On Wednesday I went to see Alexander Kholodkov, secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan. Kholodkov is a professor and he’s the president of the Kazakhstan Association of Scientists of Social Orientation. He also edits a scientific and political discussion journal.
The CPPK is broadly a ‘pro-government’ party, it has representatives in the Majilis, and the party counts 91,000 members. Nauan accompanied me and he was on hand to help translate, thanks Nauan! Here are my notes from the interview.
What’s your party’s position on the Soviet Union, and the putsch of August 1991?
Well first of all it’s not a coup, because the people who participated in it were the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense. A coup is… I mean they had the power, there was no need for them to make a coup. A coup is where people want to seize power illegitimately, where they don’t have it already.
And the problem was that they were too weak, they were not decisive. It’s another question, but it wasn’t a coup, it was just an attempt to keep their power.
Talking about our Soviet past, your prime minister, Winston Churchill, once said that Stalin took the country with a shovel and left it with rockets. And, as you know Churchill was one of the prime enemies of the Soviet Union who always wanted to destroy it. In 1917 the Russian Empire, it’s economy was consisted of just half a percent of the world’s economy. And, in 1990 at the time of the collapse it was about 20 percent, of the world’s economy, belonged to the Soviet Union. For the first two years after the establishing of Soviet power, the Soviet Union took the first place in Europe and the second in the world in terms of industrial production. Are there any examples where any other country did the same? That is the meaning of Soviet power, when the people themselves, rule the country.
If you know a little about the world economy, can you see the consequences of this so-called ‘August coup’, because where now is Russia in the world economy? Where is Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan? Any former Soviet republic… except Belarussia. That is the result of ten years of Soviet power and twenty years of your so-called liberal system.
You mentioned Belarus, what’s your relationship with the Communist Party of Belarus?
There are a few communist parties in Belarus. Some of them call for these “colour-revolutions”. There’s the pro-government one, you want to know about them, yes?
The agriculture of Belorussia provides not only the European countries but also Russia with food, and for Belorussia itself. The industry of Belorussia has trade relations with 140 countries around the world. It’s a good thing to support their government.
You consider Lukashenka as a dictator in Europe. You even take the measures, to prohibit people from travelling from Belorussia and other things. But in the history of your own country, talking about Churchill, when the war began more than 80% of the population supported him, now after the war more than 80% were against him, but you don’t think he’s a dictator, why?
Why did I give the example of Churchill? Because this person is a most respected man, not only in the history of your country but also around the world as a great leader of Britain. The thing with Luashenka is that the people of Belorussia really support him… well… not all the people actually, but most people, the working people. Industrial people and peasants. Because when we talk about the people we consider ALL the people, including criminals, prostitutes, robbers. Because Luashenka fights with everyone who wants to take things away from the working class. Your countries, I mean the western countries. They send lots of money to the opposition to make explode the situation there. It’s not a secret anymore. I know this.
What is your relationship with the Communist Party of China?
China is a big influence on Central Asia. He elaborated a little bit saying they have conferences and dialogue, but nothing beyond just ‘normal’. He was unwilling to give too much of an answer here so I moved on.
The Communist Party of Kazakhstan was banned late last year. What was your response to that?
In 1991 the current president of our country, Nurzultan Nazarbayev, dismissed the communist party. I was one of the members who didn’t want to obey the order to dismiss the party, I was a secretary. People like me got together, who didn’t want to dismiss the party, we wanted to re-establish the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. In 1991 we had a gathering and re-established the party. We expulsed all the members who supported Nazarbayev. The government didn’t want to register us as a party, they put us on trial and accused us of different things. It lasted for two years but then they had to register us officially.
In this new communist party I was a member of the central control committee. There are two bodies, the central committee and the central control committee.
What about the banning of today’s party?
Just wait, I will explain! The first time we elected Serikbolsyn Abdildin as the president of the party. This man gradually implemented authoritarian control over the party. In 2004 they violently acted against the rules of the party, they elected to the central committee a person who didn’t have party membership. Out of 14, 8 regional committee secretaries stepped up against this event. I was ill at the time, the secretary of the Almaty city committee phoned me. Four people who were against the decision left the plenum in protest, and I was upset because these people should have stayed and argued against this event. There were just two people left: Abdildin, and one other person. What was left of this body decided to co-operate with petit-bourgeois parties. They joined an alliance with these other parties.
I created a new committee and formed the new party in 2004, which is where we are at the moment. We know that we don’t have the proper name, that was taken by the old party. Currently we have 91,000 members. During our plenums we always said it was incorrect to have two parties which share the communist idea. I went to the plenum of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and proposed to organise a civil union consisting of the two parties called ‘for the rule of the people’. We signed a treaty, then Abdildin said we should dismiss our party and become members of his party. You have to understand that it’s impossible, we established this new party and we’ll never accept this idea to dismiss it.
The other communist party they changed their mind and created the same civil union, not with us, but with a party called ‘Alga’, which had financial support from Britain. The leader of ‘Alga’ is right now in Britain.
