WeeklyWorker

19.12.2013
Bordiga

Bordiga and the fate of Bordigism

Though he is largely remembered in the context of Lenin’s polemic against ‘left-wing’ communism, Amadeo Bordiga remains a towering figure of the 20th century workers’ movement. David Broder explores his ideas and political record

Few on the left are keen to associate themselves with the thought of Amadeo Bordiga, founder of the Communist Party of Italy (PCd’I). While during his 1921-23 period at the helm of the party he was closely aligned with its other historical giants - most notably, Antonio Gramsci (who headed the PCd’I from 1923-27) and Palmiro Togliatti (1938–64) - ultimately the party would viciously repudiate Bordiga, used as the polemical foil for the cult of a caricatured Gramsci. Not even many of the tiny, fractious circles in the dissident tradition of the Italian Communist Left would call themselves ‘Bordigists’.

Nonetheless, we can learn a lot from Bordiga: in terms of the way in which he clashed with other prominent Marxists like Lenin and Gramsci. By this I do not mean that we ought to imitate Bordiga’s positions, or that he deserves the forlorn stamp of ‘relevance’. Nor just that it is healthy for the left to study the history of different currents of thinking (which it is), especially significant ones whose work is little read (like Bordiga’s). Rather, that trying to understand these clashes from his perspective will allow us better to understand both the common assumptions of post-World War I communists (also including the specific ways in which they are all ‘irrelevant’) and, indeed, helps free these other figures from those who embalmed their legacies.

The most important questions I will address here include Bordiga’s conception of the party and democracy; anti-fascism; and the role of the International.

World War I

Amadeo Bordiga’s first political activity was in the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), which he joined in 1912. On the extreme left of the PSI, Bordiga’s Karl Marx Circle was part of a tendency whose most prominent exponent was Benito Mussolini, deploring the party’s adaptation to bourgeois politics - from its heavy focus on parliamentary activity, to the Freemasonry, patronage and careerism that pervaded its upper ranks.

1912 was also the year that the Basle Congress of the Second International voted to oppose an inter-imperialist war by all means, including an international general strike. In 1914, however, the International collapsed as each of its member parties ignored this decision and instead supported their own governments in World War I - invariably invoking ‘national specificities’ or the reactionary threat of their own state’s opponents.

The exceptions were the Russian and Serb socialists, plus anti-war minorities in other countries. Since Italy was initially not a participant, the PSI divided into interventionists, led by Mussolini (who in never-specific terms argued that war would bring some sort of revolution), and the anti-war majority. Mussolini was expelled, and Bordiga was among his harshest critics. Indeed, after Italy joined the British-French-Russian side in 1915, the socialists took an ambiguous stance of ‘neither supporting nor sabotaging’ the Italian war effort, whereas Bordiga argued that “We are not neutral. We are for the neutrality of our own state, so as to facilitate the international class war against all the states”.

This perspective, only narrowly defeated at the 1917 PSI congress, was somewhat similar to Lenin’s revolutionary defeatist ‘turn the imperialist war into civil war’ approach, though Bordiga did not believe the revolution in Italy would happen at the end of the conflict.

Russia and Il Soviet

The revolution led by Lenin did, of course, have a profound impact on Marxists in Italy as elsewhere. At the end of the war in 1918, Bordiga launched a new paper in Naples called Il Soviet. The group based around this publication was central to the creation of the Communist Fraction of the PSI.

Bordiga wanted to split from the reformists and create a Communist Party, and as we shall see, it is very clear from reading Il Soviet that it was the partyist aspect of the Soviet experience rather than the Russian workers’ soviety (councils) themselves, that inspired the paper’s thinking. Moreover, in postwar Italy this was no abstract question, as the 1919-20 biennio rosso saw a wave of strikes and factory occupations in industrial centres across the country. Antonio Gramsci’s Turin L’Ordine Nuovo group saw the factory committees at the head of this struggle as the embryos of Italian soviets:

