We, Too, Remember Aleksei Sutuga. The Life of a Russian Anarchist and Anti-Fascist

on the website Crimethinc. The title photo shows letters of solidarity to Alexey in prison.

Aleksei Sutuga grew up deep in Siberia, in Irkutsk—the city to which Mikhail Bakunin was once exiled, not to mention many other Russian rebels. Known to his friends as Socrates, Aleksei became involved in the Russian anarchist and anti-fascist movements. He is the subject of a new book, .

In tracing the story of his life, this book documents a vanished era of Russian history. Comprised of dozens of interviews with participants in the anarchist and anti-fascist movements across the first two decades of the twenty-first century, it offers one of the most detailed pictures of those struggles yet available in English. It is important for us to learn about that period today, because it was a time when history was still up for grabs—when the horrific tragedies that have since played out in , and  were not yet inevitable.

The interviewees recount how anarchism reemerged in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sharing their memories of Socrates, they explore the relationship between hardcore punk, straight edge, veganism, anarchism, anti-fascism, and a variety of other forms of activism. They describe how Socrates and his comrades became locked in a brutal conflict—first with neo-Nazis, then with the Russian authorities. As a consequence, he spent years in Russian prisons.

Socrates was not just a fighter. He sang in hardcore bands, organized with , and contributed to a range of other cultural activities. He also participated in theater, performing in plays such as Tvoi kalendar’/Pytki, which was based on monologues by participants in the —a court case in which the Russian police used torture to force arrestees to sign false confessions in order to frame them as part of a fabricated terrorist conspiracy.

Aleksei Sutuga passed away on September 1, 2020 in a tragic accident that occurred as a result of his choosing, once again, to stand up for others.

At the invitation of our Russian comrades, we have provided an introduction to the book, exploring why Aleksei Sutuga’s story should be of interest outside Russia. The text appears below.

A protest in Irkutsk in 2005. Fourth from the right is Aleksei Sutuga, known as Socrates.

We, Too, Remember Aleksei Sutuga

In Russia, the first decade of the 21st century was a time of possibility and danger.

Possibility. Because after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became possible to propose new ideas and carry out new experiments. There were new problems—and new horizons, too. For young people, subculture served as a laboratory for new ways of living: punk, hardcore, veganism, straight edge, anarchism. The first generation of anarchists to find each other after the end of the Soviet Union had to rediscover how to articulate their dream of a better world. The second generation picked up where the first had left off, creating organizations, articulating ambitions, acting together to see if they could make that world a reality. Aleksei Sutuga was part of this second generation.

And danger. Because the anarchists were not the only ones with a vision to propose. At the same time, neo-Nazis and other nationalists were taking advantage of the bedlam and anomie in Russia to carry out attacks and spread their noxious ideology. Aleksei and a few other brave individuals .

Socrates appearing via video link from Butyrka prison at a hearing, 2012.

In fighting the far right while it was still a ragged street movement, they sought to prevent it from becoming the next ruling order. For a short time, Aleksei and his comrades succeeded. They won control of the streets from the fascists, only to lose it to the state. Having used the far right as shock troops and appropriated its ideology, the government of Vladimir Putin set about crushing both fascists and antifascists, suppressing the sense of possibility that had prevailed in Russia.

We followed all this distantly from the United States. While we were organizing Food Not Bombs and Really Really Free Markets, our Russian counterparts were fighting fascists in concert venues and train carriages. While we were vandalizing army recruiting offices, they were mourning comrades murdered by neo-Nazis. After we gathered in parks and plazas for , they assembled in Bolotnaya Square in 2011 in a desperate bid to keep Putin from cementing control. By the time we were participating in the uprisings in  and , many Russian anarchists had already been killed or forced into exile, and Aleksei was in prison.

Socrates in 2017, after his release from the penal colony in Angarsk.

And then, in the United States, we were the ones mourning comrades  by neo-Nazis and scrambling to thwart an aspiring despot. The Russian context that had seemed distant to us was not so far away after all.

So this is not simply a story about the Wild Wild East, a faraway exotic land. The same geopolitical forces and processes at work in Russia are also at work where we live, and we exoticize them at our peril. Like Aleksei and those who remember him, we too face a fascist movement driven by rising inequality and desperation, we too confront rising authoritarianism. We should understand the conditions in Russia and our own conditions as different facets of the same thing.

This is especially pressing because this story is not over yet—neither in Russia, nor the United States.

Police harass protesters supporting the defendants in the  after they were sentenced to between six and eighteen years in a penal colony apiece. February 2, 2020.

Looking at Russia in 2024, we can see that state violence does not come to an end once a single autocrat succeeds in consolidating power. On the contrary, once internal dissent has been crushed, the ruling class looks around for other enemies, other frontiers for conquest. Authoritarianism is not a static order, but a volatile system. It is a fire that must consume more and more fuel to persist. When authoritarians secure control over a society, war is the inevitable next step.

Today, we are living in the future that Aleksei and his comrades tried to stave off. As difficult as their times were, what has come since has been worse. We fight against fascism and totalitarianism because we know that every time we lose a battle against them, we will have to fight it again, only on worse terms, under even worse conditions.

This book is a valuable work of historical memory, a gesture of defiance against death and autocracy. Over the course of a century and a half, there have only been a few years during which anarchists could organize openly in Russia. Some people still remember Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, the Makhnovschina, the , the —but who knows how many courageous people like Aleksei have been forcibly erased from the historical record? Remembering his life and learning from the situation he confronted is a way to resist totalitarianism. It is also a way to learn more about ourselves and how we might act today.

For we, too, confront a time of possibility and danger.

You can order the book .

Olga Sutuga: I’ve known about, and indeed shared, my son’s political inclinations for a long time. I can’t say that I’m any kind of anarchist, I’m only starting to read Mikhail Bakunin and Nestor Makhno. But I do observe the principles of anarchism.

Socrates: It’s simple, everything is very simple. The most important thing is that people don’t aim to gain power. If they want power, then by definition they are not one of us.

Voice from the audience: What should we aim for then?

Socrates: What should we aim for? For life. For a free life, for self-realization, for knowledge, for the stars for goodness’ sake. But definitely not for power.

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