A Note on the Death of André Gunder Frank (1929-2005)

I met André Gunder Frank and his wife Marta Fuentes in 1967. Our long conversation convinced us that we were intellectually on the same wavelength. “Modernization Theory,” then dominant, ascribed the “underdevelopment” of the Third World to the retarded and incomplete formation of its capitalist institutions. Marxist orthodoxy, as represented by the Communist Parties, presented its own version of this view and characterized Latin America as “semi-feudal.” Frank put forward a new and entirely different thesis: that from its very origins Latin America had been constructed within the framework of capitalist development as the periphery of the newly arising centers of Europe’s Atlantic seabord. For my part, I had undertaken to analyze the integration of Asia and Africa into the capitalist system in light of the requirements of “accumulation on a global scale,” a process that by its inner logic had to produce a polarization of wealth and power.

A few years later, in Mexico in 1972, we met again at the Congress of CLASCO (Latin American Council on Social Sciences), where Frank—together with F. H. Cardoso, Anibal Quijano, Rui Mario Marini and others—proposed the first formulation of “dependency theory.” They had invited me there to present the parallel conclusions that I had reached on the basis of the very different historical process by which Asia and Africa had been integrated into the global system.

We naturally found ourselves in similar agreement with the “World System” school of thought introduced during the 1970’s by Immanuel Wallerstein. Thus was established our “gang of four” (Amin, Arrighi, Frank, Wallerstein). The “four” accordingly became joint authors of two books: La crise, quelle crise ? [Crisis—What Crisis?] (1982) and Le grand tumulte ? [The Great Tumult?] (1991) (both published by Maspéro-La Découverte). Though establishment of the new neoliberal globalized economic structure had only just begun and capitalism’s new global strategy was just becoming perceptible, we already ascribed strategic importance to the “new social movements” that ten years later, at Porto Alegre in 2001, were to join together in the “World Social Forum.”

This closeness of basic outlook, despite clear differences (which were stimulating for us all) led to a close friendship. Isabelle (my wife) and myself loved Frank as a brother and suffered keenly from the degradation of his health during the last twelve years of his life, years of constant and courageous struggle against cancer. What I loved above all about Frank was his unlimited sincerity and devotion. Frank was motivated only by a single desire: the desire to be of service to the working classes and subordinated peoples, to the victims of exploitation and oppression. Spontaneously, unconditionally, he was always on their side. A quality which is not necessarily always found even among the best intellectuals.

(Translated from the French by Shane Mage)