Monday, July 31, 2023

Solidarity needed for Russian anti-war socialist Boris Kagarlitsky

By Federico Fuentes


Internationally renowned Marxist sociologist and anti-war socialist Boris Kagarlitsky is currently being held in a Russian pre-trial detention centre and faces the possibility of up to 7 years’ jail if found guilty of the trumped-up charge of “justifying terrorism”.

The decision to detain him until his hearing in late September was made within a day of his arrest in Moscow on July 25, in a closed court in the remote city of Syktyvkar and without his lawyer present.

His lawyer has explained that the criminal case against Kagarlitsky relates to an October 8, 2022 post he made on Telegram analysing the military implications of an attack that had occurred on the Crimea bridge.

Kagarlitsky’s arrest is a politically-motivated attack against one of the most vocal critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is also part of a broader campaign to clamp down on anti-war dissidents in Russia.

As part of building its case against him, Federal Security Service (FSB) agents raided and interrogated at least three others associated with Rabkor (Worker Correspondent), an online leftist media platform Kagarlitsky edits.

Anna Ochkina, a former candidate for governor of the Penza region who left the Just Russia party in March last year over its support for the war, was also targeted by FSB agents.

The Russian Socialist Movement (RSD), in a statement released on July 26, noted that leftist anti-war dissidents have increasingly become the target of state repression.

Since the start of June, the Ministry of Justice has declared Moscow City Duma deputies Yevgeny Stupin and Mikhail Timonov, municipal deputy Vitaly Bovar and democratic socialist Mikhail Lobanov as “foreign agents”. Lobanov, an activist with the University Solidarity union since its foundation, was also fired from his post at Moscow State University and is now in exile.

The RSD said: “Each of them has organised and continues to organise communities of different levels around them. Each of them is an ‘assembly point’ for rapidly left-leaning citizens. By the same logic, they came after Kagarlitsky and Rabkor.”

From the day the full-scale invasion began — February 24, 2022 — Kagarlitsky and Rabkor have played a key role in anti-war activities and propaganda.

That same day, Kagarlitsky helped convene the Anti-War Round Table of the Left Forces, which unequivocally condemned Putin’s invasion and urged Russian citizens “to lead an anti-war agitation with your neighbours, relatives, colleagues and other citizens of Russia”.

The round table’s statement concluded: “If the current government is not able to bring peace to the people, then the way forward to achieve this will be a radical change of government and the entire socio-political system.”

For this, Kagarlitsky was labelled a “foreign agent” by the Russian state as early as May 2022. Speaking to Green Left last August, he explained how this label is used to intimidate anti-war activists: “Everyone knows that the next step after being labelled a foreign agent is that you are put in jail, which is why many have left.

“They have labelled me a foreign agent, I imagine with the intention of wanting me to leave, but I’m not going to leave.”

History of dissent

It is ironic that the Russian state would accuse him of being under foreign influence, given few Russians have done more to help explain Russian politics and influence the ideas of socialist activists outside the country than Kagarlitsky.

Along with founding the Institute for Globalization Studies and Social Movements, Kagarlitsky is a professor at the Moscow Higher School for Social and Economic Sciences and author of several influential books, including Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System and Russia Under Yeltsin And Putin: Neo-Liberal Autocracy.

His ideas have appeared in left publications the world over, including through articles and interviews in Green Left and its sister publication, LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal, dating as far back as the early 1990s. At the invitation of GL, Kagarlitsky has spoken at several conferences in Australia since.

Kagarlitsky’s authority comes from decades of dissident activism, beginning during the Soviet Union era when he edited the underground publication Left Turn before being jailed for “anti-Soviet” activities in 1982 under Leonid Brezhnev.

As a deputy to the Moscow City Soviet between 1990‒93, Kagarlitsky opposed the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet, for which he was severely beaten and imprisoned once again, this time under Boris Yeltsin. And in 2021, Kagarlitsky was again jailed, this time under Putin, for supporting protests against electoral fraud committed against independent left candidates in elections to the State Duma.

His most recent arrest has been met with opposition from anti-war sectors, but even prominent pro-Kremlin intellectual Sergei Markov called it a “gross political mistake”, adding that his imprisonment would cause “huge harm to Russia in the world”.

“Boris Kagarlitsky today is probably the most influential Russian politician and expert of the left camp in the world,” Markov said.

Need for solidarity

In an appeal for international support, the Rabkor editorial board said: “Boris is not only a left-wing intellectual and scholar of international renown, but also a Marxist who gained his knowledge on the fields of class wars, was a Soviet left-wing dissident and now may become a political prisoner in Putin’s Russia.

“He is part of the world socialist movement, has educated more than one generation of Marxists, and continues to be faithful to his principles for many years.

“Kagarlitsky cannot sit in jail, for in 2023 politics cannot and should not be a crime. We are categorically opposed to his detention.

“We, however, continue to work. Rabkor is far more than just Boris Kagarlitsky. It is a text site with editors and admins, YouTube channel presenters and those who work behind the scenes.

“The most important thing our team can do for Boris right now is to keep Rabkor alive and make it the centrepiece of an international solidarity campaign for Kagarlitsky's release.

“We call on all left socialist movements to stand in solidarity and publicise this situation.”

A separate RSD statement said: “The criminal case against Boris Kagarlitsky is an attack on the whole Left Movement in Russia. We can disagree with some of his statements and conclusions made during different periods of his long political career but these arguments do not matter now. We can continue the discussion of our different positions as soon as he is free.

“We are calling on all fellow socialist organisations to organise a broad campaign of solidarity to demand the immediate release of Boris Kagarlitsky and all political prisoners, and to support the editorial team of Rabkor as much as possible.

“Kagarlitsky remained invariably optimistic about the absence of prospects of the Russian authorities in his articles and speeches. Current events demonstrate that his optimism is justified: Putin’s regime, having started the total mop up of the remnants of civil society. is trying to plug the leak the size of the cannonball with a bottle cork.”

[Rabkor have launched a fund appeal for the campaign to free Boris Kagarlitsky. Donate via: 2200700700600473069 — Tinkoff; or 5269880012324208 — Freedom Bank (for foreign transfers).]

