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The Cynical Reason of Late Socialism: Power, Pretense, and the Anekdot

Alexei Yurchak

What is the difference between a Soviet pessimist and a Soviet optimist? A Soviet pessimist thinks that things cant possibly get any worse, but a Soviet optimist thinks that they will.

estern and Soviet political analysts, journalists and historians have often stressed the social stability of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and early 1980s. In the former Soviet Union itself, that period is referred to today as the period of stagnation (period zastoia). It now clearly appears that the reason for the perception of stability and an impossibility of change from below was more complicated than had been suggested by various models of Soviet totalitarianism,which posited that totalitarian power was based on oppression and/or belief (Breslauer 1978; Hill 1985; Medding 1981; Burton 1984). Consequently, these models frequently equated awareness of the falsity of the ruling ideology with resistance to it. In recent years, a large number of works in social theory have complicated the view of the relationship between power and resistance, and have focused on the diversity of the experience of power by the powerless (Scott 1990; Comaroff and Comaroff 1991; Mbembe 1992). In this essay I interpret how state power and ideology operated in late socialism (between the late 1960s and
A version of this paper was first presented at the 1994 American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies annual meeting.

Public Culture 1997, 9: 161-188 Q 1997 by The University o f Chicago. All rights reserved. 0899-2363/97/0902-0002%01 .oO


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mid-1980s) and propose a reading of the role that political ridicule by the powerless played in expressing their relation to and view of power. I argue that the late socialist subject experienced official ideological representation of social reality as largely false and at the same time as immutable and omnipresent. In such conditions it became irrelevant for subjects whether they believed official ideological messages or not. Instead, the relation to the official representation became based on intricate strategies of simulated support and on nonofficial practices behind the official scenes. This relation between subject and power gradually brought about a major crisis of the system and provided the inner logics of change in the mid-1980s.
The Realm of Ridicule and the Parallel Sphere

It is well-known that political humor played a prominent role in daily practice in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. I begin by comparing the social conditions of political ridicule in a type of postcolony (Mbembe 1992) and in late socialism. The regimes of power in these two systems may seem comparableboth are based on one-party authoritarianpower, and yet in both there exists the potential for play, improvisation, and amusement within the very limits of officialdom (Mbembe 1992:ll). However, the relation of the powerless to state power in these regimes is different, and so is the role of political ridicule. In the postcolony, political ridicule neutralizes the experience of oppressive power by domesticatingit, by creating its discursive fetish located in the realm of ridicule where it can be tamed and rendered powerless (p. 12). Such ridicule occurs precisely when official signifiers (men of power, slogans, and rituals) perform their ideological work of summoning peoples unanimous support (at mass rallies and meetings). By sticking out ones tongue behind the back of authority, the postcolonial subject shows to oneself and others that state power is never ultimately victorious in controlling him or her. In late socialism as in the postcolony, people did not take most official symbols at face value. And, like in the postcolony, they simulated that they did. However, unlike the postcolony, ridicule of these symbols during state-orchestrated exhibitions of popular support did not occur. The easiest way to minimize the symbols oppressionand lead a normallife behind its back was not to simulate
1. I am using the term late socialism as an analogy with the now popular term late capitalism to stress that the Soviet social order at that time differed in certain important respects from the socialism in previous historic periods.

ones adherence to the symbol while laughing at it, but rather to simulate ones adherence to it while suppressing recognition of the very act of simulation. This simulation was laden not with ridicule of power, but with lack of interest in it -it involved ones obliviousness of what was supported. It was not uncommon to hold official signs or banners with slogans during parades without reading them and to carry a portrait of a Politburo member without knowing exactly who it was. The realm of ridicule in the case of late socialism was located not immediately behind the official back, but elsewhere, and I argue that this humor was akin to what Sloterdijk has called humor that has ceased to struggle (1987:305). In late socialism, state-controlled public events became structured as two simultaneous events: an official event, at which shouting of the official slogans and voting in favor of an official resolution were unavoidable and unanimous, and a parallel event, at which many people were engaged in parallel practices and adhered to parallel meanings without needing either to support or to ridicule the official ones. I use the terms parallel event ,parallel meaning, and parallel culture to stress their grounding in personal noninvolvement in the official sphere. In this respect, it is more accurate to speak of parallel culture than of counterculture or the underground, both of which imply resistance to or subversion of official ideology and culture, and thus an involvement in their official logic. The parallel event was carved out within the official one, and people were simultaneously involved in both. To explicate this logic I will contrast mass public rallies in late socialism with those discussed by Mbembe: [Wlhen Togolese were called upon to shout the party slogans, many would travesty the metaphors meant to glorify state power. With a simple change in intonation, the same metaphor could take on several meanings. Thus, under the cover of official slogans, people sang about the sudden erection of the enormousand rigidpresidential phallus, of how it remains in this position, and of its contacts with vaginal fluids (1992:7). Compare this public behavior with that during massive May 1 (Labor Day) or November 7 (Revolution Day) parades (dernonstratsiia) in late socialism. * The apotheosis of such parades in Leningrad was the walk across the central Palace Square in front of the citys party leaders, who stood on a high platform and waved back at the marching masses. People shouted hoorays as official slogans blared from the loudspeakers, and the thundering roar of hundreds of thousands of cheers sounded impressive and unanimous. According to the official dis2. As a citywide event, such a parade was difficult to avoid even by not attending.

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course, the parade of the toilers . . . convincingly demonstrated the unbreakable union of the Party and the people (Pravda, November 8, 1981, 2).3On a closer look, however, the parades display of unanimous support broke down into a multitude of parallel events. The parade itself, being perceived as an unavoidable official event, became also an easygoing, exciting, and happy celebration during which many norms of public behavior were suspended: one could scream loudly, be drunk in public, and exchange playful remarks with complete strangers, as long as one carried and shouted official slogans. Former students (now in their mid-thirties), who frequently took part in the parades in the early 1980s, recollect: Someone always brought wine and we drank right there, at the front of the column where we stood with our flags. . . . Every time a column started moving there would be a clinking sound of falling bottles which were standing on the ground between people. We approached the Palace Square already a little tipsy. Everyone was having fun in their own groups. Those on the platforms [the Party leadership] had their own wedding while we had our own [u nix byla svoia svadba, a u m s svoia, an idiom- they minded their own business and we minded ours]. Even for many organizers of the parade, official symbols turned into nothing else but signifiers of the unavoidability and immutability of the official event. A former Komsomol Secretary of a research institute explained: No one even read the slogans. That was not important. . . . For most people the parade was just fun, but for me that was one day of hard work. I needed to make sure that everyone came on time and arrange who would carry what. As I have argued, the relation of a n ~ m a l subject ~ to the symbols of power was based just as little on their ridicule as on their genuine support or contestation. The domesticationof power by this subject entailed not its humorous subversion, but rather its transformation into a trivial backdrop of a seemingly more meaningful parallel event. The ideological messages of the official discourse had started to mediate only one experience-that the current system of representation was the only possible, unavoidable, and immutable one in the systems official sphere. I distinguish between official and nonofficial (parallel) spheres by the type of practices which can take place in each: practices in the official sphere are both observed and controlled by the state, while practices in the nonofficial sphere
3. Translations of all Russian quotes and idioms are by the author except where stated otherwise. 4. By normalsubject I mean a person who had learned from experience that he or she could lead a normal enough life- safe, self-manageable, enjoyable-away from the official sphere, provided he/she took no active interest in it, i.e., did not get too involved in it either as a supporter or a critic.

