The Idea of Revolution
The word revolution itself has been deeply revolutionized over time. From the idea of a return, of completion, its semantic content in the Middle Ages – take the celestial regularity of the movement of the stars, or the cyclic repetition of passing time, or again, of bygone events incessantly returning – it has come to mean mutation, change, upheaval, overturning, subversion of the social order. 
Rebellions and revolts have existed on Earth ever since there is political power. Modern people may view the great insurrections of peasants and the urban poor in 14th- to 16th-century Europe as prefiguring the idea of revolution, but those rebels, shut up body and soul in the millenarian imaginary, were incapable of formulating any such idea. They were heretics, but not yet unbelievers. The new idea of revolution was construed with the birth of the modern State.
The 17th century theories of the contract, giving legal foundation to the existence of political power, acknowledge the capacity of human beings to institute society. The unity of the political space is achieved by the formation of a political body – not a natural one, but one that is constructed, abstract, possessing absolute sovereignty and separate from civil society. 
If man created that great Leviathan, the mortal God, then nothing prevents the will of men from changing the order they themselves instated. Surely, all the actors of revolutions viewed themselves as protagonists of a process marking the definitive end of an old order, and pregnant with a new world.
So the revolution is seen as that moment of rupture, dividing time into a before and an after, whose blazing passage makes men free and equal.  But a rupture cannot last, revolution has to be institutionalized, giving way to that after-time of revolution, when a new topia, as Landauer would call it, settles in, a new regime appears, a regime that eliminates and represses the alternative forms unveiled by the revolution, and whose existence will henceforth have to await some other revolution.
Moreover, revolution is not accomplished in the subjectivity of enlightened consciences, it requires collective action, the uprising of the masses, insurrection. And insurrections will always be confronted with the force of society’s pervasively hierarchical existing order, the force of the State.
The Revolution as Event. Revolution is not only an idea, then, it is also a fact, an event unfurling in history. The event corresponds to the conditions in the society in which it occurs. Historical facts never repeat themselves identically, nor under the same conditions. Just as the revolutionary phenomenon itself is always multiple, with a number of centers of revolt coinciding to transform a regime into an image of the past: the Ancien Régime. If we take the event represented by French Revolution, for instance, we have to consider several factors that melded together in that historical situation. There was the violent peasant rebellion against the feudal order, the enlightened Third Estate – later to split into the Girondist and Jacobin bourgeoisie – and the sans-culottes in the primary assemblies of the Paris sections, fighting for a different revolution.
Each event is unique, unheard-of, but there are nonetheless trends in human history. What is always to be found in collective action, once the insurrection breaks out of the shackles of the established imaginary, is a new fluidity of social ties, the insurgents’ shared feeling of having recovered the ability to decide here and now, a sense of self-organization. What that amounts to is the fresh relevancy, for each revolution, of the accumulated experience of popular struggles, which experience is at the heart of the anarchist project, in the form of direct action, grassroots assemblies, and delegation with a controlled mandate.
The Revolution as Project. Revolution is will in action, an idea of social transformation in acts. But ideas have a variety of forms of existence: they may be present, consciously, in a person’s mind, they may exist on paper, or in practices, or in institutions; they may pursue a latent existence, or be encysted. As long as they are alive, ideas are tied to desires and passions.
When there is no revolution in acts, revolutionary ideas feed on a constant reservoir of refusal of what is, of criticism of the established state of affairs. They are articulated, then, with images of freedom, and new goals. They produce “logical revolts”, and “ferocious philosophies”.
Revolutionary ideas end up being structured in a collective project for emancipation, an anticipated image containing the lines of force of a desired, willed, thought-out change.
When the revolution occurs, the project itself is transformed and rejected. It belongs to the old society, by definition. But it is necessary for any consciously willed change guided by values and by a goal.
Societies don’t await a revolution to change, they are constantly being modified according to an internal dynamic imposed by the different conflicts within them. However, revolutionary change – even if it is an aftermath of aborted, quelled, or crushed revolutions – implies value-related instrumental action; that is, human intentionality. 
