Russia: who is Boris Kagarlitsky and why is he being prosecuted?

Boris Kagarlitsky, one of the most prominent left-wing sociologists in Russia, was arrested on 25 July, and taken to Syktyvkar (Komi Republic, Russia) on 26 July. The same day, the local court placed him in custody for two months on “justification of terrorism” charges. If the court finds him guilty, Kagarlitsky could spend up to 7 years in prison.

Who is Kagarlitsky?

Dr. Kagarlitsky, born in 1958, is a sociologist, political scientist and political writer. In 1982, he was imprisoned along with other members of a ‘young socialists’ group, which had criticised the late-Soviet bureaucratic leadership. Kagarlitsky was involved in politics prior to and throughout the era of Perestroika. In the same years, he began writing articles and books on social and political questions, and over the following 35 years he published several dozen books and essays.

In 1988, his book Thinking Reed won the Isaac Deutscher Prize. In the following years, his books Dialectics of Change and A Farewell To Perestroika were published in London (in English, with the latter also translated into Japanese and Turkish); and Square Wheels – chronicles of the democratic Moscow Council, published in German in Berlin. In 1995, Kagarlitsky successfully defended his PhD thesis on Russian trade unions in the 1990s. For many years, he was a professor in the Moscow School for the Social and Economic Sciences. 

In recent years, Kagarlitsky has been arrested and penalised several times for his activism, such as in 2020, when he organised a rally against the changing the Russian Constitution – which allowed Putin to be reelected for his fifth presidential term – or in 2021, when he used social media to call for protests against voter fraud. In May 2022, Boris was labelled a “foreign agent” – a legal status that leads to complications when making public statements – for his consistent internationalist views on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Yet, despite all that Kagarlitsky did not flee the country and did not abandon the public sphere.

Generations of young Russian communists and left-wingers came of age reading his books. With his works, Kagarlitsky opposed the legacy of late-Soviet, Stalinist ‘official Marxism’. In addition, he was always eager to offer “intellectual aid” to left-wing activists. He almost never turned down a chance to participate in left-wing conferences, and was always open to having a discussion during breaks.

Since 2008, Boris has also been the founder and one of the editors of Rabkor, an online journal. In the last 15 years this journal – and its affiliated YouTube channel – have become an important source of left-wing discussion. Kagarlitsky's essays and columns drew the attention of tens of thousands readers, and his thoughtful analysis of current events was very popular on the Russian left.

The Repressive Machine

BK Under arrestThe Organisation of Communist-Internationalists (the Russian section of the IMT) calls for national and international support for Kagarlitsky

On 24 June, an attempted coup by the Wagner Group, led by Eugeny Prigozhin, shocked the regime and revealed divisions in the Russian ruling class. In the end, both sides of the conflict quickly came to an agreement, and Prigozhin was not only allowed to escape without any prosecution, but had all his assets returned to him. In a matter of hours, the government and state media rehabilitated a terrorist, once again.

However, the Russian bureaucracy and the oligarchy, who are feeling the insecurity of their position, are eager to erase any memories of a challenge against them. They seek to prove to the masses that are still able to mete out harsh punishments. Yet, of course, the repressive apparatus can only effectively punish a few select scapegoats, who are unable to fight back – as was the case with the Wagner group.

The Kremlin regime has chosen their victims from among the most prominent figures of both the right-wing and the left-wing opposition to the government. First was Igor Strelkov, the former Minister of Defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the founder of the “Angry Patriots' Club” (APC), a Russian nationalist organisation. APC members supported the invasion of Ukraine, whilst criticising the military policies of the Russian government. Strelkov was arrested on 21 July for “publically encouraging participation in extremist activities”. The same evening, the court took him into custody for two months; if he is found guilty, he can face 5 years in prison. Despite the court hearings taking place in Moscow, the Strelkov’s admirers are yet to show mass support for their leader.

A few days later, the next victim of the repressive machine was chosen from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Kagarlitsky was arrested on 25 July. Law enforcement, anticipating protests in defence of the left-wing writer, who is well-known both in Russia and internationally, transported him to Syktyvkar, a remote town 1000 kilometres north of Moscow. The court hearing was held in private the very next day, and even Kagarlitsky's lawyer was unable to attend, due to a shortage of plane tickets. It is worth noting that the charges against Boris rest solely upon one of his Telegram posts, in which he analyses the Ukrainian attack on the Crimean Bridge on 8 October, 2022. Needless to say that there is nothing even resembling the “justification of terrorism” in said post. Yet again, bourgeois law enforcement shows that they need no solid reason to press charges.

A number of primarily left-wing groups reacted to Kagarlitsky's arrest with a public campaign in his defence. Numerous publications, leaflets and meetings are being planned, and these events have the potential to unite the uncoordinated groups with a common cause. Fortunately, the Russian left has achieved at least one successful solidarity campaign in its history: in February 2023, months of hard work resulted in the freeing of prominent trade union leader Kirill Ukraintsev.

The Organisation of Communist-Internationalists (the Russian section of the IMT) calls for national and international support for Kagarlitsky. We are launching a public campaign and we urge readers to join it. We ask the left internationally to draw attention to this injustice, by spreading the word, organizing local events in support of Boris. Please send solidarity messages via this link.

Freedom for Boris Kagarlitsky!

#бориснетеррорист

#BorisIsNotATerrorist