First published in Green Left Weekly, Issue 1386, July 27, 2023

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(Statements) Freedom for Boris Kagarlitsky! Freedom for all Russian political prisoners!

[Editor's note: This page will be continuously updated. Please send statements to]

Below the international petition (which readers are encouraged to sign) are statements by: Russian Socialists Against War, Rabkor (Russia), Russian Socialist Movement, Posle (Russia), Left Socialist Action (Russia), Socialist Alliance (Australia), Party of the European Left, Transnational Institute, Counterpunch, Canadian Dimension, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency/Socialist Tendency (Russia) and Rosa Luxembourg Foundation.

International petition: Freedom for Boris Kagarlitsky

On July 25, renowned intellectual and socialist activist Boris Kagarlitsky was detained and accused of "justifying terrorism" by the Federal Security Service (FSB) before being immediately transported to the city of Syktyvkar, 1300 kilometres from Moscow. There, in a closed hearing and without his lawyer present, a court decided he should be detained until his trial in September, where he will face the possibility of up to 7 years in prison.

The arrest and detention of Kagarlitsky has taken place within the context of a repressive campaign that the government has been carrying out with the intention of silencing all those voices that oppose the invasion of Ukraine and its domestic policies. Since last year, the Putin government has dedicated itself to persecuting, jailing or forcing into exile recognised politicians, intellectuals and activists that have publicly opposed the war as well as simple citizens that have expressed their opinions on social media. Kagarlitsky himself had been labelled a "foreign agent" in May last year.

We express our solidarity with Boris Kagarlitsky and demand his immediate release, as well as the release of all those detained for political reasons.

Add your name here:

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Russian socialist dissident Boris Kagarlitsky on Putin’s growing domestic crisis: ‘People will not fight for this regime’

Interview with Boris Kagarlitsky by Federico Fuentes.

[Following the Maidan uprising in 2014, Boris Kagarlitsky became known internationally as a Left supporter of Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its intervention in parts of Ukraine’s Donbas region. In this he helped to disorient many progressives around the world. However, in later years he became increasingly critical of the autocratic actions of the Putin regime, and supportive of mass opposition demonstrations in Russia. A tipping point in his approach was the February 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which he strongly denounced along with many antiwar activists in Russia. He then became an outspoken critic of the war – attacking the strategic ineptness of the Kremlin, albeit not as a proponent of Ukraine self-determination and sovereignty. However, his opposition to the Russian aggression allowed him to point to some obvious truths previously unstated, such as the popular unity behind the Ukrainian resistance notwithstanding earlier linguistic and economic divisions with the country. – Richard Fidler]

In this interview with Federico Fuentes, Kagarlitsky provides insight into the domestic factors behind the Russian regime’s decision to invade Ukraine, why President Vladimir Putin is seeking an “everlasting war”, the critical role being played by the left in anti-war organising, and prospects for social upheaval in Russia. A much shorter version of this interview first appeared in Green Left.

Discussions in the West regarding Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have largely focused on NATO expansionism, the Kremlin’s imperialist ambitions or Putin’s mental health. But you argue none of these were the key driving force behind the invasion. Why?

When a huge event occurs, such as the war on Ukraine, there are generally various factors at play. But you have to put these factors into the context of real political and social processes. In that sense, all these factors, along with the long-term conflict between Russia and Ukraine, as well as the conflict within Ukraine and between Ukrainian elites, are present. However, these factors do not explain much; they're very superficial.

Let’s start with NATO. NATO’s expansion is definitely real. NATO not only expanded into former Eastern bloc countries, such as Poland and Hungary; it also expanded into former territories of the Soviet Union, such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In that sense, NATO cannot technically expand any closer to Russia, as its frontier is already less than 200 kilometres from St Petersburg. We should also not forget that in the early years of Putin’s rule, Russia had very good relations with NATO. Putin himself confessed he wanted Russia to join NATO. It was the West that refused Russia’s membership when relations started to deteriorate – precisely because of the conflict in and around Ukraine.

Yet it was always clear that NATO was not going to accept Ukraine as a full member because this was going to pose a big problem for NATO. In many ways, Ukrainian ambitions to join NATO created more problems for NATO than for Russia, because it meant Ukraine wanting NATO to spend lots of money on Ukraine’s military. The irony is that Putin’s attack on Ukraine not only led to Sweden and Finland joining, but it has now made Ukrainian membership possible. Up until February 24, the chances of Ukraine becoming a full member were remote. Now, the situation has changed, and the perspective of Ukraine becoming a de facto NATO country is not only very real, it is already becoming a reality. So if we want to view this war as a conflict between Russia and NATO, then it is obvious that Putin’s policies have been counterproductive and achieved the exact opposite of what is presented as an excuse for the war.

In terms of Russia, or rather Putin’s imperialist ambitions, this was also present: You just have to watch or listen to Russian propaganda to see how it goes beyond all limits in terms of jingoism and racism. Russian propaganda continuously states that Ukraine shouldn’t exist, that Ukrainian territory is actually Russian territory that has been conquered by Ukrainians. It says Russia is going to liberate these territories from the population that lives there; that they are not the right population for that territory. All sorts of racist, fascist statements are made on state channels. It’s an absolutely incredible flood of aggression, xenophobia and hatred.

We could also say that the internal conflict in Ukraine is to some extent a cause of the war. But this conflict has been present for eight years, with very little change. Frozen conflicts can persist, sometimes for hundreds of years, without leading to war. When they do lead to war, the real causes of the wars are to be found not in the origins of the conflict but in the context of concrete situations. Take for example, the Malvinas/Falkland Islands conflict between Britain and Argentina, which persisted for centuries. The explanation for why a war erupted in 1981 cannot be found in the origins of the conflict, but rather in the internal crisis within the Argentine military junta and, to some extent, Margaret Thatcher’s need for some kind of success story to help turn around the polls. So this was exactly the right time for war to erupt: both sides needed the war for their own domestic reasons.

