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The Red International of Labour Unions (RILU)

A Survey of Comintern Auxiliary Organizations, Part 2

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By John Riddell: “In the 1920s, the Red International of Labour Unions was by far the most powerful and important of the auxiliary organizations related to the Comintern,” according to its historian, Reiner Tosstorff.[1] E.H. Carr goes further, suggesting that the Red International “sometimes seemed to rival the Communist International itself in importance.”[2]

The Red Trade Union International, often referred to by both the acronym RILU or the Russian short form, Profintern, unified several distinct threads of the pre-1917 labour movement. RILU sought to incorporate three revolutionary traditions: revolutionary anarcho-syndicalism, revolutionary oppositionists in the pro-Social Democratic unions, and the trade-union expression of anti-colonial freedom movements.


Survey of Comintern Auxiliary Organizations: Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Red International of Labour Unions (RILU or Profintern).
  3. Communist Youth International (KIM)
  4. Communist Women’s Movement
  5. International Workers’ Relief (MRP)
  6. International Red Aid (MOPR)
  7. Communist Work in Cooperatives
  8. Red Sport International (Sportintern)
  9. Peasant International (Krestintern)

The most authoritative syndicalist currents invited to join RILU were the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), based in the U.S. but with branches in other English-speaking countries; the revolutionary syndicalists who would soon form the Unitary General Confederation of Labor (CGTU) in France; and the National Confederation of Labor (CNT) in Spain. The IWW never joined RILU, but a large body of syndicalists in France, Spain, and other countries did so.

RILU appealed to militant rank-and-file formations, notably the Shop Stewards movement in both Britain and Germany, which led workers’ resistance during the war to the pro-war and pro-government policies of the trade union leadership and, after 1917, defended the newly founded Soviet republic in Russia.

The revolutionary syndicalist forces, while generally supportive of the Russian Soviet Republic, held two distinctive positions that conflicted with the outlook of the Comintern leadership: they insisted on their unions’ total independence from political parties and political action; and they rejected participation in the unions led by reformist Social Democratic forces.

These issues were debated at the second Comintern world congress in Moscow in 1920 during 30 hours of trade union commission sessions and a full day of plenary debate. Comintern leadership proposals encountered what the International’s president Grigorii Zinoviev referred to as a “most vexatious resistance.” At one point, Jack Tanner of the British Shop Stewards movement announced that delegates from Britain were walking out of the commission. Eight of the 66 congress delegates in the commission voted against the trade union theses that were ultimately adopted.

Still, enough agreement was achieved to permit almost all the unionists who took part in the debate to work together in a common framework. This partial accord found expression in a gathering of participating trade unionists held parallel to the July 1920 Comintern congress. The conference founded the International Council of Trade Unions (Mezhsovprof), launched as a preliminary formation serving to clear the way for formation of a trade-union International.[3]

The diverse currents in the international union council agreed in their opposition to the reformist-led International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), the predominant world trade union body at that time. Revolutionary unionists referred to the IFTU, after its place of formation, as the “Amsterdam International.” The union council condemned the Amsterdam federation for its close links to the imperialist-dominated League of Nations and the League-sponsored International Labour Organization.

A year after the union council’s formation, the Comintern Executive Committee urged unionists to attend a world congress of revolutionary trade unionists, which convened in Moscow on 3 July 1921. The 380 delegates at the congress, said to represent some 15 million members, launched RILU, the new revolutionary trade union International, as a revolutionary alternative to the Amsterdam federation. RILU was organically linked to the Comintern through exchange of delegates and joint sessions at the leadership level.

Where the Amsterdam-affiliated national unions were predominant, RILU urged its supporters to join them and work as a disciplined force (“fraction”) within them, while maintaining their ties with the Moscow-based union International. Pro-Amsterdam union leaders saw such conduct as a threat to their control and took action against RILU activists within their unions’ ranks, expelling a considerable number. These measures further embittered relations between the two union Internationals.

The apparent contradiction between opposing the Amsterdam federation while working with its member unions sparked discord even among Comintern-affiliated unionists, particularly as the Comintern in 1921 moved toward a “united front” policy of seeking unity in action with reformist-led workers’ organizations.

