[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[xmca] Vygotsky: A Marxist...But NOT a Communist?

Thanks for the prompt and very precise answers, Anton. I would like to respond briefly to your (rightly) tentative answer number three, lest it become, without your wishing it, yet another "bridge too far".
First of all, one of the jobs I had to do in China in the early eighties was to help choose people to go to conferences. We sent people abroad who were ALREADY good at languages, because there was considerable concern that a) they would not understand what people said to them, and b) they would not be understood when speaking on behalf of the government. 
This rather excessive concern with language proficiency is a little hard for native speakers of English to grasp, but anybody who has ever had to give an important speech in a foreign language will understand how very difficult it can be. We didn't ever send people abroad just to get language practice; that would, as you point out, be frivolous and wasteful, and while they were brushing up their pronunciation our country was losing face.
Secondly, I think that I have a very different interpretation of Vygotsky's remark about the Russian Revolution than either you or van der Veer and Zavershneva. Vygotsky says:
"In essence, Russia is the first country in the world. The Revolution is our supreme caus. In this room only 1 person knows the secret of the genunine education of the deafmutes. And that person is me. Not because I am more educated than the otheres, but [because] I was sent by Russia and I speak on behalf of the Revolution..."
(This is followed by somewhat embarrassing personal reflections about his precarious marriage, which will be instantly recognizeable to anyone who has ever, in the throes of youthful Sturm und Drang, tried to escape from a fraught sexual relationship by joining the French Foreign Legion.)
This remark (which Zavershneva also writes about on p. 24 of her 2010 article in the JREEP issue you guest-edited) is then interpreted as the first clear confirmation we have that Vygotsky was privately as well as publically a committed Marxist and even a communist. I think you go even further when you speculate that his trip may have been in some way underwritten or endorsed or even stage managed by the Cheka.
Of course, the Cheka would have been informed. So would the British secret services for that matter. Britain had just elected its first Labor Government,and in fact Vygotsky's trip coincides with the stormy nine month tenure of Ramsay MacDonald which in turn coincided with a) Britain's first council housing and b) the fuss over the so-called "Zinoviev Letter" which supposedly showed that the Soviets were using the MacDonald regime to carry out a communist coup (the Zinoviev letter was later shown to be a forgery).
I think that Vygotsky was a Marxist. At that time and place, who was not? When I first arrived in China, the only people who really had any doubts at all about Marxism were people who had actually become interested enough in Marx and Engels and Lenin to read the stuff critically. (These were also the people who were not afraid of the ongoing campaigns against "Spiritual Pollution" and "Bourgeois Liberal Democratization" and thus, maddeningly, they were the folks I spent most of my time with, although I considered myself vociferously Marxist and on a mission to reconvert the whole of China to the true faith.)
Vygotsky was, of course, NOT a party member, and he would have found it rather hard to join in those days as the competition was quite fierce. In fact, he seems to have been quite UNinterested in party affairs, as most intellectuals, particularly those of a literary bent, tended to be in those days. 
I think his remark that "Russia is the first country  in the world" and "The Revolution is our supreme cause" reflects are real confidence in world revolution. I think his further remarks about "the secret of the genuine education of the deafmutes" refers to the actual content of his paper, available here: 
The secret is the rather Adlerian belief that the main effect of deafmutism is social, and that with the transformation of society this will become irrelevant. A patriotic, revolutionary-minded Russian might believe this, and even refer to it as a "Russian" achievement rather than a Soviet, or a communist, one. 
However, it seems to me that a communist would NOT believe this. I note that Vygotsky speaks of "the Revolution" as a RUSSIAN matter (not even a "Soviet" one much less a world movement). Vygotsky has absolutely nothing to say about the (extremely interesting) class struggles going on under his very nose. This suggests to me that, despite what I have always believed, Vygotsky was a Marxist, but not a communist in any sense of the word, neither with a big C nor with a little one.
I think that Vygotsky was a Marxist in exactly the same sense that he was a Darwinist (i.e. a somewhat distanced one). Just as Vygotsky considered that Darwin's laws are basically inapplicable to sociogenesis, he did not think that the laws of ontogenesis could be derived from Marx by any formulaic prestidigitation, and was rather disgusted by the attempts of his colleagues to try.
Rene van der Veer remarks somewhat deprecatingly that Vygotsky didn't like historians who were only interested in interpreting the work of others...like van der Veer himself! I think Vygotsky probably also wouldn't have liked young scientists who are only interested in world revolution. 
But I think he would have understood instantly the sort of scientists I was teaching in China, people who went off to the most remote corners of the country in the fifties and sixties because they were revolutionaries. They came back to Beijing in the seventies and went abroad in the eighties because they discovered they were scientists too, and that a successful revolution needed scientists rather more than it needed revolutionaries. 
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Edcuation 
--- On Wed, 6/8/11, Anton Yasnitsky <the_yasya@yahoo.com> wrote:

