Amadeo Bordiga (1889-1970) was the first leader of the Italian communist party, which he helped found in 1921, along with Antonio Gramsci, who became better known.
Bordiga began his political activity in the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in 1910, where he immediately identified with its left wing. He was a member of the Federation of Italian Socialist Youth (FGSI), which became increasingly radicalised. During the Italian colonial war against Libya (September 1911 to October 1912) many members of the FGSI agitated against the war amongst conscripts – while PSI parliamentary representatives voted for it.
In 1912 Bordiga split from the reformist-dominated local section of the PSI in Naples and set up the “Karl Marx Circle”. After the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, Bordiga became more and more antiparliamentarian. He worked for the organisation of the Camera del Lavoro (trade union centre) in Naples. In 1917 he helped set up the “intransigent socialist fraction”, which fought the leadership of Giacinto Serrati from the left. From December 1918 Bordiga was involved in publishing the newspaper Il Soviet; it became the organ of the “Abstentionist Communist Fraction” of the PSI, which opposed participation by socialists in parliament. He was a delegate of the Italian Communist current at the Third Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow in 1920.
Bordiga is not well-known, partly because he fell out with the Bolshevik leadership in Russia. He was criticised by name in Vladimir Lenin’s pamphlet, Left-Wing Communism: an infantile disorder, for rejecting all participation in parliament. He was also one of the last party militants to criticise Stalin to his face and live to tell the tale (at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Comintern in 1926).
Bordiga’s leadership of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) did not last long. When he was imprisoned by the fascist government from February to October 1923, the “Bordigist” leadership was replaced by that of Gramsci and Palmiro Togliatti. However, Bordiga was not actually expelled from the party until March 1930, allegedly for “Trotskyism” (he was not a Trotskyist, although he did vote against a resolution defining Trotsky as “one of the open enemies of the Communist International”).
Bordiga – unlike the so-called “German Left” (Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter, and others), who were also calumnied by Lenin – never really broke from Lenin and the Third International. He maintained a Leninist outlook on political organisation throughout his life. Indeed, he made a point of insisting on his continuity with Lenin as a true proponent of “the theory of the proletariat” … this is in spite of the fact that in 1921, as General Secretary of the PCI, he had openly opposed Lenin’s “united front” tactic of allying the Communist parties with reformist organisations.
Another reason that Bordiga is not so well known is because of the principle of “revolutionary anonymity”. Bordiga and his comrades believed that the proletarian revolution was an essentially anonymous process which had no place for heroes, Great Men, or cults of personality. Here they were naturally thinking of Stalin, but probably also of Mussolini, who was a contemporary of Bordiga on the left wing of the Italian Socialist Party, but dramatically – and shockingly for the Socialist youth – swung towards nationalism on the eve of World War I. However, Bordiga was perhaps not completely rigorous in the application of this principle – some of his writings in the 1920s are actually signed “A.B.”
There was another side to Bordiga, apart from his ideas on revolutionary organisation, which is perhaps more interesting. From an early age he seems to have taken an interest in science and technology, and this is how he earned his living. He studied engineering, and later worked as a structural engineer designing houses. Bordiga’s father was a professor of agricultural economics, and Bordiga himself was an assistant professor of agrarian mechanics at one point. This partly explains Bordiga’s long-standing interest in the agrarian question, which he saw as crucial to understanding capitalism, and what can only be described as an obsession with Marx’s theory of land rent. It is also clear that Bordiga saw marxism as something which can be scientifically validated. This is what he said in 1918 about the Russian Revolution:
What happened in Russia was a great experiment, certainly not an experiment like those which the physicist or the chemist would carry out with artificial means to deduce from its results the proof of the validity of one of the theories put forward, but a development of phenomena such as we can find in the domain of geology or astronomy where attentive observation allows us to decide which hypothesis is correct amongst the various scientific hypotheses concerning the constitution of the globe or the reciprocal movement of stars in space.
At the end of 1926 the fascist government sentenced Bordiga to exile on the islands of Ustica and then Ponza, where he remained until November 1929. On the island of Ustica he met up with Gramsci and other party members and carried on considerable political activity and discussion. It is significant that on the island Bordiga headed up the “scientific section” of the party, while Gramsci ran the “literary and historical section”. In this sense, Bordiga did not resemble very many marxists – certainly not those of today – but did have something in common with Marx himself, who always kept up with the latest developments in scientific knowledge.
