Internationally renowned Marxist sociologist and anti-war socialist Boris Kagarlitsky is currently being held in a Russian pre-trial detention centre and faces the possibility of up to 7 years’ jail if found guilty of the trumped-up charge of “justifying terrorism”.
The decision to detain him until his hearing in late September was made within a day of his arrest in Moscow on July 25, in a closed court in the remote city of Syktyvkar and without his lawyer present.
His lawyer has explained that the criminal case against Kagarlitsky relates to an October 8, 2022 post he made on Telegram analysing the military implications of an attack that had occurred on the Crimea bridge.
Kagarlitsky’s arrest is a politically-motivated attack against one of the most vocal critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is also part of a broader campaign to clamp down on anti-war dissidents in Russia.
As part of building its case against him, Federal Security Service (FSB) agents raided and interrogated at least three others associated with Rabkor (Worker Correspondent), an online leftist media platform Kagarlitsky edits.
Anna Ochkina, a former candidate for governor of the Penza region who left the Just Russia party in March last year over its support for the war, was also targeted by FSB agents.
The Russian Socialist Movement (RSD), in a statement released on July 26, noted that leftist anti-war dissidents have increasingly become the target of state repression.
Since the start of June, the Ministry of Justice has declared Moscow City Duma deputies Yevgeny Stupin and Mikhail Timonov, municipal deputy Vitaly Bovar and democratic socialist Mikhail Lobanov as “foreign agents”. Lobanov, an activist with the University Solidarity union since its foundation, was also fired from his post at Moscow State University and is now in exile.
The RSD said: “Each of them has organised and continues to organise communities of different levels around them. Each of them is an ‘assembly point’ for rapidly left-leaning citizens. By the same logic, they came after Kagarlitsky and Rabkor.”
From the day the full-scale invasion began — February 24, 2022 — Kagarlitsky and Rabkor have played a key role in anti-war activities and propaganda.
That same day, Kagarlitsky helped convene the Anti-War Round Table of the Left Forces, which unequivocally condemned Putin’s invasion and urged Russian citizens “to lead an anti-war agitation with your neighbours, relatives, colleagues and other citizens of Russia”.
The round table’s statement concluded: “If the current government is not able to bring peace to the people, then the way forward to achieve this will be a radical change of government and the entire socio-political system.”
For this, Kagarlitsky was labelled a “foreign agent” by the Russian state as early as May 2022. Speaking to Green Left last August, he explained how this label is used to intimidate anti-war activists: “Everyone knows that the next step after being labelled a foreign agent is that you are put in jail, which is why many have left.
“They have labelled me a foreign agent, I imagine with the intention of wanting me to leave, but I’m not going to leave.”
History of dissent
It is ironic that the Russian state would accuse him of being under foreign influence, given few Russians have done more to help explain Russian politics and influence the ideas of socialist activists outside the country than Kagarlitsky.
Along with founding the Institute for Globalization Studies and Social Movements, Kagarlitsky is a professor at the Moscow Higher School for Social and Economic Sciences and author of several influential books, including Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System and Russia Under Yeltsin And Putin: Neo-Liberal Autocracy.
His ideas have appeared in left publications the world over, including through articles and interviews in GL and its sister publication, LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal, dating as far back as the early 1990s. At the invitation of GL, Kagarlitsky has spoken at several conferences in Australia since.
Kagarlitsky’s authority comes from decades of dissident activism, beginning during the Soviet Union era when he edited the underground publication Left Turn before being jailed for “anti-Soviet” activities in 1982 under Leonid Brezhnev.
As a deputy to the Moscow City Soviet between 1990‒93, Kagarlitsky opposed the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet, for which he was severely beaten and imprisoned once again, this time under Boris Yeltsin. And in 2021, Kagarlitsky was again jailed, this time under Putin, for supporting protests against electoral fraud committed against independent left candidates in elections to the State Duma.
His most recent arrest has been met with opposition from anti-war sectors, but even prominent pro-Kremlin intellectual Sergei Markov called it a “gross political mistake”, adding that his imprisonment would cause “huge harm to Russia in the world”.
“Boris Kagarlitsky today is probably the most influential Russian politician and expert of the left camp in the world,” Markov said.
Need for solidarity
In an appeal for international support, the Rabkor editorial board said: “Boris is not only a left-wing intellectual and scholar of international renown, but also a Marxist who gained his knowledge on the fields of class wars, was a Soviet left-wing dissident and now may become a political prisoner in Putin’s Russia.
“He is part of the world socialist movement, has educated more than one generation of Marxists, and continues to be faithful to his principles for many years.
“Kagarlitsky cannot sit in jail, for in 2023 politics cannot and should not be a crime. We are categorically opposed to his detention.
“We, however, continue to work. Rabkor is far more than just Boris Kagarlitsky. It is a text site with editors and admins, YouTube channel presenters and those who work behind the scenes.
“The most important thing our team can do for Boris right now is to keep Rabkor alive and make it the centrepiece of an international solidarity campaign for Kagarlitsky's release.
“We call on all left socialist movements to stand in solidarity and publicise this situation.”
A separate RSD statement said: “The criminal case against Boris Kagarlitsky is an attack on the whole Left Movement in Russia. We can disagree with some of his statements and conclusions made during different periods of his long political career but these arguments do not matter now. We can continue the discussion of our different positions as soon as he is free.
“We are calling on all fellow socialist organisations to organise a broad campaign of solidarity to demand the immediate release of Boris Kagarlitsky and all political prisoners, and to support the editorial team of Rabkor as much as possible.
“Kagarlitsky remained invariably optimistic about the absence of prospects of the Russian authorities in his articles and speeches. Current events demonstrate that his optimism is justified: Putin’s regime, having started the total mop up of the remnants of civil society. is trying to plug the leak the size of the cannonball with a bottle cork.”