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Soviet-Era Industrial Design (atlasobscura.com)
245 points by how-about-this 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments



Moscow Design Museum has some more examples too http://moscowdesignmuseum.ru/en/exhibitions/1/. Those that grew up in Soviet Union will recognize familiar objects. I recognized the phones, the "basketball" game, and the portable checkers game. Well and of course the Moskvitch 408 car.

I don't remember really thinking about design back then. Maybe because we didn't have many choices. You wanted a tape player you picked between 4 models, cars - same thing, and so on. And there is probably an effect here of finding the best stuff and displaying it. But that wasn't the average. Most of the stuff remember being unreliable and needing repair. Electronic equipment came with nice diagrams of how everything worked, but it wasn't from the goodness of their hearts, environmental concerns, or trying to foster a "maker" culture, it was because it would actually be unreliable and break down quite often.


One thing always strikes me in terms of design when I'm in Latvia (USSR republic in 1940 and 1945-1990). It is how modular, repairable, and in that way "simple" things that have survived from the Soviet era look. Ingeniously built wooden ironing boards for example, the older generations of trams of Riga, the "Minsk" folding bicycles that you still see around very often, the trains (no new ones since 1991!), even many of the "Chrushchovkas" appartment blocks...

Contrary to my previous western bias, some things were clearly being built very sturdily. In comparison, a lot of things built in the '90s and 2000's seem to be crumbling already. It all smells of inferior materials, quick and dirty fixes... I don't know if that is survivor bias kicking in though...


> older generations of trams of Riga

A quick google search confirmed what I had already suspected, that is that those trams are Tatra trams, built in former Czechoslovakia. I’m a big fan of them, I think they are the main reason why I immediately became a tram-lover as a student almost 20 years ago when I moved to Bucharest in order to study. Of course, the newer trams look and are often times a lot more comfortable, but those Tatra trams have something of a “timeless design” about them that is hard to pin down but which you can still feel. Ever since I’ve become a tram lover I starting seeing cities without electric public transport (trams or trolleys) as belonging to an “inferior” stage of civilization.


I don't think this is something particular to Warsaw bloc countries. For example I love GM new look buses that were running around refurbished up until early 2000s, and the main reason they were replaced not because last of them broke down but because they weren't accessible. I bet it's the same situation with Tatra streetcars.

https://duckduckgo.com/?q=gm+new+look+bus&t=ffab&atb=v112-4&...


"accessible" here meaning "able to be used by people in wheelchairs.

(I guess almost all HN readers are familiar with this term from software "accessibility" design. USA English is my native (and at present, only) language but I find these terms odd.)


Good example of this are the Simson bikes from Eastern Germany, small 50cc motor cycles going up to 70 km/h. Their technical design is extremely simple, and they are being repaired and are in normal daily use all over the country (not just by nostalgia nerds or hipster city dwellers). Many owners are most likely younger than the bike they're riding.


Basically all of the 50cc mopeds had to be artificially crippled to keep them under legal speed limits for them (typically 40-50km/h depending on country). Remove the cripple and they'll all go 70-80km/h or more. This isn't even with upgraded parts, which makes them go 100km/h-ish and more, although the suspension, frame and brakes on them will definitely not be up to the job safely without upgrading those too.


> Contrary to my previous western bias, some things were clearly being built very sturdily. In comparison, a lot of things built in the '90s and 2000's seem to be crumbling already. It all smells of inferior materials, quick and dirty fixes... I don't know if that is survivor bias kicking in though...

If you're a company who wants more profit, you'll want to make your product as cheap as possible. If you don't make profit, you'll be eaten by other capitalists.


I think in that era electronic equipment often came with schematics in the West, too. I'm pretty sure our TRS-80 manuals had a schematic, and I remember opening up a few transistor radios to find the schematic screen-printed on the inside of the case.


The family (CRT) TV in the 80s came with a fold out schematic tucked in a pocket on the inside of the back cover.

And a CRT is not something to take lightly, as there is a sizable transformer in there to drive the electron gun and the magnets that deflect the beam.

What happened, imo, is the increasing used of ICs (first standardized ones, and later ASICs). This made it much harder to troubleshoot a device without access to an oscilloscope and the ability to order up OEM parts.

Before that a multimeter and some basic understanding of electric circuits could get you a long way.


I remember poring over the C64 schematic for hours on end back in the eighties.

I believe it was printed as a fold-out at the back of the programmer's reference guide.

That schematic probably more than anything else influenced my later career as an electronics engineer - I really, really wanted to be able to figure out how it all came together and actually made a useful product.


