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.
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."
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.
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.
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.