Article 14
August 18, 1988


The objective of self-determination: equality of all nations. This means ending exploitation. Lenin's dispute with Stalin over autonomy vs. union of equal republics. Kazakhstan and the virgin lands program. Effect of development on nationalities. Leader of Kazakh party removed, replaced by Russian. No shortage of Kazakh cadres. Was Kunayev's removal because of political differences? Rebellion in Alma-Ata. Kunayev's speech to 27th Party Congress. Perestroika vs. big development projects. Accusations of corruption, favoritism. Great Russian dominance in Politburo. Harmonizing economic centralism with democratic rights for nationalities.

Often in discussions on the right of nations to self-determination, there is no mention of the ultimate objective: to achieve the equality of all nations. Likewise with the furtherance of the revolutionary class struggle of the working class on a world scale; its objective is a world federation based on the equality of all nations. Autonomy alone is inadequate and is limited by historical conditions.

In one of his very last introductions to the Communist Manifesto (written February 1, 1893, for the Italian edition), Frederick Engels wrote that

. . . in any country the rule of the bourgeoisie is impossible without national independence. Therefore, the Revolution of 1848 had to bring in its train the unity and autonomy of the nations that had lacked them up to then. . . .

Without restoring autonomy and unity to each nation, it will be impossible to achieve the international union of the proletariat, or the peaceful and intelligent cooperation of these nations toward common aims.1

It will be noted that Engels discussed autonomy and independence in relation to the struggle of the bourgeoisie against feudalism; national self-determination was needed as a framework for capitalist development. But it is also indispensable for the development of the proletariat in its struggle against capitalist imperialism and for socialism.

Earlier, in the Communist Manifesto itself, written by Marx and Engels in 1848, the two young authors wrote:

In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility between one nation and another will come to an end.2

The issue of autonomy or equality of nations was the subject of a dispute between Lenin and Stalin in 1922.3 The term "autonomization" had come out of discussions on bringing all the Soviet republics into the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) on principles of autonomy. Stalin drew up a draft document on this concept and presented it to Lenin. Lenin sharply criticized this draft, and proposed a different solution. He proposed a union of all the Soviet republics on the basis of complete equality. In Lenin's view, autonomy was inadequate. Subsequently, the First Congress of the Soviets adopted a resolution on the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which incorporated Lenin's conception, i.e., equality of all the union republics. Today this is a provision of the Soviet constitution and there are 15 union republics, as well as autonomous regions and areas.

Kazakhstan is one of the 15 republics, officially called the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. It is the second largest republic in area in the USSR and the fourth largest in population. As of January 1, 1986, it had more than 16 million people. It is a vast stretch of land, very rich in minerals and other raw materials, including chromite ores, copper, lead, zinc, silver and tungsten. The Baikonur space launching station is located on its broad plains. To get an idea of the vastness and diversity of the land, Minnesotans pride themselves on being the state with 10,000 lakes, but Kazakhstan has 48,000 lakes! Kazakhstan today is the USSR's major granary. It harvests 40 times more grain than in 1922. In 1987, for instance, 27.4 million tons of grain were harvested in the republic.4 Nevertheless, Kazakhstan is generally thought of in the West as a poor, backward Asiatic republic and is only occasionally referred to when discussing the USSR.

Even Khrushchev in his memoirs5 is forgetful of the Kazakhs when he writes about his famous "virgin lands" campaign in Kazakhstan, its successes and difficulties.

You can imagine the difficulties that the Virgin Lands campaign posed for a family which had to be picked up and moved from the home where it had lived for generations. It was a great hardship for them, but we had to resettle many such families--Ukrainians, Belorussians and Russians--thousands of kilometers from the graves of their ancestors. Enormous material expenditures went into the resettlement campaign. Among other things, we had to give credit loans and financial aid to the youths who went out to build settlements in the Virgin Lands. We became convinced that we shouldn't set up collective farms out there; a collective farm is an artificial organization; that is, it's not a real community, and it would have been too expensive to resettle people on collective farms. Therefore we decided on the alternative of state farms. While I was in the leadership, our cheapest bread was grown by state farms on the Virgin Lands.6

From a Marxist point of view, a state farm is of course closer to the conception of building socialism than a collective farm, which in turn is superior to private farming.

