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Worlds of Labour Turned Upside Down – Revolutions and Labour Relations in Global Historical Perspective

53rd ITH Conference
21-23 September 2017, Linz/Upper Austria

Organised by:
International Conference of Labour and Social History (ITH), kindly supported by the Chamber of Labour of Upper Austria, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

Preparatory Group:
Tamás Krausz (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest), Ragnheiður Kristjánsdóttir (University of Iceland, Reykjavík), Marcel van der Linden (International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam), David Mayer (ITH, Vienna), Stefan Müller (Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Bonn), Goran Music (Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz), Lukas Neissl (ITH, Vienna), Felix Wemheuer (University of Cologne)

After a long quarantine, “revolution” is back as a topic of historiographical debate. The upcoming anniversary of 1917 – arguably one of, if not the most momentous event of the 20th century – has further fuelled this renewed interest. The reasons for the trend might be sought, on the one hand, in broader contemporary social experiences of crisis – including economic crises, recent upheavals in the Arab world, or movements and governments in Latin America aiming at transformation or even explicitly revolution. On the other hand, internal shifts within the domains of historical studies have made revolutions an attractive object of study again: Under the influence of dynamic debates around “global history” and “transnational perspectives” revolutions have emerged as an obvious object of study for those interested in the circulation of ideas, persons, commodities, practices, etc., as well as the connection between locations.

Taking this fresh attention given to revolutions as a starting point, the ITH Conference 2017 proposes to realign the focus and to discuss the specific interrelation between revolutions and labour relations. This interrelation is, of course, most conspicuous in all those movements and political projects, especially after 1917, in which a shift in ownership and labour relations was explicitly seen as a prime mover of revolutions. Revolutionary processes, however, have always been greatly shaped by the crises and conflicts emerging from the worlds of labour and by the aspirations and agency of labourers.

Approaching change within the “worlds of labour”, the conference aims at bringing the renewed interest in revolutions together with the vibrant debates in the field of Global Labour History. The latter has evolved over the last two decades focusing on the analysis of labour relations – emphasizing their diversity and the interrelated co-existence of various forms in the development of modern capitalism. How were revolutions grounded and shaped by this diversity of labour relations? How did different groups of labourers act in and influence revolutionary processes? And, how did these revolutionary transformations determine shifts in the composition of the labour force as well as the shape of labour relations?

Starting from these basic questions about the interrelations of revolutions and labour, a series of themes, topics and lines of enquiry will be discussed at this conference. This includes before-&-after-analysis (the systematic analysis of labour relations before, during, and after revolutions); the conspicuous interrelation of labour, revolution, and war (as epitomized in the experience of WWI and after); different forms of microanalysis allowing unique glimpses at the “big” processes of revolutions by focusing on rather small units either of production (factories, workshops, plantations, households) or community (villages, neighbourhoods) and including the forms of self-organisation of workers, peasants, and other groups in councils, soviets, or committees; tele-connections between actors in different localities and “revolution as labour”, i.e. the work of those living for and from revolutionary activity.

This conference seeks to give ample space to comparative approaches (both synchronic and diachronic) or to pay special attention to connections between places and actors apart. All world regions are covered and many papers go beyond the well-known array of “classical” revolutions. The organizers also have encouraged a long global-historical perspective and the conference is open to papers on different periods. This includes the more remote processes and events in early modern period or the transformations around 1989 and beyond. The conference will also explicitly use the notion of larger transnational “cycles of revolution” presupposing the existence of interconnected clusters of revolutions affecting different regions at the same time.

This conference will be organized in a spirit that expressly acknowledges the fundamentally contested nature of all revolutions (both among actors of the time and subsequent historians). It adheres to a rather broad notion of “revolution” – including failed or attempted revolutions, revolutionary situations, as well as those imposed from above or through war. It, nevertheless, insists that the debate is on condensed (and relatively short) processes of crises, conflict, and change. The conference’s focus, thus, remains on cases, where there was both an element of (political) transition and one of (social) transformation.

AK-Bildungshaus Jägermayrhof, Römerstraße 98, A-4020 Linz, Austria

Linz is an industrial town some 180 km west of Vienna and one of the historical centres of the Austrian labour movement. The Austrian Civil War between Austro-fascist militias ("Heimwehren") and the federal army on the one hand, and the paramilitary organization of the Austrian Social Democratic Workers Party, the "Republikanischer Schutzbund" on the other, in February 1934, started in Linz. The surroundings of the Jägermayrhof were among the centres of combat.

Lukas Neissl
International Conference of Labour and Social History (ITH)
c/o Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW)
Altes Rathaus, Wipplinger Str. 6/Stg., A-1010 Vienna, Austria
email: ith[a]