Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Scientific Genetics


First Published: Science, Class and Politics, No. 11, Fall 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In all fields of science, both natural and social, the task of apologists for capitalist society is to “prove” that the existing form of society, its class relationships, are eternal. Previously, minority-ruling-class societies had relied on religion as the rationale for their existence. Feudal lords or slave masters were the rulers because god made it so. But with the development of capitalism, religion lost its hold on the underlying population. Therefore, a new justification, a new fraud, had to be developed which posited the basis of a minority-ruling class as something other than the real reason–force and fraud. Science, which, by the mid-19th century, was on the side of the working class and explained the reason and necessity of socialism, had to be turned into its opposite– the justification of the status quo. To accomplish this, “science” had to make the rule of the businessmen the natural order of things. If capitalism is the result of the natural order of things, the result of “evolution”, then there is nothing that the working class and its party can do but work to ameliorate things until society evolves into socialism–if that is the direction of evolution. “You can’t change human nature, and capitalism is the expression of that nature. Humans always have been and always will be, aggressive, war-like, selfish, religious, superstitious, etc.” Of course, socialism is also rejected as the direction of evolution. Rather, it is said to be a fruitless experiment doomed to failure since “capitalism is necessary for production to take place.”

How is it that humans can never evolve?

The “science” of genetics has the answer. Mendel-Morgan-Weismann genetics claims that, with the exception of random mutation (resulting from external forces such as radiation or chemical substances) , all possible genetic traits exist in an unchanging “gene pool”, of which individuals are merely a product of the different combinations of these genes. In other words, there can be only as many different individuals as there are different possible combinations of genes (with the already noted exception of random mutation resulting from some outside force). This nearly immutable stock of “human capital” not only accounts for physical characteristics but for intelligence and behavior as well.

For this pseudo-science, the ruling class is the ruling class because of superior gene combinations. The lower classes are inferior because of inferior gene combinations. In terms of its pseudo-evolutionary doctrine, the ruling class is the result of the survival of the fittest and the top of the natural hierarchal arrangement of life. The remainder of the population form the lower orders. The lowest order, that section of the unemployed who are deemed no longer useful to businessmen, should be allowed to perish since they are biologically unfit, but are allowed to survive because of misplaced moral liberalism.

What maintains the superiority of the ruling class1 gene pool is their exclusivity. This is merely updating and giving a “scientific” veneer to Plato’s “God made the upper classes of gold and the lower of brass and the direst of sins is the mixing of metals.”

At the same time this theory of heredity was being developed there were real scientists who, as a result of the accumulation of previous human knowledge, were experimenting and beginning to develop a scientific theory of heredity. Notable among them were Luther Burbank of the United States and I.V. Michurin of Russia. While Mendel who bred peas was called a scientist, Burbank who created entirely new varieties of fruit was called, by the apologists, a mere plant breeder. As for Michurin, probably 99.99% of the U.S. population have never heard of him, even though Darwin considered him one of his principal successors.

What is the difference between the fraud of the Mendel-Morgan-Weismann genetics and scientific genetics?

According to the anti-scientific theory, each individual has a set of genes which was, with the exception of possible mutation, passed on intact from his or her parents, and who in turn passes them, once again intact, to his or her children. In the aggregate, the process may be likened to a card game where there is a finite number of possible hands, each individual hand being the result of shuffling and dealing. This of course has given rise to science fiction stories of individuals meeting their exact duplicate, which, while being extremely unlikely given the total number of genes which the “genetists” have postulated, nevertheless is a possibility. The problem is not that the individual inherits characteristics passed on from previous generations–all agree with that. Rather the problem lies in the anti-scientific propositions that hereditary characteristics, in terms of any specific species of life, are (1) finite in number, (2) unchanging except for random mutation, (3) unaffected by the environment (acquired characteristics cannot be passed on), (4) transmitted by sex cells which are different and separate from the body.

Let us see what a famous scientific genetist, the Soviet agro-biologist T.D. Lysenko says about this theory.

