Forwarded from Anthony Boynton

M A Jones jones118 at
Wed May 10 23:36:38 MDT 2000

----- Original Message -----
From: "Louis Proyect" <lnp3 at>
To: <marxism at>; <pen-l at>
Sent: Thursday, May 11, 2000 3:32 AM
Subject: Forwarded from Anthony Boynton

> Louis,
> Not too long ago there was a discussion on your list (Marxism) about why
> the Soviet Union fell apart.
> I would like to suggest that the real reason was the Lada.

There are some things right with this but lots of things wrong.

First, Anthony's comparisons of machine tool etc production are with
contemporary Russia, not with the USSR. A baseline of the mid-1980s, before
the almost total collapse of Soviet production particularly in sectors like
machine building, would show different results. Second, Ladas are clunky and
old-fashioned and prone to minor breakdowns. But they are rugged and will
get you from A to B even when A is in European Russia and B is the other
side of the Urals in western Siberia (I know because I've done it).
Believe me, when it's -30 deg centigrade outside and there is
no auto rescue service or indeed no
settlement of any kind for a hundred kilometres or more, you don't set off
in a vehicle you don't have some gut faith in. It's not like hopping into
your Jeep Grand Cherokee and driving across five miles of boulevards to the
mall to pick up a six-pack. Ladas are and were highly serviceable cars in a
society which wasn't a slave to the private car and didn't fetishise cars as
the only form of transport. In Soviet Russia there were alternatives. Buses,
taxis and trains worked; you could fly anywhere for a few roubles
(you can't any more).

The disasters inflicted by GM on US mass transit systems did not happen
there (they are now; Moscow, where more than 100,000 children now live in
the streets, has built a six-lane beltway to service its new elites who are
building walled, gated new suburbs for themselves). Soviet city-design was
ergonomic and eco-efficient. US urban landscapes are a social and ecological
disaster and in the era when the oil is running out they will prove
unsustainable (I'm not even going to mention the small matter of greenhouse
emissions and global warming).

The future of genuine mass transit for people living in the fSU lies in the
past: with rationally-planned systems in which private cars play an
impoprtant but minor part (the number of internal passenger-miles flown has
fallen by 90% in the past ten years: in the new era of democracy and freedom
to travel abroad, most ex-Soviet citizens are now more like open-plan
prisoners than ever they were). That the future lies in the past,
is true not only for Russia. Yes, greed
and envy are easy to excite; socialism is about winning mass consensus for
more livable, humane and collective solutions. Here in London, the car is on
the way out; a new Mayor has just been elected by a huge plurality on a
ticket whose main theme was beefing up public transport, introducing
congestion taxes on private vehicles, and turning central London into a
car-free zone. Even in the heart of the beast, facts sometimes speak loudly
enough to polluted, asthmatic, noise-infested citizens who spend an average
2.3 hours daily commute on roads where the average speed is now lower (in
Central London) than it was in 1920, to make socialist
arguments look like second nature and to make the car look like the
'infernal engine' Winston Churchill famously called it.

One more thing: I wouldn't be in such a hurry to dismiss Soviet weaponry.
What did the Vietnamese use to blast the US out of their land? Whose missile
shot down a Stealth fighter over Serbia last year? But of course, Soviet
cars might have been better if they hadn't had to spend so many efforts on
their weapons industries.

Mark Jones

More information about the Marxism mailing list