International Social Movements Before 1945

von by Stefan Berger Original aufOriginal in English, angezeigt aufdisplayed in English
PublishedErschienen: 2022-09-08
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    This article examines a variety of international social movements before 1945 and seeks to encourage a more deep-rooted historical transnational study of social movement in global perspective ranging from the labour movement and social reform movements to religious movements, the temperance movement, moral movements, youth movements, peace movements, nationalist and fascist movements, pan-movements, national liberation movements, women's movements, LGBTQ movements, movements for abolition and racial equality, indigenous rights movements and environmental movements. It argues that more attention to right-wing social movements is needed as are more intersectional approaches that can use a variety of useful theoretical approaches to the study of social movements.

    InhaltsverzeichnisTable of Contents


    Much ink has been spilt over attempts to define social movements. Dieter Rucht (born 1946) has argued that they are "a network of individuals, groups and organizations that, based on a sense of collective identity, seek to bring about social change (or resist social change) primarily by means of collective public protest."1 It is a very broad and inclusive definition that takes into account that social movements often have, as Sidney Tarrow (born 1938) put it, 'fuzzy' borders and are 'moving targets' where it might not be sensible to define them more precisely.2 What seems to characterize social movements is the networked character of their organization. Friedhelm Neidhardt (born 1934) has talked about a social movement as a 'mobilized network of networks' with an absence of a clear top and a clear centre.3 They are held together, above all, by the construction of identities by its members, who, through a variety of cultural processes, create a 'we'-feeling by identifying with particular issues, concerns and desires. These can be essentialist and exclusive, or they can be self-reflective, playful and situational. Stuart Hall's (1932–2014) concept of 'identification' was meant to provide a conceptual base from which emancipatory social movements can organize without falling into the trap of essentialism.4

    Since the 1970s a new discipline has formed – social movement studies that is dedicated to the study of social movements. Like any new discipline it has established its own research centres. In the Institute for Social Movements at Ruhr-Universität is one of the foremost centres for the study of social movements, although it is unusual because it is more historically oriented than social movement studies as a whole, where most researchers come from the social sciences.5 The Institute for Protest and Movement Research is another important institution in Germany dedicated to the study of social movements, which is more oriented towards the social sciences.6 Many countries all over the world have similar research centres apart from individual researchers who work both within and outside of universities. Activists within social movements are often doing research about social movements. There are a number of established journals, such as Social Movement Studies, Mobilization, Interface: a Journal for and about Social Movements and Moving the Social: Journal for Social History and the History of Social Movements. Whilst the first three are oriented towards the social sciences, the latter is the only international journal in the English language dedicated specifically to the history of social movements.7 In other languages we also find additional journals, e.g. in German the Forschungssjournal Soziale Bewegungen, and in French Le Mouvement Social.8 Many handbooks and surveys have been published to give an overview of the discipline and its achievements.9 Several publishers have established book series on social movement studies, including series on the history of social movements.10

    Surveying the discipline, it is clear that social scientists, sociologists, political scientists, geographers, and anthropologists have been dominating the field. Hence it is not surprising that much research is about contemporary social movements. In so far as social movement studies have adopted a historical approach it is very much a contemporary history approach. Very rarely have studies moved before the annus mirabilis of social movement studies: 1968. It was in the wake of the 1968 movementInternational Vietnam Congress at TU Berlin  IMG that a range of so-called 'new social movements' started which subsequently became the preferred study object of social movement researchers who often had considerable political sympathies for these movements. However, it should be noted that some of the older work of distinguished historical sociologists, like Charles Tilly (1929–2008) and Sidney Tarrow, did adopt an approach that trace social movements back at least to the 18th century.11 There are also some studies of social movements in premodern societies, i.e. peasant revoltsAlbrecht Dürer, Bauernsäule, 1525 IMG, guild movements, food riotsWomen’s March on Versailles IMG, millenarian movements, journeymen's movements and rebellions for greater social and political rights that preceded capitalist industrial societyBilderbogen mit revolutionären Allegorien 1789 IMG.12 As Marcel van der Linden (born 1952) has argued, the search for social justice, social security and respect through social movements preceded modern times.13 However, most researchers have understood social movements as a distinctly modern phenomenon arguing that the idea that social change can be brought about through the will of human beings is a distinctly modern idea rooted in Enlightenment notions of the 18th century. Social movements in premodern times were far more likely to argue in terms of 'natural rights' or a godly social order that had to be re-established.14 This tradition, though, did reach deep into modern times, as Edward P. Thompson's (1924–1993) study on the 'moral economy' of the 18th century crowd showed.15 The popularity of that concept of 'moral economy' for the study of modern social movements seems to underline the need to re-examine the tight line between premodern and modern social movements.16 A deeper look into the past of social movements that range back in time certainly well before 1968 and even before the second half of the 18th century might well make that border far more fluid.

    What is certainly misleading is to talk about 'new' social movements as if many of these movements only originated in a post-1968 cycle of contention. The most-discussed 'new' social movements, including the peace, women's and environmental movements all go back many centuries and have strong precursors already in the 19th century. At the same time, allegedly 'old' social movements, such as labour movements, still exist in the 21st century and the concern with questions of social justice is in many respects as alive as it was in the 19th century. It is also not the case that 'old' social movements were more about material interests whereas 'new' social movements are more about questions of identity, as notions of collective identity were very much to the fore in social movements ranging back many centuries, whereas material interests play a significant role in many of the social movements in the post-1968 era.17

    In the rest of this brief introduction to the history of international social movements before 1945 I will, after giving some thought to theories and problems of the study of those movements, provide the reader with a survey of social movements that have been studied indicating the major results of the research and highlighting avenues of research that would be well worth exploring further.

