POLSCI 489 - Advanced Topics in Contemporary Political Science
Winter 2019, Section 005 - The German and European Left
Instruction Mode: Section 005 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: Political Science (POLSCI)
Department: LSA Political Science
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Waitlist Capacity:
Advisory Prerequisites:
Seniors only.
May be repeated for a maximum of 9 credit(s). May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:


The course will concentrate on an in-depth analysis of the modern European Left from its beginnings in the 19th century until the present. We will begin with the reading of some of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’s major writings and proceed with a discussion of the immediate post-Marx and post-Engels developments of and in the European Left. We will analyze the various ingredients of what by then had mutated into something called Marxism and highlight its paths that developed and informed the European left for over one century. We will look at what constituted the major ingredients of this project and how these were set by 1918 with World War I representing a major hiatus for the subsequent paths, substance and form of the European Left. In contrast to WWI, we will see how WWII provided no such break, schism and change at all. In particular, we will analyze how "the Left" meant first and foremost an emancipatory politics for the industrial working class, how this class emerged in the eyes of virtually all progressive forces as the only valid subject in history and as the most powerful social career of liberation, progress and ultimately justice and equality. We will focus on how this project was modernist, how it embraced the industrial revolution, and how it viewed economic and technological progress as its raison d'être and its mission. In particular, the course will investigate this pre-1968 left's two major protagonists in Europe: Social democracy, the stronger of the two on the Continent's northern tear; and communism, more powerful in Europe's southern rim and, of course, in the Soviet Union. We will investigate the two largest players in these two worlds: the trade unions and the political parties featuring the three German-speaking countries of West Germany, East Germany and Austria. Of course, other European countries will be mentioned constantly throughout the course and the readings will address them as well, but the weight of our analysis and attention will fall on these three German-speaking countries.

Then the course will concentrate on the events of the late 1960s — the 68ers in so many languages and in lore — and how these events completely revamped the meaning of "the left" so much so that since then we have come to talk about something called the "new Left" and the "old Left". After analyzing these path-breaking events of the late 1960s both theoretically and empirically, we will devote time to an understanding of the profound changes in form and content that have hitherto informed the Left in all advanced industrial society: how many key tenets of the former left — such as growth, love of technological progress and modernization — became total anathema for the new left. If the old Left saw the essence of its project in the building of huge dams, the new Left's core was in the protection of the fish that these very dams would inevitably destroy. The entire relationship of humans to nature changed in the wake of the new left's emergence in the late 1960s. There emerged something that I have called the “discourse of compassion” which has become hegemonic in all advanced industrial democracies of the West and which eschews the vilification or derision or even potential harming of those that have been perceived to be less powerful. This discourse strives to incorporate the disempowered and by giving them voice, it tries to extend to them full equality and thus justice.

In the subsequent segment of the course, we will look at the greening and the purpling of the left in lieu of its former red as its core identity. More precisely, we will analyze some key movements that arose in the wake of the new Left such as first and foremost the women's movement but also the environmental movement, the peace movement and others. We will look in detail at the German Green Party as a pars pro toto for the earliest, most successful and — perhaps most controversial institutionalization of this leftist politics on the national level in the context of other developments on the German left, notably the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the trade unions. I hope — and trust — that course participants will be interested in other European countries and will make them the focus of their contribution to the course. Please be cognizant of the fact that the comparative dimension will be essential to the success of this endeavor.

For political science students, this course is being offered in the comparative subfield.

Course Requirements:

This will be a very demanding course with lots of reading. Your serious participation in it will be absolutely required.


POLSCI 489 - Advanced Topics in Contemporary Political Science
Schedule Listing
001 (REC)
 In Person
Th 9:00AM - 12:00PM
002 (REC)
 In Person
MW 1:00PM - 2:30PM
004 (REC)
 In Person
W 9:00AM - 12:00PM
005 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM

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