’s new book It’s Only a Joke, Comrade! Humour, Trust and Everyday Life Under Stalin (1928-1941)
(CreateSpace, 2018) delves into the previously understudied realm of humor in the Stalinist period, exploring how average citizens used humor to understand the contradictions of their daily reality and to relieve the stress caused by Stalinist policies. By looking at the way Soviet leaders such as Kirov and Stalin were mocked he notes how people subversively commented on policies that left them hungry and poorly clothed, joking for example that after Kirov’s murder they would dine upon his brains, or how Stalin rid himself of pubic crabs by announcing he would create a crab collective farm, causing them to flee. Jokes also touched on policy issues such as five-year plans, repression and even the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, showing how people thought about these issues and discussed them among their cohort. Additionally, jokes revealed the intersectionality of new Soviet and older value systems as people would use traditional frame work, such as heaven and hell, as backdrop for their jokes about the Soviet system, joking, for example, that Lenin was smuggled into heaven as Marx’s garbage. Furthermore, Waterlow looks at the social aspects of telling jokes, which could have dire consequences if told to the wrong person and how jokes helped create and reinforce trust circles, challenging old notions of atomization in the USSR. This witty, well written and very humanizing book is a must read.
Samantha Lomb is an Assistant Professor at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. Her research focuses on daily life, local politics and political participation in the Stalinist 1930s. Her book,
Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the Draft 1936 Constitution, is now available online. Her research can be viewed here.