Man in Marxist Theory. Lucien Séve 1974
Source: Man in Marxist Theory and the psychology of personality, Lucien Sève;
Translated: John McGreal;
Published: The Harvester Press, 1978.
‘Narrow-mindedness and insularity in specialised fields is never a good thing and has deplorable effects particularly where psychology is concerned ... On the contrary, ability to generalise and a universal approach are necessary for psychological research’. (Pierre Janet).
‘Psychology by no means holds the "secret" of human affairs, simply because this "secret" is not of a psychological order.’ (Georges Politzer).
FOR anyone who, as a Marxist, is committed to following the development of psychology it appears impossible with the years not to come to a resolutely critical view of the state it is in. Despite the rapid advances of psychology in general along the scientific path, this state is dominated, in my opinion, by a sharp contradiction between the many-sided importance and the persistent immaturity of what ought to be its highest achievement: the theory of, personality. Until recently, this contradiction did not appear to concern many people: in spite of many signs of the presence of vital unresolved questions and some stimulating bases of such a theory did not develop, at least not in French Marxist publications. Perhaps there was still little conviction that the condition of psychology, which in any case was not thought to be doing too badly as a science, ought to be of much concern to Marxists? Obviously, if one holds this view, there is no sharp contradiction and no awareness of an intolerable theoretical backwardness, merely a dull complacency as far as discussion about principles is concerned.
But theory abhors a vacuum. And for some time, with quite different starting points, and advancing in different directions, several Marxist researchers have implicitly, or more often explicitly, come to draw attention to this unsatisfactory state of affairs at the level of principles in the theory of personality. Some published works and numerous others which have been promised have tried to prefigure this theory or, at least, to explore approaches to it, some through Freud or Meyerson, through Pavlov or Politzer, and some by way of an attempt by philosophy to clarify relations between Marxism and humanism; some by economists, sociologists and historians concerned with the connection of the individual psyche with social structures and groups; some by artists or critics for whom the interface between creativity and biography never ceases to be a problem; or, more directly, by psychologists and psychiatrists who, doubtlessly annoyed at times by this influx of amateurs into what is their professional concern, are disinclined to represent the advances in their science to themselves in the form of a great upheaval of revolutionary discovery but who are among the foremost in the slow development of these problems.
It appears that a similar development is also occurring outside of Marxism and outside France with obvious mutual interventions. At the present juncture it would undoubtedly take little to launch a revolution in the state of affairs as it now stands or at least a process of concerted discussion of fundamentals. Ale aim of this book is to contribute after others – to opening up such a discussion which is of the highest importance at the present time; and, in the first place in order to sharpen our awareness of them, to go more deeply into these two contradictory facts: the extreme importance of the theory of personality and its scientific immaturity.
THE theory of personality is not only of the utmost importance on the terrain and within the limits of psychology, from the point of view of the specialists; it is of the utmost importance for the present and future of man. It is unnecessary to prove this obvious fact here at length. But the fact that this is even more true for all Marxists and for the whole of Marxism is not something which goes without saying. Does it not go against the deeply rooted idea that, on the contrary, from a Marxist standpoint, what belongs to psychology is necessarily of minor importance? Indeed, there is no shortage of reasons for forming this opinion of it. Schematically: Marxism is dialectical materialism, i.e. a philosophy for which consciousness is a function of highly organised matter; is not the neurophysiological investigation of this higher organisation of matter therefore of primary importance, and the ‘psychological’ investigation of facts of consciousness which correspond to it secondary? Marxism is the materialist science of history, the principle of which is that it is not consciousness which determines social life but social life which determines consciousness; is not the investigation of objective social life – i.e. above all the science of economic relations – therefore of primary importance and the ‘psychological’ investigation of forms of subjectivity secondary? Furthermore, Marxism is scientific socialism, i.e. a political doctrine, and in Lenin’s expression, politics only begins when the masses are counted in millions; is not studying the masses – social science as a whole – therefore the main thing, and the psychological investigation of the individual subordinate? Practical verification: still not having cleared up the central problem of the personality, psychology clearly appears not to be a fully developed science; Marxism has existed as a coherent scientific doctrine for more than a century, and half a century ago the Bolsheviks were able to carry through the revolution victoriously. Therefore psychology is not a vital component in Marxist theory and practice, and to see clearly and act correctly a Marxist has no need to look to the psychologist.
