In Soviet Russia a political joke (anekdot)
was folk art. Under Communism, with the censorship,
it was impossible to find jokes in the newspapers or
in the official printed literature or hear them on
state television. Nevertheless, jokes were very
widespread. Their authors were anonymous and they
were passed along by word of mouth among friends and
acquaintances, in the street, in the kitchen, at a
party, at workplaces, before, during and after
The first jokes about the Russian revolution
surfaced immediately after October 1917. In one, an
old woman visits Moscow zoo and sees a camel for the
first time. "Look what the Bolsheviks have done to
that horse!" she exclaims. As the system became
harsher, a distinctive communist sense of humour
pithy, dark and surreal
— reflecting the legal
machinery for repressing it.
At the height of the Stalinist repressions, cracking
a joke like the following could land you in a Gulag
— a Soviet-era prison camp.
A teacher asks his
class, ‘Who is your mother and who is your
A pupil replies, ‘My mother is Russia and
my father is Stalin.'
‘Very good,' says the teacher.
‘And what would you like to be when you grow up?'
Soviet Union telling political jokes was in a
extreme sport: according to
Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code), "anti-Soviet
propaganda" was a potentially
Historian Roy Medvedev
looked through the files of Stalin's political
prisoners and concluded that 200,000 people were
imprisoned for telling jokes, such as this:
prisoners in the gulag get to talking about why they
"I am here because I always got to work
five minutes late, and they charged me with
sabotage," says the first.
"I am here because I kept
getting to work five minutes early, and they charged
me with spying," says the second.
"I am here because
I got to work on time every day," says the third,
"and they charged me with owning a western watch."