Lenin on Keynes: "more striking ... than any ... Communist revolutionary"

There has long been a dispute as to whether Keynes's attribution to Lenin of the statement that “the best way to destroy the capitalist system [is] to debauch the currency” was authentic or apocryphal.  It has been resolved.


Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Research by two eminent monetary scholars, Michael V. White and Kurt Schuler published in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives as Retrospectives: Who Said “Debauch the Currency”: Keynes or Lenin? concludes that Keynes’s attribution to Lenin was authentic.

They introduce the controversy by noting:

"Nearly 60 years later, the economist and economic historian Frank W. Fetter (1977, pp. 77, 78) observed that “the story [about Lenin’s remarks] has circulated among economists, journalists, businessmen, politicians and bankers” since then. Fetter doubted, however, that Keynes was really quoting Lenin. After extensive inquiries, Fetter reported that no such statement could be found in Lenin’s published writings and that the “first attribution in English, and probably in any language,” was by Keynes.

And conclude:

It seems clear that Keynes’ statement, in The Economic Consequences of the Peace, that Lenin was “said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency,” was based on a report of an interview with Lenin that was published by prominent London and New York newspapers. There are grounds for questioning the veracity of the interview. The Daily Chronicle’s Special Correspondent in Geneva was very hostile to the Bolsheviks and tended to report gossip as if it were substantiated evidence (for example, Daily Chronicle, 1919a). Moreover, it seems odd that the correspondent and the interviewer were both anonymous, as Lenin gave a number of interviews to the Western press in 1919 that were signed when they were published (for example, Goode, 1919). Nevertheless, the remarks in the interview were consistent with a number of arguments emanating from Moscow at the time—specifically, the rationalization of inflation as the harbinger of a moneyless economy and the belief that the revolution would soon spread to the rest of Europe. Moreover, Lenin did not question the statement attributed to him in The Economic Consequences of the Peace when he addressed the Third International in 1920.

Given the hostility of classical liberals both to Lenin and Keynes it is of more than passing interest to note, as did the scholars, Lenin's use of, and hostility toward, Keynes who he termed "British philistine," observing that Keynes had "arrived at conclusions which are more weighty, more striking and more instructive than any a Communist revolutionary could draw."

Lenin argued that Keynes had concluded that “Europe and the whole world are headed for bankruptcy. He has resigned, and thrown his book in the government’s face with the words: ‘what you are doing is madness.’” Lenin (1920 [1966], pp. 220, 227) approved of Keynes’s proposals for settling intergovernmental debt, sardonically suggesting that they were equivalent to the Soviet government’s: “As you know . . . these [Russian] debts do not disturb us, because we followed Keynes’s excellent advice just a little before his book appeared—we annulled all our debts (Stormy applause.)”

If Lenin thought Keynes was correct on those matters, however, he did not let Keynes’s barbed comments about himself go unremarked (p. 219): “He has arrived at conclusions which are more weighty, more striking and more instructive than any a Communist revolutionary could draw, because they are the conclusions of a well–known bourgeois and implacable enemy of Bolshevism, which he, like the British philistine he is, imagines as something monstrous, ferocious, and bestial.”