Re: [xmca] review of Italian translation of Thinking and Speech: In defence of van der Veer and Mecacci

From: Anton Yasnitsky <the_yasya who-is-at>
Date: Fri May 30 2008 - 09:33:29 PDT

> On Thu, May 29, 2008 at 4:05 PM, David Kellogg
> <>
> wrote:
> > I think what the review says about the Italian translation is simply
> > wrong.

I think what this comment says about van der Veer's review is simply
wrong. I feel it is my sad duty to correct this misrepresentation of the
case and, specifically, address several dubious or even totally false

1. > > Kozulin's (re-)translation into English is based on the 1934
> edition, not the later editions.

Wrong. Kozulin did say that "this new translation is based on the 1934
edition of Myshlenie i rech', etc", but perhaps made realy bad use of this
edition. Thus, on the same page adds that "substantial portions of the
1962 translation made by the late Eugenie Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar have
been retained" (Kozulin, 1986, p. lvi), which, to me, makes the
translation quite unreliable. Finally, comparison of the texts shows that
Kozulin's text is at times quite different from Vygotsky's 1934 text (I do
have a copy of this 1934 text and did compare the two).

2. > > It's also quite contradictory and unconvincing in other ways. For
> example, it claims that Piaget was probably familiar with Vygotsky's
> simply because Vygotsky had written a preface to his work.
> > There's a language barrier here that we are still up against; as far
> as we know, Piaget did not read Russian well (I read somewhere that
Piaget's copy
> > of the 1934 edition of "Thinking and Speech" was apparently unread
> when he
> > died). Yes, he corresponded with Luria and even received letters from
> > Vygotsky, but they were probably in French. No English or French
> translation
> > of "Thinking and Speech" existed.

Generally, interrelations between Piaget and Vygotsky is a fairly obscure
topic and a recent article by Susan Pass (2007) unfortunately does not
clarify the issue at all. For this reason, I suggest that we first need to
have a look at "convincing argumentation" by Mecacci. What van der Veer
says is that "Meccacci convincingly argues that this statement is wholly
unlikely in view of the fact that, among other things, a) Piaget
corresponded regularly with Vygotsky's close collaborator Luria since the
early nineteen-thirties, and b) Piaget wrote himself a foreword for the
Soviet edition of two of his books, which also included a lengthy critical
introduction by Vygotsky".

According to van der Veer, Mecacci discusses "Piaget's claim that he had
not acquainted himself with Vygotsky's critique until 1962" but not the
availablity of translation of Vygotsky's book. Thus, I personally doubt
that the language of correspondence between Luria and, possibly, Vygotsky
with Piaget has anything to do with Piaget's possibly being acquainted
with Vygotsky's critique. For instance, as we now know, in 1935-36 Luria
was preparing a memorial volume for the late Vygotsky, and Piaget was one
of those who agreed to contribute (King & Wertheimer, 2005, 270-279). In
his letter to Luria, Piaget wrote (in my second-hand translation from
Russian): "Let me tell you how deeply I am saddened by the [new of the]
death of Vygotsky about whom you told me so much and who--I know--takes
such a [prominent] place in psychology", etc. (Vygodskaya & Lifanova,
1996, 331). This is all hypothetical, and we do not have a statement by
Piaget that he knew of Vygotsky's criticism of his work, but I believe it
is highly unlikely that Piaget who, according to his letter, was quite
well familiar with Vygotsky's work, was not aware of his critique of his

Anyway, my point is that van der Veer is not THAT "contradictory and
unconvincing" is it may seem to somebody.

3. > > What is written about the Russian editor is very contradictory. On
> the one
> > hand, we are told he was responsible for distortions of the text. How
> could
> > we know, unless we had access to some ur-text BEFORE the 1934 edition?
> As
> > far as I know, no such text exists.

Answer: from the editor himself.
Kolbanovsky, in his Editor's preface (1934) to the first publication of
Myshlenie i rech' on different occasions remarks that the work of Vygotsky
can not without reasonable doubt be regarded as "the expression of
Marxist-Leninist theory in development of the problem of thinking and
speech" (p. iv), and that "sometimes, in critical and experimental studies
by Vygotsky, particularly in his early works, digressions from
consistently materialist perspective, some infatuations [uvlecheniya] and
mistakes occur" (p. v). Then, Kolbanovsky concludes that he attempted to
preserve the word of Vygotsky as is and made only the "most necessary

Back to van der Veer's review, the author states that "Kolbanovsky changed
some of the wordings to make the book more palatable for the ideological
leaders". This is highly hypothetical and conjectural, indeed, yet most
likely given the historical and social context of Vygotsky's posthumous

4. > > According to Levitin, he played a heroic role. Kolbanovsky was at
> first
> > dispatched to dispatch Vygotsky and on meeting the man realized his
> genius
> > and ensured publication of the work after his death, even though he
> probably
> > knew the risks better than anyone else.

According to [an interpretation of] Levitin, indeed.

5. > >After publication (which as we
> know
> > contained some much more dangerous passages than simply references to
> > pedology and testing) Kobalovsky disappeared.

First, "Kobalovsky" was in fact Kolbanovsky.

Second, he did not disappear. On the contrary, in 1936, when the Communist
Party degree on "paedological perversions" came out, V.N. Kolbanovsky was
the Director of the Institute of Psychology in Moscow--from 1932 and until
1938 (Nikol'skaya, 1994). Even after 1938, when Kolbanovsky was displaced
from the directorship and K.N. Kornilov was again appointed the Director
of the Institute, Kolbanovsky did not "disappear" and remained one of the
top figures in the official Soviet psychology. For the list of Kolbavsky's
publication please see .

Third, on the role of Kolbanovsky and his "heroic role" in the history of
Vygotskian legacy. Please consider a fragment of Kolbanovsky's
presentation during one of the "public discussions" of Vygotsky's
scientific contribution that was organized in 1936 at the Institute of
Psychology immediately after the decree on paedology:

Kolbanovsky: "What is wrong in the system of L.S. Vygotsky? It is his
initial methodological perspective, that is, his cultural-historical
theory. Is Vygotsky a Marxist in this respect? Obviously he is not... What
do I think about this theory? I would say that I never identified this
theory as Marxist or approaching to Marxism. But if we look deeper into
the roots of the theory itself [we will see that] it requires now most
profound critique as an anti-Marxist theory, as a theory that does not
exceed the boundaries of the bourgeois understanding of the history, and,
is, therefore, essentially hostile to Marxism" (cit. by Vygodsky &
Lifanova, 1996, p. 143).

6. > >So how is it that he is
> now
> > responsible for distortions?

This must be a rhetorical question, eh?

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Received on Fri May 30 09:35 PDT 2008

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