Ideological considerations have always influenced science, but rarely as directly and massively as in the Soviet Union during the early Cold War period. Cosmology was among the sciences that became heavily politicized and forced to conform to the doctrines of Marxism-Leninism. This field of science developed entirely differently in the Communist countries than in the West, in large measure because of political pressure. Certain cosmological models, in particular of the big bang type, were declared pseudo-scientific and idealistic because they implied a cosmic creation, a concept which was taken to be religious. The result of the ideological pressure was not an independent Soviet cosmology, but that astronomers and physicists abandoned cosmological research in the Western sense. Only in the 1960s did this situation change, and cosmology in the Soviet Union began to flourish. The paper examines the relationship between science and political ideology in the case of the Soviet Union from about 1947 to 1963, and it also relates this case to the later one in the People’s Republic of China.(….)
Contrary to sciences such as chemistry, medicine, geology and physics, cosmology has no technological or military applications whatever. In Marxist terminology, it is not a productive force. All the same, because of its traditional association to philosophical and religious world views it has often played a political role, however indirect.
As a science of the universe at large, cosmology experienced a minor revolution in the late 1940s, just at the time when the Cold War intensified and threatened to develop into a hot war.
While the new cosmological theories, the big bang theory and the rival steady state theory, attracted little political attention in the West – although they did attract some religious attention – in Stalin’s Soviet Union cosmology came to be seen as an ideological battleground of great importance.
There were many discussions of cosmological subjects among astronomers and philosophers, but for more than a decade they were constrained by the requirements of dialectical-materialist thinking. By ideological decree, the universe could not be finite in either space or time, and it could not evolve irreversibly towards an equilibrium state. More generally, the universe as a whole could not be the subject of science, but only of philosophy in the form of Marxism-Leninism.
The case discussed in this paper, and the corresponding case of Maoist doctrines of cosmology in Red China, is unique in the post-World War II history of the physical sciences. Although specifically related to the political context in the Communist countries, there are some similarities to how cosmology was discussed by Western scientists and philosophers.
Some of the issues of contention, such as the legitimacy of matter creation and the scientific status of the universe as a whole, were the same, and yet they were discussed in an atmosphere essentially free of fixed philosophical doctrines.
I think Graham (1972, p. 194) exaggerates the similarity when he suggests that the Soviet cosmologists’ efforts to fit cosmology into the system of dialectical materialism ‘were not so dissimilar, in essence, from the efforts of many nonSoviet philosophers or scientists’.
As it came to be admitted by Soviet scientists, the preconception that the science of the cosmos must conform to the dogmas of Marxist thought was a mistake that retarded the development of astronomy and cosmology in the Communist countries.
On the other hand, the damage caused by the excessive politicization was temporary only, as witnessed by the remarkable progress beginning in the 1960s. The case here examined not only illustrates the harmful effects of imposing ideological views on science, it also exemplifies what were after all the strengths of the Soviet science system, or what Kojevnikov (2004) calls ‘Stalin’s Great Science’.