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Radio Berlin International #11 – Ecuador Protests / Filipino Community / Western Sahara

With activists from Ecuadorminka, ALPAS Pilipinas and Solidarity Rising


In this episode, we are talking about protest in Ecuador, the Filipino migrant community in Berlin, and Western Sahara.

* Follow Ecuadorminka on Facebook
* Follow ALPAS Pilipinas on Facebook
* Visit the website of the Solidarity Rising bike tour to Western Sahara

We ran out of time to play it on the show, but you can hear the Philippine peasant activists of the feminist punk band Catpuke make a chilling shoegaze cover of the Ramon Ayco protest classic “Tano” on Facebook at:

This episode is presented by Annie Musgrove and Mary Walle and produced by Tom Wills. is going on holiday for July and August, but we’ll be back in September!

Please tell us what you think of the show by emailing

You can hear previous episodes of Radio Berlin International here.

Three Takeaways from Socialism in Our Time

Last week, hundreds of socialists gathered in Berlin for Socialism in Our Time, a conference hosted by Jacobin and Transform Europe and headlined by Jeremy Corbyn. Here are three crucial points about the state of the Left and what we do next.

It’s been four months since socialist magazine Jacobin declared that the Left was in purgatory. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons for socialists to have a bleak assessment of our political moment. In the past few years, right-wing autocrats have gained a foothold at the helm of several major countries, the climate crisis is intensifying, and income inequality is only increasing, helped along by a global pandemic in its third year. And yet, the Left is making electoral gains in Latin America and France, and militant labor action at Starbucks and Amazon is rocking the US labor landscape. In this decidedly mixed moment, it’s incumbent on socialists to assess our current conditions and formulate strategies for how we can build power.

That’s exactly what the conference Socialism in Our Time in Berlin sought to do. Hosted by  Jacobin and Transform! Europe, and headlined by former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the conference drew several hundred socialists to the Oyoun cultural center in Neukölln on June 10 and 11. The organizers posed a central challenge: “Bernie Sanders’ first presidential campaign inspired millions and put socialism back on the map. Seven years later, Trump, COVID-19 and the Ukraine War helped the powers that be regain the upper hand. How can the Left break out of its impasse, organize the broad majority and inspire a vision for social transformation?”

The conference’s speakers, leading thinkers from North America and Europe, offered nuanced and sometimes conflicting answers. However, a common thread emerged: the Left’s urgent task is to merge with the working class. What does this mean, and how does it intersect with other pressing issues like climate and war? Here are three main takeaways. (Note that this article reports on the English-language panels, although a few others were also held in German. Due to space constraints, we can’t report on every speaker, but we encourage readers to check out the conference program and look up their work.)

On war: We need an immediate ceasefire and negotiations in Ukraine, and a positive Left vision for a new security order.

The war in Ukraine loomed large over many speakers’ analysis of the political moment. Jeremy Corbyn dedicated much of his keynote speech to the urgency of ending the Ukraine war. Speakers were quick to point out, however, that that war is one among many – and to make clear that, despite their Left critiques of NATO, Russia’s offensive is illegal and wrong. The panel “Every War Is a Defeat” sought to address the question, “Can we build an anti-war movement fit for the times?”

Corbyn acknowledged that winning any anti-war demands will take a broad-based peace movement that can exert leverage over governments. “Are we just going to be spectators and watch tens of thousands die,” he asked, “or will we skip the killing phase and go to the talking phase? Surely, it’s up to us to put all the political pressure we have.” 

What would such a movement demand in 2022? Several speakers, including Corbyn and Transform! Europe board member Walter Baier, gave the same prescription for the war in Ukraine: an immediate ceasefire, peace negotiations, a reimagined security order in Europe, and a reduction of nuclear threat. Corbyn called for an outright ban on nuclear weapons. “Those of us who have declared nuclear weapons an abomination have been declared weak, because we’re not willing to destroy half the world’s population,” he said. “But any nuclear weapon set off will beget another weapon, and another after that, and that will result in universal destruction.” 

