Irina Sirotkina and Roger Smith

Ch. 20. [Psychology in] The Russian Federation

The Oxford Handbook of the History of Psychology: Global Perspectives. Ed. By David B. Baker. Oxford University Press, 2012. P. 412-441.
If it is generally impossible to recount a single story about the development of psychology, this is even more obviously so in the Russian case (for the historical width of psychology, see Smith 1997). Russia, as a cultural and political entity, passed from being an imperial and autocratic empire within the European framework but with vast Asian lands, to being the first socialist state, a massive experiment in centralized control, the U.S.S.R., which for decades dominated half of Europe as well as half of Asia, to become, after 1991, the Russian Federation, adopting a version of capitalism but not liberal politics. The status and support of science, including psychology, varied markedly during this history. At no time did any one version of what psychology is, or should be, conceived either as a science narrowly defined or as public knowledge of human nature, achieve clear-cut dominance.

Though psychology became an established field during the twentieth century, this occurred across a confusingly large range of institutions. Versions of psychology were present in the Soviet university sector, primarily committed to teaching, and, to a lesser extent, in the Academy of Sciences, dedicated to research (and teaching at doctoral level). Psychology was also present in applied areas of education (and in the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences), medicine, sport, cosmonautics, the army, and so on. Soviet psychologists bid to be major contributors to world science and claimed their number included outstanding contributors to psychology, notably Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936) and Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896-1934). Soviet historians of psychology, in their last years led by the reform-minded Mikhail Grigor’evich Yaroshevskii (1915-2002), pictured Soviet psychology as a series of progressive achievements in science (Yaroshevskii 1974 and 1985). Yet Pavlov did not claim to be a psychologist, but a physiologist, and the state banned Vygotsky’s work for two decades after his death and, even later, publication proceeded slowly. Furthermore, the U.S. historian of science, David Joravsky, claimed that the Soviet pursuit of scientific psychology faced “the persistent frustration of efforts to overcome the duality of brain studies and mind studies,” and of consciousness and practice, which it was its self-proclaimed glory to have achieved (Joravsky 1989, p. viii). He indicted the scientism of the field, comparing it unfavorably to Russian literature in which he found a deeper and more humane contribution to human self-understanding. Then, in 1989, the value of incomes paid to scientists began to collapse, and in 1990-91 there was a political decision hugely to cut funding for science. Many scientists, including psychologists, left the country. Yet, over the next decade psychology became one of the most sought after student courses and most publicly visible ways of thinking (for example, in TV talk shows and self-help books). There is still much to clarify in these complex circumstances; a good deal of the even-handed historical work which will make this possible is only now beginning.

Political events suggest a natural division into three periods, from the beginnings to 1917, 1917-1991, and 1991 to the present. But it is not so easy to keep to this periodization: the nature and extent of historical continuity is a major question for historians of all areas of Russian and Soviet history, not just of science, and it is a contentious matter for Russian identity, politics, and cultural sensibility.

The purpose here is to provide an overview. We therefore concentrate on the circumstances which have encouraged a variety of claims about psychology and do not discuss the work of any one scientist in detail. We adopt a standard transliteration of names, except for well-known ones, such as Vygotsky. Rendering names of institutions in English, we incline not to capitalize, in order to avoid giving a false idea of what institutions were actually called – formal and informal names differed, some names changed repeatedly, others usually took the form of an acronym – but no strict consistency is possible.

There is a large literature in Russian, and, though writers have generally used clichés about the progress of science, it contains details not well known. There are two, though very different, interesting histories in English, Psychology in Utopia (1984) by Alex Kozulin (an émigré psychologist from the Soviet Union) and Joravsky’s Russian Psychology (1989), neither translated into Russian. There is a huge literature on Vygotsky, including books in English sensitive to the historical dimension, like those by Kozulin (1990) and by René van der Veer and Jaan Valsiner (1991). The work of Daniel Todes is making available, for the first time, a meticulous historical view of Pavlov (summarized in Todes 2008).

A Soviet historiography, devised in the mid-twentieth century, is still often implicit in views of how scientific psychology, as opposed to other varieties, developed (see Petrovskii 1967, for a once standard Soviet text). According to this account, scientific, materialist approaches to human nature, influenced by medical physiology, evolutionary thought, and critiques of political economy, appeared with the generation of “revolutionary democrats” that initiated revolutionary politics in Russia in the 1860s. Soviet authors stressed the role of Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov (1829-1905), who, they wrote, then both introduced experimental physiologyto Russia and argued in terms which had world-wide significance for knowledge of brain as the route to a science of mind. He supposedly gave rise to a distinctively Russian “school” – though there was no such thing, and the neurophysiologists who came closest to continuing his work, N. E. Vvedenskii (1852-1922) and Prince A. A. Ukhtomskii (1875-1942), were not psychologists. His article (1863), expanded as a pamphlet, Refleksy golovnogo mozga (Reflexes of the brain, 1866), suggested physiological analogues for mental processes, and his research on central inhibition supposedly laid the basis for objective understanding of the will and thought. Then, according to this account, Pavlov, inspired by Sechenov, elaborated the theory of conditional reflexes as the basis for a comprehensive science of the nervous system and of psychology and psychiatry, thus giving these sciences Russian roots. With the support of the Bolshevik state, the Pavlovian research program established the leadership of Soviet science and demonstrated the progressive, objective character of materialist thinking. Already by the 1960s, however, it was possible more or less openly to acknowledge that the theory, which Pavlov himself always called a theory of “higher nervous activity” not of psychology, could not possibly circumscribe the field, though Pavlov’s name continued to be invoked. Instead, the belief remained that Soviet research had, owing to its materialist orientation, made world-class contributions to a unified science – a position which the names of Nikolai Aleksandrovich Bernshtein (1896-1966), Aleksei Nikolaevich Leont’ev (1903-1979), Aleksandr Romanovich Luria (1902-1977), and Vygotsky appeared to justify.

This is the historical story that we have to re-write. The question of psychology’s epistemological, ideological, and institutional connections to physiology is indeed pivotal. Yet, as the Russian intelligentsia has always been aware, this is not a narrow scientific question, or reducible to struggles between factional interests (however much it was expressed in such struggles), but implicates ontological, ethical, and religious questions about being human. Indeed, these large questions were at the base of much of the early interest in psychological matters.
Human nature and free will in tsarist times
Until February 1917, the Russian Empire was an autocracy in which the tsars ruled, as they held, by divine right. The state was deeply ambivalent about modernization and the place of science, technology, and medicine in that process, wanting the power of applied knowledge but distrusting secular ways of thought. The conservative establishment adhered to the Orthodox faith as the guarantee of political order. Thus clashes between the materialist and the spiritualist views of human nature, debates on free will and responsibility, and, inevitably, early discussions relevant to psychology were intensely politicized. Materialism and radical political opposition to tsarism were firmly associated in pre-revolutionary Russia, while alternative views were often characteristic of a more moderate and sometimes conservative intelligentsia. One can say that the struggles between materialists and spiritualists in the second half of the nineteenth century shaped psychology as a separate area.

Insofar as psychology was regarded as the science of the soul and institutionally part of philosophy courses in theology schools, psychology was present in Russia from the second half of the eighteenth century. (We draw extensively on Sirotkina 2006, in this and the following two sections; also Joravsky 1989.) By contrast, if we regard psychology as a separate discipline, with university chairs and people employed as psychologists, then we must conclude that it appeared only after the October Revolution. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, activities called psychology, multi-faceted and prolific, had spread in philosophy, natural science, literature, medicine, education, legal practice, and even military science. Psychology was as much a cultural resource as it was a defined area of scholarship or paid occupation. Debates took place about the identity of psychology as knowledge, which contributed to the self-awareness of Russian civil society in raw political circumstances – as such debates continued to do subsequently under the tsars, the Bolsheviks, and the post-1991 settlement alike.

In 1850, the minister of education, P. A. Shirinskii-Shikhmatov, had presented tsar Nicholas I with a report limiting the teaching of philosophy courses exclusively to theology schools, and prohibiting the teaching of philosophy by means of logic and psychology, on the grounds that philosophy was conducive to independent thinking and could endanger the regime. In 1855, the new tsar, Alexander II, seeking changes in the wake of the disastrous Crimean War, allowed back philosophy chairs. With the abolition of serfdom (1861) and reforms in legal administration (1864), Russia began a slow process of modernization. Many people believed that science was the key to overcome an alleged backwardness, and they eagerly embraced the anthropology of Feuerbach or the evolutionary ideas of Darwin and Spencer. In 1862, Ivan Turgenev’s most polemical novel, Otzy i deti (Fathers and children), dramatized the relationship of the old and the new generations in Russia and introduced to literature a new figure, the “nihilist.” Nihilist students, considering themselves purposeful and realistic – and scientific, dismissed their fathers as, at best, soft-hearted liberals unable to act and to change the stagnant regime, and they accused their university professors of “declaring out loud that man is primarily a spiritual being while themselves sinking into moral dirt” (N. K. Mikhailovskii, quoted in Sirotkina, 2006 p. 241). In the light of such views, in the 1860s, the authorities began to consider that teaching idealist philosophy, combating materialism and utilitarianism, thought to be synonymous with nihilism, might after all actually help in the fight for student minds.

The discussion between physiologists and philosophers started in 1860 when the radical journalist, Nikolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevskii (1828-1889), attacked traditional philosophy in an article and pamphlet, Antropologicheskii printsip v filosofii (The anthropological principle in philosophy). He announced that man has only one nature – he is a natural being – and put forward a decidedly un-Orthodox ethics, “enlightened egoism.” Equating “natural” and “right,” he proposed embracing science, specifically physiology, in order to reform life by showing people how to follow their inner nature. An honest response to scientific knowledge, he believed, will make possible “the New Man.” Pamfil Danilovich Yurkevich (1826-1874), then a philosophy teacher in the Kiev theological academy in the Ukraine, wrote an educated religious response, “Iz nauki o chelovecheskom dukhe” (From the science of the human spirit), against the author whom he judged completely ignorant in philosophical matters. Others joined in, understanding that the polemics touched on the place of psychology as knowledge, and the whole discussion spilled over the pages of general literary magazines and attracted the attention of a wide audience.

In 1861, the translation of The Physiology of Common Life by G. H. Lewes – a book which Pavlov cited as influencing his direction of study – continued the discussion. The young radical critic, Dmitrii Ivanovich Pisarev (1840-1868), followed this up with “Protsess zhizni” (The process of life), an article which argued for the reduction of psychological phenomena to more elementary material processes. He outraged literature lovers by claiming that for poor people boots are superior to Pushkin. Another radical critic, Maksim Alekseevich Antonovich (1835-1918), hurried to interpret Lewes as support for naturalist studies of the mind, in preference to what he called vague philosophizing. Antonovich took Chernyshevskii’s side against Yurkevich, and the latter, from 1861 a Moscow university professor, intervened once again to defend both his discipline and himself, arguing that physiological and psychological knowledge cannot be reduced to each other. Unfortunately for the reputation of his own argument, he received the support of political conservatives. Given that Chernyshevskii was by now in prison for his political views in the Petropavlovskaia fortress in St. Petersburg and was widely viewed as a martyr of the repressive regime, this damned his opponents, including Yurkevich, as reactionary. While in prison, Chernyshevskii succeeded in publishing his novel, Chto delat’? (What is to be done? 1863), and it was this, with its physiological and utilitarian account of human nature, which quickly became the favorite reading of the young radicals (including V. I. Lenin).

The question, “Komy i kak raspabatyvat’ psikhologiiu?” (Who is to develop psychology and how?), was of such importance that Sechenov, a physiologist and doctor by training and a teacher in institutions of higher education, chose it as the title for an essay in 1873. He was already convinced that physiology was the scientific basis on which to build psychology, and, for him, his question was rhetorical. He wrote for a general journal and received lively responses, both sympathetic and critical, reflecting the rich range of such discussions. In his earlier essay, “Reflexes of the brain,”, also written for a general audience, he had drawn on his own experiments (carried out in an ante-room of Claude Bernard’s laboratory in Paris) claiming to discover a mid-brain center that inhibits motor activity. When he found what he thought was the center of reflex inhibition in the frog’s brain, he believed that this brought him closer to understanding human free will. He explained mental operations as reflexes with a delayed or suppressed end, conceiving of thought as action, but without the final stage of movement, initiated by the external world and mediated by the brain (Kostiuk, Mikulinskii, and Yaroshevskii 1980; Smith 1992, ch. 3; Yaroshevskii 1968). His objective was not to deny the significance of the will or of responsibility but the reverse: to demonstrate that a scientific rather than an idealist world-view makes it possible to act and change human behavior by changing the external conditions of life. The nation’s future, he implied, rests on the science of the will and not on tsarist and Orthodox exhortation to the soul.

The results of Sechenov’s experiments to find centers of inhibition in the brain were ambivalent, and, typically for nineteenth-century and subsequent attempts to relate mind and brain, the whole issue turned out to be vastly more complex than first imagined. One of his scientific critics was the son, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Herzen (1839-1906), of the famous political exile, Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen, who developed the views of his mentor, then living in Florence, Moritz Schiff, that the observed inhibitory effects were better explained in terms of fatigue. Yet Herzen actively supported the view for which Sechenov was often thought to be the major spokesman in Russia, that every human action is determined and free will is therefore an illusion (Sirotkina 2001). After working with a group of colleagues and students in the late 1860s, trying to refute the criticisms of Herzen and others, Sechenov subsequently concentrated on blood physiology.