So change guided by a project of freedom, or of autonomy, spurred by determined action, leads to a rupture of a revolutionary kind.
But don’t misunderstand me. If we use the expression “revolutionary rupture”, it’s not because we have any leftover millenarian expectations of Salvation, of some great evening, or of a Dawn of the Social Revolution, the great proletarian palingenesia. No, rather, we must imagine a historical process extending over years and years, perhaps centuries, modifying societal institutions as well as the type of person capable of sustaining them. But there is always a rupture produced by a deep, qualitative change in society. The guillotine severed the tie binding the king’s political body to divine transcendence.
Those moments of insurrection when the people bursts onto the scene of History, cracking the established imaginary and tearing it to pieces, retrospectively designate the watershed over which society toppled.
It is difficult, moreover, to imagine that the powers that be, in possession of property, the product of labor and weaponry, would spontaneously relinquish their privileges. For the revolution, the protean and probably repeated revolt of the masses is a necessity.
But if the revolutionary project is to become an active social force, it must go beyond the utopian level of the idea, and embody itself in collective, dominant passions. Revolutionaries don’t have control over the social conditions eventually favoring that embodiment.
The twentieth century still believed in it. Throughout the wars, totalitarianisms and revolutions, it continued to be inspired by the Enlightenment vision of emancipation. Many men and women were convinced that humanity had to come out of its state of subordination, that it had to be freed of the chains of subservience, of the obscurity of ignorance and intolerance, that society had to be changed.
But by the end of that inspiring, unfortunate century, the climate had changed, and we witnessed the decline of the revolutionary “illusions” that had nourished the previous generations.
Triumphant neo-liberalism, rooted in late capitalism, has surreptitiously modified the episteme of our times, causing revolutionary proposals to lose the platform of enunciation that made them audible. As Carl Becker put it, “the fact that arguments are convincing or not depends less on the logic behind them than on the climate of opinion in which they develop.” 
We will not discuss the sociological and political factors that have modified society over the last thirty or forty years, to focus on one ideological factor active in this process.
Following the totalitarian experiences, the insurrections and the lost revolutions, we observed the proclamation, in the 1960s, of the end of ideologies, along with the establishment of more or less stable oligarchies known as “representative democracies” which obtained the conformism, and even the apathy of the masses, in order to govern. Social ties loosened, revealing the development of privatized individuals, with their private interests and private freedom. This enabled the swift development of a whole neo-liberal imaginary, viewed, at the epistemic level, as a way out of modernity.
From then on, two ideological operations combined to construct postmodernity. One relied on the chronological partitioning of history, putting contemporaries in a privileged position to judge the past and proclaim that bygone times, “classical” times, are obsolete. So those contemporaries could “self-proclaim themselves post, which is to say they could view themselves as living in a new age posterior to a caesura in time, an epistemological break condemning modernity to be nothing but a remainder from a period that is no longer ours.” 
Another consists of assimilating Modernity to one of its focal points, the Enlightenment, thanks to which all criticism thereof, ranging from Nietzsche to Wittgenstein, can be drawn into the postmodern camp.
The expressions ‘postmodern’, or ‘poststructuralist’ – and recently, ‘postanarchism’ – aren’t very concise. Rather, they designate a constellation of theoretical positions taken by French thinkers – including Althusser, Lacan, Deleuze, and Foucault – as revisited by American intellectuals, and more generally by those outside France. Those positions have been more or less unified under the term of ‘French Theory’.
When questioned in 1983 on ‘poststructuralism’, Michel Foucault replied that, “as much as it’s clear to me that behind what has been called structuralism there is a problem, which is, grossly speaking, the question of the subject or of the recasting of the subject, I don’t see what kind of problematic postmoderns and poststructuralists have in common.” 
I think the postmodern field may be said to hold together by those writers’ answers to the question of the subject, when they talk about the decentered, ‘elided’, or subjected subject. The various versions of their responses lead them to dissolve, and logically, to abandon, the concept of revolution.
