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Exporting Revolution: Socialist Movements and Labor Internationalism, 1880-1940


Admission requirements

There are no specific admission requirements


The late nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century are generally regarded as the heyday of nationalism in Europe. Not only were major nation states consolidated, such as Germany and Italy, colonial expansion also stimulated nationalist fervor among the populations of European states.

Yet precisely in this era various workers’ movements decided to organize internationally. This decision was not only driven by practical reasons, for example when trade unions sent organizers to other countries to gather support, but also by ideological ones. With their internationalism, they positioned themselves outside of the political mainstream. It thus became a means to draw a boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’; those who were a part of the movement and those who were not.

Workers corresponded with foreign comrades, visited them, and proclaimed their solidarity. Even so, performing internationalism often proved to be highly problematic. At certain moments, international alliances were discarded to national interests, for example during World War I. At other times, conflicts in national organizations were intensified through the interventions of international sister organizations.

How did workers movements organize their international networks? What effects did their efforts have on local and national forms of organization, action repertoires and ideologies? And how did workers balance their local, national and international interests?

The seminar is divided in three parts and will focus on:

    1. The birth of the labor movement (1870-1914)
      In this first part, the focus lies on the conflict between the ‘nationalization of the working classes’ and internationalism, but also on the formation of the first workers’ international organizations and national parties.
    1. The First World War (1914-1918)
      How did the major socialist parties legitimize the war effort, what conflicts did this bring about and what splits did this cause within the workers’ movement?
    1. The Interwar Period (1918-1940)
      The Russian Revolution caused a split and subsequent rivalry between social democracy and communism. Both movements had differing ideas about revolution and internationalism. The focus lies on the foundation and development of the Comintern, conflicts with socialists and resistance against the rise of fascism (Spanish Civil War).

The geographical focus of this seminar is on (Western) Europe, although students are invited to focus their research on the United States as well. In this seminar, students will familiarize themselves with the state of the art of literature on labour movements and workers internationalism, conduct original research and present their findings both orally and in writing.

The seminar includes a visit to the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.

Course objectives

General learning objectives
The student has acquired:

    1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
    1. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
    1. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
    1. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
    1. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following:
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar
The student:

    1. has gained a global overview of the history and development of labour movements from the 1890s to 1940, especially the different politics of internationalism;
    1. has gained a comprehensive understanding of the state of the art of labour movement studies and central research concepts, such as transnational history, histoire croissée, global labour history – but also transfer of strategies, culture and ideas;
    1. has gained understanding how labour movements connect to other movements abroad, interact with competing movements and with the state;
    1. Research MA students: a) analyse a courpus of sources with higher complexity in comparison to regular MA students; b) develop the ability to set up and carry original research which raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or and points to new directions for future research.


See Timetable and deadlines History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Totale studielast: 10 EC x 28 uur = 280 uur

  • Amount of lectures: 24 hours

  • Assigned readings: 40 hours

  • Preparing lecture/assignments: 24 hours.

  • Writing a paper (research and reading secundary literature): 192 hours.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 12-14 (ResMA also 9 and 15)

  • Entry test
    Measured learning objectives: 12-13

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 12-14 (ResMA also 15)

  • Assignment 1 (Formulate a preliminary research question, inspired by state of the art literature on labor movement studies)
    Measured learning objectives: 4-6, 8, 12-13

  • Assignment 2 (Hand in a 600 word discussion of the differing visions / debate on your research question; hand in through blackboard)
    Measured learning objectives: 1, 4-5, 12-13

  • Assignment 3 (Hand in a 600 word discussion of the primary sources you intend to use, using OPVL-Analysis)
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 6, 14 (ResMA also 15)

Written paper: 60%
Entry test: 10%
Oral presentation: 15%
Assignment 1: 5%
Assignment 2: 5%
Assignment 3: 5%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.

Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline.

Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


The course will use Blackboard for anouncements, course documents and handing in assignments.

Reading list

  • A literature list will be provided during the first seminar, and a shelve on the university library will be reserved for the selected texts.


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