CfP: Talking about economics in the socialist world (1920s-1980s)


In 1989-1991 many countries in Eastern Europe and Asia, formerly constituents of the socialist world, underwent a profound transition abandoning both the socialist economic and political order as well as rejecting the Marxist-Leninist ideological axioms. Crucially, however, the economics of socialism from their conceptualisation and their first implementation after 1917 up to the 1990s had remained challenged and the subject of political and scientific discussion in the socialist states.

Marx and Engels, in their analysis of 19th century capitalism and despite their assertion that industrial societies would progress to communism, had not provided a political blueprint for the development of the socialist and later communist economic order. It fell to the post World War One political leadership and economic scientists not just to implement but also to conceptualise the new economic system. Even though the model of the centrally planned economy would become entrenched in the economic practice of the Soviet Union and despite it being extended to the peoples democracies in the aftermath of the Second World War, many state policies were themselves experimental and the political economy of socialism was developed by theorists far beyond what would become official state doctrine. Starting with the theoretical attempt to justify the NEP in the early 1920s, socialist economists in the socialist states and beyond started to develop alternative economic models to the centrally planned economy.

The colloquium will focus on the discourses about the socialist economy and their substantial but often unknown or insufficiently explored contents and the multiple ideas about the economy expressed by contemporaries. Thereby the intensity of debates, different conceptualisations and the abundance of economic reflection in the socialist world will be highlighted. The research focus will lie on the history of concepts and the semantics of economics in socialism and on the actors elaborating socialist economic theory, their networks and milieus. This colloquium intends to challenge both the assumption of a monolithic character of the hypothetical socialist economic model, incapable of reform or adaptation to the changing economic environment as well as the disqualification of “revisionist” economists, rejected from the mainstream in the socialist countries at the time.

The colloquium aims at analysing economic thought in the socialist world. As well as the socialist states, the socialist world is understood here to include communist parties and socialist intellectuals in capitalist states. The main focus will lie on the time between 1917 and 1990. It will focus on the actors who produced discourses on the socialist economy, the spaces in which such reforms were conceived and discussed, the vocabularies that were employed to describe and formulate ideas as well as the motivation that drove several actors to promote a socialist economic model different from the one that was implemented by the party-states. Three analytical trajectories are proposed in order to fulfil this research agenda:

• The first axis of research deals with the construction of a model discourse about the economics of socialism by the Soviet leaders and its influence on the socialist and communist parties in Europe in the interwar period and beyond. We would here consider papers dealing for example with debates about the NEP (both in the Soviet Union and in the communist parties in Western Europe), the reconfiguration of a socialist economic discourse in the West during the interwar period. Also of interest would be research analysing the adaption of the soviet models into different national schools after the Second World War. Furthermore, papers analysing alternatives to the Soviet model of economics such as the economic ideology of the Chinese communist party or the Yugoslavian discourse about the participation of the workers in the governance of the economy.
• The second Axis concentrates on the semantics of economics in socialism. Papers focusing on the idea of a “plan”, the concepts of “market”, “advertisement”, the “international division of labour” and the circulation of shared economic concepts between the East and the West will be welcome.
• The question of the international cooperation between the socialist countries as a peculiar space promoting reformist discourses on economics will constitute the last axis of enquiry. Proposals concerning this trajectory should address the idea of a socialist world system, the role of COMECON in promoting economic reform discourses, or the participation of the socialist countries in the UNECE and CSCE economic cooperation.

The conference will take place on April 16-17th 2015 at the University of Geneva.
Proposals of no more than 500 words and a short CV should be submitted in English to no later than December 1st 2014.
Selected participants will be notified by December 20th 2014.
The conference language is English.
Accommodation costs will be covered.

Jonas Flury, Simon Godard, Isabelle Gouarné, Sébastien Moret.
Simon Godard
Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva
20 rue de l'école de médecine
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