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Lysenkoism - Criticism

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Linear expansivity to Macrocosm and microcosmLysenkoism - The Rise Of Lysenkoism, Criticism, Lysenkoism And Human Evolution, Bibliography

Criticism

The highest leaders started to back away from Lysenkoism in the 1950s, when a recipe for tree planting failed Stalin's "Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature." Saplings in clusters did not thin themselves for the greater good of shelter belts, as Lysenko's "Soviet Darwinism" had predicted. Massive die-off occurred, a practical fiasco that was only hinted at in public, lest faith in authority be shaken. But biologists were allowed to revive their dispute with Lysenko's denial of competition within species. They could even hope for larger freedom implied by Stalin's startling decree of separation between science and ideology.

Stalin published that criticism of his own system in 1950, challenging specialists to make tests of free thought within their fields, though power remained centralized and violent. The hazards of such boldness within a despotic system kept most specialists quiet and still hinder historians' recognition that Communist bosses learned by bossing, with enormous waste and cruelty. Stalin's efforts to avert self-defeat by calling for criticism from below foreshadowed greater efforts of that sort by his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, and eventually by Mikhail Gorbachev, who pushed criticism of the old system to the limit in the 1980s. The death of Stalin in 1953 set his lieutenants into retreat from mass terror and worship of a "chief" (vozhd') as methods of rule and into easing of thought control, with growing confusion over such willful practicality as Lysenko boasted of. Khrushchev helped revive genetics, ordered farm specialists to tell him when he was wrong, and scolded those who criticized his campaign for planting maize all over the country. He had grown it at his dacha. He also rebuked ministers of agriculture for ignoring Lysenko's final recipes: training cows to increase butterfat and composting earth with fertilizer before spreading. "Harebrained scheming" was the laconic explanation that the Central Committee gave out in 1964 for the abrupt dismissal of Khrushchev. Genetics was fully reestablished in research and education, but an exposé of its repression was stifled. A meeting of experts demolished Lysenko's butter and earth schemes, ignoring his angry reminders of past testimonials by practical bosses. He was retired to one farm. Without power, his movement melted away.

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