RE: Motives and goals: Leont'ev and Axel

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Sun Feb 08 2004 - 10:37:56 PST

Dear Carol and Nate-

Minor historical correction: In my knowledge, Vygotsky arrived in Moscow
after Lenin's death in January 1924. Thus, his incredible intellectual and
institutional rise in psychology occurred after Lenin's death. Politically,
it was struggle for gaining control of Communist Party (and, thus, the
state). Stalin won this struggle by the mid of 1929 (or course, there was
not a clear date of this victory). I'm not so sure that during Lenin's life
Vygotsky, Luria, and Leont'ev were well-known. Definitely, Luria was much
more known in those years then any of the troika because he was a leading
Freudist in the Soviet Union serving the Chairman of Freud Society. If I'm
not mistaken it was Luria who started the society in Soviet time. Luria was
in correspondence with Freud. Initially, Luria made great efforts trying to
involve Vygotsky in the work of the Society. I think Vygotsky borrowed his
notion of "internalization" from Freud probably via Luria. Being Luria's
student, Mike knows more on that.

Vygotsky became criticized by Stalinists for his association with pedology
(a holistic approach to a child) in early 1930s. Also Luria and Vygotsky
were under severe political criticism for their famous Asia cross cultural
study. A bit later, his close friends and colleagues (not students as so
think!) Luria and Leont'ev decided to keep distance from Vygotsky's his
scholarship and him personally to save themselves. They published several
articles criticizing Vygotsky's cultural-historical approach for not being
Marxist enough. In this deteriorating political context, Vygotsky took this
criticism as betrayal. Vygotsky's health was deteriorating as well which was
double difficult for him, perhaps. On the other hand, I'm sure that if he
did not die because of TB in 1934 he would have probably disappeared in
Gulag. He did rather politically "reckless" moves in these years including
his relocation to Kharkov from Moscow (almost all Kharkov intelligencia
disappeared in 1937). In my view, it is difficult to judge Luria and
Leont'ev who lived in extremely difficult historic time and forced to make
moral decisions that difficult for us to understand.

After break with Vygotsky, Luria moved into neuropsychology that was much
safer area with less ideological overtone. Leont'ev developed his Activity
Theory as another Marxist approach in psychology separate from Vygotsky. For
some reason, it was tolerated by Stalinist regime (I did not read much on
that - I wish some historians of psychology wrote biographical books about
Luria and Leont'ev). Vygotsky's publications were under suppression but
since he died of natural causes, there were not order to destroy them as far
as I know. I personally read a lot of old publications by Vygotsky available
in the Ushakov pedagogical library in Moscow in 1970s.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: N*** [mailto:vygotsky who-is-at]
> Sent: Saturday, February 07, 2004 9:48 AM
> To:
> Cc:
> Subject: Re: Motives and goals: Leont'ev and Axel
> Carol Macdonald wrote:
> > Hi N
> > Certainly one should conceive of Vygotskian periods-this is very
> important.
> At a certain level yes. A detailed, comprehensive approach is done by
> Veresov.
> What I was thinking about when I said periods was Wertsch's arguments
> that Vygotsky moved from his theory of complexes (Chapter 5) to
> scientific concepts (Chapter 6). I think the work on scientific concepts
> is great, but Vygotsky was mainly explaining the significance of Shif's
> work. Vygotsky's main work on concepts was of the more traditional kind
> that Wertsch says "Vygotsky leaving behind".
> More to the point, it seems we have to be careful with periods
> especially how they are used by Wertsch in that they are not simple a
> break but related in very important ways. Unlike Wertsch's argument I do
> not see anything from chapter 5 and 6 that would signify a break from
> Vygotsky's perspective. He saw the work interrelated. Much of the text
> Child Psychology is an extension of the work in chapter 5.
> > Thank you for the point about the two falling out of favour at the same
> > time. What was the reason for Leont'evs fall?
> None of them were on Stalin's "buddy list". What I tend to be confused
> about is the assumption that Leontiev replaced Vygotsky as a force in
> psychology which was not the case. While Lenin was in power all three -
> Vygotsky, Leontiev, Luria, had a special place in Soviet psychology, but
> this did not continue long after Vygotsky's death.
> >
> > I am particularly interested in the origins of Vygotsky's concepts (cf
> > Gillen 2000 on the ZPD).
> You may find some of the articles on my Vygotsky Project helpful.
> I think Ape, Primitive, and Child is a great book to get a comprehensive
> look at mediation. Also Luria's books are great concrete studies on
> cultural mediation.

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