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Cars for Comrades

The Life of the Soviet Automobile

By Lewis H. Siegelbaum (Other)

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Format: Paperback, 328 pages
Published In: United States, 01 March 2011
The automobile and Soviet communism made an odd couple. The quintessential symbol of American economic might and consumerism never achieved iconic status as an engine of Communist progress, in part because it posed an awkward challenge to some basic assumptions of Soviet ideology and practice. In this rich and often witty book, Lewis H. Siegelbaum recounts the life of the Soviet automobile and in the process gives us a fresh perspective on the history and fate of the USSR itself. Based on sources ranging from official state archives to cartoons, car-enthusiast magazines, and popular films, Cars for Comrades takes us from the construction of the huge "Soviet Detroits," emblems of the utopian phase of Soviet planning, to present-day Togliatti, where the fate of Russia's last auto plant hangs in the balance. The large role played by American businessmen and engineers in the checkered history of Soviet automobile manufacture is one of the book's surprises, and the author points up the ironic parallels between the Soviet story and the decline of the American Detroit. In the interwar years, automobile clubs, car magazines, and the popularity of rally races were signs of a nascent Soviet car culture, its growth slowed by the policies of the Stalinist state and by Russia's intractable "roadlessness." In the postwar years cars appeared with greater frequency in songs, movies, novels, and in propaganda that promised to do car-crazy America. Ultimately, Siegelbaum shows, the automobile epitomized and exacerbated the contradictions between what Soviet communism encouraged and what it provided. To need a car was a mark of support for industrial goals; to want a car for its own sake was something else entirely. Because Soviet cars were both hard to get and chronically unreliable, and such items as gasoline and spare parts so scarce, owning and maintaining them enmeshed citizens in networks of private, semi-illegal, and ideologically heterodox practices that the state was helpless to combat. Deeply researched and engagingly told, this masterful and entertaining biography of the Soviet automobile provides a new perspective on one of the twentieth century's most iconic-and important-technologies and a novel approach to understanding the history of the Soviet Union itself.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1 AMO-ZIS-ZIL-AMO-ZIL: Detroit in Moscow 2 GAZ, Nizhni Novgorod-Gor'kii-Nizhni Novgorod 3 VAZ, Togliatti 4 Roads 5 One of the Most "Deficit" of Commodities 6 Cars, Cars, and More Cars Conclusion Notes Index

About the Author

Lewis H. Siegelbaum is Professor of History at Michigan State University. He is the author of several books, including Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile and the editor of The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc, both from Cornell.

Reviews

"Siegelbaum has produced a superb account of Soviet life as viewed through the lens of the failed Soviet struggle to match the capitalist West, and the United States in particular, auto for auto and highway for highway, while denying its citizens the mobility that would undermine the Soviet state... The book is a pleasure to read and ... brings an important part of the history of the Soviet Union to light by illustrating the day-to-day workings of its economic system."-Andrew Morriss, Books & Culture, January/February 2009 "A groundbreaking chronicle of the contradictory, faltering, and fascinating march toward automobilism in the USSR."-Tom Vanderbilt, Times Literary Supplement, 30 January 2009 "Siegelbaum's book is impressive. It deserves to be heralded by a whole Moscow traffic-jam full of tooting horns."-American Historical Review "Cars for Comrades is a complex, sophisticated, and entertaining history of cars and trucks in the Soviet Union."-Business History Review "Lewis H. Siegelbaum explores the curious antinomy between the car and Communism. On the one hand, the production of cars was a symbol of Communism. The building of car-producing factories was an important criterion for catching up with and surpassing America. On the other hand, almost nobody had a car in their personal possession in the early Soviet years. The production itself was important, not the result, which is not surprising if we take into account that a car was a symbol of personal independence."-Slavic and East European Journal "This is a statistic-rich volume, but, as Siegelbaum acknowledges, the Soviet statistic is slippery and sometimes misleading. Statistics may be plentiful, but facts are somewhat patchy, and the strength of Siegelbaum's approach lies in his skillful interweaving of numerical evidence and exegesis, bolstering massaged official figures and incomplete data with textual and visual sources: memoirs, anecdotes, transcripts, reports, publications, paintings, films, photographs, and a variety of other archival materials. This inclusive approach carries the reader on raised suspension over the worst potholes and inconsistencies in the road surface."- Oliver Johnson, Journal of Cold War Studies (Winter 2014) "Placing himself at the crossroads of social, economic, and cultural history, Lewis Siegelbaum tells us the new and compelling story of the Soviet automobile. He sheds unexpected light on all manner of subjects: Soviet relations with the West, industrialization and urbanization, and private life and consumption. Elegantly constructed and impeccably researched, this book is a substantial contribution to the study of Soviet civilization."-Stephen Lovell, King's College London "This is a great book by a great historian, working at the top of his game. It is a work of passion and terrific imagination, not to mention prodigious and resourceful industry. It is also wonderfully original. Lewis H. Siegelbaum tells a compelling story that moves right along and does so with clarity and wit. Cars for Comrades will take its place among the indispensable works on Russian and Soviet history."-Robert Edelman, University of California, San Diego "The intersection of automobiles and private transportation with a communist government and workers' society is always fascinating, and Lewis H. Siegelbaum's well-researched and engagingly written exploration of the history of cars in the Soviet Union is an interesting ride from start to finish."-Richard Schweid, author of Che's Chevrolet and Fidel's Oldsmobile: On the Road in Cuba "What seems to me particularly innovative in this rich and intriguingly written book is the idea that automobiles live their own lives like humans. Discussing the aphorism 'Russia has two misfortunes-fools and poor roads,' Lewis H. Siegelbaum adds a lot to our understanding of how the Soviet regime actually ruled and how ordinary people really lived."-Sergei Zhuravlev, Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences "This wonderful book is engagingly written and thoroughly researched. Lewis H. Siegelbaum links the important themes of Soviet history with new and less familiar issues of private life, consumption, and the everyday. Cars for Comrades has something for everyone: fiction, stories, technical details, and above all, a new and compelling way to understand the history of the Soviet Union as a system based on material goods and mobility as well as on repression."-Diane P. Koenker, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, author of Republic of Labor and coeditor of Turizm "This comprehensive history of Soviet cars relies on unique data and presents many interesting and intriguing historical episodes and details. Lewis H. Siegelbaum succeeds, in an exemplary manner, in combining technological, industrial, and political aspects of history with a keen analysis of the social and cultural conditions and consequences of Soviet 'automobilism.' He takes us on an exciting ride through Soviet history from the 1920s and 1930s-when the Ford car factories became the primary example and model of modern industrial production and even industrial society at large-to Brezhnev's times in the 1970's when, for the first time in history, ordinary Soviet citizens could seriously think of getting a private car of their own. Siegelbaum shows interestingly how private cars, and above all the famous LADA produced by AVTOVAZ in Togliatti, soon became sought-after and cherished consumer goods. In many ways unanticipated by the leaders of the Communist Party and the State Planning Offices, automobiles drastically changed the social and cultural scene of the whole country by planting the seeds of possessive individualism in the minds of many Soviet citizens."-Jukka Gronow, Uppsala University

EAN: 9780801477218
ISBN: 0801477212
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Dimensions: 23.29 x 15.7 x 1.96 centimetres (0.46 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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