Trotsky’s loyalists devoted much effort to portraying Stalin as a dullard without personality. And yet, Stalin’s best black humor witticisms are at least on par with Trotsky’s best (“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”). Here are some of Stalin’s purported one-liners (note that famous figures, such as Churchill and Twain, tend to attract quotes looking for a home, so don’t assume Stalin made all these up):
“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
“Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything.”
“Education is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.”
“When there’s a person, there’s a problem. When there’s no person, there’s no problem.”
“Quantity has a quality all its own.”
“The Pope! How many divisions has he got?”
“In the Soviet army it takes more courage to retreat than advance.”
From iSteve commenter Bardon Kaldian:
Stalin’s best humor was not in jokes, but in arrangement of situations, so to speak.
For instance, Trotsky, before his exile, always claimed that he was the true & the most faithful successor of Vladimir Illych Lenin. When Stalin finally, in 1928, persuaded the Politburo, after many fractional struggles, to expel Trotsky, he arranged that the ship which carried away Trotsky to the exile in Kemal Pasha’s Turkey be named- Illych.
Faced with incompetence of his marshals during the first months of German invasion, Stalin was forced to appoint capable senior officers whom he, during the lunatic period of his purges, sent to torture chambers & exile in Siberia. One of them was, later much decorated marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, who had his finger-nails “removed” during torture interrogations two-three years ago. He was called back from the Gulag. Stalin received him & appointed him to lead some of the most important fronts (Rokossovsky turned out to be one of the 5-8 most capable marshals). Noticing that he didn’t have finger nails, Stalin asked Rokossovsky: ” Interrogation?”. Rokossovsky:”Yes, comrade Stalin”. Stalin sighed & said:” Oh yes, those were difficult times. Many unpleasant things happened. How was it possible?”
One of Stalin’s favorite authors was Chekhov. He had read Chekhov’s short stories frequently. And a few times he mentioned to Molotov, Mal’enkov, Khrushchev & other his closest associates: ” I am surrounded by brutes. Look at these NKVD butchers, these Yagoda, Yezhov (heads of the political police & organizers of purges & Gulag). If only Anton Pavlovich (Chekhov) were alive, I would have appointed him to head the NKVD. What a success story that would be! We would get rid of much more enemies of the people, Anton Pavlovich would have done it in his characteristic, tender manner- and even our enemies would have been happy because they would have known they had been eliminated by such a historical figure, an epitome of humanity and love of mankind!”
When Stalin was in the final phases of his campaign against rootless cosmopolitanism, shortly before his death- he probably wanted to eliminate his old guard as unpleasant witnesses & collaborators of his massacres & purges; also, he was suspicious of possible American sympathies of Soviet Jews because of Israel-American connection – he received his last son-in-law, Zhdanov in his resort in Georgia. Zhdanov cautiously remarked that campaign against “cosmopolitanism” had been, perhaps, organized too “one-dimensionally regarding a national question”, implying that Stalin had put into torture chambers virtually all Kremlin Jewish doctors & hence branded “cosmopolitanism” as something “Jewish” (of course, he was not explicit). Stalin sighed, pondered deeply & answered solemnly, prophetically: Cosmopolitanism is a complex and a widespread phenomenon.
My comment: Pure Zen.
Did Stalin arrange for Jan Masaryk, the last anti-Communist minister in the Czechoslovak government, to die in 1948 falling out of a window in Prague (which cemented the Cold War) as a riff on the famous Defenestration of Prague that helped launch the 30 Years War?
I could imagine Stalin doing Joe Pesci’s “funny guy” routine from Goodfellas on his Politburo just for grins.
That Stalin was a funny guy doesn’t fit in well with Chestertonian optimism about the effects of a sense of humor on moral health.