Amadeo Bordiga

Amadeo Bordiga (also misspelt "Amedeo", 13 June 1889 – 23 July 1970) was an Italian Marxist, a contributor to Communist theory, the founder of the Communist Party of Italy, a leader of the Communist International and, after World War II, leading figure of the International Communist Party.


Early life

Bordiga was born at Resina, in the province of Naples.

He had grown up near Naples in Portici where his father was professor of agricultural economics. He studied to become an agricultural engineer. Like other youths in his socialist cohort he was outraged by the Libyan war and aligned with the revolutionary intransigent group contributing several articles to "La Soffitta "in 1912. In April 1912, a few months before the crucial Italian Socialist Party Congress of Reggio Emilia he led a group of fifteen young radicals out of the official Neapolitan socialist party to form the "Circolo Carlo Marx." While breakaway factions had developed elsewhere in 1912, Bordiga remained dissatisfied with implementation of the maximalist agenda in Naples. A talented debater and political organizer, Bordiga tried to convince the leadership over the next two years that Neapolitan socialist leaders had blithely "accepted" the new party directives while continuing to operate just as before. The Federazione Socialista Napoletana, an amorphous electoral bloc encompassing freemasons, reformist socialists and pro-Libyan syndicalists, had done little other than change its name to the Unione Socialista Napoletana, he said. Angered by these developments, Bordiga organized a national campaign against the "morbid degeneration" of Neapolitan socialism. By 1914, he had managed to get his faction recognized as the official local representative of the P.S.I. and won a place for himself in the files of the ministry of the interior in the process.

During this long campaign, Bordiga frequently drew upon Neapolitan socialist experience to condemn not just the tactic of the bloc per se but socialist preoccupation with election outcomes in general. He tirelessly argued in Avanguardia, at the national congresses of the F.G.S.I., and before any socialist body that would give him a hearing that the presumed link between socialism and democracy was false and that socialists, therefore, must keep their attention focused on their ultimate revolutionary objective rather than on the next election. Despite the recent passage of a law granting near universal manhood suffrage, Bordiga warned in an article published Avanti! in November 1912 that "the elevation and education of the proletariat" would never be achieved by co-operating with "pseudo-democratic parties." The party must follow a unitary strategy of intransigency, abandoning its argument that the south was a "special case." It was more important to create a small party composed of dedicated militants than to recruit a large one composed of dubious revolutionaries, he said. Those who said the masses were "not ready" were those who had lost their own commitment to revolutionary change. The "one way of salvation" for the south lay in adopting the "ultra-intransigent" tactic. Only then would socialists "awaken the sleeping lion thrusting it against the . . . bourgeoisie which has fed so often on the servility of this unfortunate population."

Southern delegates, and Bordiga in particular, played an important part in proceedings of the F.G.S.I. Congress of Bologna in September 1912. Despite enthusiasm for the recent maximalist victory, there was a general feeling that the recent P.S.I. congress had not gone far enough. As the nation prepared for its first elections under the new law extending suffrage to all males over thirty or with a record of military service, discussions on the upcoming elections at the F.G.S.I. congress centered instead on maintaining the ideological integrity of the party. Representatives of the southern sections were especially outspoken in their condemnation of the practice of fielding socialist candidates with masonic affiliations. The head of the Apulian delegation, Luigi Rainoni, proposed that young socialists act on their own account and refuse to assist masonic-socialist candidates. Southern delegates also were most adamant in asking that the programme of "Soldo al Soldato" focus on war resistance. But it was in the debate on the future orientation of Avanguardia that a more general dissatisfaction with the traditional parameters of socialist politics was made plain.

Bordiga, who had seen "la miseria" from near, was certain the answer to the problems that beset socialists lay elsewhere. Despite his own disgust with the kind of economic determinism used to justify socialist praxis in the south he warned his comrades "not to lose time with revisionist fantasies" or other "amusements of bourgeois philosophy": "We do not wish to evangelize, but to ignite, and when the moment arrives the flame will burst forth."

Bordiga, who had been one of the principal authors of the F.G.S.I.'s 1913 antimilitarist pamphlet, did much to firm up the F.G.S.I.'s stand against "social-patriotism." In the opening days of the war, Bordiga shared the futile hope that the International would be able to prevent the conflict. In 1912, he had interpreted the International's Basel resolution as meaning that socialists would respond with a "general strike without limits" to a general mobilization and with "a general insurrection" to a war declaration. As this hope vanished, he immediately affirmed in Avanti! that the working class "has no interest and no ideals to defend at the national frontier." In an article written just ten days after the outbreak of war and published in Avanti! on 16 August, Bordiga denied that the war had been prepared and willed by Austro-German militarism alone for "in reality the bourgeoisie of all nations are equally responsible for the outbreak of the conflict, or rather the capitalistic system is responsible . . ." He ridiculed the notions that the French represented the cause of "civilization" and that a German victory would mean a "return to barbarism." To propagate such ideas was merely to adopt the "scholastic baggage of bourgeois democracy." "Whether civilization or barbarity" arises out of the "militaristic saturnalia" does not "depend upon the victory of one side or the other" but rather on the consequences the war will have upon the "relationships between social classes and the world economy."

