The Bolsheviks' gallows laughter

Igal Halfin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The present article studies the evolution of the Bolshevik rhetoric toward ideological heterodoxy through the prism of laughter. I examine the official sense of humour (there are many indications of the audience giggling in the Party transcripts, sometimes in very baffling places) and show how in the 1920s the laughter directed at the opposition was soft in kind (mainly irony and parody) and how it turned to be sardonic and annihilating during the 1930s. When laughter filled the chamber as the leaders of the opposition tried to defend their position, was it a light laughter at the absurdity of a delegate who falsely belittled himself by asking for mercy? Or was it gallows laughter, the nervous titters provoked by a prophetic glimpse of an oppositionist standing alone in an NKVD cellar, universally forsaken? As long as relatively liberal economic policies were in place and social engineering incomplete, language could retain its flexibility and speakers were allowed to be flippant and to laugh. But with the realization of the Bolshevik project, rhetorical violence would have no meaning save real violence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-268
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Political Ideologies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2006


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