Baier put forward a vision of a Europe without NATO. “Can NATO become a system of collective security in Europe, as some people believe? NATO can never be part of the solution because it’s part of the problem,” he said. “Any collective system which provides security needs to be universal….Otherwise it’s a military alliance, which NATO undoubtedly is.” And military alliances, he said, rather than leading to peace, usually lead to war. Corbyn echoed this idea, pointing out that a system of military alliances, set off by one triggering event, is what plunged Europe into World War I over a century ago.

What might a new security order look like? Volodymyr Ishchenko, researcher at Freie Universität Berlin, pointed out that the Left has no consensus on a positive vision for international strategy, nor even a robust discussion about it – and this is a glaring omission. “We don’t have our own camp in international policies, our own vision of how the international system should be transformed,” he said. He called for a more sophisticated and concrete strategy for how the Left moves from a world with wars and nuclear weapons to a world without them. 

Finally, it wouldn’t be a Left discussion of war without the acknowledgment of the centrality of class. Özlem Demirel, a Member of European Parliament for die Linke, said, “Wars are a result of a weak peace movement, so we have to organize. If we don’t, I don’t see that my children will have the same opportunity I had not to live with wars near them.” The brunt of these wars will affect the working class, who will experience higher inflation and suffering. In these “rich men’s wars, it is always the blood of the poor,” she said. “We need to organize the poor against the wars of the rich.”

On class: It’s still central to our project.

Most speakers brought up class struggle, but the panel most focused on it was “Contemporary Capitalism and Its Gravediggers,” which sought to describe the conditions of capitalism in this political moment, and to answer the question: “What does the global working class look like today, and how can it fight back?” 

For New York University professor Vivek Chibber, author of The Class Matrix and The ABCs of Capitalism, conditions may look different, but our project hasn’t changed. “Unless the socialist Left embeds itself in the lives of working people again, there’s no hope for socialism,” he said. A merger between the Left and the working class is still the only way to challenge capital. Critics from inside and outside the Left claim that Marxists focus too heavily on blue-collar workers, at the expense of other segments of the working class, but Chibber said this is a “myth created by the aging New Left.” He defined the working class as anyone who works for a wage in a non-supervisory position, including people in the service sector, factories, and even in banking and finance. As for the fixation on blue-collar workers, he argued, unions and communist or socialist parties at the time of peak labor militancy – the 1930s and 1940s – focused on that sector of the working class because of the conditions of the time, namely a huge manufacturing industry.

What is Chibber’s prescription for labor organizing in 2022? He described today’s capitalism as slow-growth, deindustrialized, and globalized, and today’s workers as more atomized and precarious – and therefore taking on a higher risk if they attempt to organize. Labor organizing, he said, will have to be done outside of manufacturing, in the service sector and in small shops, and it may not be centered on collective bargaining the way it was in the past, but rather in collective agreements in the informal sector, which is harder to organize and doesn’t have the institutional protections that manufacturing had in the 1940s. 

He encouraged today’s still-marginal Left not to fall into the assumption that it has the power to map the labor landscape and then go organize in it. The union movement is on the defensive in the Atlantic world, he said, and the Left’s job is to find out where the energy is in organizing in the working class and embed itself there; Starbucks, he said, was an example. Only after doing this can a Left-labor formation figure out where it has leverage against capital (like at Amazon) and fight on that terrain.

On climate: We’ve got to resist the ideology of individual actions and build a movement that’s rooted in the working class.

The climate crisis is inseparable from the other crises capitalism has created, and the conference dedicated a panel to it called “Their Planet and Ours,” featuring British commentator Grace Blakeley and French researcher Gala Kabbaj. 

