Think Piece

Amnesty International and conscientious objection in Australia’s Vietnam War

by guest contributor Jon Piccini.

Human rights are now the dominant language of political claim making for activists of nearly any stripe. Groups who previously looked to the state as a progressive institution conferring rights and duties now seek solace in our (at least, until recently) post-national world in global protections and norms – a movement ‘from the politics of the state to the morality of the globe’, as Samuel Moyn puts it.[1]

Yet, a long history of contestation and negotiation over human rights’ meaning belie the term’s now seemingly unchallengeable global salience. What constituted a ‘right’, who could claim them and what relation rights claiming had to the nation state are long and enduring questions. I want to explore these questions by focusing on the role that Amnesty International – a then struggling outfit employing a new, inventive form of human rights activism – played in campaigning against conscription in Australia during the 1960s. While a collective politics of mutual solidarity and democratic citizenship predominated in was dubbed the ‘draft resistance’ movement, Australian Amnesty members worked to have Conscientious Objectors recognised as ‘Prisoners of Conscience’ and adopted by groups around the world.

Founded in London in 1961, Amnesty struggled in its early years to stay afloat. By 1966, “The organization’s credibility was severely damaged by publicity surrounding its links to the British government and strife among the leadership”, as Jan Eckel puts it, and such problems were reflected in Australia.[2] Amnesty’s arrival in Australia was ad hoc: from 1964 onwards groups began emerging in different states, mainly New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, which meant that Australia stood out as the only country without a national Amnesty section, but rather multiple State-based groups each struggling with finances and small membership.

I will argue that relating to the draft resistance movement actually posed many problems for Amnesty members. While for some a clear-cut violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Australia’s two key State sections – NSW and Victoria – came to widely divergent interpretations of what constituted a prisoner of conscience, and what duties citizens had to the State: debates which made their way to the organisation’s centre in Europe. These illustrate how human rights had far from settled meanings in the 1960s, even for their adherents, and point towards the importance of local actors in understanding intellectual history.

Australia (re)introduced conscription for overseas service in 1964, with the conservative Coalition government fearful of a threatening Asia.[3] Troops, including conscripts, were committed to the growing conflict in Vietnam a year later. While initially popular, opposition to conscription began growing from 1966 when Sydney schoolteacher William ‘Bill’ White was jailed after his claim for conscientious objector status was rejected. White and other objectors were not “conscientiously” opposed to war in general, but held what the responsible minister labelled a “political” opposition to the Vietnam War, and as such did not meet strict legal guidelines.[4]

Bringing those believed to be ‘prisoners of conscience’ to light initially united both the New South Wale and Victorian sections. The Victorian section released a statement in support of White’s actions: “we feel it impossible…to doubt the sincerity of his convictions and are gravely concerned at the prospect of his continued detention under the provisions of military law”. Given “the grounds for an appeal to the Government on White’s behalf based on the sanctity of the individual conscience are substantial”, the section recommended White’s case to AI’s London office “for appropriate action”.[5]

The New South Wales section expressed near identical sentiments, reporting in August 1966 that “Conscription had been the overriding issue in much of our new work”, pointing to its transnational nature, with the section collecting material on Australian cases while campaigning for the release of conscientious objectors in the USA and East Germany: “the predicament of Bill White is shared by young men all over the world”.[6] White’s public statement of conscientious objection, reproduced in the NSW section’s newsletter, spoke of rights as “unalterable” and inhering in a person rather than being a “concession given by a government”, and as such these were “not something which the government has the right to take”.[7]

White’s release in December 1966 came before AI could adopt his cause internationally, but more objectors soon followed. What became problematic, however, was when the politics of conscientious objection moved to one of downright refusal – non-compliance with the laws of the land. Unlike White, part time postman John Zarb did not seek conscientious objector status but refused to register for military service altogether. His October 1968 jailing saw “Free Zarb” became a rallying cry for the anti-war movement: it was seen as representing the futility and double standards synonymous with the Vietnam War. As one activist leaflet put it: “In Australia – it is a crime not to kill”.[8] AI NSW section member Robert V Horn described in a long memorandum to London, written in late 1968 and sent after internal discussion some six months later, how “Conscription and Vietnam have become inter-mixed in public debate, and in contemporary style outbursts of demonstrations, protest marches, draft card burnings [and] sit-ins”.[9]

Zarb’s case was however nowhere near as clear cut for Amnesty members as White’s had been. Horn described that while “one might guess that many [AI] members are opposed to Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War” these individuals held “many shades of views”, particularly around the acceptability of law breaking.[10] Horn circulated a draft report on the situation in Australia that he had prepared for AI’s London headquarters to other AI members within his section and in Victoria, reactions to which demonstrate just how divisive the issue of conscientious objectors and non-compliers was for an organisation deeply wedded to due legal process. David McKenna, in charge of the Victorian section’s conscientious objection work, put this distinction quite clearly – arguing that those who “register for national service and apply for exemption”, but whose “applications fail either through some apparent miscarriage of justice or because the law does not presently encompass their objections…are prima facie eligible for adoption” as prisoners of conscience.[11]

However, those who “basically refuse to co-operate with the National Service Act” merely “maintain a right to disobey a law which they believe to be immoral”—and as such were not a concern for AI. McKenna here makes use of a similar typology as the Minister for National Service, casting refusal as a “purely political stand” as opposed to those who hold a “moral objection to conscription” and pursue this through the legal system. McKenna brought to his defence the UDHR, noting that in article 29/2 “freedom of conscience is not an absolute, nor is freedom to disobey in a democratic society”.[12] Concerns were raised about “to what extent we uphold disobedience to the law by adopting such persons”, noting that AI had chosen not to adopt prisoners “who refuse obedience to laws [such as] in South Africa or Portugal”, referencing recent debates regarding the adoption of prisoners who had advocated violence. Taking on prisoners who refused to obey laws not only opened the road to similar “freedom to disobey” claims – “are we to adopt people wo refuse to have a T.B. X Ray on grounds of conscience” – but McKenna also feared that in taking “such a radical step…our high repute would be seriously damaged”.[13]

