Letter from Russia: On the Protests of January 23

 Letter from Russia: On the Protests of January 23

A report from anarchists in Russia, describing the situation there during the protests of January 23, in which tens of thousands across the country rallied in response to the arrest of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny—expressing anger that runs much deeper. This article was first published by Crimethinc.

We have received the following report secondhand from anarchists in Russia, describing the situation there during the protests of January 23, in which tens of thousands across the country rallied in response to the arrest of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny—expressing anger that runs much deeper. It had been our hope that sooner or later, the unrest from Belarus might spill over into Russia—this is certainly the best hope for rebels in Belarus and elsewhere around the sphere of Russian influence, as well as all who suffer under Putin. We publish this here in the interests of fostering international perspectives among all who endure the consequences of capitalism and state power. May even revolt deepen and spread.

Today, January 23, a spark has been lit in the Russian Federation. From Moscow to Ulan-Ude, tens of thousands have poured into the streets for protests against Putin, corruption, and repression. At first glance, these demonstrations may seem like the same opposition protests that kick off every time a prominent opposition candidate is acutely repressed. But to us on the ground, we feel that something has shifted.

The usual passive attitude that is typical for these kinds of protests has been abandoned. People are fighting back against the police. Likewise, these rallies aren’t just in the typical places, nor are they comprised of just the same politically active upper-class people. From the city of Chita, we hear stories that the cops have been routed. In Perm, a crowd applauds after anarchists speak about rebellion, self-organized activity, and solidarity against repression. In Irkutsk, people are receiving anarchists and their words warmly as well. In one place, people block police cars, while in another, they de-arrest a protester. On one street, a man knocks out a cop, while on another, people chant “Freedom! Freedom!” as a woman wrestles a baton from a cop’s hand. Beyond the growing interest in anarchist ideas, which is certainly exciting, there is an even more exciting anarchic potential in the revolt that broke out today, however humble.

One exciting emergent tactic that has been snowball attacks on the police that have fostered confidence and maintained tension while also being an escalation people are comfortable with. If the point of an insurgency is to humiliate the authorities and motivate other partisans to take action, this is certainly a way to do so. In one video circulating on Telegram, you can even see a snowball attack escalating to an attack on an a vehicle with a state license plate [reportedly, a vehicle potentially associated with the FSB, the hated Russian Federal Security Service]. We have seen revolt begin to bloom in these tactics, but, on the other hand, repression has come too.

The state has admitted to over 3000 arrests. Videos depicting brutal police beatings have emerged. Para-state vigilantes were out in droves. Metro stations were shut down. No doubt more repression will follow; the Russian state has great repressive resources. However, like all states, they require a certain level of compliance from the people if they are to succeed in repressing crowds in the street and movements more generally. Cops were able to do their usual routine of muscling in and snatching people numerous times, but people also fought back, rescuing their comrades from the police or even driving police from some areas entirely.


Roughly translated, “The people are not sheep.”

Many people here seem to have seen Belarus as an example where repression and police violence didn’t force the rebels to back down. Chants and messages of solidarity with the struggle there can be found in many of the gatherings today. This fills us with hope—not in the sense that two nationalisms are greeting each other, but because these struggles are breaching their national borders. Every beach that the wave of insurrection makes is different, we all have different contexts, but we can also find common cause, resonance, and inspiration. We can find resonance with those in Belarus who rally against an oligarch whose grip may be slipping, with those who defend themselves from the police, and most importantly, with those who, at times, managed to out-pace the politicians whose experience of repression was among the original catalysts of the unrest.

We should perhaps mention that we have no praise to give Navalny, the politician whose arrest seemingly triggered this wave of protests. Navalny is an opportunistic ultra-nationalist bigot of a politician who paints himself as a populist using a narrative of anti-corruption politics that would only prop up a different batch of oligarchs and perpetuate oppressive attitudes in more pernicious ways. He isn’t even the most popular opposition politician, nor is his party the most popular. Funnily enough, the most popular opposition party is the Communist Party of Russia whose rank and file were also in the streets today. But we digress.

