Kazakhstan: fuel price protests lead to uprising

This report was received this evening from a correspondent in Kazakhstan following a 7 hour internet blackout. Overnight, protests which began against gas price rises have turned into an uprising that has already led to the resignation of the government but which show no sign of abating.

Numerous cities across Kazakhstan saw large protests gather on the streets on the night from 4 to 5 January. The movement started with protests against the rise in the price of gas in Mangystau on new year’s day, but events are currently moving very rapidly and are approaching the scale of a popular uprising. In Aktau and Aktobe, the protesters have attempted to storm the buildings of city and regional akimats [administrations]. Serious clashes with security personnel took place in many cities where the protesters successfully repelled attempts to arrest or disperse them. Some cases of attempts to fraternise with the police have also been reported.

The situation is the most intense in Almaty. Street battles continued throughout the night at different points in the city, with the police and military using flash grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. Dozens of police cars were burnt, and some video footage suggests that the protesters seized several army transport vehicles.

The struggle isn’t limited to street fighting. There have been work stoppages by industrial workers employed at large enterprises who are putting forward their own demands. Strike action is developing among workers in the oil and gas industries of western Kazakhstan, as well as among miners and metal workers.

The regime has reacted with a delayed and nervous combination of concessions and further repressive measures. In addition to a promise to reduce natural gas prices in the Mangystau region, president Tokaev has dismissed the government and announced a number of measures, such as the introduction of state regulation of the price of petrol, diesel, natural gas and socially-significant food products. He further promised the state would “consider the possibility” of subsidising rents for socially vulnerable households, “consider the necessity” of introducing a freeze on the costs of utilities, and… begin drafting up a law on personal bankruptcy. Yet Tokaev insists that “such principles as unitarism, supremacy of the law, respect of property rights and the market economy, remain the most important in our state policy.”

But together with the carrot, the Kazakh president is also waving the stick warning that he would deal with what he described as “terrorists” “as toughly as possible”. The state of emergency has been declared in Almaty city, the Almaty and Mangystau regions, and the capital. A curfew is in place, and the main mobile internet network, social media and messaging services remain blocked.

None of this is having the desired effect. As of today, 5 January, clashes have continued with renewed intensity across the country, beginning in the early morning. The protests have extended geographically across more cities, and the storming of local administrative buildings has resumed. In Almaty, the protesters have broken into the city administration office, the city square is filled with the sounds of explosions and gunfire, and a fire is raging on the ground floor of the building.

The spontaneous revolutionary movement being born in front of our eyes has long since transcended the initial demands relating to natural gas prices. One of several lists of demands circulating via Telegram channels and group chats comprises the following points:

  1. Regime change.
  2. Popular elections of akims [city and village mayors, regional governors, etc.] of every region and city, the people should choose by themselves.
  3. Return to the 1993 Constitution.
  4. Civic activists must not be subject to persecution.
  5. Transfer of power to a person not involved with the current system, not part of the existing authorities, someone of revolutionary allegiance.

Slogans that can be heard in demonstrations and in workers’ collectives combine social demands (wages, retirement age, etc.) alongside political demands (the resignation of the president and the government, fair elections, a parliamentary republic, etc.).

The incredible determination of the protesters, their fearlessness, and the general impotence of the authorities are factors that are conducive to the success of the movement. The repressive apparatus is being defeated by the protesters on the streets. Rapidly losing whatever remnant of support it might have retained, the regime does not dare to give the order to drown the protests in blood, and is merely adopting a defensive stance.

However, in order to achieve and consolidate tangible victories, the movement must acquire a more organised character – radical grassroots movements always develop their own democratic instruments to lead and direct the movement, and always put forward their own leaders. Bourgeois opposition parties will no doubt attempt to take advantage of the movement. If they succeed, they will only replace one gang of oligarchs for another, while the mass of workers continue to suffer. The workers should only trust in their own forces.

The Kazakhstani working class’ own experience of struggle suggests that the most decisive, consistent and powerful examples of self-organisation emerge from the ranks of the working class, as was shown in Zhanaozen in 2011 and in last year’s strike wave, which won a significant part of its demands. Only in the struggle of the working class for real power – political as well as economic – will a just society without exploitation and oppression be born: a society of universal well-being and dignity of working people.

For the victory of the revolution in Kazakhstan!

For working-class leadership and a class-based programme!

For socialism!

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