Russia: Obituary – Nadyezhda Romanovna Shlyakova (2/7/57 – 2/2/07)

Courageous fighter for socialism

Nadyezhda Romanovna Shlyakova, 2/7/57 – 2/2/07

Comrades, workmates and relatives gathered at St Petersburg’s Crematorium, on 6 February, to say goodbye to Nadyezhda Romanovna Shlyakova, who passed away, last Friday, after a short but severe illness.

Nadyezhda was to the depths of her being a real communist. With grand parents from the northern sea-shores near Archangel, she had the spirit of freedom instilled in her from her early years. Under Stalinism, deprived of her mother through illness, and her grandfather through repression, she was brought up by her grandmother along with four or five cousins, all as one family. In her student days, she became an enthusiastic member of the Technology Institute choir, which she regarded as a ‘second family’ and remained a valued member of it all her life.

These experiences gave her a deep belief in the spirit of comradeship and she firmly believed that the capitalist system was unjust. But as she sought comrades-in-arms who shared her beliefs, she also discovered that the so-called ‘communists’ in Russia were not communists at all. They were supporters of state patriotism, Russian chauvinism and class collaborationism.

Nadyezhda, therefore, looked for other alternatives. She began to sell socialist and communist books and newspapers, sometimes totally alone at pickets and demonstrations. Gradually she became a convinced Trotskyist. She was probably the best distributor of Trotsky’s great book, ‘Revolution Betrayed’ in Russian, and, of course, of the newspaper of Socialist Resistance in Russia.

For someone of Nadyezhda’s age group, it was difficult to be a Marxist. ‘Communism’ was discredited by the actions of the job-seekers and careerists whose actions as a parasitic caste led to the collapse of the state-owned, planned economy and the ‘Soviet Union’.

It took courage, and not a little determination, during the nineties, in Russia, to maintain a belief in genuine communist ideals – those of freedom, democracy, justice and genuine socialism. This was particularly so when those self-professed communists who used to run the ‘Soviet Union’ made huge profits for themselves through privatisation.

Nadyezhda was from the generation of workers that has been hit hardest by the restoration of capitalism in Russia. All her working life as a qualified engineer was spent in the unhealthy environment of the ‘Red Triangle’ rubber goods factory. As the economy collapsed, she and her workmates suffered great hardship as wages were constantly delayed and when the factory was driven into bankruptcy, late last year. Even during the G8 summit in St Petersburg, last July, they suffered as the Putin regime ordered the factory to be shut for several days as it was on the route of the G8 procession; the workers got no wages. This made Nadyezhda more determined than ever to protest against the G8 and she was happy to accommodate other protesters from abroad in her modest flat.

Ideas for the younger generation

But Nadyezhda was also a thinker. She read, and maintained her confidence that the future would be socialist. She not only played a crucial role in holding together the small group of supporters of the CWI in St Petersburg but she also saw her role as helping to maintain the ideas to hand over to a younger generation.

Nadyezhda Romanovna was a member of the Russian Committee of the CWI. Until her illness, she travelled to Moscow to attend every meeting. She would never rush into speaking, but when she did, particularly during some controversy or another, she was listened to with great respect.

Thankfully, her suffering in hospital was short. But she remained an optimist until the very end, refusing to believe she was really ill. When visited by workmates on one occasion she warned them not to kiss her as she had caught a cold, and did not want to pass it on! “Apart from that”, she said, she was “OK”, and would soon be home. When priests offered her an icon for her room in the hospice, she refused, replacing it instead with her own painting of an apple tree.

Trotsky, knowing Stalin’s assassins were intent on murdering him, looked out of a window onto his garden and spoke of the beauty of life and the need to succour nature for the future generations. In a similar way, Nadyezhda remained optimistic and confident that mankind would rise up against the degenerate capitalist system destroying the world around us. Unfortunately, with her far too early death, Nadyezhda Romanovna Shlyakova will not be with us to carry on the struggle. But through her work with the CWI, over more than ten years, and through her struggles before that, she has shown a new generation how to keep up the fight in even the most difficult periods. For that, and much more, Nadyezhda’s memory will be cherished.

Nadyezhda Romanovna organised the first ever commemoration in St Petersburg of the life and death of the revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky. Here, she is laying carnations and a dedication in his honour at the heroes’ tomb on Mars Field, August 20, 2000 – the 60th anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination in Mexico by an agent of Stalin.’ (Photos by Elizabeth Clarke)

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February 2007