Marxist Influences in Psychology
- Tuomas Laine-FrigrenTuomas Laine-FrigrenUniversity of Jyvaskyla, Department of History and Ethnology
Marxist ideas influenced and inspired psychological thinking and practice in the 20th century in a range of ways. In different parts of the world, unique versions of Marxist psychology emerged as answers to questions and problems raised by specific historical contexts. As shown in the early 21st century scholarly interventions in Lev Vygotsky studies, the Soviet psychologist’s work was deeply embedded in the sociopolitical, cultural, and ideological context of early Soviet Russia. In countries such as Brazil and Italy, Marxism had a more indirect influence as an emancipatory discourse. In the wider framework of Latin American liberatory ideas and struggles, the educational philosopher Paulo Freire and psychologists Ignacio Martín-Baró and Maritza Montero wanted to increase the autonomy of those in poverty with their radical ideas and practices. In Italy, mental health reformers Franco Basaglia and Franca Ongaro Basaglia wanted to end the social alienation of psychiatric patients by allying with contemporary Italian Marxists and members of other social movements to change institutions from within. In the communist countries of Eastern Europe, psychology and Marxism had a complex relationship. Marxist psychology could be used rhetorically to make psychology somehow safe for socialism, but there were also psychologists who were truly inspired by Marx and used his work to further their wider social and educational agendas. These cases all highlight the importance of the interplay between local, regional, and global aspects in the history of Marxist psychology. Taken together, they show how Marxism has been a discourse utilized for various social, cultural, and scientific ends within psychology. Rather than existing in a purely political form, Marxist ideology and thinking has often manifested in the field as (re)interpretations, traveling ideas, and conceptual hybrids. The history of Marxist psychology can be regarded as a continuous effort to reinterpret and reprocess Marx’s ideas about the human condition. The history of Marxism and psychology also reveals an inner contradiction between control and emancipation, between the ideological aim of molding “collective men” and encouraging individual autonomy.