Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 23, 2005

Andre Gunder Frank

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:20 am

Dear friends and colleagues of Gunder’s,

We are writing to let you know that Gunder died early this morning. He fought cancer with great courage, and was still working until two weeks ago, though in recent weeks he worked fewer and fewer hours every day because of pain and exhaustion. He worked with more strength and determination than we have the words to tell – until his body gave up. In the last couple of days, all he could do was to hold our hands.

In the last three days, we have received more than a thousand e-mail messages of condolence, remembrance, and friendship from friends and colleagues of Gunder’s all over the world. Paul has tried to answer each message individually. Please forgive us if we don’t reply to each message we receive in response to this.

We, Gunder’s family, will have a small gathering to express our love for Gunder before he is cremated on Tuesday afternoon, April 26 in the Luxembourg crematory. Friends and colleagues who wish or are able to attend are welcome to come. We know from hundreds of messages that most friends who would like to be here will not be able to travel on such short notice.

Alison’s e-mail address is:
Miguel’s e-mail: mfrank@europarl.eu.int
Miguel’s phone number is +352 091 656 236
Paul’s e-mail: paulfrank@post.harvard.edu

Paul and Miguel Frank
Paul Frank Chinese-English translator

Although the only contact I ever had with Andre Gunder Frank was participating on the same mailing listss, he certainly made a strong impact on me. Whether you agreed or disagreed with A.G. Frank, he was not easily forgotten or ignored. I own five of his books and have referred to them frequently over the years, especially the MR classics that deal with dependency theory. Frank was vulnerable to charges from his detractors that he was insufficiently grounded in Marxist theory. However, he compensated by exposing class and national injustice. In many ways, his theories about the development of underdevelopment, etc. are merely secondary. Primarily, I considered him to be the academic voice of the Cuban revolution. If Fidel Castro said that the revolution must be socialist or it will be a caricature of a revolution, then Andre Gunder Frank was the scholar who embodied that message in nearly everything he wrote. To the very end, Frank wrote penetrating critiques of US foreign policy that never yielded an inch to “humanitarian intervention” sensibilities. He never mellowed in his old age and because of illness. He will be remembered.

From A.G. Frank’s autobiography at: http://rrojasdatabank.info/agfrank/personal.html#short

But to those that are still with me, I don’t want to leave a wrong impression that I have only or even primarily pursued an academic or worse an intellectual career, since the only career I have made is not to have one. On the contrary from along my path through what now seems like a global labyrinth, I can also record countless other more practical both more important and more mundane occupations that re not necessarily unrelated to each other or to my mis-named ‘professional’ ones. These were also frequently interrupted, or as again now, complemented by quite a lot of unemployment. My jobs began with the usual newspaper route, delivering the OUTLOOK and also working as a gardener in Santa Monica, California. There also, I held down a somewhat less usual job for a 13 year old, working in a liquor store, first in the stockroom and then at the counter selling liquor and mostly beer to the thousands of bathers at the Pacific Ocean beach just across the then US 101, now California 1. At that same beach, I was also ‘self-empoyed’ as a beach-comber to retrieve the same and other bottles again in order turn them in to my same employer so as to collect the deposits of 2 cents each for 12 oz. and 5 cents each for 32 oz. beer bottles. The job brought me my social security card, and the income went to repeatedly buying eyeglasses to replace the just lost or broken ones, to send money to my working mother in Idaho and Michigan, and then in August 1943 to buy myself a train ticket to take the Union Pacific to go live with her there – as it turned out for six months, until she moved to New York.

