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Soviet Views on the History of Science

Author(s): David Joravsky

Source: Isis, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Mar., 1955), pp. 3-13
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society
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Soviet Views on the
History of Science
By David Ioravsky *

AN exhaustive treatment of the development of Soviet historiography of

science must probe for causes in various directions. Causal factors that
must be considered are: i) the accumulating historical data and their logical
implications; 2) non-Soviet historiography of science and its influence in the
U.S.S.R.; 3) developments in the natural sciences, philosophy and general
historiography; 4) the theoretical heritage of materialists and dialecticians
since Democritus and Heraclitus, but above all the specific views of Marx,
Engels, Lenin, and Stalin; 5) the general climate of opinion engendered by the
development of Soviet society; 6) the sources and nature of the Communist
Party's interest in philosophy, science, and history; 7) the methods by which
the Party's Central Committee has established and maintained a controlling
influence in those areas; 8) the dynamic inter-connectionsof all the foregoing.
From one point of view, these factors are of two types: those that manifest
themselves rather clearly in the published works of Soviet historians of science,
and those that act at a distance and are more difficultto ascertain. The follow-
ing survey, which is only an outline and does not pretend to be exhaustive, will
concentrate on causal factors of the first type.
From I9I7 to the early thirties published work in the history of science
reflected the toleration by Party and government of non-Marxist scholarship,
but since the early thirties almost the only avowedly non-Marxist publications
have been new editions of older works or translations of works by foreign
authors.' If we limit our attention to the work of Soviet historians of science
who have professed Marxism-Leninism,we get the following picture.
In the twenties and early thirties the predominance, on the one hand, of
economic determinismamong historians,2and, on the other hand, of mechanist
philosophy among natural scientists who were Communists or sympathetic to
* University of Connecticut. since 1930 include works by Tannery, Rosen-
'For examplesof native non-Marxistworks berger, Zeuthen, Wieleitner,Neugebauer,Need-
in the period to 1930, see Akademiia Nauk, ham, F. Klein, and the Einstein-Infeldpopular
Trudy komissii po istorii znanii (Works of the history of physics.
Commission on the History of Knowledge), See the extensive bibliography by D. D.
1927-1930, and Akademiia Nauk, Ocherki po Ivanov and N. A. Figurovskii, Istoriia estest-
istorii znanii (Sketchesin the History of Knowl- voznaniia: literatura opublikovannaia v S.SS.R.,
edge), 1927-1930. These publications were z917-z947 (History of Natural Science: Litera-
supersededby the Trudy (Works) of the Akad- ture published in the U.S.S.R., 1917-1947)
emiia Nauk, Institut Istorii Nauki i Tekhniki, (Moscow-Leningrad,1949).
the first number of which appeared in 1933. 'That is, the school of M. N. Pokrovskii.
The editorial policy was avowedly Marxist- For a convenient summation of contemporary
Leninist, but some of the leading articles were Soviet criticismof this school, see N. L. Rubin-
not. stein, Russkaia istoriografiia (Russian Historiog-
Translations of foreign non-Marxist works raphy) (Moscow, 1941), Chapter 34.

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Leninism,8made "vulgar sociology" the predominantview in history of science.
The prevailing tendency was to consider natural science an automatic response
to the developmentof forces of productionand technology. The role of individ-
ual genius in advancing scientific knowledgewas minimized,as also was the role
of accident. Philosophy's influence on science was usually considered to be
ideological, in the bad sense of the word, and there was a tendency to establish
simplistic relationships between philosophic principles and class interests. For
example, ancient Greek atomism was described as a reflection of a commercial
society's individualism, while the combination of necessity and accident in
Epicurean atomism was ascribed to the combination of slave production and
free trade in Greek society.4
The opposite tendency, to neglect the influence of techniques and social
structure, to concentrate rather on the logical implications of philosophic
theories, was characteristic of the school headed by the philosopher, A. M.
Deborin. But their influence was restricted for the most part to the history
of philosophy, since their "undigested Hegelianism," as one writer called it,
showed itself among other ways in neglect of the history of natural science.5
By I93I resolutions adopted at assemblies of Communist scholars and a
decree of the Central Committee had condemnedboth tendencies as deviations
from Marxism-Leninism.6 The way was thus opened for history of science
that would not tend toward the reduction of science either to technical im-
plications of means of production7 or to logical implications of philosophic
' For the chief statement of Soviet mechan- stitutions. See A. M. Deborin, et al., Sovremen-
ism of the twenties, see I. I. Stepanov (Skvort- nye problemy filosofii marksizma (Contem-
sov-Stepanov), Istoricheskii materializm i sov- porary Problems of the Philosophy of Marx-
remennoe estestvoznanie (Historical Material- ism) (Moscow, 1929), and 0. Iu. Shmidt, et
ism and ContemporaryNatural Science) (Mos- al., Zadachi marksistov v oblasti estestvoznaniia
COW, 1924). For an eminent non-Party, non- (The Tasks of Marxistsin the Field of Natural
Marxist scientist agreeing with Stepanov, see Science) (Moscow, 1929), for the relevant por-
Pod znamenem marksizma (Under the Banner tions of the stenographic record of the Con-
of Marxism), 1926, No. 4-5, pp. 6i-8i. For ference.
one of the many admissionsby the mechanists' The Deborinite trend was condemned in
opponents that the eminent scientist's article October, 1930 by a conferenceat the Commu-
reflected "Communis doctorum opinio . . . an nist Academy. See Raznoglasiia na filosofskom
enormous majority of natural scientists thinks fronte (Disagreements on the Philosophic
likewise,"see Pod znamenem marksizma, 1928, Front) (Moscow, 1931), for the stenographic
No. I, pp. I74-I75. record and resolutionsadopted.
'A. Samoilov, Detskaia bolezn' "Levizny" In December,1930 Stalin gave his approval,
v materializme(The Infantile Disease of "Left- and in January, 1931 the Communist Party's
ism" in Materialism) (Leningrad, 1926), pp. Central Committee issued a decree against
50-52. The idea derives from A. Bogdanov, mechanism and "Menshevizing idealism,"
Filosofiia zhivogo opyta (The Philosophy of which was Stalin's name for Deborin's school
Living Experience) (Moscow, 1920). of thought. For an account of Stalin's views
For one of the better examplesof the work see Pod znamenem marksizma (Under the Ban-
of this mechanistperiod, see A. Maksimov, "K ner of Marxism), 1936, No. I, pp. 25-26. For
voprosu o dialektike v istorii estestvoznaniia" the decreeof the CentralCommittee,see Pravda,
(On the Problem of Dialectics in the History 25 January 1931.
of Natural Science), Pod znamenem marksizma Maksimov, op. cit. in note 4, derived the
(Under the Banner of Marxism), 1924, No. 4- history of natural science from developments
5, pP. 138-159, and No. 6-7, pp. 97-122. in research equipment or instruments, which
See Pod znamenem marksizma (Under the he traced in turn to developmentsin industrial
Bannerof Marxism), 1936, No. I, p. 53, for the technology.
"undigestedHegelianism,"et passim for a gen- Cf. also M. Ia. Vygodskii,"Platonkak mate-
eral critique of the Deborinite slighting of the matik," (Plato as a mathematician) Vestnik
history of natural science. kommunisticheskoi akademii (Herald of the
'The crucial condemnation of mechanism Communist Academy), kn. i6, 1926, in which
was accomplishedin April, 1929 at the Second progressin ancientmathematicsis attributedex-
Conference of Marxist-Leninist Research In- clusively to practical, lower-class men engaged

