Volume 5, No. 9, September 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
The object of this article is to raise some fundamental questions about the classical Marxist theory of the State in the context of postcolonial societies. The argument is premised on the historical specificity of postcolonial societies, a specificity which arises from structural changes brought about by the colonial experience and alignments of classes and by the superstructures of political and administrative institutions which were established in that context, and secondly from radical realignments of class forces which have been brought about in the post-colonial situation…In particular the special role of the military-bureaucratic oligarchy has become all too common a phenomenon in postcolonial societies. This role now needs to be interpreted in terms of a new alignment of the respective interests of the three propertied exploiting classes, namely the indigenous bourgeoisie, the Metropolitan neocolonialist bourgeoisies, and the landed classes, under Metropolitan patronage a combination which is not unique to Pakistan. If a colony has a weak and underdeveloped indigenous bourgeoisie, it will be unable at the moment of independence to subordinate the relatively highly developed colonial State apparatus through which the Metropolitan power had exercised dominion over it. However, a new convergence of interests of the three competing propertied classes, under Metropolitan patronage, allows a bureaucratic-military oligarchy to mediate their competing but no longer contradictory interests and demands. By that token it acquires a relatively autonomous role and is not simply the instrument of any one of the three classes. Such a relatively autonomous role of the state apparatus is of special importance to the neocolonialist bourgeoisies because it is by virtue of this fact that they are able to pursue their class interests in the postcolonial societies.
A fundamental distinction can be seen between that situation and the situation which followed the bourgeois revolution in European societies on which the classical Marxist theory of the state is based. A distinction may also be made between cases such as that of Pakistan which experienced direct colonial rule and other countries which experienced colonial exploitation under indirect rule…
A focus on the central role of the bureaucracy and the military in the government and political development of postcolonial societies raises some fundamental questions, especially with reference to the classical marxist theories. What Miliband calls the primary marxist view of the State ‘finds its most explicit expression in the famous aphorism of the Communist Manifesto: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” and political power is “merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another.”’ (1) Miliband adds: ‘This is the classical marxist view on the subject of the State and it is the only one which is to be found in marxism-leninism. In regard to Marx himself, however, …it only constitutes what may be called a primary view of the State…for there is to be found another view of the State in his work…This secondary view is that of the State as independent from and superior to all social classes, as being the dominant force in society rather than the instrument of the dominant class.’ This secondary view of the State in Marx’s work arises from his analysis of the Bonapartist State. Miliband concludes: ‘For Marx, the Bonapartist State, however independent it may have been politically from any given class, remains, and cannot in a class society but remain, the protector of an economically and socially dominant class.’
In the postcolonial society, the problem of the relationship between the State and the underlying economic structure is more complex than the context in which it was posed even in the Bonapartist State or other examples which arose in the context of the development of European society. It is structured by yet another historical experience and it calls for fresh theoretical insights.
The military and the bureaucracy in postcolonial societies cannot be looked upon, in terms of the classical marxist view, simply as instruments of a single ruling class. The specific nature of structural alignments created by the colonial relationship and realignments which have developed in the postcolonial situation have rendered the relationship between the state and the social classes more complex. The two patterns of historical development are quite different. In Western societies we witness the creation of the nation state by indigenous bourgeoisies, in the wake of their ascendant power, to provide a framework of law and various institutions which are essential for the development of capitalist relations of production. In colonial societies the process is significantly different.
The bourgeois revolution in the colony insofar as that consists of the establishment of a bourgeois state and the attendant legal and institutional framework, is an event which takes place with the imposition of colonial rule by the metropolitan bourgeoisie. In carrying out the tasks of the bourgeois revolution in the colony, however, the metropolitan bourgeoisie has to accomplish an additional task which was specific to the colonial situation. Its task in the colony is not merely to replicate the superstructure of the state which it had established in the metropolitan country itself. Additionally, it has to create a state apparatus through which it can exercise dominion over all the indigenous social classes in the colony. It might be said that the ‘superstructure’ in the colony is therefore ‘overdeveloped’ in relation to the ‘structure’ in the colony, for its basis lies in the metropolitan structure itself, from which it is later separated at the time of independence. The colonial state is therefore equipped with a powerful bureaucratic-military apparatus and mechanisms of government which enable it through its routine operations to subordinate the native social classes. The postcolonial society inherits that overdeveloped apparatus of state and its institutionalized practices through which the operations of the indigenous social classes are regulated and controlled. At the moment of independence weak indigenous bourgeoisies find themselves enmeshed in bureaucratic controls by which those at the top of the hierarchy of the bureaucratic-military apparatus of the state are able to maintain and even extend their dominant power in society, being freed from direct metropolitan control.
