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The Socialist Car

Automobility in the Eastern Bloc

edited by Lewis H. Siegelbaum

Publication Year: 2011

Across the Soviet Bloc, from the 1960s until the collapse of communism, the automobile exemplified the tension between the ideological imperatives of political authorities and the aspirations of ordinary citizens. For the latter, the automobile was the ticket to personal freedom and a piece of the imagined consumer paradise of the West. For the authorities, the personal car was a private, mobile space that challenged the most basic assumptions of the collectivity. The "socialist car"-and the car culture that built up around it-was the result of an always unstable compromise between official ideology, available resources, and the desires of an increasingly restless citizenry. In The Socialist Car, eleven scholars from Europe and North America explore in vivid detail the interface between the motorcar and the state socialist countries of Eastern Europe, including the USSR.

In addition to the metal, glass, upholstery, and plastic from which the Ladas, Dacias, Trabants, and other still extant but aging models were fabricated, the socialist car embodied East Europeans' longings and compromises, hopes and disappointments. The socialist car represented both aspirations of overcoming the technological gap between the capitalist first and socialist second worlds and dreams of enhancing personal mobility and status. Certain features of automobility-shortages and privileges, waiting lists and lack of readily available credit, the inadequacy of streets and highways-prevailed across the Soviet Bloc. In this collective history, the authors put aside both ridicule and nostalgia in the interest of trying to understand the socialist car in its own context.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

The Socialist Car was put into gear thanks to the willingness of the Berliner Kolleg für Vergleichende Geschichte Europas (BKVGE) at the Freie Universität Berlin and its managing director, Dr. Arnd Bauerkämper, to host the conference from which this book emanated. Luminita Gatejel, then a graduate student at BKVGE, ...

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pp. 1-14

In March 1992, less than a year after Communism fell in Albania, Henry Kamm of the New York Times traveled to Noj, a “dirt-poor village” north of the capital, Tirana. There he encountered “shattered buildings, piles of rubble,” and other signs of the wave of vengeful destructiveness that had swept through the village months earlier. ...

Part One: Socialist Cars and Systems of Production, Distribution, and Consumption

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1. The Elusive People’s Car: Imagined Automobility and Productive Practices along the “Czechoslovak Road to Socialism” (1945–1968)

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pp. 17-29

In Czechoslovakia the automobile was not born socialist. After February 1948 the technicians who were involved in the development of the automobile industry had to take into account, on the one hand, the well-established productive practices that were the result of the complex, multilayered industrial history of Czechoslovakia and, ...

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2. Cars as Favors in People’s Poland

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pp. 30-46

Works on the functioning of centrally planned economies have proved that allocations of both investment and consumption resources often occurred in chaotic ways. Historians have already demonstrated that distributive decisions were often uninformed, made on the basis of common sense, precedents from the past, or intuition and not in accordance with scientific methods of planning. ...

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3. Alternative Modernity? Everyday Practices of Elite Mobility in Communist Hungary, 1956–1980

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pp. 47-68

This chapter addresses the failure of the state socialist social order to assert its systemic exceptionalism (a pattern of development distinguishing socialism from capitalism) in the field of modern mobility.1 The Hungarian experience was that the infrastructure serving collective transportation and the latter’s contribution to the aggregate performance of personal transport ...

Part Two: Mobility and Socialist Cities

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4. Planning for Mobility: Designing City Centers and New Towns in the USSR and the GDR in the 1960s

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pp. 71-91

The international dream of free-flowing traffic circulating through the city organism and of individual mobility as a sign of progress has had a powerful impact on urban planning ever since the 1950s and 1960s. Traffic planning was given high priority in the (re)definition of urban structures on both sides of the Iron Curtain. ...

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5. Automobility in Yugoslavia between Urban Planner, Market, and Motorist: The Case of Belgrade, 1945–1972

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pp. 92-104

In the recent flourishing of scholarship on cars and automobility around the world, a few key concepts have crystallized. Two are of direct relevance to the task of developing the history of automobility in European socialist states. The first is that the second half of the twentieth century has witnessed the emergence of a “globalizing car system,” ...

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6. On the Streets of a Truck-Building City: Naberezhnye Chelny in the Brezhnev Era

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pp. 105-123

“All roads lead to KamAZ!” So proclaimed the newspapers in the 1970s as they sought to mobilize people for the large-scale project on the banks of the Kama. The truck factory KamAZ (Kamskii Avotmobil'nyi Zavod—Kama Automotive Factory) and the new city of Naberezhnye Chelny were one of the major projects of the Brezhnev era. ...

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7. Understanding a Car in the Context of a System: Trabants, Marzahn, and East German Socialism

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pp. 124-140

The Trabant is probably the most potent symbol of Ostalgie—that wave of longing for the return of certain aspects of the GDR that swept former East Germans and even West Germans in the two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Before 1989, the Trabant, with its two-stroke engine, plastic fiberglass body, and terrible quality, was for many West Germans, ...

Part Three: Socialist Car Cultures and Automobility

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8. The Common Heritage of the Socialist Car Culture

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pp. 143-156

What seems to have survived the dissolution of the former Eastern Bloc with regard to cars is either their proverbial bad reputation or a nostalgic patina retroactively added to them. This chapter challenges these two dominant perspectives on Socialist Cars, one belonging to the Cold War context and the other to post-1989 Communist nostalgia. ...

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9. Autobasteln: Modifying, Maintaining, and Repairing Private Cars in the GDR, 1970–1990

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pp. 157-169

The topic of working on automobiles by users in the socialist GDR could be tackled with different methods and perspectives. It could be written as a political and social history of consumers in nonconsumerist economies, as a story of subjective approaches to technology, as a subaspect of socialist economies, and even as the history of media popularizing do-it-yourself. ...

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10. “Little Tsars of the Road”: Soviet Truck Drivers and Automobility, 1920s–1980s

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pp. 170-185

When Heinz Lathe and Günther Meierling, two German ex-POWs who returned to Soviet Russia in 1958, drove south from Moscow in their diesel-powered Mercedes, they passed long lines of trucks but met their first car only after they had traveled forty-three kilometers (twenty-seven miles). ...

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11. Women and Cars in Soviet and Russian Society

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pp. 186-204

What is the goal in studying marginalia such as Russian women and their relationship to cars? What insight can it offer us, given the fact that cars remained a minority phenomenon in the Soviet Union and that women so rarely sat behind the wheel that they were practically an endangered species? ...


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pp. 205-236

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 237-238


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pp. 239-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463211
E-ISBN-10: 0801463211
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801477386
Print-ISBN-10: 0801477387

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 842112108
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Socialist Car

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Subject Headings

  • Automobiles -- Social aspects -- Europe, Eastern -- History -- 20th century.
  • Automobiles -- Social aspects -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Automobile industry and trade -- Social aspects -- Europe, Eastern -- History -- 20th century.
  • Automobile industry and trade -- Social aspects -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Socialism and culture -- Europe, Eastern -- History -- 20th century.
  • Socialism and culture -- Soviet Union -- History.
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