Not only that; among Marxists there are also great reserves of distrust with regard to psychology. They know, at a cost, that from Maine de Biran and Victor Cousin to certain aspects of behaviourism and Freudianism, psychology is often the indirect way by which ideology introduces bourgeois ideas and the way that idealists try to revise historical materialism and scientific socialism in a subjectivist direction. If things do not go well from a scientific standpoint in this or that domain of psychology, Marxists might ultimately be tempted to find this not merely of secondary importance but almost in the natural order of things. Is not psychology in essence basically a false science? As though by calling, won’t it always be inclined towards tackling human problems in an idealist and depoliticised way? Physiology, especially all the more, Pavlovian physiology, which is essentially materialist and progressive, there – it has long been thought – is a rigorous science of man and an exemplary corroboration of Marxism which does not threaten to make us deviate towards reactionary idealism and bourgeois individualism. But as far as Pavlovism is concerned, is it not the physiology of higher nervous activity which in a revolutionary spirit replaces outmoded psychology? Let us go further, and at the same time closer, to some recent philosophical debates: does not the act of founding Marxism imply the end of all psychology? If, as Marx writes in the VI Thesis of Feuerbach, the human essence ‘is no abstraction inherent in each single individual’ but ‘in its reality ... is the ensemble of social relations’, is not all psychology in the usual sense of the word, by seeking the secret of psychic man where it cannot exist: in individuals, by that very fact impregnated with speculative humanism, however concrete it professes to be, and does it not inevitably relapse on this side of Marxist science and the truth?
In the last resort, I consider all these reservations, indeed all these rejections of psychology, which are raised too briefly here, unjustified, and I will give my reasons. Nevertheless, they rest on historical experience and critical reflection which are perfectly valid in principle and which I do not mean to underrate. On the contrary in fact; for if it is true as I think, that scientific psychology has still not reached complete maturity – i.e. in its representation of the human individual it is still only unevenly and incompletely disengaged from ideology what is astonishing is the fact that it cannot altogether satisfy a Marxist at the present time; especially when he expects from it not only the investigation of psychic functions separately but further the unlimited understanding of the structure and development of human personalities as a whole which, I emphasise to prevent misunderstanding, is the very standpoint from which this book takes up its position from beginning to end. Only, if the theoretical problems which the constitution and growth of human personalities present are still not quite matured, this immaturity in point of fact clearly proves nothing against their importance in principle but, much rather, emphasises the responsibility of Marxist researchers themselves in their necessary maturation. Not to understand this is to turn absurdly in this vicious circle: because a psychology which is still partly in the grasp of ideology does not give complete satisfaction, and does not trouble to work to free it, and because it does not free itself this is seen as confirmation that it is not worth troubling. This vicious circle of unpardonable negligence is made worse by three sorts of unchallengeable facts.
Although this upsets the common – and partly correct – idea according to which the political and the psychological way of approaching a problem are opposed, it is often precisely political struggles themselves which inexorably present psychological problems. In other words, and this observation may lead much further than it usually does, many political problems consist at least in part of a psychological problem which arises for millions of men. In such cases it must be agreed with strict Marxist rigour that the political battle can only be carried through to the end, or sometimes even be carried on at all, in so far as it can be supported by a really scientific psychology.
