RE: [xmca] Historical Development

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Feb 17 2008 - 04:53:04 PST

I really welcome Martin's paper. Did I understand correctly, that there is
a second installment on the way? I certainly look forward to it. Since I
agree strongly with this paper I will have to scrape the barrel to find
something to dispute, and retain my record as a cruel critic.

1. On the Marxists Internet Archive, we have expended a huge amount of
energy over the past 13 or 14 years on the problem of What or who is
Marxist? Basically, there are two approaches to answering this question:
normative or historical. I think Martin, you have neatly skated along the
edges of this problem without ever mentioning it as such. To answer
normatively a question like "does Vygotsky use a Marxist conception of
scientific enquiry or history?" one must first define a normative Marxist
concept of scientific enquiry and history (by first placing oneself sort of
at the end of history) and then compare Vygotsky's conception with it. To
answer the question historically one has to look at the writer's subjective
identification with an object current of the Marxist movement, including
practical involvement in it.

This leaves us open to the problem that the Marxist concept of history and
scientific enquiry, even if true to the ideas of Deborin or Lenin, or even
if true to Marx, may still be in need of revision and improvement in the
light of the practical struggles of the 20th century. I think it is an open
and shut case that Vygotsky was historically a Marxist and that he passes
the test of normative comparison with Marxist conceptions of his own time.
Nonetheless, what we have learnt from the Civil Rights movement, the
Women's Movement and the ideological attacks of postmodern theorists, may
cause us to take Vygotsky's conception of history and science further. In
my opinion, Vygotsky is an excellent starting point for such a study!

2. The problem of the claim that the true nature of an object is revealed
through a study of its development, or through the study of the development
of ideas of it through history, proves to be very complex. I regret that
what I want to say on this topic is still languishing in my in-tray
awaiting a re-reading of Ilyenkov's "Dialectics of the Abstract and
Concrete in Marx's Capital." I have read a lot of Hegel since I last read
Ilyenkov's book. For Hegel, who we usually think of as the historical
thinker par excellence, the relation of a science to the study of its
history is surprisingly complex. For example, in the Philosophy of Right he
insists that the study of the origins of the concept of Right is not to be
part of his subject matter and further that sequence of categories in the
history of Right is quite other than the sequence of categories when
presented in logical order, in the Philosophy of Right - the latter
observation also repeated by Marx in one of his prefaces to Capital and
explained at length as I recall by Ilyenkov.

Not only that, if we look at Hegel's idea about the pure essentialities
governing the history of consciousness as exhibited in The Phenomenology of
Spirit, i.e., The Logic, then we see the complexity of possible histories.
The vision of a series of conceptions sublating one another in the approach
to more and more adequate conceptions, only gives a glimmer of it. The
persistent struggle between opposite conceptions, for example, is one of
many possible phenomena. All I am saying is that having disclosed the fact
that Vygotsky relied on a Marxist conception of science and history, it
still remains to subject that conception to critique. The same goes for
example, to the question of freedom and necessity. Stalin's claim that the
Party understood the Laws of History and would henceforth control history
is quite rightly an idea regarded with derision today.

Just a further observation. You mention in quote marks on a couple of
occasions, "child history." Obviously Vygotsky also criticised what he
called the "biogenetic fallacy," i.e., the claim that child development
recapitulates social history. This is a fallacy, incidentally, which
Habermas embraced as a result of his appropriation of Piaget. I think your
paper would benefit somehow from an explanation of how "history" is
differentiated in this way, for Vygotsky.

Great paper, Martin. Look forward to Volume 2.

