fire to buildings, the elite and the nationalist bourgeois
parties will be seen rushing to the colonialists to exclaim, “This is very serious! We do not know
how it will end; we must find a solution— some sort of compromise.” This idea of compromise
is very important in the phenomenon of decolonization, for it is very far from being a simple one.
Compromise involves the colonial system and the young nationalist bourgeoisie at one and the
same time. The partisans of the colonial system discover that the masses may destroy everything.
Blown-up bridges, ravaged farms, repressions, and fighting harshly disrupt the economy.
Compromise is equally attractive to the nationalist bourgeoisie, who since they are not clearly
aware of the possible consequences of the rising storm, are genuinely afraid of being swept away
by this huge hurricane and never stop saying to the settlers: “We are still capable of stopping the
slaughter; the masses still have confidence in us; act quickly if you do not want to put everything
in jeopardy.” One step more, and the leader of the nationalist party keeps his distance with regard
to that violence. He loudly proclaims that he has nothing to do with these Mau-Mau, these
terrorists, these throat-slitters. At best, he shuts himself off in a no man’s land between the
terrorists and the settlers and willingly offers his services as go-between; that is to say, that as the
settlers cannot discuss terms with these Mau-Mau, he himself will be quite willing to begin
negotiations. Thus it is that the rear guard of the national struggle, that very party of people who
have never ceased to be on the other side in the fight, find themselves somersaulted into the can
of negotiations and compromise— precisely because that party has taken very good care never to
break contact with colonialism. Before negotiations have been set afoot, the majority of
nationalist parties confine themselves for the most part to explaining and excusing this
“savagery.” They do not assert that the people have to use physical force, and it sometimes even
happens that they go so far as to condemn, in private, the spectacular deeds which are declared to
be hateful by the press and public opinion in the mother country. The legitimate excuse for this
ultra-conservative policy is the desire to see things in an objective light; but this traditional
attitude of the native intellectual and of the leaders of the nationalist parties is not, in reality, in
the least objective. For in fact they are not at all convinced that this impatient violence of the
masses is the most efficient means of defending their own interests. Moreover, there are some
individuals who are convinced of the ineffectiveness of violence methods; for them, there is no
doubt about it, every attempt to break colonial oppression by force is a hopeless effort, an
attempt at suicide, because in the innermost recesses of their brains the settler’s tanks and
airplanes occupy a huge place. When they are told “Action must be taken,” they see bombs
raining down on them, armored cars coming at them on every path, machine-gunning and police

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action … and they sit quiet. They are beaten from the start. There is no need to demonstrate their
incapacity to triumph by violent methods; they take it for granted in their everyday life and in
their political maneuvers. They have remained in the same childish position as Engels took up in
his famous polemic with that monument of puerility, Monsieur Dühring:

In the same way that Robinson [Crusoe] was able to obtain a sword, we can just as well suppose
that [Man] Friday might appear one fine morning with a loaded revolver in his hand, and from
then on the whole relationship of violence is reversed: Man Friday gives the orders and Crusoe
is obliged to work Thus, the revolver triumphs over the sword, and even the most childish
believer in axioms will doubtless form the conclusion that violence is not a simple act of will, but
needs for its realization certain very concrete preliminary conditions, and in particular the
implements of violence; and the more highly developed of those implements will carry the day
against primitive ones. Moreover, the very fact of the ability to produce such weapons signifies
that the producer of highly developed weapons, in every day speech, the arms manufacturer,
triumphs over the producer of primitive weapons. To put it briefly, the triumph of violence
depends upon the production of armaments, and this in its turn depends on production in
general, and thus … on economic strength, on the economy of the State, and in the last resort on
the material means which that violence commands.

In fact, the leaders of reform have nothing else to say than: “With what are you going to fight the
settlers? With your knives? Your shotguns?” It is true that weapons are important when violence
comes into play, since all finally depends on the distribution of these implements. But it so
happens that the liberation of colonial countries throws new light on the subject. For example,
we have seen that during the Spanish campaign, which was a very genuine colonial war,
Napoleon, in spite of an army which reached in the offensives of the spring of 1810 the huge
figure of 400,000 men, was forced to retreat. Yet the French army made the whole of Europe
tremble by its weapons of war, by the bravery of its soldiers, and by the military genius of its
leaders. Face to face with the enormous potentials of the Napoleonic troops, the Spaniards,
inspired by an unshakeable national ardor, rediscovered the famous methods of guerilla war-fare
which, twenty-five years before, the American militia had tried out on the English forces. But the
native’s guerilla warfare would be of no value as opposed to other means of violence if it did not
form a new element in the worldwide process of competition between trusts and monopolies. In
the early days of colonization, a single column could occupy immense stretches of country: the
Congo, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and so on. Today, however, the colonized countries’ national
struggle crops up in a completely new international situation. Capitalism, in its early days, saw in
the colonies a source of raw materials which, once turned into manufactured goods, could be
distributed on the European market. After a phase of accumulation of capital, capitalism has
today come to modify its conception of the profit-earning capacity of a commercial enterprise.
The colonies have become a market. The colonial population is a customer who is ready to buy
goods; consequently, if the garrison has to be perpetually reinforced, if buying and selling
slackens off, that is to say if manufactured and finished goods can no longer be exported, there is
clear proof that the solution of military force must be set aside. A blind domination founded on
slavery is not economically speaking worthwhile for the bourgeoisie of the mother country. The
monopolistic group within this bourgeoisie does not support a government whose policy is solely
that of the sword. What the factory-owners and finance magnates of the mother country expect
from their government is not that it should decimate the colonial peoples, but that it should

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safeguard with the help of economic conventions their own “legitimate interests.” Thus there
exists a sort of detached complicity between capitalism and the violent forces which blaze up in
colonial territory. What is more, the native is not alone against the oppressor, for indeed there is
also the political and diplomatic support of progressive countries and peoples. But above all
there is competition, that pitiless war which financial groups wage upon each other. A Berlin
Conference was able to tear Africa into shreds and divide her up between three or four imperial
flags. At the moment, the important thing is not whether such-and-such a region in Africa is
under French or Belgian sovereignty, but rather that the economic zones are respected. Today,
wars of repression are no longer waged against rebel sultans; everything is more elegant, less
bloodthirsty; the liquidation of the Castro regime will be quite peaceful. They do all they can to
strangle Guinea and they eliminate Mosaddeq. Thus the nationalist leader who is frightened of
violence is wrong if he imagines that colonialism is going to “massacre all of us.” The military
will of course go on playing with tin soldiers which date from the time of the conquest, but
higher finance will soon bring the truth home to them.

. . . . .

Let us return to considering the single combat between native and settler. We have seen that it
takes the form of an armed and open struggle. There is no lack of historical examples: Indo-
China, Indonesia, and of course North Africa. But what we must not lose sight of is that this
struggle could have broken out anywhere, in Guinea as well as Somaliland, and moreover today
it could break out in every place where colonialism means to stay on, in Angola, for example.
The existence of an armed struggle shows that the people are decided to trust to violent methods
only. He of whom they have never stopped saying that the only language he understands is that
of force, decides to give utterance by force. In fact, as always, the settler has shown him the way
he should take if he is to become free. The argument the native chooses has been furnished by
the settler, and by an ironic turning of the tables it is the native who now affirms that the
colonialist understands nothing but force. The colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at
no time tried to hide this aspect of things. Every statue, whether of Faidherbe or of Lyautey, of
Bugeaud or of Sergeant Blandan— all these conquistadors perched on colonial soil do not cease
from proclaiming one and the same …

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