Socialisms in development

The October Revolution and the Global South

Date: 1 September 2017, 01:30–03:30

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 3004



In the decades following the October Revolution, both the revolution itself as well as the emerging Soviet state socialism became an important theoretical and practical point of reference for subjugated peoples around the world, opening new avenues for anti-imperialist, anti-colonial and anti-racist thoughts and practices. For many governments of the newly independent states, socialism seemed to offer not only liberation, but also “development” which despite context-specific differences usually included the betterment of social and economic conditions, the expansion of education and political participation as well as the repositioning of these societies in a global order. At the same time, the concept of socialism itself had to be further “developed” and adapted to suit changing local and global circumstances. In a dialectical process, the instruments and actors themselves were re-shaped by the process, which in turn again had impacts on policies and practices,

The panel will discuss transfers, entanglements and tensions between different socialisms in the 20th century. Circulations, alliances, tensions and conflicts among socialist models of development will be investigated both from a North-South as well as a South-South perspective. The contributions will address the following interrelated questions:

• Drawing lessons from the October Revolution: How and by whom was the October Revolution interpreted as relevant for development processes in global, regional, and/or national contexts – and what did this imply for the practices of development? With which arguments and objectives in mind was this historical moment and the related experiences embraced, re-worked or rejected?

• Travelling models and re-modelling travellers between socialisms: Texts and individuals circulated widely across the borders between the Cold War’s second and third worlds, which makes the adoption, reworking and application of socialist thought and institutions a complex process worth to trace. Travelling ideas might include, for instance, the collectivization of agriculture, the establishment of state farms and the creation of avant-garde parties. How did concrete actors, both individuals and groups, selectively appropriate, creatively shape and strategically transform such concepts and ideas as they were facing historically contingent conditions and trajectories?

• The multiplicity of socialist development models and practices: From its beginnings, socialism was heterogeneous: emblematic in this regard are e.g. the rivalry between social democracy and communism, crystallising in the early 1920s, as well as the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s which significantly fragmented and destabilized the project of a global socialist unity. Taking into account both North-South as well as South-South encounters: What tensions and synergies can we identify between competing socialist strategies to bring about social change, welfare and political hegemony?

• Liberation and repression: Revolutions, liberation struggles and “transitions to socialism” were inherently ambivalent processes, incorporating emancipatory visions and strategies on the one hand as well as coercion and means to repress opposition and dissent on the other. With regard to this tension it is an open question how actors in the Soviet Union promoted the October Revolution and its consequences in European countries as a model worth emulating and how actors in the global South made use of the example of the Soviet Union in their own struggles.

Providing empirical case studies from different regions and decades of the Cold War, the panel will contribute to a better understanding of (1) a global history of socialist concepts of development which have been underrepresented so far in the historiography of development and (2) the plurality of socialisms as being both entangled and competing as well as translated into national strategies of development.


Steffi Marung (Leipzig University)

Eric Burton (University of Vienna)


Artemy Kalinovsky (University of Amsterdam)


Berthold Unfried (University of Vienna)

Andreas Admasie (University of Basel / University of Pavia)

Steffi Marung (Leipzig University)



Berthold Unfried: A "cuban cycle" of developmental socialism? Cubans and East Germans in the Socialist World System

Based on (primarily German and Cuban) archive material and interviews, this contribution aims at demonstrating how the interactions between the German Democratic Republic and Cuba were projected into a multilateral cooperation in Africa on the level of technical assistance, trade relations and “Solidarity” transfers of resources.

The circulation of material and personal resources – advisors, experts and solidarity workers of European socialist countries in Cuba, Cuban workers in Europe, Cuban Internacionalistas in Africa, the thousands of students from Africa at the Isla de la Juventud in Cuba – constituted spheres of international connectivity within the socialist World System in an era of its expansion to the three continents which we may call the “Cuban cycle” of world revolution. In this period of alternative “globalization” from the mid-1970ies to 1990, Cuba as a COMECON-member established itself as a trans-continental hub between the European center of that system and its African periphery. It shall be discussed if such a “Cuban cycle” can meaningfully be identified within the long cycles in the aftermath of the October Revolution.

Andreas Admasie: Official Marxism and socialist development in Ethiopia: Rhetoric and reality in the manufacturing sector 1974-91

While various – and partly contradictory – forms of Marxism had come to exercise a broad appeal in Ethiopia in the years around the 1974 revolution, it was the post-revolutionary government that elevated one specific form to the level of state ideology. Official Ethiopian Marxism, while embedded in citations from the Marxist-Leninist „classics“, was also geared towards achieving the goals of the military rulers: achieving national-territorial unity; promoting rapid economic development; and establishing a highly centralized state and economy. The official version of Ethiopian Marxism, however, competed with alternative forms – articulated by broad left opposition – as its proponents clashed in the streets, factories and fields.

By investigating the attempted transformation of the industrial sector in Ethiopia after 1974, this paper will explore:

• How debates from earlier as well as contemporary and parallel efforts of socialist development were grappled with in the Ethiopian context;

• How proponents of alternative understandings of Marxism engaged, polemicised and struggled with those espoused by the state;

• How the practice of socialist development was simultaneously shaped by these debates and by a political-economic context of extreme material scarcity and underdevelopment, by an intact pre-revolutionary bureaucracy and state, and by the coming to helm of that state of a most commandist and authoritarianly inclined category;

• How the tensions between the emancipatory and universalist ideals of Marxism, the prerogatives of rapid socialist accumulation, and the high-handed bureaucratic inclinations of the rulers came to result both in a labour regime far harsher than that of pre-revolutionary times – lending ridicule to the official rhetoric working class leadership – but also shaped official rhetoric by forcing it to grapple with these contradictions.

• How the Ethiopian discussion on and experience of socialist development of the manufacturing sector relates to the broader international discussion on socialist development, accumulation, and labour.

Sources used include publications and documents from the various leftist Ethiopian groups, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions.

Steffi Marung: A "Leninian moment"? How Soviet Africanists struggled with the October Revolution and Lenin’s legacy in the Global South

Around the 150th anniversary of the October Revolution in 1967 and Lenin’s 100th birthday in 1970 hundreds of Soviet books, journals, conferences and exhibitions celebrated the legacy of this turning point not only in the history of the Soviet Union but also – as it was interpreted from an official Soviet perspective – in the history of the world. In a crucial moment of the Cold War these anniversaries were instrumentalized to spread the socialist message to the wider world, and to the Global South in particular. Like many other groups of the Soviet society, Africanists were mobilized by the Central Committee as well as engaged themselves as mediators for the socialist vision of world order and of the future of postcolonial states.

Based on evidence from the archives of the Soviet Academy of Sciences as well as of UNESCO, the paper will investigate how this group of scholars struggled to translate the Soviet experience of revolution and large-scale social and political transformation towards the global South, to Africa in particular.The icon of the revolution and its legacies in the communication with the „Third World“ became almost exclusively the works and doings of Lenin. Not the least, Lenin’s theorization of a non-capitalist path of development was attractive for post-independence elites. However, this “export model” was appropriated in diverse ways in the global South with different actors emphasizing different aspects or reinterpreting the legacy of Lenin and the Revolution differently, translating it into diverse postcolonial contetxs. The paper will therefore trace on the one hand, how the specific model to be „exported“ to the „developing countries“ was constructed in the Soviet context – a selective adaptation of orthodox socialism in itself – and which difficulties Soviet Africanists encountered when trying to mediate this towards their African audiences, political activists and fellow scholars in particular.

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