Philip Pomper


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

Cover Interview of January 22, 2010


Lenin’s Brother also sheds light on the contemporary theatre of suicide terrorism.

It is often said that terrorism is the weapon of the weak.  The story of “The Terrorist Faction of the People’s Will” tells of an asymmetry of power between the Russian security apparatus and a small group of terrorists.  It’s a common enough story, but the players differ and so do the stakes.  Today’s stakes seem immeasurably higher, but to Ulyanov, human progress was at stake.  One of the things that drew him to the narodnik theorist Lavrov was the notion of duty.  Marxism downplayed ethics, to a point where one has to work hard to understand how it inspired young people. Some of Sasha’s comrades who chose terrorism did so because of an ethical foundation that they didn’t find in Marxism.

For Marxian true believers the answer lay in history: the dialectic of history would produce a just outcome.  Marx and Engels assumed that the requisite consciousness was bound to appear, that revolutionaries would multiply.  But they pushed things along in their way, and Lenin did in his.

Sasha, however, thought more like contemporary suicide terrorists, although he had a “scientific” basis for his act of self-sacrifice for the revolutionary cause.  He was, after all, a biologist, and looked to Darwin for authority.  Sasha got this justification for self-sacrifice and subordination to the group from Lavrov, too.  Natural selection worked at the group level, not at the level of individuals.  The very best people sacrificed themselves for the group and the group, itself a historical product, in turn produced the next stage of history.  The epigraph for Sasha’s junior thesis was “What is real is historical.”

Today, not science and historical progress, but religion and nostalgia justify suicide terrorism.  History is full of surprises, not always good ones.

© 2010 Philip Pomper