The revolt of the Kazakh workers, balance and prospects

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08/02/2022 by socialistfight

The classes fight each other, and the story continues

Permanent Revolution Collective, (Austria, France, Spain, Turkey), January 27, 2022

The February revolution in Kazakhstan

In 1992, when the Stalinist bureaucracy restored capitalism in the USSR – the only country where the working class took power – the bourgeoisie proclaimed its victory on a world scale. From then on, he sentenced, like a broken record, that the end of history had come, that the working class was dead, that the class struggle belonged to the past and that, in any case, the revolution was only an accident for humanity and that the only civilization it would know would be capitalism. All bourgeois ideologues announced that a prosperous world would now await humanity.

The world labour movement was strongly affected by this historic setback. In the capitalist countries, the traditional parties of the working class (of workers’, social democratic or Stalinist origin) abandoned all reference to socialism and their centrist satellites became more opportunistic. Among the Stalinists, the leadership of one of the largest “communist” parties, the Italian PCI, even dissolved it and merged with a fraction of the Christian Democratic Party; as did the leadership of the British CPGB that dissolved it and joined the Liberal Democrat Party. Among the centrists, the French LCR was liquidated in the NPA, the American ISO was dissolved to effectively join the DSA members of the Democratic Party…

The practice of everyday life destroys, however, all those lapidary phrases. The working class is expanding on all continents and growing numerically on a world scale. The restoration of capitalism has not benefited the peoples of Central Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam… nor those in Central Asia. The economic crises have not disappeared, on the contrary, they even acquired a global dimension in 2008 and 2020. Armed conflicts have not ceased, sometimes in the form of civil war, sometimes in the form of intervention by foreign forces, sometimes mixing the two. The imperialist powers are fighting over the world, the regional powers are fighting for a continent or subcontinent. The destruction of the environment, which has already led to the desiccation of the Aral Sea, is increasing.

And the working class, the working women, other exploited classes, the oppressed nationalities, the students, have not stopped resisting and fighting. In recent years, there have been mass struggles in Algeria, Sudan, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Colombia, Iran, Belarus, USA, Burma, Cuba… Although they have not acquired a clear proletarian character and have vanished without obtaining significant concessions, except in Chile, where the reformist parties (CCP, PS) try to deceive the workers with a constituent assembly and a popular front government.

In the country, while the median wage is $570 and many workers receive the minimum wage of $97, it is well known that the Nazarbayev family has a net worth of $1 billion and owns luxury properties worth $107 million in London.


For years, Nursultan Nazarbayev has been used to performative adoration from the citizens of Kazakhstan. The country’s leader for nearly three decades, he was showered with praise and adulation at showpiece events, and his image smiled down from billboards across the country.
Poverty, inequality and corruption: why Kazakhstan’s former leader is no longer untouchable.

The Kazakhstan bourgeoisie

Kazakhstan, which borders the Xinjiang region in western China and Russia, has the potential to tip the regional balance in the event of a proletarian revolution and to aggravate the contradictions between the imperialists, thanks to its geostrategic importance. So far, the governments of Nazarbayev (1992-2009) and Tokayev (2009-…) have refused to choose between the United States, China and Russia.

Kazakhstan is one of the most important countries in Central Asia from an economic and geostrategic point of view. Its surface area makes it the ninth largest country in the world. It has reserves of natural gas, oil, coal, uranium (the world’s largest producer), iron, manganese, chromium, potassium… Numerous oil and gas pipelines pass through it. In addition, it houses the main cryptocurrency platforms.

Former Stalinist bureaucrat Nazarbayev – who led the restoration of capitalism in Kazakhstan, was head of state from 1991 to 2019 and resigned in 2019 to assume the presidency of the country’s Security Council – is the archetype of the oligarchy that has enriched itself with energy and minerals for the past 30 years.

The former bureaucrats of the USSR were transformed into bourgeoisie after the capitalist restoration. They preserved the repressive apparatuses of the old Stalinist bureaucratic regimes while initiating a rapid process of restoration of capitalism and declaring war on all conquests and social rights, thus paving the way for unemployment, poverty, and class differentiation.

In the country, while the median wage is $570 and many workers receive the minimum wage of $97, it is well known that the Nazarbayev family has a net worth of $1 billion and owns luxury properties worth $107 million in London.