>Electronic equipment came with nice diagrams of how everything worked, but it wasn't from the goodness of their hearts, environmental concerns, or trying to foster a "maker" culture, it was because it would actually be unreliable and break down quite often.

I'm not trying to be a political apologist here, but it doesn't have to be just one of them, right? I mean, the products could be inferior because of some factors, and there could be attempts to foster a "maker" culture because of other factors.


there's a whole genre of art defined in the west as "soviet futurism". Lots of the early space race era public propaganda posters and such fall into this category.

https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&hs=n9w&channel=f...

https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&hs=y9w&channel=f...


  Most of the stuff remember being unreliable and needing repair.
Also looking pretty drab most of the time.


For those interested, this particular kind of design is known as retrofuturism around the Internet. Reddit has a good subreddit on it: https://www.reddit.com/r/RetroFuturism/

I personally have once had these Sputnik razor blades: https://www.ebay.com/p/Sputnik-100-Double-Edge-Razor-Blades-...

In addition to being dirt cheap, I also found the branding funny. Somehow I felt like I am buying something not very good in terms of quality, but which does work (somehow) anyway. There were also pack called Lada's in there. I definitely felt like the Sputnik ones were better than the Lada's though.


It's Ladas (a Greek athlete). Surprisingly Wikipedia has no entry for him but only for a village named after him: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ladas,_Messenia



"Lada" has nothing with Greek.

It is a transliteration of Russian "Лада" - short form of "Ладная" - beautiful/harmonious.


Yes, this is why the razor blades are called Ладас in Russian and used to have a picture of a running man in style of antique Greek drawings.


They're talking about Ladas, i.e., razor blades, not Lada, i.e., the car manufacturer. Two different things, not in any way related.


Lada (Лада) is also a Slavic goddes of beauty, spring, fertility and family - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lada_(mythology)


I'm grinning. That does make much more sense.


No, it doesn't. It is not ladas, it's lada and it's from a type of ship - https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9B%D0%B0%D0%B4%D1%8C%D1%8F... You can see logo of lada and there is a ship there


https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/%D0%9B%D...

You have no idea what are you talking about.


This is logo of the car - https://ru.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Файл:Lada_Logo.jpeg, this is a monument for the ship type in the city near by to the factory - https://goo.gl/images/Dod837, this is a picture of the ship type from an artist - https://ru.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:Nic... and last but not least, the wikipedia article about ship type in russian - https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ладья_(судно). Greece, yeah.


Ok, in case you do not understand Russian: the picture I posted is the Soviet packaging of these razor blades, they are ones on top with the picture of a running man in style of ancient Greek paintings and inscription of "Ladas" (Ладас) in Russian. Fun fact - adding "s" at the end of the word makes no sense in Russian so it's not a form of "Lada" (Лада) but an entirely different word. Judging by the fact that Ladas is the name of an ancient Greek athlete, which is also spelled as Ладас in Russian and the picture of some Greek athlete on the packaging it's not a huge of leap to conclude that the blades are named, in fact, after the aforementioned athlete and not ships, cars or goddesses with different name.


I think when OP was mentioning ladas they were talking about razor blades, not cars.


>This is logo of the car

It's not about the car. It's about a totally different product -- razor blades.


They're talking about Ladas, i.e., razor blades, not Lada, i.e., the car manufacturer. Two different things, not in any way related.


Yep, also this type of ship is kinda very related to the place where the car was made. It’s a city residing on a big, big river - Volga and Lad’ya - the type of ship is a symbol associated with that city and the river. My hometown, lovely place :)


VAZ, the manufacturer who produced Ladas was/is situated on the Volga river, and based on my understanding (I lived in a city nearby), the word Lada came from word Lad'ya which is a type of ship that sailed on Volga river. At least that's how I remember it.


Yeah. Sorry. I was wrong.


Those are made in a Gillette factory that happens to be in Russia. Entirely unrelated to anything Soviet.


Interesting, I must have made the false assumption when I received the package and saw the Russian postage labels. Looking at some other eBay listings now, the connection to Gillette is apparent. Thanks for letting me know!


As a nerd interested in all things future and retro, thank you for sharing that subreddit. I will definitely check it out!


I always will wonder if, suppose we hadn't bothered with a "cold war" and the mutual antipathy & fear, the Soviet system would be ticking along well.

So, I always find the bits of Soviet thought fascinating. In large part, I think it is because it is both modern and alien. A different road was taken and a different perspective was built in so many things. Even when I work with people who grew up in that world, they have a variant viewpoint versus people from other worlds.

