Re: [xmca] A N Leontyev and class struggle

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Wed Jan 30 2008 - 09:44:25 PST

  I think that DIRECT pronouncements on the class struggle and the Communist Party in Leontyev are, as you put it, near as damn it unobtainable in Leontiev, for the simple reason that he was a survivor (and perhaps also not very interested to begin with).
  But this is why I'm so interested in:
  a) Leontiev's explicit assertion that under Soviet rule crises of development will no longer exist in the child. (See below)
  b) Leontiev's occasional theorization of a (quantitative-into-qualitative) transformation of activity into action and action into operation. This happens not only through evolution (when primitive man for example creates a division of labor in hunting) but also through microgenetic learning (when we automatize a particular action it becomes an operation in the performance of another action). Both transformations are what Marxists would call "crises" but neither one is described as revolutionary in Leontiev. (See below)
  c) Leontiev's apparent contradiction of this priniciple in his description of play, where the object of the operation (a stick) is different from the object of the action (a horsie). He does not explain how this contradiction can come about or how it is resolved. (See below)
  d) Leontiev's apparent reliance on a theory of dual patterning in language (that is, sounds stand for words and word then stand for meanings). This grows out of his description of how apes and then men solve the "two phase" problem, and this is the origin of his theory of the division of labor (to the extent that he has one). A theory of dual patterning in language is almost always a sign of philosophical dualism in disguise.
  I'm not a philosopher (as you know!) but it seems to me that ALL of these positions have philosophical implications for the way ANL theorized (or did NOT theorize) the class struggle and the role of volition (the vanguard party).
  These quotations are all from "Problems of the Development of the Mind", Moscow: Progress. 1981:
  ¡°The child¡¯s self-assertion more and more often takes on forms that infringe discipline. This is what is known as the seven year old crisis.
  ¡°If a child remains out of school for another whole year and is treated at home as before as a little one and is not drawn properly into the family¡¯s workaday life, this crisis can become extremeley acute. The child lacking social obligations finds them for itself, perhaps in quite abnormal forms. These crises&#8212;the three year old crisis&#8212;the seven year old crisis, the adolescent crisis, the youth crisis area always associated with a change of stage. They indicate in clear, obvious form that these changes, these transitions from one stage to another have an inner necessity of their own. But are these crises inevitable in a child¡¯s development?
               ¡°The existence of development of crises has long been known and their ¡®classic interpretation is that they are caused by the child¡¯s maturing inner characteristics and the contradictions that arise on that siil between it and the environment. From the standpoint of that interpretation the crises are of course inevitable beause these contradictions are inevitable in any conditions. There is nothing more false however, in the theory of development of a child¡¯s psyche than this idea.¡±
  ¡°In fact crises are not at all inevitable accompaniments of psychic devleopment it is not the crises that are inevitable but the turning points or breaks the qualitative shifts in development. The crisis on the contrary is evidence that a turning point or shift has not been made in time. There need by no crises at all if the child¡¯s psychic devlopment does not take shape spontaneously but is a rationally controlled process, controlled upbringing.¡±
  "Why do games with rules only arise at a certain stage of development, and not simultaneously with the genesis of the first role games? It depends on the difference in their motivation. Initially the first play actiosn arise on the basis of the child¡¯s growing need to master the world of human objects. The motive contained in this action itself is fixed ina thing, directly in its object content. The action here is the path for the child that leads it first of all to the discovery of objective reality; the human still emerges for the child in its objectified form. The role of the horseman, the play action of riding, is playing at horses, the action with a block of wood that the child ¡®drives¡¯ from one chair to another is playing cars.
               "But during the development of these games the human relation included in their object content itself comes out ever more clearly in them. The tram driver not only ¡®acts with a tram¡¯ but is obliged at the same time to enter into certain relations with other people--with the conductor, the passengers, and so on. Therefore, at relatively early stages of the development of play activity, a child finds not only man¡¯s relation to it in the object but also people¡¯s relations with one another. Group games become possible not only alongside one another but also together. Social relations already come out in these games in overt form, in the form of the players¡¯ relations with one another. At the same time the play 'role' is also altered. Its content now determines not only the child's actions in regard to the object but also its actions in regard to the other players in the game. The latter also become content of the play activity, for which its motive is fixed.
