The Human Rights Dictatorship – An Interview with Ned Richardson-Little

Ned Richardson-Little. The Human Rights Dictatorship: Socialism, Global Solidarity and Revolution in East Germany. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2020. £22.99 Paperback

Interviewed by Marc-William Palen

Ned Richardson-Little’s The Human Rights Dictatorship recovers the history of human rights within the German Democratic Republic (GDR). In doing so, he provocatively reinterprets the Cold War, the evolution of human rights in the Eastern Bloc, and the revolutions of 1989. The book provocatively shows how “human rights” had multiple meanings depending upon which side of the Cold War – and the Berlin Wall – you found yourself. Richardson-Little’s tracing of how the meaning of human rights evolved in the decades after the Second World War illuminates a global battleground of ideas that continued to be fought in Eastern Europe long after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Dr Richardson-Little is a Freigeist Fellow at the University of Erfurt, Germany, where he leads a project on international crime and globalization. Before this, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the 1989 after 1989 research group (2014-18). He received the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize from the German Historical Institute (Washington) and a commendation from the Fraenkel Prize committee at the Wiener Library. Academic publications include numerous chapters and journal articles, and the editing of a special issue of East Central Europe.  He has also written for the Imperial & Global Forum, and hosts a blog, History Ned. You can follow him on Twitter @HistoryNed.

How would you briefly summarize your book? Give us your “elevator pitch,” if you will.

The idea of human rights was crucial to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of state socialism in East Germany, but before that, it had also been a core part of communist ideology used to legitimize dictatorship. The ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) came to see itself and the German Democratic Republic as a champion of human rights, both at home and around the world. The party even created a socialist version of Amnesty International to campaign on behalf of victims of human rights violations in West Germany and beyond. For dissident activists, creating a human rights movement wasn’t a matter of being inspired by the West, but reclaiming the idea of human rights from the state by demanding democracy and pluralism from within. The SED was able to use human rights politics to sustain power for decades, but once dissident groups succeeded in wresting it from the party, this accelerated the process of collapse leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Continue reading “The Human Rights Dictatorship – An Interview with Ned Richardson-Little”

Oil Revolution: An Interview with Chris Dietrich

Christopher R. W. Dietrich, Oil Revolution: Anticolonial Elites, Sovereign Rights, and the Economic Culture of Decolonization. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. 366 pp. £27.99 (paperback), ISBN: 9781316617892.

Interviewed by Marc-William Palen

Chris Dietrich’s Oil Revolution innovatively uncovers the entwined history of “black gold,” decolonization, capitalism, and sovereignty in the postwar world. I recently had the opportunity to interview him about his book, which tackles big historical questions surrounding the ideas, policies, and networks of anticolonial elites after the Second World War, stretching from the Middle East to Algeria, Libya, and Venezuela. Dietrich’s wide-ranging story describes how these same elites were able to rewrite the rules of the global oil industry and Decolonization.

Prof. Dietrich is Associate Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Fordham University. He is the editor of the multi-volume Blackwell Companion to the History of U.S. Foreign Relations. His publications include articles in Diplomatic History, the International History Review, Itinerario, and Diplomacy and Statecraft. He also frequently writes historically centred editorials, including for the Imperial & Global Forum. You can follow him on Twitter @CRWDietrich

How would you summarize your book?

The book excavates the ideologies and policies of two generations of anticolonial oil elites in the era of decolonization, more or less from 1950 to 1975. It analyzes the twists and turns in their attempts to use newly popular theories of development economics and international law to make an argument for their nations’ economic sovereignty in the form of control over the production and price of oil. I undertake this general examination through chronological chapters on the origins and influence of new ideas about development economics and international law, with a close eye at the connected group of protagonists that navigated the international political economy through specific events such as the Iran oil nationalization of 1951, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1958 Iraq Revolution, the first Arab Petroleum Congress in 1959, the founding of OPEC in 1960, the creation of new oil laws in Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran in the 1950s and 1960s, the Arab oil embargo of 1967, the 1969 Libyan Revolution, OPEC’s breakthrough in 1971, the second Arab oil embargo of 1973 to 1974, the fourfold increase in oil prices then, and, finally, the declaration and failure of the New International Economic Order of the 1970s. Continue reading “Oil Revolution: An Interview with Chris Dietrich”

