Strikes and Riots Teeter the Regime
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 19; Autumn 2022)
The protest and revolt movement that has been affecting the country for a week was triggered by the sudden decision of the government to double the price of gas and petrol; as soon as this announcement was made, protest demonstrations by workers and unemployed began to take place on Sunday morning, January 2, in the oil city of Zhanaozen, in the west of the country (Mangystau region) (1).
During this same day, protest actions (rallies, sit-ins, etc.) spread to the nearby port city of Aktau to demand the withdrawal of the increases – or the doubling of wages! The next day the protest continued to spread despite the deployment of the police and more and more companies stopped work; social networks broadcasted scenes of fraternization between police and demonstrators. On January 4, although the prefect (the «akim») and the minister of energy announced a reduction in the price of gas and petrol for the inhabitants, the strike was almost general in the whole Mangystau region (oblast), where part of the country's extractive industries are concentrated.
Also on 4 January, at the other end of the country, miners in the Karaganda region went on strike, while demonstrations and blockades spread throughout most of Kazakhstan. In several places the demonstrators attacked the symbols of the regime: statues of the former autocrat Nazarbayev, who continues to pull the strings as president for life of the «National Security Council», official buildings and even police stations. The departure of Nazarbayev and his creatures (including Tokayev, the current president) was at the center of the slogans.
The regime responded by dismissing the government and Nazarbayev himself, and by declaring a state of emergency; it unleashed a bloody crackdown, particularly in the economic capital Almaty on Wednesday night (more than 100 deaths according to the Health Ministry). Faced with the social explosion, the president asked for Russian help, which was immediately granted: 3,000 Russian soldiers, flanked by a handful of soldiers from other countries, arrived on Friday 7 January. The same day Tokayev declared on television that he had «given the order to shoot to kill without warning». On Saturday, journalists in Almaty were still reporting gunfire in some parts of the city, but the president said that «constitutional order had been restored».
It was restored in blood, according to the authorities themselves: on 9 January the official toll of the repression was more than 160 demonstrators killed by bullets, several thousand injured, and 6000 arrested.
This «order» is the capitalist order, sanctioned by all imperialisms; if China, in a message from Xi Jinping, congratulated Tokayev for the «strong measures» taken to quell the revolt, the more hypocritical Western imperialisms called for «restraint» «on all sides”, putting the demonstrators and the murderous forces of repression on the same level; no one protested against the Russian intervention. This is because Kazakhstan, rich in oil and other minerals, has received significant investments from Western companies, including American ones: fearing social unrest that could jeopardize their capital, they see in the Russian intervention a guarantee against this danger...
For several years, Kazakhstan, a geographically large but sparsely populated country (19 million inhabitants) that occupies a strategic position in Central Asia, has experienced strong economic growth, based on oil and gas (despite some setbacks in its dream of becoming the Kuwait of Central Asia), but also on coal and uranium (world's largest producer). It had taken advantage of this to emancipate itself from Russian domination; it had drawn closer to China and the West, signing a military agreement with Italy, one of its first clients, and then with the United States; it had also drawn closer to Turkey by joining the «Organization of Turkic States», an embryonic alliance of the Turkic-speaking countries of the former USSR with Ankara. Turkish President Erdogan phoned Tokayev on 6 January to assure him of his support and to offer him «his experience and technical expertise»; but the experience and expertise of the Russian godfather are far superior...
The proletarians have not benefited much from the economic prosperity; the regime has continued to use repression against any attempt at independent workers' struggle and organization; police brutality and torture are common. In 2011, it brutally repressed a strike by oil workers in Zhanaozen to improve their conditions: the police shot at the striking demonstrators, killing at least 16 people.
Some analysts, including in the West, claim that the current unrest is at least partly caused by internal rivalries within the regime. It is quite possible that there are attempts to settle scores between bourgeois cliques in the current events; but it is undeniable that their cause is the increasingly intolerable situation of the proletarians and the poor strata, in a situation of economic crisis which leads to layoffs (40,000 layoffs in the Tengiz oil field in December, with more planned) and inflation (officially 8% but in reality much more). The proletarian character of the revolt is demonstrated, if it were necessary, by the fact that it started from a strike movement based on demands for improved living and working conditions and higher wages. The petty bourgeois democrats indicate to the proletarians the objective of a «democratic Kazakhstan», rid of the clique in power; some pseudo-socialists like the neostalinists of the «Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan», demand the return to the Constitution of 1993, supposedly more democratic.
But it is not for a simple change of facade of the regime that the proletarians must struggle, because, by leaving intact the capitalist mode of production, such a change would not modify their fate. The struggle for political and trade union freedoms is undoubtedly necessary, but only if it is part of the struggle against capitalism, which exploits them and reduces them to misery. Only the proletarian class struggle can have the strength to put an end to capitalism, by uniting proletarians over the borders: this is what the bourgeois and petty bourgeois democrats fear...
The current social explosion has shaken the regime, it has shown the power of the working class and the gravity of the social tensions accumulated under capitalism; tomorrow the revolutionary struggle of the proletarians of Kazakhstan, Russia and all countries, under the leadership of their international class party, will overthrow all the murderous capitalist regimes, and will avenge their countless victims.
While the economic crisis inexorably pushes the proletarians to revolt, this is the perspective that must guide them in their struggles, in Kazakhstan and everywhere!
January, 10th 2022
(1) We take the information from the site socialismkz.info
International Communist Party