Four months in an anti-authoritarian platoon in Ukraine
We present you a translation of an article that was written in the first half of July. Now the anti-authoritarian platoon has moved forward. It has been transferred to a new unit where it will resume training, recruitment and, after proper training, will be sent into combat, as promised. This is a moment to summarize the first phase of the platoon’s existence —as part of the Kiev regional territorial defense.
The Anti-Authoritarian Platoon is the unofficial name of a unit in one of the brigades of the Territorial Defense of Ukraine (TRO) in the Kiev region. It was formed by anarchists and leftists from different groups, as well as anti-fascists and soccer hooligans who decided to join forces to fight Putin’s occupiers.
The unit has been in existence since the first day of the war — for over four months now. This is a good time to analyze and draw preliminary conclusions about how things are going.
A couple of months before the war started, everything around was already full of alarming rumors. At that moment, libertarian circles in Kiev began to discuss and plan what to do if the threat of a full-scale invasion became a reality. How should the movement prove itself? Very few people believed that war would actually happen. We decided to form civilian and military wings. We held some meetings, agreed with our comrade from Territorial Defense that we would try to make a unit, and had a couple of training sessions with him. Another comrade prepared social media accounts for the civilian and military initiatives… However, on the eve of the war, all our preparations were still in their infancy. And yet, when the time came «day Х», we just started following our plan — and it helped us a lot. “Operation Solidarity”, the anti-authoritarian platoon and the «Resistance Committee», – are probably the most notable examples of libertarian activism in this war. They are all, to a large extent, the results of our planning and preparation. This example illustrates the importance of preparing and thinking through scenarios for your actions in various situations.
Comrades asked, what would we do if we could rewind time back to 2020, knowing what happens now? I think we would have spent a lot more time and energy building permanent and larger groups, networking and connecting, raising money and resources, gaining skills, advocacy and strategic analysis. However, in any case, it would not have been enough. Therefore, it is equally important — maintain readiness to mobilize.
What advice would I give to comrades from around the world today? Plan, organize and act as if the final countdown has already begun and the most important historical challenges await you next month. In this era, change is always worth waiting for. Don’t let them take you by surprise.
Bureaucracy, army order…
I don’t think I’m revealing a military secret by telling you that the platoon is currently in a protracted search for a suitable place in the armed forces. We are looking for opportunities to take part in combat operations, to resume recruiting new people and to restore a systematic training process, as well as to solve some bureaucratic problems related to the registration of fighters. We could call what’s going on «transition period», but it’s been going on for about three months now, so it’s more appropriate to consider it a full-blown phase of our existence.
The uncertainty in which we find ourselves raises the problem of bureaucracy. It is inevitable for all those who are part of the armed forces. To begin with, let us clarify the nature of the TRO. The TRO differs from the regular army in that it consists mainly of volunteers and is organized along territorial lines. In general, the TRO is seen as a less professional, rather auxiliary force. At the same time, it is quite subordinate to the regular military hierarchy and the rules and customs of the high command.
Obviously, becoming part of a vertical hierarchy is problematic for an anti-authoritarian. However, we deliberately took this step. I think everyone in our platoon would agree that taking part in the resistance is more important than the downside of temporary inclusion in the army system.
Could we fight an armed struggle separate from the state army under the present conditions? The answer is unequivocally no. Most such ideas are expressed far away from Ukraine and the local situation. First of all, we are not organized enough and we do not have enough resources to seriously claim to form an independent armed force. At the same time, the Ukrainian state has enough strength and will to suppress any fully autonomous force. In such a situation, guerrilla warfare independent of the state is possible only in the territories occupied by the Russian army.
However, the most important reason is that the interests of the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian society today have coincided in the task of repelling the brutal aggression (but not in many other areas!). Therefore, an attempt to organize a separate resistance at the moment will hardly meet with anyone’s understanding. At the same time, the current situation in the Ukrainian armed forces gives a lot of room for various political groups willing to fight the occupiers.
Interestingly, after 2014, some far-right groups formed partially autonomous military units. It’s «Volunteer Ukrainian Corps — Right Sector» and the splinter «Ukrainian Volunteer Army». ВUnlike the state armed forces, these structures have a certain internal autonomy, a clear political ideology, and are less bound by bureaucracy in matters of recruitment. However, as far as I know, these forces are still under the operational command of the AFU, and at the moment, at least, the SAR DUK is being transformed into a «more normal» regular army unit.
Back to the problem of bureaucracy. Initially, our unit was given the green light for active development. However, then the approach of the battalion command changed dramatically. As a result, we were stuck in our battalion, practically losing the opportunity to recruit new people into our ranks. Instead, we were loaded with very formal and meaningless tasks that disrupted our structure and training process and damaged the morale of the unit. Fighters with foreign citizenship had additional bureaucratic problems. Also, we were unable to find a suitable opportunity to go on combat missions with the whole platoon, and by early July we remain in the rear. However, the situation is not hopeless — we look for opportunities to solve bureaucratic problems.
Facing the military bureaucracy was probably inevitable in our situation. The lesson we can learn from this story is that the more contacts and connections you have in the institutions with which you are going to interact, the better your chances of overcoming or circumventing the bureaucracy. I realized that we as revolutionaries should not be squeamish about contacts in state institutions — particularly contacts in the military. As long as we have clear political goals, the risk of trying to use such connections to realize those goals is far more justified than removing oneself from the tools that might allow the movement to find its footing.
