LU Dingyi [Old style: LU Ting-yi] (1906-1996)
A long-term member of the Communist Party of China who became one of the first targets of the Cultural Revolution. He was the second most prominent individual in the rightist clique led by Peng Zhen (the mayor of Beijing), and displayed various other rightist tendencies at various times in relation to ideology, education and culture.
Lu Dingyi joined the CCP in 1925 when he was a college student in Shanghai. In 1945 he was elected to the Central Committee and became the head of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Party where he reported to Liu Shaoqi. In 1959 he also became a deputy premier and an alternate member of the Politburo, and retained all these positions until his downfall in May 1966.
In 1956 Lu gave a speech “Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom, a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend!” which seemed at the time to support that slogan of Mao’s. However, during the Cultural Revolution this speech was criticized as a distortion of Mao’s line. [Whether it really was a distortion of Mao’s line at that time has been disputed by the sinologist Roderick MacFarquhar in his book The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 1.] In any case it did become quite clear later on that rightists were perverting this slogan to enable revisionist criticism of Mao and socialism.
In 1964 a five-person “Cultural Revolution Small Group” (CRSG) was formed at Mao’s urging to lead the criticism of revisionist and bourgeois works in the cultural sphere. [This was before the GPCR, properly speaking, got underway.] Beijing mayor Peng Zhen was the director of this group, and Lu Dingyi the deputy director. In 1961 a vice-mayor of Beijing, the non-Marxist, non-Party member Wu Han, reissued a play he had written earlier, Hai Rui Dismissed from Office, whose real target at this point was Mao for dismissing Peng Dehuai as Minister of Defense of the PRC (because he was a rightist). This is just the sort of thing that the Cultural Revolution Small Group (CRSG) was supposed to be on the lookout for and criticize; but they did nothing even though it took place right under their very noses. Worse yet, when Yao Wenyuan issued a revolutionary critique of Wu Han’s allegorical play in Shanghai in 1965, this CRSG suppressed Yao’s critique in Beijing—just the opposite of what they were commissioned to do! For reasons like this Mao condemned the CRSG and called the Propaganda Department of the CCP a “palace of the King of Hell”. And Lu Dingyi’s fate was thus sealed.
Lu Dingyi was removed from office because he was a rightist and in cahoots with other rightists. However, there was some strange secondary conniving going on as well. Apparently Lu’s wife, who it seems was mentally unbalanced, spread the rumor that Lin Biao’s wife (Ye Qun) engaged in loose sexual behavior both before and after her marriage to Lin. This outraged Lin, and Lu Dingyi denied he had anything to do with his wife’s rumor-mongering. It has also been alleged (in at least one bourgeois source) that Lu Dingyi himself directly criticized Lin Biao for “simplifing” and “vulgarizing” Mao’s ideas, something which was in fact often true of Lin. These things have raised suspicions in some quarters about Lin Biao’s real motives when after the charges of rightism were leveled against Peng Zhen and Lu Dingyi, Lin claimed (apparently without any good evidence) that this group was planning a coup d’etat! This is the sort of messiness that abounds in the history of the GPCR and which confuses the central issues. Regardless of the personal squabbles, and regardless of whether Lin Biao’s charges were true or not, it is clear that the Lu Dingyi and his cohorts did in fact deserve to be replaced.
In 1979, after the capitalist-roaders seized power following Mao’s death, Lu Dingyi was rehabilitated and was given high ceremonial positions. He died on May 9, 1996, unlamented by Maoist revolutionaries.
A few of Lu Dingyi’s writings are available at: http://www.bannedthought.net/China/Individuals/index.htm#LuDingyi
LU Xun [Old style: LU Hsun] (1881-1936)
A great Chinese writer, probably the greatest of the Twentieth Century, and also a firm and very influential revolutionary. He is widely viewed as the most prominent individual in modern Chinese literature.
Lu Xun was the pen name of Zhou Shuren [or Chou Shu-jen in the older Wade-Giles transliteration]. He wrote in baihua (the vernacular) as well as in classical Chinese, and seems to have been the very first serious writer to do so. Lu Xun wrote short stories, essays and poetry and was an editor, translator and critic. He also led the important Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers in Shanghai during the 1930s.