An influential current in the German Communist movement, inspired by Paul Levi, suggested that RILU dissolve, but the Comintern firmly rejected that option. Instead, RILU developed a flexible orientation, functioning sometimes as a minority current within pro-Amsterdam unions, sometimes as the union majority, and sometimes as the leadership of national labour confederations. RILU also sought to maintain a foothold in the Amsterdam-aligned industrial secretariats.[4]

At both the Fourth Comintern Congress and the Second RILU Congress in 1922, it was decided to drop the term “organic link” with reference to the Comintern–RILU relationship, in order to smooth the road to affiliation of the mass French syndicalist federation (CGTU). RILU’s independence was affirmed, but its informal collaboration with the Comintern remained close.

Meanwhile, the union movement in the early 1920s slipped into crisis as a result of declining membership and the capitalist offensive against basic working-class interests. In 1923, a left wing within the Amsterdam federation found common ground with the Soviet Russian unions and through them with RILU.

RILU went on to win significant support in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, an arena that the pro-Amsterdam union bureaucracy grouped around the IFTU had largely ignored.[5]

Abrupt Reversals

In 1928, the Comintern’s Sixth World Congress adopted a disastrous ultraleft course. Communists in each country were directed to break with the Amsterdam-affiliated unions in each country and organize independent revolutionary unions. This policy was formally abandoned seven years later, when the Comintern’s Seventh World Congress adopted the “Popular Front” orientation.

The Seventh Congress policy set aside the goal of revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ governments and sought to form alliances with Social Democratic and progressive bourgeois formations in imperialist countries, with the hope of unification of the two union Internationals. The “red” trade unions were closed down. But a return to the pre-1928 policies, with their provocative combination of hostility to Amsterdam and support of its affiliates, was now seen as insufficient. The Comintern leadership sought a reconciliation with Amsterdam, and RILU stood as an obstacle to that goal.

Already in early 1936, Comintern General Secretary Georgi Dimitrov talked openly of the possible need to dissolve RILU. The Comintern Executive Committee took the matter in hand and began to dismantle the supposedly independent RILU – secretly, since it had no statutory right to do so. Formal dissolution followed in December 1937.[6]


A volume of annotated documents of the Red Trade Union International is in preparation as part of the Comintern Publication Project. The Founding of the Red Trade Union International: Proceedings and Resolutions of the First Congress, 1921, edited by Mike Taber, is targeted for publication in 2022.

Notes


[1]. Reiner Tosstorff, Profintern: Die Rote Gewerkschaftsinternationale 1920–1937, Paderborn: Schöningh, 2004, p. 13. For the English translation, see Tosstorff, The Red International of Labour Unions 1920–1937, translated by Ben Fowkes, available from Haymarket Books.

[2]. E.H. Carr, Socialism in One Country, 1924–25, Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1972, vol. 3, p. 974.

[3]. John Riddell, ed., Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite, New York: Pathfinder, 1991, vol. 1, p. 49.

[4]. Mike Taber, ed., The Communist Movement at a Crossroads, Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922–1923, Leiden: Brill, 2018, pp. 226–8.

[5]. See Daniel Gaido, “The Red International of Trade Unions (RILU),” in Science and Society, vol. 85, no. 1 (January 2021), pp. 136–8.

[6]. Tosstorff, Profintern, pp. 696–707.

Comintern Outreach: The Auxiliary Organizations

Part 1: Introduction

By John Riddell: Clustered around the early Communist International’s world congresses were gatherings of an array of related organizations, ranging from the massive Red International of Trade Unions (RILU) to a small gathering of Proletarian Culture (Proletkult) enthusiasts.

These auxiliary bodies greatly expanded the Comintern’s influence in the working class and beyond, establishing a presence in diverse sectors of cultural life, broadening the scope of its global campaigns, and providing an channel for increased recruitment.

In this regard, the Comintern reproduced the approach of many parties in the pre-1914 Second International, and particularly that of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Indeed, the youth and women’s affiliates of the Comintern had actually been founded as part of the older International.

The Comintern Publishing Project, initiated by John Riddell and now directed by Mike Taber, includes three volumes of annotated documents on auxiliary organizations, all now in preparation, covering the Communist Women’s Movement (CWM), the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU), and, the Communist Youth International (CYI).

The present survey will provide brief overviews of eight of the Comintern’s auxiliary organizations, focusing on its opening years, 1917-24. This list is far from exhaustive. The international Proletkult initiative is cited below; a report on the International Union of War Veterans will appear in the Publishing Project’s forthcoming volume on the trade union international. The most comprehensive treatment of this topic remains that found in E.H. Carr’s monumental history of the Russian revolution (The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 3, chapter 30; Socialism in One Country, vol. 3, chapters 44 and 45).