    How to Study the Deeper History of International Social Movements

    If social movement studies is in need of developing a deeper historical interest in the history of social movements, then it is also in need of learning to see on its right eye. An overwhelming number of studies on social movements have focused on broadly left-of-centre social movements. As mentioned above, this has much to do with the left-wing sympathies of social movement studies scholars. It is often more attractive to study something that one is in sympathy with than something that one finds repulsive. Nevertheless, many social movements have been on the political right which is why this survey will also include a section on nationalist and fascist social movements. Furthermore, the deeper history of social movements, often associated with the left, has a far more ambiguous past that is in need of greater exploration. The environmental movement, for example, is often identified with the political left, but especially if we go back in time to the 19th century, it becomes clear that it could also be a reactionary movement. Indeed, in some cases the categories of left and right can become questionable when studying the histories of social movements as it is not always obvious where to locate social movements on a left-right scale.18

    Social movements have also long been studied in their national contexts, because scholarship was for a long time concerned with the nation state and national framings. A turn to study social movements transnationally and comparatively was re-enforced by the strong emergence of global history from the 1990s onwards.19 Studying advocacy networks in international politics brought attention to the diverse ways in which social movements are connected across national borders.20 A more global approach to the study of the history of  social movements before 1945 would allow for the greater visibility of the connectedness of social movements and their genuine internationalism not only in the contemporary world but also in the past. At the same time, it will make it possible to pinpoint more precisely how the agency and structure of social movements was territorially specific and rooted in particular times and places. Both the opportunities and the limits of internationalism are thus revealed by more global approaches to the history of social movements.21

    To what extent the concept of 'social movement' itself was a 'travelling concept' that can be applied to different parts of the world in equal measure has been controversially discussed.22 Other concepts crucial to the history of social movements, e.g. 'freedom', 'equality', 'peace', and 'emancipation' are all rooted in Western-centric traditions that need to be thoroughly de-westernised in transnational and global histories of social movements. Studying social movements transnationally and going beyond the global west or north will therefore destabilise the fixed meanings of key concepts in social movement studies and reveal to what extent such conceptualizations were themselves part and parcel of a long and ongoing history of colonialism and imperialism.23 A conceptual history of transnational social movements will pay close attention to the way in which the concept travelled both within and and between the global north and south.24 Such travels always included various forms of translations that led to linguistic and cultural adaptations and modifications.25

    There are undoubtedly international moments of protest that we can only identify in transnational perspective. Before 1945 it was particularly the period between the first revolution of 1905 and the revolution of 1934Asturian miners' strike of 1934  IMG that saw a plethora of revolutions occur in different parts of the world. They often combined ideas of political democracy with notions of social justice and national liberation and were based on the mobilization of social movements fighting for those ideals.26 There are also waves of mobilization if we consider particular social movements. Thus, for example, anti-aristocratic social movements were prominent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries,27 anti-colonial and anti-imperial movements were strong from the early 20th century to the wave of decolonization after the end of the Second World War.28 Social protests against war were strong when a threat of war hung in the air, such as in the decade preceding the First World War.29 Waves of labour protest resulted in strike waves that have been studied by scholars of labour history.30 The struggle for women's rights saw several waves of mobilization with a first strong one emerging between the 1830s and the 1860s.31 The concept of generation has sometimes been used to account for particular waves of protest that seem to be connected to generational experiences.32

    Decentering a western view on all these international social movements has been a major concern over the last decades. Postcolonial theory has been hugely influential here. It has drawn attention to social movements of the subaltern classes in the global south, as many postcolonial scholars have shown a deep interest in popular social movements, e.g. on the sub-continent and in , including peasant movements.33 Giving the subaltern classes their rightful place in history has been a strong motivation for studying their social movements.34 Indigenous movements in Latin America were often movements of small peasants and landless labourers who had been expropriated by large European landowners and who struggled for greater political, social and economic rights from the 19th century to the present day.35

    In order to understand social movements better, scholars have deployed a whole range of middle-range theories that we find throughout much of the scholarship on social movements.36 We already noted above the tendency to connect social movements to modernity and to processes of modernization – something that might well be in need of greater questioning. Social movements have also often been connected to the growth of the public sphereÖffentliches Kaffeehaus 1750/1800 IMG under conditions of modernity and have thus been connected to processes of democratization of society.37 Alternatively, social movements have been analysed as a threat and a menace to the stability of societies, where they command over crowd politics that could work both in democratic and anti-democratic ways.38

    Furthermore, many studies have traced the 'repertoires of action' that characterized social movements across a very wide range of movements. In the 19th century, to give just one example, 'stumping'39 became a very popular transnational form of campaigning that mobilized democratic social movements in the , and .40 Social movement scholars have also asked about the 'political opportunity structures' that have facilitated the emergence and guaranteed the success of social movements in the past. Resource mobilization theory has asked how organizers who mobilize social movements use resources. The 'framing' approach to the study of social movements has sought to show how specific political frames benefitted or held back social movements. What incentives were there for participation in social movements? What conditions would escalate conflicts? Many of these ideas were based on a cost–benefit analysis in which rationalist concerns weighed heavily either in favor or against the success of social movements.41 More recently irrational factors have also been stressed, including the power of emotions and of symbolical forms of politics. Social movements were embedded in wider cultures of protest whose cultural frames can only be understood by deploying cultural theories.42 The success of international social movements depended not only on the strengths of their rational arguments, but also on their ability to connect to the emotions of wider parts of the population. Hence scholars have attempted to bring together the history of emotions and the history of social movements.43

