The following ideas have emerged from a long itinerary of struggle and reflection. They represent a tormented, complex thesis, which is not only difficult to set out — which would simply be due a defect of the author — but even to expose clearly and definitively.
In conflict with my whole being, I am about to set out the fundamental elements of insurrectionalist anarchism anatomically. Will it be possible? I don’t know. I shall try. If the reading of these notes begins to suffocate, then just skip through them and leave it at that. A mass insurrection, or that of a whole people, can at any given moment lead to the State’s incapacity to maintain order and respect for the law and even lead to the disintegration of social and economic conditions. This also implies the presence of individuals and groups that are capable of grasping this disintegration beyond its immediate manifestations. They must be able to see beyond the often chance and secondary reasons for the initial insurrectional outburst. In order to give their contribution to the struggle, they must look beyond the first clashes and skirmishes, not put a brake on them or underestimate them as mere incoherent insufference towards those in power.
But who is prepared to take on this task? It could be anarchists, not so much because of their basic ideological choice and declared denial of all authority, as for their capacity to evaluate methods of struggle and organisational projects.
Moreover, only those who have rebelled and faced the consequences of this rebellion and lived it to the full, be it only within the microcosm of their own lives, can have the sensitivity and intuition necessary to grasp the signs of the insurrectional movement in course. Not all anarchists are rebels, just as not all rebels are anarchists. To complicate things, it is not enough to be a rebel to understand the rebellion of others. It is also necessary to be willing to understand. We need to look at the economic and social conditions around us. We must not let ourselves be swept away like a river in full swell by the resounding demonstrations of the popular movement, even when it is moving full steam ahead and its initial triumphs lead us to hoist banners of illusion. Critique is always the first instrument, the starting point. But this must not merely be a surly taking sides. It must be a participatory critique, one that involves the heart, feels the excitement of the clash against the same enemy, now with its face finally stamped in the dust. It is not enough simply to rebel. Even if a hundred rebels were to get together it would still not be sufficient, they would merely be a hundred crazed molecules writhing in destructive agony as the struggle spreads, wildly sweeping everything away. Important as an example and stimulus, rebels end up succumbing to the needs of the moment. No matter how effective and radical they are, the more their conscience carries them to attack — often blindly — the more they become aware of an insurmountable limit due to their failure to see any organisational outlet. They wait for suggestions from the mass in revolt, a word here, a word there, in the quick of the clash or during moments of calm when everyone wants to talk before taking up the struggle again. And they are not aware that even during these exciting moments there are always politicians waiting in ambush. The masses do not possess the virtues we often attribute to them. The assembly is certainly not the place put one’s life at risk, but one’s life can be put at risk by decisions made in assemblies. And the political animals that raise their heads in these collective moments always have clear ideas concerning what to suggest, with fine programmes of recuperation and a call to order already in their pockets. Of course, they will not say anything that is not absolutely correct, politically, I mean, so will be taken to be revolutionaries. But they are always the same, the same old political animals laying the foundations for the power of the future, the kind that recuperates the revolutionary thrust and addresses it towards pacification. We must limit destruction, comrades. Please, after all, what we are destroying belongs to us...and so on.
To shoot before — and more quickly than — others, is a virtue of the Far West: it’s good for a day or two, then you need to use your head. And using your head means you need a project. So the anarchist cannot simply be a rebel, he or she must be a rebel equipped with a project. He or she must, that is, unite courage and heart with the knowledge and foresight of action. Their decisions will still always be illuminated with the flames of destruction, but sustained with the fuel of critical analysis.
Now, if we think about it for a moment, a project cannot just turn up out of the blue in the middle of the fray. It is silly to think that everything must come forth from the insurgent people. That would be blind determinism and would consign us gagged into the hands of the first politician that stood up on a chair and made a few organisational and programmatical proposals, throwing smoke in everyone’s eyes with a few words strung one after the other. Although insurrection is a revolutionary moment of great collective creativity, one which can produce analytical suggestions of considerable intensity (think of the insurgent workers of the Paris Comune who shot at the clocks), it is not the only source of theoretical and projectual wealth. The highest moments of the people in arms undoubtedly eliminate obstacles and uncertainties, clearly showing what had only been hazy until then, but they cannot illuminate what is not already there. These moments are the potent reflector that make it possible to bring about a revolutionary and anarchist project, but this project must already exist, even if only in terms of method. It must have been elaborated and experimented to some degree, although obviously not in every detail.
