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Fascism and Antifascism in Our Time - Critical Investigations

The spread of nationalist and authoritarian movements in Europe and around the world has prompted debates about a return of global fascism. At the same time, many countries are witnessing civil society activities opposing such movements. Politicians and activists from both camps endorse like-minded actors across borders. Do these developments suggest that we are living in a time comparable to the 1930s, when the decisive marker in national and international politics was the one between fascism and antifascism?

The conference investigates the contemporary relevance of fascism and antifascism by bringing together scholarly experts on these historical movements and actors in civil society. It will discuss the interrelatedness of fascism and antifascism, illuminate their global networks and local trajectories, analyze central characteristics and ideas, and trace shifts in discourses and practices of remembrance. Other focuses are memory politics, phenomenology, and current adaptations as well as the aesthetic dimensions and artistic practices associated with fascism or antifascism.

The overarching aim of the conference is to explore whether and how the histories of fascism and antifascism offer insights into the rise of authoritarian regimes today. What makes a fascist regime? What is the line separating authoritarianism from fascism? Can we identify "tipping points"? How should a civil society react to these challenges? Do antifascist movements of the 20th century offer a role model? How can insights into such historical connections benefit proponents of a democratic civil society?

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Follow the discussion online using #MMHamburg

Recommended reading (in German): Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 42-43/2017 „(Anti-)Faschismus“

Keynote and Opening Evening at Leuphana University Lüneburg

Geoff Eley: Fascism and Antifascism, 1920—2020: Slogan, Impulse, Theory, Strategy
  • Commentary: Robert Gerwarth
  • November 1, 6:30 p.m., free entry, Zentralgebäude der Leuphana-Universität Lüneburg, Libeskind-Auditorium
How might a history of fascism and antifascism in interwar Europe help us with an understanding of the dangers of the radical Right today? In this talk Geoff Eley will be moving back and forth between the early 20th century past and the 21st century present in order to establish what is equivalent and what is not, what is common and what is distinct in these two historical settings in order to build a usable concept for the purposes of politics today. Given the ease with which "fascism" can be used as a slogan, as an emotional rallying-point, as a language of recognition and abuse, and as a boundary of legitimate political thinking and action, it becomes vital to sort through the appropriate distinctions as carefully as possible. To lay the ground for effective politics, one needs historical grounded analysis that can avert tendentious conflations, merely formal and surface similarities, and chains of equivalence that seem outwardly plausible and may be emotionally satisfying, but stop short of showing how fascism is able to gain its purchase and build its appeal. One needs to grasp not just the specific ideas and practices that separate fascists from their rivals, but also the particular contexts that give them popularity and a credible claim on power. What are the circumstances that enable fascists to offer themselves as an effective and desirable "extra-systemic" solution for problems, as an alternative to the given practices of pluralism, negotiation, and coalition-building associated with democratic constitutionalism? What kind of crisis brings fascism onto the agenda? What is the character of the "fascism-producing crisis"? By historicizing fascism to the early 20th-century circumstances of its inception, Geoff Eley wants to abstract a workable general definition, one that can be "portable" across time and space and serve us for political action now.
  • Geoff Eley: Interim Chair and Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Michigan.
  • Robert Gerwarth: Professor of Modern History at the University College Dublin and Director of the Centre for War Studies.


01.11.2017 until 03.11.2017


Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung
Mittelweg 36
20148 Hamburg


The conference is held in cooperation between the Federal Agency for Civic Education, Bonn, the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, and Rutgers University, New Jersey. As part of the programme "Mapping Memories" (www.bpb.de/mapping-memories), it is generously supported by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.


Victoria Romano, Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung,

press contact

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Federal Agency for Civic Education

How we work: Key Activities

One of the bpb’s key activities is the provision of information on the major issues of our times. Large amounts of information are made available on our website and in a wide variety of print publications. The range of topics includes European integration, participation in politics and in society, issues relating to the economy and the financial markets, migration, and social change, as well as historical issues and democracy in general. Another one of our key activities is the ongoing creation of new projects and the development of new methods to meet the special informational and educational needs of people with different learning abilities and people from different age groups and different walks of life.

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