A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 08, 2015
“What did socialists use before candles? Electricity” (joke)

A popular joke is told about a failed economic state:

Q: What did socialists use before candles?
A. Electricity.


The “What did we use before candles?” joke dates to at least 1964, when it appeared in Time magazine to refer to Czechoslovakia under communism. The joke has been told about Zimbabwe (1992), New Zealand (1998), Zambia (2002), Kenya (2009) and many other countries.

“What did socialists use before candles?” was cited on Twitter on May 1, 2012, when this form of the joke went viral.


Google Books
Time
Volume 84, Part 1
Iron Curtain: An Economic Mess
Friday, July 31, 1964
Pg. 152:
“What did we (Czechoslovakia—ed.) use before candles’?” runs a favorite joke. The answer: “Electricity.”

Google Books
Africa Calls Worldwide
Issues 193-200
1992
Pg. ?:
And Hwange is prone to generator failures, plunging large areas of Zimbabwe into darkness: Prompting the joke: “What did Zimbabwe use before candles? Electricity!”

Google Books
U.S. News & World Report
Volume 124, Issues 8-16
1998
Pg. 49:
What did New Zealanders use before candles? Electricity. That’s the joke stinging Auckland as the country’s largest city tries to cope with a severe power shortage that is now into its second month.

Google Books
In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz:
Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo

By Michela Wrong
Fourth Estate Classic House
2000
Pg. 114:
‘What did Zambia use before candles came along?’ it goes. ‘Electricity.’

Twitter
I am
‏@Ndege
#KenyansOnTwitter ~ What did Kenyans use before candles? - Electricity. ~ #kplc #fail #countrywide
10:35 AM - 1 Nov 2009

Twitter
Brian Logan
‏@Shadowfoot
12 year old joke: What did Aucklanders use before candles? A: Electricity
10:08 PM - 24 Jan 2010

Twitter
MrFunkhouser
‏@MrFunkhouser
What did communists use before candles?  Electricity!!
8:15 AM - 3 Aug 2010

Twitter
Sasha r
‏@Sasha_Rindy
Q: What did communists use before candles?
A: Electricity.
(Because their ruinous economic ideals destroyed the wealth of their country).
2:27 PM - 19 Mar 2012

Twitter
Debra McKinney
‏@dmmckinney
What did socialists use before candles?... #ows #RONPAUL #TCOT
1:34 PM - 1 May 2012

Instapundit.com
JULY 22, 2014
SEEN ON FACEBOOK: “What did socialists use before candles? Electricity.”

Twitter
The Economist
‏@TheEconomist
“Q: What did South Africa use before candles? A: Electricity.” A country struggles in the dark http://econ.st/1tJPwHa
2:42 PM - 5 Jan 2015

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Sunday, February 08, 2015 • Permalink