While not himself a member of the Chinese Communist Party, Lu Xun strongly sympathized and cooperated with the Party and supported its revolutionary struggle. Mao Zedong and the CCP always very much appreciated his writing and political work, and after the liberation of China in 1949 the revolutionary government published and strongly promoted his works.
Lu Xun’s fictional works are now easily available in English, as with the 2009 anthology, The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun, which the scholar Jeffrey Wasserstrom said “could be considered the most significant Penguin Classic ever published.” However, perhaps even more interesting for revolutionaries is the Selected Works of Lu Hsun in 4 volumes (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1960), and other volumes from China, which include many of his political essays, articles and letters. These volumes are available online at: http://www.bannedthought.net/China/MaoEra/index.htm, in the Art and Literature section.
See also: “For Your Reference: Lu Hsun: Brief Biographical Notes”
LUDWIG FEUERBACH AND THE END OF CLASSICAL GERMAN PHILOSOPHY [Book]
An important philosophical work by Engels, first published in 1886. This work is available online in several places, including: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1886/ludwig-feuerbach/index.htm
“In Ludwig Feuerbach (the full title is Ludwig Feuerbach and
the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy) Engels shows how the advance was made from
Hegelian idealist dialectics to materialist dialectics, and from mechanical to dialectical
“Feuerbach was a German philosopher of the mid-19th Century who turned from Hegelian idealism to materialism, and whose work had a big influence on Marx and Engels. This book by Engels, published in 1888, was originally written as a review article on a book on Feuerbach by C. N. Starke.
“The following are its principal contents.
“1. Engels explains the basic difference between materialism and idealism. It arises from the question—which is prior, spirit or nature? Idealism says that spirit is prior to nature. Materialism says that nature is prior to spirit. Material being is prior to mind and ideas.
“Modern idealism has been specially concerned with the question whether we can gain reliable knowledge of material things, of the external world, and concludes that such knowledge is impossible. Engels refutes this view, and shows that practice demonstrates that our ideas can and do constitute a true reflection of external material reality.
“2. He shows that the materialism of the past was mechanical materialism. Its great limitations were
(a) that it conceived of the motion of matter as exclusively mechanical motion, and could not grasp other forms of motion of matter, such as chemical or living processes;
(b) that it could give no account of development and evolution, either in nature or, still less, in history and human society.
“3. He explains the essence of Hegel’s philosophy and of the advance from Hegel to dialectical materialism. Hegel considered every process of change and development as being a mere reflection of the self-development of the ‘Absolute Idea,’ which ‘does not only exist, where unknown, from eternity, but is also the actual living soul of the whole existing world.’ Marxism threw over such ‘idealist fancies’ and ‘resolved to comprehend the real world, nature and history, just as it presents itself to everyone who approaches it free from preconceived idealist fancies.’
“Engels shows that dialectical materialism regards the world as a complex of processes, not as a collection of ‘ready-made things.’ Dialectics is ‘the science of the general laws of motion both of the external world and of human thought.’
“4. He discusses the essential ideas of historical materialism, as the application of dialectical materialism to the sphere of human society. He shows that the driving force of history is the class struggle, and that classes and class struggles are rooted in economic conditions. He goes on to discuss the economic foundations of the development of the state and of law, and then of political and social ideology, of religion, philosophy, etc.
“In criticising Feuerbach’s ‘philosophy of religion and ethics,’ Engels attacks the approach which deals with abstractions such as ‘humanity,’ instead of with ‘real living men as participants of history.’
“As appendix are added Marx’s eleven Theses on Feuerbach, notes by Marx in 1845 in which he summarized his own ideas as opposed to mechanical materialism.” —Maurice Cornforth, ed., Readers’ Guide to the Marxist Classics (1952), pp. 25-26.
LUKÁCS, Georg [György] [Family name pronounced roughly: loo-kawch] (1885-1971)
Lukács was a Hungarian revisionist philosopher and literary critic. His best known work was History and Class Consciousness, published in German in 1923 and in English in 1971. He himself denounced this work after it received strong criticism from many Marxist-Leninists including the leaders of the Comintern. In that book Lukács rejected the Marxist base/superstructure analysis of society, a rejection that has found favor with a number of other academic “Marxists” who focus mostly on literary criticism. Lukács put forward a Hegelianized version of Marxism which also emphasized the topics of reification and alienation, somewhat along the lines of the earliest writings of Marx, and which is sometimes called “Marxist humanism”. He was, however, a strong defender of realism in literature and art.