Take the example of the struggle of the French democratic forces against the Gaullist administration’s educational policy as it developed in the 1960s with the ‘Fouchet Plan’ – an example which is highly important in all respects. At first the problem might appear to have nothing to do with psychology: from a financial standpoint it involves the sacrificing of schools for atomic strike-capacity and, more generally, the distribution of budgetary funds in the interests of the monopolies; from a political and ideological standpoint it involves the education of youth increasingly given over to the employers and forces of reaction. But this still does not exhaust the essential point. What it also involves, more fundamentally, is a comprehensive plan to reform the whole educational system by closely adapting it not to the democratically conceived requirements of national development but to strict manpower needs of big capital caught up in a desperate inter-monopolistic struggle (i.e., by scorning the right of the majority of the people’s children to education) thereby worsening social inequalities, this not openly in the name of class politics of course, but under the ‘objective’ pretext that most of them are not ‘gifted’ enough to exercise their right. ‘Look how democratic I am’, the defender of such a policy says: only aptitudes will be taken into account to direct children either into brief educational studies and minor jobs or into lengthy studies and senior positions. He merely ‘forgets’ to say – among other things – that in so far as one can establish it beyond all doubt, inequality in intellectual abilities is itself substantially predetermined by inequality in social conditions and its system of cumulative effects. Thus selection according to aptitude, which is deeply opposed to the many-sided effort of democratic schools towards the promotion of all in spite of the effect of class inequalities, amounts to making ‘nature’ responsible for a policy of cultural Malthusianism and social discrimination. One of those who thought up this policy calmly declares:
On the weight of the evidence there are two pyramids – that of society which, with its hierarchy, corresponds to nature. Then there is also the pyramid of aptitudes. By that very fact, these two pyramids have the same profile. The problem is simply to make them coincide.
The politics of monopoly capital are therefore bound up here in a pedagogic in the grand style. Whether one likes it or not, pedagogy is inseparably, manipulation and simultaneously politics and psychology.
To get to the bottom of things in criticising such a policy it is also necessary therefore to do psychology - scientific psychology. For if the psychological theory of the fundamental innateness of intellectual differences, a ‘popular’ theory which is ‘obvious’ even for well-educated people, if this deeply mystifying theory were true, such an educational policy could still be blamed for many things, in particular for the crying inadequacy of efforts to offset ‘natural’ differences in intelligence. But there would be one thing against which nothing could be said, and against which it would be utopian or demagogic to propose anything along the lines of the Langevin-Wallon project and, beyond this, of socialist schools: the principle itself - presented by definition as the inevitable result of this ‘natural’ and ‘eternal’ difference – of discrimination between the privileged with a lengthy education and the under-privileged with a short education; i.e. precisely the worst of all the aspects of the educational policy corresponding to the wishes of big capital would have to be basically accepted. Thus, far from being an intellectual luxury or a dubious and superfluous political argument, the refutation of the bourgeois ideology of intellectual ‘gifts’, i.e., the scientific theory of the development of intellectual abilities – which implies the whole theory of personality in the last resort – is itself a vital part of the question. As for defending, elucidating and tomorrow applying a really democratic plan of educational reform in accordance with the principles presented twenty years ago by the Langevin-Wallon Commission, it would quite simply be impossible if one disregarded psychological considerations, for without them one could not understand just what this plan is: a plan which is not only ‘generous’ but realistic, not only democratic but scientific. In fact, let us ask the question: is it still sufficiently well remembered that if the French movement for democratic schools had the Langevin-Wallon plan, that invaluable political weapon, as a focus for their struggle, it owed this largely to advances made before the war by French scientific psychology behind which were great materialist scientists like Wallon and Pièron – who were later personally to play a considerable part in working out this plan?
