Zinovy Beletsky 1948

The struggle for a dialectical-materialist direction in biology

Author: Zinovy Beletsky
Written: 3 August 1948
First published: 1948 in О положении в биологической науке (стенографический отчет сессии ВАСХНИЛ 31 июля-7 августа 1948 г.)
Source: http://www.lib.ru/
Translated: by Anton P.

Translator’s note: Speech delivered by Professor Z. Ya. Beletsky, Head of the Department of Philosophy of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, in the infamous August 1948 session of the All-Union Agricultural Academy, when Mendelian-Morganist genetics were denounced and Lysenkoism adopted as official Soviet doctrine in biology. Beletsky along with M. B. Mitin were the two representatives of Soviet philosophy present at the session, and both affirmed Lysenkoism as the correct, dialectical-materialist direction of the natural sciences. Beletsky’s speech is more important because, unlike Mitin, who was the typical Party functionary ready to adapt to changing official positions every time, Beletsky was a militant believer in and defender of Lysenkoism from the very start, and fought for the enforcement of Lysenkoism in the Moscow State University. It is also important that Beletsky describes in detail the resistance of academics of the MSU to the advent of Lysenkoism until 1948.

Participants in the session refer to Lysenkoist biology as “Michurinist” in an attempt to claim the legacy of deceased practitioner of selection Ivan Michurin (1855-1935). This is false, because Michurin, unlike Lysenko, never rejected the existence of genes and the gene pool or Mendelism-Morganism. Whenever “Michurinist” is mentioned in the text, what is meant is “Lysenkoist.”

The discussion of the report of Academician T. D. Lysenko is an event of great importance. This session summarizes the discussion in biology, stretching for many years between two directions: formal geneticists on the one hand, and Michurinists on the other. Events occurring in biology are largely similar to events which took place in philosophy last year. As in philosophy, so now in biology we are faced with phenomena of the same order. There is a fight between two directions – the bourgeois idealist and our dialectical-materialist.

Representatives of the Weismannist trend not only defend the bourgeois theoretical concept in the field of biology, but also smuggle harmful ideas about the unity of bourgeois and Soviet science. Here and there we have a bourgeois point of view that our Marxist worldview, our theory did not arise from the conditions of the new social and material relations of people, but as a result of generalization of all previous ideological achievements. This bourgeois concept confronts an abstract task of cognition of the phenomena of the world in general and requires recognizing that the sciences developed outside of politics, outside of the class struggle. From here comes the conclusion that a true scientist, a real creator of social life is only the one who has mastered all the achievements of both the past and the present bourgeois theory. Such a scientist should be interested in one thing, namely, how ideas are related and how they flow from each other. Such a scientist can therefore work in the quiet of the office. He is a “priest” of science. He doesn’t care whether his speculative constructs correspond to life or not. Theory is important, but not life, not practice. The slogan of this kind of scientists is “let life adapt to science, and if it cannot adapt to it, so much the worse for it.”

This is why our Soviet Morganists, like Schmalhausen, Yudintsev, Alikhanyan, Zhebrak and others, who assimilated the wisdom of the Morgan-Mendelian geneticists, decided that they were great scientists, whose practice should be equal to all Soviet practice. And if practice does not confirm their theories, so much the worse for it. That is why they are so adamant in neglecting the practical successes of Michurinist biology over the years. This is why the Faculty of Biology of the Moscow University, which is a stronghold in our country of the Morgan-Mendelian reactionary genetics, waged a fierce struggle against the new truly scientific biology created by I. V. Michurin and so brilliantly continued and developed today by T. D. Lysenko.

In order to understand what the Weismannists are doing on the biological faculty of Moscow State University, I will give some facts. Over the past decade, at the Faculty of Biology in the Moscow State University, scientific meetings, conferences are held systematically, dedicated to the criticism of the theoretical views of Academician Lysenko. At the same time, one should not think that the criticism of Academician Lysenko was of any serious scientific nature. No. The views of Academician Lysenko were rejected from the doorway as ignorant, having nothing to do with “genuine” academic science. This opinion about the teachings of Michurin and Lysenko adheres for the most part to the Faculty of Biology. Here’s an example. In February of this year, the faculty convened in an All-Union Scientific Conference. The conference lasted for a week. In it, about 40 reports were heard. What problems were discussed by the scientific conference? Maybe it was discussing the achievements of biological science in agricultural practice or discussing the benefits of our biological science compared to that of bourgeois countries? No. From the first to the last report, the Conference was directed against the teachings of Academician Lysenko, in defense of bourgeois genetics. The scientists of the Faculty of Biology, it turns out, posed as the most important task of biological science in 1948 the task of refuting the teachings of Academician Lysenko.

