Engels, Reductionism and Epigenetics: The Lysenko Debate

Hari Kumar
Pages 157-191| Published online: 27 Jan 2022

Kumar, Hari. 2022. “Engels, Reductionism and Epigenetics: The Lysenko Debate.” Marxism & Sciences 1(1):157–191.


This article has three goals: To reprise Engels’ view of dialectical change; second to review how epigenetics challenges classical genetics and assess its tenets against those of Trofim Lysenko; finally, to consider the political rise of Lysenko. Engels viewed interconnectedness and change as key principles of nature and society, as did Marx. Eschewing a-priori schematization, both viewed theory as derived from and tested by practice. Western classical genetics and Lysenkoism took diametrically opposite forms of reductionism. Genetics ignored cell-organism interactions with the environment, adopting predeterminism; Lysenko stressed cellular roles minimizing genes. However modern epigenetics supports Engels’ rejection of an ‘either-or’ mentality. Parallel historical reductionism places Stalin in sole command of the USSR. Two intersecting reductionisms—in biology, and in political history—need updating to understand Lysenkoism.

Keywords: Engels, reductionism, epigenetics, The Lysenko Debate, Lysenkoism, Stalin.


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