The Socialist Car
| Peter Klein |
I blogged previously about Lewis Siegelbaum’s 2008 book Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile (or, more precisely, Perry Patterson’s EH.Net review). So I need to say something about the follow up, The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc (Cornell University Press, 2011), an essay collection edited by Siegelbaum. Once again, here’s Patterson:
As was true for Cars for Comrades, this book takes the modern upper-middle-class Western reader far from the contemporary world where drivers need not know what’s “under the hood,” where synthetic oil might not need attention for 15,000 miles or more, and where long-standing institutions for finance, distribution and service of vehicles are seemingly ubiquitous. Rather, this is a world where two-stroke engines are designed for easy (and frequent) self-service, new car owners are required to install windshield wipers, and new automobiles are provided with extensive repair kits and instructions for disassembly. This world is also one where private automobiles – and even socially-owned trucks – represent potential threats to the Soviet-style socialist undertaking by providing opportunities for generating illegal incomes and diverting resources toward consumption. At the core of the rich set of stories contained here are the compromises that everyday citizens, urban planners, and Party officials routinely made as the powerful forces associated with the automobile became more and more apparent throughout the socialist bloc. In addition, the examples presented in this eleven-chapter volume say much about the increasingly complex information flows required and implied by automobiles that became more and more technically complex over time.
Speaking of EH.net, the performativity crowd may get a kick out of another recent review, Bruce Carruthers’s discussion of Carl Wennerlind, Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620-1720 (Harvard University Press, 2011). Notes Carruthers: “It was not simply that early modern capital markets evolved, that financial systems developed, or that English economic institutions changed. These critical transformations were accompanied and even shaped by the analyses offered by people who witnessed the events of the time.”