Thursday, January 13, 2022

Kazakhstan Protests: Interview with Eliseos Vagenas, head of the International Relations Section of the CC of the KKE

The news portal has published an interview with Eliseos Vagenas,  member of the CC of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and Head of the International Relations Section of the CC of the KKE, concerning the developments in Kazakhstan:

The recent mass mobilizations in Kazakhstan have led to violent conflicts and the intervention of military forces to suppress them. President Tokayev spoke of foreign intervention, of 20,000 foreign militants, which was followed by the military intervention of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries. The question arises: Were these mobilizations based on internal developments or was it truly a foreign intervention as in the case of Ukraine a few years ago?

The root cause of the mass people’s mobilization that took place in Kazakhstan lies in the enormous social and economic problems that the restoration of capitalism has caused to the people of this country.

Millions of people live on very low wages and pensions, millions are unemployed, others are forced to commute to the internal part of the country or to Russia to earn a wage. Millions of young people, in a society where the average age is low, are desperate regarding their future which seems obscure.

At the same time, it is obvious that capitalists live in luxury, that the energy wealth is being looted by local capitalists as well as foreign monopolies, such as US Chevron corporation. Overall, the US, British, and EU monopolies control 75% of the mining sector of the industry, which is the most important in this country. The energy wealth is also directed to the EU, Russia, and China, which are important importers of the energy wealth of the country.

The huge social differentiation led to harsh workers’ struggles. How did the authorities respond? 10 years ago in the city of Zhanaozen the regime’s security forces murdered thousands of workers in strike. There was an intensification of repression; among other things, the CP of Kazakhstan was banned while until today they deny the legalization of the Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan, they banned more than 600 trade unions by adopting new trade union laws in order to fully control the trade union movement. Moreover, an effort was launched to support the nationalist forces, including the justification of the local Nazi collaborators, i.e. the so-called “Turkestan SS legion”, which acted during the Second World War. 

The anti-popular economic and social policies are the cause of today’s people’s mobilizations, with the final straw being the rise in liquefied gas prices. However, this does not contradict the fact that there is an ongoing inter-imperialist conflict in the region and that various quarters will seek to utilize these events. 

—  Let us dwell for a moment on people’s demonstrations. They did not take the same form everywhere. In some regions mass strikes took place, in others there were street fights, looting, and vandalism. How can this be explained and what are the demands of these people’s demonstrations? 

—  In the past two years, important strikes took place in the region of Western and central Kazakhstan. The initiative was undertaken by informal workers’ unions, strike committees, and factory committees since, as I mentioned above, the authorities utilized the trade union law to ban the action and operation of trade unions that were not directly controlled by the state and the employers. Therefore, especially in the Western Kazakhstan region, valuable experience was gained from the organization of the struggle. In that region, in the city of Zhanaozen, new mobilizations broke out at the beginning of the year, closing the streets. Afterwards, the mass workers’ assemblies prevailed and resulted in strikes and gatherings. In those regions, the workers took upon themselves the safeguarding of the region, having the mass support of their families. The police and the army at first denied attacking the workers’ mobilizations, while, in many cases, the local authorities resigned. That was a manifestation of the superiority of the workers’ organized struggle, which, through the assemblies, resulted in economic demands that were later on escalated with political demands and were highlighted everywhere: demands were put forward for higher wages, for lower retirement ages, for a reduction in energy prices, for the resignation of Nazarbayev and Tokayev, for the unhindered formation of trade unions and political parties. There, in Western Kazakhstan cities, Coordinating Councils and Committees were formed by the strikers, who played a role in guiding the mobilizations. In those regions, the retreat of the forces took place in an organized way on the evening of 8 January.

In other cases, where the movement was not equally organized, we witnessed harsh armed street fights, such as in the case of the old capital, Alma-Ata. We should consider the following: Today, 30 years after the overthrow of socialism, on the outskirts of big centres such as this city, we see that whole neighbourhoods of shacks have appeared, similar to the favelas in Latin America. Thousands of people and whole villages have migrated there to find employment. These impoverished people, who took to the streets exasperated by high prices and their low living standards, were easily armed after the first waves of policemen and army abandoned their arms after the first clashes. They occupied police and army premises, even gun stores, and armed themselves. Various provocative groups also took action and engaged in looting, vandalisms of buildings, etc; they were utilized by the regime and deployed big military units to repress the workers’–people’s mobilizations.