    As many social movements put forward visions of imagined futures, social movement studies should take on board many of the insights of those historians who have studied how the future was imagined in the past. Reinhart Koselleck's (1923–2006) concept of 'futures past' and Lucian Hölscher's (born 1948) insistence on the importance of different temporalities of the diverse future imaginaries are useful for the study of social movements.44 Hölscher himself has studied this for Protestant and socialist movements.45 Others have picked up Hölscher's conceptualization of a history of the future and applied it to a range of other social movements both from the right and the left.46

    If social movements can be usefully studied in view of their radical imaginations of futures, they can also be analysed in terms of what memories they generated and how they used memory as a political resource in order to further their specific aims.47 There have been a number of studies over recent years, in which a merger of memory studies and social movement studies has been attempted.48 Memories have been shown to be extremely useful for asserting claims, legitimizing politics and mobilizing support. Social movements have also been analysed as shapers of collective memories. Memory activism has been a prominent aspect of social movements.49 And many memory activists have used the media for transmitting memories to a wider public. Many international social movements have depended on the media for their campaigns, from newspapers in the 19th centuryZeitschrift "Selbst-Emancipation!" IMG to the internet in the 21st century, which is why the study of social movements needs to take into account the changing worlds of the media. Here media history meets a historically-oriented social movement studies.50

    Modern International Social Movements before 1945 – a Survey

    Whilst social movements can be usefully studied in premodern times, some important changes occurred in the global north in the century between 1750 and 1850 that can be summarized in the processes of industrialization and democratization. Fundamental technological and economic changes went hand in hand with radical social and political changes that ultimately made a relatively static society, ordered into estates, give way to a more dynamic class-based society. Radical political movements reacting to those changes can be traced back to the early 19th century.51

    The Labour Movement

    In many respects the labour movements of the 19th century were the heirs of such radicalism, combining campaigns for democratization with campaigns aimed at solving the 'social question' produced by industrialization. Labour movements first emerged in the industrial centresLower Dens Mill, St. Roques Lane, Dundee IMG of the global north. From there they travelled to all parts of the world and were adapted in a process of cultural translation in the global south that ultimately reached back to the centres of the global north.52 If labour movements in the global north in the 19th century saw themselves as advocates of industrial wage labour, a better understanding of the full diversity of labour regimes under capitalism, including many prevalent in the global south, have also widened the understanding of labour movements' advocacy on behalf of a range of different labourers. Socialist internationalism was strong among labour movements and led to the formation of various internationals before 1945, even if they were marked by a distinct Western-centrism.53 Labour movements developed three distinct pillars of organization: trade unions, cooperatives and political parties. They were divided by different ideologies: Socialism, Communism, Anarcho-Syndicalism, Christianity and Social Liberalism were among the most influential.54

    Moral and Religious Reform Movements

    The labour movement was not the only international social movement fighting for greater social justice before 1945. Social reform movements, such as the one led by Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948)[Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948) IMG] and Bhim Rao Ambedkar (1891–1956) in India could ally with labour movements but went beyond them.55 Gandhism produced its own world-wide social movement based on Gandhi's ideas and actions, in particular around non-violent resistance to colonial oppression, truth, simple living and vegetarianism.56 Highly critical of the first wave of globalizationin the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of these reform movements championed a variety of protest techniques in order to critique capitalism's ongoing production of social injustice and they sought to champion alternative socio-economic models more in line with their key demands of global social justice.57

    Religion played a major role in many social reform movements. Thus, for example, the Catholic labour movement in Europe fought on behalf of workers and the religious reform movement of Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772–1833) in India also sought to bring about greater social justice.58 Religion also influenced a range of other social movements at various times – one only needs to think about the peace movement, the abolitionist movement or the temperance movement. Campaigns against the prohibition of alcoholic beverages led to bans of the sale of alcohol in , the United States and for specific periods of time between 1918 and the 1930s. Temperance movements promoted teetotalism as a virtue that had beneficial effects on medical, economic and moral well-being of individuals and societies as a whole. From the 1820s the movement grew in response to rising social problems associated not just with economic hardship but also with drinkThe Drunkard’s Progress IMG. From the 1860s it became an international mass movement with strongholds in , Britain and the US. Everywhere women activists were prominent in the movementFrances Willard (1839–1898) IMG.59 On the Indian sub-continent the temperance movement became closely allied to anti-colonialism.60

    Apart from the temperance movement, religion was a major influence on a range of moral movements that were working on behalf of what they understood to be moral improvement. In the 18th and 19th centuries aristocratic and bourgeois classes were often the main social carriers of these philanthropic movements. In the 20th century human-rights movements can also be examined as moral movements.61 And, in many respects, the labour movement was also a moral movement in that its arguments for greater social justice were frequently clad in moral terms. A moral international social conscience was formed by the temperance, the anti-slaveryThe Anti-Slavery Society Convention 1840 IMG and the red cross/red crescent movements of the 19th century.62 Various anti-vice movements focusing often on drugs, drink and debauchery developed a very clear moral compass.63

    Yet there were also genuinely religious social movements which tended to be transnational, as religious beliefs crossed national boundaries.64 Catholic social movements, for example, were united in a belief in Catholic social thought that spanned the globe.65 Catholics and Protestants alike sought to spread their belief through strong missionary movements that were global in their ambitions.66 Religious awakenings could take the form of social movements.67 In the 20th century liberation theology provided a collective identity for a range of revolutionary social movements in Latin America and elsewhere.68

