The Road will be Mastered by the Walking: an Interview with KYRGSOC

Many of us at LeftEast became aware of the leftist Kyrgyz organization KyrgSoc from its webpage, where you post original content as well as repost pieces by others. What is KyrgSoc?  What do you do? Who was it founded by and when?

The idea of creating KYRGSOC matured with us in 2018/2019. The name of the organization was invented by our comrade Isai. Another comrade (Red Wind) proposed the current symbol of the organization – a three-pointed star. After the collapse of the ШТАБ (the previous left-wing organization of Bishkek) and the increased activation of the feminist community of Bishkek, we realized that the left should not remain on the sidelines. This is how KYRGSOC was founded.

We are building KYRGSOC as a media platform. This means that we avoid two biases – dogmatism/ideological purism as well as the eclecticism of broad left/left-liberalism in which all the basic principles of the left disappear and only the name remains.

There is an expression attributed to Andropov, the General Secretary of CPSU (1982-84), “we do not know the society we live in”. In our case, “we do not know the society of post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan in which we live.” Who is our social base? What is the class structure of present-day Kyrgyzstan? How did the formation of capitalism take place in our country? In other words, our main goal is to create Marxist theoretical/analytical texts about the post-Soviet Kyrgyz Republic. Another important goal is to make a convincing historical leftist counter-narrative about Soviet and post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan. In short, a leftist politics of memory. 

We have (almost) Marxist academic studies of Kyrgyzstan to base our theoretical research on. Everything has to be done from scratch. It is difficult to be pioneers, “The road will be mastered by the walking.”

Most of your articles feature dialectical materialist analysis of Kyrgyzstan and the region that was formerly part of the USSR. What do you think is important for LeftEast readers to know about Kyrgyzstan today?

In Kyrgyzstan, a large majority of people do not perceive Soviet history as their own, as part of the history of Kyrgyzstan. The dominant propaganda claims that “socialism/communism is something archaic, traditional, anti-progressive, which set the development of the country further back.” One of the goals of KYRGSOC is to prove that Kyrgyz people entered modernity, and reached the peaks of progress and development through socialism. The restoration of capitalism made us peripheral, underdeveloped, marginalized. With the help of Socialism, citizens of Kyrgyzstan will again be able to become fully functioning participants of Modernity.

What do you think is important for us to know about Kyrgyzstan’s relationship with this broader region? In particular, how do you understand the country’s current relations with powerful neighbors like Russia and China and other imperial powers, like the US?

The war between Russia and Ukraine has changed many things in our region. Russia is losing its former dominant position in Kyrgyzstan. After major border conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the image of Russia has changed in the public consciousness. More and more people begin to perceive Russia not as a “big brother”/ally of sorts, but as one of the distant foreign states, a foreign country. The war in Ukraine has only accelerated this process of alienation from Russia. 

Most likely, China will take the place of “big brother.” The vacant niches in economy and security are now being taken over by China. Will this strengthen sinophobia in Kyrgyzstan? Definitely yes. This trend has been present before. The image of China had a negative character in the cinematography of Kyrgyzstan in the post-Soviet period. One can recall the scandalous movie Meken (Motherland) in 2020. Representatives of Chinese business played a negative role in the movie. The government then found the movie too nationalistic and banned its screenings in theaters.

Relations with the U.S. have been cold since the closure of the U.S. military base in 2014. Currently, the U.S. is currently trying in various ways, through diplomacy and pressure, to induce official Bishkek to comply with sanctions against Russia rather than help the latter bypass them. Biden’s recent meeting with all Central Asian presidents showed us that the U.S. no longer raises the issue of human rights violations in the Central Asian region. They have decided to pursue a more pragmatic policy towards our region in order to convince us to support sanctions, not to help Russia. In our opinion, Kyrgyzstan is too dependent on Russia to refuse to help it bypass sanctions.

