Hamza Alavi

by Arif Azad

(Published in The Guardian, December 19, 2003 | URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1109996,00.html )

As a political activist in Britain in the early 1960s, Hamza Alavi, who has
died aged 82, co-founded, with David (later Lord) Pitt, a key pressure group
of that era, the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination. As an academic, he
applied his vast knowledge of Marxist philosophy to the history of his
native Pakistan and its peasantry.
Breaking with the idea that the movement for an independent Pakistan in the
1930s and 40s had been inspired solely by religious motives, Hamza contended
that it had been led by the salary-dependent class of Muslim government
servants, whom he dubbed the "salariat". Having seen a diminution in its
share of jobs in pre-partition India, this salariat saw that it stood to
gain most from the creation of a new state. Hamza defined the Pakistan that
emerged in 1947 as an "overdeveloped state", by virtue of the overwhelming
influence of its bureaucratic-military complex.

He wrote extensively on questions of nationality, gender and fundamentalism.
His widely acknowledged essay Peasant And Revolution (1965) caused a
considerable stir, with its focus on the role of the middle peasantry as the
most militant section of that class in the countryside, and hence a natural
ally of the urban proletariat.

Born into the business-inclined Bohra Muslim community in Karachi, Hamza
developed his socialist views at school, as he first came into contact with
poor students. After taking an economics MA at Aligarh University, in what
was then a united India, he joined the Bank of India as a research officer
in 1945. Two years later, at the time of partition and independence, he
moved back to Karachi, where he played a leading role in setting up the Bank
of Pakistan, becoming one of its five principal officers in 1952.

He resigned the following year to join his wife's family in Tanzania, where
he immersed himself in the study of the peasantry, in what was to become the
focus of his later academic work.

Moving to London in 1955, Hamza began a PhD at the London School of
Economics, but, in 1958, General Ayub Khan's military coup in Pakistan swept
him into a decade of intense political activism. For five years, he edited
Pakistan Today, providing a trenchant analysis of his homeland under
military dictatorship.

Hamza took his first academic job in 1966, at the Institute of Development
Studies at Sussex University, where he published widely and undertook
sociological field-research. After his contract expired in 1971, his aim of
returning home was thwarted by the war in east Pakistan, as that province
emerged as independent Bangladesh.

In 1972, Hamza took a politics lectureship at Leeds University, moving to
Manchester University in 1977 as reader in sociology. After retiring in
1988, he lectured at universities in the United States, Africa and Asia. He
co-edited the Introduction To The Sociology Of The Developing Societies
(1982) and South Asia: The Sociology Of Developing Societies (1989). He
served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Contemporary Asia (1971-85)
and the Journal of Peasant Studies (1973-96), finally returning to his
ancestral home in Karachi in 1997.

His wife predeceased him; he had no children.

· Hamza Alavi, sociologist and activist, born April 10 1921; died December 1

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