For Blakeley, the question of whether Leftists should focus their efforts on using the state to tackle climate change, or building power outside the state, is a false dichotomy. Liberals tell us politics and economics are separate realms, and the state is a tool for making minimal, market-based interventions to prevent climate change – but, Blakeley said, this ideology can’t stop the climate crisis. “There isn’t this clear distinction between politics and economy, between social movements and the state,” she said. “If we’re going to deliver a Green New Deal, we need to do it now,” by building the community organizations that will be there if and when the Left is able to wield power using the state. 

Blakeley did not prescribe just one right course of action for a left-oriented climate movement. Instead, she called for a “multiplicity of projects” and a broad vision that encompassed strategies from disruption and direct action to engaging in elections. “We need to show people that a different way of organizing society is possible. We need to show people it’s possible to win political power…. And everyone will have a different space on that spectrum based on their preferences, based on their background, and that’s fine.” 

Kabbaj, meanwhile, named another liberal ideology that our movement will have to counter if we want to stand a chance against climate crisis: the individualization of ecology. The insistence that every person must lead an ethical life based on their consumer choices – “how should I live? Should I keep on taking planes?” – comes straight from the ruling class, she said. Furthermore, this individualization allows the ruling class to stigmatize working-class lifestyles. Instead, our central task is to find a way for the climate movement to connect with the “popular classes” – only then can it wield economic and electoral leverage. In France, she noted, the Greens put forward a vision centered on an individualized, bourgeois ecology, whereas Melenchon’s Left program proposed a project of society that articulated ecology, feminism, anti-racism, and questions of economic equality together. Unsurprisingly, it was this second vision that garnered votes from the working class.

So, how should socialists respond when people ask, “What can I do to stop climate change?” Blakeley’s answer was simple: forget your carbon footprint and join a movement.

Parliamentary election results in France. Bad blow for Macron, mixed news for the Left

The Left made gains in yesterday’s elections, but so did the fascist Right. We still have plenty of work to do


“France can’t be governed” sobbed right-wing newspaper headlines as the results of the French parliamentary elections came in on Sunday night. Several pundits worried that Macron’s government would be “paralyzed”. The main Paris regional newspaper Le Parisien was obliged to conclude that the left-wing Popular Union (NUPES) had “won a semi-victory”, but noted at the same time “a historic breakthrough” for the far right.

Macron, recently re-elected present, has lost around a hundred seats compared with five years ago. He is 43 seats short of an overall majority and to get his laws passed, he will need to negotiate ad hoc alliances with the right (who got 64 seats) or with the fascists (89 seats).

Other reasons for celebration included the defeat of a number of Macron’s star ministers, including Blanquer, a mad Islamophobe convinced that French universities are controlled by what he calls “islamoleftists”, Castaner, the butcher who organized brutal repression of the Yellow Vests (dozens of demonstrators lost eyes or hands from rubber bullets), and Montchalin, Minister of the environment, who hit the headlines last week when she attacked her local left-wing opponent, who is Jewish, as a Russia-loving antisemitic left wing anarchist.

The Left, still very much a minority in the assembly, grew from 64 MPs to around 150. In addition, the 64 elected in 2017 were in general elected on far less radical platforms than the one of the Popular Union left alliance set up last month. The appetite for “spectacular change” as Mélenchon terms it, is very real. Good news too in some particular regions. In the French overseas territories of the West Indies, eight out of nine elected MPs are attached to the radical left alliance, Popular Union; in Reunion island, six out of seven are. In the Seine Saint Denis department, grouping together multi-ethnic working class suburbs around Paris, all twelve MPs elected are part of the radical left alliance.

The polarization also led to a huge rise in the number of MPs from Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, which grew from eight seats to 89. Three million people voted RN at the legislatives in 2017, in the first round. 4.2 million voted RN this time, a rise of forty per cent. The electoral system favours bigger parties and this has very much magnified the advance of the RN in terms of the number of seats.

