The classes fight each other, and the story goes on
In 1992, when the Stalinist bureaucracy restored capitalism in the USSR, the bourgeoisie proclaimed its victory on a world scale. It declared, like a broken record, that the end of history had come, that the working class was dead, that class struggle belonged to the past, that, in any case, revolution was only an accident for humanity, and that the only civilisation humanity would know would be capitalism. In capitalist countries, traditional parties of the working class (of labourite, social democratic or Stalinist origin) abandoned all reference to socialism, and their centrist satellites became more opportunist.
Practice has destroyed these aphorisms. The restoration of capitalism has not benefited the peoples of Central Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam … nor those in Central Asia. The economic crises have not disappeared, on the contrary, they even acquired a global dimension in 2008 and 2020. Armed conflicts have not ceased, sometimes in the form of civil war, sometimes in the form of intervention by foreign forces, sometimes mixing the two. The imperialist powers are fighting over the world, the regional powers are fighting over a continent or a subcontinent. The destruction of the environment, which has already led to the desiccation of the Aral Sea, is increasing.
And the working class, working women, other exploited classes, oppressed nationalities, students, have not stopped resisting and fighting. In recent years, there have been mass struggles in Algeria, Sudan, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Colombia, Iran, Belarus, USA, Burma, Cuba … Although they have not acquired a clear proletarian character and they were pushed back.
The bourgeoisie of Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan, which borders China and Russia, has the potential to tip the regional balance and to aggravate the contradictions between the imperialists, thanks to its geostrategic importance. So far, the governments of Nazarbayev (1992-2019) and Tokayev (2019-…) have refused to choose between the United States, China and Russia.
Kazakhstan is one of the most important countries in Central Asia from an economic and geostrategic point of view. Its surface area makes it the ninth largest country in the world. It has reserves of natural gas, oil, coal, uranium (the world’s largest producer), iron, manganese, chromium, potassium … Numerous oil and gas pipelines pass through it. It houses the main cryptocurrency platforms.
Former Stalinist bureaucrat Nazarbayev, who led the restoration of capitalism in Kazakhstan, who was head of State from 1991 to 2019 and resigned in 2019 to assume the presidency of the country’s Security Council, is the archetype of the oligarchy that has enriched itself with energy and minerals for the past 30 years.
The former bureaucrats of the USSR transformed themselves into a capitalist class following the capitalist restoration. They preserved the repressive apparatuses of the old Stalinist bureaucratic regimes while initiating a rapid process of restoration of capitalism and declaring war on all conquests and social rights, thus paving the way for unemployment, poverty and the class divide.
While the average wage is $570 and many workers receive the minimum wage of $97, it is well known that the Nazarbayev family has a net worth of $1 billion and owns luxury properties worth $107 million in London.
The proletariat, the peasantry and the workers of the informal sector have suffered the economic crisis of 2008 and that of 2020 and have paid a heavy price for the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment and inflation caused great suffering among the working class. Alongside this deterioration, democratic rights have been methodically undermined by the bourgeois State. In 2006, a dozen Islamist organisations and the Kurdish nationalist PKK were banned. In 2015, strikes were banned and trade unions and workers’ parties were dissolved. Seven legal political parties remain and all of them support the current government. Associations supported by Western imperialist countries focus on hostility towards China and Russia.
In the early 2000s, there was a major strike by miners and oil workers. In these strikes, social and political aspects were overriding compared to economic demands. The central demand was the expropriation of the oil companies. And communist or “left-wing” groups had no influence on these strikes. When the miners went on strike in 2011, the Kazakh bourgeoisie responded with State terror and fired on the workers during the demonstrations in Janaozen (in the west). Dozens of workers lost their lives and hundreds were injured. But the workers learned the lesson and, in all likelihood, organised themselves in secret.
An uprising of proletarian origin
At the beginning of January 2022, the revolt of the working classes in Kazakhstan has shaken the bourgeois State to its foundations. The Kazakh government, with the support of the neighbouring imperialist governments of Russia and China, has claimed that the movement was fomented from abroad, either by the most powerful imperialist government, that of the United States, or by Islamists linked to Afghanistan or Syria.
However, this uprising has a social and class character. It takes place within the framework of the militant struggles of the working class against the destruction caused by the restoration of capitalism since 1992, against the economic dependence of the country, against the monopolisation of wealth by a comprador bourgeoisie (“oligarchs”) arising from the old Stalinist bureaucracy, against the restrictions on democratic freedoms and the despotism of the regime.
The subject at the origin of the political crisis is none other than the working class. On January 2, workers in Janaozen’s oil sector took to the streets and blocked roads against the rise in the price of natural gas, which is used as fuel and also for heating (since 2019 the government has been freeing prices). On the 3rd, protesters in Janaozen also demanded the election of local officials (who are appointed by the government).
The protest spread throughout the country on January 3 and 4: Aqtaw, the capital Nursultan, Almaty, the largest city (formerly Alma-Ata), Chymkent, Manguistau … All oil and gas fields, coal and copper mines were affected. On January 4, workers at the Tengizchevroil oil company, the country’s largest, whose capital is 75% owned by U.S. companies, went on strike. The particularity of this company is that it was planned to end the jobs of 40,000 workers in a series of dismissal plans. Workers’ committees demanded the stabilisation of energy and food prices, a 100% wage increase, improved working conditions and freedom for trade unions.