Horn and others in the NSW section “decr[ied] such legalistic interpretation” – “the Non-Complier in gaol for conscientiously held and non-violently expressed views suffers no less than the [Conscientious Objector] who has tried in vain to act ‘according to the law”.[14] While at first divisions on this issue were across and between sections, by late 1969 the Victorian section had solidly decided “that non-compliers should not be adopted”, and sent a memorandum to London to this effect in preparation for the 1970 AI Executive Meeting, to be held in Stockholm.[15] The position of the NSW section was equally clear, expressed in a resolution adopted during ‘prisoner of conscience week’ in November 1969 requesting Amnesty and the UN General Assembly adopt “firm restrains upon legal and political repression of conscience”. “[T]he expression of honest opinions regarding matters of economics, politics, morality, religion or race is not a good and sufficient reason” to justify imprisonment of a person, the Section petitioned, and “no person should be penalised for refusing to obey a law…which infringes the principles here set forth”.[16] The Stockholm gathering backed the NSW Sections views, with the Victorian Section wondering whether this geographical placement and the strength of the Swedish Section – “who have the same problem as Australia and have come to the opposite view” – swayed results.[17]

This small case study provides insights into how the idea of human rights has been contested over time. Australia’s two Amnesty Sections – not amalgamated until the late 1970s – developed polar opposite views around the veracity of law breakers as beneficiaries of Amnesty’s human rights activism. This arguably came down to a fundamental opposition in how both groups conceptualised human rights – as global and inhering in the person, as such not requiring compliance with laws of the Nation State – or as the product and result of citizenship, which gave rights and imposed duties onto a subject. The AI Executive Council’s decision to stand on the side of the individual’s inalienable rights also provides a pre-history of how human rights moved from its 1960s meanings –, best exemplified by the 1968 Tehran Declaration’s deep wedding to the State – to a ‘rebirth’ in the 1970s as a global set of enforceable norms against states – a history that can be fruitfully explored at both the global and local levels.

Jon Piccini is a Postdoctoral Development Fellow at the University of Queensland, where he is working on a book provisionally titled Human Rights: An Australian History. His most recent book, Transnational Protest, Australia and the 1960s, appeared in 2016 with Palgrave. 


[1] Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Harvard, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2010), 43.

[2]  Jan Eckel, “The International League for the Rights of Man, Amnesty International, and the Changing Fate of Human Rights Activism from the 1940s through the 1970s”, Humanity 4, No. 2 (Spring 2013), 183.

[3] Australia’s main two main conservative forces, the Liberal party and what was in the 1960s the Country party, but is now known as the National party, operate as a coalition in federal elections.

[4] Leslie Bury MP to Lincoln Oppenheimer, 31 March 1966, reproduced in Amnesty News 21 (May 1969), 3-4.

[5] “Statement from the Victorian Section of Amnesty International. Bill White Case”, Amnesty Bulletin 16 (November 1966).

[6] Lincoln Oppenheimer, “President’s Report”, Amnesty News 10 (August 1966), 3.

[7] “Copy of Statement by Mr W. White, Sydney Schoolteacher and Conscientious Objector”, Amnesty News 10 (August 1966), 2-3.

[8] “Australia’s Political Prisoner”, Undated leaflet, State Library of South Australia.

[9] Robert V Horn, Untitled Report on conscientious objection and noncompliance in Australia, Robert V Horn Papers, MLMSS 8123, Box 33, SLNSW.

[10] Ibid.

[11] David McKenna to Robert V Horn, 2 March 1969, Robert V Horn Papers, MLMSS 8123, Box 33, SLNSW

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Horn, Untitled Report.

[15] David McKenna to Robert V Horn, 19 February 1970, Robert V Horn Papers, MLMSS 8123, Box 33, SLNSW

[16] “RESOLUTION – Prisoner of Conscience Week, November 1969”, Amnesty News 24 (February 1970), 15-16.

[17] “International Council”, Amnesty Bulletin 28 (October 1970), 4-5.

Think Piece

How Victory Day became Russia’s most important Holiday

by guest contributor Agnieszka Smelkowska

At first, Russian TV surprises and disappoints with its conventional appearance.  A mixture of entertainment and news competes for viewers’ attention, logos flash across the screen, and pundits shuffle their notes, ready to pounce on any topic. However, the tightly controlled news cycle, the flattering coverage of President Vladimir Putin, and a steady indignation over Ukrainian politics serve as reminders that not all is well. Reporters without Borders, an international watchdog that annually ranks 180 states according to its freedom of press index, this year assigned Russia to a dismal 148th position. While a number of independent print and digital outlets persevere, television has been largely brought under state control. And precisely because of these circumstances, television programming tends to reflect priorities and concerns of the current administration. When an ankle sprain turned me into a reluctant consumer of state programming for nearly three weeks, I realized that despite various social and economic challenges, the Russian government remains preoccupied with the Soviet victory in WWII.

Celebrated on May 9th, Victory Day—or Den Pobedy (День Победы) as it is known in

Ivan's Childhood
Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962)—the child protagonist encounters the reality of war.

Russia—marks the official capitulation of Nazi Germany in 1945 and is traditionally celebrated with a military parade on the Red Square. During the few weeks preceding the holiday, parade rehearsals regularly shut down parts of Moscow while normal programming gives way to a tapestry of war-related films. The former adds another challenge to navigating the already traffic-heavy city; the latter, however, provides a welcome opportunity to experience some of the most distinguished works of Soviet cinematography. Soviet directors, many veterans themselves, resisted simplistic war narratives and instead focused on capturing human stories against the historical background of violence. Films like Mikhail Kalatozov’s Cranes are Flying (1957), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962) or Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) are widely recognized for their emotional depth, maturity and an uncompromising depiction of the consequences of war. Unfortunately, these Soviet classics share the silver screen with newer Russian productions in the form of Hollywood-style action flicks or heavy-handed propaganda pieces that barely graze the surface of the historical events they claim to depict.