The proletariat, the peasantry and the workers of the informal sector suffered the economic crisis of 2008 and 2020 and have paid a heavy price for the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment and inflation cause great suffering among the working class.

Alongside this deterioration, democratic rights have been methodically undermined by the bourgeois state. In 2006, a dozen Islamist organizations and the Kurdish nationalist PKK were banned. In 2015, strikes were banned, and trade unions and workers’ parties were dissolved. Seven legal political parties remain and all of them support the current government. The associations supported by the Western imperialist countries focus on hostility towards China and Russia.

In the early 2000s, there was a major strike by miners and oil workers. In these strikes, social and political aspects were more important than economic demands. The central demand was the expropriation of the oil companies. And communist or left-wing groups had no influence on these strikes. When the miners went on strike in 2011, the Kazakh bourgeoisie responded with state terror and fired on the workers during the demonstrations in Janaozen (in the west). There were dozens of dead and hundreds injured. But the workers learned their lesson and, in all likelihood, organized themselves in secret.

The proletariat, the peasantry and the workers of the informal sector suffered the economic crisis of 2008 and 2020 and have paid a heavy price for the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment and inflation cause great suffering among the working class.

Alongside this deterioration, democratic rights have been methodically undermined by the bourgeois state. In 2006, a dozen Islamist organizations and the Kurdish nationalist PKK were banned. In 2015, strikes were banned, and trade unions and workers’ parties were dissolved. Seven legal political parties remain and all of them support the current government. The associations supported by the Western imperialist countries focus on hostility towards China and Russia.

In the early 2000s, there was a major strike by miners and oil workers. In these strikes, social and political aspects were more important than economic demands. The central demand was the expropriation of the oil companies. And communist or left-wing groups had no influence on these strikes. When the miners went on strike in 2011, the Kazakh bourgeoisie responded with state terror and fired on the workers during the demonstrations in Janaozen (in the west). There were dozens of dead and hundreds injured. But the workers learned their lesson and, in all likelihood, organized themselves in secret.

An uprising of proletarian origin

At the beginning of January 2022, the revolt of the working classes in Kazakhstan has shaken the bourgeois state to its foundations. The Kazakh government, with the support of the neighboring imperialist governments of Russia and China, claims that the movement has been fomented from abroad, either by the most powerful imperialist government, that of the United States, or by Islamists linked to Afghanistan or Syria.

However, this uprising has a social and class character. It takes place within the framework of the militant struggles of the working class against the destruction caused by the restoration of capitalism since 1992, against the economic dependence of the country, against the monopolization of wealth by a comprador bourgeoisie (“oligarchs”) coming from the old Stalinist bureaucracy, against the restrictions on democratic freedoms and the despotism of the regime.

The subject at the origin of the political crisis is none other than the working class. On January 2, workers in Janaozen’s oil sector took to the streets and blocked roads against the rise in the price of natural gas, which is used as fuel and also for heating (since 2019 the government has been releasing prices). On the 3rd, Janaozen protesters also demanded the election of local officials (who are appointed by the government).

The protest spread throughout the country on January 3 and 4: Aqtaw, the capital Nursultan, Almaty, the largest city (formerly Alma-Ata), Chymkent, Manguistau… All oil and gas fields, coal and copper mines were affected. On January 4, workers at the Tengizchevroil oil company, the country’s largest, whose capital is 75% owned by U.S. companies, went on strike. The particularity of this company is that 40,000 workers were going to lose their jobs in a series of dismissal plans. The workers’ committees demanded the stabilization of energy and food prices, a 100% wage increase, improved working conditions and freedom of association.

The unemployed and employees participated in the demonstrations in large numbers. The slogans were shouted mostly in Kazakh, the main language of the country (of the Turkish family) along with Russian. The one that was repeated in all the demonstrations was: “Sahl, ket! (“Get lost, old man!”), which was aimed at the system established by Nazarbayev and continued by Tokayev. The demands were very diverse, depending on the place: the improvement of wages, the reduction of the retirement age, the right to form trade unions and to strike, the resignation of the President of the Republic and all officials linked to Nazarbayev, the restoration of the 1993 Constitution, the freedom to create parties (the party in power is Nur Otan,  the electoral law prevents most others from participating in the elections), the release of all political prisoners, as well as an end to all repression.

The lumpen took advantage of the riots to loot. It is likely that islamists mingled in the demonstrations (the government spoke of two decapitated policemen: if this is true, what is not certain, is proof of the involvement of these counterrevolutionary organizations).

