Format Hardcover
Publication Date 08/26/09
ISBN 9781605980553
Trim Size / Pages 9.3 x 6.4 in / 368

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Hammer and Tickle

The Story of Communism, A Political System Almost Laughed Out of Existence

Ben Lewis

Q: Why, despite all the shortages, was the toilet paper in East Germany always two-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 eighty years of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. The valiant and sardonic citizens of the former Communist countries—surrounded by secret police, threatened with arrest, imprisonment and forced labor, a failed economic system, and bombarded with ludicrous propaganda—turned joke-telling into an art form, using them as a coded way of speaking the truth and coping with the absurdity of the system. In this poignant and historically revealing book, rare and previously unpublished archive material, including cartoons, caricatures, photographs, and oral transcripts take the reader on a unique journey through the real experience of the Communist era.

Ben Lewis is a columnist for Prospect magazine. His award winning film Hammer and Tickle appeared on the BBC in 2006. He lives in London.

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Endorsements & Reviews

“Marvelously 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. And their favourite joke? "What stage comes between socialism and communism? Alcoholism." (Christopher Hart, Sunday Times [London])”
“An entertaining and thoughtful study. (George Walden, Evening Standard [London])”
“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. (Martin Rowson, New Statesman)”
“An excellent anthology of anecdotes knowledgeably linked into the history of the Soviet period... very enjoyable to read. (Elaine Feinstein, Daily Telegraph [London])”
“Gives a good flavour of that socialist-era humour. (Morning Star [London])”
“Explores the wealth of subversive humour during the long, bleak decades of communism. (Irish Independent)”
“Ben Lewis's grimly entertaining study is no mere joke compendium. (George Walden, The Scotsman)”
“Charming, highly original, elegantly written and valuable piece of cultural history... This is a very funny book. Like the best Communist jokes, it is funniest when it is grimmest. (Victor Sebestyen, The Spectator)”
“A fascinating attempt to get to grips with communism's rise and fall in Europe through its funny bone... their cultural significance shouldn't be underestimated. (Metro [UK])”