Elizabeth Banks

  • Fellowship year:2017-2018
  • University: New York University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Africa
  • Dissertation Title: International Socialism between the Soviet Union and Mozambique, 1964-91
  • My dissertation charts the rise and fall of the international socialist alliance between the Soviet Union and Mozambique's FRELIMO from 1964, the year that FRELIMO's founder Eduardo Mondlane visited Moscow, to the quiet removal of socialist references from the Mozambican constitution and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Through explorations of diplomacy, trade, media, political culture and social movements in the USSR and Mozambique I argue that international socialist connections were integral the political identity of both states during this three-decade period, and an important source of legitimacy for the CPSU and FRELIMO regimes domestically as well as internationally. In particular I show how state media and social organizations were used to recruit the general population as participants in this state goal. Mass internationalism through social, cultural and educational work was much lauded and gave the project power, and yet mass work was of secondary importance compared to diplomacy, foreign policy and trade. My exploration of trade and the limited success of joint fishing enterprises shows that even as mutual financial gains were desired, socialist internationalist cooperation had value beyond economics, which was, I argue, tied up with state socialist identity right through to the end of the Cold War.
    My dissertation invites us to broader our conception of the political possibilities available in independence-era Africa by providing a detailed account of post-colonial socialism in conversation with their connections to the northern centers. My research enriches our understanding of state socialism in the international context by highlighting similarities, differences and tensions across the transnational socialist community, and challenges the typical Euro-Soviet-centric chronology of state socialism that sees the 1960s as its high point. Mozambique gained independence in 1975 and adopted Marxism-Leninism in 1977, deep into the years usually known as stagnation. Moreover, through archival research reaching right to the end of 1991, I provide evidence of a continued commitment to international socialist goals in the center and pheriphery not only through stagnation but perestroika and glasnost as well. I show that the relationship ended when the two states abandoned socialist politics at the turn of the new decade not because it failed, but because it had worked to maintain an identity that was no longer needed in the new political era.