The following text was received from Jack de Montreuil in early May 2022. It was in French but finding the content of great interest it was translated into English. (Little did I know then but there was already an existing English translation). I immediately assumed the anarchist oriented guy who wrote it was an Irish volunteer, possibly recent Ukranian Irish living say in Dublin and with this ‘information’ forwarded the text to a number of people, including Phil Meyler in Dublin who was initially of the same opinion. Jack immediately responded correcting my assumptions in a fascinating email (see below) the content of which I thoroughly agree with.
“Just as Ireland was said to be a bird that would eat the liver of the British Empire, Ukraine today is a small but formidable country that will bring down the last fascist empire of this world.
Three tendencies with specific historical traditions, stemming from the revolution and the civil war of a century ago (1917-1922), find themselves today organically linked in Ukraine: the Makhnovschina, the Petlyurovschina and the Hetmanschina. The Makhnovchtchina has its roots in the anarchist tradition of the Ukrainian people, which is embodied today in the self-organization of the people, in particular through the movement of volunteers and territorial defence; the Petlyurovchtchina is the army and the national republican associations; the Hetmanschtchina is state power and business. All these tendencies are now united by the same desire to defend the country, by the same concern to see this country develop in a free and independent manner. It is only after the war that we will be able to see what will really happen, but today, we are living in a unique situation: everyone is familiar with each other. It reminds me of Republican Spain during 1936. President Zelensky is also reminiscent of President Manuel Azaña. So currently, we can in no way speak of competition or opposition between these different political currents.
I serve in a unit created by nationalists, which is supplied by the municipal authorities and by volunteers, and which is financed by private companies. We give courses on anarchism to the combatants and we organize committees of soldiers who take care of the well-being of the combatants respecting their rights without this posing any problem. One can find a weapon to hand in the same trench where there's an anarchist, a nationalist, a Euro-optimist, a simple peasant, a worker or a computer scientist without precise political opinion. All are united by a common desire to protect their people, and the independence and freedom of Ukraine. We are all brothers and sisters, we are the people! This is the universally shared slogan and the only ideology that reigns today. The French Revolution of 1789 created a French nation, the Ukrainian revolution of 2013-14 and especially the war of 2022 are creating a new nation, the Ukrainian nation. The people have woken up. The 600 years of struggle and suffering of the Ukrainian people are coming to an end.
TK: It is difficult to say now what will happen after this war. Whatever the outcome, Ukraine has already won. The country has won morally, spiritually, politically and socially. Perhaps years of maturation, years of new social battles and class struggle within society await us. Struggles for social transformation, a series of new revolutions. But all of this is inherent in today's war that will make it possible, this war which is both a war of liberation and a social war. A war between empire and republic, between law and lawlessness, between life and death, between freedom and slavery.
In this context, Ukrainian nationalism resembles the nationalism of the Irish in their struggle against the British Empire. It is a liberating and creative nationalism. It is a national liberation struggle led by the people. The influence of radical groups is not as great as it seems from the outside. This war poses a threat of genocide to the Ukrainian people. Faced with the danger represented by this annihilation, unity imposes itself as necessary, even if it will fade over time. But it is the essence of the movement that counts, the momentum of liberation that runs through Ukraine in the face of Russian social racism that refuses in principle our right to exist. Words, banners and historical identification markers are no longer merely aesthetic or symbolic. They have long since ceased to have the meanings that we try to attribute to them. The red flag and the words "anti-fascism" have a completely different meaning today than they did a century ago. Even as the Russian authorities reduce Ukrainian cities to rubble (we can speak of Guernica during the 20th century), they are preparing to organize an “international anti-fascist congress”. Is it irony? A mockery? Or the fulfilment of George Orwell's brilliant prophecy? Putin is today's Hitler. There is nothing else to say.
