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    Political Research Quarterly

    DOI: 10.1177/1065912973026001011973; 26; 5Political Research Quarterly

    Paul A. BeckettAlgerian ExperienceAlgeria vs. Fanon: the Theory of Revolutionary Decolonization, and the

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    5

    ALGERIA vs. FANON: THE THEORY OFREVOLUTIONARY

    DECOLONIZATION, AND THE

    ALGERIAN EXPERIENCE

    PAUL A. BECKETT Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria

    HE GROWING literature on Frantz Fanon~ reflects his continued signifi-N cance as a theorist of revolution in general and revolution in colonial con-

    -t- texts in particular. The tendency at present to see decolonization as a moreuseful process concept than &dquo;modernization,&dquo; &dquo;politicaldevelopment,&dquo;&dquo;integra-

    tion,&dquo;etc., suggeststhat continued interest in Fanon is not

    misplaced.In terms

    of decolonization Algeria stands alone among the previouslycolonized African coun-tries that are presently independent, in that in the Algerian case alone was formalindependence the product of prolonged and general revolutionary war against thecolonial power. Fanons &dquo;chronicle&dquo;of the Algerian war, in turn, must certainly beconsidered the boldest and one of the most important theoretical disquisitions onaspects of decolonization to have emerged from Africa.3 3

    While frequently presented in the language of universals Fanons most impor-tant work was rooted in the circumstances of the Algerian war. It seems surpris-ing, therefore, that his theory of revolutionary decolonization and its consequenceshas not heretofore been systematically studied in juxtaposition with the facts of the

    Algerian case (both before and after independence) . Such a juxtaposition is the

    1 Three book-length treatments have appeared recently: Renate Zahar, LOeuvre de FrantzFanon (Paris: Maspero, 1970; originally published in German as Kolonialismus undEntfremdung); David Caute, Fanon (London: Fontana, 1970) ; and Peter Geismar,Fanon (New York: Dial Press, 1971). Zahars book is the most useeful; it and Cautesbook provide bibliographic guides on Fanon. The most systematic attempt to relateelements of Fanons thought to problems and concepts of comparative politics is MartinStaniland, "Frantz Fanon and the African Political Class," African Affairs, 68, 270(January 1969), 4-25. An attempt to evaluate the present-day significance of Fanon forpost-colonial Africa is P. A. Beckett, "Frantz and Sub-Sahara Africa: Notes on theContemporary Significance of His Thought," Africa Today, 19, 2 (1972), 59-72.

    2 The attacks on the use of "modernization" are well-reflected in S. F. Huntingtons own re-evaluation, "The Change to Change: Modernization, Development, and Politics,"Com-parative Politics, 3 (1971), 283-322. The most theoretically ambitious attack on cus-tomary uses of the modernization concept (and related ones) is that by C. S. Whitaker,"A Dysrhythmic Process of Political Change," World Politics, 19 ( January 1967), 190-217. See also, "Theoretical Context and Setting" in his The Politics of Tradition (Prince-ton: Princeton University Press, 1970), pp. 3-34. See also R. Sklars "Political Scienceand National Integration: A Radical Approach," Journal of Modern African Studies,5 (1967), 1-11; and J. S. Saul and G. Arrighi, "Nationalism and Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa," Socialist Register (London), 1969. For what is (in my opinion) themost interesting use of the decolonization theme see Roger Genouds Nationalism andEconomic Development in Ghana (New York: Praeger, 1969).

    3The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1966). Unless otherwise noted, pagenumbers in the text and footnotes refer to this book in this edition. It is perhaps morethan coincidental that the most interesting theoretical work in a radical vein which iscurrently emerging from Africa is likewise rooted in one of the rare cases of prolongedanticolonial insurrection. I refer to Amilcar Cabral; see Revolution in Guinea; an Afri-can Peoples Struggle (London: Stage One, 1969). Particularly on the question of spon-taneity and with respect to social class analysis, Cabrals work is in sharp and interestingcontrast to Fanons. No systematic comparison of their theoretical work seems to existat present.

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    purpose of this essay. The aim is not so much to see what Fanon can tell us about

    Algeria, as to see what Algeria can tell us about Fanon (i.e., the strengths and weak-nesses of his theory). By thus exploring the natural (Algerian) context of Fanonstext, we can hope to move beyond the uncritical summary and &dquo;elucidation&dquo;ofFanons thought which has been characteristic of much of the writing on him so far.

    Underneath the somewhat jumbled appearance presented by The Wretched ofthe Earth, with its bewildering shifts of tone and perspective, lies a single themewhich gives coherence to the whole. This theme concerns the long-term conse-quences of contrasting paths to formal independence. Leaving aside other scat-tered references, Fanon gives attention to two principal and sharply opposed modes:that of revolutionary decolonization (represented by Algeria), and that of &dquo;bour-

    geois nationalism&dquo;(represented by most other French-speaking territories). Themain distinguishing factor is not (despite the frequent use of class terms) their basisin social class rigorously defined, but rather the degree of violence and the extent(in both quantitative and qualitative terms) of popular participation. The interestof Fanons distinction arises from his argument that the mode by which inde-pendence is achieved will have crucial consequences for post-independence decoloni-zation. In what is perhaps his best known passage on the subject Fanon says:Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organized and educated by itsleaders, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them.Without that struggle, without that knowledge of the practice of action, theres nothing but afancy-dress parade and the blare of the trumpets. Theres nothing save a minimum of readap-tation, a few reforms at the top, a flag waving: and down there at the bottom an undividedmass, still living in the middle ages, endlessly marking time.4

    Underneath the rhetoric of this passage is both warning and hypothesis. Thesignificance of the warning, as one surveys the African states after the first decadeof independence, is all too obvious. Frequently one encounters, along with dis-appointment with the results of independence (or lack of them), regret on thepart of nationals of African countries that independence came, in Azikiwes phrase,&dquo;ona platter of gold.&dquo;While the history of the sub-Saharan countries cannot bereversed, the interest of Fanons hypothesis seems confirmed.

    Stated more precisely, Fanon is asserting that mass participation in violentdecolonization - revolutionary decolonization - lays the basis for true - revolu-tionary - decolonization after independence. We wish to explore this hypothesisbyan examination of the very case that gave rise to it. To do so, we must ask initiallytwo questions:

    ( 1 ) Did the Algerian war for independence - viewed now from the distanceof a decade and more - fit Fanons picture of peoples anticolonial revolutionarywar?

    (2) Has the post-independence evolution of the Algerian system followed lineswhich could be considered both positive and revolutionary in terms of a Fanonistvalue position? A third question must then be dealt with, this involving the relationbetween our answers to the first question and those to the second.

    4 P. 117.

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    To anticipate, I will argue that (1) the Algerian war in its general characteris-tics did fit Fanons portrait of anticolonial war; but (2) Algerias post-independenceevolution has not been revolutionary in Fanonist terms. Of most interest is the thirdquestion, for here the argument to be m