Written for publication in Economic and Political Weekly [Mumbai]
HAMZA ALAVI : a personal Tribute in Memoriam
by Andre Gunder Frank
[8 December 2003]
I have a deeply felt sense of the personal is political obligation to say
a few words about Hamza now that we have lost him, which to me is a very
personal loss. Our paths intersected often along the way, more politically
and ideologically as well as in specific topics of our concerns than
geographically, and that will be the focus of my remembrance and tribute
to him here. After many years of having lost contact, Hamza wrote me
earlier this year without any indication that the end was approaching for
That takes me back no less than 41 years ! How times flies. We are both old men now. 1962, if I remember correctly (do correct me if I am wrong) when you sent me a typescript of your first book which was soon to hit the world of the radical Left, disillusioned as it was by the Stalinist Parties, with such dramatic effect. 1962 was, I believe (am I right ?) when AGF hit an unsuspecting world. Ernestoís dismissive attack on Frank in his notorious NLR article was a reversion to Stalinist orthodoxy and I was surprised that so many people fell for it. That in many ways a turning point though neither you nor I accepted Laclauís bogus arguments. All that needs to be put on record. My own journey led me to a concept of the specific structure of colonial capitalism, about which I wrote in EPW. Not much notice of that article was taken. I should have written in the NLR instead (or additionally). You began to write about the globality of capitalist development from the outset. But my memories of all that are a bit vague and I now live a bookless word (even more so, a world without serious journals and libraries ñ Pakistan is not like well-provided India).
I had written Hamza that our first contact in my memory was your
imperialism or foreign investment article on Pakistan at the same time as
my two on same topic [one on US Aid or Exploitation, the other on The
Mechanisms of Imperialism in Brazil] . My book started to be written in
1963. My reference was to Hamzas The Burden of US Aid, which I recall
perhaps incorrectly was also published like some of mine on Cuba in 1961
62 in ECONOMIC WEEKLY, which became E and P[OLITICAL] W after Krishna Raj took over from Sachin Chaudhuri after the latters passing. That is also
where Hamza published his first major analysis as he says here of
colonial capitalism. That became a major input, although with some
modifications, into my own analysis of CAPITALIST UNDERDEVELOPMENT, first written in Brazil in 1963 soon after Hamza and I had begun our epistolary
Hamza himself recalls in his autobiographical FRAGMENTS OF A LIFE on
line at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/sangat/HAMZABIO.htm
I founded and edited PAKISTAN TODAY (1957ó62) a quarterly journal. Each issue would have a substantial article that I wrote. We would bring out an issue as soon as there was a major development in Pakistan. After the Ayub Coup we came out six times a year. PT had a circulation of several hundred. The peak was about 1500 for our final issue which was wholly devoted to an article entitled The Burden of US Aid. Pakistan Today was sent to East and West Pakistan and clandestinely reproduced there or placed in libraries. The US Aid Issue was reprinted as a booklet by Faiz Ahmad Faiz. It was also reprinted in the US by a New Left journal called New University Thought and as a booklet by the Detroit Radical Education Project (who also reprinted some of my later articles in booklet form). Tariq Ali acknowledged it as a source in his first book. We got letters from sympathisers in Europe and North America. When there was total silence in Pakistan itself, it was a worthwhile thing to do. A lot of my time was invested in it.
For one thing, it was the beginning of a long personal friendship and
political collaboration between the two of us itinerant wanderers around
the world, who were not able to meet face to face until years later when
Hamza had me as a house guest in Manchester.
About that, Hamza also recalls in his autobiographical FRAGMENTS,
My first academic job was with the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in 1966 which I joined on a four year contract.,,, to expire in 1970. I had planned to go back to Pakistan at the end of it, to set up an Institute of Peasant Studies in Pakistan which I had been promised. I informed the Director of the IDS accordingly. My post was advertised and someone appointed. Then came the Pakistan Military action in Bangladesh. I was traumatized. I could not return to Pakistan under the auspices of such a regime.. I was then invited to go to the Michigan State University as a Visiting Associate Professor [AGF had been there 1957ó61]
So Hamza also wrote me earlier this year that
We have both done so moving around in our time though I have not been hounded around as you have been. By the way, I share with you the honour of being banned by Canada (that was in 1971 ñ by Trudeau). [I was banned by Trudeau from 1968 to 1979 and even married to a Canadian never got landed residence in the 1990s.].
Hamza goes on in FRAGMENTS:
My ban became a ëcause celebreí in Canadian Universities [so was mine AGF].. There were protests. But I was outraged to see that there was not a single word of protest, not even a private word of solidarity, from any of my prospective colleagues at Queens. Only a ringing silence. I was quite disgusted. What kind of people were they with whom I would have to work ? When the ban was eventually lifted I chose not to go there, The salary at Queens Was 3 Times What I Got At Leeds. But That Was No Attraction. A Living Wage Was Enough.
His FRAGMENTS successively cover , mostly in reverse chronological order ,
-banned from Canada -Leeds [ I went to East Anglia] -Professorship University of Amsterdam, he declined [I accepted] -Manchester -The Second Career: Political Activism In London I was a founding member of CARD, the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, a UK-based wide multi-racial Organization of Pakistanis, Indians, West Indians and White British, to join forces to fight the rising tide of racism. Some of us, so-called ëleadersí of black communities in Britain, were invited by Martin Luther King at his London hotel to talk about racism in Britain, when he was on his way to receive his Nobel prize. We met not only Martin Luther King. We also met each other. We realized that there was much to be gained from joining forces against racism In Britain. So we met again and launched CARD.