    Youth Movements

    The need for a new moral compass was not only felt by religious movements but also by the youth movement that emerged in response to industrial modernity and urbanization in the 19th century.69 The disaffected bourgeois youth was looking for ways to live more in harmony with nature and less alienated lives in what appeared to them as urban Gomorrahs. A romanticized longing for authenticity and nature went hand in hand with ideas about life reform, liberated sexuality and reform education. An international youth culture emerged that soon politicised itself – with more völkisch right-wing variants demarcating themselves sharply from proletarian youth movements that were close to the labour movements and religious youth movements, close to the Catholic and Protestant churches. A range of centrist movements were less clear-cut in their political ambitions but united in a vague aspiration for freedom and the experience of nature through travelling, hiking, camping and singingRobert Baden-Powell, William Taft, James Bryce IMG.70 The International Youth Hostel Movement has its origins in the international youth movement. The latter developed particularly strongly in the German lands but it was also present in a range of other western countries and certainly had a European and western dimension. In the interwar period, youth activists such as Rolf Gardiner (1902–1971) in Britain tried to forge transnational links to youth organizations in other European countries, especially to Germany in order to foster international peace and understanding.71

    Peace Movements

    Youth movements had an ambivalent relationship to war. Some of them heroized war as cleansing the moral corruptness of bourgeois society, whilst others were active on behalf of diverse peace movements. War was morally abhorrent to many peace campaigners across time and place. Yet peace movements did not operate with the same concept of 'peace' throughout time and place.72 In 19th century Europe the concern with 'peace' was often promoted by a range of liberal-bourgeois pressure groups before such concern turned into a mass politics, in which social movements featured prominently. Although the search for peace was, like gender equality, a universal concern, the movements promoting it were often highly nationally inflected.73  Not all activists in peace movements were necessarily pacifists, as the commitment to peace in specific circumstances did not necessitate a general rejection of violence under other circumstances. Peace movements tended to emerge as a reaction to war or in anticipation of a threat of war. They often promoted forms of peace education. Particular religious groups, such as the QuakersAssembly of Quakers, 18th century IMG were prominent in many peace movements, and there was also considerable overlap between the women's movement and the peace movement. In Europe, the period from the 1860s to the 1880s with its prominent wars fought for the purpose of nation-building saw the emergence of peace leagues that often combined a commitment to democratic nation states with the building of 'eternal peace', in the famous phrase of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).74 International law and forms of international arbitrationThe Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands IMG were the means with which to bring about a state of peace. After the First World War the commitment to international organizations capable of protecting the peace, such as the League of Nations, was high among peace activists.75 New transnational organizations such as the War Resisters' InternationalThe War Resisters’ International journal 1923 IMG were founded, but the hope that the First World War had been 'the war to end all wars' were dashed in 1939.76

    Nationalist and Right-Wing Movements

    Peace campaigners in the 19th century had put considerable expectations in the coming of the democratic nation state. However, national movements and their ideology, nationalism, have been one of the most dangerous drivers of war and violence since the 19th century. Through the promotion of the idea that their nation was superior to other nations, nationalists heightened tensions between nations and would ultimately seek violent means, including wars, in order to push their claims for superiority over other nations. Both the First and Second World Wars as well as the colonial wars were rooted in the nationalists' belief in the cultural or biological superiority of nations. Nationalist movements, next to labour movements, belonged to the most successful 19th century social movements in mobilizing massesAnsprache von Adolf Hitler im Berliner Lustgarten 1932 IMG and providing them with a political religion, nationalism. They were rarely content with promoting a cultural nation but instead sought to create a sovereign nation state. The congruity of people, nation, and state was one of the most cherished principles of nationalist social movements.77

    A 20th century form of hyper-nationalism was fascism. Fascist regimes were invariably preceded by and based on fascist social movements.78 The political violence at the end of the First World War was crucial in bringing them about in countries including Germany, , and .  They often had their origins in paramilitary formations that fought left-wing revolutionaries after 1918. The success of fascism in Italy in 1923 encouraged other far-right movements to call themselves fascist even if most of them developed highly specific national inflections. The fascist movement in Germany, for example, was committed to a biological understanding of 'the people' (Volk) and the idea that it was threatened by 'Judeo-Bolshevism'. The Arrow CrossArrow Cross Poster, 1944 IMG in Hungary and the Croix de Feu in France were other nationally inflected social movements, in which Catholic conservatism played significant roles. Everywhere fascist social movements practiced a pronounced masculinism showing a contempt for independent working women and an idealization of the woman as mother. By 1925 no fewer than 45 states had fascist movements.79 The movement character of fascism was dear to the fascists themselves, as it underpinned their notion of a dynamism uniting the nation around one ideology.80

    Far-right wing movements, often described as neo-fascist, continued to play a prominent role in different regimes and at different times from the post-Second World War period to the present day.81 They promoted various forms of racism, gender inequality and the idea of a national community threatened both by internal and external enemies. They showed considerable synergies with anti-immigrant and anti-abortion movements and with fundamentalist religious movements, such as the Christian Identity Movement in the US or the Hindutva movement in India. Extreme right-wing social movements in the post-1945 world have often reacted against social developments such as the emergence of multi-culturalism, increasing rights for the LGBTQ community or increasing religious diversity. They have thus framed their own struggle as one of the dispossessed who are threatened by social developments outside of their control. An essentialist identity is constructed that is then described as being under threat. Self-victimization thus becomes an integral element of nationalist mobilization among the far right. In many places it has been successfully mobilizing the street and public spaces. The recent surge of right-wing populism is the latest instalment of a long-standing story of right-wing social movements going back to the early 20th century.82