On the other hand, when we intervene in mass struggles, clashes with intermediate claims, is that not almost exclusively so as to propose our methods? Workers in a particular factory demanding jobs and trying to avoid being laid off, a group of homeless people trying to get shelter, prisoners on strike for better conditions in jail, students rebelling against a cultureless school are all things that interest us, up to a point. We know perfectly well that when we participate in these struggles as anarchists, no matter how they end up there will not be any corresponding growth in our movement, and this is quite irrelevant. The excluded often forget who we even are, and there is no reason in the world why they should remember us, least of all one based on gratitude. We have asked ourselves more than once, in fact, what we are doing in the midst of such struggles for claims, we anarchists and revolutionaries who are against work, against school, against any concession to the State, against property and also against any kind of negotiation that graciously concedes a better life in the prisons. The answer is simple. We are there because we can introduce different methods. And our methods take shape in a project. We are with the excluded in these intermediate struggles because we have a different model to propose, one based on self-organised struggles, attack and permanent conflictuality. This is our point of strength, and we are only prepared to struggle along with the excluded if they adopt such methods of attack, even concerning objectives that remain within the realm of claiming.
A method would be no more than an agglomeration of meaningless words if were we unable to articulate it within a projectual dimension. Had they paid some attention to this aspect in the first place, many anxious critics of anarchist insurrectionalism would just have gone back to their momentarily disturbed slumber. What is the point of accusing us of being stuck in methods that are a hundred years out of date without taking a look at what we are talking about? The insurrectionalism we are talking about is quite different to the glorious days on the barricades, even if it might contain elements of a struggle that moves in such a direction at times. But as simple revolutionary theory and analysis, a method that comes to life in a project, it does not necessarily take this apocalyptic moment into account, but develops and intensifies far from any waving of banners or glittering of guns.
Many comrades are fully aware of the need to attack and are doing what they can to bring it about. They perceive the beauty of the clash and the confrontation with the class enemy hazily, but do not want to spend much time thinking about it. They want to hear nothing of revolutionary projects, so carry on wasting the enthusiasm of rebellion which, moving into a thousand rivulets, ends up extinguishing itself in small isolated manifestations of insufference. These comrades are obviously not all the same, you could say that each one constitutes a universe of his or her own, but all, or nearly all of them, feel irritated by any attempt to clarify ideas. They don’t like to make distinctions. What is the point of talking about affinity groups, informal organisation, base nuclei or coordinations, they say? Don’t things speak for themselves? Are not tyranny and injustice, exploitation and the ferocity of power, quite visible there in front of us? Don’t they exist in the form of things, and men basking in the sun as though they had nothing to worry about? What is the point of wasting time in pointless discussions? Why not attack now? Indeed, why not turn on the first uniform we come across? Even a ‘sensible’ person like Malatesta was of this opinion, in a way, when he said that he preferred individual rebellion to waiting to see the world upturned before doing anything.
Personally I have never had anything against this. On the contrary. Rebellion is the first step. It is the essential condition for burning our bridges behind us, and even if it does not cut the bonds that tie us to society and power with a thousand thick ropes in the form of family, morals, work, obeying the law, at least it weakens them. But I am convinced that this is not enough. I believe it is necessary to go further and think about the possibilities of giving more organisational strength to one’s actions, so that rebellion can transform itself into a project aimed at generalised insurrection.
This second step obviously does not appeal to many comrades. And, feeling such efforts to be beyond them, they underestimate the problem or, worse still, criticise those who do spend time and effort on the question of organisation.
Here we will try to provide a few elements to enable us to examine the organisational aspect of insurrectionalist anarchism in some depth. In particular, the problem of the affinity group, informality, self-organisation of struggles, base nuclei and the co-ordination of these nuclei (anarchists and non-anarchists) with affinity groups (of anarchists), through informal organisation. As you can see, the question implies complex problems of method, and this means understanding certain concepts that are often distorted within the context of insurrectionalism. We must therefore give them our full attention in order to get rid of some of the preconceived ideas that often limit our vision without our realising it.
This introductory note will become more schmetic as it takes a look at these key concepts. The text itself will be more articulate, but would probably be difficult to follow without first becoming familiar with these concepts.
