Between Trade and Aid: Theories, Practices, and Results of Attempts of Exporting State-Socialist Development Models for the Third World

Between Trade and Aid: Theories, Practices, and Results of Attempts of Exporting State-Socialist Development Models for the Third World

Aurelia Ohlendorf; Max Trecker, Leibniz-Institut für Geschichte und Kultur des östlichen Europa Leipzig; Steffi Marung; Uwe Müller, Universität Leipzig
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29.06.2022 - 01.07.2022
Nikolaus Graf Vitzthum, History Department, Yale University

Despite growing scholarly interest over the past years, there is still much to explore about the relations between state-socialist countries and the Global South during decolonization and the Cold War. Who produced which ideas about economic integration, economic reform and development? How were these ideas implemented? How did ideas and practices change over time? These and other questions were raised by the participants of the workshop on East-South interactions organized by the Collaborative Research Center 1199 “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition” at Leipzig University.

MAX TRECKER (Leipzig) opened the workshop by asking how economists and bureaucrats responsible for economic decision-making in the socialist East reacted to decolonization. He argued that East German economists in the 1950s and 1960s extended existing models for the reform of intra-CMEA trade toward the Global South. These models instantiated a “Socialist World Economic System” through intra-industrial integration, via the import of (semi-)finished goods. However, putting these ideas into practice proved difficult. Economic experts were in short supply, and decision makers lacked the long-term perspective necessary to implement complex integration schemes. In her comment, KATJA CASTRYCK-NAUMANN (Leipzig) asked to what extent the concept of a “Socialist World Economic System,” initially conceived for intra-bloc application, changed when applied to the Global South. Furthermore, she wondered about potential conflicts between the newly independent countries’ aspirations for autonomyand their simultaneous urge to integrate their economies with the socialist East. Trecker posited that Indian elites welcomed economic exchange with state-socialist countries because it strengthened their position in negotiations with the West.

How did economic concepts circulate between the East and South? ALICE TRINKLE (Berlin) focused on 1980s exchanges between reform-minded economists and politicians in Hungary and China. Based on Hungarian-language and Mandarin sources, she argued that Chinese reformers sought inspiration not only from the West but also from within the socialist world. Chinese academic publications in the 1980s show how the exchange with Hungarian reformers influenced the Chinese reform discourse and – to a certain extent – specific reform policies. Trinkle added that Hungarians hoped to strengthen trade relations with China through these bilateral exchanges. In her comment, Castryck-Naumann asked to what extent Chinese-Hungarian exchanges were part of a wider network, including Soviet, East German, Yugoslav, Western, and émigré scholars.

Several panelists asked whether actors from the socialist East produced and exported alternative concepts of development to the Global South. ZSOMBOR BÓDY (Budapest) contended they did not. Instead, they followed a vision of modernization common to the East, West, and South, and while pursuing commercial interests in the Global South. His argument is based on the Hungarian presence in Algeria from the 1960s to the 1980s. With documents from Hungarian archives, Bódy showed that Western, Hungarian, and Algerian experts shared a single notion of modernization, and all implemented the same economic development program based on the French Constantine Plan. Hungary thus exported engineering expertise, not a “socialist development model.” For Hungarians, the engagement in Algeria was a business opportunity and a way to obtain hard currency, not a means to influence the policy of the Algerian government.

Similarly, BARBORA MENCLOVÁ (Prague) doubted that state-socialist countries exported an alternative, socialist development model to the Global South. Her case study was devoted to the post-1975 Czechoslovak cooperation with Angola and Mozambique. Based on documents from Czech archives and interviews with former Czechoslovak experts, she argued that Czechoslovaks in Angola and Mozambique did not pursue an approach to development fundamentally different from the one pursued by Western experts. On the contrary, areas of cooperation and modernization tasks were quite similar, and economic benefits were the Czechoslovak actors’ prime motivators.

In contrast, AURELIA OHLENDORF (Leipzig) defended the existence of a distinct socialist development model. Examining the Soviet construction of the Euphrates dam in Syria from 1968 to 1974, she argued that the dam was planned as a specifically socialist infrastructure project. Training a local workforce to build the dam was meant to lay the foundation for a Syrian working class which would populate a socialist model city to be built in the dam’s vicinity. In addition, people settled in areas intended for flooded were resettled to collective farms. UWE MÜLLER (Leipzig) asked how this was different from, for example, the US Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). STEFFI MARUNG (Leipzig) argued that “capitalist” dams like the TVA were supposed to turn individuals into democratic consumers, “socialist” dams to create socialist citizens and provide collective goods.

More broadly, Marung warned against juxtaposing politics and economics. These two modes of making sense of the world cannot be separated. Economists at times translated their socialist worldview into practice and at times adapted their theories to changing practices. Furthermore, she discerned different socialist development models for different countries and fields of activity. These models, Marung continued, did not originate exclusively in the East. Rather, they should be seen as a result of expert interaction in shifting global contexts, co-produced by actors from the East, the West, and the Global South.

