Fanon and National Liberation

Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

In his influential essay, "The Pitfalls of National Consciousness", Frantz Fanon describes this process, in fact predicting in advance, that while nationalism unites people in the anti-colonial struggle, once this struggle is over, its end result is simply to establish and in a sense 'liberate' the national bourgeoisie who has been kept down by colonial domination. Divisions become apparent in those who united in the anti-colonial struggle, as it becomes clear that the interests of the new bourgeoisie are not in the least compatible with those who want greater social change . In the words of Fanon, "The national bourgeoisie steps into the shoes of the former European settlement ... its mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation; it consists prosaically of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged, which today puts on the masque of neo-colonialism." What becomes apparent is that all that has been won through the anti-colonial struggle is a new national bourgeoisie which is no different than any other bourgeoisie.

The national liberation struggle therefore is successful in that it overthrows the colonial government, but in its place it simply installs a new indigenous ruling class whose interests as a class are in fact more closely tied with those of the ruling classes of the former colonial powers than with those of the majority of people in their own country. As Lazarus says, "In short, independence let loose the national bourgeoisie to behave as it would, like any bourgeoisie" Hope thus leads to disillusionment as it becomes apparent that independence does not mean change for the majority of people but simply a transfer of power and wealth into the hands of a new ruling class.

It is this disillusionment which recurs again and again in the writing of Ama Ata Aidoo and other African intellectuals of the period directly following independence. While intellectuals certainly occupied a somewhat contradictory position, in that the majority were part of an educated elite and in fact part of the national bourgeoisie who did benefit somewhat from independence, many of the more radical writers denounced the new bourgeoisie and the failure of independence to address the needs of the majority. As Lazarus argues, "It was thus, in African literature, that the category of neocolonialism came to be taken up. Independence was a fraud. It signified a refinement of the colonial system, not its abolition." The work of writers such as Aidoo, Armah, Achebe and others writing at this time is characterized by this sense of disillusionment and resounds with bitter critiques of the corruption and the betrayal of leaders of national liberation struggles and subsequent political leaders. likewise, there are frequent indictments of the continued practice of imperialism in all its forms -- economic, cultural, political, and military.

[These materials have been adapted from an honors thesis written by Megan Behrent, Brown University, 1997]

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