An anarchist group can be composed of perfect strangers. I have often gone into anarchist meeting rooms in Italy and elsewhere and hardly known anybody. One’s mere presence in such a place, the attitudes, the jargon and the way one presents oneself, the level of discussion and statements impregnated with basic orthodox anarchist ideology, are such that any anarchist feels at ease within a short space of time and communicates with the other comrades as well as possible, to their reciprocal satisfaction.
It is not my intention to speak of the ways that an anarchist group can be organised here. There are many, and each chooses their own comrades as they think best. But there is a particular way of forming an anarchist group that puts real or presumed affinity among all the participants before anything else. Now, this affinity is not something that can be found in a declaration of principles, a glorious past, or a history of ‘militancy’, no matter how far back this goes in time. Affinity is acquired by having knowledge of each other. That is why one sometimes believes one has affinity with a comrade, then discovers that that is not actually so, and vice versa. An affinity group is therefore a melting pot in which such relations can mature and consolidate. But because perfection is a thing of angels, even affinity needs to be considered with a certain mental acumen and not be accepted supinely as the panacea for all our weaknesses. I can only discover that I have affinity with someone if I reveal myself to that person, do away with all the affectations that normally protect me like a second skin, harder and tougher than the first. And this cannot simply come about through small talk, me chattering about myself then listening to the other’s tales, but must come about in things that are done together. In other words, it must come about in action. When we do things, we unconsciously send out tiny signals that are far more revealing than words. It is from these exchanges that we create the conditions that are necessary in order for us to gain knowledge of each other.
If the group’s activity is not doing for the sake of it so as to grow numerically, but has the qualitative aim of comrades being aware of each other and feeling at one with each other, sharing the tension towards action and the desire to transform the world, then this is an affinity group. If it is not, the search for affinity will be no more than the search for a shoulder to lean on. Affinity is therefore the knowledge that comrades acquire of each other, which is gained through action in the realisation of one’s ideas. A glance backwards to allow my comrades to see who I am is reabsorbed by looking forward together into a future in which we build our common project. In other words, we decide to intervene in specific struggles and see what we are capable of. These two moments, the first, let us say, of the knowledge of the individual, and the second, the projectual one of the knowledge of the group intertwine and constitute affinity, allowing the group to be considered to all effects an ‘affinity group’.
The resulting condition is not fixed in time once and for all. It moves, develops, regresses and modifies during the course of the various struggles, drawing from them so as to grow both theoretically and practically. It is not a monolithic entity. Decisions are not made vertically. There is no faith to be sworn upon nor commandments to believe in, in times of doubt or fear. Everything is discussed within the group throughout the course of the struggle, everything is reconsidered from the start, even if solid, eternal points might seem to exist already.
The affinity group’s task is to elaborate a particular project, the best place to study and examine the conditions one decides to operate in. It might seem that organisations of synthesis are better instruments for intervening in struggles than affinity groups, but the vast range of interests held by anarchist structures of synthesis is only apparent. In fact, in an organisation of synthesis, groups are allocated tasks at congresses, and although they are free to interest themselves in all the problems that characterise this society divided into classes, basically only operate according to what has been dictated by the congress. Moreover, being linked to programmes and principles that have been accepted once and for all, they are unable to make independent decisions and end up complying to the rigid limitations fixed by the organisation in congress. The latter’s role is to safeguard the organisation itself, in other words to ‘disturb’ power as little as possible and avoid being ‘outlawed’. The affinity group avoids such limitations, sometimes easily, sometimes only thanks to the courage and decision of the comrades that make it up. Of course, such structures cannot give courage to those who lack it. It cannot suggest attack unless each individual is already a rebel in his or her soul. It cannot go into action if people are only prepared to think at the level of an afternoon chat.
Once the problems concerning what is to be acted upon have been gone into, the necessary documentation has been found and analyses worked out, the affinity group goes into action. This is one of the fundamental characteristics of this kind of anarchist structure. It does not wait for problems to appear like a spider in the middle of a web. It looks for them and seeks a solution, which must obviously be accepted by the excluded who are bearing the brunt of the problem. But in order to make a proposition to a social reality that is suffering some specific form of aggression by power in a given area, it is necessary to be physically present among the excluded of that area and have a real awareness of the problems involved.