usually are not. Both types of practice may occur in the same space, either public or private, and at the same time, which is why in this discussion it is more useful to talk of official and nonofficial spheres instead of public and private spaces. I distinguish these spheres by the types of practices and strategies of behavior of an individual, and not by the types of spatial location. For example, voting at a meeting is an official sphere practice (official event), while carefully reading a book on ones lap at the same meeting is a nonofficial sphere practice (parallel event). The nonofficial sphere included various developed parallel cultures (such as the omnipresent black market of clothes, books, tapes, and records of Western and nonofficial Soviet rock bands; uncontrolled youth hangouts, such as a Leningrad cafe known in slang as Saigon; the hippie movement known as sistema, etc.), which constantly coincided and crossed with the official sphere. The most important consequence of the transformation of Soviet ideology to merely an immutable and omnipresent system of representation in the official sphere was that it had lost its role of providing a believable representation of reality5 and turned into what I shall call a hegemony o f representation.
Hegemony of Representation

I65 Cynical Reason of Late Socialism

Jean and John Comaroff suggest seeing hegemony as the space of the misrecognized, which cannot be debated about, as that order of signs and practices, relations and distinction, images and epistemologies . . . that come to be taken for granted as the natural and received shape of the world (1991:23). Conversely, they see ideology as the space of the recognized and discussed, as an articulated system of meanings, values, and beliefs of a kind that can be abstracted as [the] world view of a social group (Raymond Williams quoted in Comaroff and Comaroff 1991:24). This view of a relationship between ideology and hegemony may be too clearcut; they are not simply ends of a continuum as the Comaroffs propose (p. 29), but are in a more complex dialectical relationship. A subjective recognition of ideology does not have to lead to its contestation, to an empowerment of the oppressed or to their resistance against the official representation of the social world. I will argue that in Soviet late socialism people recognized much ideological falsity and thus the principal reason for the perception of stability of the Soviet order was that certain conditions of everyday life were experienced by the majority of Soviet citizens as immutable. During my fieldwork in St. Peters5. This was, perhaps, a departure from the ideology in pre-Brezhnev times.

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burg (1994-1995), I collected diaries and private letters in which the prevailing perception of the immutability of the social world is evident. Because of this view the changes of perestroika in its first years were continuously received with utter astonishment and disbelief by the Soviet people. This experience was especially pronounced in the nonofficial discourses of what can be called the last Soviet generation.6I belong to that generation, and much of my insight into its perceptions, beliefs, values, and behaviors originate in my firsthand knowledge of life in Leningrad in the 1970s and 1980s. The perception of the social worlds immutability was based on the personal experiences of the Soviet citizen that nearly all mechanisms of representation in the official sphere were centrally controlled. Under these conditions, the official reality was uncontested not because its representation was taken for granted as truthful, or because people were afraid to contest it, but, first and foremost, because it was apparent that no other public representation of reality within the official sphere could occur. To describe a social order experienced in this way, I will apply the concept of hegemony to a particular system of representation of social reality, calling it the hegemony of representation. This is a unified symbolic structure akin to Gramscis apparatus of the political and cultural hegemony of the ruling classes (1971:258) and Althussers ideological state apparatuses (1994:llO- 111). However, unlike these, the hegemony of representation is not simply a collection of diverse and manifold institutions, discourses, and practices united under one dominant ideology, but is a system in which all official institutions, discourses, and practices are always-already produced and manipulated from the center as one unique disc~urse.~ In the case of late socialism the hegemony of representation can be visualized as a symbolic order of tightly interconnected signifiers that were exclusively statecontrolled and permeated most aspects of everyday life in the official sphere. These were verbal formulas (structural elements of the politicized discourse of the official sphere, such as names of Soviet institutions and public organizations and formulaic phraseology of official speeches), visual images (posters, pictures, placards, monuments), mass rituals (Party and Komsomol meetings, elections,
6. By the last Soviet generation, I mean people born between 1955 and 1970 and educated in Soviet schools and colleges either in the last decade before perestroika or during its first years. 7. The hegemony of representation should not be understood as a totalitarian system because it formed representations of reality only in the official sphere and always necessarily coexisted with other representations in the nonofficial sphere that were neither produced nor successfully controlled from one totalizing center.

and November and May parades), the topics in the media, literature, popular culture (all of which were controlled by centralized bodies and ministries), and tightly structured events of daily public life (the use of public transport, work at a Soviet enterprise where wages were centrally fixed, study in a Soviet school with centrally adopted curriculum, and shopping in a Soviet store with unified centrally controlled prices and choices). Moreover, under the hegemony of representation most of these signifiers were cross-referentially linked in an intertextual (Bakhtin 1981:291; Kristeva 1986: 37) and even interdiscursive(Fairclough 1992:117- 118) way, i.e., even signifiers from different discourses were meaningfully interconnected with each other. Each slogan which appeared on a facade or a poster was semantically connected not only with most other slogans, but also with the whole symbolic order of interconnected signifiers. The tightness of this symbolic structure was secured by its omnipresence in the official sphere, and by the fact that it was based on a very limited number of master signifiers, which were reproduced over and over again in varying forms and contexts. In practice, this meant that everyone knew the texts of most of the likely slogans and the chance of being surprised by such messages was close to zero. Thus, when traveling to an unfamiliar city, one saw predictably familiar slogans with occasional regional variations, for example, Workers of Leningrad/Tambov/Ukraine pledge to fulfill the decisions of the XXV Party Congress!* The hegemony of representation produced the feeling that ones experience was shared by all, and most people behaved accordingly. It is useful to recollect Andersons concept of imagined cornmunitie~~ (1983). They emerge when a cer8. There is an important difference between this type of representation and the one in late capitalism, which is sometimes overlooked. For example, the Russian film critic Maya Turovskaya (1994) noticed that in the United States public events such as mass meetings during election campaigns, due to their hefty sponsorship, are even more inundated with ideological signifiers (slogans, catchphrases, flags, banners, badges, stickers, flyers, booklets, theme-color decorations) than was ever the case in the Soviet Union. She concludes that totalitarian representation was not unique to the Soviet world, and is even greater in the United States. What is forgotten in this argument, however, is that the great variety of forms and types of ideological signifiersin the United States is possible precisely because they are not united under one overarching (hegemonic) system of ideological representation in the public sphere. This system is too broad, multidiscursiveand quickly changing. For every new political campaign or television commercial there are new verbal formulas, new puns, new references often contradicting other messages with which they coexist in time and space. It suffices to give an example of two bumper stickers, which I saw recently on two cars waiting at the same traffic light in North Carolina: Helms equals hate and I support Jesse Helms. The important point here is that in late capitalism, unlike late socialism, one cannot always predict what type of statement one will encounter in an unfamiliar public space.

