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Darwinism, Marxism, and genetics in the Soviet Union

Darwinism, Marxism, and genetics in the Soviet Union

(p.215) Chapter Nine Darwinism, Marxism, and genetics in the Soviet Union
Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins
Nikolai Krementsov
University of Chicago Press

In August 1948, teaching and research in genetics were banned in the Soviet Union in favor of the so-called Soviet Creative Darwinism—the doctrine of agronomist Trofim Lysenko. Many Western observers attributed the banishment of genetics to Marxism and saw Lysenko's doctrine as “Marxist genetics.” Lysenko himself declared that his doctrine was Marxist and Darwinist, while dismissing genetics as anti-Marxist and anti-Darwinist. Soviet geneticists had also referred to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to prove that genetics, not Lysenko's doctrine, was the real example of “Marxist biology.” This chapter explores how various links among genetics, Darwinism, and Marxism were constructed, developed, and exploited by historical actors such as evolutionists, geneticists, and Marxists during the first decade of the Soviet regime. It argues that the massive campaigns to popularize both Marxism and Darwinism, coupled with a fierce debate over the inheritance of acquired characteristics initiated by Soviet geneticists in the 1920s, transformed Darwinism from a specialized, often esoteric knowledge of the laws and principles of evolution, heredity, and variability into a public cultural resource dubbed Marxist-Darwinism.

Keywords:   Soviet Union, Darwinism, Marxism, genetics, Marxist-Darwinism, evolution, Soviet Creative Darwinism, Trofim Lysenko, Marxist biology, inheritance

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