International Review of Social History

Humour and Protest: Jokes under Communism

Christie Davies 


The largest corpus of jokes we have ridiculing both rulers and a political system comes from the former Soviet Union and the then communist countries of eastern Europe. These forbidden jokes were important to those who told them at some risk to themselves. They can be construed as a form of protest, but the relationship between jokes and protest is not a simple one. The number of jokes told was greater, and the telling more open, in the later years of the regimes than in the earlier years of terror and extreme hardship. The number of jokes is a product of the extensiveness of political control, not its intensity. Such jokes probably have no effect either in undermining a regime or in acting as a stabilizing safety valve. However, they were a quiet protest, an indication that the political system lacked stability and could collapse quickly.

(Published Online November 21 2007)