The rise in the RN is very much the fault of Emmanuel Macron. Mélenchon pointed out that Macron and Le Pen were performing “a duet and not a duel”, and certainly Macron’s series of Islamophobic laws, meant to divert attention from his vicious austerity programmes, have helped Le Pen no end. In addition, this week many of those Macronist candidates eliminated in the first round refused to call for a vote for left wing candidates in those towns where they faced fascists in the second round. All this after Macron had promised in 2017 “to do everything to make sure” that those who voted RN “would no longer have any reason to do so” after he had been in power for five years.

The mass media has also played its part over recent years, inviting well-dressed fascists to join debates and chat shows every day of the week. The Left must also bear some responsibility, though, as most organizations have been very weak indeed at organizing antifascist campaigning, often considering fascism as an inevitable result of austerity and poverty.

The RN now claims to have 80,000 members. With its 89 members of parliament and the large quantities of new funding permitted by this new situation, it is to be feared that they will be able to build solid party structures at a local level in hundreds of towns, which has been their main weakness so far.

So is the glass half full or half empty ? People can choose to be optimistic or pessimistic, but what is clear is that polarization continues. Macron is weakened, but determined to push forward his Thatcherite reforms. Faced with mass strikes, he failed to smash the pension scheme in 2019, but he is determined to start over, and aims at raising the standard pension age from 62 to 65. He has said that students should pay far more to go to university (at present they pay “only” around £250 a year), and he wants to continue to slash public sector jobs and taxes for the rich. The tremendous combativity that French workers have shown over the last twenty five years means we can be sure there will be massive struggles, and soon. The new left MPs, elected through a dynamic, even insurgent, campaign, must throw themselves into supporting extra-parliamentary struggle as well as doing their job in the assembly.

There is plenty of work to do on the Left. The fight against Islamophobia is still often avoided by most Left organizations (most recently very quiet about the racist banning of full-body swimsuits). The braking role of the Trade Union leaderships on the strike movements will have to be challenged, and anti-fascist campaigning needs to become a national habit.

John Mullen is a Marxist activist in the Paris region and a supporter of the France Insoumise. His political website is here 

Public Condemnation by the International Community

Ecuadorian migrants in Germany and Europe, together with various international organisations, demand an end to the repression and criminalisation of social protest


In view of the days of mobilisations that began on the 13th of June, where the peoples and nationalities of Ecuador in the legitimate exercise of social protest, drew a list of demands that attempted to put a stop to the neoliberal policies intensified by the government of Guillermo Lasso, representative of the Ecuadorian and regional oligarchy. Here we detail the following points:

1. Reduction in fuel price with no more increases

2. A one-year moratorium in the financial system so that families can pay their debts.

3. Fair prices for agricultural products

4. Employment and labour rights

5. No mining in indigenous territories

6. Respect for collective rights

7. No privatisation of strategic sectors

8. Policies of price control and speculation

9. Urgent budget for health and education

10.Generation of public policies for security and protection.

We denounce the publication of decree 455 of the state of exception to be applied in the provinces of Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Imbabura, announced on Friday, June 17 by President Guillermo Lasso and we demand the revocation of the same decree through the parliamentary function.

Despite this concrete list of demands and after 5 days of protest, the Ecuadorian state does not seek ways of dialogue but presents in this decree extraordinary measures such as the suspension of the right to freedom of association and assembly, the disposition of the armed forces, as well as the restriction of the right to freedom of information through which it even intends to restrict or suspend fixed mobile telecommunications and internet services. These measures would not only block the legitimate right to protest but also reveal the intention of an escalation of state violence similar or worse to those that occurred during the mobilizations of October 2019, in which 11 people lost their lives and more than 1507 people were injured by the indiscriminate use of police force. This situation has only managed to be denounced thanks to the presence of alternative media active in social networks that allow the democratization of voices not aligned to the government.

We denounce the media siege of the events that took place and the complicity of the private media that in alliance with sectors allied with the government, the banks and the Ecuadorian oligarchy use discourses of racial hatred and classism to create an image of the internal enemy in the country, in this case personalising the indigenous leader Leonidas Iza Salazar.

