The revolutionary process, which has gripped one republic after another in the CIS, is gradually stealing upon the outposts of reaction. While before “strong” leaders were inclined to explain the problems of their unlucky colleagues in terms of their softness and intellectual complexes, we now see that Uzbek President Karimov finds himself in a crisis, and he is one of the most ruthless leaders in the CIS, who has driven the opposition into the underground and its leaders into prisons or emigration.
This revolutionary process of the recent period bears a multi-coloured shade in accordance with local conditions. Exactly which shade depends on which political forces are able to take the reins of a movement which has been summoned by the total political, economic and social rottenness of post-soviet regimes. Frightening poverty, arising from the collapse of the economy, corruption and the emergence of borders between former Soviet republics all pose point blank before the masses the choice – either to rise up or die of starvation.
As in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, the uprising did not begin in the capital but in the Fergana Valley, where the living standard is lowest. This valley was once an ancient oasis of civilisation, whose unique ecosystem was destroyed by cotton plantations which were forced upon the valley by the Soviet bureaucracy. Its division between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan tore asunder the living economy of the region. Bridges which connected the republics were blown up, and customs officers and border guards began to pile up fantastic fortunes at the expense of the people. In contrast to Tashkent with its multi-national working class (Russian, Uzbek, German) here, in the wreckage of industry, the majority of the population find themselves tied to miniscule allotments of exhausted earth in order to secure a paltry subsistence.
It is not surprising that the Islamic fundamentalists’ slogan of uniting the countries of Central Asia in a unified caliphate has got a certain echo. As in Iran, if the communists are not able to organise the social revolution against capitalism then the protest will inevitably find other channels, which will be more or less radical according to the degree of repression the state uses against them.
Now the peasants are carrying out their revolution. They are occupying and burning administrative buildings and customs houses, and rebuilding the bridges between the republics that were destroyed a few years ago. In spite of the fact that Uzbekistan, unlike its neighbours, has a well-armed and well-trained army, it is clear that not every soldier is prepared to shoot at demonstrators. Otherwise it would be difficult to believe that the first step of the masses, the seizure of a military base numbering more than 500 soldiers, could have been achieved so easily. Of course, apart from the army and the police Karimov no doubt has other aces up his sleeve, including Russian and Chinese military backing but these armies are by no means as stable as their top brass would like.
It is important to note that in Andijan we are witnessing quite a different tactic to the one we saw a year ago in Tashkent. We see a mass movement in which armed acts (the seizure of a prison and administrative buildings) were accompanied by mass meetings, rather than terrorism directed against the policemen hated for extorting bribes. According to certain sources, Karimov is using the information blockade he has set up around the Ferghana valley to conceal the mass character of the movement in phrases of terrorist activity. For now it may be possible for Karimov to get away with this in Andijan but this is not the case in Ilichevsk, which is situated on the border with Kyrgyzstan. Here the peasants have also taken the town under their control.
What is taking place now is the first wave of revolution, which will spread like wildfire to Tashkent, the key city in Central Asia. But this ferment will find itself in different conditions in the capital. Will the working class rally behind it? If it does will it tail-end the peasants and market-traders (and thereby Islamic groups) or will it lead other layers of society behind it? This is the decisive question. The outcome can only be decided by Uzbek communists. If they are able to head the movement in Tashkent the flame of proletarian revolution will take hold throughout Central Asia, if not then, sooner or later, either the movement will be defeated, or, still worse, a reactionary fundamentalist regime will take power.