Three features of what is called ‘postmodern’ ideology are noteworthy in this respect.
The event. First, let us look at the importance acquired by the event. We must give “a new status and meaning to the old concept of the event”.  History is no longer time and the past, but “change, and event”. Foucault tells us that whereas traditionally, the historian’s job was to look for causes and meaning, that function is now to bring out the event. “Causes and meanings were essentially concealed. The event, on the other hand, was essentially visible.” 
Deleuze thinks that the event occurs within us and it “ends up incorporeal, and manifests within us the neutral, impersonal and pre-individual splendor it possesses inherently”.  And Deleuze adds, there is [in French] an impersonal ‘on’, [translated as ‘one’, or ‘they’, in English], which is not trivial. “It is an ‘on’ of impersonal, pre-individual singularities, the ‘one’ of the pure event in which he (il) dies like it (il) is raining. The splendor of the ‘on’ is that of the event itself.” 
History, change, the past, the forthcoming, all are primarily the product of an uninterrupted series of human actions. Those series may be described in the form of what happens, an event, a fact, physical, bodily behavior. Or in the form of what makes them happen, the reasons, motivations, intentions, within a universe of significations: in other words, taking into account the meaning people give to their behavior. To describe social processes in terms of movements and events for which human beings are merely the seat, or to describe them in terms of action, is not a trivial choice.
Thinking in terms of a theory of action elicits a conceptual scheme linking action to its agent. The mental state of the subject-as-agent and the action accomplished are integrated in an intentional structure. The propositional content – desires, beliefs – are part of the structure of action.
The event, “what happens” is a perfectly impersonal notion, concealing or erasing the question of the agent, which is to say the question of the subject as causal agent.
Pre-eminence of the Signifier. We should not underestimate the influence of Jacques Lacan’s theorization– extending far beyond psychoanalytic circles, with their sharply contrasting schools – on postmodern positions.
Lacan too sees the subject as dispossessed of any illusion of autonomy. “The subject is no-one. It is decomposed, fragmented.” The subject, taken in by the fallacious image of the other and by his own mirror-image, recognizes himself as unified. This is an alienated, virtual unity. At the time – in his 1954 seminar – Lacan thought that overall regulation required a “great voice” supervising it all: the lawmaker. 
The I of the utterance and the I of the enunciation do not coincide, and must be differentiated, the fact that the subject is off-center with respect to the ego must be acknowledged. The ego is an object within the subject’s experience, it is the locus of consciousness and fulfills an imaginary function (in the theory of the three registers), causing illusions and deception.
In the symbolic order structured by the name of the father, “the subject has to rise up out of the given of signifiers that cover and encompass him in an Other that is their transcendent locus ...”.  Lacan insists: “The symbolic father is the name of the father. It is the essential mediating element for the symbolic world and its structuring.”  All inter-human relations are grounded in an investiture coming from the Other, and that Other is within us in the form of the subconscious, which also implies the absolute Other as the locus of speech.” 
So the name of the father articulates human language, and “you must believe in your heart” for the same reasons as those given in the Ecclesiast, because “it is insane to say something that is in contradiction with the very articulation of language”.  If some oddities, exceptions, or paradoxes are found in the “laws of exchange”, it is because of “the political context, which is to say the order of power, and quite specifically, the order of the signifier, where scepter and phallus are one and the same”.  To speak is to symbolize, and to symbolize means to be introduced to the locus of the signifier as such.  Consequently, one must first believe in the signifier and in the androcentric – or phallocentric – ideology underlying the theory of the symbolic Father.
The pre-eminence of the signifier over the signified entails the dependency of signification on structure. Thus, the subject is symbolized by a crossed S ($) “inasmuch as constituted as second with respect to the signifier”. 
An algorithm represents the primordial position of the Signifier over the signified – reversing Saussure’s diagram of the sign – “the over corresponding to the bar separating the two stages”. They are “distinct orders, initially separated by a barrier resisting signification”, according to Lacan. 
