Thursday, September 09, 2004

Stalin on Philology

Rose Nunez over at No Credentials proves once again that no credentials are necessary to make a contribution to the blogosphere. Please read her post on the Lysenko affair.

For further insight into the depredations suffered by science and scholarship in Stalin's USSR, I recommend Chapter 4 of Volume III of Leszek Kolakowski's magisterial Main Currents of Marxism (Oxford, 1978). It is astonishing what happened to literature, philosophy, economics, physics and cosmology, and genetics in the Workers' Paradise. Not even philology was spared. Kolakowski, pp. 141-142:

In the first few days of the Korean War, when international tension was at its height, Stalin added to his existing titles as the leader of progressive humanity, the supreme philosopher, scientist, strategist, etc., the further distinction of being the world's greatest philologist. (As far as is known, his linguistic attainments were confined to Russian and his native Georgian.) In May 1950 Pravda had published a symposium on the theoretical problems of linguistics and especially the theories of Nikolay Y. Marr (1864-1934). Marr, a specialist in the Caucasian languages, had endeavoured towards the end of his life to construct a system of Marxist linguistics and was regarded in the Soviet Union as the supreme authority in this field: linguists who rejected his fantasies were harassed and persecuted. His theory was that language was a form of 'ideology' and, as such, belonged to the superstructure and was part of the class system. . . .

Stalin intervened in the debate with an article published in Pravda on 29 June, followed by four explanatory answers to readers' letters. He roundly condemned Marr's theory, declaring that language was not part of the superstructure and was not ideological in character. . . .

The Marrists were ousted from the domain of linguistics. . . .