We are publishing the articles that have appeared in La Tribune des Travailleurs (France)
The doubling of the price of a liter of gas at the end of December was the last straw. As early as 2 January, in the industrial west of this former Soviet republic, the population and in the front line, the working class got together and set out their demands. In the days that followed, the mines and hydro carbon companies went on strike one after the other. The government – destabilized and alternating bloody repression and measures supposed to appease popular anger – called on Putin’s regime in Russia to send in special repression forces. At the time of writing, no one knows what will happen to this massive revolt. One thing is certain: despite thirty years of Mafia-style privatisations, of anti-working class repression led by the former party leaders of the Soviet bureaucracy who sold the country to the multinationals, the working class of the former USSR is standing up and fighting.
From our correspondents
Since 2 January, workers and residents of the Manguistau region (in western Kazakhstan) have been holding massive rallies for the cancellation of the doubling of gas prices, but also for higher wages and better working conditions. On 3 and 4 January, new demonstrators strengthened the rallies and similar demonstrations took place in other regions, in the cities of Atyrau, Astana, Aktyube, Almaty and Uralsk.
In Janaozen and Aktaou, where it all started, protesters set up tents and yurts in the central squares, indicating that they intended to stay. There was a politicisation of the speeches: in addition to chanting « Gas at 50 tengue!” (the national currency), young people are increasingly shouting « Shal ket!” (Go away, old man!) addressed to Janaozen’s executioner, former president Nazarbaev.
In the villages of the Manguistau district, oil workers and residents have been holding street meetings. The population provides food to the protesters and has collected more than one million tengue for the strikers.
On hearing that military planes carrying special forces had arrived, the workers blocked the regional airport. Everyone remembers the Janaozen massacre (see Background Information).
Worried by the turn of events, the presidential administration tried to appease the protesters, by promising to lower the price of gas from 120 to 90 tengués.
But at the rally in Aktaou, the leader of an independent trade union, Amin Yeleousinov (imprisoned in 2017 after a rigged trial), called on the assembled workers to reject this handout. Everywhere, in factories and demonstrations, nobody believes President Tokayev’s explanations. Especially since the senior officials of the regional akimats (councils) themselves say that they cannot influence the price of gas and fuel.
So the « preventive » arrests of activists have begun in an attempt to prevent mass gatherings. Because the official statements made people even angrier.
The movement started with a protest against the doubling of the price of gas, and then the workers’ collectives took the opportunity to make their demands: a 100% wage increase, the cancellation of deregulation measures and an old demand: freedom to form independent trade unions.
In the mines, the workers’ collectives started to join the protests, striking one after the other. On 3 January, the strike was general in the Manguistaou region. On the 4th, it spread to the neighbouring region of Atyraou, where workers are very worried about the announced waves of redundancies. Already in December, 30,000 workers were laid off under the pretext of the slowdown in mining activities, which are expected to run out by 2030.
On 4 January, 75% of the oil workers in Tengizchevroil (who work for an American company) went on strike. They were joined later in the day by oil workers from the Aktiobe and Kyzylorda regions.
On the evening of 4 January, the strike extended to miners at ArcelorMittal Temirtaou, in the Karaganda region in the east of the country, and to smelters and copper miners at the Kazakhmys company. Again, the demands are for higher wages, a lower retirement age, the right to form unions and the right to strike.
On 4 January, an open-ended strike began in Atyrau, Uralsk, Aktyubinsk, Kyzylorda, Taraz, Taldykorgan, Turkestan, Shymkent, Ekibastuz and Almaty (Alma-Ata in Russian, the former capital), where demonstrators temporarily stormed the akimat (city council). This was the pretext for the president to declare a state of emergency.
At the same time, he dismissed the entire government and symbolically ‘dismissed’ former President Nazarbaev from the National Security Council. But these announcements did not put an end to the protests.
On 5 January, the protest reached the northern and eastern districts of Kazakhstan: Petropavlovsk, Pavlodar, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Semipalatinsk. On the same day, in Aktobe, Taldykorgan, Shymkent and Almaty, protesters tried to storm the buildings of regional akimats (councils).
