Suppressed research in the Soviet Union

Suppressed research in the Soviet Union

Research in the Soviet Union in science and humanities was placed from the very beginning under a strict ideological scrutiny. All research had to be founded on the philosophical base of dialectical materialism. All humanities and social sciences were additionally tested for strict accordance with historical materialism.

In several cases the consequences of ideological influences were dramatic. Although the suppression of research was most notable during the Stalin era, it existed both before and after his regime.

Bourgeois Pseudoscience

At different moments in Soviet history a number of research areas were declared "bourgeois pseudosciences", on ideological grounds, the most notable and harmful cases being these of genetics and cybernetics. Their prohibition caused serious harm to Soviet science and economics. Soviet scientists never won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine or Turing Award. (In comparison, they received seven Nobel Prizes in Physics.) The USSR historically lagged in the fields of computers, microelectronics and biotechnology.

"Black Book" of Soviet science


In the mid-1930s, the agronomist Trofim Lysenko started a campaign against genetics and was supported by Stalin. Between 1934 and 1940, many geneticists were executed (including Agol, Levit, Nadson) or sent to labor camps (including the best-known Soviet geneticist, Nikolai Vavilov, who died in prison in 1943). Genetics was called "the whore of capitalism" (продажная девка капитализма) and stigmatized as a "fascist science", hinting at its closeness to eugenics, popular in Nazi Germany. However, some geneticists survived and continued to work on genetics, dangerous as this was.

In 1948, genetics was officially declared "a bourgeois pseudoscience"; all geneticists were fired from work (some were also arrested), and all genetic research was discontinued. The taboo on genetics continued even after Stalin's death. Only in the mid-1960s was it completely waived.


In 1951, an attempt was made to reform organic chemistry in the spirit of Lysenkoism. The culprit was the theory of structural resonances by Linus Pauling, declared "idealistic" (since it speaks about the "resonance" of nonexistent molecular structures). The planned victim was Chemical Department of the Moscow State University that carried out the related research. In June 1951 "The All-Union Conference on the State of the Theory of Chemical Composition in Organic Chemistry" was held, where the resonance theory was declared bourgeois pseudoscience, and the corresponding report was sent to Stalin.


Cybernetics was also outlawed as bourgeois pseudoscience, "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". As with genetics, the taboo continued for several years after Stalin's death, but ultimately served as a rallying point for the destalinisation of Soviet science. The symbolic significance of cybernetics in the reformation of Soviet science after Stalin - as well as its position as a label for interdisciplinary research - accounts for much of the subject's popularity in the Soviet Union long after its decline as a distinct field of research in the West. By suppressing cybernetics, Stalin was arguably responsible for its dramatic growth after his death.



Pedology was a popular area of research on the base 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 VKP(b) Central Committee on pedology on July 4, 1936.



"Cultural-historic" (or sociocultural) concept in psychology by Lev Vygotsky (Лев Семенович Выготский ), banned in 1932, although Vygotsky was a conscious Marxist.


Semiotics and structural linguistics

To circumvent ideological pressure in 1960-1970s on "formalistic tendencies in linguistics", Soviet researchers in semiotics introduced an obscure synonym, "theory of secondary modeling systems" ("вторичные моделирующие системы"), the language being the "primary modelling system". See also Japhetic theory (linguistics).


In communist Poland, from 1948-1956, sociology was banned as a bourgeois science..Władysław Kwaśniewicz, "Between Universal and Native: the Case of Polish Sociology", in Birgitta Nedelmann, Piotr Sztompka (ed.), "Sociology in Europe: In Search of Identity", Walter de Gruyter, 1993, ISBN 311013845X, [ Google Print, p.165-189] ] Expand-section|date=June 2008


The quality (accuracy and reliability) of data published in the Soviet Union and used in historical research is another issue raised by various Sovietologists.Nicholas Eberstadt and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "The Tyranny of Numbers: Mismeasurement and Misrule", American EnterpriseInstitute, 1995, ISBN 084473764X, [,M1 Google Print, p.138-140] ] Robert Conquest "Reflections on a Ravaged Century" (2000) ISBN 0-393-04818-7, page 101 ] The Marxist theoreticians of the Party considered statistics as a social science; hence many applications of statistical mathematics were curtailed, particularly during the Stalin's era. Under central planning, nothing could occur by accident.David S. Salsburg, "he Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century", Owl Books, 2001, ISBN 0805071342, [,M1 Google Print, p.147-149] ] Law of large numbers or the idea of random deviation were decreed as "false theories". Statistical journals and university departments were closed; world renown statisticians like Andrey Kolmogorov or Eugen Slutsky abandoned statistical research.

As with all Soviet historiography, reliability of Soviet statistical data varied from period to period.Nikolai M. Dronin, Edward G. Bellinger, "Climate Dependence And Food Problems In Russia, 1900-1990", Central EuropeanUniversity Press, 2005, ISBN 9637326103, [,M1 Google Print, p.15-16] ] The first revolutionary decade and the period of Stalin's dictatorship both appear highly problematic with regards to statistical reliability; very little statistical data were published from 1936 to 1956 ("see" Soviet Census (1937)). The reliability of data has improved after 1956 when some missing data was published and Soviet experts themselves published some adjusted data for the Stalin's era; however the quality of documentation has deteriorated.

While on occasion statistical data useful in historical research (such as economical data invented to prove great successes of the Soviet industrialization, and some published numbers of Gulag prisoners and terror victims) have been completely "invented" by the Soviet authorities there is little evidence that most statistics were significantly affected by falsification or insertion of false data with the intent to confound the West.Edward A. Hewett, "Reforming the Soviet Economy: Equality Versus Efficiency", Brookings Institution Press, 1988, ISBN 0815736037, [,M1 Google Print, p.7] and following chapters] 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. 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. Inadequate or lacking documentation for much of Soviet statistical data is also a significant problem.


*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]

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