I would love to see a volume translating the key developments of Soviet computer science & programming languages. There's drabs of translated information, but not a coherent narrative & a solid compare & contrast.


And if Soviets hadn't occupied a bunch of countries and oppressed their citizens. If there was no fear internally and massive surveillance. I'm super happy USSR went down and we have our own tiny state where we can choose whatever system we want.


> we have our own tiny state where we can choose whatever system we want

Agreed, surveillance, oppression are all terrible, but I highly doubt you can really choose any system you may want now, (see Confessions of an Economic Hit Man).


There's always play under the table.

But democratic election where I can oversee voting, join one of many (or start a new one) political party or even go for office myself is infinitely more free than in Soviet system.

Completely overhaul is probably not possible, because there would be a lot of people opposing it and simple majority is not enough to implement it. But significant adjustments are happening all the time. Point in case - France and Macron's reforms.


> Completely overhaul is probably not possible

Not complete, just a minor improvement that benefits your country is enough to put a quick stop to it, see Iran in the 50s for a good example of this.


Communists considered Soviet Union just a bridgehead for the World Revolution. It primary goal was to serve as a resource base for spreading the fire all over the world. I just checked and it looks like English version of “the Internationale” is mild, the Russian lyrics explicitly state “this world of oppression we’ll reduce to rubble and will use that rubble to build our new world” - and I can guarantee you, USSR was really looking forward to destroy the capitalist world.

The industrial design showcased in this article is nice. But the reality was that most “nice things” were replicas, authorized or otherwise, of the things developed in the first world. I remember in 1980s looking throw the mail catalogues people brought from abroad and being amazed on how many nice things there were in the world. Obviously, I was mostly interested in the toys section back then - but those toys were decades ahead of what we had in USSR.


When the Soviet Union was formed Russia was a pre-industrial feudal monarchy. It recapitulated roughly two hundred years of Western industrial development in less than fifty, mostly under the leadership of a murderous quasi-feudal dictator who purged all the brightest and most interesting people.

And it still survived WWII to become a competitive space-faring superpower.

I don’t particularly like Russia, but I think it’s wise not to underestimate what the country is capable of.

Also applies to China, even more so.


All countries in the world was pre-industrial monarchies just 150 years ago. Please point to your point.

Moreover, in WWW2, USSR lost about 1/6 of population. It's hard to name such losses as "win". Western Allies, which is also at war with Germany, provided continuous aid to that "superpower" in addition to their own soldiers at war.


> All countries in the world was pre-industrial monarchies just 150 years ago.

Hardly.

I can't speak for your country as you haven't mentioned it but mine was certainly not pre-industrial in 1868.

Brunel was already dead by then (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isambard_Kingdom_Brunel) and Boulton and Watt were but a distant memory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Watt).


>Western Allies, which is also at war with Germany, provided continuous aid to that "superpower" in addition to their own soldiers at war.

On D-day the nazis were on the run, pushed back to Poland. The USSR did more than 90% of the winning and much of it before anyone else invaded. This thinking that the UK, US, etc. did anything near the winning that the USSR did is getting old. Of course we helped but it was a tiny drop in a big sea. The biggest help was by far the supplies to USSR, not the soldiers.

Look at how people saw things back before the US spread its culture everywhere:

https://www.les-crises.fr/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/poll-fr...

It says a lot.


The war could not have been won without american material, period.

That said, the russians did most of the dying to win the war.

The Russians contributed blood, the americans, material, and the british, spirit - or so the old saying goes.


USSR entered Poland in 1939, long before Allies. Is it your point?

About polls: lies are quick to spread. In 1940, USSR was major enemy to France after Germany. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Pike .


But far not all them had at their possession resources of half of rest world.

Western Europe is all about that. How many colonial guldens are under each stone of town squares of its cities ...

No surprise that technical revolution was originated there.

Back to Russia...

At WW1 it had no chances to confront rest of Europe. Like it was "shell hunger" in Russian army in 1916 - it's "industry" simply could not produce enough.

But at WW2 time it did that - pretty much all Europe was working on Hitler's war machine.

Rise of potential was tremendous if to consider that it happened between 1917 and 1941.

Of course the only option of that burst was exploitation of its own people - Russia didn't get any (significant) investments from outside.


By the time of the WWII it was just as bad; pretty much all of strategic supplies, explosives, fuel, etc. were coming from USA and UK.

USSR supplied most of the manpower, but without the American military-industrial complex, Germans would have rolled all the way to the Pacific with no problem.


"pretty much all of strategic supplies"

That's simply not true.

58,000 of T34/T34-85 was produced during WW2 time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_combat_vehicle_producti...

