Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where is the Labour Movement at in the ex-USSR?

We do not agree with the SO's position on everything but this article from Socialist Organizer has some very useful information in it.

By Dominique Ferré

[Note: Following is the report presented to the Marxist Study Circle in Paris, France, in December 2013 by Dominique Ferré, The Study Circle was organised by the Seine-St. Denis branch of the Internationalist Communist Current (CCI), French section of the Fourth International.]

The Labour Conference in Kiev (the Ukraine) November 2nd and 3rd, 2013

Comrade Jean-Jacques Maris and I attended an international conference in Kiev, organised by five trade union confederations from the countries that were born of the breaking up of the Soviet Union: the Labour Confederation of Russia, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of the Ukraine, the Belarus Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, the Trade Union Congress of Georgia and the Free Trade Unions Confederation of Kazakhstan, as well as militants from the Republic of Moldova (a country which, along with Georgia, has just signed an agreement of association with the EU).

Between 200 and 250 labour militants of all tendencies attended, from six countries. Amongst them was a militant whose name you have already heard, or read: Valentine Urusov. This comrade, a miner in Siberia in the world’s second largest diamond-mining company – ALROSA – had, in 2008, created a 1000-member strong trade union in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) that was preparing to strike for wage increases. He paid a heavy price for that, victim of a set up that was co-organised by the management of the ALROSA and the local authorities, sentenced after a trumped-up trial to six years in prison. He served four years in Siberia before being freed last March, after an international campaign that we, among many others, participated in.

This conference was marked by two days of discussion on questions that were extremely varied, on issues that are of great concern for trade union and political militants in these countries. It was a very free discussion during which very diverse positions and viewpoints were expressed.

Reflections on the labour movement in ex-USSR

 Before going on to several aspects of the discussion, here are a few reflections on the labour movement in these Republics that came into being out of the breaking up of the Soviet Union, twenty years after its destruction by the bureaucracy.
The labour movement, at this stage, has essentially been reduced to a trade union movement – because no traditional party or parties historically representing the working class exist in these countries. Let us make no mistake; the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (the CPRF)[1], for example, is more a piece of the former State bureaucratic apparatus than a genuine political party, same as United Russia, Putin’s party. And it is a relatively young labour movement, because it was re-constructed after a very long interruption due to Stalinism, lasting nearly sixty-five years. In order to rule, the parasitic layer of the bureaucracy that was created in the framework of the isolation of the Russian revolution after the taking of power in October 1917, a bureaucratic layer which, as Trotsky said, has become the « conveyor belt » of global imperialism within the workers’ State, had to physically destroy the whole of the existing labour organisations, beginning with the Bolshevik Party.

This sixty-five-year-long Stalinist interruption, which ended in 1991 when the bureaucracy was thoroughly rejected, destroying the USSR, was followed by twenty years of politics of privatisation-looting, creating a situation that has been extremely difficult for the working class, firstly from an objective point of view (life expectancy in Russia, for example, abruptly fell by nearly ten years at the beginning of the 1990s). To give only one example, the two million strong Labour Confederation of Russia was just recently created, a product of the merger of some of the trade union centres and independent trade union organisations, at a congress that took place in 2010.

Thus it is a labour movement that is rather recent. At the same time, it has been attempting to recover some of the labour movement traditions from the Russian Empire and the three Russian revolutions of 1905, of February and October 1917. For example, I was struck – in a country where the October revolution of 1917 and socialism were betrayed, for decades, in the name of a so-called « socialism in one single country » – by the fact that one of the organisers declared, right at the introduction to the conference « while this conference, of course, is being held at the initiative of militants from the ex-USSR, it is also an international conference because we are all conscious here of the fact that the problems of the workers will not be able to be solved in one single country. »

Throughout this is the will to end this long interruption, to be done with the « accident of history » that is Stalinism which, in a certain way, cut the Soviet working class off from the rest of the global labour movement and the global working class.

