Antonio Gramsci
Original publication:
Translation: Mitchell Abidor, Roderic Day

On Comrade Bordiga’s Sterile and Negative “Left” Criticism (1925)

Published in l’Unità [Unity] (30 September 1925, year 2, no. 227) under the title “The Discussion in Light of the III Congress,” in response to Amadeo Bordiga’s article “The Opportunistic Danger and the International.” [1]

In Bordiga’s long article only one thing is truly noteworthy: the elegant skepticism through which he avoids taking a clear position about points which he nevertheless claims to dissent from. For all there is continual oscillation between thesis and antithesis, he fails to introduce an “original” thesis of his own.

Comrade Bordiga limits himself to upholding a cautious position on all the questions raised by the Left. He doesn’t say: the International poses and resolves such and such a question in this way, but the Left will instead pose and resolve it this other way. He instead says: the way the International poses and resolves problems doesn’t convince me; I fear they might slip into opportunism; there are insufficient guarantees against this; etc. His position, then, is one of permanent suspicion and doubt. In this way the position of the “Left” is purely negative: they express reservations without specifying them in a concrete form, and above all without indicating in concrete form their own point of view and their solutions. They end up spreading doubt and distrust without offering anything constructive.

The article begins with a characteristic metaphysical hypothesis: Comrade Bordiga asks whether we can 100% exclude the possibility that the Communist International will slip into opportunism. But we could also ask whether it’s possible to exclude the possibility that even Comrade Bordiga would become an opportunist, that the Pope will become an atheist, that Henry Ford will become a communist, etc. In the realm of metaphysical possibilities one can muse indefinitely, but a Marxist should pose the question differently: Is there a real possibility that the Communist International is no longer the vanguard of the proletariat, but is rather en route to becoming the expression of the workers’ aristocracy, corrupted by the bourgeoisie? When the question is posed Marxistically it becomes easy for any comrade to resolve it.

Because the article is a tangle of theoretical and practical errors which other comrades will certainly expose, we will limit ourselves here to pointing out its most salient characteristics.

Comrade Bordiga says, about party cells, that no organizational form can by itself ensure its political character and provide guarantees against opportunist degeneration. But what we affirm is that organization in the form of cells safeguards the proletarian character of the Communist Party better than any other form, and that, better than any other form, such organization protects the party from opportunism. After having repeated the curious assertion that the system of cells is appropriate for Russia — although more so before rather than after the conquest of power — but that it doesn’t apply to countries with bourgeois-democratic regimes, Comrade Bordiga concludes: “We aren’t against cells, at least insofar as groups of members in factories with given functions.” So, is the Left against cells or not? And what are these “given functions” that Comrade Bordiga avoids specifying?

The Left and Comrade Bordiga don’t come out explicitly against Bolshevization, but are merely suspicious of it because it is based on cell organization which would be overseen by an all-powerful network of officials, selected on the basis of blind obsequiousness towards Leninism. That the local leadership of the party should be made up of ideologically committed elements is beyond doubt — without this the Communist Party would not be a Communist Party. As for “blind obsequiousness,” such vulgar polemical attacks do not merit a response.

It is also curious what Comrade Bordiga writes in regards to Leninism. He writes that if Leninism is nothing but Marxism, then it’s pointless to use such a term; but immediately after this he adds that the Left will use both terms interchangeably. Not only does he contradict himself there, but there’s an additional contradiction regarding his use of the terms interchangeably with his recognition that Lenin is the “completer for very important parts of Marxism. His interpretation of the imperialist phase of capitalism, his formulation of the agrarian and national question are fundamental contributions to the development of the Marxist method and system.”

Concerning his disagreement with Lenin, Comrade Bordiga unskillfully sticks to generalities, and avoids going into specifics. The phrases, “We have discussed and criticized living and talking Lenin, and we are still not at all convinced of many of his counter-deductions” and “Lenin’s squeals did not convert me” may have a great effect on the petty bourgeois, but they’ll only cause Communists and revolutionary workers to shrug their shoulders.

Comrade Bordiga, without anywhere specifying the extent of his disagreement with Lenin, goes on affirming that Lenin’s tactical method is not “completely correct” as it does not provide “guarantees” against opportunist application. But Comrade Bordiga would be more sincere if he were to declare that he rejects any tactical maneuvers whatsoever, insofar as every tactical maneuver poses a risk of opportunist deviation. The guarantees against deviations do not lie in the tactics themselves, but in us — in our Communist consciousness, in the vigilance and self-criticism of the entire party, in firmness of principles, and in our striving to never lose sight of the revolutionary goal.

We don’t pretend to have exhausted with this note the objections to Comrade Bordiga’s article. It is truly a pit of errors and inconsistencies of every type.

We merely wanted to highlight those which concern anti-parliamentarism and the tactics of the party towards the working masses of Aventine. The tactics adopted by the party — says Comrade Bordiga — were not reviewed by any congress. But aside from the fact that no congress foresaw either the Matteotti crime, [2] or the reaction of the broad masses (with their contemporaneous tendency towards radical illusions), what is the tactic that, according to Comrade Bordiga, we should have adopted instead? He shies away from articulating it in any shape or form, and merely says “little was done, while much could have been done.”

The entire article is a document of true intellectual decadence. Comrade Bordiga not only fails to take his own negations to their logical conclusions, he above all fails to counterpose criticized directives with new directives, clearly and concretely laid out. To limit himself, as he does, to negative criticism — sowing doubt, skepticism and distrust, without proposing anything positive or constructive — demonstrates not only a lack of character, but also reveals little respect for and attachment to the Party and the International.

[1] Amadeo Bordiga, “The Opportunistic Danger and the International” (l’Unità, 30 September 1925). [web] 

[2] Giacomo Matteotti (b. 1885-1924) was an Italian socialist politician. On 30 May 1924, he openly spoke in the Italian Parliament alleging the Italian fascists committed fraud in the 1924 Italian general election, and denounced the violence they used to gain votes. Eleven days later, he was kidnapped and killed by Fascists.