Jonathan R. Zatlin, The currency of socialism: money and political culture in East Germany [review]

2014-08-04T15:44:45Z (GMT) by Jeremy Leaman
This is a terrific book, scholarly but at the same time elegantly written and entertaining. Zatlin succeeds in fulfilling a number of varied objectives, which include a detailed history of the political economy of the German Democratic Republic and an innovative account of its ultimate failure during the 1980s. He achieves this, first, by making the theory of money and the contradictions of its implementation the entry point from which the reader is asked to observe the 40 years of economic history in the exotic and artificial construct that was the GDR. Zatlin then crystallizes his analysis of the GDR’s failure, by asserting that one (key) deficiency was the monetization and commodification of economic relations in a society which was supposed to achieve precisely the opposite; by setting itself up as a (poor) competitor to the more efficiently monetized and commodified Federal Republic and, more dramatically, by using the DM as a parallel trading currency in the Intershops and exploiting official and black market exchange rates in the Exquisit and Delikat chains, the GDR condemned itself in ideological terms and in practice.