It is known and accepted in professional journals and works that Marxism influenced Vygotsky – but why did this not show up in the earlier translations by Western psychologists?
Marxism and Vygotsky
L.S. Vygotsky was a witness of the Russian Revolution, which was the hot bed of Marxist theory and the forced development of a communist state (Elhammoumi, 2002). This was a period of tremendous stress and change for the Russian people, in which a significant ideological struggle took place (Elhammoumi, 2002). The basic premise to this struggle was between a focus on the private individual and a socially collective existence (Elhammoumi, 2002). At this level of philosophical transformation mixed with the great turmoil of the time, is the perfect environment for innovative scientist to produce new ideas (Elhammoumi, 2002). The same effect is what compelled Vygotsky’s ambition to be a part of what was called the “new socialist experiment” (Elhammoumi, 2002). Vygotsky could not have avoided the effect this philosophy had on his life and invariably, his methods – based on this, we can deduce that the Russian Revolution is major evidence of the influence Marxism had his life’s work.
Another Marxist influences which show in Vygotsky’s work are the following definitions, directly from Vygotsky work such as the term Adherence, which means the rejection of all non-materialist and non-Marxist theories (Elhammoumi, 2002). Other Marxist associations to Vygotsky’s work include his belief that society is not made up of the individual or groups of individuals but is the “totality of their interrelationships as construed in the Marxist approach” (Elhammoumi, 2002). Or the use of statements in his work such as “counsciousness is shaped by social relations”, which is also an important idea of Marx (Elhammoumi, 2002). Or Vygotsky’s work in which he advocates that change in human behavior has several elementary origins, such as, “the destruction of capitalist forms of organization and production; the withering away of capitalist order and all forces which oppress manâ€¦” (Elhammoumi, 2002). Or that Vygotsky believed that the destruction of capitalism would be instrumental in freeing mankind from oppressive powers and allow man to liberate his growth (Elhammoumi, 2002). These ideas were commonly held by Marxist ideology and wrapped in Vygotsky’s historical-social theories (Elhammoumi, 2002). While researching journals for this paper, I came across an abundance of examples which clearly state that the Marxist influence is now widely accepted within the professional psychological arena. With these examples alone, we can easily agree that Vygotsky was not only influenced by Marx, but we could say that his works were integral in developing, at least, the basis of Marxist psychology (Roth, 2007). Why then, was this notion rejected and even suppressed by earlier Western psychologists until a few decades after World War II?
The West and Vygotsky
There has been much speculation in the psychological community in the past that Vygotsky was not a Marxist per se, regardless of his use of the doctrine in his work (Sheehy, 2004). This idea was due to Vygotsky’s work being shunned in the Soviet Union grounded by areas in which Vygotsky questioned and disagreed with Marx (Elhammoumi, 2002). This disagreement led some earlier Western psychologists to argue that Vygotsky rejected Marxism altogether, and was not involved in the development of Marxist psychology (Kosulin, 1986). Other Western psychologist had not only separated Vygotsky from Marxism but had included a rejection of what was termed as bourgeoisie humanism (Elhammoumi, 2002).
Nonetheless, Marxist and Soviet psychologists knew that Vygotsky’s work was crucial in linking their “proletariat” brand of psychology with natural science in order to keep up with the developments being made in Germany and the United States (Sheehy, 2004). In order to solidify this link, Vygotsky would have to officially be a communist, which the Soviets implied (Sheehy, 2004). Accordingly, Vygotsky’s Marxist influence in many cases failed to be mentioned in earlier Western translations at all – importantly, by overlooking the Marxist influence Vygotsky’s work is significantly weakended (Kosulin, 1986). The possibility of such suppression could lead to a crisis in the advancement in the entire study of psycholgogy (Kosulin, 1986). But, as will be explained later, Vygotsky link to the development of Soviet Psychology was questionable (Elhammoumi, 2002).
We have established that the reasoning behind the suppression of Vygotsky’s Marxist influence, especially for the American psychologists, is the implication that Vygotsky work was directly involved in what eventually became the Soviet totalitarian government, which is now considered a false accusation (Roth, 2007). Do not forget that Vygotsky perviously shared restrictive ideas with Marxism but did not agree on all stances in regards to psychology (Elhammoumi, 2002). And today we understand that much of Vygotsky’s connection with Soviet Psychology comes from a Soviet Psychologist names Leontiev (Kosulin, 1986).
