Russian science in the nineteenth century

Reading Red Plenty has taken me on to The World That Never Was: a history of anarchism (in which Russia, the land of Kropotkin and Bakunin, features strongly).

English: 40 kopeks postage stamp, USSR 1951, A...
English: 40 kopeks postage stamp, USSR 1951, Alexander Lodygin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The book opens with a lucid account of the tragedy of the Paris Commune and is worth reading for that alone (for instance, I now know that Clemenceau was a moderate Communard, something that goes a long way towards explaining the loyalty and respect he was shown as French leader in the Great War even though he was by then a figure of the right). But that’s another story…

What I have just read, though, is the account of the influence of positivism on the rise of anarchism (the term was not in general use at the time of the Commune) in Russia. The Tsarist court were so alarmed by the claims of the positivists that science could build a new society freed from superstition that they attempted to ban it (as well as workers’ education). As a result Russia squandered such discoveries as powered flight – Alexander Mozhaisky developed a working scale model of an aeroplane in the early 1870s, the electric lightbulb, invented by Alexander Lodygin years before Edison or Swan, or even of the properties of penicillin, noted by Viacheslav Manassein in 1871.

What an incredible waste!