Monday, February 8, 2021

Are Russian Detention Centers Becoming Today’s ‘Universities of Revolution’?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 7 – More than a century ago, Vladimir Lenin observed that tsarist prisons and exile arrangements had become “universities of the revolution,” places where those confined were radicalized and had time to think about how best to challenge the regime on their release.

            The Bolshevik leader’s observation reflected the coming together of two trends: As the tsarist regime arrested ever more people, being arrested came to be viewed not as a black mark on one’s character but as a source of pride; and as their numbers grew, inmates began to organize both educational efforts among themselves and various kinds of protests.

            There are now clear signs that in the wake of the mass detentions following the two Navalny protests, both of these trends are being repeated, analyst Oleg Pshenichny says. The large number and randomness of the arrests has eliminated much of the stigma and allowed those behind bars to view themselves and act in new ways (

            The enormous number of detainees overwhelmed the capacity of their jailors to cope. Most of those behind bars are young but extremely diverse professionally and ethnically. And they are coming together to demand better treatment, singing and chanting slogans. Over time, the analyst says, they have even achieved some victories, at least moral ones.

            They feel themselves a new unified group standing up to the powers that be, and they have even taken one step that recalls Lenin’s words even more directly. They are organizing courses for those behind bars. But the courses are very different than the ones the Bolshevik leader was referring to.

            Instead of Marxist revolutionary theory, the detainees are now attending scheduled lectures in linguistics, programming and history ( and But it is entirely possible that these self-organized sessions will prove just as much or even more “revolutionary.”

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