For an exposition of the essence of Mendelist-Morganist genetics, let us quote from Morgan’s article, entitled Heredity, in the Encyclopedia Americana, 1945: “Beginning in 1883 August Weismann in a series of essays that were in part speculative, yet backed by a constant appeal to observation and experiment, attacked the prevailing idea that characteristics acquired by the individual are transmitted to the germ cells and may reappear in the offspring. The germ cells had been shown in many cases to separate themselves at any early stage in the development of the embryo from the rest of the cells, remaining in an un-specialized condition while the remaining cells from which the body of the individual is. to be formed were differentiating. The germ cells become later the essential parts of the ovary and testis respectively. In origin, therefore, they are independent of the rest of the body and have never been a constituent part of it. They are protected and nourished by the body, but not otherwise influenced (i.e., changed– T.L.) by it. The germ tract is the imperishable stream which throws off in each generation the body cells whose destiny is to maintain the germ cells. All new modifications arise primarily in the germ cells, and first show themselves as characters in the individuals that develop from these germ cells. Evolution is germinal in origin and not somatic (i.e., bodily–T.L.) as had been earlier taught. This idea of the origin of new characters is held almost universally today by biologists. Heredity is due, therefore, to the conservation in the germ plasm of those elements that have appeared in it from time to time– the old as well as the new. The germ plasm is the capital of the race of which the interest only is spent in each generation in producing new individuals... (Lysenko, T.D., Agrobiology, pp. 476-477)

In other words, the process goes as follows. The unity of the sperm (carrying its share of the “stock of capital of the human race”) and the egg (carrying its share of the “stock of capital”) produces, on the one hand, the testes or ovaries, and, on the other, the body. The testes and ovaries are primary in terms of the human race as a whole, for within them, in the aggregate, resides the entire “stock of capital” of the race. The body is secondary and is of importance only as a means of transmitting their capital from generation to generation.

Weismannism–which came into existence at the turn of the century–and subsequently Mendelism-Morganism were spearheaded against the materialist elements in Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The chromosome theory is based on Weismann’s absurd propostion regarding the continuity of the germ-plasm and its independence of the soma, a proposition which K.A. Timiryazev already condemned. In line with Weismann, the Morganist-Mendelists take it for granted that parents are genetically not the progenitors of their offspring. Parents and children, according to their teaching, are brothers and sisters. Furthermore, neither parents nor children are really themselves. They are only by-products of the inexhaustible germ-plasm. Variations in the latter are absolutely independent of its by-product, i.e., of the body of the organism. (p. 480)

This principle of the ’continuity of the germinal substance’ (reproductive cell material) is one of the foundation principles of genetics. (p. 481)

This mystical Weismannist scheme of things was swallowed whole and even exacerbated, one might say, by Mendelism-Morganism. The fundamental theses which we have cited and which are the point of departure of Mendelism-Morganism (the chromosome theory of heredity) are utterly false. They are at variance with reality. Therefore, although the Mendelist-Morganists in the Soviet Union fully subscribe to these principles they, as a rule, keep quiet about them. In their articles and lectures on Mendelism-Morganism they do not expound the basis of this science as they are afraid of being ridiculed by their readers and hearers who know for a certainty that the germs of organisms or sex cells are one of the results of the vital functions of parent organisms. Only if silence is maintained on the basic theorems of Mendelism-Morganism can the chromosome theory of heredity appear to constitute a harmonious and, at least to some extent, true system to people who do not have a detailed knowledge of the life and development of plants and animals. But as soon as we embrace the absolutely true and generally known proposition that sex cells, or the germs of new organisms, are procreated by the organism, by its body, and not by the sex cell from which that particular organism, now mature, originated, the entire “harmonious” chromosome theory of heredity is at once thrown out of gear. The role and significance of chromosomes in the development of cells and organisms is of course not in the least impaired thereby. (p. 481)

The new genetics, genetics of the Michurin trend, rejects the basic tenet of the old Mendelist-Morganist genetics–the complete independence of the properties of heredity from the conditions of life of plants and animals. Michurinian genetics does not recognize the existence in the organism of any hereditary substance of any description whatsoever separate and distinct from the organism’s body. This science means by heredity the principal characteristic property of the living body which expresses itself in the ability of this body to live, feed itself, grow and multiply in accordance with its own nature. An alteration of “the heredity of an organism or of the heredity of a particular part of its body is always the result of an alteration of the living body itself. But an alteration of the living body originates from a changed type (a type deviating from the norm) of assimilation and dissimilation, from a changed metabolism (a metabolism deviating from the norm). Although a change in an organism or in a particular organ or property of it is not always or not completely transmitted to the offspring, changed germs of new organisms are obtained only as a result of a change in the: body of the parent organism, as a result of the direct or indirect action of the conditions of life upon the development of the organism or its separate parts. A change in heredity, the acquisition of new properties and their accentuation during several succeeding generations, is always determined by the conditions of life of the organism. Heredity changes and becomes more complex by reason of the characters and properties acquired by the organism over several generations. (p. 476)

