By on December 30, 2009

Ah, socialism. (courtesy:Autobild.de)

The “S” word became one of the more popular words in online discourse this year, typically derailing discussions way off topic and resulting in the kind of partisan screeching that drives everyone bonkers. More often than not, these fruitless debates settle around a single major point of contention: the definition of Socialism. Well, thanks to a 48-picture gallery of auto ownership in the former East Germany at Autobild, we now have a distinctly automotive definition of Socialism. Autobild’s thesis is that automobiles helped destroy Socialism, and certainly being forced to choose between a Trabant, a Moskvitch and a Lada would be enough to turn Che Guevara into Milton Friedman. But the gallery also includes images of the Neo-Trabant, an EV concept that plays on Germany’s strange quasi-nostalgia for the bad old days. Or at least the bad old cars of the bad old days. Which indicates that the most typical response to all forms of politics is ambivalence.

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40 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: You Know It’s Socialism When… Edition...”


  • avatar
    SOF in training

    Edward – you should know better.
    The Borgward was a reasonably pleasant West German car, though they also made the Lloyd.
    Behind the Trabant looks to be an IFA – the East German DKW, and next to the Trabant is a Wartburg, which is a newer IFA. 
    What do I win?

  • avatar
    Kman

    I think SOF in training gets a Trabant.
     
    Edward, great danger in this thread become another “What is Socialism” forum! Warning: screeching ahead.

    • 0 avatar
      Ernie

      Sadly, I concur.  We’re going to need nothing short of 2 more turnovers in Washington (yes, I said 2 – and that’s “balance of power” changes) before the average person regains their senses with regard to this and other topics.
       
      After that, we’ll all come back to our senses, realize that no one is going to fix (or completely destroy) everything . . . and get on with our farking lives.
       
      Cue the flamewar and/or runoff Spartacus thread.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Time for the jargon filled small novellas defending socialism. Don’t forget links to websites sympathetic to your beliefs!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      And don’t forget the jargon filled small novellas condemning anyone who’s even remotely liberal as a socialist.

    • 0 avatar
      Ernie

      Meh. Socialism is like Cold Fusion . . . decent enough concept.  I’m sure as soon as someone figures out how to do it without that whole, you know, “people starving” problem, it’ll become a huge hit.
       
      Honestly, let’s talk about tractor tires instead.  Seems a better use of our time :)

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      Originally, at least…
       
      Socialism: workers control the means of production within their enterprise
       
      Capitalism: suppliers of capital (investors) control the means of production within their enterprise
       
      Technically, that’s all there is to it.  Neither actually has anything to do with government.
       
      Communism is the authoritarian execution of socialism (in theory; it’s never actually turned over control to the workers); anarchism is the anti-authoritarian equivalent (only seen in practice a few times in the early 20th century, but defeated by opposing militaries each time).  Fascism doesn’t claim to take an economic position, but in practice most fascist countries have been authoritarian-capitalist in nature.  China is currently closer to that than to authoritarian socialism because investors are the ones getting rich (but you have to have friends in high places to be one).  Anti-authoritarian capitalism was approached by American society at the turn of the 20th century.
       
      Welfare-government capitalism was adopted to reduce the threat of socialist revolution, and to some degree to enlarge the consumer class.  It tends to lean towards authoritarianism, but all the countries doing it are still basically capitalist in that the investor is given ownership rights and control of enterprise.
       
      Having the UAW run a car company – and live or die by its success – would be socialist.

