LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 12, No.3 - Fall 1966
Editor of this issue: Thomas Remeikis
Copyright © 1966 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Notes and Comments
Some Revelations Twenty Years After
The reluctance of any system built upon the principle of infallibility to admit its errors makes any such admission notable, for generally it portends a radical change in directions. Khrushchev's de-Stalinization speech before the Twentieth Party Congress shook up the ideology at its roots and began a drift away from orthodoxy. The erosion of ideology meant at least that, in so far as the sciences were concerned, scientific truth rather than ideology would be recognized more and more. The recent demise of Trofim Lysenko is perhaps the most notable step in that direction.
The pervasiveness of control under Stalin meant that the centrally sanctioned cannons of science would be enforced on all scientists. In a recent article a Lithuanian scientist has revealed how Lysenko's "science" was broght to Lithuania. The excerpts that follow are taken from an article by Jonas Rubikas, "Genetics Yesterday and Today: On the Way to Bern", Pergali (Vilnius), 1966, No. S, pp. 110-127.
The article was written en route to the commemoration of the 100th anniversary from the date of publication of Gregor Mendel's work, Experiments in Plant Hybridization. Mendel, who during Lysenko's reign had become a word of profanity and the acceptance of whose principles at worst meant death and at best meant the loss of a job, has now been reinstated. The author summarizes the events involved in Lysenko's rise and fall. While in the 19S0's the Soviet scientists had commenced their genetic work dealing with such problems as genetic constancy, spontaneous, x - ray and chemical mutagenesis, polyploidy and cytogenetics, there appeared at the experimental station of Odessa a "relatively peaceful figure — Trofim Lysenko." Lamarck had attempted to explain the appearance of certain species by the influence of the environment. Lysenko made these principles "absolute." According to Lysenko, environment and not genetic constitution determined characteristics of all organisms. Lysenko also adopted the name of I. Michurin who had attempted to remove from the biological sciences the "bourgeois - imperialist" influences. By 1936 he found followers among "superficial biologists,' historians, and philosophers who began searching for Marxist meaning in Lamarck's ideas and attempted to give them a philosophical basis. Already in 1936 Lysenko himself, at a session of the All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, attacked classical genetics as bourgeois and anti - Marxist. The campaign also continued after the meeting and numerous Soviet scientists were arrested and died in prisons or were compelled to abandon their work. At the meeting of the Academy in 19^8, the new "Socialist Michiurinian biology" was "cannonized" and officially declared as "the only true science." "To implement L/ysenko's ideas, even the most absurd among them, large funds were allocated ami everything that was created by non-Lysenkian methods was damned for the sake of principle and not its essence." The implementation of the "new science" was harmful not only for Soviet agriculture and science, but also resulted in human losses. In the following excerpt Rubikas describes how the "Socialist Mi-churinian Biology" was forced upon Lithuanian scientists.
After the session of 1948, the Lysenkian wave also touched Lithuania. At first Lysenkism in Lithuania felt uneasy: here there was no one like I. Prezent, there was nobody to crush the Mendelists - Morganists. But shortly "experts" appeared, and they were people who were equally ignorant about genetics and about Lysenkism itself. But on this, later.
Lithuania had a fine tradition in methods of plant selection. Its first selectionist still in Czarist Russia was Prof. D. Rudzins-kas, who established an excellent school upon his return to Lithuania. The youth studied at home, abroad, worked. Possibly because the Lithuanian selectionists were more familiar with I. Michurin's methods than the native Lysenkians, they were permitted to continue the research, although strictly genetic methods as poloidy, inductive mutagenesis, excepting simple crossings, were prohibited. In a word, the selectionists instead of working on selection concentrated on plant cultivation. Cultivation, a Lysenkian term, was saturated with social slogans and ideas of the omnipotence of man. What was the essence of this "cultivation"? The definition was very complex and nebulous, as was Lysenko's motto: "All, that is living ..."
