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10 Vygotsky and Marxism Danling Fu There has been great interest in Vygotsky and in how his views affect the understanding of learning and teaching since the early 80's in the United States. Today, this interest continues to grow and Vygotsky's views continue to affect the improvement and reform of contemporary education in the United States. New interest in his theories has been sparked too in Russia after his work has been decreed as reactionary bourgeois pseudoscience for sixty years. Also after Vygotsky has been labeled as an anti-Marxist bourgeois psychologist for decades in his country, he is recognized as a devout Marxist . Russian Vygotskian expert, Toulmin (1981) wrote: Vygotsky was happy to call himself a Marxist. The historicalmaterialist approach ensured the success of his scientific investigations; this was the philosophy that armed him, gave him the basis for integrating the sciences of developmental psychology, clinical neurology, cultural anthropology, the psychology of art. That is what we, psychologists of the West, must now study seriously, (p. 79) However, he is rarely connected with Marxism in the United States, as Benjamin Lee stated, "American researchers have focused on his work on language and thought and neglected his Marxist and functionalist side" (1985, p. 66), even though his theory on individual consciousness development and his social and cultural constructivist approach are well received by American educators. This neglect may reveal a deliberate disconnection of Vygotsky from Marxism among American scholars because most people in the United States associate Marxism either with Communism or the concept of class struggle, a concept rather threatening to many Americans. Also, on the surface, Vygotsky's work on the development of individual mind was hardly recognized indebted to Marxist theory as, according to Haldane (1969), "Marxism has extremely little positive to say about the individual mind. It is concerned mainly with the social relationships of the individual and the general materialistic point of view" (p. 157). As a result, in his own country, only until recently, Vygotsky had been seen as a target of Soviet Marxists. Vygotsky was a Marxist, though the content of his study is remote from the content of Marx' and Engels' studies. The former studied the internal structure of human mind; the latter focused on the external structure of the human society. Marxism, to Vygotsky, was not simply a weapon of ideology, as it was to many mechanic Marxists, but a theory, or a scientific approach. He did not treat the Marxist methodology as a mathematical formula or recipe which guided him rigidly in his psychological analysis. Instead, he digested it, in his word, "internalized" it and transformed it into his own principle which dominated his way of thinking and directed his study of human psychological development. As he said "I don't want to discover the nature of mind by patching together a lot of quotations. I want to find out how science has to be built, to approach the study of the mind having learned the whole of Marx's method" (Mind in Society, p. 8). Vygotsky's thinking and approach are Marxist, as claimed by Wertsch, "in more subtle but no less fundamental ways," and his debt to Marx "runs deeper than is commonly recognized" (1985, p. 5). To cut off Vygotsky from Marx is to look at him fragmentally and to separate his work from its theoretical basis. The very act is anti-dialectical materialism, the fundamental principle guiding Vygotsky's research and shaping his analysis. A discussion of Vygotsky in the context of Marxism will help us reach an understanding of the theoretic framework of Vygotsky's thinking. This understanding will lead us to a more profound interpretation of Vygotsky's theory and approach. Hopefully this discussion will also help readers understand Marxist theory and methodology in some way. In this article, based on two of Vygotsky's most known works among American educators: Thought and Language and Mind in Society (they are referred as Thought and Mind in the text), I will examine how Vygotsky applied Marxist principles to his study of human psychological development and present in what way he was a Marxist. In doing so, first of all, we have to review...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-1786
Print ISSN
1085-4908
Pages
pp. 10-17
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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