Read more…

‘Meticulous Research and Clarity’

A Review: ‘The Communist Movement at a Crossroads

The newly available records of the Comintern Executive Committee from 1922-23 show the importance of the organisation before its later Stalinization, argues Chris Bambery.

By Chris Bambery: One of the great successes of the neoliberal offensive we have been living under for four decades is the effective removal of the 1917 Russian Revolution as a source of inspiration for those looking to change the world.


The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922-1923, ed. Mike Taber, trans. John Riddell (Haymarket Books, 2019, 796pp.


True, the lazy idea that Lenin led to Stalin was already around, but after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union it became the dominant narrative.

That Stalin would have had anyone who wrote a pamphlet like Lenin’s State and Revolution under his rule shot is neither here nor there. Nor that Trotsky, the second figure in the October Revolution, led a fight against the coming to power of Stalin and then the creation of a dreadful dictatorship on the basis of defending the Bolshevik tradition, a fight involving tens of thousands of party members who would go onto the camps and a death sentence.

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A Socialist Woman’s Experience with Sexism

By Suzanne Weiss: The following study was first published in ‘Against the Current,’ March-April 2021. It is reposted with permission from http://suzanneberlinerweiss.com.

Contents:

  1. Barriers to Women’s Political Participation
  2. Women in Party Controversies
  3. A Transformative Feminist Radicalization
  4. My Party Loses Its Way

1. Barriers to Women’s Political Participation

From its beginnings in the 1800s, modern socialism has embraced equality and liberation for women. The socialist movement has made a major contribution to political, cultural, and intellectual changes challenging women’s second-class status. For many women, joining a socialist movement opened the road to developing their talents, achieving social influence, and contributing to social change.

At first, the socialist movement was almost entirely male. Beginning in the late 1800s, women socialists played an increasing role, including in leadership positions. Although few in number, their involvement ran far ahead of women’s participation in mainstream political life.

During the early years of my socialist activity, the Second Wave of feminism brought large numbers of women into leadership positions in the socialist movement as in political life as a whole. Nonetheless, all socialist groups and their members carry, to varying degrees, the imprint of the sexist world in which they exist. Women in the socialist movement face continuing barriers, some specific to these groups.

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Second-Wave Feminism: Accomplishments and Lessons

The following article is reprinted from “Against the Current,” no. 211 (March/April 2021)  with kind permission of ATC and Nancy Rosenstock.

By Nancy Rosenstock: August 26, 1970 marked the public emergence of second-wave feminism, coming 50 years after the winning of women’s suffrage.

The women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and early 1970s had a profound effect on society. It also had a profound effect on those of us who were a part of it. Working collectively for women’s liberation, reveling in the joy and sisterhood that comes from that, was a life-changing experience.

I had the good fortune to be one of those women, as a member of Boston Female Liberation — one of the first and most widely respected radical feminist organizations of that time. I was also on the national staff of the Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition (WONAAC) in 1971.

August 26, 1970. New York City. Fifty thousand answered the call put out from a coalition of 54 groups. Photo by Howard Petrick

What is second-wave feminism? What did it accomplish? What can a new generation learn from it?

Coming on the heels of the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement, women began to fight for their rights as part of a broader radicalization of youth that was unfolding, starting in the late 1960s.

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Larry Nozaki: Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary

The following three reminiscences was sent out by Georgina Cordoba to many of Larry Nozaki’s friends across the country. — JR

By Georgina Cordoba: Sadly, Larry Nozaki (1940-2020) died in Surrey BC on December 5, 2020.

Born in 1940, Larry was long a member of the League for Socialist Action (LSA) Vancouver Branch, and visited Toronto on a number of occasions. He was also an important contributor to the RSVP (Revolutionary Socialist Video Project) being compiled by Doug Williams.  

Below is a photo of Larry, and attached remembrances by his cousin and others who remember Larry, his life, and his contributions to revolutionary socialism:  

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In Memory of Ernie Tate (1934-2021)

A Life of Revolutionary Activism

By John Riddell, February 13, 2021: The socialist movement lost an outstanding educator and organizer with the passing of Ernest (Ernie) Tate in Toronto on 5 February. An outstanding partisan of global anti-imperialist solidarity, Ernie also contributed, with his partner Jess MacKenzie, to building revolutionary Marxist groups and to promoting socialist unity in Canada and Britain.

Raised in an impoverished working-class community in Belfast, Ernie left school at age 14, taking a job at Belfast Mills as apprentice machine attendant. An avid reader and a rebel at heart, Ernie sympathized – unusually, given his Protestant background – with the Irish republican movement.