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principles.8 In I932 one writer defined the resulting view as follows:
In each epochthe level of naturalscienceis determinedin the last analysisby
the level of developmentof the forcesof production.Howevernaturalscience,
beinga partof the "superstructure," is basicallyinfluencedby otherpartsof the
"superstructure," especiallyphilosophyand religion,and at the sametime exerts
in its turn an influenceon the developmentof the means of production.As a
resultthe historyof naturalscienceand its contemporary structureare extremely
Other writers have added to forces of production and ideological superstruc-
ture a third determinant: the internal or logical element of science, which
evolves to a certain extent separately and autonomously from the other two.10
This inner logic can lag behind the demands of technology or ideology, or,
especially with the aid of genius, it can anticipate the future development of
science by generations. But such anticipations will usually be confused and
imperfect, and in any case will lie dormant and neglected until technology or
ideology focus attention on them. For in the last analysis, Engels' expression
is still very much in mind: "If society has a technical need, that helps science
forward more than ten universities."11

in industrial and agricultural pursuits. By prepodovaniia(Marxist History of Technology

June, 1930, that is, even before the Central as a Subject in Teaching) (Moscow, I93I).
Committee had condemned mechanism in 9Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia (Great
philosophy or economic determinism in his- Soviet Encyclopedia), ist edition, I932, 24: p.
toriography, Vygodskii was shifting his posi- 559. Italics added. The author was the famous
tion. See his article in Estestvoznaniei mark- mathematician and arctic explorer, 0. Iu.
sizm (Natural Scienceand Marxism), I930, No. Shmidt. Note that the assignment of natural
2-3, especially pp. 38-39, where he condemns science in its entirety to the "superstructure"
efforts to "seek the roots of every single would be denied by most contemporarySoviet
mathematical development in practical tasks," authors, especiallysince Stalin's articles on lin-
and sets up as one of the three main tasks of guistics. See, e.g., D. M. Troshin, Trudy tov.
historians of mathematicsthe establishmentof Stalina o iazykoznaniii voprosy estestvoznaniia
the internal zakonnomernost' (Gesetzmdssig- (The Works of Com. Stalin on Linguisticsand
keit, conformity to law) of mathematicalde- Problems of Natural Science) (Moscow, I95I).
velopment. "This is no innovation in Marxist-Leninist
It should be noted too that mechanist theory. See, for example, Engels, Dialectics of
views in the history of science still crop up. Nature (N.Y., I940), passim. Or see Lenin's
See, for example, P. S. Kudriavtsev, Isaak extendedcommentson the internalor epistemo-
N'iuton (Isaac Newton) (Moscow, I943), espe- logical causes of "physical idealism," in Ma-
cially pp. I4 et passim. terialism and Empirio-criticism,chapter 5. Cf.
8See, for example,B. G. (probably Hessen), also Lenin's Filosofskie tetradi (Philosophic
"Predislovie k stat'iam A. Einshteina i Dzh. Notebooks) (Moscow, I933), p. 328, for
Dzh. Tomsona" (Introductionto the Articlesof Lenin's emphatic assertion that philosophic
A. Einsteinand J. J. Thomson), Pod znamenem idealism as a whole has purely epistemological
marksizma (Under the Banner of Marxism), roots, as well as sociological.
I927, No. 4, pp. 152-I65. This essay on the For an extended considerationof the inter-
historical roots and significance of Newton's relationship of the three factors mentioned
physics is much more characteristic of the above, see B. Kedrov, "K voprosu o printsi-
Deborinite school than the paper that Hessen pakh periodizatsii istorii estestvoznaniia" (On
gave in London, in I93I. (See Science at the the Problem of Principles for Periodizing the
Crossroads.) As possible reasons for the drastic History of Natural Science), pp. I7-57 of Akad-
differencebetween the two essays one may sug- emiia Nauk, Koshtoiants, ed., Trudy Sovesh-
gest: (a) Hessen's basic purpose, before the chaniia po istorii estestvoznaniia (Proceedings
English audience, of using Newton merely as of the Conferenceon the History of Natural
a peg on which to hang a lecture on basic Science) (Moscow, 1948).
Marxistsocial theory; (b) the recent condemna- 'Marx-Engels, Correspondence,p. 517. The
tion of the Deborinite school, of which Hessen Marxist-Leninistrule which applies here is that
was a leading member. practice and theory are dialectically united,
For anotherexampleof the Deborinitetreat- with practice playing the determining role in
ment of history of science, see Iu. K. Milonov, the long run. It should be borne in mind that
Marksistskaia istoriia tekhniki kak predmet this rule is subject to various interpretationsin