 Games are distinguished in which actions in regard to other people become the main thing."
  You can see there is ANOTHER problem here: ANL believes that the main motivation for play is REALISM: role play derives from wanting to control objects the way adults control them and rule play derives from wanting to enter into social relations the way adults do. So why isn¡¯t play directed towards realism and meaning making instead of sense making?
  Apparently it IS. This is why Pentti Hakarainnen was so anxious to stress that in his view play is sense-making and not meaning-making. ANL really has other views.
  "In its activity and above all in its games, which have now got beyond the narrow limits of manipulating objects around it and of contact with th epersons direclty around it, a child penetrates a wider world, assimilating it in an effective way. It assimilates the object world as a world of human objects, reproducing human actions with them. It drives a 'car', aims a 'gun', although it is impossible really to ride in its car or to shoot with its gun. But at this time int hits devleopment that is immaterial to it because its basic vital needs are met by adults regardless of the objective productiveness of its activity.¡±
  400 ANL makes the point that activity depends on motive. Preparing for an exam and reading for pleasure are two very different activities.
  401: ¡°An act or action is a process whose motive does not coincide with its object (i.e. with what it is directed to) but lies in the activity of which it forms a part.¡±
  So why are not play operations (child riding a stick) considered actions in an activity instead of (as ANL claims) operations in an action?
   ¡°To convert a child¡¯s action into an operation, the child has to be presented with a new aim with which its given action will become the means of performing another action. In other words, what was the goal of the given action must be converted into a condition of the action required by the new aim.¡± 407
  Again, this appears to preclude play.
  On pp. 367-368, ANL develops his thesis that play is a substitute for the handling of adult objects. 368 ANL speaks of ¡°let me¡± and ¡°don¡¯t¡±, the struggle between the adult who wants to protect the child from himself and the child who wants to drive a car and row a boat.
  369 We are given the idea of a leading activity which is indeed equivalent to a neoformation without the crisis.
  370: ¡°As we have already said, play is characerized by its motive¡¯s lying in the process itself rather than in the result of the action. For a child plaing with wooden bricks, for example, the motive for the play does not lie in building a structure, but in the doing, ie. In the content of the action. That is true not only of the preschool child¡¯s play but also of any real game in general. ¡®Not to win but to play¡¯ is the general formula of the motivation of play. In adutl¡¯s games, therefore in which winning rather than playing becomes the inner motive, the game as such ceased to be play.¡± P. 370
  pp. 184-187, he presents the material that Vygotsky presents in his ¡°Introduction to Kohler¡± on the ability of apes to solve so-called ¡°two phase¡± problems (e.g. the ability of an ape to use a stick to retrieve ANOTHER stick and use the second stick to retrieve a fruit).
  ¡°When a member of a group performs his labour activity he does it to satisfy one of his needs. A beater, for example, taking part in a primaeval collective hunt, was stimulated b a need for food or perhaps a need for clothing, which the skin of the dead animal would meet for him. At what, however, was his activity directly aimed? It may have been directed, for exsample, at frightening a herd of animals and sending them toward other hunters hiding in ambush. That, properly speaking, is what should be the result of the activity of this man. And the activity of this individual member of the hunt ends with that. The rest is completed by the other members. This result, i.e. the frightening of game, etc. understandably does no tin itself, and may not lead to satisfaction of the beater¡¯s need for food or the skin of the animal. What the processes of his activity were diret to did not, consequently coincide with the motive of his activity; the two were divided from one another
 in this instance. Processe,s the object ofand motive of which do not coincide with each other, we shall call ¡®actions¡¯ we can say, for example that the beater¡¯s activity is the hunt, and the frightening of game his action.¡±
  ¡°How is it possible for action to arise, i.e. for there to be a division between the object of activity and its motive? It obviously only becomes possible in a joint, collective process of acting on nature.¡± (1981: 210)
  This is NOT obvious to me: it seems to be possible in the ape¡¯s solution of the two-part problem as well. What is unique is ONLY the division of labor, and not the division of the goal and the motive. ANL admits as much a page later (211)
  ¡°The natural prerequisites of this exarticulation of the separate operations and of their acquiring a certain indepedence in individual activity, are obviously the two following main (though not the sole) moments. The first of these moments is the frequently joint character of instinctive activity and the exististence of a primitive ¡®hierarchy¡¯ of relations between individuals that is observed in associations of higher animals, for example among apes. The other very important moment is the separation in animals¡¯ activity that still continues to retain all its integrity of two diferent phases&#8212;a phase of preparation and a phase of realization, which may be considerably separated from each other in time.¡±
  ANL argues (p. 212) that this similarity however is only ¡°objective¡±, and ignores the inner link. The animal requires mechanical, spatio-temporal, in other words PERCEPTIBLE linkage between the two phases. No such prerequisite is necessary for man.
