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Reshaping Political Discourse in Soviet Science

Kirill Rossiyanov 


My talk today is devoted to the background of the session of the Lenin Academy
of Agricultural Sciences (VASKHNIL) that was held from July 31 through August 7,
1948. This session ended in the rout of genetics in the USSR and triggered
similar campaigns in other sciences. Following the meeting, the Soviet system
undertook the creation of its own, "new" kind of science which differed
radically from world science.

The possible reasons for the intervention by Soviet authorities in science have
been repeatedly discussed in both Western and Soviet historical and scientific
works. But one question has remained unclear: to what extent were Stalin and
other prominent Soviet political leaders personally involved in the organization
of these campaigns?

The VASKHNIL session was convened quite suddenly and without the prior knowledge
of most of its members. Evidently Trofim Lysenko--the president of the
agriculture academy, the principal opponent of genetics, and the leader of the
so-called new, "Michurinist" biology had got some support from some political
source. In his concluding remarks at the session, he declared that his paper had
been approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. But there was no
corroboration of this claim from the Party itself. A few days after Stalin's
death, in March 1953, Lysenko declared in a newspaper article in Pravda that it
had been Stalin himself who had read and edited the original text of his talk at
the 1948 session. But this claim was suspect: a critical campaign against
Lysenko was unleashed during the last months of Stalin's life, so it is not
clear whether Stalin's support of Lysenko was so absolute as Lysenko claimed--
all the more so since the other witness had died. This specific question raises
the larger issue of the extent to which these campaigns were actually controlled
by political authorities.

For example, it might well have been, not Stalin, but some other member or
members of the Politburo or the top Kremlin bureaucracy who may have
orchestrated these campaigns. It has been well known for a long time that Andrei
Zhdanov--the number two man in the Party in the postwar years and the official
in charge of Soviet science, ideology, and culture had launched a major campaign
against Western trends in Soviet art, music, and literature beginning in 1946 (a
cultural "pogrom" known in Russia and the West by his name, "Zhdanovshchina").
So we know that such campaigns could be led by other Party leaders, and there
has been great curiosity about Zhdanov's role in genetics, as well as the
possible relation of the Lysenko campaign to other contemporary attacks on
culture. His role is especially problematic, however: as David Joravsky (and
Zirkle before him) noted, Zhdanov certainly did not support a ban on genetics
and did not support Lysenko. These complications make the clarification of
Stalin's possible role even more important.

The question of Stalin's direct, personal role is a very important one, and is
relevant to the most basic questions concerning how we assess and interpret
Soviet historical events. Today I want to talk about some archival finds that go
a long way to settling this question.


The discovery is best understood in the context of what was happening among
younger historians of science in the USSR and in the Soviet archives after the
initiation of Glasnost. Around 1988 an informal group of younger researchers and
graduate students associated with the Institute of the History of Science and
Technology, in Moscow and Leningrad, began to organize itself. At this time,
popular periodicals had became preoccupied, even fixated, on telling the real
story of Soviet history under Stalin, particularly things that had been hidden
or lied about. At that time, it was especially common for virtually all Soviet
scientists to be portrayed as morally pure victims of Stalinist oppression--this
was certainly the way all the scientists wrote about their history. But for this
group of younger historians, the story did not seem quite so simple. We all were
fascinated less by the history of ideas than by what might be called the
‘political' dimension of the history of Soviet science, but we suspected that
some scientists had supported the regime, for ideological and other reasons.
Most important, we realized that rich history of the events depended first and
foremost on getting into the archives, especially archives that had been closed
even to most Soviets.

I myself started doing research on Lysenkoism in the spring of 1989. From the
beginning, I understood that the archives of the Communist Party and the Soviet
government would be absolutely inaccessible to me. Although glasnost and
perestroika were underway, the archives were the most conservative part of the
government bureaucracy, and had been ever since the days when they were under
the control of the secret police. That is why I worked, instead, in the archives
of the agriculture academy.

