To this day, this quote, believed to have been said by Vladimir Lenin, is frequently used amongst socialist circles. It has also been attributed to Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin, amongst others. So, who said it?
This quote is often regarded as relating to the Russian Revolution of 1917 after which Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power and went on to form the Soviet Union. It portrays the ironic principle that capitalists are willing to sell anything for short-term profits, even if it should bring about their demise. Yet, contrary to popular belief, Lenin never said this. In fact, he didn’t even believe this.
The only instance that Lenin appeared to write anything along these lines was in some of his notes from 1924. Published long after his death in 1961, the actual quote goes as follows:
[Capitalists] will furnish credits which will serve us for the support of the Communist Party in their countries and, by supplying us materials and technical equipment which we lack, will restore our military industry necessary for our future attacks against our suppliers. To put it in other words, they will work on the preparation of their own suicide.
You might have noticed that this is not quite as elegant as the alternative quote which has entered popular usage. This is because Lenin was, by no means, a terse speaker; he was not one for one-liners or soundbites.
What’s more, the quote has been taken out of context to reflect exactly the opposite of Lenin’s position. In his notes, he addresses that this is the view of other communists within the party – perhaps Grigory Zinoviev, as some historians have observed – and one which he considers short-sighted. Lenin, in fact, condemned the idea of cooperating with capitalists, regardless of the outcome.
To address the question mentioned at the beginning of this article; no one really knows who first said this quote. But it definitely wasn’t Lenin.
Perhaps think twice before using this quote in a debate!
Reported by I. U. Annenkov in an article entitled, “Remembrances of Lenin”, Novyi Zhurnal/New Review (September 1961), p. 147.