Though Lysenko remained at his post in the Institute of Genetics until 1965, his influence on Soviet agricultural practice declined by the 1950s. The Soviet Union quietly abandoned Lysenko's agricultural practices in favor of modern agricultural practices after the crop yields he promised failed to materialize. Today much of Lysenko's agricultural experimentation and research is largely viewed as fraudulent.
Similar Soviet media reports heralding Lysenko's further discoveries in agriculture continued from 1927 until 1964; reports of amazing (and seemingly impossible) successes, each one replaced with new success claims as earlier ones failed. Few of the successes attributed to Lysenko could be duplicated. Nevertheless, with the media's help, Lysenko enjoyed the popular image of the "barefoot scientist"—the embodiment of the mythic Soviet peasant genius.
By the late 1920s, the Soviet political bosses had given their support to Lysenko. This support was a consequence, in part, of policies put in place by Communist party personnel to rapidly promote members of the proletariat into leadership positions in agriculture, science and industry. Party officials were looking for promising candidates with backgrounds similar to Lysenko's: born of a peasant family, without formal academic training or affiliations to the academic community.
Lysenko in particular impressed political officials further with his success in motivating peasants to return to farming. The Soviet's Collectivist reforms forced the confiscation of agricultural landholdings from the peasant farmers and heavily damaged the country's overall food production, and the dispossessed peasant farmers posed new problems for the regime. Many had abandoned the farms altogether; many more waged resistance to collectivization by poor work quality and pilfering. The dislocated and disenchanted peasant farmers were a major political concern to Soviet Leadership. Lysenko emerged during this period inaugurating radically new agricultural methods, and also promising that the new methods provided wider opportunities for year round work in agriculture. Lysenko proved himself very useful to Soviet leadership by reengaging peasants to return to work, helping to secure from them a personal stake in the overall success of the Soviet revolutionary experiment.
Lysenko's theories were grounded in Lamarckism. His work was primarily devoted to developing new techniques and practices in agriculture. But he also contributed a new theoretical framework which would become the foundation to all Soviet agriculture: a discipline called agrobiology that is a fusion of plant physiology, cytology, genetics and evolutionary theory. Central to Lysenko's tenets was the concept of the inheritability of acquired characteristics. In 1932 Lysenko was given his own journal, The Bulletin of Vernalization, and it became the main outlet for touting emerging developments of Lysenkoist research.
One of the most celebrated of the earliest agricultural applications developed by Lysenko was a process of increasing the success of wheat crops by soaking the grain and storing the wet seed in snow to refrigerate over the winter ("vernalization"). Though his work was scientifically unsound on a number of levels, Lysenko's claims delighted Soviet journalists and agricultural officials, who were impressed by its promise to minimize the resources spent in theoretical scientific laboratory work. The Soviet political leadership had come to view orthodox science as offering empty promises, as unproductive in meeting the challenges and needs of the Communist state. Lysenko was viewed as someone who could deliver practical methods more rapidly, and with superior results.
Lysenko himself spent much time denouncing academic scientists and geneticists, claiming that their isolated laboratory work was not helping the Soviet people. By 1929 Lysenko's skeptics were politically censured, accused of offering only criticisms, and for failing to prescribe any new solutions themselves. In December 1929, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin gave a famous speech praising "practice" above "theory", elevating the political bosses above the scientists and technical specialists. Though for a period the Soviet government under Stalin continued its support of agricultural scientists, after 1935 the balance of power abruptly swung towards Lysenko and his followers.
Lysenko was put in charge of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of the Soviet Union and made responsible for ending the propagation of "harmful" ideas among Soviet scientists. Lysenko served this purpose by causing the expulsion, imprisonment, and death of hundreds of scientists and eliminating all study and research involving Mendelian genetics throughout the Soviet Union. This period is known as Lysenkoism. He bears particular responsibility for the persecution of his predecessor and rival, prominent Soviet biologist Nikolai Vavilov, which ended in 1943 with the imprisoned Vavilov's death by starvation.
Following Stalin's death in 1953, Lysenko retained his position, with the support of the new leader Nikita Khrushchev. However, mainstream scientists re-emerged, and found new willingness within Soviet government leadership to tolerate criticism of Lysenko, the first opportunity since the late 1920s. In 1962 three of the most prominent Soviet physicists, Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich, Vitaly Ginzburg, and Pyotr Kapitsa, presented a case against Lysenko, proclaiming his work as false science. They also denounced Lysenko's application of political power to silence opposition and eliminate his opponents within the scientific community. These denunciations occurred during a period of structural upheaval in Soviet government, during which the major institutions were to be purged of the strictly ideological and political machinations which had controlled the work of the Soviet Union's scientific community for several decades under Stalin.
In 1964, physicist Andrei Sakharov spoke out against Lysenko in the General Assembly of the Academy of Sciences:
The Soviet press was soon filled with anti-Lysenkoite articles and appeals for the restoration of scientific methods to all fields of biology and agricultural science. Lysenko was removed from his post as director of the Institute of Genetics at the Academy of Sciences and restricted to an experimental farm in Moscow's Lenin Hills (the Institute itself was soon dissolved). After Khrushchev's dismissal in 1964, the president of the Academy of Sciences declared that Lysenko's immunity to criticism had officially ended. An expert commission was sent to investigate records kept at Lysenko's experimental farm. A few months later, a devastating critique of Lysenko was made public. As a result, Lysenko was immediately disgraced in the Soviet Union, although his work continued to have impact in China for many years after.
Lysenko died in 1976.
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