The Kazakh public, led by Alikhan Bukeikhanov at the beginning of the 20th century, tried to re-establish the Kazakh statehood in 1917 as the Alash autonomy. The evolution of opinions held by Bukeikhanov and his comrades between the beginning of the century and 1917 led to the establishment of the Alash party in July 1917 and the subsequent national liberation struggle. Alash became a national democratic political organisation, mainly made up of representatives of national intelligentsia. Alash’s main idea was to achieve Kazakhstan’s economic and political independence and adopt capitalistic relations in the country. As a result, as early as 1917, the Kazakh cultural elite clearly realised the basic differences between their national interests and the interests and views of the Russian liberals.
Alash members fought for Kazakhstan’s independence using legitimate political methods. The main ideological difference between the Alash party and Bolsheviks concerned issues surrounding the class repressive nature of the state. Alash members had consistent views on issues of democratising the government system. In their platform they advocated the presidential form of government that was the most advanced at the time and a democratic nature of elections to ensure the participation of all people, regardless of their origin, in the election processes and spoke in favour of personal immunity, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.
After the Soviet government established itself throughout Kazakhstan, the leaders of the Alash party had to recognise it as the central government of all ethnic minorities of Russia. Nevertheless, despite this, they set a number of demands for the central Soviet government to ensure the independence of the Alash autonomy to a certain extent. Their chief demand was to unite all lands of the Kazakh people within the Alash (Kazakh) autonomy, or restore the territorial integrity that was destroyed during colonisation.
A significant role in the consolidation of Kazakh lands (governed by the Kazakh Revolutionary Committee (Kazrevcom) and other administrative-territorial units) and the future uniting of the Kazakh republic, was played at an expanded meeting of Kazrevcom on 27 October 1919. This meeting discussed the issue of convening an All-Kazakh Congress of Soviets to solve the problem of uniting the Kazakh people into one Soviet autonomous state that had great political significance. In his speech, Akhmet Baitursynov made a number of proposals: 1) the Soviet government should give the Kazakh people the right to self-government; 2) the residents of some regions which earlier opposed the Soviet government should be pardoned.
The expanded Kazrevcom meeting decided to convene an All-Kazakh Conference of Soviets to discuss the problem of uniting the Kazakh people. This conference was held in Aktobe on 3-11 January 1920 and gathered 250 delegates from Turgai, Ural, Akmola, Syrdarya, Semirechiye, Fergana and Trans-Caspian Oblasts and Alash party members. The conference’s resolution On the Union of Kazakh Oblasts stressed the need to unite all Kazakh oblasts into the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), which would join the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Based on this draft, the chairman of the Soviet of People’s Commissars (SPC) of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), Vladimir Lenin, and the chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets (ACEC), Mikhail Kalinin, signed a decree On the Establishment of the Kyrgyz (Kazakh) Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In accordance with the decree, the following oblasts and districts became part of the Kyrgyz (Kazakh) Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic: — Semipalatinsk Oblast with Pavlodar, Semipalatinsk, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Zaisan and Karakaraly Districts;
- Akmola Oblast with Atbasar, Akmola, Kokshetau and Pet-ropavlovsk Districts and parts of Omsk District;
- Turgai Oblast with Kostanai, Aktobe, Yrgyz and Turgai Districts;
- Ural Oblast with Ural, Ilbish, Temir and Guryev (presently Atyrau) Districts;
- Mangistau District of Trans-Caspian Oblast and Fourth and Fifth Volosts of Krasnovodsk District of Trans-Caspian Oblast, inhabited by members of the Adai tribe;
- the Bukei Horde, which was part of Astrakhan Province, and Sinomor Volost and areas of First and Second Coastal Districts of Astrakhan Province, inhabited by Kazakhs.
According to official statistics from 1920, the Kazakh ASSR covered an area of 1,871,239 sq km and its population was 5,046,000 people. Ethnic Kazakhs accounted for over 46% of the total population. The declaration of the Kazakh ASSR became a major event in ensuring the territorial integrity of Kazakh Soviet statehood. At the same time, southern regions, populated by Kazakhs, were still part of the Turkestan ASSR. Moreover, significant numbers of Kazakhs were dispersed in the territories of the Khorezm and Bukhara People’s Republics: Kazakhs accounted for 19.3% of the Turkestan ASSR, 1.5% of the Bukhara People’s Republic and 3.5% of the Khorezm People’s Republic.
The national-state demarcation of multiethnic Central Asia was conducted in 1924 and it focused on the Turkestan ASSR, the Khorezm and Bukhara People’s Republics. It resulted in the establishment of the Uzbek SSR and Turkmen SSR; the Tajik ASSR as part of the Uzbek SSR; the Kyrgyz ASSR as part of the RSFSR, while the Kazakh districts of former Semirechiye and Syrdarya Oblasts that were part of the Turkestan ASSR were transferred to the Kazakh ASSR. The territory of the Kazakh ASSR increased by 700,000 sq km, and its population by 1,468,000 people.