Internal structure and life
According to army regulations, each platoon had several officer positions, which were given to those of us who had officer rank. Apart from that, the battalion command hardly interfered with our internal structure. Our structure does not conform to the “benchmark” idea of an anarchist unit where all positions are elected and subordinate to the general assembly. One reason is that not everyone in the platoon shares anarchist views. So assistant platoon leaders and squad leaders are appointed by the platoon commanders.
However, some horizontal institutions were also established. At the suggestion of an experienced comrade who came from Europe, we started practicing takmil — critique and self-critique sessions — by squad. Deputy squad leaders were selected. One of their tasks was to relay criticism beyond the squad to the platoon commander at the squad leaders’ meeting.
After several conflicts related to media activity our same comrade from Europe suggested that we elect a media committee. After approval from the commanders, the election was held. Every soldier in the platoon could vote. The committee included the three candidates with the highest number of votes. All interviews, texts, partially — photos that warfighters plan to publish must be coordinated with the media committee. The committee controls their compliance with the standards set by the platoon command. First and foremost, it is about safety and avoiding discrediting the ZSU.
At present, all platoon institutes are on hold as the aforementioned bureaucratic problems have affected the unit. Most of us are feeling depressed and tired because of them.
Of course, informal communication plays no less of a role than institutional communication. On the one hand, from the very beginning we have had a kind of democratic culture of communication: the ability to freely express opinions, ask questions and criticize everyone, including commanders.
On the other hand, there was an active struggle of ambitions in the team. There were also simply personal conflicts. To a certain extent, this is inevitable. However, in our particular situation, I think we could have done better.
One of the reasons — A lack of will and desire to build community and resolve conflicts in a friendly manner. This can be seen among many fighters. Some «old scores» of the participants have also played a negative role. At the same time, it is well known that people who cherish the camaraderie of conflict resolution are not always successful at it either.
Another problem is that the anti-authoritarian platoon included very heterogeneous groups and people from the very beginning. Groups of varying numbers and degrees of conflict/dominance. This creates additional tension. Sometimes it seems that it would have been more productive for such a tight and permanent collective to have a more homogeneous core at the beginning. It would establish certain rules and culture of collective life, and then integrate newcomers into the collective.
Conflicts of ambition are fueled by a worldview prevalent in our midst. It’s a contradictory mix:
- disrespect for hierarchy to the extent that even a person’s limited authority in a highly specialized area is often arrogantly rejected;
- informal hierarchies, which may be based on authority, manipulation, personal sympathy, etc. These are not rejected or analyzed;
- egocentrism and individualism in a bad sense, which are also contagious, because in a collective where many people behave this way, you are unlikely to adhere to collectivist behaviors.
This mix sets the stage for prolonged tension.
The issue of gender and toxic masculinity is of course also relevant to us. I’m not sure I can analyze it competently. First of all, it should be said that for most of its existence, the composition of our platoon has been 100% male. For two months we had two female paramedics with us. This glaring gender imbalance, in my opinion, is primarily due to the fact that in our circles, women are much less involved in activities involving the use of force than men and are much more alienated from them. This tradition is difficult to counter at the level of an individual project. However, some of the responsibility rests on our shoulders, as the atmosphere created within the team is probably not very favorable to women. Our fellow paramedics in particular complained that they sometimes had to shout to be heard in conversation. At the same time, some platoon members criticized our female comrades for not wanting to be part of the team and actively participate in its daily life, regardless of their gender identity.
When I discuss all this here with a close comrade of mine, he says: believe me, we are actually quite pleasant company. In «ordinary» the division could have been a lot tougher. In fact, I agree with him. All the shortcomings noted above need to be criticized and overcome. However, in my opinion, these problems are not too fatal. And most of the challenges of collective existence that we face are much easier and more painless to deal with than one might expect in the «apolitical» or a reactive environment. A brother recently returned from a business trip where he spent a couple of weeks in a «ordinary» of tera-defense units in the Kiev region. «Guys, we’re living in paradise here.», – he said on his return.
Political significance of the project
After a number of discussions in the platoon, we came to the conclusion that we could define our collective political identity with the words «anti-imperialism» and «anti-authoritarianism». Otherwise, our political views and lines may differ. For some guys, our unit — is more of a way to get to war with their friends and people close to them. Others set far-reaching goals, seeing platooning as a way to showcase our movement to the community, gain experience, and create a sustainable space in which we could organize and grow.
One of the main tasks at the moment — to overcome bureaucratic obstacles, reorganize and finally take part in the fighting against the occupiers. We are all volunteers who are here to contribute directly to the fight. Going more than four months without participating in actual combat is damaging to our spirit and self-esteem. It alienates us from the activities we do here.
I am hardly a militant human being myself. But the current situation calls for both personal and collective engagement. It can open a way forward for us. In recent months, when I occasionally visit Kiev, I see people walking around there without a care in the world, having fun… It is as if there is no horrible war just a few hundred kilometers away. A war where the people of this city die every day. I understand that people need rest and small pleasures. And at the same time, this situation causes me a lot of dissonance. The longer we sit here, stuck deep behind the lines, the more we demobilize, the more alienation arises from the goals and motives that brought us here.
At the same time, experienced comrades say that in war the battle itself takes only 1% of the total time, if not less. Therefore, the ability to wait, to be patient, and to dispose of «free» in time — these are useful and positive skills for a partisan.
To conclude this text, I would like to say that the creation of a platoon — is in itself an unprecedented event for anti-authoritarian circles in Eastern Europe. Despite all the inevitable shortcomings, this endeavor has enormous potential for development. I am sure there will be more interesting news to come from here. The structure we have managed to create and the collective study of military affairs — a truly important experience for all of us.
For all the comradely criticism voiced above, I want to emphasize my respect and positive attitude toward my comrades in arms.