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Ideology, which is held to include philosophy, religion, political theory, and

so on - and is not necessarily a pejorative - is also ultimately determined
by the forces of production, through the intermediate links of relationships
of production and class interests deriving from those relationships. Being
further removed from production than natural science it exhibits an even
greater autonomy in development. To quote Engels again:
The furtherthe particularspherewhichwe are investigatingis removedfromthe
economicsphereand approachesthat of pure abstractideology,the more shall
we find it exhibitingaccidentsin its development,the more will its curve run
in a zig-zag. So also you will find that the axis of this curvewill approachmore
and morenearlyparallelto the axis of the curve of economicdevelopmentthe
longerthe periodconsideredand the widerthe fielddealtwith.12
Ideology, the Soviet historian of science believes, may help natural science
or hurt it or do both at the same time, dependingon the historically progressive
or reactionary nature of the ideology in question. For example, medieval
nominalism is given credit for allegedly weakening the hold of barren specu-
lation on men's minds and preparing the way for empirical natural science.'3
Hegel's influence is described as mixed negative and positive, the stress falling,
since the German invasion, on the negative aspects." Generally speaking, the
progressiveor reactionary nature of an ideology is attributed to the progressive
or reactionary position in history of the class whose interests it allegedly re-
flects. On this basis mechanistic materialism in i8th-century France or igth-
century Russia receives praise as lavish as the censure which falls on con-
One final Marxist-Leninist maxim has been of very great importance: The
interrelationshipof the factors of technology, ideology and inner logic in shap-
ing the history of science varies according to specific historical circumstances
and can be established only in a definite context by specific historical research."'
specific contexts. For example, an article on the the German attack of I94I is shown by the Cen-
history of atomism in the Middle Ages makes tral Committee's criticizing the treatment of He-
mathematics, rather than alchemy the prac- gel, and classical German philosophy as a whole,
tical, determining factor. See Akademiia Nauk, in Akademiia Nauk, Istoriia filosofii (History of
Institut Istorii Estestvoznaniia, Trudy (Works), Philosophy) (Moscow, 1943), 3. For the Cen-
1947, I 283-314. tral Committee's criticism, see Bol'shevik, 1944,
Marx-Engels, Correspondence, p. 5I8. No. 7-8.
l See Akademiia Nauk, Istoriia filosofii 15 Compare appropriate articles in Rozental'
(History of Philosophy) (Moscow, I940), z: and Iudin, Filosofskii slovar' (Moscow, I951).
4I6 et passim. Cf. also, 0. V. Trachtenberg, 16 This general view may seem at first sight
"William of Occam and the Prehistory of Eng- to be similar to the current views of some non-
lish Materialism," Philosophy and Phenomeno- Leninist historians of science. See, e.g., Shryock,
logical Research, 6: 2I2-224. "The Interplay of Social and Internal Factors
Cf. also Akademiia Nauk, Institut Istorii in the History of Modern Medicine," Scientific
Estestvoznaniia, Trudy (Works), I947, z: 29I- Monthly, April, I953. There are, however, pro-
306. found differences in interpretation of the "social
' Compare, for example, the articles on Hegel
factors," and in the assignment of "priority" or
in the first (volume 14, 1929) and second (vol- ultimate decisiveness to one set of factors.
ume io, 1952) editions of Bol'shaia sovetskaia See, e.g., Kedrov, op. cit. in note IO, pp. 41-
entsiklopediia (Great Soviet Encyclopedia). In 42 and 54-55. For an example of the use of
1931, with the condemnation of Deborin's school this methodological principle to justify the cur-
of philosophy, a more critical view than that of rent stress on Russian achievements, see B. G.
the 1929 article came to prevail. See, e.g., Bol'- Kuznetsov, Patriotizm russkikh estestvoispytat-
shevik, 193I, No. I7, pp. 82ff., for a critique of elei i ikh vklad v nauku (The Patriotism of
the 1929 article. That the new view was still not Russian Natural Scientists and their Contribu-
critical enough to suit the passions aroused by tion to Science) (Moscow, I95I), p. 7.