The supremacy of the signifier constructs a theory of the sign that we find unacceptable for a number of reasons, but we will confine ourselves here to pointing out its consequences, which are the subordination of the subject to the conditions determining him/her in the signifying chain constituting the subconscious, and the dispossession of agents as the causal subject of their action.
The subjected subject. It has become fashionable among people who extol postmodernity – or rather, French Theory – to speak of the subject as subjected.
In point of fact, in the subjected Subject, the subject has changed places with its antonym, the object. We can say, then, that predicating a “‘subjectivity without a subject’ (is) supposed to define the postmodern condition”. 
Defining the subject as being ruled by submission is nothing new to philosophical and historical thinking. It perpetuates the wordplay based on the double etymology, in Latin: subjectum , like suppositum, suppôt (a subservient person) in French, that which is placed below, translated by the Greek as hupokeimenon, and subjectus , linked, in the Middle Ages, to subditus, in its juridical and political acceptation. 
In the lineage recovered by modernity, then, subject-subjectum refers not only to the subject of logic (“that whose predicates are stated”) but to the physical subject (“that in which” the accident occurs), in the sense of the materiality of the person, the body, the human being, subject-agent of her acts, in the sense of action and thought.
To uncover the other tradition of the subject-subjectus, we must turn to imperial, Christian Rome and “to subsequent theological-political and moral anthropological history focusing on obedience as the path to salvation”.  It is the subjects subservient to the political will of the prince who are subditi. The subject then turns into the object of power.
When the postmoderns add “subjected” to “subject”, it is to show that the subject is dependent on, obedient and subservient to the law – to the subconscious or the State – to the structure, to power relations, which objectivize him as subject.
During the modern period, the revolutionary break had enabled the subjects of the King to become citizens, invested with rights and decision-making ability. The expansive forcefulness of actual revolution also laid the grounds for, or sketched the lineaments of the project of individual and social autonomy.
Under late capitalism, neo-liberalism has facilitated a renewal of the old episteme of subjection, under the falsely radical mirage inferred by the questionable articulation of “subjectivity” with “subjection”.
Louis Althusser, for instance, thinks that men deceive themselves when they believe they are freeing themselves, in history. History is a “subjectless process”, it is not made by men, it is history that makes men. Reading his 1970 text, Idéologie et appareils idéologiques d’État, we learn that “ideology addresses individuals as subjects”, and “subjects ‘move on their own’. All the mystery of that effect resides ... in the ambiguity of the word subject. In the usual acceptation of the term, subject does in effect mean 1) a free subjectivity, a center of initiatives, author of and responsible for his acts; 2) a subjected being, subservient to a higher authority, and therefore deprived of any freedom, aside from that of freely accepting his subservience. The latter notation furnishes the sense of that ambiguity, which merely reflects the effect that produces it: the individual is addressed as a (free) subject so that he may freely submit himself to the orders of the Subject, and therefore so that he may (freely) accept his subjection, and therefore so that he “may accomplish on his own” the motions and acts of his subjection. Subjects only exist through and for their subjection. That’s why they ‘move on their own’.” 
Althusser is careful to remind us that “addressing individuals as subjects” requires the existence of a Superior Other, in whose Name ideology addresses us.
Almost twenty years earlier, Gilles Deleuze had written, “The mind is not a subject, it is subjected.”  And later, with Guattari, “there is subjection when the superior unit constitutes man as subject with respect to an object become external ... man is then no longer a component of the machine but a worker, a user ... he is subjected to the machine, rather than enslaved by the machine”. 
The important point for us, here, is to point out again that for this philosophy, man, comprised in a process of collective subjectivation, is constituted as subject by the structure, the superior unit governing the whole.
