Socialist Intermediaries: the Institutions and Practice of Transnational Communism

Course Description: 

The fields of Eastern European and Soviet history have been greatly enriched by transnational approaches in recent years, refining our understanding of mobility across the Iron Curtain, and illuminating such spheres as competitive consumption with the West, cultural and technological exchanges, and internationalism in the Third World. Yet despite the proliferation of new research topics, these historiographies have largely remained separated as neighboring area studies rather than integrated in research and teaching fields. 

This course proposes that Eastern European history and Soviet history can be brought into productive comparison by embracing a transnational lens, allowing students and researchers to view their subjects as branches on a common socialist tree rather than merely side-by-side phenomena or solely through an imperial frame. This course understands socialism as more than just a type of governance but an inherently transnational phenomenon – a distinctive type of society – with explicitly expansionist goals and a border-crossing orientation. The transmission of ideas, technology, and culture did not occur on its own, however, but relied on the training and dissemination of experts, mediators and intermediaries who held aloft and spread this socialist governance and civilization. 

Learning Outcomes: 
  • The ability to read and prepare for discussion complex essays across disciplines and familiarize oneself with key themes of transnational socialist history such as theories of international Marxist revolution; the social and cultural history of organizations such as the 3rd International, the Comintern, and the Communist University for the Toilers of the East; economic and cultural links between the Soviet Union and Turkey, India, Africa, and the Arab World; Nazi occupation as an opportunity for transnational action; the Sovietization of the East European legal system; pan-European transnational labor migration; Soviet-East European cultural exchange; and the socialist transnational roots of Islamism.
  • An understanding of key historiographical debates about the nature of transnational and comparative history and their implications;
  • An understanding of the Soviet-type of ‘transnationalism’, and of the political and cultural limitations of promoting socialist revolution abroad; Soviet “soft power” in Eastern Europe and other venues; the concept of Iron Curtain vs. “Nylon Curtain” to describe movement across borders.
  • The ability to think critically about a thematic, institutional approach to international Communism and socialism; to gain insights about the reliance of intermediary figures and institutions for the promotion and translation of international Communism; and a richer understanding of the ideology of socialism via this emphasis on its transmission.
  • To present analysis and arguments clearly and concisely in accordance with the scholarly conventions of historical writing and class discussion. 

Students are expected to attend all lectures, read the assigned readings and prepare to actively participate in class discussions. The requirements and grading breakdown of the seminar are as follows: 

  • Class participation (25 percent), based on both the quantity and quality of the students’ involvement during discussions of lectures and assigned readings. As part of class activities, students are also expected to post three questions on the course’s e-learning forum, drafted in a short paragraph, pertaining to three lectures at their choice.  
  •  Written Assignments (75 percent): Students need to opt for one of the following two types of written assignments:

1)     Three short position papers of 750 words each, engaging critically with any lecture and assigned readings for a particular class, at student’s choice. These papers are due one week after the end of the respective class; 

2)     A final term paper of 2,200 words (footnotes and final bibliography included) on a relevant research topic, discussed in advance with the course instructors. The paper is due two weeks after the end of the term.