What is striking about Khrushchev's description of the hardships of resettlement and the successes of converting Kazakh land into the principal granary of the USSR is that there is no mention of the indigenous Kazakh people.

The Medvedev brothers, Roy A. and Zhores, in their account of Khrushchev,7 give a critical evaluation of Khrushchev's agricultural policies, and dwell much on the virgin lands campaign. But here again, their concern is all with Khrushchev and his factional opponents, the success and failures of the agricultural campaign in Kazakhstan, but not so much as a word about the participation of the Kazakh people or what their leaders said, thought or did.

Of course, the virgin lands campaign concerned areas within the socialist state of Kazakhstan that had been mostly unpopulated. Still, one wonders how they could avoid mentioning the role played by the Kazakh people in the campaign, which must have vitally affected them. It is of course true that Kazakhstan, like most of the republics of the USSR, has innumerable nationalities. The native population in 1970 was composed of 4,234,000 Kazakhs. However, there were also substantial numbers of Russians (5,522,000) in the republic, primarily in the virgin lands of northern Kazakhstan and in the cities. There were also 842,000 Ukrainians, 288,000 Tatars, 260,000 Uzbeks, 188,000 Belorussians and 121,000 Uighurs, living in the valley of the upper Ili river. In addition there were 82,000 Koreans, primarily in the Alma-Ata and Kzil-Ord oblasts, and 70,000 Dungans from Middle Asia.8

From these figures alone, one can see the great complexity of the national question in Kazakhstan, and for that matter throughout the USSR, with its more than 100 nationalities.

The policy of the czarist government toward Kazakhstan was a colonialist one, aimed, as The Great Soviet Encyclopedia says, at "the russification of the Kazakh people and hindering the development of its national economy and culture."9 The migration policies of czarism speeded the disintegration of the communal lands (auls), which were seized by the czarist administration. Wherever the czarist autocracy was able to, it enlisted the support of the bais (feudal rulers) in plundering the peasant masses.

If the words cultural revolution are to be applied anywhere in their broadest definition, it's here in Kazakhstan. The Bolsheviks not only brought about a political transformation and a social revolution, in that they overthrew the old feudal-encrusted regime upon which czarist autocracy rested, but they completely wiped out illiteracy, which had affected over 90 percent of the population. The Revolution brought about a renaissance of native arts, music and theater, and also brought with it the great social and cultural achievements of the Soviet Union. It opened up an era of scientific and industrial development. It transformed the countryside. An area that had generally been nomadic and pastoral became a land with advanced industry and a very rich and diversified agriculture.

Before the Bolshevik Revolution, and early into the 20th century, Kazakhstan's economy served as a raw material base, not only for czarist Russia but also for the English, French and--yes--the U.S. It is true that most enterprises were small, but foreign capital dominated in mining and oil drilling, begun as early as 1911.

By 1971, there were almost 5 million people employed in the economy of the republic. More than a million worked in industry; more than half a million in construction; almost a million in agriculture; half a million in transportation and communication. Women made up 47 percent of the industrial and office workers. Socialist industrialization transformed the rural areas as well as the urban population centers and set Kazakhstan on the road to further socialist construction.

One must bear in mind the difference between the czarist policy of forced "russification" and the great increase in settlement of all parts of the Soviet Union after the Revolution. The latter basically grew out of the needs of socialist construction and the limitations imposed by frequent harvest failures in parts of the USSR due to drought and the general harshness of the weather.

Having said all this, and taking note of the hostile attitude of the imperialist countries and their ideologues, it is necessary to review the national question as it presents itself in the contemporary period. Some generalizations ought to be made, for instance, about the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan, even though it may have its unique features, as do all the republics and nationalities.

