A. Lozovsky

Lecture No. 5

The Red International of Labor Unions (Profintern)


LET us pass over now to the other ideological-political trend in the international labor movement.

The organization which is competing with the Amsterdam International, is the Red International of Labor Unions, which was organized in 1920. What are the roots of this International? No doubt the roots of this revolutionary organization should be sought in the war period when the sobering of the workers began, and the creation of revolutionary neuclei within the labor organizations, political as well as trade union took place. The idea of creating a new international appeared at that time.

It is true that all during the war the idea of creating a new trade union international did not appear. At the time of the Zimmerwald conference, and even before, the Bolsheviks declared the necessity of creating the Third International, but the idea of creating a new international within the trade union movement had not yet appeared. No doubt at the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences in which some separate trade unions participated, the political antecedents were laid for the formation of the left wing of the trade union movement and for an independent international organization.

This idea sprung up after the war. The necessity, the reasons which forced the creation of this new international, this new power which might give opportunity of better alignment of the militant trade union movement—is connected with the later period, mainly with the Russian revolution and the creation of the Third International.

The Russian revolution was the outstanding feature which brought about the formation of the Third International and also stimulated the creation of the revolutionary international of trade unions. Nevertheless the idea of creating a revolutionary trade union international was absent even directly after the October revolution. More than that, the idea appeared much late than the organization of the Comintern.

The crucial moments which brought a distinction into the labor movement were the following: The appearance of the Russian trade union movement and the creation of the Third International. With the growth of the Russian trade union movement the problem of international connections arose before it. And already at the Third All-Russian Conference of Trade Unions, where a majority were Mensheviks, from June 20th to 28th, 1917, a resolution was adopted stating the necessity of renewing international connections.

The Bolsheviks, who brought in their own resolution, spoke of the need of unifying that wing of the trade union movement which does not subordinate the interests of the working class to the interests of the bourgeoisie and which conducts a revolutionary struggle against war and the ruling classes.

In this formula, so far very vague, we already find the germ of the idea of future development of the left trade union movement as an international organization.

At the First All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, which was held from the 3rd to the 9th of January, 1918, where the Bolsheviks had already two-thirds of the votes, in the main resolution on the question of the problems of the trade unions there was a paragraph in which the necessity of reconstruction of the trade union international was stated. What kind of an international and how to organize it?

An answer to this question was not given there. The formulation of our position on these questions, the position of the Russian trade unions, was formed at a later period, at the time when the separate parts of the Amsterdam International participated in the drafting of separate paragraphs of the Versailles Treaty, the Washington Conference, etc. When this position of the Amsterdam International became clear, when it bound its future up to the International Labor Bureau, then the necessity arose of creating some kind of a center for the concentration of the left trade union movement all over the world.

The creation of the Third International greatly aided the formation of the left trade union movement. It is very well known that the Third International at its beginning placed before itself the problem of winning over the trade unions and capturing the laboring masses. This formation of the political international and later on the formulation of its tactics, program, and general line of conduct, called forth in the sphere of the trade union movement also, on one hand the formation of left-wing union organizations, and on the other concentrated into one all that existed in the international trade union movement.

And so the bankruptcy of the old trade union international, the going over of a majority of its leaders to the policy of class collaboration, the formation of the left-wing labor movement through Zimmerwald and Kienthal, and the crystalization of it through the Comintern, the Russian revolution which brought a certain clarification into the labor movement of the world, the further strengthening of the Russian trade union movement on one hand and, on the other, the continuation of the tactics of class collaboration which was the foundation of the newly created International Federation of Trade Unions—the Amsterdam International and its industrial sections; these are the general causes which resulted in the creation of the new militant international.


The organizational appearance of the Profintern should be dated about the middle of 1920. About that time the Second Congress of the Comintern took place and besides there were present at that time in Moscow representatives of trade union organizations from different countries (England, Italy, representatives of the minorities of the unions of France and Spain). From conversations with them, the possibility of creating at least a temporary center of revolutionary trade unions arose.

These parleys, in which I had to participate in the name of the Central Executive Committee of the Russian Trade Unions, at first had a very uncertain character. Those at a conference held on the 15th of June, at which were present R. Williams, D’Aragona, Colombina, and representatives of the Central Executive Committee of the Russian Trade Unions, nothing definite was accomplished. It was a conference to exchange opinions on the question of the possibility of uniting all the left elements in the trade union movement.

