Alexei Navalny. Photo: Michal Siergiejevicz/CC
Alexei Navalny. Photo: Michal Siergiejevicz/CC

Clare Doyle

Just days after news from Russia of the imprisonment of Boris Kagarlitsky (see comes the death in custody of Russia’s most famous political prisoner, 47-year-old Alexei Navalny, reportedly after taking exercise at Penal Colony No 3, north of the Arctic Circle. Many Russians believe that the hand of the Russian state was involved in his death, if not directly, then due to the years of harsh prison conditions in which Navalny was held.

In a country at war, where protest has been brutally suppressed by the Putin regime, this death may see young people take to the streets to express their anger.

Navalny had recently been sentenced to at least two more decades of imprisonment after already having served years in jail. He was apparently poisoned on an internal flight in Russia in 2020 and survived only with the help of doctors and medical staff in Germany. On arriving at Sheremetyevo Airport in January 2021, to continue his campaigns against high-level corruption, Navalny was taken into custody and held ever since.


In the run-up to what will be Putin’s fifth presidential term, elections in Russia are a farce. Those who tried to qualify, like Boris Nadezhdin, were disqualified weeks before the contest on 17 March.

As socialists, we condemn the suppression of democratic rights in Russia and stand for the removal of the Putin government and the ending of gangster capitalism.

Navalny, banned from standing in the election of 2018, was supportive in principle to private property and the market. He first made his name as a right-wing Russian nationalist, attending far-right events and making vile anti-Muslim statements, once calling for all immigrants to be deported.

He later protested against the obscene accumulation of wealth by a Kleptocracy – the oligarchs who dominate Russian society. He used drones to film their vast holiday villas, including that purportedly of Putin, said to be worth at least $1 billion. This won him a large online following in Russia. Yet Navalny campaigned for ‘clean capitalism’ – a chimera!

Along with others, including the politician Boris Nemtsov, and the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, assumed by many Russians to have been murdered by the Putin regime for their opposition views, it appears that Navalny has paid with his life for opposing the Kremlin. But this death has aroused protests. Flowers have been laid at memorials to the victims of political repression across Russia. Demonstrations have begun at embassies in the capital cities of Europe and beyond.

The death of a high-profile figure like Navalny, notwithstanding his pro-capitalist and nationalist politics, can help to spark the beginnings of the awakening of the sleeping giant of the long-suffering working class of Russia, and a new generation of youth.

The lessons of history – the Russian Revolution and its betrayal – are as relevant today as ever for the working class. The foremost lesson is the need for the working class to build its own genuinely independent organisations, with a bold socialist programme, to overthrow the Putin regime and oligarchs, and to oppose all stripes of capitalist parties.