Workers' Voice mailing list
January 13, 2022
by Joseph Green, Detroit Workers’ Voice
On January 2, demonstrations broke out in the Kazakhstani city of Zhanaozen against a drastic increase in the price of fuels used by the working people. Protests spread rapidly across the country, and as they did, there were other economic demands, and also demands for free elections and other democratic rights. General strikes broke out in a number of localities. The wave of mass action lasted over a week, but the calling in of foreign troops may have quelled the movement. Then again, the troops are taking their time about leaving, and some will be present at least until next week.
This uprising was a continuation of protests that have been increasing over the last several years, and it was met once again with savage brutality by the ruling regime. President Tokayev even issued an order on January 7 for the police and army to “shoot to kill”, and to do so without giving warning. At least 164 people were killed; over 4,000 arrested in the country’s biggest city, Almaty alone; and many more people were injured. At least 12,000 people were detained throughout the country. This was a repetition, but on a larger scale, of the bloody massacre of oil-workers in December 2011 in the same city, Zhanaozen, as the present movement began in (see http://www.communistvoice.org/47cJanaozen.html).
Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union before it dissolved. Its present ruling circles balance between Russia, China, Turkey, and the Western countries, but even now Russia still regards it as part of its imperialist sphere of influence. President Tokayev, scared out of his wits by the extent of the present rebellion, immediately called on Russia for help, and the Putin-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization sent in 2,500 troops to help stomp out the mass struggle.
The government is presently boasting that order is being restored, but for how long? In the last few years, there have been more and more protests, and spontaneous strikes have become a tradition of sorts. 2021 is said to have seen more demonstrations than the previous three years. Yes, the present upsurge may have spread rapidly in part because of a split in the ruling class. The current president, Tokayev, was handpicked by the previous president, Nazarbayev, but on Tuesday January 4 he dismissed Nazarabayev from the position of head of the Security Council and began to purge Nazarabayev’s cronies and family members from office. But even so, it is common for genuine popular movements to break out, in defiance of repression, when the ruling powers become paralyzed or split. So, one way or another, it is likely that Kazakhstan is entering a period when the ground will be shaking under the old regime. <>
Kazakhstan is the the ninth largest country in the world and the largest in Central Asia, but with only 19 million people, it is sparsely populated. It is rich in national resources, but it’s economy is based largely on oil and coal, with oil for export, and coal both for domestic heating and export. The oil revenue flows to a small, elite handful, while the majority of the population is poor, and it has an authoritarian government which enforces this inequality.
Kazakhstan used to be one of the republics in the Soviet Union, and became independent in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed. The population is about two-thirds Kazakh and almost three-quarters Islamic, with about one-fifth being ethnically Russian. The Soviet Union, while claiming to be communist, had actually developed a state-capitalist system under Stalin. State-capitalism, while different in form from market capitalism, still amounts to a ruling bourgeoisie running the economy for its own benefit. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the new regime in Kazakhstan promised that things would be so much better than in the old Soviet days, and it proceeded to move towards a market economy, as was done in Russia. This has brought neither freedom nor prosperity, but it did bring approval from the Western bourgeoisie.
In the post-Soviet economy, government officials have had major personal financial interests in state-owned companies, and corruption has flourished in a big way. Then in 2014, the Kazakhstan government started a big program of privatization, and stepped it up in 2016-20 with the privatization of 60 major state-owned companies. The aim is to reduce the state-sector to the same size as it has in Western economies, and the effect has been to increase discontent throughout the country.
Meanwhile, since independence, Kazakhstan was ruled autocratically for almost 30 years by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who turned over power in 2019 to his hand-picked successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. If Nazarbayev massacred oil workers in Zhanaozen in December 2011, Tokayev has sought to outdo his mentor by killing far more Kazakhstanis in the first days of 2022. One political party after another has been banned over the years, and only pro-government parties are now allowed. The working class is not legally allowed the right to organizations that truly express its views, whether independent trade unions or political groups. <>
Today, as in 2011-12, it is important that the brave protesters in Kazakhstan receive the solidarity of militant workers and activists around the world. But the world left-wing movement is divided. A section of the left believes that the essence of anti-imperialism is to denigrate mass struggles against repressive regimes if those regimes use socialist or communist words or even simply have connection to Russia or China.