Lukács’s books and ideas have mostly been of interest to various groups of Academic revisionists, including the Frankfurt School and the diverse revisionist trends going by the general name of “Western Marxism”.
The lowest social class consisting primarily of those pushed down and out from other social classes, including especially from the working class (proletariat) but also from the petty bourgeoisie, from the peasantry (in countries where that class still exists), and even from the bourgeoisie itself in some cases. Thus, the declassed individuals from other classes, who have fallen upon severely hard times, and who try to survive as best they can by hand-to-mouth methods, as beggars, vagrants, living on the streets, or as prostitutes and pimps, through petty thievery or other small-scale crime, as drug addicts or as street level drug dealers, by sponging off of relatives or others, and through help from individual or small-scale charities and soup kitchens, and from the very inadequate government welfare programs where such programs actually exist.
The word ‘lumpenproletariat’ was coined by Marx and Engels in their early work, The German Ideology (1845-46). ‘Lumpen’, in German, originally meant “rags”, and later evolved to refer to those dressed in rags, beggars and scoundrels. The modern lumpenproletariat, whether dressed in rags or not, often amounts to those who are the dregs of society and in many cases the most extreme victims of capitalist society. Are they therefore potentially revolutionary? In some cases, certainly. But their conditions of life (which Marx & Engels refer to in the first quotation below), which leads them into an isolated, individual struggle for existence and thus often into a bitter and extreme individualist perspective (“I have no choice but to look out for myself, so to hell with everyone else”), generally prevents them from seriously engaging in real revolutionary struggle—unless they come under strong, organized and disciplined revolutionary proletarian leadership. The lumpenproletariat is overall characterized by a lack of class consciousness and solidarity.
There have been a few attempts to build a revolutionary movement with the lumpenproletariat as a major part of its core, but these have not been at all successful. One such abortive attempt was made in the U.S. during the early 1970s by a split-off from the Revolutionary Union led by the Stanford University professor Bruce Franklin. That effort, which hoped to base itself on the revolutionary student movement in combination with lumpen elements which it considered were leading the Black, Chicano and other national liberation movements in the U.S., fell apart before it could hardly even get seriously underway. (See Venceremos Organization.) Before that futile attempt, though, Franklin did write an interesting article, “The Lumpenproletariat and the Revolutionary Youth Movement” (1969), which appeared in the RU’s Red Papers 2 and is also available separately online at: https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-1/red-papers-2/franklin.htm In that 1960s-1970s era the Black Panther Party also had a strong pro-lumpenproletariat focus (see Huey Newton quote below), which—along with vicious attacks on the Panthers by U.S. government agencies—were an important reason for its collapse. At the present time, though, it is mostly just a few isolated anarchists who still favor a revolutionary strategy centered on the lumpenproletariat.
It is true, however, that as the current social and economic crisis of the U.S. and world capitalist system continues to worsen, and as more and more jobs disappear because of automation and the rapid development of artificial intelligence, the size and importance of the lumpenproletariat in modern society is bound to increase, perhaps very rapidly at some points. For this reason, any rational strategy of social revolution will have to take this into consideration and find ways to involve the best sections of the lumpenproletariat in mass struggle under the leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. (See LUMPENPROLETARIANIZATION entry below.)
“The ‘dangerous class’, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.” —Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848), ch. 1.
“On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni [street people in Naples], pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème; from this kindred element Bonaparte formed the core of the Society of December 10. A ‘benevolent society’ — insofar as, like Bonaparte, all its members felt the need of benefiting themselves at the expense of the laboring nation. This Bonaparte, who constitutes himself chief of the lumpenproletariat, who here alone rediscovers in mass form the interests which he personally pursues, who recognizes in this scum, offal, refuse of all classes the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally, is the real Bonaparte, the Bonaparte sans phrase.” —Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), ch. 5.