For instance, on December 17, 1986, both Pravda and Izvestia carried a Tass dispatch from Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan, saying that "A plenary session of the Kazakhstan Communist Party Central Committee was held today to consider an organizational question." There would be nothing unusual in a plenary session of the Central Committee taking up organizational questions. However, the next sentence went on to say: "The plenary session relieved D. A. Kunayev of his duties as First Secretary of the republic Communist Party Central Committee in connection with his retirement on pension."

Of course, the Central Committee has a legal and political right to relieve its first secretary, the leader of the Party, and elect a new one. This can hardly be called an organizational question, however. Nevertheless, this might pass muster, so to speak, were it not for the fact that this organizational change was made in connection with then retiring him on pension. Was there a dispute about the magnitude of the pension that was involved? Was the retirement voluntary or, after serving 14 years as the leader of the Kazakh Communist Party, was he ousted?

Of course, even if it was a political move disguised as organizational for diplomatic purposes, it is still entirely within the province of the Central Committee to deal with its cadres as it sees fit, in accordance with socialist norms and constitutional provisions.

It is the next paragraph which gives one pause before dismissing the whole matter, whether it be political or organizational, as of only secondary importance. "G. V. Kolbin, a member of the CPSU Central Committee, who had been working as First Secretary of the Ulyanovsk Province Party Committee, was elected First Secretary of the Kazakhstan Communist Party Central Committee." And further on, "G. P. Razumovsky, Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, took part in the work of the plenary session."

The official biography of Dinmukhamed Akhmedovich Kunayev,10 the dismissed first secretary, explains that he is a Kazakh born in Alma-Ata some 78 years ago. The son of an office worker, he became a machinist, later a chief engineer of a mine, then director of the Ridder Mine Administration, then vice chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Kazakh SSR, and later president of the Academy of Sciences of the Kazakh SSR. He became a candidate member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU in 1966 and later a full member.

Some of his published works deal with the theory and practice of open-pit exploitation of deposits. He investigated and introduced efficient methods of cutting ore at mines in Kazakhstan. He has also been awarded three Orders of Lenin, the Order of the Red Banner of Labor and various medals.

His replacement, G. V. Kolbin, is a Russian, not a Kazakh. He too has a distinguished career in the Soviet Communist Party. But those who follow the national question and are sensitive to organizational questions that involve personnel changes would have cause to be concerned about the implications of this change.

One could dismiss it all by asserting the obvious, that Russians are now the most numerous nationality in the Kazakh SSR. However, Kolbin is not a Russian who settled in the Kazakh SSR, not one of those youths who came years ago to join one of the state farms. He, like Kunayev, is a graduate of a polytechnical institute, but in Sverdlovsk, not in Kazakhstan. He is a cadre who has been sent in from the center, and that has considerable significance.

The Central Committee has the juridical right to appoint or elect whatever secretary it wants. It must be noted, however, that for the center to send in cadres today is not the same as in the early Bolshevik period, when the provinces and the less developed nationalities clamored for the center to send more cadres. In those early days, the cadres were sorely needed as educators and industrializers. Sixty years later, there are now hundreds of thousands of cadres in Kazakhstan. Whole new generations have been brought up and educated in the spirit of socialism. Industry is much more advanced, and it is a scientific-military technological center. (When U.S. Secretary of Defense Carlucci visited the USSR recently in connection with his inspection tour of Soviet military installations, he went to one in Kazakhstan.)

It thus becomes a question how this dismissal is read, first by the mass of the people in Kazakhstan, and by the Kazakh population in neighboring areas, as well as by the general public opinion in the USSR. There were about six million Kazakhs in the USSR as of 1986, of whom 5.7 million lived in the Kazakh SSR. Some lived in the Uzbek SSR, the Turkmen SSR, the Kirghiz SSR, the Tadzhik SSR and some areas of the Russian SFSR.