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It must be obvious that with such general theories there will be considerable
diversity among the interpretations offered for one or another period or prob-
lem in the history of science. Various authors tend to stress different factors,
depending on the nature of the specific problem dealt with, and depending also,
no doubt, on the personal predilectionof the individual.17
One feature of the Soviet history of science, however, has been common to
almost all writers since the mid-thirties, and that is, of course, the burst of
national self-congratulation which has so struck the attention of the outside
world. The political sources of this phenomenon are not hard to find. Nazi
propaganda of the alleged inferiority of the Slavic peoples would probably
have evoked a stress on Russian achievement no matter what the government
of Russia."8 And military victory over the scornful enemy could not but
heighten pride in the Russian past. But there was, and may still be, an addi-
tional and perhaps decisive factor. A sense of Russian backwardness, if not
inferiority, had been deeply ingrained in many Russian minds, especially in
the matter of scientific and technological achievement, and precisely by gen-
erations of reformers and revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks included.19 The
invidious comparison of their own country with western Europe had been a
favorite technique in pointing up the need for drastic reform. No one, perhaps
with the exception of Chaadaev, had put the matter as strongly as Stalin in
One featureof the historyof old Russiawas the continualbeatingsshe suffered
for falling behind, for her backwardness . . . . All beat her - for her backward-
ness, for political backwardness,for industrialbackwardness,for agricultural
backwardness. .. . Do you remember the words of the pre-revolutionarypoet:
"You are poor and abundant, mighty and impotent, Mother Russia." . . . We
are fifty or a hundredyearsbehindthe advancedcountries.We must makegood
this distancein ten years. Eitherwe do it, or they crushus.20
A characteristic view of the history of Russian science was expressed about
the same time by the physicist, S. I. Vavilov:
. . . up to the 20th centurythere was really no physics in Russia, it was de-
velopedmerelyin a seriesof episodes,almostunconnectedwith each other; only
from time to time and very rarelywere discoveriesmade in our country,dis-
' Compare,for example,S. I. Vavilov, Isaac Nauk, Institut Istorii Estestvoznaniia, Trudy
Newton (Moscow, I945) with 0. Starosel'skaia- (Works), I947, I: 440-455.
Nikitina, Ocherki po istorii nauki i tekhniki "8Cf. the work of anti-Communist imigres,
perioda frantsuzskoi burzhuaznoi revoliutsil e.g., V. A. Riazanovskii, Razvitie russkoi nauch-
(Sketches in the History of Science and Tech- noi mysli v XVIII-XX st. (The Development
nology of the Period of the French Bourgeois of Russian Scientific Thought in the i8th to
Revolution) (Moscow, I946). the 20th Centuries) (N. Y., I949), or compare
Vavilov, an outstandingphysicist, has almost the treatment of science in the successive edi-
nothing to say on possible connectionsbetween tions of George Vernadsky's History of Russia.
Newton's developments in physics and the "9Communist writers now blame the con-
technological or social trends of his time. servatives and liberals of pre-revolutionary
Starosel'skaia-Nikitina,on the other hand, lays Russia for the deeply-ingrained sense of scien-
considerablestress on such factors in explaining tific inferiority. See, for example, the quotation
the development of i8th-century French sci- from Molotov in Kuznetsov, op. cit in note i6,
ence. p. 6. Cf. also Akademiia Nauk, Institut Istorii
For other views than Vavilov's on the spe- Estestvoznaniia, Trudy (Works), I949, 3: 43.
cific problem of Newton, see the review of 'Stalin, Problems of Leninism (Moscow,
jubilee literature on Newton, in Akademiia I947), p. 356. The quotation is from Nekrasov.

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coveriesto which no attentionwas paid in their native land and about which
peopleabroadlearnedas a rule, too late, as an historicalcuriosity.21
And another writer added: "That characterizationof the condition of phys-
ics is basically true for the whole of natural science of Tsarist Russia." 22 To
be sure the historical backwardness which revolutionary patriots scourged is
far from the innate inferiority which the Nazis preached to terrorize their
intended victims. But in mass propaganda the distinction may be lost on
both sides of the ideological barricades. In any case, the only possible rebuttal
of charges of inferiority is evidence of achievement.
Unfortunately, I945 did not bring an international detente of any consider-
able duration. War has been threateningagain, and this time the Soviet Union's
potential foe often preaches the superior merit of "Western Civilization," from
which Russian culture is often excluded, either implicitly or explicitly.23 Thus,
from the Bolshevik point of view, foreign affairs continue to demand historical
evidence of Russian scientific achievement, as well as efforts to prove that
Russia, to use one author's phrase, "has not developed aside from the main
highway of world civilization."24
Finally, even in the absence of extreme international tension, "partyness"
(partiinost') would probably demand that historians produce evidence of Rus-
sians boldly forging ahead of West Europeans and Americans. The Bolsheviks
have begun a third phase of their revolution, "the transition to communism,"
demandingunlimited energy, work and enthusiasm from the population. Pride
in the Russian past is necessary to nourish and sustain that enthusiasm, espe-
" Quoted in Institut Marksa-Engel'sa- T. I. Rainov, Nauka v Rossii XI-XVII vekov;
Lenina, Marksizm i estestvoznanie (Moscow, ocherki po istorii donauchnykh i estestvenno-
1931), p. 65.
nauchnykh vozzrenii na prirody (Science in
Ibid. This view was not characteristic of Russia in the iith to I7th Centuries; sketches
the Soviet non-Marxist historians of science in the History of Pre-scientific and Natural
who published in the twenties. See, e.g., P. P. Scientific Views of Nature (Moscow, 1940), p.
Lazarev, Ocherkiistorii russkoi nauki (Sketches 7 et passim.
in the History of Russian Science) (Moscow, The connectionof the campaignof national
I950), pp. 9-38. This is a re-issue of a paper self-congratulationwith foreign affairsis clearly
given in I925 at the Academy of Science's 200th revealed in such comments as the following:
anniversary meeting. (There is a separately "The fact of extraordinaryaccomplishmentsby
printed French translation of 1927.) Russian natural scientists is indisputable. It
Cf. also the Trudy (Works) and Ocherki can be denied only by people who are hostile
(Essays) of the Akademiia Nauk, Komissiia po to our country, or by complete ignoramuses."
istorii znanii, for the years 1926-i930. Of I9 And the author footnotes the hostile people:
issues, 12 are devoted to various aspects of the "Thus, the fascist pseudo-scholarLenard had
history of Russian science. already in 1929 published a book, Die grossen
'An example that comes to hand in a book Naturforscher,in which he falsified the history
review: "To Mr. Strausz-Hupe the Western of natural science. Lenard does not mention a
Community represents a unique blending of single Russian scientist, not even such as Men-
three legacies -Greece, Rome, and Christian- deleev." A. A. Maksimov, Ocherki po istorii
ity -shaped under the continuing and men- bor'by za materializmv russkomestestvoznanii
acing pressure of a fourth -the Asiatic hinter- (Sketches in the History of the Struggle for
land. The old external pressureis now reT"-' Materialismin Russian Natural Science) (Mos-
sented by the Soviet Union, which the author COW,1947), p. 10.
regards as a military not a spiritual threat. Note also the componentelementsof the fol-
... Political Science Quarterly, December, lowing: "Bourgeoishistoriographyobscuresand
1953, p. 6oo. The reviewer does not question distorts the role and significanceof the Orient's
that interpretation of past or contemporary culture in order to support the anti-scientific,
history. reactionaryidea of the absolute superiorityand
2'Moskovskii Gosudarstvennyi Universitet, primacy of west European, 'Aryan,' 'Nordic'
I. Ia. Shchipanov, ed., Iz istorii russkoi filosofii civilization." Rozental' and ludin, Filosofskii
(From the History of Russian Philosophy) slovar' (Philosophic Dictionary) (Moscow,
(Moscow, 1951) p. 14. Italics added. See also 1951), p. 492.