Independent Trade Unions vs. the Legacy of the Official Trade Unions

Finally I would like to specify that, when we talk of « independent trade unions » in the ex-USSR, it is as opposed to the structures inherited from the former official trade unions of the Stalinist era, which continue to exist. In Russia, for example, besides the Labour Confederation there is another confederation, this one also affiliated with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and poorly named, as it is called the Federation of Independent Russian Trade Unions (the FNPR), with 27 million members, heir to the former official trade unions.

And, like the official former trade unions, these are trade unions that, in each factory, in each industrial zone, organise the workers, the engineers and also the company management, so that it is the trade union in which the worker, the engineer, the manager and the boss all find themselves together. If the FNPR has 27 million members, it is because it inherited the old system by which the company’s bookkeeper directly deducts trade union dues from the workers’ wages – and in order to no longer belong to the official union, a significant number of workers need to undertake the process of requesting to no longer belong.

One last comment: comrade Jean-Jacques Marie was not only invited to this conference but he was also invited by the organisers to speak at the plenary session[2]. This of course is in relation not only to the continuity of the 4th International’s intervention against the parasitic bureaucracy in the USSR, but also to all the continuity of our intervention in ex-USSR over the past twenty-two years, with its highs and its lows. Among the organisers of this conference there were people who had already crossed our path, for example the comrades who attended the world conference of Barcelona in January 1991, which saw the creation of the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC).

Moreover, as you may know, we have been publishing – along with militant workers of the ex-USSR – an open Russian language forum called Rabochie Izvestiya (which can be translated as « Workers’ News »), open to the debates of militant workers on the issues of the international class struggle as well as the issues of the labour movement in the ex-USSR. Several young comrades who are members of the editorial board attended the 4th International’s last world congress. There were people attending the Kiev conference who know this open forum publication, and others who didn’t, and who had the opportunity to learn about it.

Belarus:  « Europe’s last dictatorship »?

What was at the centre of the discussions during this discussion?  The class struggle, as we are used to repeating, paraphrasing Marx, is national in its form and international in its content. So this will not surprise you, but the major issue, overlapping all the others at the heart of this conference was an international question, a question that is being posed in France, in Europe and on all the continents: the question of the independence of the labour movement, the question of the political independence of the working class and of its organisations. I will give a first example; there was a Belarus delegation at the conference. Belarus is a country that was born of the breaking up of the Soviet Union, situated between the Ukraine, Poland and Russia. It is a country that we hear little of in France, and the rare times where it appears in the press it is usually in the catchphrase « Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship ».

Since it is a « dictatorship » the country is the object of many international sanctions – which is not surprising – as is Iran, Cuba, etc., and of a veritable embargo by the US administration and the EU.
Question: Why do the media say it is « the last dictatorship of Europe »? Is it because its president, Alexander Lukashenko, former kolkhoz director, is a product of the same totalitarian, parasitic bureaucratic stratum? Is it because, in Belarus, the Lukashenko regime takes its support from the police apparatus that originated in the KGB?
No, that is not why – because, on the one hand, the current leaders are indeed products of the bureaucracy, but this is true of practically all of the countries that were born out of break-up of the Soviet Union. As for being an ex-kolkhoz director, the kolkhoz were the lower layers of the bureaucracy – compared to Putin, a former KGB colonel in Russia, to Yanukovitch, former industrial zone director in the Ukraine, and not to mention Kazakhstan, which is led by Nursultan Nazabayev, a former general secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and former member of the political bureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union before 1991. As for the fact that the Belorussian regime takes its support from the police apparatus inherited from the bureaucracy, it must be admitted that this is the case everywhere – in Russia, where the KGB was re-baptised the FSB, in Kazakhstan where it is called the KNB, the same as in Belarus, where it is true that it hasn’t changed its name and is still called the KGB.

In Belarus, 80% of the economy is still State-owned!

So, to what does Belarus owe its title of « Europe’s last dictatorship »  – and its international sanctions? The only possible explanation is that, twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union and the generalised politics of privatisation-looting in all its territories, 80% of the economy is still State-owned in Belarus!

