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Cold War Rhetoric Of The Lysenko Era

4647 words - 19 pages

The Cold War Rhetoric of the Lysenko Era

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union forced its biologists to support the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, which opposed the conventional theory of genetics accepted by the scientists in America and most of the world. This theory that environmentally induced changes to an organism’s physical or biochemical traits could be passed on to its offspring was the main tenet in Lamarck’s work during the early 1800s. It was accepted by most biologists during Lamarck’s time, until the work of Darwin on evolution by natural selection in the mid-1800s and the discovery of Mendel’s work on heredity in the early 1900s lead most biologists to discount Lamarck’s theory. However, in 1948, the Soviet Union officially supported the paradigm of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, which they called the “Michurin teaching” (Lysenko 33). Michurin was a Russian scientist who worked during the late-1800s to improve and create new varieties of plants and introduce them to areas of severe climate in Russia (Bakharev 6). His principle that “we cannot wait for favours from Nature” and that instead, “we must wrest them from her,” was based on his interpretation that Marxist dialectical materialism taught “how to actively influence Nature and how to change it” (Bakharev 6-8). The revival of his theories in the mid-1900s was tied to the fate of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko. Lysenko gradually gained power until he became the president of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences (LAAAS) in 1941 (U.S. Department of Commerce 2). His address to the 1948 session of LAAAS marked the beginning of the Soviet state’s official support of the Michurin teaching and it’s suppression of all scientists who opposed that theory (Medvedev 103).

Many scholars have attempted to explain why Lysenko was so popular with the Soviet state, even though there was little evidence that his ideas worked in practice and his theories were rejected by prestigious scientists in the Soviet Union and throughout the West (Hudson 3). A Soviet scientist, Medvedev, argues that the dominance of Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union was caused by “the classification of science as bourgeois or proletarian, the government’s aim to increase agricultural production, the censorship in the press, the isolation of Soviet scientists, and the Soviet’s centralization of science” (247-252). Joravsky, an American scholar, discounts Medvedev’s argument on the influence of Marxist theory and emphasizes Lysenko’s appeal to improving collectivized agriculture (The Lysenko Affair 228). Soyfer, a recent Russian scientist, adds that Lysenko’s appeal to Stalin’s personal interests and views may have caused his popularity with the state (Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science 202). However, these scholars focus on the forces operating within the Soviet Union, and give little consideration to the larger Cold War climate. The rhetoric of...

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