The 2016 adaptation of the iconic Panfilovtsy story exemplifies the problematic handling of historical material. The movie is based on an article published in a war-time Soviet newspaper, which describes how a division of 28 soldiers under the command of Ivan Panfilov distinguished itself during the defense of Moscow in late 1941. The poorly armed soldiers who came from various Soviet Republics managed to disable eighteen German tanks but were all killed in the process. The 1948 investigation, prompted by an unexpected appearance by some of these allegedly dead heroes, exposed the story as a journalist exaggeration, designed to reassure and inspire the country with tales of bravery and an ultimate sacrifice. Classified, the report remained unknown until 2015 when Sergei Mironenko, at the time director of state archives, used its findings to push against the mythologization of Panfilov and his men, which he saw as a sign of increasing politicization of the past. His action provoked severe, public scolding from the Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky that eventually cost Mironenko his job, while Panfilov’s 28 (2016) was shown during this year’s Victory Day celebration.

Panfilov's 28.jpeg
Panfilov’s 28 (2016): Soviet heroism in modern Russian cinematography.

Many western commentators have already noted the significance of Victory Day, including Neil MacFarquhar, who believes that President Putin intentionally turned it into the “most important holiday of the year.” The scale of celebration seems commensurate with this rhetorical status and provides an impressive background for a presidential address. The most recent parade consisted of approximately ten thousand soldiers and over a hundred military vehicles—from the T-34, the venerable Soviet tank to the recently-developed Tor missile system, which can perform in arctic conditions. Predictably the Russian coverage differs from that presented in the western media. The stress does not fall on the parade or President Putin’s speech alone but extends to the subsequent march of veterans and their descendants, emphasizing the continuation between past and present. The broadcast of the celebration, which can be watched anywhere between the adjacent to Poland Kaliningrad Oblast and Cape Dezhnev only fifty miles east of Alaska, draws a connection between Russia’s current might and the Soviet victory in the war. Yet May 9th did not always hold its current status and only gradually became the cornerstone of modern Russian identity.

While in 1945 Joseph Stalin insisted on celebrating the victory with a parade on the Red Square, the holiday itself failed to take root in the Soviet calendar as the country strived for normalcy. The new leader Nikita Khrushchev discontinued some of the most punitive policies associated with Stalinism and promised his people peace, progress, and prosperity. The war receded into the background as the Soviet Union put a man into space while attempting to put every family into its own apartment. Only after twenty years was the Victory Day officially reinstated by Leonid Brezhnev and observed with a moment of silence on state TV. Brezhnev also approved the creation of a new Moscow memorial to Soviet soldiers killed in the war—a sign that Soviet history had taken a more

Tomb of unknown soldier image copy
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Aleksandrovsky Sad, Moscow – Russia, 2013. (Photo credit: Ana Paula Hirama/flickr)

solemn turn. Known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Могила Неизвестного Солдата), a bronze sculpture of a soldier’s helmet resting on a war banner with a hammer and sickle finial pointing towards the viewer symbolizes the massive casualties of the Soviet Union, many of whom were never identified. Keeping an exact list of the dead was not always feasible as the Red Army fought the Wehrmacht forces for four years before taking Berlin in April of 1945. Historians estimate that the Soviet Union lost approximately twenty million citizens—the largest absolute (if not proportional) human loss of any state involved in WWII. For this reason, in Russia and many former Soviet republics the 1941-1945 war is properly known as the Great Patriotic War (Великая Отечественная Война).

The victory over Nazi Germany, earned with a remarkable national sacrifice, was a shining moment in otherwise troubled Soviet history and a logical choice for the Russian Federation, a successor state of the Soviet Union, to anchor its post-ideological identity. Yet the current Russian government, which carefully manages the celebration, cannot claim credit for the popularity that the day enjoys among regular people. Many Russian veterans welcome an opportunity to remember the victory and their descendants come out on their own volition to celebrate their grandparents’ generation. This popular participation has underpinned the holiday since 1945. Before Brezhnev’s intervention, veterans would congregate informally and quietly to celebrate the victory and commemorate their fallen comrades. Today, as this war-time generation is leaving the historical stage, their children and grandchildren march across Moscow carrying portraits of their loved ones who fought in the war, forming what is known as the Immortal Regiment (Бессмертный полк). And the marches are increasingly spilling into other locations—both in Russia and worldwide. This year these processions took place in over fifty countries with a significant Russian diaspora, including Western Europe and North America.

Immortal regiment photo
The Immortal Regiment in London, 2017. (Photo credit: Gerry Popplestone/flickr)

This very personal, emotional dimension of the Victory Day has been often overlooked in western coverage, which reduces the event to a sinister political theater and a manifestation of military strength.  The holiday is used to generate a new brand of modern Russian patriotism precisely because it already resonates with the Russian public. People march to uphold the memory of their relatives regardless of their feelings towards the current administration, views on the annexation of Crimea, or attitude towards NATO. Although this level of filial piety can be manipulated, my Russian friends seem to understand when the government tries to capitalize on these feelings. Mikhail, my Airbnb host, who belongs to the new Russian middle class, and who few years ago carried a portrait of his grandfather during the Victory Day celebration, remarked that the government attached itself like a “parasite” to the Immortal Regiment phenomenon because of its popularity. The recent clash over the veracity of the Panfilovtsy story also given many Russians a more nuanced understanding of their history even as some enjoyed the movie’s action sequences. Additionally, the 1948 investigative report that Mironenko had posted online, remains accessible on the website of the archive.
At the same time, many Russians are genuinely frustrated with what they perceive as the western ignorance of their elders’ sacrifices or what seems to them like the Ukrainian attempt to rewrite the script of the Victory Day. In this respect, they are inadvertently playing to their government’s line. This interaction between the political and the personal, family history and national narrative occurs in every society but in Russia seems particularly explicit because the fall of the Soviet Union shattered Soviet identity, creating an urgent need for a new one. While the current administration is eager to supply the new formula, based on my recent experience in Moscow, Russian citizens are still negotiating.

Agnieszka Smelkowska is a Ph.D candidate in the History Department at UC Berkeley, where she is completing a dissertation about the German minority in Poland and the Soviet Union while attempting to execute a perfect Passata Sotto in her spare time.

