Labour History Review

Moscow Versus Amsterdam: Reflections on the History of the Profintern

Labour History Review (2003), 68, (1), 79–97.

Abstract

The Red International of Labour Unions has been neglected in studies of international Communism. This article remedies this absence by charting the organization's origins in the revolutionary alliance of Bolsheviks and syndicalists which led to its foundation in 1921; its subsequent Stalinization during the 1920s; and its unpublicised dissolution by the Comintern at the end of 1937. Formally separate, the RILU was always subordinate to the Comintern. RILU policies, ranging from a revolutionary industrial strategy, the pursuit of trade union unity, advocacy of red unions and support for the revolutionary trade union opposition, were determined within the wider imperatives of the United Front, the Third period and the Popular Front.

Access Token
£25.00
READ THIS ARTICLE
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

This brief survey of the history of the RILU is based on my habilitation thesis ‘Moskau oder Amsterdam. Die Geschichte der Roten Gewerkschaftsinternationale (1920-1937)', Universität Mainz, 1999, to be published by the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, in 2003. It contains an extensive bibliography and references to archival sources. The main collection of documents is the RILU's own archive which ended up after its dissolution in the central party archive in Moscow where it became accessible after 1991. Google Scholar

G. Swain, ‘Was the Profintern really necessary?’, European History Quarterly, 17, 1, 1987, p. 73. ‘Was the Profintern really necessary?’ European History Quarterly 17 73 Google Scholar

E. H. Carr, Socialism in One Country 1924-1926, vol. 3, part 2, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1964, p. 938. Socialism in One Country 1924-1926 3 938 Google Scholar

Carr, Socialism, p. 939. Google Scholar

Several surveys were published in the Eastern bloc during the 1970s and 1980s. Although based on RILU records, they were, without exception, typical products of late Stalinist historiography with all its restrictions and omissions: G. M. Adibekov, Krasnyj Internacional Profsojuzov, Moscow, Profizdat, 1979; B. A. Karpačev, Krasnyj Internacional Profsojuzov. Istorija voznikovenija i pervye gody dejatel'nosti Profinterna 1920-1924, Saratov, Izd. Saratovskogo Universiteta, 1976; B. A. Karpačev, Krasnyj Internacional Profsojuzov (1933-1937), Saratov, Izd. Saratovskogo Universiteta, 1981; B. A. Karpačev, Krasnyj Internacional Profsojuzov 1920-1937, Saratov, Izd. Saratovskogo Universiteta, 1987; A. Kochański, Czerwony Międzynarodówka Związków (Profintern) 1920-1937, Warsaw, Książka i Wiedza, 1985. During Glasnost, Adibekov wrote an interesting piece of self-criticism: ‘O politike komunistov v profsujuznom dviženii’, Voprosy istorii KPSS, 35, 8, 1991, pp. 97-109. Google Scholar

For example A. Resis, ‘The Profintern. Origins to 1923', PhD, Columbia University, 1964. Especially worth mentioning are the corresponding chapters in E. H. Carr's History of Soviet Russia. This contains the best account of the RILU till the turning point 1928-9, where his history ends, and was written without access to Soviet archives. Google Scholar

On the IFTU, see the chapter by Geert van Goethem in A. Carew et al. (eds), The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Bern, Lang, 2000, pp. 25-163. Google Scholar

The history of syndicalist internationalism is described in W. Thorpe, ‘The Workers Themselves’. Revolutionary Syndicalism and International Labour 1913-1923, Dordrecht, Kluwer, 1989. On the CGT, see S. Milner, The Dilemmas of Internationalism. French Syndicalism and the International Labour Movement 1900-1914, Oxford, Berg, 1990. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

This view was developed by Lenin in Left-Wing Communism — An Infantile Disorder against the ultra-left. On the Comintern, which was of utmost importance for the RILU, see K. McDermott and J. Agnew, The Comintern. A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1996, and the massive work of Pierre Broué, Histoire de l'Internationale Communiste 1919-1943, Paris, Fayard, 1997. Google Scholar

Only the minutes of the meeting of 16 June were published in a Communist pamphlet: A. Losowski, Der Internationale Rat der Fach- und Industrieverbände (Moskau gegen Amsterdam), Berlin, Seehof, 1920, pp. 69-73. Google Scholar

