New Book: It's Only a Joke, Comrade! Humour, Trust and Everyday Life under Stalin

Jonathan Waterlow's picture

Dear colleagues,

I'm excited to announce the publication of my book, which I hope will be of interest to you, and might also provide some unusual and engaging teaching material:

Jonathan Waterlow, It's Only a Joke, Comrade! Humour, Trust and Everyday Life under Stalin


In the shadow of the Gulag, Soviet citizens were still cracking jokes. They had to.

Drawing on diaries, interviews, memoirs and hundreds of previously secret documents, It’s Only a Joke, Comrade! uncovers how they joked, coped, and struggled to adapt in Stalin’s brave new world. It asks what it really means to live under a dictatorship: How do people make sense of their lives? How do they talk about it? And whom can they trust to do so?

Moving beyond ideas of ‘resistance’, ‘doublethink’, ‘speaking Bolshevik’, or Stalin’s Cult of Personality to explain Soviet life, it reveals how ordinary people found their way and even found themselves in a life lived along the fault-lines between rhetoric and reality

Cover Reviews:

'A stunningly original study of Stalinist society... Essential reading for anyone interested in how human beings navigate a path through times of extraordinary upheaval, privation and danger' – Daniel Beer

'An extraordinary achievement' – Ronald Grigor Suny

'Re-vitalizes our understanding of Soviet society' – Lynne Viola

'Fascinating ... lively, engaging, and at times very funny' – Catriona Kelly

'The best book on Stalinism I've read in a long time' – S.A. Smith

'One of those rare books that not only has to be read by scholars in the field, but is also accessible to a wide readership. Indeed it is an essential read for anybody who wants to get beyond standard views of the "communist joke" and understand what humour really tells us about life under this extraordinary regime' – David Priestland

Table of Contents:


Author's Note


PART 1: Taking Liberties

Chapter 1: Kirov's Carnival, Stalin's Cult

Chapter 2: Plans and Punchlines: 'The anekdoty always saved us'

Chapter 3: Speaking More Than Bolshevik

PART 2: Joking Dangerously

Chapter 4: Who's Laughing Now? Persecution and Prosecution


Chapter 5: Beyond Resistance: The Psychology of Joke-Telling

Chapter 6: In On the Joke: Humour, Trust and Sociability


Select Bibliography

Author Bio:

Jonathan Waterlow received his Ph.D. (D.Phil) from the University of Oxford in 2012. He went on to hold a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and was a Research Associate at the University of Bristol from 2016-18. He’s also been a Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto, and studied at the Universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews, and the Herzen State Pedagogical University in St Petersburg, Russia.