That is the only possible explanation because when you take all the other criteria into consideration: there is nothing else that differentiates Belarus from the other countries from the ex-USSR.
So, in Kiev, there was a Belarus delegation, heads from the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions. It is a confederation of real trade unions, set up in dozens of factories in Belarus, with tens of thousands of members, affiliated to the ITUC. In one of the conference sessions, we opened the question to the Belarusian militants attending. We said: « we are militants in an imperialist country that is led by a government that apparently is of the left, that has the pretension of giving lessons in democracy to the whole world, that has intervened in Mali, that threatens to intervene in Syria, etc. For our part, we refuse to grant our government the right to give lessons on democracy. Even more so, we refuse the right of the European Union – that prison house of peoples, imposing its austerity plans – to sanction others, to intervene in their domestic affairs. We would like to know what your position is vis-a-vis the European Union and the US administration’s sanctions against your country? »

It was very interesting, because two of the Belorussian militants took the floor and gave totally contradictory answers. The first was one of the heads of the trade union confederation, who said: « It is simple: we are for the sanctions, because we are for democracy. We think that Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime needs to be punished. Moreover, along with all the all the democratic parties of the opposition, we support the US and European sanctions, etc. »
« In Belarus, as the world over, the emancipation of the workers will be won by their own organised struggle and by that alone. »

Then another militant took the floor to say « I do not share that position. I do not agree with the Lukashenko regime. I fight in the independent trade unions, in the labour movement, but I do not agree with the position that has just been expressed. » This comrade has given an interview that will be appearing in the next issue of Rabochie Izvestiya, I will specifically quote what he said at the meeting: « I am opposed to the European Union’s sanctions against Belarus and likewise opposed to sanctions against the Ukraine. The real nature of the European Union must not be hidden from the militants of the left and the labour militants. It represents the economic interests of big capital seeking to extend its influence to other regions, in this case to Eastern Europe. The EU sanctions against the authoritarian Lukashenko regime have in no way enabled its relaxing its stranglehold. Besides, these sanctions have begun unilaterally to loosen and that is certainly not because the Belarusian power is becoming democratic. Quite the contrary, it is under the pressure of the sanctions that the Belarusian government has begun to implement all the economic demands of the IMF and the EBRD (the European Bank for reconstruction and Development). These measures, including the freezing of wages and of retirement pensions, the challenging of social programmes and the preparation for a massive privatisation of enterprises, have not improved the legal and social situation of the Belarusian workers but have led, on the contrary, to the imposition of constraints on them and to increased control, as much on the economic level as on the political one. That is why, in Belarus as the world over, the emancipation of the workers will be won by their own organised struggle and by that alone. And not, in any case, (will that emancipation be won) by the institutions of big capital – which the EU and the EBRD are, among others – who defend capitalist interests through propaganda and coercion ».

I believe that it is extremely important that this comrade has indicated interest in taking part in the European Workers Conference to be held on March 1st and 2nd in Paris, where I believe he will contribute significantly in the debates. And this brings us to the current events taking place in Ukraine.

The question of the Ukraine-EU partnership agreement

The demonstrations that began about ten days ago in the centre of Kiev did not appear out of nowhere. When we were in Kiev in the beginning of November, we were struck to learn, in the streets adorned by the Yanukovitch regime with thousands of European flags, as on the front pages of the newspapers, that in the run-up to the European Summit meeting in Vilnius (Lithuania) on November 28th and 29th, the central question in the Ukraine over the past months has been that of a partnership agreement with the European Union.

Day after day, the newspaper headlines reported on the pressure from the EU to sign, the pressure from Russia not to sign, the hesitations and the division in the Ukrainian government.
Finally – and unlike Moldavia and Georgia – the Ukrainian government and the Mafia-like layer that controls a part of the semi-privatised, semi-State economy that the Ukrainian government represents, after having hesitated a great deal, decided not to sign. That was the point of departure for the demonstrations in the centre of Kiev, called by a number of NGOs, by opposition parties and by trade unions.