So the real question is why did this war erupt now, despite problems within Ukraine and between Russia and Ukraine existing for years. Even just a week before the war, most rational Russian political commentators were extremely sceptical that a war would break out, because everyone knew Russia was absolutely not ready for war. This brings us to the issue not of Putin’s mental health, but his capacity to make rational decisions. Everyone knew the war would not turn out the way it was planned or announced by Putin’s team. Nevertheless, they went to war. This demonstrates that these people were not able to even calculate the most basic things. I am no military analyst, but even I could predict that Russia had no chance of taking Kyiv and achieving a full-scale victory. You had to be totally incompetent or totally disconnected from reality to think otherwise. Yet government propaganda said the exact opposite. Well, it is pretty clear now who was right. In that sense, Putin’s mental health and the way decisions are made in the Kremlin played a role.

So what would you say were the real causes of the war?

I think there were two major causes.

The first one is basically global and long-term. It was the Great Recession of 2007-8, which changed the global economy and Russia’s situation within it. The recession revealed the tremendous weakness of the Russian economy. Yet, at the same time, Russian oligarchs benefited from it. When the recession erupted, Russia’s economy declined at a much faster rate than any other major economy in the world. Then it recovered faster than any economy in the world. Why? Because Russia’s economy was dependent on raw materials, and in particular oil. To deal with the Great Recession, the US Federal Reserve began printing money, much of which ended up in financial markets and, ultimately, as speculative investments. Oil is a perfect commodity for speculative investment, as it is deeply connected to financial markets. Yet, at the same time, it is part of the real economy. So the Federal Reserve’s policy led to an enormous increase in oil prices, which in turn created a situation where, while the Russian economy continued to deteriorate, Russia was showered in petrodollars, with more and more income going into the pockets of the oligarchs and the state. A Russian economist once commented that the Russian government’s best friend was the Federal Reserve. The Russian government depended directly on money printed by the Federal Reserve: the more money the Federal Reserve printed, the more money Russian elites got. They didn’t have to do anything except wait for the Federal Reserve to print more dollars. That was their whole strategy. But once the Federal Reserve started to print less money, or at least started to use this money in a different way, as happened during COVID-19, then this became a problem for Russian capital.

All this led to an enormous expansion of corruption. Russia was always very corrupt, but corruption now hit new heights. Russian elites were faced with an incredible crisis of overaccumulation, much like what Rosa Luxemburg described in her book. One solution was to channel this extra money towards military expansion and producing a lot of military hardware, But then you have to use this military hardware somehow if you want to continue investing more money into this sector.

But that’s just one side of the story because, at the same time, the domestic situation was drastically deteriorating. While all this money was going in the hands of the elite and a small sector of the middle class, healthcare, social services, welfare – sectors that were already tremendously underfunded – underwent further cuts to expenditure in order for the elites to accumulate even more capital. One example of this was the pension reform of 2018, which faced stiff opposition.

Imagine how an average Russian citizen felt. They knew that there was an enormous amount of money flowing into the hands of the oligarchy, the state bureaucracy, top administrators, and Putin's friends. They could see the construction of incredible palaces – forget about Versailles in France; just near where I have my dacha [holiday home], you can see some huge walls as you drive from there to Moscow. What’s behind these walls? Palaces. We know that because the internet allows you to discover everything. These palaces are much bigger than what you will find in Versailles. And this is in an area regarded by the wealthy to be second-class; it is not even where the wealthiest Russian oligarchs live.

So people see that and see that the material situation of the great majority is getting dramatically worse, that real income is declining and prices are rising, that they are having problems getting decent jobs. All this generates tremendous discontent. This discontent is very often not political, but it creates a terrible mood. So much so that it has even become a problem for the Russian government’s war plans, because it cannot mobilise people for the army. People will just not fight for this regime. Nobody wants to make any sacrifices for them, because they are hated by everybody.

On top of this, you have the fact that political institutions – even the fake parliamentary democracy that we had with elections contested by parties that were very much under the regime’s control – have been destroyed over the past two years due to attempts by Putin’s teams to consolidate power. Putin is getting older and more ill, so the problem of a transition of power is very real, but any kind of institutional transition is not possible in this context.

So how do you deal with all this? Well, the best solution is to come up with some kind of extreme and extraordinary situation. A situation that justifies a state of emergency, whereby the people who make decisions can override any institutional or constitutional hurdle and make whatever decisions they want to make. And a war is perhaps the best way to create such a situation.

Given what you say about the Kremlin’s obvious lack of strategy going into war, is there any sense as to what Putin’s aims are in Ukraine, and whether they are interested in negotiations with Ukraine to obtain them?

The invasion was very much improvised and did not have any long-term strategy behind it. Once the regime’s improvised strategy failed, they clearly started inventing new causes and goals for the war post-facto. We are dealing with a very rare case in which a country wages an aggressive war but struggles to define what its goals are or explain them to the public. This is partly because the elite is confused, they don’t know what to do and they’re desperately looking for a way out. But at this point they cannot find one.

The main problem now is not that they do not want to negotiate; the main problem is that, no matter what they achieve through negotiations, they won’t be able to sell it to the public given the tremendous discontent that exists. This is why it is so hard for the Russian elite and Russian government to reach a settlement. It is not just a case of having to make a deal with Ukraine and the West, which they could do. They have to be able to sell any deal they make to the domestic public, which is something that they cannot do. No matter how this ends, it’s going to generate a massive moral, political, ideological crisis and, even perhaps, upheaval in the country…

From what you are saying, continuation of the war is therefore preferable for Putin than negotiations? I ask this because within the Western left, it is common to hear the argument that it is NATO and Ukraine who want to drag out the war and who reject negotiations. But your comments seem to suggest the opposite…

Absolutely. That is why, in recent statements, Putin has revealed his eagerness to prolong the crisis as much as possible. As I have written about, they have been very clear about waging an everlasting war that continues forever, in which agreements are never reached, because they do not know what to agree on. And, as I said before, it’s not because they cannot compromise or even because they do not want to compromise; it’s because they cannot sell this to the public domestically. Especially as the invasion did generate a strong sense of jingoism and genuine enthusiasm for the war among a section of society. They managed to consolidate the most reactionary, most aggressive, the most evil elements of Russian society behind the war. The problem now is that these elements have become dangerous even for the regime itself, because at the very moment the regime negotiates and achieves any kind of settlement, it will immediately become the target of these reactionary forces.