First of all, I ordered the files of Lysenko's correspondence with the Central
Committee of the Communist Party. I found numerous letters from Lysenko to top
Party leaders, including Malenkov, Poskrebyshev (Stalin's personal secretary),
and Stalin--but I found absolutely no replies to these letters in the files. It
made things especially difficult, but understandable: it was very characteristic
of Stalinist bureaucratic style that leaders gave their orders exclusively by
phone.	(In the Soviet bureaucracy, people wrote letters to their superiors, but
gave orders to their inferiors by phone. Even before the revolution, Leo Tostoy
had referred to the Tsarist system as "Genghis Khan with a telegraph"; in the
1930s, Bukharin referred to Stalin as "Genghis Khan with a telephone".) In any
case, such letters, had they existed, would still have been regarded as top
secret and would not have been shown to me.

Nonetheless, there were a lot of interesting things that could be learned from
these letters. For example, sometimes the political leadership under Stalin is
treated as nothing but "Yes Men", monolithic and uniform in their politics and
ideology. But these letters demonstrated that there were a lot of different
attitudes towards genetics and Lysenko among various top Party leaders.
Lysenko's letters often reiterated instructions he had been given by these
leaders (presumably by phone), and from them it is clear that some of them
disagreed with Lysenko. The main case in point is IURII Zhdanov--the head of the
science department of the Party Central Committee, the SON of Andrei Zhdanov,
Stalin's "culture tsar", and ALSO the husband of Svetlana Alliliueva and
therefore Stalin's son-in-law. The younger Zhdanov, for example, had given
vigorous backing to classical geneticists, and on various particular issues had
been outspokenly critical of Lysenko. By contrast, judging from Lysenko's
letters, Stalin was enthusiastic about some of Lysenko's plans and promises.

The letters are also very interesting from the point of view of Kremlin
politics. Andrei Zhdanov's chief rival in the Politburo was Malenkov; Malenkov's
ally was Beria, head of the secret police. We know that in late May or early
June, 1948, during a Politburo meeting, Stalin sharply criticized the Zhdanovs
--both father and son--because they had attacked Lysenko, whereas Stalin had not
sanctioned any such attack. From this point of view, the eight or so letters
from Lysenko to Malenkov are interesting, since they complain about Zhdanov and
give evidence that Malenkov may have been involved in planning the 1948 session.
As it happened, Andrei Zhdanov died under mysterious circumstances within a
month after the 1948 Lysenko session (he was only fifty-two years old at the

In the back of my mind, I knew that the most striking evidence of the relation
between Lysenko and Stalin would be a text of Lysenko's speech edited by Stalin.
There were rumors and some indirect evidence concerning its existence. For
example, some had said that Lysenko kept this text in a special safe in his
office and showed it to selected visitors in order to emphasize his closeness to

From the letters, for the first time, I found solid evidence that such a text
existed. In a letter dated 23 July 1948, Lysenko wrote to Stalin that he was
sending the original version of the speech he was to give so that Stalin could
read it and make the necessary corrections. In a letter dated seven days later,
30 July 1948, Lysenko informed Malenkov that he had finished revising his
speech, and asked Malenkov to show the final version to Stalin. Furthermore,
there were two letters from the Party archives in 1954, one asking that Lysenko
give them the text that Stalin had edited (since everything Stalin had written
was being collected following his death as a classic of Marxism-Leninism); and a
second letter confirming that the text had been received.

So: it was clear that Stalin had read Lysenko's text and made revisions sometime
between the 23rd and the 30th of July, and that the original was in the Party
archives, where I felt I had no chance of seeing it. But it was also evident
that Lysenko had made a photocopy of the original before he had sent it. So my
next hope was that perhaps the photocopy was still somewhere where I could get
my hands on.