These parleys continued, and on the 15th of July were ended by an agreement between the Russian unions, the Italian Federation of Labor, Spanish, Jugo-Slav and Bulgarian trade unions. This agreement stated the dissatisfaction with the policies of the Amsterdam International, its treasonable tactics and the necessity of fighting it. At this conference the idea was also advanced of uniting all the revolutionary trade unions on the basis of recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the struggle for a social revolution.

This first declaration was drafted with great difficulty because D’Aragona opposed the clear presentation of every point. When we accented the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, mass action, etc., he did not feel very comfortable. Now we can understand the reasons for it. It seems that if he had no premonition of his future Fascist inclinations, at least this reformist was opposed to all revolutionary clarity. This declaration which was not sufficiently clear served as the basis for the creation of the first neucleus from which has grown the Red International of Labor Unions. The constitution was adopted, the methods of struggle against Amsterdam were definitely stated and a willingness to organize the general revolutionary trade union movement all over the world was shown.

Thus, in July, 1920, we created such a propagandist center, the purpose of which was to act as a beacon light to the whole scattered left trade union movement. This ideological propaganda center was given the name “The International Council of Trade and Industrial Unions.”

Our action brought forth a storm of protest from the Amsterdam International, which saw in this new tricks of “Moscow.” The Amsterdamers at their London Congress passed a resolution of protest, a verbal assault. They disapproved of the wording of our manifesto where we called them “traitors” and less pleasant epithets. Such names, of course, do not awaken any sympathy. They paid special attention to our sharp tone, to our clear statements, and to our lack of “diplomatic style.”

Our declaration brought a storm of protest, and from the beginning the Red International of Labor Unions appeared in the literature of the Amsterdam International as an “international insulter,” as an organization which had for its purpose to insult the leaders of the trade union movement, and according to the Amsterdamers, the Red International does nothing else.

The reformists reacted against the organization of our international and against our first acts. Quite differently reacted the working masses of all countries.

The fact alone of the appearance of the new International, which directly opposed the Amsterdam International, won for us sympathies in all countries. The main reason for these sympathies was not, at the beginning, the character of our International, not in its statutes; not in its theoretical position, but in the fact that this International was of “Moscow”—born on the territory of the Russian revolution.

The same should also be said in regards to the Comintern. The Comintern was at first also considered as a “Moscow” organization, and the sympathy to the Comintern is usually accepted as sympathy for the Russian revolution. This is the way it occurred in our struggle with the reformists. It is understood thus, not only by the two reformist internationals, but also by the representatives of the bourgeois diplomatic world. The Comintern is based on the Communist Party, the Profintern on the trade union movement, and both of them on the Russian revolution, that is, on one-sixth of the land area of the globe. This whole thing plays a big role in international politics, and all that had, and still has, a special influence on the Western European proletariat.

Thus, the ideological alignment with the Profintern in its first year had a character of sympathy for the Russian revolution, for the Russian proletariat. Often such sympathy was shown to us in spite of the reformists who even then conducted a fight against the Bolsheviks. But even in the first year of our existence it became clear that the revolutionary international trade union movement does not appear as a unit. It has different currents which have to crystallize themselves, and that would have to transpire after the new “International Committee for Propaganda” or the new international ideological center, worked out its program, its tactics, adopted its line of conduct, and took a definite theoretical, technical, and organizational position in the international labor movement.

The more was formulated our theory and our practice, the clearer became the necessity to fight on two fronts: On one hand against the reformist wing, and on the other against the anarchist confusion.


These problems of the ideological formation of the new organization, and the organizational strengthening of it, the drawing of a line of definite program and tactics, was the task of the First (Constituent) Congress of the Profintern, which was held in July, 1921.

This Congress laid the foundation of the Profintern, gave it a definite constitution, a definite tactical line, drafted a definite program, and fixed the fundamental slogans for the whole international trade union movement. At this Congress, to which were invited all the revolutionary trade unions, it was decided to give to the new organization the name: “The Red International of Labor Unions.”


What are differences between this new international unit and the Amsterdam International? What are the most important questions that arise now before the revolutionary trade union movement of the world? First of all, we and the Amsterdam International have different points of departure and it is natural that from this alone comes all the rest. The leaders of the Amsterdam International look upon the present day situation as a temporary crisis, as a temporary disturbance in the capitalist organism.

They take up the problem of curing this sick organism from the viewpoint that only a full-blooded capitalism and a further development of capitalist relations can create the environment for a painless capture by the working class of political and economic power.

Thus, the starting point which decides the whole line of conduct of the Amsterdam International, is the estimation of the present conditions as a temporary and unstable but developing capitalism. But we consider this disturbance of the capitalist system, not as a temporary one, not as an accidental one which may be cured, but as a crisis which will bring present society to final catastrophe.

