As Obamacare defines America’s economic landscape, are we going to see a new trend of Soviet-era jokes?


Shopping Soviet style — the bread line

Those of us who remember the Cold War also remember the Cold War joke.  Many of these were jokes that had actually originated within the Soviet Union itself, as Russian citizens used mordant humor to deal with communist life.  When I was growing up, those jokes had a great deal to do with my understanding of the day-to-day realities of life in a Communist state, both in terms of the oppression and the deprivation.  Here’s a joke that illustrates both:

A man was somehow able to finagle visas to get his family out of the Soviet Union, but he was forced to remain behind.  He promised to write his family regularly to let them know how he was doing.  Because the family knew that the KGB would be monitoring everything the man wrote, they agreed upon a code:  If the man wrote  his letter in black ink, he was telling the truth; if he wrote his letter in red ink, he was telling a lie.  Not long after the family settled in their new home, they received a letter from the man written entirely in black ink:

My dearest family,

How foolish you were to leave our beloved Soviet Union.  Although you may remember a brief period of shortages, I can tell you that life now has gotten better in every way.  The stores are overflowing with food and merchandise.  At the green grocer, there are fruits and vegetables from all corners of our glorious Soviet Union.  In the clothing stores, the clothes available for purchase are packed so tightly on the rack that one needs to use excessive strength to pull out a shirt just to try it on.  Even though it is January, our dear little apartment is oppressively hot.  I must repeatedly tell the manager to turn the heat down.  Indeed, peculiarly enough, in the midst of all the plenty flowing from Stalin’s great Five Year Plan, the stores are short only one item:  red ink.

With love,


Other jokes spoke about deprivation and the pervasive, state-sponsored antisemitism:

On a bitterly cold day in Moscow, word has gone out that a store has received a shipment of food supplies.  People start lining up early.  Soon, the line doubles around the block.  After a couple of hours, an official emerges from the store.

“Owing to the Zionist-dominated American interference with Soviet concerns, supplies are slightly more limited than we had originally anticipated.  All Jews must therefore leave this line.”

Grumbling, but unsurprised, the Jews head home empty-handed.

The sun rises in the sky, but gives no warmth.  Another couple of hours go by, and the same official comes out.

“The Americans were worse than we thought, and our supplies are more diminished than we realized.  All of those who do not belong to the Communist Party must leave this line.”

Disgruntled non-Party members head home, leaving only the hard-core Soviets waiting for food.

The sun begins to set.  The cold becomes worse.  The Party members huddle together, trying to get warm.  At long last, after they’ve spent eight or ten hours waiting, the official emerges from the store one last time.

“We regret to announce that American depredations were so great that we have no food supplies available today.  You must all go home.”

As the Party members shuffle away into the cold night, one loudly says to the other, “Those damn Jews!  They get all the luck.”

(Incidentally, I published this joke in connection with a Maxine Waters comment, which reminds us that antisemitism is becoming pretty pervasive in today’s Democrat Party.)

For me, Obamacare is a rich area for Soviet jokes.  We’re being ordered to buy a product that we don’t want; that is described as being overwhelmingly full of delights, even though we don’t care about those delights; and that is, in any event, unavailable.  It’s a Soviet-style economic policy that is fully deserving of Soviet-style jokes.  To date, I’ve fallen back on one of my old favorites:

First Communist:  Come the revolution, we’ll all be driving Rolls Royces.

Second Communist:  But I don’t want to drive a Rolls Royce.

First Communist:  Come the revolution, you’ll have to.

What fascinated me was discovering that I’m not the only one dredging up the Cold War past in connection with Obamacare. Megan McArdle, an admirably level-headed, honest writer whose background as a programmer has given her solid insights into the Obamacare debacle, has felt the same impulse:

Left-leaning columnists and policy wonks have been suggesting that the cancellation letters were part of an insurance company scam to enroll their customers in expensive policies, but the administration itself has been remarkably oblique. It needs the insurers, especially with the exchanges in so much trouble. Their cooperation is essential to avoiding another round of nasty premium shocks next year.

It reminds me of a late-Soviet joke: A man stands in line all day for bread, only to have the baker come out and say there is none. He loses it, and begins ranting about the government. Eventually, a man in a trench coat puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Be careful, comrade. You know, in the old days, it would have been …” and he mimes a gun pointed at the head.

The man walks home, dejected. When he walks in the door, his wife takes one look at his face and drops the plate she is holding.