The fact that two corpses of policemen and two of army officials were found decapitated is presented by the regime as proof of foreign intervention. Is this not true? 

A few dozen Kazakhstanis had joined the ranks of the “Islamic State”, which operated in Iraq and Syria in the context of imperialist plans. No one excludes their return to Kazakhstan after the Russian military intervention in Syria and the defeat of the “Islamic State” there. No one can exclude the action of one or the other groups that can be utilized in various cases and have various origins and plans, while it has leaked that the local intelligence agencies have been preparing and training provocative groups. However, those were not the forces that initiated this people’s mobilization that turned into a mass uprising, while the characterization “terrorists”, “radicals”, and “extremists” attributed by the Kazakhstan authorities to those who took to the streets against the policy that condemns them to impoverishment was used as a pretext for repression. 

You referred to the utilization of these incidents. In the past, we have witnessed the so-called colour revolutions, such as in Ukraine or the “Arab Spring”. Are there any similarities and by whom can these developments be utilized?

Firstly, both in the case of the “colour revolution” in Ukraine or Belarus  and in the so-called Arab Spring, a lot of facts indicated foreign intervention, funding, training, and preparation of political forces that would assume a role, taking advantage of the sharpening of social and political problems. Such a thing is not evident in the case of Kazakhstan and it is clear that all basic foreign “players” (USA, China, Russia, EU) to one or another extent sided with the current President, only disagreeing on the deployment of the CSTO military forces. The situation as well as the way that the events unfolded have nothing in common with Ukraine, where the bourgeoisie was divided between the USA–EU and Russia and where we clearly saw foreign diplomats leading the pro-Western demonstrators and even openly utilizing fascist forces for their plans.

Certainly, in the case of Kazakhstan as well it is obvious that developments led to an intra-bourgeois realignment. President Tokayev and the businessmen that surround him sidelined to an extent the former President of the country, N. Nazarbayev, who was appointed as lifelong Chairman of the Security Council. Arrests of cadres of his entourage were made, such as that of Karim Massimov, former Prime Minister and Head of the National Security Committee of the country. It is apparent that the “old guard” is forced into a war for the redistribution of the pie for the economic and political power among the sections of the bourgeoisie of Kazakhstan.

There are also political forces; nationalist, Islamist, and other forces connected with the imperialist centres of the West, which will seek to manipulate the people’s forces that took part in the demonstrations but have a low political criterion. These forces do exist and we must not ignore them. This does not reduce but highlights the need for the organized people’s movement to be able to safeguard its mobilizations, such as in the working-class areas of Western Kazakhstan.

How are imperialist plans involved in the area?

Following the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, we had assessed that the destabilization of Central Asia is possible. Kazakhstan, the 9th largest country in the world, represents 60% of the GDP of Central Asia, first and foremost due to the oil and gas industry. At the same time, it is the largest producer of uranium and many other precious metals. It shares borders with China and Russia. The Caspian sea washes its coasts. It is an important “link” for imperialist plans of one or another imperialist power. This is understood also by the bourgeoisie of the country. Thus, we see that while Kazakhstan together with Russia is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of the Eurasian Economic Union, and of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (together with China), at the same time is has joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace and, together with Turkey, was at the forefront of the recently renamed Organization of Turkic States. By renting the Baikonur Cosmodrome to Russia for 49 years, it has allowed the USA to maintain biological warfare laboratories on its ground. While supplying the EU, via Russia, as well as China with natural gas and oil, at the same time the mining sector of its economy is largely in the hands of Western energy monopolies, and the bourgeoisie of Kazakhstan is actively involved in the projects of Chinese monopolies for the so-called “Silk Road”. As you understand, there is a big power struggle over the course of this country, which is 5 times as big as France.

How do you assess the involvement of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)?

The involvement of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan with 3.5 thousand men to guard Baikonur and other military infrastructure, was based on the argument that the country was “attacked by a foreign foe”, with the aim of restoring the “constitutional order”. This involvement took place at a time when Kazakhstan’s bourgeois state apparatus was facing serious operational issues of its repressive nature. What does this fact show us? That the new regional transnational alliances that are being created, like the old ones, such as NATO and the EU, have a class nature. It does not disappear, it is always present and stems from the class character of the states that make it up. Thus, the priority task of these unions is to maintain the power of the bourgeoisie of the countries that have concluded the agreement. Then they have the task of safeguarding the interests and profitability of the bourgeois classes that these unions serve. The views of the political forces, including some CPs, who speak of a new “multipolar world” due to the emergence of new transnational unions are out of place.

