Is Pakistan’s problem feudalism or capitalism?


What we need is another kind of a revolution

“Theocracy is the last weapon of regressive forces who want to impose the rule of the close–minded religious clergy using the excuse of God’s authority. They want to re-impose feudal norms and deprive the masses of their birthright.” –Sibt-e-Hasan, eminent Marxist intellectual.

Though Sibt-e-Hasan deserves praise for popularising class analysis through his Urdu writings, this quote of his reflects the untenable perception prevalent among Pakistani liberals and left whereby they equate capitalist form of growth with progress and take parliamentary form of democracy and capitalism as congruent. And they blame feudalism or its residues for the lack of both in Pakistan.

When solid arguments from sociology and economics are brought to prove that feudalism as a mode of production and its attendant relations of production are no more present in Pakistan, they seek refuge behind the new argument that feudal norms and ‘mindset’ persist and hinder progress.

Among this list of Pakistani liberals are famous columnist like Khalid Ahmed who surprisingly was chosen to give the annual lecture at the Progressive Writers Movement’s Hamza Alavi memoriam. These also include Ayesha Siddiqa of Military Inc. fame, who courageously details the ‘vulture-like’ role of military in Pakistan’s history, but then sadly identifies extremist religion as our primary problem and takes refuge behind the coattails of that very military. She then goes on to suggest revival of ‘Sufi’ version of Islam as the solution.

But this list goes on and includes the innumerable op-ed writers who treat us every week to their liberalism, repeating tired clichés like a religious creed, akin to the maulvi they criticise.

Understanding present structure of Pakistani society requires a study of its historical development. Mughal era society was based on the ‘Tributary Mode of Production’. British colonialism turned it into a hybrid society, termed ‘Colonial Mode of Production’ by Hamza Alavi. After partition we inherited this social base in which capitalism was nascent in some ways but had state superstructure akin to that of advanced capitalist societies. The base-superstructure incongruence was because the state developed not due to an internal organic process but was bestowed by colonial masters.

Post ‘independence’, this over-developed state composed of civil and military bureaucracy actually ruled the society. In agriculture and trade, capitalism was somewhat developed but industrial capitalism was nascent. This ruling bureaucracy took on the role of regional agent for US ruling class, and in return got industrial, agricultural and military technology, undertook vast infrastructure projects and nurtured local capitalist class. By the end of the Ayub era, Pakistan had rapidly turned into a fully ‘capitalist’ society through state, international and private investment, and it could not be described thereafter as ‘feudal’ by any stretch of imagination.

Let us now have a look at the spread of capitalism at the global level. Actually, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, bourgeois revolutions entered the period of their greatest proliferation, adding many more to the roster in the 25 years between the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the fall of Haille Salassie in 1974 than had been achieved in the three and a half centuries between the Dutch Revolt of 1567 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Resultantly capitalism transformed the whole world, either pushing out all previous modes of production or changing their remaining vestiges in its own image.

Understanding problems of progress in the Global South requires an analysis of the changing shapes of global capitalism. Ideas are the reflection of our social system. As capitalism transformed society people also accordingly changed/adapted religious concepts and interpretations. To understand today’s ideas, whether religious or otherwise, we have to study unevenness and class divisions of society brought about by capitalism.

Pakistan’s liberal intellectuals are so overawed of ruling ideas of capitalism that they see it as a benign system, blaming today’s ills on remnants of some past society and suggesting further development of capitalism as remedy.

Now let’s turn towards the liberals’ crush, democracy. Most left intellectuals equate bourgeois revolution (change from feudalism to capitalism) and present-day parliamentary democracy. In fact, if we take bourgeois democracy to involve, at a minimum, a representative government, it is a relatively recent development in the history of capitalism. Far from being intrinsic to bourgeois society, representative democracy has largely been introduced by pressure from the working class, often involving the threat of revolution.

To insist that countries in the Global South are only completely capitalist when they have achieved stable representative democracy, apart from committing a category mistake (capitalism=economy; democracy=polity), is to expect a more complete outcome there than was achieved in the countries of the developed world. There are still important unresolved democratic issues in many countries, but they have nothing to do with the accomplishment or consolidation of capitalism.

Renowned political scientist Alex Callinicos points out that the correct criteria “to judge the success of a bourgeois revolution is by the degree to which it succeeds in establishing an autonomous centre of capital accumulation, even if it fails to democratise the political order, or to eliminate feudal social relations”. Capitalism endlessly reproduces differences in power and autonomy—this is termed “unevenness”. The unstable but structured inequality which results is not an unresolved issue from an earlier period, not a remnant of feudalism or colonialism, but a result of the normal operation of competitive accumulation expressed at nation-states level.

For third world countries like Pakistan, who have a marginal and peripheral place in the global of capitalism, the real issue is how to develop in a global capitalism system where the core and developed countries enjoy hegemony.

The present ruling coalition acts as representatives of those sections of Pakistani capitalists that are middlemen for international capital and has therefore brought the country to ruination.

Let’s look at the alternatives. It is without question that to rid ourselves of this collective exploitation and oppression by the nexus of local comprador and international capitalist class, we need a revolution. But then the question comes, what type of a revolution, political or social?

Can we achieve this progress by strengthening a party that represents Pakistani national capital, such as Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf. This is the way of further capitalism which has repeatedly proven non-sustainable. Ayub’s golden era of development was followed by civil war in East Pakistan and its eventual dismemberment. This same top down development has created revolutionary situation in Egypt, and a crisis in Greece, Portugal and Spain, breaking the mirage of this ‘manufactured progress’.

What we need is to wage a socialist revolution through the participation of rural poor, peasants, urban unemployed and facing oppressed minorities under the leading role of working class. Only such a change can bring a sustainable and even form of development. It will bring real democracy which will not be limited like the hollow and fake parliamentary democracy of capitalism. Only it will give national and individual independence, an end to national and religious oppression. It will create a society where every individual will have equal opportunities to develop his potential, production will be to satisfy human needs instead of for profit, and instead of corporate capitalist globalisation there will be an internationalism based on the unity and solidarity of humanity.