Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Frantz Fanon on the topic of decolonization and the French occupation of Algeria.

Essay 2009 9 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Near East, Near Orient


Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Frantz Fanon are three well-known intellectuals who extensively dealt with decolonization. All three were involved in a heated debate about the French occupation of Algeria and its development, especially after the outset of the Algerian revolution at the end of 1956. An analysis of their stances on Algeria and on decolonization in general must take into account their differing backgrounds, experiences and schools. Sartre represents the only one of the three who was born in the French motherland. He was a prominent exponent of existentialism which characterizes his approach to decolonization and his writings strongly criticize humanism or its lack of application in the colonies. Albert Camus is an Algerian born writer and philosopher, who in 1964 received the Nobel Prize with the rational that "his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age.”[1] Following this essay will explore weather his colleagues, Sartre and Fanon, agree with the image depicted by this quote. Like Sartre, Camus as well is called an existentialist- a title which, however, he refuses. Frantz Fanon was born in the French colony of Martinique. His origins had a strong influence on his writings, especially through the Négritude approach, which is a literary and political movement that developed in the 1930s promoting the consciousness of the indigenous black culture as the best instrument for the fight against French colonial racism. The following paper will analyze the three approaches presented by these authors to decolonization, mainly concerning the example of Algeria and its battle for independence. By means of several examples it will illustrate the similar or diverging opinions and attitudes of each one regarding the others.

One possible feature for analyzing the three’s attitudes is to examine the object of their main focus and its role in the colony’s future. During World War II Frantz Fanon worked as a psychiatrist in an Algerian hospital and shortly after the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution he joined the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN). His approach to colonialism is characterized by its attention to the colonized individual and the occupation’s impact on its experiences and developments, which is likely connected to Fanon’s education and occupation as a psychiatrist. The writings of the politically active Fanon are about people, as individuals and their appearance as masses. Contrary to Sartre, he is not a communist, but he understands the meaning and the power of masses for the liberation and the following setting of the state. For instance, Adolfo Gilly, in his introduction to Fanon’s Studies in a Dying Colonialism, represents the beginning of the armed struggle in Algerian not as a decision from above, from the leaders, but as the expression of the feelings and needs of the mass. It is the population as a whole supporting the armed struggle in different ways that expresses the “mass character of the struggle.”[2] In his account of the Algerian revolution, Fanon stresses the power of the masses by means of various examples. First and foremost the liberation struggle creates a mostly homogenous mass, out of which almost every element is ready to die for the Algerian cause. He cites the gradual participation of women in the fight as one proof for the readiness to combat and sacrifice, and also for the consensus of the masses. Furthermore the broad rejection of all elements which the French aimed to introduce in order to split, weaken or also ingeniously improve the situation of the people, such as the radio, the battle against the veil or modern medical techniques, shows the unity and power of the masses. He makes it very explicit: “it is the masses, and not leaders nor systems, who in the final analysis make and determine history.”[3]

Sartre shares Fanon’s emphasis on the masses as an expression of the population’s will. He takes the argument further towards socialism, claiming that in order to achieve a truly free country “the nationalist revolution must be socialist,” led by the ones who suffer the most from oppression, namely by the rural masses. If the “native bourgeoisie” yields to power, than the new state, regardless of its formal sovereignty, remains dominated by the “imperialists.”[4]


[1] “Nobel Prize in Literature 1964, ” Nobel Foundation, http://hobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1964/index.html. Retrieved 2008-10-17.

[2] Adolfo Gilly, “Introduction,” in Studies in a Dying Colonialism, by Frantz Fanon (New York: Grove Press, 1989), 9.

[3] Ibid 6.

[4] Jean-Paul Sartre, “Preface” in The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon, (London: MacGribbin & Kee, 1965), 10.




Title: Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Frantz Fanon on the topic of decolonization and the French occupation of Algeria.