“What’s wrong, Ivan? Were they out of bread?”

“It’s worse than that. They’re out of bullets.”

The administration has run out of political bullets. Unless the Affordable Care Act starts working, and delivering big benefits to more people than are losing their insurance, it can’t do much to improve those sagging poll numbers.

I’m wondering now if we’re going to see a general resurgence of Soviet jokes.  They’re pretty much pre-made for the communist style economy Obama has thrust upon us.  So I have a twofold request for you:  First, do you remember any old Soviet-era jokes (and they have to be the genuine article) that work just as well now, in America, as they did during the Cold War in the Soviet Union?  Second, if you find other writers falling back on old Communist jokes in connection with Obamacare specifically or the Obama economy generally, could you let me know?


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  1. zombie says

    A foreign delegation showed up unexpectedly at a collective farm. There was no time to prepare. After they left, the Chairman of the collective farm called the District Party committee. “You didn’t warn me in advance, so they saw everything, the ruined cow sheds, and all the dirt, and all our misery and poverty.”
    “Don’t worry,” the Party secretary said.
    “But now they will tell about it all over the world.”
    “Let them indulge in their usual slander,” the Party secretary said.

  2. zombie says

    Stalin summoned Orlov and said, “I have heard through informers that you are telling jokes about me. It’s treasonous!”
    “What exactly do you mean?”
    “I am the Great Leader, Teacher, and Friend of the people!”
    Orlov thought for a while. “No, I haven’t told anybody that joke yet.”

  3. zombie says

    In a questionnaire for applicants seeking a job with the Soviet government, one of the questions was, “What is your attitude to the Soviet authority?” One applicant answered, “The same as to my wife.” When the officials demanded that he elaborate, the applicant explained, “First, I love her; second, I fear her; third, I wish I had another one.”

  4. zombie says

    One day in Siberia a guard asked a gulag prisoner, “How long is your sentence?”
    “Ten years.”
    “What for?”
    “For nothing.”
    “That’s a lie! For nothing they give only five years.”

  5. zombie says

    Bookie, here’s the most “convertible to modern times” Soviet joke of them all:
    A Russian woman walks into a store. “Do you have any meat?”
    “No, we don’t.”
    “What about bread?”
    “We only deal with meat. Across the street is the store with no bread.”

  6. zombie says

    Wow, this one has exact parallels with what has happened over the last month:
    In a gulag, two inmates share their experience.
    “What did they arrest you for?” one of them asks. “Was it a political offense, or a common crime?”
    “Political, of course. I’m a plumber. They summoned me to the District Party headquarters to fix the sewage pipes. I looked and said, ‘Hey, the entire system requires replacement.’ So, they gave me seven years.”

  7. says

    I love a good joke, but doesn’t any one else find it frightening that we’ve ushered in an era when jokes about communist deprivation apply perfectly to America?  And that jokes about intimidation and oppression look as if they’ll soon gain traction?

    Oh, and Zombie, you either have a great joke book by your side or are a wonderful raconteur.  My Dad was a font of wonderful jokes, but he’s a been gone a long time and, sadly, I’ve forgotten many of his jokes.

  8. zombie says

    A man casually drives his car into the middle of Red Square in Moscow, and simply parks it there and starts to walk away.
    A policeman rushes up to him, shouting, “Are you crazy? This is where the government is!”
    “Don’t worry,” the man answers. “I locked the doors.”

  9. zombie says

    One day, far in the future, a boy in Moscow asks, “Grandpa, what is a ‘line’?”
    “A line? I will explain. You see, many years ago, in the bad old days, there was not enough meat in the stores, so people stood in long rows at the stores’ entrances and waited, hoping some meat would appear on sale. That was called a ‘line.’ Do you understand?”
    “Yes, Grandpa. But — what is ‘meat’?”

  10. zombie says

    This is is so applicable, it’s scary:
    To alleviate the perennial shortages of butter, The Politburo of the Communist Party ordered the Soviet scientists to develop a technology for converting shit into butter, and to complete this project on or before the anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. After six months of work, the Politburo demanded an interim progress report. The scientists reported that they had achieved a 50% success. The party requested elaboration. The reply from the Academy of Sciences explained, “One can already spread it, but not yet eat it.”

