Philip Pomper


On his book Lenin's Brother: The Origins of the October Revolution

Cover Interview of January 22, 2010

A close-up

In the book’s last chapter, I try to explain Vladimir’s development, showing how family history shapes people and how parents and siblings interact in complex ways.

The Ulyanov family and its members, like all of us, encountered history and were shaped by it—even though they in turn shaped history more than most families.  The wounds created by anti-Semitism forced the family into a false posture.  The Ulyanovs’ marginality—part Jewish, Swedish, German, possibly Kalmyk—created special problems.  They conveyed the psychological stigmata produced by the surrounding culture’s hatred.  In very gifted people—and the Ulyanovs were gifted—the consequences can be large.  The small window of opportunity created by the Russian Enlightenment following Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War quickly closed, but not before Ilya Ulyanov had been ennobled by a regime that, for a time, had appreciated enlighteners.  Many gifted marginal people came to the fore in the 1860s and 1870s Russia, and many of their progeny became important revolutionaries.

In order to modernize, the Russian regime had to use despised minorities, but when it came to writing history, certain things had to be hidden.  The Lenin cult prevented revelations about the family’s ethnicity until the late 1980s and glasnost.  Stalin quite cynically suppressed any information that might taint Lenin’s image.  While writing Lenin’s Brother, I was mindful of how ethnicity, nationality, group psychology, and individual psychology, produced lethal results in modern history.  The small theatre of Lenin’s Brother opens into a much larger one.