The factory council is the model of the proletarian state. All the problems inherent to the organisation of the proletarian state are inherent to the organisation of the council ... The existence of the council gives the workers direct responsibility for production, leads them to improve their work, establishes a conscious, voluntary discipline and creates the psychology of producers, creators of history.1

Il Soviet begged to differ, in many ways reflecting the record of leading Bolsheviks. Though after April 1917 Lenin won his comrades to the slogan ‘All power to the soviets’, the party dropped this call in July and looked for a power base other than the Menshevik-dominated councils - only to return to it on the eve of the insurrection. As it happened, soviet democracy was soon gutted out as central planning agencies like Sovnarkom assumed control. Bordiga saw the soviets in a similarly instrumental light:

Soviets are not in themselves organs of revolutionary struggle. They become revolutionary when the Communist Party wins a majority within them.2

To maintain, after the fashion of the Turin L’Ordine Nuovo comrades, that even before the collapse of the bourgeoisie the workers’ councils are organs, not only of political struggle, but of technico-economic training in the communist system, can only be seen as a return to socialist gradualism. This latter, whether it is called reformism or syndicalism, is defined by the mistaken belief that the proletariat can achieve emancipation by making advances in economic relations while capitalism still holds political power through the state.3

Indeed, if for Marx the communists “have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole”, for Bordiga this meant that the working class’s interests lay exclusively within the party. He did not uphold council-communist or libertarian critiques of Leninism and the factory discipline in the Soviet Union, and saw no particular value in workers’ control of production, cooperatives and such like. The party embodied the workers’ historical mission, and would one day take power: in the short term, without this party, they would remain formless and undefined:

The party actually is the nucleus without which there would be no reason to consider the whole remaining mass [of workers] as a mobilisation of forces. The class presupposes the party, because to exist and to act in history it must possess a critical doctrine of history and an aim to attain in it.4

Communist Party

This view of the absolutely central role of the party was part and parcel of Bordiga’s vehement rejection of democracy. While in some pieces Bordiga hedged this question by describing the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as a “proletarian democracy” – counterposing this to ‘bourgeois democracy’ – elsewhere he made clear that he was opposed to democracy en bloc. Democracy embodied market principles, the exchange between individual units beholden to a power outside of them. In this sense, fascism and Stalinism were only the most extreme form of democracy - rather than opposed to it - since they meant the active participation of the masses in a system over which they had no control.

Within this perspective, the working class was a formless and easily manipulated mass of individuals, which could only achieve consciousness of itself through a party which frontally clashed with democratic institutions. This included advocating abstention from electoral politics. Indeed, Bordiga’s anti-parliamentarism is well-known thanks to the critique of it in Lenin’s ‘Leftwing’ communism: an infantile disorder, and he has entered history as an incorrigible ultra-left. However, there is a danger of anachronism here.

Firstly, both of Lenin’s references to Bordiga are counterbalanced by favourable comments. This was the period of the Communist International (founded in 1919) seeking to establish sections in each country by splitting the old socialist parties and breaking with reformist opponents of the Russian Revolution. The PSI was characterised by a halfway house majority, led by Giacomo Serrati, who wished to join the Comintern but without adopting the name ‘communist’ or expelling the reformists. Lenin commented:

Comrade Bordiga and his faction of abstentionist communists are certainly wrong in advocating non-participation in parliament. But on one point, it seems to me, comrade Bordiga is right ... in attacking [the reformist] Turati and his partisans, who remain in a party which has recognised soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and yet continue their former pernicious and opportunist policy as members of parliament. Of course, in tolerating this, comrade Serrati and the entire Italian Socialist Party are making a mistake which threatens to do as much harm and give rise to the same dangers as it did in Hungary, where the Hungarian Turatis sabotaged both the party and the soviet government from within. Such a mistaken, inconsistent, or spineless attitude towards the opportunist parliamentarians gives rise to ‘leftwing’ communism, on the one hand, and to a certain extent justifies its existence, on the other.5

Secondly, the leaders of the Communist Fraction in Italy - Bordiga, Gramsci, Togliatti, Longo and others - thought the break with the reformists had taken too long, and indeed paralysed them during the struggles of the biennio rosso. Bordiga made clear that the differences among the communists over electoral abstentionism would not divide them organisationally, and it was on this basis that the PCd’I was founded in January 1921.