Think Piece

Politics the only common ground

by Eric Brandom

Le congrès des ecrivains et artistes noirs took place in late September 1956, in Paris. Among the speakers was Aimé Césaire, and it is his intervention, “Culture and Colonization,” that is my focus here. This text has been the subject of significant scholarship. Like all of Césaire’s writings it is nonetheless worth reading carefully anew. I look to Césaire now in part to think through the differences between two attempts to take or retake a dialectical tradition for anticolonial politics. How might such a project take shape in and against specifically French political thought? In this post, I hope one unusual moment in Césaire’s talk can be useful.

Put broadly, for Césaire, the problem of culture in 1956 was colonization. By disintegrating, or attempting to disintegrate, the peoples over which it has domination, colonization removes the “framework…structure” that make cultural life possible. And it must be so, because colonization means political control and “the political organization freely developed by a people is a prominent part of that people’s culture, even as it also conditions that culture” (131). Peoples and nations, must be free because this is the condition of true living–having already made this argument with quotations from Marx, Hegel, and Lenin, Césaire next gave his listeners Spengler quoting Goethe. There was a politics to these citations. At issue here was Goethe’s vitalist point, from the heart of “European” culture, “that living must itself unfold.” This was contrary to Roger Caillois (also an object of enmity in the earlier Discourse) and others who “list…benefits” (132) of colonization. One might have “good intentions,” and yet: “there is not one bad colonization…and another…enlightened colonization…One has to take a side” (133).

On an earlier day of the conference Hubert Deschamps, a former colonial governor turned academic, had asked to say a few words from his chair. Inaudible, he had been allowed to ascend to the podium, and had then given a longer-than-expected ‘impromptu’ speech. Deschamps seems to have offered a limited defense of colonization on the basis of the ultimate historical good of the colonization “we French”—the Gauls—experienced by the Romans. Responding the next day Césaire plucked from his memory a pro-imperial Latin quatrain written in fifth century Gaul by Rutilius Namatianus, ending “Urbem fecisti quod prius orbis erat” (“thou hast made a city of what was erstwhile a world”). I pause over this performance of total cultural mastery for two reasons. First, this comparison of ancient and modern imperialism was more powerful for the French than one might think and second, Césaire was surprisingly ambivalent. He notes that both Deschamps and Namatianus come from the ruling group, so naturally see things positively. Of course like the modern French empire, Roman empire did mean the destruction of indigenous culture—and yet Césaire commented that “we may note in passing that the modern colonialist order has never inspired a poet” (134). It seems to me that Césaire was not without sympathy for the idea of the “Urbs,” but recognized its impossibility.

Culture cannot be “mixed [métisse]”, it is a harmony, a style (138). It develops—here Césaire is perhaps as Comtean as Nietzschean—in periods of “psychological unity…of communion” (139). The different origins, the hodgepodge, that results in anarchy is not a matter of physical origins, but of experience: in culture “the rule…is heterogeneity. But be careful: this heterogeneity is not lived as such. In the reality of a living civilization it is a matter of heterogeneity lived internally as homogeneity” (139). This cannot happen in colonialism. The result of the denial of freedom, of “the historical initiative” is that “the dialectic of need” cannot unfold in colonized countries. Quoting again from Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations, Césaire compares the result of colonialism for the colonized to Nietzsche’s “concept-quake caused by science” that “robs man of the foundation of all his rest and security” (140). Colonialism denies its victims the capacity to constitute from the people a collective subject capable of taking action on the stage of the world. From this failed subjectification, everything else flows. In colonized countries, culture is in a “tragic” position. Real culture has withered and dies or is dead. What remains is an artificial “subculture” condemned to marginal “elites” (Césaire puts the word in quotes), and in fact “vast territories of culturally empty zones…of cultural perversion or cultural by-products” (140).

What, Césaire asks, is to be done? This is the question presented by the “situation that we black men of culture must have the courage to face squarely” (140). Césaire rejects the summary choice between “indigenous” or “European”: “fidelity and backwardness, or progress and rupture” (141). This opposition must be overcome, Césaire maintains, through the dialectical action of a people. Césaire’s language itself contains the fidelity and rupture he will no longer accept as alternatives: “I believe that in the African culture yet to be born…” (141). There will be no general destruction of the symbols of the past, nor a blind imposition of what comes from Europe. “In our culture that is to be born…there will be old and new. Which new elements? Which old elements?…The answer can only be given by the community” (142). But if the individuals present before Césaire in Paris—including among other luminaries his former student Fanon and old friend Senghor, as well as Jean Price-Mars, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright—cannot say what the answer will be, “at least we can confirm here and now that it will be given and not verbally but by facts and in action” (142). Thus “our own role as black men of culture” is not to be the redeemer, but rather “to proclaim the coming and prepare the way” for “the people, our people, freed from their shackles” (142). The people is a “demiurge that alone can organize this chaos into a new synthesis…We are here to say and demand: Let the peoples speak. Let the black peoples come onto the great stage of history” (142).

Baldwin, listening to Césaire, was “stirred in a very strange and disagreeable way” (157). His assessment of Césaire is critical:

Césaire’s speech left out of account one of the great effects of the colonial experience: its creation, precisely, of men like himself. His real relation to the people who thronged about him now had been changed, by this experience, into something very different from what it once had been. What made him so attractive now was the fact that he, without having ceased to be one of them, yet seemed to move with the European authority. He had penetrated into the heart of the great wilderness which was Europe and stolen the sacred fire. And this, which was the promise of their freedom, was also the assurance of his power. (158)

Political subjectivity, popularly constructed, is the necessary ground for cultural life–this was Césaire’s conclusion. Baldwin was not wrong to see in Césaire’s performance a certain implied political and cultural elitism. Here we can usefully return to Césaire’s great poem, the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.

