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László Garai Theoretical Psychology Vygotskian Writings Теоретическая психология Выготскианские тексты contents

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Marxian personality psychology

A psychological meta-theory deriving its assumptions from Marx’s materialist philosophy of history and applied to the historical development and social relations of personality. Its philosophical basis, historical materialism, unlike other materialist philosophies, takes neither nature nor the spirit as its principle. Its starting point is production, which is just as much defined by spatio-temporal dimensions as is nature. and just as creative as is mind.

S. Rubinstein (1959) derived four principles from this philosophy. These principles were to be applied both to a Marxian activity psychology and to personality psychology. They are:

(1) the principle of objectivity – mental phenomena refer to objects in the space-time of the material world;

(2) the principle of activity – mental dispositions develop in the activity they regulate;

(3) the principle of historicity – mental states bear the marks of their history; and

(4) the principle of sociality – mental characteristics are socially determined.

None of these principles, considered separately, is characteristic of a Marxian psychology. It is their combination which is specific to the psychological meta-theory derived from historical materialism. This combination is brought about by a specific interpretation of each principle:

l. Object is conceived as manufactured by an activity of man and, reciprocally, is claimed to be an “inorganic body” of man in producing together that activity (Marx: Economic and philosophical manuscripts).

2. Activity is pictured as a necessary everyday cycle of production and reproduction. The cycle is interrupted .occasionally by moments of free creation of new values that are introduced to be reproduced by subsequent necessary everyday cycles of activity.

3. History is conceived as composed of autonomous human acts restricted by social laws. These social laws are actualized by the autonomous acts of others.

4. Society is pictured as based upon relations of object appropriation and as establishing property relations (Marx: Grundrisse).

Rubinstein did not apply his four principles in their entirety. He considered the personality as an internal mediator of external determinants and as originating from other external de­ter­minants internalized in the past. According to his metaphor the personality of a man is his “socially determined nature”. This pattern is highly typical of allegedly Marxian personality psychologies. The personality psychology outlined by Rubinstein turned out to be an amalgam of a social cognitivism and a social behaviorism. It describes the emergence of a personality by the notion of socialization and the social functioning of a personality is described in terms of attitude. For the proximate but not identical central notion of set in Uznadze’s theory, of social interaction, of communication. etc. None of these points alone is particularly characte­ristic of a Marxian approach.

In other cases the application of some of the above principles in isolation from others results in a kind of psychoanalytic personality theory. The central problem of a marxizing personality theory of psychoanalysis is the interdependence of the personality structure and the structure of society. For W. Reich the structure of a repressive society determines an authoritarian personality structure through sexual repression in family education. E. Fromm claims that it is the structure of a competitive society based on private property that by frustrating a need for secure relationships with others, fixes the personality on a dependent level as “escaping from freedom”.

A. Jozsef states that the distortion of the personalities of both the capitalist and the worker is determined by the fundamental distortion of the capitalist society. The society is both the subject and the object of both production (that is in the process of production reproduces itself) and socialization. On the other hand, the person as worker is only the subject of production and the object of the socialization, as opposed to the person as capitalist being only the subject of socialization and merely the object of the production. This produces neurotic personalities of either a mere social object with only technical intercourse and no orgasm or a mere social subject with only impotent libido.

In contrast to the above considerations for H. Marcuse it is not the structure of an actually given social relation (e.g. between capitalists and workers in a capitalist society) that more or less distorts the structure of a personality and still less does it depend on how repressive or liberal is that social relation. It is civilization which is opposed as such to Eros and transforms it by repression into aggression.

A group of followers of Lacan and Althusser (Bruno et al., 1973) hold that besides nature the only reality is discourse and its structure. There exists a strict distinction between the dis­course of the subject and that of other while there are no principles regulating that distinction on the level of a meta-language. The meta-level relation of proper discourse and the personality distorted by it both are but an ideology. The ideology is the discourse produced by a domi­nating place in the discourse structure but this ideology presents itself either as corresponding to an objective reality or as a mere subjective belief system of individual selves that may be opposed by that of others.

It was in controversy with such theories as well as the humanistic philosophy (Garaudy) going back to the early Marx that Lucien Sève (1969) advanced his psychological meta-theory of personality. He rejected the basic thesis of the theories of Reich, Marcuse and so on sketched above.

That here is an alienation of the personality distorted by empirically given social relations from its intrinsic specifically human generic essence (Gattungswesen) given in advance of any social relations. Nevertheless he argued that there is an essence of human personality. It is neither intrinsic nor given in advance but is borne by the historically developed totality of production relation. Furthermore, it is neither generic nor intimately characteristic of a given individual but the totality of production relations of is in a special way addressed to each xxxnt the particularities (i.e. classes) of that totality. For example. the human essence that characterizes a worker in a capitalist society as a personality is defined by the relations in which his personal power is reproduced as a concrete use value producing abstract exchange value for the capitalist and, at the same time, as an abstract exchange value producing concrete use value for the worker himself.