The reform of the republic’s administrative division had been completed by the beginning of 1925; after the capital city of the Kazakh ASSR was moved from Orenburg to Ak-Mechet (present-day Kyzylorda), and Orenburg and the districts around it had been transferred to the RSFSR. Thus, by 1925 almost all Kazakh lands had been united into one republic and the task of ensuring its territorial integrity had been completed. In 1936, the Kazakh ASSR was transformed into a Soviet republic and this was enshrined in the Soviet Constitution of 1936. Based on and in line with the Soviet Constitution, a new constitution was drafted for the Kazakh SSR. The tenth extraordinary All-Kazakh Congress of Soviets, held in late March 1937, adopted the Constitution of the Kazakh SSR, which consisted of 11 chapters.
In accordance with this constitution, the Kazakh SSR was declared a socialist state of workers and peasants. It also declared that the entire power belonged to workers represented by the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. The economic basis of the Kazakh SSR was the socialist economic system and the socialist form of ownership of production tools and means. Socialist property had two forms — state and collective-cooperative. The small private holdings of peasants and craftsmen were allowed if they were based on personal labour and excluded the exploitation of someone else’s labour. It was stated that the economic life of the Kazakh SSR was defined and directed by a state economic plan. The 1936 constitution also declared that the Kazakh SSR voluntarily united with other Soviet republics into the USSR — a union state and had the right to freely leave the USSR. The constitution also defined the republic’s administrative-territorial organisation and specified that the territory of the Kazakh SSR could not be changed without its consent. It also recognised single Soviet citizenship and citizenship of the Kazakh SSR. The spheres of powers of the Kazakh SSR and its supreme bodies of government system were clearly defined.
The supreme body of government of the Kazakh SSR was the Supreme Soviet which was recognised as the only legislative body. Deputies of the Supreme Soviet were elected by popular vote for four years. The Supreme Soviet elected the presidium of the Supreme Soviet consisting of a chairman, two deputy chairmen, secretary and 15 members. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was given the right to issue legislative decrees and was delegated other powers. Deputies of the Supreme Soviet enjoyed parliamentary immunity.
The constitution also defined the structure of the central bodies of government. The supreme executive body of government of the Kazakh SSR was the Soviet of People’s Commissars which was responsible for and accountable to the Supreme Soviet and its presidium. The Soviet of People’s Commissars set up people’s commissariats: union-republican and republican. The local bodies of government were the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies which were elected by popular vote for two years. Soviets elected executive committees which were executive bodies. The forms of the work of the Soviets, the frequency of their convocation, the structure of executive committees and spheres of their activities were also defined. The structure of local executive bodies was always changing, which entailed constitutional amendments.
At the end of 1936, the Kazakh SSR was divided into eight oblasts, and then later in January 1938, a further three oblasts — Kyzylorda, Pavlodar and Guryev (Atyrau) — were created; 18 months later, in October 1939, another three oblasts — Semipalatinsk, Zhambyl and Akmola — were formed. In March 1944, Kokshetau Oblast was separated from North Kazakhstan Oblast and Taldykorgan Oblast was separated from Almaty Oblast. As a result, by 1945 there were 16 regions in the Kazakh SSR.
Taldykorgan Oblast and Akmola Oblast were abolished (in 1959 and 1960 respectively), and then in 1962 three territories were created within the Kazakh SSR — West Kazakhstan Territory (which included Aktobe, Ural (present-day West Kazakhstan Oblast) and Guryev (Atyrau) Oblasts) with its administrative centre in Aktobe; South Kazakhstan Territory (which included Kyzylorda, Shymkent (present-day South Kazakhstan Oblast) and Zhambyl Oblasts) with the capital in Shymkent; and Tselinny Territory (which included Kostanai, North Kazakhstan, Kokshetau (whose territory was divided between the North Kazakhstan and Akmola Oblasts in 1999), Pavlodar and Tselinograd (which was restored in 1961, present-day Akmola Oblast) Oblasts) with its centre in Tselinograd (present-day Astana).
West Kazakhstan Oblast was then renamed Ural Oblast, and South Kazakhstan Oblast was renamed Shymkent Oblast. This was done to prevent confusion between these regions with the freshly established territories. On 20 April 1978 the Supreme Soviet of the Kazakh SSR adopted a new constitution. Its preamble stated that a society of genuinely free people of labour in which the prosperity and culture of people had been steadily improving had been created. It was claimed that the Kazakh SSR was an equal republic of the USSR, which united all peoples and ethnic groups.
These provisions of the constitution did not reflect the real state of Kazakh society in which discontent was brewing over the worsening living conditions, the Communist Party’s diktat and the absence of any hope for the republic’s sovereignty. This discontent was openly manifested in Almaty in December 1986.
