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Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars
Ethan Pollock

Honorable Mention for the 2008 W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize, American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies
Shortlisted for the 2007 AAASS Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize

Paperback | 2008 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691138251
288 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 15 halftones.
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Between 1945 and 1953, while the Soviet Union confronted postwar reconstruction and Cold War crises, its unchallenged leader Joseph Stalin carved out time to study scientific disputes and dictate academic solutions. He spearheaded a discussion of "scientific" Marxist-Leninist philosophy, edited reports on genetics and physiology, adjudicated controversies about modern physics, and wrote essays on linguistics and political economy. Historians have been tempted to dismiss all this as the megalomaniacal ravings of a dying dictator. But in Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars, Ethan Pollock draws on thousands of previously unexplored archival documents to demonstrate that Stalin was in fact determined to show how scientific truth and Party doctrine reinforced one another. Socialism was supposed to be scientific, and science ideologically correct, and Stalin ostensibly embodied the perfect symbiosis between power and knowledge.

Focusing on six major postwar debates in the Soviet scientific community, this elegantly written book shows that Stalin's forays into scholarship can be understood only within the context of international tensions, institutional conflicts, and the growing uncertainty about the proper relationship between scientific knowledge and Party-dictated truths. The nature of Stalin's interventions makes clear that more was at stake than high politics: these science wars were about asserting that the Party was rational and modern, and about codifying the Soviet worldview in a battle for the hearts and minds of people around the globe during the early Cold War. Ultimately, however, the effort to develop a scientific basis for Soviet ideology undermined the system's legitimacy.


"This is a very accessible and sometimes astonishing study of what happens when politicians attempt to mould the culture and intellectual life of a society to justify their ideologies. . . . It's a fascinating study of a leader who genuinely believed that the credibility of 'scientific' socialism was at stake."--Steve Carroll, The Age

"Ethan Pollock's remarkable book offers a radical and intriguing reevaluation of postwar science debates by suggesting to take seriously Stalin's public call for scientific objectivity and free and open exchange of opinion. Drawing on a wealth of recently declassified archival documents, including internal party memos and Stalin's personal notes, Pollock traces a surprising evolution of the leader's thought about the relationship between ideology and science.... Thoroughly researched, provocatively argued, and occasionally entertaining, Pollock's book reveals a much greater degree of Stalin's personal involvement in both the administrative and the intellectual sides of the postwar debates than previously thought."--Slava Gerovitch, Russian Review

"[T]he value of this work is to reveal with great clarity the unfolding debates and Stalin's role within them. Stalin was no fool, but Pollock rightly notes his 'remarkable intellectual arrogance' and the damage of using political methods to settle scientific debates. This book is yet another example of the consequences of destroying the independent associations of civil society."--David W. Lovell, European Legacy

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Table of Contents:

List of Figures ix
CHAPTER 1: Introduction: Stalin, Science, and Politics after the Second World War 1
CHAPTER 2: "A Marxist Should Not Write Like That": The Crisis on the "Philosophical Front" 15
CHAPTER 3: "The Future Belongs to Michurin": The Agricultural Academy Session of 1948 41
CHAPTER 4: "We Can Always Shoot Them Later": Physics, Politics, and the Atomic Bomb 72
CHAPTER 5: "A Battle of Opinions": Stalin Intervenes in Linguistics 104
CHAPTER 6: "Attack the Detractors with Certainty of Total Success": The Pavlov Session of 1950 136
CHAPTER 7: "Everyone Is Waiting": Stalin and the Economic Problems of Communism 168
CHAPTER 8: Conclusion: Science and the Fate of the Soviet System 212
Notes 223
Biographical Notes 253
Acknowledgments 259
Index 263

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