Source: Dawn, 21 December 2003
Hamza Alvi goes down fighting establishment
by Amir Mateen
ISLAMABAD, Dec 20: That Pakistan's establishment continues to deny Hamza Alvi the acclaim that he deserves even after his death is quite obvious. Ironically , the so-called liberals and working classes for which he struggled all his life have also not mourned his recent death adequately.
Islamabad Cultural Forum deserves credit for organizing a reference for Hamza Alvi at its offices on Friday.
A handful of his admirers gathered to pay homage to one of the profoundest scholars ever to live in the land of the pure. He can safely be bracketed with the likes of the late Eqbal Ahmad in intellect as well as his commitment to the masses. While Eqbal may have earned more fame internationally, Hamza was one up on the former in terms of his academic output and his theoretical legacy.
It is pity, as COS chairman Dr Inayatullah pointed out, that Hamza Alvi's works have never been taught anywhere in Pakistan. But, then the establishment's loathing for Hamza Alvi makes sense if one takes a closer look at his life and his works. All his life, he challenged the so-called ideology of Pakistan, tracing the genesis of Pakistan in secular reasoning as opposed to theocracy; applied Marxist theory in the Pakistan context in ways never attempted before; probed the intricate ways through which the civil-military bureaucracy in connivance with feudals exercised its power over the hapless multitudes. Theoretically, his most significant contribution was the concept of over developed state, where, as convener Ashfaq Mirza explained, the dominant class in peripheral capitalist countries squeezes the system to an extent that may not even be in their own interest.
He quoted Alvi defining 'overdeveloped state' in the sense "that excessive enlargement of powers of control and regulation that the state acquires, extend far beyond the logic of what is necessary in the interest of orderly functioning of the peripheral capitalist economies over which the state presides, and specific needs of each of the dominant classes."
The present junta may be a perfect example of what Alvi meant by over developed state, where state apparatus monopolizes all power to regulate the society in a way that may have nothing to do with the welfare or stable functioning of the state. This kind of system, as agreed by the perpetually progressive crusader Khawaja Masud, is bound to collapse. Obviously, Hamza Alvi would not have liked to see his theory being vindicated in such a way.
Known Academic Dr Waseem explained how Hamza Alvi discovered the dynamics of the post-colonial state. He believed Alvi's biggest contribution was that he changed the old style approach of studying the state. There was this trend to view politics through institutions where students were educated about, let's say, British politics through its constitution. Alvi introduced a holistic approach that took into account "the establishment, the hidden agenda, the back stage actors" that determined the working of politics and economics. His work on military and bureaucracy was a trendsetter. He was part of the New Left who explained that our structures were transplantation of the Western concepts and not developed indigenously. Alvi believed that President Ayub Khan's agricultural reforms actually strengthened the feudals.
At the outset, Ashfaq Saleem Mirza shed light on the life of Hamza Alvi. Born in a Bohra family of Gujrati origin at Karachi in 1921, Hamza's educational career cruised from Karachi to Pune to Aligarh, where he did his Masters degree in Economics. He delved into subjects as diverse as economics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, politics that took him to places as far as the US, the UK, Malaysia. He was not just a theoretician but also a committed activist, who spent considerable part of his life with peasants, first, in Tanzania and then in Sahiwal district, trying to practice his theory at the grass roots.
Hamza Alvi, according to Mr Ashfaq Saleem, believed that before the PPP government, "the effective power throughout Pakistan's history was firmly in the hands of bureaucratic military oligarchy, notwithstanding structural changes in the form of government and in the first decade, the installation of political changes and political leaders apparently in the hands of the state apparatus. Alvi was also the first person to introduce the concept of Salariat as an educated salaried class, which was the mainstay of the Pakistan movement and "proclaimed its Muslim ethnic identity rather than any commitment to the establishment of a theocratic state."
Khawaja Masud declared Hamza Alvi to be a creative Marxist as opposed to dogmatic or orthodox one. "But then you can't be a Marxist if you are dogmatic," said the former Principal of Gordon College, whose romance of Marx was no less. He believed that the adapting to change was one of the essentials of Marxism and Hamza Alvi excelled in tat. He compared Alvi with Lenin as both tried to practice Marxist theory in accordance with local conditions.
"Alvi was one of those rare specimen of out intelligentsia who always stood up at the hour of reckoning," he said. Dr Inayatullah, a diehard academic who hates when people are declared prophets, once again raised some academic objections that he might have against Hamza Alvi. He wondered what might have been Alvi's views about the Musharraf regime, particularly in the context of his concept of the over developed state. He also mentioned Alvi's paper on Misaq-i-Madina, which he thought might have been a case of "cognitive dissonance."
Sarwar Bari explained the context of Alvi's joining the Yahya government. For Alvi, he said, issues were more important than political allegiance. He didn't have a problem if the means could be achieved through dictators.
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