We denounce the arbitrary and illegal detention of the president of CONAIE, Leonidas Iza, on June 14, 2022 at 00:45 in the province of Cotopaxi by the government and the military, provoked the people to come out with more force to demand his freedom. Leonidas Iza was released 24 hours later with an appointment in court on the 4th of July.

We denounce the implementation of the law called “Progressive Use of Force” approved on June 7 of this year, days after the announcement of the day of indefinite mobilisations called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and social sectors. The law is not in force and yet it is already being applied.

We denounce the criminalisation of social protest by the government of Guillermo Lasso, and we denounce the disappearances and detentions on 14. 06, 15.06 2022 within the framework of the mobilisations in the different territories of the country. We also demand access to truthful and accurate information about the whereabouts of political prisoners to their relatives and communities, and finally, we demand reparation for the exacerbated uses of violence.

Ecuadorian migrants in Germany and Europe, together with various international organisations, demand an end to the repression and criminalisation of social protest, a right enshrined in the Constitution of Ecuador, Art. 98, and in the Magna Carta of the United Nations (UN).

We call on the international human rights community to echo this communiqué and request its prompt dissemination. And finally, we stand in solidarity with all expressions of resistance and social protest by the popular sectors. We recognise the historic role of the indigenous movement against neoliberalism, which currently, in alliance with various urban sectors, is in agreement with the national strike currently underway.

For us the joyful rebellion!



This Statement by Ecuadorminka is supported by the following organisations:

  • Bloque Latinoamericano Berlín
  • Mujeres en Movimiento Hamburg
  • Voz Latina
  • Abya Yala Anticolonial
  • Movimiento Nuevo Perú-Comité Hamburgo
  • Ventana al Sur, Hannover
  • gira zapatista red hamburgo
  • Inti Taklla Hamburgo
  • Gira zapatista Berlin
  • Perrxs del futuro Berlín
  • Vernetzung der Gira Zapatista Hamburgo
  • Britches, Hamburgo
  • Red de solidaridad con America Latina RESOCAL Suecia
  • Niunamenos Berlin
  • Sor Juanas 9M
  • Ende Gelände Berlin
  • Die LINKE Berlin LAG Internationals
Demonstration in Berlin: Monday, 20th June 6.30pm, Gendarmenmark (note new location)

Reductionism and Epigenetics: The Lysenko Debate

Both Morgan and classical genetic theory, as well as Lysenko’s theories on genetics were one-sided and reductionist. Dialectics more aptly describes current thoughts on evolution


Nature versus nurture“?

Controversies about heredity pit classical gene-theory against environmental-developmental theories. The former invokes an unchanging gene and is associated with Mendel, Weismann, Watson and Crick – and later with Dawkins. Environmentalists see heredity as malleable to the ‘outside’ world, and are linked to Lamarck, Lysenko and the modern Epigenetic school – and the Marxist Lewontin. This controversy continues to be intrinsically and intensely political.  This article has three aims: To synopsise Engels on ever-changing nature; to outline briefly modern epigenetic (developmental) knowledge against classical genetics and Lysenkoism; and to consider the political rise of Lysenko. This complex area is more fully detailed here: Marxism and Science January 2022.

Engels on Nature and Dialectics

Marx and Engels disparaged ‘mechanical materialism’, or ‘reductionism’. They conceptualized an ever-changing world. As Marx delved into society, Engels systematized their joint views on philosophy and nature.