From: Anton Yasnitsky <the_yasya@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky in English: What Still Needs to Be Done
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Wednesday, June 8, 2011, 3:05 PM

Thank you, David, for your high opinion of our work! As an announcement, I am 
reporting that I have just submitted the corrected proofs of yet another paper 
from this Vygotskian issue of the journal, -- the one on the Vygotsky Circle, so 
it might get released online fairly soon. Now, to your questions.

1. I have seen many Vygotsky's texts--including those that have never been 
republished after the war--but not this one. Therefore, I can not verify if 
Vygotsky's review (1929) of the Sterns' book is identical (or, perhaps, more 
precisely, *nearly* identical) with Chapter 3 of Thinking and speech (1934).  
However, I fully trust Rene van der Veer, whom I consider a top expert on the 
history of Vygotskian psychology and whose name is to me synonymous with the 
highest quality of scholarship. Thus, in brief, if Rene claims the two papers 
are just the same, I have no reasons to doubt his words; after all, this what 
collaboration is all about.

Then, you are asking for an explanation of how come the author in his Preface on 
page 3 of the original edition of 1934 does not mention that the text of chapter 
3 had already been published as a book review, although he does admit that two 
other chapters, i.e. chapters 2 and 4, had been published before. I could try to 
provide a plausible explanation why this is so. Vygotsky reportedly dictated 
some fragments of the text (chapter 1 and parts of  6 and 7) ,  and, in all 
likelihood, the book has never been proofread by its author: as we know, not 
only did it come out, but also it was typeset and signed out to press   well 
after his death (Russian: "sdano v nabor" -- August, 27, 1934, "podpisano k 
pechati" -- December 7, 1934). I could image that the references to chapters in 
brackets were later incorporated into the text by the editor of the book, 
Kolbanovskii, who was not really familiar with the circumstances of the 
manuscript production. This might explain the lack of reference to chapter 3 as 
previously published. However, please understand that this explanation is a mere 
ungrounded speculation of mine. Let's say, a hypothesis...

2. The question about Tool and sign is really an interesting one, and we don't 
know the full story yet. Perhaps, we will never know it. Thus, I would readdress 
this question to Mike Cole, who certainly knows a part of it. Thus, van der Veer 
and Valsiner published an English manuscript of the paper in their Vygotsky 
Reader in 1994. In their comments they claim that this was *the* manuscript that 
Luria passed to Mike for publication in the West. Then, in turn, Mike seems to 
have passed the manuscript to the two editors of the Reader who did a great job 
of publishing and -- even more importantly -- most professionally commenting on 
the text. Still, much is unclear, for instance: what kind of manuscript that 
was, if it was handwritten (I would doubt that) or typewritten (I believe so), 
when and under what circumstances Luria forwarded it to Mike, etc. Then, the 
Russian text of the 1984 edition might well be a[n edited] translation from 
English or an version of the paper. I guess, some research--both 
historiographical and textological--needs to be done in order to answer your 
question. Anyway, thanks for raising this issue: I have always wanted to ask 
Mike for a feedback from him, so... Mike, do you have any comments, please?