That's just medium tanks - workhorse of the war. Total production of armored vehicles in USSR at WW2 > 100,000.

While it got 19,510 tanks in total on Lend-Lease: https://ww2-weapons.com/lend-lease-tanks-and-aircrafts/

Only 4,000 of them were Shermans - the only Lend-Lease tanks that were comparable at least somehow. All others were nicknamed "wheeled coffins".

The same ratio is for aircrafts.

As of fuel then only some high-octane ones - for some aircrafts.


When T-34's and Shermans met in Korea, it didn't go too well for T-34's. And some of the most decorated Soviet aces flew Airacobras.

But the most important part is that without American alloys, fuels, machine tools, let alone food and warm clothing (something USSR had a big problem supplying the populace with even during peacetime) there would be nothing to make T-34s with. That's what strategic supplies are.

Some of the important battles early in the war, i.e. stopping Germans from marching on Baku oil fields, were fought mostly with British tanks.


USSR lost about 2000 tanks at Dubno operation (1941) in one(!) battle, because of problems with engines, fuel, and lack of communication. Germans had no tanks at all at that time (according to USSR classification, Germans had light armored vehicles, with anti-riffle armor only). Tank is good only if it operational and under command.


>USSR supplied most of the manpower, but without the American military-industrial complex, Germans would have rolled all the way to the Pacific with no problem.

That's revisionist history -- and not the way things went down, or even how people that lived it knew them to be.

https://www.vox.com/2014/6/16/5814270/the-successful-70-year...

Or even how Hitler knew them to be:

https://www.feldgrau.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=13647


Have you posted something about a novel historical research showing that neither lend-lease nor pre-lend-lease supplies of war materiel ever happened, it might have made for an interesting discussion. Vox, however, prints exactly what is to be expected from what Uncle Joe used to call fellow travelers in public, and useful idiot in private.

That reminds me of one time I was asked to help in translating some "documents" showing that it was US soldiers rather than Soviet that moved pretty much every German that still moved. A quick fact check showed that they lifted the passage from a neo-nazi site, which is where most attempts to defend the USSR usually end.


At beginning of WWW2, USSR had pretty good position: thousands of tanks, millions of tons of ammunition, million army, powerful ally (Germany). USSR attacked Finland at winter to prevent invasion of France & Britain via Norway and Finland to attack Leningrad. It was risky move, lot of soldiers of Red Army died because of cold, but USSR won. At beginning 1941, USSR waited for beginning of Britain bombing of Baku, to start invasion to East (to attack British military bases) with help of Germany, and then to conquer Britain islands. Everything was perfect until 22 June 1941.


A non-aggression pact is not an alliance, nor does it make an ally. Hitler fundamentally hated the communists, but was also desperate to prevent the USSR from joining the war. Stalin also fundamentally hated the Nazis.


> non-aggression pact is not an alliance

Jointly dividing Poland and having a military parade there is not an alliance?

Providing secret base for U-boats - just a pact, not an alliance?


Not even to mention the cooperation between German and Soviet secret police, massive flow of supplies from USSR to Germany etc. etc. prior to the German attack.


Yes, making random agreements is not an alliance.


Random agreements? Like "hey, let's do something... maybe invade a few random countries"?


Sure, if you want to designate any random aggreement as a full on best-friends-for-life alliance, you do you, buddy. But the facts remain, Germany and the USSR were delivered facto enemies who were looking to destroy each other the first chance they get.


So how it should void the fact of their pact?


Yes, they did sign a non-aggression pact. No, they were not allies.


If it quacks like duck, if it looks like duck, if it walks like duck - it duck.


Well first you'd need to establish that the subject in question quacks, and quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, walks, and walks like a duck. So far the only thing done here is take the definitions of things any country with geographic proximity and bare minimum willingness to negotiate would do, then redefine everything as alliance.

Which fits the duck allegory perfectly, since it refers to something that is not actually a duck.

https://www.mirror.co.uk/usvsth3m/you-know-phrase-if-looks-5...


>All countries in the world was pre-industrial monarchies just 150 years ago

You'd be very surprised.

>in addition to their own soldiers at war.

All 20 of them?


Catching up is kinda easy when you can just copy. USSR failed badly once it was time to go forward. Especially on electronics and computers.

We shouldn't underestimate what focused dictatorships are capable of. They're bloody effective.


> Catching up is kinda easy when you can just copy

That's easy to say now but no other country achieved that at that time. Especially not in a such a short time, it was an impressive feat.


Plenty of countries had to catch up with the UK.

And Russian empire was not that much backwards. Their economy was agriculture-based. But they had quite a few smart people. The only lacking thing was push from the government to industrialize.

