Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokaev, has brought forward the holding of the presidential election due in December 2024 to November 20th this year and extended the length of the term of office to seven years. This means there will not be another one until 2029.
The Kazakhstan workers’ organisation, Amanat, is a country-wide independent union which has the aim of establishing a workers’ party with its own programme -against dictatorship and for workers’ democracy and socialism. But it has not yet been able to establish such a party and has been discussing what approach to take against the background of mounting economic and social problems.
In January of this year, there was a dramatic outburst of anger against fuel price rises, starting in Zhanaozen and spreading rapidly across the vast country. The price rise was promptly reversed but, in the uprising, symbols of the country’s long-time dictator, Nursultan Nazarbaev, were being destroyed and his appointee, Kassym-Jomart Tokaev, feared for his own future. He called on Vladimir Putin for assistance with armed forces to crush the movement and save his position at the head of the government. Tokaev went on to implement minor ‘reforms’ at the top which had very little significance for Kazakhstan’s struggling working class and poor farmers.
By bringing the election forward to 20 November this year, Tokaev is hoping for a swift victory (if not the 101% votes that Nazarbaev used to receive!). The electoral law of Kazakhstan makes it impossible for any organisation to put forward an ordinary worker to represent them. The candidate for the presidency must be of sound health, academically well qualified and pass exams in the Kazakh language – written and spoken. The candidate must have been employed by the state for at least five years and have collected 118,000 signatures of support in at least 14 of the 20 regions which stretch across a country the size of western Europe. A deposit of 3 million tenge ($6,000) has to be lodged and will be reimbursed if the candidate gets more than 5% of the vote.
Socialists believe workers’ organisations should be able to freely stand whoever they want as candidates for elections without having to pay massive deposits, simply with the support of their trade union or party. They would need to undertake to abide by the democratic decisions of the organisation they represent.
In Kazakhstan, a fighting programme for workers’ representatives would include a living wage for all, adjustable in accordance with rising prices for food, housing and services, and a maximum 40 hour week. It would insist that all education, welfare, housing and health facilities were in public hands and receiving funding sufficient to cover the requirements of every man, woman and child in society. It would argue for public ownership of the major financial, productive and service industries along with transport and energy, under democratic workers’ control and management, geared to need and not to profit.
The workers’ organisation, Amanat, has had to select someone who fulfils all the qualifications to be a candidate and has given considerable assistance to the union in getting established. But Miran Kazhiken is by no means a socialist.
In his programme he argues for various services and provisions to be adequately funded and available for all, including housing, education and health. He argues for language and cultural rights for all nationalities, with far more facilities for using and studying in the Kazakh language. He stands for equal rights and justice for all and a real fight to eliminate corrupt practices.
His manifesto argues correctly for the building of strong trade unions that are independent of the state and able to fight for decent (safe) working conditions, equal pay for work of equal value, a lowering of the pension age and gender equality. Clear demands for a free press and means of mass information are made and for state control over foreign trade.
Miran comes out clearly for “dispatching oligarchic business” to the past and for “reducing the shadow economy” but has no concrete proposal as to how this can be done. He also argues for planned development, on the basis of state support, of agriculture and food processing.
All these demands are highly commendable but they would remain unachievable on the basis of some idealistic ‘social partnership’ between employers and employees that Miran calls for. He is, in effect, arguing for a ‘mixed economy’ which actually means maintaining the capitalist way of doing things in many fields, namely making profit at the expense of the working class.
Significant gains for workers can be won only through mass struggle. But private owners of industry, however enterprising they may be, want only one thing. They want to make money – profits – out of the workers they employ. And this is done by not paying them the full value of what is produced with their labour. As long as capitalism is left in tact, encouraging medium and small businesses rather than monopolies, as the candidate advocates, is no solution. Nor is developing friendly relations with trading partners, as he also suggests.
Socialists in any country argue for an end to capitalism and war and a struggle to establish a workers’ government which takes production, distribution and exchange into public ownership with control and management in the hands of elected and recallable representatives of workers. This was the aim of the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 before the isolation of the Russian revolution led to top-down, Stalinist dictatorship within the USSR. As compared with a century ago, the socialist transformation of society stands an incomparably greater chance of spreading world-wide like wildfire.
A workers’ candidate for the presidency in Kazakhstan needs to stand for an end to dictatorial rule and capitalism and for the establishment of a socialist confederation in the whole region, for an end to war and exploitation and for international socialism.
Despite the shortcomings of Miran’s policies, socialists and worker-campaigners in Kazakhstan can still call on voters to put their cross beside the candidate of the trade union Amanat. This would be a clear vote against the present reactionary incumbent, Kassym-Jomart Tokaev, originally put in place by the long-time dictator of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev. The occasion of the election campaign can be used to hold meetings and distribute material with clear socialist demands and, in this way, lay the basis for the speedy creation of a mass workers’ socialist party in Kazakhstan.