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cially in view of the fact that the westernnations,which educatedRussians
have been accustomedto admireand emulate,continueto avoid even the first
phaseof the revolution.25
These politicalconsiderations,in the narrowsense of the word, have not
been alone in turningSoviet historiansof science to intensivestudy of the
Russianpast.28It has been notedabovethat the generalinterpretationof the
historyof sciencewhich emergedin the thirtieslays particularstress on the
conditioningof the historyof scienceby historicalcircumstances.And stress
on specifichistoricalcircumstancesentails considerableattention,in modern
history,to the distinctcommunitiesof endeavorcalled nations,whose emer-
gence has paradoxicallycoincidedwith the perfectionof communications and
the emergenceof a single world science.27Soviet historiansof science have
been facedwith the problemof correlatingthe conflictingconceptsof Russian
and world science.
They reject the view that world science has been developedby a single
cosmopolitancommunityof scientists.28Their generalposition seems to be
that the "worldtreasurehouseof science," to quote a constantlyrecurring
phrase,29has been enrichedby contributionsfrom national communitiesof
scientists,each with a distincthistory and particular"laws of development."
Effortsare made,for example,to link the workof Russianscientiststo unique
historicalconditionsof Russian development.Thus, the emergenceof the
I Alreadyin the closing years of the Second over pnorities, "for we now know that dis-
World War and in the immediate post-war coveriesbelong not so much to individualgreat
period more or less soul-searchingcomparisons men as to their epoch, and usually occur (prik-
between the Soviet native land and its allies hodiat v golovu) to a number of people simul-
were a recurrent theme in Soviet literature. taneously."This mixtureof cosmopolitanismand
See, for example,such novels (in translation) as rather mechanisticdeterminismwas typical at
Leonid Leonov's Chariotof Wrath,Ilya Ehren- that time.
burg's Storm, or Peter Pavlenko's Happiness. 'The paradoxis not for the historianalone.
The writers usually conclude that the western Cf. J. Robert Oppenheimer'sremark: ....
countries have paved streets and inside toilets, though we are men of sdence and we have a
but the Soviet social system and human spirit loyalty to each other everywhere,we also have
are superior. a loyalty to our homes and countries against
For a clear manifestation of all the causal which we wMl not work." Denver Universitv.
factors mentioned above, see AkademiiaNauk. Foundations for World Order (Denver, 1949),
Institut Istorii Estestvoznaniia,Trudy (Works), P. 46.
I949, 3: 28-44. Cf. also L. C. Dunn's remarksin Science in
Even at the time when the major stress of Soviet Russia (Lancaster, Pa.: Jaques Cattell
Soviet historiansof sciencewas on non-Russian Press, 1944), p. 28.
science and technology,criticismof mechanistic 1 See, e.g., Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklo-
views was already leading to considerationof pediia (Great Soviet Encyclopedia) volume
the national determinantsof scientific develon- SS.S.R.
' The (U.S.S.R.), I947, p. 1256.
ment, and even to the stress on Russianachieve- phrase recurs not only in scholarly
ments. See, for example, AkademiiaNauk, In- monographsbut in textbooks and public lec-
stitut Istorii Nauki i Tekhniki, Trudy (Works), tures. See, e.g., E. A. Kosminskii and S. D.
1934, 3: 331-332: A reviewer,while castigating Skazkin, eds., Istoriuasrednikh vekov (History
the mechanisticviewpoint of a history of tech- of the Middle Ages) (Moscow, 1952), z: 6, 637,
nology (" '. . . it was not Watt who created the et passim. For an example of a public lecture
steam engine; the steam engine was created by on "Russiancontributionsto the world treasure-
developingcapitalismby means of Watt [cherez house of science," see V. V. Mavrodin, RoP
posredstvo Uatta] . . ."'), expressed indignant russkoi i sovetskoi nauki v istorii mirovoi kul'-
amazementat the book's neglect of I. I. Polzu- tury (The Role of Russian and Soviet Science
nov, "who created the first continuous action in the History of World Culture) (Leningrad,
steam engine which was practically applied in 1948), pp. 5 et passim.
industrial production, ten years before Watt's On the other hand, this author has found
double-actingmachinewas constructed." one denial of the unity of world science in any
In the same volume (p. 309) another re- sense of the term. See V. Bolkhovitinov, et al.,
viewer criticized Wieleitner's"endless quarrels" Rasskazy o russkom pervenstve (Tales of Rus-
sian Primacy) (Moscow, 1950), pp. 7-8.

