Boris Kagarlitsky has been imprisoned by the Russian state

“The 2008-2010 crisis did not bring about radical systemic changes either on the global or national levels,” writes the Russian Marxist Boris Kagarlitsky in his new book The Long Retreat: Strategies to Reverse the Decline of the Left.  “Nevertheless, the price that capitalism paid for its conservative methods of overcoming the Great Recession included the rise of new, still more painful and catastrophic crises that devastated the system’s mechanisms of reproduction.” 

Kagarlitsky includes among these catastrophic consequences “the strengthening of authoritarianism experienced in Russia in 2020 and 2021, and the subsequent war with Ukraine”. All this was very visible in last Sunday’s presidential election in Russia, which, surprise surprise, Vladimir Putin overwhelmingly won. This victory comes against the background of a wave of repression against opponents to the war in Ukraine, directed especially at the left.

Among the victims is Kagarlitsky himself, an internationally renowned anti-capitalist intellectual and a friend of mine since the 1980s. He was arrested last July on the quite absurd charge of “justifying terrorism”. Found guilty at his trial in December, Boris was fined and released. The prosecution appealed, complaining that the sentence was “unjust due to its excessive leniency”.

Last month a military court sentenced Boris to five years in jail and banned him from running a website for two years after his release. He isn’t the only critic of the war to have been subjected to this kind of cat-and-mouse tactics. A couple of weeks later Oleg Orlov of the human rights organisation Memorial—which campaigns to expose the crimes of the Stalinist era—was sentenced on appeal to two and half years in prison for “discrediting the armed forces”.

Boris greeted his initial imprisonment with stoicism and good humour. Chatting during his brief period of freedom with some of his supporters online, he told us about the interesting people he had shared a cell with while awaiting trial. But his situation now isn’t so funny, as he finds himself sharing overcrowded cells at the age of 65. The opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in an Arctic prison a few weeks ago.

A broad international campaign for the release for Boris and other Russians imprisoned for their opposition to the war has been formed. Last week a petition was launched by the campaign. It has been signed by, among others, Naomi Klein, MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, leader of La France Insoumise Jean-Luc Mélenchon and People Before Profit member of the Irish parliament Richard Boyd-Barrett.

It has also been signed by four Argentinian and two Brazilian MPs, and Bernd Riexinger, Janine Wissler, and Gregor Gysi—all German MPs and ex-leaders of the Left Party. And former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, the intellectuals Slavoj Žižek, Tariq Ali, Fredric Jameson, and Étienne Balibar, Mikhail Lobanov have put their name to it.

Please sign the petition and circulate it as widely as possible. We need to build up a head of steam in support of Boris and his fellow victims as quickly and strongly as possible. It is impressive that, although The Long Retreat is a clear-eyed diagnosis of what Boris calls “the decline and disorganisation of the left movement”, he looks towards the future with “optimism and enthusiasm”.  

In conclusion he quotes a remarkable passage about the struggle against “the grey people in power” from the Strugatsky brothers’ great Soviet-era science-fiction novel Hard to be a God. 

The Strugatskys predict “the epoch of gigantic social upheavals, accompanied by an unprecedented development of science, and connected with it, an exceptionally broad process of the intellectualisation of society, an epoch when the greyness wages its last battles that in their ferocity return humanity to the Middle Ages, but in which it suffers defeat, and in a society now free from class oppression, disappears forever as a real force”.

Helping to free Boris and the rest of the anti-war prisoners in Russia and elsewhere is an important step in the struggle for liberation.

Sign the petition here tinyurl.com/FreeBoris

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