dictatorship versus democracy
Amedeo Bordiga is one of the very few who took democracy seriously: he didn't look at its methods, but at its principle. However, he likened proletarian democracy so much to bourgeois democracy that he ended up missing the principle itself.
His starting point is that democracy consists in individuals regarding themselves as equals, each forming his own opinion according to his free will, then comparing it with the opinion of others, before taking a decision (usually after a vote and according to majority rule: this is important, yet not essential to the definition). Parliament stifles the proletarians by forcing them into a political partnership with the bourgeois. Nothing original in that last statement, but the deduction that follows is not so common : Bordiga thinks worker democracy is also to be rejected, because it decomposes the proletarian fighting spirit into individual decisions. Democracy means a reunion of equal rights and wills, which is impossible in bourgeois parliamentarianism, and pointless in proletarian class activity: revolution does not depend on combining a mass of individual decisions, nor on majority or proportional procedures, but on the ability of the organized proletariat to act as a centralizing body and a collective mind. (Bordiga calls this body and mind "a party", but his party is very different from the Leninist one, since it is not based on socialist intellectuals introducing socialism into the working class from outside. To make things more complicated, Bordiga never openly criticized Lenin's conception of the party.)
"(..) the principle of democracy has no intrinsic value. It is not a "principle", but rather a simple mechanism of organization (..) revolution is not a problem of forms of organization. On the contrary, revolution is a problem of content, a problem of the movement and action of revolutionary forces in an unending process (..)" (The democratic principle, January 1922)
Several decades later, Bordiga wrote : "The 'content of socialism' (..) won't be proletarian autonomy, control and management of production, but the disappearance of the proletarian class, of the wage system, of exchange - even in its last surviving form as the exchange of money for labour-power; and finally, the individual enterprise will disappear as well. There will be (..) nobody to demand autonomy from." (The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism, 1957)
Indeed communist revolution is the creation of non-profit, non-mercantile, co-operative and fraternal social relations, which implies destroying the State apparatus and doing away with the division between firms, with money as the universal mediator (and master), and with work as a separate activity. That is the content.
What Bordiga fails to see, is that this content won't come out of any kind of form. Some forms are incompatible with the content. We can't reason as if the end was the only thing that mattered: the end is made out of means. Certain means get us closer to the end we want, while others make it more and more remote and finally destroy its possibility. The content of communism (which Bordiga was right to emphasize) can only be born out of the self-organized action of "the vast majority" of the proletariat (Communist Manifesto). The communist movement is not democratic: neither is it dictatorial, if the dictator is one part of the proletariat oppressing the rest. Soon enough that part loses whatever proletarian character it had and turns into a privileged group telling people what to do. This is what happened in Russia, as some like Otto Rühle understood as early as 1920-21.
Bordiga lacks a critique of politics. He perceives revolution as a succession of phases: first it would replace bourgeois power, then it would create new social relations. This is why he has no trouble believing that the Bolsheviks could have ruled Russia for years and, even without being able to transform the country in a communist way, still have promoted world revolution. Yet power is not something revolutionaries can hold on to with no revolution happening in their country or anywhere else. Like many others, Bordiga equates power with an instrument. When Jan Appel was staying in Moscow as a KAPD delegate in the Summer 1920, he was shown factories with well-oiled machines that could not be operated for lack of spare parts: when revolution breaks out in Europe, the Russian workers would tell him, you'll send us spares and we'll be able to operate these machines again. After October 1917, the Bolsheviks must have thought of themselves as something similar: a machinery preparing for world revolution. Unfortunately, power (and even more so State power) is not a tool waiting to be properly handled. It's a social structure that does not remain on stand-by for long. It has a function: it connects, it makes people do things, it imposes, it organizes what exists. If what exists is wage-labour and commodity exchange, even in the original and makeshift existence it had in Russia in 1920, power will manage that kind of labour and that kind of exchange. Lenin died a head of State. On the contrary, a revolutionary structure is only defined by its acts, and if it does not act it soon withers.
Like Trotsky, Bordiga theorizes the necessity to do violence to particular proletarians in the name of the future interests of the proletarians in general: as late as 1960, he would still justify the Bolshevik repression of the Kronstadt rising in February-March, 1921. He never understood that at the time he was writing The Democratic Principle, the Russian experience that he extensively used to back up his thesis was eliminating whatever revolution was left in Russia. Bordiga was attacking democratic formalism on behalf of a revolution that already had less substance than form.
Dictatorship is the opposite of democracy. The opposite of democracy is not a critique of democracy.