A “second front” in Soviet genetics: The international dimension of the Lysenko controversy, 1944–1947
- Cite this article as:
- Krementsov, N. J Hist Biol (1996) 29: 229. doi:10.1007/BF00571083
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While the simple historical view has pictured the Lysenko controversy as an uninterrupted series of Lysenko's victories-beginning with the 1936 discussion, and culminating in the infamous August 1948 meeting of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, when genetics was officially abolished in the Soviet Union-it was certainly more complex, as recognized by such serious historians as David Joravsky and Mark Adams. As we have seen, the roles the competitors assumed in 1945–47 were the reverse of those they assumed in the 1930s: the geneticists managed to gain the offensive, and Lysenko was forced to defend his position.
This episode suggests that the Communist Party leadership probably did not have a special bias against genetics, nor a particular preference toward Lysenko at that time. The actual decisions of the Party apparatus on particular science policies were based upon the current priorities of general foreign and domestic policies, rather than upon an “orthodox Party line” in esoteric scientific questions. It is clear and has been recognized by some historians that the Soviet scientific community was not a passive, monolithic object of the manipulation, control, and repression exercised by the Communist Party leadership; various groups within the Soviet scientific community actively exploited every opportunity provided by the Party's policies to achieve their own objectives.
The Lysenko controversy illustrates the profound impact of international events on Soviet science and suggests that its history cannot be understood as a result of exclusively domestic affairs, but should be explicated within a broader framework of interaction between Soviet domestic and international policies and between the Soviet and Western scientific communities. As we have seen, one of the major causes of the geneticists' success in the postwar struggle with Lysenkoists was the shift of Soviet foreign policies toward internationalism stimulated by the wartime alliance between the “Big Three.” This suggests that the so-called “death” of genetics in the Soviet Union in August 1948 was also the result of another dramatic shift in the international situation: the climax of the Cold War confrontation between former allies in the summer of 1948, which marked the final division of postwar Europe and the world into two opposing camps, East and West.