The Socialist 7 April 2010 |
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Kazakhstan: "change the politicians - or they will change you!"
The economic crisis has hit Kazakhstan harder and faster than most other parts of the world, but this has been met by massive struggles of the workers and poor.
Peter Taaffe on Kazakhstan TV
Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, along with Rob Jones of the Russian section of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) and other CWI members recently made a visit to Socialist Resistance, CWI, Kazakhstan.
CWI members in Kazakhstan are playing a leading role, as those involved in campaigns to defend living conditions seek a political voice for their struggles.
'Kazakhstan 2012 conference’ in opposition to Nazabayev regime
The people of Kazakhstan live under the constant threat of earthquakes. But on 27 March in Almaty, one of the main cities, a small but significant tremor took place - not of the geophysical kind, but political!
It was a gathering convened under the initiative of the CWI, along with the many campaigns and trade union groups that voted to set up the 'Kazakhstan 2012' organisation (2012 is the year of the next elections). In a way this was similar to the important launch of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in London only a few days before. However, Kazakhstan is a semi-police state ruthlessly ruled and plundered by Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, and his family.
Because of the police and also the political police, the KNB, it was an 'unauthorised meeting'. We knew a meeting was to take place, but did not know the address. We were driven off the main road, into a kind of 'estate'. The houses stood in varying stages of gross dilapidation interspersed with a few more substantial buildings. Groups of men and boys hung around on the main highway with nothing to do. Industry has collapsed and the infrastructure is decaying. A taxi driver told us that by day the men are visible, at night it is the 'girls'.
We pulled up outside a makeshift fence. There were no pavements - just mud. We guessed this was the place, as a group of policemen was assembling. We were led to an iron gate assuming we would go into a building. But the gate was opened and we stepped inside to see a tremendous open-air gathering of around 300 people in a yard, wrapped up against the cold and impending rain. What a shock - a demonstration and the police outside! Apparently there was some minimal protection from them on the basis of it being 'private' land.
'Kazakhstan 2012 conference’ in opposition to Nazabayev regime:
Women were in the majority. These were people who had experienced the privations of the old Stalinist system over 20 years ago, who had joined the demonstrations for perestroika ('restructuring') in their youth and had invested their belief in 'the market' as the dawn of a new golden age.
But now their world had crashed down around them and their families in a massive, crude, raw equivalent of a sub-prime crisis. Kazakhstan had been hit by the global crisis a year before the rest of the world. It amounted to destitution of the middle classes and absolute destitution of workers, farmers and youth.
In the yard was a mix of nationalities - Kazaks and Russians, Koreans and Uzbeks - all united together to voice their hatred for the regime of Nazarbayev and preparing to announce the foundation of a new political movement to challenge it.
The main banner read: "Change the politicians or they will change you". In Kazakhstan the 'politicians' are the capitalists. The slogan was reminiscent of a cartoon drawing by Mayakovsky, a poet and artist of the 1917 Revolution, which we had seen in Moscow a few days before. Aimed at illiterate peasants it comprised of two drawings - a worker standing victoriously on the belly of a fat boss, and the other, a fat boss standing on the belly of a worker. The choice could not be clearer.
Other banners read: "The law doesn't work". This reflected the fact that many workers had found no redress to keep their homes through the corrupt legal system, while at the same time the feather-bedded oligarchs openly steal the wealth of the country. The vast oil reserves around the Caspian Sea are being looted, leaving not a shred of benefit to the people, not even to mend the huge pot-holes in the road.
Further banners proclaimed: "In the war for flats, good men die"; "We give our life savings for cheap houses, building companies are criminals" and: "Rich men build houses and don't pay. Poor men with no job lose their homes."
Workers held high their placards and a Che Guevara poster adorned the walls. The CWI flag had pride of place. Sympathetic journalists from TV internet sites filmed and recorded.
'Kazakhstan 2012 conference’ in opposition to Nazabayev regime: Ainur Kurmanov on his last trip to jail
Ainur Kurmanov, a leading socialist in the CWI, jailed more than ten times for his campaigning, kicked off the meeting. Workers from a number of regions were in attendance representing farmers in debt, workers who had lost jobs and homes, even small market traders, who were often impoverished professionals who had no means to live except by buying and selling.