BARBORA BUZASSYOVA (Bratislava) looked into shifting domestic and global contexts for Czechoslovak educational cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa from the 1960s to the 1980s. Based on documents from Czech and Slovak archives and UNESCO documents, she argued that the changing political and economic situation in Czechoslovakia engendered an incremental commercialization of Czechoslovak policies towards sub-Saharan Africa. Besides these domestic factors, however, Buzassyova found that global shifts in development thinking, too, led to changes over time in Czechoslovak policies.

DORA TOT (Bologna) focused on domestic factors, interrogating how conflicts within state-socialist countries at times impeded East-South cooperation. Her case study of the inner-Yugoslav conflict over the deployment of technical experts to Algeria showed that Yugoslav officials in the 1980s failed to motivate self-managed enterprises to send a sufficient number of experts to Algeria. The companies did not share Yugoslav officials’ concerns about securing long-term Algerian favors for business opportunities via the deployment of experts and were reluctant to send their employees abroad. Algerians, in turn, accused these companies of “capitalist profiteering” and awarded contracts to Bulgarian, Romanian, and Soviet competitors. TOBIAS RUPPRECHT (Berlin) asked how this Algerian reaction influenced attitudes in Yugoslavia and how Yugoslav approaches to Algeria were different from Chinese ones.

Several panelists compared the activities of “smaller” state-socialist countries to those of the Soviet Union or China. PIOTR PUCHALSKI (Kraków) drew attention to Poland as an actor in East-South relations. Based on Polish diplomatic records, he argued that Poland’s policies towards Africa during the Cold War in many respects resembled those of interwar Poland: The country had consistent economic interests; Polish policies on Africa policy were a way of engaging Germany; and Polish projects in the Global South were nested in other powers’ imperialist projects. Furthermore, he assessed the scope for an independent Polish policy towards Africa. At times, Polish state interests aligned with those of the Soviet Union. When they did not, communist Poland sometimes resisted and sometimes followed Soviet suggestions to engage in African projects. Finally, Puchalski pointed out that countries like Ethiopia welcomed more Polish presence to balance superpower influence.

Similarly, SEUNG HWAN RYU (Berlin) argued that Tanzania welcomed North Korean solidarity as less domineering than Chinese solidarity. In the same vein, JAKÚB MAZANÉC (Prague) argued that some countries in the Global South preferred cooperating with “smaller,” less dominant socialist countries than the Soviet Union. Consequently, exporting infrastructure technology to the Global South was not exclusively the domain of superpowers. Based on Czech archives and memoirs of Czechoslovak experts, Mazanec showed that Czechoslovak engineers often won international, UN-organized competitions in Africa where they worked alongside Western companies. MARUNG suggested further disentangling both Eastern Europe and the Global South. What was specific, for example, to Polish or Czechoslovak policies towards the Global South? She also advocated including the view of Moscow, which was sometimes unsure about its role as the hegemon.

Two panelists analyzed the double role of some socialist states as both recipients and providers of international assistance. KARINA KHASNULINA (Leipzig) argued that some socialist states learned to export technology to the Global South from their prior experience as recipients of technology transfers. Her case in point was a Soviet tractor factory built in Kharkiv with US assistance during the first Soviet five-year plan (1928–1932) and a Chinese tractor factory built in Luoyang with Soviet assistance during the first Chinese five-year plan (1953–1957). Based on Russian-language and Mandarin sources, Khasnulina showed that the Luoyang factory was modeled on the Kharkiv factory and built with the assistance of its staff.

Like the Soviet Union, North Korea was both a recipient and provider of assistance, as RYU demonstrated. His case in point is North Korean solidarity with Tanzania between 1965 and 1985. Based on South Korean and Australian diplomatic records, North Korean and Tanzanian newspapers, and a North Korean fiction novel, he showed that North Korea not only received Chinese and Soviet aid but also provided aid to countries in the Global South. This aid changed over time from ideological support based on a shared experience of anti-colonial struggle in the 1960s to technical aid for rural development in the 1970s and 1980s. Rupprecht urged Ryu to investigate more specifically the encounter between North Koreans and Tanzanians. Furthermore, he asked to what extent diplomatic, geopolitical, and economic factors played a role in the bilateral cooperation of the 1960s and how the authoritarian modernization of South Korea influenced North Korean relations with the Global South.

Two panelists focused on how East-South cooperation played out on the ground. JAKOB MARCKS (Prague) argued that co-production sometimes describes the relationship between state-socialist technology providers and recipients in the Global South better than exporter-importer or client-contractor models. His case in point is 1980s East German support for the construction of an ANC camp for South African refugees in Tanzania. Based on German and South African archival documents, he showed that ANC members co-designed East German plans and practically integrated East Germans into ANC’s work structures. This specific cooperation, close to the ANC ideal of self-help, differed from ANC cooperation with Western supporters.

