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Lessons from humor under Stalin

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  • Lessons from humor under Stalin

    Just finished "It's Only a Joke, Comrade: Humor Trust and Everyday Life under Stalin" by Jonathan Waterlow.

    In the 1930’s, The Soviet government to form a new brave world of Communism required more than 5-year Plans and collectivization. It required new people, a molding of the population by propaganda supported by direct and often brutal force. The intent was to eradicate the unwanted ‘leftovers’ from the past: religion, gender, inequality the traditional family unit—a new human.

    Soviet citizens had to learn a new ideological language in order to understand the demands placed on them, from “shock-work” to “Bolshevik tempo”. They had to conceptualize and internalize what their efforts were supposed to achieve: grasping the developmental ladder from socialism to communism.

    This did not turn out quite as the regime intended. One could see how everyday realities (bread lines, starvation, shortages in fuel, clothing) could not be ignored when they conflict so abrasively with the ground ideological promises of the regime. Soviet ceremonials mattered little when you were starving and had no shoes to wear.

    The Soviet state, like all authoritarian regimes, hated ambiguity. The official view of the world was to be the only view of the world. … Such a totalizing ambition is obviously doomed to failure, but, as usual, the Soviet leaders blundered on regardless. Worse still, because they considered al aspects of life to be theoretically of political and ideological significance, every action, creation or even thought could potentially be subverted by the population.

    Soviet contemporaries turned to prerevolutionary ideas and values to criticize the regime but they just as often mocked it for not living up to its own ideals and promises. Example:
    “Why did Lenin wear shoes, but Stalin wears boots?
    Because Lenin avoided dirty puddles whereas Stalin tramps right through them.”

    This illustrates Lenin was venerated and the Stalin Cult far from sacrosanct.


    Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

  • #2
    An ex-factory foreman previously in the Donbas region, interviewed by the Harvard Project, gave voice to a widespread attitude when he replied to the question "Do you think it is better to blame Stalin and the Soviet leaders than the system itself?" He answered unhesitatingly, "Yes, of course. The system would not have been so bad [without them]. It depends on how the system is run. It depends on whom."

    A commonly recalled anecdote struck a quite different attitude:

    "A peasant complains to Kalinin, "Look, we have no clothing, we're going around half-naked." Kalinin replies that he can't help at the moment, but tries to ease the peasant's pain by telling him, "Look in Africa they go about completely naked and think nothing of it." The peasant answers, "They must have lived under communism longer over there."

    The joke calls communism itself into question.

    There is an important distinction between political humor in the 1930's and that of the post-Stalin years. Come the Brezhnev era, political humor increasingly betrayed a widespread disbelief in communism itself. Communism gradually became a joke in itself, but in the 1930's far more people were loyal critics who wanted to reach the goals and were berating the leaders who fail to deliver.

    The problem was ubiquitous disjunctions between rhetoric and reality--this sounds familiar. The author's research into Soviet archives and numerous interviews reveals the insidiousness of a socialist regime change to halt the populations' growing discontent in the difference between promises and actual life.
    Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


    • #3
      Brezhnev, Stalin and Khrushchev are riding a train. the train stalls, so Stalin shoots the engineers. The train doesn't move. so Khrushchev goes to the cab and posthumously rehabilitates the engineers.

      The train still doesn't move . Brezhnev says "I have a solution." He goes around the train coaches pulling down the blinds. the others say:

      "Comrade, how is that a solution?"
      "NOW we can pretend that we are moving...."
      The trout who swims against the current gets the most oxygen..


      • #4
        A giant automated factory in Russia turns out thousands of signs per hour, all of them saying ELEVATOR OUT OF ORDER.

        cartoon published in Krokadil, an authorized Soviet "organ of dissent"
        Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?


        • #5
          brezhnev's still my favourite commie....
          Last edited by marktwain; 25 Sep 19, 16:39.
          The trout who swims against the current gets the most oxygen..


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