I tried to find it in other archives. Perhaps it was in the archives of the
Academy of Sciences, I thought; after all, Lysenko had been a full member since
1939. Lysenko's son had conveyed to them some of his father's papers in the
early 1980s. But my search there was unsuccessful. However, from a younger
archivist I learned a lamentable fact: Lysenko's son wanted to give the archives
a copy, but the director of the archives refused to take it! The reasons were
related to the question of "subversive literature."	Each large library, and many
archives, has a special closed section--in Soviet newspeak, spetskhran. Lots of
different things got put there--the works of Nietzsche, for example;
prerevolutionary Russian religious philosophy; Playboys; and many issues of Isis
and Journal of the History of Biology.

You may have forgotten, but even at the beginning of perestroika, Gorbachev
classified anything that used the word "Stalinism" as "bourgeois propaganda",
which meant . . . spetskhran. But the Academy of Sciences archives did not have
such a spetskhran division, and the director apparently feared that if he took
the proffered text he might have to create one.

This made me wonder: perhaps I could obtain the text from Lysenko's son. But
this turned out to be impossible: as it happened, he was hostile to all
historians, because he regarded his father as a great scientist whom they were
vilifying. So, another blind alley. Having come to the conclusion that my hopes
to find the text were absolutely unrealistic, I resumed my former work in the
Agricultural Academy archives.

One day, while I was going over Lysenko's letters again, I came across a curious
document. Stuck in a file between letters was a third copy of a preliminary
version of Lysenko's speech with revisions and notations written in ink. The
most remarkable thing was that some of the remarks in ink were laconic and
impolite. For example, the unknown editor severely criticized Lysenko's
discourse on the class character of science, and next to the sentence " ...
every science is class oriented by its very nature" appeared this comment: "Ha
ha ha!!! And what about mathematics? And what about Darwinism?"

At first it seemed to me that one of Lysenko's close associates might have felt
free to make such remarks. But then I realized this would contradict the
strictly hierarchical spirit which dominated Soviet society then. Lysenko was a
VIP--president of an academy, hero of socialist labor, one of the leaders of the
supreme soviet. And only someone who was even MORE important than he was could
have afforded to be so impolite. In retrospect, I am amazed that the truth
didn't hit me. But, psychologically, I had already decided that I would never
see the text; I wasn't expecting to find it in the file where it was located' a
colleague of mine had already been through the file and had not noted anything
of interest. So, I assumed that this text, whatever it was, was not going to be
useful, and in any case had been misfiled. So I put it aside and went on with my
routine work.

Some nine or ten months later, I was looking at this file again, and decided to
have another look at that bizarre text. The letter from the Party archives
acknowledging the receipt of the text edited by Stalin, as it happened, had
included, in good clerical form, the total number of pages they had received,
and the page numbers where Stalin's rem arks had been made. I suddenly thought I
should check those numbers against the text. All the numbers coincided--both the
total number of pages, and the page numbers where the remarks appeared. So this
was some sort of copy of the missing manuscript--maybe a working, in-house copy
that Lysenko used when reworking his text. Even so, it seemed incomprehensible
to me why Lysenko would have hand-copied Stalin's derisive "Ha-ha-ha!!!"

But how close was this copy to the original? To answer that question, really
needed to get into those Party archives. But I understood once more the
impossibility of this. To get into those archives, as a rule, it was necessary
BOTH to be a Party member (I wasn't), AND to have the necessary certifications
and papers. The second would have been possible, in principle; but the first
defeated me.