Ainur made it clear that this gathering was the skeleton of a party whose aim was to challenge the capitalist system. Already workers had themselves raised the slogan of nationalisation with workers' control in the course of recent struggles. This demand featured in the struggles of workers in a railway equipment factory, in that of the 10,000 striking oil workers and even of the traders in the bazaar.
To save the KNB the bother of having to plant listening devices speakers kindly used loud-hailers to address the audience. The first speaker opened the meeting by holding up a placard which asked: "Who's covering up the crimes of the bankers?" She turned the placard round to reveal the word "NAN" - President Nazarbayev's initials. "That's why we call him NAN bread!"
'Kazakhstan 2012 conference’ in opposition to Nazabayev regime: The KNB sneaking a quick video
She had travelled 15 hours by train to get there, and represented a campaign of 3,000 people all in the same situation. She, like them, was losing her home and could find no jobs. She had been a lawyer. Another woman said that when they called for help all they got in return was the police and the prosecutor and that there was a need to stand together.
We spoke to Gulaisha Musiltaeva who explained that a typical mortgage in her city of Chimkent would be for $100,000 over ten years at 25%. A typical wage is about $4-500 a month!
When she and her husband lost their jobs, they tried to renegotiate their payments but the bank was not interested. Now the banks are not even interested in repossession, as they cannot resell the property. Gulaisha is now the leader of the 'In Defence of People's Homes' campaign. She said that people are getting very angry at the banks, because they are just seen as vultures. Her neighbour took out a $5,000 loan and now has to pay back $25,000!
A campaign against the banks, who take land from the farmers and even commit genocide, was called for. Mumbles of "f....ing banks" came from the crowd.
Andre, a worker and trade unionist, complained that all the comforts exist for the rich, who go abroad for health and education while Kazakhstan services are in chaos. He called for a 'unified party'.
Vadim, who had travelled for 30 hours to get there from the northern city of Petropavlosk, was a human rights activist who had been imprisoned for three years and horribly treated. He was incarcerated for 'slander' after writing an article about the local political elite and privatisation of the former state farms. His experiences, where prisoners had kicked up a loud protest, even going on hunger strike to help him, showed to him that the future of the country lies in the hands of the people but that an organisation is needed.
Peter Taaffe, representing the CWI, took up the need to change society, describing how these struggles are being replicated across the world, and said that the Kazak workers are not alone. When he argued that it is crucial to create a new party to carry out this task a ripple went round the gathering: "Da, da, da" (Yes).
Everyone we spoke to was bitter that the European governments had agreed to Kazakhstan holding the presidency of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - an organisation supposed to protect democracy and human rights. "They've sold our democracy for oil," was the general sentiment. When a university student said he had a dream of a new country where things would be good for all, but it would have to be fought for, he was warmly applauded.
'Kazakhstan 2012 conference’ in opposition to Nazabayev regime: the democratic press films the secret meeting openly
The organisers were clearly pleased with the turnout, a feat of organisation given the difficulties of police repression, vast distances and even terrible floods. They also recognised what the people there actually represented. As Peter Taaffe had commented, it was like tributaries flowing into a mighty river, bringing the various campaigns and trade union groups together into 'Kazakhstan 2012' to fight the ruthless oligarchs.
Kazakhstan 2012 sets itself the task of establishing a political party, fighting for the day-to-day demands of working people and youth, and to fight for socialism. Without exception, the participants of the meeting voted in support of these tasks. The gathering held hands high in a vote to set up 'Kazakhstan 2012'. On this historic note, the conference ended.
The member who had donated his yard space for the meeting, himself a leader of a recent occupation and strike of 2,000 workers, promised that if 3,000 turned up next time he had agreement from his neighbours to tear down their fences to accommodate the crowd.
No doubt news of this conference would get to Nazarbayev and his cronies. We hope these robbers feel the ground tremble underneath them. They have already stashed billions of dollars abroad, hedging their bets on the survival of their vampire regime. They will probably try resorting to even more repression. They could misjudge very badly.
