Pakistan: What is the ‘establishment’?

“The relationship between the ruling classes and the state is never a straightforward one. It depends on the financial potency of the elite and their capacity to advance the means of production and develop society.”

There seems to be an incessant deliberation and debate about the alleged contradiction and conflict between the ‘establishment’ and the democratic setup that rules Pakistan at the present time. The masses are perplexed at this argumentation that they can neither comprehend nor feel its relevance to the grievances and the rapid deterioration of living conditions that is making their life miserable day in and day out. Yet the incomprehension of the masses is not due to their ignorance. They probably have a better conception of this as those involved in these discussions are far removed from the harrowing realities of society that the masses have to endure. Some of the very educated people can be very ignorant while a lot of illiterate toilers are blessed with startling wisdom, extraordinary talent and outstanding foresight. After all, in Goethe’s words, “life teaches”. The establishment is presented as some sort of a black hole wrapped in mystery. The reality is that different ‘experts’ mean by this nomenclature various sections and institutions clumped together in different formations at different times corresponding to their material acquisitions.

The establishment is the state. Its main cornerstones are the armed forces, judiciary, legislature, media and the executive, be it monarchical, parliamentary or dictatorial in accordance with the requirements of sustaining the exploitative system of class coercion. In the era of capitalism these institutions operate relatively in harmony as long as the economy is growing and somewhat developing society. But as the social, economic and political other basics of the system plunge into crisis, the equilibrium of the structures begins to unravel. In situations where the masses rise in movements of class struggle, these institutions tend to coalesce and try to crush the revolt. However, more often than not, when the tactic of repression fails to defeat the movement, they resort to the policy of reforms. That can also backfire and result in emboldening the masses with a renewed confidence in their strength as a class. Even if the revolutionary movements are forced into retreat through betrayal and treachery, the organic crisis of the system does not subside. In such conditions of social stagnation and mass dejection, the conflicts between diverse sections of the state erupt with a greater ferocity. This is the real scenario that afflicts Pakistan today. The main role of the media is to engross the mass psychology to align with the antagonistic factions within the elite, although all are intrinsically rooted to the same socioeconomic paradigm. Their mutual antagonisms arise from the share in the pillage of an economy in dearth and are draped in diverse ‘ideological’ cloaks to boost their prerogatives and power. Hence they can go into any rotten compromise and would not have the slightest hesitation in changing sides and parties.

However, the relationship between the ruling classes and the state is never a straightforward one. It depends on the financial potency of the elite and their capacity to advance the means of production and develop society. In conditions like Pakistan where the ruling classes are not only inept and irredeemably corrupt but also historically belated and economically debilitated, the state elevates itself as an arbitrator. It often resorts to direct military rule and develops diverse variants of Bonapartism. But with the intensification of the crisis of the whole system, the state exacerbates its own internal contradictions. Like all other conflicts that are brewing in society, the conflagrations within the state can inflame extremely dangerous outcomes.

The state as portrayed by the ruling classes and their intelligentsia is neither sacrosanct nor an eternal indispensable institution of society. It came into existence with the development of class society on the basis of the private ownership of the means of production and private property. Its forms changed and developed with the transformation of different socioeconomic systems through various revolutions in history. The state during slavery, Asiatic despotism, feudalism and capitalism evolved into diverse formations. Before that, human society did exist sans the state. Lenin quotes Engels in his famous book, The State and Revolution: “The state has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies that did without it, that had no idea of state and state power. At a certain stage of economic development, which was necessarily bound up with the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity owing to this split.”

Architecture is perhaps the most forceful expression of culture and the social foundation of society. If one examines the excavated archaeological sites of the Indus Valley civilisation, particularly Mohenjo Daro, the courts, police stations, cantonments, palaces and other relics of the state and class structures are not there. The remnants show evidence of an egalitarian and collective social existence. Karl Marx elaborated on these ancient societies: “The basic form of all phenomena in the East is to be found in the fact that no private property in land existed... communities with ownership in common of the means of production. This is the real key even to the oriental heaven.” However, with the transition of capitalism to imperialism and globalisation, we are witnessing monumental contradictions between advanced technology, industrial expansion and the modes of production and the nation state and private ownership.

The democratic executive cannot work without the ‘establishment’ and the establishment needs the democratic facade to perpetuate coercion to serve the interests of finance capital. They just keep on taking turns to acquire power for blatant plunder of the impoverished souls that inhabit this tragic land. The imperialists supervise this sinister debauchery and loot the most. This vicious cycle cannot go on forever while society suffers and suffocates in the misery of super exploitation. This decline of capitalism is not going to reverse. The burden of this crisis will be piled upon the oppressed masses and their lives will continue to be desecrated by this inhuman system. The conflicts within the state will explode further and society will descend into the unfathomable abyss of anarchy, chaos and bloodshed. This is the only destiny of Pakistan under capitalist rule.

The question is: when will the mass revolt erupt to challenge and overthrow capitalism? Revolutionary periods are historical exceptions. The exact timings of revolutions cannot be predicted in advance. But with class exploitation intensifying, the class conflict is bound to explode. The discontent and agony is seething like blazing lava. All forms and strains of bourgeois rule have been tried and tested. They have failed miserably to solve anything. The plight of the populace has worsened as never before. They have been reduced to extremes of hardship and agony. In this din of meaningless debate, the masses are thinking in silence Once it breaks, it will be a revolution of proportions yet unforeseen.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of the Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at

[This article was originally published in the Pakistani Daily Times]