So, I spent about two weeks trying to create a complicated system of indirect
evidence. I don't want to bore you with too many details, but it might serve as
an example of what we had to do when we couldn't get into archives. First, this
version had two dates on the last page: July 23rd and July 28th. I knew that
Stalin had made his remarks sometime between July 23rd and July 30th, so these
notes were made at roughly the same time Stalin was making his. Second, I
decided that, at the very least, the DELETIONS marked on the MS could not have
been made BEFORE he sent the text originally to Stalin: both the manuscript I
saw, and the one in the Party archives that Stalin had annotated, were exactly
49 pages long. (If Lysenko had crossed out the passages before he sent the MS to
Stalin, it would have to have been retyped, producing a shorter text--UNLESS
Lysenko had also added compensatory insertions. But I found at the end of the
file the typewritten text of insertions, with a note on the backside: 
"Additions made to the third copy of the first variant of the speech after the
copy of the speech was returned from Comrade Stalin....") So: the insertions,
and the deletions, could only have been made AFTER Stalin had seen the text, and
evidently reflected Stalin's work on the text. Furthermore, the insertions were
semantically associated with the remarks in the margins. Thus, indirectly, I had
grounds for arguing logically that those remarks ALSO came from Stalin.
Nevertheless, I couldn't be absolutely sure of the authenticity of these

I presented the evidence, such as it was, in a paper at the Second Conference on
the Social History of Soviet Science in Moscow, May 1990. As it happened, one of
those attending--Professor Esakov from the Institute of History--had been
admitted to the Party archives. Only AFTER I gave my talk did he tell me that he
had read through the original in the Party archives, and confirmed the identity
of the two texts. I had, understandably, two contradictory reactions: first, I
was delighted that my hypothesis was confirmed; second, I regretted all the time
I had had to waste because I had not been able to the see the original.

Professor Esakov told me that his admission to the Party archives was a result
of a special decision by the Politburo. At that time the Politburo created a
special commission for the rehabilitation of Stalin's purge victims, and Mr.
Esakov took part in the rehabilitation of Nikolai Bukharin and prepared the
publication of his selected works. But as a result of perestroika, even archival
regulations became more liberal, and one year later I got access to the Party

Most of the Party archives remained unavailable and were kept in a special,
secret division there.. Stalin's papers included a very small number of
manuscripts largely unrelated to politics.


Among these miscellaneous papers, I found photocopies of Lysenko's speech with
Stalin's editorial remarks, as well as the handwritten texts of Stalin's
articles on linguistics, published in 1950. The texts from the Party vs. the
VASKhNIL archives turned out to be semantically identical. I wish I could
actually show ou a copy of this text. Unfortunately, even now it is impossible
to make photocopies of Stalin's manuscripts. For this reason, I hand copied all
of Stalin's corrections and remarks and put them down on a xerox copy of the
published version of Lysenko's speech. [SHOW]

When I was looking for Lysenko's original text in various Moscow archives, I
couldn't even imagine that Stalin's corrections and remarks would be so
numerous. And it was especially amazing because Stalin's editing was kept secret
for many years, even after his death. Stalin's corrections included
substitutions of single words on more than half of the pages; insertions and
deletions; and comments in the margins suggesting that Lysenko change some of
his discussion.

Stalin not only edited Lysenko's speech for the session. He also wrote the
opening paragraph of the concluding remarks that Lysenko was to give on the
morning of August 7, the last day of the meeting. Indeed, Stalin, not Lysenko,
wrote perhaps the most famous lines of the session: "The question is asked in
one of the notes handed to me," Stalin wrote for Lysenko to say, "what is the
attitude of the Central Committee of the Party to my report? I answer: the
Central Committee of the Party examined my report and approved it." But Stalin
didn't permit his name to be used, and may have wanted to omit any language
declaring his personal support of Lysenko.

Stalin's corrections in the text of Lysenko's speech dealt not only with the
political dimension of the debate, but also, and most strikingly, with the
problems of the philosophy of science. Stalin clearly expressed his positive
attitude toward the idea of the inheritance of acquired characters. (I will show
you these remarks a bit later.) And they give a new insight into one of the most
debatable issues concerning the 1948 session.

