The USSR executed scientists for defending the theories of Darwin and Mendel

The persecution of scientists in communism: a fanatical repression that ended in a catastrophe

According to certain propaganda, the Left is synonymous with tolerance and love for reason and science. Some even present the ideologies of the left as a form of scientific thought.

The more than 100 million deaths that communism caused, divided by countries
100 eminent Christian scientists (to believe in God does not make you an uncultivated)

Throughout history there have been numerous attempts to censor scientific thought for certain points of view, and not only religious, but also ideological. The recent attempt to censor science by calling it “sexist” is not new. It is not even the first time that the Left tries to censor science because it contradicted their ideological theses. However, few authors dare to delve into this question. Why?

A pseudoscientific theory fueled by ideological prejudices

An exception is Luis del Pino, journalist and Telecommunications Engineer, who in August 2015 published in his blog a very interesting article, with this title: “Communist obscurantism and the persecution of scientists.” In that article he spoke of Lysenkism, a pseudoscientific theory that owes its name to a scientist close to Stalin, Trofim Lysenko, who condemned genetics as a “bourgeois pseudoscience” and “fascist”. And based on what? On the one hand, Darwin’s theory of natural selection clashed with communist ideological egalitarianism. In addition, an atheistic dictatorship like the USSR was reluctant to accept the laws of Mendel’s genetics, because besides being a scientist he was a Catholic religious. It is the same prejudice that many leftists hold today against any Christian scientist, no matter how prestigious he may be.

The censorship of scientific theories and the purges of scientists in the USSR

As Luis del Pino explained in that article, in August 1948 Lysenko managed to get the Academy of Agricultural Sciences to forbid Mendel’s genetic theories and Darwin’s theory of evolution. But his proposals were not limited to censor scientific theories based on ideological premises, as Luis del Pino recalled then: “Three thousand biologists (three thousand!) were dismissed that autumn from their jobs in universities and laboratories for teaching Genetics or Theory of Evolution, beginning with the directors of numerous centers and research groups.” In many cases, reprisals were not exhausted in the loss of the job: hundreds of Soviet scientists were sent to prisons, to the Gulag concentration camps and even to psychiatric hospitals, and others were even executed.

The names of the reprisals would be famous today if they had been condemned by the Church, but as they were victims of a communist dictatorship, in many cases it is not even easy to find information about them. I indicate some of the purged, mainly cited by Dr. Vadim J. Birstein in his book “The perversion of knowledge: the true story of Soviet science”, in the aforementioned article by Luis del Pino and other sources that I quote at the end of this entry (obvious to say that the list was much longer):

  • Nikolai Vavilov, an eminent Russian geneticist who was sentenced to death in 1941, his sentence was commuted and he died of hunger in prison in 1943.
  • Isaac Agol, geneticist, head of the science department of the Ministry of Education and who worked with the Nobel Prize Hermann J. Muller, was arrested and executed by the NKVD in 1938.
  • Nikolai Koltsov, brilliant geneticist and director of the Koltsov Institute of Experimental Biology, was attacked by Lysenko and branded as “counterrevolutionary” and “fascist”. According to the official version, he died of a heart attack in 1940, but biochemist Ilya Zbarsky said he died poisoned by the NKVD. On the same day of his death, Koltsov’s wife committed suicide.
  • Solomon Levit, Lithuanian geneticist, was director of the Maxim Gorky Institute of Medical Genetics in Moscow, considered the world’s leading center of medical genetics at the time. Denounced by Lysenko, the NKVD arrested him on January 11, 1938, taking him to the Lubyanka Prison. Five years later, and without having heard from him until then, his family was informed that Levit had died of a “cerebral hemorrhage”, a term that the NKVD used to indicate as an official cause of death for those executed by a shot in the head. His Institute was closed in the autumn of 1939, which caused a historical setback in the study of medical genetics in the USSR.
  • Georgii Karpechenko, a leading Russian geneticist, was arrested by the NKVD on February 15, 1941 on a false accusation of participating in an “anti-Soviet plot” for the mere fact of disagreeing with Lysenko’s pseudoscientific theories about crops. He was executed on July 28, 1941.
  • Leonid Govorov, a geneticist and botanist, was arrested by the NKVD on February 15, 1941, under the false accusation of “anti-Soviet activities.” He died in prison in 1943.
  • Grigory Levitsky, a cytogeneticist, was arrested by the NKVD on June 28, 1941 for criticizing Lysenko’s pseudoscientific theories. He died in Zlatoust prison on May 20, 1942.

The catastrophic result of putting Marxism before biology

In spite of everything seen, the most dramatic consequences of Lysenko’s blunders were not the purges he unleashed, but the approaches he promoted in the agricultural field, by applying marxism to biology. As noted by Thayer Watkins (“The Great Leap Forward period in China, 1958-1960”), Lysenko “said that plants of the same species do not compete with each other but instead help each other to survive. This was linked to the Marxist notion of classes in which members of the same class do not compete but instead help each other survive. So Marxist ideology seemed to support the notion that the denser grain was planted the better it was for the grain. But in reality this close planting led to whithering of the plants after the initial germination phase. Watkins points out that “All of the Lysenko nonsense had to accepted in the Soviet Union and promoted in propaganda as scientific truth. The Marxists in China apparently believed it was the truth. The reality was that this nonsense resulted in less production of food.” Unfortunately for many, Lysenko’s cultivation methods were implanted in the USSR and since 1953 also in China, contributing to the terrible famines that killed millions of people in both countries.

From the Far-Left, this pseudo-scientist continues to be defended

In the USSR, it was not until the 1960s, years after Stalin’s death, that Lysenko was ousted. By then, the damage was done. Despite this, some still praise that pseudo-scientist. The Far-Left website Nodo50 contains articles that still defend him; a communist website refers to him as “an exceptional botanist experimenter” and even on the website of the Complutense University of Madrid, a public university, you can read an article in which he presents Lysenko as a victim of a “lynching”, in which read things like this: “The lynching unleashed by imperialism against Lysenko tried to overthrow the only bulwark imposed by science and the materialist dialectic against ethnic and social racism.” Of course, not a word about the purges that Lysenko promoted. All this reaffirms a fact: that communism is indifferent to reality and incapable of recognizing its own mistakes, even when they have caused millions of deaths.

Bibliography:

(Photo: Agents of the NKVD, the political police of Stalin, pointing their revolvers)

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