Social:Repression of science in the Soviet Union

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Short description: Sciences and research that were banned by the Soviet Union

Many fields of scientific research in the Soviet Union were banned or suppressed with various justifications. All humanities and social sciences were tested for strict accordance with historical materialism. These tests served as a cover for political suppression of scientists who engaged in research labeled as "idealistic" or "bourgeois".[1] Many scientists were fired, others were arrested and sent to Gulags. The suppression of scientific research began during the Stalin era and continued after his death.[2]

The consequences of ideologically motivated persecution had dramatic effects on many fields of Soviet science.[1][3][4]



Main pages: Biology:Lysenkoism and Social:Pavlovian session

In the mid-1930s, the agronomist Trofim Lysenko started a campaign against genetics[5] and was supported by Stalin. If the field of genetics' connection to Nazis wasn't enough, Mendelian genetics was also suppressed due to beliefs that it was "bourgeoisie science" and its association with the priest Gregor Mendel due to hostility to religion because of the Soviet policy of state atheism.[6][7][8][9][10]

In 1950, the Soviet government organized the Joint Scientific Session of the USSR Academy of Sciences and the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences, the "Pavlovian session". Several prominent Soviet physiologists (L.A. Orbeli, P.K. Anokhin, Aleksey Speransky (ru), Ivane Beritashvili) were accused of deviating from Pavlov's teaching. As a consequence of the Pavlovian session, Soviet physiologists were forced to accept a dogmatic ideology; the quality of physiological research deteriorated and Soviet physiology excluded itself from the international scientific community.[11] Later Soviet biologists heavily criticised Lysenko's theories and pseudo-scientific methods.


Main page: Cybernetics in the Soviet Union

Cybernetics was also outlawed as bourgeois pseudoscience during Stalin's reign. Norbert Wiener's 1948 book Cybernetics was condemned and translated only in 1958. A 1954 edition of the Brief Philosophical Dictionary condemned cybernetics for "mechanistically equating processes in live nature, society and in technical systems, and thus standing against materialistic dialectics and modern scientific physiology developed by Ivan Pavlov".[12] (However this article was removed from the 1955 reprint of the dictionary.) After an initial period of doubts, Soviet cybernetics took root, but this early attitude hampered the development of computing in the Soviet Union.


Soviet historiography (the way in which history was and is written by scholars of the Soviet Union[13]) was significantly influenced by the strict control by the authorities aimed at propaganda of communist ideology and Soviet power.

Since the late 1930s, Soviet historiography treated the party line and reality as one and the same.[14] As such, if it was a science, it was a science in service of a specific political and ideological agenda, commonly employing historical negationist methods.[15] In the 1930s, historic archives were closed and original research was severely restricted. Historians were required to pepper their works with references – appropriate or not – to Stalin and other "Marxist-Leninist classics", and to pass judgment – as prescribed by the Party – on pre-revolution historic Russian figures.[16]

Many works of Western historians were forbidden or censored, many areas of history were also forbidden for research as, officially, they never happened.[17] Translations of foreign historiography were often produced in a truncated form, accompanied with extensive censorship and corrective footnotes.[citation needed] For example, in the Russian 1976 translation of Basil Liddell Hart's History of the Second World War pre-war purges of Red Army officers, the secret protocol to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, many details of the Winter War, the occupation of the Baltic states, the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, Western Allied assistance to the Soviet Union during the war, many other Western Allies' efforts, the Soviet leadership's mistakes and failures, criticism of the Soviet Union and other content were censored out.[18]


At the beginning of Stalin's rule, the dominant figure in Soviet linguistics was Nikolai Yakovlevich Marr, who argued that language is a class construction and that language structure is determined by the economic structure of society.[19] Stalin, who had previously written about language policy as People's Commissar for Nationalities, read a letter by Arnold Chikobava criticizing the theory. He "summoned Chikobava to a dinner that lasted from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. taking notes diligently."[20] In this way he grasped enough of the underlying issues to oppose this simplistic Marxist formalism, ending Marr's ideological dominance over Soviet linguistics. Stalin's principal work in the field was a small essay, "Marxism and Linguistic Questions."[21]


Pedology was a popular area of research on the basis of numerous orphanages created after the Russian Civil War. Soviet pedology was a combination of pedagogy and psychology of human development, that heavily relied on various tests. It was officially banned in 1936 after a special decree of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union "On Pedolodical Perversions in the Narkompros System" on July 4, 1936.