The essential problem about the state in postcolonial societies stems from the fact that it is not established by an ascendant native bourgeoisie but instead by a foreign imperialist bourgeoisie. At independence, however, the direct command of the latter over the colonial state is ended. But, by the same token, its influence over it is by no means brought to an end. The metropolitan bourgeoisie, now joined by other neocolonialist bourgeoisies, is present in the postcolonial society. Together they constitute a powerful element in its class structure. The relationship between neocolonialist bourgeoisies and the postcolonial state is clearly of a different order from that which existed between the imperialist bourgeoisie and the colonial state. The class basis of the postcolonial state is therefore complex. It is not entirely subordinate to the indigenous bourgeoisie, in view of the power and influence of the neocolonial bourgeoisie. Nor is it simply an instrument of any of the latter, which would have the implication that independence is a mere sham. Neither bourgeoisie excludes the influence of the other; and their interests compete. The central proposition which I wish to emphasize is that the state in the postcolonial society is not the instrument of a single class. It is relatively autonomous and it mediates between the competing interests of the three propertied classes, namely the metropolitan bourgeoisies, the indigenous bourgeoisie and the landed classes, while at the same time acting on behalf of them all to preserve the social order in which their interests are embedded, namely the institution of private property and the capitalist mode as the dominant mode of production.
The multi-class relationship of the state in postcolonial societies calls for specific explanation, and an examination of its implications. In this situation the military-bureaucratic oligarchies, the apparatus of the state, furthermore assume also a new and relatively autonomous economic role, which is not paralleled in the classical bourgeois state. The state in the postcolonial society directly appropriates a very large part of the economic surplus and deploys it in bureaucratically directed economic activity in the name of promoting economic development. These are conditions which differentiate the postcolonial State fundamentally from the state as analysed in classical marxist theory.
The apparatus of state does not, however, consist only of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy. Where democratic forms of government operate, politicians and political parties too form a part of it. Where political leaders occupy the highest offices in the state, formally invested with authority over the bureaucracy and military, the role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy cannot be evaluated without a clear understanding of the precise role of politicians and political parties in the state, and the extent of their powers and their limitations. Politicians and political parties stand at the centre of a complex set of relationships. On the one hand, they are expected (ideally) to articulate the demands of those from whom they seek support; they are supposed to attempt to realize those demands by their participation in the working of government. On the other hand, they also play a key role in manipulating public relations on behalf of those who do make public policy, to make it acceptable to the community at large. For that they channel public grievances and seek to promote an ‘understanding’ of the situation concerning public issues which would diminish potential opposition. Their relationship with the bureaucratic-military oligarchy is, therefore, ambivalent; it is competitive as well as complementary. The ambivalence is greater where politicians who occupy high public office can influence the careers of individual members of the bureaucracy or the military.
There are many variants of the distribution or sharing of power between political leadership and bureaucratic-military oligarchies in postcolonial societies. Political parties at the vanguard of the movement for national independence inherit the mantle of legitimacy and the trappings of political power. Nevertheless, in a large number of postcolonial countries there has been in evidence a progressive attenuation of their power and correspondingly there has been expansion in the power of bureaucratic-military oligarchies, which has often culminated in an overt ‘seizure’ of power by the latter. In general, however, there has been accommodation as well as tension between political leadership and bureaucratic-military oligarchies. The former do serve a useful purpose for the latter. They confer the mantle of political legitimacy on regimes and, through the charade of democratic process, they absorb public discontent and channel grievances. The role of political parties does not necessarily rule out the relative autonomy of bureaucratic-military oligarchies. The essential issue is that of the relative autonomy of the state apparatus as a whole and its mediatory role as between the competing interests of the three propertied classes, namely the domestic bourgeoisie, the metropolitan bourgeoisies and the landowning classes. Insofar as a political leadership participates in the performance of that mediatory role and in the preservation of the relative autonomy of the state apparatus, it is valuable for the purposes of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy; it becomes their partner i.e. a third component of the oligarchy. It is only where political parties seriously challenge that relative autonomy and along with it the mediatory role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy that conflicts arise in which, so far, the latter have prevailed. We have yet to see a clear case of unambiguous control of state power by a political party in a capitalist postcolonial society…
To understand the way in which relationships between the bureaucratic-military oligarchies and politicians have evolved in…Pakistan one must look at the historical background of the development of their mutual relationships and especially the institutionalization of a wide measure of bureaucratic and military autonomy. Before independence members of the bureaucracy and the military were the instruments of the colonial power. One of their principal functions was to subordinate the various native classes and to repress the nationalist movement on behalf of their colonial masters. During the freedom struggle, they were on opposite sides of the political barricades from the leadership of the nationalist movement. After independence, the same political leaders whom it was their task to repress were ensconced in office, nominally in authority over them. A new relationship of mutual accommodation had to be established. The experience of partial transfer of power by stages during the twenties and the thirties had, however, already institutionalized procedures by which the bureaucracy could bypass the political leaders who had been inducted into office, on sufferance under the umbrella of British imperial rule. These institutionalized procedures were extended and consolidated by the proliferation of bureaucratic controls and the fact that, by and large, members of the public have extensive direct, routine dealings with the bureaucracy which do not admit of mediation by political parties. An exception occurs only when individual politicians seek favours from officials for some of their supporters, in which case their relationship vis-a-vis the bureaucracy is weakened rather than strengthened. Politicians are reduced to playing the role of brokers for official favours…The politician can, however, ill afford to lose the goodwill of the official, and this influences the overall balance of their collective relationship. The strength of the bureaucracy rests on the extensive proliferation of administrative controls and the direction of a vast array of public agencies engaged in a variety of activities…
The actual pattern of the evolution of relationships between political leaders and bureaucratic-military oligarchies varies from country to country according to differences in historical background and the evolution of political forces…In…Pakistan…powerfully organized bureaucratic and military structures were inherited…the military was, it is true, in bad shape at the time of independence, but the organization and bases of political parties were still weaker. The ruling Muslim League party leaned heavily on the stature and authority of its leader…Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who died soon after independence. By that time the Muslim League had begun to disintegrate and its leadership had become isolated from its bases.