At the same time the traditions of genetics were just beginning to germinate. From 1936 on a very interesting work on classification by genetical means was commenced at the Lithuanian University. Some representatives of two plants, Verbascum and Celsia cannot find a place in classification. Some scientists claim them to be separate species and others maintain the contrary. Not quite certain is also the origin of certain other species. M. Natkevičaitė attempted to resolve these problems by using a known biological law that only closely related organisms belonging to the same species fertilize upon crossing and yield a fertile hybrid, while members of different species either do not fertilize or yield unfertile hybrids. However, crossing these unrelated species may result in certain changes in chromosome sets (a doubling of the chromosome number) and thus may produce new fertile species. This was one of the ways in which nature creates new species. The meticulous work of M. Natkevičaitė interested the specialists in Europe. It was presented as a doctoral dissertation and successfully defended at Vilnius University. Unfortunately, it was not acknowledged in Lithuania until the present time and only letters from scholars abroad gave due recognition to her work. "Your work compelled me to re-write the entire chapter on Verbaseum, hybrids," wrote Dr. H. P. Fuchs-Ekert, a well-known European botanist.
Other works by the same author on color pattern inheritance in flowers were not permitted to be printed during the Lysenkian period; it was labeled as Mendelistic. Only now, after twenty years this work will see light.
Regretfully, Lithuania did not produce any more geneticists. Professors P. Šivickis, J. Dagys, T. Ivanauskas, A. Minkevičius, K. Aleksa and others worked in different branches of biology and were familiar with genetics only insofar as it concerned the general laws of living organism, which, of course, they explained not according to Lysenko's theory.
Thus, the events of 1948 did not touch all equally painfully. A special emissary who came to "lysenkyze" the Lithuanian biologists worked conscientiously. Since in their scientific works no one (except M. Natkevičaitė - Ivanauskienė) directly proved the presence of genes, it was necessary to pry directly into the conscience of each scientist: what each had blurted out about it in his papers or lectures. In this, of course, the emissary could not get along without assistance from others (especially the historians!). It was not difficult to find incriminating material. One would be an incompetent biologist, indeed, not to be familiar with the laws of reproduction. Prof. P. Šivickis was dismissed from the university because his views were those of the classical geneticists. Dr. M. Natkevičaitė - Ivanauskienė, who was lecturing on genetics at that time in the botany department, was also accused of Mendelism-Morganism. Prof. J. Dagys was dealt with in the same manner. I only mentioned here three scientists. There were more, and every school of higher learning had to find in its ranks a Mendelist - Morganist so that it would b^ possible to state in a report that the foreign element was being successfully weeded out of "Michurinian biology." Then there were also those who quickly absorbed the Lysenkian dogmas and became such staunch followers of Lysenkism that they would take it upon themselves to conduct the proceedings of criticism and punishment with great relish. They practically proved the reality of T. Lysenko's dogmas — environment, truly, affects organisms. And can one avoid changing, when the criteria for selection of a scientific worker is not his ability of scientific research of nature, but his skill to operate with T. Lysenko's contentions. Since "Michurinian biology" was considered "creative Darwinism", the neo-Lysenkists went to great lengths, proving their creativity: they searched for errors in scientific works of biologists and popular science articles, corrected these errors. (And erroneous was everything which the author, explaining the phenomena of nature, based on contentions of classical biology and genetics, and not on T. Lysenko's ideas). Thus, for example, one, who actually was not a biologist but a philosopher, an authority on "Michurinian biology", undertook to correct errors in a work of a noted biologist, where the scientist, considering non-indigenous plants of Lithuania, classified them according to geographical zones (such a classification should have reflected their possible roads of migrations). In the opinion of that authority of "Michurinian biology" — an unforgivable error. Plants must be grouped into those vegetating in the Soviet Union and into those outside its borders; that being an important political moment, consistent with the conception of "Michurinian biology". Or another example: when speaking about the origin of plants, it is necessary to point out the superiority of the socialist society over capitalist society. These examples will suffice. Today we must rejoice that the Lysenkian inquisition of Lithuanian biologists used only flogging,