Beware False Quotes

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Quote memes like this can be found all over the internet. The problem is, many of them, like this one, aren’t real quotes.

The internet is a great place for information. But it is also a great place for misinformation. Just because something is on a meme or an internet quote site, does not mean it is actually true. A great resource on this is QuoteInvestigator, but they are not comprehensive. The first quotes covered here have not been investigated on their site.

Exhibit A

“You probe with bayonets: if you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw”

― Vladimir Ilich Lenin

This “quote” was recently used by Disney in their TV series Secret Invasion.

“The key thing about the Russians is you have to project strength. There’s an old Lenin quote, Vladimir, not John. ‘When you find flesh, you push. When you find steel, you stop.’ You gotta be steel, sir.”

Colonel Rhodes, Marvel Secret Invasion

The problem is, Lenin never said this. The closest thing he said is:

“We said among ourselves that we must probe with bayonets whether the social revolution of the proletariat in Poland had ripened.”

– Lenin, quoted in The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive,pg. 98

This is clearly not the same quote. So where did this misattributed quote come from? Fortunately for us, Barry Popik did an investigation into this in 2015. The result was finding that the first instance of the quote was given by Joseph Alsop.

Political newspaper columnist Joseph Alsop wrote in 1975, “They (Soviets—ed.) merely follow Lenin’s advice to probe with bayonets any situation that looks mushy, withdrawing only when the bayonets meet steel.”

Considering that the actual “probe with bayonets” quote from Lenin was not even available outside of the Soviet Union in 1975, it would appear that Alsop simply made it up. This was then taken up in What They Said in 1977: The Yearbook of World Opinion by Alan F. Pater and Jason R. Pater.

It then took on a life of its own it was used by Richard Nixon in both his autobiography Memoirs of Nixon and his 1984 book The Real War. It was more recently picked by GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker during a debate in 2015.

And — and that has put our national security at risk. If I am president, he won’t think about that. You know, Putin believes in the old Lenin adage: you probe with bayonets. When you find mush, you push. When you find steel, you stop.

Under Obama and Clinton, we found a lot of mush over the last two years. We need to have a national security that puts steel in front of our enemies. I would send weapons to Ukraine. I would work with NATO to put forces on the eastern border of Poland and the Baltic nations, and I would reinstate, put in place back in the missile defense system that we had in Poland and in the Czech Republic. – Scott Walker, GOP debate 2015

I have included the full quote due to its relevance to current events in Ukraine. Warmongers are going to warmonger. Imagine thinking that Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy was too soft…

Even though it has been attributed to Lenin since 1975, it is quite clear he never said it. The concept behind the quote actually comes from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, a text that is a couple millennia older than Lenin. In this old work on military strategy can be found:

Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.

Whether or not that is where the modern day version of the quote came from, the essence is the same.

Exhibit B

Great quote – except Castro never said it.

Here is quote that has been widely disseminated on social media after the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine in February 2022. For example, Fiorella Isabel tweeted in April 2022:

More than 30 years ago Fidel said: “The next war in Europe will be between Russia and fascism, except that fascism will be called democracy.”

The People’s Party tweeted the same thing on May 8, 2022. Fidel said a lot during his long life (that the US tried to cut short) but there is nothing to show that he ever said this. A quick search shows that the only time this quote has been used has been in 2022. It cannot be found in any of Fidel’s writings or speeches. It was dated to 1992 by Fiorella in her tweet (30 years ago) but Fidel’s speeches in 1992 turn up nothing.

The earliest evidence of it online comes from a post on from Hoang Phan who claims:

For those wondering if this is real, yes. Fidel said this in conversation with Max Lesnik Menéndez who was his good friend & publicly stated several years ago that Fidel told him that with the defeat of the USSR, war would be inevitable & said above quote in Spanish.

You won’t find this online because any revolutionary or anti imperialist text about Fidel is highly taken off searches. But if you read anything Marx has said you can find it. Also many people claim Fidel correctly predicted several events of the last few decades.

In fact during an interview in Habana, Cuba, where he was for the “Festival De Cine LatinoAmericano De La Habana,” presenting his film “Snowden,” filmmaker Oliver Stone insisted that the Cuban leader predicted “everything that happened since 2001.”

It is in fact easy to find revolutionary and anti imperialist texts by Fidel. Search engines do not suppress revolutionary texts. Searching (on multiple search engines) for anything Max Lesnik Menendez said regarding this comes up with nothing, as documented by Arley Barroso for Arbol Invertido. As she explains (translation by Google):

In this regard, the German investigative journalism blog Correctiv wrote to the UCI in July 2022 requesting to verify the authenticity of the quote, to which they had received no response.

They also contacted Max Lesnick, via e-mail from Radio Miami (the station of which he is director) with the same request, without receiving an answer until then.

To date (February 25, 2023), the media has not published any entry that allows us to infer that the UCI or Menéndez responded to it.

A review of Max Lesnick’s Twitter profile, with the keywords Fidel, Russia, Democracy and Fascism, also does not yield any reference to Fidel mentioning this phrase to him at some point.

Unless any other evidence shows up, it appears this quote was simply made up in 2022 by Quora blogger Hoang Phan. There are no other sources backing it up.

Exhibit C

Great quote, but it’s not what he said.

“Capitalism tends to destroy its two sources of wealth: nature and human beings.” – Karl Marx

This one is an attempt to convey what Marx said in a shorter amount of space, but it is still a false quote.

What Marx actually wrote, in Chapter 15 of Capital Vol 1 was:

Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the labourer.

While the meaning is essentially the same, everyone should know that Marx could never put anything so succinctly!

Other Examples

A couple other examples which have been investigated by the excellent QuoteInvestigator include:

The Capitalists Will Sell Us the Rope with Which We Will Hang Them Not Lenin

There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen – Not Lenin

Bonus Real Quotes

Here are a few real quotes that might seem unbelievable, but are in fact true.

“As that old expression goes, ‘women hold up half the sky.’” – Joe Biden, quoting Chairman Mao Tse-Tung

“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” – Joe Biden, on Barack Obama

“You should vote for Trump”- Joe Biden to immigration activists

“Play the radio, make sure the television, excuse me, make sure you have a record player on at night, make sure that kids hear words, a kid coming from a very poor school, or a very poor background, will hear four million fewer words spoken by the time they get there.” – Joe Biden

And then there’s this:

That’s our president, unfortunately. How anyone could listen to this and still vote for him is incredible.

Post originally published at the author’s own Substack blog, An Appeal to Reason.

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