Let alone they were far from catching up with the West by the time WW2 started or at any other point in their history.

It’s impressive in the same way that holocaust is impressive.


> And Russian empire was not that much backwards. Their economy was agriculture-based

That's quite an understatement, the Russian empire did not do any industrial revolution at all, it was a mostly undeveloped agricultural wasteland.

> Plenty of countries had to catch up with the UK.

But none of them succeeded to the extent of the Soviet Union at that time. One of the main argument of the communists at that time was actually to point out the failures of capitalism in Asia as why capitalism would never work. At that time the industrialisation receipe did not work for a lot of countries and plenty of people believed the industrialisation of the West could not be reproduced, and especially not with capitalism.

Everything is obvious in hindsight, it's how history work, you would create your own country now, it would not take that much time to industrialise it with modern techniques. The Soviets managed to take one of the least developed agricultural country of Europe (comparatively worse that current African countries) and transform it into a global superpower while other countries failed to even industrialise, this isn't a small feat at all.


> That's quite an understatement, the Russian empire did not do any industrial revolution at all, it was a mostly undeveloped agricultural wasteland.

They did have factories. In fact, factories in Petrograd were one of the hotbeds of revolutionary mind. Railroad in more densely populated areas. Electric power plants did exist here and there. St Petersburg or Moscow were rather similar to cities of similar size in the West. Countryside was just too sparsely populated to do anything with it.

> But none of them succeeded to the extent of the Soviet Union at that time

Succeeded by what measure? GDP? Satisfaction of citizens? Soviet Union had abnormally large amount of people working in agriculture all the way till the fall. Consumer industry never even came close to West. Sure, if you focus on military alone and put oppressive state apparatus behind it, with a lot of natural resources, you can have a damn sweet army. But the rest will crumble. And it did.

> transform it into a global superpower

Russia was already a super power. Purely by sheer size and manpower. They had some great minds in science in arts as well.

The 19th century super powers fell in first half of 20th century thanks to the raise of national identities and human rights. Making vast colonies too expensive to maintain in all sorts of ways. This gave birth to 2 superpowers that ruled the world in 2nd half of 20th century. USA avoided the fall because they were built on freedom and humanity (to certain extent, obviously) to begin with. USSR just avoided all of that thanks to totalitarian regime.


So, you're saying that being first in space wasn't moving forward?

> Especially on electronics and computers.

I strongly suspect that was due to lack of resources for research, rather than lack of ability, as by the time there was a serious focus on these areas, the economy wasn't doing so well.


Computer research was more because Soviet elite didn't believe in computing. Thus resources were allocated differently. Sicne there was no free market, nobody took a stab on their own either.

"Economy" didn't mean shit in USSR. It was all about priorities. War in Afghanistan got plenty of resources in meantime. As well as aiding friendly regimes around the globe. Meanwhile citizens were having a hard time in their daily lives and civilian industry was falling behind.

If we're going to cherry pick, we could say that tsarist Russia was highly modern country since Medelev figured out the elements table. Yet it's accepted it was an agricultural country, falling behind and fast. USSR, aside from several areas where they threw all their resources, was falling behind too.

So yes, sending first human to space is sad when you can't provide adequate life to your own citizens. It's like saying that North Korea is catching up thanks to their ICBM programme progress :)

P.S. Germans/Nazis were the ones who got both USSR and USA into space.


> Computer research was more because Soviet elite didn't believe in computing

True, what I meant was exactly this. There's always resources plenty for the things elites consider important, but if there was enough of them and then some, something would have trickled down to computing also.

> War in Afghanistan got plenty of resources in meantime. As well as aiding friendly regimes around the globe. Meanwhile citizens were having a hard time in their daily lives

Just like in every empire ever, including the U.S. at present, (still no universal healthcare there).

> So yes, sending first human to space is sad when you can't provide adequate life to your own citizens.

Agreed, but how is this different today?


> True, what I meant was exactly this. There's always resources plenty for the things elites consider important, but if there was enough of them and then some, something would have trickled down to computing also.

Or they'd have had more resources towards military or friendly regimes. Those 2 are kinda black holes for money

> Just like in every empire ever, including the U.S. at present, (still no universal healthcare there).

I don't think finances are stopping universal healthcare in US. It's purely ideological.

> > So yes, sending first human to space is sad when you can't provide adequate life to your own citizens. > Agreed, but how is this different today?

In Russia - it's same old. I wouldn't consider it a democracy or west or whatever either. In the west, people have radically better living standards and they seem to be going to much bigger compromises with their ideals for the sake of comfort. E.g. Nord Stream gas pipe.