Engels argued that two principles imbued nature — universal change (coupling transformation and negations); and ‘holism’ (an interpenetration of opposites). These underly a universe where ‘laws’ play out. Change was a fundamental principle in nature:

“The whole of nature, from the smallest element to the greatest, from grains of sand to suns, from protista to men, has its existence in eternal coming into being and passing away, in ceaseless flux, in unresting motion and change.” (Engels 1987)

Just as was it in society, which Marx described as ‘an organism’:

“present society is no solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, constantly changing.” (Marx 1976)

Engels’ second principle opposed rigid ‘hard and fast lines’, by applying laws of  ‘interpenetration of opposites’, and ‘negation of the negation’:

“Dialectics.. prevails throughout nature … Hard and fast lines are incompatible with… evolution. Even the borderline between vertebrates and invertebrates is no longer rigid… Dialectics knows no HARD AND FAST LINES, no unconditional, universally valid “either”- “or”.”

Opposed to foisting theories onto nature, Engels insisted:

“As in historical science, one must proceed from given facts, in natural science the interconnections are not to be built into the facts but discovered in them, and… verified as far as possible by experiment.”

This parallels Marx’s view of society:

“By studying each of these evolutions on its own, and then comparing them, one will easily discover the key to the phenomenon, but it will never be arrived at by the all-purpose formulae of a general theory.” (Marx 1989)

Unsurprisingly, Engels could not specify specific genetic theory as basic grounding discoveries were still awaited. But his startling insights of change and interpenetration of opposites were borne out later, in genetics.

Early theories of genetics

By the 1800s heredity was seen as a blending of characteristics from two parents.  Already ‘preformationists’ argued for a prefigured outcome; against ‘epigeneticists’ who pointed to development. In 1802 Lamarck presented his theory where evolution incorporated ‘inheritance of acquired characteristics‘.

This envisaged animals responding to changed environments, with new habits and bodily functions, which passed on to progeny (e.g. the giraffe’s long neck). But Lamarck offered only a “brilliant anticipation”, said Engels, because scientific details were still insufficient.

Gradually, largely influenced by mechanical materialist developments in other sciences (eg physics), a ‘particulate‘ theory of hereditary prevailed over ‘blending’. Darwin hypothesised in 1875 a ‘gemmule’. Meanwhile Mendel reported ‘discrete units’ or ‘factors’, later to be called ‘genes’. In pea experiments, he found the segregation (separation) of characteristics.

Contemporaneously, Weismann removed tails in mice, whose offspring had normal tails.  For Weismann, these simple experiments proved Lamarck wrong. He now invoked ‘protection’ for ‘germ cells’ (sperm or eggs), locating heredity in/on newly discovered chromosomes in the nucleus. Weismann’s dictum became hereditary information goes from the nucleus to cytoplasm, never in reverse. Germ cells remained ‘unchanged’ over generations (Keller 2000). Sutton extended this, saying chromosomes formed the “physical bases of the Mendelian law of heredity.” (Sapp)

Chromosomes were conceptualised as mappable chains of genes. When Morgan caused visible chromosome mutations in the fruit fly, he associated them to phenotypic (i.e. externally seen features) changes. Yet his Nobel Lecture acknowledged:

“There is no consensus of opinion amongst geneticists as to what the genes are, whether they are real or purely fictitious […] it does not make the slightest difference.” (Morgan 1934).

Fictitious or not, gene theory became ever more determinist and mechanistic. Geneticists spoke of ‘‘a gene for this and a gene for that,” as they still do. Some countered this position: C.H. Waddington (England) and I. I. Schmalhausen (USSR), aimed to integrate environmental pressures and genome. They balanced continuity-stability forces (nucleus) with disruption-adaptation forces (cytoplasm). They argued that natural selection (proposed by Darwin) not only gave a direction (new adaptations to new circumstances) but it also stabilized the genome. Hence if a well adapted characteristic , took on random variation in that characteristic, this only reduced ‘fitness’ to the environment. Natural selection prevented disturbances, because physiology was canalized, becoming ‘insensitive’. (Lewontin and Levins 2000)

Many such voices against a purely ‘nuclear monopoly’ were ignored (Sapp). Ironically, an English Marxist,  J.B.S. Haldane helped the rout of environmentalists, mathematically underpinning a ‘Modern Synthesis’ of gene and evolutionary theories. Genes were proclaimed the motor of evolution, driven by random nuclear-gene-chromosomal mutation. This relied on ‘blind chance’ leaving natural selection to funnel ‘superior fits’. Till recently even Marxists in modern biology agreed, including Lewontin:

“The organism […] bears a significant mark of random processes.” (Lewontin 2000).