  11. says

    Okay, here’s one that’s not a joke.  My Dad’s sister, a good German Jewish communist returned to Berlin after the war, because the Soviets are wiped the stain of Naziism.  She spent the rest of her career as a mid-level Communist party apparatchik.  Her loyalty enabled her to have her own apartment with a small bathroom

    Daddy visited her in 1988, which was both the first and last time he saw her since she returned to Germany.  She was happy in her apartment and incredibly grateful for her private bathroom.

    My dad asked, “Why is a private bathroom so wonderful?”

    “Well,” she said, “my kitchen sink is broken, and this means I can wash the dishes without leaving the apartment to use the communal kitchen.”

    “How long has it been broken?” asked Daddy.

    “Nine years,” she said.  And then, in all seriousness, delivered the punch line.  “But I’m not worried.  I’m on the plumber’s list.”

  12. 11B40 says

    Back in the 70s, I was a pawn in President Nixon’s Detente with the USSR.  As a result, I found myself in beatiful downtown Murmansk, back in the USSR.  
    Besides the caviar and vodka, (real men don’t drink the wine), I had several illuminating experiences. One was the Babuskas (little rotund granmamas) who would wander around town with their empty shopping bags hoping to find a store with something to sell. And Murmansk, because it was inside the Arctic Circle and considered a kind of hardship tour, was somewhat better provisioned than many places. (N.B.: Some say that I have resurrected this aged anecdote as retaliation against my current soviet’s (somewhat south of San Francisco (okay, Bookworm ???)) oppressive policy of grocery bag prohibition and those who do are quite correct.)
    Somewhat similar was my trip to the local GUM department store. Now I had grown up in The (okay, Bookworm ???) Bronx of the ’50s and ’60s. My mother used to drag us down to Herald Square on shopping expeditions (vendor supplied bag days) to places like Macy’s, Gimbel’s, Altman’s, etc. Besides the Toy depatment, my personal favorite was the TVs wherein there would be whole walls, from floor to ceiling, of TVs turned on and ready to overload my still developing circuits. Well, fast rewinding to the comrades, when I got to the GUM’s department (if that’s not too strong a word), there were exactly two, a floor console model with a portable model perched on its top. 
    One day, while being shown the City’s sights (which included a monument to the merchant seamen who sailed to Murmansk during WW II), we passed a long line of billboards down by the harbor which seemed be reporting many, many statistics about the shipping or fishing industry. When our guide was asked what they were, he paused, took a deeper than usual breath, and said, “Propaganda.”
    Lastly, my favorite Soviet witticism will always be “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” It’s resonance was that it always reminds me of my own witticism during my military days that “They can make us work long, but they can’t make us work hard.”  Oppression can be dealt with, but it must be dealt with smartly and differently.

  13. Murray Lawrence says

    A Muscovite goes to the Office of Electrical Repairs to fill out a form for fixing the decayed wiring in his apartment. The official looks through his calendar and says, “Three years from today.” The man asks, “What time?” The official looks at him with a puzzled  expression on his face. “What possible difference can the time make if it’s three years from today?” “Because the plumber is coming in the afternoon.”
    A Soviet labor official is sent by Moscow to British labor leaders in London for a round of talks. As he delivers the party line on the issues at hand, one of the Laborites interrupts and says to the man, “Look, you’re among friends here. Just say what you think.” The Soviet official pretends not to hear and continues with his programmed remarks. “Enough,” says the trade union rep. “We know what Moscow thinks. Don’t you have an opinion of your own?” “I do,” says the man, “but I don’t agree with it.”

  14. zombie says

    A Russian Jew escaped to America shortly after the glorious People’s Revolution. But he had to leave his younger brother behind who then grew up in the Soviet Union.
    Many decades later, the older brother fell gravely ill, and sent a letter to his brother in Russia to come visit him and take care of family matters. So the younger brother applied for a visa to leave for America.
    When the Soviet officials asked why he wanted a visa, he said that he had a brother in America who fell ill and needed help. The officials then replied, “Then wouldn’t your brother rather come over here?”
    “Oh, because my brother is physically ill, not mentally ill.”

  15. zombie says

    A commissioner goes to inspect the largest insane asylum in Moscow. To greet him, a choir of patients sings one of the few songs officially approved by the government: “Oh, how good it is to live in the Soviet Union!” and so forth.
    The commissioner noticed that one of the men was silent, not singing with the rest, just standing off by himself and watching.
    “Why are you not singing?” the commissioner demanded.
    “Oh, I’m not crazy,” the man said. “I’m just one of the orderlies.”