On one hand, therefore, we have an attempt to cure and in the future to attain the normal development of the capitalist organism, and on the other, an effort not to remedy it, but to “cure it to death” if we may so express it. Not an attempt to revive it, but to destroy this society, which from our point of view is too slow in its dying. It is self evident that from this starting point we make our further conclusions in the. concrete field of our tactics.

What are the methods of solving the problems confronting us? The Amsterdam International is convinced that the best method of solving, the problems confronting the working class, is the collaboration with, the left wing of the bourgeoisie and the development of democratic forms of the state, which will give the working class opportunity of obtaining the economic organism of the nations, which should bring about the so-called “industrial democracy.”

This program stands out in sharp contradiction—not only to our viewpoint—but also to history itself and the logic of developing events, which leads not to gradual betterment but to the overthrow of capitalism, not to democracy but to the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is our point of view, briefly put, as contrasted to the viewpoint of reformism. It is natural that as long as our starting points and aims are different, that long are the problems arising in the world of reality solved in different manners by the reformist and the revolutionary trade unionists.


What are the most important questions which we had to decide at the First Congress in order to form the left wing which gathered around the Provisional International Council of Revolutionary Trade Unions? The first question which arose from the development of the left-wing movement itself was the question of the neutrality and independence of the trade unions.

What is the role of the trade unions in the class struggle? Are the trade unions independent and the only organs of class struggle? And what are their relations to the Comintern? These are the questions which could not have failed to arise as long as we united different trends in the left trade union movement (Communists, syndicalists, anarchists, etc.).

First of all we will take up neutrality. What is the essence of this theory? This is the tendency which places before the trade union movement only the recognition of economic problems and which is neutral to all existing political groupings. Thus neutrality is an attempt to separate the trade union movement from its general class-political problems, to concentrate the attention of the unions exclusively on economic problems and to force them to keep away from political parties and groups.

We see glaring forms of neutrality in America, England and Germany, etc. And always it happened as follows: The stronger a trade union would worship neutralism—that is, one and the same attitude toward all political groups—the closer it was found to be to the bourgeois parties. This, of course, is not an accident. The theory of neutralism brings those unions closer to bourgeois groups, because this theory is itself being advocated by the ideologists of the bourgeoisie, who always aim to “save the unions from political contagion” and to concentrate their attention on “purely economic” problems such as wages, hours, etc. [2]

Here, naturally, arises another question. Is it possible for the labor organizations to be neutral in reality? That is, to hold one and the same attitude toward all political groups? Is it possible? Such neutrality actually does not exist. The history of the labor movements of England, United States, Germany and those countries where neutralism had its greatest development shows that the labor organizations can never be neutral and every time when they attempt to be so, they played into the hands of the enemy class.

In reality, neutralism or its essence is supposed to keep the trade unions aside in times of political struggles. But what is political struggle? It is not merely parliamentary speech-fighting. In the political struggle the working class places itself in opposition to other classes. The working class cannot stand aside from the class struggle. If the working class will not conduct a class struggle it will lose those positions already gained. The tactics of political sterility play into the hands of the bourgeoisie and by no means are to the interests of the proletariat.

In order to show the nonsense of neutralism we will take an example from the Russian revolution. After the October revolution the Social Revolutionists, or “S. R.”, took an active position against us, part of the Mensheviks took a “neutral” position. Were the Mensheviks neutral in the struggle? Of course not! In the various moments they were on one side or the other of the barricades. In the social struggle there is no neutralism. So much the less can a labor organization be neutral.

Closely related to neutrality is the theory of the independence of the trade union movement. This theory in itself has very many variations. But in its clearer way it is expressed by the anarcho-syndicalists of France.

What is the essence of the “independence” of the trade union movement? Not alone that they exist parallel to the political parties of the proletariat, but in that they are—in the opinion of the “independents” the chief force in the struggle against the bourgeoisie. The unions, according to their opinion, will make the revolution themselves. They, themselves, will lead it and attain the final results of victory. Thus, under the formula of “independent” trade unions we have a competition with the revolutionary party, the idea of taking the place of the party organization and leaving to the trade unions alone all the problems confronting the working class.

It is quite natural that the theory of “neutralism,” that the theory of “independence,” could find no sympathy at our First (Constituent) Congress; because the former as well as the latter is strange to the working class. What are the roots of the theory of “independence?” In setting forth “economics” as in opposition to “politics.”

