Darwin and Marxism: Part 3

How did Soviet Communists view Darwinism? Let’s look at some examples from Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science (1994), by Valery Soyfer.

It is no mere happenstance that ‘by oversight’ the name of Charles Darwin has vanished from textbooks. It is their doing. [p. 103]

Who is it that openly opposes Darwinism? . . . No one except arrant obscurantists and ignoramuses. [p. 109]

These are taken from a January 5, 1937 speech by Yakov Arkadievich Yakovlev, an important Communist Party official, in which he accused geneticists of practicing a bourgeois, negative, and idealistic discipline that formed the basis of fascist doctrines about a master race. Soyfer notes that Yakovlev was lying about Darwin being removed from the textbooks, in order to support Lysenko’s claim that Mendelian geneticists were anti-Darwinist.

In 1939, Boris Keller, a pro-Lysenko botanist assigned to investigate “pseudo-science” in scientific academies [p. 121], made similar charges:

Keller added that “formal genetics has emasculated Darwinism,” a grave charge, since Darwinism was considered an inalienable part of Communist doctrine. [p. 133]

Later, Soyfer provides this example:

On October 15, 1940, the newspaper of Leningrad University carried an article by Yury I. Polyansky, a professor of genetics, lauding Lysenko’s “brilliant achievements” and “the tremendous theoretical and practical significance of his work.” The article attacked classical genetics, with its “many profound anti-Darwinist distortions that required Soviet biologists to subject the metaphysical principles of this science to sharp criticism.”
[p. 143]

Darwinism was considered to be absolutely necessary for eliminating teleology from philosophy, so that it was important to appeal to Darwin for authority in the same way as Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Darwinism was thereby not so much a method or a theory, but rather a political football that was used to judge someone’s ideology. Only reactionaries, conservatives, fascists, and Nazis opposed Darwinism, by definition, so anyone against Darwinism could justifiably be purged from an academic or government post.

The question is, what exactly was meant by “Darwinism,” and why was it necessary to identify a perspective as “Darwinist” rather than simply “evolutionist”?

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