‘A Sort of Modern[ist] Vitalism? Darwinism, Art, Politics and Soviet ‘Evolutionary Therapy’ in WWII’
This paper speculatively explores the vitalist implications of the propagandistic visual presentations about Darwinism and natural history given to wounded Soviet soldiers and grieving widows during WWII, by the Directors of the Darwin Museum (Moscow) and their son, Rudi. Post-war, as a reward for such activities, these individuals were all given medals extolling their patriotism and contributions to the defence of Moscow against the Nazi invaders. Apparently, the Soviet government regarded their activities as having been politically and ideologically significant. Why? As Aleksandr Vucinich has argued, vitalism and neo-vitalism in their more metaphysically orientated forms seem to have held no real interest for Russian experimental bio-scientists and natural historians. This was to carry on into the Soviet period. Yet, as Vucinich has also argued, the blurring of boundaries within Russian (and later Soviet) scientific thought, between Darwin’s notion of the “struggle for existence” and apparently Lamarckian ideas on the inheritability of acquired characteristics and the action of will, allowed for a vitalist element to continue to exist in Soviet Darwinism.My argument will suggest that both the impetus towards the wartime activities of the Moscow Darwin Museum, and the accolades awarded by the Soviet government, may relate to a non- metaphysical element of vitalism, buried deep inside the Russian and Soviet construct of Darwinism, and increasingly entrenched during Trofim Lysenko’s rise to power.