This has held back solidarity with a number of struggles, such as that against the Syrian dictator Assad. It has also held back solidarity with the militant workers of Kazakhstan, both with respect to the major oil strike of 2011 and with respect to the countrywide protest of today. For example, the Workers World Party and MR Online have already come out against the mass struggle in Kazakhstan, and so has Gennady Zyuganov’s supposed “Communist Party of the Russian Federation”, although it presents itself as the true opponent of Putin.
Such rabid opposition in the name of the left-wing to the concerns and struggles of large numbers of working people around the world is one of the reasons we say there is a deep crisis in the radical left, and that this crisis, and not simply lack of numbers, is one of the things holding back the development of a strong left-wing movement based on class struggle. There will be more about the stands of various left trends with respect to Kazakhstan in a future article in the D/SWV list. Meanwhile, below is the introduction to material from the Communist Voice about the Kazakhstani oil workers struggle of 2011-12. <>
From the September 2012 issue of ‘Communist Voice’ (http://www.communistvoice.org/47cJanaozen.html):
On June 4th this year , thirty-four oil workers and supporters in Kazakhstan were convicted of rioting or "organizing and participating in mass unrest" to punish them for taking part last year in a major oil strike against OzenMunaiGasi, a subsidiary of KazMunaiGas, which is Kazakhstan's state oil and gas company. Despite court rulings that the strike was illegal and the firing of about 1,000 strikers, the workers had persisted in their struggle for seven months. Then, on December 16, 2011, Kazakhstan Independence Day, the police attacked a mass gathering of strikers in the town of Janaozen [Zhanaozen], setting off widespread street fighting. In the course of this, the police killed 17 people and wounded 100 or more. This was a bloody massacre by the corrupt and repressive regime of President Nazarbayev, and it was intended both to smash the strike and to stop the overall wave of mass protest that is simmering in the country. The various trials of the strikers have been a further atrocity, with the imprisoned workers being tortured in an attempt to blame them for having supposedly provoked the massacre. Roza Tuletaeva was accused of being the strike leader, and she has been subject to both torture and an especially long sentence. Protests and appeals against the sentences are continuing.
The vast oil, gas, and mineral wealth of Kazakhstan has been used, not for the prosperity of its working people, but for the development of a market economy and the enrichment of a corrupt regime. Discontent and worker actions have spread through Kazakhstan, and workers have won a number of struggles. The Janaozen massacre is a frenzied attempt to drown their movement in blood.
One would think that all groups and trends who claim to stand for the working class would condemn the Janaozen massacre. But, as we shall see, there are those who claim to be socialists and communists, and yet support the massacre. [Elsewhere in this issue of Communist Voice are] two articles translated from the May 2012 issue of Class View, a journal of Ukrainian Marxist activists, one of which condemns the fake "Communist" Party of Ukraine for endorsing the Janaozen massacre, and the other gives some of the demands of the Janaozen strikers.
It is a major feature of left-wing politics today that such differences over a capitalist massacre of strikers can exist. It shows that the disputes among those who claim to be Marxists aren't simply doctrinal squabbles. There really is a major division between those who actually stand for Marxism-Leninism and the working class, and those who use some of the phrases of Marxism but are willing to back massacres of workers in Janaozen and elsewhere. These fake communists are revisionists, people who distort Marxism to the point that it loses its revolutionary character and becomes an apology for repressive regimes, whether in Kazakhstan or Syria or elsewhere. In the Commonwealth of Independent States, [which is] a loose association of many of the countries of the old Soviet Union including Russia, Kazakhstan, and, unofficially, Ukraine, many of these revisionists are Stalinists, who not only long for the old Soviet Union, but are nostalgic for the harshest days of Stalin's rule.
The Communist Voice Organization believes that communism will
eventually appear again as the banner of the revolutionary working
class. But it can only do so when it is a revolutionary and
anti-revisionist communism, which is opposed to the state-capitalists
who have dragged the communist banner through the mud. <>
Picture: A scene from the protests
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