The Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASHH), University of Cambridge, June 20-21, 2022.
Keynote speaker: Professor James Mark, University of Exeter.
This workshop will explore the cultures of socialist internationalism and solidarity that emerged during the Cold War, with a particular focus on how these practices functioned as a space of interaction between citizens and states across – and beyond – the Eastern Bloc. Recent scholarship investigating East-South relations, entanglements and connections during the Cold War has often focused on the mobilities that these links engendered. While significant numbers made the journey from the socialist states of East and Central Europe to Africa, Asia and Latin America and vice versa, these groups—be they students, engineers, or holiday makers— were nevertheless a minority, often unrepresentative of the broader whole. Their experiences of socialist internationalism are revealing, but do not speak to the broader experience of living within the regimes that were to a great extent defined by it.
If the direct experience of socialist internationalism was limited to a privileged few, how then was it experienced by the majority, for whom actual travel outside of their state was a distant possibility? This workshop asks how socialist internationalism and its attendant ideas of solidarity functioned within socialist societies. Many scholars have treated socialist internationalism as a one-dimensional tool wielded by elites in pursuit of international and domestic legitimacy. But was solidarity always “legitimizing” for socialist states? Did it sometimes engender conflict? Socialist states placed great pressure on their citizens to engage with and show support for nations and movements across the postcolonial world. In the German Democratic Republic, for example, citizens were compelled (sometimes willingly, sometimes begrudgingly) to fund solidarity campaigns from their own pockets via the trade union affiliated Solidarity Committee. Later, in the 1980s, the concept of solidarity became associated with dissidence, most notably in Poland but elsewhere too. How did this shift occur? And given that socialist internationalism and solidarity were so central to daily life under state socialism, how did they evolve or live on after the collapse of the regimes that fostered them?
We are particularly interested in papers that tackle the following themes:
- To what extent did solidarity and socialist internationalism, particularly with non-European states, follow a bloc-wide pattern? Can we speak of a broadly shared timeline between the different states? Which states represent outliers in this regard? Similarly, were the aims and drivers of these projects similar across the region, or were they distinct in each state?
- How was socialist internationalism paid for across the socialist world? What did solidarity look like on the ground? Which institutions and agents were involved in implementing internationalism and solidarity in everyday life, and what practices and events did they produce?
- Through which cultural forms was solidarity communicated or reproduced in state socialist societies? How was it depicted and received in media, the arts, or design?
- How did socialist internationalism relate to the political legitimation of socialist state power in different countries across the bloc and to the legitimacy of socialist elites? If international solidarity was in part designed to shore up political legitimacy among populations ‘on the home front’, where did it have the greatest impact? How did the politics of solidarity engender conflict between citizen and state?
- How did practices of solidarity and socialist internationalism intersect with other quotidian experiences of life in socialist societies, for example, informed by race, nationality, class, gender, or religion?
- In Poland and elsewhere, solidarity became associated with dissidence in the 1980s, both as a naming convention for dissident groups and a means of critiquing the state. How did different groups and activists deploy the term to critique the state?
- In what ways did socialist internationalism live on beyond the decline and fall of socialism? To what extent can we see its afterlives in the contemporary politics of Eastern and Central Europe?
Please send proposals (300-400 words) together with a short CV to George Bodie (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 18th February 2022. Participants will be invited to contribute to a journal special issue based on the workshop papers.