Indeed, even when Bordiga was undisputed leader of the PCd’I, he was not its dictator. He staunchly believed in abiding by Comintern’s discipline, which he viewed as obligatory for all national sections (unlike the example of the Second International in 1914), and as such implemented its decision to participate in electoral campaigning.

United front

The Communist Party in Italy was, however, increasingly at loggerheads with the International. Comintern had been formed at the start of 1919 in the hope of spreading the revolution from its Russian centre, and in its first two years it followed the so-called ‘theory of the offensive’ - advocated by its president Grigory Zinoviev. Yet by the time of the 1921 March Action in Germany (an abortive and isolated uprising) and the near-simultaneous Kronstadt rebellion in Russia, it was becoming clear that the revolution risked collapsing altogether.

This was the context for introducing the ‘united front’. This was a policy that sought to bring about the unity of working-class-based parties from communists to social-democrats (including in the so-called ‘workers’ government’), a line which came to maturation in 1921-22 during the Comintern’s Third and Fourth Congresses. Indeed, though in 1919 Bordiga had been very much in tune with the Comintern mainstream, the PCd’I was born during the last gasp of the ‘theory of the offensive’. The result was that the Comintern tried to force the unwilling PCd’I leaders to merge with the socialists from whom they had just broken.

In contrast, Bordiga asserted his fidelity to the Comintern’s existing positions. Indeed, he imputed his own views to Zinoviev.6 Obeying the new Comintern line in letter if not in spirit, the PCd’I (like the Fischer-Maslow group in Germany’s KPD) used the ‘workers’ government’ slogan only as a synonym for a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, thus ignoring the united front policy underlying it.

To be clear: Bordiga was not in principle opposed to all united fronts. Since he was not against trade unionism (like today’s Italian Communist Left), he advocated defensive common fronts on economic questions. In his view, these would not compromise the all-important independent political identity of the Communist Party, which had to stand in sharp counterposition to the world of democracy. He described “the defensive platform of our party: the proletariat’s trade union united front, and incessant political opposition toward bourgeois power and all legal parties”.7

This clearly entailed a rather mechanical division between political and economic activity: in fact most trade unions in this period, and indeed anti-fascist defence guards, were the work of militants of one or another party. And indeed when push came to shove, Bordiga took a hostile view towards initiatives for workers’ self-defence which were not under the PCd’I’s control.

Anti-fascism

Bordiga opposed the ‘democratic centralism’ characteristic of the early Communist Parties in the name of his own ‘organic centralism’. This placed priority on a party of well-trained cadres loyal to a fixed programme, as against mass numbers or indeed the twists and turns of democratic decision-making. As Jacques Camatte’s work strongly emphasises,8 this fitted with Bordiga’s strong focus on preserving an already-established correct theory, rather than accepting innovation or adapting theory to contingent situations.

Nonetheless, while this was in later years a model for many a small Left Communist sect, it was a pious wish rather than the real culture in the Bordiga-era PCd’I, which was in fact a turbulent mass of branches inherited from the PSI and older anarchist circles and strongly characterised by local traditions and loyalties. This lack of top-down control was fortunate in many ways, not least as the leadership (and indeed that of the PSI) were opposed to their members’ participation in the most important working-class anti-fascist movement: the Arditi del Popolo (AdP). This was an armed movement uniting anarchists, communists and socialists, which fought heroic pitched battles to defend working-class areas and meeting spaces from fascists, with no official party apparatus to help.

Bordiga is often, for this reason, characterised as passive in the face of fascism, insisting that it was nothing new. Indeed, he - along with all the other PCd’I leaders - thought it likely that the Italian bourgeoisie would attempt a social-democratic solution to the crisis of the postwar liberal state, perhaps but not necessarily including the fascists. Indeed, none of the Comintern leaders grasped the mass character or strength-in-depth of fascism before Mussolini was in office, tending to portray it as a reactionary-capitalist combination similar to the Russian Whites or Black Hundreds. Bordiga favoured self-defence against the fascists, but exclusively under the Communist Party’s own control. Gramsci was less hostile toward the AdP, but his criticisms of the party’s stance were hesitating and voiced in only general terms.