It has often been assumed that certain elements of Soviet ideology predisposed
the Soviet regime toward Lamarkism. Conway Zirkle in his excellent 1958 book on
"Marxian biology" explained the dominance of Lamarckian ideas in the Soviet
Union as a result of the influence of the biological views of Marx and Engels.
He identified Lysenko's Lamarckism with what he called "Marxian Biology".
"Marxian biology," he wrote, "exists as a destructive, threatening, and well
organized cult . . . . Its growth is very easy to follow, and its origin can be
traced back to the biology line taken by Marx and Engels . . . . It has
contributed to other present ideologies much more than appears on the surface."
I do not agree with Zirkle's general point; subsequent works by Joravsky and
many others have shown that his thesis is dubious. Others have argued that the
very nature of the Stalinist system required Lamarckism to support the concept
of human nature as plastic and to make possible the social creation of the "New
Soviet Man". Such general views I find rather dubious, intuitive, and difficult
to support historically.

But there is good evidence that STALIN supported Lamarckian ideas and believed
in them. In his 1906 article "Anarchism or Socialism?" analyzed the late 19th
century debates between neo-Lamarckians (probably he had Herbert Spencer in
mind) and the so-called neo-Darwinians (Weismann and others). Stalin sided with
the neo-Lamarckians. This 1906 article was republished in 1947, in Stalin's
collected works.

In Lysenko's original 1948 text, it is perhaps not surprising that he cited
Stalin's article as an authority. But in editing Lysenko's text, although Stalin
added the remark that the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired
characters was "entirely scientific," Stalin didn't allow Lysenko to cite his
1906 article.	In Stalin's view, Lysenko's doctrine naturally settled the
contradictions between neo-Lamarckians and Weismannists. Stalin inserted several
sentences in Lysenko's speech. Lysenko wrote in his original text: "The Michurin
trend cannot be called Lamarckian." Stalin transformed this sentence into the
following: "The Michurin trend cannot be called either neo-Lamarckian or
neo-Darwinism. It is creative Soviet Darwinism, rejecting the errors of both and
free from the defects of Darwinian theory insofar as it included Malthus'
erroneous ideas." Although Stalin didn't refer to his old article, he inserted
several sentences asserting the correctness of its views: "Furthermore, it
cannot be denied that in the controversy that flared up between the Weismannists
and Lamarkians in the beginning of the 20th century, Lamarckians were closer to
the truth; for they defended the interests of the science, whereas the
Weismannists were at loggerheads with science and prone to indulge in
mysticism." Evidently, it was the influence of the tradition of neo-Lamarckism,
and not of Marx and Engels, as Zirle supposed, that had some effects on Stalin's

In Stalin's view, Lysenko had to sharpen his criticism of Weismann and his
theory. He wrote in the margins: "Weismann?" As a result, Lysenko added several
paragraphs to his speech criticizing Weismannism. 

As is evident from Stalin's remarks, he regarded the conflict between
geneticists and Lysenkoists as a direct continuation of the discussion between
neo-Lamarckians and neo-Darwinians which had started long before genetics had
come into being. And his corrections made Lysenko's final text look even more
archaic. Soon after the session, Theodosius Dobzhansky commented on the
character of Lysenko's Lamarkism: "Lysenko's brand of Lamarckism is borrowed
from Herbert Spencer, as interpreted by some Russian popular writers."
Dobzhansky was absolutely right in his identification of Spencer's influence,
but what he did not know is that it was Stalin himself who shaped Lysenko's
attitude toward neo-Lamarkism and neo-Weismannism. And it is very probable that
Stalin's views were influenced by turn-of-the-century popular Russian articles.
(Stalin didn't know any languages other than Russian and Georgian, and it is
unlikely that he read any serious scientific journals, even in, Russian.)

