Reply to Nestor and Mark, forwarded from Antony

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri May 12 08:00:07 MDT 2000

Hello, and thank you for the replies to my little note about Ladas. I would
like to continue the discussion. here are my comments on the replies of
Mark Jones and Nestor to my Ladidah contribution.

Mark Jone's, replied:

"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."

Unfortunately my brief search for pertinent mid-1980's Soviet production
statistics came up dry. I would very much like to get access to those
statistics. If you have them, please post them, or refer me to a site on
the net - in English or Spanish (I don't read Russian).

Despite the real differences between present day Russia, and the good old
USSR of old - I don't think the basic relation between Soviet and
imperialist production - in the terms of quality and quantity that I
sketched, were much different than those between present day Russia and
imperialism. However, if you have facts and figures to prove otherwise,
please post them.

Mark went on to add,

 "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).

Yes, I know Ladas are rugged. I have driven in them around the Colombian
Andes. Although population density up here is a lot, lot higher - as are
the mountains - than in the Urals and Siberia - so its a lot easier to find
someone to help you - (local emergency road services do exist, but aren't
too useful when you are out in the countryside on a dirt road). Still -
when the motor mounts sheer off due to the quality of the metal - you have
to say that rugged is a relative term.

Incidentally, the local nickname for this city is hueco-ta - or the holy
city (as in hole) because of the long, long period of municipal neglect of
road quality. This is now being aleviated by the neo-liberal mayor who is
selling off the municipal power company and any thing else he can get his
hands on to fix the potholes. Driving around town is much nicer now, however.

Mark then wrote,

"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)."

The same thing GM did for Los Angeles, Andres Pastrana (President of this
country) did when he was the Mayor of this town. Not far from my apartment
you can see the rusting hulks of the electric buses - just like the ones
still running in San Francisco by the way (where GM did not succeed).
Pastrana's family is in the bus biz - and cable TV, too.

Mark wrote,

" 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)."

Good point. But Soviet cities were pretty ugly, too. This city is very
interesting in this regard. As I mentioned in my first post, there are
about 7,000,000 people here - and 800,000 private cars. That means that
most of those people are getting around by bus, or on foot. Pastrana's
family, and others are heavily into the most horrible gas and deisel
burning buses on the planet - really foul smelling, with lots of heavy
particle air pollution. Talk about asthma - this city is full of asthmatics
(Very good biz for Glaxo Wlecome the British pharmaceutical company which
produces and sells the currently most popular asthma inhaler). The social
democratic types here have pushed almost successfully for the construction
of a subway system - like the one in Medellin - but the local variant of
the world crisis of capitalism has pushed the interest rate on all
Colombian bonds through the roof - leaving the project in limbo.

I do not agree with your idea that,

"That the future lies in the past, is true not only for Russia."

The future will be astonishingly different than the past. Your ideas about
the unsustainability of fossil fuel based economies is right on the money.
But the new world economy and society of this next century will be the
product of the social conflicts of billions of people in a global economy,
not a few million people in localized low tech economies.

I am glad that Ken Livingstone won - because it is another sign that our
side is on the rise again. But I have absolutely no faith in the man
himself - although I never met him and could well be wrong. He seems like
the sort of person who has a sensitive nose to which way the wind is
blowing, knows how to turn a phrase, and knows how to make his way through
the crowd.

I wouldn't put too much faith in car free zones. Band-aids and no more.
Finally, Mark wrote

"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."

The Vietnamese revolution was a long time ago Mark. Weaponry has moved on,
but much faster in the USA than in the fSU. That was Gorby's problem with
Reagan's Star Wars (although Star Wars was never as advanced as Gorby
believed it to be.) Sure they shot down a Stealth, and I applaud them. The
FARC shot down a radar spy plane here, too - and I applaud them. But in
terms of conventional warfare or strategic warfare - Soviet technology was
left in the dust when the personal computer arrived on everyone's desk in
the USA - but not on the desks of the Kremlin.

Nestor replied from an Argentinian angle. He wrote,

"... Though we have had a steady growth  of imported cars, it was not the
Russians who best took profit of the  politics of industrial destruction we
are suffering from 1976.

On the other hand, they do not have a good reputation, nor -by the  way,
and supporting some of the ideas in your interesting mail- do  the Romanian
Dacias (a copy of the Renault 12, a car that was built  in Argentina for
many years and was actually very succesful: there is  an Argentinian list
member who can deliver a lecture on the terrible  experience of driving and
owning a Dacia).

The "Lada" was produced in Argentina, also, but under the original  Fiat
name. One of the mainstays of car industry here were the FIAT  plants in
Córdoba (they were also one of the cradles of the  Cordobazo, but this is a
different story). Models 1600 and 125 (the  Italian original that the Lada
copied, if I am not wrong) were thus  produced locally. Very popular too,
though not of the best  reputation. The FIAT Argentina products were never
very well rated  among car buyers."

Some small points. I don't think you can really say that those Fiats
produced in Argentina were Ladas, since the original Ladas were slitghtly
redesigned from the Fiats (as I understand from Lada lovers on the net) and
since Fiat is a seperate entity from Autovaz.