The affinity group therefore moves in the direction of local intervention, facing one particular problem and creating all the necessary psychological and practical conditions, both individually and collectively. The problem can then be faced with the characteristics and methods of insurrectionalism which are self-organisation, permanent conflictuality and attack.
One single affinity group cannot necessarily carry out such an intervention on its own. Often, at least according to the (few and controversial) experiences to date, the nature of the problem and complexity of intervention, including the extent of the area as well as the means required to develop the project and the ideas and needs of the people involved, require something more. Hence the need to keep in contact with other affinity groups so as to increase the number of comrades and find the means and ideas suited to the complexity and dimension of the problem that is being faced. That is how informal organisation originates.
Various anarchist affinity groups can come together to give life to an informal organisation aimed at facing a problem that is too complex for one group alone. Of course, all the groups participating in the informal organisation must more or less agree with the intervention and participate in both the actions and ideas.
Affinity groups often develop informal relations that become constant as they meet regularly to prepare for specific struggles or — better still — during the course of these struggles. This facilitates the circulation of information about the latter and the projects that are in preparation, as well as signs from certain areas of the world of the excluded.
An informal organisation ‘functions’ quite simply. It has no name as it does not aim to grow numerically. There are no fixed structures (apart from the single affinity groups, each one of which operates quite autonomously), otherwise the term ‘informal’ would be meaningless. It is not formally ‘constituted’, there are no congresses but only simple meetings from time to time (preferably during the course of the struggles themselves). There are no programmes, only the common experience of insurrectional struggles and the methods that distinguish them: self-organisation, permanent conflictuality and attack.
The aims of the informal organisation are conferred on it by the individual affinity groups that make it up. In the few experiences that have materialised it has been a question of one specific objective, for example the destruction of the Cruise missile base in Comiso in 1982–1983. But there could also be more than one intervention and the informal organisation would make it possible for single groups to intervene in these different situations. For example they could alternate when it became necessary to be in one place for a considerable length of time (in Comiso groups stayed in the area for two years). Another aim could be to provide both analytical and practical means, and provide the financial support that the individual group might require.
The primary function of the informal organisation is to make known the various affinity groups and the comrades that make them up. If you think about it, this is still a question of a search for affinity, this time at a different level. Here the search for affinity is intensified by the project — which does not exclude the ever-increasing knowledge of the single individual — and comes about at the level of more than one group. One deduces from this that the informal organisation is also an affinity group, based on all the affinity groups that make it up.
The above considerations, which we have been developing over the past fifteen years, should have been of some use to comrades in their understanding the nature of informal organisation. This does not seem to be the case. In my opinion, the most serious misunderstanding comes from the latent desire of many of us to flex our muscles. We want to give ourselves a strong organisational structure because that seems to be the only way to fight a power structure that is strong and muscular. According to these comrades the first characteristic that such a structure should have is that it be specific and robust, must last in time and be clearly visible so as to constitute a kind of light amidst the struggles of the excluded — a light, a guide, a point of reference.
Alas! We do not share this opinion. All the economic and social analyses of post-industrial capitalism show how power would swallow up such a strong, visible structure in one gulp. The disappearance of the centrality of the working class (at least what was once considered such) means that an attack carried out by a rigid, visible structure would be impracticable. If such structures are not simply destroyed on impact, they would just be co-opted into the ambit of power in order to recuperate and recycle the most irreducible elements.
So long as the affinity group continues to look inwards, it will be no more than a few comrades giving themselves their own rules and respecting them. By looking inwards I do not just mean staying inside one’s anarchist place, limiting oneself to the usual discussions among the initiated, but also responding to the various deadlines of power and repression with declarations and documents. In that case the affinity group would only differ from other anarchist groups superficially: ‘political’ choices, ways of interpreting the various responses to the power structure’s claim to regulate our lives and those of all the excluded.
The profound sense of being a ‘different’ structure, i.e. one based on a way of organising that is quite different to all other anarchist groups — in a word, on affinity — only becomes operative when it sets out a project of specific struggle. And what characterises this project more than anything is the presence of a considerable number of excluded, of people — in a word, the mass — bearing the brunt of repression that the project is addressing with recourse to insurrectionalist methods.
