What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 6, 2014

Embarrassing, Colin. Just Embarrassing.

Given the vast array of fact-checking tools (aka The Google) that should be available to the folks over at Scaife's Tribune-Review, you'd think that someone somewhere would check out Colin McNickle's opening quotation:
Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be allowed? Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the government?

— Nikolai Lenin (1920)
We all know who Lenin was right?  He's the guy who founded the Russian Communist Party and is the "Lenin" part of "Marxist/Leninist" thought, right?  But Colin I gotta ask you, wasn't that Vladimir Lenin?

So who's this "Nikolai" quoted?  Couldn't possibly be Vladimir's younger brother Nikolai who died in infancy in 1873 when Vladimir was only three, right?  The source of the quotation couldn't be that Lenin because that Lenin wasn't even alive in 1920, right?

Doesn't The Google work on Tribune-Review drive?  Took me about 5 minutes to check this.

So that's mistake #1.  Colin McNickle meant to write Vladimir Lenin when he wrote Nikolai Lenin.

Mistake #2 is even bigger, though subtler.  Can we even be sure that Vladimir said what Colin McNickle mistakenly said that Nikolai said?

And...we can't.  Did you know that no less a source than the Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations puts those words in the mouth of... Winston Churchill?  Perhaps they got it wrong, those Oxfordians, as they're basing their assertion on just one bio of Churchill, just one bio of Churchill, written by Piers Brendon.

Maybe Brendon got it wrong.

So where does the attribution to Lenin (Nikolai) come from?  According to the Quoteinvestigator, it comes from H. L. Mencken's 1942 Book of Quotations.  This is probably as far back as McNickle went.  He should have gone farther.  But where did Mencken get it?  From Quoteinvestigor:
QI has traced this expression back to a diary entry that was written in 1920 by George Riddell who was a powerful newspaperman and close friend of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George. Riddell later became the 1st Baron Riddell. The text in Mencken’s reference is very similar to the text in Riddell’s diary, but it is not identical.

The words attributed to Churchill also appear in the passage in Riddell’s diary. But QI believes that Riddell was describing a speech by Lenin and not the words of Churchill. Hence, QI thinks that the ascription to Churchill is almost certainly incorrect.
Ah...so let's look at what Riddell wrote.  He wrote of a conversation he had with Churchill:
I told Winston of Lenin’s speech, in which he said that the day of pure democracy was finished and that freedom of speech and the freedom of the Press were its two chief characteristics. “Why should these things be allowed?” he went on. “Why should a Government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticised? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. And as to the freedom of the Press, why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the Government?”
Brendon, obviously, thinks that Riddell is referring to Churchill in the second sentence and  Mencken thought Riddell was referring to Lenin.

But is there any actual evidence that Lenin actually said it?  QI writes that no one's been able to find any reference to the speech in Lenin's other than Riddell's diary.  For example it's not found in the Marxists Internet Archive.

And yet Colin McNickle said it was from Lenin (though the wrong Lenin, of course).  Isn't that embarrassing?

This is not to say, of course, that Vladimir Lenin was a friend to the free press.  Did he, in fact write anything about a free press?  Why yes, yes he did.  In Letter To Gavril Myasnikov, dated 8/5/20, Lenin wrote:
All over the world, wherever there are capitalists, freedom of the press means freedom to buy up newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fake “public opinion” for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.
Sound familiar?  If you're reading the Tribune-Review you're actually reading a real-life example of what Lenin actually described.  Need an example?  How about:


But what Lenin was describing of course wasn't actually a press that is free - he's describing a press that's bought and paid for.

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