This is one of the clearest examples one can give of the concrete political importance of psychology, and one which Marxists particularly cannot fad to reflect. Perhaps it even appears as too conclusive and to be merely a special case, an exception? This would be a serious mistake. In actual fact, it is an example of general importance, as would no doubt be seen more clearly if more thought was given to such matters. In an even more central domains let us consider political economy and the all-important wage disputes on which it throws light. At first it might seem that psychology has nothing to add here either; better, that the psychological way of approaching these questions is fundamentally wrong. And in one sense it is true: turning economic contradictions into psychological problems is one of the standard tricks of bourgeois ideology. However, an economic problem as crucial as that of absolute impoverishment, for example, requires the full clarification of the psychological problems of need – an essential concept in the theory of personality. Indeed, if not the historical but the abstract conception of needs, the falsity of which Marx showed more deeply than anyone, were correct, it would be impossible to reveal in any way the absolute impoverishment of the workers, this crying reality of capitalism even today, since it means that the fundamental tendency of economic development is to make it increasingly difficult to satisfy not ‘eternal’ needs – so-called ‘eternal’ needs are actually only yesterday’s needs transfigured into immutable abstractions – but needs which objectively develop and vary with conditions of labour and with society itself.’ By hiding the true causes and real persons responsible for the constantly growing mass of educational backwardnesses and failures, vulgar psychological mystifications concerning ‘natural aptitudes’ impede the advance of popular struggles for democratic schools. Similarly, by obscuring the methods and effects of capitalist exploitation and giving rise to the illusion of automatic progress in workers’ living conditions with the development of the productive forces, vulgar psychological mystifications concerning needs, attributed to a so-called immutable human nature and separated from the social conditions which determine them, do substantial harm to the development of struggles against the economic and social policy of the monopolies in power. Here too, there is food for thought for Marxists about the depth of the links between Psychology and politics and the importance of the theory of personality from the standpoint of concrete political struggles.
In the same vein, and with other examples if necessary, let us consider the part psychology – the part a fully scientific psychology ought to play – in the effort to demystify ideologically and to strengthen political struggles at the level of all problems of relations between social groups – ‘human relations’ in the enterprise, relations between ‘races’, ‘sexes’, ‘generations’, and so on, in the latter case, for example, conjointly with the work of political analysis, by clarifying the many psychological variants of the notion of adolescence, variants which are misleading but which it is not enough to be unaware of. Or again, ought it not also to tackle in this way a scientific theory of development (and of unequal development) of the personality, which would not distract from the political basis of things but, on the contrary, would help to rescue it from the persistent cult of the leader, the superstition of the wonderful great man, in truth, from a certain mythology of genius the magic of which must be dispelled so that the demand for democracy can grow sharper? More generally, how can the political movement of the masses find its full strength without working for the universal development of awareness and consequently without engaging in struggle against every source of ideological mystification? Without a scientific conception of personality how can the battle be joined, not in skirmishes over details but in a general campaign, with this enormous mass of superstitions – one of the most enormous and undoubtedly most characteristic of our time – which extends from the old-fashioned and resigned psychology of familial beliefs in ‘atavism’, and ‘defects’ of heart and mind ‘ to that mind-bending ‘modern’ psychology of testological or characterological kind that is churned out in weekly illustrated magazines and floods of low-level scientific vulgarisations; from the emollient everyday psychology of picture-stories, agony columns and television serials ‘made in U.S.A.’, to the knowingly mystifying psychology of Sélection or Planète; from the cloudy summits of the formal psychology of spiritualist handbooks and ethical humanism to the abysmal depths of horoscopes, astrological newspapers and your guidebook to the zodiac – not to mention many others – an extraordinarily entangled mass of superstitions at different levels which on all sides obstruct understanding of real life, make easier all forms of conditioning, and, more essentially still, keep the broad masses unaware of the real problems and the real psychological facts. Now – the following pages mean to prove – if nothing is understood about psychological fife, nothing can really be understood about man – and of nothing is understood about man, nothing is understood about anything.