Rejecting any such sophistry, many PCd’I branches took their own initiative, and indeed most AdP militias in any case included communist militants. While this was not enough to stop fascism - and it is far from clear what the working class, defeated in 1919-20, could have done - undoubtedly these militants should have been listened to by the party leadership and their efforts championed rather than simply tolerated.

Indeed, the December 1922 Fourth Congress of Comintern, held just weeks after the fascists’ so-called March on Rome9 and Mussolini’s appointment as prime minister, saw harsh reproaches for the Italians’ failure to engage in the AdP. This was also the beginning - if only a beginning - of Gramsci diverging from Bordiga. While both rejected Comintern pressure to remerge with the reformists, Gramsci sought to shift the discussion onto the terrain of what conditions would hypothetically make this acceptable, rather than merely asserting their flat refusal. This approach was intended to prevent Comintern simply imposing a new leadership from above, one well to the right of the existing one, and thus to preserve its commitment to an imminent, proletarian revolution.

Upon returning from Moscow, Bordiga was arrested by the new fascist regime - never to reclaim his leadership.

Leadership

In his first year of government, Mussolini sought to portray himself as a safe pair of hands. Someone who would keep a check on both the working class and his own blackshirt hoodlums. The king and liberal establishment had raised him to power hoping to tame his movement, which only had 35 MPs and was constrained by a broad coalition. The opposition parties were still legal, though subject to blackshirt attacks which severely constrained the workers’ movement.

This all changed after the April 1924 elections. Amidst heavy intimidation and ballot rigging a fascist-backed ‘National Bloc’ won two thirds of the seats. Giacomo Matteotti, leader of the reformist socialists, spoke out against the fraud, and was murdered by blackshirts. This was disastrous for Mussolini, not only sparking revulsion among the working class but also encouraging elite fears that the fascist leader could not control his plebeian base.

The government was in crisis. The main dailies took a much more critical stance toward Mussolini, the blackshirts were called off the streets, and the opposition parties abandoned parliament in protest: the so-called ‘Aventine Secession’.10

The PCd’I, now headed by Antonio Gramsci, joined this opposition bloc, believing that even if it was the king who sacked Mussolini, this would spark a general crisis in which anything would become possible - including proletarian revolution. This was in effect (though not codified as such) an early version of the popular front idea of ‘splitting’ the ruling class in order later to defeat a much diminished enemy.

In reality this policy saw the PCd’I hemmed in by its bourgeois allies, who rejected both the communists’ general strike call and the (terribly unconstitutional) suggestion that it declare itself the ‘legitimate’ parliament. While the Aventine Secession did nothing, waiting for the king’s intervention, Mussolini’s radical lieutenants pressured him to take decisive action - and he did. Imposing new restrictions on the press, the Duce of fascism declared his responsibility for the blackshirts’ actions. The opposition MPs’ mandates were cancelled and their parties banned.

Bordiga was strongly critical of the PCd’I’s role in this episode:

They should have remained in parliament, launched a political attack on the government, and immediately taken up a position opposed to the moral and constitutional prejudices of the Aventine, which would determine the outcome of the crisis in fascism’s favour ... The preparation of the masses, which leant towards supporting the Aventine rather than wishing for its collapse, was in any case made worse when the party proposed to the opposition parties that they set up their own anti-parliament. This tactic in any case conflicted with the decisions of the International, which never envisaged proposals being made to parties which were clearly bourgeois; worse still, it lay totally outside the domain of communist principles and tactics, and outside the Marxist conception of history.11

The International

The PCd’I of 1921-26 never definitively broke with the idea of a big-bang, proletarian and socialist revolution. However, after its crushing by fascism, the exiled party’s life - and that of the postwar party - was characterised more than anything else by the search for a system of alliances with other social layers, tailored to Italian national conditions. This is a theme of Gramsci’s 1930s Prison Notebooks, though in the history of Togliatti’s post-World War II Italian Communist Party and the Gramsci-studies industry, the degree to which he was a democrat who broke with the idea of working-class revolution is vastly exaggerated (albeit facilitated by the fragmentary character of these texts, written in jail).

