Concerning Violence

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. It is also interspersed with moving excerpts from the Martinican Philosopher 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 and the like, thus, much more easily.

Violence is the foundation of both quantitative and qualitative alteration for the native. As the essay Concerning Violence states, an unconscious ire forms in the colonised which after initial misdirection, 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 Coloniser, who will never surrender power lest coerced to do thus. 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 are nothing more than that under colonialism: cleaners and carriers. 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’ (The Wretched of the Earth) this day has always been laying in waiting as a dormant beast aware of the enemy and the only means to deal with it. Other natives gradually gain consciousness sick of the colonial tensions, and once they experienced this new way of living (qualitatively) through violence they could never revert back to their dehumanising position.

Some, alternatively, do not at all, such as the sickening natives (many, for instance, from the native petit-bourgeoisie who have their economic interests at heart) who are seen fighting shoulder to shoulder with the European against their own brothers and sisters. It is a true source of aesthetic inspiration to see such oppressors defeated. One such striking scene is seen 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 fatigued. The inevitable is coming. The colonised arises singing African songs and joyfully dancing, engaging in tradition of their own, mocking the forgotten Europe with its Christianity, aggressive egoism and bogus Humanism all deceased. They have, in accordance with Sartre’s existentialism, for the first time in history, started defining their own essence as Africans, no longer the ‘Other’ in the Hegelian master-slave dialectic. Such scenes are almost tear-jerking.

Further, another memorable aspect of the documentary, for me, is the living conditions of the native being contrasted with the coloniser’s towns. This is a salient feature of colonialism. The white man, one must always recall, is there for economic purposes – Capitalist expansion for raw materials and 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.

For those who colonise from afar e.g. France, Portugal, Britain etc., Fanon notes in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ that they (‘Europe’) are ‘literally the creation of the Third World’. Remember the next time you come by a lavish ‘Cathedral’, or Parliament building that is nicely lit and structured with gold in the West that such opulence has been stolen from the Third World. 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 the right-wing populist media.

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. 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 Colonialist bourgeois, seeking create a world without any 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’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 pumped full of capital and weapons from America and her allies also. We see such a saddening demise in this documentary with the case study of Burkina Faso and Liberia as, once again, Africa is colonised today much more perniciously through politico-economic and cultural domination by the White European.

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 France did not stretch past their own ethnicity. Rather, peoples of Martinique, Algeria and other colonies were dehumanised (on the basis of ethnicity) so resources could be taken at will for economic advancement of French industries, the fruits of which are enjoyed by the French today. The same can be said for 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. Massacres and mass hangings of innocent Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising for independence from Imperial rule, the colonisation of Africa in the late 19th Century in the ‘Scramble for Africa’, the massacres in Ireland such as Bloody Sunday in 1972 (fourteen civilians murdered protesting for civil rights), I cannot help but enquire what is there to celebrate apart from Imperialism? Surely this is the history of Western Civilisation, which Fanon so powerfully articulates in his works, and as interpreted in this film.

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