Few people in the Ukraine have spoken of the immediate consequences that the signature of a Ukraine-EU partnership agreement would have. I say « would have » because Yanukovitch has not decided to never sign, but has simply postponed the decision to sign. Such an agreement, says the pro-European Union French newspaper Le Monde, would have immediately meant the implementation of the « unpopular reforms » dictated by the IMF: « the financial aid offered by Brussels (610 million euros) is a negligible amount. What didn’t help is that the money would have been given on the condition that Kiev agree to the IMF’s programme of reforms, in order to right the economy that is in dire straits. » Le Monde adds: « Any rapprochement (of the Ukraine with the EU) would entail its batch of ‘structural reforms’, of efforts at debt reduction and budgetary rigour. Angela Merkel had forewarned. »

« The colossal resources of the ‘independent’ media and – of course – the NGOs »

So the demonstrations suddenly appeared. Of course, it would be stupid to say, as some of the heads of Yanukovych’s party have, that these demonstrations amount to « manipulation by the US secret services ». Yet, just as at the time of the « Orange Revolution » nine years ago, a multitude of NGOs with enormous budgets have been giving out money all over the place, and are not strangers to the demonstrations. The comrade from Belarus who I quoted earlier explains in Rabochie Izvestiya: « The colossal resources of the ‘independent’ media have been set in motion for the promotion of the ‘European way’. And, of course, there are the NGOs. Concerning Belarus, the overwhelming majority of the NGOs – be they those linked to the opposition of the right or those who are loyal to the power in place, only exist thanks to their western sponsors. The civically active youth go through the circuit of seminars and ‘training’, aimed at bullying the orientation towards European values, spouting neo-liberal dogma and other postulates of contemporary capitalism. Of course all of this is mixed in with fairy tales about ‘civil society’ and other postulates of the ‘politically correct’. I imagine that on the whole, a rather similar situation can be seen in the Ukraine. »

All of this exists, but it is not enough to explain why tens and tens of thousands have come out into the streets. Of course, it is a heterogeneous crowd, which has siphoned off all kinds, including workers, youth, and students, all perfectly sincere and full of illusions. Without under-estimating the weight of the legitimate national aspirations in the Ukraine, a country that was for so long torn between the tsarist and Austro-Hungarian regimes and Poland, and where the national language and culture were oppressed – with the exception of a short period following the October Revolution – including the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Reactionary and pro-imperialist demonstrations

However, it must be recognised that the demonstrations have been structured, particularly by three « opposition » parties. The one that has the favour of the French media is the Oudar party, led by the former boxer Klitschko, not because he is a heavy-weight in the Ukraine (the heavy-weights are essentially the re-cycled former leaders of the « Orange Revolution ») but because, according to the French satirical newspaper « le Canard enchaîné », Laurent Fabius (a French « socialist » « heavy-weight himself – translator’s note) finds this boxer so exceptional that he wishes to invite him to France.

There is also the « Batkivshina » party, of the former leader of the « Orange Revolution » and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, currently under house arrest. And then there is a party that the French press nicely calls a « nationalist party ». It is such a nationalist party that it is not only for the partnership agreement with the EU but also for the Ukraine’s joining NATO. It is a « nationalism » of a very particular kind, since it is a party that openly claims to be heir to Stetsko and to Stepan Bandera. Stetsko and Bandera were Ukrainian politicians who, a week after the Nazi invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, drew up a Ukrainian « proclamation of independence ». It was a proclamation which asserted that the « independent » Ukraine was going to loyally collaborate, I quote, « with the great national-socialst Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, who is establishing a new order in Europe »! Do not be mistaken, the red and black flags that you see blooming in the Kiev demonstrations are the flags of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (the OUN) and of the Insurrectional Army of the Ukraine (the UPA) who, alongside the Nazis in 1941, helped liquidate Jews, partisans, Hungarians and Roma (gypsies) during the Nazi invasion against the USSR.

How does the labour movement position itself?

