With Three Who Made a Revolution: A Biographical History, Bertram D. Wolfe has written a classic account of the origins of the Marxist triumph in Russia by describing the lives of the three most important people who were responsible for the new Russia: Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Joseph Stalin. Except for some necessary allusions to a later period, the account ends with the state of Bolshevism on the eve of its revolutionary triumph.
After an essay on the condition of Russia in the nineteenth century, Wolfe vividly describes Lenin’s origins in the lower Volga territory. The ethnic brew of the region—Slavic, Jewish, German, Tatar, and Cossack—was reflected in the background of the Ulyanovs. The image of a class-conscious, upwardly mobile family of differing ethnic and religious traditions was contrasted with the rebelliousness of young Alexander and Vladimir.
After Alexander was executed for plotting the czar’s murder, Vladimir fully embraced the radicals. Impressed with the Second International in 1889, Lenin heard about the speech of George Valentinovich Plekhanov to the Congress that year. Before leaving Samara, Lenin became a committed Marxist; when he came to St. Petersburg in 1894 and met his future wife, Nadia Krupskaya, he was already a party member. Krupskaya, whose parents were impoverished nobles, was herself a Social Democrat.
Unlike the bourgeois Ulyanovs, the Bronsteins were struggling farmers who sent their son Lev (later Leon Trotsky) to school in Odessa. A star student, Trotsky’s attraction to critical rationalism drew his attention to the social laws of Karl Marx. Like Lenin,...
(The entire section is 678 words.)