The 1926 congress had to be held in Lyons, France, on account of fascist repression. Here Gramsci and Togliatti’s majority theses did make some steps towards engaging with the specific social conditions of Italy - its small and geographically concentrated working class, the underdevelopment of the south, and so on - while also advancing the idea of a republican assembly of workers and peasants. Bordiga’s alternative theses opposed any political united front, but were heavily defeated - not without the help of a degree of ballot rigging, with branches unable to attend the exile congress counted as voting for the existing leadership.

While himself from the south, Bordiga was strongly averse to any focus on regional or national peculiarities, which were just part of the narrow corporatism he counterposed to the working class’s universal historic mission. Indeed, Bordiga opposed the idea that the national communist parties made up the International, instead seeing them as sections of a single world party which structured them from above.

For this reason, amid the rise of Stalinism, Bordiga did not side with the Russian oppositions as much as counterpose the possible sectional interests of the Soviet state to the Comintern’s revolutionary policy. In his intervention at the 1926 Enlarged Executive of Comintern, Bordiga argued that the International ought to be able to exert control over the Soviet Union, since it was just part of a world movement, and its state policy, viewed from a purely Russian foreign-policy perspective, threatened to overwhelm this movement:

The problem of Russian policy cannot be resolved within the narrow limits of the Russian movement alone, the direct collaboration of the whole CI is absolutely essential. Without such collaboration, not only revolutionary strategy in Russia, but also our policies in the capitalist states will be seriously threatened. A tendency may emerge to water down the character and role of the communist parties.12

Moreover, Bordiga protested against the ‘Bolshevisation’ advanced by Zinoviev, which supposedly made the parties of the International more like the Russian one - but that of 1926, not of 1917. The parties would follow Moscow’s discipline and achieve organisational hardness through intolerance toward dissent. Indeed, despite Bolshevisation’s pretensions to cadre development, Bordiga saw it as going hand-in-hand with the ‘conquest of the masses’ slogan advanced at the Third Congress, and the united front. It promised to secure unity through disciplinary means rather than political consistency:

If differences of opinion do exist, this will prove that the party is marred by errors; that the party does not have the capacity to radically combat the degenerative tendencies of the working class movement, which normally manifest themselves at certain crucial moments in the general situation. If one is faced by cases of indiscipline, this is a symptom showing that this fault still exists in the party. Discipline, in fact, is a result, not a point of departure ... [Yet in] recent times, a regime of terror has been established in our parties, a kind of sport, which consists in intervening, punishing, annihilating - and all of this with a special pleasure, as if this were precisely the ideal of party life.13

His criticisms also reflected his critique of democracy: rather than the party sticking to its programme, its leaders would use formless and uneducated masses of new members to retreat from its communist positions and settle scores with factional opponents. Despite the strongly unappealing whiff of ‘organic centralism’, there was an insight here - after all, in the ‘Lenin levy’ Stalin flooded the party with new members to drown oppositionists. Togliatti achieved something very similar by creating his ‘new party’ during the World War II resistance. The same ploy was also, of course, at work in the recent SWP conference preparations, though parodied - long-inactive members who hadn’t paid subs for years were deployed by the CC faction to outvote the younger members trying to reclaim their organisation.

World War II

This was Bordiga’s last great attack on the degeneration of the communist parties, and he was sent into confino (forced internal exile) upon his return to Italy. Expelled from the PCd’I 1930 for his refusal to condemn Trotsky, Bordiga dropped out of political activity and became a hate-figure for his former party. Despite the friendly relations between Bordiga and Gramsci, this denigration of Bordiga became a part of the cult around the Sardinian martyr whose death and imprisonment was counterposed to Bordiga’s inaction.