The essential element in the insurrectional project is therefore mass participation. And, as we started off from the condition of affinity among the single anarchist groups participating in it, it is also an essential element of this affinity itself. It would be no more than mere camaraderie d’elite if it were to remain circumscribed to the reciprocal search for deeper personal knowledge between comrades.
But it would be nonsense to consider trying to make other people become anarchists and suggest that they enter our groups during the struggle. Not only would it be nonsense, it would be a horrible ideological forcing of things that would upturn the whole meaning of affinity groups and the eventual informal organisation that might ensue in order to face the specific repressive attack. But here we are faced with the need to create organisational structures that are capable of regrouping the excluded in such a way as to begin the attack on repression. So we come to the need to give life to autonomous base nuclei, which can obviously give themselves any other name that indicates the concept of self-organisation.
We have now reached the crucial point of the insurrectional project: the constitution of autonomous base nuclei (we are using this term here to simplify things).
The essential, visible and immediately comprehensible characteristic of the latter is that they are composed of both anarchists and non-anarchists.
The more difficult points reside elsewhere however, and on the few occasions of experimentation these have turned out to be a source of considerable misunderstanding. First of all, the fact that they are structures in the quantitative sense. If they are such — and in fact they are — then this characteristic needs to be clarified. They are actually points of reference, not fixed structures where people can count themselves through all the procedures of established membership (card-carrying, payment of dues, supplying services, etc). The only aim of the base nuclei is struggle. They operate like lungs in the respiratory system, swelling when the struggle intensifies and reducing in size when it weakens, to swell again when the next clash occurs. During quiet spells, between one involvement and another — and here by involvement we mean any aspect of struggle, even simply handing out a leaflet, participating in a public meeting, but also squatting a building or sabotaging one of the instruments of power — the nucleus acts as a zonal reference, a sign of the presence of an informal organisational structure.
To see autonomous base nuclei as needing to grow quantitatively would be to turn them into union-style organisms, i.e. something like the Cobas in Italy, who defend workers’ rights in the various productive sectors through a wide range of activities such as claiming and defence of those they represent. The more delegates there are, the louder the voice of the claimant. The autnonomous base nucleus does not have delegates, it does not propose struggles based on wide objectives such as the defence of jobs, wage increases, or safeguarding health in the factory, etc. The base nucleus exists for the one objective that was decided upon at the start. This can also be a claim of some kind, not made through the representative method of delegation, but faced using direct methods of immediate struggle such as constant unannounced attacks and the blunt refusal of all the political forces that claim to represent anyone or anything.
Those who form the base nuclei should therefore not expect some complex level of support to cover a wide range of needs. They must understand that this is not a question of some union-style defence organisation, but is an instrument of struggle against one specific objective, and is only valid if the initial decision to have recourse to insurrectional methods stands firm. Participation in the nuclei is quite spontaneous, as there are no benefits other than the specific, exclusive one of strength and organisation concerning the objective that has been chosen together, and attacking it. So, it is quite logical not to expect such organisms to develop a high numerical or (even less) stable, composition. In the preparatory phase of the struggle those who identify with the objective, agree with it and are prepared to put themselves at risk, are few. When the struggle is underway and the first results begin to appear, the hesitant and weak will also join in and the nucleus will swell, only for these last-minute participants to disappear later on. This is quite natural and should not worry us or make us see this instrument of mass organisation in a negative light.
Another common area of incomprehension is the short lifespan of the autonomous base nucleus itself. It comes to an end upon reaching the objective that had been decided (or through common agreement concerning the impossibility of reaching it). Many ask themselves: if the nuclei ‘also’ function as a regrouping point of reference, why not keep them in place for possible use in some future struggle? Here we come back to the concept of ‘informality’ again. Any structure that carries on in time beyond its original aim, sooner or later turns into a stable structure whose original purpose is distorted into the new and apparently legitimate one of quantitative growth. It grows in strength in order to reach the multiplicity of goals — each one interesting enough in itself — that appear on the nebulous horizon of the exploited. As soon as the informal structure plants roots in a new, stable form, individuals suited to managing the latter will appear on the scene: always the same ones, the most capable, with plenty of time to spare. Sooner or later the circle will close around the so-called revolutionary anarchist structure, which by now will have found its sole aim, its own survival. This is precisely what we see happening when such an organisational structure, albeit anarchist and revolutionary, establishes itself: it becomes a rarefied form of power that attracts all the comrades who want to do good for the people and so on, etc, etc. — all with the best will in the world, of course.
