Mankind Quarterly 31 (1991) 231-253


It could be Neo-Lysenkoism, if there was ever a break in continuity!


Volkmar Weiss

German Central Office for Genealogy, Leipzig



In the Soviet Union, the suppression of both genetics and of mental testing began simultaneously in 1936. In 1951, V. N. Stoletov, one of the most fervent partisans of Lysenko, became Minister of Higher Education of the Soviet Union and served in similar positions for more than 25 years. As a consequence, human behavioral genetics could never be established in the Soviet Union as a legitimate field of research. In East Germany, efforts to introduce the study of psychogenetics were supported by the academic establishment until 1982, but this promising beginning was suppressed by the dogmatists. Because IQ tests measure inter-individual differences, and human genetics is the science concerned with the inheritance of individual differences, when both fields are forbidden or discredited, what cannot be measured can not be discussed scientifically and hence the dogma that all men are created equal can be preserved. This, without any break of continuity, is the logic underlying Marxist ideology in universities all over the world.


The Problem

It is a remarkable fact that in recent years the most effective opposition to the study of human evolution has come not from religious fundamentalists and the political right, but from biologists and other scientists who identify themselves with the radical left. The focus of these critics was on the inheritance of intelligence ….   So wrote E. O. Wilson in 1978. Meantime, his opponents, R. Lewontin, S. Rose, and L. J. Kamin (1984), affirmed that the aim of their campaign against IQ and class society was to create a society of greater social justice, a socialist one. Trained as a natural scientist in an East European socialist country (the GDR), where he also had to pass compulsory examinations in Marxism-Leninism in order to qualify, the author may be forgiven for wondering what will result from the injection of socialist political aims into biological and social science in Western universities. Even in East Germany, after experiencing first racism and then Lysenkoism, most scientifists learned to adhere strictly to an uncompromising ethic of objectivity.

However, the implications of human behavioral genetics (or psychogenetics as this field is called by Russian and East European authors) clearly extends beyond natural science. Recognizing that even the best scientists may be influenced by their personal experiences, the author believes that he has something to add to the continuing hereditarian-environmentalist debate. The security service of East Germany (the Stasi) prevented this article from being written eight years earlier. Now, after the reunification of Germany, the arguments it contains may be freely expounded by a citizen of a democratic society.


Vsevolod Nikolajevic Stoletov

In August 1974, the Second Conference of the Pedagogues of the Socialist Countries was staged in East Berlin, chaired by Margot Honecker, Minister of Education and wife of the East German Communist Party leader, and Gerhart Neuner, President of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of East Germany. One of the main contributors to the program was Neuner’s colleague, V. N. Stoletov, who since 1972 had held the position of President of the Academy of Pedagogical Science of the Soviet Union, and from 1951 had served in top administrative positions as Minister of Education and Higher Education under Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, thereby winning no less than three Lenin medals (compare Sovetskaja Bolschaja Enciklopedija, Moscow 1975, Vol. 24/I, p. 533). Speaking with such powerful authority, Stoletov (1974) declared:

There are biologists who support the following hypothesis of the creation of uniqueness: In the process of fertilization two gametes are melding together, from which results a unique genotype as a hereditary basis. For its development the unique genotype needs an unique environment (including the family and the schools), corresponding to its range of possibilities. If there is not such an environment, the genotype will not realize its promise. Hence, the uniqueness of the genotype is a basis for the uniqueness of a personality.

This biological hypothesis it refuted by the majority of biologists. Social properties of humans, positive and negative one, are not of biological, but of social origin.

But the biological hypothesis corresponds with the spirit of bourgeois ideology … . Bourgeois ideologists are satisfied with the prejudice, that a master can only be the offspring of a master, the intellectual of an intellectual, the laborer of a laborer. As it is the case in a society, founded with exploitation. … The biological hypothesis of an unique genotype is a convenient masquerade of social injustice.

The one-sided stupidity of these few sentences is so great that even Richard Lewontin (1975) hardly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Stoletov. For Stoletov, Mendelian segregation seems to be completely unknown. Holding the degree of doctor of biological sciences since 1958, Stoletov should have known better.


