Under the first five year plan, industrialization of the “backwards” and agrarian Soviet Union was paramount. For most of its existence, the Soviet economy functioned (and would continue to function) as a “dictatorship over needs.” (Soviet Consumerism) It’s not until the rule of Khrushchev with the Kitchen Debate and the Seven Year Plan that consumerism would be addressed more than half-heartedly. However, in the postwar years, Stalin began to hint at this consumerist movement by making plans for the production of “high-grade food products, fabrics, clothing and footwear” during the Fourth Five-Year Plan. However, these promises turned out to be falsehoods, as “even by 1950 the Soviet masses will not get the quantity (let alone the quality) of the consumers’ goods they obtained as far back as in 1937 – toward the end of the Second Five-Year Plan.” (The Fourth International Newspaper, Sep. 1946)
One of the earliest instances of this attempt at consumerism was the production of non-military cars. Vehicle production until this point was mainly for military-grade trucks, which were very important to the Soviet war effort. As a result, consumer cars were an extreme rarity in the Soviet Union. The USSR’s inability (or unwillingness) to produce consumer goods at the expense of industrialization led to public transportation becoming the main mode of transport in urban areas. As a result, cars were not an important element of Soviet society until long after the war (contrast this with the car culture built in the United States during the 1950s). This is also evidenced by the fact that over the decade that the GAZ Podeba was in production, not even a quarter of a million were produced and sold. Many of these were not even sold in the USSR, most were given to other Soviet bloc countries, as the car was built to withstand rough terrain. In many ways, consumer goods production lagged far behind industrial production, as the Soviet Union was constantly focused on competing with the US militarily. Cars were no exception to this, and in fact serve as a perfect example of the inefficiencies that the Soviet command economy produced.