In Pakistan two facts stand out in sharp relief in its…history. One is the dominant position of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy in the state; it has been in effective command of state power not, as is commonly believed, after the coup d’état of October 1958 but, in fact, from the inception of the new state. In the first phase politicians and political parties, who provided a facade of parliamentary government, were manipulated by them and were installed and expelled from office as it suited the bureaucratic-military oligarchy. When in 1958 the prospects of the impending general elections appeared to pose a challenge to the supremacy of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy, those who already held the reins of power ‘seized power’ by abolishing the institutions of parliamentary government through which the challenge was being mounted. But, nevertheless, the bureaucratic-military oligarchy needed politicians, who fulfil a complementary role, and by 1962 the politicians were put to work again in a parody of democratic politics under Ayub Khan’s system of ‘Basic Democracy’. That phase ended with the fall of Ayub Khan in 1969, after a great national political upheaval. But still the reins of power were left securely in the hands of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy. The latter still needed politicians to fulfil a complementary role in government. President Yahya Khan promised restoration of ‘constitutional government’ subject to his own veto. An election was held in December 1970 which ended in the political crisis which culminated in the secession of Bangladesh…In its first phase, the period of ‘parliamentary government’, the true role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy was obscured by the political fiction under which it operated. After 1958, its dominant and decisive role became manifest. What remains problematic is the social character, affiliations, and commitments of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy, or those of different sections of it, vis-a-vis the various social classes in Pakistan and its different regions, including the metropolitan bourgeoisies which have reappeared, in the plural, after British colonial rule was ended.
The second outstanding fact about Pakistan’s political history is that the most powerful challenges to the dominant central authority of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy came primarily from political movements that drew their strength from people of underprivileged regions and voiced demands for regional autonomy and for a fuller share for the regions in the distribution of material resources as well as in state power. It was not only from East Bengal but also from Sind and Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province or NWFP – the land of the Pathans – that such challenges were mounted. Support for regional autonomy became an article of faith with the radical and left wing political groups – indeed most of them were embedded in regionalist movements. It appeared, on the surface, that the radical politics of Pakistan were conditioned primarily by ethnic or linguistic solidarities, rather than class solidarities stretching across regional boundaries. True, radical challenges were directed against class privileges. But such privileges were identified primarily in regional terms. Politically the demands of radical and left-wing political movements were for a federal parliamentary system of government and for a representation in the upper echelons of bureaucratic (and military) appointments of people from underprivileged regions. These two outstanding facts about Pakistan politics, namely the dominance of a bureaucratic-military oligarchy and the regional basis of challenges directed against it, are essentially two aspects of a single reality of the political situation in Pakistan which centres around the role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy.
Until 1958, the bureaucratic-military oligarchy in Pakistan made and unmade ‘Governments’ with a succession of Prime Ministers. In 1956 it even instigated the creation of the Republic Party. A new type of constitution was introduced by Ayub Khan in 1962, after his ‘seizure of power’ through a coup d’état, in 1958. Politicians were put to work again; under Ayub Khan their manipulation was perfected to a fine art. But what is significant here is the anxiety of the military leaders to retain a facade of political government. Thus, after the reimposition of Martial Law in 1969, President General Yahya Khan was very keen that a political leadership should be installed in office as soon as possible although under the hegemony of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy. He promised elections for that purpose and immediately installed a chosen group of civilians as interim ministers. Some of his most influential military advisers were particularly insistent that without politicians in office, the military would become directly the object of public disaffection, that it would lose its mantle of political legitimacy, and that as a consequence its assumed right to intervene at every moment of crisis would be jeopardized. Thus it would be simplistic to take for granted that the bureaucratic-military oligarchy necessarily prefers to rule directly in its own name. It often prefers to rule through politicians so long as the latter do not impinge upon its own relative autonomy and power. For the bureaucratic-military oligarchy in Pakistan the elections of December 1970, however, had disconcerting results, and the crisis of 1971 ensued, resulting in the secession of Bangladesh.
