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Lenin's Brother: The Origins of the October Revolution

Lenin's Brother: The Origins of the October Revolution

by Philip Pomper

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The gripping untold story of a terrorist leader whose death would catapult his brother—Lenin—to revolution.

In 1886, Alexander Ulyanov, a brilliant biology student, joined a small group of students at St. Petersburg University to plot the assassination of Russia’s tsar. Known as “Second First March” for the date of their action,


The gripping untold story of a terrorist leader whose death would catapult his brother—Lenin—to revolution.

In 1886, Alexander Ulyanov, a brilliant biology student, joined a small group of students at St. Petersburg University to plot the assassination of Russia’s tsar. Known as “Second First March” for the date of their action, this group failed disastrously in their mission, and its leaders, Alexander included, were executed. History has largely forgotten Alexander, but for the most important consequence of his execution: his younger brother, Vladimir, went on to lead the October Revolution of 1917 and head the new Soviet government under his revolutionary pseudonym “Lenin.”

Probing the Ulyanov family archives, historian Philip Pomper uncovers Alexander’s transformation from ascetic student to terrorist, and the impact his fate had on Lenin. Vividly portraying the psychological dynamics of a family that would change history, Lenin’s Brother is a perspective-changing glimpse into Lenin’s formative years—and his subsequent behavior as a revolutionary.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1887, the future leader of the Russian revolution, Vladimir Ulyanov (later Lenin), was 17 when his 21-year-old brother was hanged for his role in a bungled attempt to assassinate Czar Alexander III. Historians consider this the seminal event that launched Lenin’s career as a revolutionary. Wesleyan history professor Pomper (The Russian Intelligentsia) delivers an absorbing and surprisingly detailed account of Alexander Ulyanov’s short life and even shorter career (four months) as a terrorist. Although a small minority among Russia’s many reformers, violent revolutionaries hit the jackpot in 1881 by assassinating Czar Alexander II. This produced not the hoped-for reform but the opposite: mass arrests, informers, and oppressive laws. Yet plots to kill his successor flourished. Pomper describes half a dozen fanatic students at St. Petersburg University who recruited Alexander, assembled bombs, printed literature, and laid plans until the police, informed of the plot, arrived. Lenin never mentioned his brother, but others did, and Pomper delivers a spirited account of this obscure figure, skillfully interweaving a vivid portrait of 19th-century Russian culture and revolutionary ferment. 16 pages of illus. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Serious students of the Bolshevik Revolution know that its leader, Lenin, had an older brother who was executed for his involvement in a failed plot to assassinate Russia's Tsar Alexander III. Lenin's brother is something of a phantom presence in the life of Lenin and of revolutionary Russia. How did a brilliant biology student at St. Petersburg University become the leader of a terrorist conspiracy, and to what extent was he responsible for Lenin's becoming the most important revolutionary of the 20th century? With this richly contextualized and highly readable biography, Pomper (history, Wesleyan Univ.; The Russian Revolutionary Intelligentsia) makes it difficult to forget the name of Alexander (Sasha) Ulyanov and argues that the October Revolution can be traced to his death at the hands of the state. Although only a handful of Alexander's letters and writings are extant, Pomper manages to take the measure of the man and his times by an expert use of sources, knowledge of Russian intellectual history, and probing of the psychological undercurrents of Alexander's family and the psychodynamics of groups such as the terrorist faction of the People's Will. VERDICT This work deserves a wide readership, from serious students and scholars of revolutionary Russia to enthusiasts of biography or psychohistory.—Sean Pollock, Wright State Univ., Dayton, OH
Kirkus Reviews
A little-known episode from the Russian past illuminates some of its most significant events. It has long been known that Lenin's older brother, Alexander, was executed for his role in an attempted assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Overlooked, until now, has been the effect of that execution on the life and thought of the younger brother who would head the first Soviet state. Pomper (History/Wesleyan Univ.; The Russian Revolutionary Intelligentsia) is unafraid to engage in psychohistory in examining these matters, not shy of exploring "the psychodynamics of a small group of university students who became terrorists." Drawing on contemporary documents and archives as well as a broad range of scholarly literature, Pomper limns the curious world of the nihilists in the late 19th century, heavily armed bohemians whose men grew their hair long and wore menacing plaid shawls and whose women "cut their hair short, dressed austerely and somewhat mannishly, and sported red blouses and plaids in imitation of the men." Given such garb, one would think that the secret police of the tsar would have seen the terrorists coming from a long way away, but the secret agents of the regime seem to have been about as effective as a modern airport-security guard. More effective, after Alexander was finally caught and killed, were the police of the next tsar-and then the police of Lenin, who, Pomper writes, took his sweet revenge by executing that ruler and all his family. Though Lenin admired his brother while competing with him, and though he borrowed some of the nihilists' notions of the role of the peasantry in building Russian socialism, he rejected most of Alexander's views-and, tellingly, scarcelymentioned him as he built "a new imperial structure, whose collapse Russians now regret."An evenhanded, complex, fascinating historical analysis. Agent: Jeff Gerecke/Gina Maccoby Literary Agency

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Meet the Author

Philip Pomper is the William F. Armstrong Professor of History at Wesleyan University. He has written and edited nine books, including The Russian Intelligentsia. He lives in Middletown, Connecticut.

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