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The State in Post-colonial societies

Hamza Alavi


 Differences b/w Post colonial societies (PCS) and classical Marxist theory
 Relationship between classes
 Domination of govt. by military-bureaucracy oligarchy
 Specific focus on Pak n Bengal as post colonial states.

Hamza alavi says that classical Marxist theory does not apply on PCS

Even though all PCS have a lot of the same features, Pakistan has some specific features as well

3 classes in PC Pakistan:

1. indegenious bourgeoisie(native)

2. metropolitan neo colonialist (foregner living class)

3. the landowner class

This article discusses the relationship b/w these 3 and military bureaucratic oligarchy


 the classes had varying interests.

 The colonialist maintained absolute rule over the other two
 The military oligarchy served colonial rule(british). Part of the army. Supressed rebellions.
 The native bourgeoisie opposed military and landed classes in a demand for rights. Several
peasant uprisings and rebellions.

With the Partition, their roles and relationships changed as the new country became a common

Post partition:

 Their interests are still competing but no longer contradictory, a new understanding is
developed b/w them.
 Military oligarchy acts as the mediator b/w the interests of the 3 classes.
 The landed classes and the native bourgeoisie develop an understanding in hopes of
ensuring capital progress of the state. The bourgeoisie need landowners to earn a living.
Landowners need them for labour.
 The neo-colonial bourgeoise also becomes important as it invests in the new nation(set up
industries etc).
 No class is dominant over the other two. Their interest are complementary and compatible,
yet competing against each other. Hence, none can gain power.
 This gives the mil-bureaucratic oligarchy the relatively autonomous role.

Classical Marxist theory

1. The military bureaucratic oligarchy mainly manages the affairs of the bourgeoise and landed
2. The military oligarchy is an instrument of power to dominate the other 3 classes in matters
of State.

How Post-colonial societies are different. Marxist theory does not apply to them.

 Complex relationship b/w bourgeoisie classes and the military oligarchy in post-
colonial states
 In Western societies, indigenous bourgeoisie are responsible for creating the
framework of law and capitalism which gives them power
 In PCS, indigenous bourgeoisie adopts an already complex ruling structure from the
colonialists (British). They are not well-equipped to support the structure by
themselves which means they can’t establish dominion.
 However military bureaucratic oligarchy adopts a very powerful military structure
and hence gains power on all the bourgeoisie classes. This makes the military
oligarchy the most powerful.

The Essential Problem:

The newly formed post-colonial nation inherits an already created structure which still has influence
in the new state. Neither bourgeoisie can dominate other.

Military bureau-oligarchy assumes two roles: the apparatus of the State, autonomous economic role
(not found in Marx theory)

The Military-Bureaucracy Oligarchy:

Military-oligarchy is the most dominant class. Political, landed and bourgeoisie class work with and
subservient to the military-bureaucracy class.

Mainly comprises of Punjabis.

Military does not become the primary government, rather it uses politics and classes to achieve

Inherits most power in post-colonial state(wealth, authority). Biggest influence on govt.

This class is essential and has positive effect: it can improve the country’s economy through wealth
and agricultural development.

Rallies the public through the teaching of “morals” and ideologies. Serves as a symbol of morality.
Promotes religious identity.

Primarily recruits from the under-developed and unrepresented regions.

Role of political class:

Is a significant part of govt. along side military.

Realize the demands of people in govt.

Also work on behalf of military to manipulate public feelings

Ambivalent relation with military bureau-oligarchy

Has fought for power against military throughout history. Resulted in military seizing their govt.

So parties work as masks for military, channelling its orders. Absorbing public grievances.

Alavi states that india is still having better progress in achieving democratic govt.

The main formers of parties are the middle and lower-middle classes that demand more part in the
state’s oligarchy.

Rallies people by targeting personal identity and culture. Party foundations are usually based ethnic
or linguistic identities.

Difference between two post colonial states, Pakistan and Indonesia:

In Indonesia, military and govt were heavily reconstructed

In Pakistan, a system was adopted and military was organized.

Two facts about Pakistan’s History:

1. The mil-bureau oligarchy has always been the dominant power in one form or the other. Worked
behind the scenes in political regimes or directly e.g. Ayub Khan had ‘Basic Democracy’ system.

2. The main threat to mil-bureau oligarchy has always been political parties which were supported
by rural underprivileged population (Baluchistan, Sind,Bengal, NWFP). Politics were based on
1958: Military changed governments in succession. 1962: Constitution changed by Ayub Khan. Used
politicians as representatives. 1969: Yahya came into power. Also believed that military needed
politicians to maintain a facade or else military would face public dissatisfaction

Bhutto’s Connection with army

He came in power after Bangladesh (1971). Military needed him to handle situation. He kept ties
with them. Dismissed Yahya. Brought in his friend Gen. Gul Hasan, who opposed Ayub and was
Yahya’s competitor.

Bhutto then called in Gen. Tikka Khan, who planned the Bangladesh operation. This worsened
negotiation of war prisoners with India.

Two Types of Powerful Army Officials:

1. Conservative Right Wing Generals:

From wealthy landed families or self-made businessmen. Have links with local and foreign
businesses. Also consult foreign entities such as US over government affairs. Hence have
powerful links.

The army mainly recruits people from impoverished and poor lands(NWFP, rural Punjab).
These people are angry towards the State and not very literate(easier to influence) hence,
develop loyalty to army. These people believe society and politics are corrupt. bhutto’s

They are given extreme religious ideology . Jamat Islami has influence on them

2. Army Hawks:

Generals whose greatest interest is the progress of army and that army’s power
continuously grows. Led by Tikka Khan.

