Staunton, April 1 – Russians have always shown a remarkable ability to use anecdotes and jokes to talk about their situation. On the one hand, jokes offer a way of expressing what people feel in a short compass. And on the other, they offer those who tell them a certain deniability because as Freud said “sometimes a cigar is only a cigar.”
Quite often, Russians take their jokes from other nations including the Jews, the Czechs, and the Poles; and even more often, they simply update jokes that their parents and grandparents told – both telling indications about the nature of Russia and Russians that deserve closer attention than they often receive.
Now, as Sergey Minayev points out in an article in Kommersant on April Fools Day, Russians can look back on a rich heritage of humor extending into tsarist times about the problems they have encountered with their economy and with the role of the state in that economy (kommersant.ru/doc/3586694).
At the conclusion of his article, the Moscow journalist offers the latest update of a very old joke about what happens to people who have two cows under various political systems, an anecdote that he suggests demonstrates that Russians are far better informed on these issues than many Moscow commentators or Western observers think.
The joke currently takes the following form:
Socialism is when you have two cows. The state takes one and gives it to someone else.
Communism is when you have two cows. The state takes both and gives you milk.
Fascism is when you have two cows. The state takes both and sells you milk.
A military dictatorship is when you have two cows. The state takes both and shoots you.
Capitalism is when you have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.
Pure democracy is when you have two cows. Your neighbors decide who gets the milk.
Representative democracy is when you have two cows. Your neighbors choose someone who decides who gets the milk.
American democracy is the government promises to give you two cows if you vote as required. After the elections, the president is impeached for speculation in cow futures. The media immediately calls this “Cowgate.”