In the Communist Party of Italy

Following the October Revolution, Bordiga rallied to the Communist movement and formed the Communist "Abstentionist" faction within the Socialist Party. "Abstentionist" in that it opposed participation in "bourgeois elections", the group would form, with the addition of the former "L'Ordine Nuovo" grouping in Turin around Antonio Gramsci, the backbone of the Communist Party of Italy (PCd'I,Partito Comunista d'Italia) —founded at Livorno in January 1921. This came after a long internal struggle in the PSI: it had voted as early as 1919 to affiliate to the Comintern, but had refused to purge its reformist wing. In the course of the conflict, Bordiga had attended the 2nd Comintern Congress in 1920, where he had added 2 points to the 19 conditions of membership proposed by Vladimir Lenin. Nevertheless, he was criticised by Lenin in his work "".

For Bordiga the party was 'the social brain' of the working class whose task was not to seek majority support, but to concentrate on working for an armed insurrection, in the course of which it would seize power and then use it to abolish capitalism and impose a communist society by force. Bordiga identified 'dictatorship of the proletariat' and dictatorship of the party and argued that establishing its own dictatorship should be the party's immediate and direct aim.

This position was accepted by the majority of the members of the PCd’I, but it was to bring them into conflict with the Comintern when in 1921 the latter adopted a new tactic: that of the 'united front' with reformist organisations to fight for reforms and even to form a 'workers' government'. Bordiga regarded this as a reversion to the failed tactics which the pre-war Social Democrats had adopted and which had led to them becoming reformist.

Out of a regard for discipline, Bordiga and his comrades (who became known as the 'Italian Communist Left') accepted the Comintern decision but were in an increasingly difficult position. When Bordiga was arrested in February 1923 on a trumped-up charge by the new Mussolini government, he had to give up his post as member of the Central Committee of the PCd’I but, on his acquittal later that year, he decided not to reclaim it, thus implicitly accepting that he was now an oppositionist. In 1924 the Left lost control of the PCd’I to a pro-Stalin group whose leader, Gramsci, became the Party's General Secretary in June. At the third Congress of PCd’I, held in exile in Lyons in January 1926, the manoeuvre of the pro-Moscow group was completed; without the support of the International Communist to escape from fascist control, few members of the Left were able to arrive to the Congress, so the 'theses' drawn up by Bordiga were rejected and those of the Stalinist minority group accepted.

He attended his last meeting of the Executive Committee of the Comintern in 1926, the same year in which he confronted Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin face-to-face. In his final confrontation with Stalin in Moscow in 1926, Bordiga proposed that all the Communist Parties of the world should jointly rule the Soviet Union, as a demonstration of the supra-national reality of the workers' movement. This proposal was, needless to say, coolly received by Stalin and his friends. Bordiga accused Stalin of betraying the Revolution calling him "the gravedigger of the revolution"; he was the last person to do such a thing and survive. At the end of 1926 Bordiga was again arrested by Mussolini and sent to prison for three years. Bordiga was, along with his thousands of supporters, expelled from the PCd'I for taking the defence of Leon Trotsky in 1930.


With his expulsion, Bordiga left political activity until 1943. He was to refuse to comment on political affairs even when asked by trusted friends. However, many of his former supporters in the PCd'I went into exile and founded a political tendency, often referred to as "Italian Communist Left". The members of the “Italian” Left (the improper use of national adjectives were a very important problem in the communist theory because as said in the Manifesto, proletarians have no nation), proved that it was not just a one-man show. In 1928 its members in exile in France and Belgium formed themselves into the 'Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy', which became in 1935 the 'Italian Fraction of the Communist Left'. This change of name was a reflection of the Italian Left's view that the PCI and the other Communist Parties had now become 'counter-revolutionary'. The 'Bordigists', as they became known, with their theory of the party and their opposition to any form of 'frontism', held that program was everything and a gate-receipt notion of numbers was nothing. Bordiga would again work with many of these comrades following the end of World War II.

After 1944, he first returned to political activity in the Naples-based "Fraction of Socialists and Communists". But, when this grouping was dissolved into the International Communist Party, Bordiga refused to join in. However, he did contribute anonymously to its press, primarily "Battaglia Comunista" and "Prometeo", in keeping with his conviction that revolutionary work was collective in nature, and his opposition to any form of (even incipient) personality cult.

When the PCI split in two in 1954, he took the side of the grouping that retained the name, publishing its "Il Programma Comunista". Only some time later did he formally become a member of what was known as the PCI. Amadeo Bordiga died at Formia in 1970.