> I don't think finances are stopping universal healthcare in US. It's purely ideological.

Ideology is used as a mask to protect corporate (private insurance) interests, which is why the top brass doesn't have interest in universal healthcare. It's a matter of interests and priorities, just like it was a matter of interests and priorities for the Soviets to ficus resources on things other than improving people's living standards.

> In the west, people have radically better living standards

Compared to Russia, yeah, but there's always the supposed lack of money for public services, which is often magically found for military purposes. It's the same mentality that the USSR had in that instead of funding public services, fund military endeavors.

Of course, I am not making a 1:1 equivalence in terms of freedom, but when it comes to allocating resources, today's world doesn't seem all that different.


First of all, I'm talking from European perspective. My exposure to US is limited to Americans I talk to.

I met lots of Americans who don't want universal healthcare purely for ideological reasons. Their arguments sometimes do make sense actually. Universal health care in Europe has it's fair share of problems and some aspects of US system are used to fix it.

And yes, average European and American (as much as that can be generalised) are quire different ideologically. For example, national ID and police having rights to ask for it is kinda a given in Europe. Nobody thinks that's wrong. Now try to tell that to Americans :) Or your attitude to various government-related things.

On top of that, even if it was purely corruption in US government, it'd be already different from USSR. Where it was ideologically motivated to put everything into military.

In USSR, citizens didn't have even theoretical power to have a say in allocating resources. Parties putting forward proposals and then trying to (not) follow through is infinitely different. Oh, and at least in Europe, they sometimes do follow through.

And the major difference is private sector existence. Soviets cared little if consumer goods are any good. A shirt is a shirt, if it has shitty fit or lame colors - it's a customer's problem. Meanwhile factory will keep making them for decades without any improvements. Scarcity of everyday goods? Meh, who needs toilet paper when we can build few more tanks. Meanwhile in capitalism system adjusts itself very quickly.

Actually, the problems you listed, just shows how government is always abusing whatever powers it got. Soviet system being extreme example of all-reaching government power. While different capitalist systems have more or less fixed that. Unfortunately 100% capitalist system is not viable either, since it needs checks to keep companies from abusing it.


Would you mind answering why it took the US more than 20 years to catch somewhat up with Russian rocket engines even though they had access to information on how it was made if it is so easy? The best Russian rockets from the Soviet era wasn't beat by the US before SpaceX did so.


It's kinda cool that US managed to put man on the moon first, even with much worse rockets, eh? Also, US had reusable spaceships in 80s. While USSR struggled with a similar programme and didn't finish it before the collapse.


The US still hasn't caught up. SpaceX's Merlin engine is more advanced and less advanced than the best Russian engines: less efficient, but extremely simple (in sophisticated ways like face shut-off), and much cheaper, despite being built in LA.

Raptor and the BE-4 will probably close the gap.


Soviet Moon program ended in a big nothing because by the time it was started all the German designers (who made all those great engines) had went home, and without them USSR never managed to catch up to anything like F-1. Native designs tended to blow up.


> Communists considered Soviet Union just a bridgehead for the World Revolution.

Communists in general may have, but did the Soviets? I thought Stalin's stance was socialism in one country, leading (at least in part) to the breach with Trotsky. And he deliberately crushed the incipient workers' revolution in republican Spain during the civil war.


Yes, marxism-leninism definitely sought to build a new world on the rubble of capitalism, with the Soviet Union the starting point prior to the socialist paradise. Please, I'm not that naive.

However, modifications to core ideologies are possible, and reform is possible. E.g., the USA started by defining its voting citizens as "property owning white male". Today we have altered that.

So I rather wonder what would have happened if the ideology had been dialectically altered to form a new synthesis of post-Marxism-Leninism with a non-aggressive goal. But that's a long-past alternate time, and what was, was.


Who knows perhaps they will succeed after all? But not a tiniest bit in the way the communists envisioned!

Inequality will be stopped from growing indefinitively because somewhere must be a limit. What if the one percent owning ninety nine percent of global wealth is not enough for them? When will the rest of the world stop being sheeple and how will they change this? I hope in a peaceful way.

Communism is dead. It's a stillborn ideology. I experienced Communism during a trip to the German Democratic Republic 1986. I found it dodgy and full of internal inconsistency.

However the problems Communism tried to solve are real and as of today even more pressing than ever.


Yeah, today it's hard to kill every person with signs of intellect as in Cambodia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmer_Rouge#Crimes_against_hum...


The US-backed Khmer Rouge was propped up to defeat the communist movement in Cambodia. They certainly weren't communists by any post-1848 definition.