The assumption of power by President Bhutto after the defeat of the Pakistan army in Bangladesh can be seen in a similar light. Here was a traumatic moment of crisis. It was a moment when the oligarchy more than ever needed a political leadership which would be able to manipulate an explosive political situation. Bhutto’s political position in the country and the fact that his services were indispensable for the oligarchy gave him a degree of freedom. Nevertheless the dismissal by him of a clutch of generals after the assumption of power should not be taken simply as evidence of a final defeat of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy, for Bhutto is closely allied to powerful factions in the oligarchy and his actions reflect the demands of those factions. Bhutto ‘dismissed’ General Yahya Khan and his associates and appointed his friend General Gul Hassan as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Army, having himself assumed the office of President. But it would be a mistake to assume that General Gul Hassan was a political nonentity whom President Bhutto installed in office simply as his own nominee. General Gul Hassan in fact belonged to a powerful faction in the military establishment. As early as October 1968, before the massive political agitation against President Ayub Khan which followed a month later, was even anticipated, it was already being whispered in the corridors of power in Rawalpindi and Islamabad that Ayub would be removed and that his mostly likely successor would be General Gul Hassan who was then Corps Commander at Multan, one of the two seniormost field appointments in the Pakistan army. In the event, President Ayub outmanoeuvred the faction which was being aligned against him, by resigning and handing over the office of President to the man of his own choosing whom he had appointed as his Commander-in-Chief, namely General Yahya Khan. In turn Yahya Khan successfully protected Ayub Khan from retribution, which was being demanded not only by an angry public but also by powerful elements in the army itself. With Yahya Khan’s fall, events had turned a full circle. In the crisis after the military debacle in Bangladesh, the intervention of the political leadership was indispensable for the military-bureaucratic oligarchy. At this moment the political leadership did assume some weight. The fact that the critical struggle for power still lay within the military-bureaucratic oligarchy was, however, soon made manifest when Bhutto had to dismiss General Gul Hassan from the post of Commander-in-Chief and install in his place the powerful General Tikka Khan, a leader of the ‘hawks’ in the army who had masterminded the military action in Bangladesh. It could not but have been an unpalatable decision for Bhutto for the appointment was most inept in the context of the political necessity for Bhutto to negotiate with India and Bangladesh for the repatriation of Pakistani prisoners of war, but the supremacy of the army Junta was evidently decisive.
Factions in the military are based on personal groupings and allegiances, but there are underlying structural factors which influence the gravitations of groups into broader alliances. One can therefore distinguish, on the one hand, ‘Conservative Right Wing’ Generals. They either come from the wealthier landed families or else they (or their very close relatives) have made substantial fortunes in business. Others have made money in collusion with foreign businesses and foreign powers. Big businessmen in Pakistan have adopted the practice of awarding profitable directorships to retiring Generals, and thus they have tried to establish relationships with factions in the army. As regards dealings with foreign powers, a remarkable fact about the political situation in Pakistan has been the ability of the army to have direct dealings with foreign powers (notably the USA) over the heads of the Government in office. These varieties of affiliations and interests have resulted in powerfully entrenched positions within the army on behalf of the various vested interests. The case of the bureaucracy is parallel, for many bureaucrats come from landed families and have acquired extensive business interests; some have become millionaires.
There is, however, another influence in the army which tends to promote radicalism; but this is potentially radicalism of the right as well as of the left. The evidence so far, in fact, suggests that ultra right-wing radicalism is the preponderant element in this group. This radicalism derives from the fact that the army is recruited from one of the most impoverished and congested agricultural regions of the country, namely the unirrigated area consisting of Rawalpindi Division of the Punjab and parts of the NWFP. Whereas big farmers in some parts of the country, such as the Canal Colony Districts of the Punjab, have prospered enormously through the so-called ‘Green Revolution’, the smallholders in the unirrigated region have not benefited from it. Their tiny unproductive holdings do not yield even a bare minimum for their livelihood. Their sons must therefore find outside employment and it is from these districts that the army draws its soldiers and junior officers. These men have strong social grievances, especially because of inflation and the deterioration of their economic situation in recent years, but they have little political education. In general they subscribe to a conspiracy theory of society and imagine, for example, that inflation is due simply to the greed of a few businessmen (the so-called twenty families); they do not see roots of the problem in the economic system itself. The solution therefore, in their eyes, is not to be found in radical economic policies and a transformation of the social system but rather merely in the brutal punishment of ‘miscreants’. The same idea of dealing with ‘miscreants’ was applied by them in Bangladesh. Politically these men have been reared on chauvinism and religious ideology of the extreme right wing. The influence of the Jamaat-e-Islami has been quite considerable amongst them…
There is also a group of Generals…for whom the interests of the army as such take precedence over other considerations. It is among them that the ‘hawks’ in the army are to be found. The concept of army ‘hawks’ is not a psychological one as suggested by Tariq Ali. (6) Rather that term describes commitments which are rooted in the objective conditions and interests of the army. The ‘Hawks’ have been able to exploit the grievances of the army rank and file and therefore have a powerful position in the army. They thrive on chauvinism, for only on the basis of an aggressively chauvinistic ideology can they enforce increasing demands on national resources for a larger and better equipped (and more privileged) army. The massive rearmament and reorganisation of the Indian army…following its confrontation with China, has altered the military balance in South Asia, a fact which was brought home to the Pakistani oligarchy in no uncertain terms after the debacle in Bangladesh. This will make the old policy of confrontation with India no longer credible. This confrontation has been a source of embarrassment to the two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, who have attempted…to bring about a rapprochement between India and Pakistan. They will no doubt use their influence to restrain the ‘hawks’ in the army and to strengthen the hands of the ‘conservative right-wing’ Generals to this end. Nevertheless, the fact that the oligarchy has so far resisted the efforts of the two superpowers in this respect despite pressure…reflects its relative autonomy; such a rapprochement would encroach on the interests of the army.