This last remark leads on to an examination of the problem from a more theoretical standpoint. So far psychology appears to be important to Marxism only in practice and as if in particular points: such and such an aspect of the theory of personality being important for this or that political struggle, and even for political struggle is general. But there is much more: the theory of personality as a whole is necessarily implied in the coherent scientific whole which constitutes Marxism and the area which it occupies is crucial today for the development of research. The fact that this theory is both required and suggested by historical materialism is what will be discussed at length in the next chapter; at all events it is immediately apparent that if Marx was certain about socialist revolution, it is because the sharpening of contradictions characteristic of capitalist relations of production is experienced in an unbearable way by the exploited in their actual existence as individuals and because, in a quite remarkable turn of phrase in The German Ideology, ‘in order ... to assert themselves as individuals’ the proletarians must ‘overthrow the State.’ This shows that it is at some very fundamental point, which will have to be located exactly, that the psychology of personality, historical materialism and scientific socialism are necessarily interrelated. But it must indeed be acknowledged that the Marxist theory of this interrelation has still not been clearly and convincingly developed. One has only to look around to be convinced that this question, or, more exactly, this broad ensemble of questions, turns out to occupy a really strategic place today in research into Marxism and the human sciences. Whether it is a question of hypotheses or objections of Marxists or non-Marxists, the big question, the core of the problems, for some years has been and undoubtedly will be for a long time, the question – to borrow conditionally a terminology in general use – of the mediations between the general movement of society – of which historical materialism is increasingly, if not always, admitted to be the theory – and the life of individuals. And in the first place, it goes without saying, the theory of these mediations presents all the problems of the foundation of psychology.
This is what Sartre expresses, for example, in the preamble to his Critique de la raison dialectique. In it he forcefully takes Marxists to task for holding to universal sociopolitical schemas, getting rid of the Particular and not ‘studying real men in depth’ but ‘decomposing them in a bath of sulphuric acid’. The result, he adds, is ‘that it has entirely lost the meaning of what it is to be a man; to fill in the gaps, it has only the absurd psychology of Pavlov’.
And this is how he hoped to justify his commitment to existentialism despite his professed attachment to historical materialism; for existentialism, he wrote,
intends, without being unfaithful to Marxist principles, to find mediations which allow the individual concrete – the particular fife, the real and dated conflict, the person – to emerge from the background of the general contradictions of productive forces and relations of production." So long as Marxism refuses to do it, others will attempt the coup in its place.
There are, of course, many things to say in reply to Sartre – many have been said, and I will come back to them. However, there is no doubt that a number of intellectuals are or were coming back again, certainly not always to Sartre’s theses but at all events to the concern expressed here by him in his own terms, because even if it is established that the terms are inadequate, the question which is raised by them has not, for all that, received an answer. This is how, in Pensée formelle et sciences de l’homme, G. G. Granger also criticised the Pavlovian typology as a pseudo-solution to the conceptual determination of the individual writing that
Far from representing the final state of a Marxist psychology of personality -final and Marxist surely constituting a contradiction in terms – the Pavlovian doctrine must be regarded only as a first step, quite valuable as a reaction against the ultra-conservatism of ‘idealist’ characterologies but absolutely inadequate and ‘mechanistic’ in the present context.
It would not be difficult to produce more quotations. Thus, at the present time, there does still seem to be a real gap at the place where there should be a theory of personality consistent with historical materialism: this is the all-important fact. And it does not seem unreasonable to think that in such a gap there is both the opportunity for unceasing attempts by speculative humanism to ‘round off’ Marxism within a more or less spiritualistic perspective – if the gap is held to be contingent and temporary – and, on the contrary – if it is considered to be structural and permanent – one of the sources of an anti-humanist interpretation which, within the limitations of structuralism, comes to the point of rejecting, together with the theoretical legitimacy of the concept of man, the validity of ‘psychology’ as a whole – in favour of a re-reading of Freud. But, indirectly, the latter trend in research leads us back just as much as the former to the crucial necessity of clearing up the problems on the terrain of Marxism of constituting a scientific anthropology in which the theory of concrete human individuality is at all events a primary component.
