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Joseph Stalin was a dictator who ruled the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century, so it’s perhaps apropos that he should opine about rigged elections.
"It is enough that the people know there was an election," begins a quote attributed to Stalin on Facebook on March 21. "The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything."
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Plenty of other places cite Stalin as the person who said this, but we couldn’t find any credible, original sources explaining the attribution. So we reached out to the Stalin Digital Archive, an electronic database of documents and images that resulted from a collaboration between the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History and Yale University Press.
A search of the archive didn’t find any matching quotes, the archive’s support staff told PolitiFact in an email. But because most of the archive’s contents are images, it’s possible that the quote eluded the query.
Next, we reached out to some members of the archive’s editorial board for insight. J. Arch Getty, a history professor at UCLA, told us he doesn’t think Stalin said this.
"I am not aware of any original source for this, and in my extensive archival research in Stalin’s personal archive, I found nothing like this," Getty said. "There are many apocryphal quotes wrongly attributed to Stalin, and I think this is one of them."
James Harris, a senior lecturer in modern European history at the University of Leeds, agreed the attribution seemed suspect.
"Almost certainly apocryphal," Harris said in an email.
Ron Suny, a professor of social and political history at the University of Michigan, said he had never seen or heard the quotation before.
"Many things that are attributed to Stalin are false," he said. "I would not attribute this to him."
But Mark Kramer, director of the Cold War studies program at Harvard University, pointed us to something close. In memoirs written after his retirement, Boris Bazhanov, Stalin’s former personal secretary, claimed that Stalin said: "Я считаю, что совершенно неважно, кто и как будет в партии голосовать; но вот что чрезвычайно важно, это кто и как будет считать голоса." It translates to: "I regard it as completely unimportant who in the party will vote and how, but it is extremely important who will count the votes and how."
Bazhanov said Stalin was talking about the voting procedures for higher organs of the Communist Party, according to Kramer.
"There is no way to know for sure whether he is accurately recounting Stalin’s words, if Stalin in fact said such a thing," Kramer said. "Hence, I regard this as a statement attributed to Stalin by his former secretary Boris Bazhanov."
David Brandenberger, an associate history professor at the University of Richmond, said Bazhanov fled the Soviet Union in 1928 and then published his "rather unreliable muckraking memoir in 1930."
"Most experts consider Bazhanov’s Stalin quotation to be apocryphal," he said.
Another version of this so-called Stalin quote, as Brandenberger called it, is: "In the bourgeois countries, it is not important how they vote, but how they do the counting."
Some say Stalin was quoting Napoleon III, Brandenberger said, but there’s no authentic record showing this.
We rate this Facebook post as False.
Facebook post, March 21, 2019
Email correspondence with the Stalin Digital Archive, March 26, 2019
Email interview with J. Arch Getty, distinguished research professor of history, UCLA, March 26, 2019
Email interview with Mark Kramer, director of the Cold War studies program, Harvard University, March 26, 2019
Email interview with Ron Suny, professor of social and political history at the University of MIchigan, March 26, 2019
Email interview with David Brandenberger, associate professor, Department of History, University of Richmond, March 26, 2019
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