One last organisational element, which is necessary at times, is the ‘coordination’ of autonomous base nuclei. The coordinating structure is also informal and is composed of various representatives of the base nuclei. Whereas the individual nuclei, given their function as ‘lungs’ can be informal to the point of not even having any fixed meeting place (because a nucleus can arrange to meet anywhere), this cannot be so for the coordinating body. If a struggle — still circumscribed to the specific question that started the project — lasts for a considerable length of time and covers a fairly wide area, it is necessary to find a place for the various activities of the base nuclei to coordinate themselves.
The presence of anarchist affinity groups is not directly visible in the coordination, and this can also be said concerning the informal organisation. Of course anarchists are present in all the various base nuclei, but this is not the ideal place for anarchist propaganda in the classic sense of the word. The first thing to be done, both within the coordination and the individual nuclei, is to analyse the problem, the objective to be reached, then look at the insurrectional means to be used in the struggle. The task of comrades is to participate in the project and go into the means and methods to be employed, along with everyone else involved. Although this might sound simple here, it turns out to be far more complicated in practice.
The function of the ‘co-ordination of the autonomous base nuclei’ is therefore that of linking up the struggles. Here we have only one thing to suggest (absolutely indigestable for anarchists, but quite simple for anyone who is not an anarchist): the need, in the case of a mass attack against a given structure of power, to decide upon individual tasks before the attack takes place, i.e. to agree on what needs to be done down to the minutest detail. Many imagine such occasions of struggle to be an orgy of spontaneity: the objective is there in front of everyone, all you need to do is go ahead and rout out the forces protecting it and destroy them. I am putting things in these terms here, although I know that many will have a hundred different ways of seeing things, but the essence does not change. All of the participants must have a precise idea of what to do, it being a question of a struggle taking place in a given area that will have to overcome specific armed resistance. Now, if only a few people know what to do the resulting confusion will be the same, if not worse, than if no one does at all.
A plan is therefore necessary. There have been instances where it was necessary to have an armed military plan simply to hand out a leaflet (for example during the insurrection of Reggio Calabria). But can this plan really be made available to everybody, even just a few days before the attack? I do not think so. For reasons of security. On the other hand, details of the plan of attack must be available to all the participants. One deduces that not everybody can participate in drawing it up, but only those who in some way or other happen to be known either for their participation in the autonomous base nuclei, or because they belong to the affinity groups adhering to the coordination. This is to avoid infiltration by police and secret services, something that is more than likely on such occasions. People who are not known must be guaranteed by those who are. This might be unpleasant, but it is unavoidable.
The problem gets complicated when the project in course is known to many comrades who could be interested in participating in one of the actions of attack we are talking about. In this case, the influx would be considerable (in the case of Comiso, in the days of the attempted occupation, about 300 comrades came from all over Italy and beyond) and the need to avoid the presence of infiltrators becomes far more serious. Comrades turning up at the last minute might not know about the action in course, and will not be able to understand what is going on. In the same way, all those who decide not to accept the above verification will end up feeling left out. And finally two last points that merit a concise, linear explanation: why we consider the insurrectional methodology and projectuality to be the most suitable means in the revolutionary clash today, and what we think can come from the use of insurrectional methods in a situation that is not insurrection in act.
As far as the first question is concerned, an analysis of social and economic reality today shows how structures of synthesis reproduce all the defects of the political parties of the past, great or small, making them ineffective or only useful to the restructuring of power.
To the second question, one could reply that it is impossible to say in advance how the conditions leading to insurrection will develop. Any occasion might be the right one, even if it looks like an insignificant experiment. But there is more. To develop a project of insurrectional struggle starting from one specific problem, i.e. a precise manifestation of power to the detriment of a considerable mass of excluded, is more than a simple ‘experiment’. It is insurrection in act, without wanting to exaggerate something that starts off as something small, and will probably remain so. What is important is the method, and anarchists still have a long way to go in that direction, otherwise we will remain unprepared in the case of the many insurrections of whole peoples that have taken place to date and continue to do so.
Basically this book is a contribution to the great problem ‘What is to be done?’.
Catania, 21 November 1998.