Is there a need to emphasise how important such a clarification might be, precisely as a ‘mediation’ between the mass of intellectuals and researchers in the human sciences on the one hand and Marxism on the other. It would be a pertinent proof that, from the theoretical no more than the practical point of view, wholeheartedly going over to Marxism does not imply any disregard either of man or the requirements of scientific rigour. In the theoretical concerns and cultural sensibility of a large number of intellectuals, especially on the left, the attitude with regard to the problems of a concrete idea of human individuals now appears as a major test of whether or not a world view is genuinely alive, scientifically adequate and politically committed. This is a valid test. lie fact that today Marxism does not clearly and coherently offer a theory of the concrete individual nor, consequently, of numerous problems which depend on it, plays an objectively negative role among a number of intellectuals on the left engaged in the extremely complex process of uniting with or going over to the working class, crossing over to the positions of historical materialism and scientific socialism. It feeds always unfruitful but ever-recurring attempts to fuse Marxism with theories of individuality and related anthropological, ethical and aesthetic views which are formulated on a basis which is completely foreign and even contrary to Marxism, more or less out of fine with the needs of the cause. This basis remains non-Marxist in essence and perpetuates a deep split in the thought of the majority of intellectuals, a faith in theoretical consciousness through which, in the last analysis, the ideology of the dominant class forces its way. Of course, the intimate reasons for this state of affairs are to be sought outside the ideological spheres. But it is by no means unimportant that the slowness of Marxism to elaborate the theory of personality, and therefore of scientific anthropology, further the persistence of an ideological conjuncture in which the development of a large number of intellectuals towards working-class positions happens to be checked by an insurmounted attachment in this domain to mystifying theoretical positions.
Yet this is still not the essential point. ‘Re most essential point is that real scientific elucidation of the problem defined earlier would above all be an invaluable theoretical gain for Marxism itself; in the first place, for effectively and positively settling the accounts, at least in part, still unfortunately outstanding on its books: from those of psychoanalysis and the psychology derived from Pavlovism or Politzer’s concept of ‘drama’ to those of anthropological structuralism. It would also be an invaluable gain from the point of view of further and more scientifically elaborating, beyond subjective points of view, huge questions for which uncertainty in the theory of personality constitutes an obstacle; the relations between historical necessity and individual freedom, and between psychology and epistemology, ethics and aesthetics. In addition, and possibly above all, it would be an invaluable gain for ensuring a correct understanding of Marxism, since the place one attributes or denies to man in one’s overall view, and the conception one thereby has of the theory of subjectivity or individuality, basically determine one’s interpretation of its basic principles, in the end either allowing it to be pulled towards or regression to the philosophical humanism from which it emerged or, on the contrary, reducing it to certain scientific theses which it has produced. It would be, in short, a major gain for completing – in a sense we shall be sure to come back to – the Marxist conception of man. This shows what importance today, among all the sciences that of the human personality assumes for a Marxist.
Today ... But how much greater still does its importance appear if we look to the future! A Science which is concretely necessary in many present political struggles and now a crucial area in theoretical research, psychology, in a general sense pointed out earlier, is even more a science of the future, a science the role of which can only increase immensely with the winning of genuine democracy, the transition to socialism and the flowering of communism. For example, try to put oneself in mind of the extent and variety of psychological problems which, carrying out a really democratic reform of education, win present, with all that it will imply in manifold efforts to develop every child’s abilities, in ingenuity in setting up a vast remedial system, in overthrowing the old relations between teachers, pupils and parents, opening up forms of individual freedom within a democratic educational community, and so on – and as a result deepening theoretical problems in education too. This enormous demand on basic psychological theory which will result from the reform of education, will be joined with others, which are no less enormous, issuing from the implementation of a vast plan to develop production and therefore the rational search for economic incentives, from urban problems which will be acutely presented by the reorientation of housing policy towards the masses of workers, from policy on leisure activities, or from the necessary recasting of the attitude of millions of people with regard to the State, public property, the law, legal proceedings, etc., which will be objectively in the direction of a radical transformation. Actually, one becomes dizzy when one tries to put oneself in mind of the rate of progress which the democratic transformations in the France of tomorrow will impose on the science of personality.