  • avatar

    Borgward definitely is West German, as “SOF in training” already noted. Borgward was located in Bremen.
    BTW:  Until the mid-fifties, things were not that dreary. The East German car production started with rebadged Bimmers (c.f. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automobilwerk_Eisenach), having a red/white logo instead of the blue/white one, named EMW instead of BMW.  They also built rebadged BMW motorcycles.
    The IFAs (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrieverband_Fahrzeugbau) initally were rebadged DKWs and offered some nice cars up until the mid-fifties.
    There also was some luxury in form of the (Horch) Sachsenring (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sachsenring-P-240-Cabriolet.jpg), although I wonder who ever was able (in the GDR) or willing (in the rest of the world) to buy that car.
    But similar to Škoda or Tatra, they lost their competitiveness in the sixties, because they simply earned/got not enough money for development. thanks to political decisions which clearly were in favor of mass transit.
    Not to forget the Moskviches, which were rebadged Opels from Russia (c.f. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moskvitch) up until the mid-fifties. Same fate.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    It would be hard for a Communist to choose between a Trabant, a Borgward, a Moskvitch and a Lada. Borgward was a West German car maker that went to the wall in 1961. Kind of like Saab, Pontiac et al.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    While waiting my turn at the Nurburgring in 2003, there was a black Travant where the owner fitted a Cogsworth V8 into the bonnet and a 9″ pumkin from a Mustang for the rear diff. Was like watching a brick learn how to fly. Ultimate conjuncture of Free Market and the red menace. BTW, weren’t these vehicles built in East Germany, which was fundamentally Communist, not Socialist.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming


    I’m feeling nostalgic for a Borgward. I wonder if J Mays is up to designing a retro?

    One of my favorite pastimes of late is reading the comments in the web-based editions of the local newspaper. I l0ve the way people airily dismiss those they disagree with by calling them a communist/socialist/fascist – sometimes simultaneously.

    It doesn’t seem to matter that the actual behavior they are criticizing rarely comes close to conforming to the standard definition of the above terms.

    I wonder how long the US can maintain its superpower status given the electorate’s level of ignorance about pretty basic political matters.

    • 0 avatar
      reclusive_in_nature

      Aside from the thinly veiled attempt to insult Americans (as a member of the electorate I assure you we’re not ignorant),  I would agree that there’s lots of people that have been suckered into contributing to socialist politicians just because said socialist also had a liberal agenda (gay marriage, abortion, etc.) when in all actuality they’d prefer government to stay out of people’s and corporate business (most self-proclaimed liberals don’t know that they’re actually libertarians).Young people are particularly vulnerable to this.

      Now, if I don’t mention the flipside someone  in their infinite, self righteous whininess will do so for me so here it is: I’m sure there’s been a few people that have been suckered into contributing to a few laissez-faire capitalists just because they have a conservative agenda (no gay marriage, pro life, etc) when in all actuallity they’d be very happy if government dictated every aspect of business.

  • avatar
    jimperial

    With regard to the Borgward company, can anyone (yes you, Bertel) add credence to the conspiracy theory where a solvent company was wound up by the Quandt family’s interference in state politics, payback to anti-Nazi C F W Borgward, and Daimler Benz wanting the Bremen production facilities? Or is the earliest rambling of the tinfoil helmet crowd.

    The Borgward Big Six/2300 was a direct competitor to the W111 series and prompted Benz to adopt the Borgward financed / Bosch developed pneumatic suspension for the W112 models. Borgward won the copyright infringement case in the courts. This car lived on in South America after the demise of the company.

    In any case, the cars of Carl Borgward are not comparable to those devices of Eastern Europe. 

    • 0 avatar
      venator

      Re the conspiracy theory – yes, it is true.  The Quandts eliminated a competitor by underhand methods. Re Dr. C. F. W. Borgward being an anti-Nazi - I doubt it, as he was briefly imprisoned after WW2 for his role in producing materiel for the German war effort, and had to go through a lengthy denazification process.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    This picture reminds me of my first trip to East Germany via checkpoint Charlie.  It did seem as if someone grabbed the knob on the TV and turned the color off.  I think some of the so called quasi-nostalgia is due to the fact that bad as they were the Trabi’s had character as opposed to the efficient well made appliances we use for transportation today.  Its the scruffy stray dog that became a part of the family and so the family lore. 
    I would agree on the ambivilance to politics.  Human nature is to find a comfort zone and so long as that isn’t tampered with (too much) we’ll go on our way regardless of the Tyrants and tin plated dictators with delusions of godhood who lead us.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Ridiculous!
    The country owned these companies and a series of bureaucracies decided the kind of car to produce. The government decided how safe the cars were to be, how much gas mileage they would get, how many people were to fit into them, and how much of the natural resources would be available to be used to create each car. Other bureaucracies decided how much each car manufacturer would earn each year, what the salaries would be for the executives, and how many union employees would be hired and what they would be paid. That is socialism!