Sechenov’s popular essays on human nature and free will provoked lively discussion, including a response, in 1872-73, from a liberal professor of law, Konstantin Dmitrievich Kavelin (1818-1885). Although sympathetic to Sechenov’s effort to ground psychology on reliable scientific knowledge, Kavelin had a different view of what this scientific base should be, and he argued that psychological methods must include introspection and the study of culture. He supported a psychology drawing on ethnographic materials about national character, a program which had existed since 1847, when the ethnographic division of the recently founded Russian Geographical Society circulated a request for information on the people’s way of life, including “intellectual and moral abilities.” This was part of a larger debate about national character, national resources, and national development, in the context of which a prominent linguist, A. A. Potebnia (1835-1891), began, in 1862, to publish studies of the relation between mentality and language (later an inspiration for Vygotsky). Kavelin feared that “Sechenov’s insistence on scientific determinism in psychology and his arguments against the freedom of the will might reinforce the ancient curse of passivity and helplessness” in the Russian people (quoted in Joravsky 1989, p. 97). Indeed, the fatalism embedded in what Russian liberals perceived to be the determinist views of conservatives and radicals alike was a constant source of anxiety to them, who aspired to make social and political reforms and to call the oppressed people to action. Further, this question of free will connected psychology to practical matters of jurisprudence. Following reforms and the introduction of a jury system, there were social-psychological studies of evidence, jurors, and the criminal world (though the idea of a criminal character, popular at the time elsewhere, was widely rejected). In addition, there were studies of discipline and obedience in the army, and of suggestion and responsibility in large crowds – a significant legal issue in the 1905 revolution and the subsequent mass trials. Russian commentators drew on and enriched the French and Italian crowd psychology literature. (Budilova 1960 and 1984)

The clashes between materialists and spiritualists, and between scientists and the Orthodox Church, were strongest in the 1860s and 1870s. At that time, Sechenov himself quarreled with university officials, had his work altered by the ecclesiastical censor, and had to agree to publish the initial version of “Reflexes of the brain” in a specialist medical rather than literary journal. There were other attempts at censorship of psychological texts, including the translation of Wundt’s Vorlesungen über die Menschen und Tierseele (Lectures on the human and animal soul) as Dusha cheloveka i zhivotnykh (The soul of man and animals, a use of words with definite religious connotations in Russian), which resulted in a court case in 1867, followed by publication and moral victory for liberal views (Todes 1984). Thereafter, there was a move towards accommodation, the acceptance of separate spheres for science and religion.

Both Sechenov and Kavelin tried to avoid the Scylla of speculative psychology, traditionally associated with an emphasis on free will, and the Charybdis of rigid materialist determinism. As an older man, Sechenov put his efforts into teaching, including contributing to the special courses that were a significant means for women, banned (except for a few years) from the universities, to receive a higher education, and into studies of work and fatigue, and, while liberal and reform-minded, he was not directly involved with politics. It is likely that it was clear to him that his earlier attempt directly to explain mental processes by brain events had not succeeded. His principal scientific follower, Vvedenskii, shifted research towards the physiology of the neuron, sidelined the mind-body question, and kept a distance from politics (though he had been a radical student) in a manner which was characteristic of the late nineteenth-century generation, more involved with establishing science as a profession than with politics. Pavlov’s scientific training did not come from Sechenov. Yet such was Sechenov’s later symbolic standing in Russian science, that it became de rigueur for Soviet physiologists and, in due course, psychologists to locate themselves as members of a supposed “Sechenov school” (Yaroshevsky 1982).

The debates on human nature and free will continued during the period when there began to be support for experimental psychology in Russian universities. The promoters of Wundtian psychology, Nikolai Yakovlevich Grot (1852-1899) and Georgii Ivanovich Chelpanov (1862- 1936), who had both studied with Wundt, contributed by opposing Sechenov’s reflex theory and what they understood to be his denial of free will. They discussed mental causality and creativity and viewed the will as a subjective movement of consciousness (Budilova 1960, ch. 8). Grot, the editor of the first Russian psychological journal, Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii (Questions of philosophy and psychology,1889-1918), opened its first issue with articles on free will and determinism. Chelpanov, who taught at Kiev and Moscow universities (at the latter holding a chair in philosophy and psychology), developed a powerful critique of the materialist approach in his book, Mozg i dusha (Brain and soul, 1900), which appeared in numerous editions before 1917. The balance shifted again with the Bolshevik Revolution. By that time, the institutional setting for psychology was already in place. Interestingly, in Russia, the experimental form of psychology first started in psychiatric institutions.

Psychology in clinics and universities before 1917

The divide between materialists (or people thought of as materialists) and their opponents in part reflected the academic context. The former had scientific and medical backgrounds and worked, as a rule, in medical schools; the latter held positions in the history and philology departments, where philosophy traditionally belonged in Russian universities. Medicine was a significant setting for the advance of views supporting natural science because the state supported medicine as important to modernization, despite the fact that, as a whole, doctors were reform-minded in politics. Sechenov’s medical colleagues chose topics for public lectures similar to his own: for example, in 1876, the professor of pathological physiology, N. O. Kovalevskii, gave a speech on “Kak smotrit fiziologiia na zhizn' voobshche i psikhicheskuiu v osobennosti” (How physiology views life in general and mental life in particular), at the Kazan’ university yearly meeting.

Although it was the history and philology departments which traditionally taught courses in psychology, it was the medical schools that first introduced psychological laboratories and courses on experimental psychology. As early as the 1860s and 1870s, Ivan Mikhailovich Balinskii (1827-1902) at the Military-Surgical Academy (which changed its name in the 1880s to the Military Medical Academy) in St. Petersburg and Sergei Sergeevich Korsakov (1854-1900), a psychiatrist at Moscow university, began to purchase psychometric apparatus.

Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev (1857-1927) created the first laboratory – a special space for psychological experiments – in Kazan’ in 1885. This was a consequence of the 1884 university charter, which introduced separate chairs for neurology and psychiatry instead of a single professorship of mental and neurological diseases. Kazan’ university invited Bekhterev to take the newly founded chair of psychiatry (the Russian term was kafedra dushevnykh boleznei, chair of mental illnesses). Bekhterev, at that time studying and working abroad (including, in Leipzig, histological research in Paul Flechsig’s clinic and a visit to Wundt’s laboratory), was reluctant to cut short his trip, and he accepted only on the condition that the chair came with a clinic and a laboratory equipped for physiological and psychological experiments. Eager to appoint Bekhterev, the university obtained funds from the ministry of education. Bekhterev purchased standard physiological equipment and, with the help of his staff, himself constructed some devices: a large model of the brain and a device for measuring the brain’s volume, a pneumograph (for recording breathing movements), a reflexograph, and a reflexometer (for recording the knee reflex and measuring its force). Psychological studies in the laboratory were relatively marginal and were conducted exclusively on the inmates of the psychiatric ward. A woman student, M. K. Valitskaia, did psychometric studies of patients with various diseases, E. A. Genik and B. I. Vorotynskii experimented with hypnosis, and P. A. Ostankov and M. M. Gran measured the speed of mental processes at different times of the day. Bekhterev summarized research results in an address, “Soznanie i ego granitsy” (Consciousness and its boundaries), to the annual university meeting in 1888 (Nikiforov 1986).

French influence in Russia was long-standing and fostered support for the pathological tradition which considered illness, whether natural or induced by hypnosis or drugs, the best mode of psychological experiment. By contrast, the Wundtian approach to psychology –experiments with apparatus on subjects fully conscious of what is going on – appeared novel to Russian doctors. In particular, Wundt’s refusal to call hypnotic experiments psychological in the proper sense seemed strange to people who thought only experiments on animals and hypnotized subjects were truly objective. But this attitude gradually changed, especially through the influence of doctors who studied with Wundt. There was Bekhterev’s visit, though one of the first Russians to study and work with Wundt was the psychiatrist Vladimir Fiodorovich Chizh (1855-1922). He, like Emil Kraepelin, then also working with Wundt before he took up an appointment in Dorpat (Tartu, in Estonia), became enthusiastic about the project of reforming psychiatry with the help of experimental psychology. In Leipzig in 1884, Chizh began experiments on the time of simple and complex reactions. But, unlike Wundt, he also carried out reaction time experiments on mental patients, with the aim of finding psychological differences between them and normal subjects (Sirotkina 2002, ch. 2; 2008, ch. 2).

At a meeting of the Moscow Psychological Society in 1887, the psychiatrists Grigorii Ivanovich Rossolimo (1860-1928) and Ardalion Ardalionovich Tokarskii (1859-1901) demonstrated both Wundt’s experiments and hypnosis. In 1895, Tokarskii set up a psychological laboratory in the psychiatric clinic of Moscow university with the support of its head, Korsakov, to teach future psychiatrists about what he thought were new and necessary techniques. It seems that a number of psychiatrists thought of experimental psychology as a route to a more prestigious scientific image for their field; and it satisfied their desire to escape from hospital routine. Using experimental devices, however, they helped reshape what psychiatrists studied, transforming mental and moral capacities into psychic functions that act or fail to act in measurable ways. As soon as Chizh returned to Russia in 1885, he organized a psychological laboratory in the St. Panteleimon hospital in St. Petersburg and equipped it with instruments and apparatus brought from Leipzig. In 1891, Chizh received the professorship at the university of Dorpat held by Kraepelin since 1886, and he also inherited Kraepelin’s laboratory and his students, to whom he started teaching physiological psychology. Soon thereafter he launched a campaign to introduce the course into the nation-wide medical curriculum.

The psychiatric promotion of psychological laboratories appeared to leave behind the work traditionally upheld in philosophy. While philosophers were arguing that self-observation is the route to real knowledge of mind, and that experimental psychology is but an introduction to a true science of mind, their colleagues from medical schools were already buying apparatus for measuring reaction times and practising hypnotic experiments. When Chelpanov, reviewing the state of psychology in 1896, wrote about a “psychological institute” at Moscow university, organized with private funds on a western model, he was referring to the laboratory at the university psychiatric clinic. Nevertheless, in the same year, a philosopher who had studied with Wundt, Nikolai Nikolaevich Lange (1858-1921), established a laboratory attached to the department of history and philology of the Novorossiisk university in Odessa (in the Ukraine). At Lange’s public defense of his higher dissertation, a member of the philosophical faculty praised him for establishing what he thought was the first university psychological laboratory; but the psychiatrists who attended the defense protested that this ignored the work already done by their colleagues. Also in 1896, the department of history and philology of Moscow university introduced a course in experimental psychology. Later, in 1914, the opening of a distinct psychological institute in Moscow university greatly forwarded the institutionalization of psychology as part of what might now be called the humanities curriculum.

Before this, there had been some resistance to the very idea of an experimental psychology. If one believes the author of an encyclopedia entry on “experimental psychology,” at the end of the nineteenth century it was still associated with “balances, laboratory glasses, ovens, jars, knives, pitiful victims of vivisection.” A lay person could ask “in confusion whether is it really possible to weigh the soul, to put it in a jar, to heat it over a fire, to dissect it” (quoted in Sirotkina 2006, p. 252). There was also politically motivated resistance from the government. In the period of increased repression following the assassination of Alexander II, a university charter of 1884 seriously reduced university autonomy and made a new assault on philosophy. The government banned logic and psychology from all departments except history and philosophy, limited philosophy courses to ancient (Greek and Latin) philosophy, and closed history of philosophy chairs.

Shortly before this, in January 1884, the philosophers Matvei Mikhailovich Troitskii (1835-1899) and Grot founded the Moscow Psychological Society. They wished to discuss philosophical issues, but because anything called “philosophical” could attract official disapproval, they used “psychological” as a euphemism. All the same, the title also alluded to Troitskii’s particular version of philosophy. An admirer of German idealism earlier in his life, he had gone to study in Germany and come back disillusioned. In Nemetskaia filosofiia (German philosophy, 1867), he reported that he had found in British philosophy (notably Spencer) an alternative to what he thought shallow and vague speculations; his position thus paralleled that of the French psychologist Ribot.

The liberal and broad-minded Grot welcomed to the society people with various views and convictions, including philosophers, teachers, medical doctors, and writers (one of whom was L. N. Tolstoy). Its monthly seminar was a forum for both papers, many of which were on psychology, and public defenses of dissertations. For example, in 1885, Troitskii gave a talk on “Sovremennoe uchenie o zadachakh i metodakh psikhologii” (The contemporary doctrine of psychology, its objectives and methods), in which he treated psychology as a “natural center for other disciplines, which sets the tasks for ethics and law” (I. M. Kondakov, quoted in Sirotkina 2006, p. 253). In 1888, two years after he had replaced Troitskii as professor of philosophy, Grot founded the journal, Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii, with the sponsorship of a wealthy Muscovite. The press attached to the journal also published translations of Kant, Leibniz, Schelling, Spinoza, Descartes, Wundt, and others. In the 1870s, Grot had been friendly with Kavelin, though in the latter’s debates with Sechenov he took the physiologist’s side. Subsequently, he was a follower of Spencer and of Wilhelm Oswald, finding a solution to the mind-body problem and a basis for ethics in the hypothesis that there is a psychic energy correlated with mechanical energy, heat, magnetic fields, and so on. In 1889, at the first International Psychological Congress in Paris, where the Russian delegation was the second largest after the French, Grot spoke on “La causalité et la conservation de l'énergie dans la domaine de l’activité psychique” (Causation and the conservation of energy in the sphere of mental activity). Both Troitskii and Sechenov were amongst the honorary presidents of the congress.

