Jan 6, 2022
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Explosion in Kazakhstan: Riot of workers, unemployed youth, poor suburbs

Photo: protesters against the rise in prices for liquefied gas in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Photo: protesters against the rise in prices for liquefied gas in Almaty, Kazakhstan. (Photo: AP Photo / Vladimir Tretyakov / TASS)

In Kazakhstan, residents of large cities took to the streets en masse. Initially, the anger was caused by the rise in fuel prices. Since January 1, the price for a liter of liquefied gas has increased to 120 tenge ($ 0.27). The protesters demanded that the price be reduced to 50-60 tenge ($ 0.11-0.13). In response, the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev instructed the government to urgently consider the situation in the protesting regions. Later, there were reports that the government agreed to reduce the cost of gas. But it was too late.

The rallies grew into an uprising. Protesters attacked government buildings. Clashes began. Police cars blazed in the streets. The events are partly reminiscent of similar processes in Kyrgyzstan. The rebels – crowds of thousands of residents of large cities – are storming administrative buildings, that is, the protesters are not defending themselves, but advancing, the initiative is on their side. But the battles are going on with varying degrees of success. There were scenes of fraternization of crowds of insurgents with the military and scenes of the flight of the military when the crowd approached (Almaty).

It seems that the army, which is largely composed of ordinary conscripts, has no desire to clash with the protesters. Also, there was a video of the seizure of weapons from the police. In Almaty, crowds stubbornly storm the buildings of the local administration, sometimes using weapons. However, the security forces who remain loyal to the government also use weapons. According to some reports, individual buildings have changed hands several times.

Protests and uprisings spread throughout the country, so the regime was unable to concentrate all the forces loyal to it in the capital. And also because Kazakhstan is huge.

Another interesting fact is that the protests are attended by the industrial working class, including Zhanaozen, where in the past workers were shot by the regime during a strike. In general, some working guys constantly flicker on the video, and there is practically no office plankton and well-dressed citizens. All insurgents look like ordinary urban and rural workers or the unemployed poor. Entire industrial groups joined the protests. Metallurgical plants in Balkhash went on strike. The workers of Mangistaumunaigaz, one of the largest oil and gas companies in Kazakhstan in the Mangistau region, also staged a strike.

Some representatives of small business may also participate in the speeches. But the top of the business in Kazakhstan is somehow connected with the state and the ruling clans of officials.

But what are, nevertheless, the views, ideas of the participants in the uprising? It is curious that opposition groups are not present at rallies and marches, there are no flags, slogans or banners.

The residents of Kazakhstan themselves say that discontent has been ripening for a very long time. The country possesses enormous natural resources, primarily oil and gas reserves, but the majority live in poverty, there is almost no middle class. The bulk of the population is poorly paid wage workers in the service and industrial sectors. The pandemic also played a role, in 2020 GDP fell by 2.6%. True, in 2021 there was a recovery growth (within 3.5%). The relative poverty of the population against the background of the wealth of the country and its elite have long been irritating. The rise in fuel prices was only the last straw.

The growing irritation due to the consequences of the pandemic and not very successful attempts to cope with it also affected. Discontent is itself Nursultan Nazarbaev, who is considered by many to be the real ruler of the country.

Therefore, when the government yielded to demands to lower prices, it was no longer able to bring down the intensity of the confrontation. Or maybe the fact that the authorities “caved in” to the protesters showed them that more can be achieved, that the authorities are afraid that they are weak. At the rallies, the slogan directed personally against Nazarbayev began to spread – Shal, ket! (Go away old man!). At the same time, social demands prevail among the rebels.

On behalf of a certain People’s Committee, the requirements are distributed in the following order

1. Reducing food prices

2. Decrease in fuel prices.

3. Reducing the retirement age to 58/60 years

4. Complete resignation of the government

5. Release of all prisoners detained during the demonstrations.

6. Raising wages for the common people

The list also includes demands to increase pensions, abolish toll roads and increase child benefits. It is significant that the resignation of the government is only in fifth place. The first point indicates what most worries road users – food prices. And the sixth point speaks for itself, indicating the social and class composition of the rebels.

Political scientist Kamran Hasanov believes that the events in Belarus and Kazakhstan are a kind of Arab spring in the CIS, caused, first of all, by the pandemic and the inability of some governments to cope with the situation. Perhaps this is partly true.

However, unlike Belarus, where the movement proceeded under the control or under the conditions of the ideological hegemony of the liberal opposition (“bourgeois cultural hegemony,” as an Italian thinker would say, Antonio Gramsci), the rebels of Kazakhstan put forward primarily social demands, and they also abandoned the practice of non-violence and do not respect property. When liberals disappear from the map of protests, the dynamics change dramatically …

So, in Kazakhstan we see a spontaneous, grassroots social-class uprising – a revolt of workers, unemployed youth, poor suburbs. Today the lower strata of society do not have their own class-corporate consciousness and organization in the form of elected councils or people’s committees. That is, the masses are not trying to create their own bodies of self-government, taking control of the heart of the world – an industrial enterprise and communications (as was the case at the beginning of the 20th century in many countries). This is unlikely to happen in the near future. Although what is happening may give the lower strata of society a lot of experience, one can hardly expect the emergence of a system of factory and territorial workers’ councils, as during the Russian, German and Italian revolutions of 1917-1921 or during the Hungarian revolution of 1956.

The near future of Kazakhstan remains uncertain. If the movement is not suppressed, Kazakhstan may face a Kyrgyz scenario. This means that the masses will temporarily leave the streets after the victory. This also means the coming to power one after another of weak governments, little capable of anything, but from time to time yielding to popular demands. However, it is too early to talk about it.

Meanwhile, in recent hours, information has been circulating about the seizure of a number of administrative buildings by the rebels, as well as the Almaty airport.

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