RE: [xmca] Luria & the USSR

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Tue Mar 14 2006 - 18:54:11 PST

Dear Leif and everybody--


I respectfully disagree with Leif that the Great Stalinist terror started
after Luria-Vygotsky cross-cultural research in 1932. There is evidence that
the terror actually peaked around 1931-1932. About 10-20 million of people
were killed around this time -- mostly illiterate peasants. One of the
cryptic stories was that Stalin’s wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva committed suicide
in 1932 after she witnessed the tragedy of collectivization
25757C0A96E948260> &res=940DEEDB113FF937A25757C0A96E948260. But I understand
Leif because it is rather common to think that the Great Terror was around
1937 when city-based literate intelligencia became its target. However
tragic, it could not be compared with the crime of so-called
collectivization in terms of the scope of the organized terror. You can read
about that in Solzhenitsyn's Archipelago GULAG.


I agree with Steve that this is very important to keep in mind when reading
Luria and Vygotsky’s discussion of their cross-cultural work. It is
important to consider the responsibility of scholars, especially in our
paradigmatic family, when they (we?) participate in social engineering.


Leif asked about “who paid for tickets”. Good question. There is some
evidence that Nikolai Bukharin – one of the top Party leaders was one of
their big supporters. The fall of Luria and Vygotsky from leading Marxist
psychologists was in part associated also with the fall of Bukharin. I wrote
an XMCA message about that in 2000 (see below). By the way, the expedition
was supposed to be international with participation of mainly German Gestalt
Psychologists but it did not work out (Koffka participated but for very
short time). See the book by Valsiner and Veer “Understanding Vygotsky”.


I also agree with Mike that many scholars from former USSR think that CHAT
and sociocultural rejection of the deficit model promoted by Luria and
Vygotsky is nothing more than “political correctness.” Like Mike, I tried
many times to convince them to the contrary but in vain. I recently wrote a
paper about that analyzing the fate of Vygotsky legacy in South Africa and
in US.


What do you think?




RE: Luria in Uzbekistan

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Wed Jan 26 2000 - 15:46:37 PST

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Hi Mike and everybody--

One brief comment on Luria.

Mike wrote,
> Second, Luria's work was never published in the USSR at the time
> and could hardly have been a cause of anything... until we get
> to the first report in 1970-71 and then 75-76 in Russian and
> English. Very different times.

It is true that Luria's work was never published in the USSR at the time.
But why? There is some historical evidence that Vygotsky and his colleagues
were supported in part by Bukharin, one of the top party leaders of that
time. Luria-Vygotsky research glorified rather consciously and deliberately
collectivization of peasant farms and (forced) schooling that were on the
political agenda of the time. However, their affiliation with Bukharin and
some other top communist functionaries that became increasingly unpopular
with Stalin led them into troubles (among other things). My point is that
the only reason that the Luria-Vygotsky research did not (hopefully) play
any role in the tragedy of those days was that they by themselves became a
target of political attacks (especially Vygotsky). I want to remind that the

Luria-Vygotsky work in Uzbekistan was done when Stalin organized artificial
famine in rural parts of the Soviet Union to force peasants (especially
those who were "from remote villages") to join collective farms. According
to some estimations between 10 and 20 million of people died (or better to
say "killed") during that time of early 30th. I personally very glad that
neither Vygotsky nor Luria contributed to this crime but they were very
close to such contribution.

Taking this into account I'm very sympathetic with Jim Wretsch's position
described by Mike
> First, this exchange indexes with special clarity why people like
> jim wertsch prefer the term socio-cultural to cultural historical
> or activity theory. Luria was a modernist. Not the only one around
> at the time in either Russia or the US. In so far as history
> implied progress/development, it is a very unfortunate term to
> use as a paradigm name. Or at least, some think so.

What do you think?




> -----Original Message-----

> From: [] On

> Behalf Of Leif Strandberg

> Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 2:41 AM

> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity

> Subject: Re: [xmca] Luria & the USSR


> Hi,


> The Luria-conversation is great - and important. Important from many

> perspectives:


> The historical context 1932 when Luria and his team went to

> Uzbekistan was not the Great terror - it started 2-3 years later. The

> context was The war against the peasants. And the purpose of the Luria

> expedition was an investigation of peasants (!) and nomads.


> Here comes a team of young and enthusiastic students from Moscow (the

> Capital) to the fpeasants. Who paid the tickets? The same rulers who

> now killed the peasants.


> They came with a lot of logical premises (one of them: Moscow is more

> advanced than Tasjkent. Another: The concept (!) of collective farms is

> more advanced than working with goats and camels in Bohara). They -

> the team - came with The Truth to people with "Lower Mental Functions".

> Of course the team was not - as far as I can see - in a subjective

> sense against the farmers in Uzbekistan absolutely not! - but if we

> look at the expedition from the perspective of Activity Theory it is

> easy to see the inequality of the relations between the researchers and

> the Uzbeki people.


> The use of Aristotelian logic is also surprising - as the team wanted

> to explore mind in culture - why use a typical cognitivstic (Platon!

> Bucharin!) method?



> Inspired by Harold Pinter (the Nobel Prize winner 2005 - You know,

> Pinter is always interested in power relations in ordinary

> conversations) I wrote down the test protocols (from Making of Mind)

> and read them from a "Pinter-angle" trying to see what the farmers

> actually said to the researchers. Reading the protocols in such a way

> it is - to me - easy to see that the conversation was reciprocal: The

> farmers had something to say to the young men (I have not found any

> female researcher in the team):


> - Do not have illusions! (about what is going on) The farmers did not

> only reflected on the Muller-Lyers arrows!)