Unlike the Muscovites, who favored the empirical tradition, St. Petersburg philosophers inclined towards German idealism. M. I. Vladislavlev (1840-1890), the professor of philosophy, translated Kant, though also taught psychology and logic and published one of the first Russian textbooks in psychology. His successor in St. Petersburg, A. I. Vvedenskii (1856-1925), who held a professorship there from 1890 till the end of his life, was also a Kantian. In his speculation on how one could recognize the signs of consciousness in another living being, he concluded that there is no such experiential criterion and that there must be an innate belief in the existence of consciousness in others.

In Russia as in western Europe throughout the nineteenth century, it was the university curriculum that structured the divisions of the field of philosophy. Russian institutions divided philosophy into the science of general principles, or metaphysics, and the science of special principles – general cosmology, biology, psychology, ethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of history. Professors such as Vladislavlev commonly taught metaphysics and give away “inferior” parts of their subject to assistants. Thus, in 1889, as a privat-dotsent (a non-salaried teacher, receiving pay only from students’ fees), Vvedenskii lectured on logic and psychology, including perception, attention, will, consciousness, and personality. On his reading list were a translation of Alexander Bain, titled Psikhologiia (Psychology), De l’intelligence (On intelligence) by Hippolyte Taine, Gründzuge der physiologischen Psychologie (Principles of physiological psychology) by Wundt, and Grot’s study of sensations, amongst other books. When Vvedenskii became professor, he stopped teaching psychology and gave it to the privat-dotsent, L. V. Rutkovskii, who altered the content of the course and used James Mark Baldwin’s Handbook of Psychology (1891) for the entire course.

Until the early twentieth century, university psychology was taught only in the lecture room; visits to a laboratory were unheard of. When the privat-dotsent N. O. Losskii announced his lecture course with “practical exercises” for the 1905-6 academic year, he expected his students to write essays and not do experiments. The first teacher to introduce students to the psychological laboratory was A. P. Nechaev (1870-1948), the promoter of “experimental pedagogy” in Russia. He initially had a laboratory, mainly for examining schoolchildren, at the pedagogy museum (which was also a research and teaching institution) in St. Petersburg. Nechaev taught a psychology course from 1906 till the beginning of World War I to all philosophy students, but he accepted only those who wanted to specialize in psychology to the laboratory classes.

Thus, by the 1909-10 academic year, there was diverse psychology teaching in St. Petersburg university: a lecture course by a philosopher, I. I. Lapshin; introductory classes in experimental psychology by Nechaev; and lectures on brain anatomy and physiology and clinical lectures on psychiatry by the physician S. A. Sukhanov. In 1912-13, a new course on physiological psychology, based on Wundt’s Gründzuge der physiologischen Psychologie was introduced, and after the war two new courses were added, one on pathological psychology and the other on giftedness.

By the end of the first decade of the new century, academic psychology in Russia had, as elsewhere in Europe and North America, metamorphosed into a field taught and researched in multifold ways in diverse institutional settings, with a variety of assets targeted at different kinds of practice. Philosophical psychology was represented in Russia by the phenomenologists Gustav Gustavovich Shpet (1879-1938) and S. L. Frank, and the latter, in the momentous year of 1917, restated the notion of the soul in Dusha cheloveka: opyt vvedeniia v filosofskuiu psikhologiiu (The human soul: an essay on the beginnings of philosophical psychology). The new, experimental psychology found its home, first, in medical schools and, a decade later, at the departments of philosophy. The largest psychological laboratory was founded by Chelpanov while he held the philosophy chair of Moscow university in the wake of the World War I. The story of this laboratory, and of the institute that housed it, is exemplary of psychology’s fate in Russia in the decades following the Revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union.

The Moscow institute of psychology and the early Bolshevik years

In 1907, Chelpanov accepted the philosophy chair in Moscow university on the condition that the university would fund a laboratory for experimental psychology. Chelpanov had become interested in psychology attending lectures by A. N. Giliarov (1855−1938), the philosophy professor at the St. Vladimir university in Kiev. He had then travelled to Leipzig to work with Wundt and, while teaching in Kiev, started a course in psychology with laboratory work. When Moscow University appointed him, he asked for a suitable space for a laboratory and for a reading room. All the same, at first the laboratory had no assistant positions, and Chelpanov’s first students, Konstantin Nikolaevich Kornilov (1879−1957) and N. A. Rybnikov (1880−1961) were his unpaid assistants. Together with a laboratory worker, Gubarev, they got the apparatus to work using Wundt’s and Titchener’s handbooks; at the end they were able to publish their own laboratory guide for experimental psychology.

Chelpanov announced a three-year course in psychology based on laboratory work and a well-structured teaching seminar. The topic for the first year was the mind-body problem, for the second, psychology’s subject matter, and for the third there was a range of topics from the psychology of attention and thinking to personality and functionalism. There was also a preparatory course, or "pre-seminar," at the end of which students took examinations in psychology and in the German language and had to write an essay; only after this could students enroll in experimental psychology proper. Chelpanov’s course was highly successful and it gave him ambitions to expand the laboratory. This became possible when a wealthy Muscovite, S. I. Shchukin, donated a large sum of money for the construction of a psychological institute for the university, in a building in which it still exists. Chelpanov traveled in Europe and the U.S.A. to see existing institutes; the result was a luxurious four-storey building with well-equipped laboratories, opening formally on 23 March 1914 (Botsmanova, Guseva, Ravich-Shcherbo 1994).

To appreciate the role and history of this institute, which is in a way a microcosm of larger events, it is necessary to broaden the historical outlook. The list of practitioners who claimed some expertise in psychology was, by 1914, much larger that the list of those who were primarily philosophers. There was considerable interest in applied fields in Russia, connected in many cases with the socialist movement. In 1903, "in the interests of protecting the working class from physical and moral degeneration, as well as developing the workers' ability to fight for themselves," the first program of the Russian Socialist Democratic Workers Party demanded an eight-hour working day (quoted in Kostiuk, Mikulinskii, and Yaroshevskii 1980, p. 41). In the same year, Sechenov conducted what turned out to be his last laboratory research, on fatigue. The elderly man experimented on himself lifting a weight till he felt exhausted. He and other intellectuals were acutely aware of the problems created by the repressive tsarist regime, and they looked to science for answers. In this respect, the aspirations of psychologists coincided with those of the revolutionaries, and this proved to be to the advantage of psychology’s institutionalization.

The early Bolsheviks — at least, the educated members of the party — were true believers in science and, after the disastrous years of the European war, the Revolution, and the Civil War, gave it considerable attention. This interest, however, was double-edged. Bolshevik science policy favored the large scale, and in time it channeled massive resources into industry and research. It founded, and funded from the state budget, new research institutes and laboratories, some of them — like Pavlov’s — huge, and it gave existing facilities status as national, state institutions. As a result, however, science became the monopoly of a highly centralized state system, in which considerable numbers of warring bureaucracies had an interest, and scholars became state employees with no real autonomy. In the conditions of centralized direction of intellectual and academic thought, as well as administration, which the state imposed on all sectors, including psychology, from the late 1920s, this had severe consequences. At times, in circumstances where there was intense competition for state funds and influence in science, this led to calamitous, sometimes vicious, practices. After late 1921, when Lenin’s orders led to the expulsion of a large number of intellectuals from the country, with members of the Moscow and Petrograd psychological societies among them, for resistance to the materialist struggle, it gradually became clear that the state would not allow scientists independently to judge the basis of objective knowledge. (St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd during the war against Germany and Austria.)

The history of Chelpanov’s institute exemplifies the early changes. Like other areas of Moscow university, the institute survived 1917, even the anxious and cold winter (the building was not heated). It managed to publish three issues of the journal, Psikhologicheskoe obozrenie (Psychological review), which had been started on the eve of the Revolution. Then, in 1918 and 1919, the new Soviet ministry of education, Narkompros (People's Commissariat of Enlightenment) recognized the institute’s existence by financing the laboratory. In 1920, Chelpanov completed his blueprint for a "universal psychological apparatus," which combined several traditional laboratory devices and would cost less then a set of separate instruments, and he asked the government for funding. The same year, he opened a new section on applied and work psychology.

Even before the Revolution, Russian academics had nurtured a project for a network of research institutes, either within the universities or separate. After 1917, some of them, those willing to collaborate with the new authorities, again voiced this plan. The Bolsheviks in turn gave their support, partly because it satisfied their taste for the grandiose, partly because it fitted in with their scientism. The leading Party philosopher, Nikolai Bukharin, set the tone with a much to be quoted reference to the theory of conditional reflexes as "a weapon from the iron arsenal of materialism" (quoted in Joravsky 1989, p. 226). The political situation encouraged a conception of research institutes as "big science" on the mass-production or industrial scale thought to be integral to communism.

In the background was the utopian image of "the New Man," with its long history, the vision of refashioning human nature for the new times, shaping the future. "The New Man" embodied the hope that objective, materialist knowledge and a just social order would make possible a new human nature (Bauer, 1952). Aleksei Kapitonovich Gastev (1882−1941), a poet and a revolutionary, who expressed the view "that the human being is nothing but a perfect machine … and that the technical progress of this machine is unlimited" (quoted in Kozulin 1984, p. 16), became director of the Central Institute of Work, founded to rationalize labor processes. If Gastev’s ideas were utopian, the institute was nevertheless home to both Isaak Naftul’evich Shpil’rein (1891−1937) and Nikolai Bernshtein. The former developed testing, psychotechnics, used for occupational placement; and this field grew to such an extent that the International Psychotechnical Congress came to Russia in 1931. Bernshtein began to develop a non-mechanistic approach to human motor activity, a major intellectual challenge to Pavlovian theory. Along with Gastev, Aron Borisovich Zalkind (1888−1936), who held positions in the new communist academic institutions founded to raise a generation of Marxist-educated cadres, strongly supported the idea of the plasticity of human nature. He put forward his ideas, drawing like so many others on a reflex model, in the fields of education and testing. Zalkind argued that the business of psychology is to construct a new human personality along with the new society. In practice, this collapsed into recommendations for adjusting individuals to what was demanded of them.

Academic changes began at the end of 1921, when the Bolsheviks, overcoming resistance, succeeded in reforming Moscow university. The new government started to attack traditional notions of academic freedom by replacing old professors with "red" ones and by changing the student body. It instructed the universities to enroll everybody, regardless of previous education. The universities had to establish so-called workers' departments (rabfak), because the majority of new students were not able to follow the lectures. The Party viewed this sector as a tool for bringing universities under its control. From the first year of its existence, 1920, the rabfak of Moscow university enrolled more students than all the other departments together. This large-scale affirmative action brought to the universities an army of students eager to make a career, often at the expense of studying. Every university, like all other institutions, had a Party cell, with members recruited mainly from the workers' departments. The reform of university administration then took the form of establishing "people's councils," as opposed to academic ones, where students from the working class sat side-by-side with professors. At the same time, the government founded new institutions, such as the Communist Academy, specifically to train people "from below" in Bolshevik principles, and these new "red" scientists and administrators were antagonistic to the old scholarly élite. In psychology, the opposition to élite "idealism" came out into the open at the first post-war Russian psychoneurological congress, held in Moscow in 1923, and especially in the public reporting of the event which side-lined Chelpanov’s work in favor of non-mentalist contributions.

In order to facilitate "Marxist leadership," the Bolsheviks merged all the departments where the humanities were traditionally taught into one department of the social sciences, and they united all the institutes, where post-graduates prepared dissertations, into an administratively centralized Association. One of the Association’s first decisions was to legislate that only Marxist professors could teach a number of disciplines, including sociology, comparative ethnology, philosophy, and modern history. It also made an exam in Marxist philosophy mandatory for all doctoral candidates. It could sign-up and sack teachers and students on ideological grounds, and it controlled each institute’s funds. In November 1921, the psychological institute became part of the Association, and the university permanently lost administrative control of the institute.

Nevertheless, alongside these controls, and in spite of a shortage of everything, the post-revolutionary period was a time of significant quantitative growth. Before 1917, the Moscow institute had only one salaried position, the director’s; by 1922, there were about thirty posts. Besides the director, there were three "full members," including Chelpanov’s eldest assistant, Kornilov. The "first-category researchers" included four persons from the younger generation — B. N. Severnyi, V. M. Ekzempliarskii, P. P. Sokolov, and N. N. Ladygina-Kots; the latter two had followed Chelpanov’s courses and started working at the laboratory before the Revolution. (Ladygina-Kots later became known for her research on primates.) Yet nearly half of positions remained vacant, so Chelpanov planned to open special courses in psychology for prospective researchers.

