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Revolutionary Jokes

I really like the name of this magazine. In it, Carl Schreck reviews a new book by Bruce Adams entitled Tiny Revolutions in Russia: Twentieth-Century Soviet and Russian History in Anecdotes. I've not read the book, but it does look as if it is "No Laughing Matter," insofar as it shows how jokes served as a means of critiquing the Soviet police state.

Here are a few excerpts from Schreck's piece:

Jokes, or anekdoty, were indeed risky business in the Soviet Union, Bruce Adams maintains in the introduction to "Tiny Revolutions in Russia," his light if thoroughly entertaining recap of Soviet history told through a mix of amusing, tragicomic, baffling and plain unfunny jokes that will strike a familiar chord with any foreigner who has shared a couple bottles of vodka with a table full of Russians.

George Orwell was the first to dub jokes "tiny revolutions," but it's an especially fitting title for Adams' book, which reminds us that humor can have very serious consequences when the joke is on a totalitarian regime. The eight years Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent in prisons and labor camps came as punishment for jokes he had made about Josef Stalin in his private correspondence, Adams writes. "The anecdotes were necessarily underground humor shared only with close friends."

So, how about a few jokes?

When no African delegates showed up at a Comintern Congress, Moscow wired Odessa [a very cosmopolitan port city with a large Jewish population]: "Send us a Negro immediately." "Odessa wired right back: 'Rabinovich has been dyed. He's drying.'"

"Who built the White Sea-Baltic Canal? "On the right bank -- those who told anecdotes, on the left bank -- those who heard them."

Because the BBC always seemed to know Soviet secrets so quickly, it was decided to hold the next meeting of the Politburo behind closed doors. No one was permitted in or out. Suddenly Kosygin grasped his belly and asked permission to leave. Permission was denied. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. A janitress stood there with a pail: "The BBC just reported that Aleksei Nikolayevich shit himself."

Read the whole article here. And check out Adams' book here.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.