This was already visible in April, when a meeting between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul agreed to some kind of settlement that included a Ukrainian declaration that it would not join NATO. This was something Russia could have used to justify its invasion and point to as a victory. But while the Ukrainians were ready to sign it, Russia did not sign. To understand why, we need to look at what happened inside Russia. The very same day that they announced this preliminary agreement, there was a real eruption of anger and hatred in the pro-government media, a real rebellion by the pro-war party, that included threats to kill negotiators. In response, Russia pulled back from the agreement. Faced with the forces from hell they had unleashed, Putin’s people became scared.

Then consider that, on the other side, you have anti-war sentiment that is very strong, even if it’s severely repressed. The Putin administration is very much stuck between a rock and a hard place, because you have very strong anti-war sentiment and you have a pro-war, jingoistic, militaristic, nationalistic movement that will become oppositional the very moment that the regime reaches a settlement.

The worst case scenario for Putin – and it is certainly not excluded that at some point this might happen, particularly if Russia is defeated militarily – is that these forces, which are very different and oppose each other on every single issue, could suddenly attack the regime simultaneously from opposite sides. This is what happened in Russia in 1917, when the tsarist regime collapsed not just because of the anti-war forces, but also because of the anger of those within the military and the regime who were not happy with the way the war was being fought. These two forces attacked the tsarist regime simultaneously, leading to its collapse. Putin’s people are aware of this history, but there is very little they can do about it.

I want to return to the anti-war movement in Russia, but I would like to follow up on a point you raised regarding the far-right nationalists forces that have been unleashed in Russia. This has to do with the discussion surrounding fascism in Russia and Ukraine. How do you charaterise the governments in Moscow and Kyiv and the role played by fascist or far-right nationalists inside or outside these governments? Has the war helped to stoke these tendencies or has it opened up space for other voices?

Both sides accuse the other side of being fascist, but I think that neither side is fascist. That said, the ideology of the far right, and the tendencies that are typical of right-wing populism, and even fascism, are present in both countries.

In terms of their political and social content, the two sides are not very different. Of course, there are differences. For example, Ukraine has a much weaker state. This creates spaces in which the far right can carry out non-state-controlled repressive activities, in some cases with the support of elements of the Ukrainian security services. The Russian state does not allow such things to happen. There are no private repressive apparatuses or paramilitaries because the Russian state has an absolute monopoly over repression. In Russia, repression is centralised, while in Ukraine it is decentralised. At the same time, unlike Russia, Ukraine has a civil society that is not repressed, precisely because the state is weaker. The state has not repressed civil society in Ukraine because it does not have the capacity to repress it like in Russia.

Another difference is that the Ukrainian oligarchy is not consolidated, while the Russian oligarchy is consolidated around Putin – or at least was until recently. The Ukrainian oligarchy was never consolidated because it didn’t have much in the way of oil or other resources that could be sold on the global market to generate easy income. Instead, Ukrainian oligarchs systematically fought against each other. This created an image of Ukraine as a pluralistic democracy, which it is not. Rather, it is a weak state with competing oligarchies, something more akin to what famous political theorist Robert Dahl called a polyarchy.

So there are differences, but it does not change the fact that the ideological content of Russian and Ukrainian nationalism is very similar and the social nature of the state and capitalism in both countries is very similar. Both are dominated by oligarchic, peripheral capitalism.

However, it is important to note that there are some very positive signs on the Ukrainian side. Let’s be clear, there is no way that you can have an anti-war movement in Ukraine. That is understandable because Ukraine is the country that is being attacked. It is a victim of Russian aggression. When your city is being bombed and shelled daily, you cannot protest against your own armed forces, who are fighting back to keep you safe.

But there is a growing tendency against Ukrainian nationalism within Ukrainian society and a growing debate about what to do, if and when Ukraine wins. It’s a very active and sometimes aggressive debate, in which one of the most interesting characters is Oleksiy Arestovych. He is from the military and is an advisor and spokesperson for Zelensky. I’m not sure how strong his position is within the administration, but he has become very popular, both in Russia and Ukraine. Arestovych keeps pushing a message about what kind of new Ukraine should emerge from this war: one that overcomes divisions between east and west, between Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers. He speaks about the need to appropriate Russian language as the language of Ukrainian identity, to promote Russian culture in Ukraine, and to give hope to those from Russia who want to live and work in Kyiv. He says the new Ukraine has to overcome divisions and integrate everyone.

Because of this, he is systematically attacked by the far right, including via threats against him and his family. Ukrainian nationalists hate him, but there’s very little they can do, because he has become a popular figure, including within the army. It is important to note that on the frontline, the Ukrainian army is mostly composed of Russian speakers. On top of this, you have the Territorial Defence Force, a volunteer force which has about 200,000 armed troops fighting in eastern Ukrainian, who are also predominantly Russian speakers. So it seems quite possible that Ukraine is going to undergo some very serious shifts in the directions of a more integrated society once the war ends. It is also not excluded that it may face some sort of civil conflict – even potentially a civil war – but it’s too early to judge.

Let’s now turn to the anti-war movement in Russia. What is the current state of anti-war organising?

When the war started, there were initially quite a lot of protests in Russia, but they were brutally repressed. The reality is that there was no way in which you could protest on the streets, because you would immediately be beaten up and put in jail. The government’s repression machine managed to early on win the struggle for control of the streets, though they needed a lot of repression to achieve this. It is important not to forget that there had been massive protests, involving hundreds of thousands of people, during the past two years, along with a long-term sustained effort by the repressive apparatus to destroy these movements. They achieved this, at least temporarily.

People can now be sent to jail just for making a public anti-war statement. Simply using particular words can mean you face jail time. They sentenced a municipal deputy in Moscow to seven years jail just for saying something critical of the war during a session of the municipal council. When I publish something in Russian, I never use the word war, because just using the word war means I could receive a fine or jail. So you can imagine what the atmosphere is like.

Nevertheless, if you look on Russian social media networks, where you can post anonymously, the atmosphere is very negative towards the war. People are very critical and publish a lot of very angry texts against the war. So the anti-war movement is very weak, but it has tremendous potential.