For the anarcho-syndicalists who advocate the “full independence” of the trade union movement, political struggle does not exist. There is an economic struggle of the working class which is all-embracing, and they call a “social struggle” what we call a “general class struggle.” They deny politics, confusing politics with parliamentarism, and, fighting against the latter, they repudiate all political struggle.

But what is “politics“ and what is “economics?“ Can these two be divided? In the program of the Russian Communist Party there is a very excellent definition of “politics.“ It is stated: “Politics is concentrated economics.“ And, in reality, what do we understand by “political struggle?“ We understand such a clashing of class forces in which—instead of separate detachments of the workers coming to blows with separate detachments of the bourgeoisie—a class as such meets the other class. Thus, every step of ours, in which the general class formation and methods of struggle are reflected, is in fact, a political struggle.

Can we separate from the political struggle economic moments and say, for example, “The fight for an eight hour day, for the seizure of the factories, is a purely economic struggle?“ Can we here divide politics from economics? It may be done in the confused anarchist minds. But in reality, in the everyday class struggle, this cannot be done.

We have the struggle of the British coal miners to keep their wage scale, for those forms of nationalization in the mining industry which they advocate—what’s that, an economic or political struggle? When a million coal miners are participating in a struggle which is shaking the whole colossal power of the British Empire—what is that economics or politics?

We see a colossal economic battle in America for the eight hour day, for labor insurance, demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of workers against the lengthening of the work day—what is it: economics or politics? The attempt to sub-divide economics from politics is pure

metaphysics, a purely mental division. We may create in our practical struggle all kinds of organizational forms to serve one or another side of the labor movement, but an attempt to substitute one organization for the other, an attempt to set them in conflict, is purely anarchistic—that is, a senseless disorganization of the labor movement.

It is natural that we cannot adopt this metaphysical point of view. The First Congress had to state its position on neutralism in very clear terms, which would not permit any misunderstanding, and give to the world revolutionary trade union movement a definite analysis. But if a independence is pure metaphysics, why, then, are there in existence separate organizations, separate trade unions and separate party organizations? If economics and politics are so tightly connected, why, then, for a period of over one hundred years, has there been created separate forms of organizations: On one hand, economic ones—trade unions, on the other, political?

If we consider the development of the labor movement we will see that the working class has been erecting its organizations groupingly, along the lines of least resistance. Its organizations began to appear as organizations of benefit societies, sick and death benefit associations, etc., and those organizations would not overstep the borders of their trade; would often limit themselves to one factory or shop.

All these organizations have been the type of first elementary connections, the first elementary unity among the workers, and only further along as the struggle sharpened these benefit societies turned into unions. Later, after these neuclei had been created, political movements began to appear.

Concurrently with the appearance of the idea for the organization of benefit societies, the ideology of class began to take form; the later these class ideas appeared, the later began the formation of different types of organization. Firstly, the idea of economic self defense appears in labor organization, and later on, political. Historically, the working class created three types of organization: First, for the defense of its labor power—the trade unions; the second for self defense, as a consumer on the market-the co-operatives; thirdly, for the struggle against the apparatus of bourgeois society—political organizations.

If we take the whole world’s labor movement we have three different forms of relations between the parties and the trade unions. We have countries where the trade union and the parties are independent of each other and even fighting among themselves—this is mainly among the Latin countries, mostly in France and in Spain. Then we have the following type; organizationally the party and the trade unions are separate, but politically the trade unions are under the leadership of the party-this is the type of the Russian and German trade union movement; and last, we have the third type, when the trade unions are creating political parties, as, in England, Norway and Belgium. In Norway, one and the same meeting elects two committees, one for the trade union and one for the party. We have also other forms of relations between the party and trade unions, but these are the fundamental ones.

Where do these types lead, historically? To the strengthening of separatism or to some kind of unity? There is no doubt that the existence of these parallel organizations is a temporary character of the international trade union movement. The more it will develop and the more the masses will come to revolutionary consciousness, so much closer will be the relations between the different forms of the labor movement, and, at the proper moment, all these lines will come together into a united organizational form which will unite all the different organizational groupings, political, trade union, etc.

Thus the historical development of the labor movement is toward a synthesis, a blending, of all forms of labor organization. If we correctly consider the development of the labor movement, we will have to oppose strongly the idea of separatism, which is trying always to preserve existing relations. We have to remark that not only on account of these causes are we opposed to separatism—to independence; but also because separatism as well as neutralism does not exist in fact. There cannot be a trade union organization which would stand aside in case of definite class conflict. Neutralism and independence are also “politics“ but a bad anti-labor politics.


