Christian Riechers – Imaginary Bordiga

A short biography of Christian Riechers, author of the following text, can be found in our translation of his obituary for Amadeo Bordiga. This is Riechers’ critique of Jacques Camatte and his journal Invariance. For further reading on the topic, refer also to the International Communist Party’s “Clarification regarding some ‘Surpassers of Marxism’“, published in Programme Communiste.

PDF-Version: Christian Riechers – Imaginary Bordiga


This two-part work appeared in issues 1 and 3 of L’Internazionalista in 1975. The small publication that appeared in Milan that year, the organ of an “autonomous internationalist communist group”, barely reached n. 14 in April 1991, with which it ended.

A number of comrades who at different times had left il programma comunista were part of it: There were comrades from the Milan split of 1962, comrades who had been part of the Milan split of 1964 and then broke away from those who had started to publish La Rivoluzione Comunista, and finally scattered comrades like Christian Riechers, Giancarlo Tacchi and a couple of people from Bologna who had left il programma comunista in 1973.

The author of this article is Christian Riechers, a German scholar who had met, in the sixties, Amadeo Bordiga and Bruno Maffi although he has never been a militant in the Internationalist Communist Party.

Riechers is known for a great book about Gramsci which was published in Germany in 1970 under the title Antonio Gramsci – Marxismus in Italien. The book was also published in Italy, in 1975, by the publisher Theleme in Naples and then, in 1993, by Graphos in Genoa, this time under the title Gramsci e le ideologie del suo tempo. Riechers, a university professor in Hanover, has published several other writings on Stalinism and Amadeo Bordiga. He died, still young, in 1993, being born in 1936. It is Riechers himself who italianises the article which, as one will read, is basically an attack on a mystical vision of Amadeo Bordiga that is much more vast than the narrow circle of followers, at the time, of Invariance, who had published a collection of writings by Bordiga introduced by a text of Jacques Camatte, Bordiga et la passion du communisme.

Part 1

Among the writings of Amadeo Bordiga recently published with the author’s name and surname is a good selection of “Texts on Communism” [Ital.: Testi sul comunismo] (Ed. La Vecchia Talpa, Naples – Ed. Crimi, Florence). It is a series of treatises developed during the meetings of the International Communist Party and published in “Programma comunista” in ’58 and ’59. The difficulty of obtaining the complete volumes of this newspaper makes publications like the one we are now dealing with particularly useful, especially for new generations who want to assimilate the teaching of the great and patient exegete of revolutionary Marxism, and in addition allow you to read Bordiga “in the original” without the obligation of trying to distinguish, by drawing on the source before, that is, the newspaper, what under general anonymity, was from Bordiga and what instead is to be attributed (sometimes in perfect imitation of the characteristic language of the master) to his official disciples. The task of listing all the writings of Bordiga that appeared in this post-war period is by no means an academic matter, because only in this way will it be possible to clarify the reasons for the justified self-limitations within the Party – the primary task, the reinstatement of the theoretical cornerstones of Marxism – and those derived, contingent, expression of a blindly reverential attitude before the verb of the master. It is a question of examining whether the Marxist invariance understood as a set of real experiences reflected by the major representatives of the doctrine on the international scene has not almost imperceptibly been replaced, due to the combined effect of objective isolation and subjective self-isolation, by a sort of autarkic invariance of the group.

Reading the writings included in the above collection, in fact, one comes to understand the singularity of a Marxist position that is not reflected in any of the works of the very few surviving revolutionaries who tried to remain faithful to the classical line of Russian October, nor in the the theories of the young Marxist generation. The line of scientific foresight of the future communist stage, which in Marx finds its most conspicuous manifestation in the “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, Bordiga takes up again and continues, widening its consequences in dialectical juxtaposition with the falsifications of Stalin’s “romantic socialism”.

Evidently, the “Testi sul comunismo” do not contain everything that Bordiga said and wrote about the nature of communism. It can be said that all of Bordiga’s major writings of the post-war period are pervaded by this profound vision, which identifies in the mud of the prevailing capitalist disorder the dialectical opposite of the order of the human species and which, going back from this radiant position to the analysis of contemporary capitalism, succeeds in grasping the salient traits of the latter – those traits that remain obscured in their blind, immediate positivity in the analyses of economists like Mandel (see “Proprietà e capitale – Vulcano della produzione e palude del mercato, Ed. Gruppo della Sinistra comunista, Turin, 1972).