In itself, the fact that there are demonstrations of tens of thousands, that these are reactionary and pro-imperialist demonstrations[3], can happen anywhere in any country in the world. The question is, how does the labour movement position itself in the situation? Is it preserving its independence or is it, through its leadership, nothing but a fifth wheel of imperialism?

That is where we come back to the issues that were raised in the Kiev conference. Because it is necessary to recognise that, in those demonstrations, whole sectors of the labour movement were present. The trade union confederation – linked to Tymoshenko’s « Batkivshina » party – that attended the Kiev conference was present on Kiev’s Independence Square. It had brought in whole bus-loads full of members of the miners’ union. I read the interview that a miner who had come with his trade union from the town of Lutsk gave on Independence Square. He said, « …(in the Ukraine) – and it is inadmissible – each time the courts rule in favour of the workers against the bosses, the decisions are never applied because our courts are corrupt. Well, with Europe, they will be obliged to apply the courts’ decisions. » There is a mass of illusions amongst the workers, who are perfectly honest but who are being manipulated in all this. But the problem is not the workers, and their illusions are highly understandable. The problem is those who have led them into this trap, who have brought them in to demonstrate alongside the partisans of joining the European Union and NATO, alongside the heirs to Nazi collaborators. And this holds not only for the trade unions but also for a number of groups, people who claim to be on the « left », to be « socialists » and who were present at the Kiev conference and who were present on the « Euro-maïdan » (« Maïdan nezalejosti » means, literally Independence Square, in Kiev). At the same time, while there is – as some labour militants say – a wave of « Euro-hysteria » that is crossing the Ukraine, and that includes the labour movement, there are a number of militants who we met in Kiev who do not agree, and who are swimming « against the current », even within their own organisations.

The Ukrainian form of problems that are confronting us the world over

These are very fine threads but, for example, three days ago a comrade who we met in Kiev and who came out clearly against the partnership agreement with the EU from the labour movement point of view, sent us an e-mail with a 9-page paper in which he said: here are my thoughts on the situation in Ukraine. The paper finished as follows: « The hope that the European Union will force the oligarchic power in Ukraine to be come democratic, or that it would be preferable for there to be a governmental change to the benefit of the pro-European faction of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie is not only of disconcerting naïveté but it is also a way to disarm the workers, to divert them from the class struggle. » The comrade wrote this in total contradiction with the policy of his own organisation, which had called to demonstrate in the centre of Kiev.

All of this, finally, is but the Ukrainian form of the problems that are confronting us here in France. We have seen how the movement that was baptised « red caps » sought to lead the working class organisations into a dead-end, to shackle them to a new form of regional corporatism. We see how, day after day, within the labour movement, a merciless fight is being fought between those who have the pretension of chaining the labour organisations to the demands of the EU, to the « Euro-compatible » demands, and those who wish – whatever their political position – to preserve the independence of their organisations.

« We must break for good with Stalinism »

To conclude, I would like to say a word on a final aspect that was discussed during the Kiev conference. A comrade from Russia, a veteran of the independent labour movement, stated the following at the conference: « We must break with for good with Stalinism. (…) In order to consolidate the labour and trade union movement in Russia, we need to build unions on the basis of a principle: the administration of the enterprise cannot be member of the trade union. »

For us, that may seem ridiculously obvious (although, in another form, the problem is being posed in France). In the countries of the ex-USSR, the majority of what are called « trade unions » are unions that group together – as during the Stalinist era (but in a situation where State-owned property and the gains of October have been called into question since 1991) – and gather into one and the same organisation, the administration, the management of the enterprise, the workers, the engineers, etc. That is what we were referring to earlier with the FNPR and its 27 million « mandatory » members. This problem exists in all the Republics that were created out of the USSR. The main initiative that was taken at the Kiev conference was the launching of an international campaign for the freeing of a militant worker named Roza Tuletaeva, who is in prison in the Republic of Kazakhstan. This international campaign is backed by the five trade union confederations of the Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. An international committee was formed at the Kiev conference to lead this campaign, chaired by Valentin Urusov. Our comrade Jean-Jacques Marie was asked by Oleg Scheïn, one of the leaders of the Labour Confederation of Russia to take part in this committee.

