Curtis Dahlgren
'Hammer and Tickle' by Ben Lewis, a book review
By Curtis Dahlgren
June 4, 2023

"The Party told you to reject the evidence of your own eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command." – George Orwell, "1984"

"The truth is forbidden now; it is expelled and cancelled.
All doors and windows are closed to it now,
But anecdotes go out amongst the people,
Finding their way to the soul thru the eyes and the ears.
The jokes may not reach our grandkids,
But future historians will dig thru the archives,
Comparing "great men" with our trail of anger, laughter, and tears."
–paraphrased from "Impatience," written in 1955 by a survivor of Siberian exile

"The Law of Faust: the worse the times, the better the jokes." – Ben Lewis [we are beginning to relive some of those times]

Lewis says, in the conclusion: "The concentration of all political and economic power in the hands of the state, and the state's attempt to direct artistic activities – that meant any joke critical of life in a Communist society was de facto about Communism. All these things created the innate and inalienable humor of Communism, its GREATEST CULTURAL ACHIEVEMENT." (my caps; this book should be required reading in every school, public and private).

I have a knack for finding the best part of a book by just opening it randomly, but "Hammer and Tickle" came with a bookmark in it, so the first thing I read was "Analysts of Communist jokes agree that the 1960s were the golden age of Communist jokes. The Soviet bloc had quit arresting joke-tellers... which produced a tsunami of 'anekdoty' . . "

The subtitle on the cover is just "A Cultural History of Communism," but on the title page inside it says, "Hammer and Tickle; the Story of Communism, a Political System Almost Laughed Out of Existence" (Pegasus Books). Karl Marx himself once said, in 1844, "The final phase of a political system is comedy." On Facebook, my theme from pot day to Earth Day/birthday-of-Lenin to May Day is remembering life back in "the good ol' USSR." A joke from a Russian history class. Teacher waves a well-worn book and asks, "Who wrote this, 'The Communist Manifesto'?" No answer. He asks the question again. Finally little Bartski says:

"It wasn't me, Sir." Bartski gets sent to detention as a counter revolutionary.

"Lenin was working late at night and when he went to bed at 2 am, he told his guard to wake him at seven. For five hours the guard fretted about the most appropriate way to awaken the big guy. He chose to play the Soviet anthem that begins with 'Arise, ye wretched of the earth.'"

A man visits Hell and notices different punishments being inflicted. He asks the devil, "Why does Hitler stand up to his neck in (poop) but Stalin is only up to his waist?" and the devil says: "Because Stalin is standing on Lenin's shoulders."

The Czechs are some of the world's most anti-Communist people because they lived many years under its "utopianism." Q: How do the Czechs know the world is round? A: In 1945 the Nazis were driven out to the west, and in 1968 they returned from the east (Moscow). In 1968, the humor which until then had only appeared in newspapers, or between friends, flowed out onto the streets.

Historical precedent for Soviet elections: God made Eve and told Adam to choose a wife [Sorta kinda like the 2020 election].

Q: What's the difference between a Russian optimist and a Russian pessimist? A: The pessimist says things can't get any worse. The optimist says, "Yes they can."

Q: Is it true that half of the Central Committee members are insane? A: No, Boris. Half of the Central Committee ISN'T insane.

The book contains more than 600 jokes, and the sources are listed in 26 pages of bibliography. The author says analyzing the humor of an era isn't as easy as it seems. There are Russian jokes about the commies, Russian jokes about the Nazis, the jokes the Soviets wanted Russia's "new Soviet man" to tell, German jokes about the Nazis, and even Norwegian jokes about the Nazis. For example: Nazi to a Norwegian: "Are Norwegian girls all stupid?" Reply: "No. Those are the ones that go out with you guys."

USSR mental hospital doctors: What is your name?

Patient: Don’...

Doctors: Where are you from?

Patient: Duuh . . Don't know.

Doctors: What year is this?

Patient: Lenin's Jubilee.

