Academia in Upheaval: Origins, Transfers, and Transformations of the Communist Academic Regime in Russia and East Central Europe

By Michael David-Fox; György Péteri | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Stalinism and Science: Physics and Philosophical Disputes in the USSR, 1930-1955

Paul Josephson

Soviet physicists were among the world leaders in a number of fields. They met the Russian Revolution with feelings of uncertainty about the future to become, like their colleagues in the United States, near mythic personae, largely because of their achievements in nuclear physics and the atomic bomb. Like in the United States, they engaged humanists in a debate over their two cultures, whether scientists had special insights into the human condition and better could solve social problems far from the realm of physics. For many Soviet citizens, precisely physicists' achievements were proof that they would show the path to communism. It was Soviet physicists who pioneered the Tokamak fusion reactor, and seven of them won Nobel prizes. These successes are all the more surprising in view of the constant pressures the regime extended to make scientists conform to its norms.

The Communist Party endorsed the following norms essentially as policy under Stalin: the priority of applied research at the expense of fundamental science, the autarky of Soviet science, and the conformity of science to ideology. In the effort to harness all scientists to the machine of industrialization, the party centralized the administration of science policy. The major physics and chemistry institutes, with few exceptions, were placed under the jurisdiction of the Commissariat of Heavy Industry. The commissariat subjugated all professional associations to its organs, even the renowned Russian Association of Physicists in 1931. Its personnel

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