Why they was in war against US forces then?


Which war? The US backed them in the civil war.



That source doesn't say anything that adds credibility to your point. It's just waffling about the US's involvement in the civil war. By contrast, the WikiLeaks dump of the 1973 diplomatic cables undermine what you're saying.

It's no longer a question of whether or not the US supported the Khmer Rouge. The question now is how much did the US support them. Some members of the state department at the time suggested that the US orchestrated the whole thing. While that seems unlikely to me, it's worth wondering about.


But why Khmer Rogue was in war against US forces then?


>However the problems Communism tried to solve are real and as of today even more pressing than ever.

How are they more pressing than ever? Are communities in more dire situation than let's say after or during first world war?


Thanks to computing, companies are getting more and more centralized into fewer hands. Automatisation introduces new challenges as well.


Eastern bloc design is what American fifties-early-sixties were, back when Khrushev was trying to make USSR a semblance of a normal nation.

To many here, it will may sound surprising, but Khrushev kept quite high opinion of the Western society, and looked up to it.

After Khrushev was kicked out of the politbureau, all things got stuck in that era till the moment USSR kicked the bucket.


The system (obviously) did not encourage free market competition, and there were issues in supply and demand. Therefore things like re-design and re-styling, which happened naturally in a highly competitive marketplace didn't happen. But, on the other hand, having worked out a reasonably functional, stylish design for a coffeepot there was no need to invest pointless money re-styling it, to try and capture market share.

These designs were 'contemporary' when done. They froze? sure, but thats a rational decision when you face cost side imperatives like 'how many can we make and for how long' rather than 'what can we do, to innovate, to capture more market share'

As design exemplars, in context, these are pretty good. The typography and design sensibility is world-class.


When you have dumb rules then rational decision lead to bad effects. That's why you should have good systems of rules. Instiutional economics 101.


Any system of rules will have a utility monster. Be it the Politburo, or Wall Street.


One of the dumbest things I have heard.


False equivalences FTW.


There were a few ways in which Khrushchev tried to borrow ideas from America, but if anything, industrial design was one of the better examples. Less successful was his attempt to cultivate corn--a crop that was much better suited to the American plains than to the Russian steppe.


There's a book by Francis Spufford, "Red Plenty", which is a fictionalised (but, according to the author, trying very hard to track the true story as much as possible) about this era, and Krushhev features heavily. Highly recommended if you find history and economics interesting.


Whenever this comes up i wonder what the outcome would have been had Gorbachev been allowed to complete his reforms.


The camera is Iskra, not Vilia. Manufactured by KMZ rather than BelOMO.


Kinda embarrassing mistake when the name is quite visible right in the picture.


Not everybody can read cursive Cyrillic...


Maybe not everybody, but I would hope people writing books about Soviet design would know the basics of Cyrillic.


Villa camera (Iskra) is a folding type rangefinder medium format that is the best mechanical camera done in USSR, it has automatic counter and leaf shutter. Optically is copy of Zeiss Tessar and is my favorite medium format camera for street photography. It gives me a felling close to M3 Leica rangefinder. Some say that Iskra is a copy of AGFA Isolette but i think that Russian version is superior. Grab one of Ebay if you are into film shooting. They are cheap and do beautiful work.


In fact Soviet school of technical/industrial design was surprisingly high. Even in military related products.

Being graduate of physics and technology department of university I still remember basics of course named "Technical design and ergonomics".


As a huge synth geek the soviet era synthesizers are sought after and also produce unique sounds. Here's a comparison of Moog(US) and Polivoks(USSR): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbdyMP_CiIY

Also! They look cool.


If you don't already know about them, check out the ANS synth.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ANS_synthesizer


Gets me thinking of my musician friend that had a few soviet made vacuum tubes laying around for his guitar amp.


And as a huge tube amplifier geek I'd like to point out you can in fact still buy sovtek tubes! https://www.tubedepot.com/t/brands/sovtek?gclid=Cj0KCQjwzcbW...


If you liked this, you'll probably enjoy the North Korean equivalent:

https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/new-york/articl...

Although the designs are more austere and less whimsical. (As, to be fair, were the vast majority of Soviet products too.)


I like that the pasta box indicates net weight at 13% humidity level. One can only wonder what led to this.

https://assets.atlasobscura.com/article_images/54191/image.j...

Does anyone happen to know the meaning of "пояс" (belt) in the pricing scheme on the same box?


The prices were set by the government, but different parts of the Soviet Union had different prices ([1], in Russian)

Belt 1: Moscow, Saint-Petersburg (named Leningrad at the time), republic capitals, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, closed cities ([2]). Those had lower prices, and more products available at the stores.

