Comrade Haldane is too busy to go on holiday

The Genius Who Spied for Stalin

by Gavan Tredoux.

Encounter Books, April 2018.

HARRY [POLLITT] told HALDANE that the Soviet Academy of Science had asked him officially to approach HALDANE and invite him to go for a holiday to the Soviet Union.
HALDANE said hastily with a lot of stammering that he would not be able to take a holiday this summer.
HARRY said: "You won't?" in surprise and added that this was very important.
HALDANE stammering more than ever, said he knew it was important but he had to keep his laboratory going.
— Recorded at the King Street Headquarters of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1949

JBS Haldane's abandonment of his former friend, the Soviet geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, allowed him to show a finer appreciation of logical niceties than his Bloomsbury acquaintance E.M. Forster. Whereas Forster hoped to betray his country rather than his friend, Haldane knew that he could just as well betray both.

Based on the MI5 surveillance files and VENONA intercepts at the National Archives; the Haldane Archives at University College London; and many other primary sources previously overlooked. The VENONA intercepts dealing with Haldane are reproduced verbatim, in unredacted form. Haldane's unfinished autobiography, up to 1938, is also published here for the first time.

"Gavan Tredoux has produced a thoroughly documented, insightful, and authoritative examination of JBS Haldane’s life as a leading evolutionary geneticist of his generation, unwavering Stalinist, and Soviet spy. Tredoux provides an honest and (for Haldane) embarrassing account of Haldane’s apologizing and excuse-making for the genetic theories of Trofim Lysenko, the Stalin supported pseudoscience that set Soviet genetics back several generations. Tredoux’s account is an indispensable book for anyone interested in Haldane and a telling example of how ideological fanaticism can corrupt even a brilliant and talented scientist."
---John Earl Haynes, coauthor of Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America and In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage.

"Gavan Tredoux’s devastating portrait of J.B.S. Haldane is a tour de force. It combines thorough research and clear writing to expose this famous scientist as a dishonest and disgusting ideologue, Stalinist, and spy."
---Harvey Klehr, coauthor of Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America and In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage.

"In the 1970’s and 1980’s I experienced the attacks launched by Marxist-oriented biologists, many quite brilliant scholars, against researchers who studied genetic influence on human behavior. Their venom, dishonesty and righteousness made it clear that they were engaged in much more than a 'scientific debate'. They were engaged in ideological warfare. Fortunately their weapons were not lethal like those used by their fellow comrades in Russia 50-60 years earlier. The corruption of science and scholarship by ideology so exquisitly delineated in this book is a seriously understudied phenomenon. Nevan Sesardic has made a strong start with regard to philosophers (When reason goes on holiday: Philosophers in politics). Gavan Tredoux has now added the brilliant and compromised evolutionary biologist Comrade JBS Haldane to that sorry group. The intellectual cost created by obedient commitment to an ideology versus a commitment to science and the truth is nicely illustrated by the contrast between two men – Comrade Haldane and Vladimir Pavlovich Efroimson. Both men were distinguished evolutionary geneticists – each had solved the problem of estimating the human mutation rate. Haldane sold his soul, published prolifically, defended his ideology to his death and remains famous. Efroimson who repeatedly confronted authority with courage and integrity was sent to the Gulag. Even in the 1970’s his voluminous sociobiological writings were banned and his major books on the topic only appeared posthumously in the late 90s and early 2000s. He remains obscure. Perhaps Charlotte Haldane, who in the face of evidence overcame her own ideological blindness, was correct – The truth will out. Tredoux’s fascinating chronicle should hurry the truth along."
---Professor Thomas Bouchard Jr., Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Minnesota and former director of the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research.

"Gavan Tredoux tells the story of a uniquely egregious case in which a highly influential scientist publicly supported a totalitarian regime that was responsible for the deaths of millions of its own people; defended an obvious scientific crackpot in his own field of research; opposed the efforts of many scholars to raise the alarm about the politically motivated destruction of his own discipline in a foreign country; helped conceal the reality of the massive persecution, arrests, torture, and murder of his own colleagues; and received on trust classified information from his own government and then shared it with the secret police of a foreign totalitarian power. If you want to learn more about this drastic example of the trahison des clercs, read Tredoux’s dark and gripping book."
---Neven Sesardic, author of When Reason Goes on Holiday: Philosophers in Politics.

This book is published by Encounter Books (April, 2018). You can order it directly from them, or order it on Amazon, in either hardcover or kindle format.