Trajectories of Antifascism
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.
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 email@example.com
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
Department of History
16 Seminary Place
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
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