"I have nothing left. I have already lost my home, my car and my savings. What have I got to lose?"; Vadim's words could be echoed by millions of Kazak workers. But this conference means that Kazak workers can win, because they will have in the body of their new organisation a potentially crucial and strong Marxist force.
Kazakhstan 2012: new party needed
Ainur Kurmanov read out the declaration of Kazakhstan 2012, which explained that there is no party in Kazakhstan that fights for the interests of working people.
What is needed, Ainur said, is for activists of the social movements, trade unions and protest groups to organise together, to establish the base for the creation, in the near future, of an independent political party.
A party with a clear programme for the transformation of the country in the interests of working people, where the wealth of the country, its produce, minerals, oil and gas, will be used not by oligarchs, but by all.
Kazakhstan 2012 is an initiative driven by the CWI, aimed at uniting the different social protest movements and independent trade unions that have sprung up in the last two years, around a political programme.
Kazakhstan 2012 calls for an end to the seizure of homes of those who cannot pay their loans, demanding that the state takes responsibility for problem loans, and calls for the nationalisation of the banks and building sector under workers' control and management.
The question of trade union struggle is at the centre of the work of Kazakhstan 2012. Socialist Resistance was the initiator of a new federation of independent trade unions in February.
At this founding conference, among many other demands, Kazakhstan 2012 called for the nationalisation of the banking and construction sectors, for militant campaigning to achieve full democratic rights for the population of Kazakhstan, and for the capitalist system to be replaced with socialism.
Now it is developing into a new stage, with the agreement of the participants to form a political organisation to fight the current regime.
Kazakhstan: democracy under attack
Increasingly Kazakhstan's ruling elite is becoming like a dynasty. Nazarbayev has been the leader of Kazakhstan since 1986, when he headed the Republican Communist Party. He shows no sign of stepping down in 2012, the date of the next election, at which he could be 'elected' for a further seven years. Sycophants suggest he should be appointed as 'President for Life'.
He shares rule with his children. They, in turn, have direct control of the wealth of the country, which they ruthlessly exploit. His second daughter, Dinara, and her husband, Timur Kulibaev, have over $2 billion stashed away between them. They are among the five people in the 'Forbes richest persons list' from Kazakhstan.
Dynasties, of course, also have their black sheep. Nazarbayev's former son-in-law, Rahat Aliev, who calls Nazarbayev "Godfather-in-law", is in exile in Austria.
But during our short stay we heard a long stream of stories of various city mayors, government ministers, bureaucrats and businessmen who accumulated all the money they could get their hands on before fleeing, voluntarily or under threat, abroad, to London, Geneva and Vienna. It is believed that Nazarbayev has sent over a billion dollars out of the country.
The only party in parliament is NAN's own Nur Otan - The Bright Homeland Party. A number of pro-capitalist opposition parties are mainly backed by oligarchs and other members of the ruling elite who have been pushed out of the ruling circle. As well as not enjoying widespread support, they often face repression.
Kazakhstan is thus a police state, with a very thin fig leaf of a one-party parliament. Anyone who tries to organise working people to defend their rights faces harassment and repression. Journalists in the country are playing a particularly heroic role.
During our visit, two journalists from the Canal 31 station, who were trying to film the eviction of a single mother from her home, were beaten by bailiffs. Igor Larra was beaten in West Kazakhstan after he attempted to visit striking oil workers.
Kazakhstan 2012 has put the struggle for democratic rights at the centre of its programme.
Rotten regime: privatisation kills
The flooding that blocked some of those wishing to attend the conference is itself an indication of the rottenness of this regime. In the Soviet era, a complex system of dams was constructed to both provide water for this huge country and to prevent the spring thaw flooding the flatlands.
But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, no maintenance has been conducted on the dams, and, even worse, they have been privatised. Now the owners, in an attempt to make the maximum profits, overfill the reservoirs to have more water to sell, leading to the dams collapsing.
In at least one case, a whole village was swept away, with bodies being taken 20 kilometres. The latest information we heard as we left the country was that dozens, if not hundreds, of people had died as a result of the floods.
Protests were already being held in the flooded areas, blaming the regime for allowing the situation to develop, and protesting that promised aid was not arriving, having been siphoned off by corrupt bureaucrats.