Socialist Mobilities: Networks, Spaces, Practices, 6th European Congress on World and Global History, 25.06.2020 – 28.06.2020.

During the last years a growing literature has empirically enriched our understanding of socialism(s) and communism(s) in a global perspective, by hinting at the variations and multiplications of these political projects as a result of transregional encounters of actors in the wake of decolonization and the Cold War. More specifically, East-West and East-South axes of such encounters have been highlighted.

By focusing on socialist mobilities, this panel aims to further develop this agenda in two ways. Firstly, by investigating a triangular geography that connects Eastern Europe, the transatlantic North, and the Global South. Secondly, by integrating “socialist mobilities” into broader trends of mobility studies, thereby further differentiating concepts of “transregional mobilities” and their relation to processes of globalization.

Mobility was inherent to the socialist project, aiming at the transformation of the global order after imperialism. The panel investigates transregional mobilities of socialist actors during the second half of the 20th century – from the crises of Western European empires since the 1940s to the crisis of global socialism in the 1980s – and aims at integrating them into the history of 20th globalization.

At the center of the panel are mobile actors who were considered as agents and mediators in these circulations, imagined or created socialist projects as well as acted in and constructed new institutions in transregional settings. During the second half of the 20th century, these actors – activists, experts, students, intellectuals, artists, party and trade union members, staff of international organizations – developed new practices of mobilities in a world shaped by decolonization as well as the Cold War and by the rise of the nation state, transnationalism, and globalization. As a result, they engaged with and produced differentiated geographies and spatial formats such as post-colonial nation states or transregional solidarity networks.

The panel focusses on mobilities resulting from actors’ efforts to pursue emancipatory projects formulated in the language of communism, socialism and internationalism. This includes spatial and social mobilities, i.e. both transcending the borders of states, and world regions and those of social groups. The concrete shape socialist mobilities took was not only a result of actors’ voluntary decision to move, but of them reacting to political persecution, state control, war and violence, or economic and cultural marginalizations. While this is true also for other kinds of mobility, more peculiarly socialist mobilities were characterized by massive tensions: between internationalist ambitions and limited resources, between claims of solidarity and exclusionary practices, between universalist assertions and particular manifestations, between a cosmopolitan agenda and the imperial interest of the Soviet Union. The panel joins here scholarship, that has identified the tension between the internationalist and the territorialist orientation of international communism as the key dialectic of its history. These tensions have, however, frequently been interpreted as contradictions, often leading to perceptions of the communist world (particularly during the Cold War) as immobile – with the strong role of state actors controlling, limiting, managing movement – and the language of internationalism as mere propaganda. In contrast, this panel tests the hypothesis, that these tensions have resulted in peculiar types of mobility, which still await their closer investigation.

Going beyond state socialism in Eastern Europe and with a focus on actors instead of regimes, we aim to bring together scholarship on mobile socialist actors in Eastern and Western Europe, the transatlantic North, Asia, Africa and Latin America. More specifically, we are interested in contributions, that investigate infrastructures, patterns and practices of circulation as well the structural prerequisites and the intentions of actors to move, as well as hindrances to their mobilities.

We encourage contributions, that pursue questions such as:

1. Which places, spaces and routes did the mobile actors connect and produce? Which biographical, professional and political itineraries did they follow? How were periods of mobility related to those of immobility?

2. How did their socialist project transform in the course of mobile/ immobile periods? When and how did they engage (and disengage) with the socialist project?

3. How did they organize their travel and who facilitated it (financial, organizational)? Which obstacles and limitations did they face? In which solidarity networks were they integrated/ could they profit from? In which organizations did they become member? Which did they found themselves?

4. How can the actors be characterized according to generation, citizenship(s), professional and socio-economic status as well as their religious affiliation, gendered and racial identities and how did this impact on their mobilities?

In this way, we hope to start developing answers to our leadings questions:

– How can we conceptualize socialist mobilities as one form of politically driven mobilities and identifying types of these?

– How can we map the differentiated geographies of circulation of actors combining transregional North-South, East-West and South-South networks and movements?

– How can we explain the transformation and pluralization of socialist concepts as a result of circulations and encounters of actors and ideas in the second half of the 20th century?

The panel is designed to launch a publication project leading to a journal special issue. Selected speakers for the panel might wish to contribute to this publication, yet also those not being selected due to organizational constraints, but with strong proposals, might still become part of the publication, as further authors’ workshops will follow.

Paper proposals addressing the agenda of the panel are invited until 30 August 2019. Proposals shall include a paper title, as well as an abstract (100-300 words), contact data of the authors and a short CV. Please send your proposals to Steffi Marung (marung@uni-leipzig.de).


Dr. Steffi Marung
Leipzig University