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Russian school of neuro-physiologists is traced to the alleged predominance
of materialist philosophy among igth-century radical Russian intellectuals.
Russia is supposed to have had sharper economic, social and political tensions,
with a correspondingly sharper polarization of philosophic views, than had
Western Europe. Pavlov's origins are thus traced through Sechenov to Cher-
nyshevsky and peasant unrest and rebelliousness, which Chernyshevsky is
supposed to have translated into philosophy.30
Such an approach is not limited to the history of Russian science. Another
writer attributes Lavoisier's achievements to the duel for empire between
France and England, which precipitated intense French efforts to catch up with
and surpass the English metallurgical industry.31
But the main stress since the mid-thirties has been upon the history of
Russian science,32and the main effort has been to prove the truth of Lomo-
nosov's frequently quoted lines: "That the Russian land can give birth to its
own Platos and swift-witted Newtons." 33 Such sentiments are hardly com-
patible with the wholesale belittlement of the achievements and glory of other
nations.34 The effort is to prove that since Lomonosov's time Russia has been
I According to Soviet accounts Sechenov Philosophy and PhenomenologicalResearch, 9:
was intimately associatedwith Chernyshevsky's 21-40. (This does not pretend to be an ex-
circle and wrote for their magazine,Sovremen- haustive or even representativelist. It should
nik (The Contemporary),one of his pioneering also be noted that this author has not exam-
papers on reflexes, inspired by the materialist ined the publicationsof I953 or 1954.)
philosophy of Chernyshevsky. See, e.g., Mosk. 'See, e.g., S. I. Vavilov, Sovetskaia nauka
Gos. Universitet,I. Ia. Shchipanov,ed., op. cit. na novom etape (Soviet Science on a New
in note 24, pp. 495 ff. Level) (Moscow, 1946), p. ii. Lomonosovpre-
For a general discussion of the unity and dicting the appearanceof a "RussianColumbus"
yet the separatenessof Russian and world sci- is quoted in the standard textbook for second-
ence, see Maksimov, op. cit. in note 24, pp. 5- ary schools, A. M. Pankratova,Istoriia S.SS.R.
i8. (History of the U.S.S.R.) (Moscow, 1947), 2:
Cf. I. V. Kuznetsov, Kharakternyecherty 5o.
russkogo estestvoznaniia (Characteristic Fea- B. G. Kunetsov, op. cit. in note i6, p. 6,
tures of Russian Natural Science) (Moscow, opens his book on the patriotism of Russian
1948) for hasty generalizationson the theme of scientists by quoting Lomonosov'sremark that
the unique characteristicsof Russian science all his work had one goal: "'. . . to prove that,
resulting from the unique qualities of Russian in spite of the opinion of some scoundrels,in
history. the north too there are geniuses."'
For an interestingeffort to connectthe work 'Specific disclaimersof chauvinism,of "any
of Bolyai and Lobachevskiiwith the fact that effort to belittle the contributionmade by great
they lived in "distant corners of Europe, far people of other nationalities to the treasure-
from the centers of mathematicalthought," see house of all-human culture,"appear frequently.
Akademiia Nauk, Institut Istorii Estestvoz- (The quotation is from the public lecture by
naniia, Trudy (Works), 1948, 3: 328-9. Mavrodin, op. cit. in note 29, p. 5.)
'Starosel'skaia-Nikitina,op. cit. in note 17. There is, however, a tendency on the part
' See Ivanov and Figurovskii,op. cit. in note of some Soviet authorsto play down egregious-
i. Their bibliography covers the period to ly the contributionsof other nations, especially
1947; since that year the stress on Russian when these authors are attempting to prove a
science has been increased. priority. See, e.g., Jay Stein, "Inventor of the
But note also the following: B. M. Kedrov, Airplane: New Soviet Version," American
AtomistikaDal'tona (Dalton's Atomism) (Mos- Slavic and East EuropeanReview, April, Ig9I,
cOw, 1949) (cf. his article on the same subject pp. 137-145. Stein, however, goes beyond his
translatedin Philosophy and Phenomenological evidence when he points to "the fervid in-
Research, 9: 644-662); P. S. Kudriavtsev, Is- sistence that the foundation and subsequent
toriia fiziki (History of Physics) (Moscow. progressof world aviation are based exclusively
1948), I; I. I. Tolstoi, Ellenisticheskaiatekh- on Tsarist and Soviet efforts" (p. 143, italics
nika (Hellenistic Technique) (Moscow, 1948); added).
G. A. Gurev, Sistema mira ot drevneishikh The only example of outright chauvinism
vremen do nashikh dnei (System of the World that this author has found is V. Bolkhovitinov,
from Ancient Times to Our Days) (Moscow. et al., op. cit. in note 29. The authors seem to
I950); S. I. Vavilov, "Lucretius' Physics," be journalists, and the book is intended for
young people.