The constitution of the Kazakh SSR had 10 chapters and was modelled on the Soviet constitution of 1977. One of its chapters discussed the national-state and administrative-territorial system of the Kazakh SSR. In contrast to the constitution of 1937, the new constitution had a chapter which extended the sovereign rights of the republic to an extent. For example, one of its articles said that the Kazakh SSR was involved in solving issues that fell into the jurisdiction of the USSR in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Soviet government and other bodies of the USSR. The Kazakh SSR had the right to establish relations with foreign countries, conclude treaties with them and exchange diplomatic and consular representatives with them and take part in the activities of international organisations. It is worth noting that the Kazakh SSR could exercise these legal provisions only under monitoring by central bodies.
The republic’s government system was described in the constitution’s fifth chapter which contained provisions about the Supreme Soviet, its structure, lawmaking activities, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and their powers. It was stated that the Supreme Soviet of the Kazakh SSR had powers to solve all issues that the Soviet constitution delegated to a union republic. This meant that in this constitution, like in previous constitutions, the principle of division of powers between branches of power was not enshrined. Legally the Supreme Soviet was able to solve all issues which fell under the jurisdiction of the Kazakh SSR. However, this was just a formal provision because all those issues were preliminarily solved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CC CPSU) and only after that were they legally adopted.
The constitution meticulously regulated the status of the Council of Ministers — the government — as the supreme executive body of government. The Council of Ministers united and directed the work of union republican and republican ministries and state committees. In 1986 there was an event that was a harbinger of Kazakhstan’s independence. On 16 December 1986, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan held its fifth plenum and discussed the sole organisational issue — the replacement of the political figure who had governed the republic for no less than a quarter of a century: First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, Dinmukhamed Kunayev. Gennady Kolbin, who had previously been first secretary of the Ulyanovsk Oblast Committee of the Communist Party and had won Mikhail Gorbachev’s approval for actively pursuing an anti-alcohol campaign in Russia’s Ulyanovsk Oblast, became the new head of Kazakhstan. No adviser of Gorbachev in the Kremlin, neither he himself, had analysed the situation at the time and could not predict people’s reaction to an unknown gaining power. Kremlin functionaries continued to regard Kazakhstan as their patrimony. Even the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan was not informed about the new appointment.
On 16 December first a small group of working and student youth staged a protest action in Almaty against the Communist Party’s decision. The rally was peaceful and was of a political nature, but it did not call for the overthrow of the constitutional system nor attack any other ethnic group. On the second day when the number of protesters reached several thousand, mainly students, Moscow ordered the Bliz-zard-86 operation, aimed at dispersing protesters using army units, special-task troops, police and the KGB.
The December 1986 events, which shocked the entire world, proved that a new generation whose national consciousness was above all defined by the honour of its people had emerged in the Kazakh lands. It was the first time in 70 years the younger generation had delivered a worthy rebuff to all the hardships experienced by Kazakhstan because of the administrative-command and often simply violent policy of the central government in Moscow. This was the beginning of the movement towards democracy as part of perestroika across the entire Soviet Union. Perestroika gave rise to some democratisation of society. For example, the election legislation was amended in 1989. With the aim of ensuring the representation of public organisations it was decided to allow them to elect a quarter of all members of the Supreme Soviet. Public organisations elected members of the Supreme Soviet at their congresses and republican conferences.
Another novelty was that members of the Supreme Soviet were relieved of their jobs for the duration of their parliamentary mandate. This was the first, small step towards parliamentarianism. From 1987, production fell in the USSR, and, as a consequence, in Kazakhstan too. At the same time, the party-government system became increasingly paralysed. In 1989 the 15th congress of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan relieved Gennady Kolbin of his post of first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and replaced him with Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Nursultan Nazarbayev began to implement his own programme. The priority objectives for the new head of Kazakhstan were: firstly, strengthening social stability, civil and interethnic accord; secondly, drafting and conducting a programme of economic reforms; thirdly, carefully defining and dividing powers between republican and central government bodies. In accordance with the Kazakh SSR Law On the Adoption of the Post of the President of the Kazakh SSR and Making Amendments and Addenda to the Constitution of the Kazakh SSR of 24 April 1990, the 1978 constitution acquired a new chapter — «President of the Kazakh SSR» which stipulated provisions on the status and powers of president. That same day Nursultan Nazarbayev was elected the republic’s first president by a decision by the Supreme Soviet of Kazakhstan.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union and the emergence of an independent, sovereign state, the Constitution of the Kazakh SSR stopped corresponding to new political, economic, social and ideological realities. In October 1990 the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Kazakh SSR was adopted. The Constitutional Law On State Independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan, adopted on 16 December 1991, blocked the effect of the Constitution of the Kazakh SSR of 1978 without abolishing it legally, because the basic provisions for the new independent state and the corresponding new conceptual ideas and principles required the adoption of a new constitution.