A. James Arnold, editor of the new critical edition of Césaire’s writings, there argues that the 1939 first version of the poem is essentially a lyric account of individual subjectivity. Arnold further argues, and Christopher Miller sharply disagrees, that the first version of the poem is superior, that subsequent versions (in 1947 and 1956) warp the form of the original with socio-political encrustations. Gary Wilder, in the first of his pair of essential books, reads the poem in terms of voice and subjectivity, seeing in it ultimately a failure. What began as critique ends with “a decontextualized and existentialist account of unalienated identity and metaphysical arrival” (288). Looking at Césaire’s attention in 1956 to the poetry of empire, his evident sympathy even in the face of Deschamps’ condescension for the Urbs, impossible though it be in the modern world, we may read the poem differently. Taken together with, for instance, Césaire’s appreciation for and active dissemination of Charles Péguy’s mystical republican poetry in Tropiques, we might see the subjectivity the poem dramatizes as essentially collective, and its project as the activation, the uprising, of this collectivity. It seems to me that we can read the shape of the dilemmas that Césaire confronted in the 1956 talk–between elite and people, decision and growth, culture and civilization, nation and diaspora–at least partly as the pursuit even at this late date, of an impossible republicanism.

Think Piece

Between Conservatism and Fascism in Troubled Times: Der Fall Bernhard

by guest contributor Steven McClellan

The historian Fritz K. Ringer claimed that for one to see the potency of ideas from great thinkers and to properly situate their importance in their particular social and intellectual milieu, the historian had to also read the minor characters, those second and third tier intellectuals, who were barometers and even, at times, agents of historical change nonetheless. One such individual who I have frequently encountered in the course of researching my dissertation, was the economist Ludwig Bernhard. As I learned more about him, the ways in which Bernhard formulated a composite of positions on pressing topics then and today struck me: the mobilization of mass media and public opinion, the role of experts in society, the boundaries of science, academic freedom, free speech, the concentration of wealth and power and the loss of faith in traditional party politics. How did they come together in his work?

IMG_9800 (1)
Ludwig Bernhard (1875-1935; Bundesarchiv, Koblenz Nl 3 [Leo Wegener], Nr. 8)
Bernhard grew up in a liberal, middle-class household. His father was a factory owner in Berlin who had converted from Judaism to Protestantism in 1872. As a young man, Bernhard studied both Munich and Berlin under two-heavyweights of the German economic profession: Lujo Brentano and Gustav Schmoller. Bernhard found little common ground with them, however. Bernhard’s friend, Leo Wegener, best captured the tension between the young scholar and his elders. In his Erinnerungen an Professor Ludwig Bernhard (Poznań: 1936, p. 7), Wegener noted that “Schmoller dealt extensively with the past,” while the liberal Brentano, friend of the working class and trade unions, “liked to make demands on the future.” Bernhard, however, “was concerned with the questions of the present.” He came to reject Schmoller and Brentano’s respective social and ethical concerns. Bernhard belonged to a new cohort of economists who were friendly to industry and embraced the “value-free” science sought by the likes of Max Weber. They promoted Betriebswirtschaft (business economics), which had heretofore been outside of traditional political economy as then understood in Germany. Doors remained closed to them at most German universities. As one Swiss economist noted in 1899, “appointments to the vacant academical [sic] chairs are made as a rule at the annual meetings of the ‘Verein für Socialpolitik’,” of which Schmoller was chairman from 1890-1917. Though an exaggeration, this was the view held by many at the time, given the personal relationship between Schmoller and one of the leading civil servants in the Prussian Ministerium der geistlichen, Unterrichts- und Medizinalangelegenheiten (Department of Education, church and medical affairs), Friedrich Althoff.

Part of Bernhard’s early academic interest focused on the Polish question, particularly the “conflict of nationalities” and Poles living in Prussia. Unlike many other contemporary scholars and commentators of the Polish question, including Max Weber, Bernhard knew the Polish language. In 1904 he was appointed to the newly founded Königliche Akademie in Posen (Poznań). In the year of Althoff’s death (1908), the newly appointed Kultusminister Ludwig Holle created a new professorship at the University of Berlin at the behest of regional administrators from Posen and appointed Bernhard to it. However, Bernhard’s placement in Berlin was done without the traditional consultation of the university’s faculty (Berufungsverfahren).

The Berliner Professorenstreit of 1908-1911 ensued with Bernhard’s would-be colleagues, Adolph Wagner, Max Sering and Schmoller protesting his appointment. It escalated to the point that Bernhard challenged Sering to a duel over the course lecture schedule for 1910/1911, the former claiming that his ability to lecture freely had been restricted. The affair received widespread coverage in the press, including attracting commentaries from notables, such as Max Weber. At one point, just before the affair seemed about to conclude, Bernhard published an anonymous letter in support of his own case, which was later revealed that he was in fact the author. This further poisoned the well with his colleagues. The Prussian Abgeordnetenhaus (Chamber of Deputies) would debate the topic: the conservatives supported Bernhard and the liberal parties defended the position of the Philosophical Faculty. Ultimately, Bernhard would keep his Berlin post.

Satire of the Professorenstreit (click for larger image)

The affair partly touched upon the threat of the political power and the freedom of the Prussian universities to govern themselves—a topic that Bernhard himself extensively addressed in the coming years. It also concerned the rise of the new discipline of “business economics” gaining a beachhead at German secondary institutions. Finally, the Professorenstreit focused on Bernhard himself, an opponent of much of what Schmoller and his colleagues in the Verein für Socialpolitik stood for. He proved pro-business and an advocate of the entrepreneur. Bernhard also showed himself a social Darwinist, deploying biological and psychological language, such as in his analysis of the German pension system in 1912. He decried what he termed believed the “dreaded bureaucratization of social politics.” Bureaucracy in the form of Bismarck’s social insurance program, Bernhard argued, diminished the individual and blocked innovation, allowing the workers to become dependent on the state. Men like Schmoller, though critical at times of the current state of Prussian bureaucracy, still believed in its potential as an enlightened steward that stood above party-interests and acted for the general good.

