Dr Gerd Koenen

Curriculum Vitae

Gerd Koenen is an historian and freelance writer based in Frankfurt am Main. From 2008 to 2010 he was a fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS), where he wrote the book Was war der Kommunismus? (What was communism?) (Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht: 2010). In 2002 he completed his Ph.D. in East European History at Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen with a dissertation titled "Rom oder Moskau. Deutschland, der Westen und die Revolutionierung Russlands" (Rome or Moscow: Germany, the West, and the Revolution of Russia). A revised version of this dissertation was published by C.H. Beck Verlag in 2005 under the title Der Russland-Komplex: Die Deutschen und der Osten 1900-1945 (The Russia Complex: Germany and the East, 1900-1945), and in 2007 it was awarded the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding. The book had its origins in the mid-nineties in a multi-year project led by Lew Kopelew at the University of Wuppertal. The project, a historical investigation of German and Russian images of each other, gave rise as well to Deutschland und die russische Revolution 1917-1924 (Germany and the Russian revolution, 1917-1924; Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1998), an essay volume co-edited by Koenen together with Kopelew. Koenen has also worked as a press, radio, and television journalist and has authored a number of books on the history of international communism and the New Left.

Research Project at the Kolleg

'The Color Red: Communism as World History'

This book, which is scheduled to be published by C.H. Beck in 2017, will deal with the history of 'world communism' as a singular historical phenomenon. In contrast to earlier surveys (Furet, Malia, Brown, Service, and Priestland), which have interpreted communist movements, regimes, and systems primarily in terms of their ideological premises and social and historical conditions, this book will attempt to embed the power struggles, mass mobilisations and Communist party social works projects more firmly in the global historical context of the twentieth century.

The primary focus of the work is a comparison of the old imperial populations of Russia and China and their East European and East Asian environs. Often overlooked connections between the fields of East European Studies and Soviet Studies on the one hand and Sinology and Asian Studies on the other will be explored. Central to this global historical context are the competition between empires and the cataclysms of the two world wars, which served as vehicles for the communist seizures of power - although the fascist regimes, with their plans for conquest and enslavement, helped to grease the wheels. Likewise crucial in this period, which stretches from 1917 to 1989, are the processes of capitalist globalization, as advanced and dominated by the Western powers, as well as the processes of nationalization and nation-building that arose in reaction to them among nations and peoples under hegemonic or colonial subordination.

Drawing on a variety of approaches, from the history of ideas and biography to social, economic, and cultural history, to political, military, and national and global history, this project attempts to reinscribe - more through interpretation than description - the once-dominant phenomenon of 'communism' in the history of the last century, as well as address the question of the persistent, even vital, residues of 'post-communism'.

Main areas of research

  • History of communism
  • East European and Russian history
  • History of German-Russian relations
  • History of the New Left