The arrest of Boris Kagarlitsky in Russia shocks the consciences of even the hitherto silent ones

On 25 July, Moscow security forces arrested the sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky, a well-known Russian Marxist intellectual who has never hidden his opposition to what the Russians are forced to call ’special military operation’. Kagarlitsky’s release was also demanded by an appeal signed by many exponents of the ’radical left’ who have so far been silent on the repression in Russia and which is gathering many adhesions.

On 25 July, Moscow security forces arrested the sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky, a well-known Russian Marxist intellectual who has never hidden his opposition to what the Russians are forced to call ’special military operation’, i.e. the war of invasion of Ukraine unleashed by President Vladimir Putin. The arrest of Kagarlitsky, unlike the countless repressive actions previously conducted by Putin’s regime, has produced very strong reactions from large sectors of the international left, including the Italian left, which had hitherto stood out for its silence towards the Kremlin’s conduct.

From the very first day of the Russian invasion, despite the flaunting of slogans such as ’Neither with Putin, nor with NATO’, dozens of demonstrations were promoted in Italy by the ’radical left’ against NATO bases and European Union headquarters, while authoritative exponents of the nomenclature of the same ’radical left’, in the name of peace, launched appeals against sending arms to Ukraine and for the sanctions imposed on Russia to be lifted, proposing, in essence, to disarm the aggressed and reward the aggressors. Not a single voice of solidarity or even simple pity was heard from the members of this ’left’ for the Ukrainian men and women forced by Russian bombing to hide in underground shelters and underground tunnels, for the women raped by Russian occupation troops, for the citizens of Mariupol and other cities and villages razed to the ground, for the Ukrainian children taken from their families and deported to become Russian laboratory animals, just as happened in Argentina in the 1970s. Of course, not a word from these exponents about those Russians who have tried and are trying to oppose Putin’s war, and who have paid and are paying for their choice with tens of thousands of arrests, beatings and torture endured. At the same time, the utterances of the leaders of this ’radical left’ - from the Communist Refoundation Party to Potere al Popolo and Unione Popolare - abound with livid rants against ’the Nazi junta in Kiev’, the ’Ukrainian Nazis’, the ’NATO puppets’, and so on.

The most surreal level was reached a few weeks ago, when a cartel of forces of the ’radical left’ (made up of, among others, the magazine Contropiano, the youth movements Osa and Cambiare Rotta, the Communist Network, Potere al Popolo, Partito Comunista Italiano, Patria Socialista, Rifondazione Comunista, Unione Popolare, Fronte della Gioventù Comunista), with guest starring a sympathetic Solidarity Committee for Belarus (that of the dictator Lukashenko of course), promoted a demonstration ’against repression’ in front of the Ukrainian embassy in Rome, to denounce the alleged murderous intent of the usual ’nazigolpist regime of Kiev’ against the two Kononovich brothers, detained - under house arrest and with total freedom of communication with the outside world, even via the web - because they are accused of collaboration with the secret services of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. It is hard not to observe how the conditions of the Kononovich brothers’ detention in Ukraine appear quite different from those of political prisoners in Russia, deported hundreds of kilometres from their place of residence, subjected to harsh regimes and prevented from communicating with the outside world. In addition to the famous case of Alexey Navalny, it is worth mentioning, among many others, that of journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, arrested in April 2022 on charges of spreading false information about the Russian army in Ukraine and, later, that of ’high treason’ for a series of public speeches in which he criticised Kremlin policies and the conduct of the war in Ukraine. On the basis of these charges, Kara-Murza was sentenced last April to 25 years in a maximum security prison.

The arrest of Boris Kagarlitsky seems to have shaken the consciences even of those who, until yesterday, kept silent about the reactionary and imperialist nature of the Moscow regime. In particular, in a communiqué Potere al Popolo goes so far as to define it as ’an anti-social, homophobic and transphobic, warmongering and kleptocratic regime’, not limiting itself to claiming Kagarlitsky’s release but also recalling that ’a few weeks ago Mikhail Lobanov was forced into exile, a mathematician dismissed from Moscow State University under direct pressure from Putin’s circle’, after having branded the Kremlin’s policy as ’totally hostile to any idea of political and social emancipation’.

Kagarlitsky’s release was also demanded by an appeal signed by many exponents of the ’radical left’ who have been silent so far on the repression in Russia and which is gathering many adhesions, among which it is worth mentioning those of Maurizio Acerbo, Franco Berardi, Marco Bersani, Fausto Bertinotti, Raffaella Bolini, Luciana Castellina, Marta Collot, Giorgio Cremaschi, Angelo d’Orsi, Luigi de Magistris, Donatella Di Cesare, Tommaso Di Francesco, Ida Dominijanni, Haidi Gaggio Giuliani, Toni Negri, Giovanni Russo Spena and Guido Viale. Many others - including the journalist Jury Colombo, editor of the Italian editions of Kagarlitsky’s works, and the writer - decided not to join the appeal due to its unacceptable silence towards all the other opponents who are victims of the Putin regime’s repression, and the equally unacceptable presence among the signatories, Alongside personalities of distinguished coherence, there are also people distinguished for their criminalisation of the Ukrainian people and for their excellent relations with the self-styled Communist Party of the Russian Federation, fervent supporters of the Putin regime and its war. Finally, the appeal omits any reference to the fact that Kagarlitsky was not only persecuted by Yeltsin and Putin, i.e. by the “oligarchy that got rich after the restoration of capitalism in Russia”, but that he also experienced repression and imprisonment in the Soviet era, when in 1982 he was arrested for “anti-Soviet activities” because of his writings on the samizdat, the dissenting papers of the time. Boris was released from prison the following year, but could only resume his publishing and scholarly activities in 1988, thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika. The appeal, however, points out punctiliously that ’In the past he was also criticised by Ukrainian nationalists for having defined as spontaneous and a consequence of Euromaidan the popular uprising that led to the birth of the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk’, significantly omitting to add that the sociologist also said and wrote that ’none of this explains or justifies the massive invasion of Russian forces into Ukrainian territory’.

As always, the glass may appear half full or half empty. It is possible that what prompted some to speak out in support of Kagarlitsky was an opportunist reflex due to the prestige and notoriety of the Russian Marxist and the esteem he enjoys universally, all of which made it impossible to remain silent. It could, however, also be the sign of an unease that is beginning to take shape even among those who, for more than a year and a half, have chained themselves to a distorted vision of reality, bending it at all costs within schemes that are as pre-constituted as they are anachronistic, with the result of moving further and further away from the common feeling of a ’people of the left’ who certainly do not like the idea of sending weapons to a country at war (and, in general, do not like the idea of producing and selling instruments of death), but who know how to distinguish between aggressor and aggressed and cannot but be in solidarity with the latter. A ’people of the left’ who see how NATO, before the Russian aggression against Ukraine, was in full crisis, ’brain-dead’, to use the words of French President Macron, and how, thanks to that aggression, it has risen to new life, attracting historically neutral countries - Sweden and Finland, for a start - and also leading what is perhaps the most important exponent of the European left, Jean Luc Melenchon, to realistically declare that “Today the theme of leaving NATO is not shared, so for now the objective is to leave the unified command of NATO”. Words that our ’radical leftists’ were careful not to comment on.

In short, it is too early to understand whether the reactions to Kagarlitsky’s arrest are just a flash in the pan or the start of a profound reflection in an area that would be called upon to consistently represent and promote the alternative to the existing state of affairs, rather than play the Risk of a tavern geopolitics, indifferent to the reasons of the peoples and to social and class dynamics.