Academic Articles

Speaking More than Bolshevik: Humour, Subjectivity, and Crosshatching in Stalin’s 1930s


I contributed a chapter to a brilliant edited volume which, at the centenary of the Russian Revolution, challenges us to rethink 1917 as a historical divide. The Russian Revolution is often presented as a complete break with the past, but in reality there was plenty of change before, and plenty of continuity after, October.

In my contribution, I show how, in humour, many pre-revolutionary values, ideas and frames of reference survived well into the 1930s, and continued to shape how ordinary people made sense of Stalin’s brave new world.

For almost 20 years, historians have been fascinated by the idea that people learnt to ‘speak Bolshevik’ – to use the language and symbols of the Soviet regime to their best advantage. But my research tells a different story: Soviet citizens continuously interwove older values, ideas and ethics with the regime’s as they tried to find their way and even find themselves in these years of great uncertainty. Even as they learnt to ‘speak Bolshevik’, they tried to make ‘Bolshevik’ speak sense.

Further details can be found on the publisher’s website here.

Jonathan Waterlow