  16. zombie says

    At a Moscow May Day parade in the mid 1930s, a very old Jew carried a sign that said, “Thank you, comrade Stalin, for my happy childhood!”
    A Party representative approached the old man. “What is the meaning of this sign? Everybody can see how old you are — when you were a child, comrade Stalin was not yet even born!”
    “Precisely,” the Jew replied.

  17. says

    I heard some Soviet Style jokes about the Occupy movement. I don’t know how good they are but this was kind of typical.
    Two Occupiers are sitting on their milk crates. One says “I don’t know how you are holding out. My bucket has been overflowing with my crap for weeks now and the air in my tent isn’t breathable. The food is rotten and inadequate. Between the two I’m getting really sick. How come you look so healthy?”
    The second one says “It’s easy and anyone can do it. I and a few of my friends here get up real early twice a week. We go to this guy with a pickup truck and rent it from him. Then we drive back load it up with our crap and drive over to the farmers market. There are farmers there that use it as manure. It saves them money. In return they give us clean buckets and fresh fruits and vegetables. The farmers are happy and we get fresh air and better food.
    The first one says “Capitalist, traitor.”

  18. zombie says

    A Russian, A Frenchman and an American are shipwrecked on a desert island. For weeks the barely survive, half-starved, eating only whatever washes up on the beach.
    One day they find a magic lamp on the sand and when they rub it, a genie pops out and grants each one of them a wish.
    The Frenchman says, “I wish to return to France, where we have the best food and the most beautiful women in the world!” And Poof! he disappears and returns to France.
    The American says, “I wish to return to the good ol’ USA, where have more money and more time-saving gadgets than anywhere in the world!” And Poof! he disappears and returns to America.
    The Russian, a hardcore communist, says, “Those others were greedy and lazy. A hard life is good for a man’s soul! So I prefer to stay here, hungry and without possessions, on this desert island.”
    “If that’s the case,” says the genie, “Then what is your wish?”
    “Well, I’ll probably get a little lonely, so my wish is — that you bring those other guys back here for company.”
    Poof Poof!

  19. Danny Lemieux says

    A loyal Party Citizen in Chicago spends two days nonstop on his computer trying to get Obamacare coverage for his family.
    When he finally succeeds and discovers the price of his premiums and copays, he is shocked and angry. He rushes out of his Park Avenue apartment and begins screaming at the top of his voice, “Obama is an incompetent idiot fascist!”. Immediately, an NSA satellite homes in on his location and a Department of Homeland Security SWAT team swoops down on him, tasering him into submission between rifle butts to the stomach and kidneys.
    When the disgruntled Party Citizen wakes up on a gurney in the Obamacare hospital corridor, he is informed by the Local Party Boss that the recently remade U.S. Court System will charge him with two crimes.
    “What are those”, he asks? ”
    “Insulting our Dear Leader and revealing state secrets”, came the reply.

  20. says

    Do people realize that forcing people to cut back on their goods is another kind of consumption law designed to keep the peasants under the heel? Also, sustainability is a great excuse for Gaian environmental protection, when the rich have access to nature, and the poor are ground up as fertilizer for nature. It makes for a better resource adaptive, permanently sustainable eco system.

  21. Mike Devx says

    A visiting tourist stopped at the corner Moscow newsstand to purchase a paper.  He sees that there are three choices.  “I can’t read Russian,” he confesses to the vendor, “I just want one as a souvenir.”  He points to the largest stack of papers, unsold.  “Which one is this?”
    “Oh, that’s Pravda”, the vendor says.  “But you don’t want that one.”
    “Why not” asks the tourist.
    “Because it does nothing but parrot the party line, and is filled with lies, half-lies, and deceptions,” the vendor explains.  “We refer to it as the ‘Russian New York Times’ .”

  22. says

    I love a good joke, but doesn’t any one else find it frightening that we’ve ushered in an era when jokes about communist deprivation apply perfectly to America?  And that jokes about intimidation and oppression look as if they’ll soon gain traction?
    Not really. I feel like I’ve spent the past 10 years preparing the heart, soul, and mind to face evil straight on. What would be frightening would be failing in one’s duty to protect humanity and the love that sustains life. For that is the fuel that drives much of war and killing. There’s one guaranteed way to stop war and killing. Make people destroy love and duty. That would be a more depressing and frightening world to me than a world of forever war.


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