Kyrgyzstan’s relations with its neighbors in the Central Asian region have been tense for all 32 years of the post-Soviet era. In the 1990s and 2000s we had bad relations with Uzbekistan under Karimov. Now with Tajikistan. For the same reasons: unresolved border issues as well as enclave problems. Climate change, climate warming has added a lot of tension to the water conflicts between countries: some need water for electricity (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan), others for irrigation of agriculture (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan). Downstream countries (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan) have always demanded more water from upstream ones (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan). In addition to us, Kazakhstan takes water from Russia and China. While it cannot push these two around, it is happy to threaten weak, dependent Kyrgyzstan.

What does the current domestic political landscape in Kyrgyzstan look like? What are the challenges and opportunities it offers to the left? What are the specific challenges KyrgSoc faces?

It is difficult for us to answer your question in greater detail. Right-wing ideologies are dominant. Pan-Turkist and Islamist media are emerging. Political parties in Kyrgyzstan do not have a clear ideological profile. Naked opportunism and populism prevail in the parties of the Kyrgyz Republic. The form is different, the content of the parties is the same – market fundamentalism. 

KYRGSOC has two main problems. The first one is that we remain stuck in the capital (Bishkek). We are struggling to expand our field of propaganda and penetrate into other regions of Kyrgyzstan. At the moment KYRGSOC is only a city-wide leftist organization, not a nationwide organization. From this problem comes a second one: the language barrier, in the broad sense of the word. We do not know better ways to translate our (Russian-language) text materials into Kyrgyz without distorting the meaning. Even if there were no “translation difficulties,” the problem of interaction with Kyrgyz-speaking audiences remains. How exactly do we have to conduct agitation and propaganda among them? We are working on this.

Which Marxist (or other) theorists does KyrgSoc consider particularly useful to study?

Due to the fact that Kyrgyzstan is a country of peripheral capitalism, we find the theorists of the Dependent Development Theory (“DDT” or Development theory in English) school – John Smith, Zach Cope, Rui Mauro Marini, Adrian Sotelo Valencia, and others – particularly useful for our study. Among political philosophers, we really like Boris Kapustin. His book Modernity as a Subject of Political Theory is a must-read for all leftists, especially for those in the post-Soviet leftist scene who live in the conditions of post-socialism.

What is the state of labor rights in Kyrgyzstan? Are there active struggles, and if so, in which sectors of the economy? What is the role of labor migration for the overall labor regime?

The labor movement as an organized political power does not exist in Kyrgyzstan nowadays. The negotiating position of the labor movement is weak. As for the Labor Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, it is planned to be reformed soon, i.e. to get rid of the “outdated Soviet legacy.” In other words, the LC is going to be reformed in favor of employers.

The role of labor migration is huge. Without it, the unemployment rate in the country would be much higher. Labor migration saves our ruling class from social blow-up in the republic. Instead of creating jobs in the domestic labor market, the lumpen bourgeoisie of Kyrgyzstan is exporting, selling the cheap labor of the country’s labor force. Before the war in Ukraine, they sold the cheap labor of Kyrgyzstan’s working class mainly to Russia. After the Russian-Ukrainian war, this became difficult to do. Due to this, the Kyrgyz authorities began to diversify this “export,” looking for new markets. Kyrgyzstan’s agreements with Britain, Poland, South Korea can be cited as examples. Kyrgyz laborers work mostly in manual, labor-intensive jobs, for example, agriculture in England.

Various ideological entrepreneurs like to romanticize the nomadic past of the Kyrgyz. “Nomads, nomadic existence” and other empty high-minded words. The only real “nomad who knows no borders” is Myrza (Master) Capital, and the Kyrgyz are just one of its many slaves.

How can leftists in the greater post-socialist space and further abroad support your work?

You can back us in three different ways: financially, through actions, and with words. If you’re pressed for time but have some extra funds, consider making a donation. If financial support isn’t an option, you can assist us through actions such as digitizing Marxist classics in Kyrgyz or books about Central Asia, editing video and audio content, or translating our texts into English and Kyrgyz. And if you lack both the means and the opportunity to help directly, you can still support us by spreading the word–share our work with others, talk about our initiatives, and distribute our materials online.

You can find KyrgSoc on their website, on Facebook, on VK, on Youtube, or on Telegram. If you would like to support them you can do so here.