The Marxist-Leninist Origin of Lysenkoism

The importance of the 1948 session of the Lenin Pansoviet Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Moscow is widely known to historians of science (Belardelli 1977).  It was at this meeting that Lysenko and his roughly 700 supporters and claqeurs were given the authority by the Communist Party to destroy the study of genetics throughout Communist-dominated East Europe and Siberia, denouncing true genetics as reactionary “Mendelism-Morganism”. The gathering ended with a final address of salutation to comrade Stalin. In the ensuing campaign some 200 Soviet geneticists lost their lives under extraordinary circumstances (Medvedev 1969).

The original proceedings of this ill-famed session (see English translation 1951) were coedited by I. I. Prezent and V. N. Stoletov, both active participants in the conference who presented their own papers immediately before the concluding address – which was made by T.D. Lysenko himself. Stoletov declared:

Lysenko told us that from the works of our teachers of Marxism-Leninism we cannot only deduce the general guiding ideas for studying the variability of inheritance, but also concrete hints concerning the origin of such modifications. …  The experiments of the followers of Michurin show in a convincing way that there is no Mendelian segregation. The inapplicability of the Mendelian rules can even be proven by experiments with Drosophila. … No maneuver of the Mendelists is able to rescue the unfertile unscientific theory of chromosomes from complete unmasking. … From the point of view of practical utility Mendelism was a vacuum in the past, is a vacuum in the present and obviously will be a vacuum in the future.

Thus spoke comrade Stoletov in July 1948, as deputy director of the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences. He already held the presidency of the Timirjazev Academy of Agriculture, whose former president V. S. Nemtshinov spoke in opposition to the Lysenkoists and therefore was attacked directly by Stoletov, the second highest ranking representative of Lysenkois and Lysenko’s most fervent propagandist. The seemingly irresistible rise of this man, born in 1907, is remarkable.

The first Russian edition of Stoletov’s book The Fundamentals of Michurin Biology (see English edition 1953) appeared in 1948 and was soon translated by the state into several languages. Then, in 1950, Stoletov was appointed Deputy Minister of Agriculture responsible for the entire Soviet Union. Although he had published nothing about public education, he was appointed Minister of Higher Education in 1951, and held authority in this and similar administrative positions until 1972. His career was even more remarkable in that his background was concealed and known only to a few specialists who, for fear of persecution by the security services, could never make the information public. To my knowledge, this paper is the first which has ever dared to disentangle his background.

The great struggle between Lysenko’s agrobiology, proclaimed as “socialist biology”, and classical genetics began as early as 1936. In that year, at the instigation of Stalin himself, all testing of intelligence was forbidden in Soviet schools (and up to the time of this writing this order has never been officially cancelled in any East European country). Nobody ever understood the intrinsic logic of this simultaneity of events better than Stoletov. Because IQ tests measure inter-individual differences, and human genetics is the science of the inheritance of inter-individual differences, when both IQ tests and human genetics are forbidden (or even simply discredited) what cannot be measured cannot be discussed scientifically: hence it is not possible to challenge the thesis that all men are created equal. Since 1936 to the present, the study of the genetic component of intelligence has remained taboo in the Soviet Union. About 1980 some twin studies investigating the heritability of IQ were published in Moscow, demonstrating a heritability of 0.78 (Lipoveckaja, Kantonistova and Chamaganova 1978), but further research was stopped as Western authors began to comment on these results.

The official resurrection of classical genetics began in the Soviet Union in 1965, following the fall of Krushcev (Medvedev 1969). But research into human genetics still had difficulty in becoming acknowledged as a legitimate field of research. Even now, in 1990, there is no single journal dedicated to human genetics that is edited in East Europe. Even greater obstacles exist where human genetics are studied in relation to psychology and psychiatry. Mental testing for clinical purposes is no longer unknown, but the Soviet reviewer (Moskalenko 1985) of the monograph Psychogenetik: Humangenetik in Psychologie und Psychiatrie (Weiss 1982a) – who expressed a very favorable opinion with respect to the psychiatric side of this volume – seemingly considered it wise to ignore the chapters on IQ and “testology” (compare also Gurevic 1980) which comprised of the most important part of this book.