But this is still nothing. To appreciate its further importance, one must turn one’s attention much further ahead to communism. In this respect, has it been noticed sufficiently that when the Marxist classics define and analyse communist society, among their key concepts are a number of psychological concepts which, in an unexpected way for those who disregard psychology, assume the function of a higher form of economic and political categories? The actual definition of distribution in communist society, for example, is no longer characterised by the principle ‘to each according to his work’, as in socialism, but by the principle ‘to each according to his needs’ – a definition in which the concept of need (and the need of each person personal need) is raised to the level of a key economic category. Again, Lenin shows that what replaces the state in its function of governing men after it has withered away in communism, for example, is increasingly common practice (l’hablitude), a higher completed form of democracy. Here, a psychological concept is raised to the level of an absolutely central political category. More generally one can say that after the multi-millenial era in which, at least for the majority of men, the growth of personalities was essentially subordinate to the economic and political requirements of the dominant class and the psychological point of view was also therefore subordinate, in communism this relation is at last turned the other way round, so that the effective maxim of this society can be for the first time: everything for man. It is the optimal growth of personalities in a given stage of development of the productive forces and culture which tends to become the dominant goal (and instrument) of society. This amounts to saying that communism ensures – but also requires – an unprecedented theoretical and practical advance of psychology as the science of development of human personalities. Here, it appears to me, we go to the core of the reasons why Marxism must regard psychology as a fundamental discipline. If it is true that a scientific psychology is in Principle the theoretical means for human individuals to take their own psychic growth in hand, then psychological science is not only a vital instrument for communism regarded as a general process of human emancipation: It constitutes an organic part of it. Let us go even further: and we can see that the reversal of the millenial hegemony of Politics over psychology will be accomplished: for politics itself win disappear but psychology will not. When communism has been achieved the Communist Party, its historical task having been accomplished, will dissolve itself, but the task of developing human personalities will not wither away, quite on the contrary. We can now see why we cannot agree at all with the unfortunately widespread idea that Marxism would be edified by ignoring – or rejecting – the human personality and the science of which it is the object. One has misread and misunderstood Marx if one thinks so.
But while from the point of view of its basic conception the psychology of personality has, by definition, its place in Marxist theory – a place which will be rigorously defined as the positive science of personality, there is no doubt at all that it has not up to now emulated the extraordinary advance of the Marxist science of society. And this is unfortunate for communism: for in a sense communism begins today. In recent years, in actual fact, we have understood more clearly how often a people pays for its backwardness in all domains, including backwardness imposed upon it by a regime from which it has since freed itself, even when it strives unceasingly to enlighten itself. The face of future communism is already being concretely and inexorably prepared in what we do and do not do in France itself today. Can one not see, then, how serious it would be to mortgage this future by not taking on the task of constituting the genuinely scientific theory of personality and its development without further delay? At the rate history moves we cannot help acutely feeling that we are already behindhand. As for the mistakes which, if it was not made up, this delay would hold in store for the construction of socialism itself, deep critical reflections developed in recent years in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries have helped us to form an idea of them, in relation to problems as varied as economic planning, educating the younger generation or strengthening the materialist world outlook and, more broadly still, the very meaning of life. Increasingly, from the pen of Marxist researchers in these countries, we have read remarks such as these:
It is one of the paradoxes of the present era that in order to drive a car, for example, one has to undergo rather strict tests, whereas the upbringing of children, the choice of a husband or wife, or fife-style, are essentially left to the free-will and ignorance of millions of people who, quite often, are vainly seeking advice and help in all sorts of false practices.... Mutual relations between men have many more numerous implications – and meet many more needs, than was originally assumed in the theory of socialist society. In particular, there occurs a complex connection between the economy, psychology and politics, the problem of equality and authority, collectivism, and individualism, problems of competition, emulation, the opinion which one has of oneself and others, and the whole gamut of moral, political and economic value-judgments. If, today, in economic theory it is proving impossible to maintain the pricing system and the criteria used until now in determining prices, the problem of evaluating men, their qualities and their relations is, with greater reason, even more urgent. In this domain, which is much more vital than the valuation of various categories of commodities, spontaneity, empiricism, subjectivism and the most varied erroneous conjectures rule as masters.