Uncle Boris gets sent to Siberia. He had told his family that if that happened, and conditions were bad, he would write home with red ink. A letter came that said everything was wonderful ("It's just like summer camp. The only thing is, I can't find any red ink."

A peasant stood in line all morning hoping to buy a loaf of bread. When she got to the door, the store closed for the day. She let go some profanities she hadn't used for years. Two men in black trench coats approached and said: "This is your last warning. You will not be warned again."

The lady went home and told her husband: "It's worse than we thought. They're not only out of bread; they're out of bullets."

A housewife stands in line all morning at a state grocery. When she gets to the counter, she asks, "Don't you have any cheese?" The clerk says:

"We're the shop with no sausage. The shop with no cheese is around the corner."

A lady told her friend she must be getting senile: "I was standing in the front door with an empty shopping bag, and I couldn't remember if I had just gone shopping or if I was leaving." They've got a million of those. The Soviets used to brag that Russia made the world's fastest watches and the largest microchips.

In 1985, Gorbachev became the new Soviet leader. He wrote in his memoirs, "No one imagined the scale of our ecological disaster, how far we were behind the developed nations... " Economic growth had virtually stopped, military spending was 40% of GDP, and there were 5 million registered alcoholics (when Marx and Lenin's dream was supposed to be at its apex).

On the power of laughter: the Reagan Administration collected these jokes, and he told many of them "incessantly" to Gorby at their summits. In 1987 for example, he told him this one:

"When our college graduates are asked what they want to do, they may say 'l haven't decided yet.' Grads in Russia say, 'l don't know; they haven't told me yet'." Even Gorbachev laughed, but this is serious, kids. Do you want to be the butt of jokes in the future after you have brought the Soviet-style all-powerful government to America?

Well, boys and girls, it's 2023 and America's Nihilists are trying to relive 1923, when the Bolsheviks solidified their hold on the nation and were about to starve millions in Ukraine – after the inevitable infighting and purges among the "victors" of the 1917 Revolution.

"How stands Freedom tonight? Barely."

P.S. Parents, uncles, and aunts: please consider getting Hammer and Tickle for your young relatives, seriously. Especially if they are off to college! My edition was marked at $15.95 in 2009, but I bought it for $4 from a used book site. A review on the back cover:

"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 about why it fell." – Sunday Telegraph

© Curtis Dahlgren


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Click to enlarge

Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


Receive future articles by Curtis Dahlgren: Click here

More by this author


Stephen Stone
HAPPY EASTER: A message to all who love our country and want to help save it

Stephen Stone
The most egregious lies Evan McMullin and the media have told about Sen. Mike Lee

Siena Hoefling
Protect the Children: Update with VIDEO

Stephen Stone
FLASHBACK to 2020: Dems' fake claim that Trump and Utah congressional hopeful Burgess Owens want 'renewed nuclear testing' blows up when examined

Pete Riehm
When the government is lawless, the people turn to an outlaw

Victor Sharpe
The left's lies: A warning for America's very survival

Michael Gaynor
Who Will Make the Finals and Win the Upcoming Presidential Race?

Stephen Stone
‘Teach Your Own’

James Lambert
Illegal alien entry through California border has dramatically increased of late

Rev. Mark H. Creech
‘No other gods before me’: The first commandment’s national significance

Linda Goudsmit
CHAPTER 23: Legalizing pedophilia—The Sorensen Report

Randy Engel
A Documentary: Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus – The anatomy of a takeover bid, Part IX

Jerry Newcombe
A politically-incorrect prayer

Victor Sharpe
Who truly deserves a state? The Kurds or the Palestinians?

Pete Riehm
Father's Day: When men sing!

Cherie Zaslawsky
RFK Jr.: The silver-tongued spoiler
  More columns


Click for full cartoon
More cartoons


Matt C. Abbott
Chris Adamo
Russ J. Alan
Bonnie Alba
Chuck Baldwin
Kevin J. Banet
J. Matt Barber
Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
. . .
[See more]

Sister sites