Workers and youth discuss alternative to Nazabayev regime
Successful Socialist Resistance (CWI) conference
Up to seven million people in Kazakhstan will soon get a chance to see a few minutes of the recent Socialistic Resistance (Socialisticheskoe Soprotivlenie, or ‘SocSopr’), conference. The filming of the meeting by the ‘Situation.kz’ current affairs programme, which broadcasts weekly in Kazakhstan to millions, shows the growing influence of SocSopr (CWI) in Kazakhstan. More youth and workers are discovering this is the only socialist opposition to the authoritarian regime of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
SocSopr held its national conference in Bishkek, the capital of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, from 18-19 February. It was attended by members of SocSopr from cities and towns across Kazakhstan, including Alma-Ata, Aktyubinsk, Karaganda, Dzhambul, Uralsk and Ust-Kamenogorsk. Holding this gathering was a big achievement, given the huge distances many delegates had to travel, the poor infrastructure, and the low living standards of most working people in the country.
Also in attendance were Rob Jones and Dominic McGrath, who brought greetings from the entire Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) and from other CWI sections in the region.
Guests were also present from the local Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan and the youth group, Kelkel-Vozrozhdenie (‘Resurrection’).
The television crew from Situation.kz filmed parts of the conference and did several interviews with delegates. This included filming delegates going to the conference in a Bishkek bus, to show that SocSopr members are “like ordinary people”, and unlike Kazakhstan’s politicians, according to one of the journalists. The television programme, which is watched by millions ofpeople, goes out next Sunday.
The conference started with messages of solidarity from CWI sections in Brazil, Sweden and Portugal. Over two days, the delegates discussed the political and economic situation in Kazakhstan, the political programme of SocSopr (CWI Kazakhstan), Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, the international situation, and, finally, building SocSopr (CWI) in Kazakhstan amongst youth and workers.
Ainur Kurmanov and Sergei introduced the discussion on perspectives for Kazakhstan.
The current Nazarbayev regime promotes a situation where the ruling elite and the politicians enrich themselves at the expense of workers’ interests.
Ainur said the last three years saw the Nazarbayev ruling clan consolidating its rule. State repression has increased. Most of the media is controlled by the regime. New laws hindering real political opposition and against ‘extremism’ were brought in. Only pro-presidential parties can get elected.
Because Nazabayev carries out policies that are generally favourable to the US, Western support for opposition candidates in last year’s elections declined dramatically. Big US corporations in Kazakhstan have the protection of the regime. Unlike in Ukraine, there were no ‘Orange revolution’ mass protests, with Western backing, over last year’s Kazakhstan elections, despite the obvious fraudulent character of the polls.
This is an important lesson for working people in Kazakhstan. Many have lost any illusions they may have had in Western imperialist powers intervening to “help” the mass of people, bringing democracy and a better life. It brings home the need for working people to organise their own party and not to rely on pro-capitalist politicians. And such a party would find widespread support. In last December’s elections, around 30% of voters did not take part, indicating the opposition of many workers and youth to the regime.
The Kazakhstan Communist Party, however, last year, finally gave up any further pretence of standing for an independent workers’ alternative and joined the pro-capitalist opposition, ‘For a Just Kazakhstan’.
Although some workers are demoralised by the election results, it would be wrong to think there will be a stable regime for another seven years. Contradictions within society and the regime are growing. The conditions of mass opposition are developing.
Nazabayev tries to be an arbiter between ruling clans. By putting more power in his hands, the president is also more prone to be the target of unrest.
The regime can overstep the mark. The recent murder of a high profile opposition leader, and former ally of Nazabayev, was meant to be a warning to other opposition forces. But the regime came under Western pressure over the killings, which indicates the imperialist powers are worried that the politician’s death could spark wide unrest, threatening the regime and imperialist interests in the country. Indeed, three thousand people attended the funeral of the opposition figure, which is a significant public protest in Kazakhstan. Perhaps as a result of this growing pressure, it was reported, on 21 February, that several people were arrested and charged with the murders. Will they be sacrificial lambs for other powerful interests?
Oil and gas boom
Introducing the discussion on the economy, comrade Sergei said that since the year 2000, growth rates were high in Kazakhstan, with an average of 10% a year. Oil and gas sectors grew by 14%.
