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He violently persecuted genetics. Why?

Here is one notable example:

Vavilov repeatedly criticised the non-Mendelian concepts of Trofim Lysenko, who won the support of Joseph Stalin. As a result, Vavilov was arrested on August 6, 1940, while on an expedition to Ukraine. He was sentenced to death in July 1941, which was commuted to twenty years' imprisonment in 1942; he died in prison in 1943.

EDIT: Let's see, wikipedia has a category Russian geneticists with 9 names. Out of them 3 were born in the 1940s or 1950s, one lived his whole life in the USA and another one worked in Nazi Germany. What about the 4 others? Let's see:

  • Chetverikov: "dismissed from his post at the behest of Lysenko in 1948".

  • Efroimson: "Efroimson was stripped from his degree", " In 1949 Efroimson was sentenced for his Libel against the Red Army to seven years in Gulag".

  • Koltsov: "In 1937 and 1939, the supporters of Trofim Lysenko published a series of propaganda articles against Nikolai Koltsov and Nikolai Vavilov.", "His death in 1940 was claimed to have been due to a stroke. EDIT: According to some rumours, he was actually poisoned by the NKVD. (See the comment by Anixx).

  • Vavilov: We know already what happened to him.

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As it stands, this is a poor question. Could you expend it with references? –  Sardathrion Dec 24 '12 at 12:57
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@Sardathrion: I tried to find a general overview in English but couldn't, so I added an example. Is it better? –  Felix Goldberg Dec 24 '12 at 13:05
    
It helps. References is Russian would be fine too, even if I cannot speak Russian -- Google translate would give the general gist of it. If anyone else had references, that would make a great answer. –  Sardathrion Dec 24 '12 at 13:07
    
Poisioning by NKVD is not likely at all for many reasons. One of them is that Stalin did not hardly support the "Lysenko line" at the time (at least before 1948 many anti-Lysenkoists still remained in their positions), also NKVD could much more easy arrest him, why to poison? –  Anixx Dec 30 '12 at 12:20
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@Felix Goldberg there was no NKVD in 1927 when Bekhterev died. –  Anixx Dec 30 '12 at 15:13

3 Answers 3

First of all, Lysenko did not oppose genetics in general, he was against so-called "formal genetics". He was the director of the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR since 1940.

In 1939 he said in a speech:

Unfairly comrades Mendelists alledge that we profess closing of Genetics (...) Genetics is necessary and we struggle for its development and flourishing

He authored a number of works on genetics, including

  • "About two directions in genetics" (1939, conference theses)

  • "Agrobiology. Works on questions about genetics, selection and seed breeding" (1949)

  • Article "Genetics" for Encyclopedy of Agriculture and for Great Soviet Encyclopedy (1946)

  • "To the question about old and new genetics" (1947)

Odessa Institute of Selection and Genetics was named after Lysenko in 1948.


As you know in 1933 the USSR experienced a heavy hunger, or at least the Soviet leadership thought it was hunger. It prompted them to search an effective method to quickly increase productivity of agriculture.

There were several reasons why it was Lysenko who enjoyed the government's support.

  • Lysenko promised quick, immediate results, while traditional genetics at the time did not bring practical results at all. Lysenko pointed that even if he had not a complete theory, it was the practical results that matters. At the time among Soviet scientists there was a widespread belief that many spheres of bourgeous science are not practical, pure scholastic and drain resources. To achieve practical results Lysenko used a number of methods of various effectiveness, such as vernalization, nested planting and others. Some of his methods such as "plant chasing" proved effective and used to this day in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

  • Lysenko developed an image of a native ethnic Russian peasant "just from a plow" who learned himself, an image closely associated with Lomonosov, while many of his opponents (including Vavilov) were ethnic Jews whom Stalin did not trust. Vavilov in addition was of bourgeois origin. Many also thought that Jews have no natural capabilities and scent in the sphere of agriculture, which ethnic Russian peasants have by nature.

  • By the Lysenko's followers it was claimed that traditional genetics gives scientific support to racism, eugenics and social inequality. This was a sound argument in the face of the advancing Nazism. Some felt that even if traditional theory correct, the danger of it being applied to humans makes it worth to oppose it by any means.

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What exactly is the point you are making here? That genetics was not persecuted? That Vavilov and sundry others were not arrested or demoted or dismissed for working on it? Or that Lysenko was a serious scientist? –  Felix Goldberg Dec 24 '12 at 15:36
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@Felix Goldberg I am answering your question - why Stalin choose Lysenko over Vavilov. Lysenko was the director of Institute of Genetics, if it was prohibited to work on genetics, he should be arrested the first. The idea that Lysenko activity harmed genetics arised post-factum when it became clear that Lysenko was not on the right side. –  Anixx Dec 24 '12 at 15:39
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@Anixx: And do you personally believe all this? –  Felix Goldberg Dec 24 '12 at 16:12
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Lysenko was as much a geneticist as USSR was a country with free and democratic elections. –  DVK Dec 24 '12 at 17:29
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@DVK the US also considers itself a democracy... –  Anixx Dec 25 '12 at 8:49

The modern period was characterized by a belief that the world could be reinvented in light of the superior understanding provided by modern thinking. The communists were major proponents of this movement. The result of this ego-driven idea was that it attracted people who believed their understanding of the world was superior to a traditional view hewn from generations of experience. These self-involved types rose to power through sheer bullying and never had their ideas tested by real world situations until they came to power. The actual experience of their ascent to power taught them that truth does not rule but power does. They became confused about how the world works because their solutions worked on a short term. Killing opponents did eliminate the problem. They soon came to believe that they could define the truth through power and enforce it through oppression and propaganda.

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Your answer is well written, and I would give it an upvote if it had sources cited. It's a good try for someone just starting out, though. –  Reliable Source Dec 29 '12 at 1:54
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This could be a decent answer if the references to the US were culled or at least collated to a personal P.S. or something. –  Felix Goldberg Aug 26 at 6:42

It was a requirement for science to match ideology rather than just deriving objective conclusions.

Ideologists assumed that accepting gene theory makes easier to justify large inequality between social classes and nations, something that Marxists are formally against. Or Honorary Aryan. Or act of creation as origin of life.

While existence of genes does not actually prove these three theories beyond doubt, accepting genetics is just suboptimal from the ideological point of view.

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Do you have a reference for this? –  Felix Goldberg Oct 27 at 17:18

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