After his expulsion from the party, until almost the end of the second world war, Bordiga did not engage in any formally organised political activity. He worked as an engineer in Naples until 1943, when fascism fell. During this time he seems to have been genuinely detached from his former comrades, both in Italy and the “Italian Left” abroad. It is significant that there is no available written material produced by Bordiga from this period, apart from correspondence with individuals. However, the Fascist police did note in July 1939 that “Bordiga in Naples always finds new sympathies, even among his adversaries, and meets a broad adhesion in the camp of the intellectual middle class”.
After 1944, Bordiga became involved with Naples-based Fraction of Socialists and Communists. But when this grouping was dissolved into the Internationalist Communist Party (“PCInt”), Bordiga did not initially join, believing that the time was not ripe to create a party. The PCInt split in 1952, and Bordiga also became involved with the successor, the International Communist Party, built around the newspaper Il programma comunista in Italy, and the Programme communiste review in France. Most of Bordiga’s writings appeared (unsigned, of course) in the journals of the PCInt and the International Communist Party. Many were also translated into French and published in the French journal Invariance, founded by Jacques Camatte, a former member of the International Communist Party, in 1968.
After the second world war Bordiga was still writing about many of the same things he had written about in the 1920s – the role of the communist party and the need for proletarian dictatorship, for example. But he also wrote about subjects with a more “utopian” tinge to them, such as the one we publish here on the future of cities, and started to make a critique of bourgeois forms of knowledge.
Many of Bordiga’s writings from this time can be said to explore “ecological” themes, before the term came into widespread use – although he would have totally rejected the reformist perspectives of present-day environmentalists who exclude or downplay the class struggle. Another theme he explored was the nature of precapitalist societies, which he often expressed an admiration for. In 1961 he even wrote an article claiming that on the Mexican island of Janitzio there is no fear of death, due to attitudes inherited from an ancient communist civilisation. Related to this is the need to consider all previous revolutions. According to Camatte: “In effect, he began his study by a reflection on revolution: is there an infinite or a finite series of revolutions? Our revolution, the proletarian revolution, will be the last, but we marxists, so he says, will take into account all the revolutions of the species.”
Bordiga became strongly critical of science itself, even going so far as to say: “Therefore lets launch the cry which leaves perplexed all those who are blinded by the force of their putrid commonplaces: down with science!” But this was not because he had rejected materialism and embraced mysticism – quite the opposite. For Bordiga, science was an expression of the mode of knowledge typical of capitalist society. He drew attention to the way that, within this society, it becomes an autonomous and despotic force, and gives rise to an absurd level of specialisation in which no one can see the bigger picture. Another common theme of his writings from the 1950s onwards is the way that science was becoming increasingly corrupted by “wheeler-dealing politics” to the extent that it could no longer function as a means of making objective decisions. This was linked to Bordiga’s regular observation that the relationship between the state and private capital in democratic Italy was even more corrupt than it had been in fascist Italy.
Bordiga described communists as “explorers of the future” and the text we have published certainly fulfils that role, positing the abolition of cities. In the spirit of Bordiga himself, we have commented on it here with reference both to theories of social change and to science.
An anonymous proletarian, April 2012
The best online sources of Bordiga’s writings, and writings about Bordiga, are:
→ In various languages: the International Library of the Communist Left
→ In English (mostly): the Bordiga section of libcom
→ In French: the Bordiga section of marxists.org includes texts not in the International Library of the Communist Left
 Serrati was referred to, in the language of Italian socialism, as a “maximalist”. This meant someone who was theoretically not a “reformist”, but still believed firmly in “the parliamentary road to socialism”, to use the language of British socialism.
 See the article “Communism is the Material Human Community: Amadeo Bordiga Today” by Loren Goldner – available in the Bordiga section of libcom.org. Also, see the collection of articles (in French) by Bordiga on the agrarian question, which can be found in the French Bordiga section of www.marxists.org.
 See Arturo Peregalli & Sandro Saggioro, Amadeo Bordiga. – La sconfitta e gli anni oscuri (1926-1945) – reviewed in English here.
 Right at the beginning of Capital volume 1 (chapter 1, section 3), Marx shows off his knowledge of organic chemistry by stating that butyric acid and propyl formate contain the same ratios of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen but have very different chemical properties. This is intended as an analogy for how a quantity of value can be instantiated in very different things. It’s a bad analogy – value is historically specific, while all the evidence suggests that carbon atoms have existed significantly longer than commodity exchange.
 In this connection, see the pamphlet “Murdering the Dead – Amadeo Bordiga on capitalism and other disasters”, produced by an “anonymous collective” in 2001. It brings together several texts by Bordiga on the subject of science, technology and “disasters” . The introduction to the pamphlet and all the referenced texts can be found in the Bordiga section of libcom.org.