    At different times and places pan-movements played an important role in underpinning social movements seeking to unite collectives under the banner of an ideology that transgressed nation-state boundaries.83 Thus, for example, pan-Germanism and pan-Slavism were 19th and 20th century ideologies that often hid the imperialist ambitions of Germany and Russia respectively, the former intent on building, the latter keen to defend and extend a contiguous empire.84 Pan-Scandinavianism sought to emphasize the cultural affinities between the Scandinavian countries in an attempt to overcome nation-state rivalries and enmities, amidst complex nation-state building processes in , and Norway.85 Pan-Iberianism was a means of connecting culturally two nation states and their associated empires in Latin America and , constructing a mutual space of civilizational understanding that could also be a form of neo-imperialism.86 Pan-Arabism, Pan-Africanism and Pan-Asianism were powerful weapons of an anti-colonial and anti-imperial discourse in the 20th century, although Pan-Asianism was also used as an anti-Western front by imperialism before 1945.87

    National Liberation Movements

    National liberation movements emerged in the context of the anti-colonial struggles starting in Latin America in the early 19th centurySimon Bolivar IMG and spreading to all parts of the colonized world by the 20th century.88 They also occurred in Europe where national movements struggled to free 'their' respective nations from the clutches of empires and multi-national states, e.g. in and on the Balkans89 National liberation movements constructed new forms of community around allegedly distinct national cultures and they adopted a range of practices which cemented allegiances to those cultures.90 Post-independence many of the postcolonial states embarked on projects of developmentalism trying to catch up with the colonial metropoles. Third-worldist social movements sought to support the postcolonial countries, mostly located in the global south that were struggling to move out of cycles of poverty and underdevelopment.91 It was strongly international in orientation seeking to connect global interdependencies and structures of exploitation to a systematic and enduring disadvantage for countries located in the so-called 'Third World'.

    Women's Movements

    Like many social movements, 'Third Worldism' had its origins well before 1945. The same is true for the women's movement that was formed in the 19th century as an international movement for the liberation of women from patriarchal oppression. In the second half of the 19th century a proletarian women's movement split off from the bourgeois women's movement arguing that questions of gender equality had to be approached within a wider frame of class inequalities.92 The development of universal forms of feminism have often been highly Western-centric and have been criticized by those scholars infused with postcolonial theories.93 Nevertheless, the women's movement had a global universal aim: the liberation of women. A strict separation of spheres was at the bottom of gender orders that discriminated against women in many places. A public sphere for men was juxtaposed to a private sphere for women. A productive sphere for men was contrasted with a reproductive sphere for womenWomen's Pavilion. Yet the gender orders that emerged from these separation of spheres remained highly space- and time-specific.94 And they produced diverse currents of women's movements that took different organizational forms and developed distinct discursive practices and symbolical politics. They also forged different alliances. Regardless of the many forms that women's movements could take in different parts of the world, they often were characterized by strong attempts to build alliances across national and cultural borders.95 The International Council of WomenExecutive Council of International Council of Women, 1925 IMG was already established in 1888. The International Women's Suffrage AllianceSeventh Conference of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance 1913 IMG organized around one of the central concerns of the 19th and early 20th century women's movement: the right to voteElizabeth C. Stanton & Susan B. Anthony IMG. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, founded in 1915, combined a concern for women's rights with social justice and peace.96

    Parts of the transnational women's movement also fought for the sexual liberation of women. A loosely connected movement for free love emerged in the late 19th century and grew in strength during the first half of the 20th century.97 They campaigned against marriage as a form of oppression for women consistent with patriarchal gender norms. With strong links to socialism and anarchism, but also to bohemianism and spiritualism, the free love movement had a number of prominent and outspoken advocates in different parts of the world, including William Blake (1757–1827), Mary Wollstonecraft (1797–1851), Charles Fourier (1772–1837), Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) and Emma Goldman (1869–1940). Amongst those members of the free love movement we also find many who were in favour of decriminalizing laws directed against homosexuality. A nascent transnational LGBTQ movement began to form during the first half of the 20th century. Although it still lacked a firm organizational frame, networks of campaigners were in regular transnational contact in order to exchange ideas and promote policies aimed at decriminalizing deviant forms of sexuality. It held up the legal reform first introduced by the French Revolution in 1791 that made homosexual sexual acts performed by consenting adults in private legal. The French reforms had resulted in similar reforms in a range of other European countries in the early 19th century, but soon the trend was reversed almost everywhere. Fears of reprisals, imprisonment and persecution made open campaigning on behalf of the rights of homosexuals and others with a non-hetero sexual orientation extremely dangerous and difficult.98

    Movements for Racial Equality

    Women were also prominent among social movements for racial equality. They ranged from the abolitionist movement to the civil rights movement in the US and the anti-apartheid struggle in . Starting in the late 18th century, the anti-slavery movement questioned the moral legitimacy of enslaving fellow men"Am I not a man and a brother?" 1837 IMG. Whilst it became a mass movement especially in Britain and the United States, anti-slavery movements also emerged on the European continent and they were characterized by strong networks across national borders. The French Revolution first abolished slavery in 1794 followed by which established itself as an independent republic following a successful slave rebellion. It was the first country in the Americas to abolish slavery.99