Aggressively demand for more funds and resources to be given to army. They want to match
India’s military power.

USA and USSR want to prevent Pak-Ind war and hence do not support Hawks who want war power.

They support Right Wings. However, army has resisted both countries significantly.

Alavi says mil-bureau has seen much more development that bourgeoisieIn 1960s: 20 families won
66% industries, 79% insurance, 80% banking. The two classes are still linked.
Land Owners role in Politics:

They dominate party politics. Hold power countryside and rural areas. Military recruits from these
families to gain power and land.

Bourgeoisie try to gain power. Landed classes dominate them and prevent this. Landowners are still
no match for mil-beau oligarchy.

Role of Neo-Colonialist bourgeoisie in the State:

The foreign investors and companies in Pak(US, UK etc). Perhaps this class benefits the greatest from
military domination. Military allows neo-colonial interest in shaping the State.

West regards mil-beau as agent of modernization in Pakistan.

Neo colonialist are thought be educated and technologically advanced. Hence their influence and
assistance is welcomed in setting up industries and govts. They invest in the new country and
provide funding.

They form industry and govts. in a way which favours their own county’s agenda. This promotes
military-bureau corruption.

Marxism vs Post colonial states

Marxism considers “relative autonomy” to be either:

 that the superstructure(state) is determined by underlying structure(the classes)

 or that relative autonomy is a theoretical concept present in some exceptional countries.

But Marxism applies its theory to a society ruled by a single ruling class which has diverse fractions.
This can never be the case in PC societies as there are multiple classes, each with diverse fractions.

Rationally, a PC society should gradually cause the ascension of native bourgeoisie to power. But the
bourgeoise class cannot challenge the landed class and military and hence develops truce with them,
securing its own downfall. However, the element of rebellion is not erased.

Economic Relationship b/w native Bourgeoisie and Land Owners:

The two classes work together to ensure the capitalist development of the nation.

South Asia has seen a Green Revolution, and the role of the native as a farmer to contribute to
national revenue has secured the position of the indigenous bourgeoisie.

The bourgeoise no longer aim to overthrow landowning classes in most cases.

Relationship b/w native and neo-colonialist(foreign) bourgeoisie:

The Marxist theory claims that the two classes cannot exist together as the native has to have an
“anti imperialist” attitude. The case is different in post colonial societies.

In PCSs, the native bourgeoisie cannot compete on an economic level with the foreign giants in
markets, therefore the natives welcome the neo-colonialist who introduce new technology and
facilitate urbanisation.

Hence, there is collaboration.

How nationalism has changed since partition:

Pre Partition:

The League’s goal was to achieve a separate Islamic land for the under-represented and
unprivileged Muslims of India.

Post Partition:

The League now supported the Privileged Class in Pakistan(mainly Punjabis). Hence, Islam
was now used to force the beliefs of this upper class in order to cripple revolutionary
activities from other regions.


The people of Bengal demanded for equal representation in participation in government. Another
demand was the fair distribution of economic resources (all went primarily to West Pak)

The power at the time rested solely with the Punjabi West Pakistanis.

Bengali Language Movement:

Formed to resist the domination of Punjabi bureaucracy. Addressed the issue of Urdu being national
language. Main supporters were lower middle class people from rural areas and lesser education.
Was led mainly by the Awami League (Leader was Suhrawardy, PM of Pak)

There were two traditions (sections) in the movement:

1. Petty Bourgeoisie elitist: aimed to secure power in bureaucracy and bring economic wealth
to Bengal. The Awami League was mainly elitist under Suhrawardy and his student Sheikh
Mujib. Members were from cities and towns
2. Rural populist: The poor peasant class. Was represented in the Awami League by Maulana
Bhashani. Populists were from villages. Had Marxist views.
Both traditions worked intertwined in the Party until 1957, where Bhashani and his populist left and
formed National Awami Party. But Awami League still has populist support because
Suhrawardy(leader of elitist) himself was populist. He bridged gap between the classes.

Bengal’s demand for more jobs was met by West Pakistan however, no power in the central govt.
was given to Bengal till 1969.

Industry and Economy in Bengal:

1960s:Ayub decided to invest in creating a Bengali bourgeoisie(for his own support).

The promotion of capitalism created two groups:

1. Contactors: Educated Bengalis with bureaucratic contacts. Gained a lot of wealth and subsidies.
This group rose in power throughout this period.

2. Contractors: Small businessmen who struggled to make a profit against the large Contactors.
Industrial Development Bank and East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation was set up to
accommodate them.


Bengalis pressured the Center govt for more power and funds. The movement for independent East
Bengal had been growing since 1947.

But it was not supported by all(the new bourgeoisie). Within Pakistan, they could have protection
from military and wealth from economic transfers. If separated, they would have none of these.

The rich Sardar families backed up the elitist Awami League and helped it win 1970 elections.

The elitist party’s base was mainly populist. The elitist frequently used its support to get demands
from West Pakistani but was careful to not let the populists get too much power.

The elitist had an ambivalent relation with mil-bureau oligarchy of Pakistan. Both needed each
other, that’s why Mujib tried to negotiate with Yahya in 1971.

Separation of Bengal:

After separation, The elitist leadership found its power in Calcutta. The populist grew in power by
forming the armed liberation struggle. The armed group was growing in power to attack Pak forces.

The weak Pak economy caused discontent and army had to retreat. The armed liberation’s power
grew. Here, India sided with Bangladesh. Gave populist rebels arms and appointed an elitist Awami
Party govt.

With both populist and elitist power growing, the future could go two ways: a mil-bureau oligarchy
will become dominant (elitist), or an armed revolution(populist) would change power in the country.