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Anatomy of a Public Campaign: “Academician Luzin's Case” in Soviet Political History

  • Aleksey E. Levin (a1)
Abstract

In October 1985, when I first began research on the case of Academician Luzin, rumors had surfaced in the Soviet Union that new official regulations would require scientific articles containing no classified information to be published in Soviet journals before they could be cleared for publication abroad. The rumors were true. The effect of these new regulations clearly resembled the campaign against the mathematician Nikolai Nikolaevich Luzin, which had taken place fifty years before. Luzin was the victim of the first Soviet mass media campaign against such publication. The case against him appears to be an insignificant moment in the witch-hunting mania of the 1930s, since the propaganda was apparently aimed only at one full member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and his alleged misconduct.

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1. In scientific literature such examples can be found even earlier. The first such appeal I was able to identify was in an editorial published in the official magazine of the Moscow Mathematical Society soon after that body had been “reformed” in 1930. See “Sovetskie matematiki, podderzhivaite svoi zhurnal!” Matematicheskii sbornik 38, no. 3-4 (1931) : 1.

2. See, for example, Vestnik AN SSSR, no. 8-9 (1936) : 7-8.

3. See Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973) 8 : 557-559. On the mathematical circle informally headed by Luzin, see N. Vilenkin, “Komandor ‘Luzitanii'” ZnanieSila, no. 1 (1984) : 27-29.

4. Nikolai Nikolaevich Luzin (Moscow : AN SSSR, 1948); V. V. Golubev and N. K. Bari, “Biografiia N. N. Luzina,” foreword to Integral i trigonometricheskii riad, by Luzin N. N. (Moscow : Gos. tekhnteor., 1951) : 1131 . Lavrent'ev M. A., “Nikolai Nikolaevich Luzin,” Uspekhi matemalicheskikh nauk 29, no. 5 (1974) : 177182 ; Keldysh L. V., “Idei N. N. Luzina v deskriptivnoi teorii mnozhestv,” Uspekhi matemaiicheskikh nauk 29, no. 5 (1974) : 183196 ; Kuznetsov P. I., “Nikolai Nikolaevich Luzin,” Uspekhi matemalicheskikh nauk 29, no. 5 (1974) : 197210 . M. A. Lavrentiev, who knew Luzin well, gives his birthplace as Irkutsk and not Tomsk, as is commonly believed. Vilenkin, “Komandor ‘Luzitanii' “; “N.N. Luzin—vydaiushchiisia matematik i pedagog,” Vestnik AN SSSR, no. 11 (1984) : 95-102; Kuznetsov P. I., comp., Nikolai Nikolaevich Luzin : K 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia (Moscow : Znanie, 1983 . See also Uspekhi matemalicheskikh nauk : Spetsial'naia podborka statei o N. N. Luzine 40, no. 3 (1985) : 3-155.

5. Vilenkin, “Komandor ‘Luzitanii.'” This article seems to be the only recent publication that hints at some suspect moments in Luzin's life during the 1930s. I am aware of only one rather brief exposition of the Luzin affair in recent western historical literature; see Vucinich Alexander, Empire of Knowledge : The Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1917-1970) (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1984, 172173 .

6. Kol'man E., “Predislovie,” in Predvaritel'nye issledovaniia po topologii, ed. Listing I. B. (Moscow : Gos. tekhnteor, 1932), 26; Matematicheskii sbornik 38, no. 3-4 (1931) : 5 .

