Stalinist geneticis: The constitutional rhetoric of T. D. Lysenko
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This study focuses on the constitutional rhetoric of T. D. Lysenko, the founder of an agrobiological doctrine (Lysenkoism) in the Stalinist Soviet Union. As the result of using not only scientific, but also political and ideological arguments, the Lysenkoists achieved an official ban on Mendelian genetics in the Soviet Union. Though the ban was brief and Lysenkoism as a leading biological doctrine was eventually deposed in favor of Mendelianism, today Lysenkoism remains a paradigmatic example of the pernicious political interference in science. My critical orientation in reading Lysenko's two major speeches is constitutional rhetoric. It combines Kenneth Burke's dialectic of constitutions, on the one hand, and rhetoric of the subject, on the other. My analysis shows that (1) Lysenko had to constitute his science against an enemy (Mendelism); (2) the Lysenkoist constitution depended on its context, but also on the arbitrary wishes of Lysenko and his followers; and (3) this constitution rhetorically invented its audience and got the people it addressed to identify with this invention. I also show that Lysenko's constitutional rhetoric created a space where scientific terms transformed into political and ideological ones, and vice versa. Contrary to Lysenko's intentions, his language also gave his opponents, Soviet Mendelians, grounds on which to defend their science and criticize Lysenkoism. This study of Lysenko's constitutional rhetoric contributes to a better understanding of modern science. I argue for a blurriness of the boundaries between what is scientific and political in the discourse of contemporary scientific controversies. I also argue that scientific language reveals more plasticity and capability to adapt to the political situation than has hitherto been assumed.