In Memory of Richard Levins

Professor Richard Levins died one year ago on the 19 January 2016, aged 85. Levins was a renowned dialectical materialist, Marxist biologist and political activist. He spent 40 years working at Harvard University where he was John Rock Professor of Population Sciences at T H Chan School of Popular sciences. He was renowned for his specialisation in ecology.  

Levins wrote many papers and essays, as well as books, including The Dialectical Biologist (1985) and Biology Under the Influence (2007) both of which were compilations of his own and co-author and fellow Marxist biologist, Richard Lewontin’s essays. The pair compiled their essays collectively and neither scientist's name is put to any essay where it appears in the books.  Both scientists were influenced by Friedrich Engels’ natural science works.  They dedicated The Dialectical Biologist to Engels. They dedicated Biology Under the Influence to the Cuban 5 and ‘to the people all over the world struggling for their release’ at the time of publication the 5 where still imprisoned by the US.

Of the Cuban 5 they said ‘From their cells they have been active both in helping to make prison life more bearable for the other inmates in their immediate community and continuing to be full participants in the life of the Cuban revolution. We admire their steadfastness and creativity in resistance’. As well as this dedication they pay tribute to the Vietnamese communists and the late Black Panther Fred Hampton.

Levins played a crucial role in combating the bourgeois scientific concept of Cartesian reductionism through development of and advocacy of dialectical materialism as a useful tool in gaining understanding of nature. He praised Cuba’s approach to ecology and science highly while others chose to ignore or deliberately obscure it. On this the first anniversary of Levin’s death, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! honours his memory and his contribution to the world.  His death was a loss to progressive science.

Cal Shaw


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