7. See Liusternik L. A. et al., “Deklaratsiia initsiativnoi gruppy po reorganizatsii matematicheskogo obshchestva,” Nauchnyi rabotnik, no. 11-12 (1930) : 6771 . D. F. Egorov was dismissed from the office of director of the Moscow University's Institute for Mathematics and Mechanics in December 1929 (see Za proletarskie kadry, 13 March 1931, 3), but he kept his position as professor of pure mathematics for several months afterwards. The so-called reorganization of the Moscow Mathematical Society was launched by a group of younger mathematicians in the course of the society's meeting on 21 November 1930 when Egorov had already been arrested (see Zaidenvar I., “Oktiabr’ v matematicheskom obshchestve i v institute mate matiki i mekhaniki,” VARN1TSO, no. 11-12 [1930] : 7374 ). The leading role in this reorganization was probably played by L. A. Liusternik, L. G. Shnirelman, A. O. Gelfond, L. S. Pontriagin, and possibly by some other people who stayed in the shadows. These peculiar aspects of Egorov's fate are never mentioned in recent Soviet biographical publications; see Kuznetsov P. I., “Dmitri Fedorovich Egorov,” Uspekhi matematicheskikh nauk 26, no. 5 (1971) : 169206 . See also Vucinich Alexander, Science in Russian Culture, 1861-191 7 (Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1970), 354356 ; Antonov-Ovseyenko Anton, The Time of Stalin : Portrait of a Tyranny (New York : Harper and Row, 1981, 195196 .

8. Izvestia, 27 June 1936, 4.

9. G. I. Shuliapin, “Otvet akademiku N. Luzinu,” Pravda, 2 July 1936, 3.

10. Pravda, 3 July 1936, 2. The campaign itself was launched and continued on the pages of Pravda. The second principal Soviet newspaper Izvestia paid it only minor attention, whereas the other central newspapers did not cover it at all. Several scientific magazines published additional materials on the case when the mass-media campaign was finished.

11. Pravda, 25 December 1935, 4. Kh. Muratov and M. Burov, “Lzheuchenyi v zvanii sovetskogo akademika,” Pravda, 31 May 1938, 4, and A.I. Potapova et al., “Lzhenauchnye metody akademika Rikhtera,” Pravda, 26 July 1938, 4. The campaign against pseudoscience was initiated after the Sovnarkom had not given its approval for the academy's annual plan and demanded that a number of changes be made (see Pravda, 11 May 1938, 3; see also the editorial on Soviet science on p. 1 of the same issue). Although a remarkable event in the social history of Soviet science of the 1930s, this campaign cannot be discussed here in any detail.

12. See Vestnik AN SSSR, no. 6 (1938) : 74-75; no. 7-8 (1938) : 127-128. See also “Nauku—na sluzhbu strane,” Pravda, 29 July 1938, 1.

13. Pravda, 9 July 1936, 3.

14. Ibid.

15. The special tribute to Uruguay probably resulted from the fact that its government had broken diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union several months earlier.

16. Pravda, 10 July 1936, 3; 12 July 1936, 3; 13 July 1936, 3; 14 July 1936, 3; 15 July 1936, 4.

17. See Front nauki i tekhniki, no. 7 (1936) : 121-128; Molodshii, “Ob uchenom vrage v sovetskoi maske,” Pod znamenem marksizma, no. 9 (1936) : 8-18.

18. See the examples of such conduct in Molodshii, “Ob uchenom vrage v sovetskoi maske. “

19. Pravda, 6 August 1936, 3.

20. Ibid., 1.

21. Ibid.

22. Pravda, 6 September 1936, 2-3. The science department had been established in late 1934; its full title was the Department of Science, Scientific-Technical Inventions and Discoveries.

23. See, for example : “Dostoinstvo sovetskoi nauki,” Priroda, no. 7 (1936) : 3-4; “Bol'shoi politicheskii urok,” Vysshaia shkola, no. 2 (1936) : 28-30. One magazine maintained that many scientific publications in foreign outlets had to be regarded as nothing but indications of “spiritual poverty and lack of love for our rodina and its great socialist construction” on the part of the authors; see Vysshaia shkola, no. 2 (1936) : 29.

24. Sovetskoe gosudarstvo, no. 4 (1936) : 116-117; Sovetskaia iustitsiia, no. 26 (1936) : 21.

25. Molodshii V., Effektivism v matematike (Moscow : Sotsekgiz, 1938 .

26. hvestia, 3 March 1950, 6.