“Why the future upswing should be ‘characterised’ by a sharp conflict of pauperised petty bourgeois is not evident at all. Nor does there appear to be any reason why the pauperised town petty bourgeoisie should be brought in just at this moment. Lumpen-proletarians are sometimes distinguished for their sharp conflicts, and sometimes for their amazing instability and inability to fight.” —Lenin, “A Caricature of Bolshevism” (April 4 (17), 1909), LCW 15:383.
“Apart from all these [other classes], there is the fairly large lumpen-proletariat, made up of peasants who have lost their land and handicraftsmen who cannot get work. They lead the most precarious existence of all. ... One of China’s difficult problems is how to handle these people. Brave fighters but apt to be destructive, they can become a revolutionary force if given proper guidance.” —Mao, “Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society” (March 1926), SW1:19.
“China’s status as a colony and semi-colony has given rise to a multitude of rural and urban unemployed. Denied proper means of making a living, many of them are forced to resort to illegitimate ones, hence the robbers, gangsters, beggars and prostitutes and the numerous people who live on superstitious practices. This social stratum is unstable; while some are apt to be bought over by the reactionary forces, others may join the revolution. These people lack constructive qualities and are given to destruction rather than construction; after joining the revolution, they become a source of roving-rebel and anarchist ideology in the revolutionary ranks. Therefore, we should know how to remold them and guard against their destructiveness.” —Mao, “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party” (December 1939), SW2:325-6.
“As the ruling circle continue to build their technocracy, more and more of
the proletariat will become unemployable, become lumpen, until they have become the popular
class, the revolutionary class.” –Huey Newton, “Supreme Commander” of the Black Panther Party,
quoted in: Garrett Epps, “Huey Newton Speaks at Boston College, Presents Theory of
‘Intercommunalism’”, The Harvard Crimson, November 19, 1970, online at:
[Epps also reported: “The Panthers seek to organize the ‘unemployable’ elements of society, or ‘lumpenproletariat,’ Newton said, because they form the only revolutionary class in technological society.” The Black Panther Party was internally torn between proletarian tendencies and lumpen tendencies. Leaders such as Fred Hampton represented the best of the proletarian revolutionary tendencies, while–unfortunately–Party co-founder and top leader Huey Newton, represented some of the destructive lumpen tendencies which were a major part of the reason for the eventual disintegration of the BPP. –Ed.]
LUMPENPROLETARIAT AND FASCISM
It has sometimes been argued that the lumpenproletariat is the social base for fascism. It is more correct to say that part of the lumpenproletariat may become a part of fascism’s social base, and be used as a violent tool by the ruling class against the working class. Most of the actual social base for fascism, however, is located in the increasingly desperate petty bourgeoisie in times of economic crisis and social breakdown. Even sections of the working class itself, i.e., the least class conscious sections, and the most easily fooled and bamboozled sections, may become part of the social base of fascism. Demagogues can easily fool severely victimized and desperate people from all social classes into supporting fascism, even though that form of capitalist society is always instituted and directed by the bourgeoisie itself for its own purposes (i.e., to keep the masses down and under tight control).
“Fascism is not a form of state power ‘standing above both classes—the
proletariat and the bourgeoisie,’ as Otto Bauer, for instance, has asserted. It is not ‘the
revolt of the petty bourgeoisie which has captured the machinery of the state,’ as the British
Socialist Brailsford declares. No, fascism is not a power standing above class, nor government
of the petty bourgeoisie or the lumpen-proletariat over finance capital. Fascism is the power
of finance capital itself. It is the organization of terrorist vengeance against the working
class and the revolutionary section of the peasantry and intelligentsia. In foreign policy,
fascism is jingoism in its most brutal form, fomenting bestial hatred of other nations.
“This, the true character of fascism, must be particularly stressed because in a number of countries, under cover of social demagogy, fascism has managed to gain the following of the mass of the petty bourgeoisie that has been dislocated by the crisis, and even of certain sections of the most backward strata of the proletariat. These would never have supported fascism if they had understood its real character and its true nature.”