Bernhard could never accept this view. Neither could a man who became Bernhard’s close associate, the former director at Friedrich Krupp AG, Alfred Hugenberg. Hugenberg was himself a former doctoral student of another key member of the Verein für Socialpolitik , Georg Friedrich Knapp. Bernhard was proud to be a part of Hugenberg’s circle, as he saw them as men of action and practice. In his short study of the circle, he praised their mutual friend Leo Wegener for not being a Fachmann or expert. Like Bernhard, Hugenberg disliked Germany’s social policy, the welfare state, democracy, and—most importantly—socialism. Hugenberg concluded that rather than appeal directly to policy makers and state bureaucrats through academic research and debate, as Schmoller’s Verein für Socialpolitik had done, greater opportunities lay in the ability to mobilize public opinion through propaganda and the control of mass media. The ‘Hugenberg-Konzern’ would buy up controlling interests in newspapers, press agencies, advertising firms and film studios (including the famed Universum Film AG, or UfA).

In 1928, to combat the “hate” and “lies” of the “democratic press” (Wegener), Bernhard penned a pamphlet meant to set the record straight on the Hugenberg-Konzern. He presented Hugenberg as a dutiful, stern overlord who cared deeply for his nation and did not simply grow rich off it. Indeed, the Hugenberg-Konzern marked the modern equivalent to the famous Raiffeisen-Genossenschaften (cooperatives) for Bernhard, providing opportunities for investment and national renewal. Furthermore, Bernhard claimed the Hugenberg-Konzern had saved German public opinion from the clutches of Jewish publishing houses like Mosse and Ullstein.

Both Bernhard and Hugenberg pushed the “stab-in-the-back” myth as the reason for Germany’s defeat in the First World War. The two also shared a strong belief in fierce individualism and nationalism tinged with authoritarian tendencies. These views all coalesced in their advocacy of the increasing need of an economic dictator to take hold of the reins of the German economy during the tumultuous years of the late Weimar Republic. Bernhard penned studies of Mussolini and fascism. “While an absolute dictatorship is the negation of democracy,” he writes, “a limited, constitutional dictatorship, especially economic dictatorship is an organ of democracy.” (Ludwig Bernhard: Der Diktator und die Wirtschaft. Zurich: 1930, pg. 10).

Hugenberg came to see himself as the man to be that economic dictator. In a similar critique mounted by Carl Schmitt, Bernhard argued that the parliamentary system had failed Germany. Not only could anything decisive be completed, but the fact that there existed interest-driven parties whose existence was to merely antagonize the other parties, stifle action and even throw a wrench in the parliamentary system itself, there could be nothing but political disunion. For Bernhard, the socialists and communists were the clear violators here.

Ludwig Bernhard, »Freiheit der Wissenschaft« (Der Tag, April 1933; BA Koblenz, Nl 3 [Leo Wegener)], Nr. 8, blatt 91; click for larger image)
The Nazis proved another story. Hitler himself would be hoisted in power by Hugenberg. Standing alongside him was Bernhard. In April 1933, Bernhard published a brief op-ed entitled “Freiheit der Wissenschaft,” which summarized much of his intellectual career. He began by stating, “Rarely has a revolution endured the freedom of science.” Science is free because it is based on doubt. Revolution, Bernhard writes, depends on eliminating doubt. It must therefore control science. According to Bernhard, this is what the French revolutionaries in 1789 attempted. In his earlier work on this topic, Bernhard made a similar argument, stating that Meinungsfreiheit (free speech) had been taken away by the revolutionary state just as it had been taken away by democratic Lügenpresse. Thankfully, he argued, Germany after 1918 preserved one place where the “guardians” of science and the “national tradition” remained—the universities, which had “resisted” the “criminal” organization of the Socialist Party’s Prussian administration. Bernhard, known for his energetic lectures, noted with pride in private letters the growth of the Nazi student movement. In 1926, after having supported the failed Pan-German plan to launch a Putsch (coup d’état) to eliminated the social democratic regime in Prussia, Bernhard spoke to his students, calling on the youth to save the nation. Now, it was time for the “national power” of the “national movement” to be mobilized. And in this task, Bernhard concluded, Adolf Hitler, the “artist,” could make his great “masterpiece.”

Ludwig Bernhard died in 1935 and therefore never saw Hitler’s completed picture of a ruined Germany. An economic nationalist, individualist, and advocate of authoritarian solutions, who both rebelled against experts and defended the freedom of science, Bernhard remains a telling example of how personal history, institutional contexts and the perception of a heightened sense of cultural and political crisis can collude together in dangerous ways, not least at the second-tier of intellectual and institutional life.

Steven McClellan is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. He is currently writing his dissertation, a history of the rise and fall, then rebirth of the Verein für Sozialpolitik between 1872 and 1955.

Think Piece

Writing the History of University Coeducation

by Emily Rutherford

When Yung In Chae told me that she was going to Nancy Malkiel’s book talk, I begged her to cover it for the blog. After all, my dissertation is a new, comprehensive history of coeducation in British universities, and as I was writing my prospectus Malkiel helped to put coeducation back into historians’ headlines. As Yung In’s account shows, Malkiel’s weighty tome restores some important things that have been missing in previous histories of university coeducation: attention to the intricacy of the politics through which institutions negotiated coeducation (and an emphasis on politics as a series of negotiations between individuals, often obeying only the logic of unintended consequences), and attention to the men who were already part of single-sex institutions and considered whether to admit women to them. Histories of coeducation usually focus on the ideas and experiences of women who sought access to the institutions, whether as teachers or as students. But that tends to imply a binary where women were progressives who supported coeducation and men were reactionaries who opposed it. As Malkiel shows—and as we might know from thinking about other questions of gender and politics like women’s suffrage—it just doesn’t work like that.