On their participation in the negotiations cf. Thorpe, ‘The Workers Themselves’, pp. 128-49. Interesting material on the syndicalists’ attitude is to be found in the Tanner Papers, Nuffield College, Oxford. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

This influence of syndicalist ideas was stressed by the social democratic observer, Salomon Schwartz. See his ‘Rote Gewerkschaftsinternationale (RGI)’, Internationales Handwörterbuch des Gewerkschaftswesens, Berlin, Werk und Wirtschaft, 2, 1932, p. 1350. The objectives of the RILU, laid down in the Congress resolutions, were popularized in an internationally distributed book by its General Secretary: A. Lozowskí, Das Aktionsprogramm der Roten Gewerkschafts-Internationale, Berlin, Führer, 1921. Google Scholar

W. Buschak, ‘Internationaler Gewerkschaftsbund, Rote Gewerkschaftsinternationale und die Gewerkschaftsbewegung in Kolonien und halbkolonialen Ländern’, Gewerkschaftsbewegung im 20. Jahrhundert im Vergleich, Bochum, Institut zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, 1985, pp. 34-55. Gewerkschaftsbewegung im 20. Jahrhundert im Vergleich 34 55 Google Scholar

See the contemporary report by the leading Communist trade unionist: Deng Zhongxia, Anfänge der chinesischen Arbeiterbewegung 1919-1926, Hamburg, Rowohlt, 1975. The classical study is J. Chesneaux, Le Mouvement Ouvrier Chinois de 1919 à 1927, Paris, Mouton, 1962. Google Scholar

The International Working Men's Association (IWMA) remained marginal. Only in Spain did the syndicalists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) surpass their social democratic competitor. However, after the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in 1923, they did not play an important role within the IWMA. The CNT's rift with Moscow had serious repercussions for the RILU and Spanish Communism. Cf. Thorpe, ‘The Workers Themselves’. Google Scholar

For France, the CGT split and the development of the CGTU, see G. Lefranc, Le Mouvement Syndical sous la Troisième République, Paris, Payot, 1967, and M. Dreyfus, Histoire de la C.G.T., Brussels, Ed. Complexe, 1995. Google Scholar

This was somewhat strange as, though he always spoke with a heavy Yiddish accent, Lozovsky had striven to integrate himself into Russian society, first by education and then by politics, without showing any interest in ‘Jewish questions’. In the early 1940s he was one of the few surviving Jewish party leaders and this meant that, when Stalin initiated an anti-Semitic purge in 1948, he was made the principal scapegoat. Condemned to death by a secret trial, he was shot in 1952. There is a biographical appendix on Lozovsky in my forthcoming book. See also the excerpts from his interrogation during the trial in J. Rubenstein and V. P. Naumov (eds), Stalin's Secret Pogrom. The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2001. Google Scholar

See K. McDermott, The Czech Red Unions, 1918-1929. A Study of their Relations with the Communist Party and the Moscow Internationals, New York, Columbia University Press, 1988. Google Scholar

Cf R. Martin, Communism and the British Trade Unions 1924-1933. A Study of the National Minority Movement, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969. A similar development occurred in the USA, with the Trade Union Educational League. See the two recent biographies of its main leader: E. P. Johanningsmeier, Forging American Communism. The Life of William Z. Foster, Princeton University Press, 1994, J. R. Barrett, William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1999. Communism and the British Trade Unions 1924-1933. A Study of the National Minority Movement Google Scholar

Cf Bericht über den internationalen Friedenskongreß. Abgehalten im Haag (Holland) vom 10.-15 Dezember 1922 unter den Auspizien des Internationalen Gewerkschaftsbundes, Amsterdam, Inernationaler Gewerkschaftsbund, 1923. Google Scholar

See R. Tosstorff, ‘Unity between Moscow, and Amsterdam? Edo Fimmen's relationship to the Communist trade union movement’, in R. Reinalda (ed.), The International Transportworkers’ Federation 1914-1945. The Edo Fimmen Era, Amsterdam, International Institute of Social History, 1997, pp. 94-105. Google Scholar

Due to lack of space it is impossible to go further into the attitude of the RILU towards the International Trade Secretariats. In any case, with the turn of 1928-9, the International Propaganda Committees lost their importance as the objective of influencing the Secretariats was given up. Their names were first bombastically enlarged to International Propaganda and Action Committees in 1928, but in the following year they discontinued their printed publications and most of them simply disappeared. In 1930 there was an attempt to resurrect them under the name of International Committees, but only a few of them resumed activity, now very much reduced to exchanging information about the ‘red unions’ in different countries and coordinating them through irregular duplicated bulletins. Google Scholar