But why did Stalin object to the references to his own 1906 article? Perhaps
Stalin didn't want his name to become too closely associated with Lysenko's.
Alternatively, Stalin's objections could be related to Lysenko's attempts to use
some quotations in order to support his own unusual views on species formation.
The 1906 article expressed Stalin's view that gradualism had been a weak point
in Darwin's theory; but apparently, he had given up that idea by 1948. In a 1950
article, Stalin compared gradual accumulation of minor changes to revolutions,
and stressed that the former may be even more significant that the latter. As I
will try to demonstrate later, Stalin's statement also had clear implications
for the official views on evolutionary that he considered Darwinian theory to
have some defects "in so far as it included Malthus' theory.

It is evident from Stalin's insertions that he considered Darwinian theory to
have some defects "in so far as it included Malthus' erroneous ideas." And he
insisted that Lysenko give a more detailed criticism of Darwin's Malthusianism.
At the beginning of the section of Lysenko's talk entitled "The History of
Biology--A History of Ideological Battle", he wrote in the margins: "Defects of
Darwin's theory?" As a result, Lysenko added a long insertion on Darwin's
Malthusian errors--some two pages of printed text. (I could say alot of things
here about Daniel Todes's book, *Darwin without Malthus,* the Russian tradition
of anti-Malthusianism, and so forth, but I won't, in the interests of time.)

In one instance, Lysenko's insertion about "the unity of theory and practice"
was unrelated to any of Stalin's marginalia. This might support Lysenko's
subsequent assertion in a newspaper article after Stalin's death that Stalin met
with him personally and explained to him how to improve his text.

In some places, Stalin's corrections didn't lead to any substantial changes:
Stalin simply helped Lysenko to express ideas more clearly. For example, he
advised Lysenko to move the paragraph criticizing Schroedinger's book, What Is
Life?, to a different place in the speech.

A large part of Stalin's remarks dealt with the sociopolitical dimension of
Lysenko's reasoning. In his original text Lysenko expressed the view that there
exist two class-based biologies: "bourgeois," vs "socialist, dialectical
materialist". He obviously intended to reduce his conflict with geneticists to
the contradictions inherent in antagonistic classes. Probably Lysenko thought
that he would achieve his purpose if he convinced the Party authorities of the
bourgeois nature of genetics. But, remarkably, Stalin decisively rejected
Lysenko's thesis, deleting from his text the discourse about the class character
of natural science. This is undoubtedly one of the most striking things about
Stalin's editing, because Lysenko's original statement that science entirely
depends on class relations would have substantiated the Party's interference in

Lysenko's original text had included an extensive section entitled "The
Fundamentals of Bourgeois Biology Are False." Stalin crossed out the entire
section. Next to Lysenko's remark in this section that "Each science is class
oriented by its very nature," Stalin sarcastically wrote in the margin:
"Ha-ha-ha!!! And what about mathematics? And what about Darwinism?" Stalin also
carefully deleted the terms "bourgeois science" and "bourgeois biology", which
had been used almost 20 times throughout the original text. He either excised,
them, or replaced them with "reactionary" or "idealist" biology or science.

On the whole, Stalin made Lysenko's discourse sound less "political" and more
"objective". For example, in describing T. H. Morgan's theory, he replaced
Lysenko's phrase "an alien enemy" of Soviet science with the phrase "
unscientific and reactionary." Elsewhere, he replaced "dialectical materialism"
with "materialism," "socialist agriculture" with "agriculture," "anti-Marxist
biology" with "reactionary biology," and on several pages "Soviet biology" with
"scientific biology." Even the title of Lysenko's speech was changed in a
similar way: Initially it read, "The Situation in SOVIET Biological Science";
this was changed to "The Situation in Biological Science"--the "Soviet" was
dropped, and this title change was the only change made in the text between July
30, when Lysenko finished his revisions, and July 31, the day the meeting
opened. It is likely that this change was made due to Stalin's or Malenkov's
personal instructions by phone.