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tain time-space transformation takes place, such as the rise of newspapers in Europe, when a newspaper reader could imagine that thousands of others read the same article at practically the same time. Similarly, all Soviet citizens could assume that millions of others, whom they did not know personally, were seeing the same slogans, taking part in the identical social events and hearing the same speeches on a similarly regular basis. Hence, the reproduction of the hegemony of representation was based on everyones involvement in the official order of signification. Whether or not one consciously believed in the officially proclaimed goals was less important than the act of participating in routine official practices, perceived as inevitable. Vaclav Have1 describes how official ideological slogans and messages become omnipresent and predictable; they not only cease being taken at face value, but cease being noticed at all, turning into small component[s] in that huge backdrop to daily life (1989:49-51). This becomes possible not only because the slogans are ubiquitous and incontestable, but also because most people perceive involvement in their reproduction as unavoidable. In Havels example a manager of a fruit and vegetable shop places a sign with the slogan, Workers of the world unite! in the window, along with the produce, as is required by his local supervising party committee (p. 41). Looking at the window, pedestrians and shoppers see carrots and potatoes, but are oblivious to the slogan, suppress their recognition of it. Similar slogans are also found in the streets, in offices, and in public places everywhere. Conversely, contesting slogans are not found anywhere. This type of panorama of everyday life (p. 41) is the visual part of the hegemony of representation. Let us consider an example of how the hegemony of representation was tightly woven out of independent signifiers from different discourses into an interdiscursive fabric. A simple slogan, The Party and the People Are United appeared on thousands of buildings, signs, and posters all over the Soviet Union. Most people did not read this slogan, let alone understand it literally. Often they were not aware of its presence on a certain building at all, even if they lived nearby. But everyone knew from daily experience that there was no way to introduce a contesting slogan in the official sphere. Attempts at such counterintroduction, if ever made (for example, the now-famous small 1968 demonstration on Red Square against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia), were easily isolated and kept unknown to the overwhelming majority of people, through the unique ability of hegemonic state power to control the official sphere. The interdiscursive fabric of public signifiers made this slogan work in a particular way-its literal message was lost, and instead it became a signifier of

immutability, a marker of the hegemony of representation. If someone disagreed with that slogans literal meaning, they had the choice of either openly contesting it or pretending that he or she believed it (which usually amounted to simply ignoring it). Contesting a slogan meant that one simultaneously contested all other hegemonic signifiers with which it was interdiscursively linked, thus contesting the whole symbolic order of representation. Taking such a position in daily life was almost an impossible act from the point of view of a normal subject. This would put one in a state analogous to that of Lacans psychotic subject (1993), as one who is deprived of subjectivity and fails to recognize the signifying logic of the surrounding symbolic order.
Dissident, Activist, and Normal Subject

Cynical Reason of
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However, there were alternatives to being a normal subject-one could act as a dissident or as an aktivist, whose relation to the official representation of reality was not based on pretense, and who therefore was perceived by the normal subject as falling outside of the symbolic order.9 The dissident called upon fellow citizens to expose the official Lie at every opportunity, e.g., Have1 appealed to live in truth (1989; written in the 1970s) and Solzhenitsyn, to live not by lie (1974). For a normal Soviet subject, it appeared that one had to be insane to challenge the immutable. This attitude of a normal subject towards dissidents can be illustrated by two popular jokes of the 1970s: A dissident walks out of his house. It is starting to rain. He looks up and says in indignation: They (the Party) always do just what they want! The next day when the dissident walks out, the sun is shining brightly. He looks up and says in indignation: Of course! For this they find the money!1 A big crowd of people is quietly standing in a lake of sewage coming up to their chins. Suddenly a newcomer falls in it and starts shouting and waving his hands in disgust: Yuk! I cannot stand this! How can you people live under these horrible conditions?! To
9. The dissident and the aktivist were usually, but not necessarily, older than the last Soviet generation. 10. Lacans illustration of the psychotics unanchored relation to the symbolic order is strikingly similar t o this joke: Everything has become a sign for him. . . . If he encounters a red car in the street-a car is not a natural object-its not for nothing, he will say, that it went past at that very moment (1993:9).

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which the people reply in a quiet indignation: Shut up! You are making waves!l1 One of my interviewees, who worked in the early 1980s at a research institute in Leningrad, remembered a popular attitude towards an engineer who was caught distributing a copy of a dissident article protesting the war in Afghanistan: many of us said in private conversations that the guy had a screw loose. There was even a rumor that he also distributed pornography, which Im sure was untrue.I2 Recently Joseph Brodsky repudiated the claim of a former dissident, Vaclev Havel, that dissidents were avoided by most people because of either fear of potential persecution, or the embarrassment caused by feeling this fear (Havel 1993:8). Brodsky argued that one of the main reasons was that given the seeming stability of the system,the dissidents were simply written off by most people. They tended to regard a dissident as a pariah or inconsequential, and a convenient example of the wrong deportment and thus a source of considerable moral comfort, the way the sick are for the healthy majority. . . . (Brodsky and Havel 1994:28).
11. Barbara Hernstein-Smith remembered another version of this joke which she heard in her

U.S.school in the 1940s (personal communication): A man goes to hell after death and is given a
choice of three tortures. He should pick one by listening through closed doors of torture chambers. He turns down the first two because of the chilling screams coming from within, and chooses the third one because of what sounds like a quiet and beautiful Gregorian chant. When he opens the door he falls into sewage up to his chin beside the crowd of other sinners, who, trying not to move, are murmuring in hundreds of voices: dont make waves. This American joke is in turn related to another Soviet one: After death Brezhnev goes to hell. The chief devil offers the high-ranking guest to choose his own type of torture. Brezhnev declines the first two choices and goes on to the third chamber where he sees Lenin making passionate love to Marilyn Monroe. Brezhnev shouts: I want this! I want Lenins torture! To which the chief devil replies: You fool, this is torture for Marilyn Monroe! The obvious connection between all three jokes emphasizes another point about formulaic jokes; they may have different versions, which are funny in diverse and even contrasting social contexts. This is why cycles of jokes recur in history (Dundes 1987) and why the Soviet jokes quoted in this paper sound funny even to people with little knowledge of Soviet life. However, the way people position themselves and others in different versions of a joke points to particular social, cultural, and historic conditions in which the joke becomes most relevant for them. Thus the first Soviet joke is equally about ourselves and a crazy dissident, the second Soviet joke is about the impotence of power, while the American joke is simply about a foolish mistake. 12. Since the 1960s, the Soviet system itself treated dissidents as mentally ill, often replacing imprisonment with psychiatric treatment. For example, in the early 1980s Vladimir Danchev, an announcer on the World Service of Radio Moscow was put in a psychiatric hospital after having denounced the Soviet war in Afghanistan in English on the radio. A Soviet official, replying to the questions of Western journalists about the punishment of Danchev, said: He was not punished, because sick people cannot be punished (Chomsky 1986:276).