Foucault, in his writings and talks, avoids asking or answering the question, Who? In his debate with Chomsky (in 1971), the subject-agent is criticized and eliminated. Foucault had formulated his undertaking clearly, in 1969: “the idea is to deprive the subject (or its surrogate) of its role as originary foundation, and to analyze it as a variable, complex function of discourse.”  In 1982, his article entitled Le sujet et le pouvoir (The subject and power) clearly defines the aim of twenty years of work, which is nothing less than the production of a history of the “modes of objectivation that transform human beings into subjects”.  The subject is divided, and becomes an object. Moreover, it was necessary, says Foucault, to extend the definitions of power  so as to study the objectivation of the subject.
From that standpoint, the main objective of all present struggles “is not so much to attack some institutional embodiment of power, or group, or class, or elite, but rather, to attack a specific technique, or form of power”.  According to him, however, “power only exists in acts”, and it is primarily inter-relational, a power relationship articulated around two indispensable requisites: “that the other (the one on which it is exerted) be clearly acknowledged and maintained as the subject of action to the end”, and that this constitute a field of reciprocal reactions. 
The power exerted over immediate daily life then classes individuals in categories, ties them to their identity, and turns them into subjects. “There are two meanings to the word ‘subject’: the subject subservient to the other through control and dependency, and the subject attached to his own identity through consciousness or self-consciousness. In both cases, the word indicates a form of power that subjugates and subjects.” 
But power relations are not subjective. The rationality of power is one of tactics following one from the other, its logic may be obvious or undecipherable, and yet “there is no longer anyone who conceived them and very few people who formulate them: the implicit nature of the great, anonymous strategies”. 
Since power relations express the relations of the forces in a struggle, resistance also partakes of power: it “is inscribed as its irreducible counterpart”. That resistance, unevenly distributed, constitutes points or centers, dense, or unstable and changing, scattered over time and space. “And it is certainly the strategic encoding of those points of resistance that makes revolution possible”.  For us human beings, since there is no hand of god, I suppose that “encoding” must be just as magic as the image seen by a child through a kaleidoscope.
Just as Modernity constructed its self-image by representing the Middle Ages, before it, as a completely negative period of superstition, oppression of the mind and blind obedience, a Time of Darkness (the Dark Ages), eclipsing all the processes of mutual aid involved in the construction of free cities, conspiracies, and guilds, as Kropotkin and Mumford pointed out, similarly, our claim is that the advocates of postmodernity want to reduce modernity to the Enlightenment, heaping all the ills of the Western world on it. That reduction, fundamentally excluding the major feature of modernity, which is the critical mind, and consequently eliminating all the moments of criticism, negation, and deconstruction – is used to condemn wholesale the substantialist or essentialist subject, fixed identity, and the universalism of one single Reason. People who call themselves postanarchists have extended those critiques to the corpus, now called “classical”, “historical”, or “social”, of anarchism.
In my opinion, many of those critiques are acceptable, and should even be given an enthusiastic reception, provided we support the idea of an identity in a process of change (identity ipse), a universalism of values, and a non-substantialist subject, individual and collective, the causal agent of human action.
The dispossession of human beings as intentional agents of action in the real world, as conducted by “postmodern” theories, is a straight-out repudiation of any pretension of supporting a revolutionary project. A revolution, essentially factual, an event, would sweep people up as impersonally as a cyclone or an earthquake, if by chance an “encoding” favorable to that type of change were to occur some day.
However, many intellectuals are unmoved by that positioning of the subject-object as passive, not in the sense of forced, or external subservience, but as constitutive of an entity, the “subjected subject”, or by the issues it raises for any projected radical transformation of society, seduced as they are by the apparent radicality of the new subjectivities, and the virtual, mobile, changing, horizontal or networked cultural practices. A false radicality concealing the centrality of the social question and the persistence of the binary divisions structuring hierarchical society: exploiter/exploited, dominant/dominated, unquestionably underpinned by the valence of the sex differential.