By the summer of 1922, however, Chelpanov’s own position as director was endangered: an "old" university professor, a philosopher known for his critique of materialism, he stood out against the new "red" background. The main attack came from within the institute, from Kornilov, who, before he came to Moscow, was a teacher in a remote Siberian town. Kornilov had for some time worked on "reactology," his own version of experimental psychology, involving the "objective" registration of reactions as opposed to introspection or self-observation. He had kept it half-secret from Chelpanov, a loyal Wundtian, and he pursued his enthusiasm exclusively at home seminars. Kornilov found the post-revolutionary climate more sympathetic to his research and published his results in a book, Reaktologiia (Reactology, 1922).

Kornilov claimed that his reactology was ideologically correct, while Chelpanov’s philosophy was idealist and hostile to Marxism. In fact, reactology came into existence at a time when Kornilov, according to his own words, "had a poor knowledge of Marxist philosophy" (quoted in Sirotkina, 2006, p. 261). But Kornilov, the former schoolteacher, was preferable as the director of a Soviet institution than the élite professor. The change of directorship took place as an administrative reform. In December 1922, the Association of research institutes of Moscow university closed the psychological institute and made its staff redundant. The same resolution announced a psychological section in the newly founded institute of scientific philosophy, with Kornilov as the head.

After his dismissal, Chelpanov wrote to L. D. Trotsky, who had some knowledge and interest in psychology. Deeply resentful of losing his life’s business, the old professor ended up by adopting Marxist rhetoric in fighting his opponents; this was a foretaste of much future conflict. But Trotsky, already out of favor with the Party, either could not or did not want to help. Kornilov, for his part, easily dismissed his old teacher’s complaints: if he, Kornilov, was a bad Marxist, Chelpanov was no Marxist at all. Chelpanov was sheltered by one of the few students who remained loyal, Shpet, who, as the president of the newly founded Russian academy of the art sciences, a state-funded institution for art studies, appointed Chelpanov to head the academy’s psychological section.

When it changed hands, the institute lost Moscow university funds and did not receive any from the institute of scientific philosophy, whose budget had been drafted before it acquired the psychology section. The section nevertheless, formally, had seven research posts, and Kornilov applied to increase them to twenty. To fill vacant positions, he invited the Marxist sociologist, M. A. Reisner, Chelpanov’s former student turned "objective" psychologist, P. P. Blonskii (1884−1941), and an animal psychologist from Odessa, V. K. Borovskii. "Junior researchers" included Luria, from Kazan', who became the academic secretary of the institute, the specialists in psychotechnics, S. G. Gellershtein (1896−1967) and Isaak Shpil’rein, and the psychoanalyst Sabina Shpil’rein (Spilrein, 1885−1942, the sister of the latter).

Kornilov also applied to the Association of research institutes to restore the psychological institute, and in the summer of 1924 it became the Moscow State Institute of Experimental Psychology. It was "reborn," as Luria, remembered, under the sign of reactology (quoted in Levitin 1991, pp. 130−131; also Luria 1979). This meant that all research referred to "reaction": Kornilov studied "reactions of maximal inhibition;" Vygotsky examined "dominant reactions;" Bernshtein the impact of "reaction on the shape of the movement;" and so on. The term had different meanings, however, and, in spite of the rhetoric of Marxist materialism, Kornilov himself kept to the classical notion of reaction in his experiments. Psychotechnicians resorted less often to the language of "reaction;" because their work had practical importance, it was easier for them to justify it to the authorities.

Under the guise of new terminology, Kornilov’s staff pursued their own research interests. For instance, Luria’s reference to "affective reactions" was in fact a euphemism for a topic related to psychoanalysis. Working at the institute, he asked experimental subjects to respond to the stimulus word by an association while at the same time pressing the button of a dynamoscope devised by Kornilov. By "the joint motor method," he and Leont’ev, who had come to the institute in 1923, studied "affective complexes" both in students during exams and in suspects under criminal investigation, leading to a story, reported by Kornilov, about Luria inventing a lie detector. Working with Kornilov, Vygotsky used the term "reaction" in his 1925 dissertation and in an article, "Problema dominantnykh reaktsii" (The problem of the dominant reactions, 1926). (Yet the choice of words was not so important to him and he used "reaction" and "reflex" as synonyms.)

To compete with Chelpanov’s Vvedenie v eksperimental’nuiu psikhologiiu (Introduction to experimental psychology, 1915), Kornilov published a new Praktikum po eksperimental’noi psikhologii (Practical guide to experimental psychology, 1927), written from the viewpoint of reactology. The junior staff — Bernshtein, Gellershtein, Luria, and Vygotsky — wrote most of the chapters, although they shared doubts about reactology’s heuristic value. Kornilov’s great ambition was to resolve the mind-body problem by means of experimental research. Vygotsky was skeptical; and Gellershtein also described the difficulties which arise in trying to analyze the relationships between mental and physical processes.

In 1928, Bernshtein, Leont’ev, and Vygotsky left the institute, and Luria was replaced as academic secretary by a Marxist philosopher, Yu. V. Frankfurt, who was so influential that he nearly became academic secretary of the entire Russian Association of research institutes in the social sciences (the descendant of the Moscow university Association). At the same time, Kornilov, Zalkind, and Blonskii started feeling the consequences of the project that they had initiated. The genie of "Marxist psychology," once let out of the bottle, gradually accumulated power. Psychologists spent time on endless ideological discussions. In 1930, a specially organized meeting, "the reactological discussion," accused Kornilov of not being loyal to Marxism. His main critics were postgraduate students from the institute, well schooled in the official philosophy (Umrikhin 1991). In 1931, Zalkind and then V. N. Kolbanovskii, whose only virtue was that he was an orthodox Marxist, replaced Kornilov. Yet, in the 1930s, the number of staff at the institute increased to about one hundred.

This expansion was dependent on claims made for psychology as practice. The socialist state, beginning in the twenties, created numerous positions that psychologists could occupy in the army, education, healthcare, social welfare, and so on, and the expanding number of psychology students made it easy to fill these places. At the same time, universities faced rivalry as sites for research from newly-founded academic institutes, industry, educational institutions, and other places for applied research. It was symptomatic that Chelpanov’s other elder student (besides Kornilov), Rybnikov, having had enough of the contested area of experimentation, moved into the relatively quiet area of the study of children.

In the climate of social reconstruction in the 1920s, it was easy to persuade institutions to establish positions for psychologists. Former experimental psychologists (including Chelpanov himself) worked in art studies, medicine, education, "the scientific organization of labor," and sport. The army was an important employer, and it established psychological laboratories within the ministry of defense and other military bodies. The staff of the psychological institute set up sections in social, child, and animal psychology, and in psychotechnics and psychopathology. Its staff also worked on testing soldiers with what were called "the American methods," for the purpose of successful communication compiled the "dictionary of the Red Army soldier," and contributed to the training of army officers and Communist Party instructors. The science of psychology was in demand in a society making a conscious effort to modernize itself and to proclaim the creation of "the New Man." Psychologists successfully claimed usefulness in the Soviet Union, and the state rewarded them with the field’s institutionalization.

In the Stalinist state, however, this support had another side- almost complete dependency — and as a result psychology, as well as other sciences, suffered from the repressive policy of the state. With the beginning of the "Great Break" and Stalin’s "cultural revolution", control over science included severe censorship and regular attacks on scientists modeled on political campaigns. One of the first campaigns organized in psychology was so-called "reactological discussion" in 1931 that finished Kornilov’s reactology and led to his dismissal from the Moscow institute. Sometimes, as a result, entire disciplines were eliminated, as was the case with psychotechnics and pedology. To illustrate the mechanics of these campaigns, we will examine the fate of pedology, the science of the child, in the Soviet Union.

Pedology, 1900-1936

The project of pedology – a science which flourished in the U.S. and some European countries as well as in Russia during the first decades of the twentieth century – was to study child development in order to apply this knowledge to child care and education. The Communist Party’s leaders in the Soviet Union initially supported it. Yet, a resolution of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, the so-called pedology decree of 1936, halted this process and indeed threatened the existence of psychology as an academic and occupational field. Or, at least, this is the standard view of what happened. The story is actually rather complex. The 1930s were years of extreme, and frequently violent, hardship and social change, and decisions taken at the center often had chaotic and arbitrary effects.

Pedology, however, which began as clinical-like studies of early childhood, transformed into a program of school-testing largely opposed by teachers, who saw it as interference in their domain. We therefore view the 1936 decree as part of a world-wide reaction against testing, comparable in particular to events in France, where schools abandoned Binet’s tests because the teachers were reluctant to use any non-pedagogical methods of control over their work. (This section draws on Sirotkina, unpublished work; also Rodin 1998.) The ministry of education took the teachers’ side in the Soviet conflict and developed a strategy “to restore rights” which, teachers argued, pedologists had taken over. The decision to get rid of tests was also influenced by the fact that incorrect testing abused some schoolchildren; more importantly, there was accumulating evidence, in the U.S.S.R. as elsewhere, that the beneficiaries of testing were, as a matter of fact, always children from relatively advantaged backgrounds. What made the difference to the outcome in the Soviet Union was that, as a heavily centralized state, Party leaders headed the state bureaucracy that administered the reaction against testing. Acting to protect themselves, Party officials and bureaucrats caused more damage than good. Archival documents suggest that the middle-level bureaucracy was responsible for the consequences of the decree turning out to be much more disastrous for psychology than one might have expected from the initial decisions taken at the higher level. For whatever reason, the result was that the other part of pedology – applied research on early psychological development – was abandoned together with testing in schools, and abandoned for a long period. Since a national debate about education had for decades been tied up with the fate of psychology, this had consequences across the whole field.

Education was at the center of public discussion about the development of Russia. This went back to the ideas of the narodniki (a liberal movement of the 1860s to 1880s that called on the intelligentsia to educate workers and peasants) and to the thought of moral leaders such as Tolstoy, who opened a school for peasant children on his estate, taught there himself, and wrote textbooks for his pupils. The pedagogical movement benefited from women’s emancipation in Russia, and education became a sphere in which many talented women sought fulfilment. Psychologists, philosophers, and physicians, who contributed much to the movement, were sensitive to western innovations, including pedology and German “experimental pedagogy.” Nechaev had founded a laboratory of experimental pedagogy in St. Petersburg in 1901, and in 1906 the Moscow pedagogic union announced a course on pedology. Two years later, when an international pedological congress was held in Brussels, the first Russian congress of experimental pedagogy took place in St. Petersburg; indeed, between 1911 and 1917 Russian specialists in education and child psychology organized six congresses. There was extensive discussion of testy in Chelpanov’s institute. Yet, all this took place more in the context of how psychology would play its part in a modernized Russia rather than in the context of the existing school system. Interestingly, where psychologists did apply tests, they assumed cultural explanations for inequality. Psychologists debated the appropriateness, in present conditions, of conducting pure as opposed to applied work, rather than nature versus nurture.

The main promoter of pedology, Bekhterev, focused the attention of specialists on studies of infancy and early childhood. In 1908, he founded the pedological institute in St. Petersburg for day-to-day observation and studies of children under institutional conditions, from birth up to the age of three, involving leading psychologists, physiologists, and biologists in the project. Pedologists in St. Petersburg elaborated sophisticated techniques of observation and instructed nurses and teachers in kindergartens how to make observations or use a method of “natural experiment” developed by A. F. Lazurskii (1874-1917). Moscow pedologists, in this like G. Stanley Hall in the United States, worked more with questionnaires and mothers’ diaries, and, just before World War I, Rybnikov organized the pedological museum to keep this material. The large number of publications on child development, both of Russian researchers and translations, demonstrated the extensive growth of the discipline.

These investigations continued after the Revolution. In the early years of the Soviet regime, there was an overriding concern to improve the educational system of the country, to eradicate illiteracy, which was extremely widespread, and to raise a new generation of children untainted by pre-revolutionary bourgeois values. The active interest of Lenin’s wife, N. K. Krupskaia, who supported developmental and educational research throughout the 1920s, certainly helped. Trotsky was another supporter. Although full of Soviet rhetoric, the resulting research programs were characteristic for educational thinking generally at the time.

What did distinguish the Soviet attempt to solve social and economic problems through public education was the centralized and impatient way it was undertaken. The Bolsheviks, who desired to create new people in the minimum possible time, rejected inheritance as a factor affecting the development of personal character and believed that inadequacies, which had survived as the stigmas of capitalism, would quickly die out with social transformation. At a time when “only a lazy one,” to use the Russian expression, did not employ Marxist rhetoric, new leaders of pedology – P.Ia. Basov, Blonskii, Vygotsky, Zalkind – argued for its Marxist character in negotiating the discipline’s support. They claimed that pedology provided educational practice with a scientific basis and was therefore part of the project to create “the New Man.” Blonskii is especially interesting as an example of a scholar, trained in philosophy before the Revolution but also a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, who at once accepted the Bolshevik seizure of power and sought in the 1920s for a Soviet view of progressive education. In practice, he continued to draw on western ideas, notably of Dewey, and in the context of the harsh conditions of the time – in which children often lacked food let alone books – his ideas remained largely theoretical.