Who is Roza Tuletaeva ?

Who is Roza Tuletaeva? She is a woman of about 50 years of age, born in another of the Republics of Central Asia, Kirghizstan. At first she was a teacher, then the principal of a kindergarten – one of the many October gains – and then, after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the generalised collapse that particularly hit the Republics of Central Asia, Roza Tuletaeva and her family emigrated to the neighbouring Republic of Kazakhstan. She had to recycle professionally, and she became a worker in the oil industry. At the beginning of 2012, she was sentenced to seven years in jail for having been one of the leaders of the 2011 oil-workers strike.

|What is Kazakhstan? It the biggest of the Republics of Central Asia, which extends from the Caspian Sea to the borders of Mongolia and China, of southern Siberia and of other republics of Central Asia. It is a Republic where, besides the Kazakh populations (whose origin is Turk-Mongolian), tens of ex-Soviet Union nationalities co-exist, as the arid steppes of Kazakhstan had been one of the main destinations for deportation. Stalin’s bureaucracy had deported, one after the other, not only thousands of political opponents and party members (those who had not simply been exterminated) from Russia and the Ukraine, but also entire peoples, who the bureaucracy had determined  « enemies of the people » – for example, Germans from the Volga, Chechens, Tatars, Koreans, etc. This has made of it a multi-national Republic, containing still today a strong proletariat, since there are a huge number of oil fields, quarries and mining factories, for the converting of any and all ore or other possible and imaginable minerals underground.

Nursultan Nazarbayev: from the politburo of the Soviet Union Communist Party to the multinational oil companies

Since 1991, « independent » and « democratic » Kazakhstan has been led by Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev was far from being unknown, since he was, up until 1991, the secretary general of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and, as such, member of the political bureau of the Soviet Union Communist Party.

When Leon Trotsky analysed the nature of bureaucracy – notably in The Revolution Betrayed (1936) – and also the means for the Soviet working class to overthrow it (the « political revolution »), he described the Stalinist bureaucracy as a form of « restoration ». He particularly explained that this bureaucracy, parasitizing the social gains of the revolution (the nationalised economy, etc.) would tend to transform that parasitic control into private property and thus « restore » the capitalism that the October Revolution had expropriated[4]. We can say without exaggeration that of all the Republics that have been born of the Soviet Union, the one in which the bureaucracy has gone the furthest on the way to restoration is indeed Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan, the big French, Dutch, American and British multinationals have taken over whole sections of the national economy, thanks to the privatisation of the near-totality of the oil and mineral wealth and all the rest.

Vladimir Putin himself, during the December 2011 presidential campaign in Russia, when presenting his economic programme in the newspaper Viédomosti, declared at the time – with admiration – that Kazakhstan was a business model: « this country fulfils all the criteria that are favourable to business, according to the criteria of the World Bank. It ranks 47, whilst Russia is only 120th. »

I would like to pause a moment to come back to what we were saying earlier about Belarus. You have got Belarus, where 80% of the economy is still State-owned, 22 years after the destruction of the USSR. It is, for the servants of capital, « Europe’s last dictatorship. » You have got Russia in the 120th place – far behind Kazakhstan – in the ranking on the criteria that is favourable to foreign investment. It is an « authoritarian regime ».  And finally, you have got Kazakhstan, a country where the bureaucracy has largely privatised, where the multinationals (as we will see in a moment) can count on the bullying methods of the State apparatus, to guarantee their profit and their looting. Not only is Kazakhstan a dictatorship, but when Nazarbayev came to Paris the last time, during Sarkozy’s presidency, the French State gave him a lavish welcome, in a luxury restaurant that all of Paris’s posh – the « left » as well as the right – came out for, such as lofty personalities like Hélène Carrère d’Encause. And, in the parliamentary-friendship group «France-Kazakhstan » headed by an MP from the UMP (party of the right – translator’s note), you find such sincere democrats as Patrick Menucci, for example, the SP candidate for mayor of Marseille, or Jean-Marie Le Guen, a SP MP from Paris, and other “progressives” of the same ilk. Besides, there is nothing surprising in all this, as president Nazarbayev has also, for the modest sum of several million euros, hired the consulting services of another « leftist », Britain’s ex-prime minister Tony Blair[5].