On English ‘trade union diplomacy’, cf D. F. Calhoun, The United Front. The TUC and the Russians 1923-1928, Cambridge University Press, 1976. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

See W. Müller, Lohnkampf, Massenstreik, Sowjetmacht. Ziele und Grenzen der Revolutionären Gewerkschaftsopposition (RGO) in Deutschland 1928-1933, Cologne, Bund, 1988. Google Scholar

For examples of brief overviews, see B. Cochran, Labor and Communism. ‘The Conflict that Shaped American Unions, Princeton University Press, 1977, pp. 43-81, and R. Cruz, El Partido Comunista de España en la Segunda República, Madrid, Alianza, 1987, pp. 119ff, 142-8. In Great Britain sections of the party executive and the few Communist trade union leaders displayed less enthusiasm for revolutionary unions, given the importance of the TUC. Cf Martin, Communism, pp. 122-78. Google Scholar

L. Trotsky, ‘The economic onslaught of the counterrevolution and the unions’, in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-1933), New York, Pathfinder Press, 1972, p. 170. He added: ‘This organization does not bind the party to the unions. Being, because of its small numbers, absolutely incapable of replacing the trade unions in the sphere of mass action, the RILU is at the same time incapable of influencing them from outside because it is hostilely opposed to them as rival organizations.’ Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-1933) 170 Google Scholar

Müller, Lohnkampf, pp. 223ff. See also L. Schewtschenko, ‘Die Internationalen Kampftage gegen die Erwerbslosigkeit 1930 und 1931’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, 30, 3, 1988, pp. 361-71; L. Schewtschenko, ‘Erfahrungen der KI und RGI im Kampf um die Arbeitsbeschaffung Anfang der dreißiger Jahre’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, 31, 2, 1989, pp. 178-84. ‘Die Internationalen Kampftage gegen die Erwerbslosigkeit 1930 und 1931’ Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung 30 361 71 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

A. Dallin and F. I. Firsov (eds), Dimitrov and Stalin, 1934-1943. Letters from the Soviet Archives, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2000, p. 24, Dimitrov to Stalin, 27 January 1936. Dimitrov and Stalin, 1934-1943. Letters from the Soviet Archives 24 Google Scholar

‘… that seems to have vanished without leaving a trace behind’. J. Wagner, ‘The lost international’, One Big Union Monthly, 5, May 1938, pp. 20-3. Google Scholar

This brief survey of the history of the RILU is based on my habilitation thesis ‘Moskau oder Amsterdam. Die Geschichte der Roten Gewerkschaftsinternationale (1920-1937)', Universität Mainz, 1999, to be published by the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, in 2003. It contains an extensive bibliography and references to archival sources. The main collection of documents is the RILU's own archive which ended up after its dissolution in the central party archive in Moscow where it became accessible after 1991. Google Scholar

G. Swain, ‘Was the Profintern really necessary?’, European History Quarterly, 17, 1, 1987, p. 73. ‘Was the Profintern really necessary?’ European History Quarterly 17 73 Google Scholar

E. H. Carr, Socialism in One Country 1924-1926, vol. 3, part 2, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1964, p. 938. Socialism in One Country 1924-1926 3 938 Google Scholar

Carr, Socialism, p. 939. Google Scholar

Several surveys were published in the Eastern bloc during the 1970s and 1980s. Although based on RILU records, they were, without exception, typical products of late Stalinist historiography with all its restrictions and omissions: G. M. Adibekov, Krasnyj Internacional Profsojuzov, Moscow, Profizdat, 1979; B. A. Karpačev, Krasnyj Internacional Profsojuzov. Istorija voznikovenija i pervye gody dejatel'nosti Profinterna 1920-1924, Saratov, Izd. Saratovskogo Universiteta, 1976; B. A. Karpačev, Krasnyj Internacional Profsojuzov (1933-1937), Saratov, Izd. Saratovskogo Universiteta, 1981; B. A. Karpačev, Krasnyj Internacional Profsojuzov 1920-1937, Saratov, Izd. Saratovskogo Universiteta, 1987; A. Kochański, Czerwony Międzynarodówka Związków (Profintern) 1920-1937, Warsaw, Książka i Wiedza, 1985. During Glasnost, Adibekov wrote an interesting piece of self-criticism: ‘O politike komunistov v profsujuznom dviženii’, Voprosy istorii KPSS, 35, 8, 1991, pp. 97-109. Google Scholar

