The documentary, Concerning Violence (dir. Olsson 2014), comes as a breath of fresh air to the masses stupefied by neo-colonial propaganda such as SAS: He who dares wins and Lone Survivor. It documents, quite thoroughly, extremely potent scenes from national liberation struggles throughout Africa in the twentieth Century. These are then interspersed with moving excerpts from the Martinican philosopher and psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon’s magnum opus The Wretched of the Earth, narrated by Lauryn Hill.
The brilliant Marxist academic Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak prefaces the documentary by chronicling experiences which shaped Fanon. She explains how he swiftly learned in France and the French Army (one which fought the Nazis, ironically) that his class status in Martinique did not get him very far with the French due to his skin tone. He then attempts to comprehend the role that such pseudoscientific ideas play in colonialism, in his work Black Skin, White Masks. According to Fanon, a European culture has been imposed upon natives normalising the notion that they are inferior. They feel themselves as barbarians, in need of ‘civilising’, neglecting their position as a human. The European materially exploits the colonised via theft of resources, slavery and the like, thus, with much greater facility.
Violence is the foundation of both quantitative and qualitative alteration for the native. As the essay Concerning Violence argues, an unconscious ire forms in the colonised which after initial misdirection (’emotional outlets of dance and possession by spirits… (and) in fratricidal combats (as well)’), is turned against the coloniser, the true source of it. In a cathartic manner, violence is utilised beneficially so that such intrinsic anger disappears with the defeat of the imperialist. Only then will the native be emancipated so to form himself outside of European visions, in his own land with his own culture. The French Existential Marxist writer Jean-Paul Sartre encapsulates this strikingly well in his preface to The Wretched of the Earth:
‘to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses… there remain a dead man, and a free man; the survivor, for the first time, feels a national soil under his foot.’
These changes are displayed in this documentary along with suppression of them to reinforce the status quo. But, as one jingoist of Rhodesia (a country named after the famously racist British expansionist Cecil Rhodes who founded it) admitted in the film, ‘there is no gamble’ in a colonial war. Once decolonisation began there was no stemming it. The black individuals under their power in Rhodesia were seen cleaning the boots of white soldiers, or carrying golf clubs of the European; they were mere aid for their superiors. Such scenes are then contrasted with the beautiful barefooted Mozambican troops trudging through the forest, rifles in hand. For men like the shoeless, ‘starving peasant’ this day has always been laying in wait as a dormant beast, aware of the enemy and the only means to deal with it – ‘violence’. Henceforth they could not be stopped.
To see the defeat of the colonisers at the hands of these peasants, is truly aesthetically pleasing. One such striking scene is observable when a Portuguese troop is shot in a jungle in Guinea-Bissau, his Catholic Cross strewn on the ground. He and his comrades are seen to be eminently fatigued. The inevitable is coming. The colonised arises singing native songs and dancing gayly, engaging in tradition of their own, mocking the forgotten Europe, with its vicious egoism and bogus humanism deceased. They have, in accordance with Sartre’s Existentialism, for the first time in history, started defining their own essence as Africans.
Further, another indelible aspect of the documentary, is the living conditions of the native compared to that of the colonisers’. This is a salient feature of imperialism. The white man, one must always recall, is there for economic purposes – capitalist expansion for raw materials, and slavery or virtually free labour. ‘Shanty towns’ (The Wretched of the Earth) and slums are built for the native barely able to put clothes on his back. Meanwhile, the town of the capitalist colonialists’ is one that is ‘well-fed, an easy-going’ town. The colonised feels great envy when observing it, and justly so. It is the ubiquitous police and army barracks, however, that keep them from subverting. The violence of the colonisers surround the native’s daily life for ‘colonialism is violence in its natural state’. Colonisers will forever compromise with the colonised within ‘legitimate’ political means, but it is violence that will lead to true liberation from the whole system.
Fanon also notes in The Wretched of the Earth that ‘Europe is literally the creation of the Third World’. Remember the next time you come by a lavish ‘Cathedral’, or a nicely lit Parliament building constructed with gold in the West, that such opulence has been stolen from the Third World. Many wealthy ports, such as those of ‘Bordeaux’ or ‘Liverpool’, were even famous for trading in slaves. Then, worse still, we have the audacity to talk about whether we should rid of Third World debt, or how we should fund them in the most patronising of fashions, especially in the right-wing populist media e.g. Daily Mail.
Marxism is the Philosophy that Fanon envisions as unifying these natives. Fanon says that in a colonial battle ‘individualism is the first to disappear’ for the colonised – ‘tenderness’, something devoid in the character of the European, pervades them. Without such unity they could never build a nation. Marxism means that they are able to define their own work outside of the control of the bourgeois, seeking to create a world without alienated labour in the future. However, unfortunately, all of these states degenerated due to the adoption of the authoritarian Marxism-Leninism or Maoist ideology (based on who you sided with during the Sino-Soviet split). They were, although, in essence, (somewhat implicitly) forced to adopt it in order to gain arms supplies from the Soviet Union and (areas of) the Eastern Bloc or from Mao Tse-Tung’s China. Fanon is clearly aware in his homonymous essay, ‘Concerning Violence’, that a lot of these states will fail due to it being almost autarkic, reliant on deteriorating Communist funding, constantly fending off counter-revolutionaries provided with vast amounts of capital and weapons from America and her allies simultaneously. We see such an unfortunate demise in this documentary with the case study of Burkina Faso and Liberia as, once again, Africa is colonised, much more perniciously though, in the supposedly post-colonial period, by Europeans.
The lesson we, as Westerners, can take from Fanon is the values which we so frequently espouse as the bedrock of our society being scrutinised. The ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!’ declared in 1789 by the French bourgeoisie did not stretch past their own class, let alone ethnicity. Peoples of Martinique, Algeria and other colonies were degraded and humiliated on the basis of ethnicity, in order that resources could be taken and labour used at will for the economic advancement of French industries, the fruits of which are enjoyed by the French today. Similar observations can be made regarding Britain and nearly all other Western European lands. As one who has grown up in Britain and observed its nationalism, the ignorance of Britons regarding history is evincing. After the massacres and mass hangings of innocent Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising for independence from imperial rule; being part of the the late nineteenth-century colonising conquest known as the ‘Scramble for Africa’; the massacres in Ireland such as Bloody Sunday in 1972 (fourteen civilians murdered protesting for civil rights), among other atrocities, I cannot help but enquire what is there to celebrate apart from bestial imperialism? Surely this is the history of Western Civilisation, which Fanon so potently articulates in his works, and as is interpreted in this film.