 Bloody repression in Kazakhstan, orchestrated with the support of Russia, China, the USA and UK.

Tokayev’s bloody repression

The Kazakh government cut off internet access in the country, detained journalists and ordered police to shoot at workers without warning.

The Kazakh oligarchs have responded to the struggle and demands of the working classes with formidable state terror. The workers responded by forming their own self-defense organizations. They armed themselves by looting commercial weapons stores and, in addition, some sectors of the police and army refused to shoot at the demonstrators or joined their ranks.

The American capitalist groups that exploit the country’s workers demanded the maintenance of order. The Chinese government approved of the crackdown. Belarusian head of state Lukashenko called on Workers in Kazakhstan to kneel before the army and ask for forgiveness.

Tokayev could not get out of the crisis alone and asked the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for military assistance. This alliance is led by Russia and organizes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, against US military pressure (and China’s growing influence). On January 6, Russia, Armenia and Belarus sent troops to rescue the regime. Although the Russian army did not repress, it contributed to the return to bourgeois order and has served to consolidate the regime for a while.

The main reason for the CSTO’s prompt intervention to crush the revolt was the fear, felt by Putin and neighboring governments, of a possible contagion of the revolt in their own countries and the awareness that the workers’ radicalism that emerged had the potential to pave the way for the October revolutions of the twenty-first century. Another motive is to counter the influence of the United States, China and Turkey.

Tokayev blamed the 81-year-old Nazarbayev clan, changed the government on Jan. 5, replaced it in the Security Council and dismissed several ministers or officials linked to the old politician. He has even arrested some of them. Finally, it has restored the Internet and canceled the rise in the price of gasoline. The government has never presented any evidence of foreign intervention.

225 people have died, 12,000 have been arrested (International Crisis Group, 14 January).

The revolutionary tasks of the proletariat

For more than 20 years, the working class of Kazakhstan (especially the miners and oil workers) has accumulated important experiences of struggle. The working class has turned its experiences of self-organization into a tradition. And today it has also shown the world that, thanks to the workers’ committees, it is capable of organizing a general strike and paralyzing Kazakh capitalism. It has also demonstrated its ability to organize self-defense in the face of state terror.

However, it has not been able to seize power and has been crushed once again, with the help of Russian imperialism, with the approval of Chinese imperialism and with the relief of US imperialism.

The key question is in the revolutionary leadership of the class, in the revolutionary program. The working class of Kazakhstan has managed to destabilize the bourgeois state, but it has not been able to put itself at the head of all the exploited and oppressed to establish its power, it has not had time to address the recruits of the CSTO troops and the neighboring peoples to avoid any counterrevolutionary interference.

In the epoch of the rotting of capitalism, the bourgeoisie is unable to respond to the most democratic demands, but sees no problem in inviting the armies of other countries to suffocate them. Consequently, even the attainment of the radical democratic demands of the working class finds its solution only in the proletarian revolution. But we must circumvent the traps of the “democratic” or Islamofascist bourgeoisie.

The only force that must determine the future of the country and of Central Asia is the working class. A revolutionary and mass party is needed, which can only be built on the basis of Marxism and together with the vanguard of the region and the whole world.

  • Dissolution of all the repressive forces of the Tokayev oligarchy! Workers’ and people’s militias to replace them! All foreign troops out of Kazakhstan!
  • Freedom for all political prisoners! Right to strike, to express, to demonstrate, to form trade unions or political parties! Guarantee of all democratic rights!
  • ¡Sliding scale of wages, according to inflation! Reduction of the working day until unemployment ends, without a salary reduction!
  • Confiscation of factories, of all mines and natural resources, of banks, of communication services, under workers’ control! Expropriation of the entire big bourgeoisie, national and foreign!
  • Equality for women! Criminalization of domestic violence against women!
  • Constitution of councils of urban workers, of recruits, of peasant workers, of students, in the workplaces, in schools, in the neighborhoods, in the army, in the villages, throughout the country!
  • Workers’ and peasants’ government! Central Asian Soviet Federation!
  • Construction of the revolutionary party of the working class by the existing communist nuclei around the Marxist program!
  • International solidarity with the workers of Kazakhstan of all workers’ organizations, starting with those of the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization!

January 27, 2022

Permanent Revolution Collective

(Austria, France, Spain, Turkey)

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