The psychologist-pedagogues succeeded in entering the Soviet scientific and educational establishment. In 1922, Bekhterev’s pedological institute, which had closed in the period of economic troubles, reopened under the auspices of the directorate of science, a branch of the Commissariat of Education. Universities and teachers’ colleges introduced pedology into the curriculum, and institutions for both teaching and research in pedology opened. Indeed, in the 1920s, the favor shown towards pedology as an applied science led to the reconsideration of the accepted hierarchy of university disciplines, and in some cases, for example, in the Leningrad pedagogical institute, departments of pedology absorbed psychology. (Petrograd became Leningrad after Lenin’s death in 1924.) Pedological institutions employed all kinds of specialists: hygienists, physiologists, lawyers, teachers. A number of them sheltered psychoanalysts, who were increasingly out of favor in the second half of the 1920s.

Pedologists tested children in order to differentiate those who were unable to face the requirements of ordinary school; these children were then put into special schools for “the abnormal.” This was similar to western practice; indeed, the model for testing was imported from the West and foreign tests were quickly translated, often without adaptation for Russian children. There was a lack of trained specialists, and teachers and physicians often acted as pedologists in the schools.

Thus, by the 1930s, Russian pedology, which had begun as a research project carried on by a few creative academics, had become part of the educational bureaucratic system. And it became clear that pedology failed to satisfy Party expectations for improving the situation of children. The number of children identified as retarded as well as the number of special schools grew – a result far from wishful thinking about transforming human nature. Moreover, some pedagogical surveys revealed that slow development of children was due to starvation (Kurek 2004, p. 43) The outcome, however, was that the 1936 decree declared pedagogy to be “empirical” and a “pseudo-scientific discipline,” and it stated that it has not “yet defined its subject-matter and methodology” and is “full of harmful, anti-Marxist tendencies” (quoted in Fradkin 1990, p. 203). The decree also accused pedologists of taking away the oversight of academic and educational work from pedagogues.

The interest of high-level political critics appears to have been sparked in 1935 by fights, after the ending of free lunches, between rich and poor children in a school attended by children of the Party élite. There were a series of commissions, headed by Stalin’s chief ideological enforcer, A. A. Zhdanov, leading to the decree. Three days after the decree’s publication, the Commissar of Education, A. S. Bubnov, sent a circular telegram in which he ordered the abolition of the position of school pedologist. According to the Commissar’s orders, people who worked as pedologists should be employed as teachers in primary school or re-educated to take other teaching positions. In the sinister period of the second half of the 1930s, however, more than 300 pedologists and teachers, including members of the Commissariat of Education and its Commissar himself, were repressed and some of them disappeared. The term “pedology” was eliminated from academic use; all educational institutions which contained the word in their titles were closed or renamed. “Pedologist” became a synonym for the counter-revolutionary, the saboteur, or a person who constantly abuses students.

The main target of the Party decree was pedological practice in schools. The decree ordered the re-examination of children in special schools and the transfer back to regular classes of those who had been put there by a pedologist’s mistake. Initially, the Commissar ordered the removal of three pedological textbooks from libraries; however, the final list of books consisted of 121 items. The books were taken out of libraries all over the country and destroyed. On the basis of similar advice from a middle-level administrator, thirty-eight books on pre-school development and education were also prohibited. The title of books or the name of the author determined the choice: if the title included the word “pedology” or “‘pedological,” or if the author had been associated with studies of child development, it went. For example, a Russian library contains a copy of the Russian translation of Piaget’s Le langage et la pensée chez l'enfant (Language and thought of the child, 1923, translated into Russian in 1932), from which someone has carefully torn the introduction by Vygotsky and has erased his name on the title page.

Leading representatives of work linking developmental psychology and education, such as Blonskii, Zalkind, Vygotsky, and S. S. Molozhavyi, were severely criticized. Vygotsky had died in 1934, but Zalkind, the leading pedologist, was a direct victim of the decree: he died from a heart attack on the street when he learned about it. Molozhavyi, his closest colleague, did not want to give up and admit immediately that pedology was a mistake or, using the decree’s terminology, a “perversion.” Yet after a few months he had to write the Commissar of Education a self-accusing letter where he asked for a job as a pedagogue. The universities invited pedagogues to fill positions formerly held by pedologists in order to “strengthen” the teaching of pedagogy at the expense of psychology. Psychology continued formally to be present in university curricula, but so-called pure psychologists, those who had not been involved in pedology, revised the courses. Thus, major psychology textbooks of the late 1930s – early 1940s were written by Kornilov and Sergei Leonidovich Rubinshtein (1889-1960), who were free from any pedological guilt simply through never having been interested in child psychology. Kornilov again became director of the Moscow institute of psychology, while Rubinshtein, an obscure librarian from the university in Odessa, acquired a prestigious chair at the pedagogical university in Leningrad.

Rubinshtein had a pre-revolutionary doctorate from Marburg, the home of the German neo-Kantians, and then taught in Odessa and at the Leningrad teachers’ college. He published ‘Problemy psikhologii v trudakh Karla Marksa’ (Psychological problems in the works of Karl Marx) in 1934, and this appears to have propelled him to prominence. His paper argued, with a degree of philosophical sophistication, that Marx’s writings contain the anthropological basis for a science of psychology, and, in the context of the 1930s, it was possible to take the decision that this definitively laid the foundations for a unified science. The achievement was to show in theory that psychology could develop according to Marxist precepts, since Rubinshtein gave no methodological guidelines that could instruct psychologists in empirical research. In 1940, he published a major text, Osnovy obshchei psikhologii (Principles of general psychology), a serious attempt to relate dialectical thinking and a conception of psychological processes as the resultant of internal and external forces (Payne 1968). He became a member-correspondent of the Academy of Sciences, the first psychologist to achieve this position, crucial for the status of the field as a whole, and he simultaneously became chairman of psychology at Moscow university and head of the institute of psychology, now formally under the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. Then a crude campaign, begun in 1947 in response to the struggle with western powers, attacked “rotten western science.” Successive purges in philosophy, genetics, linguistics, and psychology removed from positions of influence scientists not deemed purely Russian in their intellectual roots and ethnic identity. On the back of these campaigns administrative power changed hands. Rubinshtein himself was removed from all his positions by 1950.

As to pedology’s fate, it should be noted that child studies in Russia had in fact begun to decline before the decree: by the late 1920s, industrial-like testing had replaced clinical research on early child development, the core of pre-revolutionary pedology. By 1930, all areas of psychology had to display ideological conformity and to prove loyalty to the regime. In this context, Soviet theoreticians were more concerned to discuss the failures of “bourgeois psychology” than to address the needs of practitioners working with children. But from the 1930s to the 1950s, those who worked directly with children had very few opportunities to get familiar with the results of academic research. There was a shortage of guidance clinics and literature on child development for both practitioners and parents with young children. Scholars themselves started from ideological postulates rather than empirical data and had no opportunity to conduct large surveys or intensive laboratory investigations. Subsequently, in the 1950s, studies of child development degenerated into Pavlovian research on the acquisition of conditional reflexes. The reflex theory perhaps had the “advantage” that teachers could easily understand it.

Pavlov, psychology, and the Stalinist state

Pavlov’s name has appeared a number of times in this history, and certainly his is by far and away the best-known name of a Russian connected to psychology around the world, as well as in Russia. It is, however, a difficult, many-sided matter to assess his place in Soviet psychology. Because of his fame and importance to the Soviet regime, numerous Russian accounts of his life and work, of varying reliability, exist (Nozdracher, Poliakov, and Kosmachevksaya 2004).

His training and career was in medicine and physiology. In 1904 (when he was fifty-five), the year in which he won a Nobel Prize for his work on the digestive glands, Pavlov was entrenched in St. Petersburg in the Imperial Institute of Experimental Medicine, founded with money from Prince A. P. Ol’denburgskii. Through dedicated management, Pavlov co-ordinated workers on his own research program and funded Russia’s largest physiological laboratory, using trainee doctors who needed quickly and efficiently to acquire laboratory experience in physiology. Todes characterized his institute as a “physiological factory” for the production of intellectual and physiological goods (Todes 2001). Pavlov then expanded the managerial technique developed for studies of digestion into a large-scale research program central to psychology. His strategy was to advance through three stages with almost military precision and oversight: “(1) establish experimentally the fully determined regularities in the salivation elicited by highly varied experiments on conditioned reflexes; (2) use these regularities to devlop a model of the unseen processes in the brain that migh have produced them; and (3) use this model to explain the behavior, affect and personality of his experimental subjects” (Todes 2008, p. 47).

Pavlov’s interests shifted around 1903 from the regulation of digestion, in which he freely recognized the importance of mental states, to the actual manner in which nervous regulation itself occurs. He formulated his basic and celebrated, though hardly original, distinction between the unconditional and the conditional reflex, experimenting with dogs and a buzzer. (“Unconditional” and “conditional” is the correct translation.) Starting from the premise that life depends on the organism’s ability to adapt, he shaped research on the reflex as the elementary physical unit of the adaptive process, and, further, proposed that the same elementary unit underlies adaptation in which mind is an element. He then argued that to achieve objectivity the scientist must stay with the observable data, the data of conditioning, and not refer to unobservable and ill-defined elements of mind. “Pavlov always viewed hisachievement as the transformation of […the] familiar ‘psychic secretion’ into a reliable laboratory phenomenon and its use as a method for understanding the unseen processes in the brain that produce thoughts, emotions, and behaviors” (Todes 2008, p. 47). In the early years of this new research, Pavlov insisted that his researchers, whose written work all went through his hands, expressed themselves in terms of the observed, “objective” experimental facts, eschewing reference to mind. He proclaimed his program as the route to knowledge of “higher nervous processes,” that is to knowledge of brain functions (in which connection he certainly referred to unobservable events imputed to the brain), not “psychology.” He was convinced that he alone had found the method with which to create an objective science in the field that psychologists approached through research on mental processes. All the same, he quickly allowed back into laboratory discussion the language of consciousness and of psychological processes.

What was distinctive about Pavlov’s research program was, first, the conditioning technique for studying adaptive regulation and learning, which many other scientists, including psychologists of different persuasions, thought valuable; and second, the claim that this technique made possible knowledge about brain processes, which few scientists outside his laboratory thought justified. He strongly opposed the direction in research, led by the English neurophysiologist, C. S. Sherrington, that turned away from brain processes (like Pavlov’s “irradiation”) in order to focus on the integration of neuronal connections at the spinal level. The study of the neuron and its electrical properties continued in the U.S.S.R., but under the leadership of Ukhtomskii and entirely restricted to physiological questions.

By and large, Pavlov dealt with criticism by ignoring it, and his publications were syntheses of his school’s results not polemics. In 1929, however, he was tempted by the International Physiological Congress in Boston to cross the Atlantic and to make a response, addressing Karl S. Lashley’s criticisms of his theory of the higher brain (cortex). Pavlov’s method of conditioning was much discussed in the United States, but discussed as a valuable method for the study of learning and not as the route to a comprehensive science of the brain. Pavlov reiterated his view, opposing Bekhterev as well as Lashley, that direct experimental study of the brain was not the way forward. He also made clear that he was not a behaviorist, since he had always acknowledged the significance of conscious cognitive and emotional states in his experimental subjects.

The key to understanding Pavlov’s impact on his contemporaries, and to the use Russians subsequently made of his work, appears to be his absolute commitment to natural science and to experimental data as the route to an enlightened human future. In public, Pavlov at times declared belief in the exclusive claim of natural science to knowledge, that is, he supported scientism. He did not discuss philosophical questions, perhaps hoping that experimental science would itself somehow answer them. Pressed to make his position clear at a meeting of the Petrograd Philosophical Society in 1916, he said: “I have not gone into that, the philosophical part. For me my subject and my principles have only methodological significance. I cannot agree that my methods constitute pure materialism. I pursue only the methods of useful research” (quoted in Joravsky 1989, p. 158). Pavlov’s dedication to science attracted a large number of young and idealistic researchers, including a significant number of women, and it later made it possible to represent him as the exemplar of the home-grown Russian scientist who had grasped the materialist direction of future society. He was also, without question, extremely patriotic. At the same time he was an educated man, with wide and cultured interests. Before the Revolution, he was a liberal committed to movement towards a constitutional monarchy (he even stood for political office), and for many years he remained outspokenly critical of the Bolsheviks. His willingness to defend religious believers gave rise to the idea that he was himself a believer. Beginning in 1921, however, when Pavlov threatened to leave the country because of the dearth of resources and Lenin personally intervened to grant him special funds, there began to be an accommodation. Pavlov was valuable to the Bolsheviks as a world-famous scientist, perhaps the most famous Russian scientist who had not left the country at the Revolution. Through the 1920s, the state increasingly funded his research, with the result that by the early 1930s he was head of three research establishments and coordinated the research of fifty to sixty co-workers annually. His realm included the “towers of silence,” built to isolate his dogs from uncontrolled stimulation, which dated from before World War I but were completed with Bolshevik funds, and the purpose-built science village at Koltushi, near Leningrad, where Pavlov hoped to lay the basis for eugenics. Pavlov was allowed to travel, signaling Soviet support for science and, in 1935, in the year before his death, much was made of his chairmanship of the XVth International Physiological Congress held in Leningrad and Moscow. At that congress, the organizers presented a medallion and an edition of Sechenov’s selected works to participants, thus symbolically claiming the existence of a united Russian tradition of understanding the human being through objective materialist knowledge. The political interest went beyond this: since 1929, the year of “the Great Break,” the Communist Party members among Pavlov’s researchers had met regularly in order to formulate an ideologically correct strategy to take Pavlov’s program further. This mainly involved methodological corrections and a move against what these researchers criticized as a reductionist tendency in Pavlov’s theorizing, which they tried to overcome by emphasizing the synthetic capacity of the cortex as a whole.