What role has the left played in anti-war organising? What can you tell us about the positions taken towards the war by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation?

The official parties within the Duma support the war and the regime, including the two parties that pretend to be “left-wing”: the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and the so-called social democrats of A Just Russia. But if you look deeper, you can see that where they have any rank-and-file activists on the ground, these people are usually very anti-war. Quite a lot of them are now leaving these parties. Some have declared their opposition publicly, such as Yevgeny Stupin, a very charismatic and well-known [CPRF] deputy in the Moscow City Duma, or Andrei Danilov, an interesting and popular intellectual from Yakutia. There are also new leaders emerging, including from within these parties. You have, for example, Anna Ochkina, who was one of the major voices of the left within A Just Russia but who left the party, making a public statement against the war. In that sense, while the leaders speak out in favour of the war, they are not supported by any serious forces on the ground. On the ground, the left is, I shouldn’t say it is “well” but it is definitely alive, and it is definitely active and growing.

One thing to note is that a lot of people from the liberal opposition have left the country. The government publicly labelled a number of them “foreign agents”. Everyone knows that the next step after being labelled a foreign agent is that you are put in jail, which is why many have left. They have labelled me a foreign agent, I imagine with the intention of wanting me to leave, but I’m not going to leave. An interesting by-product of this policy has been that, while most of the leaders of the liberal opposition have left the country – with a few exceptions, such as Alexey Navalny, who was already in jail, and Ilya Yashin, who was recently put in jail – those who have stayed in Russia are mostly from the left. So, interestingly, the left is now becoming a kind of hegemonic force within the anti-war movement.

The anti-war movement is real, even if it’s been forced underground. And it is radicalising, because people are beginning to understand that it is not just about the war: it’s about the political and social system. A very interesting sign of this is that segments of the liberal opposition that used to be very suspicious of anything left-wing, are now moving leftward. For example, Yashin recently declared that he had certain disagreements with Navalny because he himself identifies more as a person of the left, which was a surprise to us because we always thought of him as being a liberal. Another example is Yulia Galyamina, a very charismatic and important figure of the liberal opposition, who recently made a statement that her best friends in the movement are communists. So there is definitely a shift to the left within the movement.

Finally, I want to turn to the West’s aim for Russia and the issue of regime change. You wrote recently that while western leaders “will not allow Russia to win the war ... they don’t necessarily wish for a change of the Russian regime.” This seems to cut across the dominant narrative in the West, and even the Western left, that behind the US’ motives in the Ukraine war is to weaken Russia and promote some kind of regime change. Why do you believe that they are not interested in changing the Russian regime?

Well, it depends on what you mean by regime change. If by regime change you simply mean changing the name of the president, then that is exactly what the West wants. They definitely want Putin to step down because Putin went too far, because Putin is totally unreliable, because Putin is toxic and, to some extent, he’s crazy or at least unpredictable and dangerous. So they want to get rid of him.

But do they want Russia to become a democratic, open society, dominated by people who are not corrupt and who care about the social and economic development of the country? I definitely doubt it. What they want is Putinism without Putin. They might also want some minor cosmetic changes, such as placing certain liberal economists in the government, although, it must be said, that the government is already dominated by neoliberal economists. All these economists, inside and outside the government, share the same views and approach to the economy. They all share the same idea of Russia being integrated into the global economy as a seller of raw materials and energy, and therefore increasingly dependent on Western markets.

The West definitely wants Putin to step down and the Russian elites want exactly the same thing – there is a total consensus on this. There is just one small problem: Putin is not going to step down. Moreover, if and when he finally does step down – in whatever form this might take – it will not be the end of the story, as Western and Russian elites hope; instead it will be the beginning of a much deeper crisis. By this I am not talking about Russia falling apart; I’m talking about social and political struggles within Russia for power and influence.

Real change means turning Russia into a democratic society, one dominated by domestic interests and not by the interests of foreign markets, foreign capital and Russian investment abroad, which is an important issue for Russian elites when it comes to decision-making. Russian society wants a different kind of economic development and people understand that this is necessary. This goes completely against the perspective envisaged by elites in Russia and the West.

In some sense, we have a situation that is very similar to the one Russia faced in 1916-17, when it was clear that the British and Germans were fed up with the tsar. This created a very strange situation, because the Germans and British were at war with each other, but they were in agreement that Nicolas II had to go. The Germans wanted this because they expected that Russia would then negotiate and get out of the war. The English expected a new regime to continue the war in a more effective manner. If you recall, Nicholas II resigned and then a revolution started – something that was not contemplated in either the plans of the Germans or British.

I think the situation today is very similar: they want Putin to go but they want the regime to stay largely intact, even if perhaps there might be a certain winding back in the level of authoritarianism to what existed before 2020. Essentially, a “return to normal” without Putin and without some of the more extreme repression and extreme militarisation. But it’s not going to happen that way. The regime will collapse sooner or later – and probably sooner rather than later. Much depends on the Ukrainian offensive – if it happens, when it happens and how it happens. It may end up leading to a political transition in Russia. I cannot say this will happen for sure, but it may, if the Ukrainian offensive succeeds.

But the important thing is that there is no going back to the status quo ante. Ukraine is going to undergo tremendous changes. And Russia will undergo even deeper changes. As a Belarusan comrade recently said to me, we – meaning Russians, Belarusians, all of us ex-Soviet Union and ex-Russian imperial subjects – have a good tradition: Every time we lose a war, we either start radical reforms or revolutions.


Also by Boris Kagarlitsky…

The Blitzkrieg Failed. What’s Next?

A Plea to My Western Progressive Friends: Stop Helping Putin with Your Conciliatory and Ambiguous Statements

Russia: Idiots, No Longer Useful  (his last published article before arrest)

Friday, July 21, 2023

James Connolly and Ukraine


Well aware there would be socialists criticizing him for taking weapons from an imperial power, Connolly had this banner made: We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser but Ireland

The war in Ukraine has been hotly debated in Ireland, where many compare Ukraine’s resistance to Russian imperialism with Ireland’s historic opposition to British imperialism. In the following article, Conor Kostick, a prominent Irish writer and socialist, discusses how the great Irish revolutionary socialist James Connolly, executed by the British in 1916, might have approached the Ukraine war. And he addresses an issue that has confused many on the Left internationally: Ukraine’s reliance on the US and NATO for the weapons needed for its self-defense. – RF

By Conor Kostick

The war in Ukraine is a political earthquake. It has divided the left internationally. I am one of those who believes that the defeat of Russian imperialism by the people of Ukraine is vital for the future of humanity. Either the far-right and authoritarian governments are going to be strengthened or they will be thrown back and Putin toppled.

