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The Power of Political Humor

This interesting book review of Hammer and Tickle by Ben Lewis in the Telegraph comes at a particularly timely moment with the Kremlin’s shuttering of the Exile tabloid… Though a few days old now, anyone needing to freshen up their stock of Soviet jokes should give it a read, and be sure to check out the video trailer for the 2006 documentary after the cut. hammerandtickle.jpg

Poor Mr Gorbachev. Every time he met Ronald Reagan at a summit, he was subjected by the American President to a stream of Russian jokes. Or rather, to be precise, Soviet jokes – the point of which was always to satirise some aspect of life under communism. What made it worse was that some of them really were very funny. I like the one, for example, about the man who goes to buy a car in Moscow, pays for it, and is told by the salesman that he can collect it on a particular date in 10 years’ time. The buyer thinks for a moment and then asks: ‘Morning or afternoon?’ The salesman, astonished by the question, asks: ‘What difference does it make?’ And the buyer answers: ‘Well, the plumber is coming in the morning.’ As Gorbachev was well aware, these jokes had not been manufactured by some sinister department of the CIA; they were real ones, as told by real Russians. He was probably also aware that although people in the West told jokes about the frustrations of ordinary life, there was no such thing as a whole category of jokes about the capitalist system as such. If there had been, we can be sure that his aides would have been feeding them to him, contributing to an ever-escalating jokes race between the superpowers.