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.

A fundamental distinction can be seen between that situation and the situation which followed the bourgeois revolutionin 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. My analysis is confined to an example of the first type. Perhaps comparative analysis will throw light on the similarities and the differences between it and cases of the other type. Such comparative and critical studies are needed before we can hope to arrive at a general theory of the State in post-colonial societies. The purpose of this article will have been served if it focuses on fresh questions that require to be asked in relation to post-colonial societies.

A focus on the central role of the bureaucracy and the military in the government and political development of post-colonial 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.”’ footnote1 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 post-colonial 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 post-colonial 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 re-alignments which have developed in the post colonial 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 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 ‘over-developed’ 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 post-colonial 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 post-colonial 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 neo-colonialist bourgeoisies, is present in the post-colonial society. Together they constitute a powerful element in its class structure. The relationship between neo-colonialist bourgeoisies and the post-colonial state is clearly of a different order from that which existed between the imperialist bourgeoisie and the colonial state. The class basis of the post-colonial state is therefore complex. It is not entirely subordinate to the indigenous bourgeoisie, in view of the power and influence of the neo-colonial 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 post-colonial 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.