During a youthful jaunt through France in 1954, Ernie was deeply impressed by the mass solidarity actions celebrating the victory of Vietnamese freedom fighters in Dien Bien Phu. The following year, Ernie took the path of so many of his countrymen and emigrated, settling in Toronto.

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Two Months That Set a New ‘Normal’ in U.S. Bourgeois Politics

The following text is reprinted with permission from World-Outlook, a significant new voice of revolutionary Marxism in the United States. The many comments submitted on this article, available at World Outlook, are worth checking out. World-Outlook is edited by Argiris Malapanis, Geoff Mirelowitz, and Francisco Picado.

By Argiris Malapanis and Geoff Mirelowitz:February 3, 2021—In the article titled “Radicalism, Bonapartism, and the Aftermath of the 2020 U.S. Elections,” published January 13 by World-Outlook.com, we described the January 6 rightist mob attack on the U.S. capitol as the culminating step in a series of developments that posed serious dangers to civil liberties and the working class.

Trump supporters erected wooden gallows near Capitol reflecting pool during January 6 rally in Washington, D.C., where the former U.S. president pushed his “Stop the Steal” campaign and incited the attack on the Capitol. The noose is a symbol of the lynching of African Americans. (Photo: Shay Horse/Nurphoto)

These events, we said, “indicate that a not insignificant minority of the privileged classes at least considered sidestepping the legislative and judicial branches of government and handing all important policy decisions to the executive, run by an individual with extraordinary powers. One who would not act as a servant of the institutions of capitalist democracy, but who would instead be anointed to ‘rescue the nation,’ in order to finally ‘make America great again.’ This is what we mean by the term ‘Bonapartism.’” [1]

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How Pioneer Communists Assessed the Russian Soviet Republic

The following text is the second-last of a series of posts analyzing the early Communist International, which are listed at ‘Lenin’s Comintern Revisited.’

Contents

  1. Resisting Imperialist Intervention
  2. Correcting Colonialist Abuses of Soviet Power
  3. Weighing the New Economic Policy
  4. Providing Material Aid to Soviet Republic
  5. Parrying a Social-Democratic Intrusion
  6. Debating the New Economic Policy

By John Riddell: The Communist International (or Comintern) was founded in Moscow in 1919, with the goal of helping to extend the socialist revolution that had taken place in Russia across Europe and around the world.  

Emblem of Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic

The Russian Communist (Bolshevik) party that had led in establishing Soviet power was respected in the International as a prime source of strategic and tactical guidance. Yet the Comintern’s statutes did not accord any primacy to the Russian Communist Party (RCP). Like other Comintern sections, the Russian party was answerable to the International’s world congresses.

Comintern gatherings frequently discussed developments in Soviet Russia, organized material and political aid to the Soviet republic, and, on one occasion, proposed reforms to the Soviet structures that were rapidly implemented. Let us consider six significant occasions during Lenin’s lifetime when non-Russian Comintern parties discussed or influenced political and social issues in the Russian Soviet republic.

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Key Lessons of Trump’s Failed Insurrection

A Socialist Analysis

Malik Miah and Barry Sheppard write regularly for Australia-based Green Left Weekly.

For a related socialist interpretation, see “Radicalism, Bonapartism, and the Aftermath of the 2020 U.S. Elections,” by Geoff Mirelowitz, Argiris Malapanis, and Francisco Picado, on World-Outlook.com.

By Malik Miah and Barry Sheppard: The most important aspect of the January 6 march on the Capitol building, where both the House of Representatives and the Senate meet and where the Congress people have their offices, and the subsequent violent occupation of the building, was its open display of white supremacy.

It was organized and led by the white supremacist president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Read more…

Charting New Paths: The Comintern in 1922-1923

A review of The Communist Movement at a Crossroads

The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922-1923, edited by Mike Taber; translated by John Riddell, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2019, 796 pages, $50. Reposted from Against the Current #210 with permission from Tom Twiss and ATC.

By Tom Twiss: In 1922-1923 the Communist International found itself in shifting terrain that presented fresh opportunities and new dangers. The clearing of smoke from European battlefields and barricades had revealed devastated economies and exhausted workers.Years of war and revolution had left European workers exhausted. But by 1922 they were slowly regaining their combativeness in the face of mounting pressure from their ruling classes

Following two years of fascist terror in Italy, Benito Mussolini’s appointment as prime minister was stimulating the spread of similar movements throughout Europe.

Meanwhile, in the heartland of the revolution, Lenin’s incapacitation by strokes was opening a struggle for leadership that would lead to sharp reversals of Comintern policy.

