Hammer and Tickle

Althouse Press

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Hammer and Tickle
Clandestine Laughter in the Soviet Empire
By: Petr Beckmann

Preface to the Second Edition

Since the first edition of the collection was published in 1969, the Soviet Empire has conquered more colonies and has grown more powerful; in part because Americans have been lulled into carefree indifference by the trustees of their security, who have made light of "the inordinate fear of Communism."

What is Communism like?

The full answer can be learned by living under it; a partial view can be gained by reading such works as Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago.

But a glimpse of the senseless brutality of Communism is also, in its way, caught by the joke of the sneeze that interrupted Stalin's speech (the first in this collection). The story is, of course, pure fiction; yet the fact that, like the other jokes, it made the rounds, in whispers and amid subdued laughter, through all of the Soviet Empire shows that it was invented well. Only the justified jokes of this savage humor survive by natural selection in a hostile environment.

Why are these jokes whispered? There are some young Americans to whom  the answer is not obvious: because in Stalin's day the penalty of telling, or even listening to, one of these stories was 10 years forced labor, which inthose days often meant death. In the 70's it got a little better, and now it is getting worse again, for as another joke has it, socialist realism (the officially approved school of art) has been replaced by neo-repressionism.

In any case, what you are now holding in your hands adds up to several centuries of forced labor.

I heard virtually every one of these stories while I still lived in the Czechoslovak colony of the Soviet Empire (through 1963); I have done no more than select and translate them. I have added several that came to mind again after publishing the first edition [under the title Whispered Anecdotes in 1969]; and I have omitted  a few that did little to throw light on the character of Communism and life under it. I think the reader will get more out of these jokes if he reads them in sequence (which loosely tells some sort of story), rather than nibbling here and there.

These jokes help to keep up the spirits of the serfs of the Soviet Empire.

May they help Americans to understand what it is that is threatening them.

Petr Beckmann

Fall 1980


105 pagesGolem Press