From Fanon to Floyd: A Marxist-Leninist-Maoist and Fanonian Discussion of Violent Rebellion against Capitalism’s Racist Culture
The first word which comes to mind to describe philosopher and anti-imperialist revolutionary Frantz Fanon’s groundbreaking book The Wretched of the Earth is “dense.” It’s a basically average-length book- the Grove Press edition I own is 316 pages long- but it is packed with the profound thoughts of a life lived as both a trained psychiatrist and an armed soldier in the war on capitalist-imperialism. The book is, in fact, essentially five separate self-contained essays; each chapter can stand on its own. The chapter which concerns us now is the first one, “Concerning Violence,” which is Fanon’s brilliant exploration of the nature of violent National Liberation from the imperial rule of foreign capitalist monopolies. The essay, though originally concerned with violence in that context specifically, communicates many ideas which apply to violence against oppression in all manner of other scenarios. This is why it is relevant in 2020; Fanon’s analysis brilliantly explains the nature of, and the need for, violence by protestors in response to the racist violence of the bourgeois state. Applying his analysis to this violence, and supplementing it with Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideas, will enable us to understand what is happening and what must happen next.
The reader is not doubt aware of the violence of which I speak: the “riots” and the “looting,” as the centrist media refers to it in order to downplay what is in reality a popular uprising against the white-supremacist political superstructure in which said media is itself complicit, that have rocked the streets of the United States since the lynchings by the bourgeois state of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. This violence is not, as the right would have us believe, mere hooliganism. And it is not, as the center would have us believe, the fault of a few fringe groups. It is, in spite of what those groups- both bourgeois in their outlook- will tell you, neither a bad thing nor an avoidable phenomenon. The riot is, in the words of King, “the language of the unheard.” The Black proletariat in this country has been unheard for a long, long time, and now they must make their voice heard in the only way that works: the violent overthrow of the social norms which have kept them silent.
But is it the only the only way that works? Yes, and we may prove it by going back to the work of Fanon. In his words, “colonialism [and oppression in general] 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.” This proclamation is proven by an understanding of the reasons behind contemporary oppression, which ultimately can be summed up in a single word: profit. The powerful in society, the capital-owning class, erect and reinforce structures of oppression in society because these structures enable them to increase the extraction of value from the labour of the proletariat to grow their capital. Take the example of modern American racism- it is, I think, a reasonable statement that its origin lie in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And the motive of the slave trade was, I think it is quite obvious, to grow the capital of white capitalists by extracting the maximum value from Black labourers. So, therefore, the underlying ideology of the cultural and political superstructure of racial oppression in this country is the profit motive. And this is why Fanon is right when he says oppression is “not a thinking machine.” The profit motive has no morals, no reason, no higher ideals and no beliefs. It cannot be appealed to in the abstract, because its only concern is the growth of the monopolist accumulations of capital. So, if we want to disrupt its campaign of state-overseen lynchings, we must do so in a way which directly obstructs that growth. We must halt the economic functioning of the capitalist system, of the major monopolies and of the state which serves them, and this can be done only through a violent disruption of normality. This can be done only by obstructing roads, by destroying the properties of the capitalists and the state, by refusing to participate in the system of exploitation which birthed the oppressive culture of the modern United States. Do not apologize for this carnage, for it is the only way to force the machine of oppression to hear you. If racism is ever to be ended, we must violently oppose and destroy the capitalist system of profits.
But I know this may not be enough to bring some readers- readers who still harbor that idealist liberal notion that there can be such a thing as “nonviolent” progress- over to the side of militancy just yet. So, in order to bring the point home, I will take a brief detour from analyzing Fanon to make my own point about violence. Consider this: are any of these activities really violence? If we say that violence is action that deliberately harms humans, these acts of insurrection don’t really qualify. Nobody is being murdered for the cause, only the edifices of the market have been harmed. And it is important to remember that a Wendy’s is not a person. Burning down a Wendy’s does no meaningful or lasting harm to actual people. And even if you still consider this violence, there is ultimately more violence in not accepting this kind of militant activism. Consider this: Even you believe destructive insurgency is harmful, not just to institutions that deserve harm but also to innocent people, surely systemic racism is more harmful to more people. And if the choice is either overthrowing it through force or allowing it to continue- as I showed it to be in the previous paragraph- then ultimately doing nothing is more violent than forceful rebellion, because it allows the continuation of the violence inherent to the system. Ergo, forceful resistance is not only the only feasible way forward, it is also ethically justified. [I have written further on these considerations of violence, in the essay “A Treatise on Violence”.]
