Left perspectives on the protests in Russia and Navalny – Katya Kazbek

Katya Kazbek, writer & translator, editor-in-chief of

Alexei Navalny is an indispensable investigative journalist, who has done a lot of fascinating and useful work to uncover corruption in business and personal lives of those who are connected to Vladimir Putin’s government. However, I find the centering of him as the opposition leader to be unnecessary and unfair.  It is simply not true: while he does have a lot of followers, especially in the big cities, support for him tails behind that for Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov. Of course, I don’t consider the Zhirinovskiy to be anything but a spoiler. But while I find the CPRF reactionary, I believe there are way more prospects for communists to gather support in the regions given proper organizing than Navalny will ever be able to achieve. I do not think that even his most populist approaches make him an appealing politician. Besides, what he has to offer, is just a different version of a nationalist neoliberal agenda that doesn’t have anything new to add to the way Russia is governed, but also has less to show for itself (unlike Putin who is largely seen as the leader under whom life improved since the dismal 90s).

Navalny’s arrest promptly after the return from Germany was not surprising, and provokes outrage, as any such action in any country rightly would. As many in big cities go out into the streets and protest his incarceration (as well as general discontent with Putin’s government), I am immediately brought back in time to a decade ago when I protested Putin’s government and Navalny’s arrests. However, today my view of the protests is also informed by particular events that had since occurred in the world, for instance, the Ukrainian Maidan, the coup in Bolivia, the attempted coup in Venezuela and the protests in Belarus. Because of them, I have started to see the framing of Navalny as the opposition leader and the barrage of support from Western politicians and media outlets in his support as all part of larger color revolution project. Moreover, I retrospectively believe the same applied to the events in the 10s and regret participating. 

And in addition to the absolute distrust of color revolutions and anything that the US congress (or UK & EU leaders) push for in terms of foreign policy, I also believe that there is a concerted effort to whitewash Navalny and make him palatable to the newer supporters. This is done by downplaying his nationalism (I was harassed online for pointing it out although he had not denounced his views as of October 2020) and by breaking out a relatively old project of his, the “Putin palace” which was discussed to death in 2010. I don’t think it’s his finest work, there are many issues with it, yet it’s been revived yet again, this time with NED-funded Bellingcat at the helm and seemingly for the Western audience, to garner sympathy for the cause. As much as I despise Putin’s order, I have even less trust in the project of advancing Navalny, and do not want to have anything with the protests that center him. Moreover, I feel like their only results, once again, will be a lot of protestors beaten, arrested and charged, left to live out the consequences, which are, unfortunately, rather harsh in Russia: I’ve seen that before. There is no distinct plan for even the leftmost participants in the protests and the idea is to just wing it and then try to get rid of the nationalists: I don’t think it’s going to work and if it does, we’ll be worse off than we started.

Meanwhile, I hope for a revolution of the proletariat in Russia and think that the way to advance it is, above all, to organize locally. Unions, which have advanced greatly in the past years, communist parties and movements and extensive reading groups for theory, which have also spread, from Donetsk to Vladivostok. And when we protest, it shouldn’t be about Navalny or adjacent figures, it should be about class struggle.