—Georgi Dimitrov, “The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism”, Main Report delivered at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International (Aug. 2, 1935), online at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/dimitrov/works/1935/08_02.htm
[Dimitrov’s point is that fascism is still the rule of the capitalist class even though it may have a “social base” of support in the petty bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat, and even sections of the working class itself. —Ed.]
The transformation of part of the working class (proletariat), and part of the petty bourgeoisie as well, into an expanded lumpenproletariat (see above). This is especially apt to occur on a large scale during times of prolonged economic crisis such as the present, and will certainly hugely intensify if and when the present crisis develops into outright severe and intractable depression.
It must be recognized that there is a slow but steady trend in modern capitalist society toward the lumpenproletarianization of growing sections of the working class. As jobs disappear (because of both the continuing capitalist overproduction crisis and, what perhaps is the even more serious problem over the long run, of intensifying automation), it is inevitable that the size of the lumpenproletariat will continually increase. There will be more and more chronically unemployed people, and more and more who become essentially unemployable under this system. In addition, many youth born into working class families are now finding it harder than ever to find good-paying and secure jobs—if they can find any work at all. They are being lumpenproletarianized even faster than their parent’s generation. The present “precariat”, as it is being called, the lower strata of the working class consisting of mostly young people who work temporary or part time jobs with very poor pay and few if any benefits, and who have little prospect of finding good and stable jobs, is one type of half-way station for those being driven down and out of the working class entirely and eventually into the lumpenproletariat. It is probably this lower strata of the working class, which is being pushed down toward the lumpenproletariat but is not yet there, which will have to form an important part of any powerful revolutionary movement in countries like the United States. However, it may also be true that their precarious conditions of existence are already starting to change the ideology of many in this strata into something approaching the more traditional lumpenprolarian individualist outlook. This, at least, is the concern.
There is no solution to this problem under the capitalist system. Even schemes like “guaranteed basic income” payments (a generalized form of welfare), to the extent that they are implemented, will in effect only promote the growth of the lumpenproletariat in a way that is less dangerous to the continued rule of the capitalist class.
There are two choices for the working class today: 1) accept meekly being driven down into the lumpenproletariat; or 2) make social revolution and destroy the evil capitalist-imperialist system once and for all. (And even that first, “easy” choice may not actually be real, if the bourgeoisie ends up destroying humanity through nuclear war or environmental catastrophe before we can stop them.)
LUNACHARSKY, Anatoly (1875-1933)
Russian revolutionary and the first Soviet People’s Commissar of Enlightenment (Minister of Culture and Education), continuing in that position until 1929. He led major campaigns for literacy and cultural education. He was also a prominent art and literary critic and journalist specializing in cultural matters.
Lunacharsky sided with the Bolsheviks at the time of the split with the Mensheviks in 1903, but in 1908 a faction of the Bolsheviks infatuated with idealist philosophy, and led by Lunacharsky’s brother-in-law Alexander Bogdanov, split away from the Leninist core. Lunacharsky went with them, but rejoined the Bolsheviks in 1917. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the rather dubious Proletkult movement in the early years of the Soviet Union.
See also: GOD-BUILDING
LURIA, Alexander Romanovich (1902-1977)
Russian psychologist and one of the founders of neuropsychology. He carried out extensive research into the effects of brain injuries among people during World War II, and made especially important advances in our understanding of the function of the frontal lobes of the brain, and of those regions of the left hemisphere related to language.
LUTHER, Martin (1483-1546)
German church reformer, founder of Protestantism (and Lutheranism specifically) in Germany. He strongly supported the wealthy burghers (“middle class” citizens), noblemen and princes against the peasants and poor townspeople during the Peasant War of 1524-25.
“As the Reformation spread, it soon became clear that religious truth was far from the only thing at stake. With the Pope denounced, the [Holy Roman] emperor ignored, and all the established authorities questioned and ridiculed, the entire social order came under scrutiny, and the threat of revolution hung in the air. Respectable reformers such as Luther and Calvin, and the conservative kings and princes who backed them, struggled mightily to contain the revolutionary passions set loose by the Reformation, but not always successfully. As early as 1524 the peasants of southern Germany rose in revolt against their princes, demanding greater freedoms and a greater say in the rule of the land. They declared themselves followers of Luther, believing that his overthrow of the spiritual authority of the Roman Church was but a prelude to the overthrow of the social and political order it supported. The socially conservative Luther, however, was horrified at what he saw as a profound misunderstanding and misuse of his doctrines and fiercely denounced the uprising in a tract, Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of the Peasants. Though the uprising was crushed within the year by the combined forces of Catholic and Protestant princes, the fear that religious reformation might spell social revolution had already taken root.” —Amir Alexander, Infinitesimal (2014), pp. 27-28.