So then around my 15th birthday, I decided to remain alone in Ann Arbor to complete the rest of my sophomore and then my junior and senior years of high school. I worked first in a grocery store, then as a waiter, later and after school as janitor in my own school till they fired me and I got a job still in the same building in the Public Library, at then again at other janitorial jobs cleaning junior highs on Saturdays, and later after school washing dishes at the Michigan Union and serving as a model for an art class. My ‘free’ time was devoted to athletics, mostly competitive long distance running, for three years in high school years, continued for four years in college, and one even in graduate school. It was as a high school runner that my team-mates babtized me with the [nick]name Gunder, which was derived from the Swedish then holder of world records in five events, who like me was always separated from the rest of the field, the difference being that he was a half track ahead and I a half track behind the others. [Being half way out of the field seems to have become some sort of a habit of mine, though since then I seem to have been mostly half a lap ahead of the rest – which entails even more discomfort than being behind!]. The name Andre came later when I myself dropped the last letter from my Andrew in English and Andres in Spanish after a librarian asked me if they these are the same author or not, whose first name was Andreas in German.

Anyway, after high school, I sold magazines door-to-door in Ohio with the come on door opener, as the standard saying went, ‘to earn money for college’. In 1946, I actually did that – at Swarthmore in Pennsylvania from which I graduated with honors in 1950. Thereby [excepting the 5 years in the Swiss boarding school], I had now equalled my previous record of 4 years in any one place during the first four years of my life from 1929 to 1933 in Berlin. In my college years and after, I again sold newspaper and worked as a waiter and/or busboy, and after that as well in Atlantic City and San Francisco, near Holland Michigan and near Albuquerque New Mexico, and so on. Along the way here and there, I also picked potatoes, apples and cherries.

During summer vacations in college and for many years after that, I held down all sorts of jobs until I was fired from most of them – always for the same reason: insubordination. These jobs included building pre-fab houses in the Washington DC suburbs, digging ditches and laying the concrete sidewalk from the north-west corner of the campus of the University of Michigan campus to its library, and therefore many years later I could tell my son that I had once made a ‘concrete’ contribution to his welfare there as a graduate student. In Washington state, I worked in a saw mill and then as a logger, as well as again digging ditches and ‘gandy-dancing’, that is laying railroad track. In Michigan, I built automobiles at Willow Run [which had been built during World War II to manufacture B 17bombers], and in New Orleans I tended 32 spools in a row of twine to spin them for the International Harvester Corporation. There, I also worked as a private eye, as well as of course in the French Quarter tourist industry as a waiter on Bourbon Street, a picture painter in Jackson Square, and in the Mardi Gras parade walking around dressed as a huge paper-mache Old Gran Dad whisky bottle, on which people knocked asking for samples that I was unable to supply. Alas, I had no ”aptitude” for any of these: I had taken an employment aptitude test at the Louisiana State Employment Commission, which showed that , as they duly informed me, I had aptitude for NOthing, and especially NO INTELLECTUIAL aptitude. Therefore, they said, I should try my hand at automobile mechanic, as which they however could find no job for me. In San Francisco, I carted refrigerators and similar household equipment up three flights of stairs for a moving company, and for free concert attendance I ushered people up and down the aisles of the San Francisco Opera House. At Union Square, I wrapped Christmas presents in the basement of the fancy I. Magnin department store until I was fired for refusing to warp something too ugly for words and in my opinion for wrapping. In Chicago, I loaded freight cars at night, and in the daytime I was supposed to placate the irate customers of a furniture store whose sales personnel made their sales by promising delivery dates that were impossible to meet. Since I sided more with their innocent customer victims, the sales people had me fired.

This self-training in ‘public relations’ may have offered me good experience when later in Mexico, I trapsed around rural villages trouble shooting an American company’s snafus in ‘community development’. In Mexico also, I initiated and then taught the first ever course on Latin American development at the national university UNAM. My Chicago PhD in Economics, yes with Milton Friedman, finally did me some good in Brazil where it proved to be my union card for an appointment to teach anthropology in the still under construction Brasilia where the since then my friend and now late Darcy Ribeiro at the time thought he needed more PhDs on the staff to establish the ‘academic legitimacy’ of the also still under construction UNB National University of Brazil of which he was founder rector, before he became the head of staff for the President Jango Goulart, until both went into exile after the military coup of March 30, 1964.

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