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Re: [xmca] On Marxist and non-Marxist aspects of the cultural-historical psychology of L.S. Vygotsky by Nikolai Veresov

Dear Ulvi:

Thanks for your long and very considered reply. I think that the relationship between Vygotsky's psychology and larger philosophical issues (including Marxism) is a topic that will not go away, whether you and I continue it or not. 
Very often, I think, we make the mistake of choosing articles for discussion that emphasize these philosophical issues; the reasoning is that the more abstractly we approach the problems, the more the solutions will be applicable to everybody. We are a VERY diverse group, which is another way of saying we are a highly inclusive one!
It seems to me, however, that the way to solve these questions is really through PRAXIS, and through discussing articles where the larger philosophical issues (e.g. Marxism) have immediate relevance for data and for the conclusions we draw from data. 
So for example in Mariane Hedegaard's article (which I hope will soon be chosen and made freely available for discussion) I think an absolutely KEY question is whether or not her formulation of "the crisis" is compatible with Vygotsky's Is the "crisis" of Jens in kindergarten (where he refuses to settle down and listen to a fairy story and will not accept that a picture of a baby whale shows a "baby") a good example of a REVOLUTIONARY restructuring of  the relationship between psychological functions and the precocious (adventurist) SEIZURE of POWER by the child's psychological neoformations? In what sense does Halime's failure to attend camp represent the emergence of a new form of mental life (a neoformation)? .
I certainly did NOT mean to imply that Vygotsky rejected Marxism. There is no evidence that this is the case. All the evidence in mature Vygotsky suggests that his methodology was getting more and more Marxist (e.g. his emphasis on word meaning as a unit of analysis comparable to the commodity).
Like you, I believe that Vygotsky refusal to call his psychology "Marxist" was partly a matter of hygiene. Yes, Vygotsky felt some disdain for the noisy "Marxists" who were clearly using the word to get ahead and discarding the methodology.
I think I understand this very well. In China, "Marxism" (which meant that you supported a very gruesome set of 19th Century Marketist "reforms") was a meal ticket. I never called myself a Marxist there. In Syria, a country very close to your own, "Marxism" was a ticket to prison; the Marxists I met there were of considerably better quality.
I think that Vygotsky probably despised "Marxist" psychologists like Zalkind, who tried to show how social circumstances were rather mechanically mirrored in psychology, and in fact for any approach that saw the crises as being EXTERNALLY determined. For Vygotsky the sources of the crisis, like the neoformation itself, lies within the child. (Whether Martin likes it or not, that is what he says!)
To be a Marxist, as opposed to noisily calling yourself one, means to understand that Marxism is a science, and a science simply cannot be applied in a mechanical way to every realm of human understanding, the way a child with a hammer sees every problem as a nail. Marxism is a very specific form of historical understanding developed in response to a particular problem set. 
I don't think these problems include sex and death, or spelling in kindergarten and learning that the word "baby" is also applied to whales. In fact, I think that Marxism applied to phylogenetic evolution, ontogenetic growth and even to microgenesis in the classroom is Marxism misapplied. As Vygotsky liked to say, it is a bullfrog puffed up until it is the size of a cow, a theory that has compromised its explanatory power through a process of intellectual inflation and disciplinary imperialism.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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