While we are open-minded enough to welcome the publication of Bordiga’s writings by those who do not belong to the official circle of disciples, this attitude does not in any way imply an a priori agreement of views with those who promote such initiatives. The introduction to the “Testi“, entitled “Bordiga et la passion du communisme“, requires our criticism, and not for the fact that it dares to criticise Bordiga for some of his alleged limitations. Let others put on blinders. To criticise means to put in crisis; and, if the social relations created by capitalism are relations of acute crisis of a system that still cannot die because those who will kill it are not operative today, it is legitimate and, indeed, necessary to put in crisis, to see as a contradictory expression also the work of those who have, in our opinion, given the most fundamental contribution to the restoration of revolutionary Marxism in the twenty years following the last conflict. The depersonalisation of Marxism as a programme is well underway, but it can really only be achieved if in the theoretical contributions of the person Amadeo Bordiga we succeed in distinguishing the contingent from the necessary. Only after such an examination, necessary and vital for the future movement, will we be able to affirm with the Communist Manifesto that we do not support “particular, sectarian principles, according to which we want to shape the proletarian movement”; only then do the words written forty years ago by Ottorino Perrone acquire a real meaning: “Bordigism, the reduction of our movement to the person of Bordiga, is the most stupid deformation of the opinions of the same comrade Bordiga, who on the basis of Marx, has destroyed every relevance of the individual as such and has theoretically proven that only the community and social organisms must and can give meaning to the individual itself” (Bilan, n. 2, dic. 1933).

The critics of this introduction, who refer to the coterie of “Invariance”, treat Bordiga’s work as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon used to treat capitalism: there is a positive side and there is a negative side: “We have to apprehend this revolutionary, this party man, in his connection with the future, since he lived in the future more than any other person”. Here is the positive side: the futuristic one, so to speak. But then there is the negative side, and it resides in Bordiga’s traditionalism: “and nonetheless simultaneously was responsible for the survival of a mystifying past that obscured this future” (p. 9). He is repeatedly reproached for “other outdated aspects that pertained to all the erroneous concerns of a historical epoch that is now in the past” (p. 13). The Marxist method of Bordiga becomes, in the prose of these critics, “a kind of revolutionary hermeneutics”, which “unfortunately … do not suffice when a novelty is to be confronted. And there’s the rub. The study of this latter problem can lead to an enrichment of theory” (p. 4). Let’s not wrinkle the nose because of the fact that concepts such as “novelty” and “enrichment of theory” emerge here: if it is correct to insist on the necessity of a clear and unequivocal language in defining the Marxist positions in front of our adversaries, it is equally true that often, in the footsteps of the Italian Left, one has exaggerated oneself towards a certain “lexical criticism”, so those who used words such as “problem”, “concrete”, “immediate” ran the risk of being branded as “problemist”, “concretist”, “immediatist”, with the corresponding effects of reticence “of rank and file” on the one hand and, sometimes, acrobatic “splittism” on the other. Let’s see, therefore, what is behind the above concepts, striving not to cite them a priori for the form in which they are expressed. To put it briefly, the distinguished scholars of “Invariance” think that among the writings of Comrade Marx, there is a liber librorum, the sixth unpublished chapter of “Capital”, where it is written that the more capital subdues all production, the more the extortion of relative surplus value becomes dominant in the face of the extortion of the absolute, the less formal and more real is the domination of capital over all social relations. In short, there would be a qualitative leap that makes the domination of capital totalitarian. In the head of “Invariance”, given that “today everything is capital” (p. 22), the consequence is that even those who rebel against the omnipotent despotism of capital can be integrated into its omnipresent mechanism; that is why the only way out lies in this: “Communism, anticipation-theory of the becoming of the proletarian class, does not exclude, but on the contrary demands that this anticipation has a real basis, otherwise it may appear as a magical affirmation” (p. 31).

It’s a pity that Bordiga’s “hermeneutic” hasn’t understood it: “it was necessary to found something that, outside of discontinuity, creates a field that the enemy could only enter with difficulty, because it is occupied by communism” (p. 18). Comrade Amadeo, however, also deserves an A plus for “his use of a language that is not expurgate, not strictly defined, nor static”, an expression of “his thought that is that of a being that in part still escapes the linguistic despotism of capital” (p. 7 ff.). That doesn’t sound new. It is reminiscent of what was said by the theorists of the “Great Refusal”, world champion the deceased Adorno, less daft than his friend Marcuse because he did not make it a confusionary-contextual system, but very close, like all the major representatives of the Frankfurt School after the Second World War, to the theses of our invariantists regarding the fatalistic presentation of capital as a totalising monster. It must be said in passing that the “multiform and torrential discourse” that critics praise in Bordiga, rather than helping “create a field that the enemy could only enter with difficulty”, often leads to the result of making the commitment of those who, as comrades, want to understand the substance of his analysis particularly difficult: to present as a virtue what, at least in part, is the product of a situation of isolation – the crystal clear, classic interventions of the sixth extended Executive of 1926 are confronted with contrary theses – is really to behave as organic intellectuals … of the unhappy consciousness of Hegelian memory.