L. Garai and his team (1979) tried to extend the validity of such a production-centered approach to those aspects of the historical development and social relationship of personality which are not directly connected with production as such.

For that purpose they adopted L. Vygotsky’s idea (19xxx8) of analysing a mental context according to a paradigm derived from an economic context. Vygotsky’s basic argument was that man utilizes as psychic tools signs that are psychic products of his previous activity and as such constitute a special (i. e. mental) category of means of production brought into being as products of production. A. Leontiev (1969) set out from a psychology describing man’s activity as oriented to such an object taken both as a means and a product and attempted to derive from it a personality psychology that describes the agent of that activity with his characteristic hierarchy of motives.

Garai took personality psychology as independent of activity psychology which has a special mental context to be analysed according to a paradigm obtained from another economic context. i. e. that of class relations (Garai 1977). The main paradigmatic point of class relations is claimed to be the representation of the common law of different classes by only one of them. Neither the detention of personality differences nor finding out general law xxs of the functioning of personalities is supposed to interest Marxian personality psychology. It investigates how during its development a personality establishes its differences and similarities according to or in contrast with a common pattern represented by someone with reference to whom the personality also has to distinguish or identify itself. At the beginning the elaboration of nuances of identities and differences of individuals with regard to a social situation into categorical identities and differences (see SOCIAL CATEGORIZATION) is not presented by a series of conscious acts but takes place by means of an elaboration of physical entities such as sex, height or color as well as all kinds of body activity into signs. These entities unconsciously symbolize by the identities and differences of their structures. the simultaneously elaborated identities and differences of social structures (Kocski and Garai 197xxxxx). The emergence of the conscious self is then mediated by the confrontation between the personality’s self-definition and general laws represented by others.

A further point to be stressed by a Marxian personality psychology is related to the economic fact that the part of the physical world produced by men as means of production may be expropriated by a class that becomes, by virtue of its property, the class representing the common pattern for all the classes. This has implications for personality development: (1) the above mental elaboration of physical entities into signs that mediate the unconscious mental elaboration of the personality’s social world is pre-formed by the property relations of that social world; (2) so is the emergence of the conscious self since it is mediated by the confrontation of the personality’s (unconscious) self definition with that property-related common pattern. Thus, it is stated that personality development in a socialization process depends upon the individual’s privileged or under-privileged position with regard to the property relations interpreted either in a strict economic sense or paradigmatically. The main paradigmatic point of property relations is that the property-condition of occupying the position privileged to frame a law or pattern of socially approved personality is established by that law itself (Garai 1977). Those in an under-privileged position can ensure their personality development only by introducing radical changes into their self-establishing social world.

Personality development is not conceived by Marxian personality psychology as a joint effect of biological maturation and a social shaping process which a passive individual would be submitted to. Instead, it is represented as the result of an individual’s activity organized according to the paradigm of the work activity: the need-motivated reproduction cycles are interrupted by life crises which may provoke creative inventions and these become patterns to be reproduced in renewed cycles by the force of a specifically human need for a need-free activity.

The production-centered meta-theory of Marxian personality psychology is the same as that applied in Marxian activity psychology. Hence there is a real possibility of basing an integrated psychology on this meta-theory instead of reproducing the traditional distinction between a “scientific” (Naturwissenschaftliche) and a “humanistic” (geisteswissenschaftliche) psychology.


Althusser, Louis 1969: Freud and Lacan. New left review 55. 49-65.

Bruno, Pierre et al. 1973: La psychologie sociale: une utopie en crise. la Nouvelle Critique 62. 72-78: 64. 21-28.

Fromm. Erich 1973: Marx’s Concept of man. New York, F. Ungar.

Garai, László 1977: Conflict and the economical paradigm. Dialectics and humanism 2. 47-58. et al. 1974: Towards a social psychology of personality: Development and current perspectives of a school of social psychology in Hungary. Social Science Information 18. 1. 137-66.

József, Attila 1972: Hegel, Marx, Freud. Action poétique 49. 68-75.

Köcski, Margit and Garai, László 1978: Les débuts de la catégorisation sociale et les manifestations verbales. Une étude longitudinale 4. 3-30.

Leontiew, Alexei: Problems of mental development. Joint Publications Research Service, Washington, 1969

Marcuse, Herbert 1972: Eros and civilisation. New York, Random House.

Reich, Wilhelm 1970: The mass psychology of fascism. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Rubinstein. Sergei 1959: Principles and ways of mental development [In Russian]. Moscow: Publishing House of Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Lucien Sève: Marxisme et la théorie de la personnalité. Paris: Editions Sociales.

Vygotsky. Lev, 1962: Thought and language. Cambridge: MIT Press 1978;: Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge. Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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