LUXEMBURG, Rosa (1871-1919)
Outstanding revolutionary Marxist who participated in the Polish, German and international proletarian movements. She was a prominent left-wing leader of the Second International, and one of the founders of the Communist Party of Germany. In 1919 she was murdered by counter-revolutionary agents associated with the revisionist Social-Democratic government of Germany.
[More to be added...]
Acronym commonly used in bourgeois publications in India to refer to what the government considers to be “Left-Wing Extremism”. According to the fascist or semi-fascist government of India this term applies to all the parties on the left who are actually serious about social revolution and/or are already engaged in revolutionary struggle. The most important of these parties is the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which the government has been unsuccessfully attempting to destroy since its foundation in 2004.
LYELL, Charles (1797-1875)
Scottish scientist, whose two textbooks Principles of Geology (1830) and Elements of Geology (1838) established the modern foundation of the science of geology. Lyell was also a major influence on Charles Darwin.
To make a false statement with the intent to deceive, or to purposely mislead someone into believing a falsehood. Most of the time, and in most circumstances, this is not a good thing, of course. And we revolutionaries should specifically make it a general principle not to lie to either our comrades or to the masses. However, there are times when lying is both necessary and completely moral, as when lying to the enemies of the people prevents the occurrence of some serious harm. Amazingly enough, there have been some idealist philosophers (especially Kant) who have not been able to understand this elementary truth!
See also: CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE
“I would not break my word even to save humanity.” —Johann Gottlieb Fichte, quoted in Raymond Smullyan, The Tao is Silent (1977), p. 126. [Fichte was a disciple of Kant, and this quote is a great example of how fantastically stupid Kantians and others who think in terms of absolute moral maxims can be! —S.H.]
“One ought always to lie when one can do good by it.” —Mark Twain, “On the Decay of the Art of Lying” (1882). [Expressing a much more sensible point of view! —S.H.]
LYNCHINGS — Political
“On the night of April 4, 1918, nearly a year to the day that the
United States entered World War I, Robert Paul Prager, a 30-year-old German immigrant,
and by some accounts a radical socialist, was lynched by a mob of ‘patriots’ outside
Collinsville, Ill., a small market center and coal-mining town of 4,000, located 12
miles across the river from St. Louis.
“Prager was a sacrificial lamb, a casualty of the wartime madness. His lynching was an extreme case, but it was not an aberration. In the months leading up to America’s entry into the war and during the year and a half that the nation was an active participant, the federal government whipped the American public into a superpatriotic froth with a calculated program of propaganda, and attacks on German aliens and German Americans were all too common.” —Jay Feldman, “U.S. government has long history of whipping up fears and repression”, Sacramento Bee, Aug. 21, 2011, p. E3. This article was adapted from Feldman’s book, Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America (2011).
“A Missouri lawmaker has called for the lynching of whoever threw paint on a Confederate statue. State Rep. Warren Love called for the unknown vandals to be ‘hung from a tall tree with a long rope.’ He later denied he was referencing the hanging murders of blacks in the South. ‘That’s just a Western term,’ he said, ‘and I’m very much a Western man.’” —“Only in America”, The Week, Sept. 15, 2017, p. 6. [The impulse to lynch people, for both political and racist reasons, is by no means ended in this horribly vicious and reactionary capitalist-imperialist country. —Ed.]
LYNCHINGS — Racist
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LYSENKO, Trofim Denisovich (1898-1976)
Soviet agronomist, and later the top government official for the genetic sciences in the Soviet Union. During the agricultural crisis of the early 1930s (due to the mishandling of agricultural collectivization by Stalin), he came to prominence for spreading good crop management techniques among the peasants. He borrowed and promoted the discovery that the phases of plant growth can be accelerated via short doses of low temperatures and moisture controls applied to the seeds and young plants. But he went on to claim, without good scientific evidence, that these benefits also became “acquired characteristics” which were then passed on to future plant generations. In this he was applying the erroneous genetic theories of the early French naturalist Jean Lamarck (1744-1829) and the Russian horticulturalist Ivan Michurin.