A characteristic of the Stalin-era Communist Party was to draw a direct link between Bordiga, Trotsky and fascism. Bordiga was a ‘Trotskyist’ insofar as he broke party unity, and this served fascism: therefore he must be a paid agent of the latter. This ‘analysis’ was used to attack almost all left opponents from the 1930s to 1950s, no matter what their connection to Trotskyism (still less to fascism).

During World War II this became particularly acute as the party re-emerged from its clandestine existence with the rise of the resistance. Pierre Broué has noted that while exiled leaders developed popular front (cross-class) conceptions, this approach was totally unknown to the vast majority of party members in Italy, and therefore when they began to reorganise during 1943-45, they were totally bemused:

The history of the Italian Communist Party from 1943 onwards is the history of a Stalinist apparatus brought into Italy from outside, struggling to impose itself from above upon the real party, the true party, the party that had survived fascism and continued to live on in the workers’ districts and the villages, to muzzle them and to impose on their ‘Bordigist’ tradition a Stalinist war policy for which obviously no tradition had prepared them.”

By comparison, the French Communists were well-prepared to take a cross-class approach to anti-fascist resistance, having long been schooled in mounting abrupt strategic turns to suit Stalinist foreign policy, as well as expressing their ideas in ‘patriotic’ terms during the 1934-39 popular front. This was anathema to the veterans of the 1921-26 PCd’I, which had never abandoned a specifically working-class and revolutionary perspective. For this reason, thousands-strong dissident communist formations arose in numerous cities, questioning Togliatti’s popular-front line or even accusing him of betraying Stalin. Togliatti saw the ghost of Bordiga behind these ‘ultra-left’ positions, and the PCI14 press carried venomous attacks on them:

Prometeo and Stella Rossa and other papers of the kind write ‘Today we must not fight the Germans but fight democracy, for the dictatorship of the proletariat and Bolshevism’. Slavish patsies of Hitler! ... In all countries including Italy there is an alliance of parties to chase out the Germans. The attempts of Hitler, Goebbels and their Italian ‘Left- Communist’ servants to divide this bloc are ridiculous’.15

Leaders of both groups were murdered by PCI partisans.

In truth, Bordiga was not himself involved, and did not even attempt to mould these often eclectic and multi-tendency groups into a new revolutionary organisation. For Bordiga, the working class was too caught up in democratic ideology (in both the Axis and Allied camps) for revolution to be possible. Exile circles had kept something like Bordiga’s ideas alive in the Italian Communist Left (in 1943 forming the Internationalist Communist Party - PCInt). But even their analyses denouncing the imperialist character of the war and seeing all anti-fascist struggle as wholly subordinate to this, had little perspective for how the working class could emerge as a separate revolutionary camp.

And without a revolutionary period, Bordiga saw no value in a revolutionary party. Joining the PCInt in 1949, he attacked the ‘voluntarism’ of its leadership (which sought to build itself as a new party, including by standing election candidates to make anti-parliamentary propaganda). In 1952 he split, forming Programma Comunista. In a (entirely schematically defined) ‘period of retreat’, what was important was to work on preserving Marxist theory. Indeed, in the 1950s Bordiga developed more substantial critiques of the nature of the Soviet economy, which he defined as state capitalist. Seeing the isolation of the Soviet state as fundamental to this degeneration, Bordiga argued that revolutionary transition was dependent both on a high level of prior economic development, and taking immediate measures to phase out money.16 Again, the international character of the revolution was more centrally posed than the question of bureaucracy or democratic forms: even the Chinese revolution could be ‘saved’ by revolution in the west.

Comintern

Bordiga always knew that the Italian communists could not simply follow the Russian example. Perry Anderson notes that “it was not Gramsci but his comrade and antagonist Amadeo Bordiga who was to formulate the true nature of the distinction between east and west, though he never theorized it into any cogent practice”.17 In fact, Bordiga did draw conclusions for practice, but ones opposite to Gramsci’s: whereas Bordiga saw the power of democratic ideology in pacifying and dividing the working class and thus sought to oppose it en bloc, creating a Communist Party whose strength was its independence from such processes (eg, abstaining from elections), the Sardinian thinker increasingly saw the need for the working class and the party to participate in and overcome these institutions.