But, at the same time and in contrast, we can discern more concretely than yesterday the remarkable future prospects to which the advance of the science of personality is closely linked. If it is true that for humanity the greatest liberations of the past – and often still of the present – are freedoms of an elemental character (freedom from hunger, insecurity, brutish oppression and violence) one can foresee at a higher stage of development an enormous liberation on a higher level becoming the order of the day: freedom from stunted and anarchical psychological development, not only for a tiny majority but for all men. In other words, if it is true that communists will replace the government of men by the administration of things, it appears one can also say that in the same movement it will replace the primacy of the production of things by the development of men themselves. This is the whole meaning of Marx’s and Engels’ turn of phrase about the leap from the reign of necessity to that of freedom which communism makes possible for all men: “the full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as of humanity’s own nature”.
Of course, it is not psychology by itself which will ever be able to give man this mastery over his own ‘nature’: it is communism. But it is not communism by itself either: it is communism incorporating the mature science of personality. Nothing emphasises more strongly how blind Marxists would be to disregard it.
In short, while the idea might at first be surprising, it is not difficult, however, to show that the theory of personality is also of the utmost importance for Marxism itself – even if this raises a number of questions which will have to be gone into carefully. On the other hand, when I say that the psychology of personality, i.e. the very core of general psychology, which is so important in the present and for the future, is nevertheless still not a really fully developed science, it is likely that this assertion will be thought highly vague, subjective, unprovable – and also presumptions from the pen of a layman in psychology: a philosopher.
As far as the presumption and, more importantly the rights and powers of Marxist philosophy in respect of psychology are concerned, I will come back to this crucial question later on. But as for the opinion that the psychology of personality is still not a fully developed science, this is anything but a snap judgment. The fully developed character of a science is a precise, objective, provable fact. Criteria can be drawn both from the history of the sciences and the theory of knowledge. Thus political economy before Marx was not fully developed; with his work it became so. This means that it definitively elaborated its vital elements – through which it has been able to produce everything that one expects of such a science. And what are these vital elements of a science? A definition through which one can accurately grasp the real essence of its object and, linked with this definition, the adequate method for studying this object; basic concepts through which one expresses the principal elements and especially the determinant contradictions of this essence. These elements make it possible with some chance of success to try to identify the fundamental laws of development of the object studied and, through this, lead on to mastering it in theory and practice, which is the goal of the whole scientific enterprise. Ale definition and the method, the basic concepts and the fundamental laws of development – all of these having attained a degree of truth that puts an end to the groping of the earlier period here, surely, are the precise, objective, provable criteria of the fully developed character of a science.
Neither the psychology of personality – nor, therefore, to be completely rigorous, the general field of psychology, or if one prefers, the psychological sciences in general – appear as fully developed on any of these counts. This is not the rash opinion of an amateur; in fact it . is t -hat of most professional psychologists. ‘A science making rapid strides, but still very young’ – such is undoubtedly the appraisal which crops up most frequently in the assessments and diagnoses of the specialists. And this youth, i.e. this immaturity, in actual fact, shows itself from the outset in the uncertainty in which it finds itself over the most vital question-for every science: that of rigorously defining its object, coherently demarcating its terrain, and therefore grasping the very essence of that of which it wants to constitute the science.
While emphasising their agreement on a number of significant points in their important statement in May 1957, five of the most outstanding Soviet psychologists acknowledged the existence between them of ