In “Trials and Tribulations of National Consciousness,” Frantz Fanon delivers a scathing indictment of the national bourgeoisie. Rather than take up its true “heroic and positive” mission of utilizing its skills and privilege to serve the people, it panders to the former colonial elite (99). According to Fanon, the national bourgeoisie of “underdeveloped” nations—the native educated elite and professionals—cannot fulfill the full potential of the traditional bourgeoisie because of the influence of colonialism. Even post-independence, this class lacks the capital to build and revitalize the national economy, and the residual impacts of colonialism—in particular, exoticization of the colonized packaged in the form of tourism—exacerbate this class’s tendencies to engage in corrupt and decadent activities.
If independence from the colonizers is the prerequisite step to the eventual prevailing of the proletariat, then the African nations have only arguably completed this first step. Fanon laments that “for the bourgeoisie, nationalization signifies very precisely the transfer into indigenous hands of privileges inherited from the colonial period” (100). Racial, ethnic and religious tensions that were exacerbated by European geographical demarcations have resurfaced. The colonial economy persists as well—the only difference is that it has been transferred into native hands. True nationalism, Fanon argues, can only be achieved through the politicization of the masses, and a true national consciousness is the social and political consciousness of the people.
I’m particularly interested in Fanon’s distinctions between theory and praxis. “Before independence,” Fanon writes, “the leader, as a rule, personified the aspirations of the people—independence, political freedom, and national dignity” (112). After independence, however, the leader fails to position himself as the “promoter of the actual dignity of the people, which is founded on bread, land, and putting the country back into their sacred hands” (112, italics mine). These distinctions between the theoretical and actual needs of the people evoke the stark contrast in Glauber Rocha’s Terra em Transe between Hunger and hunger for the Absolute. While Fanon repeatedly intimates that “nine tenths of the population” is starving, however, it seems that he merges the need for both theory and practice for the rural masses.
I’m also curious about what becomes of the national bourgeoisie. Fanon writes that it must be “resolutely opposed” but what is to become of it once the masses prevail? (120) Does this mean that the bourgeois phase of the revolution is skipped over after all? Or does the national bourgeoisie play a role, as Fanon suggests at the beginning of the chapter, in the education of the masses? To what extent is this national bourgeoisie involved in the government that supposedly will act to empower the people?
What I saw as a lack of clarity in actual procedure highlights the complexities of Fanon’s role in interpreting the Marxist revolution for local conditions. Like many of the leaders in newly sovereign nations (or nations fighting for sovereignty) in the Third World, Fanon must navigate a unique set of issues, including the conflation of national identity and class struggle and the dual criticism of pre-colonial traditions and Western influence.