For example A. Resis, ‘The Profintern. Origins to 1923', PhD, Columbia University, 1964. Especially worth mentioning are the corresponding chapters in E. H. Carr's History of Soviet Russia. This contains the best account of the RILU till the turning point 1928-9, where his history ends, and was written without access to Soviet archives. Google Scholar

On the IFTU, see the chapter by Geert van Goethem in A. Carew et al. (eds), The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Bern, Lang, 2000, pp. 25-163. Google Scholar

The history of syndicalist internationalism is described in W. Thorpe, ‘The Workers Themselves’. Revolutionary Syndicalism and International Labour 1913-1923, Dordrecht, Kluwer, 1989. On the CGT, see S. Milner, The Dilemmas of Internationalism. French Syndicalism and the International Labour Movement 1900-1914, Oxford, Berg, 1990. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

This view was developed by Lenin in Left-Wing Communism — An Infantile Disorder against the ultra-left. On the Comintern, which was of utmost importance for the RILU, see K. McDermott and J. Agnew, The Comintern. A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1996, and the massive work of Pierre Broué, Histoire de l'Internationale Communiste 1919-1943, Paris, Fayard, 1997. Google Scholar

Only the minutes of the meeting of 16 June were published in a Communist pamphlet: A. Losowski, Der Internationale Rat der Fach- und Industrieverbände (Moskau gegen Amsterdam), Berlin, Seehof, 1920, pp. 69-73. Google Scholar

On their participation in the negotiations cf. Thorpe, ‘The Workers Themselves’, pp. 128-49. Interesting material on the syndicalists’ attitude is to be found in the Tanner Papers, Nuffield College, Oxford. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

This influence of syndicalist ideas was stressed by the social democratic observer, Salomon Schwartz. See his ‘Rote Gewerkschaftsinternationale (RGI)’, Internationales Handwörterbuch des Gewerkschaftswesens, Berlin, Werk und Wirtschaft, 2, 1932, p. 1350. The objectives of the RILU, laid down in the Congress resolutions, were popularized in an internationally distributed book by its General Secretary: A. Lozowskí, Das Aktionsprogramm der Roten Gewerkschafts-Internationale, Berlin, Führer, 1921. Google Scholar

W. Buschak, ‘Internationaler Gewerkschaftsbund, Rote Gewerkschaftsinternationale und die Gewerkschaftsbewegung in Kolonien und halbkolonialen Ländern’, Gewerkschaftsbewegung im 20. Jahrhundert im Vergleich, Bochum, Institut zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, 1985, pp. 34-55. Gewerkschaftsbewegung im 20. Jahrhundert im Vergleich 34 55 Google Scholar

See the contemporary report by the leading Communist trade unionist: Deng Zhongxia, Anfänge der chinesischen Arbeiterbewegung 1919-1926, Hamburg, Rowohlt, 1975. The classical study is J. Chesneaux, Le Mouvement Ouvrier Chinois de 1919 à 1927, Paris, Mouton, 1962. Google Scholar

The International Working Men's Association (IWMA) remained marginal. Only in Spain did the syndicalists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) surpass their social democratic competitor. However, after the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in 1923, they did not play an important role within the IWMA. The CNT's rift with Moscow had serious repercussions for the RILU and Spanish Communism. Cf. Thorpe, ‘The Workers Themselves’. Google Scholar

For France, the CGT split and the development of the CGTU, see G. Lefranc, Le Mouvement Syndical sous la Troisième République, Paris, Payot, 1967, and M. Dreyfus, Histoire de la C.G.T., Brussels, Ed. Complexe, 1995. Google Scholar

This was somewhat strange as, though he always spoke with a heavy Yiddish accent, Lozovsky had striven to integrate himself into Russian society, first by education and then by politics, without showing any interest in ‘Jewish questions’. In the early 1940s he was one of the few surviving Jewish party leaders and this meant that, when Stalin initiated an anti-Semitic purge in 1948, he was made the principal scapegoat. Condemned to death by a secret trial, he was shot in 1952. There is a biographical appendix on Lozovsky in my forthcoming book. See also the excerpts from his interrogation during the trial in J. Rubenstein and V. P. Naumov (eds), Stalin's Secret Pogrom. The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2001. Google Scholar

