Impacts of Communism in Western European Democracies since 1945 - 5th Hermann Weber Conference for the Historical Research on Communism

Dominik Rigoll's picture
Call for Papers
May 30, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Contemporary History, European History / Studies, Languages, Women's & Gender History / Studies

The conference explores Western European communisms since 1945 in their interactions with liberal-democratic orders: What did democracy do to communism and what did communism do to democracy? We invite contributions on communist activities in their full range and in the thematic fields of democratic participation, relations with the state, political institutions, capitalist economy, scholarship, popular culture, and the public sphere.

Communism in Western Europe has often been historicized either as the embodiment of the Eastern bloc during the Cold War or with a focus on small ultra-leftist groups after 1968. More than 30 years after the end of state socialism and the disappearance of many communist organizations, however, no clear picture has emerged of the significance and functions of the communist movement (actors, practices, agendas) in liberal democracies. The conference aims at determining the agency and legacy of communism in Western European democracies and thus brings communism research into dialogue with the history of democracy. It examines the interactions between communists and the political agendas and practices of democratic – and anti-communist – societies, and it explores how dual loyalties to the party and communist regimes on the one hand, and to the national or local polity on the other, played out.

Following the resistance in World War II, Western European communists played an important role in the era of reconstruction. In the protest movements around 1968, they appeared as challengers, but also as defenders of the liberal order. In Spain and Portugal, they took part in the transition from dictatorship to democracy. In France and Italy, millions of communists shaped politics and society well into the 1980s. In other countries, communist organizations were marginal, but their members were still able to have an impact – for example, as intellectuals like Eric Hobsbawm and Elfriede Jelinek. Organized communism was temporarily banned and barred from public service only in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and the Federal Republic of Germany. The conference aims to capture this manifold presence of communism in Western Europe, which is still insufficiently reflected in its historical significance. The guiding question is: What did democracy do to communism and what did communism do to democracy?

Of interest are the interactions between communisms on the one hand, parliamentarism and democratic procedures, the rule of law, capitalist economy, commercialized mass culture, Christian-based value systems, pluralistic public spheres and media, and liberal scientific culture on the other. How did communists – from Marxist-Leninists to Maoists and Eurocommunists – manifest themselves in democracy and how did they affect democratic institutions and public spheres? Conversely, how did liberal-, social-, Christian-, and radical-democratic settings, as well as social and cultural change in Western European societies since 1945, affect communists? The focus is on the early postwar years and the Cold War, but without excluding the history of Western European communism after the wall: What changed in the described constellations after 1989/90?

Proposals for contributions should take up one of these aspects:

- Communist forms of participation in liberal democracy

- Communists in democratic organizations and state institutions

- the problem of dual loyalty and democratic trustworthiness

- (ex-)communist interpretive elites in academia and popular culture

- Communists in labour, migratory and feminist contexts

- the resonance of Western communism in anti-communist publics

- (the limits of) communism's agency and impact in Western Europe

The conference is funded by the Gerda-und-Hermann-Weber-Foundation in the Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Eastern Germany. Its aim is to promote the historicization of communism and to preserve the memory of the historian Hermann Weber (1928-2014). In cooperation with the research project funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation and led by Claudia Gatzka, "Hidden Voices of Democracy. Political Representations of the 'People' in the Federal Republic, 1945-2000," the 5th Hermann Weber Conference provides an opportunity to think about democratic Western Europe as a site of the history of communism. Proposals for contributions from colleagues who have not primarily seen themselves as historians of communism are therefore particularly welcome.

If pandemic conditions permit, the conference will take place on March 16-17, 2023, at the premises of the Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Eastern Germany in Berlin. A public panel discussion is planned for the evening of March 15. The primary conference language is German, but English-language contributions are, of course, possible. Simultaneous translation from German into English will also be available to contributors without a passive knowledge of German. Papers should not exceed 15 minutes in length; papers will be made available to participants four weeks before the conference. A selection of papers, together with additional contributions, will be published in German in the "Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 2025" (funding for translations will be available). The final date for the submission of manuscripts for the Yearbook is August 1, 2023. The contributions will be edited and proofread.

We welcome proposals for contributions in the form of abstracts of no more than 250 words alongside a short CV indicating research interests to and by May 30, 2022. Notification of selection will be made by the end of June 2022.

Contact Info: 

Dr. Claudia C. Gatzka
Forschungsprojekt "Verborgene Stimmen der Demokratie. Repräsentationen des 'Volkes' in der Bundesrepublik, 1945-2000", gefördert durch die Gerda Henkel Stiftung
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Historisches Seminar
Lehrstuhl für Neuere und Neueste Geschichte Westeuropas
79098 Freiburg im Breisgau

Dr. Dominik Rigoll
Leibniz-Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam
Am Neuen Markt 1
14467 Potsdam