    In the US, slavery was ended following the American civil war of the 1860s, but massive discrimination against the black population and de-facto apartheid continued in all of the American statesSklaverei in Louisiana, USA, 1863. A right-wing racist social movement, the Ku-Klux clan resorted to lynchings, bombings and other campaigns of murder in order to fight against the emancipation of black people.100 In response African-Americans and their allies began an ongoing struggle against racial discrimination. They formed a civil rights movement that fought against the so-called Jim Crow laws in the south of the US legitimating ongoing racial discrimination. They practiced diverse forms of civil disobedience, sit-ins and mass protests in order to make themselves heard in American societyCivil Rights March on Washington, D.C. IMG. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and several landmark rulings of the Supreme court in the 1950s and 1960s marked a breakthrough on the road to greater racial equality in the US after a century of struggleSigning of the Voting Rights Act, President's Room, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC, Schwarz-Weiß-Photographie, 6. August 1965, Photograph: Yoichi Okamoto; Bildquelle: The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, A1030-17a,, gemeinfrei., but even today movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement underline to what extent African Americans remain second-class citizens in their own country.101 

    Post-1945 one of the worst apartheid regimes was created in South Africa. International resistance against it was mobilized by an anti-apartheid movement that was strongest in Britain but had supporters all over the world. It started off as a consumer boycott movement calling on the public not to buy South African goods. It campaigned in favour of economic and other sanctions, including a ban of sporting links with South Africa. Under pressure from the international anti-apartheid movement South Africa was forced out of the Commonwealth in 1961. In 1970 it was banned from participating in the Olympics. There was also a campaign to end all academic cooperations with South African universities. Over many decades it kept the momentum going of a "Free Nelson Mandela" campaign organizing freedom marches and rock concertsFrederik de Klerk und Nelson Mandela in Davos 1992.102 Overall, racism has created a range of social movements both promoting racism and opposing it that go back a long time in history – all the way to the anti-slavery campaigns of the 18th century.

    The rights of first nations made up of indigenous people from Canada and the US to Australia and other parts of the colonized world, who all suffered massive racism and racial discrimination, also triggered powerful social movements.103 Fighting exclusion and dispossession, these movements strove for self-determination and the preservation of indigenous culture and heritage ever since colonization started in the 16th century. They campaigned for better health provisions[Harold Copping, The Healer, 1916] and access to resources to get indigenous people out of a vicious circle of poverty and deprivation. Environmental issues and land sovereignty were very much on the agenda of indigenous social movements. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People of 2007United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People IMG was celebrated as a major success of campaigners on behalf of first nations.104

    Environmental Movements

    Protecting indigenous people and the environment often went hand in hand in the struggle of indigenous social movements. Environmental movements more generally became strong as a response to the destruction wreaked upon nature by the advances of industrial capitalism in the 19th century.105 In the 20th century it became a global phenomenon. Like many social movements, the environmental movement frequently addressed the state in its demands to protect the environment and yet from early on its activists connected across nation-state borders. The environmental movement comprised a range of movements from bird protection to anti-nuclear campaigning that often saw themselves as distinct movements with precious few ties to each other. Like with many of the other movements that are surveyed in this article, postcolonial critiques of them have chipped away at their universal claims arguing at worst that environmentalism has been yet another western-centric imposition on the global south. The internationalism of environmentalism is represented by a range of international groups such as GreenpeaceGreenpeace gegen die Versenkung der Plattform Brent Spar 1995, Friends of the Earth, World Wildlife Fund, Flora and Fauna that organize across countries. Some movements, such as the ones for animal protection go back to the 18th century, but the internationalization of environmentalist movements no doubt accelerated after 1970, even if we already have intense debates by early environmental movements in the global north around 1900.106 Some of the movements have an extraordinary longevity. Thus, for example, the Chipko movement in the north Indian state of has attempted to save the forests in this part of the Himalayas from deforestationChipko movement IMG stretching back to the days of the East India Company who sought to sell contracts to entrepreneurs exploiting the forests thus setting them on a collision course with the native population of the forests who depended on them for their livelihoods.107

    Terrorist Movements

    Many of the international social movements before 1945 had to ask themselves how far they wanted to go in pursuit of their specific aims. Should they stick to the legal frameworks set by states and international legal agreements and restrict themselves to peaceful and non-violent protests, or was it justified to use violence? Terrorism, whilst in itself not a social movement, sometimes accompanied and grew out of social movements.108 It was historically associated both with right-wing and left-wing social movements and was linked with religious fundamentalism and anti-imperialism. Like many social movements terrorism addressed, first and foremost, state power, although we have also witnessed a distinct internationalization and globalization of terrorism over time. State action was often crucial in radicalizing social movements to such an extent that they ultimately took recourse to violence. Where social movements were forced underground and persecuted, they were much more likely to turn to violent means. The anarcho-syndicalist labour movement in highly authoritarian states, such as the Romanov empire in Russia before 1914, is a good example of this.109 After the First World war, diverse radical right-wing social movements resorted to terrorist means to destabilize democracies and promote nationalism, anti-Bolshevism"L'Europe unie contre le Bolchevismse" 1944 IMG and anti-Semitism.110 From the mid-1930s anti-colonial movements chose terrorism in order to achieve their aims of national self-liberation.111


    Many of the anti-colonial movements were inspired by and committed to anarcho-syndicalist ideas.112 It is one of many examples of how international social movements were interconnected. Activists in one movement often became active on behalf of other movements. Different movements shared, at least in parts, the same ambitions and identities, e.g. the proletarian women's movement and the labour movement. Hence it makes sense to study social movements not in isolation but in their intersectionality and interdependency.113 Participation in social movements is often fluid and geared towards forms of self-identification that go beyond a single issue. Commitment to the emancipation of women could go hand in hand with commitment to the cause of workers, of environmental protection, of LGBTQ and indigenous rights. Shared identifications, often emerging from a sense of oppression and victimization, went across movements, allied movements to one another and saw joint activism. The history of international social movements is full of intersections where their activists meet, join forces for a while, then go their separate ways to realign in different formations. The fluidity of these alliances is characteristic of social movements that lack a fixed structure and clear hierarchies. The variety of different international social movements that I surveyed in this survey article need to be brought more into relation to each other rather than just studied separately. If this is done in transnational perspective, it will be possible to see, at one and the same time, how they have been both an expression of universal ambitions and highly space- and time-dependent phenomena.