Another type of person was the aktivist who, unlike the normal subject, did not have to pretend to believe the official representation of social reality because he or she in fact really did believe many of its claims. The aktivist tended to misrecognize the falsity of the symbolic order, taking much of it at face value, which translated into a sincere drive to take part in the systems ideological initiatives and be excited by its ideological goals. The aktivist, for example, appealed to people to be more conscientious, tried to raise their enthusiasm and zeal for work, wanted to expose a Party secretary who took bribes, or wrote letters to the administration and press about cases of breaching of the socialist lawfulness. The normal subject perceived the aktivist, just like the dissident, to be a nuisance who could make the life of a normal subject harder. In fact, the normal subject often suspected both dissidents and aktivists of dishonesty, of having an active relation to ideology (oppositional or supportive) because of ulterior motives, e.g., in order to be promoted by the system, in the case of the aktivist, or to get recognition in the West, in the case of dissident writers. A former secretary at a Komsomol District Committee in Leningrad remembered that when, in 1987 at the age of twenty-three, she agreed to leave her work as a librarian at the public library to start working as a Komsomol secretary, many of her former colleagues sneered and made sarcastic remarks, to the effect that she took the new job only to make useful contacts and receive Komsomol perks-even though until then she had been known as an honest, if somewhat idealistic, person. The invitation from the Komsomol Committeemade her immediately suspect. For example, a few people thought that she wanted to use her new position to go on tours abroad, which most ordinary people had little chance of undertaking.l 3 For the normal subject the only sensible behavior in the public sphere was the pretense that one did not see the falsity of the official claims. I will call this type of relation to the symbolic order in late socialism pretense misrecognition. For example, in the early 1980s practically everyone routinely went to Komsomol and other meetings and, especially in the case of the last Soviet generation, routinely paid little or no attention to what was going on there. Practically everyone voted in favor of the resolutions, often while reading a book and oblivious to what the vote concerned. Most people recognized the inevitability of the meetings and
13. Of course, in reality various types of aktivists existed. Some were considered more normal (like us), especially if they did not occupy high-rankingpositions (e.g., komsorgs who interacted more with rank-in-file members than with chiefs). Others were seen as either ideinye (believing the official idea) or as pure careerists, who actively supported the ideology not because they really misrecognized its falsity, but to get personal bonuses. Often it was difficult to tell the difference.

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the falsity of the decisions taken at them, and precisely for these reasons preferred to feign misrecognition. Again people participated in two events simultaneously in the official event (which they pretend to misrecognize) and in the parallel event. Below are typical accounts of the atmosphere at such meetings. Andrei (now thirty-six) worked from 1983 to 1986 as an engineer at a Leningrad research institute: Its hard to tell what made me go to Komsomol meetings. Probably herd instinct. If the person who organized the meeting was a good guy, why not go and sit there? Why make his life harder? You would sit at the back with friends. Some would chat, some played cards. Very far, at the presidium they would be discussing some issue. The chairman, and the activists in the first rows communicated between themselves, while people at the back did their own things. As for voting, as a rule we would raise our hands without turning away from cards. Or some people would not even raise their hands at all. And the person who counted votes, if more than half of the votes were in favor would just say accepted unanimously. Theyd also ask, Whos against? But as a rule no one voted against. Only on rare occasions, if someone simply felt like voting against. Maybe he was in the mood to vote against. And everyone in the audience understood that sentiment, and took it with irony. A former student, Oleg (now thirty-five), remembers all-institute Komsomol meetings with a few hundred students in the institutes assembly hall: It was better if the light was dim. Then you could have a nap, or if the light was bright you could read a book. Of course you tried not to be seen from the presidium, because they could reprimand you in front of everyone. . . . If this was a big meeting with more than, say, a hundred people then I read some book. . . . You had to sit through it and leave. Maybe have a chat with friends. But you could not really talk much there. Therefore it was optimal to read a book. Everyone read. As soon as the meeting would start, everyones head turned down, and everyone started to read. Someone could doze off. But when it was necessary to make some decision, a certain sensor would click in the head-Who is voting in favor? and you raised your hand automatically. Nikolai (now forty-two) himself frequently conducted Komsomol meetings in

the late 1970s and early 1980s, sitting in the presidium as the Secretary of the Komsomol Organization of a research institute.I4 Alexei Yurchak (AY): What did people do in the audience? Nikolai (N): Various things. Some women knitted, some read books, newspapers. AY Did you see that? N: Of course. The presidium was a bit higher, and you could see the audience well. Some people would have a nap. Some would listen. . . . How long can a normal person listen to nonsense? Maybe five minutes, maybe ten. . . . Everyone knew it was just as a formality (dlia proformy). Who needed that report? [the report of the Komsomol Secretary about the work done by the organization in the past term]. Did it matter? [literally, did it make anyone cold or warm?]. . . . In the forty-five minutes while it was read a person had time to sleep a little, to read a book, to chat with pals, and to listen. . . . At the Party meetings it was the same. Anna (now thirty-six) described her experience at the much smaller and more regular Komsomol meetings of her student group (usually twenty to twenty-five people) : the komsorg [an elected Komsomol organizer, one of the students] would often suggest: maybe we should just write down that we had a discussion and voted in favor of the resolution, without actually having the discussion? I understand that everyone has things to attend to at home. And naturally everyone would willingly agree, and would look serious, as if nothing unusual was taking place. Types of pretense misrecognition behavior can be also illustrated by the experience during various state elections of district or city deputies. Sergei (now thirty-five) relates: I remember going to vote in various elections. Usually I was not quite sure what type of elections these were, or who the candidate was. I would just go to the local election center, take the ballot with the candidates name (there was always only one candidate), and put it in the voting box. This was the whole procedure for me. I would forget
14. This shows the level of cynical reason of some uktivisty.

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the name of the candidate a few minutes later. I dont remember ever worrying that I was not more interested or that the elections were fake. Of course, in private we sometimes joked about our elections. These examples illustrate how experience in the official sphere induced people to act (always publicly and often privately) as if they misrecognized the falsity of official ideological claims, even though that was not necessarily the case. Usually they did not discuss this falsity during official events, and did not think about their twofold behavior of simulated support and indifference. People learned how to repress (in a psychological sense) their recognition of this falsity on an everyday basis when in the official sphere. Simultaneously they were involved in the cultural production of parallel events and meanings within the official sphere and in spite of it. Basically, this repression, the pretense, and the parallel cultural production were strategies of behavior in Pierre Bourdieus sense (1990:62), i .e., not necessarily rationally calculated strategies, which allowed one to live a normal life and be left alone by the system. However, occasionally the subject could afford a surreptitious wink of recognition, which revealed that he or she realized that the ideological representation was false and that much of its support by most people was based on intricate strategies of simulation. To understand when and why it was possible and, moreover, necessary to make such winks of recognition, we should first analyze this wink.
Cynical Reason and Reeling Out Soviet Anekdoty

