CfP: Trajectories of Antifascism

Department of History, Rutgers University
03.03.2017 – 04.03.2017

Worries abound about a return of fascism. Recently, the New York Times surveyed the growth of nationalist and authoritarian movements in Austria, Russia, Turkey and beyond, to proclaim a “growing debate over global fascism.” In February, a Polish magazine published a front cover showing a white woman assailed by dark-skinned male hands under the headline “The Islamic rape of Europe”. International observers compared the image to Nazi propaganda. “This is how fascism comes to the United States,” declared a recent Washington Post op-ed article about the rise of Donald Trump. These analyses all invoke the history of 1930s Europe in order to uncover suggestive traces of interwar fascism in present day developments. Curiously, debates about fascism make little or no mention of the antifascist global movement that once existed to oppose it. Antifascism has been forgotten as a historical force and discounted as a source of critical thinking about xenophobic and exclusionary politics.

There was a time when antifascism fired the imaginations of men and women around the world. In the 1930s, activists who believed themselves to be part of a global movement for racial and economic justice gathered in linked but diverse communities from Paris and Barcelona to Belgrade and Moscow. Some of Europe’s best known writers convened antifascist congresses and called for the defense of the Enlightenment and humanistic values. Condemnations of “fascist” barbarity inspired anti-Nazi resistance from France and Italy to the furious Soviet war against Germany in the East. But after the war, antifascism appeared to wither. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had dismayed many antifascists. Now, Communist regimes in the East brazenly made the ideal into a weapon they used to consolidate their power and eliminate their enemies. The “anti-fascist protective wall” that divided Berlin is only the most famous example. In the West, a new anti-totalitarian politics imagined the Soviet Union as an equivalent threat to liberal societies and pushed antifascists to the margins. Outside Europe, the Cold War imposed its bifurcated view of the world on struggles for independence and sovereignty, even if the antifascist thought of the 1930s left its mark on anti-colonial and pan-African movements of the postwar, and people and movements in Latin America contributed to the articulation of antifascism over many decades.

Today, antifascism has been largely reduced to an embarrassing memory. A moralizing history of 20th century intellectuals has transformed the lived experience of antifascist activism into biographies of young men and women whose ideological zeal blinded them to the reality of Communist tyranny. Where antifascism lives on is in the symbolic repertoire of marginal “antifa” movements and in the slogans used by Russian nationalists in Moscow and Donetsk to justify acts of aggression in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, new historical museums across the former East use the idea of “double totalitarianism” to obscure the history of racism, antisemitism, and indeed fascism in their own societies.

Can “antifascism” offer renewed analytic or political potential to scholars and citizens today? The global rise of right-wing nationalism, compounded by the migration crisis in Europe, suggest that the moment has come to reconsider the legacies of antifascism, to chart its varied trajectories across Europe and beyond and to probe their significance for our own time. “Trajectories of Antifascism” is the title of a two-day workshop, organized in cooperation with the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung). The workshop will take place at Rutgers University on March 3-4, 2017. We welcome proposals for papers on topics that may include:

– The global transfer and transformation of antifascist politics
“The colonies,” Pan-Africanist George Padmore wrote in 1936, “are the breeding ground for the type of fascist mentality which is being let loose in Europe today.” During the 1930s, a global network of activists insisted that anti-imperialism was central to antifascist politics. They tied events in Spain and Abyssinia to anticolonial and antiracist movements elsewhere around the world and made personal and intellectual connections within antifascist or Popular Front organizations that would come to shape postwar liberation struggles in Africa and Asia. Antifascists forced into exile in South America continued their political work against fascist and authoritarian politics there. We welcome submissions that examine the dynamic relationship between antifascism and anti-imperial, anti-colonial and Pan-African movements and that explore the personal, intellectual, and symbolic circulation of antifascist politics in a global context.

– The Soviet Union and Antifascism
The Soviet role in antifascist politics during the 1930s and 1940s is often understood statically and imagined through the eyes of Moscow or Stalin personally. We welcome submissions that explore personal, local, and transnational dimensions of international communism; cultural exchanges and crossovers (e.g. between Soviet humanism and liberal articulations of antifascism); and the conjunctures of antifascism during wartime (Spanish Civil War, Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Anti-Hitler Alliance).

– Antifascism behind the Iron Curtain
It is well known that Communist regimes instrumentalized antifascism for political ends. At the same time, new research into early Holocaust memory, for example, shows that antifascism inspired a far richer understanding of war and genocide in the first years after 1945 than previously believed. This research mostly centers on France, Italy, and Spain. We call for submissions that engage with antifascist politics in Eastern Europe or proceed in a comparative vein.

– Antifascism as Symbolic Language
While there is a good amount of scholarship devoted to the intellectual history of antifascism and antifascists, the iconography and shared practices that gave antifascism its symbolic power and emotional resonance across national boundaries remain much less well understood. We welcome submissions that examine the variety of images, myths, practices and symbols that contributed to the articulation of antifascist politics and explore how they helped give life and meaning to antifascism around the globe.

– Generations of Antifascism
Did the antifascism of the 1930s leave a legacy for later generations of leftists, for example in the 1960s?

– Antifascism and Biography
The lives of antifascists have sometimes been written as conversion narratives tracing an arc that begins with the seductive power of Communist ideology, goes to moral crisis caused by the growing knowledge of Communist atrocities, and culminates in a public repudiation of the “god that failed.” Others, including most recently (and surprisingly) Senator John McCain, have celebrated antifascists as men and women of courage and conviction, without considering seriously the ideals for which they fought. Can we map the poetics and politics of antifascist (auto)biography across the globe? Does internationalism yield particular narrative forms? Can we fruitfully compare mid-20th century conjunctures of fascist and antifascist life-writing during the mid-20thcentury?

– Sites of Antifascist Memory
How does the map of Europe – and the globe – present itself in terms of an antifascist memory? And how is this memory used for distinct political purposes? Who claims the mantle of antifascism today, and why? Submissions on this theme might consider the tensions between official and vernacular memories, engage with policies of repression and processes of silencing, but also pay attention to the revitalization of antifascist sites of memory after WW II and into the present time. The resignification of World War II memorials in the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict (e.g. the Sawur Mogyla memorial near Donetsk) is a case in point.

We welcome submissions across disciplines and from scholars at any stage of their career. The deadline for the submission of proposals is September 30, 2016. Please send a 300 word abstract and one-page CV to

By October 21, 2016, applicants will be notified about acceptance to the workshop. The deadline for submission of papers is February 1, 2017. All papers will be made available in advance through the workshop website. Presenters will be given 10-15 minutes to deliver their papers, followed by commentary by the panel discussant and then open discussion. We will be able to provide travel subsidies for the workshop participants, as well as lodging.

Our historical exploration of the trajectories of antifascism will be followed in Fall 2017 by an open conference, to be held in Germany and organized by the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, on the contemporary significance and implications of antifascism, especially for the aims and means of civic education in Germany and Europe. Invitations to this conference will be sent separately.

Paul Hanebrink and Jochen Hellbeck
Rutgers University
Department of History
16 Seminary Place
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

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