The currency of communism

19 October 2017 – 18 March 2018

Free

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Research and acquisitions for this exhibition have been made possible with Art Fund support.

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Research supported by Loughborough University with funding from The Leverhulme Trust, and University College London.

100 koruna banknote. Czechoslovak State Bank, 1961.

This display looks at the changing roles of currency and exchange in communist states in the century since the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Communism proposes that money has no role in a utopian society. To date though, no communist state has successfully removed money from its economy. In the last 100 years, communism has existed in various forms in dozens of states all around in the world. From eastern Europe to Southeast Asia, this display examines the role of money in communist states, as well as the iconography and imagery associated with it.

Within communist economies, concepts of value and wealth are eroded and distorted, and the national currency becomes just one of various means of exchange. The display features examples of how the value of money has been reduced by communist states. East German coins made from aluminium demonstrate how communist currency was deliberately made to feel light and cheap. Adverts for savings banks from the USSR show how consumer benefits were left out of advertising in favour of information explaining how savings benefit the state.

With the reduced role of currency, communist states introduced different reward systems, starting in Russia in the 1930s. Stalin said people were to be measured ‘by their heroic feats’. A worker who exceeded their factory quota may receive the Order of the Badge of Honour, and a mother who raised nine children would receive the Order of Maternal Glory, First Class. These awards came with monetary bonuses, and allowed recipients access to a better quality of life due to the perks that came with them.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition to democracy in the early 1990s had a huge effect on former communist states. With borders and economies suddenly open after many years, new ideas and imagery soon began to circulate, along with new national currencies. Today there are only four states with planned economies – China, Laos, Cuba and Vietnam. Trading relations between them and capitalist countries have become normalised, but concepts of currency and political ideology continue to evolve.

February 2018

Wednesday 7 February