27. Vestnik AN SSSR, no. 11 (1984) : 95.

28. VestnikANSSSR, no. 8-9 (1936) : 93.

29. Matematika v SSSR za sorok let, 1917-1957. vol. 2 (Moscow : Fizmatgiz, 1959).

30. Vucinich, Empire of Knowledge, 173.

31. In the middle 1930s several scientific journals in the Soviet Union published articles in foreign languages.

32. This fact is openly admitted by Vilenkin in “Komandor ‘Luzitanii.'” See also P. S. Aleksandrov, “Stranitsy avtobiografii,” Uspekhi matematicheskikh nauk 34, no. 6 (1979) : 219-249, esp. 235-236.

33. The autocratic professorial style of the German universities, as well as the value complex it was based on, was well entrenched in prerevolutionary Russian institutions of higher learning; see McClellend James C., Autocrats and Academics : Education, Culture, and Society in Tsarist Russia (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1979 . The traditional ethos of the German university mandarins is known to have sanctioned, at least to a certain degree, the “sacred right” of a professor to use the ideas and results of his staffers and students. Luzin probably believed that his actions were ethical.

34. The adjective Soviet was used to transform some previously suspect words, like intelligentsia, humanism, and patriotism, into vehicles of ideologically sanctioned meanings. This linguistic operation was performed in the middle 1930s. See A. Avdeenko, “Ob intelligentsia” Pravda, 9 December 1934, 2; D. Zaslavskii, “Sovetskaia intelligentsiia,” Front nauki i tekhniki, no. 7 (1936) : 13-20. See also Stalin's speech to the Eighth Ail-Union Congress of Soviets, Pravda, 26 November 1936, 1-5, esp. 2.

35. Stalin's call for a “friendly attitude” to, and “respect” for, “the new Soviet intelligentsia” (Pravda, 11 March 1939, 6) was not based on contrasting the new intelligentsia with the old, which apparently was already regarded as completely reformed. In 1938 the party's Central Committee defined the Soviet intelligentsia as those in the party, state, and kolkhoz administrative machinery; see Pravda, 15 November 1938, 2.

36. On this meeting, see Izvestiia Akademii nauk SSSR, seriia fizicheskaia, no. 1-2 (1936) : 3-409; Krum S., “Fizika na sessii Akademii nauk,” Sotsialisticheskaia rekonstruktsiia i nauka, no. 5 (1936) : 105116.

37. Ioffe's institutional positions at, and outside of, the academy were considerably stronger than Luzin's; moreover his public conduct was even more conformist.

38. Izvestiia Akademii nauk SSSR, seriia fizicheskaia, no. 1 - 2 (1936) : 86.

39. Pravda, 16 March 1936, 4.

40. About Kol'man, see Vucinich, Empire of Knowledge; Graham Loren R., Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union (London : Allen Lane, 1971); R. Graham Loren, “The Socio-Political Roots of Boris Hessen : Soviet Marxism and the History of Science,” Social Studies of Science 15 (1985) : 705722.

41. See B. M. Kedrov, Rozenfel'd B. A., and Iushkevich A. P., “Ernest Kol'man K 75-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniiaVoprosy istorii estestvoznaniia i tekhniki, 27, no. 2 (1969) : 7173.

42. See Kol'man E., “Predislovie “; the critique in Matematicheskii sbornik 38, no. 3-4 (1931) : 5 is also based on Kol'man's report. One very special circumstance should be noted : In the 1930s many younger stars in Soviet mathematics were Jewish, and many were active socially and politically and enjoyed the party authorities’ confidence. Particularly, the purge of the Moscow Mathematical Society in 1930 was undertaken predominantly by Jewish mathematicians (see note 13). In what looks like historical irony, this group was joined by L. S. Pontriagin, now notorious for his aggressive anti-Semitism. Being Jewish, Kol'man may have been influenced in his personal relations with younger mathematicians by ethnic factors. (I am a former Jewish refusenik; I hope that this remark will not be interpreted as a demonstration of bias.)

43. Kol'man E., Predmet i metod sovremennoi matematiki (Moscow : Sotsekgiz, 1936 . This book was unfavorably reviewed by A. O. Gelfond and L. G. Shnirelman when Kol'man had already been dismissed from his office at the Moscow Party Committee. See Uspekhi matematicheskikh nauk, no. 4 (1938) : 334-336. For Kol'man's acknowledgements, see Kol'man, Predmet i metod sovremennoi matematiki, 9.

