Kazakhstan: Successful opposition activists’ conference

‘Kazakhstan 2012’ becomes ‘Socialist Movement Kazakhstan’

The fourth ‘Kazakhstan 2012’ conference, held last weekend, saw nearly 200 delegates and visitors discuss the situation following Kazakhstan’s ‘elections’. The meeting drew the conclusion that it is now necessary to actively campaign for a new mass workers’ party with a socialist programme. As an important step towards this goal, a unanimous decision was taken to re-launch Kazakhstan 2012 as ‘Socialist Movement Kazakhstan’. 

Kazakhstan 2012 was formed in May 2009 following the outburst of a series of social protests over the consequences of the global economic crisis. As in other countries, banks were on the verge of collapse and they required a huge government bailout and partial nationalization. But the big business and bank vultures tried to make ordinary people pay for their mistakes. People who had been encouraged by the government to take out mortgages lost their jobs, but the banks still demanded their payments. Construction companies went broke, wiping out people’s deposits they had paid on new flats. Many others who had taken credit from the banks found themselves in difficulty paying money back, only to find the banks hiking up charges and interest rates.

Picture of Kazakhstan 2012 conference in April 2010

One of the delegates to the Kazakhstan 2012 conference, last weekend, gave a vivid example of the brutality of these banks. A mother who had taken out a loan, which under a government scheme was insured, died, leaving young sons. Rather than using the insurance to write off the loan, the bank waited until one of the children, a 16 year-old, reached 18 and then declared him responsible for the debt, attempting to seize the modest home as compensation.   The son was so desperate that he hung himself, assuming the bank would leave his 7 year old brother alone.

It is clear from those who spoke at the Conference that Kazakhstan 2012 has won a position at the centre of the opposition to the ruling Nazarbayev regime.  Having been set up as a body to co-ordinate social protests, it has won the allegiance of the newly developing independent trade unions, with representatives of the oil workers, miners,  scientific workers and the new students’ union speaking in support of the new organization.  As one trade unionist from Aktau commented, “either you get involved in politics or the politicians will get involved in you”.  The leader of the scientific workers compared Kazakhstan to a huge ship. He said that the movement would act as a rudder, but it would soon also be clear that a workers’ party will be needed to take over the Captain’s bridge too.

A leader of the movement from Central Kazakhstan said that she had not initially intended to get involved in politics, “but politics hit me over the head”.

Nearly all who spoke supported the decision to reform the organization into a clearly socialist force.

The recent Presidential election also demonstrated that Kazakhstan 2012 is capable of playing such a political role.  It was the first organization to call for a boycott of the election. All other parties either fell in behind the call or just ignored the elections. The United Social Democrats, for example, supported the boycott in words, did nothing in practice and then sent its leadership to participate in the inauguration ceremony of the new fraudulently elected president.

Big achievements of Kazakhstan 2012

But Kazakhstan 2012 does not shout its achievements loudly enough!  A campaigner for the rights of those who had lost deposits for building flats at the start of the economic crisis, when banks and building companies went bankrupt, explained that the government was forced to allocate more than 240 billion tenge (over 1 billion euros) as an initial sum to compensate 100,000 people for their losses. Further sums have also been promised. Building work has re-started throughout the country. While this can be interpreted as being part of a stimulus package by the government, it is significant that in Almaty there are still building sites that are not in operation. In these areas, it was explained, residents refused to take part in militant action, preferring instead to rely on lobbying and behind-the-scenes appeals to the authorities. 

One of the delegates to the conference, a leader of the ‘Leave people’s homes alone!” campaign, explained that Kazakhstan 2012 had achieved this, not by going to the government to beg for help, but by threatening “that if they did not act, then they will be forced out of power”. He went on to comment on the failure of the other opposition parties, which say they “are against the current situation, but never say what they are for”.  He supported the call made by the new movement for the banks and construction sector to be nationalized, as part of a wider socialist programme.

Another delegate, an oil worker trade unionist commented that the opposition parties’ leaders were once themselves in power and helped set up the current system. But, he said, “We need new leaders, leaders prepared to sacrifice, to sit in prison if necessary, people like Ainur Kurmanov and Esen Ukteshbayev”.

A trade union delegate spoke in support of setting up a socialist, workers’ party. He referred to the situation in Egypt and said it is a warning to the Kazakh authorities. A teacher from south Kazakhstan described how she was driven out of school after exposing corruption. She was sentenced to a year in prison, which was only withdrawn after a Presidential amnesty.

The leadership of Kazakhstan 2012, in proposing the new tactics, explained that events in Egypt and neighbouring Kyrghistan demonstrated that social explosions are on the agenda and the question is whether the Left will be able to offer a viable alternative to that of the official and opposition pro-capitalist organizations.  While the forces to establish a new workers’ party are still not strong enough, work had to be stepped up to prepare the ground politically and organizationally for such a move.  They proposed therefore that the new Socialist Movement Kazakhstan (SMK) should be membership-based with an explicitly socialist programme, with the aim of coordinating and supporting social and workers’ protests while conducting agitation and propaganda work to consolidate the growing opposition forces around a socialist programme.  The proposals and draft programme were adopted unanimously by the Conference.

CWI in Kazakhstan

The Socialist Movement Kazakhstan considers itself part of the international socialist movement and, as its founding document states, it will therefore maintain the closest possible links with the CWI. The Conference ended by singing the Internationale.

Although not all members of the opposition movement in Kazakhstan would agree with all the policies of the CWI, of course, the CWI is widely respected and its members in Kazakhstan aim to have a clear political profile within the broader movement.

The timeliness of establishing Socialist Movement Kazakhstan is highlighted by the protests growing throughout the country. Just last week, a major clash broke out between internal  migrants (who were forced to leave rural areas as land was privatized and factories shut down) around Almaty and the riot police, who are trying to prevent them from taking over land to build homes on.  Coal miners and oil workers at the conference reported that the mood for strike action in their areas was hardening. Delegates were confident that the new movement would be at the centre of these events and able to develop a mass workers’ party in the next years. 

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May 2011