Both the bureaucracy and the military in Pakistan are highly developed and powerful in comparison with their indigenous class bases. Capitalist development in Pakistan has taken place under their corrupt patronage and close control by the bureaucracy. Because of bureaucratic controls, business opportunities have been restricted to a privileged few who have established the necessary relationship with the bureaucracy, essentially based on the cash nexus. In the late sixties the Chief Economist to the Government of Pakistan revealed that 20 privileged families owned 66 per cent of Pakistan’s industry, 79 per cent of its insurance and 80 per cent of its banking and that most of the rest was owned by foreign companies. That revelation, in a pre-election year, is itself an indication of the ambivalent relationship between the bureaucracy and the indigenous bourgeoisie. Even so, the local monopolists do not control any political party which can be said to represent them as a class. Indeed, the bases of political parties are primarily rural. The influence of the business community on the conduct of public affairs is primarily through its direct contact with and influence on the bureaucracy itself.
Under parliamentary democracy landowners, who hold sway over the countryside, monopolize the field of party politics. They are elected to places in the national and provincial legislatures…The bureaucracy and the army recruit their senior officers largely from rich rural families and therefore the landowning classes have a built-in position within the oligarchy. The bureaucrats have a direct stake in the privileges of the landed classes. This link has been greatly reinforced by the grant of land to civilian and military officers, who have thereby become substantial landowners in their own right when they were not so already. Because of that fact landowners have been able to pursue their class interests effectively, despite occasional attempts by the indigenous bourgeoisie and the Metropolitan bourgeoisies to alter that state of affairs. Agricultural incomes for example, are exempt from income tax…the bourgeoisie and their foreign allies have pressed the demand that these huge incomes be subjected to tax in order to raise resources for a larger development plan, in which their own interests lie. The landed classes have not only resisted that attempt successfully; they have also obtained large subsidies of which the lion’s share goes to the rich farmers and the big landlords. Nevertheless, landlords as a class, despite their close and effective links with the bureaucracy and their dominant role in party politics, cannot be said to have command over the bureaucracy. Many instances can be shown in which the interests of landowners as a class have been subordinated to those of the bourgeoisie, for example in the price policy for raw cotton, which has worked to the disadvantage of the landowners and to the benefit of the business magnates who own textile mills.
Foreign businessmen like others, have sought bureaucratic favours, and have not failed to obtain them. In their case, private corruption is reinforced by governmental pressure; the greatest pressure is exercised by the Government of the US. I have examined elsewhere ways in which US Aid has been used to enforce policies on Pakistan in support of US business to the detriment of domestic interests. (7) Competition exists not only between US and indigenous business interests but also between competing Metropolitan bourgeoisies, viz British, German, French, Japanese, Italian and others. None of them has complete command over the bureaucracy nor do they command it collectively. Neo-colonialism is, however, probably the greatest beneficiary of the relative autonomy of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy. It is precisely such a relatively autonomous role that renders the government of the postcolonial society sufficiently open to admit the successful intrusion of neocolonialist interests in the formulation of public policy. Great emphasis is therefore placed by western ideologues on the importance of the bureaucracy as an ‘agent of modernization’. Every effort is made to influence the bureaucracy ideologically in favour of policies which are in conformity with metropolitan interests. This ideology is expressed in the form of ‘techniques of planning’ and it is presented as an objective science of economic development. The western educated bureaucrat is regarded as the bearer of western rationality and technology and his role is contrasted with that of ‘demagogic’ politicians who voice ‘parochial’ demands. Considerable resources are devoted in the metropolitan countries to imparting training to bureaucrats of the postcolonial countries. But there are also more direct methods of influencing their outlook and policy orientations. International agencies and aid administrating agencies who vet viability of projects, advise on development planning and channellize policies of postcolonial governments along lines which suit the metropolitan countries. Influence on state policy through foreign aid as well as private corruption of bureaucrats makes this possible, even when some of the policies are blatantly against the interests of the country. Those who tend to assume the existence of mutuality in the processes of international negotiations and who suppose that if a government of a postcolonial country has agreed to a certain course of policy, it must therefore be in the interest of their country, should recognize this disjuncture between the interests of the country (however defined) and those of the corrupt bureaucracy and individual bureaucrats.
