Revolutionäre Währungen: Neues Geld und Neue Staaten in der frühen Zwischenkriegszeit
The collapse of old empires and the founding of new states led to revolutionary changes of European currency regimes in the early 1920s. So far, this phenomenon has received little historiographical attention on a transnational level. The panel therefore aims to complement the histories of singular national economies. Furthermore, the panel plans to counter a Western-leaning narrative on economic history by focusing on Central and East Central Europe as well as the former German colonial territories, where political and economic upheavals were particularly closely intertwined and left their mark on the history of the respective currencies.
The panel interprets these new monetary orders in the context of the revolutionary situation, which often created new points of reference for national as well as economic sovereignty. Economic thought found an entirely new foundation as key monetary concepts changed. This generated new economic "facts", shaping perceptions and therefore political agencies. A transnational perspective is needed as the fate of the revolutionary currencies in Central, East-Central and Eastern Europe did not depend solely on national political frameworks. There was a remarkable parallelism of currency decline in Hungary, Poland and Germany. Likewise, the years of 1922–1924 were a turning point in the European order, bringing an end to the imperial economic legacy.
Therefore, the discussants consider the question of trade flows, exchange rates, international politics and cross-border violence. They will also focus on the ways in which people dealt with money, as monetary agency frequently escaped political assertiveness. The transition from German to British colonial currency in Tanzania, for example, was remarkably slow. The seemingly divergent development in Czechoslovakia, on the other hand, was complementary to the inflationary policies of its neighbors. Thus, in a European perspective a complex picture of entanglement and political agency emerges that transcends the methodological possibilities of "national" histories.
Traditionally, the German inflation has been written as a national history. Its fate seemed tied to the political positions of the Western Allies, mostly related to reparations. Even the political question of Upper Silesia has been predominantly discussed as a problem affecting German diplomacy towards Western countries. Does the narrative change if we consider the various important economies ties that still existed with Eastern Europe in the early 1920s? Taking account of trade, currency flows and politics with the East rather with the West it becomes clear that the German inflation needs to be considered as a European, rather than as a national history.
Colonial currencies form a crucial part in international currency regimes since the late nineteenth century. After World War I the so-called “German rupee” collapsed due to problems with the supply of cash and the functioning of a local note-issuing bank. But it was not until the mid-1920s that British Mandate authorities definitely introduced a new currency. Moreover, the bank’s Berlin headquarters remained in place until 1931. A series of “currency transitions” took place: from the local commodity currencies, which were much more widespread in Tanzanian societies, to colonial coinage, from coinage to banknotes and the so-called “interim notes” of the war period, and from German to British colonial currency.
After the Treaty of Trianon, the former Kingdom of Hungary lost a large part of a closely intertwined economic area. While ostensibly accepting the peace provisions, the Horthy government did not abandon the goal of territorial revision. This adherence to foreign policy expansionist goals can be traced very well in the monetary policy. Hungary suffered from hyperinflation early on. However, a serious stabilization of the currency only took place with the introduction of the Pengő on 1 January 1927. The currency reform was a clear sign that the political forces around Horthy wanted to pursue a more moderate course internally and externally against the background of European stabilization in the mid-1920s.
Between 1918 and 1924, the value of the Polish currency fell by a much larger factor than the currencies of concurrent hyperinflations in Austria and Hungary. Interestingly, apart from the problems of creating a new state apparatus and the reconstructing an economy, there existed an overriding source of the inflationary dynamics: the unstable international environment and the consequent position of war in which the re-established country found itself in with many of its neighbors. Poland’s hyperinflation was not a single, continuous event, but rather a series of periods of rapid price growth separated by long pauses, the timing of which was intimately linked to Poland’s geopolitical engagements with its neighbors.
The one country that seemed to make it out of the economic crisis in the aftermath of the World War rather unscathed was new-found Czechoslovakia. The new state was remarkably successful in establishing a new and stable currency, the Czechoslovak crown. Among other factors, this is usually attributed to a program of deflationary politics that entered partly uncharted territory of economic theory. On closer examination, however, the question arises, whether these measures really played a crucial role. Instead, it could be argued that their effects were rather due to the timing of monetary policy than their actual content, when examining the interlocking monetary policies of Central Europe as a whole.