Leontiev rose to prominence after a period in which Soviet officials had rejected Vygotsky due to his work influenced by the Gestalt psychology and the “cross-cultural analysis of consciousness” which was considered “bourgeois” and anti-communist (Kosulin, 1986). This prominence was gained by winning then prestigious Lenin Prize for scientific research, which gave Leontiev access to power within the Soviet governing body (Kosulin, 1986). This enabled him to reintroduce Vygotsky into the Soviet scientific world, an in order to avoid questions regarding Vygotsky’s original shunning, Leontiev named himself the “interpreter of Vygotsky” (Kosulin, 1986). Because of this, Vygotsky came to be known as a “mere predecessor” of Leontiev, which enabled Leontiev the freedom to “correct” the flaws in Vygotsky’s work thereby creating a solid link to the development of Soviet psychology (Kosulin, 1986). Evidence is now known that this link is a myth. Regardless, at the time, Western psychologists were rightfully under the impression that Vygotsky and Soviet Psychology were inexplicably linked (Kosulin, 1986). This is, of course, the main reasoning behind creating “sanitized” translations of Vygotsky’s work suppressing the Marxist influence, not to mention more personal reasons like the lack of book sales (Elhammoumi, 2002). At the time, due to the Cold War, Western psychologist were uninterested in promoting anyone associated with communism, socialism, or Marxism (Kosulin, 1986). This went on until the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when Vygotsky’s involvement in Soviet science began to be questioned (Kosulin, 1986).
I can see this point of view (was V a Marxist?), especially by Westerners, after Soviet Psychologists in later years, integrated Vygotsky into their philosophies which were heavily influenced by political doctrine and the Soviet state itself.
In my view, it would be difficult to believe it did not, based on the fact he was alive and living in Russia during the Revolution – how could anyone, especially an intellectual like Vygotsky, could not be influenced by the break-down of a political system which had been integral in the make-up of Russia for generations.
Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934),
But, I can see why some psychologist believe there was a connection between Vygotsky and the formulation of Marxist philosophy in the late 1920’s, since Vygotsky did not die until 1934. The fundamentals of Marxist
Instead of viewing these changes through the eyes of politics. Whether or not you agree or disagree or land somewhere in between in regards to Marxism – it remains a ground-breaking shift in intellectualism. In order to see this from another view, Russian, in some cases, was still practicing feudalism which was the social and political structure of the Middle Ages! In the 19th century, as the West experienced a new age of industry and innovation. Although, in my view, true Marxism never came to be in its pure form, and instead, we witnessed the dilapidation and eventual fall of a distortion of this philosophy. I, personally, if these statements are accurate, do not want to see any philosophical or scientific works be deluded by political influences. I believe it is important to maintain historical accuracy, or we are no different than the oppressiveness of the former Soviet Union.
What is meant by this, per the author, is that “Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand” and “real intellectual wealth of the individual depends entirely on the wealth of his real connections – This make sense. (Elhammoui, 2002)
It is understood, in my view, that Westerners, Americans in particular, have a deep-seated distrust in anything related to communism based on the Cold War – which is the case with Marxism.
The main point Elhammoumi is trying to convey is that it is important to maintain Vogotsky’s Marxist influence in order to maintain a period of major “intellectual creativity” which occurred during and after the Russian Revolution (Elhammoumi, 2002).
First of all, if Marxism was truly so impactful to vigotsky, then the omission of that would not be an accurate translation, which could have possibly left integral pieces out for Western psychologists while working to perfect the science as a whole (Kosulin, 1986).
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Conclusion Paragraph for entire paper
SHOULD BE PART OF CONCLUSION??? Vygotsky, by using the framework of a “post-revolutionary Soviet society”, was determined to develop a new form of psychology (Elhammoumi, 2002). Just by what we have seen in the previous examples it becomes apparent that within “Vygotsky’s theory, it seems as though he attempted to develop a type of theoretical psychology for Marxism (Elhammoumi, 2002). This brings us to the the issue of the West and Vygostky.
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