But although oil and gas exports have grown by 50%, other sectors of the economy have not developed. There is a decline in some industrial sectors and ‘de-landisation’ in the rural economy. Big investment in the oil and gas sectors, and lopsided growth, are strangling other parts of the economy. Food processing plants, for example, have closed.
A ‘Stabilisation Fund’, set up by the president to supposedly improve living standards, is used to invest in the oil industry to give the rich more super profits, not as a way to improve the lives of working people. The regime aims to join the WTO, which would probably mark the complete destruction of some industries.
The situation in the countryside is getting worse. A land law saw many rural workers deprived of land, which forced a big influx of country people into the cities. Most of these are Kazakhs and this has led to some instances of increased tensions between ethnic Russian city dwellers and the new Kazakh arrivals. Given the multi-ethnic make up of the country, it is vital that a developing workers’ movement stands for workers’ unity and for common struggle against the real enemy – the big bosses and their political representatives.
Conference delegates discussed the prospects for opposition movements. Despite their pro-capitalist policies, opposition parties can recover from their present weak position and head future mass protests, by opportunistically and cynically posing as ‘friends’ of workers and the poor. But there is an alternative opposition to Nazabayev – the organised working class. There were important protests by miners in Karaganda, in 2005, and protests by the unemployed in Alma Ata. Sections of youth are becoming radicalised. But there is a big vacuum on the left. Huge social and industrial explosions will see big movements and a search by a new generation for a political alternative. SocSopr (CWI) can play a key part in the development of a mass socialist alternative to the ruling clans, to imperialism and to capitalism.
As a result of the Kazakhstan perspectives discussion, the conference agreed a new ‘What We Stand For’ political programme, which includes demands for free state education and healthcare, the nationalisation of big industries, including oil and gas, under democratic workers’ control and management, and full democratic rights, including the right to form unions and to organise.
Workers’ hunger strikes
The conference also discussed building SocSopr (CWI) throughout Kazakhstan. Inspiring examples were given of the heroic, self-sacrificing activities of comrades to build support for genuine socialism in the teeth of state repression. A student member in a regional city was blacklisted by college authorities after he posted a few leaflets criticizing Nazabayev. Marina, a worker’s leader, described how a couple of years ago the copper factory she worked in went on strike for weeks and blockaded the plant, and the town in which it is situated, against management and the police. Marina and others eventually went on hunger strike to further their struggle. Marina became so ill she had to be resuscitated at one stage. Unfortunately the struggle was lost and the factory shed many jobs. Part of the plant changed production, to sausage making. Conditions in this new factory are horrendous. One young female worker died after slipping and falling into a huge vat of boiling fat.
Marina told the conference that the key lessons from the workers’ struggle in her plant were to develop fighting, independent unions, and to appeal for solidarity support and aid from workers throughout Kazakhstan and internationally.
Other delegates gave examples of building the CWI in their schools, colleges, workplaces and communities. Given the huge size of the Kazakhstan, and its poor infrastructure and communications, groups of SocSopr supporters are often isolated, so the delegates were very pleased to be able to swap experiences and lessons in building the section.
After this discussion, conference elected a National Committee that shall co-ordinate the work of the Kazakh comrades.
Kyrgyz rail workers
After the conference, a group of conference delegates met representatives of a new rail workers’ union in Kyrgyzstan. The CWI got in touch with the union a few months ago and was glad to help organise solidarity for their fight against privatisation.
During the meeting, union leaders told the CWI that the government had finally, in January, agreed to give the workers better wages and conditions after an intense and desperate struggle over the last year. This battle included protest hunger strikes by the workers, and even threats of self-immolation, if the government did not make concessions.
Although the workers won many of their demands, they suspect the railways are being prepared for privatisation. They are ready to fight this with the same determination they showed over the last year. By doing so, the new union is winning over more workers from the ‘official’, pro-government rail ‘union’.
Members of SocSopr (CWI) discussed further co-operation and solidarity with the rail workers and agreed to organise international protest action if the privatisation attempt goes ahead.
Kazakhstan SocSpor delegates and visitors left Bishkek invigorated by the weekend’s excellent discussions and by the links they made with youth and workers in Kyrgyzstan. Some of the SocSpor delegates then started the long 78 hours train journey to Moscow, to attend the whole CIS congress of the CWI, which takes place this coming weekend, and which also promises to be a big success.