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New Left Review I/74, July-August 1972


Hamza Alavi

The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and Bangladesh

The object of this article is to raise some fundamental questions about the classical Marxist theory of the State in the context of post-colonial societies. The argument is premised on the historical specificity of post-colonial 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 re-alignments of class forces which have been brought about in the post-colonial situation. I will draw examples from recent developments in Pakistan and Bangladesh. There are, necessarily, some particular features which are specific to that context. But the essential features which invite a fresh analysis are by no means unique. In particular the special role of the military-bureaucratic oligarchy has become all too common a phenomenon in post-colonial 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 neo-colonialist 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 neo-colonialist bourgeoisies because it is by virtue of this fact that they are able to pursue their class interests in the post-colonial societies.

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