The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Putin to the Rescue of a Mafioso Government Protecting Oil Companies

Jan 17, 2022

Excerpts from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

The leaders of Kazakhstan confronted a nationwide uprising the first week of this year. This former Soviet republic in Central Asia has 19 million inhabitants as well as much of the world’s known reserves of uranium, crude oil, natural gas, and coal.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s propaganda needs resulted in a made up story of “thousands of terrorists and bandits” orchestrated by a “center from abroad”. But after a third day of growing protests, he was forced to recognize the mass, working-class character of the movement. Tokayev declared a state of emergency that effectively banned strikes, which were on the rise. He also rolled back for six months the big price increases, including for fuel, which took effect the first day of the year.

Tokayev threw the blame on the rest of the government, which he fired. And he seized the opportunity to get rid of his mentor Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the country since the days of the USSR….

Ordinary people despised Nazarbayev, seeing him as the regime’s godfather, in the mafia sense, who embodied the bureaucracy that enriched itself by the billions through corruption. Having become a hot potato, he was ousted from his president-for-life position on the Security Council. Some of his relatives lost key positions at the summits of power to Tokayev’s clan. But nothing fundamental has changed for the people.

The outpouring started from the shores of the Caspian Sea, where oil and coal fields concentrate tens of thousands of workers, and reached both the north and the south, where economic capital Almaty is located (formerly Alma-Ata). There, clashes pitted the army and police against protesters, some of whom looted armories and succeeded in burning down the former presidential residence.

In several cities, at times, demonstrators won the friendly neutrality of police and soldiers, who let them take over government buildings. As the situation increasingly escaped his control, Tokayev ordered troops to shoot to kill and called out to be rescued by Russia, his neighbor to the north, represented by Vladimir Putin.

The day before Russian paratroopers were sent to Kazakhstan, the Russian government insisted that no one should interfere in the country’s internal matters. But at the same time, to prepare Russian popular opinion for military intervention, the Kremlin flooded the media with fake news intended to prove the involvement of Islamist terrorists, looters, bandits from other countries, rapists, and anti-Russian nationalists (in Kazakhstan, one in five people is Russian). When Tokayev denounced a “destabilization operation” run from an “organized center” abroad, Putin finally had his pretext to send troops and tanks to Kazakhstan.

The Russian president’s hands were all the more free as Western governments did not even make a pretense at supporting people standing up against a tyrannical regime. Even after Kazakh authorities announced 160 killed and 6,000 arrests—official and provisional figures only—the European Union dared to call for “resuming dialogue”! The U.S., after all their denunciation of the Kremlin over Ukraine, called for “restraint in the restoration of order” in Kazakhstan.

The imperialist powers preferred for Putin’s soldiers to take charge of bringing back in line the population whose emergence on the political scene hampered the operations of American, British, and French giants of gas, oil, metallurgy, and nuclear production. British Gas, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, TotalEnergies, Arcelor, Oreno (formerly Areva) and leading Chinese companies look at Kazakhstan as an Eldorado. They expect the local or Russian authorities to do everything possible to let the plunder continue. And the prospect of Kazakhstan’s oil, gas, or uranium being tainted with the blood of protesting workers is no concern of theirs, as long as their profits continue to flow.

For 30 years since the USSR collapsed, the ruling clans of the Kazakh bureaucracy have undertaken to make money from the country’s mineral resources by delivering them up to the appetites of big multinational corporations. They defend this parasitic profiteering and the interests of the giants of capitalism—if necessary, with help from Putin. In Kazakhstan, Putin has found a way to show that Russia remains an international power. In this way he acts out the historical role of “Great Russia” that his propaganda never ceases to evoke. Stalin played the same role at the end of World War II in preserving the world order by crushing any chance of workers’ revolution in Central and Eastern Europe.

But even if it is blessed by the world bourgeoisie, nothing says Russian intervention will suffice to destroy the protest movement. The Kazakh regime already carried out a bloodbath against oil and gas strikers a decade ago and imposed heavy sentences against workers and trade unionists who defied them. This happened in Janaozen, the same city which launched this recent fight against price hikes and the regime. In recent months, oil, gas and transport workers have refused to be bound by laws against strikes, and have won wage increases and improvements in their working conditions.