Interestingly Fiats, and Fiat Polskis - the polish version of the Fiat -
were both assembled here in Colombia under license. So was another Soviet
car whose name I can't remember (it begins with Z or V, and was very small,
very low-tech, and very ugly.) The car industry here is much smaller than
the one in Argentina. Last year, according to, Colombia
produced only 30,000 cars, while Argentina produced 353,000.  Interestingly
the assemblers here are more or less independent companies which switch
contracts from one mulitnational to another - so that the factory that used
to assemble Fiats here, now assembles Toyotas. The same local company still
owns the factory. (I am not sure what mulitnaitonal participation there is
in the three assembly companies here.)

Also, here you find Dacias in abundance, too. Colombia may be what some
people call a semi-colony, but the boorgeoisie here has balanced between
imperialisms - playing Europe and Japan off against the USA for a long
time. This fact is reflected in the car culture - the Big Three here are -
Mazda, Chevrolet, and Renault. Each of which is produced by one of the
assembly companies mentioned above (which also assemble othr brands,
including Toyota, and Daewoo.) Dacias are still imported here under the
Renault umbrella, but their market share has plummeted due to their poor
reputation and Korean competition.

Nestor also wrote,

"I would think of this twice. The ease to fix is not a secondary issue  in
a Third World country. "Electronically controlled" cars of today,  in fact,
deprive locals with control of the tech involved. While old  fashioned, low
end technology, may be an outrageous thing in the  First World, down here,
where we are poor and need to "bind it with  wire" ("lo atamos con
alambre", an usual Argentinian saying that has  even got to a song by
Ignacio Copani) there is something serious to  argue in favor of that
technology. "

Nestor, I grew up in California, the home of the car culture. I have spent
many hours under the hoods (bonnets to those of you using the British
variant of the idiom) of cars of many varieties. Right now I own a 1982
Chevrolet Chevette, which I take care of myself. I learned to fix things
with wire and bubble gum in my fathers garage.

Most workers in the USA own cars, and fix the damn things themselves. It
costs a lot of money to pay someone else to fix them in the USA. So, the
ease of fixing a car is also an important issue in the imperialist countries.

One thing about the working class in the USA, and the petty bourgeois
culture of the USA too, that I think is great and also antithetical to the
-let the maid do it culture of the petty bourgeoisie in this country - is
the idea of doing-it-yourself. My father would have been embarassed to take
his car to a mechanic.

However, when new technology comes along, that is better than the old
technology, the do-it-yourselfer goes out and learns the new technology.

Despite the reactionary individualism involved in this cultural atitude,
there is a kernel of truth in it.

The working classes must themselves become high-tech - why should we be
satisfied with low-tech, and why should we be ignorant of high tech?

This is a very complex issue that goes way beyond this little note. This is
especially true since the introduction of new technology is frequently
motivated - at least in part-  by the bourgeoisie's efforts to destroy
gains made by workers. How the working classes should appropriate high
technology for themselves, and for society as a whole, should be a very
important consideration in any discussion of a program for struggle. Which
I will leave for another time. But in general, Marx was right, the Luddites
were wrong.

Nestor continued,

"There is no sense in "competing" with capitalism in terms of material
production of what here are luxury goods (and the world over are
greenhouse effect feeders!). The problem lies in that "Cuban Lada  owners",
that is the upper layers of Cuban society, should be  educated into
remembering where do they come from, and whither they  would fall down
into, which probably will not be ownership of a  Mercedes but of the same
Lada, only that older and rusty. And, for  this, cultural revolutions are a
permanent need. Once we have taken  power, a "permanent cultural
revolution" should be in order."

I think that here maybe are some things that deserve thought and
discussion. I think that we need to appropriate high technolgy - and to
make things that are luxuries into commonplace things, and to reshape high
technology to fit the real needs of human society. I do not think that
"competing with capitalism" is the answer - the Soviet Union and all the
other peaceful coexisters failed in the endeavor. But the real point is to
expropriate capitalism in the imperialist centers, along with the high
technology. How to do it is not so apparent to me, but I am sure that it
will be done if humanity is to survive and advance.

Then Nestor wrote,

" There is some "technological determinism" in this that I  do not share.
There were at least two differences between these  countries, which were
(a) the fact that the USSR _did_ control and  generate their own
technologies, while Brazil and Mexico (may I add  what Argentina once was,
if not the current financial semicolony that  carries same name?) do not;
and (b) the fact that the whole building  of Soviet economy, if analyzed in
terms of Department I and  Department II economic relationships must have
been certainly  stronger than any of the buildings that you mention.

Forgive the implication of "technological determinism". In general I agree
with your points a & b above. However, I would be cautious about asserting
the USSR controlled and generated its own technologies. Yes it did, but the
fact that imperialism tightly controlled technolgy transfers to the USSR,
and even transfers of scienttific knowledge to the USSR, was a major
impediment in the development of Soviet technology. The Soviet Union was in
the ridiculous situation of having to waste enourmous intellectual and
economic resources reinventing the wheel - time and time again - because it
was cut off from the inventors of new wheels in the imperialist centers.

My time is up. I want to thank both Mark and Nestor for the tone of their
replies. I want to continue in this discussion in a comradely way, despite
important differences that may arise. I am glad that you too Nestor
remember me, and I have been reading your posts with pleasure already. I
have not forgotten my promise to write about Moreno and about the bourgeois
revolution in Latin America. Those are things that will take time, but are
getting closer to completion.

Regards, Anthony

Louis Proyect

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