> - Do not have prejudices when talking about other parts of the country

> (the cotton- and bear-example)

> etcetera


> If we create such a languge-game with the text we will find something

> else than the cognitive analysis. It is also clear that Vygotskij did

> not gave full support to the expedition of Luria. "It is your

> expedition".

> There are so many methodolgical errors in the research (errors - if we

> want to explore what mind in culture can be. From a Piagetian

> perspective the results are more okay. (But Piaget did often the same

> mistakes as Luria did 1932)


> I am not saying that the expedition is bad or unintersting. It was and

> is very interesting - (the fact that psychologists "came out" from the

> Insitutes is per se interesting) - but to me the expediton says more

> about the risks when we do investigations on The Other than it says

> about peasants' IQ:s


> The team members were young, naive and captured in some false premises

> and they knew to little about farmers and the history and the great

> culture of Samarkand. But they were not racists - which was the common

> case in most of the research from that time. In my country - Sweden -

> we had a Race-Institute from which "researchers" came to my part of

> Sweden - The North - doing research on Sami people - with a very clear

> racistic perspective. Compared to their "research" the Luria expedition

> is more than great. But, from a cultural-historical perspective there

> are many thing to say. I have tried to say some of these things.


> Read:

> Harold Pinter - The Cartetaker (and Pinter's Nobelprize-speech)

> Frantz Fanon "Les damnés de terre"

> Aleksandr Etkind "Psychoanalysis in the time of the Russian Revolution"

> (Eros Nevosmomozjngo" from 1993.

> Osip Mandelstam


> I am looking forward to read Mike's new book - I have not found it yet

> - perhaps some of what I am saying here will be changed after reading

> Mike's book.



> Greetings from Leif, a peasant from The Arctic Circle in Sweden





> 2006-03-14 kl. 06.07 skrev Steve Gabosch:


> > Mike describes some of the reaction to Luria's research among the

> > Kashgars on page 214-215 of his "Epilogue: A Portrait of Luria" in

> > Luria's autobiography, The Making of Mind. His research and

> > explanations in this work "met with strong, not to say vitriolic,

> > disapproval."

> >

> > Although Mike does not go into this, I think it is vital to point out

> > that this kind of poisonous attack - one that represented a "mixing of

> > scientific and political criticism in 1934" - took place during the

> > full-scale Stalinization of nearly every aspect of Soviet society,

> > including all the sciences. It was not the *content* of Luria's

> > cross-cultural studies but its *suppression* that satisfied "Soviet

> > doctrine" (whatever "soviet doctrine" was in Stalin's brutal campaign

> > to drive out scientific discussion and debate in the USSR beginning

> > with Lenin's death, and reaching a fever pitch prior to WWII).

> > Excepting Stalin, the entire original leadership of the Bolshevik

> > revolution had been killed, imprisoned or exiled by the end of the

> > 1930's, culminating in Trotsky's assassination in 1940. In the late

> > 1920's and throughout the 1930's, a death grip was being placed on

> > scientific work, which included, among much other repression, the

> > banning of Vygotsky's writings. Lysenko's quack theories of genetic

> > inheritance and his mismanagement of Soviet agricultural research was

> > a shining example of the scientific "accomplishments" of this

> > Stalinization process.

> >

> > This does not mean that Luria's analysis of the Kashgars (how they

> > used syllogisms, etc.) is above scientific and political criticism. I

> > think ARL did make certain errors (seeking cognitive rather than

> > socio-economic, historical and class explanations for his results),

> > along with creating brilliant precedents for conducting this kind of

> > field research. I also think Luria would have welcomed such

> > commentary. But there is no reason to believe that the poison-filled

> > reaction to his work - and the suppression apparently of even any

> > mention of this work - was an aspect of any coherent doctrine, let

> > alone a worthy scientific critique. Rather, as I see it, the poison

> > campaign Luria endured was part of the general Stalinization process

> > of destroying independent thinking in the scientific community.

> >

> > - Steve

> >

> >

> >

> >

> >

> >

> >

> > At 05:45 PM 3/13/2006 -0400, you wrote:

> >>

> >> Dear XMCARs,

> >>

> >> A class of mine was studying Luria by the last 2 weeks, Mike's DVD

> >> included,

> >> and one of the questions that arose was that of the conclusions of

> >> the Asia

> >> studies and whether the way they were skecthed in the book published

> >> by

> >> Harvard's press in the late 1970s would have been the same in case

> >> the book

> >> would have been published after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

> >> That is:

> >> >From all what is said in the book, what can be attributed to the

> >> needs to

> >> satisfy Soviet doctrine and what can be attributed to the real

> >> thinking of

> >> Luria. Maybe it would help us to elarn what were the ideas related to

> >> that

> >> study that kept it unpublished for so many years and whether they had

> >> to be

> >> sublimated to reach final publication. I know that's a difficult

> >> question,

> >> but maybe it can be answered by some of you here that knew Luria

> >> personally.

> >> Feel free to reply to all since I am copying to my students. All of

> >> them

> >> will be very grateful of your imputs.

> >>

> >> Thanks!

> >> David

> >>

> >> David D. Preiss Ph.D.

> >> Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

> >>

> >>

> >> _______________________________________________

> >> xmca mailing list

> >>

> >>

> >

> >

> > _______________________________________________

> > xmca mailing list

> >

> >

> >


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