The core of Pavlovian research consisted of detailed experiments on the excitation and inhibition of conditional reflexes in dogs. It was relatively straightforward (however demanding at times because of limited resources) to organize large numbers of researchers in the purposeful extension of such knowledge. Pavlov himself, however, then directly transposed knowledge of dogs into knowledge of humans, though he never experimented on people and instead turned to clinical data. How far Pavlov was inclined to stretch knowledge of the conditioning of dogs to encompass human life is illustrated by his paper, given just after the tsar had fallen in February 1917, on “Refleks svobody” (The reflex of freedom), in which he drew an analogy between dogs who quietly submit to experiments and “the reflex of slavery” in the Russian people (Joravsky 1989, pp. 78, 209). During the 1920s, he extended the scope of his work to encompass dog and human personality types and neuroses, and human mental illness and higher mental processes, including language, in which context he introduced the notion of the “second signaling system” (that is, words as opposed to other stimuli).

Pavlov thus turned his research program into a grandiose claim to have laid the basis for both a general science of psychology and the medical specialty of psychiatry. He ignored the work of psychologists, such as Vygotsky, going on around him. The quality of much of Pavlov’s later thought is questionable; but since he was an autocratic man working within a hierarchically organized, centralized, and autocratic culture, it was extremely difficult publicly to question his views. Moreover, in the last years of his life political pressure grew to identify his views with the official stance – ideology – of the Stalinized Communist Party. As a result, Pavlov’s approach to neurosis, human typology, and the second signaling system had influence for three decades, giving Soviet science and medicine a character not found elsewhere, even into the 1960s, a damaging character because of the weakness of Pavlov’s thought in these areas and because of the difficulties of openly criticizing it.

Until the mid-1920s, however, Pavlov’s program was only one of three to give priority to the study of reaktsii (reactions) as the objective route to a science of human beings. In Moscow Kornilov promoted his claim to establish a Marxist science under the banner of “reactology,” and in Leningrad Bekhterev put forward “reflexology.” It is hard to know what work these words did beyond signaling the “objective,” that is, non-mentalist (or, in Soviet jargon, opposition to “idealist”) methodology. Both Kornilov’s and Bekhterev’s programs were eclectic in their assumptions and arguments.

This was outstandingly the case with Bekhterev. Indeed, there are grounds for thinking his eclecticism, in a nebulous field split by institutional rivalry and disagreement on the most fundamental issues, a great strength. He was a man of enormous intelligence, energy, and ambition, who transferred from Kazan’ to the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg in 1893. In 1904, he founded a journal, Vestnik psikhologii, kriminal’noi antropologii i gipnotizma (Herald of psychology, criminal anthropology, and hypnotism; the journal later merged with Bekhterev’s other journals) for both clinical and experimental studies. In 1907, he succeeded in attracting funds for a new psychoneurological institute that became, in effect, a private university for the study of the human being. From this base he expanded simultaneously into the medical disciplines of neurology and psychiatry, into the study of crime and legal psychology, into crowd psychology, into pedology, and into physiology and psychology, all the while keeping lines open to a humanist philosophical anthropology. In effect, he excluded no approach to the human subject, and he built up an institute devoted to all aspects of the human sciences. “Reflexology” was the term, rather than a systematically formulated theory, that held all this together as a program of research. He himself initiated research on what he called associative reflexes, and he certainly thought, in a way which closely paralleled Pavlov’s ideas, that this was the objective approach to behavior.

Much more radical than Pavlov in the political and social struggles going on around them, fired by the conviction widespread in the liberal intelligentsia, and not least in the medical profession, that only political changes could lay the real basis for the improvement of the people’s condition, Bekhterev nevertheless worked pragmatically with the administrative establishment when possible. In 1905, in the first revolutionary period, he held that only political emancipation could save individuals from degeneration. He worked with other psychiatrists to try and improve actual conditions, for example, by promoting domestic rather than institutional arrangements for the mentally ill. With his institute already closed, he welcomed the February revolution in 1917 and then accepted the Bolshevik coup. He later received permission to establish a new institute for brain research in Petrograd. Thus, in the 1920s, he and Pavlov entered into competition for scarce centrally-controlled resources. But with Bekhterev’s death in 1927, any claim that his institute might have had to leadership in the human sciences ended, though he had followers who argued for the Marxist content of his science. In addition, though Bekhterev published much more extensively than Pavlov, including what purported to be a synthetic overview, Obshchie osnovy refleksologii cheloveka (1918; published in English as General Principles of Human Reflexology in 1932), it had none of the tight focus of Pavlov’s own lectures on conditional reflexes, published in English in 1927 and 1928. Western readers discerned many points of contact between behaviorism in the United States in the 1920s and Bekhterev’s psychology.

Pavlov was fiercely partisan about his science, but when his own program was not in question he was willing to allow others to proceed in other ways. In the context of intense competition for resources from the state in the 1920s, however, he did not show any doubts about his scientific righteousness. He was successful. After 1927, there was only one Soviet school of “higher nervous activity,” Pavlov’s. The large numbers of researchers trained with Pavlov continued his program, located institutionally and by virtue of its theoretical commitments, and increasingly by its important medical connections, with physiology and not psychology. Researchers trained by him inherited his institutions. At the head, after Pavlov’s death, was L. A. Orbeli (1882-1958), an able organizer and original scientist in his own right, willing to support corrections to Pavlov’s position.

Pavlov was given to dogmatic and self-serving statements about the unique achievements of his school in science, and not adverse to pontification at the expense of others, especially in old age. If, then, later Pavlovians asserted the absolute authority of his legacy, it was not without some kind of precedent in Pavlov’s own self-assessment. This is at least so in relation to the public Pavlov; the private Pavlov was a more reflective man, not unfamiliar with doubt. And, though Pavlov in his last decade gave grudging respect to the Bolsheviks, above all because they so generously funded his program, he never, like the later Pavlovians, asserted the seamless philosophical continuity of his science and Marxism-Leninism (Rüting 2002; Todes 1995).

The war of 1941-45 profoundly disrupted, when it did not wipe out, every walk of life. By 1950, however, the disruption to science was of another kind. An editorial in Fiziologicheskii zhurnal (Physiological journal) in 1948 indicated the direction: scientists have “the urgent task […] of making their ideological orientation clear and accurate [… and,] in particular, any attempts at a revision of the fundamental materialist postulates – the teachings of Sechenov, Pavlov, and Vvedenskii – are to be eradicated” (quoted in Sirotkina, 1995, p. 28). Chauvinistic, anti-Semitic, and pro-Pavlovian academic struggles removed Rubinshtein from his positions in Moscow, and Leont’ev acquired them, only then in his turn to face attacks. In a succession of three large-scale national conferences in physiology, in psychiatry, and in psychology, from 1950 to 1952, under political direction from above but carried through by academics, there was a concerted effort to impose a uniform, united Pavlovian science of man. This was extremely damaging to psychologists, especially as a result of the so-called Pavlov Session of 1950, a joint meeting of the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Medical Sciences, because it threatened to replace psychology by the study of “higher nervous activity,” that is, physiology, as the only politically sanctioned science of man. This threat came with a rhetorical justification in the form of a claim about scientific truth; in these circumstances, resistance, and even simple silence, appeared to place a scientist in opposition at one and the same time to science, to the beleaguered nation in the Cold War, and to the historic role of the Communist Party. If the pressure had been fully sustained, it would have replaced psychological methods, ways of thought, research, personnel, and institutions with physiological ones – and not just by physiology but by a congealed Pavlovian version of it. In fact, however, the physiologist A. G. Ivanov-Smolenskii (1895-1982) was the only influential scientist to challenge the right of psychology to exist as a science. Psychologists themselves largely kept quiet at the 1950 meeting. There a struggle took place with Orbeli for the direction of the Pavlovian legacy. Orbeli, who was the administrative head of the large network of establishments doing Pavlovian work, defended the need for a variety of research, some of it clearly correcting Pavlov’s own conclusions, against die-hards who wanted to reduce everything to simplified reflexes. Ivan Solomonovich Beritov (Beritashvili, 1885-1974) restated his long-standing criticisms of the “unnatural” conditions of Pavlov’s experiments and his argument for a much more complex view of central processes, in particular, going beyond the poles of excitation and inhibition that dominated Pavlov’s thought. Though Orbeli was in fact replaced, his statements at the conference made it clear to all that this was a pre-ordained outcome not the success of the correct Pavlovian scientific point of view. Perhaps we may conclude that the psychologists survived because the neurophysiologists themselves, with reason, could not agree, except at an empty level of abstraction, what the Pavlovian program actually was. And, as always, struggles for administrative control left some opportunities open as well as closing down others.

The 1951 conference in psychiatry sustained the pressure on psychologists, but the doctors, organized in a separate Academy of Medical Sciences, proved themselves more in a position to resist an actual Pavlovian take-over, not least, because there was little the Pavlovians could claim by way of something practical to offer to medicine. (Sleep therapy was an exception, but though Pavlov had advocated it, there was little specifically Pavlovian about it.) By the time of the 1952 psychology session, there was less political interest from above, and the psychologists were able to find ways to formulate agreement with the Pavlovian direction in words while sustaining possibilities for a renewal of psychological research.

Much of what occurred is obscure as it involved conflicts over access to resources and institutional positions in which different bureaucracies and not just academics had a stake. The ideological thrust, however, is relatively clear. The Communist Party laid claim to being the exponent and instrument of the objective laws of history. Thus Party ideologues maintained that in all areas there is only one form of truth, truth coterminous with Marxist-Leninist thought and the actions of the Party, especially as they encompass the human sciences. The Soviet Union had pioneered the construction of, and according to Stalin actually achieved, the first socialist society built on these truths, and hence these truths must be, visibly, the outcome of native Russian developments. Moreover, Stalinist ideologues expected knowledge to legitimate itself through practice, and Pavlov’s science was attractive because they could understand conditioning as a straightforward human technology. Once the Party leadership had made it known it favored a Pavlovian version of the science of man, this science acquired the status of the objective science of the future, and any opposition to it became, de facto, opposition to the realization of that future. Stalinist politics thus bound particular scientific claims to the validity of the state. In this poisonous but in some respects intellectually seductive context – seductive since it gave intellectuals purpose and status in national life – it required great commitment and bravery to step outside the argument and maintain the “idealist” view that it is for independent specialists to arrive at scientific truth. This was especially difficult in these years also because of the almost complete isolation of Soviet scientists from the outside world.

The Vygotsky legacy

The other area of research in the 1920s and early 1930s, besides Pavlov’s, of great importance for the future of the psychological field, was not Kornilov’s or Bekhterev’s but that of young researchers housed in the Moscow institute, though working in a number of institutions simultaneously. The three well-known names are those of Leont’ev, Luria, and Vygotsky. Their exact relations are the subject of some disagreements. The last two worked together in the late 1920s and wrote joint publications, though they were all familiar with each other’s activity from 1924, when Vygotsky joined the institute, perhaps because Kornilov saw in him an ally in forming a Marxist-Leninist alternative to Pavlov’s and Bekhterev’s reflex theories. In the late 1920s, they began to go separate ways. The scarcity of archival information from the early years and the 1930s, as well as the continuing influence that these people have on Russian psychologists, makes it a difficult and sensitive matter to reach an objective narrative. That all three were brilliant and serious scientists, with major points of view in psychology, no one questions. There is little reason, however, to refer to them as a “school” or, even less, “the Vygotsky school,” though, in the second half of the 1920s, Vygotsky did work regularly with a group of important students and collaborators – L. I. Bozhovich (1908-1981), R. E. Levina (1908-1989), N. G. Morozova (1906-1989), L. S. Slavina (1906-1988), and A. V. Zaporozhets (1905-1981), and this group perhaps constituted a school for a short period of time.

The major theoretical initiatives appear to have rested with Vygotsky in the 1920s. From a provincial background, in Gomel’ (in Belorussia) in western Russia’s pale of settlement for Jews, he obtained one of the tightly restricted places for Jewish students at Moscow university where, during World War I, he studied law. He also enrolled in history and philosophy at the Shaniavskii private university (which had a progressive faculty but could not award degrees) and he was a close participant in the Russian modernist art movements, of enormous creativity, at this time. He had links with the Russian literary formalists who were interested in the manner in which language relates to meaning, and his early writing was in literary and theatre criticism. His proto-existentialist study of “Hamlet,” the final draft written in 1916 when he was a student of twenty, appeared in Psikhologiia iskusstva (The psychology of art, full version 1968), with other work on aesthetics from these years, submitted as his thesis in 1925. He survived the period of civil war and famine in Gomel’, active in teacher training and local cultural life, and then he reappeared in Moscow with a paper read to the second post-war psychoneurological congress in 1924, on “Metod refleksologicheskogo i psikhologicheskogo issledovaniia” (Methodology of reflexological and psychological research) (Kozulin 1990; van der Veer and Valsiner 1991; Yaroshevskii 1993).

