Social Movements and the Change of Ecomomic Elites in Europe after 1945

Conference 8 to 10 November 2012

Social Movements and the Change of Ecomomic Elites in Europe after 1945


Social Movements and the Change of Ecomomic Elites in Europe after 1945
In post-Second World War Europe, the elimination of the remains of the National Socialist hegemony was an omnipresent question. For the Central Powers, the implementation lay in the hands of the Allied occupying forces. They organised the process of denazification and the establishment of a new economic order. In countries without military occupation, there was a deep gap between the new governmental forces and the former collaborators. In both cases, social movements which were formed by anti-fascists on the left of the political spectrum assumed the task of social reorganisation. Trade unionists were prominent amongst them. Their actions were directed against war criminals, war profiteers and former Nazi supporters. Moreover, in many cases, political activists did not only adopt anti-fascist but also anti-capitalist positions.
In our context, “social movement” is used as an analytical term. In the compemtorary discussion, it was mostly absent (especially in the German-speaking countries) because of its use by the National Socialists (German: die Bewegung or Volksbewegung). In other countries such as France, the term was used as other movements had emerged during the war, for instance the mouvement de libération nationale in 1940.
The post-war movements formed spontaneously and were highly diverse. Their form of organisation were commissions and committees such as the comités de libération and the comités d’épuration in France or the Antifaschistische Kommissionen in Germany. Special groups were factory committees or works councils that aimed at establishingthe worker’s power within the companies. Sometimes the seizure of power extended to the judicial sector when lay judges were appointed for the prosecution of collaborators. Many of these social movements envisioned a political order that went beyond the re-establishment of pre-war liberal-democratic regimes.
The business elite in Germany and countries either allied to or occupied by Germany had to fear punishments for their contribution to the National Socialist war economy. Detailed research still has to reveal if the workers’ committees were really able to implement sanctions against companies and career-related sanctions against those who had oiled the National Socialist war machine. Frequent means of penalisation that were enforceable were downgrading to a lower rank or the assignment of unskilled labour. If they were to be successful in the sequestration or nationalisation of property rights, they needed the support of provisional governments and the victorious Allies. In Eastern Europe, in par;ticular, social movements were more successful in changing the economic and political order because of the support of the Sovet Union and its Red Army. However, those social movements had to toe the Soviet line closely which at times led to conflict between those social movements ‘from below’ and the directives handed down from the command height of Soviet occupation regimes.
After 1946/47, the spontaneously formed social movements were often placed under official control also in the West, as political parties and official trade unions sought to establish their hegemony over left-wing politics. This bureaucratization of left-wing European social movements was followed by attempts to work through ‘proper’ institutional channels, such as parliaments or law courts in order to decide on what should happen with those who had collaborated with, worked for or allied themselves with National Socialism. Shortly afterwards we witness throughout Europe the emergence of a discourse of reconciliation which sometimes led to attempts to whitewash forms of collaboration. The various degrees to which these processes of institutionalization and bureaucratization disempowered the existing social movements and weakened their claims for a new post-war economic, social and political order should be explored in comparative perspective, making use of a number of European case studies.
We can distinguish between a number of ideal-typical cases: first, National Socialist Germany and its allies; secondly, countries occupied by National Socialism and offered the opportunity of collaboration; thirdly, in a category of its own, Britain as the only European opponent of National Socialism not occupied during the war (with the exception of the Channel Island which again pose interesting questions of collaboration and how to deal with this after the war); and fourthly, neutral countries not directly affected by the war but nevertheless facing difficult questions of how to position their countries vis-a-vis fascism and its opponents. As many scholars who have written on the neutral European countries during the Second World War have pointed out, actual neutrality, involving more than not being involved in the fighting, was an ambition often hard to achieve in practice. Clearly, one also has to take into account that the division of Europe into two blocs during the Cold War meant very different responses to the aims and ambitions of social movements to change the economic, social and political orders in Western and in Eastern Europe.
The conference should form the basis for an edited collection published by Palgrave Macmillan’s book series ‘History of Social Movements’. Therefore we aim to make the contributions to the conference as coherent and comparable as possible. Hence we kindly ask you to keep the following questions as lead questions of your analysis in mind when drafting your paper:

  • Did the post-war social movements have strong historical roots? Did they emerge under fascist rule, linked to the Resistance, or were they newly formed after the Second World War?
  • To what extent did those social movements enjoy broader support among the postwar public in your country of expertise?
  • How did the most relevant actors associated with these social movements justify the claim to dismiss entrepreneurs and leading managers and to expropriate their companies? How did they negociate their demands for a new policial and economic order?
  • What kind of new political and economic order did they want to establish?
  • How long did these movements survive as such? Were they put under official control or absorbed by the bureaucracy? Was there a longevity of their visions for the future?
  • What was the impact of changing political circumstances from 1946-47 onwards, when Europe stepped gradually into the era of the Cold War?
  • Are there hints of any impact of these social movements on the economic, social and political development in the second half of the 1940s?

Hotel accomodation will be taken care of, the provision of bursaries to assist with travel costs will be explored. The conference language will be English.
Please submit a proposal of about 500–700 words to
Marcel Boldorf and Stefan Berger.