Comedy of Terrors

6273b01e2e0811ddab55000077b07658 Ben Lewis on humor in communist societies, in the FT:

On the stand at the Writers’ Congress of 1934 [the pro-regime satirist Mkhail] Kol’tsov repeated the contorted counter-arguments that had been presented in the past decade. Even if one day, when the system was perfect, he conceded, there would be no need for laughter, there was still a place for it now. Even if the satire took the same forms as old-fashioned Tsarist humour, that was no reason to see it as reactionary. Since the working class were, according to Marxist-Leninist theory, the last class before the arrival of a classless society, their laughter was acceptable because, Kol’tsov said ingeniously, “In the history of the class struggle, the working class will have the last laugh.”

Humour offered the early communists the same philosophical conundrums that every other area of culture offered: what belonged to yesterday and what to tomorrow? Many argued that humour could be used to ridicule the old bourgeois habits that persisted … But, said others, given that the Soviets were creating a perfect world, there would soon be nothing left to laugh at in Russian politics or society … No, said others with equal gravity: the liberation of the working classes meant that finally the masses could take control of the language of humour that used to be the preserve of the elite … No, not quite, a third group of straight-faced critics theorised comically, there would still be laughter under communism, but the new society would invent an entirely new sense of humour.