Hammer and Tickle: A History of Communism Told Through Communist Jokes

Author(s): Ben Lewis

World History

Q: Why, despite all the shortages, was the toilet paper in East Germany always 2-ply? A: Because they had to send a copy of everything they did to Moscow. Communist jokes are the strangest, funniest, most enchanting and meaningful legacy of the 80 years of political experimentation in Russia and Eastern Europe, known as Communism. The valiant and sardonic citizens of the former Communist countries - surrounded by an invisible network of secret police, threatened with arrest, imprisonment and forced labour, confronted by an economic system that left shops empty, and bombarded with ludicrous state propaganda - turned joke-telling into an art form. They used jokes as a coded way of speaking the truth. HAMMER AND TICKLE takes us on a unique journey through the Communist era (1917-1989), and tells its real history through subversive jokes and joke-tellers, many of whom ended up in the gulags. It is also illustrated with a combination of rare and previously unpublished archive material, political cartoons, caricatures, photographs and state-sponsored propaganda. Humorous, culturally poignant and historically revealing, this is the story of a political system that was (almost) laughed out of existence.


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A unique journey through the Communist era, telling its history through subversive jokes and joke-tellers A book that is genuinely and truthfully funny - and as sad as can be. HAMMER AND TICKLE has received fantastic reviews: 'Marvellously original... a fine tribute to the joyous, humane anarchy of laughter, whose nearest political analogue is that ramshackle, chaotic system of political wishful thinking called democracy' Sunday Times '[An] entertaining and thoughtful study' Evening Standard 'We find at long last the jokes only communism could produce. And while they may not have brought it down, they can still tell us something important about why it fell' Sunday Telegraph 'Wonderful... this isn't just a joke book. Instead, Lewis embarks on a deeply scholarly examination and analysis of the communist joke... an excellent job' New Statesman 'An excellent anthology of anecdotes knowledgeably linked into the history of the Soviet period... very enjoyable to read' Daily Telegraph 'Charming, highly original, elegantly written and valuable piece of cultural history... This is very funny book. Like the best Communist jokes, it is funniest when it is grimmest' Spectator

'Ben Lewis's book celebrates the brilliance with which jokes exposed the gulf between the Soviet ideal and its brutal reality.' SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

Ben Lewis' award-winning film 'Hammer and Tickle' was broadcast on BBC4 in 2006. His article on Communist jokes for Prospect magazine, received the greatest number of hits on their website for any article last year.

General Fields

  • : 9780753825822
  • : Orion Publishing Co
  • : Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
  • : 0.262
  • : May 2009
  • : 198mm X 129mm X 23mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Humour; Marxism & Communism
  • : 376
  • : 320.5320207
  • : 1
  • : Paperback
  • : Ben Lewis