This article examines how activist identity is constructed in the Russian opposition youth movement Oborona. The research is based on fieldwork among youth activists in Moscow and St Petersburg. The author analyses how activist identity is classed and gendered, as well as its relations to the Russian civic field. The article suggests, first, that the activist identity is marked by an affiliation with the intelligentsia: activists have grown up in intelligentsia families and articulate their activities through the intelligentsia's ‘markers’, such as intelligence, discussion skills and education. Secondly, activists follow a dissidents' cultural model, by emphasizing the importance of non-conformism and traditional dissident values, and draw parallels between the contemporary government and the totalitarian Soviet state. Thirdly, this traditional intellectual dissident identity is associated with cosmopolitanism through the movement's international connections and appropriation of the forms of action of global social movements. Sometimes the activist practices and aspirations conflict with the group's ideals. Furthermore, the activist identity is gendered and embodied in the right activist ‘look’, which is defined by masculinity. Regardless of the movement's liberal ideals in regards to democracy, questions of gender and sexuality are not discussed, and activists do not question traditional understandings of gendered divisions of labour.