    The East Germans on the other hand…

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The difference being, of course, that in East Germany, the government went in and took over the companies simply because it could, and anyone who disagreed was put up against the wall with a blindfold.

      Very different than what happened in our auto industry…the companies went to the government for help because the banks turned them down (and, in fact, the banks couldn’t have lent the money even if they’d wanted to), and the government has no real intention of investing in these companies for any longer than it has to.

      A slightly different case, wouldn’t you say?

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      Different causes with similar results, doesn’t change the definition.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Actually, different approaches to the separation of government and private enterprise, with VERY different results.

      Put differently: could Trabant have gone broke? Absolutely not – their products were literally foisted on customers, who had no choice about what to buy.

      But nobody’s forcing anyone to buy GM or Chrysler products, are they? In fact, if consumers reject their products, those companies WILL go broke if the government gets tired of picking up their bills.

      The difference IS critical, and it’s the difference between a command economy 100% run by the government, and a market-driven, consumer-driven economy with limited government control.

      Theoretically, you could say both are socialism, but it’s like saying all cancer is the same.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      In fact, if consumers reject their products, those companies WILL go broke if the government gets tired of picking up their bills.

      Uh – what part of GM isn’t bankrupted, and why did we give this bankrupted organization over $3,000,000,000 – yesterday? This administration isn’t getting tired of picking up their bills and what they are now doing is most definately socialist. It will take a non-socialist administration to do what it is you claim will happen - but is definately not happening now or there would have been a different announcement yesterday.

      You are splitting hairs to avoid seeing the hard truth here.

  • avatar

    compared to most modern cars, the Trabants had a lot of character. They look almost cuddly.

    Borgwards don’t deserve to be lumped with Trabbies, Ladas, et al. My childhood friend’s father, who also had a BMW 502 V8 had an MG sedan and a Borgward Isabella. Funny thing was, the father looked just like the Borgward, but that’s another story.

  • avatar
    twotone

    I drove a Lada Zhiguli 06 when I lived in Moscow (1992 – 1997). It was the best of Italian engineering with the best of Russian manufacturing. It was interesting to see everyone remove their windshield wipers when the parked their cars to keep others from stealing the blades.
    Twotone
     

  • avatar
    SOF in training

    I win a Trabant???  Fantastic!  I’ve always wanted one!  One of the great “what the hell were they thinking?” cars ever produced!  Just shows that even in a system that is supposed to be “government by committee”, someone with a crazy idea – body made of… well, almost formica – can still get their idea produced.  I’m sure it made a lot of sense at the time.  Good sheet metal and stamping equipment was probably in short supply.  It just stayed in production way too long.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Here’s your Trabi. It’s amazing what the addition of a nice hood ornament can do for a cars looks:

      http://viewmorepics.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=viewImage&friendID=58408841&albumID=888330&imageID=9548980

    • 0 avatar
      SOF in training

      That doesn’t look like it’s powered by a two stroke, and with her I wouldn’t need more than two strokes.
      Dirty old men need love too.

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    I always thought the Trabant was a cool car; maybe one day I will pick one up for the odd factor. A few years ago, the “Sun” newspaper had an article about the Trabi. Part of it was a collection of jokes translated from German to English. I had kept one of them because I found it funny, so here goes:
     
    A Trabant breaks down on the Autobahn and a BMW 750 stops to help the old driver.
     
    “I’ll tow you to the next service station,” says the BMW driver, “But if I drive too fast, flash your lights”. They set off but when a Porsche speeds past at 120mph the BMW driver forgets about the Trabant.
     
    They start to race and pass a Police car who radios HQ.
     
    “You won’t believe,”  the Policeman reports, “I have a BMW and a Porsche racing at 129mph with a bloody Trabant flashing his lights to overtake!”

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Anything for page views, eh?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I thought that too, but reading through the comments reminds me of why I really like TTAC.  These comments on many sites would quickly devolve into a crude screaming session where facts wold be replaced with partisan bullcrap.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    You’re baiting me, aren’t you?

