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[Workshop] Transnational Leftism: The Comintern and the National, Colonial and Racial Questions


The L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History, McMaster University 21-22 September 2017


Three trends have made up much of the established history of international Communism and its commitment to colonial liberation, self-determination of nations and racial equality. International communism had no time for genuine interest in these subjects, instead preferring strict subordination of Communists to the Soviet Union. If there was any interest, it was to turn the practitioners of racial equality, national or colonial liberation into these followers all for the purposes of Soviet foreign policy. This whole movement, however, was undermined by the Soviet Union’s, and international Communism’s, attention to European affairs first and foremost. Meanwhile, the history of Canadian Communism has only just begun to consider issues of race and nationality, indigenous peoples and French Canadians respectively, during this interwar period. However, the study of Canadian Communism has typically been done in a proverbial vacuum, with only limited, if any, engagement with the history of international Communism. Along with growing access to archival resources, the study of international Communism turning towards transnational and comparative studies can eliminate many blindspots in the understanding of the history of the left, including that of Canada. The aim of the Transnational Leftism is to shine a light on some of these blindspots by linking the history of the Canadian left in the interwar period with that of international Communism during that same period, with specific focus on issues of nationality, race and anti-colonialism. By considering the role of the Canadian left in civil and national rights movements during the interwar period, in tandem with global currents of the same time period, we can consider new approaches to and insights into the histories of Canada and the world.

Hosted by the L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University from 21-22 September 2017, the Transnational Leftism: The Comintern and the National, Colonial and Racial Questions workshop, with twenty-two established and emerging scholars, will illuminate the most creative, most relevant and the best work done on the history of Canadian Communism, international Communism, and the subjects of racial, national and colonial liberation. For the first time, a significant discussion of Canadian Communism will take place alongside a significant discussion of international Communism, while unearthing new conclusions to be made of both movements. A volume of selected papers produced by the workshop will be submitted to McGill-Queen’s University Press, whose editors have already expressed their enthusiasm to consider its publication in the L.R. Wilson Rethinking Canada in the World Series as a volume that will be the new standard for scholars, students, and educators of the history of the Canadian left, of international Communism, and of civil rights more broadly.

In their papers, participants will focus on how their region of study explains international Communism’s position on racial equality, self-determination of nations or anti-imperialism. Papers will take a number of different approaches to do so, including biographical studies, comparative studies, intellectual history, microhistory, nationality studies, imperial history, cultural studies or the study of modernity. All take a transnational framework into mind. A third of participants will discuss Canadian topics related to Communism, whereas the remaining participants will discuss Communism in a wide variety of regions including Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, South America and Europe. At the workshop, authors will be divided into panels based on common methodological or thematic topics to encourage an intermingling of discussion on Canadian and Global topics. Participants will present their work to other symposium participants and the larger public, detailing how their topic contributes to the understanding of history of interwar Canadian Communism, interwar international Communism or the history of civil rights during the interwar period. Papers will be pre-circulated so that each panel will include constructive discussion of everyone’s work in order to assist each participant in revising and strengthening their work. The interaction between scholars in this setting will be crucial in the development of the edited collection and ensure the collection is thematically cohesive and strong analytically.

Transnational Leftism: The Comintern and the National, Colonial, and Racial Questions will be the new standard for the study of international Communism, Canadian Communism and civil rights during the interwar period and of transnational and comparative studies of international Communism more generally.


Transnational Leftism: The Comintern and the National, Colonial and Racial Questions Workshop

L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Breakfast at Hotel

All Panels in McMaster University, L.R. Wilson Hall, LRW 2001

10:00 AM: Opening Remarks and Registration

10:15 AM: Panel 1 – The Big Picture: The Background and the Early Tactics of Bolshevism on Anti-Imperialism

  • Lars Lih (Independent Scholar): ‘The New Era of War and Revolution’: The Pre-war Roots of the Comintern

  • John Riddell (Ontario Institute of Studies in Education): The ‘Eastern Question’ 1919-23: Communism’s Troubled Reorientation

11:30 AM — Catered Lunch (at LRW 2802)

12:30 PM: Panel 2 – Issues of Identity and International Communism

  • Kankan Xie (University of California at Berkeley): Estranged Comrades: Communism, Identity Politics and Interwoven Networks of the Late Colonial Malay World, 1927-1942 (Various Forms of Chineseness in the Origins of Southeast Asian Communism)