Any revival of orthodox communist ideology is always accompanied by attacks against human behavior genetics. In the course of a power struggle in Communist China, Lin Piao was accused in 1974 of preaching a “theory of innate genius” (Li 1974), which was described as being rooted in Confucianism:

The question whether man’s intellect and talents are inherent and attributed to his natural make-up or they are acquired after birth through learning, that is, whether they have class nature or social practicability, has given rise to much controversy between the two classes. … Although some classical authors of Marxism did make mention of “genius” in their works, yet what they meant by “genius” is absolutely different from the “genius descended from heaven”, boosted by Confucius, Lin Piao and their like. … Marxism maintains that the forming of a genius does not depend on a certain person, but on the Party, the vanguard of proletariat, that is, on mass line, on collective wisdom. … Lin Piao claimed that this ability and knowledge were different from others because they originated from his parents, in other words, he inherited them from his ancestors. This is a downright lie, aiming at deceiving not only himself but others also. The core of the problem consists in what he meant by “ancestors” and “inheritance”. If by ancestors he meant the ancestors of mankind, that is the ancestors from “man-like-ape” to “ape man”, the brain of man had indeed gone through a number of leaps. … Some people might use lame arguments by suggesting that although ability cannot be inherited, yet the potentiality of acquiring ability may be derived from ancestors. However, the difference between porter and philosopher refers to the fact … that differences are brought about by the kind of training and education children have received during the time of growth and development. … The theory of innate genius, pushed by Lin Piao, is reactionary politically, idealist ideologically and simply a variety of the notorious eugenics. Lin Piao, while flaunting the banner of innate genius, was actually committing heinous fascist crimes. … Armed with Marxism, Leninism and Mao Tse-tung thought, the progressive proletariat and the broad masses of the working people will surely carry on a severe criticism of Lin Piao’s theory of innate genius, to get rid of its poison.

And in the Soviet Union, Tschernenko (1983), the last old man of the proletarian vanguarde, asked (as General Secretary of the Communist Party) that: Can a concept be held scientific, that explains mental properties by the existence of genes and denies that such properties are caused by the social environment?

Stoletov (1973) had good reason to boost: On July 4, 1936, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union accepted a special resolution against the pedagogical deformations in the system of education. Reading this resolution today, one will be convinced of the gigantic foresight of the Communist Party.


The Failed Attempt to Introduce Psychogenetics into the GDR

Doubts about Stoletov’s gigantic foresight were widespread in East Germany. The GDR was the only East Bloc country wherein classical genetics, as used for the applied purposes of plant and animal breeding, was never completely suppressed by Lysenkoism. Whether this was due to the courage of Hans Stubbe, director of the Central Institute for Cultivated Plant Research in Gatersleben and President of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences since the post-War years, or more due to the fact that an influential member of the Politburo was a son of Correns, the rediscoverer of Mendelian inheritance, historians of science will find out. But otherwise, as elsewhere in Marxist-dominated Central and Eastern Europe so also in East Germany, human genetics and mental testing were officially nonexistent.

The author remembers when – as a boy of 14 – during a blizzard in the Saxonian Ore Mountains in the winter of 1959, he had to rescue cows from open-air sheds where they were kept according to the rules of applied Marxism – much open-air, not much feed, but the milker strongly educated in Marxist doctrine (and as a result of all this, nearly no milk). When the veterinarian of our village criticized this dogmatism, the district journal of the Party accused him of defending reactionary opinions. This manifest contradiction between pretension and reality instigated the author to search for the deeper roots of such policy and to study genetics. He found that until 1965 the official curriculum in genetics was a curious mixture of Lysenkoism and classical genetics, and that a student had to use his own common sense.

