January 28, 2012 2:36 AM Subscribe
To get one large point out of the way: In the new book, The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc, several contributors rapidly acknowledge the oxymoron of the title as well as the practice of owning a car in the former Soviet Empire. The private automobile, that avatar of western individualism, is difficult to square with collectivist notions. And once its owners were at the wheel, these socialist automobiles were often difficult to reconcile with notions of mechanical reliability. More than one contemporary joke appears in the text; the introduction, for instance offers, “Why does a Trabant have a heated rear window? To keep your hands warm when pushing it.” All that aside, the collection of essays edited by Lewis Siegelbaum, is a fascinating look at automobile use, production, and urban planning behind the Iron Curtain. It reveals a system that, if far from socialist or egalitarian in origin, created a culture of automobile use distinct from the western world.
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