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a country of significant scientific achievement. A technique which reveals
much concerning the origins and consequent nature of the campaign has been
the marshaling of tributes to Russian science by respected foreign scientists,
beginning with Oldenburg's quaint praise in I670: people ". . . in France .
in Italy . . . Madrid and Lisbon . . . Germany . . . and even the frozen
Muscovite and Russian, have all taken the operative ferment [of science or
"Active Philosophy"], and it works high, and prevails every way, to the en-
couragementof all sincere lovers of Knowledge and Virtue." 35
By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the quoted tributes, and even more
the claims, are less modest.36 With greater or less historical justification,
claims of priority are made in the most diverse fields, from non-Euclidean
geometry to archaeologicaltheories and the radio.7 The characteristicaccount
involves a thinker or inventor of genius, ardently patriotic, struggling against
the hostile environment of a backward economy and stupid, unpatriotic busi-
nessmen and government officials. At times shrewd and unscrupulous foreign
businessmen or scientists steal the Russian discovery, apply it, claim it as their
own; and to this extent, an element of xenophobia enters Soviet history of
science.38 At other times, in Soviet accounts, the innovation is simply neglected
and forgotten by backward Tsarist Russia, and independently re-discovered
abroad.39Though some writers claim that as a result of the Revolution Soviet

Philosophical Transactions,I670, 5: II50. efforts, however, to prove Russian priorities,

Quoted in S. I. Vavilov, Isaac Newton (Mos- accompanied by neglect of preceding or parallel
COW, 1945), p. 107. For a similarly two-edged work in other countries, have been characteristic
tribute by Condorcet, see Lazarev, op. cit. in of recent Soviet writing.
note pp. 15-I6. ' See V. Bolkhovitinov, et al., op.
22, cit. in
See also the preface to Akademiia Nauk, note 29, passim, for many examples. It should.
Institut Istorii Estestvoznaniia,Nauchnoe nas- however, be noted that in more responsible
ledstvo (Scientific Heritage), 1948, I, for sev- hands charges of theft are replaced by efforts to
eral proud references to foreign respect for establish influences. See, for example, the effort
Russian science. In the same preface foreign to prove that Lavoisier was influenced hb
ignorance of the achievementsof Russian sci- Lomonosov's work: B. G. Kuznetsov, op. cit.
ence is bitterly describedas "very characteris- in note i6, pp. 42-44. (Kuznetsov derives his
tic." argument from Ia. G. Dorfman, Lavoisier
'6E.g., Professor W. P. Wynne, President [Moscow, 1948], a book that has not been
of the British ChemicalSociety in 1924, makes examined by this author.)
' See M. B. Nechkina, ed., Istoriia
igth-century Russian contributions to chem- SS.S.R.
istry as importantas igth-century Russian con- (History of the U.S.S.R.) (Moscow, I949), 2:
tributions to literature and music. Nor is 380-388 and 837-845, for a survey of Russian
Mendeleev a lonely giant in Wynne's account. science in the igth century by a university text-
Quoted in Mavrodin, op. cit. in note 29, p. 23. book.
'On the radio, see G. I. Golovin, Izobreta- S. I. Vavilov concludes a survey of the same
tel' radio (The Inventor of the Radib) (Mos- field as follows: "At the same time, these dis-
cOw, 1948). For works on Lobachevsky, con- coveries almost always suffered a grievous fate
sult Ivanov and Figurovskii,op. cit. in note r. in pre-revolutionary Russia. . . . Fully to ap-
For some claims in archaeology,see Sovetskaia preciate these "Newtons" [he has just quoted
etnografiia,I952, No. 3, pp. 223-229. Lomonosov's prophecy of Russian Newtonsl
Memories of the earlier contempt for "end- to apply their thoughts and scientific findings to
less quarrels"over priorities (cf. note 26) are life, to create around them schools, successors
not dead. For a recent writer agreeingwith the -this, in a majority of cases, proved impos-
elder Bolyai that "'there comes a time for sible. Good higher schools existed, but there
ideas when they mature in various places, just were very few of them; great scholars in the
as in spring violets appear everywherethe sun majority of cases remained isolated [odinochki]
shines,"' see Akademiia Nauk, Institut Istorii without continuers of their work." Op. cit. in
Estestvoznaniia,Trudy (Works), I948, 2: 327 note 33, pp. I 1-1 2.
et passim. For another recent acknowledgement For a similarly dark picture, see Academician
of the frequent simultaneity of discoveriesand Zelinskii's introduction to B. G. Kuznetsov.
inventions, see op. cit., 1949, 3: 30. One-sided op. cit. in note i6, pp. 3-5.