    Such intersectionality of social movements has gained considerable attention in social science research on social movements.114 It needs, however, to be further investigated in historical research on pre-1945 movements which remain understudied. Let me, by way of conclusion, address a few more desiderata in the study of international social movements in the period before the end of the Second World War. First, the assumed divide between premodern and modern social movements, still strong in social movement studies, can only be questioned more systematically if we have more studies on social movements that go deeper into historical terrain than social movement studies have been willing to do in the past. Secondly, another prominent distinction in social movement studies, that between 'new' and 'old' social movements needs more systematic questioning. Thirdly, the study of social movements before 1945 should turn its attention to right-wing social movements, including nationalist and fascist movements that have been neglected in comparison with left-wing movements. Fourthly, studying social movements transnationally will allow the field to move away from its concern with national frames and pave the way to a greater recognition that most social movements have been international ones long before 1945 even if they did not yet have international ways of organizing (although in many cases they had that too – both the socialist and the women's movements testify to that). International moments of social movements can also only be identified in more transnational studies. Fifthly, the arsenal of theories with which to understand the emergence and development of social movements needs to be developed further. The empirical study of social movements should not so much confirm the theories but rather theories should help understand why at certain places and times social movements were more or less successful in mobilizing citizens and achieving their goals. Postcolonialism, theories of past futures, the history of emotions, memory history and media history, as I suggested above, have a lot to offer here. Overall, this brief survey of international social movements before 1945 demonstrates the huge potential of studying their histories in order to shed light on international and global historical processes that transcended the nation state.

