Having studied aspects of communism during my academic life it would be hard to say that it has been a 'jovial' experience - Historically interesting nonetheless but not wall-to-wall with laughter a minute. But then how can you say that such a regime with dictators like Stalin at its helm was humorous? Well with Ben Lewis's book one would be hard pushed to state that communism was devoid of humour. Lewis's book is littered throughout with such wonderful and poignant gags, gaffs, cartoons and jokes that many ordinary people of the regime expressed. Some of the best jokes even come from the Stalinist period. Take this one for example...
'A clerk hears laughing behind the door of a courtroom. He opens the door. At the other end of the room, the judge is sitting on the podium convulsed in laughter.
What is so funny? asks the clerk
I just heard the funniest joke of my life' says the judge
Tell it to me
I just sentenced someone five years of hard labour for doing that!
This is one of my favourite anekdots namely because it exemplifies the way jokes and joke-tellers were treated within the USSR. It highlights the maximalist approach adopted by historians that jokes such as these were told to ridicule the system and ultimately participated in its downfall - The Orwellian notion that 'every joke is a tiny revolution'. However it must also be stated that in stark contrast some historians assign themselves to the minimalist approach that jokes were not an efficient form of protest against a hostile political environment. Both of these arguments form the basis of Lewis's research with both sides of the argument considered. He does this succinctly by outlining an anekdot and its immediate source that it criticises or lampoons, reinforcing it alongside his superb depth of research with the debatable question - Did Jokes bring down Communism?
It could be argued by the final conclusive chapter of Lewis's book that it is hard to adopt a firm stance within either camp. Nonetheless what cannot be derided is the significance of the anekdot within twentieth century Russian culture, as it is a unique aspect of Russian history that can not be found within any other culture or historical epoch. Lewis emphasises this concept with a comparison of Nazi and Soviet jokes within the 1940's in one of the best chpaters of his book. What one can gather from this analysis is a totally different form of humour that makes it distinctly unique. I will not list any further jokes as this is part of the sparkle of reading Lewis's work. As such it is hard to find any fault with such a superb book. Go on have a laugh with communist humor. 5 stars *****