But now we must return to our Fanonian analysis, from which we may draw another conclusion: not only is forceful resistance the only sort of resistance which the racist capitalist regime will take notice of, it is also the only sort of rebellion which can totally eliminate the cultural atmosphere of inequality and injustice that that political-economic regime has created. As Marx teaches, the nature of a political-economic system (or base) is that it creates around itself an omnipresent and all-encompassing cultural superstructure that reinforces it and keeps it in power(1). The result of this is that overthrowing a contradictory system and replacing it with a just one (i.e. overthrowing white-supremacist capitalism and replacing it with racially just socialism) is not just about changing who controls production and politics, but also about a deliberate and universal restructuring of our culture into one which is more supportive of the new system (this is what we Maoists call a Cultural Revolution). In Fanon’s phrasing, “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” This is the guiding mantra of proletarian rebellion against racism, and it means that the cultural norms of our society must be totally and violently rearranged. This may seem extreme, but it is necessary because an oppressive culture is not merely a culture with some hints of oppression in it, it is a culture entirely permeated by oppression, and so every aspect of the culture must be purged of that oppression by the united struggle of the masses. Every aspect of our culture must be questioned, examined, and- if it is determined to be part of the oppressive structures of racist capitalism- replaced with fairer cultural ideals. The whole culture of society must be turned on its head. Only through this complete re-evaluation and restructuring of our cultural ideas, institutions, and values will we ever be free from the oppressive political-economic regime they uphold.
Let us discuss, then, how to undertake this restructuring, this cultural revolution. This is where our analysis must pivot a bit away from the Fanonian and towards the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, principally the Maoist. The revolutionary struggle from which Fanon’s ideas were born was, after all, a somewhat flawed one. Wretched was written during the war of de-colonial liberation in Algeria, and all its insights come from that struggle. And the struggle in Algeria was imperfect: it never made a widespread or lasting attempt to establish socialism or the democratic D. of the P., a fundamentally necessary step in ending imperialism (as imperialism is a consequence of capitalism(2)). And, because the Marxist scientific study of philosophy tells us that political-economic ideas arise from material political praxis(3), we know that ideas arising from this flawed struggle must themselves be somewhat flawed. And indeed, although Fanon’s analysis of why forceful rebellion is necessary is brilliant and relevant, his opinions on how to carry out that violence are far too anarchic. Fanon is right that rioting and destroying the property of the oppressors is good, but he does not go far enough into a plan for how to organize this chaotic rebellion into a fully formed revolution. In all fairness to him, he begins to understand how this insurrection can be organized and elevated into revolution when he talks about the ability of violent revolt to unite the masses. Violence can be, to use his word, a “slogan” behind which people can unify. And it is in this unification through violent revolt that the real power of violent revolt lies. But he does not go far enough in this direction. He never really addresses the need of a centralized leader to direct this violence; indeed, he often expresses a general disdain for political parties that seek to lead the struggle. This disdain is dangerously misplaced; in reality, the establishment of a centralized democratic system of leadership is entirely necessary if violent resistance is ever going to achieve enough power to overthrow the bourgeois system and replace it with a democratic proletarian system, what we Marxists call the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat. This is why we Marxist-Leninist-Maoists uphold the theory of the Leninist Democratic Vanguard: in order for the struggle to a) fortify itself enough that the bourgeois state may not simply wipe it out and b) achieve the unified agenda necessary to accomplish meaningful social change, it must organize itself around a central leader that can, through democratic centralist proletarian democracy, unite it into an organized war on capital and provide leadership for the defense of the struggle from the bourgeois state. If the Floyd-Taylor protests are to become a proletarian revolution that genuinely ends racism and the capitalist system that creates and enforces it, this unification around the vanguard party is what must happen now in the so-called United States.
If these protests are to have lasting impact, the violence and destruction must increase. But it must also become less chaotic and more guided. We must develop an apparatus of leadership for the struggle which may direct this force at those targets which must be toppled: the bourgeois state and the major capitalists. This apparatus is of course a revolutionary vanguard party, and developing it means developing a dominant and leading Communist Party here in the US that can spread its membership throughout the nation and distribute a practical plan for how to end racist capitalism and establish racially just socialism. We, the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist left, have a duty to undertake the task of forming the party and, through it, leading the proletariat democratically toward an end to racism and capitalism. This task has two main parts: Firstly, organizing ourselves, the many disparate cliques of Maoists and Maoist-adjacent leftists, into a unified party that functions internally through democratic centralism and has the numbers and the fortitude to undertake real revolutionary efforts. Secondly, uniting the masses behind us. Once the party exists, its members must move amongst the masses, learn from them and exchange with them, and unite them into a democratic movement which follows the principles of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism towards victory. We must establish a Mass Line connection between the party and the whole of the people, must build local councils and organizations of the people which participate in the democratic functioning of the growing D. of the P. led by the party, and must lead the thusly formed United Front of the people toward revolutionary war. Through this unified struggle of the party and the masses behind it, holding its leadership accountable through the democratic functioning of local workers’ councils and committees, the working people of the USA may ultimately build a Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat led democratically by the party, may seize state power for ourselves and use it to put a final end to the injustices of capitalism by building a new socialist economy. This is the tall task ahead of us, the revolution which the current protests may grow into, and it starts with unifying violent resistance into an organized movement of violence led by a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist vanguard party. Let us go forth among the people and achieve this goal.
SOURCES NOT MENTIONED IN THE TEXT:
- Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx
- Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, VI Lenin
- On Practice, Mao Tse Tung