In multiple ways then The Communist Movement at a Crossroads is a highly appropriate title for a published collection of Comintern materials from these years. This volume, edited by Mike Taber and translated by John Riddell, is the latest addition to the monumental multi-volume series, “The Communist International Publishing Project,” with titles published by Pathfinder Press, Brill, Haymarket and LeftWord Books.(1)

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How Socialists Resist Rightist Coups

Lessons from the Early Communist International

Part One: The Kornilov and Kapp Putsches

(See also Part 2: “Toward a United Front Against Fascismand 
Part 3: “1920: German Workers Foil a Rightist Putsch)

By John Riddell: Parliaments and elections are no guarantee of democratic rights and fair treatment for working people. Capitalist forces displeased with an electoral outcome are all too likely to take direct action to impose their will, whether by financial manipulations, economic blockades, or military coups.

Even apparently stable parliamentary regimes in dominant countries can be challenged in this way. So it was that a military revolt brought down the French Fourth Republic in 1958 and, in 2020-21, Donald Trump mounted a campaign including an apparent coup attempt aiming to overturn the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

Socialists are challenged to actively oppose rightist coup attempts without lending support to any wing of the ruling capitalist class.

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Toward a United Front Against Fascism

How Socialists Resist Rightist Coups: Part 2

See also Part 1: “How Socialists Resist Rightist Coups: The Kornilov and Kapp Putschesand Part 3: “1920: German Workers Foil a Rightist Putsch” 

By 1920, The working-class movement urgently needed to find a road to effective resistance to such rightist threats, including when these assaults took the form of a military coup replacing one capitalist government with another.

The initiative for united working-class action came from the Communists in Germany (see “The Origins of United Front Policy”). On 8 January 1921 the KPD addressed an open letter to all other major workers’ organizations, proposing common action around nine demands, representing goals that the entire workers’ movement held in common. The first two goals set the tone: wage struggles on behalf of all workers and increased pensions. One of the demands addressed the threat from far-right enemies of the Weimar Republic:

7. Disarmament and dissolution of armed bourgeois detachments and formation of workers’ self-defence organisations.[i]

Conceptually, the Open Letter was in one sense a return to the spirit of the Erfurt Program rejected by Rosa Luxemburg in December 1918. It offered a “minimum program” of immediate goals to be set alongside the revolutionary objective of overthrowing capitalist rule and establishing a government of workers’ councils. But the Open Letter posed the action program in a novel way – as a platform for an alliance of all major workers’ organizations.

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1920: German Workers Foil a Rightist Putsch

General Strike Sent Rebel Generals Running

(See also Part 1: “How Socialists Resist Rightist Coups
and
Part 2: “Toward a United Front Against Fascism.”)

By John Riddell: The strongest workers’ upsurge in Europe in the early years after the Russian revolution took place in March 1920, when 12 million workers in Germany rallied in a giant strike against a right-wing military coup.

During the months following the German revolution of November 1918, which swept away the country’s monarchs and ended World War 1, militant workers there had suffered a stinging defeat at the hands of murderous monarchist and proto-fascist militias, known as “Freikorps.”

The right-wing assault had been organized by none other than the leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which then led Germany’s government. The SPD’s betrayal cast a deep shadow over hopes for united workers’ resistance. Yet despite this stinging defeat, the workers of Germany soon rallied in renewed struggles.

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When Social Democracy and Communism Acted Together

The 1926 German Referendum to Expropriate the Nobility

Could Hitler’s rise to power in Germany have been blocked by common action by Social Democracy and Communism? On one occasion, in 1926, such a working alliance came briefly into existence. As German historian Marcel Bois demonstrates, the results were dramatic.

The following text is excerpted from “‘March Separately, But Strike Together!’ The Communist Party’s United Front Policy in the Weimar Republic,” by Marcel Bois, in Historical Materialism, 28.3 2020, pp. 148–52. Translation by Darren Roso. Reposted by permission.

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By Marcel Bois: The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) first coined the united front policy in 1921, representing a promising effort to bolster Communist influence in the workers’ movement of that country. … [T]he KPD recruited large numbers of new members and significantly improved its electoral returns as a result. Despite this success, however, the party only pursued the united front policy in two phases (1921–3 and 1926)…. [T]he KPD bid farewell to the united front as ‘Stalinisation’ began to set in during the Weimar Republic’s final years – with lethal consequences, as its abandonment decisively abetted the victory of German fascism.[1]

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