3. As to Vygotsky trip, I think that the Bolshevik leadership knew fairly well 
what they were doing. Especially, when the matter concerned funding a foreign 
trip for an individual for a month or so. Funding was really scarce back then, 
and they must have had really good reasons for sending this guy abroad. So, 
since we do not have any evidence in support of this hypothesis, I would not 
speculate about his possible connections with Russian intelligence or any other 
related organization that might explain his seemingly purposeless stay in 
England way after the conference was over. Then, however, the point is that 
Vygotsky had several advantages over other persons you (and the authors) 
mentioned: he was young and loyal to the ideas of Socialist transformation of 
man and society, very proactive, not blind or peripherally located (like blind 
scholar Shcherbina from provincial town of Priluki), and, perhaps, also 
importantly, had a good rationale for returning home: a newly married young 
specialist with a newborn baby (May 9, 1925) staying home did have good 
incentives not to stay abroad. Yet again, note: this is pure speculation again. 
Frankly, the name of Golosov does not tell me much, but speaking of 
Sokolyanskii, one must keep it mind that, according to Hillig and Marochko 
(2003; the source is available, but it is in Ukrainian) he did make a foreign 
trip in the August of 1925, and was even the head of Russian delegation in 
Germany during "Russian weeks" in Berlin. I believe at least a part of the story 
of Sokolyanskii's foreign trip is certainly true, but in any case this account 
still needs to be verified. In other words: nope, the Bolsheviks did not send 
their people abroad just in order to let them practice their language skills: 
too costly it was for the extremely poor country that had just emerged from the 
Civil War. As it is argued in a recent publication, Vygotsky was quite a 
prominent "defectologist" of his country back in 1925 and was the right guy for 
the job (for more see: Yasnitsky, A. (2011). Lev Vygotsky: Philologist and 
Defectologist, A Socio-intellectual Biography. In Pickren, W., Dewsbury, D., & 
Wertheimer, M. (Eds.). Portraits of Pioneers in Developmental Psychology, vol. 
VII; just wait till September, 2011 when the book is reportedly scheduled to 
come out).


----- Original Message ----
From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>
To: lchcmike@gmail.com; Culture ActivityeXtended Mind <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Sent: Tue, June 7, 2011 7:54:05 PM
Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky in English: What Still Needs to Be Done

Anton et al:

First of all, thanks for what in my view is really PRICELESS work. The Plenum 
edition of Thinking and Speech has been out since 1987. Rene van der Veer has 
been suggesting that it is inadequate, and Luciano Meccaci has been promising 
full documentation of the inadequacies, but I think this is the first clear 
indication in print that we desperately need a new translation of this book, so 
that we miserable Anglophones may at long last learn that we don't know what 
we've been talking about.

Secondly--THREE questions:

a) You say that Chapter Three of Thinking and Speech was written in 1929, and 
you provide a very convincing reference to prove this. But the Authors Preface 
to Thinking and Speech does not include Chapter Three in the list of previously 
published works, and by implication says that it is being published for the 
first time. Can you explain?

b) There are two slightly different versions of "Tool and Sign in the 
Development of the Child", one in English and one in Russian. Do you happen to 
know which was written first (and when?)

c) Rene van der Veer and Ekaterina Zavershneva wonder why the unknown Vygotsky 
(rather than the better known Golosov or Sokolyansky or Sherbina) was sent to 
the London conference. But it appears that a LOT of people at the conference 
were not experts (e.g. Lord Whatzisface and the poor Japanese delegate). In 
China we used to send people abroad for the language proficiency rather than 
their technical expertise; mightn't the same thing have happened here?

Thanks again, Anton--you are a supernatural resource!

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Mon, 6/6/11, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky in English: What Still Needs to Be Done
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Monday, June 6, 2011, 7:52 AM

Thanks, Anton.
Mythbusters super star!

On Mon, Jun 6, 2011 at 5:32 AM, Anton Yasnitsky <the_yasya@yahoo.com> wrote:

> Hi everyone!
> For your information:   most recently several papers from the special
> Vygotskian
> issue of the journal Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science have
> been
> released and are now fully available online (as html and pdf). These
> include:
> In Search of the Unknown: Introduction to the Special Issue
> René van der Veer
> http://www.springerlink.com/content/h438g3337j5520l7/
> Vygotsky in English: What Still Needs to Be Done
> René van der Veer and Anton Yasnitsky
> http://www.springerlink.com/content/278j5025767m2263/
> &
> To Moscow with Love: Partial Reconstruction of Vygotsky’s Trip to London
> René van der Veer and Ekaterina Zavershneva
> http://www.springerlink.com/content/375141xv6284506g/
> At a later time, there will be another paper, on Vygotsky Circle of several
> dozen Vygotsky's students and associates that will hopefully finally
> overturn
> the myth of the "troika da pyaterka" of his Apostles that keeps replicating
> in
> numerous accounts of Vygotsky's life story. I shall keep you posted...
> Have a nice reading!
> Cheers,
> Anton
> __________________________________________
> _____
> xmca mailing list
> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list