From the point of view of making the kind of judgment that the Kazakhstan Central Committee is said to have made in relieving Kunayev of his post, it is good to remember that there are also Kazakhs in the Peoples Republic of China, in the Mongolian Peoples Republic, and--not to be forgotten in the current situation--in Afghanistan. They all speak the Kazakh language. All of this, it seems to us, would give one pause before making such a rash decision. It's not a question of procedure but of the political propriety of exercising such authority.

Finally, the question arises as to whether all this was not done under pressure from the Gorbachev administration. As we noted earlier, G.P. Razumovsky, the secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, also took part in this session. So we have two very high-ranking members of the Party actively participating in the decisions of a union republic central committee, in deliberations which are generally the exclusive province of the central committee of the union republic. Later, another member of the Politburo, M.S. Solomentsev, chairman of the CPSU Central Committee's Control Commission, was also there. The Control Commission, we should remember, deals with disciplinary and personnel matters as well as security problems. Altogether, three top-ranking members of the Central Committee were involved in a very critical decision which again would normally be the province of the Kazakhstan Central Committee.

A careful examination of this development in the light of the national question should have created hesitation before making such a decision. To be justified, it would have to involve a genuine imperative having serious significance for the whole country. As it was, all that was told to the public was that it was an organizational question involving retirement and pension.

However, in December 1986 the readers of Pravda got a new view in a report from Alma-Ata.

Instigated by nationalistic elements, a group of young students took to the streets in Alma-Ata yesterday evening and this afternoon to voice disapproval of the plenary session of the Kazakhstan Communist Party Central Committee decision. Hooligan, parasitic, and other anti-social individuals took advantage of the situation to commit unlawful actions with respect to representatives of law and order as well as to set fire to a food store and private automobiles and to commit insulting actions against citizens of the city.11

Thus began a two-day rebellion which had to be put down by the use of force. How widespread it was, how deeply it agitated Alma-Ata and other cities, still remains to be made public. It is enough to say that the Soviet media covered a considerable part of it. The negative effect it had in the neighboring Asian countries can only be surmised, except to say that there was malicious joy in those areas like Pakistan which have been supplying counter-revolutionaries to the struggle in Afghanistan.

What was the urgency which impelled the Gorbachev administration to make this drastic personnel change? The imperialist press, to the extent they covered it, implied that Kunayev was a Brezhnev supporter, a so-called conservative who would not follow the new line of restructuring (perestroika) of the Gorbachev administration. Assuming that that's correct, it is scarcely a reason for such flagrant intervention in the political process of a union republic, independent and equal under the constitution of the USSR.

A speech made by Kunayev at the 27th Party Congress, as reported in Pravda and Izvestia, shows that he supported the general line of the congress. His speech, however, is not distinguished by overwhelming enthusiasm for the reforms. He did, moreover, make some pointed criticisms which could be interpreted as going to the essence of the orientation of the new governing administration.

The Gorbachev administration stands for restructuring the national economy by intensive methods of development and making active use of scientific and technical progress. In particular, it is opposed to new big projects that involve heavy capital investment. This has been said time and again by representatives of the Soviet government, especially economists like A.G. Aganbegyan, Nikolai Shmelyov and Leonid Abalkin. Kunayev, however, had some points of criticism which showed that as far as Kazakhstan goes, he was looking in another direction.

A mighty fuel and power base for the country is being created in Ekibastuz. From there, electric power will travel along unique power bridges to the Urals and western Siberia. However, one must say that the commissioning of new capacities in the coal industry and the creation of a number of power stations that are called upon to provide very cheap electric power, not only to Kazakhstan, continues to be a bottleneck.12

Kunayev then details a number of power projects which have not been completed, or have not even been started and sums up his observations:

These shortcomings are explained by the fact that the USSR Ministry of Power and Electrification is doing a poor job of strengthening capacities and expanding the base of its construction organizations in the republic, which has an extremely negative effect on the overall state of affairs.13 [Our emphasis--S.M.]

It's not the Kazakhstan Ministry of Electrification he's talking about, but that of the USSR as a whole.

Kazakhstan's Party organization has accepted as a highly important immediate task the creation on the basis of reserves of hydrocarbon raw materials of a high-capacity Caspian petroleum and gas complex. A special resolution on this question has been adopted by the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers.

However, it is perfectly incomprehensible to us why the Ministry of the Petroleum Industry, the Ministry of the Gas Industry and the Ministry for the Construction of Petroleum and Gas Industry Enterprises have set about the practical implementation of this resolution listlessly, in the old way, and without the proper sweep.

The importance and promising nature of the development of the riches of west Kazakhstan also places on the agenda the task of implementing the design for the construction of a Volga-Ural canal, which would breathe new life into a vast region of the country. The resolution of these questions should be taken under control by departments of our Party Central Committee as well.

The further development of the economy requires drastic improvement in Kazakhstan's water supply. In this connection, it seems to us that questions connected with saving the Aral Sea and with the ecology and economy of the regions adjacent to it, immediately or farther away, must not be postponed. They must be resolved as quickly and as effectively as possible, comrades, and not only for the sake of the present. . . .14 [Our emphases--S.M.]

The substance of this speech is that it goes a considerable way in promoting huge projects that generally are favored by those republics which suffer from inequality in development as against the more industrialized ones. This poses a considerable problem for the Gorbachev administration, which is intent on slowing down the development of such projects and concentrating the financial and technical resources of the country on utilizing high technology in selective areas, the ultimate aim being to modernize the entire industrial infrastructure of the USSR. For the present, however, projects which would require heavy capital investment, very likely the projects to which Kunayev referred in his speech, would be cut out or slowed down, thereby creating a considerable problem for the Kazakhstan area.

It should be noted that all of Gorbachev's predecessors--Andropov, Brezhnev, Khrushchev, and certainly Stalin--were promoters of industrial development and eagerly sought to employ high technology. In fact, it has been the basis for socialist construction in the USSR. It thus can be seen that in this area, there's a difference of approach which could vitally affect the situation in Kazakhstan, where it is projects like these which have developed the republic to its present level. Rather than bring this out into the open, the Gorbachev administration handled it in an administrative way and removed Kunayev and his collaborators. What is more, the struggle degenerated into one where the governing group began to make accusations of bribery, corruption and lack of internationalism. This attack came in the form of a resolution of the CPSU Central Committee entitled "On the Work of the Kazakh Republic Party Organization in the Internationalist and Patriotic Upbringing of the Working People." This resolution reads more like a criminal indictment than an evaluation of the work of the Kazakh Party organization. It is replete with accusations of corruption, nepotism, favoritism and toleration of reactionary Islam.

In admission to higher schools preferential conditions were created for Kazakh young people, favoritism flourished, existing regulations governing admissions were violated and evaluations were overstated. . . .

No vigorous work was done to expose the reactionary aspects of Islam and its attempts to preserve outmoded traditions and notions and to reinforce national aloofness. Works of literature and art frequently idealized the Kazakh people's past and made attempts to rehabilitate bourgeois nationalists. . . . Religious activity experienced invigoration and clergymen's influence on various aspects of the population's life increased. Serious mistakes were made which led to an increase in nationalistic manifestations which were not promptly checked and moreover were hushed up or termed ordinary hooliganism.15

Accusations also are made of "embezzlement, report padding, drunkenness, alcoholism and drug addiction." It's not our province to deal with these questions, and certainly not possible for us to determine the truth or falsity of any of these accusations. Yet even if all of them are true, and are not a deliberate red herring, they are irrelevant to the critical political issues that are being swept under the rug.

The first and most critical is the propriety of the Politburo, which is composed mostly of Great Russians at this time, making the leader of a formerly oppressed nationality the butt of their attack, dismissing him and replacing him with a Russian. (It should be added that the former Party leader of Azerbaijan, Geidar A. Aliyev, who was named to the Politburo during the Andropov administration, suffered the same fate as Kunayev and was removed in October of 1987.16 He and Kunayev had been the only representatives on the Politburo from the Asian republics.)