On Stalinism

On the theoretical level, Bordiga developed an understanding of the Soviet Union as a capitalist society. Bordiga's writings on the capitalist nature of the Soviet economy, in contrast to those produced by the Trotskyists, also focused on the agrarian sector. Engineer that he was, Bordiga displayed a kind of theoretical rigidity which was both exasperating and effective in allowing him to see things differently. He wanted to show how capitalist social relations existed in the kolkhoz and in the sovkhoz, one a cooperative farm and the other the straight wage-labor state farm. He emphasized how much of agrarian production depended on the small privately owned plots (he was writing in 1950) and predicted quite accurately the rates at which the Soviet Union would start importing wheat after Russia had been such a large exporter from the 1880s to 1914. In Bordiga's conception, Stalin, and later Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara etc. were "great romantic revolutionaries" in the 19th century sense, i.e. bourgeois revolutionaries. He felt that the Stalinist regimes that came into existence after 1945 were just extending the bourgeois revolution, i.e. the expropriation of the Prussian Junker class by the Red Army, through their agrarian policies and through the development of the productive forces.

Bordiga's idea that capitalism equals the agrarian revolution first is the key to the 20th century; it's certainly the key to almost everything the left has called "revolutionary" in the 20th century, and it is the key to rethinking the history of Marxism and its entanglement with ideologies of industrializing backward regions of the world economy.

On Democracy

Bordiga proudly defined himself as "anti-democratic" and believed himself at one with Marx and Engels on this. Bordiga's hostility toward democracy had nothing to do with Stalinist gangsterism. Indeed, he saw fascism and Stalinism as the culmination of bourgeois democracy. Democracy to Bordiga meant above all the manipulation of society as a formless mass. To this he counterposed the "dictatorship of the proletariat", implemented by the communist party founded in 1847, based on the principles and program enunciated in the manifesto. He often referred to the spirit of Engels' remark that "on the eve of the revolution all the forces of reaction will be against us under the banner of 'pure democracy". (As, indeed, every factional opponent of the Bolsheviks in 1921 from the monarchists to the anarchists called for "soviets without Bolsheviks"--or soviet workers councils not exclusively dominated by Bolsheviks.) Bordiga absolutely opposed the idea of revolutionary content being the product of a democratic process of pluralist views; whatever its problems, in light of the history of the past 70 years, this perspective has the merit of underscoring the fact that communism (like all social formations) is above all about programmatic content expressed through forms. It underscores the fact that for Marx, communism is not an ideal to be achieved but a "real movement" born from the old society with a set of programmatic tasks.

On the United Front

Bordiga resolutely opposed the Comintern's turn to the right in 1921; as General Secretary of the PCI, he refused to implement the "united front" strategy of the Third Congress. He refused, in other words, to fuse the newly formed PCI, dominated by "Bordigism", with the left wing of the PSI from which it had just broken away. Bordiga had a completely different view of the party from the Comintern, which was adapting to the revolutionary ebb announced, in 1921, by the Anglo-Russian trade agreement, Kronstadt, the implementation of the NEP, the banning of factions and the defeat of the March action in Germany. For Bordiga, the Western European CPs' strategy of fighting this ebb by absorbing a mass of left-wing Social Democrats through the "united front" was a complete capitulation to the period of counter-revolutionary ebb he saw setting in. This was the nub of his critique of democracy. For it was in the name of "conquering the masses" that the Comintern seemed to be making all kinds of programmatic concessions to left-wing Social Democrats. For Bordiga, program was everything, a gate-receipt notion of numbers was nothing. The role of the party in the period of ebb was to preserve the program and to carry on the agitational and propaganda work possible until the next turn of the tide, not to dilute it while chasing ephemeral popularity. Bordiga provided a way of seeing a fundamental degeneration in the world communist movement in 1921 (instead of in 1927 with the defeat of Trotsky) without sinking into mere empty calls for "more democracy". The abstract formal perspective of bureaucracy/democracy, with which the Trotskyist tradition treats this crucial period in Comintern history, became separated from any content. Bordiga throughout his life called himself a Leninist and never polemicized against Lenin directly, but his totally different appreciation of the 1921 conjuncture, its consequences for the Comintern, and his opposition to Lenin and Trotsky on the united front issue illuminates a turning point that is generally obscured by the heirs of the Trotskyist wing of the international left opposition of the 1920s.

On Communism

For Bordiga, both stages of socialist or communist society (sometimes distinguished as 'socialism' and 'communism') were characterised by the absence of money, the market, and so on, the difference between them being that in the first stage a system of 'rationing' would be used to allocate goods to people, while in communism this could be abandoned in favour of full free access. This view distinguished Bordiga from other Leninists, and especially the Trotskyists, who tended (and still tend) to telescope the first two stages and so have money and the other exchange categories surviving into 'socialism'. Bordiga, would have none of this; for him no society in which money, buying and selling and the rest survived could be regarded as either socialist or communist; these exchange categories would die out before the socialist rather than the communist stage was reached.

External links

* [ The International Library of the Communist Left - Bordiga Page]
* [ Bordiga Archive] at
* [ Archives of "Sinistra comunista 'italiana' " - Hundreds texts of Bordiga] at "n+1" Review
* [ Libertarian Communist Library Amadeo Bordiga archive]
* [ Antagonism Bordiga Archive]
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