After Watson and Crick famously discovered DNA (1953), this  was hailed as the ‘Master Molecule’ (Keller 2000). The Weismann one-way traffic (nucleus to cytoplasm) now became Crick’s ‘Central Dogma’:

“Transfer [of information] from protein to protein, or from protein to nucleic acid is impossible” (Crick 1970).

Lysenko’s views

In contrast to gene-centric views, Lysenko held that heredity was a life-long physiological interaction between organism and environment, the gene was not immutable nor eternal:

“The principal error the geneticists commit is their contention that genes are immutable in a long line of generations.” (Lysenko 1936; Soyfer 1994).

Lysenko rejected the Morganist concept of chromosomes, saying heredity included environment:

“Heredity is […] the property of a living body to require definite conditions for its life and development and to respond in a definite way to various conditions.” (Lysenko 1943)

Lysenko believed that heredity (especially in plants) could be moulded in a ‘definite direction’. It followed that Lysenko rejected Weismann:

“The materialistic theory of the evolution of living nature necessarily presupposes the recognition of heredity transmission of individual characteristics acquired by the organism under definite conditions of its life, it is unthinkable without recognition of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.” (Lysenko 1948)

Hence a ‘sharp controversy’ divided biologists: Can characters and properties acquired by plant and animal organisms in the course of their life be inherited?

Lysenko claimed he utilised dialectics, and criticised Darwin, who he said:

“Based on Malthus’ theory of overpopulation…  inferred a struggle presumably going on within species” (Lysenko 1948)

Actually Marx and Engels previously criticised Darwin for importing into nature societal views from Hobbes and Malthus. Most Marxists accept this and extend it to current ‘sociobiology’ (Rose, 1984; Lewontin 2000).

Modern Epigenetics in relation to Lysenko’s theories

But Lysenko’s claims took form as a theoretical mechanical reductionism. Lysenko’s data lacked statistical and experimental rigour. However, modern data confirms Lysenko’s theory in parts. Especially on vegetative propagation (asexual plant breeding including grafting).  Inheritance by acquired characteristics clearly does occur.

  • Mechanisms to conserve life accumulated changes are described. These may arise from both environmentally directed adaptations or from genetic mutations.

  • Nuclear genes or DNA are modifiable by environment through life.

  • Nucleus and cytoplasm share responses of cell and organism.

However, against Lysenko, who argued genes did not exist:

  • It is the DNA molecule and genes, interacting with ‘regulators’ that form the mechanism by which environment affects heredity. i.e. the gene does exist.
  • Thus graft hybridisation occurs, but by mechanism called Horizontal Gene Transfer.

Lysenko came to control agriculture in the USSR for a period, but was unable to improve outputs in the USSR. However while grain production was not improved, it was not reduced (Levins and Lewontin 1985).

In summary, Lysenko dogmatically pronounced on weak evidence. However, key portions of Lysenkoism turns out by modern theory to be correct, and challenges Western classical genetic dogmas. The principle of change and inter-connectedness in the world are fundamental. Translated – both gene and environment – explain heredity.

Thus both Western orthodox genetics, and Lysenkoism were wrong in insisting on exclusive merits. Only a two-sided approach (a molecular toolbox of DNA, and environmental signalling) forms a coherent theory. Doubtless that while Lysenko was partly correct his ‘Arakcheyevism’ (authoritarianism, dogmatism, bullying) rendered USSR agronomy paralysed.