At KazmunaïGas, in May 2011, the workers oust the old trade union

Let us come back to Roza Tuletaeva. In 2010, there was a strike in the oil industry for a wage increase. The strike was not successful. This was particularly because, once the workers went on strike, they were quickly abandoned by the trade union representatives from the trade union I have already mentioned, from the official trade unions.

In 2011, something very significant happened in an oil enterprise in the West of Kazakhstan, KazmunaïGas. In a meeting of several hundreds of the workers of this enterprise, where Roza Tuletaeva works, threw out the old leadership of the trade union that had abandoned them the year before. They decided to elect their own representatives to the union leadership. The workers then sent their new leadership to the company’s management, to get the trade union rubber stamp back. Upon seeing these new trade union heads, elected by the workers, the management, trained in the Stalinist school which conceives the role of a trade union as police whose job it is to make sure the company manager’s discipline is respected, turned the workers’ delegation away, of course, refusing to provide them with the rubber stamp.

In protest, the workers decided to go on strike. At first, it was not for economic reasons, although it was related to their economic demands, but rather it was a political strike for the right to designate their own representatives to the head of the trade union. As this problem is widely the case throughout Kazakhstan – where independent trade unions are extremely weak – the strike spread. Roza Tuletaeva would later say, at her trial: « In the beginning, we didn’t think the strike would spread so fast. But we were full of determination, because we could not let the company go on exploiting us like that. »

The Kazakhstan oil workers’ strike in the pages of Rabochie Izvestiya

I have here the 2011 issues of Rabochie Izvestiya, the newspaper that we publish with the militants of all tendencies in ex-USSR. I would like to quote a few articles from the paper, month by month. On the front page of issue n° 19 (July-August, 2011), the headline reads: “Kazakhstan on strike”. The main article explains how, following the strike at KazmunaïGas, which had begun in May, 15,000 workers from companies around had also gone on strike, which thus continued in July. The front-page article explains: The main lesson to be drawn from this strike was in the clash between the former trade union officials and the workers’ movement towards independent trade unions, which was being expressed even within the ex-official trade unions, through the will of the workers to designate and to control their own representatives.

Issue n° 20, from September 2011, reports on the savage repression of the strike. But the strike went on. Number 21 (October) of Rabochie Izvestiya publishes an article by the Russian militant who is a supporter of the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples, reporting on the crimes committed against the striking workers. On August 2nd, a 28-year-old worker who was part of the new leadership elected to the trade union, was executed in “unexplained” conditions. Six days later, on August 8th, the new trade union leadership’s lawyer, Natalia Sokolova, was sentenced to six years in prison, under an article of the penal code that punishes “instigation to social hate”. The comrade would be freed several months later, after having been forced to confess, as during the period of Stalinist trials. On August 24th, a few kilometres from the small town of Janaozen, the body of an 18-year-old girl was found, daughter of a striking trade union later. Henchmen had executed her.

Issue n° 22 (November, 2011) announces a first retreat: “the strikers have forced the authorities to open negotiations”. But issue n° 23 (December, 2011) headlined: “Blood-bath at Janaozen”, stating that the wave of savage repression had culminated on December 16th, 2011, when the striking workers gathered by thousands on the main square in Janaozen, where the mayor wanted to organise a celebration because it way a national holiday. The workers let out their anger and the police opened fire. Officially there were 15 deaths and 85 people were treated at the town’s hospitals, so there were probably many more. The next day, President Nazarbayev proclaimed a state of emergency. The Internet stopped working. Telephone lines stopped working. The Ministry of the Interior’s special troops circled the town, which was cut off from the world for several days.

