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A Journal of Crime, Conflict & World Order
Social Justice Vol. 32, No. 2 (2005)

In Memoriam: Remembering Andre Gunder Frank (February 24, 1929, to April 23, 2005)

Gregory Shank

This spring, Social Justice lost a friend and valued contributor with the passing of Andre Gunder Frank. Gunder's sons, Paul and Miguel, said that despite the pain and exhaustion associated with the cancer that was killing him, Gunder continued to write and conduct research until two weeks before the April lights finally went out for him in Luxembourg.

The following pages offer a somewhat personal look at Gunder and his impact on friends and colleagues, since the mountain of commentaries that filled the press and the Internet upon his death took adequate measure of his massive intellectual contributions (see, especially, the essays by Samir Amin, Miguel A. Bernal, Theotonio Dos Santos, Barry K. Gill, Róbinson Rojas, and Arno Tausch at Jeff Sommers' piece in this issue intermingles Gunder's personal biography with his intellectual history in an attempt to capture the contrarian nature of the man who mentored and befriended him. Gunder could be ornery and sweet, fatalistic yet hopeful that sensible arguments might eventually make a difference, penetratingly visionary and riveted to the mundane intricacies of international law, admired and despised. Rod Bush's essay explores Gunder's influence on key thinkers in the Black Liberation and Pan Africanist movements. In 1960, Gunder visited Ghana and Guinea in Africa. Rod recalls Gunder's humility, attentiveness as a listener, and unromantic pessimism regarding the near-term prospects of social movements seeking to change current global economic and political arrangements.

Many members of the Social Justice board had close ties with the man we called Gunder, but whose Latin American friends knew him as Andrés. He humored me as a biographer, due to review essays I had written on his books in the 1980s, and as part of the stable of editors in his gargantuan e-mail address book. That group will appreciate the challenge of reigning in Gunder's penchant for word play and convoluted sentence structures. When I first met Gunder, he said he was weary of his itinerant existence and would love to settle among friends. Did the journal perhaps need a typesetter? Now, anyone who has seen his typing knows what a disaster that would have been -- and how much poorer the world would have been without his prodigious books, articles, and interventions.

During the 25 years that I knew Gunder, our paths crossed in the course of his intense conference circuit and at points of personal difficulty for him. His young sons and wife, Marta Fuentes Frank, visited us in San Francisco. Later, Marta, Gunder, and I found ourselves in post-glasnost-era Moscow, where he eviscerated the arguments of apparachnik intellectuals -- deservedly so -- for abstractly promoting the civilizational role of the free market, while the streets were rife with rumors of an impending old-guard coup and signs were evident that the Soviet Union itself might be unraveling. Gunder had me tag along to discuss these issues as we walked the back streets of the city with a Moscow specialist in the global economy who Gunder thought deserved a wider hearing in the West. The common language was Italian, a language with which Gunder had great facility due to a Swiss education that also exposed him to French and German. He had taken refuge there at the age of four when he escaped Berlin, his birthplace and the capital of Hitler's Germany, along with his father, a pacifist novelist, and Jewish mother, whom Gunder loved intensely throughout his life. He would only return to Germany 40 years later. But he was well known there. When I lectured at East Berlin's Humboldt University, students eagerly discussed his prophetic tract calling for denuclearization and an East-West rapprochement in Europe, The European Challenge: From Atlantic Alliance to Pan-European Entente for Peace and Jobs (1984), as well as his provocative critique of Soviet policy, "Long Live Transideological Enterprise!"

Gunder stayed with me briefly after Marta's death, but the last time he appeared at my door with suitcase in hand seemed to be the best and the worst of times for him. His latest book, ReOrient (1998), had received critical acclaim (winning the PEWS Book Award of the American Sociological Association, Political Economy of the World Systems section, and later the World History Association 1999 Book Prize), and yet he had just separated from his wife and was again homeless and jobless. He was understandably morose when we went to grab a meal at the Punjab restaurant, a Mission District greasy spoon. But the waitress, who spoke very little English, would have nothing of it: "Why you so grumpy, man?" He grinned, and thereafter became a regular fixture there, evoking smiles and hellos from the staff each time he lumbered in. I was impressed with how easily this world-famous man, whose father's circle included Thomas Mann and Greta Garbo, whom Salvador Allende met at the airport and Che Guevara had asked for help in transforming Cuba's dependent economy, fit into this modest setting.

After Gunder landed on his feet in Florida, I grew accustomed to receiving his regular missives and articles. He was especially productive in times of crisis: the U.S. interventions in Kosovo and the Middle East, the Republican electoral coup in 2000, whose dire consequences for democracy Gunder decried, and finally his writings on the reemergence of China in the world-economy and the folly of U.S. economic policy under the George W. Bush administration (published by the Asia Times in January 2005 under the title "The Naked Hegemon"). I will miss him, and the world has lost a voice that consistently challenged injustice and promoted the interests of the wretched of the earth.

Citation: Shank, Gregory. (2005). "In Memoriam: Remembering Andre Gunder Frank (February 24, 1929, to April 23, 2005)." Social Justice Vol. 32, No. 2: 4-6. Copyright © 2005 Social Justice, ISSN 1043-1578. Social Justice, P.O. Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140.