Belt 3: Far North regions. Prices were higher, but so are the salaries.

Belt 2: the rest of the Soviet Union. The worst option out of three. The largest.

1. http://russian7.ru/post/cenovye-poyasa-v-sssr-chto-yeto-bylo...

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_city


Belt 1 had different tiers as well. Shopping on a trip to Moscow was pretty much a must.

Another parallel tier was special shops for nomenklatura.


"Пояс" here means geographical area of accessibility: on the north and Siberia prices were higher but salaries were also higher.

So the price included delivery cost taxes.

As of "at 13% humidity level":

Pasta is highly hygroscopic and being packaged in paper box can absorb a lot of moister increasing its weight significantly. Fair remark, isn't it?

For that matter: all devices sold in USSR were coming with principal schemas so anyone can repair and reproduce. Open Source at its best :)


> For that matter: all devices sold in USSR were coming with principal schemas so anyone can repair and reproduce.

Repairability was an absolute necessity for Soviet tech. There simply wasn't enough production capacity to adequately supply most households with even one of a certain item, not to mention replacement items for those that broke down. Appliance repair was an everyday necessity and it was seen as a somewhat lucrative career path. For example, Latvia was where the washing machines were made, and here everyone had one in their homes, wheres other soviet republics had queues 10 years long just to get a washing machine. Similarly, when my grandpa wanted to get a car, he would have to sign up for a 6-7 year queue, with no guarantee, and he'd still have to pay an exorbitant price for it (I think it was something like 5000 rubles when the monthly salary was 120 rubles.) In the end he somehow (probably bribery and underhanded dealings, like so many things happened then) bought two wrecked Moskvitches and made a single working car out of them.

Anyway, back to the repairability stuff - a common story heard everywhere was about women complaining about their lazy, good for nothing alcoholic husbands - that they'd get rid of them if it weren't for their "golden hands," meaning they could build or repair anything, if they got to it. Capability to repair something was more valued in a person than most other personality traits, and it mattered because if you couldn't get something built or repaired yourself, you'd never get it done. In that sense, in those matters that fell through the cracks, the Soviet Union was the ultimate libertarian society.


"golden hands" etc.

has nothing special with Soviets. It was the same at tsars times. The culture started by tsar Peter the Great who was quite good as a locksmith. He has several rooms in his palace with lathes and other tools.


Yes, and the lathe was also Prince Bolkonsky's hobby.

I wasn't talking about hobbies, I was talking about necessities of ordinary people.


It's a small nitpick but the Saturnas vacuum, the first product featured, was actually Lithuanian. The most obvious clue - the name is written in Latin alphabet, not Cyrillic.

Of course, with centralized economy, most of these designs probably had to be approved by Moscow but it doesn't mean that it was the seat of all creativity and innovation.


Well, Lithuania was occupied and a part of Soviet sphere at the time. Although it's always nice when other parts of USSR get individual mentioning rather than just Soviet=Russian.


A sheer number of Lithuanians participated in The Revolution. Who invaded whom is questionable. Especially in the light of Lithuanuan Duchy expansion some 200 years before.


Are you saying that Lithuania in 1939-1940 tried to invade USSR? Or in 1918, when Lithuania got it's independence from Germany occupational government?

Lithuania territory at either time was smaller than original GDL territory "some 200 years ago" before the expansions. It was core GDL territory since first internationally recognised state in that area was formed in 13th century and stayed so till the Partitions in late 18th century.

Also, there was that simple act of sending ultimatum to replace government to a specific one, holding staged elections and then having that government "ask to join" USSR. All under overwhelming USSR army presence. Pretty much textbook occupation if you ask me...


People have also recently rediscovered Soviet era wristwatches:

https://www.google.com/search?q=soviet+wrist+watches&oq=sovi...


These look so familiar - my family had quite a few of these everyday objects when I was growing up in Ukraine. I am no fan of USSR or the state of Russia today, but I do feel a sense of nostalgia when I hear or see descriptions of objects, apartment layouts, etc from those days.


On a related note, you can find lots of Soviet era (as well as modern) things and curious facts on this wonderful site

http://englishrussia.com/


Russian watches are a good gateway drug to watch collecting without having to spend a lot of money. There are so many unique editions and designs and (here in Germany) they can often be found on flea markets for unter 20€.


There is something so fascinating about this stuff. Phaidon seem to be a publisher that traffic in this kind of 'other tourism'. I got their North Korean products book

http://au.phaidon.com/store/design/made-in-north-korea-97807...




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