How did the USSR defeat the Russian Eugenic Society in the late 1930s?
How did the USSR defeat the Russian Eugenic Society in the late 1930s?
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In the 1920s, a powerful eugenic medicine movement emerged in the USSR. For example, the eugenicist Davidenkov suggested “to conduct a general eugenic examination of the population and encourage the most valuable citizens to reproduce. Those who have received the lowest eugenic mark are to be sterilized. " In 1936, the destruction of the eugenic school in the USSR began. Someone was shot, someone was kicked out of work, and someone went abroad - as one of the major eugenicists, academician, later - Nobel laureate Möller, who proposed "using the plasma of Lenin and Darwin to raise new Soviet people." In the late 1940s, the fight against eugenics in the USSR escalated into the defeat of genetics.

The Interpreter's blog has already published a series of articles on eugenics in the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s.

This time we will give examples of how in the 1930s the authorities, and nowadays - the followers of Stalinism, explained the reasons for the defeat of eugenics, and what happened to their most prominent representatives.

To begin with, let us briefly recall what theories and practices on an all-Union scale were proposed by Soviet eugenics in the 1920s.

- The head of the Department of Genetics at Moscow State University A. Serebrovsky in 1929 in his article in the Journal of Biomedical Sciences proposed to create in the USSR a bank of artificial sperm "from the best producers" and to fertilize Soviet women only from there.

- In the same year, the neuropathologist S. Davidenkov proposed to conduct a general eugenic examination of the population and to encourage citizens "most valuable in terms of eugenics" to reproduce. Those who received the lowest "eugenic rating" should be sterilized by issuing bonuses as compensation.

- Geneticist, American G. Moeller, in a letter to Stalin in 1936, proposed a set of eugenic measures, calling them "a new and higher level of social ethics" and assuring that Soviet women would only be happy to "mix their plasma with the plasma of Lenin and Darwin, or with genetic material from other exclusive sources”.

The final defeat of eugenics in the USSR, initiated by Stalin personally, began with Möller's proposal. Moreover, these persecutions were carried over to the very genetics in the country, which was associated with the "false teachings of the Weismannists." Later, the Soviet geneticist and historian of science Vasily Babkov in his book "The Dawn of Human Genetics" wrote about this episode:

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One of the modern Stalinists and researcher of the life and work of the Soviet agronomist Trofim Lysenko, N. Ovchinnikov, wrote even more simply about Stalin's reaction:

American Hermann Möller was indeed a communist and for the time being he sympathized with Soviet Bolshevism.

For the first time, Möller came to work in Russia as an accomplished scientist in 1922 at the invitation of Nikolai Vavilov. He believed that the USSR was moving towards a classless society where genetic and eugenic research would become possible at a new level. He finally settled in the USSR in 1933 with his wife and son, heading the Institute of Genetics in Leningrad. Moreover, he also brought with him German and American equipment worth 45 thousand dollars (about 1 million modern dollars). He headed this institute until 1936 (formally until 1938). Stalin's negative response to his letter with eugenic views forced Möller to leave the USSR in 1936. In 1937, he fought in Spain in the republican units against Franco, and in 1940 he finally moved to the United States.

In 1946, Möller received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work, most of which he carried out in the USSR. Until 1948, Möller remained a corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences.On September 24, 1948, he sent a letter to the USSR Academy of Sciences with a renunciation of his title in protest against the persecution of genetics in the USSR, in January 1949 he was stripped of his title.

(By the way, Hermann Möller is the uncle of the famous American science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin (Kroeber), and many of her fictional worlds came to her during conversations with her uncle. In her youth, in the 1950s, she herself shared extreme left ideas.)

Among Soviet geneticists, Möller's fate turned out to be the most prosperous.

Eugenics in the USSR was unlucky with the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the early 1930s, and then with its rise to power. Nazism, indeed, absorbed many eugenic theories, especially about the superiority of races and ways to “improve” the highest, Aryan “race”. 1936 was a turning point for eugenics in the Soviet Union, although the "Russian Eugenic Society" ceased to exist in 1930.

From July to December 1936, a number of publications with sharp criticism of eugenics were published in the central press, which was the beginning of a campaign to persecute them. So, in November 1936, the magazine "Under the banner of Marxism" came out with an article with an understandable title "Black Hundred Delirium of Fascism and Our Biomedical Science." And an article in the Pravda newspaper dated December 26, 1936 said:

"The Levite and the institute led by him in their writings smuggle through the fascist" scientific "concept about the biological predetermination of races, about the omnipotent role of heredity, about the biological conditioning of criminality."

- In December 1936, the director of the Medical and Biological Institute (MBI), a prominent eugenicist S. Levit was expelled from the party and removed from his post. In January 1938 he was repressed. MBI was closed in 1937. Together with him "for eugenics" (from her the investigators made a connection with Trotskyism and fascism), about a dozen more specialists on this topic were repressed (for example, the editor of the journal "Uspekhi sovremennoi biologii", Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR N. Agol).

- Prominent eugenicists A. Serebrovsky and N. Koltsov were removed from their posts. In December 1940, the former director of the Institute of Experimental Biology, Koltsov, died of a heart attack.

Another researcher of the creativity of the agronomist Lysenko (who took an active part in the defeat of eugenics), the modern Stalinist P. Kononkov justifies this (in the collection of articles "Trofim Lysenko - Soviet agronomist, biologist, breeder", publishing house "Samoobrazovanie", 2008) the fight against eugenics:

I will warn you right away that the author does not share most of the ideas of eugenics. But do not forget that many eugenic works were part of genetic research, which served as the basis for the formation of this direction in biology. It was for such genetic research, in particular, that the eugenicist Möller received his Nobel.

Moreover, the fight against eugenics developed in the late 1940s (when there were no eugenics left in the Soviet academic world) into a fight against genetics in the USSR as a whole. The degree of obscurantism in the late Stalinist Soviet Union was growing, and here is one of the fragments of the work of Professor, Doctor of Biological Sciences A.Studitsky "Mukholuby-Man-Hatingers", 1949. In it, he throws a bridge from eugenics in general to genetics:

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Well, and the final touch - what arguments in support of the defeat of genetics in the USSR in the late 1940s are given in the aforementioned collection of "scientific articles" in support of the agronomist Trofim Lysenko:

In fact, this quote from a modern Lysenko activist, a fighter against eugenics, is eugenics not even in a square, but in a cube, prescribing the innate evil and misanthropic qualities of the whole nation of Jews.

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