  • Kassandra Luciuk (University of Toronto): Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple Association and the relationship between CPC, Comintern and Ukrainian Identity

2:00 PM: Break

2:15 PM: Panel 3 – Biography and Microhistory

  • Xiaofei Tu (Appalachian State University): The Comintern and the Prewar Japanese Communist Party: The Case of Nosaka Sanzo

  • Ian McKay (McMaster University): Henry Gagnon, the Parti Communiste Canadien-français, and the Comintern

  • Michel Beaulieu (Lakehead University): “It is better to retreat now than be crushed altogether”: How Communists Saved the Liberal Order, Condemned the Left, and Contributed to the Myth-Symbol Complex of Canada

3:45 PM: Break

4:00 PM: Keynote Speaker – Stephen Smith (All Souls College, University of Oxford): The Global Meanings of the Russian Revolution, 1917-1927

Location: CIBC Hall, McMaster University, 3rd Floor McMaster University Student Centre

6:00pm Buffet-style diner for workshop participants and organizers at the Wilson Institute

Friday, September 22, 2017

Breakfast at Hotel

All Panels in McMaster University, L.R. Wilson Hall, LRW 2001

9:00 AM: Panel 4 – Centre and Periphery: Similarities, Differences and Influences

  • Evan Smith (Flinders University): London or Moscow? Anti-colonialism and the competing metropoles in the Anglophone communist movement in South African, Australia, and Britain

  • Daria Dyakonova (Université de Montreal): ‘Young’ and ‘Adult’ Canadian Communists and the Nationhood and Ethnicity Question in the 1920s

  • Andrée Levesque (McGill University): The Transnational Experience of some Canadian Communists as expressed in their Autobiographical Writings

10:30 AM: Break

10:45 AM: Panel 5 – International Communism and Race

  • Oleksa Drachewych (McMaster University): The Comintern & Communist Parties in British Dominions and Race, 1920-1943

  • Marc Becker (Truman State University): The Comintern and the Question of Race in the South American Andes

12:00 pm: Lunch (at LWR Hall, 2802)

1:15 PM: Panel 6 – Transnationality and Anti-Colonialism

  • Alastair Kocho-Williams (Aberystwyth University): Transnationality in the Aims and Approach of the Soviet Challenge to British India in the Interwar Period

  • Margaret Power (Illinois Institute of Technology): Anti-Colonial Struggle and the Transnational Relationship between and among the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, the Communist Party of Puerto Rico, and the Communist Party of USA, 1934-1955

  • James Olusegun Adeyeri (Lagos State University): The Comintern, Socialism and Radical Social Change in Post-Colonial Africa: Evidence from Egypt, Libya and Burkina Faso

2:45 PM: Break

3:00 PM: Panel 7 – Networks and International Communism

  • Sandra Pujals (University of Puerto Rico): Fellow Travellers: The Comintern’s Radical Networks and the Forging of a Culture of Modernity in Post-War Latin America and the Caribbean

  • Ester Reiter (York University): Secular Jewish Internationalism

  • Anna Belogurova (Freie Universitat Berlin): Nationalism and Internationalism in Chinese Communist Networks in the Americas

4:30 PM: Closing Remarks


My abstract:

People often make convenient connections between Southeast Asian communism and the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but the impression that these countries import communism from China is severely problematic. The issue of ethnicity, most acutely illustrated by the paradoxical role of the overseas Chinese community, was especially controversial in the rise of communism in the region. This research tries to explore the multi-facet nature of “Chineseness” in the sense of both China as the source of communist revolutionary inspiration and Chinese as the agency for the spread of Marxist ideology. By using the origin of Chinese communism as the basic frame of reference, this paper compares the early communist movements in three colonial states, namely the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, and British Malaya. As well as Thailand, which has never fallen under formal European colonial domination. Instead of following events within fixed geographical boundaries or in a strict chronological order, the analysis is structured thematically by focusing on three different yet interrelated angles: (1) anti-imperialism as a common course pursued by the colonial and semi-colonial East; (2) embracing revolution from China; and (3) resisting Chineseness in various forms of nationalist movements.

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