A friend of mine just shared a quote

They lie to us, we know they're lying, they know we know they're lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.

And attributed it to Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

When searching in the web to see if it was really from him, I found:

  • This reference, which also doesn't state any books or the context of the quote.

  • This reference, which attributes the quote to Elena Gorokhova, more specifically, the book A Mountain of Crumbs.

Knowing one source of that quote, now, I wonder if Alexander Solzhenitsyn said or wrote it somewhere.

  • 1
    I've heard that in a few variants from people in the former Soviet sphere. None attributed it to Solzhenitsyn. Even if he wrote it exactly like that, it was probably a reflection of a common saying. NYT also says the exact quote is from Gorokhova nytimes.com/2010/01/13/books/13book.html Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 19:42
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    Wikipedia has this, unattributed: "The principle of the state capitalism of the period of transition to communism: the authorities pretend they are paying wages, workers pretend they are working. Alternatively, "So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work." This joke persisted essentially unchanged through the 1980s" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_political_jokes Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 19:49

2 Answers 2


I was tempted to close this question, because you already have an answer.

On the one side, is a non-notable claim from your confused friend.

On the other, Goodreads provides a specific reference to an author and book.

Sure enough: on page 181 of A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova:

Snippet of quote

  • I don't have an answer to my question. I do know it is in that book (which is a good starting point), but no clue yet as to Alexander Solzhenitsyn say/write it or not. There's probably room for it to be written in Russian, but my Russian level is not enough to conclude that. Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 22:24
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    It is always possible that Solzhenitsyn said it somewhere obscure, and then Gorokhova wildly plagiarised it and no-one but your friend ever noticed. But it seems far more plausible that all the attributions to Gorokhova are correct, and your friend just confused their names of 20th Century Russian novelists.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 2:54
  • Sorry, but the answer is actually incomplete. You do quote the same quote, but you don't name a person it's attributed to in your answer. I have to follow the link to see the author of the book, but I can't check that the book actually contains the quote (I get a message "No preview available").
    – Elmy
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 6:27
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    @Elmy: I think the identity of the book in question is clear in context, and is reinforced by the Google Books link. I regret that Google Books tends to give different previews to different people, but I dealt with that by providing a screenshot. From the link you can find the name of the book, author, edition and ISBN and I also provide the page number, so if you don't trust my screenshot or Google Books, you can find it in a library and check for yourself.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 17:29
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    It is a bit bizarre to see what is pretty much a link-only answer followed by a username with a diamond after it. It's almost like you're going out of your way to be coy. Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 23:26

I know I have heard this quote in almost this exact format in an Adam Curtis documentary called “Hypernormalisation” made for the BBC. Wether it is a quote by Curtis or if Curtis was himself quoting Solzhenitsyn I don’t know


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    Welcome HughieMac. This doesn't answer the question as written and might better have been posted as a comment (a valuable one IMHO, it's a great documentary). Please take our tour and refer to the help center for guidance as to our ways, and when you've sufficient reputation you'll be able to post comments, until then stick to answering and asking as appropriate. Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 0:24
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    @hughiemac: My existing answer attributes it to a book that came out 6 years before the documentary you cite, so we can rule out that it is quote originated by Curtis.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 9:16

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