It was quite possibly Vygotsky’s interest in art, especially in audience response, that led him into psychological questions. In his review of the methods of research on reflexes, his interest was the extension of psychological methods to encompass conscious processes, which he proposed to investigate by studying speech as their objective expression. He was already concerned with a dialectical comprehension of consciousness, encompassing its social nature. As Vygotsky argued in 1925: “The social dimension of consciousness is primary in time and in fact. The individual dimension of consciousness is derivative and secondary” (quoted in Kozulin 1990, p. 82). He became deeply involved with pedagogical theory, publishing Pedagogicheskaia psikhologiia (Pedagogical psychology, 1926), in which he drew extensively on Pavlov’s theory of learning, though he was later to elaborate on this theory’s inadequacies in relation to the higher mental functions. In this book, Vygotsky came closest to supporting the Bolshevik ideal of creating “the New Man.” At this time, he also drew on Ukhtomskii’s idea of “the dominant,” the supposed presence of one center of dominance in the brain at any one time, as a way to understand integration – a phenomenon that Pavlov’s theory appeared to deal with inadequately. Then, turning to increasingly focused studies of child development, Vygotsky broadly built on the widely held view that there are two lines of development, an individual “natural” growth and a “cultural” dimension in which the individual masters the “tools,” especially language, of collective existence.

Vygotsky read extremely widely in classical and modern philosophy and in contemporary psychological authors. He was a rationalist (who much admired Spinoza), a believer in the progress of systematic knowledge and the possibility of well-organized life based on this knowledge. And the considerable energy he put into editing translated works illustrates his breadth; as an editor, for example, he was central to the reception of gestalt psychology in the Soviet Union. His theoretical focus was the manner in which developing historical culture constitutes human beings as human. Thus, he believed, to be a person is not just to be a reactive machine. He took Marxist thought seriously as a possible framework for understanding this. Yet, as his approach is comparable with G. H. Mead’s (of whose work he was apparently unaware – Vygotsky drew on Baldwin’s works of the 1890s), we may ask whether a dialectical framework was or was not essential to what became known as his “historico-cultural” theory in psychology. (For an account of Soviet science sympathetic to the constructive role of dialectical materialism, see Graham 1987.) Whatever our response, the outcome, for Vygotsky, was a theory of development which attributed pre-linguistic thought to the child, a stage before the child, acquiring language in a second stage, incorporates the forms of representing the world taken from the surrounding society into all her or his psychological processes.

Vygotsky’s deep literary and philosophical interests encouraged some later readers to renew the hope that psychology might recreate itself as a humanistic science as opposed to a science of material and mechanical processes. If there had been one serious effort in the Soviet period to elevate psychology into a profound form of human self-understanding, it appeared to be Vygotsky’s. His writings were also attractive as they took part in a dialogue with world psychology rather than a monologue about Russian superiority. There is also, as Kozulin observed (1990, p. 1), something of a ‘literary quality’ in his life: it resembled the life of a quasi-mythic character seeking a science of people as cultural beings, doing justice both to the expressive character of conscious life, as in art, and to the material realities, the subject matter of the natural and social sciences. Tragically, as Vygotsky was aware from 1920, he had tuberculosis, and, though warned on several occasions that he might die, worked in a fever of energy and impatience across an astonishingly broad front, both theoretical and applied. Thus Vygotsky was also active in what Russians call “defectology,” the study of what are understood to be mental disabilities of all kinds, and he established and directed the Leningrad institute of defectology, which existed within the administrative structure of the university but also had links to the medical profession. In his research, for example, he compared the performance of children and schizophrenics.

The attempt to establish the empirical dimensions of his general claims preoccupied Vygotsky and his co-workers in the late 1920s and early 1930s. After that, studies of child development became impossible, for the reasons we have discussed in the section on pedology. Then, beginning in the mid-1950s, his work again aroused intense interest, and his writings began to reappear in print or for the first time. His work became very influential and there was extensive discussion, in the West as well as in the Soviet block, from the mid-1960s. An abridged translation into English of his Myshlenie i rech’ (1934), as Thought and Language (1962), occurred in the context of a huge U.S. interest in Piaget’s work; but this edition, in effect, censored the theoretical, Marxist dimensions, as the editors apparently assumed that only empirical studies contribute to science. The publication and translation of Vygotsky’s work (including, later, new translations of Thought and Language), coinciding with the educational psychologists’ interest in Piaget and criticism of behaviorist learning theories, developments leading to cognitive psychology, made Vygotsky appear the Russian psychologist who had a major contribution to make. Then, with people in the West and in the Soviet block attempting to find a socially informed, even politically radical, basis for social psychology, Vygotsky found a new audience.

Vygotsky distinguished between the pre-verbal, pre-intellectual roots of communication and pre-verbal forms of intelligence in the child, and he argued that verbal thought comes into existence when these classes of mental activity merge. This led him to a general approach to “the mental” as the realm of verbally, and hence culturally, generated meanings. Science, for example, from this viewpoint, is more of a logical effort to construct the objects of inquiry than to record facts. His early papers pointed to the special difficulties facing reflexological or Pavlovian approaches to thought and language. At first implicitly and then explicitly, he identified human mental functions as the highest form of biological mastery, a mastery transformed by symbolic systems and speech into historically embedded cultural activity. The study of the human mind therefore requires research on this transformation, the collective transformation in the history of humanity and the individual transformation in the development of the child. In his thought about the social origin of higher psychological functions, he drew on Pierre Janet’s proposal, that psychological functions appear twice, first as an interpersonal function and second as an intrapersonal one.

It is customary to refer to Vygotsky’s psychology as “historico-cultural.” In fact, beyond a theory of child development, he wrote little that would provide precise guidance for such a science. He did, however, hope to build up a unified understanding of the human mind and brain into a historically as well as biologically informed social psychology. He searched for the principle of organization of the mind in the interaction between the biological organism and the cultural, technological world outside the human organism, an interaction mediated by tools and language. Other scholars and psychologists, before and since, have had similar thoughts. From about 1927-28, working especially with Luria, he tried to bring together an evolutionary approach, ethnographic studies, and research on child development. As mentioned, he took Marxism seriously for its possible contribution to this project, though when it came to providing an account of the mental “internalization” of culture, he owed more to the French sociological school of Émile Durkheim and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl and the German writer R. Thurnwald.

Vygotsky was acutely aware that a unified field was something for the future; in the present, there were the achievements of literature and there was empirical work. In the summer of 1926, he wrote a study on Istoricheskii smysl psikhologicheskogo krizisa (The crisis in psychology, published in 1982), in which he respectfully reviewed the divergent schools in psychology and proposed that only a yet to be created theory of development could unite psychology as the study of the biological organism, consciousness, and culture. (Karl Bühler published a similarly titled study in the following year.)

Vygotsky’s legacy in the Soviet context was to hold out the prospect of a psychology that could and would deal with the question of consciousness. In a setting where the ruling political party was taking a monopoly interest in the science of consciousness, this was a major challenge. It is not surprising that the book which Vygotsky published with Luria in 1930, Etiudy po istorii povedeniia (Essays on the history of behavior), which referred to anthropogenesis and “the primitive mind,” received sharp criticism at the time and nothing like it was to appear for many decades. In 1930, translations of western work on psychology, by Piaget and by J. B. Watson, for example, were still appearing; but this ceased in 1931, and the kind of broad involvement with western science which Vygotsky had taken for granted came under attack as “bourgeois idealism.” The whole notion of a historico-cultural theory, relating psychological processes to historical culture, became part of the realm of political decision-making not scientific research. In 1931, Vygotsky and Luria attempted to study changes in perception, cognition, and memory taking place with the introduction of education to previously remote nomadic peoples in Uzbekistan. This study in comparative psychology, however, came up against the politically sensitive matter of “the national question,” the ostensible submergence of nationality and ethnic identity in the common cause of communism. Any implication that one social group was more “primitive” than another was unacceptable. Luria published this work only in 1974. After 1931, a new generation for whom there could be only one form of objective knowledge accused Vygotsky, along with Luria and Leont’ev, of deviations from Marxism-Leninism. Earlier it had been permissible for different disciplines or sub-disciplines to argue their case; now such pluralism was deemed intolerably “bourgeois,” incompatible with Soviet ideals.

Leont’ev and Vygotsky began openly to disagree about the stages of child development and about Vygotsky’s emphasis on symbols, language, and other people, as opposed to material activity, in mediating the internalization of culture. They had separated before Vygotsky’s death in 1934, by which time it was already inescapably clear that open discussion of development, freely using western sources, had become not just unacceptable but dangerous. Then there was the 1936 decree to eliminate testing in the schools, implemented by a fearful bureaucracy. Providing an abstract foundation for theoretical psychology based on Marx became a more secure academic project than experimental work on children. Luria went to medical school and turned himself into an outstanding neurologist, in which capacity he continued the study of psychological functions through the comparison of normal and abnormal capacities, thus laying the groundwork for a later Soviet neuropsychology. He worked tirelessly through the war, faced with a flood of clinical material.

Leont’ev had moved to Khar’kov in 1931, and there, during the period 1931-36, he established joint projects with researchers from the Ukraine and sustained some active research in psychology. Perhaps even more importantly, he pursued an ideal of psychology as a science, which was exceptionally difficult in the 1930s. The only direct account of what is sometimes called “the Khar’kov school of psychology” (though reference to a “school” implies more institutional stability than was possible at the time) is a report written at the end of the decade by Leont’ev himself, but published by his son, Aleksei Alekseevich Leont’ev (1936-2004), also a psychologist, only in 1988, under the title, Materialy o soznanii (Materials on consciousness). The work in a rather general way sustained Vygotsky’s focus on mediation, conscious and material, between human organism and culture. All the same, there was research on a wide range of topics. There was considerable movement of personnel and disruption of work, and publication sometimes occurred decades later. Archival research by E. E. Sokolova, Leont’ev’s grandson, D. A. Leont’ev, and others is currently establishing a clearer picture ( Leont’ev, Leont’ev and Sokolova 2005; Yasnitsky and Ferrari 2008).

Leont’ev left Moscow with Luria (who returned to Moscow in early 1934) and a number of other researchers, including the younger scientists, Zaporozhets and Bozhovich, allegedly to find a quieter place to work. He headed the Ukrainian psychoneurological academy in Khar’kov, which had sections in general experimental and genetic (i.e., developmental) psychology, clinical psychology, and general theory of psychology. They were joined by Ukrainian researchers such as Petr Iakovlevich Gal’perin (1902-1988) and Petr Ivanovich Zinchenko (1903-1969), and their institutional base extended into the Ukrainian scientific institute of pedagogy and the Khar’kov state pedagogical institute. Vygotsky was a visitor. Much work focused on child development – it included a study of the role of heredity and environment on the development of identical twins, and there was pedagogically-oriented work on formal versus practical learning, and on motivation. Vygotsky’s interest in defectology was evident in work in clinical psychology, and this area also continued in Moscow at the All-Union institute of experimental medicine and the Experimental defectology institute.

The 1936 decree was a direct blow to the work on development: Leont’ev was, for a while, dismissed from all research and administrative positions. In addition, the pedagogical institutes moved, following the administrative transfer of the Ukrainian capital to Kiev. Nevertheless, some psychological work continued in Khar’kov till 1941, and earlier and continuing research was published in these years. Leont’ev gradually elaborated a theoretical shift in the direction of what he called “activity theory.” When he began publicly to state his ideas in the late 1940s, and then again in the late 1950s, he argued that his work had advanced beyond Vygotsky by emphasizing the material activity of the human organism, rather than the psychological tools of symbols and language, in mediating between the world and mental functions. This engaged a debate with the large Marxist topic of praxis and concerned the controversial question within Marxist thought about the degree to which the symbolic systems of conscious life are autonomous (as Vygotsky’s early aesthetic studies allowed). The argument had consequences for the idea of “inner speech” and theories of the stages of human development.

Another center of research in the 1930s, outside the political extremely exposed capital cities of Leningrad and Moscow, was in Tbilisi, Georgia, where Dmitrii Nikolaevich Uznadze (1886-1950) maintained a research programme based on the concept of “mental set.” Gal’perin, in Khar’kov, also published similar work in 1941. Such work was remarkable in the Soviet context because the idea of “set” posited, in effect, an unconscious cognitive state, or structure, active in psychological processes, in diametric opposition to Pavlovian theory. The very word “unconscious,” indeed, invoked a repressed memory of “bourgeois” dynamic psychology.

