Chus Martinez On Amadeo Bordiga!

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Amadeo Bordiga (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.

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. Being the 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 Zedong, 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 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 idealism. 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 programme 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 dominated by Bolsheviks.) Bordiga 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.

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, programme was everything, a gate-receipt notion of numbers was nothing. The role of the party in the period of ebb was to preserve the programme and to carry on the 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 polemicised 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.

For Bordiga, both stages of socialist or communist society (sometimes distinguished as “socialism” and “communism”) were characterised by the (gradual) absence of money, the market, and so on, the difference between them being that earlier 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.



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