Unemployed people and employees participated in the demonstrations in large numbers. The slogans were shouted mostly in Kazakh, the main language of the country (of the Turkish family) along with Russian. The one that was repeated in all the demonstrations was: “Sahl, ket!” (“Get out, old man!”), which was aimed at the system established by Nazarbayev and continued by Tokayev. The demands were very diverse, depending on the place: better wages, the lowering of the retirement age, the right to form trade unions and to strike, the resignation of the President of the Republic and of all officials linked to Nazarbayev, the restoration of the 1993 Constitution, the freedom to create parties (the party in power is Nur Otan, the electoral law prevents most others from participating in the elections), the release of all political prisoners, as well as an end to all repression.
The lumpen took advantage of the riots to loot. It is likely that Islamists mingled in the demonstrations (the government spoke of two beheaded policemen: if this is true, what is not certain, it is proof of the involvement of these counterrevolutionary organisations).
Tokayev’s bloody repression
The Kazakh government cut off internet access in the country, detained journalists and ordered the police to shoot at workers without warning.
The Kazakh oligarchs have responded to the struggle and demands of the working classes with formidable State terror. The workers responded by forming their own self-defence organisations. They armed themselves by looting commercial weapons stores and, in addition, some sectors of the police and army refused to shoot at the demonstrators or joined their ranks.
The American capitalist groups that exploit the country’s workers demanded the maintenance of order. The Chinese government approved of the crackdown. Belarusian head of State Lukashenko called on workers in Kazakhstan to kneel before the army and ask for forgiveness.
Tokayev asked the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for military assistance. This alliance is led by Russia and organises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, against US military pressure (and China’s growing influence). On January 6, Russia, Armenia and Belarus sent troops to rescue the regime. Although the Russian army did not repress, it contributed to the return to bourgeois order and has served to consolidate the regime for a while.
The main reason for the CSTO’s prompt intervention to crush the revolt was the fear, felt by Putin and neighbouring governments, of a possible contagion of the revolt in their own countries and the awareness that the workers’ radicalism that emerged had the potential to pave the way for the October revolutions of the twenty-first century. Another motive is to counter the influence of the United States, China and Turkey.
Tokayev blamed the 81-year-old Nazarbayev’s clan, changed the government on January 5, replaced him in the Security Council and dismissed several ministers or officials linked to the old politician. He has even arrested some of them, he also restored the Internet and cancelled the rise in the price of gas. The government has never presented any evidence of foreign intervention. 225 people have been killed, 12,000 have been arrested (International Crisis Group, January14).
The revolutionary tasks of the proletariat
For more than 20 years, the working class of Kazakhstan (especially the miners and oil workers) has accumulated important experiences of struggle. It has turned its experiences of self-organisation into a tradition. And today it has also shown the whole world that it is capable of organising the general strike, thanks to workers’ collectives, and of paralyzing Kazakh capitalism. It has also demonstrated its ability to organise self-defence in the face of State terror.
However, it has not been able to seize power and has been crushed once again, with the help of Russian imperialism, with the approval of Chinese imperialism and to the relief of US imperialism.
The key question is in the revolutionary leadership of the class, in the revolutionary program. The working class of Kazakhstan has managed to destabilise the bourgeois State, but it has not been able to put itself at the head of all the exploited and oppressed to establish its power, it has not had time to address the recruits of the CSTO troops and the neighbouring peoples to avoid any counterrevolutionary interference.
In the epoch of the rotting of capitalism, the bourgeoisie is unable to respond to the most democratic demands, but sees no problem in inviting the armies of other countries to suffocate them. Consequently, even the attainment of the radical democratic demands of the working class finds its solution in the proletarian revolution. But it must circumvent the traps of the “democratic” or Islamo-fascist bourgeoisie.
The only force that must determine the future of the country and of Central Asia is the working class. It needs a revolutionary and mass party, which can only be built on the basis of Marxism and linked with the vanguard of the region and of the whole world.
- Dissolution of all the repressive forces of the Tokayev oligarchy! Workers’ and people’s militias to replace them! All foreign troops out of Kazakhstan!
- Freedom for all political prisoners! Right to strike, to express oneself, to demonstrate, to form trade unions or political parties, all democratic rights must be guaranteed!
- Sliding scale of wages! Reduction of the working day until all unemployed are hired, without wage reduction!
- Confiscation of factories, of all mines and natural resources, of banks, of communication services, under workers’ control! Expropriation of the entire big bourgeoisie, national and foreign!
- Equality for women! Criminalisation of domestic violence against women!
- Constitution of councils of urban workers, of recruits, of peasant workers, of students, in the workplaces, in schools, in the neighbourhoods, in the army, in the villages, throughout the country!
- Workers’ and peasants’ government! Central Asian Soviet Federation!
- Construction of the revolutionary party of the working class by the existing communist nuclei around the Marxist program!
- International solidarity with the workers of Kazakhstan of all workers’ organisations, starting with those of the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation!