Kazakhstan. A young mother grieves, Tony Blair cashes in

April 20, 2016

Kazakhstan’s social media has been shaken this week by a photo that tells of a family tragedy triggered by the police massacre of striking oil workers at Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011.

The photo, posted on facebook by Zhadyra Kenzhebaeva, a young mother of two children, shows: Bazarbai Kenzhebaev, Zhadyra’s father, who died after police arrested and tortured him on the day of the Zhanaozen massacre; Zhadyra’s mother Tilektes Kanatbaev, who died in 2013 after mourning her husband for 17 months; and Zhadyra’s sister Asem Kenzhebaeva, who campaigned to bring Bazarbai’s torturers to justice, before her own death in 2014.

The Zhanaozen shootings – in which 16 people died and more than 60 were injured, according to official figures – brought to an end six months of strike action by thousands of workers in the western Kazakhstan oil field.

The police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in Zhanaozen’s main square – oil workers, whose demands for pay rises and democratic trade union representation had been met by mass sackings and violence by management thugs, and local people who turned out to support them.

Bazarbai Kenzhebaev was not an oil worker and was not demonstrating. He had travelled in to Zhanaozen from his home in the village of Kyzylsai, to visit

family photo

(Translated from Zhadyra’s facebook page:) “This is my dad Bazarbai Kenzhebaev, born 16.2.1961 and died 21.12.2011 as a result of brutal tortures, during the Zhanaozen events. In the middle, my mum Tilektes Kanatbaeva, born 28.9.1960. She died from grief a year and more after my father’s death, 11.5.2013. Next to her my sister Asem, born 2.2.1990. She spoke about the Zhanaozen events at times when other were scared to speak. She died 13.12.2014.”

Zhadyra, who had given birth to her daughter Aisuna that day in the maternity hospital.

As he walked to the hospital, Bazarbai, a 50-year-old tractor driver, got caught up in a frenzied police round-up of demonstrators, suspected demonstrators, and Read the rest of this entry »


“Left-wing” Trident? You’re having a laugh

April 8, 2016

The UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should drop his opposition to the Trident nuclear weapons programme, the journalist Paul Mason argued in a video broadcast this week.

What a monstrous example of “socialist” and “left wing” discourse being turned upside down and inside out.

“We” (which in the broadcast means “the British state”) should participate in the NATO strategy in Europe using conventional weapons, Mason argues. But Corbyn should drop his opposition to Trident, so he can get elected and focus on what “really matters for ordinary people ”, e.g. defending the National Health Service and stopping “shovelling public assets into private business” as they were during the banking crisis.

The kindest thing I can say is that maybe Mason imagines he is thinking pragmatically about how Labour, with a clearly left-wing leader for the first time since the 1920s, might win the next election.

It doesn’t even work on that level.

Mason’s argument assumes people will decide how to vote on the basis of Corbyn’s defence policy. Why? All sorts of things influence election results – family finances, Read the rest of this entry »


I have seen the techno-future, and I’m not so sure it works

April 4, 2016

“I have seen the future, and it works”, wrote the American journalist Lincoln Steffens after visiting Soviet Russia in 1919, at the height of the civil war. The Bolsheviks, he said, were “a revolutionary government with an evolutionary

A Chinese labour demonstration. "Networked humanity", or "the working-class movement"?

A Chinese labour demonstration. “Networked humanity”, or “the working-class movement”?

plan”.  Nearly a century later, one of the UK’s most thoughtful journalists, Paul Mason, argues that information technology can open the road to post-capitalism where the Russian revolution failed. He’s as enthusiastic about technology’s capacity for liberating humanity as Steffens was about the Bolsheviks.

Networked computers underpin “postcapitalism as a process emerging spontaneously”, and what matters now is networks against hierarchies, Mason writes in Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (Penguin/Allen Lane, 2015). He aims to visualise goods, labour and Read the rest of this entry »


From the Russian revolution to socialism on Mars

April 4, 2016

What can be learned from the history of the Soviet Union, and its failure to break free from capitalism, about a future transition to a post-capitalist society? In Paul Mason’s book Postcapitalism: a guide to our future, the places he starts looking

Red Star by Aleksandr Bogdanov: the cover of an early edition

Red Star by Aleksandr Bogdanov: the cover of an early edition

are (i) Aleksandr Bogdanov’s utopian novel Red Star (downloadable here), and (ii) the Trotskyist opposition’s critique of Stalinist planning. I think he presents answers that are too easy. The histories of Russian socialism and Stalinist tyranny give us lessons that are richer, but also more difficult to access, than he suggests. Here are some thoughts provoked by chapter 8 of Postcapitalism, “On Transitions”.

Aleksandr Bogdanov’s utopian vision – set out in his 1909 novel Red Star, about a Russian communist who is invited to Mars, where a human-like race of people live in a socialist society – was not at odds with the mainstream of communist thought in the way that Paul suggests.

By portraying the communist future, Bogdanov, a member of the Bolshevik party led by Lenin, was “defying the conventions of his time”, Mason writes. “All wings of socialism were opposed to discussing castles in the air.” Bogdanov believed Read the rest of this entry »