  • avatar
    venator

    The Trabant was a remarkable car. The galvanised steel body with plastic outer panels meant that the cars never rusted. No Trabant ever had to worry about freezing up in the winter or boiling over in the summer. There never was any problem with the fuel pump. No oil changes were ever required. No need to reset valve timing or replace timing belt/chain. It was also the trendsetter in using a transverse engine, gearbox in line with the engine, and front-wheel-drive, i.e. the dominant layout of today! (The earlier DKW and IFA F-8 used the transverse engineahead of the axle-line, with a chain-driven gearbox between it and the differential gear.)

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      It is remarkable in that the engineers were presented with what resources were most plentiful, and they managed to make a car out of them.  Russians are very good engineers.  But make no mistake, it is a fairly crude car even by the standards of its day.  Yet that fit hand in glove with a country that had roads that could only be described as horrific, and weather conditions that were (at least in the winter) abyssmal.

  • avatar

    With regard to the Borgward company, can anyone (yes you, Bertel) add credence to the conspiracy theory where a solvent company was wound up by the Quandt family’s interference in state politics, payback to anti-Nazi C F W Borgward, and Daimler Benz wanting the Bremen production facilities?
    I have no idea. I was 12 when Borgward shut down 1961. But I’m old enough to remember the Lloyd “Plastik-Bomber,” and the Borgward Isabella.
    I  took the liberty of editing out Borgward. Bremen company. Bremen was never part of  East Germany. Props to the B&B for being on the up & up on German car nostalgia.

  • avatar
    don1967

    It is fairly clear that hardcore socialism/communism in general does not breed automotive excellence.   But is there a truly hardcore capitalist car – one built without government grants or protectionism, corporate nepotism, unions, etc.  – to prove the opposite?   What would Ayn Rand drive?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    But is there a truly hardcore capitalist car – one built without government grants or protectionism, corporate nepotism, unions, etc.  – to prove the opposite?
     
    You can’t have such a thing because you can’t have pure capitalism any more than you can have pure communism.  In either case, power starts to concentrate among the wealthy and/or powerful, and the feedback loop begins and you end up with some form of government, even if you wouldn’t call it “government”.
     
    Randians have trouble with this, but Randians are just as self-delusional and unrealistic as Marxists, only more selfish.
     
    At best, what you’d end up with is lots of Tata Nanos on one side, and Rolls Royces on the other with previous little middle ground (eg, just like what the communist regime do with Trabants or Ladas on one end and one-off supersedans on the other).
     
    Side note: I owned a Lada Niva.  New, as they actually maintained a Canadian dealer network.  For six weeks.  What a horrible car, yet part of me still wishes I’d kept it.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Yes yes, but to pose a more interesting (albeit off-topic) question, why is the Autobild homepage so ugly? Everything Springer (its giant arch-conservative publishing house) touches turns to unappealing crap. As a magazine, Autobild is really quite good: cheap to buy, up-to-date, well-informed, well-written and relatively uncorrupted. But its appearance is socialist in the second, sad sense: not “beauty for the masses”, but “we are down to earth and so we don’t worry about bourgeois aesthetic trifles”.

  • avatar

    Rarely known, but true: East Germany’s nomenklatura drove Western cars. First to import cars to the GDR was Volvo. A Volvo 140, 160, or 240 branded you as one of the chosen few. Erich Honecker’s daily driver was a 264 TE, customized by Bertone. Later, Citroen delivered thousands to East Germany. Volkswagen delivered 10,000 Golf I to East Germany. In the early 80s, Mazda sold a similar amount. There were also Renaults, Ford Orions and Fiat Unos.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    Some were gifts from Western leaders.  Leonid Brezhnev had several western cars, I think it was Richard Nixon who presented him with a Lincoln, and Brezhnev proceeded to take Mr. Nixon on a hair-raising ride through the Russian countryside.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    What’s with the praise of the Trabant?
    Ever have to deal with them?
    They spewed oily black exhaust and polluted like a tire fire!
    Cute? Maybe sitting still. But cars are supposed to move. When the Trabant moved, it wasn’t cute at all. They were EPA Superfund sites on wheels!

    Good lord people!

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      Yeah, I’ve had to deal with them, yes they smoked were generally a hazard to sit in much less drive.   And a Lada Riva as well, horrid brakes and steering that made one wonder if it was some secret Government program to assure all Russian males had a certain level of upper body strength.

      But its not so much praise  (at least on my part)  as it is a fascination with all things mechanical and in this case peculiar things mechanical. 


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