Sunday, January 22, 2012

Not a bad paragraph, for a Marxist

"Science, in content, form, and purpose, is fundamentally social, collective. It is invariably, in its every branch, the sum of knowledge attained by many different people, by past generations and by contemporaries. It is the composite product of collective labours. The facts and conclusions which it comprises are expressed in the form of concepts, definitions, and formulae; they are recorded in writing or in print. The purpose of all this is to facilitate the communication of knowledge to other people, to one's class, one's state, to humanity as a whole. Finally, and this is most important, science is a powerful instrument helping to disclose new productive forces in nature and new means of production. It gives man the means of struggle and of defence. Therefore, science comes into being and develops simultaneously with the rise and development of society, as an inevitable consequence and at the same time an indispensable condition for this development."

- S.I. Vavilov, 1948


  1. Looks good, but isn't he sneaking in some support for Lysenkoism here?

    We would say that the evidence trumps any social considerations - he seems to be deferential to social and collective considerations here.

    Wait a moment. Vavilov died in 1943 in prison, a victim of zeal for a State Science, Lysenkoism. Turns out science is collective after all!


  2. Yes - his brother died confronting Lysenkoism (the actual science of Lysenko, as I understand it)... which made Sergei's time in high positions of Soviet power awkward (to say the least) until his own death in 1951.

    Vavilov and Keynes were both a part of the British celebration of the Newton tercentenary (Keynes posthumously), which is something I'm writing about now.

    I'm not quite sure this amounts to Lysenkoism as you describe it... maybe.

  3. I'm not sure that Nikolai's problem was protesting Lysenkoist pseudoscience, so much as he was caught up in the wave of hate against the intelligentsia and the bourgeoisie. That Lysenko had any thoughts on science is more or less completely coincidental to his rise in popularity and power; if his chosen field of study was automobile tires, he would've found something to bitch about in the tire production method borrowed from the West, and found a way to use his status as a good peasant to muscle aside any established positions. Being up against an educated, not-dirt-poor man was only beneficial.

    If I were a Russian language scholar, I bet that I'd probably be able to find little evidence of a term like "Lysenkoism" in use because the quote and the ideology of denunciation politics were based more or less on good, solid Leninist thought. As normal people in that system came to the realization it was poisonous, there was thus little opportunity to dissect this cleavage in the open. Just another one of those little idiosyncrasies of the Soviet system to be forced under the rug by silence and repression. Interestingly, Khrushchev himself was pretty fond of Lysenko and so the image of the man as a reformer is not wholly true - observers say he appeared happiest standing on a clod of earth, telling peasants how to plant their potatoes. That's pretty much Lysenko, too.

    I think the egalitarian-seeming aspects of the Lysenkoist thought appealed to him, and so I wonder if Khrushchev's fall represented the actual end of the politics of the vocal, bossy proletariat.

    When China confronted a similar disconnect between the theory of a proletariat-organized society and the reality of chaos and paranoia, you'll note that the most evident public response was not a public dismissal of the wisdom of the people, but the scapegoating of the Gang of Twelve for criminal excesses. It got the message across that behavior had to fall in line, but wasn't a meaningful ideological critique of the system.

    That's my theory - I wouldn't stake a reputation on these claims, but I think they are likely to be true - it's a potential avenue of research for those who are interested.


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