David Spreen

Historian

Research

Note: My dissertation is currently under embargo. If you would like a PDF, drop me a quick note on the contact page.

My research focuses on the intersection of the Cold War, Decolonization, and social transformations in postwar Germany. Based on research in Germany and Albania, my dissertation “Dear Comrade Mugabe: Decolonization and Radical Protest in Divided Germany, 1960-1980” argues that Maoism and public and state responses to it showcase the ways in which decolonization and the global Cold War profoundly affected political life in the two Germanies. Driven significantly by people of color, Maoism occupied police and intelligence services, lawmakers, and government bureaucrats; worried business owners and educators; and entangled students and workers of color, Chinese and Albanian diplomats, Zimbabwean guerrillas, and West and East German activists. Officials’ concerns with Maoism in West Germany were deeply entangled with the Cold War and were marked by anxieties over “foreign influence” in the Federal Republic.

By foregrounding connections between activists from the two Germanies, Zimbabwe, Iran, and officials from China and Albania, my dissertation puts postwar Germany into the context of the global Cold War and highlights the role of non-Europeans in shaping West German extra-parliamentary political culture. The study uses Maoism as a case study to show that not only activism itself, but the broader cultural and political contexts from which it emerged were profoundly affected and shaped by decolonization and the reshaping of the world it prompted. Even before student activists both from the Global South and the two Germanies put decolonization on the agenda, German-German competition over political influence among decolonizing and post-colonial nation states meant that the issue was ubiquitous on university campuses in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Anxieties provoked by political activity by foreigners in both Germanies and the rise of China meant that although Maoists never came close to significant electoral success or their transformative objectives, public and state responses to Maoism could never be separated from the reordering of the world provoked by the collapse of European empires. However, the dissertation also shows that activists were not interested in decolonization per se, and certainly to no significant extent in postcolonial state-building, but their enthusiasm for anti-colonial politics remained bound up with a particular kind of revolutionary violence. Ironically, when that kind of enthusiasm became embarrassing to many, it was West German activists themselves who obscured the multi-ethnic character of their 1970s politics.