Comecon and the Third World

Monday, April 24, 2017
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room (1219 International Affairs Building)

Please join us for a talk with Sara Lorenzini, Associate Professor of International History at the School of International Studies, University of Trento, Italy.

This talk will deal with the political economy of East-South relations in the 1960s and 1970s, devoting special attention to the predicament of the Socialist countries with the concept of the Third World. Dr. Lorenzini argues that the technical organs in the East bloc, scarcely influenced by the rhetoric of solidarity, were careful if not sceptical about the prospects of East-South cooperation. The main organ she considers is the Permanent Commission for Technical Assistance (CTA) in the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, under the leadership of the Soviet Union).

The original formula for East-South economic relations envisaged by technocrats in the CTA in the late 1950s was based on autarky. Socialist aid aimed at building a clear alternative to the West and less-developed countries were advised to introduce Soviet-style planning, nationalization and industrialization. This attitude was progressively abandoned during détente. Trade became crucial and the strategy of promoting an international division of labour based on mutual advantage turned into an obsession with importing strategic raw materials. In the mid-1970s, despite the official Socialist view, the East pursued ‘realist’ policies based on the principle of the mutual interest. Allegations of convergence were dismantled with ideological arguments.

However, how to deal with the Third World as a group increasingly became a special quandary for the Socialist bloc, an issue where internal discrepancies – most notably in Romania’s attitude – came to the fore. Dr. Lorenzini will tackle these issues on the basis of both the documents of the Commission for Technical Assistance and of the discussions in the United Nations around the New International Economic Order. 

Sara Lorenzini is an Associate Professor of International History at the School of International Studies of the University of Trento, Italy. She has been a fellow at LSE-Ideas, the European University Institute, the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich and, lately, a Global History Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. Her latest book, Una strana guerra fredda (A strange kind of Cold War), is forthcoming for Il Mulino, Bologna 2017.

She is the author of several monographs, including Due Germanie in Africa. La cooperazione allo sviluppo e la competizione per i mercati di materie prime e tecnologie, Polistampa, Firenze 2003. Recent publications include: S. Lorenzini (2016), “Ecologia a parole? L’Italia, l’ambientalismo globale e il rapporto ambiente-sviluppo intorno alla conferenza di Stoccolma”, in Contemporanea XIX, n.3, 2016, 395-418; S. Lorenzini (2016), “Ace in the hole or hole in the pocket? The Italian Mezzogiorno and the story of a troubled transition from development model to development donor”, Contemporary European History; S. Lorenzini (2014), “Comecon and the South in the years of détente: a study on East–South economic relations”, European Review of History: Revue europeenne d'histoire, 21:2, 183-199; ‘Modernisierung durch Handel. Der Ostblock und die Koordinierung der Entwicklungshilfe in der Ständigen Kommission für Technische Unterstützung, in: Martin Aust/Julia Obertreis (Hg.): Osteuropäische Geschichte und Globalgeschichte, Stuttgart, Steiner-Verlag 2014, 225-240.