Today, we saw tactics and resolve to fight spread almost instantly across terrain and communal differences. Around 100,000 people got a taste of collective action. We hope that the topics of the protest generalize as well as the protests themselves, but this is as good of a stepping stone as any to take the next leap from. These next moments are crucial. How do we act cohesively, effectively, and decisively without military-like command structures, and without relying on the FBK (Anti-Corruption Foundation) for leadership? How can we operate without drawing too much repression down on our own distinct organizations or groups of friends? We still have many questions, but we also see that so much of what we need is already here.

We have sent this missive in hopes it reaches some American friends whose summer of fighting the police has been an inspiration to us, at least. In Russia, we have a saying, “the goats are eating the wolves,” where Americans might say “the pigs are flying.” In Russia, crooked cops are called werewolves and in the US, we understand cops, are pigs. So in the spirit of international solidarity, we say may the goats eat the wolves and let’s put wings on pigs.

Where there is misery, there is resistance.
Courage and cunning!
Not for Navalny, but for the people!

PS—Rebel greetings to those fighting in the streets of Tunisia! Down with the police-state!

Posted By

R Totale
Jan 24 2021 14:47

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  • Many people here seem to have seen Belarus as an example where repression and police violence didn’t force the rebels to back down... This fills us with hope—not in the sense that two nationalisms are greeting each other, but because these struggles are breaching their national borders.

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R Totale
Jan 25 2021 11:26

Oh, there's now a second letter up at that link:

Letter II

Tens of thousands people have protested across Russia today in one of the largest demonstrations against Vladimir Putin’s rule in the past decade. More than 3000 have been arrested.

These protests were significantly different from the previous ones that took place in aspen in Moscow and St. Petersburg over the past 10 years. In this case, people in all major cities of Russia come to the streets, including city of Yakutsk, where the temperature was -52 Centigrade. The second important difference was that people were not afraid to be in open conflict with the police: fights with riot cops, blocking the largest streets, breaking the police cars and even an avalanche of snowballs thrown at cops. All this has happened before from time to time, but not on such a huge scale. The official agenda of the protests is the demand for the release of opposition politician and independent anti-corruption investigator Alexei Navalny, who was arrested a week ago after his return from Germany, where he was receiving treatment after being poisoned by the FSB (the Russian security services). After Alexei was imprisoned, his Anti-Corruption Foundation’s team released a two-hour-long video investigation that garnered 74 million views at YouTube in less than a week. It told about Putin’s career in corruption, which began in the 1990s, and about one of his new houses: the largest palace in Russia (39 times the size of Monaco), built for him by the oligarchs. The incredible luxury of the palace has angered Russians living in a constantly deteriorating economic situation and no longer trusting state propaganda, which in recent years has already surpassed the worst examples of Soviet propaganda. Despite the controversial political views of the Navalny (fluctuating from right to left populism), many people took to the streets who did not share his views completely, but understand the importance of uniting and confronting the corrupt Russian government controlled by Putin and his small inner circle, whom he made the richest people in Russia and the world by transferring control over the largest oil and gas Russian companies.

People come to protest against corruption, poverty, and the ugliest forms of state-owned capitalism. Hatred is also growing against the police and security services that enforce this order.

Many anarchists took part in these protests, despite the fact that many hesitated due to their disagreement with the views of the politician (who nevertheless has supported, in his speeches, the anarchists and anti-fascists who were behind bars in recent years of repression). Hopefully, anarchists will take advantage of the current situation to interact with various forces in society to overthrow the regime and get out of the stagnation in which the movement is now. We can look at an important experience of Ukraine in which the extreme right-wing groups took advantage of the protest activity of the people, which helped them to gain access to power in the post-revolutionary country.

Anarchists can help people who find themselves at street actions for the first time to be more effective and safe on the streets, to confront the police, to create horizontal structures for helping those who are imprisoned or experiencing state repression, as well as planning future actions.

The autumn experience of Belarus shows that such support was extremely effective. Make information available (without outdated ideological clichés), and it can lead to the politicization of society and the forming of clear goals for the protests.

The situation in Russia does not only affect this county and the nearest post-Soviet countries. Putin’s regime supports many right-wing political movements in Europe and creates military conflicts zones everywhere; his paramilitary groups operate in many countries from Ukraine to the Central African Republic. The assassinations of the opposition leaders or just personal enemies occur regularly in various countries. It is important to be prepared for the coming protests and the subsequent repression that will definitely follow.

However, today’s events show that people are ready to go all the way to change their future!