Sadly the engagement of these two friends and comrades was cut short by fascist repression. And in their absence the Communist Party was, during the Stalin period, increasingly at the whim of Moscow, and the only freedom it had was to express its policy in ‘national’ terms. This was central to the development and self-identity of the PCI, from its role in the resistance to German occupation, to its ultimate break with Moscow in 1970s Eurocommunism, and even to its post-1992 incarnation as a social-democratic party. Alas, Gramsci’s thought has been misrepresented and thus ‘recruited’ to this tradition. Yet from his engagement with Bordiga, and some of the fundamental assumptions they shared, it is quite apparent how alien his revolutionary thought was to the Italian Blairites who today invoke his name.

For Bordiga’s part, little is left of his legacy, and even in Italy the Communist Left is microscopic. This milieu is not composed of ‘Bordigists’ in the fashion of ‘Trotskyists’, being rooted in exile groups formed after 1928 by figures such as Onorato Damen and Ottorino Perrone, rather than under the leadership of the inactive Bordiga; and moreover, because Bordiga’s postwar positions clashed with these others. For this same reason we cannot counterpose Bordigism to Bordiga himself, in the manner that we might question the merits of ‘post-Marx’ Marxism, ‘post-Lenin’ Leninism’, or ‘post-Trotsky’ Trotskyism.

Bordiga’s thought is of limited ‘relevance’ today because even he framed it in terms of its specificity to its own time. His own political trajectory was strongly marked by his (essentially one-dimensional) view of the ‘objective conditions’ that existed, apparently determined in large measure by his personal, biographical situation. Seeing the post-World War I period as the death of social democracy and the opportunity for working-class revolution, Bordiga from 1919 to 1921 stood very much in line with the basic assumptions of Comintern as regards the revolutionary nature of this period, the need for a sharp break defining the communists in opposition to reformists and the leading role of the party. Having in the PCd’I years resisted the Comintern’s retreat from such positions, after own his expulsion Bordiga would himself reach an even more gloomy conclusion - the impossibility of building a party in the supposed ‘period of retreat’ after World War II.

This was just one of the ways in which Bordiga was prone to schematic thinking with ultimatumist and undynamic conclusions. Yet even if we are to draw mainly negative conclusions from Bordiga’s experience, it is one that we must study in order to understand the limitations of the early Communist International.

Notes

1. http://www.antoniogramsci.com/sindacati.htm.

2. http://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/ works/1920/abstentionists.htm

3. http://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/ works/1920/workers-councils.htm

4. http://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/ works/1921/party-class.htm

5. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/ works/1920/lwc/ch07.htm.

6. See http://marxists.org/italiano/ bordiga/1922/1/22-tatti.htm.

7. Ibid.

8. See Bordiga et la passion du communisme, free online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/55210568/Camatte-Bordiga-Et-La-Passion-Du-Commu­nisme-1972.

9. A piece of theatre: the blackshirts did not seize power, but rather marched to the capital, camped out waiting for instructions and brawled among themselves, before being shooed away again by an embarrassed Mussolini once the king had appointed him.

10. Named after the Roman population decamping to the Aventine mount in 494 BC, demanding citizenship rights.

11. http://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/works/1926/lyons-theses.htm.

12. http://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/works/1926/comintern.htm.

13. Ibid.

14. After the 1943 dissolution of Comintern, the Communist Party of Italy (PCd’I) was renamed the Italian Communist Party (PCI)

15. ‘Leftism, the Gestapo’s mask’ - La Nostra Lotta, December 1943.

16. For an interesting piece counterposing this analysis to the twentieth-century projects of communism-as-means of developing backward countries, see http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/ bordiga.html.

17 ‘The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci’, New Left Review I/100, 1976, p52.