The core of the problem, however, does not lie in the greater or lesser elaboration of the “anticipation-theory” of communism, to whose elaboration, at least in the text we are examining, the egregious critics contribute only by repeating on several occasions – we spare ourselves other quotations – that Bordiga was capable of elaborating, but did not do so. The central question is how they present the current phase of capitalism and what they propose to bring it down.

Part 2

In the first part of this article we had welcomed the publication of a good choice of “Texts on Communism” by Amadeo Bordiga (Ed. La Vecchia Talpa, Naples – Ed. Crimi, Florence) without hiding – to put it mildly – some of our perplexities reading the preface. We had noted in passing how the authors of the preface distributed reproaches on the one hand and enthusiastic adhesions on the other hand to the theoretical work of comrade Amadeo. It was not our intention to enter too much into the discussion of the immense value and undeniable limits of that great continuer of classical Marxism that is Amadeo Bordiga – the few hints given by us in the first part clearly testify that we will be the last to do the hagiography of a lost time. Primarily, however, we were interested to see how the authors of the preface – members of the “Invariance” coterie – presented the current phase of capitalism and what they proposed to bring it down.

There is, in fact, a tendency towards “infantile” extremism even among the ranks of those who rightly or wrongly refer to the “Italian” Communist Left and its most important representative. This is not about going back to the past to discover any vices of origin that may exist. It must be said in a few words that the cycle of counterrevolutions – a cycle that has always been marked by sporadic rebellions, of authentic class struggles that have unfortunately remained isolated on a national or even local level, of lacerations in the internal class structure of the bourgeoisie itself (student movement, May 1968) – that this cycle of counterrevolutions has destroyed almost every passage of experiences of struggle from the generation of authentic revolutionaries to those that follow. And it is perhaps not so much the palpable, material nature of the counterrevolution but a too futuristic and in substance too superficial “analysis” of it that leads to the taking of positions of a real “indifferentism in political matters”.

Already in the original issue of “L’Internazionalista” (July 1973, p. 5) we asked ourselves: Do “Invariance” and others perhaps fall from the sky and are they not rather the revealing index of the inevitable gravitation towards the speculative attitude to “interpret the world” by a general guideline that ultimately subordinates action to the objective of the emergence of its optimal conditions?

These conditions are no longer to be expected. For the invariantist authors of the preface these optimal conditions already exist, here they are! It is shocking that we traditionalists did not notice it. “Thus, in the final phase of capital, which to a certain extent, can be called decadent, capital imitates the society of the future and realises some of the immediate demands of the proletariat: generalisation of the proletarian condition, socialisation of production, introduction of economic planning, negation of the individual, domination of nature, etc. In a way, under a mystified form, there is a realisation of the domination of the proletariat and of certain measures of the lower stage of socialism” (p. 29). The cautious “to a certain extent” presents itself more strictly peremptory a few pages before (p.21): “We must specify how capital has in fact entered” – we emphasise this ignorance – “the stage of transition and, in a way, the lower stage of socialism.”

Almost one hundred years later – the preface “Bordiga and the Passion of Communism” dates back to January 1972 – a heartwarming celebration of the critique of the Gotha programme. It is, of course, not a celebration on the heterodox part of Eastern “socialism”, historically “necessary” camouflage of young capitalisms, but of the capitalism without phrase, the “western” one, “which to a certain extent, can be called decadent”, what one sees appropriately “developing the analysis contained in Grundrisse and in Book III of Capital” (p. 21). An idyllic vision of capitalism is needed in order to be able to safely support what the most hardened apologists of capitalism say, that is, that capitalism has fulfilled the main demands of socialism. Let’s be honest, it really did, it realised a determinate socialism, a “socialism” impregnated in all its theoretical determinations by the forms that the capitalistic mode of production continuously generates both as real forms (“states of well-being”, “social security” etc.) and as forms of immediate thought that correspond to them. But do our passionate communists think this way, shallow, apologetic? Of course not, there has been history…