Both Sloterdijk (1987) and Zizek (1991) have argued that in the contemporary world, the successful functioning of ideology does not have to be based on Marxs classic formula of hlse consciousness, which is that they do not know it, but they are doing it (Zizek 1991:29).Today ideology produces a so-called cynical subject, who is quite aware of the distance between the ideological mask and social reality, but . . . nonetheless still insists upon the mask. The formula of cynical consciousness is: they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it (p. 29). Jameson also argues that in contemporary capitalist society the traditional ideological function of articulating the dimensions of scientific knowledge with the dimension of everyday experience is simply no longer possible (1992:53). Under the postmodern capitalist market the omnipresent consumer culture overrides any ideological theorization, and does so increasingly well (p. 274). We must also consider cynical reason when analyzing the case of late social-

ism.I5 Cynical reason governed what I call the subjects pretense misrecognition. It is well known that in late socialism people made comments showing that they recognized the falsity of the official representation of reality, and there were various discourses that provided a voice for such commenting, e.g., slang, sarcastic remarks in private correspondence, and private humor. The most obvious of such discourses were the ubiquitous political jokes -anekdoty-which were told by most people and laughed at by everyone, but remained strictly outside of the official sphere and could not become a public form of discourse. What was the role of that peculiar type of humor? From the aforementioned Sovietological model of totalitarian power and from the model of hegemonic power proposed by the Comaroffs, it would follow, for instance, that Soviet political anekdoty, being an example of collective awareness, were a symbolic act of empowerment and of resistance to ideology. Indeed, Soviet anekdoty are often seen as a way to subvert dogmatic truths and to achieve an ironic distance from dogma. For example, Petrovskii suggests that they were a way to compensate the misfortune, humiliation, and fright (1990:49), while Dundes (1987) argues that they were a way of saying what was really on ones mind, a way of resisting the ideology, when all other forms of resistance were too dangerous. Moreover, Dundes believes that the more repressive the regime, the more numerous the political jokes (p. vii). Indeed in Stalins time political anekdoty about various aspects of Soviet life circulated throughout society (Thurston 1991). But it was in the Brezhnev period, when the regime was far less repressive than under Stalin, that the number of anekdoty increased dramatically and they became a ubiquitous feature of daily life. In the 1960s, the procedure of telling endless rounds of anekdoty, known in slang as travitanekdoty(to ease out or reel out jokes, as if they were mounted on a spool of rope) became an omnipresent social ritual (Belousov 1994; Petrov15. The misrecognition of ideological arbitrariness in late capitalism and in late socialism have different logics. In the first case it is a function of consumer culture, when practically any idea, however sacred, can be subverted by the market to be best commodified. In this case, it is the logic of the market that can be perceived as unavoidable and unchangeable. In the case of late socialism, however, people pretend to misrecognize the official ideological representation because they perceive the centrally controlled hegemonic representation as unavoidable and unchangeable. In both cases it is the perceived logic of the system that shapes the cynical relation to it. However cynical reason in late capitalism is not based on pretense misrecognition. In fact, one constantly acknowledges this cynicism in public to the point that the cynicism itself becomes a commodity-in the form of bumperstickers, T-shirt slogans, and MTVs Beavis and Butthead. Therefore, in late capitalism repression does not accompany this cynical reason, and there is no need for anecdotys wink of recognition.

Cynical Reason of
Late Socialism

Public Culture

skii 1990; Terz 1981). The Russian philologist Belousov remembers that when he entered Leningrad University in 1965, students in the corridors occasionally told anekdoty, but the permanent habit of reeling out anekdoty came later and gradually grew in degree throughout the 1960s. At first most jokes were not political. But the number of political jokes increased all the time. It was then that the Lenin jokes emerged as a series known as Zeniniana. In the late 1960s it became a custom to reel out anekdoty during smoking breaks at the University. Soon I moved to Tartu University to study in graduate school, and, every time I went back to Leningrad or Moscow my colleagues asked me to bring fresh jokes. (personal communication) Terz (a.k.a. Siniavskii), noted that perhaps the largest and most popular series of Soviet anekdoty, the main character of which was the Civil War hero Commander Chapaev, emerged in 1967 at the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution, when endless formulas of the official discourse celebrated the great event (1981:175). The Brezhnev period has been referred to as the Golden age of Soviet anecdote (Zand 1982), and in Russia it is sometimes called the era of anekdoty. Petrovskii even called the Soviet unofficial culture after the late 1950s anekdot-centrist (1990:47), while Fagner and Cohen remarked that anekdoty became perhaps the most significant new art form produced by Soviet culture (1988:170). Even if, contrary to what was suggested by Dundes, the growing importance of anekdoty in and after the 1960s was caused by a much lower likelihood of punishment for them than under Stalin, this alone does not explain why the ritual of reeling out became so incessant and widespread. To interpret this phenomenon in terms of popular resistance is to oversimplify it. We may understand the logic of political humor in late socialism only if we analyze - in addition to the narrative structure of the anekdoty and the topics discussed in them-the actual ritual of reeling out as a particular communicative practice. Terz describes it thus: As soon as two Russians or three Jews get together, or citizens of any other nationality of Soviet, or Czech, or Polish, i.e., socialist, upbringing-they start reeling out anekdoty interrupting each other. . , . It is pleasant to ask the question: Do you remember an anekdot, in which Chapaev . . . ? And to hear back-Of course! But let me tell you another one. . . . We are so used to telling anekdoty like the latest news when we get together in our crammed room, or at least to finding

out who remembers which ones, that we [folklorists] overlook our own luck-we live in the epoque of popular oral art, of prosperity of a huge folkloric genre. (1981:167) In the introduction to Zands collection Political Jokesfrom Leningrad (1982), Beam described his experience of this ritual: In company, the first jokes emerge after several rounds of drinking, like little secrets. By the time tea is served, the jokes start to flow, and flow, and flow. During one drunken evening, I remember our Armenian host had guided us through several broad categories of jokes: Stalin jokes, Brezhnev jokes, emigration jokes and jokes about Georgians (a local treat). At three in the morning, he rose, swaying, to announce a new round of anekdoty: And now . . . jokes about camels! In the late 1960s this practice became so incessant that there even emerged metajokes about it:

Cynical Reason of
Late Socialism

To be able to reel out more anekdoty per evening a group of friends had them numbered. When in the evening they got together, one started: number 15,and everyone laughed. Another person added number 74 and everyone laughed again. But when the third one said: number 108 there was a long silent pause, and then one man said in embarrassment: how could you tell that one in front of the ladies?
Although telling and hearing new jokes was important (and prestigious for the teller), in the ritual of reeling out it was just as important to repeat the jokes others might have heard before. Most anekdoty were heard by a person more than once or twice-people took part in reeling out not only to hear new jokes, but also to participate in the enjoyable procedure regardless of whether or how many jokes would be new.
Humor That Has Ceased to Struggle

Sloterdijk distinguishes two types of political humor: kynicism (1987:lOl) and humor that has ceased to struggle (p. 305). Kynicism is the cheeky side of cynicism, the attitude of the fool or the clown to the ruler. Kynics take the liberty of confronting prevailing lies. This in turn provokes a climate of satirical loosening up in which the powerful, together with their ideologists of domination, let go affectively-precisely under the onslaught of the critical affront by kynics.

