Money and [Russian] Revolution: Why Cultural History Needs Its Own Economy

Kirill Postoutenko, University of Southern California

The paper examines the cultural role of money in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, compared with the Anabaptist revolution of 1534–1535 in Muenster and the French revolution of 1789–1793. The transformations of money in all the three revolutionary societies follow largely the same pattern, predicted long ago by Plato and Campanella: murky incarnation of the devil, wounded but undefeated (inflation), is captured and persecuted with religious fervor (abolition of money), but later—if not at the same time—reanimated, tamed and adapted for the social and economic needs of the totalitarian state (division into internal, "socialist" and external, "capitalist" money). This similarities, however, appear to be too general for the cultural history. Thus, for instance, the connection between revolution and inflation in Russia and France has an unequivocal economical meaning, but it fails to explain the innovative design of the revolutionary money in both countries.

Inversely, 16th century revolutionary iconoclasm is definitely responsible for the absence of image on the coins of Muenster Anabaptists, but provides no interpretation of the adherence of the Anabaptist minters to the weights and titles of the pre-revolutionary Muenster coins.

To solve this problem, it is argued, the cultural history has to abandon the narrow economic definition of money, replacing (or, rather, supplementing) it with the one which takes into account all sorts of semiotic interaction within society. From this point of view, in all the three historical contexts money reveals itself as a mutifaceted sign, establishing the rules of symbolic (economic), iconic (visual) and indexical (physical) interaction in the process of revolution. (Thus the famous Soviet chervonec of 1923 has a triple meaning:

The various media ranging from literature and philosophy to film and painting are used to illustrate the talk. In particular, the literary texts of Maksim Gor'kij are used to illustrate the interrelation of language and money in the semiotic landscape of revolution.