It is an axiomatic, self-evident truth that the revolution cannot be made until there are sufficient forces to do so. But it is an historical truth that the forces that determine evolution and social revolutions cannot be calculated with the census lists.
It is out of fashion to believe that social transformation is still possible. The ‘masses’, it is said, are in a deep trance and fully integrated within the social norms. At least two conclusions can be drawn from such a remark. That rebellion is impossible or that it is only possible in small numbers. This either becomes an openly institutional discourse (the need for elections, legal conquests, etc.) or one in favour of social reform (union self-organisation, struggle for collective rights, etc.). The second conclusion can become the basis of the classical vanguardist discourse or of an anti-authoritarian one in favour of permanent agitation.
Here it can be said that throughout history ideas that were apparently in opposition to each other actually share the same roots.
Take social democracy and bolshevism for example: they clearly both came from the supposition that the masses do not have any revolutionary consciousness, so need to be led. Social democrats and Bolsheviks differed only in the methods used—reformist party or revolutionary party, parliamentary strategy or violent conquest of power—in the identical programme of bringing consciousness to the exploited from outside.
Let us take the hypothesis of a ‘minoritarian’ subversive practice that refuses the Leninist model. In a libertarian perspective one either abandons all insurrectional discourse (in favour of a declaredly solitary revolt), or sooner or later it becomes necessary to face the problem of the social implications of one’s ideas and practices. If we don’t want to resolve the question in the ambit of linguistic miracles (for example by saying that the theses we support are already in the heads of the exploited, or that one’s rebellion is already part of a wider condition) one fact remains: we are isolated, which is not the same as saying we are few.
Not only does acting in small numbers not constitute a limit, it represents a totally different way of seeing social transformation. Libertarians are the only people to envisage a dimension of collective life that is not subordinated to central direction. Authentic federalism makes agreements between free unions of individuals possible. Relations of affinity do not exist on the basis of ideology or quantity, but start off from reciprocal knowledge, from feeling and sharing projectual passions. But projectual affinity and autonomous individual action are dead letters if they cannot spread without being sacrificed in the name of some claimed higher necessity. It is the horizontal link that concretises the practice of liberation: an informal link, of fact, without representation. A centralised society cannot exist without police control and a deadly technological apparatus. For this reason, anyone who is incapable of imagining a community without State authority is devoid of instruments with which to criticise the economy that is destroying the planet. Anyone who is incapable of imagining a community of unique individuals has nothing to put in the place of political mediation. On the contrary, the idea of free experimentation in a coming together of like-minded people, with affinity as the basis for new relations, makes complete social upheaval possible. Only by abandoning the idea of centre (the conquest of the Winter Palace or, to bring things up to date, State television) does it become possible to build a life without imposition or money. In such a direction, the method of spreading attacks is a form of struggle that carries a different world within it. To act when everyone advises waiting, when it is not possible to count on great followings, when you do not know beforehand whether you will get results or not, means one is already affirming what one is fighting for: a society without measure. This, then, is how action in small groups of people with affinity contains the most important of qualities—it is not mere tactical contrivance, but already contains the realisation of one’s goal. Liquidating the lie of the transitional period (dictatorship before communism, power before freedom, wages before taking the lot, certainty of the results before taking action, requests for financing before expropriation, ‘ethical banks’ before anarchy, etc.) means making the revolt itself a different way of conceiving relations. Attacking the technological hydra right away means imagining a life without white-coated policemen (i.e. without the economic or scientific organisation that makes them necessary); attacking the instruments of domestication by the media now means creating relations that are free from images (i.e. free from the passivity that fabricates them). Anyone who starts screaming that it is no longer—or not yet—time for rebellion, is revealing the kind of society they want in advance. On the other hand, to stress the need for social insurrection now—an uncontainable movement that breaks with historical time to allow the emergence of the possible—simply means: we want no leaders. Today the only real federalism is generalised rebellion.
If we refuse centralisation we must go beyond the quantitative idea of rallying the exploited for a frontal clash with power. It is necessary to think of another concept of strength—burn the census lists and change reality.
Main rule: do not act en masse. Carry out actions in three or four at the most. There should be as many small groups as possible and each of them must learn to attack and disappear quickly. The police attempt to crush a crowd of thousands with one single group of a hundred cossacks.
It is easier to defeat a hundred men than one alone, especially if they strike suddenly and disappear mysteriously. The police and army will be powerless if Moscow is covered in these small unseizable detachments[...] Do not occupy strongholds. The troops will always be able to take them or simply destroy them with their artillery. Our fortresses will be internal courtyards or any place that it is easy to strike from and leave easily. If they were to take them they would never find anyone and would lose many men. It would be impossible for them to take them all because they to do this they would have to fill every house with cossacks.
—Warning to the Insurgents, Moscow, December 11 1905.