Red International of Trade Unions

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Red International of Trade Unions


(Profintern), an international organization of revolutionary trade unions that existed between 1921 and 1937.

The Profintern was created at an international congress held on July 3–19, 1921, in Moscow; the congress united revolutionary trade and production unions that had been denied entry into the International Federation of Trade Unions (the Amsterdam International) by that association’s reformist leaders. The congress was attended by 380 delegates from 42 states of Europe and America (including Soviet Russia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, the USA, France, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Austria), as well as from a number of colonial and semicolonial countries (including China, Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Australia). The congress rejected the theory of “neutrality” for trade unions, came out for close ties with the Comintern, and elected a central council of representatives from 28 countries. The council elected an executive bureau. A. Lozovskii was elected general secretary.

In its program (1921), worked out on the basis of the Leninist theory on trade unions, the Profintern called on workers throughout the world to struggle for socialism, for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Profintern opposed the reformist policy of cooperation between classes and disagreed with the “left” sectarians, who demanded withdrawal from trade unions headed by reactionary leaders and the creation of parallel unions. (Among the defenders of such views were a number of anarcho-syndicalists, who refused to cooperate with Communist parties and the Comintern.) The most important task of the Profintern was to achieve unity in the world trade union movement on the basis of a joint struggle by workers for day-to-day demands and against capitalist exploitation.

The Profintern helped strengthen the left wing in the trade union movements of a number of countries (the Minority Movement in Great Britain, the Trade Union Education League in the USA), sought to intensify the strike struggle of the proletariat, contributed to the development of the women’s, youth, and peasant movements, furthered the creation of educational, athletic, and cooperative organizations of the working class, and helped organize assistance to striking workers and political prisoners.

The second congress of the Profintern (Nov. 19-Dec. 22, 1922), guided by the decisions of the Comintern, urged its sections to intensify the struggle for the creation of a unified workers’ front, specifically devoting considerable attention to the creation of factory and plant committees; the congress called for a struggle against imperialism and militarism and discussed the activities of trade unions in colonial and semicolonial countries.

At the third congress (July 8–22, 1924), a broad program for unifying the world trade union movement was adopted. The congress proposed creating a single international of trade unions (this proposal by the Red International, which was subsequently repeated a number of times, ran into stiff resistance from reformist leaders of the trade union movement).

The fourth congress of the Profintern (Mar. 17-Apr. 3, 1928), pointing to a new upsurge of the revolutionary movement in the capitalist countries, called on revolutionary trade unions to intensify the struggle against reformists and to conduct its economic battles without outside help. The decisions of the fourth congress, in orienting the red trade unions toward further intensification of their activities, contained some errors of a sectarian nature, including an underestimation of the value of reformist trade unions and an underestimation of the fascist danger, which required unity of all antifascist forces. The congress adopted an important decision aimed at developing the trade union movement in dependent and colonial countries.

The fifth congress (July 15–30, 1930) discussed the question of the struggle for the workers’ interests in the conditions of the world economic crisis. Noting the importance of creating a unified workers’ front, the congress one-sidedly regarded it only as a unified front from below.

The Profintern took an active part in the working people’s struggle against mass layoffs and for the establishment of unemployment allowances and the introduction of social security. At the same time the organization energetically joined the antifascist and antiwar movement. In accordance with the line of the seventh congress of the Comintern (1935), the Profintern sought entry for its small trade unions into large reformist trade unions and the unification of large leftist unions with reformist unions on an equal basis and on a platform of struggle against fascism. Unions were unified in France, Czechoslovakia, the USA, Rumania, India, Spain, Canada, and a number of other countries in 1935–37. By late 1937 many of the Profintern’s sections had ceased to exist; because of this, the international became inactive.


Lenin, V. I. “Detskaia bolezn’ ‘levizny’ ν kommunizme.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “Usloviia priema ν Kommunisticheskii Internatsional.” Ibid., p. 208.
Lenin, V. I. “Privetstvie I Mezhdunarodnomu kongressu revoliutsionnykh professional’nykh i proizvodstvennykh soiuzov.” Ibid., vol. 44. Profintern ν rezoliutsiiakh. Moscow, 1928.
Desiat’let Profinterna ν rezoliutsiiakh, dokumentakh i tsifrakh. Moscow, 1930.
Lozovskii, A. Desiat’let bor’by za Profintern. Moscow, 1930. Lozovskii, A. Za edinyi front i edinstvo profdvizheniia. Moscow, 1935.
Foster, W. Z. Ocherki mirovogo profsoiuznogo dvizheniia. Moscow, 1956.
(Translated from English.) Istoriia profsoiuznogo dvizheniia za rubezhom. Moscow, 1962. (Part 1: From the 1760’s to 1939.)
Adibekov, G. N. Krasnyi internatsional profsoiuzov. Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Its focus is the discussions held between the Bolsheviks and foreign syndicalist organisations to set up a new, revolutionary communist-dominated Red International of Trade Unions in the aftermath of the 1917 revolution.