See K. McDermott, The Czech Red Unions, 1918-1929. A Study of their Relations with the Communist Party and the Moscow Internationals, New York, Columbia University Press, 1988. Google Scholar

Cf R. Martin, Communism and the British Trade Unions 1924-1933. A Study of the National Minority Movement, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969. A similar development occurred in the USA, with the Trade Union Educational League. See the two recent biographies of its main leader: E. P. Johanningsmeier, Forging American Communism. The Life of William Z. Foster, Princeton University Press, 1994, J. R. Barrett, William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1999. Communism and the British Trade Unions 1924-1933. A Study of the National Minority Movement Google Scholar

Cf Bericht über den internationalen Friedenskongreß. Abgehalten im Haag (Holland) vom 10.-15 Dezember 1922 unter den Auspizien des Internationalen Gewerkschaftsbundes, Amsterdam, Inernationaler Gewerkschaftsbund, 1923. Google Scholar

See R. Tosstorff, ‘Unity between Moscow, and Amsterdam? Edo Fimmen's relationship to the Communist trade union movement’, in R. Reinalda (ed.), The International Transportworkers’ Federation 1914-1945. The Edo Fimmen Era, Amsterdam, International Institute of Social History, 1997, pp. 94-105. Google Scholar

Due to lack of space it is impossible to go further into the attitude of the RILU towards the International Trade Secretariats. In any case, with the turn of 1928-9, the International Propaganda Committees lost their importance as the objective of influencing the Secretariats was given up. Their names were first bombastically enlarged to International Propaganda and Action Committees in 1928, but in the following year they discontinued their printed publications and most of them simply disappeared. In 1930 there was an attempt to resurrect them under the name of International Committees, but only a few of them resumed activity, now very much reduced to exchanging information about the ‘red unions’ in different countries and coordinating them through irregular duplicated bulletins. Google Scholar

On English ‘trade union diplomacy’, cf D. F. Calhoun, The United Front. The TUC and the Russians 1923-1928, Cambridge University Press, 1976. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

See W. Müller, Lohnkampf, Massenstreik, Sowjetmacht. Ziele und Grenzen der Revolutionären Gewerkschaftsopposition (RGO) in Deutschland 1928-1933, Cologne, Bund, 1988. Google Scholar

For examples of brief overviews, see B. Cochran, Labor and Communism. ‘The Conflict that Shaped American Unions, Princeton University Press, 1977, pp. 43-81, and R. Cruz, El Partido Comunista de España en la Segunda República, Madrid, Alianza, 1987, pp. 119ff, 142-8. In Great Britain sections of the party executive and the few Communist trade union leaders displayed less enthusiasm for revolutionary unions, given the importance of the TUC. Cf Martin, Communism, pp. 122-78. Google Scholar

L. Trotsky, ‘The economic onslaught of the counterrevolution and the unions’, in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-1933), New York, Pathfinder Press, 1972, p. 170. He added: ‘This organization does not bind the party to the unions. Being, because of its small numbers, absolutely incapable of replacing the trade unions in the sphere of mass action, the RILU is at the same time incapable of influencing them from outside because it is hostilely opposed to them as rival organizations.’ Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-1933) 170 Google Scholar

Müller, Lohnkampf, pp. 223ff. See also L. Schewtschenko, ‘Die Internationalen Kampftage gegen die Erwerbslosigkeit 1930 und 1931’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, 30, 3, 1988, pp. 361-71; L. Schewtschenko, ‘Erfahrungen der KI und RGI im Kampf um die Arbeitsbeschaffung Anfang der dreißiger Jahre’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, 31, 2, 1989, pp. 178-84. ‘Die Internationalen Kampftage gegen die Erwerbslosigkeit 1930 und 1931’ Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung 30 361 71 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

A. Dallin and F. I. Firsov (eds), Dimitrov and Stalin, 1934-1943. Letters from the Soviet Archives, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2000, p. 24, Dimitrov to Stalin, 27 January 1936. Dimitrov and Stalin, 1934-1943. Letters from the Soviet Archives 24 Google Scholar

‘… that seems to have vanished without leaving a trace behind’. J. Wagner, ‘The lost international’, One Big Union Monthly, 5, May 1938, pp. 20-3. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Tosstorff, Reiner