It is often said that you must work with the men you have, not the men you want. Understood also is the notion that there are certain creatures of necessity when dealing with difficult circumstances. Often it is the case that when governments become insanely oppressive, the need for effective action becomes paramount. One organizing principle useful for rallying the necessary personnel and putting them into the field, which is misunderstood by the majority of people, is known as Leaderless Resistance.
Pyramidal structures are the typical hierarchical organizing principle that everyone is familiar with to some degree. The cell system of leaderless resistance (LR) is completely different in that the cells (composed of either individuals or small isolated teams) do not possess the external leadership that comprises the usual chain of command (keep in mind though that a small team cell does possess internal leadership). A unity of common purpose is valued over the unity of a large organization.
Proponents of LR heavily emphasize its advantages when attempting to appeal to potential recruits. Possibly its best characteristic lies in its utter secrecy. As long as discretion and prudence are considered the better part of valor, sufficient privacy can be maintained for the safety of all personnel. Insulation from other cells is a valuable trait, in that if one (or more) cells were taken out by the enemy, or otherwise compromised, all the others would still be operationally capable, thus rendering them difficult targets. Flexibility is another significant aspect, since without the accompanying bureaucratic procedures (which has always been the bane of formal organizations), the LR cells can adapt to rapidly altering circumstances in the field. Another major advantage of LR lies in its simplicity; even the most civilian of political dissidents can understand LR and apply it towards creating and sustaining cells very quickly.
There are some potential user errors that can emerge whenever anyone attempts to use the LR cell concept that bears critical examination. Outside of an operation, the standard operating procedure (SOP) is that all members are equal; however, during an operation, there is a single leader whom all the other members voluntarily obey. Pursuant to their SOP, cell members must make decisions through consensus (generally, without the utility of parliamentary procedure). Problems with cell formation and sustainment fundamentally stem from those individuals with Type A personalities who compete with each other for permanent leadership of the cell; it cannot be stressed enough that the fault here lies with the personnel’s failure in application, not the concept itself. This, more than any other phenomenon, is what leads to both a notorious lack of discipline as well as cell members infighting, instead of collaborating with each other in a constructive manner against the enemy; lacking a third-party arbiter to settle such matters renders any effective remedy extremely difficult.
Considering all this, leaderless resistances have worked during even the most contentious periods of history. The Sons of Liberty were highly active in the late 18th century against the British Crown, provoking and engaging in ever increasing acts of aggravation against the empire. The Committees of Safety (the formal organizing structures) were kept apart from the Sons as their perceived complicity in covert actions would hurt the cause for American independence. The French Maquis of World War II were initially composed of those fleeing the Vichy French draft that provided forced labor for Germany; literally, they were a rag tag band. Of course, they were eventually integrated into the Conseil National de la Résistance (National Counsel of the Resistance) since they had been aggregated into the Free French Forces already.
It would behoove the political novice to realize that establishing and running any form of a leaderless resistance is much easier said than done. An extremely high level of trust between good quality personnel in an isolated team is necessarily vital for even marginally effective operations. The lone cell must be disciplined enough to seek appropriate training and accomplish his objectives punctually. It can’t be emphasized enough that leaderless resistance is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Even for those desirous of formal leadership and organization, LR is a necessary precursor to that, for without the ability of previously isolated cells to cooperate with each other on larger operations, there can be no realistic expectation than a formal external chain of command would be any more effective in attaining much of anything.