In the late 1940s, some areas of physics, especially quantum mechanics but also special and general relativity, were also criticized on grounds of "idealism". Soviet physicists, such as K. V. Nikolskij and D. Blokhintzev, developed a version of the statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics, which was seen as more adhering to the principles of dialectical materialism.[22][23] However, although initially planned,[24] this process did not go as far as defining an "ideologically correct" version of physics and purging those scientists who refused to conform to it, because this was recognized as potentially too harmful to the Soviet nuclear program.[25][26] During 1949-1951 there was "antiresonance campaign" against the theory of resonance, during which scientists who supported it were accused of "cosmopolitan" sympathies and repressed.[4] As Anna Krylov writes on the perils of ideological intrusion into science, "Joseph Stalin rolled back the planned campaign against physics and instructed Beria to give physicists some space; this led to significant advances and accomplishments by Soviet scientists in several domains. However, neither Stalin nor the subsequent Soviet leaders were able to let go of the controls completely. Government control over science turned out to be a grand failure, and the attempt to patch the widening gap between the West and the East by espionage did not help. Today Russia is hopelessly behind the West in both technology and quality of life."[4]


After the Russian Revolution, sociology was gradually "politicized, Bolshevisized and eventually, Stalinized".[27] From 1930s to 1950s, the discipline virtually ceased to exist in the Soviet Union.[27] Even in the era where it was allowed to be practiced, and not replaced by Marxist philosophy, it was always dominated by Marxist thought; hence sociology in the Soviet Union and the entire Eastern Bloc represented, to a significant extent, only one branch of sociology: Marxist sociology.[27] With the death of Joseph Stalin and the 20th Party Congress in 1956, restrictions on sociological research were somewhat eased, and finally, after the 23rd Party Congress in 1966, sociology in Soviet Union was once again officially recognized as an acceptable branch of science.[28]


The quality (accuracy and reliability) of data published in the Soviet Union and used in historical research is another issue raised by various Sovietologists.[29][30][31][32] The Marxist theoreticians of the Party considered statistics as a social science; hence many applications of statistical mathematics were curtailed, particularly during the Stalin era.[33] Under central planning, nothing could occur by accident.[33] The law of large numbers and the idea of random deviation were decreed as "false theories".[33] Statistical journals and university departments were closed; world-renowned statisticians like Andrey Kolmogorov and Eugen Slutsky abandoned statistical research.[33]

As with all Soviet historiography, reliability of Soviet statistical data varied from period to period.[32] The first revolutionary decade and the period of Stalin's dictatorship both appear highly problematic with regards to statistical reliability; very little statistical data was published from 1936 to 1956 (see Soviet Census (1937)).[32] The reliability of data improved after 1956 when some missing data was published and Soviet experts themselves published some adjusted data for Stalin's era;[32] however the quality of documentation deteriorated.[31]

While on occasion statistical data useful in historical research might have been completely invented by the Soviet authorities,[30] there is little evidence that most statistics were significantly affected by falsification or insertion of false data with the intent to confound the West.[31] Data was however falsified both during collection – by local authorities who would be judged by the central authorities based on whether their figures reflected the central economy prescriptions – and by internal propaganda, with its goal to portray the Soviet state in most positive light to its very citizens.[29][32] Nonetheless the policy of not publishing, or simply not collecting, data that was deemed unsuitable for various reasons was much more common than simple falsification; hence there are many gaps in Soviet statistical data.[31] Inadequate or lacking documentation for much of Soviet statistical data is also a significant problem.[29][31][32]

Theme in literature

  • Vladimir Dudintsev, The White Robes (1987; a 1988 USSR State Prize), a fictionalized version of the devastation which Lysenko wreaked on Soviet genetic study