Similarly, GORAN MUSIĆ (Vienna) took a “bottom-up” view of East-South cooperation by studying workers’ everyday experiences and intercultural encounters. His case in point is the personnel of Yugoslav self-managed enterprises in Zambia between 1964 and 1991. These companies were staffed with specialists and workers from both countries. Based on Yugoslav company archives, Musić analyzed labor relations on the ground for mutual influences, including the training of Zambian workers on the shop floor and, more generally, knowledge transfer to Zambia, and asked how exchanges with Zambia ‘fed back’ into, and remade socialist Yugoslav workplaces. On Rupprecht’s question about how to include the Zambian perspective, Music referred to planned interviews with Zambian actors and collaboration with Zambian scholars.

TIMM SCHÖNFELDER (Leipzig) pointed out that technology transfers to the Global South often led to standardized, staple “solutions” without taking into account local conditions. He suggested investigating which local actors in the Global South were involved in or affected by the transfers and what conflicts these transfers engendered. This means including perspectives from the Global South and restoring local voices, sometimes by critically reading materials from state-socialist archives. Furthermore, he asked whether the technology transfers were all unidirectional or if some effects pointed from the Global South to the East. KATJA BRUISCH (Dublin) added that exporting technology often automatically entailed a specific economic model disregarding local conditions. Constructing dams, for example, meant regularly
exporting an energy-intensive economic model to areas of the Global South that lacked a high energy demand.

How did notions of solidarity with the Global South evolve after the end of state-socialism? PAUL SPRUTE (Erkner) argued for the existence of distinct post-socialist forms of solidarity with the Global South. His case in point is post-1990 construction projects in Vietnam and Namibia by Solidaritätsdienst International (Solidarity Service International), the former East German solidarity committee turned professional development NGO. Based on the organization’s publications and interviews with staff members, Sprute showed how a combination of continuity and change led to a flexible post-socialist development compromise. On the one hand, pre-1990 relations with the Global South and socialist practices and ideas of solidarity profoundly influenced the organization after 1990. On the other, the organization adapted to the demands and constraints of development cooperation in reunified Germany.

Conference Overview:

Panel 1: Theories of Economic Development
Chair: Aurelia Ohlendorf (Leipzig)
Commentator: Katja Castryck-Naumann (Leipzig)

Max Trecker (Leipzig): Risks and Opportunities: How East German Economists Reflected on Decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s

Alice Trinkle (Berlin): “Goulash-Communism” 2.0? Hungary’s Rezső Nyers and Chinese Reform Economists in the 1980s

Zsombor Bódy (Budapest): Opening up to the “Third World” or Taking a Detour to the “West”? Hungarian-Algerian Relations from the 1960s to the 1980s

Panel 2: Development Practices in Sub-Saharan Africa
Chair: Max Trecker (Leipzig)
Commentator: Steffi Marung (Leipzig)

Barbora Menclová (Prague): Socialist Development Model in Practice: Czechoslovak Experts in Independent Lusophone Africa

Barbora Buzassyova (Bratislava): Czechoslovak Educational Aid Projects to sub-Saharan Africa: from Socialist Enthusiasm to Mutual Benefits to Commercialized Relations (1960s–1980s)

Piotr Puchalski (Kraków): Directed by Moscow? The Policies of the Polish People’s Republic in Decolonial Africa, 1956–1961

Panel 3: Infrastructure
Chair: Nikolaus Graf Vitzthum (New Haven)
Commentator: Uwe Müller (Leipzig)

Aurelia Ohlendorf (Leipzig): Globalizing the Socialist Development Model: Soviet Infrastructure Projects in the Global South

Jakub Mazanec (Prague): Ghana: A Case Study of The Export of Czechoslovak Hydroexpertise towards Global South and Cold War Technopolicy of a Small Socialist State

Panel 4: Technology Transfers
Chair: Steffi Marung (Leipzig)
Commentator: Timm Schönfelder (Leipzig)

Karina Khasnulina (Leipzig): Plowing China with a Soviet Tractor: Technological Transfers and Tractor Plants-Construction in the USSR and China During the First Five-Year Plans

Jakob Marcks (Prague): Between “Export” and “Co-production: Bauakademie and the ANC in the 1980s

Paul Sprute (Erkner): Settlements of Post-Socialist Development? Reconstructing East German Solidarity through Housing Projects in the Global South after 1990

Panel 5 Socialist Development Policy from Outside the CMEA
Chair: Max Trecker (Leipzig)
Commentator: Tobias Rupprecht (Berlin)

Seung Hwan Ryu (Berlin): Between Second and Third World: Dynamics within the North Korean Self-identification During its Socialist Global Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa

Goran Musić (Vienna): Self-managing in Africa: Yugoslav Enterprises in Zambia within the Frame of Non-aligned Cooperation

Dora Tot (Bologna): When Foundations Crack: Yugoslav-Algerian Technical Cooperation (1960s–1980s)

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