Thereafter Lysenko rapidly rose in the ranks of Soviet agricultural management because he was saying things that the Soviet government wanted to hear—that there were some easy technical ways to drastically improve agricultural production. (See LYSENKOISM entry below.) Lysenko was the director of the Institute of Genetics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences from 1940 to 1965, where he formally denounced Mendelian genetics. In 1948 Stalin’s backing ended virtually all opposition to Lysenko and his theories. After Stalin’s death in 1953 Lysenko’s power fell, but increased again under Khrushchev until both of them were removed from power in 1965.
There is a telling little story about Lysenko; it is said that he posed the following question on several occasions to the scientific workers at what was later called the Englehardt Institute of Molecular Biology in the Soviet Union: “What is DNA?” (That was indeed a question he sorely needed the answer to!)
This is a term that has come to mean something like letting political wishful thinking triumph over scientific fact, or even letting politics dominate and determine what scientific truth “actually is”.
In the Soviet Union under Stalin and Khrushchev, the agronomist Trofim Lysenko (see above) propagated a quack theory of genetics based on the supposed inheritance of acquired characteristics. However, even before the discovery of the central role of DNA in inheritance, the science of biology (and genetics specifically) had determined that (at least normally) there is no such thing as the inheritance of acquired characteristics. The giraffe’s neck is long not because its ancestors stretched theirs during their lifetimes, but because the ancestors with naturally longer necks survived, while those with shorter necks died before they could reproduce. (Counterpoint: Recent research seems to show that there really are some exceptional circumstances where there can be some inheritance of acquired characteristics, as with certain bacteria, but the fact remains that even if this is so it is only in highly atypical situations.) There were prominent geneticists in the Soviet Union who knew this full well, such as Nikolai Vavilov, and who were persecuted and sometimes imprisoned for their Mendelian views by Lysenko and the Soviet government. (Vavilov himself was arrested in 1940 and is said to have died of starvation in a Siberian labor camp around 1943.) Lysenko was welcome to his own opinions about genetics, but the persecution of those who disagreed with him was the crime, which was made much worse by the support of Stalin (and later Khrushchev) and the force of the state.
It is not entirely clear, however, how much direct damage Lysenko and his theories actually did to Soviet agriculture, though certainly there was some significant damage over the long run due to his disruption of genetic research. There were many other problems in agriculture, some of them probably much more important. For example, the brutal “top-down” method of agricultural collectivization carried out by Stalin in the 1930s led to the death of many peasants, the destruction of much of the livestock and to serious crop shortages. The continuing failure to use the mass line to mobilize the peasants to work in their own collective interests remained a major obstacle to the expansion of agricultural production. And insufficient industrial support was also given to agriculture over a period of decades.
Unfortunately the Lysenko episode has led to some widespread invalid conclusions, even among some Marxists, such as that any “government interference” in science is unjustified, and that scientists and other experts should be basically unrestricted in their activities. Of course any government will appropriately promote and fund those scientists and those theories which it has confidence in. And any government would be within its rights to restrict certain kinds of experiments or technologies for which there is good reason to believe that there are serious potential dangers for the people. Moreover, a socialist government in particular, will certainly find it necessary to criticize bourgeois ideas that scientists, just as any other segment of society, may still promote.
However, it is true that socialist society should also allow, especially in the natural sciences, “a hundred flowers to bloom, and a hundred schools of thought to content” (as Mao poetically put it). In looking at the experience of socialism in both the Soviet Union and China it seems clear that overall there was not enough freedom of thought and expression in the sciences, nor was there sufficient allowance (and even encouragement!) of new and minority ideas and views. On the other hand it, it was certainly necessary and correct to strongly criticize views and theories insofar as they had a bourgeois ideological component, and sometimes this was also insufficient! Of course this will generally be much more central and important in the social sciences than in the natural sciences.
See also: INSTRUMENTALISM
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