“The capitalists will sell us the rope we use to hang them” is attributed sometimes to Lenin, sometimes to Stalin.
But…in his “On Language” column entitled “Useful Idiots Of the West” (Published: Sunday, April 12, 1987), William Safire says:
Librarian [Grant] Harris [of the Library of Congress] got back to me, however, with a lead to the possible source of both the ”rope” remark and the ”useful idiot” attribution. Former Colgate Prof. Albert Parry writes in The St. Petersburg Times: ”You will not find the rope prophecy in any of the voluminous Lenin works published in the Soviet Union.” Right.
He suggests we look instead in the 1966 book ”People and Portraits: A Tragic Cycle” published in New York by Inter-Language Literary Associates, written by Yuri Annenkov….
Here is what Mr. Annenkov claims he copied from notes in Lenin’s handwriting, italics in the original: ”To speak the truth is a petit-bourgeois habit. To lie, on the contrary, is often justified by the lie’s aim. The whole world’s capitalists and their governments…will give us credits…they will toil to prepare their own suicide.”
Look, I know it’s a little farfetched. …However, this gives us one clue about the source of the ”sell us the rope” attribution, and the ”deaf, dumb and blind” phrase may be one of the phrases that helped start the ”useful idiots,” whether or not originally by Lenin.
A version of this article appeared in print on Sunday, April 12, 1987, on section 6 page 8 of the New York edition.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company