44. I will quote these two pieces in Russian : H3BecTHO, MTO TaK Ha3bmaeMaH “MocKOBCKaa MaTeMaTHHecKaa uiKOJia” … npoBeflOBajia, 6ynTO … MaTeMaTHKa B uejioM HaxoflHTCH B COOTBCTCTBHH c npHHminaMH dpmiocodpHH JIonaTHHa—npaBocjiaBHeM, caMonepxcaBHeM H HaponHOCTbto. 3TOT HepHocoTeHHbiii o6pa3 MblCJieH 6bIJI nOJIHOCTMO HOHeceH flO HaiUHX flHeft OflHHM H3 “CTOJinOB” 3TOH IlIKOJIbI JIy3HHbIM, KOTopbiii npnnan eMy HeKOTopyro Sojiee “coBpeMeHHyto” qbauiHcrcicyio otcpacicy [Kol'man, Predmet i metod sovremennoi matematiki, 290]. MH 3HaeM, OTKyna Bbipoc aKaneMHK JIy3HH : MM 3HaeM, MTO OH OHHH H3 craH 6eccjiaBHofl UapCKOH “MOCKOBCKOH MaTeMaTHMeCKOH UIKOnbl” , dpHJ10C0dpneH KOTOpOH 6bIJI0 nepHocoTeHCTBO H aBH5KymeH Hueeii—KHTM POCCHHCKOH peaKUHH : npaBocjiaBHe H caMonep>KaBHe. MM 3HaeM, HTO H celiac OH Heflajieic OT nono6Hbix B3rji5inoB, MO>KeT 6biTb, MVTb-iyTb dpaiUHCTCKH MOnepHH3HpOBaHHbIx “

45. Kol'man, Predmet i metod sovremennoi matematiki, 305. In December 1936, after Luzin had been dismissed, the academy's mathematical group dealt with the quality of mathematical instruction in primary and secondary schools and found it extremely poor; see Vysshaia shkola, no. 2 (1937) : 54-84; G. M. Fikhtengol'ts, “Matematicheskaia podgotovka v srednei shkole,” Vspekhi matematicheskikh nauk, no. 4 (1938) : 300-308; G. M. Fikhtengol'ts, “Matematika v shkole,” (Pravda, 6 May 1938, 4). Such criticism had been common before; Luzin's peers could have been especially irritated by his article because of this history.

46. Despite the servility of the academy's leadership in the middle 1930s, Luzin could not have been dismissed simply by Kol'man's order. Thus, some public actions against him were more or less unavoidable.

47. See Muratov and Burov, “Lzheuchenyi v zvanii sovetskogo akademika,” and Potapova, et al., “Lzhenauchnye metody akademika Rikhtera.” See also B. Vul and M. Divil'kovskii, “Za peredovuiu fiziku,” Pravda, 12 July 1938, 3. While the evolution of a scientific ethos in the Soviet Union merits attention, it is beyond the scope of this article.

48. See, for example, Medvedev Roy, On Stalin and Stalinism (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1979 ; McNeal Robert H., Stalin : Man and Ruler (New York : New York University Press, 1988); Levin Nora, The Jews in the Soviet Union since 1917 : Paradox of Survival, 2 vols. (New York : New York University Press, 1988). See also an excellent literary account by Grossman Vasilii, Forever Flowing (New York : Harper and Row, 1972 .

49. Martin Ben R. and Irvine John, “Evaluating the Evaluators : A Reply to our Critics,” Social Studies of Science 15 (1985) : 558575 , esp. 562.

50. In this connection, see Geller Mikhail, Mashina i vintiki : Istoriia formirovaniia sovetskogo cheloveka (London : Overseas, 1985, 267271 .

51. Paraphrasing Vladimir Solov'ev's remark about Christianity, which preserves nationality but restricts nationalism, one could say that the real socialism disintegrates nationality but strengthens nationalism. See also Hayek Frederick A., The Road to Serfdom (London : Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1944 .

