On this date in 1887, a young revolutionary went to the gallows with four other comrades for an attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander III.
Alexander (or Aleksandr) Ilyich Ulyanov was among 15 members of Narodnaya Volya, the terroristic revolutionary organization, nabbed (in an “amateurish” scheme) trying to blow up the monarch on the anniversary of his father’s assassination. The five of these who refused to plead for mercy paid for their principles with their necks.
The young man had kept his political affiliations rigorously secret from his close-knit bourgeois family. Little could he have suspected that the boy he shared a room with —
— would render his own passion a footnote in perhaps the 20th century’s epochal event.
Seventeen-year-old Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, years yet from the moniker “Lenin” by which history knows him, was supposedly fired by this event with a vow for vengeance and the politically mature resolve that “we will go another way!” — that is, another way than terrorism. Here’s the manful young Bolshevik* consoling his grief-stricken mother with revolutionary ardor:
But Lenin’s radicalization seems in fact to have not even begun as of this date, when he was consumed with studying for his exams (in a month’s time, he would graduate with a gold medal from a school headed by the father of Lenin’s future opponent during the Russian Revolution).
Though Lenin’s eventual political persona would comprehensively reject his brother’s tactics, the impression Alexander left upon him must have been profound. According to Tony Cliff in Building the Party: Lenin, 1893-1914, Vladimir Ilyich grappled with Narodism, Marxism and their proper relationship throughout his political development during his university years, and at least at certain moments Narodism appeared compelling to him.
Many of them [Russian Social Democrats] had begun their revolutionary thinking as adherents of Narodnaya Volya. Nearly all had in their early youth enthusiastically worshipped the terrorist heroes. It required a struggle to abandon the captivating impressions of those heroic traditions, and the struggle was accompanied by the breaking off of personal relations with people who were determined to remain loyal to the Narodnay Volya and for whom the young Social Democrats had profound respect.
Lenin mastered that struggle. In the end, he indeed went another way.
* Except there was no such thing yet, but never mind.