The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 2, No 3 (2014)

Political ridicule and humour under socialism

Christie Davies


Socialism produces distinct forms of humorous ridicule that are relatively rare in capitalist, bourgeois democracies. These forms are arranged in a hierarchy that reflects the distribution of power in this type of social and political order, one which differs markedly from a bourgeois democracy or indeed even a traditional or dictatorial authoritarian society. Merely authoritarian societies lack the kind of over-riding ideology and central control of economic and cultural life that are the defining characteristics of socialism. Socialist humorous ridicule is cruel at the top; then comes an aggressive and admonishing, but in intention humorous, official ridicule employed by the state in pursuit of centrally defined political ends. Finally, there is the ridicule by ordinary people of the elite and the social order they have imposed on the masses who respond by spontaneously and autonomously inventing and circulating innumerable jokes and anecdotes. This pattern is a product of the exercise of a monopoly of political and economic power by the leaders of the Communist Party and the distinctive political inequality that characterises socialism, an inequality based not on ownership but on differential access to the power of the state. The rulers of merely authoritarian societies that were not socialist such as Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile or Afrikaner South Africa did not and could not attain the same kind of hegemony that was possible under socialism because there existed economic, religious, scientific and even legal institutions that enjoyed a substantial degree of independence from their political rulers. Accordingly, they did not exhibit to anything like the full extent the patterns of humour to be found under socialism. The aggregate patterns of humour in socialist societies must be treated not as interactions between individuals but as ‘social facts’ to be understood in relation to other social facts, notably the nature of political power, with both sets of social facts being contrasted with those to be found in the capitalist democracies that are the antithesis of socialism.


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