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In ancient Greece [tlhe kynic farts, shits, pisses, masturbates on the street, before the eyes of the Athenian market (p. 103), ridiculing and showing contempt for the norms and morals of the society. Recognizing the arbitrariness of the official ideology the kynic subverts it by breaking even the most basic norms which it imposes (as does Diogenes, the Kings wise fool or a punk). Sloterdijk calls this kynic procedure. The irony is, however, that in the case of such hegemonic power as existed in late socialism the kynic procedure would be harmless, since neither the rulers, nor the masses subjected to their rule, needed to take official ideology at face value. This ideology, as Zizek remarked, did not even pretend any longer to be taken seriously either by its producers or its subjects. This was cynical ideology, whose rule was secured not by misrecognition (the relation of false consciousness to ideology), but rather by what I am referring to as pretense misrecognition (the relation of Sloterdijks enlightened false consciousness to ideology). As I have argued, the late socialist hegemonic power had all the means of maintaining its claims on the scale and to the degree that a normal subject, who saw the truth behind the mask, had no other choice but to pretend that the mask was the actual true face. This situation produced a particular type of humorous procedure, in which one admitted not only ones inability to struggle against the official ideology, but also ones inability to struggle against ones own simulated support of this ideology. Sloterdijk calls this type of humor, the humor that has ceased to struggle (1987:305); Zizek calls it totalitarian laughter (1991:27). This humor was different from both the cheeky remarks of the kynic directed at rulers and from the hidden ridicule of state power by the postcolonial subject (Mbembe 1992). It never exposed something about official power which was so far unknown or unthought of, but was instead directed at the subjects themselves. These jokes simultaneously exposed two incongruous elements of everyones behavior -ones awareness of the ideological lie and ones concurrent pretense misrecognition of that lie. Their hidden message was: we recognize the official lie but find enough reasons to act as if we do not and to avoid even thinking about it, which was funny because it exposed the model of ones own contradictory behavior and form of consciousness. That model was contained in an antithesis within the Soviet anekdot itself: a part of an anekdot usually expressed a version of a cliched formula of the official ideological discourse, which was repeated with a straight face (as if taken for granted), while another part simultaneously subverted it. At the same time, the formulaic structure of an anekdot allowed one to avoid analyzing the official claim which was exposed that way. This attracted listeners attention to the discrepancy

between their own understanding and their behavior, which made jokes hilarious. Consider several such anekdoty (official ideological cliches are in quotation marks) : What is the most constant element of the Soviet system? Temporary problems. In what aspects is socialism better than other systems? In that it successfully overcomes difficulties which do not exist in other systems. What is the difference between capitalism and socialism? In capitalism man exploits man, but in socialism its the other way around. What does the phrase capitalism is at the edge of the abyss mean? It means that capitalism is standing at the edge looking down, trying to see what we are doing there.
A cliched formula could also be invoked by a simple reference to an official claim. In the following examples these claims are communism will be a society of plenty and life in communism will be happy and unproblematic.

Cynical Reason of
Late Socialism

How will the problem of lines in shops be solved in communism? Therell be nothing left to line up for. What would happen if they started building communism in the Sahara Desert? There would soon be a shortage of sand. What will life in Communism be like? Everyone will have a personal TV-set and a personal helicopter. For example, if you see on the TV that milk is sold in Sverdlovsk, you will jump in your helicopter and fly to Sverdlovsk to get milk. Reeling out could happen with friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even people you had just met. Importantly, however, anekdoty were told outside of the official sphere, when simulating adherence to official meanings was not required, e.g., anekdoty would be inappropriate at a Komsomol meeting. But after the meeting or between classes they were reeled out freely. At that time the hierarchy of the official sphere became suspended: the head of a laboratory could engage in reeling out with employees and a Komsomol Secretary could laugh with rank-and-file Komsomol members. Masha (now twenty-six) recalls: In school [in the mid-1980~1 we had a place, under the stairs, where we hung out during

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the breaks between classes, chatted, and reeled out anekdoty. . . . I was a member of the school's Komsomol Committee, and after its meetings we often stayed a little longer in the Committeeoffice and often told anekdoty. . . . When my schoolmates got together at someone's place they usually did that too. This was an excellent way to involve everyone hst." Usually the ritual of reeling out happened neither as part of the official event (simulating adherence to official meanings), nor as part of the simultaneousparallel event. Instead, it happened in a certain communicative space, Mbembe's realm of ridicule, which was withdrawn from both events. I argue that the humorous effect was produced not only by the inner structure of the anekdot's narrative, but also by a momentary view from that space of a twofold structure of social reality and of one's twofold relation to it. It exposed the coexistence of two incongruous spheres, official and parallel, and the subject's simultaneous participation in both, i.e., one's incongruous behavior and structure of consciousness.
The Joke Work of Anekdoty

The importance of anekdoty lay in the crucial "joke work"I6 they performed. On the first inner level of the narrative, the joke work (production of an immediate humorous effect) was performed by the "inner incongruous" (the antithesis) in the anekdot's structure. In an analysis of the pragmatics of humorous interpretation, Curco demonstrates that the perception of the incongruous is essential in the experience of verbal humor, especially formulaic jokes (1995:37). However joke work was also performed on a second level-that of social commentary, where the anekdot exposed the "social incongruous." This second level of joke work can be better understood by applying Freud's analysis of "tendentiousjokes" (1960), which cannot be openly told in public, such as racist, sexist, sexual, or political jokes. Freud suggests that these jokes not only produce the pleasure of laughter, they also "produce new pleasure by lifting suppressions and repressions" (p. 137), thus allowing the social situation, which produced repressions, to continue. The primary pleasure of laughter in the Soviet anekdot was provided by "[tlhe enjoyment of the incongruous" (Curco 1995:47) contained in the structure of the joke, while the secondary "new pleasure" was provided by the exposure of the social incongruous, the recognition of which was usually repressed. The social incongruous in late socialism was constantly reproduced as a CN16. I am using this term in analogy w i t h Freud's "dream w o r k . "

cial part of everyday practice. Every parallel event involved a cultural practice of creating nonofficial parallel meanings (recollect the students behavior during parades and meetings), while also producing a psychologicalpractice of pretense misrecognition (repressionof ones recognition) of the incongruity between parallel and official meanings in both of which one was concurrently engaged. Thus, in the inevitable daily cultural production of parallel events and meanings, the incongruous was simultaneously produced as a cultural surplus pretended to be misrecognized. This process involved continuous psychologicalrepression as previously discussed. The cultural space created by constant reeling out of anekdoty temporarily exposed the incongruous, allowing the normal subject to release repression anxiety associated with its pretense misrecognition. This in turn secured further cultural production of parallel events and meanings, and thus preserved a way of having a normal life within and in spite of the inescapable officialdom. Of course, besides anekdoty there were also occasional knowing remarks in private and, for example, in correspondence.Here is an example of such a remark in a letter written in November 1981 by an engineer from outside Kalinin to his friend, a biologist in Leningrad:


