Inicio > Filosofía marxista, Psicología marxista > “Where is Marx in the work and thought of Vygotsky?”: Lucien Sève

“Where is Marx in the work and thought of Vygotsky?”: Lucien Sève

What is it about the apparently clear question of Marx’s place in the work and thought of Vygotsky that makes it so enigmatic? How should we understand the fact that the successive attempts to respond to this question over the course of a century have been so contradictory, and remain so to this day? Before attempting to answer the question, must we not firstly ask what makes it such a trap? That is where I will begin.

First, a few words to shed some light on the violent paradoxes that are thrown up when studying the history of the question. To begin with, there is the unambiguous response of Vygotsky himself: having read Marx from his youth, in the revolutionary climate of Russia in 1917 as experienced by a family of considerable culture, he discovered Capital, which in many essential ways shaped his view of psychology – and, having become a psychologist, he wrote in 1926 that “psychology needs its own Capital” (Vygotsky, 2010, p. 273). Could it be any clearer? As a matter of fact, it’s not very clear (I will return to this point later), but, in any case, here exists a major and definitive reference which those who claim that Marx held no real importance for Vygotsky neglect to address seriously. But lo and behold, a few years later, the vanguards of Marxism in the USSR of 1930, which was mid-Stalinisation, denounced Vygotsky’s position as “idealistic”, “bourgeois”, “reactionary” and even “antiMarxist”1 , accusations of lamentable stupidity, which devastated Vygotsky. According to Zeigarnik, he said: “I can’t live if the Party believes that I am not a Marxist.” 2 Nevertheless, the accusations attest to the great ambiguity that arises when we attempt to judge whether a thought is Marxist or not. Already we can begin to discern the kind of trap that might lurk behind the question “Vygotsky and Marx”: to whom does the name Marx belong, precisely? And what is a “Marxist” psychology? But that’s not all. Condemned to the ash heap of history during Stalin’s reign, Vygotsky’s work began to re-emerge under Khrushchev and garnered interest outside the USSR, as first attested by the American translation of Thought and Language published in 1962 by the MIT Press. Yet here again, there is a paradoxical development: not only did the translators Eugenia Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar truncate the work by two-thirds, they also excised all but one reference to Marxist thought, without a word of explanation on the matter. For Stalinists, Marx was not present enough in Vygotsky’s work; for the American translators, on the other hand, he was far too much so. This intellectually indefensible initiative had serious consequences: for a start, the North-American perception of Vygotsky was de-Marxised, and this spread to the various translations of the American digest of his work and, despite all that has been done to remedy this situation in the US since then, one could be forgiven for wondering whether some vestiges of this original underestimation remain. At least, that is what a cross-check of the Francophone literature would suggest.

Very belatedly – the dominant anti-Marxist ideology having resulted in radio silence on the subject of Vygotsky in the Francophone arena – the first French translation finally appeared in France and French-speaking Switzerland (Schneuwly-Bronckart, 1985; 1 st edition of Thought and Language, 1985), followed by many others, as well as the development of a rich Vygotskian wave of psychological research and teaching in Geneva and Paris alike. But, in contrast to Hanfmann and Vakar, the leaders of this wave were formed by an entire tradition of psychological thought in which Marx held an important place in various forms – from Henri Wallon to Jean Piaget, from Ignace Meyerson to Georges Politzer. And, in France, it was the Communist Party’s publishing house3 that revealed the full, unabridged text of Thought and Language to the psychology community. More than one person who believed they understood Vygotsky based solely on their reading of the slim MIT Press edition of Thought and Language have expressed their astonishment to me upon discovering the thick tome released by Editions Sociales. Hence the distinct contrast between the French language Vygotskism that has flourished since the 1980s – with the work carried out at the University of Geneva by Bernard Schneuwly, Jean-Paul Bronckart, Janette Friedrich, Irina LeopoldoffMartin, Christiane Moro, Frédéric Yvon, and in France by Michel Brossard, Yves Clot, JeanYves Rochex, Gérard Vergnaud, to make but a passing mention of their contribution – and an English-language Vygotskism which did not strike me as the most attentive, and in which Vygotsky is seen as everything to everyone – a culturalist, a Gestaltist, even a Spinozist, but certainly not a Marxist.

This – albeit brief – retrospective lends credence to a double conclusion: short answers such as “Vygotskian psychology owes nothing essential to Marxist thought” and “Vygotsky is one of the major figures in Marxist psychology” run the risk of error unless we thoroughly examine the meaning of “Marxist psychology” and what Vygotsky thought of it. Just because a question can be formed in simple terms does not mean we can respond to it without taking account of its complexity. And yet, at first glance, is there not an elementary means of resolving it? That is to say, by asking what place Marxism has in Vygotsky’s work. An apparently fact-based question, which one might hope to resolve by searching his writings for quotes from Marx, Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin – note at this point one significant fact: he makes no reference to Stalin. All that is required is a well-compiled index.

Take for example the theory supported by the erudite Vygotskian Anton Yasnitsky. In The Cambridge Handbook of Cultural-Historical Psychology (2014, p.505), he writes that, as adherence to the official ideology was becoming obligatory in Stalin’s USSR, Vygotsky’s relationship to Marxism was “only polite”, and his quoting of Marx was “mostly for tactical reasons”. If this hypothesis is correct, we might expect these quotes to be especially present in Vygotsky’s public writings, and far less so in his private writings. But this is not the case. In Thought and Language – the large tome that Vygotsky was determined to have published – there are a total of three references to Marx. Meanwhile, in a note of only about 20 pages written for himself in 1929 – an extremely important note which includes a condensed version of all the fundamental views he held at the time – Marx is quoted seven times, not counting the identifiable allusions to Marx. 4 There can be no doubt: For Vygotsky, Marx is not mere window-dressing but a bedside thinker par excellence.

Artículo completo en pdf: “Where is Marx in the work and thought of Vygotsky?”: Lucien Sève

Fuente: Université de Genève

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