52. Pravda, 5 February 1931, 3.

53. See in this connection “Patriotizm,” Malaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia (Moscow : Sovetskaia entsiklopediia, 1930)6 : 355.

54. Pravda, 23 February 1934, 1.

55. Pravda, 14 April 1934, 1.

56. “Lozungi k 1 Maia 1934 g.,” points 8 and 14, Pravda, 19 April 1934, 1, and Pravda, 1 May 1934, 1.

57. “Zarodinu!,” Pravda, 9 June 1934, 1.

58. Pravda, 9 June 1934, 1.

59. See Ulam Adam B., Expansion and Coexistence : Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-1973, 2nd ed. (New York : Praeger, 1974), 195 .

60. Pravda, 14 February 1938, 3.

61. “O rodine,” Pravda, 7 August 1934, 4.

62. The telegram to the explorers was signed by Stalin, Molotov, and some other dignitaries; see Pravda, 22 September 1934, 1. See Pravda, 23 September 1934, 1, Tor the telegram to Michurin.

63. Pravda, 29 January 1935, 2. At one point Molotov said, “Everyone is aware that the Soviet Union is imbued with a strong aspiration for developing mutual relations with all governments, not excluding fascist regimes. “

64. Pravda. 7 February 1935, 1-3.

65. Ibid.; “Sovetskii patriotizm,” Pravda, 19 March 1935, 1.

66. See, for example, editorials in Pravda, 1 May 1935, 1; 7 May 1935, 1; 9 May 1935, 1.

67. Pravda, 7 November 1935, 7.

68. Pravda, 27 March 1936, 2.

69. Pravda, 22 April 1936, 3-4.

70. See also Karl Radek, “Sovetskii patriotizm,” Pravda, 1 May 1936, 6.

71. Pravda, 11 March 1939, 4.

72. Pravda, 26 March 1939, 1.

73. Pravda, 17 December 1935, 1.

74. Pravda, 30 January 1936, 1; 1 February 1936, 1; 10 February 1936, 3.

75. See editorials in Pravda, 22 May 1936, 1; 14 June 1936, 1.

76. Pravda, 18 November 1936, 1.

77. Ibid., 3-4.

78. See, for example : “Velikii russkii narod,” Pravda, 15 January 1937, 1; “Slava russkogo naroda,” Pravda, 10 February 1937, 1.

79. “Liubov’ k rodine i proletarskii internatsionalizm,” Pravda, 10 April 1938, 1; K. Malakhov, “Po protorennoi dorozhke Ilovaiskikh,” Pravda, 7 June 1938, 4; “Internatsionalizm—znamia sovetskogo patriota,” Pravda, 6 July 1938, 1; “Sovetskii patriotizm i internatsionalizm,” Pravda, 5 November 1938, 1. Donald W. Treadgold, Twentieth Century Russia, 4th ed. (Chicago : Rand McNally, 1976), 334, discusses the isolation of the Soviet Union during this period.

80. See “Prezrennye dvurushniki,” Pravda, 13 August 1936, 1; and Pravda, 7 August 1936, 1.

81. “O nedostatkakh partiinoi raboty i o merakh likvidatsii trotskistskikh i inykh dvurushnikov,” Pravda, 29 March 1937, 2-4.

82. Ulam, Expansion and Coexistence, 208.

83. “Bor'ba za peredovuiu nauku,” Vestnik AN SSSR, no. 6 (1938) : 3-9.

84. Jowitt Kenneth, Revolutionary Breakthroughs and National Development : The Case of Romania, 1944-1965 (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1971), 115 .

85. Soviet academy Vice-President K. V. Frolov told the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress that the ideas of Soviet scientists had sometimes been used in the west before they were used in the Soviet Union and that “effective measures had been recently taken” to prevent such situations (Pravda, 4 March 1986, 7). This phrase seems to hint at the new publication rules. The “bremia sekretnosti” looked unchanged even three years later; see L. Barskii, “Vremia glasnosti i vremia secretnosti,” Sotsialisticheskaia Industriia, 15 January 1989, 2.

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