The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Alexei Navalny’s Death

Feb 26, 2024

Russian oppositionist Alexei Navalny died in a prison in Russia’s far north on February 16. Whether or not he was directly killed under orders of Putin and the regime, his death in this prison notorious for its atrocious conditions is the regime’s responsibility.

While he first gained notoriety as a far-right nationalist politician, Navalny became known as a harsh critic of corruption. In 2007, he made a video comparing immigrants to cockroaches and demanded that they be expelled. He criticized Putin for not being harsh enough, even as the police were hunting immigrants down. But he later toned down his nationalism and focused his fire on the Putin regime and the top layers of Russian oligarchs.

These oligarchs enriched themselves by stealing the wealth created by the Russian working class during the whole existence of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, life for ordinary people went into freefall as the economy collapsed. One mark of this: life expectancy for Russian men fell by six years just between 1991 and 1996. It was in the midst of this human disaster that the oligarchs grabbed their initial fortunes, dividing up the resources of the Soviet Union among themselves, selling off what they could. And while the Putin regime set some limits on the oligarchs and stabilized the economy somewhat, it continues to enable the oligarchs to enrich themselves at the population’s expense.

In 2012, Navalny appeared as one of the main leaders of a massive protest in Moscow against Putin’s fraudulent “election” to a third term as president. He then began posting YouTube videos of the fabulous properties of the top oligarchs, whom he called “parasites” and “crooks.” These attracted millions of views. The most famous were of Putin’s 1.3-billion-dollar palace on the Black Sea in Crimea and former president Medvedev’s enormous mansion in Italy.

Navalny’s personal bravery also made him a pole of attraction. In 2020, the regime poisoned him. After he was treated for this poisoning in Germany, he returned of his own accord to Moscow, knowing perfectly well what likely awaited him: a sentence of 19 years in prison that ultimately cost him his life.

Navalny was not a revolutionary, nor did he take the side of the working class. He called for Russia to establish “honest” capitalism and to more fully integrate its economy with Western Europe and the U.S. This stance turned him into a hero for the U.S. press. It also gained him support from some capitalists and even oligarchs who would prefer not to have to give a share of “their” profits to the “crooks” in power, and who would like to be able to spend their fortunes around the world as they please, like “normal” billionaires from other countries.

But in the current situation, any pole of attraction against the regime was evidently too much of a threat. In the last two years, hundreds of thousands of young men have been killed or wounded in the war in Ukraine. Increasing inflation and taxes fall heavily on the Russian working class, while the oligarchs and bureaucrats continue to bask in luxury and wealth. All this can only feed resentment against the regime and the “crooks,” even if it cannot always be expressed.

The protests that broke out when the war expanded in 2022 have been squelched, with unnamed thousands imprisoned. The Russian authorities even repressed Navalny’s funeral, refusing at first to hand his body over to his family. Protests were banned and those who went to lay flowers anyway were arrested and spent up to 15 days in prison.

Today, the Russian population may seem resigned to submit to this increasingly open and brutal repression. But this repression itself shows that the regime fears a reaction in the population against the war in Ukraine and the worsening conditions of life for most people in Russia. While the regime has large forces at its disposal, the Russian working class also represents a massive force, capable of overthrowing this regime and reorganizing Russian society in the population’s interests.