Pakistan’s experience suggests that none of the three propertied classes in that postcolonial society namely, the indigenous bourgeoisie, the neocolonialist metropolitan bourgeoisies nor the landowning classes, exclusively command the state apparatus; the influence and power of each is offset by that of the other two. Their respective interests are not mutually congruent or wholly compatible. They do have certain basic interests in common; above all, that of the preservation of the existing social order, based upon the institution of private property. But they make competing demands on the postcolonial state and on the bureaucratic-military oligarchy which represents the state. The latter mediates and arbitrates between the competing demands of the three propertied classes. This is a historically specific role of the military and the bureaucracy, the apparatus of the state in postcolonial societies. The reason for its distinctive role stems from the fact that in contrast to the ascendant bourgeoisie in an independent Capitalist state or the metropolitan bourgeoisie in a colony, both of which establish their dominance over other social classes, in postcolonial societies none of the three propertied classes exclusively dominates the state apparatus or subordinates the other two. This specific historical situation confers on the bureaucratic-military oligarchy in a postcolonial society a relatively autonomous role.
There are two senses in which the idea of ‘relative autonomy’ of elements of the superstructure (such as the state), in relation to the underlying ‘structure’ i.e. the economic foundations of society (the relations of production) has been discussed in marxist literature, which might be clarified at this point. One is a basic philosophical sense, namely that historical materialism does not mean that elements of the ‘superstructure’ are determined mechanistically by the underlying structure; but that the formative influence of the latter although mediated in a complex way, is the ultimate determinant of the superstructure. This was emphasized by Engels in his well-known letter to Joseph Bloch in which he criticized mechanistic and deterministic interpretations of ‘vulgar Marxism’. This fundamental, philosophical, issue should be distinguished from another, theoretical, issue. The idea of ‘relative autonomy’ of the superstructure is put forward in this second context as a theory, i.e. as an explanation of the relationship between the state and the underlying ‘structure’ in certain (exceptional) historical situations. Marx’s analysis of the bonapartist State deals with the most extreme case of the relative autonomy of the State from amongst such historical examples analysed by Marx and Engels. However, in classical marxism, in the fundamental philosophical sense as well as in the specific theoretical sense, the idea of the ‘relative autonomy’ of the superstructure (or the state) was conceived of explicitly within the framework of a society subject to the hegemony of a single ruling class. The issue in relation to the postcolonial societies is fundamentally different and should be distinguished clearly from the issues which underlay earlier discussions. The classical position is summed up by Poulantzas who wrote: ‘When Marx designated Bonapartism as the “religion of the bourgeoisie”, in other words as characteristic of all forms of the capitalistic State, he showed that this State can only truly serve the ruling class in so far as it is relatively autonomous from the diverse fractions of this class, precisely in order to organize the hegemony of the whole of this class.’ (emphasis added) (8) Such a proposition cannot apply to a discussion of postcolonial societies in ‘which the problem arises not with reference to ‘diverse fractions’ of a single class, the bourgeoisie, but rather with reference to three different propertied classes, which do not constitute ‘a whole’, for they have different structural bases and competing class interests.
In postcolonial societies the phenomenon of the relative autonomy of the state apparatus is therefore of a different order to that which is found in the historical cases on which the classical Marxist theory of state is based. The role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy in postcolonial societies is only relatively autonomous, because it is determined within the matrix of a class society and not outside it, for the preservation of the social order based on the institution of private property unites all the three competing propertied social classes. That common commitment situates the bureaucratic-military oligarchy within the social matrix. Nevertheless, the role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy is relatively autonomous because, once the controlling hand of the metropolitan bourgeoisie is lifted at the moment of independence no single class has exclusive command over it. This relative autonomy is not predicated on that negative condition alone. It derives also from the positive conditions which stem from the far reaching interventions by the state in the economies of postcolonial countries, both by way of a network of controls, in which the vested interests of the bureaucracy are embedded, and a direct appropriation and disposition of a substantial proportion of the economic surplus. These constitute independent material bases of the autonomy of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy…It could be argued, however, that given the role of the State in ‘promoting economic development’ in postcolonial societies, …This role…is closely interlinked with imperialist interventions in postcolonial societies, especially through the administration of economic and military aid.
The mediating role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy between the competing demands of the three propertied classes is possible in the postcolonial situation because the mutual interests of the latter and their inter-relations are aligned in a qualitatively different way from that which is experienced in other historical circumstances, on which the classical marxist theory of the state is premised. In the postcolonial situation their mutual relations are no longer antagonistic and contradictory; rather they are mutually competing but reconcilable. In the colonies, the classical theory envisages a coalition between the metropolitan bourgeoisie, the native ‘comprador’ bourgeoisie (composed of merchants whose activities complement those of the metropolitan bourgeoisie) and the ‘feudal’ landowning class. The theory also envisages the interests of the rising native ‘national’ bourgeoisie to be fundamentally opposed to those of the metropolitan bourgeoisie. The colonial liberation is therefore characterized as the inauguration of a bourgeois-democratic revolution, ‘anti-imperialist and anti-feudal’ in character, which is premised as a necessary historical stage in the development of the liberated colonial society. The postcolonial state is taken to be the instrument of the ascendant native national bourgeoisie through which its historical purpose is finally accomplished. But this is not what we have actually witnessed in the postcolonial societies. This was noted, for example, by Paul Baran who wrote: ‘Its capitalist bourgeois component, confronted at an early stage with the spectre of social revolution, turns swiftly and resolutely against its fellow traveller of yesterday, its mortal enemy of tomorrow (i.e. the industrial proletariat and the peasantry). In fact it does not hesitate to make common cause with the feudal elements representing the main obstacle to its own development, with the imperialist rulers just dislodged by the national liberation, and with comprador groups threatened by the political retreat of their former principals.’ (9)
It is true that unprecedented challenges from revolutionary movements constitute a most important element in the postcolonial situation in which the three propertied classes stand united in the defense of the established social order. But their political unity would not be possible if they were still divided by irreconcilable contradictions. That is possible because of fundamental differences in the underlying structural alignments, which differentiate the postcolonial situation from other historical parallels. The suggestion by Baran that the new unity of the propertied classes for the defence of the established social order represents a retreat from and an abandonment by the native national bourgeoisie of its historic anti-feudal and anti-colonial role because of its fears of the revolutionary challenge which it cannot confront alone, overlooks the fundamental differences in the underlying structural alignments in the postcolonial societies from those in the colonial situation on which the classical theory of the role of the native ‘national bourgeoisie’ was premised.
