The Capitalists Will Sell Us the Rope with Which We Will Hang Them

Vladimir Lenin? Joseph Stalin? Karl Marx? George Racey Jordan? Samuel E. Keeble? S. Dmitrijewski? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A quotation about imprudent greed and near-sightedness has been attributed to three prominent communists: Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Karl Marx. Here are three versions of the statement:

  • The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.
  • When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope.
  • The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in 1955 within a periodical called “The Commonwealth: Official Journal of the Commonwealth Club of California”. The club is a non-profit public affairs organization. The quotation appeared as a filler item. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Lenin wrote, “When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will vie with each other for the rope contract.”
—Major George Racey Jordan

Jordan was a U.S. military officer who became a fierce anti-communist. Lenin had died in 1924; hence, the 1955 date was quite late. No documentary source was specified, and multiple researchers have been unable to find a match in Lenin’s writings. The Congressional Research Service did report a thematically pertinent passage ascribed to Lenin. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Capitalists Will Sell Us the Rope with Which We Will Hang Them


  1. 1955 October 31, The Commonwealth: Official Journal of the Commonwealth Club of California, Volume 31, Number 44, (Freestanding quotation), Page 268, Column 2, Published by Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco, California. (Verified with scans; thanks to John McChesney-Young and the University of California, Berkeley library system)

Let Your Memory Be Your Travel Bag

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? Apocryphal?

solgulag04Dear Quote Investigator: On a website dedicated to travel I saw a quotation credited to the famous Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

Own only what you can carry with you; know language, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.

Is this attribution accurate? A travel tip from Solzhenitsyn seems incongruous.

Quote Investigator: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did write this in his most famous work “The Gulag Archipelago”. He was discussing his experiences as a prisoner in the forced labor camp system of the former Soviet Union. Any of your belongings could be taken from you forcibly or stealthily by a guard or a fellow prisoner at any time.

If you were lucky enough to be given a two-day supply of bread and sugar Solzhenitsyn recommended eating it in one sitting. Then no one could steal it from you, and you would be released from worrying about it. The context of the quotation was the hardship of imprisonment: 1

Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag. Use your memory! Use your memory! It is those bitter seeds alone which might sprout and grow someday.

Look around you—there are people around you. Maybe you will remember one of them all your life and later eat your heart out because you didn’t make use of the opportunity to ask him questions. And the less you talk, the more you’ll hear. Thin strands of human lives stretch from island to island of the Archipelago.

In conclusion, the words were written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The quote was not originally intended to be light-hearted advice about the joys of travel. Solzhenitsyn was offering advice to compatriots for physical and mental survival.

(Thanks to Kate McClare whose inquiry about this quotation provided the impetus for QI to construct this question.)


  1. 1974, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Volume I-II,  (Translated from the Russian by Thomas P. Whitney), Quote Page 516 and 517, Publisher: Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)