Malkiel’s book strikes me as a compelling history of gender relations at a specific set of universities at a particular moment—the 1960s and ’70s, which we all might point to as a key period in which gender norms and relations between men and women came under pressure on both sides of the Atlantic. But we should be wary, I think, of regarding it as the history of coeducation (Malkiel isn’t suggesting this, but I think that’s how some people might read it—not least when glancing at the book’s cover and seeing the subtitle, “The Struggle for Coeducation”). Malkiel’s story is an Ivy League one, and I’m not sure that it can help us to understand what coeducation looked like at less selective universities whose internal politics were less dominated by admissions policy; at universities in other countries (like the UK) which existed in nationally specific contexts for institutional structure and cultural norms surrounding gender; or in terms of questions other than the co-residence of students. Some of Malkiel’s cases are unusual universities like Princeton and Dartmouth which admitted women very late in the game, but others are about the problem of co-residency: merging men’s and women’s institutions like Harvard and Radcliffe that already essentially shared a campus and many resources and administrative structures, or gender-integrating the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and thus meaning that men and women students would live alongside each other. But at these institutions, as at other, less elite universities, student life was already significantly coeducational: men and women had some, though not all, teaching in common; they joined mixed extracurricular organizations; they socialized together—though this was limited by curfews and parietal rules, which in 1960s style became the focus of student activism around gender relations. Women teachers and administrators faced other, historically specific challenges about how to be taken seriously, or how to balance a career and marriage. Those who opposed coeducation and sought to support single-sex institutions did so—as Malkiel shows—in ways specific to the political and social context of the 1960s.

But my dissertation research suggests that lasting arguments about co-residency that persisted into the 1960s—and ultimately resulted in the coeducation of hold-out institutions like Princeton and Dartmouth—were the product of an earlier series of conflicts in universities over coeducation and gender relations more broadly, whose unsatisfactory resolution in some institutions set up the conflicts Malkiel discusses. Let’s take the British case, which is not perfectly parallel to the US case but is the focus of my research. My dissertation starts in the 1860s, when there were nine universities in Great Britain but none admitted women. The university sector, like the middle class, exploded in the nineteenth century, and as this happened, the wives, sisters, and daughters of a newly professionalized class of university teachers campaigned for greater educational opportunities for middle-class women. In the late 1870s, Bristol and London became the first universities to admit women to degrees, and activists founded the first women’s colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, though they were not yet recognized by the universities. By 1930, there were seventeen universities in Britain as well as many colleges, all except Cambridge granting women degrees. Cambridge would not admit women to the BA until 1948, and as Malkiel shows the Oxford and Cambridge colleges wouldn’t coeducate until the 1970s. Indeed, higher education did not become a mass system as in the US until the period following the 1963 Robbins Report, and national numbers of women undergraduates did not equal men until the higher education system was restructured in 1992. But it’s already possible to see that a definition of coeducation focused not on co-residency but on women’s admission to the BA nationally, and on the first women on university campuses—as teachers, as students, and also as servants or as the family members or friends of men academics—changes the periodization of the story of coeducation, placing the focal point somewhere around the turn of the twentieth century and taking into account the social and cultural changes wrought by significant factors within British history such as massive urbanization or the First World War. Of course, it’s not just about the BA, and the cultural aspects of this shift in norms surrounding gender relations in Britain are an important part of the story—as middle-class men and women (particularly young men and women) found themselves confronting the new social experience of being friends with each other, an experience which many found perplexing and awkward, but which the more liberal sought out regardless of whether they were educated at the same institutions or whether there were curfews and other regulations governing the ways they could meet each other. University administrators had to confront the same questions among their own generation, while also making decisions about institutional priorities: should accommodation be built for women students? should it look different from the accommodation offered to men students? should women be allowed into the library or laboratory or student union? should they be renovated to include women’s restrooms? how would these projects be funded? would philanthropists disgruntled by change pull their donations? These were questions universities faced in the 1920s as much as in the 1960s—or today.

I’m still early in my research, but one focus of my inquiries is those who opposed coeducation. They haven’t been given as much attention as those who fought for it—but what did they perceive to be the stakes of the question? What did they think they stood to lose? Who were they, and how did they make their claims? I already know that they included both men and women, and that while many of them were garden-variety small-c conservatives, not all of them were. I also know that for many, homoeroticism played an important role in how they explained the distinctive value of single-sex education. By 1920, the battle over women being admitted to the BA was over at all British institutions except Cambridge, but these opponents put up a strong fight. They help to show that coeducation wasn’t foreordained in a teleology of progress, but was the outcome of certain compromises and negotiations between factions, whose precise workings varied institutionally. Yet the opponents also were in many respects successful. After their institutions admitted women to the BA, they carved out spaces in which particular forms of single-sex sociability could continue. The Oxbridge collegiate system enabled this, but it also happened through single-sex student organizations (and persists, it might be noted, in universities that today have vibrant fraternity and sorority cultures), many of which were sponsored and fostered by faculty, alumni, or donors who had a stake in the preservation of single-sex spaces. Coeducation is often viewed as a process that ended when women were admitted to the BA. But even after this formal constitutional change, single-sex spaces persisted: colleges, residence halls, extracurricular organizations, informal bars to women’s academic employment, and personal choices about whom teachers and students sought to work, study, and socialize alongside. Understanding how this happened in the period from, say, 1860 to 1945 helps to explain the causes and conditions of the period on which Malkiel’s work focuses, whose origins were as much in the unresolved conflicts of the earlier period of coeducation as they were in the gender and sexuality foment of the 1960s. I suspect, too, that there may be longer-lasting legacies, which continue to structure the politics and culture of gender in the universities in which we work today.

Dispatches from the Archives

Let the Right Women In

by guest contributor Yung In Chae

When professional troll James Delingpole recently bemoaned in the Spectator the demise of “a real Oxbridge education” at the hands of misguided social justice initiatives, professional classicist Mary Beard ended her response with the following postscript: “… when I quickly scanned the first link I was sent and saw the phrase ‘sterile, conformist monoculture’ applied to Oxbridge, I assumed that you were referring to what Oxbridge was like when it was a blokeish public school monoculture before the women and the others were ‘let in’! Whoops.”

Beard implies that there is a sterile, conformist Oxbridge to react against, but that it’s not the one Delingpole is thinking of—and that it exists more in the past than the present. So what is this “blokeish public school monoculture” that Beard references, and how did it fade? If we wish to restore the context that Delingpole so sorely lacks, with a view to understanding why his tantrum is not only plain wrong but also founded on troubling premises, this strikes me as an important missing piece of the puzzle. We can do so with relative ease, thanks to a book whose title has a poetic resonance with Beard’s ironic comment that women were “let in”: Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation (2016) by Nancy Weiss Malkiel, Professor of History Emeritus and former Dean of the College at Princeton University.

