The only Marxism that will survive is Groucho’s

Looking at their dour, scowling faces that threaten doom for the Manmohan Singh government any time now, it might be tempting to ask if Indian communists have heard of any other Marx other than old Karl. Actually, a couple of them do have a funny bone.

Sitaram Yechury, for one. In a column he wrote for the Hindustan Times last year, he recounted a joke narrated to him by his maternal uncle.

“The Pope once decided to send a bishop on a goodwill mission to the United States, warning him to be careful of the American media given their reputation. Upon arrival in New York, the bishop, besieged by the media, was asked if his itinerary included a visit to a nightclub.

“Recollecting the Pope’s warning, he dodged the question retorting, ‘Are there nightclubs in New York?’

“The next morning, the papers screamed, “Arriving Bishop’s first question: ‘Are there nightclubs in New York?'”

More recently, during a press conference recently in the Ram sethu matter, when a reporter asked what seemed like a rather basic question, Yechury shot back with the trademark smile on face: “Arre yaar, you are like those who fellows who listen to the Ramayana all night and ask what the relationship between Rama and Sita is in the morning. They are together, yaar, look at my name.”

Even if professional Indian communists refuse to let a smile increase their face value, humour has often been the sole respite for subjects under their sickle elsewhere.

Indeed, Ben Lewis, the author of Hammer and Tickle, a new book that looks at the history of communism through communist jokes, believes communism is the only political system to have created its own international brand of comedy.

1. A man dies and goes to hell. There he discovers that he has a choice: he can go to capitalist hell or to communist hell. Naturally, he wants to compare the two, so he goes over to capitalist hell. There, outside the door, is the devil, who looks a bit like Ronald Reagan. “In capitalist hell,” says Reagan, “they flay you alive, then they boil you in oil, and then they cut you up into small pieces with sharp knives.”

“That’s terrible!” gasps the man. He goes over to communist hell, discovers a long line of people waiting to get in. Eventually he gets to the front and there at the door to communist hell is a little old man who looks a bit like Karl Marx. “In communist hell,” says Marx impatiently, “they flay you alive, then they boil you in oil, and then they cut you up into small pieces with sharp knives.”

“But… but that’s the same as capitalist hell!” protests the visitor, “Why such a long queue?”

“Well,” sighs Marx, “Sometimes we’re out of oil, sometimes we don’t have knives, sometimes no hot water…”

2. A man goes to buy a car in Moscow, pays for it, and is told by the salesman that he can collect it on a particular date in 10 years’ time. The buyer thinks for a moment and then asks: “Morning or afternoon?” The salesman, astonished by the question, asks: “What difference does it make?” The buyer says deadpan: “Well, the plumber is coming in the morning.”

3. Three prisoners in the gulag get to talking about why they are there. “I am here because I always got to work five minutes late, and they charged me with sabotage,” says the first. “I am here because I kept getting to work five minutes early, and they charged me with spying,” says the second. “I am here because I got to work on time every day,” says the third, “and they charged me with owning a western watch.”

4. A Georgian delegation comes to meet Josef Stalin. They talk to Stalin and then head off down the Kremlin’s corridors. Stalin starts looking for his pipe. He can’t find it. He calls in Beria, the dreaded head of his secret police. “Go after the delegation, and find out which one took my pipe,” he says. Beria scuttles off down the corridor. Five minutes later Stalin finds his pipe under a pile of papers. He calls Beria, “Look, I’ve found my pipe.” “It’s too late,” Beria says, “half the delegation admitted they took your pipe, and the other half died during questioning.”

5. A man is queuing for food in Moscow. Finally he’s had enough. He turns round to his friend and says “That’s it. I’m going to kill that Gorbachev,” and marches off. Two hours later he comes back. “Well,” says the friend, “did you do it?” “No,” replies the other, “there was an even longer queue over there.”

6.“Is it true that half the Central Committee are idiots?” “No, that’s rubbish. Half the Central Committee are not idiots.”

7. “Is it true that Marxism-Leninism is scientific?” “No, surely not. If it were, they would have tested it on animals first.”

Heard these before? Know of a better one?

All jokes courtesy Ben Lewis, via Prospect magazine, and The Daily Telegraph, London