Cynical Rtason of
l a t e Socialism

D e a r Marusia! Congratulations! After such unpleasant events as my hospitalization, a period of relative peace and quiet has begun. I am well, and as the cosmonauts say, am ready to fulfill any task of the Motherland. And the Motherland calls us to participate in the subbo~nik*~ on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the victory of Moscow. Yet another idiocy [ucherdmia blazh].So tomorrow we are going to a meeting and will be supporting the initiative of Muscovites. [Quotation marks appear in the original and mark two direct quotes from the official discourse, which are here sarcastically subverted with the phrase, another idiocy.?
Such letters sent through regular Soviet mail in the 1970s and 1980s show that many people not only recognized official claims as laughable, but also were not too nervous that their degrading remarks and ironic quoting of the official phraseology might be discovered. However, unlike anekdoty, such remarks were relatively rare, isolated, and spontaneous, e.g., they were not usually made in the form of a whole critical letter, but as a side remark within other, more personal text, and did not fbrm a widely shared discourse. If made incessantly and pub17. Unpaid Saturday working day,officially claimed t o be based on voluntary enthusiasm of the masses.

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licly, like anekdoty, these critical remarks about the system -like the dissidents exposure of the official lie -would challenge ones ability to simulate support and to repress recognition of this simulation, in turn jeopardizing the ability to have a normal life. Unlike the spontaneous remarks, anekdoty had a rigid and formulaic structure. Telling anekdoty meant repeating a whole narrative, which one had heard previously, with minimal spontaneous improvisation. Moreover, in order for such formulaicjokes to remain funny only minute structural changes in them are possible. While in spontaneous sarcastic comments the narrators wit and ability to analyze reality are crucial, in anekdoty no creative improvisation is required. This feature of anekdoty made them uniquely appropriate for the production of a spontaneous cultural community of reeling out subjects. Practically everyone, familiar or a stranger, could belong to such an imagined community (Anderson 1983). Through the constant experience of reeling out, every normal subject knew that practically everyone else constantly participated in and enjoyed the same activity and the same jokes, and, hence, had the same position towards the official sphere and ones pretense misrecognition of it, This experience in turn reinforced the inner logic of the immutable hegemony of representation. These discursive, cultural, and psychological features of the reeling out ritual demonstrate its unique ability to perform the joke work of exposing the social incongruous while limiting ones spontaneous analysis, and preserving ones ability to pretend and to lead a normal life. We may draw a parallel between the joke work of Soviet anekdoty and Freuds dream work-dreams reduce tension in order to protect sleep, while reeling out anekdoty preserved normal life within and in spite of the official sphere, by avoiding the problems associated with the life of a dissident or an aktivist. Thus, the logic of the late socialist realm of ridicule was not in resisting, exposing, or ridiculing the officially imposed representation of reality, but rather in adapting to it while suspending belief. During and after the changes of perestroika (late 1980s to early 1990s) hardly any new political jokes were invented, and reeling out disappeared from everyday life. This fact has been noticed in the former Soviet Union (e.g., Petrovskii 1990:49 and Belousov 1994) and in other East European countries (e.g., Verdery 1996:96). Of course, humor has not disappeared altogether. There still remain jokes for the occasion which illustrate a point or comment on a situation and usually spring from personal wit, Such jokes are common everywhere. However, today one may lead an active social life without coming across reeling out. New anekdoty have recently began to emerge (especially at the expense of the postSoviet newly rich, the mafia, and the Westernized discourse of advertising), but

on a modest scale, and more importantly, the ritual of reeling out has not been revived. As for the political anekdoty-they are treated today like documents of a past epoch and are published in endless collections: When in the past they were spread by word of mouth, they were cherished and savoured for a conversation like dessert. And today, multiplied in lousy booklets and fat tomes, they have totally disappeared from the everyday (Erokhin 199543). Elena Loria, a librarian from the department of Russian literature at the St. Petersburg Public Library explained: Today a great number of collections of anekdoty are being published. We acquire them for the library. But there are no new anekdoty-these are old Soviet jokes, fewer jokes of Gorbachevs time and the Yeltsin theme [late 1980s to early 1990~1. There are no jokes about today or, perhaps, a few about the new rich and the new Western products - Snickers, Mars, Tampax. Even the October [1993] events in Moscow were not reflected in anekdoty. In the past an event of such scale was bound to produce thousands of them! (personal communication, 1995). When the phenomenon of anekdoty is seen as a form of resistance, their disappearance is explained by the fact that today Russia is a less oppressed country than the Soviet Union was, and, hence, the resistance to oppression, including the jokes, has subsided (Belousov 1989, 1994; Petrovskii 1990). However, if, as I have argued, the jokes in late socialism were an element written into the system itself, and not a way of resisting it, the reason for their disappearance is different. The joke work of releasing repression anxieties, thus helping to sustain pretense misrecognition of the incongruous and to maintain concurrent official and parallel spheres, simply lost its importance as a result of perestroika. In the late 1980s, the analytical discourse of glasnost replaced the realm of ridicule as the prime discursive space for the exposure of the social incongruous. This exposure was much more explicit and public. This discourse destroyed the experience of the immutability of the officially represented reality, and as a result the Soviet hegemony of representation underwent discursive deconstruction. As a discursive ritual, reeling out anekdoty lost its social, cultural, and psychological significance; there was no joke work left to perform. By the end of the 1980s this once rampant ritual became virtually extinct.
Inner Crisis of Noninvolvement

Cynical Reason of Late Socialism

I have argued that for most Soviet people in late socialism, official ideology ceased to be a believable representation of reality, and instead became perceived

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to be omnipresent and immutable, even if largely false. Ideology had transformed into hegemony of representation. The adaptive behavior of pretense misrecognition and the cultural and psychological ritual of reeling out anekdoty helped preserve the possibility of having a normal life within the hegemonic system. On first glance, it may appear that this relation between the subject and power served to preserve the systems stability and immutability, and, in a structuralfunctionalist mode of explanation, secured the achievement of what Victor Turner called a concrete teleological goal of maintaining the unity and continuity of social groups (1991:29, 32). However, such a conclusion is wrong since the experience of the Soviet social order as immutable did not mean that it was static during this period. In fact, pretense-basedbehaviors and forms of consciousness were symptoms of the opposite-the system was suffering a deep inner crisis at the lower level of human practice, of socially structured . . . cognitive structures (Bourdieu 1990:131). Although the social system was not actively contested, it was losing the grounds of its very existence, that is, peoples actual involvement in its official sphere. As the examples above have shown, Soviet people by that time had learned how to take part in ideological practices without really being there. This crisis of social noninvolvement led to a new type of practice: people not only arranged parallel events at ideological functions, but also tried to arrange as much free time for themselves as possible within the official sphere. Free time became one of the most valuable commodities in late socialism. It should be understood in a broad sense as a time of mental noninvolvement in the official sphere. Thus, even the time wasted at work by doing nothing became perceived as free time. We may call this symbolic free time. In the 1970s and the early 1980s, it became common to expect money or a bonus day-off in exchange for participating in ideological functions such as subbotnik or parades. These bonuses were not officially sanctioned from above, and were unspokenly (neglusno) initiated by some local bosses responsible for a big turnout. A great number of shops and services on any given day were closed for technical reasons, for sanitation day, for repairs, and for inventory. A bureaucrat, an administrator, and a secretary became legendary figures of urban folklore, who were permanently away from their desk and were known to be constantly gone to the warehouse.18 At that time many young people and members of the intelligentsia sought out
18. Anekdoty did not fail to grasp this social shift. An epitaph on a tombstone of a bureaucrat reads (in the familiar formula of a note on a door): Imnot in, and wont be back.