Lysenko’s capture of agricultural control in USSR 

What explains Lysenko’s rise to power? By 1945, after the Second World War, the USSR had lost 20 million people or a tenth of the population (McCagg 1978); lost a massive infrastructure and was encircled (Levins and Lewontin 1985). Cold War politics portrayed Lysenko and Morgan as political representatives of either ‘communism; or ‘capitalism’:

“Lysenko portrayed Mendelian genetics as an ‘American’, ‘imperialist’, ’racist’, and ‘fascist’ pseudoscience, the Western media presented ‘Lysenkoism’ as a ‘Soviet’, ‘Communist’, ‘Marxist’, ‘totalitarian’ pseudo-science” (Dejong-Lambert 2012).

The purges cut through Soviet life, but Joravsky differs as to its effects on Lysenkoism:

“It is widely believed that the Lysenkoites had a direct line to the apparatus of terror and deliberately used it to get rid of their opponents… though the evidence offered has been extremely weak” (Joravsky 1986).

Conventional wisdom is that Stalin was responsible for the purges and for Lysenko’s rise. Here I only discuss the latter. Stalin probably agreed with aspects of Lysenkoism, such as inheritance of acquired characteristics. Roll-Hansen commented in 2015:

“Looking back… one can perhaps add that there was a grain of truth in Stalin’s judgment.”

Actually early on Stalin’s support for Lysenko was ‘weak’ says the main historian of the Lysenko Affair – Joravsky:

“as he was pushing his way to the top… Stalin’s public endorsement was comparatively weak… At a farmers’ meeting in 1935, when Lysenko stumbled in his speech and apologized for being a vernalizer (A treatment of seeds with cold supposedly to spur cold-hardiness -HK) rather than an orator, Stalin interjected “Bravo, Comrade Lysenko!” (Joravsky 1986)

But Jorasvky goes on to say:

“The highest chief, Stalin, was subtly evasive, though pro-Lysenkoite. On May 17, 1938… he proposed a toast…: “To the flourishing of science … whose people … do not want to be slaves of tradition…” Stalin refrained from a forthright statement that would have ended all disagreement and mobilized all officialdom in support of agrobiology. As a result, the chiefs of higher learning and ideology kept on fumbling for a compromise.”

It is evident that the reality was more complicated than usually depicted. Stalin was increasingly in a minority of Marxist-Leninists (McCagg 1978). Two factions within the party  – Andrey Zhdanov’s and Malenkov’s –  struggled against each other. Yuri Zhdanov, was enticed into an open attack on Lysenko, who had been intimidating classical geneticists.

This enabled Malenkov to counter-attack and stage the 1948 session on biology. Here Lysenko’s address summarised two ‘trends in Soviet biology’. Stalin had been asked to edit Lysenko’s speech. Stalin removed statements such as:

“Any science is class-oriented by nature” (Stalin wrote in his edit: “Ha-Ha-Ha!! And what about Mathematics? And Darwinism?”); and: “By its nature the modern capitalist system cannot tolerate a true depiction of natural development”, and “there is no genuine science in that bourgeois society” (Pollock E, 2008).

Conference participants demanded to know if Lysenko’s line against any notion of the gene, was endorsed by the party. Malenkov’s team ensured Lysenko could reply that the Central Committee endorsed Lysenko. This effectively stopped opposition. Under Lysenko’s domination, wide spread firing of university teachers, academicians and researchers – known as anti-Lysenkoist – ensued. This had a dire impact on USSR science.


Engels viewed nature as an interconnected, perpetual change.  Neither Morgan and Lysenko found a realistic mechanism to explain this in genetics. Both were reductionist, obstructing understanding of reality in nature. Battles in genetic theory based upon political ideology occurred in both the West and the USSR. Epigenetics is the ‘proof of the pudding’ of dialectics in genetics. Currently heredity and theories of evolution are being rethought. Complicating purely biological reductionism, is political reductionism that insists upon painting Stalin as the all-evil solitary dictator of all that happened. Such political reductionism masks the real history of the battles of factions of revisionist politicians inside the USSR and obstruct any real history of Lysenkoism.


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