The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc

October 31, 2020
The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc

Across the Soviet Bloc, from the 1960s until the collapse ofcommunism, the automobile exemplified the tension between theideological imperatives of political authorities and theaspirations of ordinary citizens. For the latter, the automobilewas the ticket to personal freedom and a piece of the imaginedconsumer paradise of the West. For the authorities, the personalcar was a private, mobile space that challenged the most basicassumptions of the collectivity. The "socialist car"—and the carculture that built up around it—was the result of an alwaysunstable compromise between official ideology, available resources,and the desires of an increasingly restless citizenry. In TheSocialist Car, eleven scholars from Europe and North Americaexplore in vivid detail the interface between the motorcar and thestate socialist countries of Eastern Europe, including the USSR.Inaddition to the metal, glass, upholstery, and plastic from whichthe Ladas, Dacias, Trabants, and other still extant but agingmodels were fabricated, the socialist car embodied East Europeans'longings and compromises, hopes and disappointments. The socialistcar represented both aspirations of overcoming the technologicalgap between the capitalist first and socialist second worlds anddreams of enhancing personal mobility and status. Certain featuresof automobility—shortages and privileges, waiting lists and lack ofreadily available credit, the inadequacy of streets andhighways—prevailed across the Soviet Bloc. In this collectivehistory, the authors put aside both ridicule and nostalgia in theinterest of trying to understand the socialist car in its owncontext.Contributors: Elke Beyer, Swiss Instituteof Technology; Valentina Fava, Helsinki Collegium for AdvancedStudies and University of Helsinki; Luminita Gatejel, EuropeanUniversity Institute, Florence; Mariusz Jastrzab, KozminskiUniversity; Corinna Kuhr-Korolev, University of Bochum; Brigitte LeNormand, Indiana University Southeast; Esther Meier, University ofthe Federal Armed Forces, Hamburg; Kurt Möser, Karlsruhe Instituteof Technology; György Péteri, Norwegian University of Science andTechnology, Trondheim; Eli Rubin, Western Michigan University;Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Michigan State University