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science has already outstripped the science of all other countries,40the fre-
quently cited words of Stalin in I946 have a plainly contrary implication:
I have no doubtthat if we show the properassistanceto our scientiststhey will
succeed,in a very short time, not only in catchingup with the achievementsof
sciencebeyondthe bordersof our countrybut also in surpassingthem.4'
The ambivalent sense of Russian backwardness and greatness 42 thus persists,
though the emphasis is now placed on the greatness, and the time scale for
overcoming the backwardnesshas been shortened.
Special knowledge and much additional research would be required for
definitive conclusions on the nature and development of Soviet history of
science. The following conclusions are offered as hypotheses to be modified
or perhaps destroyed by further research.
Under the impress of Marxist-Leninist theory and the specific demands of
"partyness" (partiinost') Soviet historians of science have tended to stress
social and economic factors, interpreted in a Marxist-Leninist way, as the de-
terminant of scientific development, but with qualifications, such as "in the
last analysis," which allow for some suppleness and diversity of interpreta-
tion in limited works 43 and a still unsettled groping toward a general synthesis
of the history of science. The concentration on Russian science for the past
fifteen years has not blinded Soviet scholars to the existence of the larger unity
of world science, though it has inclined them to exaggerate the achievements
and significance of Russian science.44 At the same time there has been an
40The authoritative Fiosofskii slovar' that there is nothing of the kind -no advance,
(Philosophical Dictionary) of Rozental' and no science, nothing."
Iudin (third edition, I95I) distinguishes among Akademiia Nauk, Institut Istorii Estestvoz-
the various fields of scientific work: "The ad- naniia, Nauchnoe nasledstvo (Scientific Heri-
vantages of the socialist organization of science tage), I948, I: 599. The English translation is
in the Soviet Union have already advanced So- from S. I. Vavilov, The Progress of Soviet Sci-
viet science in a number of fields to first place ence (Moscow, I951), p. 23.
in world science -in mathematics, in the study *8 For examples of diversity, see the refer-
of the atomic nucleus, cosmic rays, the strato- ences in note I7. The review article on litera-
sphere, higher nervous activity, in biology, etc., ture concerning Newton deserves particular at-
without mentioning the social sciences" (pp. tention (the interpretations of Newton varied
319-320). On p. 321 Stalin's call to catch up from the most primitive economic determinism
with and surpass foreign science is quoted with to an approximation of Pope's epitaph). It goes
no apparent sense of inconsistency. without saying that on the whole there is much
"From a speech of 9 February 1946. See less diversity of views among Soviet historians
Pravda and various separate printings and Eng- of science than among their western counter-
lish translations. parts.
Academicians Vinogradov, Dubinin, and On the question of suppleness of interpreta-
Oparin began their greetings to the Nineteenth tion, the author of this article does not share
Party Congress with this quotation. See the view -rather widespread both in the
Pravda, 5 OctoberI952. U.S.A. and in the U.S.S.R. -that every evi-
42Nekrasov's lines on "Mother Russia, poor dence of suppleness and originality in Soviet
and abundant, mighty and impotent" (see scholarship is the result of a departure from
above, page 7), express this ambivalence neatly. Marxism-Leninism. For example, V. F. Kagan's
Mazour makes this part of the Russian national work on the origins of non-Euclidean geometry
character, and sees a similarity with American (cf. reference in note 37) seems to this utho
attitudes when comparing Europe and the U.S. both original scholarship that would command
See his Russia, Past and Present (New York, respect in anv community of honest scholars
1951), pp. II-12. (indeed, Kagan's biography of Lobachevsky
P. N. Lebedev, who measured the pressure was respectfully reviewed in Mathematical Re-
of light on matter, once wrote to a friend in views, 1945, No. io), and a sincere effort on
St. Petersburg: "If there is any talk in th- Kagan's part to use Marxism-Leninism in the
Academy about the advance of science in Russia, history of mathematics.
tell them, from an unhappy Moscow professor, "See, e.g., the history of atomic theory in
Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia (Great So-

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awakeningto the problemof the influenceof nationalgroupingsof scientists
on the developmentof sciencein moderntimes.45
The processof naturalselectionby whichviews gain and lose predominance
in a scholarlycommunityis, in the USSR, consciouslylimited and organized
in a distinctivemanner. Gatheringsof scholarsmay adopt views bindingon
the wholecommunity,while the Party's CentralCommittee- and Stalinper-
sonally,whilehe lived46- are a sort of supremecourt for judgingthe agree-
ment of scholarlyworkwith Marxist-Leninisttheoryand the policy needs of
the Sovietgovernment.Research,discussionand controversytake placewithin
this framework.
Sovietauthoritiesshow some consciousnessof the probleminvolvedin try-
ing to maintainboth a monolithicunity of basic views in the scholarlycom-
munityand the "struggleof opinions,the freedomof criticism,"withoutwhich,
as Stalin said, "no science can developand prosper."47 Their belief in the
possibilityof simultaneouslyseekingboth ends is groundedin the conviction
that Marxism-Leninism is the only scientificallyvalid worldview and method-
ology,while"criticismand self-criticism"are supposedto guaranteethe proper
use and furtherdevelopmentconcomitantlyof dialecticalmaterialismand the
positive sciences.
It followsthat the fate of the Soviet historyof science dependsultimately,
other things being equal, on the extent to which Marxism-Leninism has any
validityas a methodand worldview, and also on the extent to which admin-
istrativemeasuresare or arenot usedto limitandsuppressfreedomof criticism
both in the field of history of science and in the broaderarea of Marxism-
viet Encyclopedia), 2nd edition, 1950, 3: 417- any subject since the end of the twenties. Nor
432. was the linguistics controversy an exception in
43That this is a problem,and not for Lenin- this respect.
ists alone, is shown by comments like the fol- "7Ibid. The frequent repetition and em-
lowing: "We cannot discuss this subject here; phasis given to these words are an implicit
but each nation's way of life evidently makes recognition of the problem. Cf. also A. A.
some of the needs of science easy to supply, Zhdanov,Essays on Literature,Philosophy,and
others hard. The Frenchmanhas a clarity, the Music (New York, 1950), pp. 65 ff., for a frank
German a synthetic power and thoroughness, recognitionof the fearful withdrawal of many
the Englishman an invention and practicality, Soviet philosophers from controversial ques-
which the others should admire rather than tions. At the same time Zhdanov refused to
claim or imitate." Pledge, Science Since z500 admit of any objective causes of the stagnation
(London, 1947), p. S6. in philosophy; the only causes, he said, are
Stalin specifically discaimed such a role subjective. "Precisely in a lack of militancy
for himself on a numberof occasions. See, e.g., and fighting spirit we must look for the rea-
Stalin, Sochineniia (Works), z3: 107-108. sons why some of our philosophersfear to try
That denial occurredin a I93I interview with their strength on new problems. . . " (p. 7o;
Emil Ludwig. Toward the end of his article on translation corrected from Russian text).
the linguistics controversy in I950 he wrote: Cf. also Pod snamenem marksizma (Under
"Along what lines the problems of linguistics the Banner of Marxism), 1936, No. x, p. 41:
will be settled, will become clear at the con- "There is no daring for great monographic
clusion of the discussion." Supplementto New works [in philosophy]." Italics added.
Times, 28 June 1950, p. iS. But the author of The reader should bear in mind that this
this article knows of no case of public disagree- problem is less acute in the history of science
ment with Stalin's publicly expressedviews on than in philosophy.

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