An accommodation between the native bourgeoisie and the ‘feudal’ landowning classes is now possible because the task of winning national independence is completed and the structure of the nation state and the institutional and legal framework necessary for capitalist development, products of the bourgeois revolution, already exist, for they were established by the metropolitan bourgeoisie. The native bourgeoisie is not confronted with the historical task of the European bourgeoisie of subordinating feudal power for the purpose of establishing the nation state. On the contrary, now the ‘feudal’ landowning class complements the political purposes of the native bourgeoisie in the ‘democratic’ running of the postcolonial state, because it plays a key role in establishing links between the state at the national level and the local-level power structures in the rural areas which it dominates. At that level it also ‘contains’ potentially revolutionary forces and helps to maintain the ‘political equilibrium’ of the postcolonial system.
As regards economic aspects too, the specific nature of the relationship between the native bourgeoisie and the ‘feudal’ landowning classes in postcolonial societies, especially in the context of the growth of capitalist farming under the auspices of the big landowners rather than in conflict with them, has made it unnecessary for the native bourgeoisie to seek the elimination of the ‘feudal’ landowning class for the purposes of capitalist development. The position and the interests of the ‘feudal’ landowning classes, however, (are) challenged both from within the rural society as well as from ‘radical’ urban forces. In response to such pressures, perfunctory efforts were made in some countries, soon after independence, to introduce land reforms. By and large, these measures were ineffective, but their ineffectiveness has by no means impeded the development of the native bourgeoisie. In recent years in South Asia, the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ based on an elite farmer strategy has further helped to resolve the basic problem (for the native bourgeoisie) of increasing the agricultural surplus needed to sustain industrialization and urbanization as well as expanding the domestic market for manufactured goods. Pressures for radical action have diminished and those for mutual accommodation have increased. Contradictions remain, nevertheless, for the elite farmer strategy is having a disruptive effect on the fabric of rural society which may have consequences which reach beyond its confines. This growth of socially ‘disruptive’ forces in the rural areas, which may contribute powerfully to a revolutionary movement, occasions concern on the part of the bourgeoisie, which seeks to consolidate the conservative alliance with the ‘feudal’ landowning classes to preserve the existing social order rather than contributing to the forces which seek to overthrow the power of the landowning classes in the rural areas.
As regards the relationship between the metropolitan bourgeoisies and the indigenous or ‘national’ bourgeoisies of the postcolonial societies, their mutual relationship is also quite different from that which is premised in the classical marxist theory. The classical marxist theory postulates a fundamental contradiction between the two. It therefore concludes that the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ revolution in the colonies, of which independence is only the first phase and which continues in the postcolonial situation, necessarily has an ‘anti-imperialistic’ character. It is true, of course, that the native bourgeoisie plays an anti-imperialist role and contributes to the national independence movement against the colonial power, but only up to the point of independence. In the postcolonial situation there is a double reorientation of alignments, both of the indigenous bourgeoisie and of the erstwhile ‘comprador’ class of merchants, building contractors and the like. The latter, unable to compete on equal terms with giant overseas concerns, demand restrictions on the activities of foreign businesses, particularly in the fields in which they aspire to operate. They acquire a new ‘anti-imperialist’ posture. On the other hand, as the erstwhile ‘national’ bourgeoisie grows in size and aspires to extend its interests and move from industries which involve relatively unsophisticated technology, such as textiles, to those which involve the use of highly sophisticated technology such as petro-chemicals and fertilisers, etc., they find that they do not have access to the requisite advanced industrial technologies. Their small resources and scale of operation keep the possibility of developing their own technology, independently, out of their reach. For access to the requisite advanced industrial technology they have to turn for collaboration therefore, to the bourgeoisies of the developed metropolitan countries, or to socialist states. This they do despite the fact that the terms on which the collaboration is offered are such that it hamstrings their own independent future development.
As it grows in size and extends its interests the so-called ‘national’ bourgeoisie becomes increasingly dependent on the neo-colonialist metropolitan bourgeoisies.
