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Reflections in Mutation Research
Lysenko and Stalin: Commemorating the 50th anniversary of theAugust 1948 LAAAS Conference and the 100th anniversary of
T.D. Lysenkos birth, September 29, 1898 1
Zhores A. Medvedev4 Osborn Gardens, Mill Hill, London NW7 1DY, UK
.Translated from Russian by Charles Severens
Keywords: Reflections; Lysenko; Stalin; Vavilov; Lamarckism; Soviet science
On July 27, 1948, after a 10-day interruptioncaused by an unknown malady and late in the eveningas was his habit, Stalin made an appearance in hisKremlin office. At 10 min past 10:00 that eveningtwo other people arrived at Stalins office: Malenkov
w xand T.D. Lysenko 1 . They anticipated that Stalinwould turn over to them with his stamp of approval areport by Lysenko entitled On the Situation inBiological Science. Malenkov had sent this reportto Stalins country home in Kuntsevo on July 23rd.Malenkov had already read Lysenkos paper and hadmade no comments. He and Lysenko were startled tofind that Stalin had made a number of changes andcorrections as well as critical comments in the mar-gins of the pages. In the course of 1 h, as Lysenko
w xhimself later noted 2 , Stalin gave me a detailedexplanation of his corrections and instructions onhow better to present particular parts of my report.An hour later, at 11:10 p.m., they were joinedby Beria, Bulganin, Mikoyan, Voznesensky and
1 To suggest topics or authors for Reflections, readers shouldcontact either of the editors by mail at the addresses shown on theinside front cover or by e-mail:
.G.R. Hoffmann [email protected] , D.G. MacPhee [email protected] .
Kaganovitch. There ensued an hour-long discussionof certain problems. Lysenko, in particular, was toldby Stalin to announce at the final assembly of theconference that the report had been examined andapproved by the Central Committee of the All-Union
.Communist Party Bolshevik , in other words he wasto make an announcement about something which infact had not taken place.
The status of Lysenko as the President of theLenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences .LAAAS grew steadily more unstable after the endof WWII. This crisis came to a head in April of 1948at a seminar for the regional party cadre when YuriZhdanov openly criticized Lysenko and his
Michurin biology. Michurin biology takes itsname from the Russian horticulturalist I.V. Michurin,whose thoughts on plant breeding ran counter to
.Mendelian genetics. Yuri Zhdanov was the son ofA.A. Zhdanov, a member of the Politburo. Theyoung Zhdanov, although only 29 then, had an ad-vanced degree in chemistry thanks to the connectionsof his father and of Stalin himself. Yuri was, afterall, Stalins son-in-law by virtue of his marriage toSvetlana. Not surprisingly, Yuri held the impressivepost of head of the Central Committees ScienceDivision which neither his scientific nor Party expe-
1383-5742r00r$ - see front matter q 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. .PII: S1383-5742 99 00087-3
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rience warranted. Yuri Zhdanov criticized Lysenkoon many points and inadvertently revealed that hewas expressing his own opinion and not a new lineof the Party. However, the regional party cadreaccepted the report unconditionally as if it were adirective. Lysenko was not present in the auditoriumbut listened to Zhdanovs speech through a hook-upin the office of M. Mitin, a professor of philosophy.Lysenko was very alarmed. On April 17th, he sent aletter of protest to Stalin, Chairman of the USSRCouncil of Ministers, and to A.A. Zhdanov, Secre-tary of the Communist Partys Central Committee.Failing to get an answer after a month, Lysenko senta formal letter of resignation from his post as Presi-dent of LAAAS to the Minister of Agriculture, I.A.
w xBenediktov 3 .Inasmuch as Benediktov could not resolve such a
problem independently, Stalins intervention in oneform or another was inevitable. The opportunity forthis arose on May 31st when the Politburo met toconsider candidates for Stalin prizes in science andinvention. Traditionally, Stalin himself would an-nounce the final recommendations for recipients ofthe first rank of awards. Present at this session inaddition to members of the Politburo were Vyach-
.eslav Malyshev Minister of Shipbuilding , S.V. Kaf- .tanov Minister of Higher Education , and Academi-
cian Alexander Nesmeyanov Chairman of the Stalin.Prize Awards committee .