Are they a member of the Coordinating Committee of Communist Parties in Britain?
I don’t know. I do know you have a lot of dissidents and activists in Britain, and Russia and Kazakhstan want to take them back because they are criminals.
Then he came out and accused the Communist Party of Britain of being Eurocommunist, and I said that was true in the past, but not any more… he said I’m just a social democrat and not a proper socialist. Okay, he’s not correct but it doesn’t matter, let’s move on.
What are your relations with the trade unions in Kazakhstan?
The proper trade unions are all affiliated to the government and we have big problems with the independent unions. If you call yourself an ‘independent newspaper’ or an ‘independent party’ or an ‘independent trade union’ what do you mean? When we see these independent things we have to ask them from what they are independent. Actually the people who pay the money to these trade unions direct their behaviour, so there is no normal work of trade unions here.
This was a pretty illuminating answer, he is critical of the independent unions and implicitly supports the government-affiliated ones. He hinted that the independent trade unions were influenced by opposition interests, but he doesn’t say so directly.
To create the workers movement we need to create the industrial facilities again. Because the labour movement requires things to work, but we don’t have them now because after the collapse of the Soviet Union all the factories, plants, they are broken. Trade unions here don’t work properly, if we take industry again the trade unions usually protect the rights of working people, we have an industry which is mostly resource exploiting. We have a lot of foreign companies here, what the foreign companies do is they pay much more money to the international workers than to the Kazakhstani local workers. Trade unions don’t solve this problem which is a shame because it causes lots of other social problems. It’s why there was the conflict in West Kazakhstan (the Zhanozhen incident).
For example a foreigner recieves two times more money than a local person doing the same job. How can the relationship between people be normal if we do the same job but we are treated not equally. This will not lead to something good.
I was going to ask about Zhanozhen, but he got to it first. I recently found out that in response to the incident, apart from taking incredibly repressive measures towards the miners, the government of Kazakhstan also fired a few bosses and managers responsible for the mine. It’s also worth mentioning that the Zhanozhen uprising (can I call it an uprising, a revolt?) wasn’t completely spontaneous, it was a result of some independent trade union activity. One of my professors is writing a paper on it at the moment.
I’ve noticed the people from the Komsomol walking around the city, how many of them are there?
Yes, there’s a division in Almaty, you saw them. We don’t register their membership so we don’t know how many members we have. Roughly there are a few thousand, and they are mostly concentrated in the cities, which is why you see them in Almaty. Our party is one third young, one third middle-aged and one third senior, we have a good age mix. After the parliamentary election there was a new flow of young members joining the party.
Do you support Nazarbayev’s initiatives towards Eurasian integration?
He starts by talking about how the Eurasian concept isn’t just Nazarbayev’s idea, then he says he thinks the Eurasian concept is relevant because even the Russian leaders support it. Then he showed us a pamphlet from Nazarbayev called ‘Twenty Steps to Arrive at a Society of Common Labour’. The idea of this pamphlet was considered in the discussion journal he gave us.
From Marx, this idea of the society where everybody works can be created not in a communist, not in a socialist society, but in a humanitarian society. How can we not use this idea, because we are communists! This idea can be used in a humanistic framework, or a social-democratic framework. If we’re real communists why don’t we use this idea?
Seems like he’s providing a cover for the ideology of Nur Otan to show it can have a socialist orientation.
What are the benefits of having representation in the Majilis?
In the January elections, the CPPK won 7 deputies in the Kazakh parliament. Part of what I’m also asking here is, what are the benefits of being an ‘official’ state-sanctioned party.
At this point two other people walked into the room, a member of the city regional committee, and another person.
We are an opposition, we are an opposition from the very beginning. But it would be stupid not to use Nur Otan’s ideas, to ignore them. Tony Blair is an adviser to our president, we voted to dismiss him because he has a bad influence.
If you go to the KBTu there’s a massive portrait of Blair in the entrance. It’s quite imposing, and I’m curious how Blair seems to have promoted his third-way social democracy as an effective model for the post-soviet republics, Kazakhstan in particular.
Then he talks about the Union of Communist Parties of Europe, which asked the CPPK to join them. I’ve not heard of them before. He accused ‘some communist parties’ in Europe of being created by the government, which is ironic given how the CPPK operates with a seal of government approval.
I asked if he has anyone else I could speak to, perhaps in the Komsomol? He told me he knows my professor, and then he pointed to the other person in the room (a girl) and said she’s a Komsomol member. She spoke up and asked if I have any advice on how to organise amongst young people. I didn’t really know how to respond to that so just mumbled quietly about tuition fees, and she nodded with approval. That was the end of that conversation.
At the end Kholodkov explained that we shouldn’t spend so much time organising protests and should instead focus on get elected to parliament.
Being communist doesn’t always mean going on protests or occupying the university, you have to make your ideas go to the masses, and the way of doing this is to access parliament and other government institutions.
I can understand his situation, it’s a lot harder to protest or take strike action in Kazakhstan because the state and the corporations are a lot more openly repressive when they face opposition.