“The counterrevolution works by destroying the revolutionary forces represented by the associations of men, by parties; then it implements, from above, gradually, in a mystified form, the demands of those associations; when its task is completed and the revolution inevitably recedes, it can only retard the revolutionary process by submerging the new revolutionaries in the rediscovered discourse of the previous era” (p. 21). There we have it. The counterrevolution, therefore, has carried out the tasks of the revolutionaries, as if these tasks were limited exclusively to the attainment of the immediate demands of the proletariat. If one follows the preface, one gets the impression that the revolutionaries are the shallowest immediatists, so it is understandable if they confuse reform and revolution: “Most revolutionaries are only revolutionaries because of the revolution itself, they are its immediate embodiment, or else they are perhaps the personification of a discourse on the revolution. As a general rule, the latter think of communism as something that is necessarily situated on the other side of a particular moment: the revolution. Then what is important for them is the latter, rather than communism” (p. 12 ff.). As for the immediate demands of the proletariat, we know that, at the boundary, a fascist statism can also fulfil them because – the proletarian organisations reduced to their petty immediacy and their albeit tremendous autonomy destroyed, which could give the prospect of a glimmer of hope to go further – they prove necessary for the maintenance of the social work force under relationships of production with a high organic composition of capital. The Left has always reiterated this position in opposition to anti-fascism, a populist front, a denier of all the cornerstones of Marxism, which wanted to make us believe that fascism was a return to the Middle Ages, anti-modern, feudal, etc. However, it is written in the “Testi sul comunismo” (p. 103), authoritative author Amadeo Bordiga, that “all our theses should be used after explaining the antithesis that raised them historically”. If we therefore say that fascism is the political expression of modern capitalism and not an alliance of pre-capitalist forces with fractions of retrograde capitalism and so on, we do not express with this a judgement on the “reformist” qualities that would make (or had made) superfluous and anti-revolutionary even the daily struggles of the proletariat for its most immediate needs. And if we look at the present general picture of the presumed lower socialism achieved in Western Europe, we must admit – even if grudgingly – that this precarious stage has been reached also through the workers’ struggles that Stalinist and social democratic reformists have so often and against their hearts had to lead (and then watered down as usual). It is frankly absurd to attribute all that has been achieved to the force of counterrevolution. Behind this concept lies a vision of a historical path that continues in a succession of closed stages. They attribute to Bordiga “erroneous concerns of a historical epoch that is now in the past” (p. 13). Is it ever possible to consider history like this? And if this were really the case for us communists, Lenin said more than fifty years ago, it would not be the case for the masses who become aware of their social and political existence through forms of consciousness enlightenedly considered “outdated”. It is up to the Marxist revolutionaries to free themselves, first of all, from all these forms of consciousness and then face them in contact with the proletariat, equipped with the entire weapons of criticism – and not the usual cannon aimed at crushing a poor sparrow – and able to carry out in agitation those “generous simplifications” (Bordiga) that are only possible and effective on the basis of a lasting appropriation of the theoretical instrumentarium of Marxism. If it were only a matter of “straightening out” the consciousness of the proletariat and of us to finally open our eyes and see an authentic lower socialism that already exists, it would be very easy.

Unfortunately of this lower socialism, which according to the critique of the Gotha programme presupposes the political domination of the proletariat, we find no trace. The fragile logic that sustains that “in the final phase of capital… it imitates the society of the future” (p. 29) is very revealing. This belief believing in a unilateral evolution in stages, in historical stages, is not so dissimilar to the progressive socialist sentiment pre 1914. How can a future society be imitated, when, unlike than a lower socialist society, it can also be the result of a catastrophic historical relapse when the proletarians do nothing to save themselves? Are we going to look at and study the future blissfully? We study the future in the past so as not to lose the compass in the present. Let us leave the coterie of those impassioned by communism with a reference to realism, which is valuable at least for us, noted by comrade Marx in the margins of “Statism and Anarchy” of the egregious Bakunin: “As the proletariat still acts, during the period of struggle for the overthrow of the old society, on the basis of that old society, and hence also still moves within political forms which more or less belong to it, it has not yet, during this period of struggle, attained its final constitution, and employs means for its liberation which after this liberation fall aside. Mr Bakunin concludes from this that it is better to do nothing at all… just wait for the day of general liquidation — the last judgement.”

Source: L’Internazionalista, n. 1 and 3, 1975