I devoted a light-hearted Saturday post to some Soviet-era humour a little while ago, and there was a modest clamour for more. So here is a little more, collected in the late 1980s. In Russian, such jokes were called ‘anekdoti‘ and, if you’ll forgive the pun, were no laughing matter. In the former East Germany you could be jailed for listening to one, and draw a longer sentence for telling one. As a joke of the time went, Polish and Hungarian leaders liked to collect the jokes about themselves, while the East Germans liked to collect the people who told them.
Gorbachev was anxious to improve relations with the People’s Republic of China, and went off to see Deng Xiaoping, like him the new broom.
‘There are three requirements that must first be met,’ Deng Xiaoping tells him. ‘First, China needs 100 million tons of coal.’
‘Accepted,’ says Gorbachev.
‘And twenty new ships.’
‘And a million bicycles.’
‘Why impossible,’ asks Deng.
‘Ah,’ says Gorbachev, ‘The Poles don’t make bicycles.’
In an earlier encounter between Soviet and PRC leaders, Krushchev met Zhou Enlai, and as usual Krushchev was in expansive form. ‘You see,’ he tells Zhou, ‘the difference between the Soviet Union and China is that I rose to power from the peasant class, whereas you came from the privileged Mandarin class.’
‘This is indeed true,’ Zhou responds, ‘but you should observe the similarities. Each of is a traitor to his class!’
Back to food, a constant theme in the black humour of the period. Q: ‘What is 150 metres long and eats potatoes?’ A: ‘A Moscow queue waiting to buy meat.’
A little boy asks his father, ‘What will communism be like when it is perfected?’
‘Well,’ says Dad, ‘everyone will have what he needs.’
‘But what if there is a shortage of meat?’
‘Ah,’ replies Dad. ‘Well, then there will be a sign in the butcher’s shop saying “No one needs meat today!”‘
A Russian and an American die, and both go to hell. Satan asks them, ‘Which hell would you prefer, the Russian or American?’
‘What’s the difference?’ asks the Russian.
‘In the American hell, you will be forced to eat one bucket of waste every day; in the Russian, two buckets,’ Satan explains.
The American decides to go to the American hell. The Russian, being a patriot, chooses the Russian hell. A year later the two men run into one another.
‘How’s life?’ the Russian asks.
‘Can’t complain,’ the American answers. ‘I eat a bucket of waste every morning, and then I’m free for the rest of the day. You get used to it. What about you?’
‘It couldn’t be better!’ the Russian tells him. ‘It’s just like back on earth! They’re either late with waste deliveries, or they’re having bucket shortages.’
Another version asks which is better, a communist hell or a capitalist hell? Answer: The communist one of course! There is always a shortage of matches and fuel, the heaters are out of order, and the devil and his creatures are busy with party meetings.
The jokes of the East Europeans were often about the Russians and their imagined superiority. Let’s finish with two from Hungary, about their new creed.
In the first, Comrade teacher announces the day’s lesson in School Number One, Budapest: Marxist criticism and self-criticism.’Istvan, please stand up and tell us what Marxist criticism and self-criticism means,’ she commands.
The little boy stands up. ‘Comrade teacher, Marxist criticism is how we must view my parents, who joined the reactionary counter-revolutionary forces who sought to destroy our heroic workers’ and peasants’ state, and then fled to the imperialist, capitalist west, to continue their intrigues against the Socialist regime.’
‘Excellent, Istvan. And what is your Marxist self-criticism?’
‘I didn’t go with them.’
The second is set on May Day in Budapest, as the Hungarian armed forces parade past the communist leaders. There is an impressive array of tanks, missiles, armoured cars, and soldiers marching in their best uniforms.
The communist leaders stand impassively as the soldiers and their vehicles pass by. Then, right at the end comes a battered old open truck, sputtering exhaust smoke as it carries three fat middle-aged men in badly fitting grey suits. An apparatchik turns to the defence minister and asks, ‘Who are they?’
‘That’s our secret weapon,’ says the minister. ‘Economists from the Ministry of Planning.’
OK, just one more. Comrade teacher instructs the class on the difference between Capitalism and Communism. ‘Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. In Communism it is completely the opposite!’
Back in Australia, I think the honeymoon period for our new Prime Minister has probably come to its end, and I’m waiting for some Kevin jokes.
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[…] I’ve been interested in the phenomenon of political jokes for a long time, and have done a post or two about them. Global warming, more recently known as ‘climate change’, has a churchy sort […]
[…] In the former Soviet Union the state apparatus controlled all formal publishing, and little that was critical of the system was ever published. There existed an informal publishing industry that produced samizdat, usually anonymous tracts, sometimes quite long, which were passed from reader to reader. And mockery became verbal. Soviet jokes were all highly political, and cutting. They were called anekdoti, and listening to one, or worse, telling one, could come with risks. You can read a few of them by going to an earlier essay of mine. […]