Translated by H. A. Freye (as already published in a Russian translation), there appeared in 1968 in Jena a German translation of Curt Stern’s second edition of his Principles of Human Genetics. Chapter 27 of this influential book is dedicated to mental characteristics and some data on IQ distributions among relatives are given. In Berlin in 1969, Hans Grimm, professor of physical anthropology, proposed to this author should write a thesis on the inheritance of mathematical talent. To conduct an empirical study in this area, official permission of the administration was needed, and the young man was granted such permission during a period of ideological softening. Because IQ testening was impossible, the study had to rely on questionnaires. But in spring 1970, the security service became aware of the questionnaires, all of which were immediately confiscated. Only due to the support of some farseeing scholars (to mention especially Klaus Korn, Director of Educational Planning of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, who was eager to produce rational arguments against the fruitless dogma of the Stoletov variety) made it possible to reach an agreement, by which the security service permitted a statistical analysis of the questionnaires to be done on the condition that the results were kept in a secret archive. Under such restrictions the publication of research results was impossible. However, this obstacle was overcome when Hans Stubbe, editor of Biologisches Zentralblatt, in 1972 published the resultant data on the inheritance of mathematical-technical giftedness. In the same year the first session of East German human geneticists was held in Gatersleben, and Weiss (see Weiss 1982) was able to present data (see Table 2 in, and

The interpretation of this tables and other data reveals that a major gene locus of general intelligence, with gene frequencies of 0.20 and 0.80, respectively, could explain the empirical distribution by Mendelian segregation. From the Hardy-Weinberg-law the frequencies of the hypothetical genotypes can easily be calculated, corresponding to the following median IQs: IQ 94 and IQ 130 for the homozygotes, IQ 112 for the heterozygotes. If we consider the probability of a single individual belonging to a specific type, a Mendelian analysis can be carried out.

With respect to human behavioral genetics in the nonmedical field, the intellectual climate in East Germany grew unfavorable again in 1974 and remained so in the following years. As already mentioned above, in 1974 Stoletov was personally present in East Berlin. In 1970 nobody in East Germany was aware of the new wave of hereditarian-environmentalist debate starting in the United States. But by 1974 Marxist dogmatist were inspired once again to search for and hunt down their ideological enemies, the behavioral geneticists.

Despite this new pressure, during the 1970s both medical genetics (Freye 1975) and differential psychology (including of course, IQ tests; see Guthke 1978) came to be recognized as established fields of research in East Germany. In 1979 Weiss (see Weiss 1982b) obtained permission to test several forms in special schools for the highly-gifted. For a number of very simple nonverbal intelligence tests he found a linear relationship of 2 : 3 : 4 in raw test scores and processing time between IQs 94, 112, and 130. From these findings this author hypothesized that there are types of general intelligence with discrete true scores, the heterozygotes being exactly in the mean of the difference of the means of the homozygotes. Analogous to many other results in biochemical genetics we can assume that these discrete differences in central processing time result from an underlying polymorphism in the activity of one rate-limiting enzyme. The empirical data strongly support the hypothesis that the quantitative effects of the alleles are additive in a simple way.

In 1980, the manuscript of the monograph “Psychogenetik” (Weiss 1982a) was complete. Now some fierce dogmatists were discovering that a cuckoo’s egg had been laid in the nest of socialism. One example: S. Rose asked his East German colleague, the professor of neurochemistry D. Biesold at the Karl-Marx-University of Leipzig (personal communication by Biesold), whether there was no means of stopping further publications by Weiss, because such publications printed in a socialist country were particularly disadvantageous to the progaganda of the Radical Left in the Western world. Consequently, in 1981 a battle raged in East Germany between proponents supporting the publication “Psychogenetik” and its Marxist adversaries. The main opponent, Walter Friedrich, director of the Central Institute of Youth Research in Leipzig, wrote an article (1981) entitled “The Legend of IQ” (dedicated to the 70th birthday of W. Hollitscher, a fierce former partisan of Lysenko), and the official Party daily Neues Deutschland (July 11, 1981), with a one-million circulation, published his paper entitled “The Legend of the Higher IQ of the Rich. A Cynical Formula of Inheritance fur Justification of Inequality” (see reprint in Friedrich 1982). Weiss and his manuscript were not attacked by name, but by argument, and the aggressivity of this article, reviving the nightmare of Lysenkoism, was interpreted by a large number of specialists as a threat to rational science as a whole. Therefore, for October 6, 1981, both the president of the Academy of Sciences of East Germany and the President of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences sent invitations to well-known specialists in the fields of genetics, human genetics, neurobiology, ethology, psychology, pedagogics and even philosophy and sociology to attend a full-day seminar. The chairman of this seminar was Gerhart Neuner (already mentioned above in the Stoletov section). Weiss was given a fair chance to defend his case. In the following month, permission to print was obtained from the censors. 1981 was no longer 1948.

