5
$\begingroup$

I'm not 100% sure this is the right site for this question, but here it goes.

An already dead professor said in a lecture that Stalin (or perhaps another communist leader) wrote once something along the lines that not even statistics (or perhaps mathematics) is free from the influence of class interests. Did Stalin (or anyone) ever said something like that? If so, where is the source of that quote?

Just in case, this is a very different phrase from that misattributed to him that: “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

$\endgroup$
3
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the feedback, @njuffa. However, the source linked refers to a different phrase (“The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”) that in the last paragraph I clarified it's not the one I was looking for. On the other hand, a statement staying that statstics is not free from class interest is related to philosophy of science, which is a label used in this page, even if a bad philosophy of science. $\endgroup$
    – lfba
    Nov 16 at 3:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If Stalin said it he retracted. "The renunciation of the ideological heritage of the 1920s and early 30s became an integral part of the postwar Soviet ideological campaigns... In the new ideological climate, science was considered to depend, not on class interests, but on some "objective" laws of nature... In revising Lysenko's text, then, Stalin was doing more than changing Lysenko's writing style or even his rhetoric...", Rossianov, Stalin as Lysenko's editor. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Nov 16 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Conifold, That sounds more like support for the idea rather than retraction. I.e. he was aware that current science was influenced by class interests, and he was trying to remove that influence. $\endgroup$ Nov 16 at 13:24
11
$\begingroup$

The quote is from Lenin, in his instructions to Popov when discussing the project of organizing Soviet statistics in summer of 1918:"Statistics, as any other scientific discipline, poses problems and solves them in the interests of specific classes", see Kotz-Seneta, Lenin as a Statistician. Popov, an experienced statistician whom Lenin knew since 1905, was appointed the first head of CSA (Central Statistical Administration), a semi-independent statistical institution that Lenin established in July 1918. He quickly grew suspicious of the ideological loyalty of CSA calling in 1919 majority of its workers "right-wing SR, mensheviks and even kadets". And in 1922 he added:"The CSA should not be "academic" or "independent", which is what it 9/10 is now due to the old bourgeois habit, but an organ of socialist construction". See also Nemchinov, The Use of Statistical and Mathematical Methods in Soviet Planning for broader context.

Stalin was presumably on board with it, at least before WW II. Then the mood changed, see Rossianov, Stalin as Lysenko's editor:

"The renunciation of the ideological heritage of the 1920s and early 30s became an integral part of the postwar Soviet ideological campaigns. For example, in an article published in 1950, Stalin expressed his negative attitude toward the attempts made in the 1920s to create a class-oriented culture (proletkult). From the mid-1930s, the emphasis shifted from revolutionary cultural experimentation to upholding traditional cultural values...

In the new ideological climate, science was considered to depend, not on class interests, but on some "objective" laws of nature. In this respect, the VASKhNIL session was a landmark: class science had focused principally on methodology; immediately after 1948, the Soviet ideology became reified into a new ontology, a new picture of the world as it purportedly was, articulated by the political leadership. In revising Lysenko's text, then, Stalin was doing more than changing Lysenko's writing style, or even his rhetoric; he was, in a sense, reconstructing the world. This, perhaps, helps to explain why his changes were so numerous and detailed."

Ironically, the "objective" turn started by promoting Lysenko's pseudoscience over genetics.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for such a dedicated excelent answer, @Conifold. $\endgroup$
    – lfba
    Nov 17 at 1:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.