Veteran socialist academic condemned to five years in Russian prison

Boris Kagarlitsky (Wikimedia)

Boris Kagarlitsky – the Russian sociologist, political scientist, self-declared Marxist, and socialist – is in jail after a court decided to change a “too soft” sentence to fine him into a five-year prison sentence. In July last year, Kagarlitsky was found guilty of “justifying terrorism” by a sardonic use of words on his Telegram page about the bombing of the Crimea bridge by the Ukrainian armed forces. He titled the article: “The explosion that killed ‘Mostik’”. Mostik was the pet name of a cat said to live on the bridge (a diminutive form of the Russian word ‘most’ that means bridge!) (See report on CWI site in July

Kagarlitsky spent several months in prison in the far northern Republic of Komi as the authorities considered what sentence to hand out. On the 13th of December last year, no doubt concerned about widespread international protests in support of this well-known opponent of Putin, they released Kagarlitsky. It was based on paying a hefty fine which Kagarlitsky would not be able to do with his resources. The sum of 600,000 roubles was paid within 48 hours to the authorities on the academic’s behalf by supporters and protesters.

Hammer blow

On February 13 of this year, when Kagarlitsk’s case came up for review, the government prosecutor decided that fining was too “soft” and that the court previously “incorrectly took into account the nature and degree of public danger of the crime committed” by his use of a few wrong words at the head of an online post. The true reason for proceeding with a prison sentence now is to punish Kagarlitsky more severely because of his uncompromising anti-war position, for criticizing his government about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. His only guilt is opposition to Putin’s imperialist aggression.

Because Kagarlitsky is a 65-year-old man, five years in prison could turn out to be a death penalty for him. But on his Telegram page, in a voicemail message he said: “Naturally, I don’t lose heart. I am, as always, in a great mood. I continue to collect data and materials for new books, including now descriptions of prison life in Moscow’s institutions. In general, I would say, “See you soon. I’m sure everything will be very good. And we will see you again both on the channel and in freedom. And in general, everything will be fine! We just need to live a little longer and get through this dark period for our country. And in the end, everything will be fine anyway.”


Optimism is vital in the struggle for socialism nationally or internationally but the situation in Russia is grim. A movement for basic democratic rights, as well as a social transformation and a return to socialist struggle, are desperately needed. Kagarlitsky’s optimism is welcome and may be partly fuelled by an increase in anti-war protests in Russia, not least of mothers and partners of soldiers recruited to fight in Ukraine. Around 300,000 were drafted more than a year ago and are getting no respite from the fighting through leave to visit their families.

But, in the run-up to the so-called elections for Russia’s president in April, Putin shows no signs of softening. The slightest challenge from an alternative candidate is squashed. One has been ruled out for using thousands of ‘dead souls’ as signatories for his application and the most serious challenger, the bourgeois opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, is behind bars North of the Arctic Circle, serving out a sentence now extended into decades ahead. The most powerful layer in society – the still mighty working class of Russia – has not yet moved onto the scene. When that giant rises from its sleep, then dictators and oligarchs will need to tremble.

Socialists need more than Kagarlitsky’s commendable but somewhat blind optimism. They need a fighting programme of democratic and social demands – the rights to speak out and protest, to vote freely and to organise, to strike and demonstrate. The long night of war and Putin’s dictatorship must be challenged, not just in words but by courageous workers and youth in action fighting for an end to war in Russia and Ukraine, and for socialism in all the former republics of the USSR and internationally.   



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February 2024