US and World Politics

Defend Boris Kagarlitsky!

By Hank Reichman

Sociologist and internationally renowned Marxist thinker Boris Kagarlitsky, a professor at the Moscow Higher School of Economics and head of the Moscow think tank The Institute for Globalization Studies and Social Movements, was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on July 25, 2023. He stands accused of “justifying terrorism” under Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, based on his discussion about the motivations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the October Crimean Kerch Bridge attack. He had written that the explosion could be understood “from a military perspective.”

“In his work, professor Kagarlitsky never supported or justified terrorism. The purpose of all his statements is to show the real problems faced by the Russian state,” his lawyer Sergei Yerokhov was cited as saying.

Kagarlitsky was detained after the head of the FSB in the Komi Republic determined that his post to the Rabkor blog, which he edits, constituted justification of terrorism (Rabkor also has a YouTube channel.) He has been taken to Syktyvkar, in the Komi region, more than 800 miles from his Moscow home. He was ordered to be held in the Verkkny Chov pretrial detention center until September 24, when, presumably, he is to be put on trial. The charges could be very serious—he may face years in prison. Three of Kagarlitsky’s co-editors at Rabkor were also arrested but released without charges (for now).

Kagarlitsky, the author of numerous books and articles in Russian and English about Russia, Marxism, and the Left, is no stranger to state repression. The 64-year-old was a leader of a Marxist opposition group in the Soviet Union, Levy Povorot (Left Turn), from 1978 until his arrest in 1982. He was released the following year. In 1990, he was elected to the Moscow City Soviet and to the Executive of the Socialist Party (USSR). He co-founded the Party of Labor (Russia) in October 1992. In October 1993, Kagarlitsky was again arrested, with two other members of his party, for opposing President Boris Yeltsin during the September-October constitutional crisis but was released the next day after international protests. Later that year, his job and the Moscow City Soviet were abolished under Yeltsin’s new constitution.

During those years I had the privilege of lunching with Kagarlitsky when he visited Berkeley on a book tour. He was then, and remains, one of the most interesting and perceptive leftist critics of the former Soviet and current Russian state. After the Putin regime invaded Ukraine, many liberal and leftist intellectuals fled Russia, but Kagarlitsky not only chose to remain but spoke out boldly and repeatedly against the government and its imperial war. He remained and continued to write and speak even after the government in 2022 labeled him a “foreign agent” for his antiwar stance. His commentary, along with other voices from the Russian left, is available in English here.1

In May, Russian Dissent published an especially eloquent appeal by Kagarlitsky to Western leftists, “A Very Simple Request: A plea to my Western progressive friends.” It reads in part:

“But try to imagine what it is like to live in a state where you can be detained and prosecuted for wearing the wrong clothes, for liking a ‘seditious’ post on social networks, or simply because the incoming police chief did not like your appearance. As a matter of principle, Russian courts do not pass down acquittals (in this regard, the situation is much worse than in Stalin’s time,) so any accusation, even the most absurd, is considered proven as soon as it is brought. And this applies not only to political matters, which would be at least somewhat understandable in a war, but in general to any criminal or administrative case.

“To my Western colleagues, who, after more than a year since the beginning of the war, continue to call for an understanding of Putin and his regime, I would like to ask a very simple question. Do you want to live in a country where there is no free press or independent courts? In a country where the police have the right to break into your house without a warrant? In a country where museum buildings and collections formed over decades are handed over to churches, heedless of the threat of losing unique artifacts? In a country where schools drift away from the study of science and plan to abolish the teaching of foreign languages, but conduct ‘lessons about the important,’ during which children are taught to write denunciations and are taught to hate all other peoples? In a country which every day broadcasts appeals on TV to destroy Paris, London, Warsaw, with a nuclear strike?

“I don’t think I really want to.”

“So, we in Russia also do not want to live like this.

“We resist or at least try to preserve our beliefs and principles based on the humanistic tradition of Russian culture. And when we read on the Internet about another call to “understand Putin” or “to meet him halfway,” this is perceived inside Russia as complicity with criminals who oppress and ruin our own country.

“Such appeals are based on a deep, almost racist contempt for the people of Russia, for whom, according to Western liberal pacifists, it is perfectly natural and acceptable to live under the rule of a corrupt dictatorship.

“Of course, when someone tells you that the Putin regime is a threat to the West or to the whole of humanity, this is complete nonsense. The people to whom this regime poses the most terrible threat is (aside from the Ukrainians, who are bombarded daily by shells and missiles) the Russians themselves, their people and culture, their future. . . .

“We do not need any favor but a very simple one: an understanding of the reality that has developed in Russia today. Stop identifying Putin and his gang with Russia. Realize at last: those who want the good of Russia and the Russians cannot but be irreconcilable enemies of this power.”

As the Nation magazine, which has published Kagarlitsky in the U.S. noted, “Kagarlitsky’s experience is a clear reminder of the need to defend a free press in the face of efforts by governments—including our own—to silence journalists escalate across the world.” True academic freedom has for some time been largely, if not entirely, absent in Russia under the Putin regime (see for examples my posts.2) Now Kagarlitsky’s arrest suggests an intensification of the assault on both journalism and independent scholarship.

In a statement published (in Russian) on their website, the editors of Rabkor declared, “We continue to work. Rabkor is not only Boris Kagarlitsky. This is a text site with editors and admins, YouTube channel hosts and those who work behind the scenes. The most important thing that our team can now do for Boris Yulevich is to preserve Rabkor and make it the centerpiece of the international solidarity campaign for the release of Kagarlitsky.”

In a statement published in English by the journal Jacobin, the Union of Marxists, a Russian communist group, declared:

“Such calculated precautions taken by those orchestrating the political persecution of Kagarlitsky demonstrate their serious concern about organized support for the left-wing sociologist—perhaps more so than any other remaining public figure in Russia. And not without reason, as news of Kagarlitsky’s arrest has sparked anger and empathy among a wide range of activists: all those who learned from him, debated with him, and worked alongside him.

“Furthermore, this is not the first case of persecution against left-wing activists: criminal and administrative charges on false grounds are being brought against trade unionists and activists, such as Anton Orlov3 and Kirill Ukraintsev,4 and the “foreign agent” status is being imposed on new individuals every week, including mathematician and left-wing activist Mikhail Lobanov. Despite the near obliteration of legal avenues for resisting government oppression in Russia, we will not leave Kagarlitsky alone to face his accusers.

“Kagarlitsky must be freed; and may this slogan be echoed by all who have ever shaken his hand or read his books. We call upon you to support him: through publications, actions, and attention to his books. People may perish, but ideas do not, and Kagarlitsky has done everything to ensure that prison walls will not hinder his fight for human freedom.”

Contributing editor Hank Reichman is professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay.

Portside, July 29, 2023



3 Oleg Orlov is a top Russian activist who faces criminal trial for war criticism.

4 Kirill Ukraintsev is a longtime active participant in the left and anti-fascist movement and was one of the founders of the Kurier trade union representing food delivery couriers in Russia.