Moreover, censors in Communist countries are generally only people who are not interested in doing more work than necessary, and therefore the original version approved was never compared with the text that was finally printed. Because of this, a courageous author has the possibility of inserting new pages into the galleys and publishing data and opinions which had never passed censorship. To cite an example (Weiss 1982a, p. 109), the author was able to insert the following sentence in the published version, which had not been approved by the censors: In a representative sample (n = 6000) of East German university students raised by the Central Institute of Youth Research (1980), in 56% of all families at least one parent has an academic degree, in 33% both parents. This one fact from a secret research program disproved the official Marxist dogma that the majority of all university students in socialist countries are the children of laborers and peasants.

Because Friedrich and his security service co-worker Harri Schulze (see 1986) were unable to stop the publication of “Psychogenetik”, they accused their subordinate Weiss (as was fashionable in the wake of the Burt affair) of forgery of data and with the intention of fleeing East Germany for the West. With the aid of such calumnies, at the end of the year 1982 Friedrich sought and obtained the backing of high-ranking officials of the Communist Party and all further research in psychogenetics in East Germany came to an end.

Hans Eysenck (1982) has discussed the relation between Marxist ideology and the measurement of IQ and claimed that Weiss’ East German research would show that Marxism and IQ were not an intrinsic contradiction, as claimed by the political Left in the West. The irony of Eysenck’s arguments was that at the very time the cited author was under the threat of arrest and had already lost all possibility of doing further empirical  work of defending his field of research. After 1984, Weiss was forced to work in a quite different field (for results, see Weiss 1990b). What follows is the usual story of life and resistance under totalitarian conditions. In order to be published abroad, any new theoretical contributions had to be smuggled out of the GDR. As a consequence of this two versions of the “quantum mechanics of intelligence” appeared, one in England (Weiss 1986b), the other, circulated by friends under a pseudonym in the United States (Weisman 1986). Immediately after the appearance of Psychogenetik (Weiss 1982a), a West German research group (Frank 1985; Lehrl and Fischer 1990) studying information psychology (see Eysenck 1986 and 1987) could confirm Weiss’s prediction that in terms of information entropy (measured in bits of working memory storage capacity, compare the comment by Garfield 1989) the heterozygotes are exactly between the homozygotes (for more detail see Weiss, Lehrl and Frank 1986). In the eighties it was in East Germany a sign of personal courage to defend the study of human behavioral genetics while citing Weiss (Hagemann 1988; Tymnik 1990). A total of 33 reviews of Psychogenetik were published in various parts of the world, but the editors of some East German journals, such as Zeitschrift für Psychologie and Wissenschaft and Fortschritt, did not dare to publish such critiques.

On the morning of October 9, 1989, a Monday, comrade W. Friedrich met comrade Egon Krenz, chief of all security forces in East Germany, in Berlin, and told him that according to the enquiries of his institute the shooting of demonstrators in Leipzig would be the beginning of a violent anticommunist revolution. In order to rescue the privileges of the party, a peaceful outlet had to be found. What followed is history. The Each-Monday-Revolution of Leipzig overthrew the dictatorship. Among the hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators were the author and his family. On October 16, 1990, at the Martin Luther University in Halle, the author was able to defend the monograph Psychogenetik (Weiss 1982a) as a second thesis (in German “Habilarbeit”, necessary as a prerequisite to obtain the title of Professor).

Second half of this paper and references