Does thinking about the conflict through the perspective of James Connolly’s politics help understand it? I believe so and – interestingly – so do those who take a very different approach to the war in Ukraine.

In Ireland the Socialist Workers Network controls a broader party called People Before Profit. The position of the SWN on the war in Ukraine is therefore that of PBP and it is what I have termed evasionist. It condemns Russia but refuses to support Ukraine’s efforts to force Russia to withdraw and prides itself on preventing arms and even anti-mine assistance going to Ukraine. This is because the SWN see the war as an inter-imperialist one, with Ukraine acting as a proxy for US imperialism.

Kieran Allen has written about Ukraine through a lens that purports to be inspired by James Connolly in a feature for the Rebel website, the website of the SWN. I’d like to use the opportunity of this talk to rescue Connolly’s reputation from the harm that Allen does to it. Allen presents Connolly’s thinking on the Great War accurately enough: it was the result of rivalry between the great powers, especially Germany and Britain and the outbreak of war should have heralded a working-class rebellion in the cause of internationalism.

The violence to James Connolly’s politics happens because of what is not said. Allen concludes: “Connolly’s message that war is a product of capitalism and that the overthrow of that system is necessary could not be more relevant today.” Well yes, capitalism is bad and Connolly wanted socialism. But what about the very specific and relevant questions arising out of the occupation of smaller nations by stronger imperial powers. Specifically:

1. When those smaller nations fight for independence, should socialists support them?

2. Does that support cease if the leadership of the national independence movement is pro-capitalist?

3. Does that support cease if the leadership of the national independence movement seek weapons from other imperial powers?

James Connolly and Ukraine: Questions Answered

As soon as you pose these questions instead of evading them, there can be no argument over the answers that James Connolly would and did give to them. One. Yes, socialists are in favour of the right of nations to self-determination and not to be ruled by imperial powers. Two no, that support does not cease if the leadership of the national independence movement are pro-capitalist. In fact, Connolly’s major argument here, powerfully expressed in his book Labour in Irish History is that because Ireland’s elite are bound by a thousand golden threads to the capitalism of the British empire, they will betray the national movement. Not only should Irish socialists fight for independence, they should appreciate that the working class are the class most fit to achieve it. And Three, yes, you should take advantage of divisions among imperial powers to get arms for the national movement of an oppressed nation.

On this last point, I just want to emphasise how far Connolly was prepared to go to get military assistance from Germany, whilst retaining his opposition to all empires including the German one. Germany allowed the sale of 900 rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition to the Irish volunteers in 1914, brought to Ireland on a yacht, The Asgard. In 1916, Germany sent a ship, The Aud, with 20,000 rifles, 10 machine guns and a million rounds of ammunition to the west coast of Ireland. Roger Casement, the negotiator for the volunteers, was brought to the same area by U-boat. These were welcomed by Connolly, who also forwarded, to the readers of his Workers Republic, letters from leaders of the Irish Brigade, which was being trained in Germany.

Of course Connolly had political opponents who he knew would condemn him for dealing with Germany and approving of German assistance. The same kind of socialists who say they are against all capitalist powers and that to support Ukraine is to support NATO. He therefore had a huge banner made to make it absolutely and unmistakeably clear that you could take advantage of German willingness to promote rebellion in Ireland without supporting German imperialism: We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser but Ireland.

I’m confident therefore, especially given the many similarities of history in the relationship between Ukraine and Russia and Ireland and Britain that Connolly would be on the side of Ukraine’s workers in their resistance to invasion, their willingness to use whatever weapons they can obtain and to fight alongside Zelensky, even while making the point that the fight would be more effective without neo-liberal policies holding it back.

My last point is one of method. Connolly had a simple but powerful way of assessing where he stood in novel situations. He started by listening to those affected. As he put it in 1915 after engagement with the nascent women’s movement in Ireland, None so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter.

Connolly gave voice to the working class and the oppressed more generally. The truly shocking evasion is that in over 500 days of the invasion not one voice from Ukraine has appeared on the websites of SWN or been articulated by the politicians of PBP. This is in stark contrast to Connolly’s approach to politics. Even if he disagreed with an opponent, he’d present their views, in order to swipe at them with relish. He was a master polemicist and very funny too. I believe Connolly would have sided with the Ukrainian left and helped working class refugees find their feet in Ireland, as he did for Jewish workers at the turn of the century. But let’s suppose he had a disagreement with them, it’s impossible to imagine him carrying out the cowardice and deception necessary to pretend that the millions of Ukrainian trade unionists, feminists, socialists, anarchists, etc. are not fighting as hard as they can to get the Russian rapists out of their country. To suggest Connolly would have ignored the Ukrainian left in the name of a vague opposition to capitalism is where the real violence to his legacy happens.


Conor Kostick’s text is based on a talk he gave to Workers Liberty’s conference Ideas for Freedom on July 15, 2023.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

How Ontario tenants fought for legal security of tenure, and won

By Richard Fidler

Nothing illustrates the post-pandemic austerity more clearly than the sharp inflation in housing costs as reflected in the escalating rates of mortgage interest[1] and residential rents.

Most immediate are the rent increases. Average rents across Canada have risen by 20 percent since the onset of the pandemic, and by even more in major cities.[2]

Not surprisingly, Ricardo Tranjan’s book on what he terms “The Tenant Class,” published in May, has attracted wide interest and sympathy from housing activists and advocates.[3] A senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Tranjan takes aim at the conventional approach, which treats the “housing crisis” as a temporary problem requiring a technical solution: build more housing to bring supply into balance with demand and thereby limit prices through competition. Critics on the left, he notes, emphasize the need to remove housing as much as possible from market forces through promoting and building social and community housing, regulating the remaining market provision, and organizing tenants to ensure quality and access.