The new generations of academics, trained in French Theory as they were previously trained in Marxism, have no qualms about accentuating some features of subjection. Judith Butler, for instance. Although she rightly postulates that Althusser’s and Foucault’s theses on subjection require “thinking together the theory of power and the theory of the psyche”,  she turns to psychoanalysis – Lacan rather than Freud – for support, but then it is no longer the “subject” who “is constitutionally subordinated”, but the infans. By assimilating “attachment” and “investment”, two very different concepts, Butler ascribes the idea that a subject comes into being “by the detour of attachment to a taboo” to Freud.  Meaning that the subject, he or she, is born with a passionate attachment to those people on which it is dependent. This determines, for the child, “the formation of a primary passion for dependency”. 
According to Ernesto Laclau, who is straight in line with Lacan’s theorization of the supremacy of the signifier, for there to be a system “the beyond must become the signifier of pure threat”.  I don’t know what a “pure threat” is, any more than pure being, or a pure signifier, but I do know that for there to be a signifier it has to be linked to a signified, which is to say it must be a sign. But the hegemony of the signifier and its dissociation from the sign lead us to the infinite straying denounced by Hobbes long ago in scholastics, whereby, by dematerializing the body, it depended on words to give existence to abstract essences and substantial forms.  We now have empty signifiers. An empty signifier; that is, “a being by nature inaccessible”.  “The Liberation”, and “revolution” are empty signifiers, so they say.
The word revolution is not a revolution, to paraphrase Magritte. The revolution is an idea of complete change, potential or in act, and the revolutionary project is a more or less well-defined pattern of “key ideas”, values, means and ends, construed and set forward for and by collective action. The postmoderns, indirectly, through the radical critique of the positivity of the cogito and of the direct apprehending of meaning – which positivity results in the essentialist-identitary construction of the subject of thought – have succeeded in discarding the wheat with the chaff, and probably unwittingly, in again investing the episteme of subjection. In doing so, they have imagined a subjectivity with no subject or, what amounts to the same thing, a factual history producing a subjected subject, formed, or formatted, to be submissive, chained to the anonymous chain of the signifier.
Modernity was mostly concerned with the intentional agent of action, thanks to which it could reflect on humanity’s liberation and autonomy, and consequently project an autonomous society: anarchy. Modernity begins with Pico dell Mirandola’s injunction to Man: to “you, bridled by no restriction, it is your own judgment ... which will enable you to define your nature” (Oratio de hominis dignitate .  On the eve of the Great Revolution, Emmanuel Kant saw that Man was no longer under guardianship.
A revolution is unthinkable in a world with no assignable causal subject-agent: a world lacking intentionality and human volition.
Albeit, that proposition doesn’t require that we go in search of a revolutionary Subject, the Masses, the Proletariat, the People, a pre-formed subject awaiting the moment to go into action. The individualist tradition of liberal societies has produced a sort of political philosophy intellectually incapable of conceiving subjects/entities defined in any terms other than individualist or substantialist. Either the individual is everything, or else the whole is an individual of a higher order. It has difficulty in imagining a subject that is not necessarily either the empirical individual or a hypostatized form  of the empirical subject.
The revolutionary subject is constituted as such through the revolutionary process itself.
The subjectum, suppôt, commits itself and takes part in action, and is qualified as subject through the actions in which it engages. 
The birth of anarchism as a social movement is easily identifiable in the split in the First International, and more specifically, the resolutions of the Saint-Imier Congress (1872). A coherent nucleus of ideas, proposals and practices then gradually acquired a stable form, and it is in that nuclear identity, so to speak, that “anarchists all identified as such: freedom based on equality, the refusal to obey or to command, the abolition of the State and of private property, antiparliamentarianism, direct action, no collaboration with the ruling class. And since the ‘social question’ is central to every hierarchical regime, the revolutionary transformation of society became the explicit, political goal of anarchism.” 
Anarchists expect the social revolution to produce a political consequence: the abolition, or the negation, of the traditional rule of “just right to compel” – the right of the sword – in the hands of an instituted supra-individual agency: the State.
Revolts, by updating the project, will bring forth new potential for autonomous human action.
Paris, juillet 2008
Translation : Helen Arnold