“It is generally recognized that no science can develop and flourish without a battle of opinions, without freedom of criticism.”

This is a statement which Stalin made in 1950. I found it quoted at the beginning of a 1954 issue of the journal, Tập San Đại Học Sư Phạm.

Stalin made this statement in a work entitled Marxism and Problems of Linguistics, and they were directed at people who were upholding the ideas of the linguist Nicholas Yakovlevich Marr. Marr was a linguist who began his career studying the languages of the Caucasus. After he became established, he then started to engage at what people today refer to as “pseudo-linguistics.”

Marr came up with a theory know as the “New Linguistic Doctrine” which linked certain types of languages to different stages in the development of human societies as posited by Marxist scholars, from primitive communism to communism. In keeping with this theory, Marr argued that when communism is achieved, a universal language will emerge.

Marr’s ideas were not based on any of the linguistic criteria which linguistic scholarship in Western Europe and America was based on (Hence the label “pseudo-linguistics”). Nonetheless, after he died in 1934, his ideas remained dominant in the Soviet Union, as they were supported by his students and others for political reasons.

For some reason or other, Stalin decided in 1950 that enough was enough. He decided that this theory was ridiculous (which it was) and publically criticized it. It was in this public criticism that he made the above statement.

However, there was more that Stalin said other than this one line. In particular, the paragraph in which this statement appears was as follows:

“It is generally recognized that no science can develop and flourish without a battle of opinions, without freedom of criticism. But this generally recognized rule was ignored and flouted in the most unceremonious fashion. There arose a close group of infallible leaders, who, having secured themselves against any possible criticism, became a law unto themselves and did whatever they pleased.”

In hindsight, it is interesting that the first sentence of this paragraph appeared in a journal in the DRV 1955, but not the rest of the paragraph.

I think that there was a genuine effort to debate issues at that time. However, by the end of the 1960s, Stalin’s other statements in this paragraph had come to apply to the world of scholarship in the DRV, and remain applicable today. Just as Marr’s erroneous ideas about linguistics were upheld for years by a certain clique of powerful scholars, so are many erroneous historical ideas in Vietnam today upheld in a similar manner.

This makes me wonder. When will a Vietnamese Stalin come along and complete the paragraph which Tập San Đại Học Sư Phạm left incomplete in 1954?