Myth Number Six: Stalin said “It isn’t the people who vote that counts. It’s the people who count the votes.”
SOURCE (possible): Boris Bazhanov and David Doyle, Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin, 1990.
TARGET OF MYTH: Everyone. Implying that Soviet elections were fraudulent and Soviet institutions corrupt.
REBUTTAL: Literary evidence. Investigation of the “source” and similar statements previously made by others.
CONTRARY EVIDENCE: There is no evidence for Stalin ever saying this. The very nature of the quote itself is suspicious, considering that it depends on a pun on the word “count/counts” having the dual meaning of to enumerate something and something being of value/importance. This strongly suggests an English language rather than a Russian language source for the quote. The earliest version of the quote comes from 19th century New York City political machine boss, William “Boss” Tweed who is reputed to have said “As long as I count the votes, what are you going to do about it?” Another version of the quote comes from Tom Stoppard’s 1972 play, Jumpers, where a character says “It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting.” The only source for Stalin saying anything even approaching “It’s not who counts the votes. . . ” is Bazhanov’s book (first published in 1980 and translated into English in 1990). But, even here, what Stalin is reputed to have said is quite different. Bazhanov cites Stalin as supposedly saying:
“You know, comrades,” says Stalin, “that I think in regard to this: I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.”
However, this quote seems to evidence Stalin’s concerns to prevent electoral fraud. The exact opposite intention of the “Who counts the votes. . . ” quote.
CONCLUSION: This “quote,” whose purpose is to cast aspersions on Soviet political institutions, is so prevalent as to qualify as a Goebbelsian “Big Lie.” The earliest versions of the quote come from a 19th century American politician and a modern British playwright. The quote itself is a pun that works in English, not Russian. And the only source for Stalin saying anything remotely near the quote, actually cites him as saying the opposite of what the quote implies.