V. Malyshev noted the next day in his diaryrecently uncovered in party archives: Before re-
.viewing these questions about the awards , ComradeStalin brought everyones attention to the fact that
.Yuri Zhdanov the son of A.A. Zhdanov had deliv-ered a lecture condemning Lysenko and, in so doing,stated himself that he was expressing his own per-sonal opinions. Comrade Stalin said that personalopinions and personal points of view had no place inthe Party, and that only the Party could have anopinion. Yuri Zhdanov had set as his goal Lysenkosdestruction and annihilation. This is wrong. Onemust not forget, said Comrade Stalin, that Ly-senko today is the Michurin of agrotechnology. Ly-senko has his faults and errors as a scientist and man,and he has to be controlled, but to set as his goal thedestruction of Lysenko as a scientist is like pouring
w x oil on the fires of the Zhebrakians 4 . Prof. AntonRomanovich Zhebrak was then the head of the De-
partment of Genetics and Plant Selection at Moscows .Timiryazev Academy of Agriculture TAA . In 1947,
Zhebrak was also elected President of the Belorus-sian Academy of Sciences. Zhebrak was an energeticopponent of Lysenko, and it was thought that he was
.the person who advised Yuri Zhdanov on genetics.
1. Malenkov, Zhdanov and Lysenko
Stalins remarks meant that some decisions wouldhave to be made. The job of laying the groundworkfor these decisions fell to A.A. Zhdanov since hewas the one answerable to the Secretariat of theCentral Committee and to the Politburo for ideologi-cal, scientific and cultural correctness. He wouldhave to come up with the necessary initiative. Thejob of producing a proposal for the Central Commit-tees consideration fell to D.T. Shepilov, editor ofthe newspaper Prada and to M.B. Mitin, academi-cian in charge of party philosophy. This report wasfinished on July 7th, edited by A.A. Zhdanov and
w xsent to Stalin 5 . Stalin, however, was against sim-ple directives. He considered it more appropriate toorganize an ostensibly open discussion of Lysenkosoriginal report. Plans for holding an LAAAS confer-ence to elect new academicians had been in theworks since 1947 but postponed several times due tothe fact that Lysenko saw as too slim his chances ofgetting his own cohorts elected to the Academy.Suddenly, there was now an urgent need to preparefor an LAAAS conference which was to start on July31st. Malenkov, rather than Zhdanov, handled thepreparations for the conference.
Instead of electing new members to the academy,the Council of Ministers of the USSR simply an-nounced the appointment of 35 new academicianswhom they had chosen on July 15th from a list of
names submitted by Lysenko. This decision of theCouncil of Ministers was not published in the centralpress until July 28th, after Stalins Kremlin meeting
.with Lysenko. Before July 30th, the date on whichStalin got Lysenkos paper edited by Malenkov andincorporating Stalins suggestions, any communica-tion between Lysenko and Stalin was accomplishedwith Malenkov acting as go-between.
Malenkovs interest in organizing the LAAASconference has led several historians to suggest that
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Malenkov was concerned not only in saving Lysenkobut in compromising A.A. Zhdanov who was at thattime Malenkovs primary rival. Strictly speaking,Zhdanov was ranked second in the party hierarchyafter Stalin. However, while Zhdanov was located inLeningrad during the war, Malenkov was in Moscowtaking charge of all party matters even though hewas not a member of the Politburo but only acandidate for a seat in it. A significant number ofimportant documents being sent by various agenciesto Stalin for his own information or for approvalwere sent also to Molotov and Malenkov. The threeformed a unique triumvirate which ran the countryw x6 .
In 1946, Zhdanov relocated in Moscow and as-sumed the roles of head Party ideologue and over-seer of the activities of foreign Communist Parties.
.The Communist Information Bureau Cominformwas created to replace the earlier disbanded Com-intern. Zhdanov was an extremely conservative Stal-inist whose sphere of activities in Moscow includedamong other things, companies which tried to free
Soviet culture from foreign influences the struggleagainst cosmopolitanism and reverence for any-thing foreign, the persecution of certain writers and
.composers and the introduction of myriad restric-tions in science. Although Malenkov was elected to
.the Politburo in March of 1946 along with Beria ,Zhdanov managed to squeeze him out of operationalcontrol of the country. Ever since May of 1946,memoranda, especially those from the MVD .Ministry of Internal Affairs , did not get toMalenkov; his name had been crossed off the distri-bution list. Among the names on the distribution list,in addition to Stalin and Molotov, one saw withincreasing frequency those of Beria, Zhdanov, andN.A. Voznesensky. Malenkov was, as is well known,put in charge of the Central Committee of the Com-munist Party of Uzbekistan. However, Malenkovspent precious little time in Tashkent and continuedas before to meet three or four times a week with theoth