How can this be done? Tranjan sees tenants as the vehicle for change. His concern is with agency, and tenants alone in his view have the interest and capacity to force the debate onto the political agenda. And he describes some major tenant struggles in Canada. “Organizers may find these stories helpful,” he says, “when calling other tenants to join the historical struggle against the landlord class, which includes many inspiring victories.” The stories he cites include a struggle by 19th century settlers in Prince Edward Island against absentee British landlords for the right to buy their land as freehold tenure; Nova Scotia struggles for social housing construction; Montréal battles for tenants control of social housing; and struggles in Vancouver for the right to collective bargaining by tenants.

A separate chapter on tenant organizing today features rent strikes and political action initiatives in Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver as well as community organizing aimed at strengthening tenant input in battles for adequate housing.

Important omission

It is a useful, if rather disparate, inventory. But I – as a tenant activist in the late 1960s – was surprised to find only a fleeting (and inaccurate) mention of the major struggle in which we won legal security of tenure in Ontario. Here is what Tranjan says, in toto:

“Ontario had revised its residential tenancy act in 1968, drawing on a law reform commission that reviewed the matter in detail. In particular, the Ontario commission argued that tenants should have the right to collective bargaining as the asymmetric power relations between tenants and landlords would prevent fair outcomes in grievance cases and other negotiations….” (page 79)

In fact, until 1970 Ontario had no legislation specifically addressed to residential tenancies; these were subsumed under a general Landlord and Tenant Act that covered all tenancies, commercial and residential, the latter being based on feudal estates law that failed to address residential tenants’ needs for protection against exorbitant rent increases and restrictions against children, or for the right to individual and collective negotiation and adjudication of evictions and other conflicts with landlords. Tenant agitation in the 1960s prompted a law reform study, published in December 1968, that urged adoption of special legislation governing residential tenancies. Among its recommendations, it called for abolition of security deposits and distraint; an end to arbitrary or unreasonable refusal by landlords to allow tenants to assign, sublet or quit their leaseholds; imposing a legal duty of landlords to deliver and maintain premises in a good state of repair and fit for habitation; giving tenants a statutory right to apply to a court for enforcement of the landlord’s repair obligations, etc.

The Law Reform Commission report urged municipalities to establish Tenant Advisory Bureaus for provision of information, conciliation and rent review, using rent review officers to obtain “fair and just settlements of disputes concerning the payment or increasing of rent… and of disputes over evictions” – and, if this proved insufficient, “the introduction of a more stringent and compulsory system” of rent control. Although the report mentioned the issue of collective bargaining rights for tenants, it did not recommend that this be provided in law.

Ontario Tenants’ Association formed

While the Commission’s report, which was based on extensive consultation and hearings, was being publicly debated, a call for formation of an Ontario-wide tenants’ association was issued by the Association for Tenants’ Action in Kingston. ATAK had recently elected a member, Joan Kuyek, to Kingston’s City Council. I was among the delegates who met in response to the call in Kingston June 28-29, 1969 to found the Ontario Tenants’ Association. We represented tenants’ associations in Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Brampton, Hamilton and Peterborough.

We heard stirring presentations by tenant activists – including Frances Goldin from the Metropolitan Council on Housing in New York City, who pointed out that Canadians were paying a far higher percentage of rent to income than their neighbors in the United States, while possessing a much smaller stock of housing. Included in her advice to the new OTA: “Use demonstrations to break through the morass of the bureaucratic mind.”

The conference adopted some preliminary objectives, which were followed by a more complete definition of policy at the OTA’s October 1969 convention. They are worth quoting:

1. Membership in the Association shall be restricted to tenants and tenants’ associations.

2. The OTA will work for legal recognition of collective bargaining for tenants.

3. The OTA shall remain independent of any political party.

4. One immediate goal of the Association shall be to achieve the reform of the Landlord and Tenant Act, and to support the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission as a first step.

5. The OTA will work for tenant control of the management of the buildings in which they live.

6. The OTA will work towards the creation of a new Rent Regulation Act….”

The OTA’s detailed suggestions for the proposed Act emphasized that “The tenant is to have security of tenure, with eviction only for illegal non-payment of rent, undue damage, or criminal activities. Eviction is to be only by court order….” And they were preceded by the statement that “Rent regulation is a temporary solution to a long-standing problem that can only really be solved by more public and co-operative housing.”OTA - Kuyek and Sewell_000004

OTA Chair Joan Kuyek and Alderman John Sewell at panel on Tenant Control, Toronto.

On October 8, 1969, about 500 OTA members and supporters demonstrated at the Ontario legislature in Queen’s Park, Toronto, to protest the provincial government’s failure to enact tenant protection legislation. According to the news release I issued on behalf of the OTA,

“Their demands were moderate, but the tenants were angry. At Queen’s Park they heard speeches by NDP deputy leader Jim Renwick and Liberal opposition leader Robert Nixon. But they booed lustily when Trade and Development Minister Stanley Randall, representing the cabinet [of Tory Premier John Robarts], took the microphone. Randall was constantly heckled as he plowed through a 15-minute prepared speech that made no attempt to meet the tenants’ demands.”

At a conference on the following day, close to 100 delegates met to debate and adopt the OTA’s principles and policies. Again, some excerpts are worth quoting. We began with the Statement of Principles:

“Two classes of people are interested in housing - those who live in it, and those who live off it. The latter comprise developers, real estate speculators, lending institutions, landlords’ lobbies, and the governments which are all too ready to heed their wishes. It is these institutions which are responsible for the housing crisis, and they alone who benefit from it.

“The Ontario Tenants Association seeks to represent a growing part of the first group — that is, those who rent the homes they occupy. OTA bases all its policies and actions upon the following premises, that:

1. Everyone has a right to a decent home at a price that he or she can afford.

2. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure that this housing is provided.

3. Because tenants, through their rent, pay for the financing, operations and maintenance of their homes, they should be entitled to bargain collectively over the terms of their rents and over the quantity and quality of services provided.”