jobs as warehouse watchmen, street sweepers, heating plant technicians, and freight-train loaders. This employment, though often paid less than their professional careers, kept them busy for only two to three night-shifts a week, while satisfying the official demand that one should be employed. Leningrads parallelculture communities in the 1970s venerated symbolic free time in their writings. For example, members of the nonofficial artistic group Mitki thus described themselves in their manifesto: Mitiok, of course, earns not more than seventy rubles a month [then the lowest wage in the USSR] in his boiler room, where he works one 24-hour shift a week doing absolutely nothing, because he is unpretentious (Shinkarev 1990:18).Mitiok was not supposed to know anything about the events in the Soviet world, nor read newspapers, nor go to any official ceremonies, and to do shopping only when absolutely necessary. This was, of course, a grotesquebut a grotesque of a real situation. The famous Leningrad nonofficial rock band Akvarium sang about their contemporaries: The generation of yard-sweepers and night-watchers lost each other . . . everyones heading for home.*9 These are extreme examples of a common tendency during that period to minimize ones involvement in the official sphere and to maximize symbolic free time, i.e., ones involvement in the parallel sphere with its parallel meanings and events. The growing importance of such strategies of behavior was one of the major subjective elements in the crisis of late socialism. Andropov tried to fight this growing popular noninvolvement: during working hours, people on the streets, in cinemas, and in shops were routinely accosted by controllers, who checked why they were not at work. And the first of Gorbachevs reforms of perestroika, which started with an anti-alcohol campaign, were a reaction to this crisis of noninvolvement.*O

Cynical Reason of
Late Socialism

Traditional Soviet ideology during late socialism ceased being a system of ideas and concepts representing reality in a believable way. Ideological messages became elements of a wider system of the hegemonic representation of reality which were not read literally, but were experienced as immutable and omnipresent. The relation of a normal Soviet subject to ideology became based on a (not necessarily conscious) pretense-people behaved in the official sphere as if they took ideo19. The Generation of Yard-Sweepers and Night-Watchers (late 1980s), lyrics by Boris Grebenshikov, translation by John Baylin (personal communication). 20. Heavy drinking increased and was a way of withdrawing from the official sphere, which was o the latest well-expressed by the anekdot: Why havent we built communism yet? Because according t discoveries in the theory of Marxism-Leninism we must go through one more social formation on the way from developed socialism t o communism-it is developed alcoholism.

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logical messages at face value, without needing to believe or disbelieve them. I call this behavior and the form of consciousness governing it, pretense misrecognition. They constituted the cynical reason of late socialism and were based on intricate strategies of simulating ones support for official ideological messages and repressing ones recognition of their falsity. At the same time people produced a complex nonofficial, parallel sphere, with its own parallel cultures, meanings, and practices. The incessant ritual of reeling out anekdoty allowed people to create a unique communicative space away from both the official and nonofficial, parallel spheres, which could momentarily expose the social incongruous between the two spheres, and between ones behaviors in both. Rounds of anekdoty performed the cultural and psychological joke work of preserving ones pretense in the official sphere, and thus of helping one adapt to the immutable symbolic order without needing to take it for granted. The majority of Soviet people in late socialism, especially the last Soviet generation, behaved in the official sphere in a pretense way, not so much because they believed or were frightened, but because such behavior provided them with the only possible way of having a normal and full life under these conditions. They developed sophisticated strategies for producing parallel culture right inside and in spite of the official order without needing to worry too much about the latter, which ultimately led to its inner silent crisis and erosion. This dynamic of hidden social change has been eloquently expressed by Zizek: Geopolitical analysts are as a rule blind to what Hegel called the silent weaving of a spirit, for the underground disintegration of the spiritual substance of a community which precedes and prepares the way for its spectacular public collapse. In a way, we can say that the crucial thing takes place, that the mole does his work, before anything happens (1993 :285).
Alexei Yurchak is

a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University. His essay, N Guide to a Post-Soviet City: The Parallel Culture of Late Socialism and Post-Soviet Space, is forthcoming in Another Landscape: Shaping of the Stalinist Space (E. Naiman and E. Dobrenko, eds. Bloomington: Indiana University Press). His current research concerns language, ideology and identity of the last Soviet generation, and the emerging nightlife culture of St. Petersburg.
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Anderson, B. 1983. Imagined Communities. London: Verso. Bakhtin, M. 1981. Discourse in the Novel. In The Dialogical Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press. Belousov, A. 1989. Mnimyi Shtirlits.In UchebnyiMaterial po Teorii Literatury: Zhanry Slovestnogo Teksta. Anekdot, A. Belousov, ed. Tallinn: Pedagogicheskii Institut im Vilde, 104- 117. . 1994. personal communication. Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline o f a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. . 1990. In Other Words. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Breslauer, G. 1978. On the Adaptation of Soviet Welfare-State Authoritarianism. In Soviet Society and the Communist Party, Karl Ryavec, ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. Brodsky, J., and V. Havel. 1994. The Post-Communist Nightmare: An Exchange. New York Review of Books, February 17. Burton, M. 1984. Elites and Collective Protest. Sociological Quarterly 25: 45-66. Chomsky, N. 1986. Knowledge o f Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use. New York: Praeger. f Revelation and Revolution, Vol. 1. ChiComaroff, J., and J. Comaroff. 1991. O cago: University of Chicago Press. Curco, C. 1995. Some Observations on the Pragmatics of Humorous Interpretations: A Relevance Theoretic Approach . Working Papers in Linguistics. Pragmatics (University College London) 7: 27-47. Dubovskii, M. 1991. Istoriia SSSR v Anekdotakh. Minsk: Everest. Dundes, A. 1987. CrackingJokes: Studies o f Sick Humor Cycles and Stereotypes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. Erokhin, A, Abzats. 1995. Iumor v Rossii. Ogonek, April 14, 43. Fairclough, N. 1992. Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press. Fanger, D., and G. Cohen. 1988. Abram Terz: Dissidence, Diffidence, and Russian Literary Tradition. In Soviet Society and Culture: Essays in Honor o f &ra S. Dunham, Terry L. Thompson and Richard Sheldon, eds. Boulder: Westview Press. Freud, S. 1960. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. James Strachey, trans. and ed. New York: Norton. Gorbachev, M. 1987. Perestroika: New Thinkingfor Our Country and the World. New York: Harper and Row. Gramsci, A. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, trans. and eds. New York: International Publishers.

Cynical Reason of late Socialism

Public Culture

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