Forum Interview – An African Volk: The Apartheid Regime and Its Search for Survival

african-volk

Dr. Jamie Miller’s new book, An African Volk: The Apartheid Regime and Its Search for Survival (Oxford University Press, 2016), is an ambitious new international history of 1970s apartheid South Africa. In it, he makes sense of the many domestic and foreign political, economic, and ideological forces at work in South Africa at the time: decolonization and European imperialism; economic development and cultural globalization; nationalism and anti-communism; Afrikanerdom and African nationalism; white supremacy and postcolonial rights agendas; local politics and the Cold War in the global south. Based on newly declassified documents and oral histories in multiple languages on three continents, Miller gets inside the “official mind” of South Africa’s apartheid regime in Pretoria and uncovers the ways in which these myriad forces found their complements and contradictions.

Miller, having earned his doctorate from the University of Cambridge in November 2013, has been a Fox Predoctoral International Fellow at Yale University, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Quinnipiac University, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at both Cornell and Pittsburgh Universities. He has published articles in the Journal of African History, the Journal of Cold War Studies, and Cold War History. His work has also appeared in the London Review of Books and the Imperial & Global Forum, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @JamieMiller85.

Here is the Forum interview with Dr. Jamie Miller. Continue reading “Forum Interview – An African Volk: The Apartheid Regime and Its Search for Survival”

Centre Interview: Fairfax-Cholmeley on the French Revolution, Print Culture, and the Terror

Inside the revolutionary committee
Anon., ‘Inside the revolutionary committee. Final scene’ (c.1794). An idealized version of local events during the Thermidorian Reaction against the Terror. The inner circle around the table are members of a local ‘revolutionary committee’, disheveled, drunk and (in one case) foreign.

In this centre interview, Professor Richard Toye and Dr. Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley (University of Exeter) discuss the French Revolution, print culture, and the Terror.

Q1. [Toye] You’re currently working on print culture during the French revolutionary era. It’s well known that this was a period that saw an extraordinary explosion in the publication of pamphlets and newspapers. But who was producing them, and why?

[Fairfax-Cholmeley] It is true that the Revolution saw a remarkable rise in the quantity and variety (but not necessarily the quality!) of printed material available to the French population. In the late 1780s, a creaking system of censorship broke up completely in the face of the huge excitement generated by the call for the first Estates-General (the French equivalent of Parliament) since 1614. From 1789 onwards, many Revolutionaries would draw a close association between freedom of the press and the wider political and social liberties the Revolution was supposed to be securing. The printing press therefore always had a certain revolutionary cachet that encouraged its use – especially in Paris.

Who exactly was producing pamphlets, newspapers and other printed material (broadsides, petitions, plays…the list is endless) clearly varies a great deal. The Revolutionary press attracted ambitious members of the political elite, for obvious reasons, but overall production involved a much broader constituency. For example, part of my PhD research focused on the use of print by victims of repression during the Terror of 1793-1794 as a tactic to extricate themselves from any number of sticky situations, and also to restore their revolutionary standing afterwards. Just as the Terror targeted men and women from right across the social spectrum, so the petitions, legal briefs, letters and other material printed in response were not just authored by a narrow elite. My current British Academy postdoctoral fellowship was partly inspired by this research. I am investigating the activities of surviving victims of the Terror in the next phase of the French Revolution (1794-1799), including their use of print to mount public campaigns against those they alleged to have been their former oppressors. You also see those accused of being former Terrorists printing their own defences in return. Continue reading “Centre Interview: Fairfax-Cholmeley on the French Revolution, Print Culture, and the Terror”