In addition to detailed proposals for enactment of a new rent regulation act, we adopted resolutions on public housing that reflected input from affiliated Ontario Housing Corporation (OHC) tenant associations.[4] One called on the Ontario government to “increase the public stock of housing so that the average rent of all housing not exceed 20% of a household’s net income.” Another demanded that OHC “establish the principle of tenants’ control of the management of their buildings” and that public housing tenants be guaranteed access to the OHC’s files on them with the right to challenge misinformation before “a Review Board comprised equally of civil servants and tenants.”

Still another resolution addressed the need for collective bargaining rights:

“BE IT RESOLVED that the principles of collective bargaining be established by law as a method of resolving disputes between landlords and tenants, and that the Provincial Government be asked to introduce legislation to compel landlords by law to recognize any association, organization or union that represents 50% or more of the tenants in the leased premises under dispute, as the sole spokesman and bargaining agent for all the tenants in the leased premises under dispute.”

“And further, that the parties be compelled by law to bargain in good faith,

“And further, if the tenants choose to enhance their bargaining position by withholding rent, they, like unions, shall not individually or collectively be subject to the law of conspiracy.”

Law reform

Throughout 1969, tenants’ associations throughout southern and eastern Ontario organized and joined with the OTA in marching and lobbying for these objectives. And in December 1969 the Ontario government finally tabled its Bill 234 adding a Part IV to the Landlord and Tenant Act to govern residential tenancies. At the legislative committee hearing on the Bill, we were unsuccessful in winning agreement on our major criticisms as outlined in a five-page brief submitted by OTA chair Joan Kuyek along with representatives of the Metro Toronto Tenants Association. Nevertheless, as the OTA Newsletter reported, “the Bill does represent a recognition of the rights of Ontario tenants and it does take a step toward granting us some measure of security of tenure.”

OTA Newsletter no. 1_000002

The Newsletter outlined the major changes in the Act:

1. The right of distress has been abolished. Landlords can no longer seize tenants’ property to cover arrears in rent….

2. Security deposits have been abolished on all leases signed or renewed after January 1 [1970]. On leases signed before that date, you will get six percent interest on the deposit [an amendment to the Bill obtained by the OTA]….

3. Tenants cannot be evicted for exercising their human rights, legal rights, or reporting their landlord violations under any government statutes.

4. For the first time, landlords are put on the same footing as any other business by requiring that they live up to their side of the bargain before they can legally demand rent.”…

5. The landlord’s right of entry is severely limited…

Most importantly, procedures for termination of tenancies were “spelled out in detail, in sections 97-108. They are long, so you should look at the Act for answers to specific questions.”

In the Summer 1970 issue of the OTA Newsletter (now a print tabloid, myself listed as editor), we pointed to major defects still in the revised Act. Singled out was the failure to address “the critical problem of rent increases.” Only two cities (Burlington and Windsor) had set up Leasehold Advisory Bureaus, an option under the Act. Furthermore, there were still no guarantees that a lease, once expired, could be renewed.

In the following years, these and some other problems were addressed in law and regulations. In 1975 the Act was amended to convert leases into indeterminate contracts; a landlord now needed a court order to evict a tenant. Also in 1975, residential premises rent review was established in Ontario, and rent controls were tightened under successive Liberal and NDP governments in the 1980s and 1990s.

Most reforms governing landlord and tenant duties established in Part IV of the Landlord and Tenant Act remain in force in today’s legislation. When I worked at Toronto’s Parkdale Community Legal Services in the early 1980s as a student lawyer representing tenants, I was often reminded of how critically important these reforms were to enforcing the rights and interests of low-income tenants.

Since then, however, there have been major setbacks.

Governments throttle key reforms

In 1997, the Conservative government of Mike Harris enacted a new Tenant Protection Act (TPA) which removed the dispute resolution process under the previous law, including evictions and rent increases, from the Ontario court system and assigned jurisdiction to a newly created quasi-judicial body, the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal, staffed by politically appointed adjudicators. The TPA also eliminated rent control on vacant units between tenants, increasing the financial incentive for landlords to evict tenants through what is known as vacancy decontrol. Among the results is a massive increase in “no fault” eviction cases, such as evictions for extensive renovations, a frequent pretext claimed by landlords.

Later Liberal governments retained vacancy decontrol while replacing the TPA by separate laws governing residential tenancies and rent review.

The Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), the body responsible for adjudicating landlord and tenant disputes under the new Residential Tenancies Act, is now overwhelmed by the volume of eviction cases landlords file against tenants. In 2021-2022, 88% of all applications received by the LTB were filed by landlords against tenants.[5]

Although in 2017 rent control was expanded to all units, including those built after 1991 (previously exempt), one of the first acts of the newly-elected Conservative government of Doug Ford was to exempt all rental units created or occupied after November 15, 2018 from rent control. Rent increases on existing tenancies are limited by decree: 2.5% annually at present. But landlords may apply to the Board for “above guideline increases,” as many do.

A provisional conclusion 

These retreats from the reforms initiated in 1969-70 underscore the fragility of any progressive reforms – especially those restraining private property rights – achieved under capitalist governments. Nevertheless, the reforms themselves, as outlined here, were major gains for the working class in Ontario.

The Ontario Tenants Association played an important role in publicizing tenant interests and actions and in providing political leadership to the movement for reform.

Tenant struggles, a constant reality under market-based housing conditions, need to find ways to go beyond the inevitable defensive struggles against the power and privileges of individual corporate and financial landlords – important as these are – and to seek political solutions at the level of government housing policy and programs.

[1] “Mortgage borrowers to see payments increase by 20-40% at renewal: Bank of Canada,” Canadian Mortgage Trends, May 19, 2023.

[2] May 2023 Rent Report.

[3] Loretta Fisher, “The housing market and tenant organizing,” Spring Maganzine, May 12, 2023. Sahar Raza, “This is a class struggle, not housing crisis – and it’s time to pick a side,” CCPA Monitor, May-June 2023.

[4] The OHC, now the Housing Services Corporation, is the province’s public social-housing corporation for moderate and low-income households.

[5] “A More ‘Efficient’ Landlord And Tenant Board Will Mainly Hurt Renters,” The Maple, May 15, 2023.