The concept of a ‘national’ bourgeoisie which is presumed to become increasingly anti-imperialist as it grows bigger, so that its contradictions with imperialism sharpen further, is one which is derived from an analysis of colonial and not postcolonial experience. The mutual relationship of the native bourgeoisie and the metropolitan bourgeoisies is no longer antagonistic; it is collaborative. The collaboration is, however, unequal and hierarchical, because the native bourgeoisie of a postcolonial society assumes a subordinate, client, status in the structure of its relationship with the metropolitan bourgeoisie. The erstwhile ‘anti-imperialist’ character of the native ‘national’ bourgeoisie changes in the postcolonial situation to a collaborationist one. The metropolitan bourgeoisies value their collaboration with the native bourgeoisies of postcolonial societies because that provides a channel through which they pursue their economic interests without political risks attendant on direct investments by themselves. Their agreements with the native bourgeoisie establish captive markets for their products as well as for their technologies. (10) The conditions which underlie the collaboration between the native bourgeoisies and the neocolonial metropolitan bourgeoisies are therefore embedded not only in superstructural conditions namely, the threat of revolutionary movements to which Baran refers, but also in structural conditions namely, access to technology for their economic operations. It must be emphasized that even though the indigenous ‘national’ bourgeoisie and the metropolitan bourgeoisies are brought together into a close collaborative and hierarchical relationship they are by no means, by that token, merged into a single class. The concept of collaboration implies and describes the fact of their separateness, and hierarchy implies a degree of conflict between their interests and a tension which underlies their relationship. Convergence of their interests does not dissolve into an identity of interests.
It is this element of mutual competition which makes it possible, and necessary, for the bureaucratic-military oligarchies to play a mediatory role.
Because of the powerful role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy in postcolonial societies, positions in the oligarchy are of crucial importance, especially for aspiring educated middle class groups; and their political demands are focused on shares of positions in the oligarchy. Where the oligarchy is recruited from a narrow social or regional base, as for example is the case in Pakistan, the unprivileged educated middle class groups who are denied access to positions of influence and power in the oligarchy organize political opposition. ‘Moral’ principles and ideologies are invoked both by the ruling oligarchy as well as by the opposition to justify their respective interests and to rally public support on their own behalf. Differences of caste, ethnic origin, religion or language dominate the politics of postcolonial societies particularly for that reason. Opposition groups raise slogans of cultural or linguistic identity. On the other hand, the particular ethnic or linguistic (or other sectional) group which has a dominant position in the ruling bureaucratic-military oligarchy invokes in defence of its own particularistic privileges the ideology of ‘national solidarity’ and denounces the opposition as narrow-minded and divisive particularism. The campaign on behalf of their group is mounted by the bureaucratic-military oligarchy itself. Political issues arising out of the sectional or regional character of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy are therefore merged with broader issues of public policy as they concern different classes of people and in the political debate which ensues, political questions which concern the underlying social and economic issues are often expressed in the idiom of cultural, linguistic or regionalist demands.
In Pakistan, the ruling, predominantly Punjabi, bureaucratic-military oligarchy has taken over and put to its own particular use the slogans of Muslim nationalism, that is the slogans of the movement on the strength of which Pakistan was brought into being. It extols the virtues of ‘Islamic solidarity’ and denounces linguistic or regionalist opposition movements as divisive provincialism. In this way, after the creation of Pakistan, the nature and political role of Muslim nationalism and the significance of its slogans have altered. Muslim nationalism in India propagated the cause of the underprivileged Muslim educated middle classes of India, who were numerically small and educationally less advanced than those of the Hindus. The creation of Pakistan, the separate homeland of the Muslims, was the fulfillment of that cause. Therefore after the state of Pakistan had been created, the raison d’etre of that movement ceased to exist. At that point the Muslim League, the principal organ of the movement, disintegrated. The surviving faction, which appropriated the mantle of the Muslim League, now began to propagate its ideology on behalf of the privileged groups, especially the Punjabi oligarchs, in opposition to regionalist challenges. The ideology of Islamic unity was now employed to deny the validity of the claims and demands of the less privileged groups, namely Bengalis, Sindhis, Pathans and Baluchis, for the recognition of their distinct identity and needs…
(1) R. Miliband, ‘Marx and the State’, in R. Miliband and J. Saville (eds): Socialist Register 1965.
(6) Tariq Ali, ‘The Struggle in Bangladesh’, New Left Review 68 (July-August 1971), Footnote 21, p. 43.
(7) Hamza Alavi & Amir Khusro, ‘Pakistan: The Burden of US Aid,’ New University Thought, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Autumn 1962) reprinted in R. I. Rhodes (ed) Imperialism and Underdevelopment, 1970.
(8) Nicos Poulantzas, ‘Capitalism and the State’, New Left Review 58, Nov.–Dec. 1969, p. 74.
(9) Paul Baran, The Political Economy of Growth, New York, 1957 pp. 220–1.
(10) This development was analysed in: Hamza Alavi, ‘Imperialism, Old and New’, in R. Miliband and J. Saville (eds), Socialist Register 1964.
This piece is excerpted from a longer article by the author: The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and Bangladesh, New Left Review, 1/74, July-August 1972.