óFarming In Tanzania
I had come to London from Tanzania. I had gone there after resigning from the State Bank of Pakistan. I decided to take to farming ! There was an element of romantic escapism in that. Both my wife and I took it seriously ñ
so much so as also to become part of the basis of the
political intellectual work for which he is best known the Alavi and
later also Eric Wolf thesis about the revolutionary potential of the
-My First Career: State Bank Official
I had joined the Reserve Bank of India in 1945 as a Research Officer on the recommendation of, indeed at the behest of my supervisor for Ph.D. at the Gokhale Institute at Poona. Prof. D. R. Gadgil had been asked by the Reserve Bank to recommend candidates for their research department. He asked me if I wanted the job. When I told him that my aim in life was to make a career in the academic world he said: ëYoung man, you had better learn something about life before you start teachingí. He pointed out that my starting salary in the Reserve Bank would be far higher than that of a University Lecturer. ëYou can come back to the academic world at any time on your own termsí. So I joined the Reserve Bank of India in 1945.
Everything was in a state of chaos. We moved from crisis to crisis. Part of the problem was the clerical mentality of many of our senior colleagues (though with one or two brilliant exceptionsñ without them we would have been doomed). Most of the senior officers were twice myage. Their style of work and thinking had been shaped by long experience of serving virtually as clerks under White masters. The first concern of these glorified clerks was personal survival.
I flourished in that climate of successive crises. Looking back I realize that I had two assets. One was my ignorance. It was a blessing in disguise that I did not know the manuals backwards as my senior colleagues did. Those manuals were, in any case, out of date and had little relevance to our conditions. I realized that given our situation we will have to write our own manuals. I actually did just that in 1950 when I compiled the Exchange Control Manual for the guidance of Banks. Some of us were able to see things from a fresh perspective. Every time that a problem landed on my desk, I would work out a logical solution from first principles and act on it. We were constantly innovating and improving on old, out of date, systems. The exchange control system was set up in India in 1939 by a man called Cayley, a true colonialist. The system that he built up discriminated blatantly against Indian interests. Cayley had groomed his successor, a Parsee called Jeejeebhai who carried on in the same way. In Pakistan I realized that we would have to change Cayleyís system radically, to end discrimination against our own banks and our own people. I had a great time discovering these and making changes. I was able to act with confidence as I enjoyed the full backing of our Ministry of Finance. I had great fun in a game of one-upmanship with Jeejeebhai, for technically I was still under him until July 1948. But I set up our own de facto independent Head Office, in advance of the formal change. Jack Kennan who soon joined us as my boss, backed what I was doing. We went in for innovations that the Reserve Bank of India would, belatedly, copy. My other asset was sheer naivete. Unlike my petty bureaucratic colleagues, I assumed that my job was to get things done. I soon acquired a reputation of being a ëtrouble-shooterí, a man to cope with crises. I had the confidence and backing of Governor Zahid Hussain and the Ministry of Finance. I could not have carried on like that without that backing. I rose rapidly in the Bankís hierarchy. By 1952 1 was appointed to the rather senior position of Secretary to the Central Board, i.e. one of five ëPrincipal Officersí of the Bank, who ranked after the governor and Deputy Governor.
-Resignation From The Bank
The situation became quite intolerable for me after I was sent to Dacca in 1951ó52, with full powers in East Pakistan. I was based in Dacca but was also responsible for our other office at Chittagong where I would spend one week in every month. I was posted to Dacca on a few hoursí notice. After we concluded an agreement with India in 1951, we had to introduce exchange control with India.I was soon fighting a quixotic battle against two of the most powerful men in East Pakistan. It is a long story. I survived more by good luck than good sense. I seemed to win every round in our extra-ordinary contest. But it was a very tense period for me. I knew that if I made just one slip, they would have me hanged. Fortunately I had the backing of Governor Zahid Hussain though I do not think he knew just how the cards were stacked. It was all very stressful. For the first time I wondered about resigning from the Bank. My wife in fact suggested it. Not unreasonably she had long complained that I was ëmarried to the Bankí. Was this all worth it, she asked. While I was still thinking about resigning, I was appointed to the post of Secretary to the Central Board at Karachi, one of five ëPrincipal Officersí. of the Bank. It was sheer vanity that made me set aside thoughts of resigning. I wanted to hold that post, at least for a while. The promotion had come rather soon, though I was next in line for it. I half suspect that it was manipulated by powerful men to get me out of East Pakistan. I would not put it past them.
Perhaps the most interesting results of Hamzas work at the Bank were his
observations, from his window at the same in Bombay, of the turmoil in
the streets below but also on the machinations of Nehru and Jinnah for
the partition of Pakistan from India. He wrote about them, but alas I do
not have his accounts to hand at my present writing. But I can assure the
reader here of the depth of concern and strength of character they reveal
in the accounts of those terrible days that Hamza wrote. Moreover,
evidence that he had not married the Bank, contrary to his wife's
observation, is that his separation from the Bank liberated
Hamza.On the other hand, the subsequent loss of his wife, after a long
illness throughout which he cared for her, was a heavy blow to Hamza from
which he never quite recovered.
What Hamza here modestly terms his ignorance and naivte can more
objectively be seen as manifestations of his strong character, his
rejection of hypocracy, and his personal, political and professional
honesty - in a word, Hamza's HUMANITY - that accompanied him through
his varied career at not making one in the state bank, farming, academia,
ideological and theoretical writing, political activism in Britain and
Pakistan and the formation of younger activists therein. For me it has
been a great privilege to have intersected with him in some of these
endeavours of my long time friend Hamza.
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