In the following weeks, the workers who were the leaders of the strike, including Roza Tuletaeva, were arrested. They would be tried during the following months and given heavy prison sentences. The campaign that was launched by the Kiev conference for the freeing of the militants imprisoned in Kazakhstan, including Roza Tuletaeva, is obviously a campaign of international solidarity, for the defence of trade union representatives who are victims of repression. It is worthy of all our support and we can be proud of having been asked, through comrade Jean-Jacques Marie, to take part in this international committee, alongside trade union confederations and many others. But behind this campaign there is a question that is deeply anchored in all the Republics of the ex-USSR, which is the workers’ right to have and control their own organisations. And you will admit that this is certainly not an issue that is only Russian, nor Kazakh, nor Ukrainian… but is an international issue.
Janaozen-Marikana: at the heart  of the issues in the fight for the 4th International
At the top of the news, the Ukraine has just been replaced by South Africa, due to Nelson Mandela’s death yesterday evening. As seen in the movement of the millions of Blacks from South Africa who have been demonstrating their emotion since yesterday, Nelson Mandela had been a historical leader of one of the organisations in the movement for national liberation. One may or may not agree with what he did at such or such a time in his life. But for millions of Blacks who were oppressed by Apartheid’s racist regime, he is the man who spent twenty-seven years of his life in the regime’s jails.

This does not alter the political judgement that is expressed particularly by our comrades of South Africa on what Mandela and the ANC did when, through the Kempton Park agreements in 1994, they preserved the economic domination of the white minority. Those agreements led to what happened at Marikana in August, 2012, when the police from a government made up of the ANC, the Communist Party and the COSATU trade union, opened fire on the Black workers who were striking for an increase in wages. I have allowed myself to make this aside on the current events in South Africa because, after all, on the one hand there is Janaozen, in December, 2011: the police of the ex-Stalinist bureaucracy, led by the former leader of the bureaucracy in Kazakhstan, converted to market economy in 1991, lackey to the big oil multinationals, opened fire on the workers who were striking for the right to have their own independent trade union. On the other hand, at the other end of the world, eight months later, in August, 2012 in Marikana, the police of a “democratic” government, made up of the Communist Party, the ANC and COSATU opened fire on the Black workers of Marikana, who, through their strike were challenging all the agreements that had been twenty years ago, under the auspices of Apartheid’s heirs, in collaboration with those who claim to speak in the name of Black workers.

Are we not, here, at the heart of the issue that the 4th International has set itself to resolve, and which is at the heart of its programme: to help our class resolve “the crisis of humanity, which is reduced to the crisis in the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat”?

[1] A « communist » party which based its campaign for the municipal elections in Moscow on the issue « How to rid Moscow of the illegal immigrants? »
[2] Which he did, both reporting on the experience of the French workers, confronted with the policies of the European Union and, at the same time, pointing to the responsibility of the political apparatus in France ((the SP and the CP) who have accepted to submit to the regime of private ownership of the means of production.
[3] Among the many European and North American institutions and personalities who have recently « disapproved » the Ukrainian government’s decision and who support the demonstrations, we note Brzezinski who, at 85, remains a respected « consultant » to the leading circles of US imperialism. Remember that in his 1997 book entitled « The Grand Chessboard », in which he came out for « an enlarging of NATO towards the east » (which was later done, along with the enlarging of the EU towards the east, in the following years) and for detaching the Ukraine – called a « strategic pivot » – from Russia which was doomed to become a « confederation » of banana republics, open to the looting of natural gas, oil and ores.
[4] That is moreover what happened in 1991, in a particular form: unable to transform itself into a capitalist class in a global market in decay, the bureaucracy transformed itself into as many mafia-like groups in the service of global imperialism, opening the doors of the new states wide to the looting of international capital.
[5] Thus The Guardian (June 30, 2013) reported, upon the occasion of a visit by Prime Minister Cameron to Kazakhstan, a visit set up by Blair: « David Cameron and Tony Blair have been asked by Kazakhstan, the ex-Soviet republic that is rich in oil but poor on human rights, the help improve the country’s image on the international stage ». The Kazakh foreign minister added: « Mr Blair has given us inestimable assistance».

No comments: