January 27, 2004
Lenin's education: "... a formidable and often a traumatic experience ... "excellent" in every subject"

If my scanner worked better I would probably do more postings based on the early lives of celebrities. I should do more anyway, because they are interesting to read, I think.

They can also be very interesting to do. Today, for instance, I was rootling about in chapter one of Adam B. Ulam's book, Lenin and the Bolsheviks (first published as The Bolsheviks in 1965). Did you know that Lenin had an elder brother, Alexander, who joined in a terrorist plot to assassinate the Tsar and who was hanged when Lenin was seventeen? Maybe you did, but I didn't.

Ulam then describes (p. 19 of my 1975 Fontana Library paperback) what was happening with Lenin's education while all that was going on:

While Alexander was awaiting first the trial and then the execution, Lenin was finishing his eighth and final year in the Simbirsk gymnasium. Graduation from high school was, for a European adolescent, a formidable and often a traumatic experience. It required not only a successful completion of what corresponded to the American senior year of the school, but also in addition a special examination in several subjects. This examination, the so-called "test of maturity", consisted of written and oral questions and exercises prepared not by the local teachers but by the ministry of education or by the professors of the regional university. Nothing was spared to endow the occasion with awe and tension. The strict secrecy about the content of the examination, the barricaded rooms where it took place, the virtual impossibility of beginning professional training if one failed a subject, make the most strenuous American and English academic tests appear innocent and relaxing in comparison. Nervous breakdowns were not uncommon among the students, most of whom were, after all, not older than eighteen or nineteen.

With the earlier noted exception of logic, Lenin completed his high school course with the grade of "excellent" in every subject, including religion. The high school certificate included also such categories as "behaviour in class", "interest in studies", etc. In all these respects his conduct was adjudged "exemplary". The final written examinations took place in the week of his brother's execution. Lenin passed them with the highest distinction, being awarded the gold medal of the Simbirsk gymnasium (both Alexander and Anna [Lenin's parents – BM] had received the same award) as the first student in the class.

It makes you wonder whether all the would-be Al-Qaeda suicide bombers whom the Americans are now hunting to death have younger brothers, and if so, what they might get up to in the future.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:16 PM
Category: Famous educationsHistory