In Janaozen, the epicentre of the mobilisation, the workers in the rallies formulated new demands: resignation of the president and all the dignitaries of the regime, restoration of the 1993 Constitution, freedom to form parties and trade unions, release of political prisoners and an end to repression. There are also attempts on the ground to create committees and councils to coordinate the struggle.
In the province of Manguistaou, the mobilisation has remained peaceful: the soldiers refused to disperse the demonstrators. But in the « southern capital » (Almaty), from the night of 5 to 6 January, special forces were deployed to « clean up » the airport and the neighbourhoods occupied by the demonstrators. Of course, especially in Almaty, where the workers are less concentrated and where the forces of the « liberal » opposition and religious and nationalist groups are trying to play their own game.
The repression is brutal. The Almaty police announced: « Last night, extremist forces tried to storm administrative buildings, the Almaty city police department, as well as local departments and police stations. Dozens of attackers were eliminated. » Dozens of demonstrators are reportedly already dead. As it did in Janaozen in December 2011, the regime has cut off the entire internet and telephone network, making direct communication impossible.
Excerpts from an appeal by the Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan (SDK)*
« There is a great risk that all protests and strikes will be violently repressed. It is therefore urgent to form committees of unity of action in companies as well as in localities to structure an organised resistance to the military-police terror. We also need the support of the whole international workers’ and communist movement (…).
“Immediate end to the repression against the people and withdrawal of the troops!
“Resignation of all those responsible for the Nazarbaev regime, including the president!
“Release of all political prisoners!
“Right to form our own trade unions and parties; right to strike and assembly!
“Legalization of the activities of the banned Communist Party of Kazakhstan and the Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan!
“We call on all workers in the country to take up the demand of the oil workers murdered in Zhanaozen (in 2011 ed.): nationalisation, under the control of labour collectives, of the entire mining and oil industry in the country!”
January 5, 2022.
* An organisation claiming to be of and for the workers and socialism.
Excerpts from a statement by supporters in Russia of the Organising Committee for the Reconstitution of the Fourth International (OCRFI)
« The struggle of the workers of Kazakhstan is our struggle!
“(…) The main reason for the discontent is the ruling class alliance of oligarchs, Mafiosi and bureaucrats, many of whom come from the Soviet nomenklatura, including Nazarbaev himself, Janaozen’s executioner. For thirty years they have been plundering State property and destroying the achievements of the October Revolution. With their antisocial and anti-worker policy, this gang is picking the pockets of the workers of Kazakhstan every day and has never hesitated to respond to the discontent of the workers with police clubs. And even to massacre them, as was the case during the strike of oil workers in Janaozen in 2011. (…) The struggle of the workers of Kazakhstan has an international content. It is a revolt against the consequences of the crisis of the capitalist system based on private ownership of the means of production. The struggle of the workers of Kazakhstan is the struggle of the workers of all countries! We, the Russian supporters of the OCRFI, express our unconditional solidarity with the mobilisation of the workers of Kazakhstan in the struggle for their rights.”
January 6, 2022
Kazakhstan is the largest ex-Soviet republic in Central Asia. Its 20 million inhabitants represent a multi-ethnic population (Kazakhs, Russians, Ukrainians and also the descendants of peoples deported by Stalin: Volga Germans, Tatars, Koreans, etc.).
The working class
The working class is concentrated in gigantic hydrocarbon extraction companies and in the mines, privatised in the 1990s for the benefit of large American and European multinationals.
The Janaozen massacre
Throughout 2011, thousands of oil workers in the west of the country strike for recognition of their independent union, rejecting the old State-integrated union. On 16 December 2011, police shot at strikers in the town of Janaozen, killing over seventy people. In the following ten years, a new law delegalised dozens of trade unions, but was unable to prevent the development of strikes.
First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and member of the political bureau of the CP of the Soviet Union, Nursultan Nazarbayev became President of independent Kazakhstan in 1991. Suppressing all opposition with an iron fist, he literally sold the country to multinationals. Replaced in 2019 by one of his close friends, Tokayev, he remains president of the National Security Council.
… and his friends
They all flocked to Nazarbaev’s house for the greater interest of their multinationals: Obama, Sarkozy, Hollande and Macron, but also the former British « socialist » Prime Minister, who became a « special adviser » to the dictator, in return for a fee.