At 08:51 AM 16/02/2008 -0600, you wrote:
>A few thoughts to get started:
>I want to take another look at Mohammed ElHamoumi's article of a few years
>ago which tried to recapture theMarxist conext of Vygotsky's thought.
>And then -- how to transplant what Martin calls "the tool," Vygotsky's
>sociocultural psychology?
>Soviet Russia did not leave capitalism in the dust. Rust, yes -- we're
>interviewing workers at a power plant where some of the turbines are the
>original pre-World War II machines. So how to transplant CHAT to this
>context, where for so many people history is not moving forward (or maybe
>the contradictions are still sharpening) but individuals, and some social
>units (groups? workforces? collectives?) still, for their own sanity, try
>to "master society and the truth of society," or "master the truth of
>personality"? Last night I interviewed a mechanic who said, "everyone here
>is on a race between retirement and disability."
>Martin's paper is at the very least making me focus on the point in
>history - the history of production, since I'm looking at work -- when our
>interviews are taking place, and trying to make explicit for myself the
>awareness of the people we're interviewing of our point in history. Maybe
>that's the "social moment of consciousness."
>How do others do this transplant? Or try to do it?
>From: [] On Behalf
>Of Paul Dillon []
>Sent: Friday, February 15, 2008 9:04 PM
>To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>Subject: [xmca] Historical Development
> Congratulations!!! I'm one of those people from the states who does
> know the marxist tradition, nothing like Andy, but enough to have always
> thought that Vygotsky was working within the "scientific" framework that
> Marx established; , not just simulating for political reasons. I've also
> always wondered whether his psychology was in fact oriented toward the
> development of the "new moral man" required for socialist society and
> that he presupposed the absence of internalized class relations, the
> absence of what Bourdieu might call a class habitus, structures that
> proceed from the relations of economic exploitation inherent in
> capitalism. I think you have demonstrated what you wrote: "Vygotsky can
> be seen as aiming to lessen the birth-pangs of the new socialist Soviet
> Union byproviding the tools with which to form the "new man" needed for
> such a society." I also agree that the transfer of Vygotsky's
> psychology to late-capitalist societies overlooks the absence of class
> structured personalities that he presumed, . I wonder what kind of
> psychology he would have developed had he been born in Vienna in 1870, he
> might not even have gotten into psychology.
> I am also very interested to see the second half of the study. In the
> conclusion of the finished half, you indicated two problems with
> Vygotsky's general psychology:
> "The first is his treatment of cultural differences as historical
> differences, and in particular the characterization of "primitive" forms
> of consciousness. The second is the abstract character of his account of
> child development, and specifically its lack of attention to social class."
> The second problem disappears if we assume that Vygotsky was working
> with the presupposition that class distinctions were not a factor in the
> development process since he was working in a new, socialist, supposedly
> classless society (state bureaucracies aren't, classes in any
> sociological sense) or in a society at least moving in that direction,
> and in the society itself, the classes based on capitalist relations of
> production were in fact non-existent or disappearing ..
> The first problem, Vygotsky's identification of culture with historical
> periods, (modes of production?) that represent a process of social
> evolution, clearly isn't a problem within marxist social theory in which
> human history is precisely a process of the development of productive
> forces, an increasing expansion of the realm of human freedom, although
> in the form of class societies, in which that increased freedom was
> concentrated in the minority dominant classes..
> The racist interpretations of pre-capitalist societies, especially
> non-agricultural ones, as perjoratively "primitive", led to the Boasian
> and structural-functionalist rejection of the 19th century evolutionism.
> A necessary corrective absolutely especially since the difference between
> "culture" and "race" wasn't well defined at the time. However, if one
> lives in a society in which everyone does basically the same
> thing, (hunt, gather, traditional agriculture, whatever),, in a society
> in which there are really few activity systems, little economic division
> of labor , a society in which the "careers" of all members of the
> community are prescribed (age groups, lineage affiliations, etc.),
> doesn't it stand to reason that the personalities, formed on the basis of
> the internalization of these social relations, will be quite different .
> from the personalities formed in societies in which there are so many
> different activities, careers, etc. that no individual is aware of them
> all? Is there a difference between capitalist society and feudal
> society? a difference between ancient slave society and non-agricultural
> tribal people? Very clearly the social relations, which are the basis of
> the personality as I understand Vygotsky, are qualitatively different.
> Marx and Engels hailed 19th century anthropologist, Lewis Henry
> Morgan's, theory of cultural ,evolution as an independent invention of
> historical materialism. Morgan's historical periods mapped onto the
> unilinear theory of social evolution M&^E developed on the basis of
> European history but Marx elaborated a multi-lineal model as well, one
> involving the much disputed notion of an "Asiatic" mode of production --
> as well as various difrferent lines of historical development in Europe.
> There is overwhelming archaeological evidence that illustrates
> processes of historical transition that replicate themselves in
> unconnected parts of the worlds; e.g., the transition from
> hunting/gathering to horticulture to agriculture. Can the varied
> "cultures" be organized according to the modes of production of the
> populations who shave those "cultures", not everything about the
> cultures, but the dynamics of the social relations by which they organize
> their reproduction as a society?
> The moral connotations of social evolutionism have long been overcome
> (except maybe by the Watson gang). It's not a question of whether a
> culture is higher or lower in a moral sense. Personally I think I would
> have been happy living in the Late- neolithic. But it's overwhelmingly
> evident that, as an indiv idual, the horizons of the cybernetic
> globalized world I live in at present are much broader than those of an
> Akwe-Shavante hunter-horticuulturalists. And those horizons are not
> separate from the way I think about them.
> Paul
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Received on Sun Feb 17 04:55 PST 2008

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