Of course, unions such as NATO, the EU, and the CSTO are characterized by the uneven interdependence relations of the countries that make them up. Thus, Russia's main role in the CSTO is obvious. The presence of the CSTO military forces in Kazakhstan has served as a “red flag” for the US and the EU. These forces will seek to take advantage of this development, to increase their anti-Russian propaganda arguments, considering that the emergence of CSTO forces in Kazakhstan is changing the “status quo” in the region. For its part, capitalist Russia will seek to utilize these facts to strengthen capitalist unification in the territories of the former USSR.

What is the situation of the communist movement in Kazakhstan?

The communist movement in Kazakhstan suffered a heavy blow. 30 years ago, we witnessed the betrayal of its leadership and the effort to turn the CP of Kazakhstan into a “left-wing” Party, initially with the name Socialist Party of Kazakhstan. This party joined the Union of CPs–CPSU together with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) under the Presidency of Gennady Zyuganov. In 2011, the authorities began to put many legal obstacles concerning its action and in 2015 they banned it with the argument that “it does not fulfil legal obligations”. Since then, the cadres of the CP of Kazakhstan ceased any political action. The regime, together with some members of the CP of Kazakhstan, founded the so-called “Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan”, which was controlled and developed relations with some other CPs, such as the CP of China. In 2020, this party was renamed “People’s Party of Kazakhstan”.

The Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan, which also faced turmoil, was founded at the beginning of 2011 and was joined by communists who left the CP of Kazakhstan. A number of its cadres were persecuted, dismissed, and were brought under pressure, while one of the co-chairmen of the organization, the miner Tahir Mukhamedzhanov, lost his life under mysterious circumstances that the police denied investigating. The SM of Kazakhstan’s websites are blocked and the authorities have repeatedly denied its lawful operation. The persecutions against the SM of Kazakhstan coincided with the murderous attack and mass detention of strikers during the 8-month strike of the workers in the oil industry in Zhanaozen in December 2011. The SM of Kazakhstan does not conceal the fact that due to the persecution a part of its members has retreated, while one of their cadres was utilized by the regime to restrain the controlled trade unions. Today, it maintains forces in various regions of the country, who act under difficult conditions, and it is characterized by the persistent effort to take root in the growing labour movement. The SM of Kazakhstan participates in the International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties and contributes to the effort of the “International Communist Review”.

The question whether there can be important workers’ and people’s struggles without a strong communist movement is reasonable. Experience has shown that great, harsh, and bloody struggles can break out even without the existence of a CP in a country. Thus, struggles and even hard ones took place even before the emergence of the KKE in our country and today, in many countries where the CPs are weak or non-existent, struggles do take place. The question is not whether there can be great struggles but in what direction and whether they can decisively clash and lead to the overthrow of capitalist barbarism. Without the existence of a strong CP, with a revolutionary strategy and a line of mobilization and struggle against the power of monopolies and the exploitative system, even the greatest people’s struggles will not be able to lead the liberation of workers from capitalist exploitation.

Which was and which should be the stance of the CPs towards similar people’s mobilizations as in Kazakhstan?

We must underscore that the KKE and more than 10 Parties that so far have taken a position on the issue, such as the Russian Communist Workers’ Party (RCWP), the Socialist Party of Latvia, the Labour Party of Austria, the CP of Mexico, the CP of Sweden, the CP of the Workers of Spain, and the CP of Belgium, following the developments, from the very first moment expressed our solidarity with the people of Kazakhstan, who raised against the social problems caused by capitalism 30 years after the overthrow of socialism. Unfortunately, many parties did not have a clear picture of what is truly happening and, thus, did not immediately take a position. Moreover, some parties, such as the French CP, focus on the “neoliberal policies” and authoritarianism of the regime, thus, acquitting capitalism once again, while others that examine the new transnational unions that are being created in the territories of the former CPSU at the initiative of Russia without a class-oriented base, such as the CPRF, justified the CSTO military intervention. This situation, first of all, indicates the ideological–political crisis within the ranks of the international communist movement and the need to overcome important ideological–political issues such as the character of transnational unions, the nexus of contradictions that are being developed among the bourgeois classes, and the character of the new capitalist powers of Russia and China.

In any case, the communists must support workers’ struggles wherever they break out and contribute so that the ideas of Marxism–Leninism and the revolutionary prospect are grafted onto the development of the organized mass, popular, and labour movement.