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Remembering African Labor Migration to the Second World

Socialist Mobilities between Angola, Mozambique, and East Germany

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  • © 2023

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  • This is an open access book
  • Testimonies from former Angolan and Mozambican labor migrants in East Germany
  • Examines impact of state-sponsored migration
  • Follows transnational labor migration patterns through migrants’ perspectives

Part of the book series: Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series (PMSTH)

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Table of contents (8 chapters)


About this book

This open access book is about Mozambicans and Angolans who migrated in state-sponsored schemes to East Germany in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. They went to work and to be trained as a vanguard labor force for the intended African industrial revolutions. While they were there, they contributed their labor power to the East German economy. 

This book draws on more than 260 life history interviews and uncovers complex and contradictory experiences and transnational encounters. What emerges is a series of dualities that exist side by side in the memories of the former migrants: the state and the individual, work and consumption, integration and exclusion, loss and gain, and the past in the past and the past in the present and future. By uncovering these dualities, the book explores the lives of African migrants moving between the Third and Second worlds. 

Devoted to the memories of worker-trainees, this transnational studycomes at a time when historians are uncovering the many varied, complicated, and important connections within the global socialist world.   


Marcia Schenck, deploying an extraordinary array of oral and documentary resources, tells us what Mozambicans and Angolans who went as worker-trainees to East Germany were able to make of the experience: their hopes, their frustrations, the relationships they made, and the memories and cultural resources they brought back with them. Her book is a compelling reflection on socialism in Africa and Europe and on what it means to move between continents and ways of life.

Frederick Cooper, author of Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present.

The book’s compelling central message is a fundamentally human history of migration to socialist East Germany. Friendship and cooperation, education, professional training, and labor all played a role in shaping this cold war migration to a place that emerged as quite cosmopolitan.

Dito Tembe, Mosambican artist and former contact laborer

The book foregrounds the creation of a socialist worldin the spaces in between nations and continents, in the details and places of migrants’ lives and memories. The absolute abundance of interviews conducted by Schenck gives her a source base that is unique among historians of socialist globalization, giving real insight into the experience of socialist encounter for hundreds of non-elite men and women. This close focus on the individual produces a subtle method-as-argument intervention that complicates chronological and geographical divides of African, Cold War and European history in fruitful ways. Following migrants from colonial to post-colonial, socialist to post-socialist, the book illuminates the interwoven histories of GDR, Angola, and Mozambique alongside the interconnected lives of the migrant workers she follows

Elizabeth Banks, European University Institute

Marcia Schenck’s outstanding and richly textured study on socialist mobilities between Angola, Mozambique and East Germany clearly isamong the best recent efforts to analyze African history in a global perspective. It also offers a re-reading of the GDR as consumer paradise and the factory as a site of the production of goods, workers, race, and ideology. The portrayal of contract workers from Lusophone Africa as holders of specialized knowledge reveals the myriad ways that migrants adapt to and challenge state migration programs. Finally, the book fills an important gap in the literature on the Global Cold War, as it substantially expands our knowledge of transnational socialist mobility experienced from below. Following closely in the migrants’ footsteps, it demonstrates the degree to which Angolan and Mozambican history is intertwined with that of other socialist nations including East Germany.

Andreas Eckert, Humboldt University Berlin

Authors and Affiliations

  • University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany

    Marcia C. Schenck

About the author

Marcia C. Schenck is professor of Global History at the University of Potsdam, Germany. Her research interests include global and African history, oral history, labor and education history, and migration history. Her peer-reviewed articles have appeared in AfricaAfrican Economic History and Labor History, among others. She recently co-edited a volume about the varied relationship between East Germany and the African continent called Navigating Socialist Encounters: Moorings and (Dis)Entanglements between Africa and East Germany during the Cold War (De Gruyter, 2021). She is co-founder of the H-Net Refugees in African History network and the founder of the Global History Dialogues, which constitutes part of Princeton University’s Global History Lab.   

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Remembering African Labor Migration to the Second World

  • Book Subtitle: Socialist Mobilities between Angola, Mozambique, and East Germany

  • Authors: Marcia C. Schenck

  • Series Title: Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2023

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-031-06775-4Published: 25 November 2022

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-031-06778-5Published: 25 November 2022

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-06776-1Published: 24 November 2022

  • Series ISSN: 2634-6273

  • Series E-ISSN: 2634-6281

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XXVII, 377

  • Number of Illustrations: 11 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: World History, Global and Transnational History, African History, European History, Labor History, Migration

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