Another question which also defined the tactics of the revolutionary labor movement was the question of our attitude towards the old, reformist trade unions. In the Red International we collected all that was revolutionary in the trade unions: Independent unions, separate national centers, revolutionary minorities in the old unions, etc.

We had to give an answer to the question: Are we going to create new trade unions, or fight for the winning over of the old unions? At present this question is not of such importance as it was at that time. At that time we had to state clearly: Are we for the destruction of the reformist unions, or for the winning of them over to us?

Our First (Constituent) Congress gave a reply: Not for the destruction but for the winning over of the old trade unions. Why did that question arise at all? It was because at the end, of 1918, the German Communist Party at its First Congress in Heidelberg, decided to call upon the workers to leave the old unions and create new ones. Thanks to this decision a small union was created in Germany which tried to replace the powerful organism of the reformist trade union movement which embraces about ten million members.

The Communist Party, later on, changed its point of view; but a part of the Party split away and organized the German Communist Labor Party, one of the main slogans of which was. “The destruction of the old trade unions.“ The Comintern at that time was categorically against this decision. But how did it happen that the German Communist Party adopted the slogan—not to win over but to destroy the trade unions It happened because in all the struggles of the German proletariat after the revolution, the conservative machine which split the revolutionary movement was the trade unions, which fell upon the revolutionary movement with all its weight.

Basing themselves upon the unions, former members of the Social-Democratic Party, such as Noske, shot down thousands of workers. All this brought about pessimism and despair in the more revolutionary and impatient German workers. From that was created a whole theory: The old trade unions are rotten through and through; they are reactionary, and in order successfully to fight the bourgeoisie it is necessary to destroy them completely. If this colossal apparatus is being used against the revolution, if it is so entwined with the bourgeois state, it is necessary to destroy it before the power of labor can be established.

In reality, the trade unions, especially in the post-war period, have been closely entwined with the bourgeois state. We notice this all over Europe. We could illustrate that graphically in the form of a pyramid, the apex of which is organically attached to the bourgeois state apparatus.

In deciding upon our line of action in this regard, we followed the Comintern which was categorically opposed to the theory of destroying the unions, but was for winning them over. Why? Did we not equally estimate the reactionary character of the trade unions? Did we not recognize the fact of the interlacing of the bourgeois state with the heads of the trade unions? Did we not see their reactionary role? Certainly, we saw all that, but we are approaching the trade unions from an entirely different point of view than our German comrades then were.

What is a union? A union is an organization which unites laboring masses. And we have to consider that in Germany where the slogan of destroying the unions was proclaimed, they united nine million workers. If we come out with the slogan for the destruction of the unions what will we do? The mass will not follow us, because they came to the union in order to gain something real. With the tactics of destroying the unions we can only bring a couple of thousand workers out of these organizations. We may create a “pure“ Communist little union, which will have all the Communist virtues, but which will not embrace the laboring masses. This is not Communist tactics. We must be there where the workers are. Such a seeping out of the revolutionary ferment from the mass organizations would mean the unquestioned rule by the reformists of the old unions. The winning over of the trade unions means the winning over of the working class, the winning over of those millions which are there, and as long as this is our aim, we cannot propagate a slogan for the destruction of the unions.

There was another reason why we were opposed to that slogan. What does it mean to consider the trade unions as hopeless in the revolutionary sense? If the nine million workers of German are “hopeless,“ then the revolution itself is “hopeless.“ Thus, we come to unexpected conclusions which are of a Menshevik character.

These are the motives on account of which we were against the destruction of the unions, and why we came out with a clear and unambiguous slogan: The winning of the unions, the winning of the masses. I may say that the last year glaringly proved our point of view, the correctness of our tactics, and mainly in German herself. The leaders, especially the trade union bureaucracy, are hopeless; but the laboring masses are not, for their consciousness is created not by abstract considerations but by the increasing capitalistic contradictions which we have in every country.

This by no means guarantees us against a split. We have all reasons to expect that the bureaucracy of the trade unions will split the unions as soon as this bureaucracy begins to feel the danger to its rule, but if such a split will take place it will be against our will and against our wishes.


1. The word “Profintern“ is a contraction of the Russian term “Professionalnye Soyuz Internationalnye“ or, literally, “Occupational Union International.”

2.  Readers in the United States know perfectly well how this theory of the neutrality of trade unions as advocated by Gompers in his opposition to independent political action by the working class has always aided the capitalist political parties.


Next: VI. The Red International and the Process of Clarification