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Loren R. Graham (2004). Science in Russia and the Soviet Union. A Short History. Series: Cambridge Studies in the History of Science. Cambridge University Press. ISBN:978-0-521-28789-0
  2. Loren R. Graham, Science and philosophy in the Soviet Union. New York, 1972 [ISBN missing]
  3. Mark Walker (2002) Science and Ideology. A Comparative History. Series: Routledge Studies in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Routledge. ISBN:978-0-415-27122-6
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Krylov, Anna I. (2021-06-10). "The Peril of Politicizing Science". The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters 12 (22): 5371–5376. doi:10.1021/acs.jpclett.1c01475. PMID 34107688. 
  5. Hudson, P. S., and R. H. Richens. The New Genetics in the Soviet Union. Cambridge, UK: English School of Agriculture, 1946.
  6. Isis, Volume 37. History of Science Society, Académie internationale d'histoire des sciences. 1947. Retrieved 2007-10-18. "The fact that Mendel was a priest has been similarly used to discredit his ideas." 
  7. Eugenics: Galton and After. Duckworth. 1952. Retrieved 2007-10-18. "Was not Mendel a priest ? If, as the reactionaries maintain, genetic processes are subject to the laws of chance ..." 
  8. George Aiken Taylor (1972). The Presbyterian Journal, Volume 31. Southern Presbyterian Journal Co.. Retrieved 2007-10-18. "Mendel, of course, must be discredited, in Communist thought, because he was a product of the West and of the Church." 
  9. The Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy, Volumes 23–27. Australasian Association of Psychology and Philosophy. 1945. Retrieved 2007-10-18. "He trenchantly criticises Lysenko's vilification of the work of Mendel and Morgan as "fascist, bourgeois-capitalistic, and inspired by clerics" (that Mendel was a priest is taken as sufficient to discredit his experiments)." 
  10. Gregor Mendel: And the Roots of Genetics, Edward Edelson, p. 14. "Lysenko won the support of Joseph Stalin, the ruthless Soviet dictator, and Mendel's rules were officially outlawed in the Soviet Union and the Eastern European Countries that it controlled at that time. Under Communism, the Mendel Museum in his monastery was closed."
  11. Windholz G (1997) 1950 Joint Scientific Session: Pavlovians as the accusers and the accused. J Hist Behav Sci 33: 61–81.
  12. «Кибернетика», Краткий философский словарь под редакцией М. Розенталя и П. Юдина (издание 4, дополненное и исправленное, Государственное издательство политической литературы, 1954.
  13. It is not the history of the Soviet Union. See definitions of historiography for more details.
  14. Taisia Osipova, Peasant rebellions: Origin, Scope, Design and Consequences, in Vladimir N. Brovkin (ed.), The Bolsheviks in Russian Society: The Revolution and the Civil Wars, Yale University Press, 1997, ISBN:0-300-06706-2. Google Print, pp. 154–76
  15. Roger D. Markwick, Donald J. Raleigh, Rewriting History in Soviet Russia: The Politics of Revisionist Historiography, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001, ISBN:0-333-79209-2, Google Print, pp. 4–5
  16. John L. H. Keep: A History of the Soviet Union 1945–1991: Last of the Empires, pap. 30–31
  17. Ferro, Marc (2003). The Use and Abuse of History: Or How the Past Is Taught to Children. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN:978-0-415-28592-6. See Chapters 8 Aspects and variations of Soviet history and 10 History in profile: Poland.
  18. Lewis, B. E. (1977). "Soviet Taboo: Vtoraya Mirovaya Voina, History of the Second World War by B. Liddel Gart, B. Liddell Hart". Soviet Studies (Taylor & Francis) 29 (4): 603–6. doi:10.1080/09668137708411159. ISSN 0038-5859. 
  19. Lähteenmäki, Mika (1 July 2006). "Nikolai Marr and the idea of a unified language" (in en). Language & Communication 26 (3): 285–295. doi:10.1016/j.langcom.2006.02.006. ISSN 0271-5309. Retrieved 2 July 2022. 
  20. Montefiore. p. 638, Phoenix, Reprinted paperback.
  21. Joseph V. Stalin (1950-06-20). "Concerning Marxism in Linguistics", Pravda. Available online as Marxism and Problems of Linguistics including other articles and letters also published in Pravda soon after February 8 and July 4, 1950.
  22. Olival Freire Jr.: Marxism and the Quantum Controversy: Responding to Max Jammer's Question
  23. Péter Szegedi Cold War and Interpretations in Quantum Mechanics
  24. Ethan Pollock (2006). Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars. Princeton University Press. 
  25. Josephson, P.R. (2005). Totalitarian Science and Technology. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books. 
  26. Graham, L.R. (1991). Science, Philosophy, and Human Behavior in the Soviet Union. Columbia University Press. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Elizabeth Ann Weinberg, The Development of Sociology in the Soviet Union, Taylor & Francis, 1974, ISBN:0-7100-7876-5, Google Print, pp. 8–9
  28. Elizabeth Ann Weinberg, The Development of Sociology in the Soviet Union, p.11
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Nicholas Eberstadt and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, The Tyranny of Numbers: Mismeasurement and Misrule, American EnterpriseInstitute, 1995, ISBN:0-8447-3764-X, Google Print, p.138-140
  30. 30.0 30.1 Robert Conquest Reflections on a Ravaged Century (2000) ISBN:0-393-04818-7, page 101
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 Edward A. Hewett, Reforming the Soviet Economy: Equality Versus Efficiency, Brookings Institution Press, 1988, ISBN:0-8157-3603-7, Google Print, p.7 and following chapters
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 32.5 Nikolai M. Dronin, Edward G. Bellinger, Climate Dependence And Food Problems In Russia, 1900–1990, Central European University Press, 2005, ISBN:963-7326-10-3, Google Print, pp. 15–16
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 David S. Salsburg, The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century, Owl Books, 2001, ISBN:0-8050-7134-2, Google Print, pp. 147–149
  • Я. В. Васильков, М. Ю. Сорокина (eds.), Люди и судьбы. Биобиблиографический словарь востоковедов жертв политического террора в советский период (1917–1991) ("People and Destiny. Bio-Bibliographic Dictionary of Orientalists – Victims of the political terror during the Soviet period (1917–1991)"), Петербургское Востоковедение (2003). online edition