Talking internationalism will be of no avail. It will be interpreted as Great Russian chauvinism and not internationalism. It's talking down to a formerly oppressed nationality, and in any case these accusations are made by a dominant nationality against a smaller republic. It would be different if it were Kazakhs themselves who were urging other Kazakhs to assume responsibility for internationalism and to fight the reactionary essence of Islam. Whichever way one views it, it is impossible to avoid the issue of Great Russian chauvinism, of preaching down to and in fact dominating one of the smaller republics.

As we have seen, it was precisely this subject that Lenin devoted himself to in the last period of his life. And it was to this question that the Twelfth Congress of the Russian Party in 1923 addressed one of its main resolutions.

The Kazakhs could just as well have answered the accusations against Kunayev by recalling that the governing group has for a considerable period been promoting the art and literature of the czarist period, has been spending untold sums on renovating the Russian Orthodox churches and other pre-revolutionary cultural institutions, has spent lavishly on the promotion of the 1,000th anniversary of Christianity in Russia and has gone way overboard in approaching a variety of religious organizations abroad in an effort to demonstrate freedom of religion in the USSR.

Still, this leaves out a fundamental question involved in the dispute. The development of socialism requires economic centralism and socialist planning to avoid and eventually abolish the remnants of the chaotic capitalist market forces and replace them with a fully socialist planned economy. This can only be done on a centralized but democratic basis. The Gorbachev administration, however, is more and more moving in the direction of economic decentralization, even though it backs away from it now and then.

Over and over, the governing group stresses the urgency of greater autonomy for managers, for the directors of industry. It stresses individual initiative, greater leeway for private cooperatives and new private enterprises. All this loosens the economic controls. Over-centralization has of course been an evil for the planned economy, but decentralization is something else again.

This trend toward economic decentralization is in sharp contrast to the centralist trend in relation to the republics, as evidenced in the Kazakhstan case. It is now more than two years since the Gorbachev administration began denouncing "high-handedness" and "command tactics from above" as causing stagnation in the USSR. How does this contrast with the high-handedness in the Kazakhstan case? The arbitrary removal of the leader of a union republic is in defiance of the Leninist norms for governing the relations between the USSR and its constituent republics.

Granted that there is an inherent contradiction between the centralist needs of the economy and the centrifugal tendencies of the constituent republics, is it not the very essence of Leninist tactics and strategy to harmonize the two tendencies? Is it not precisely on the national question that one needs the greatest amount of flexibility, knowing when and how to loosen the reins and at the same time to do the utmost to strengthen centralization conforming to the needs of social and economic development?

The fact that the USSR, as a giant multinational state, has been able to exist and achieve such monumental tasks in the fields of industry, science and defense, without the multitude of rebellions which are a constant source of struggle in capitalist multinational states, like India and the U.S., is proof in itself that a combination of economic centralism and flexibility on the national question offers the best road for socialist development.


1. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party," Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), vol. 1, p. 107.

2. Ibid., p. 125.

3. For a discussion, see V.I. Lenin, Last Letters and Articles (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964).

4. The Europa Year Book 1988 (London: Europa Publications Ltd., 1988), Vol. II, p. 2740.

5. Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970-1974), 2 vols.

6. Khrushchev Remembers (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1970), p. 387.

7. Roy A. Medvedev and Zhores Medvedev, Khrushchev: The Years in Power (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976).

8. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, English edition (Moscow: ??????????, 1974), vol. ???, p. ????.

9. Ibid., p. ????

10. See The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, vol. ????, pp. ????

11. Pravda, December 19, 1986.

12. The Current Digest of the Soviet Press (Columbus, Ohio), Vol. 38, no. 9, April 2, 1986, p. 7.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., pp. 7-8.

15. Pravda, July 16, 1987.

16. The New York Times, October 22, 1987.

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