  215: Leontiev insists ¡°The frightening of game, for example, in itself is biologically senseless; it acquires sense only in the conditions of collective labour.¡± But of course lions hunt in almost exactly this manner!
  197: ANL tries to lay out differences between animal and human activity ¡°The first different between any animal activity and human activity is that the former is instainctive, biological activity.¡±
  ¡°Animals¡¯ activity thus always remains within the limits of their instinctive, biologcal relationswith nature. That is a general law of animal activity.¡±
  199: ¡°Finally, we must note yet another essential feature of the psyche of animals that distinguishes it qualitatively from human consciousness. This is the fact that animals relations to each other are the same in principle as their relations to other external objects, i.e. also belong exclusively to the realm of tehir instincitve biological relations.¡±
  201-202, ANL gives the example of the mother hen simply responding to the chick¡¯s cry without being able to see the chick but willing to OBSERVE the chick¡¯s distress so long as it doesn¡¯t hear the cry and uses this to argue that the response to a sound is simply sensori-motor and does not involve the communication of any state of affairs.
  203: ¡°Man¡¯s psyche is not only emancipated from those features which are common to all the stages of animals¡¯ psychic evolution that we have considered and has not only acaquired qualitatively new features but (and this is the main point) the laws themselves that govern its evolution were altered with the transition to man. While the general laws governing the laws of the psyche¡¯s evolution were those of biological evolution throughout the animal kingdom, with the transition to man the evolution of the psyche began to be governed by laws of sociohistorical development.¡±
  DISTINCT signs of dogmatic Marxism (Stalinism) in Leontiev¡¯s mechanical materialist theory of language.
  217: ¡°If we can say in relation to apes, therefore, that the natural evolution of their hands have determined their use of a stick as a ¡®tool¡¯ in relation to man we have every ground for saying that his instrumental activity itself created the specific features of his hand.¡±
  No, we don¡¯t. Even the statement about the relationship of a stick to an ape¡¯s hand is a gross overstatement: if an ape goes and gets a box to stand on and retrieves a dangling banana, I wouldn¡¯t want to say that this was entirely determined by the natural evolution of their feet.
  I also wouldn¡¯t want to say that instrumental activity rather than evolution has created thumbs and pinkies rather than fins and flippers on my hand; seems a little like saying that we develop lines on our palms so that fortune-tellers will have something to read.
  218: ¡°Language, like man¡¯s consciousness also, arises solely in the labour process and together with it.¡±
  That ¡°solely¡± is a bold word: I don¡¯t know how one would go about proving such a thing without making the whole category of ¡°labour¡± (like the concept of activity) so broad as to be meaningless.
David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education
Andy Blunden <> wrote:
  I have a question for people. The works of AN Leontyev are near as damn it
unobtainable in Australia, so I cannot investigate this myself. In
Leontyev's conception of activity (with its Activity, Action and Operation)
and division of labour, where does class struggle and the Communist Party
fit? And if someone has a reference I can get hold of in Leontyev or for
that matter in also in Engstrom, I'd be much obliged.


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Received on Wed Jan 30 09:47 PST 2008

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