Stalin's changes here are not without irony for the historian. Most of those who
have commented on what the session did see Lysenko's language as subordinating
science to politics; but Stalin's changes, if anything, "toned down" this
dimension of Lysenko's language. In the Soviet context, at least, the terms
"idealist" and "reactionary" were less politically loaded than "bourgeois." In
this way, the concept of two class-based sciences seemed to be replaced by the
much more traditional dichotomy between "correct" and "incorrect" science. On
the one hand, the attitude toward science was objectivized; but on the other
hand, it was personalized, because it was Stalin himself who decided what was
correct and what was incorrect science. (My opinion is not universally held;
Esakov, for example, argues that "idealist" and "reactionary" are stronger terms
than "bourgeois", and therefore that Stalin SHARPENED Lysenko's tone.)

At first glance, the class-based rhetoric of Lysenko's original text didn't
contradict Stalin's intention to strengthen political control over the sciences.
What, then, could be the reasons for such profound editorial changes in
ideological language?


It has often been assumed that the postwar campaigns in Soviet science were
related to Marxism, which laid strong emphasis on the social determination of
cognition. Prominent Soviet ideologists often argued, especially in the 1920s,
that the proletariat should create its own science, which would be fundamentally
different from the science that existed before. But I doubt that this is the
underlying cause of the postwar campaigns.

The assumption that there was some general, uniform Marxist ideological paradigm
which determined certain actions of the Soviet regime throughout its history
seems to me misleading. A fundamental change occurred in Soviet ideology during
the early 1930s. From 1928 to 1932, the idea of uncompromising class struggle
dominated the Soviet scene. The prevailing ideology of that time was undoubtedly
connected with Marxism, albeit in a primitive and vulgarized form. In the 1930s,
the isolationist and nationalistic tendencies began to play an ever increasing
role in the Soviet mentality. After World War II, national messianism and the
idea of a great State standing in opposition to hostile surroundings was the
central theme of political ideology. Clearly, this attitude had very little to
do with any kind of Marxism.

The renunciation of the ideological heritage of the 1920s and early 30s became
an integral part of the postwar Soviet ideological campaigns. For example, in an
article published in 1950, Stalin severely criticized the attempts made in the
1920s to create a class-oriented culture (proletkult). From the mid-1930s, the
emphasis shifted from revolutionary cultural experimentation to upholding
traditional cultural values. I think that this nationalist, conservative trend
was the main reason for Stalin's changes in Lysenko's political discourse.

In the new ideological climate, science was considered to depend, not on class
interests, but on some "objective" laws of nature. In this respect, the VASKhNIL
session was a landmark: class science had focused principally on methodology;
immediately after 1948, the Soviet ideology became reified into a new ontology,
a new picture of the world as it purportedly was, articulated by the political
leadership.	In revising Lysenko's text, then, Stalin was doing more than
changing Lysenko's writing style, or even his rhetoric; he was, in a sense,
reconstructing the world. This, perhaps, helps to explain why his changes were
so numerous and detailed.

The agricultural academy session set a pattern for similar campaigns in other
sciences--physiology cytology, physical chemistry, linguistics, physics. Each of
them was organized as an open discussion, but each time there was one speaker
whose talk had been edited either by Stalin or by his close associates. For
example, in 1950 Stalin edited the main talk at the session which was held to
discuss the situation in physiology. Soon after the VASKhNIL session, it was
decided to convene an all-union conference of physicists to condemn the theory
of relativity and quantum mechanics. This time it was probably not Stalin, but
someone else in the Central Committee who several times edited the main talk
which had to delivered by the president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences,
Sergei Vavilov. That discussion was cancelled just before it was scheduled to
begin. Probably the chief of the Soviet secret police, Lavrenty Beria, who at
that time was also responsible for the Soviet atomic bomb project, persuaded
Stalin to revise his original decision.