There had been, in Russia as elsewhere, extensive discussion of unconscious processes and of the Freudian unconscious (Etkind 1993; Miller 1998). This began in the first decade of the twentieth century, part of a broad medical interest in psychotherapeutic innovations, when the Moscow psychiatrist Nikolai Evgrafovich Osipov (1877-1934) introduced his colleagues to Freudian ideas (Sirotkina 2002, ch. 3). He studied with C. G. Jung, visited Freud in 1910, and in the years before World War I, with another physician, I. B. Fel’tsman, published a number of volumes in a “psychotherapeutic library.” In the very early revolutionary years, some enthusiasts welcomed Freudian thought as support for a materialist and sexual liberation of the individual person, but such hopes were short-lived. As a student in Kazan’, Luria founded a local psychoanalytic society, and when he moved to Moscow he became secretary of the Moscow psychoanalytic society, founded in 1921 by I. D. Ermakov and Moshe Wulff. It is clear that Luria, Vygotsky, and many other psychologists took considerable interest in the field. Sabina Shpil’rein, who had been a member of the Swiss psychoanalytic society, joined the group in 1924. For a number of years there was an experimental kindergarten, though it had to endure accusations that it introduced children to sexual matters. By 1930, however, it had become difficult to sustain public commitment to Freudian psychoanalysis, and the notion of unconscious mental activity in general became tainted and repressed as “bourgeois.” Lenin’s remark, that Freud had exaggerated sexual matters, added weight to this judgment. It was particularly difficult to reconcile Freud’s later writings with optimism about changing human nature; and Wilhelm Reich, on his trip to the U.S.S.R. in 1929, met with a sharp rebuff to his hopes for a Freudo-Marxism.

Some psychoanalytic activity persisted in the 1930s, but then it disappeared. Discussion began afresh in the late 1960s, when psychologists carefully detached reference to unconscious processes from reference to psychoanalysis. The first signs of reassessment of psychoanalysis as a possible, if controversial, therapeutic method appeared in the 1970s. The Georgian school staged an international conference, in 1979, which made this discussion explicit in the Soviet psychological community and restored to public view the language of unconscious mental processes.

Diversification – the 1950s to the present

During and after the 1952 session, which spelt out the Pavlovian dictat in psychology, Leont’ev, Luria, Gal’perin, Boris Mikhailovich Teplov (1896-1965), Rubinshtein, and other psychologists found it necessary to exchange accusations of deviation and error. At the same time, though obeisance to Pavlov was obligatory in public pronouncements, away from open sessions psychologists preserved what they could of psychological, as opposed to physiological, practice and institutions. By 1955, two years after Stalin’s death, it was possible to be a little more open, though there was to be an enduring conformity in Pavlovian rhetoric throughout the Soviet empire. Psychologists established a journal for themselves, which they had previously not had, Voprosy psikhologii (Psychological questions). This continues into the present to be the leading publication in the field. Leont’ev began to search out and to publish some of Vygotsky’s work (two volumes of papers appeared in 1956 and 1960), and he published his own Problemy razvitiia psikhiki (Problems of the development of mind, 1959). After meeting resistance, excited discussion of the new cybernetics began, and there was renewed contact with western scientists in the emerging area of the neurosciences. Francophone psychologists, including Piaget, visited in 1955, and they received the clear but private understanding that they should distinguish the “real” psychological work going on from its public, Pavlovian presentation. Uznadze’s Eksperimental’nye osnovy psikhologii ustanovki (The experimental basis of the psychology of set) appeared posthumously in 1961, and Rubinshtein, appointed to head the department of psychology at the institute of philosophy, independent of Leont’ev’s control, published his theoretical papers. Teplov reoriented himself and worked with his students to reformulate Pavlov’s approach to characterology in terms of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the functions of the nervous system. A number of western scientists became intensely committed to opening up contacts, learning about Russian science – Luria’s neuropsychological work, for example – and making available in the West translations or summaries of Soviet contributions (e.g., Simon. 1957; McLeish. 1975; Cole 1978; Cole, John-Steiner, Scribner, and Souberman 1978;Michael Cole became the editor of an English-language journal of translations, Soviet Psychology, founded 1962-63, from 1991 the Journal of Russian and East European Psychology ).

The institutional basis of psychology as a field became unassailable when Leont’ev acquired the chair of psychology at Moscow university and, for the first time, in 1966, established psychology as a separate and full academic department in the university. Universities in Leningrad, Yaroslavl’, Tbilisi, and Tartu immediately followed suit. From his position in Moscow university, and with his Party connections, Leont’ev exercized considerable influence and authority over the new generation of Russian students who began to move into academic positions in the expanding field. He attempted to reinforce the theoretical links of psychology with a properly understood Marxism, one which recognized, as Vygotsky had done, the need to integrate a historico-cultural approach with the natural science of the organism. In Leont’ev’s view, the concept of “activity” performed this integrative theoretical function.

Leont’ev’s dominance was questioned in Leningrad, where Bekhterev’s student, Boris Grigor’evich Anan’ev (1907-1972), headed the psychology department and developed arguments for a many-sided approach (somewhat in Bekhterev’s manner), in marked contrast to what went on in Moscow. He supported experimental work, for example, on perception.

Meanwhile, the Pavlovian theory of “higher nervous activity” had come under sustained critical examination, especially with the publication and continuing research of Bernshtein. Bernshtein, though a physiologist not a psychologist, was important to psychology since his work was a major plank in the edifice demonstrating the scientific weaknesses of Pavlovian research. In addition, he had a high reputation for scientific and moral probity in harsh times. Discussion of his work in 1962, at the All-Union conference on philosophical problems of psychology and higher nervous activity, opened up the possibility of taking on the Pavlovians. His work demonstrated, except in the opinion of hard-line Pavlovians led by Ezras A. Asratian at the institute of higher nervous activity, that processes involving coordination and feedback, and not just an assembly of reflexes, are needed to account for the complex, multi-dimensional nature of movements. There is, psychologists could state, no one-to-one correspondence between movements and localized brain events. In consequence, it is legitimate to argue that the meaning, or mental dimension, of an action, including models of the future, play a part in movements.

Such arguments went back to 1922-24, when Bernshtein, working at the Central Institute of Labor, initiated a new direction of research on the control of movement. He hoped then and in the 1930s to engage in constructive dialogue with Pavlov, but Pavlov’s death induced him to withdraw his work. Significantly, he conducted research with humans not dogs, humans in their “natural” work situations, not animals in harnesses. In the brief period of relative liberalization immediately after 1945, he worked in and influenced sports physiology and the construction of prostheses. His book, O postroenii divizhenii (On the construction of movement) won a Stalin (State) Prize in 1947; but then, in 1948, his ideas were attacked for their “idealism” and for insufficiently acknowledging Pavlov, and, implicitly, for being Jewish, and he lost his positions. His began again to publish articles in the late 1950s, integrating the physiology of movement with cybernetics, leading to mathematical modelling of movement. (Sirotkina, 1995) The publication of his articles, Ocherki po fiziologii dvizhenii i fiziologii aktivnosti (Studies on the physiology of movement and the physiology of activity, 1966) based on research conducted up to forty years earlier, was a landmark at the time: “a spectacular example of scientific integrity successfully withstanding the advances of an ideologically endorsed doctrine [i.e., Pavlovian theory]” (Kozulin, 1984, p. 3). Younger scientists, including Iosif Moiseevich Feigenberg, who worked on a probabilistic theory of behavior, developed Bernshtein’s research after his death in 1966, and knowledge of it spread in the West.

By the late 1960s, there was considerable diversification of viewpoint in Soviet intellectual circles, and this grew in the 1970s, though under conditions of enforced political passivity. There was new thinking in Marxist philosophy and substantial interest in a science of science, that is, in unified methods for the advancement of knowledge and practice, including psychology. The highly centralized system in academic life, as in the economy and politics, somewhat loosened in psychology with the creation in Moscow, in 1971, of a research institute of psychology in the Academy of Sciences, separate from the university institute. Boris Fedorovich Lomov (1927-1989), a student from the Leningrad department, with an interest in “engineering psychology” connected to military aviation and the space program, came to head this institute. The institute developed research in applied, mathematical, physiological, and theoretical fields (this last with Rubinshtein’s students), and to some extent it was receptive to new directions in cognitive research.

As a supposedly all-embracing approach to psychology, Leont’ev’s “activity theory” ran into the same trouble as other all-embracing theories, putting forward a concept, in this case “activity,” as if it could be both the subject of inquiry and the explanation at the same time. The most direct criticism came in the form of the systems thinking of Georgii Petrovich Shchedrovitskii (1929-1994). In 1979, Schedrovitskii, in spite of occupying a place within the Moscow institute under Leont’ev’s influence, also called into question the continuity of Leont’ev’s with Vygotsky’s theoretical principles. The exact nature of Vygotsky’s legacy continued, indeed, to be a point of contention.

Since the second half of the 1950s, Shchedrovitskii had been a member of an informal group of scientists arguing the need for a general methodology in the human sciences based on cybernetics and what, in the West, would be called systems theory, which appeared innovative, even liberating, in the Soviet context. Shchedrovitskii articulated three epistemological principles for the study of behavior: its base is human activity, and thus the scientist must understand objects in the external world as functions of this activity, not independent from it; activity is not individual but characteristic of a system; and there is a distinction between the object studied and its presentation as a scientific subject, and thus the scientific subject may take different forms according to the purposes of research. These ideas became influential among intellectuals in the 1980s, and especially after 1987 during the years of perestroika, which saw the opening of social policy and planning to rational discussion and change. The challenge to Soviet thought lay in the claim that practical decision-making, not only theory, requires scientists to examine the theoretical procedures for choosing a given framework rather than taking it for granted. For example, Vasilii Vasilievich Davydov (1930-1998), who later became director of the psychological institute of the pedagogical academy in Moscow, applied Shchedrovitskii’s ideas to educational theory. He argued, in an area of education deemed by the state to be of fundamental importance, that science education should teach children theoretical constructs, going against the long-established view that teachers should build on the everyday activity of the child.

The 1980s was a period of diversification and increase in numbers of academic psychologists, with psychologists tending to show loyalty to sub-groups rather than to one artificially maintained unified field. There was growing interchange on a regular basis with western psychologists. For some scientists, this was a process of normalization, the return of their science to the path it would have followed had it not been for ideological distortions. Others, however, were keen to promote what they argued were distinctive Soviet strengths in science, including its dialectical orientation, broadly understood to include such important work as Vygotsky’s historico-cultural psychology and “activity theory.” Perestroika created optimism that it would be possible finally to detach such commitments from moribund Marxist dogma. There were considerable changes of personnel with the aging and death of an older generation. All in all, Soviet psychology began to share topics of research and the enormous diversity of activity found elsewhere.

Any judgment about recent history must be open to argument and revision. We note that the unanticipated political changes in 1989-1991 caused a dramatic drop in the personal income of scientists. A large number of psychologists emigrated, for economic reasons, or in order to pursue the kind of “professional” career thought impossible in Russia, or to go to Israel. Those who stayed had to make an income from western grants, or by moving into business, or by opening up psychological practice of one kind or another, like political advisory services, for which there was a sudden demand. After 1991, there was a continuously renewed political decision not to maintain anything like the previous levels of funding for science. As a result, for example, no Russian institution in psychology, or library of any kind, had a budget for western books and journals. Cutting-edge experimental research largely ceased in the Russian Federation.

It appears that the problems were not only financial. Under both the Yeltsin and Putin presidencies, intellectuals lost the status and the moral direction, however difficult that sometimes had been, which they had had under Soviet rule. It was not clear to psychologists whether a career in the field required an attempt straightforwardly to emulate western, especially U.S., professional practice, or whether Russian traditions and circumstances required a somewhat different course. If the former was the case, the absence of resources at home implied finding part-time, if not full-time, work in the West. If the latter was the case, it was necessary to open new opportunities in education, business, the media, and therapeutic work while still maintaining, in some yet to be clarified way, connections with scientific ideals. The latter route was a challenge, since teaching, which was a source of income, though plentiful because of the popularity of the field with students, was mostly at introductory levels and poorly paid. Moreover, all and sundry Russians started to display an over-confident and careless psychological expertise in the public arena. The remarkably rapid spread of “popular” psychology in books and in the media markedly blurred the notion of who is and who is not a psychologist. There is the Russian Psychological Association, open to all who “work as psychologists” and are provided with recommendations from two members, though membership is usually accorded to those who have studied to a centrally controlled, state determined standard. But there is no legislation to prevent anyone claiming the title of psychologist. In Soviet times, the centralized system gave those educated in the field a natural monopoly and provided the field with at least the appearance that it was exclusively a scientific discipline. Since 1991, however, the proliferation of books and people offering psychological advice of one kind or another has become of great concern to those who think that there is such a thing as “scientific” psychology. For the observer, this social change, involving people turning to psychological ways of thought and psychological practice in order to address the daily problems of life, is a major development in the history of psychology in Russia. Considerable numbers of newly graduated students in psychology are finding employment, at least some of them applying psychological knowledge. There have even been attempts to recreate psychology as an Orthodox religious psychology of the soul, though this in practice has tended to mean a return to statements of Orthodox belief isolated from scientific psychology. The history of the country encourages the unsubtle presumption, on both sides, of a conflict between “science” and “religion.”

Thus the years following the Soviet period, though years of intellectual freedom, have brought considerable disquiet. Psychology is a very diverse activity indeed, and there are no signs that this will change in the short term.


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