Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Anti-Stalinism: Not a laughing matter

Eugene Lyons was a left wing American journalist who visited Stalinist Russia during the 1930s, and then wrote up his experiences. Among the things about Stalinist Russia he recorded were some of the grim jokes that circulated among ordinary Russians as the dreams of the October Revolution were steadily transformed into the nightmare of tyrannical Stalinist rule, and I decided to put a few of these up online for you (they can be found in Modern Moscow (1935) - which was published in the US as Moscow Carousel). As Lyons noted, 'under conditions of one-hundred-per-cent censorship, humour provides a sort of intellectual safety valve...':

'Question: Why has Trotsky been exiled?
Answer: Our country is obliged to export all its best products.'

'Trotsky is shown fishing in his Turkish exile. A local newsboy, wishing to pull his leg, shouts:
"Extra! Stalin is dead!"
But Trotsky is unperturbed. "Young man," he says, "that can't be true. If Stalin were dead I should be there in Moscow."
Next day the newsboy tries again. This time he shouts:
"Extra! Lenin is alive!"
Once more Trotsky is not taken in. "Young man," he says, "if Lenin were alive, he would be here with me."'

'Could socialism be built in one country? This was the crucial question in the controversy between Stalin and Trotsky, to which Stalin answered yes and Trotsky no. Having won the fight, Stalin developed some doubts on the matter. He sent for a rabbi famed for his wisdom and commanded him to answer the question fully and frankly.
The rabbi asked for time to consult the Talmud and other holy and erudite texts. In a few days he returned.
"Well," Stalin inquired anxiously, "how about it?"
"I have delved into all the learned books," the rabbi said, "and have found the correct answer. Yes, it is possible to build socialism in one country. But to live in that country - that's impossible."'

'President Kalinin is arguing about conditions with a group of peasants. They complain about the shortage of clothes.
"You put too much emphasis on clothes, comrades," Kalinin reassures them. "Take the Hottentots and other Africans. They are perfectly happy and they wear nothing but loin-cloths."
Upon which one of the peasants comments:
"I suppose, Comrade Kalinin, that these Africans must have had socialism much longer than we!"'



At 9:59 pm, Blogger paddington said...

Lenin, Stalin, Krushchev and Brezhnev are all travelling together in a railway carriage. Unexpectedly the train stops. Lenin suggests: "Perhaps, we should call a subbotnik, so that workers and peasants fix the problem." But the train does not move. Stalin puts his head out of the window and shouts, "If the driver does not start moving, the driver will be executed!" But the train still does not move. Khrushchev then shouts, "Let's take the rails behind the train and use them to construct the tracks in the front" But it still doesn't move. Brezhnev then says, "Comrades, Comrades, let's draw the curtains, turn on the gramophone and pretend we're moving!"

At 11:09 pm, Anonymous Colin F said...

Stalin, feeling a little worried about his popularity amongst the working masses, commissions an agent to make discreet enquiries. The agent goes into a bar where a group of workers are drinking vodka, offers one of them a drink and after a few minutes gently broaches the subject. "What do you think about Stalin?", he finally says. The man looks terrified, and doesn't answer. After another few glasses, the agent tries again. "Tell me", he says, "what do you really think about Stalin?" The man looks over his shoulder to see if anyone is listening, but still doesn't answer. By the end of the evening, the man starts to loosen up, and the agent tries again. This time the worker says, "Meet me outside in ten minutes", and quietly leaves the bar, making sure no-one is watching. Ten minutes later, the agent gets up, pays for the drinks, and goes outside. The man is waiting for him. The agent asks again : "Tell me,comrade, what do you really think of Stalin?" "Stalin?" the man replies. "Great bloke!"

At 12:02 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three Russian workers are imprisoned in a labor camp during Stalin's rule. The ask each other why they were arrested.
Number 1 says; I showed up late for work in the factory so I was arrested for sabotage.
Number 2; I showed up too early at the factory so I was suspected of spying
Number 3: I was always on work exactly on time, so they arrested me for petty-bourgeois conformism

At 7:10 pm, Anonymous sackcloth and ashes said...

This is a Soviet joke told during the 1960s which is not very funny unless you know something about Anastas Mikoyan, the Stalin-era survivor who - at the time of his death in 1965 - was President of the USSR:

There's a counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and the Communist Party is overthrown. The Tsar is back in the Kremlin and Nikita Khrushchev is in exile in Cuba. One day Khrushchev gets so tired of exile he decides to phone the Tsar and beg for the right to return.

He gets connected to the Kremlin by the operator and the Tsar answers the phone. Khrushchev apologises for his past, and pleads for permission to return so that he can die in his homeland. When he finishes the Tsar says 'Just a minute ... What do you think, Anastas?'

At 4:15 pm, Anonymous sackcloth and ashes said...

There's always this one from East Germany (it's the joke that gets a Stasi officer in trouble in 'The Lives of Others'):

One day Erich Honecker wakes up, opens the curtains and opens his bedroom window. It's a bright day, and he says 'Hello sun, how are you?'

The sun replies 'I'm fine, comrade Honecker'.

At midday Honecker is in his office, and it's still a glorious day outside. So he opens his window, looks at the sun and says 'Hello sun, how are you?'

The sun replies, again, 'I'm fine, comrade Honecker'.

As the evening draws in Honecker is in his limousine being driven to his house. The sun is just beginning to dip beyond the horizon, and so he calls on his driver to stop, gets out by the side of the road, and says 'Hello sun, how are you?'


He repeats himself, with a hint of impatience. 'Hello sun, how are you?'

Still no response.

Honecker gets really angry and says 'Sun, why don't you answer me?'

And the sun says 'Fuck you Honecker, I'm in the West!'.


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