Scientific genetics states that humans are the result of matter organized in a certain way. Each successive generation of humans, being a product of that particular organization of matter, inherits, more or less, that same organization which includes the characteristics of the species in general and the parents in particular. At the same time, both the matter and the organization are newly created. The seed from which a flower grows, is not the flower in miniature form (the cell divided which becomes the testes or ovaries). It and the flower are qualitatively different. The flower growing from the seed may have the same general characteristics as the original flower which produced the seed, or it may be qualitatively different as a result of a change in its development. In humans, for example, this change may result from x-rays, whether unintentional (random) changes or intentional changes, chemicals, or changes in the environment either random or intentional.

As an example of environmental changes which cause changes of a qualitative nature in organic life, Lysenko’s work in agrobiology stands out. Lysenko was a scientist in the right place at the right time with the right training (the three components which produce what pseudo-genetists call genius). The time was the period when the previous development of scientific knowledge had reached the point where Lysenko1s conclusions could be drawn and his theory formulated. That is, if it had not been for Darwin, Lamarck, Michurin and others, Lysenko’s conclusions could not have been drawn. The place was the Soviet Union with the dictatorship of the working class and its full support of science. Given the urgent need to increase food production, due to the destruction resulting from WWI and the revolution, and Lysenko’s scientific training as an agro-biologist, the stage was set for the further advancement of human’s understanding of and control over nature.

His work, among other things, involved attempts to develop better strains of summer wheat and to convert summer wheat into winter wheat. The latter was extremely important as it would allow two crops of wheat rather than one.

Lysenko found that if the seeds of summer wheat were subjected to colder than normal temperatures during the critical period of their development, summer wheat could be turned into a qualitatively different variety, winter wheat.

Of course, Morgan-Weismann genetics could “account” for developing better strains of summer wheat by saying it was merely “natural selection”, that the better strains already existed and were being selected and bred by Lysenko. But the theory could not account for the transformation of summer into winter wheat. Adult summer wheat could not endure the winter cold. It was only if the seeds had undergone the process described above, called vernalization, that the adult plant could survive the cold.

The results of Lysenko’s work was enormously important. It was a big leap forward in our understanding of how the world operates and as a result of that understanding, of our control over the forces of nature. The repercussions were not only felt in the natural sciences but also in the social sciences. For it gave the lie to the pseudo-biological, pseudo-evolutionary theory of the genetic superiority of the ruling class. If the basis of their rule is not god and not superior genes then the question is: What is it? Of course, science already knew the answer–the particular set of relations to the means of production supported by force and fraud. This was one more fig leaf stripped off the capitalist class. However, the fig leaf was quickly put back in place. Naturally, in capitalist countries the Morgan-Weismann-Mendelian genetics is the only genetics taught. But even in the Soviet Union, while it was still socialist, the principle universities taught it and fought hard against Lysenko. Since Stalin and the Bolsheviks supported Lysenko, success might have come. But with the accession to power of the revisionists, Lysenko’s theory was totally suppressed. Nevertheless, science can’t be killed, so periodically Lysenko’s name, as a synonym for scientific genetics, pops up. And periodically the debate between scientific genetics and capitalist apologetics bursts out anew as it did in the 1950’s and 60’s.

As a specific area of science, it is obviously encumbent upon communists to thoroughly understand the theory and its implications. Even more so since the materialist biology of Michurin and Lysenko have, more than knowledge in most other areas, been kept from us.


Lysenko, T., Agrobiology, (Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House), 1954.

Suggested Readings

Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences, The Situation in Biological Science, (Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House), 1949. (An objective account of the debate, organized by the Communist Party, which took place in 1949.)

Lysenko, T., The Science of Biology Today, (N.Y., International), ]948. (A popular account.)

A. Morton, Soviet Genetics, (London, Lawrence and Wishart), 1951. (The primary account and analysis of the debate in both the Soviet Union and the capitalist countries.)

Safonov, V., Land in Bloom, (Moscow, Foreigr Languages Publishing House), 1951. (A Stalin Prize, popular account of the whole of the development of Darwinian evolutionary theory as applied to genetics.)

In the late 1940’s, early 1950’s, Science and Society published a series of articles on the debate. These represent both good and bad positions and are well worth examining.