It was always kept secret that Stalin or other Party leaders were involved in
editing the talks to be delivered at those discussions. Only once, in 1950,
Stalin decided to take part himself in a discussion. He wrote several pieces on
linguistic theory. His articles on the subject were published in Pravda in the
summer of 1950. Stalin wrote them himself, though he consulted with a
professional linguist, Academician Chikobava of Georgia. These articles
reflected some of his ideological concerns. He criticized Soviet linguist
Nikolai Marr, who postulated the class nature of language. Opposing Marr's
views, he advocated the idea of a single, national language. Stalin not only
narrowed the sphere of class struggle in social life, but he also stressed that
a major role in the development of language, culture, and society belongs not to
revolutions, but to a gradual accumulation of minor changes.

It is remarkable that, at the very same time Stalin was downplaying revolution,
Trofim Lysenko published several articles in which he laid great stress on the
role of sudden revolutionary leaps in the origin of new species. He asserted
that many species of cultivated plants could spontaneously transform, even under
natural conditions, into other, quite different species--for example wheat into
rye, etc. It is no wonder, then, that it became a joke of Western scientists and
journalists that the next step would be the birth of an orangutan in Lysenko's
family. At this time, Lysenko again used "revolutionary" rhetoric in order to
support his position. The very spirit of Marxist theory, Lysenko claimed, called
for a theory of species formation which would entail revolutionary leaps. He
attacked Darwinism as "a theory of all round gradualism." 

As I have shown, Stalin had severely criticized Lysenko's political discourse in
1948, and it is hard to understand why Lysenko once again included this
revolutionary rhetoric in the text of his articles on species formation. In any
case, it probably undermined his position.

At the end of 1952, the leading Soviet botanical journal began a discussion on
problems of species formation and published several articles criticizing
Lysenko. We know that "open" discussions became the favorite mode of political
authorities for interfering in science. There is some evidence that in this case
the publication of these articles was sanctioned by Stalin's personal order. The
charges were leveled against Lysenko theory of species formation, with the
critics stressing its incompatibility with Stalin's idea of gradual,
non-revolutionary development. At the same time, any attempt to criticize other
aspects of Lysenko's doctrine in the course of that discussion were still
censored by the authorities.

We don't what would have been the outcome of this anti-Lysenko campaign if
Stalin hadn't died shortly after it had begun. It may actually be that Stalin's
death postponed Lysenko fall from power for a decade, until 1965, when the
government and Party finally deprived Lysenko of their patronage. 


It is remarkable how much emphasis was laid in the last years of Stalin's life
on the "political correctness" of the language used in scientific publications.
But it is even more striking that Stalin himself tried to control the content of
science, editing scientific typescripts. It is hard to imagine similar behavior
on the part of the political leaders of democratic countries (such as Roosevelt
or Churchill) or even of other dictators (such as Hitler or Mussolini). Even in
George Orwell's famous classic, 1984, the top political leaders who stood behind
the mythical "Big Brother" didn't do it themselves. The work of rewriting
history was done by small clerks in the Ministry of Truth.

The inclination to personally edit a wide variety of texts on diverse subjects
was very characteristic of Stalin as a person. Several years before the 1948
session, for example, Stalin, as the leader of the Soviet Union, edited the
words to the new Soviet hymn. In addition, there is some evidence that during
the purges of the 1930s, he personally edited the confessions of his former
Party comrades: The handwritten confession, often obtained by torture, were
delivered to the Kremlin. Stalin changed some phrases, and then the
investigators urged the prisoners to rewrite them following Stalin's
suggestions. (This charade was necessary, because, according to contemporary
Soviet legal niceties, only handwritten confessions could serve as valid

But at the same time, Stalin's editorial inclinations reflected not only his
personal predilections, but also more general features of the Soviet regime:
first, an historically unprecedented hierarchical organization of Soviet
society, with Stalin at the top; and second, the critical significance for the
Stalinist system of the TEXT. In this sense, being an editor, Stalin only
confirmed his rank as top political leader. And it became simply the next
logical step for Stalin to move from editing texts on nature to editing nature


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