On October 31, 2016, I went to a talk in honor of Keep the Damned Women Out at the Institute of Historical Research in London. It was appropriate that the event took place on Halloween, because, as I learned from Malkiel that evening, the main actors—with the exception of Mary Ingraham Bunting of Radcliffe College, yes, all men—found the prospect of women infiltrating male educational spaces very scary indeed. The book itself is no less intimidating: fire-engine red and, at almost seven hundred pages, as thick as my thumb is long. On the cover, the title stands out in large font and harsh invective, the heartwarming contribution of a Dartmouth alumnus who wrote in 1970 to the Chair of the Board of Trustees: “For God’s sake, for Dartmouth’s sake, and for everyone’s sake, keep the damned women out.”

“And he could not have been more typical in his sentiments,” Malkiel commented before pointing out more instances of thinly veiled contempt, rife among the elite institutions that form the core of her book—elite institutions, she clarified, because that’s where the story is. (She added in response to a post-lecture question that the most elite of the elite were especially slow to change because if you’ve been doing things a particular way for centuries to great success, you think, don’t fix what isn’t broken.) Some choice quotes from my own alma mater, Princeton, include a description of coeducation as a “death wish” and concern that women would “dilute Princeton’s sturdy masculinity.” We even see prudent consideration of finances: “A good old-fashioned whorehouse would be considerably more efficient, and much, much cheaper.”

Then how, in the face of such outrage, did the damned women sneak in? Something Malkiel made clear upfront was that admitting the women had little to do with educating them. In fact, women had little to do with the story at all. This story, like so many other stories, was about men: their interests, actions, and even their defeats (in the struggle against coeducation). Furthermore, coeducation was not the mission of men who had “drunk the social justice Kool-Aid,” as Delingpole would say. That is, coeducation did not happen because of “a high-minded moral commitment,” but because “it was in the strategic self-interest of all-male institutions.” This was true in both the United States and the United Kingdom, Malkiel added.

But let us examine the two places separately for a moment in order to tease out what such strategic self-interest entailed, exactly. In the late 1960s, the top American schools began to see declining application numbers and yield rates, as men decided that they no longer wanted to attend single-sex institutions. Harvard, for example, started pulling students away from Princeton and Yale because it had Radcliffe up the street, when previously the three had been neck-and-neck. It became clear that women were key to attracting and retaining the “best boys.”

Women played “the instrumental role of improving the educational experience of men,” so their own educational experiences were, unsurprisingly, less than ideal. One Dartmouth oceanographer included pictures of naked women when presenting a list of sea creatures. The Chair of Yale’s History department responded to a request for a women’s history course by saying that that would be like teaching the history of dogs. Again at Dartmouth, the song “Our Cohogs” (cohog being a derogatory term for coeds) won a fraternity-wide songwriting competition, and afterwards the judge, the Dean of the College, joined the winners in performing ten verses of sexual insults.

Around this time, there was a wave of social change, including the civil rights movement (incidentally, Malkiel’s last book to have the word “struggle” in the title was Whitney M. Young, Jr., and the Struggle for Civil Rights), the anti-war movement, and the women’s movement, the effects of which were felt in Europe as well. The composition of student bodies started to shift, as universities admitted more state-educated students, students from lower-income backgrounds, Catholic and Jewish students, and African-American students. Women were the natural next step. Men and women were also voting and protesting together, so it began to seem strange that they should not be educated together.

In the UK, Oxford’s and Cambridge’s prestige made the “best boys” problem less likely. Nevertheless, they found themselves competing for talent with newly-founded universities, which had modern approaches to education and no history of gender segregation. (Keep in mind that by the 1970s, Oxbridge had been educating women for about a century at separate women’s colleges, even though mixed colleges were a novelty.) Simultaneously, there was a push to triple student bodies through broader recruitment at state schools. At that point it felt silly to draw the diversity line at women.

Competition within the same university was another consideration. The first colleges in Oxbridge to admit women were generally not the most prestigious, richest ones, and they did so partly to climb the league tables. Indeed, women’s colleges sat at the top of the tables at the time, and coeducation was a way to steal not only the top women students but also the accomplished men who wanted to be educated with them.

In the British case, unlike its American counterpart, the faculty played the largest role in implementing coeducation, with the Fellows of Churchill College, Cambridge even overriding the objects of the Master, noted antifeminist Sir William Hawthorne. (As Lawrence Goldman, the Director of the IHR, noted in Q&A, you have a much smaller number of men making the decisions at each college, and they were all in residence and thus continuously interacting with each other.) And in contrast to the horror stories from the Ivy League, we have no evidence of women being harassed or asked for the “woman’s point of view” at Oxbridge—which, of course, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Overall, the process of integration seems to have gone smoothly, and women continued to do well.

“Are we there yet?” Malkiel asked toward the end of the talk. Clearly, issues remain: Gill Sutherland, a fellow emerita of Newnham College, Cambridge and a preeminent historian of education and women, happened to be in the audience, and she pointed out that a pyramid scheme still exists when it comes to women graduate students and faculty. And the mere fact that the Spectator gave Delingpole a soapbox shows that class, in addition to gender, persists as a problem. Nevertheless, Malkiel chose to end her talk on a confident note, saying that we’re “well on our way.” Are we where yet? Well on our way to what? Malkiel didn’t clarify. If anything, her copious research shows that coeducation was not one step on the road leading to A More Perfect University, but the result of complex, sometimes questionable decisions. The narrative is less about progress than it is about change.

Change does happen, and it can happen with such force that people forget things were ever any other way. Malkiel noted that at Cambridge and Oxford, respectively, Eric Ashby and Hrothgar Habakkuk assuaged some fears by saying that coeducation would be like the removal of the celibacy requirement for fellows a century earlier, which nobody gave a second thought about by the 1970s. But change hardly removes the traces of the past. As Goldman—who went to university during the final years of single-sex Cambridge—said in his introductory remarks, “You get so old, eventually they start writing history about your own experiences.” One day they’ll start writing history about yours.

Yung In Chae is the Associate Editor of Eidolon and an MPhil Candidate in Classics at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Read more of her work here.