How far the leadership of the Faculty of Biology went in the solution of this problem can be judged by the methods to which it resorts. Here are some examples. In connection with an interview about the intraspecific struggle, given by T. D. Lysenko in “Literaturnaya gazeta,” the scientific council of the Faculty of Biology held a meeting at which the point of view of Academician Lysenko was subjected to strong criticism. After the meeting of the academic council of the faculty, the department of dialectical and historical materialism of the Moscow State University organized its meeting to discuss the same topic. What was the reaction to this meeting of the Department of Biological Management faculty? The case began when the Department of Darwinism demanded that the meeting was joint. What for? The Department of Darwinism gave the following explanation: we are afraid that the Head of the Department of dialectical and historical materialism will not understand this issue on his own. When the representative of the department of Darwinism said that the point of view of the Department of Darwinism is known and that the Department of Dialectical and Historical Materialism would be able to solve the issue independently, then biologists have resorted to this technique. The representative of the department of Darwinism said: “If you support Academician Lysenko, you should bear responsibility for all the ensuing consequences. The opinion of the University should be united.”

The departments did not obey the directive and broke the unity of the university. The two different opinions were expressed in the “Literaturnaya Gazeta” and the newspaper “Moskovsky Universitet.” This step of the department did not hesitate to produce its results. A warning from the department of Darwinism turned out to be cited in action. Now the leadership of the Faculty of Biology began to demand removing from the university not only the teachings of Academician Lysenko, but also the department of dialectical and historical materialism. Further events developed thus.

At a responsible meeting of the university, the head of the department of genetics Associate Professor Alikhanyan made a statement on behalf of the faculty. In view of the fact, he said, that the Department of Dialectical and Historical Materialism of Moscow State University did not cope with their tasks in the field of biology, it was theoretically illiterate, I consider it necessary to raise the issue of discussing its composition. Apparently, the request of Associate Professor Alikhanyan was taken into account. A rector commission was urgently created to survey the Faculty of Philosophy. This commission worked for two months. The University’s Academic Council, building on the report of the commission, made a decision in the spirit of the requirements of associate professor Alikhanyan. The decision of the University Academic Council was not enforced accidentally only due to circumstances beyond the control of either Associate Professor Alikhanyan or the commission.

What was the attitude of the leadership of the Faculty of Biology to the department of dialectical materialism in the period of preparation of events for its “renewal” by the administration? The faculty of biology adopted the tactics of obstructing the department of dialectical and historical materialism. Seminars on the course of dialectical and historical materialism at the faculty were thwarted by the dean of the faculty S. D. Yudintsev. The dean demanded that the department replace the head of the seminar, Comrade Furman, since he is an open supporter of the teachings of Academician Lysenko. The department did not fulfill this requirement, as a result, the students did not study during the semester.

A few words about the students of the Faculty of Biology. At the faculty, incredible clamping techniques are applied to the students. From students of the Faculty of Biology is required a categorical criticism of the doctrine of Michurin and Lysenko. If, in spite of this, individual students find themselves disagreeing with the Weismannists, they do not dare to openly talk about it. Some of these students, coming to the department of dialectical and historical materialism for the necessary advice, insist on not disclosing either their beliefs or their names.

The leadership of the Faculty of Biology actively corrodes the views of Michurin and Lysenko not only from the consciousness of students, but also from the consciousness of fellow professors. In 1944, the work of the Academician Schmalhausen “Problems of Darwinism” was sent to me for review. In this work, Academician Schmalhausen gave a summary of the experimental work of I. V. Michurin and T. D. Lysenko and in general praised their scientific successes. This fact made me happy, because, as I said, within the walls of Moscow State University the names of Michurin and Lysenko were mentioned only as synonyms of ignorance and practicality. How to explain that Academician Schmalhausen referred to Michurin and Lysenko – I don’t know. Perhaps, that there was an oversight on the part of the dean of the faculty Comrade Yudintsev or this happened because Associate Professor Alikhanyan was not then in Moscow. I gave approval of the work, pointing out its most important theoretical limitations. What is happening now? There was no meeting where the associate professor Alikhanyan or someone else could make a statement that professor Beletsky has admitted that Academician Schmalhausen has to some extent positively referred to the views of I. V. Michurin and T. D. Lysenko. What they only said was that “it is not known whether Schmalhausen shares the point of view of Morgan-Mendelian genetics.” Academician Schmalhausen hastened to “fix” the sin of his youth; he wrote a new work “Factors of Evolution,” where in general the names of Michurin and Lysenko are not mentioned.

From the above, you can see how actively the leaders of the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University fought against the teachings of I. V. Michurin and T. D. Lysenko. It is unclear why Yudintsev, Alikhanyan and others are now keeping silent. One of two: either they have nothing to say, or they think that this is just one of the regular discussions to which they do not care and which does not concern them. They, apparently, believe that, having kept silent now, they will get an opportunity to call their own conference at MSU and take revenge. But we must think that their hopes will not come true. Our party is so strong that it knows what it is fighting for, and knows under the banner of what ideas, which theory it is winning. The teachings of I. V. Michurin and T. D. Lysenko turned out to be proven in the practice of socialist construction. The theoretical foundation of this teaching is dialectical materialism, it is the teaching of the future. (Applause.)