    Stefan Berger


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    1. ^ Rucht, Studying Social Movements 2017, p. 45.
    2. ^ Tarrow, Understanding Political Change 1991.
    3. ^ Neidhardt, Einige Ideen 1985.
    4. ^ Hall, Who Needs Identity? 1996.
    5. ^ See Institute for Social Movements.
    6. ^ See Institut für Protest- und Bewegungsforschung.
    7. ^ See online sources for Social Movement Studies, Mobilization, Interface and Moving the Social.
    8. ^ See online sources for Forschungsjournal Soziale Bewegungen and Le Mouvement Social.
    9. ^ A selection includes Della Porta / Diani, Social Movements 2020; Della Porta, Oxford Handbook 2015; Fillieule, Social Movement Studies 2016; Tarrow, Power 2011; Berger, History of Social Movements 2017.
    10. ^ See Berger, Palgrave Studies; Johnston, Mobilization Series; Beissinger, Cambridge Studies and others more.
    11. ^ Tilly / Castañeda / Wood, Social Movements 2020; Tarrow, War 2015; Tarrow, Language of Contention 2013.
    12. ^ Mollat / Wolff, Popular Revolutions 1973; TeBrake, Plague of Insurrection 1993; Cohn, Popular Protest 2004; Hilton, Bond Men 2005; Katalja, Northern Revolts 2004; Blickle, Unruhen 1988; Mousnier, Peasant Uprisings 1970; Haliczer, Comuneros 1981.
    13. ^ Linden, European Social Protest 2017.
    14. ^ Rucht, Neue soziale Bewegungen 1984.
    15. ^ Thompson, Crowd 1971.
    16. ^ Frevert, Moral Economies 2019.
    17. ^ Calhoun, New Social Movements 1993.
    18. ^ Highly thought-provoking in this respect is Rosas / Ferreira, Left and Right 2013. They ultimately uphold the left-right distinction but the many case studies discussed here also relativise it to a considerable degree.
    19. ^ Della Porta, Transnational Protest 2005; Flesher Fominaya, Understanding European Movements 2013; both volumes deal exclusively with contemporary social movments but given that transnational links are a phenomenon that go back a long time before 1945 a more historical approach to these topics would be entirely welcome.
    20. ^ Keck / Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders 1998.
    21. ^ Berger / Nehring, Introduction 2017.
    22. ^ Eckert, Social Movements 2017 on historians of social movements in Africa.
    23. ^ On the need to decentre western concepts see Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe 2008.
    24. ^ Ramstedt, Soziale Bewegung 1978.
    25. ^ Scalmer, Translating Contention 2000.
    26. ^ Berger, Rethinking Revolutions 2022.
    27. ^ Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution 1962, pays a lot of attention to social movements in their struggle against feudal aristocratic elites.
    28. ^ Ness, Imperialism 2016, vol. 2, pp. 805–974, specifically on "movements and ideologies".
    29. ^ Beales, History of Peace 1931.
    30. ^ Haimson, Strikes 1992.
    31. ^ Anderson, The First International Women's Movement 2000.
    32. ^ Lovell, Generations 2007; Roseman, Generations 2004.
    33. ^ Guha, Peasant Insurgency 1983.
    34. ^ Majumdar, Subaltern Studies 2017.
    35. ^ Eckstein, Power 1989.
    36. ^ Mittag, Theoretische Ansätze 2014.
    37. ^ Eley, Forging Democracy 2002.
    38. ^ Borch, Politics of Crowds 2012.
    39. ^ Stumping is a form of (electoral) campaign oratory that is somewhat rough and informal. It dates from the 1820s, when it was associated with the frontier states of the USA, notably Kentucky and Tennessee. Later it spread to other states and abroad, e.g. to the United Kingdom and Australia.
    40. ^ Scalmer, On the Stump 2017.
    41. ^ On all of those middle-range theories, see McAdam, Comparative Perspectives 1996; Opp, Theories 2009.
    42. ^ Baumgarten, Conceptualizing Culture 2014.
    43. ^ Goodwin, Passionate Politics 2001.
    44. ^ Koselleck, Futures Past 2004; Hölscher, Entdeckung der Zukunft 2016.
    45. ^ Hölscher, Weltgericht 1989.
    46. ^ Hölscher, Zukunft 2017.
    47. ^ Eyerman, Social Movements and Memory 2015; Rigney, Remembering Hope 2018.
    48. ^ For details see Berger, Remembering Social Movements 2021.
    49. ^ Gutman, Memory Activism 2022 [forthcoming].
    50. ^ Gamson / Wolfsfeld, Movements and Media 1993; Downing, Encyclopedia 2011.
    51. ^ Calhoun, Roots of Radicalism 2012; Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels 1959.
    52. ^ Berger, Labour Movements 2017.
    53. ^ Rother, Socialist International 2018.
    54. ^ Lucassen, Global Labour History 2006; Linden, Workers 2008.
    55. ^ Shah, Social Movements 2004.
    56. ^ Scalmer, Gandhi in the West 2011.
    57. ^ Kumar, Essays 2004.
    58. ^ Voss, Between Cross and Class 2005; Jones, Socio-Religious Reform Movements 1989.
    59. ^ Heath, International Handbook 1995; McConnell, Temperance Movements 1963.
    60. ^ Rogers, Cultural Nationalism 1989.
    61. ^ Hoffmann, Human Rights 2011.
    62. ^ On the latter see Möller, Red Cross and Red Crescent 2020.
    63. ^ Przyrembel, Moral Movements 2017; Piley, Global Anti-Vice Activism 2016.
    64. ^ See also the thread "International Religious and Humanitarian Movements" in European History Online, covering Freemasonry, Confessional Associations, the YMCA and the Red Cross / Red Crescent.
    65. ^ Nepstad, Catholic Social Activism 2019.
    66. ^ Cox, British Missionary Enterprise 2008.
    67. ^ Green, Religious Internationals 2012.
    68. ^ Smith, Liberation Theology 1991.
    69. ^ Stambolis, Jugendbewegung 2011; Klönne, Jugendbewegung 2013.
    70. ^ Neubauer, Cultures of Adolescence 1992.
    71. ^ Jefferies, Rolf Gardiner 2016.
    72. ^ Nehring, Peace Movements 2017.
    73. ^ Cooper, Patriotic Pacifism 1991.
    74. ^ Cortright, Peace 2008.
    75. ^ On the League of Nations see also Löhr, League of Nations 2015.
    76. ^ Lynch, Beyond Appeasement 1999.
    77. ^ Hirschhausen, Nationalismen 2001; Zimmer, Nationalism 2003; Breuilly, Nationalism 2013.
    78. ^ Schieder, Faschismus 1976.
    79. ^ Bauerkämper, Transnational Fascism 2010.
    80. ^ Passmore, Fascism 2017.
    81. ^ Virchow, Post-Fascist Right-Wing Social Movements 2017.
    82. ^ Mudde, The Far Right 2019.
    83. ^ Lüdke, Pan-Ideologies 2012.
    84. ^ Berger, Nationalizing Empire 2015.
    85. ^ Sørensen, Norden 1997.
    86. ^ Nunez-Seixas, Iberian Perspectives 2010.
    87. ^ Aydin, Politics of Anti-Westernism 2007.
    88. ^ Anderson, Imagined Communities 1983.
    89. ^ English, Irish Freedom 2006; Snyder, The Balkans 2018.
    90. ^ Seth, Postcolonialism 2019.
    91. ^ Olejniczak, Dritte Welt Bewegung 1998.
    92. ^ Offen, European Feminisms 2000.
    93. ^ Park, Transpacific Feminism 2017.
    94. ^ Ferree, Global Feminism 2006.
    95. ^ Rupp, Transnational Women's Movements 2011.
    96. ^ Lenz, Equality 2017.
    97. ^ Sears, Sex Radicals 1977; Spurlock, Free Love 1987.
    98. ^ Belmonte, LGBT Rights 2020.
    99. ^ Bader-Zaar, Abolitionism 2011.
    100. ^ Parsons, Klan 2015.
    101. ^ Brooker, Civil Rights Movement 2017; Peel, Civil Rights Movement 2021.
    102. ^ Konieczna, Global History 2019.
    103. ^ Bouchard, Genèse 2000.
    104. ^ Rice, Politics of Protest 2012.
    105. ^ Rootes, Environmental Movements 2014.
    106. ^ Uekötter, Myths 2017.
    107. ^ Weber, Hugging 1988.
    108. ^ Weinhauer, Terrorism 2017.
    109. ^ Verhoeven, Karakozov 2009.
    110. ^ Gerwarth / Horne, Paramilitarism 2010.
    111. ^ Thomas, Violence 2012.
    112. ^ Hirsch, Anarchism 2010.
    113. ^ Cho, Intersectionality 2013.
    114. ^ Woynicka, Social Movements 2020.

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    : International Social Movements Before 1945, in: Europäische Geschichte Online (EGO), hg. vom Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte (IEG), Mainz European History Online (EGO), published by the Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG), Mainz 2022-09-08. URL: URN: urn:nbn:de:0159-2022062747 [JJJJ-MM-TT][YYYY-MM-DD].

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