According to my own experiences, public life in Ukraine since the Maidan revolution has been crossed on all sides by tendencies that I consider to be rather libertarian. The names, colors and shapes differ from those of traditional anarchist forces, but in their essence these dynamics are part of the principles of anarchism: electivity and alternation of power, direct democracy, self-organization and development of horizontal links, universal arming of the people, spontaneity and sense of initiative, the ability of grassroots civic groups to control the government, free and transparent information within civil society and between citizens and the government. Certainly, many things exist in an embryonic state and coexist with bourgeois institutions and corruption, but everything is evolving and it is in our power to continue what we have started since Maidan. In Putin's Russia, there is none of this: it is a police state where the cult of bloodthirsty dictators reigns and where militarism, chauvinism and racism are elevated to the rank of State religion that permeates all layers of society. From this point of view, there is no possible comparison with the presence or the influence of ultra-right radical groups in Ukraine: these groups remain very much in the minority in the country. Of course, I would prefer our war to take place under the banner of Nestor Makhno (founder of the Ukrainian Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army, which, after the October Revolution and until 1921, fought both the Tsarist army and the so-called revolutionary Bolshevik Red Army) and not Stepan Bandera (Ukrainian nationalist politician and ideologist who collaborated with Nazi Germany), although the figure of Makhno is quite popular here! Of course, I would like to fight in the name of anarchy rather than the Nation, but these are only symbols and words that do not change the real nature of the movement that criss crosses Ukraine. In any case, currently, to choose between: "Long live the King" and "Long live the Nation", I choose the Nation without hesitation!”
When you write about an "Irish anarchist who wrote about his experiences in the trenches in the Ukraine", you mean Taras Kobzar?
If you speak about him, he is not Irish, but Ukrainian, but yes he compares a kind of Irish nationalism with a kind of Ukrainian nationalism (his kind of nationalism is not, of course, the far right or chauvinist nationalism) in this way that both were or are struggling against their own imperialism -- English and Sovietic-Russian imperialism.
Here on this link you have the same interview of Taras Kobzar in English, but I don't know more about this guy (we can try to look on Google if there is more about him or his friends). I'm afraid, anyway, that he will be disappointed with what will follow in Ukraine, whatever they win or lose this war. If Ukraine wins, Zelensky will very probably go deeper with Western capitalism and if Russia wins, you can imagine what will happen.
I presume in both ways he will be disappointed (and we also).
Unless -- and why not because it's a so new and strange situation -- something new emerges out of all this mess? After all, I've also read many writings of Ukrainian common people or writers or "intellectuals", who are not anarchist at all, but who recognize that "the spirit of Ukraine is a mix of Makhno and Cossack's spirit" (let’s say a "fighting spirit" – like the Irish spirit), and who explain that, in Ukraine, there is a deep defiance and mistrust with the State and any authorities which goes back ages -- which is so understandable when you look on their history, from foreign invaders to Stalin, and now Putin.
I don't know at all what's next for Ukraine and for us in this crazy world, but it's quite disturbing. In another way, it's so much disturbing for all the world's population that it could lead to something else (and considering also that there is not only this war, but also corona, climate change, and massive impoverishment everywhere, and it cannot continue long time like that -- but on the other side, it's also in this kind of situation that world wars happen).
But to stay a bit optimistic, we should not forget that only few years ago, until corona and then this war, dozens of countries in all continents were in massive, long and sustainable insurrections (and in some countries like Algeria, Lebanon, Sudan, it has even going on during or at "the end" of corona -- I put quotation marks here because this is another crazy story: since the war, it's like corona is over, except for China, but if you look at the numbers of dead or long covid people, or the number of hospitalized people a year ago, we have nearly the same numbers now. France for example closed everything and ordered us to stay at home).
And these insurrections may have been frozen, but their causes are still there, and even more so. And we have seen that all this insurrections influenced each other and copied tactics one from the other, copied ways to fight, and so on -- one good example in the present situation come from Hong Kong, where one of their "heroes" is a Ukrainian anarchist rioter from Maidan !
......Jack de Montreuil.......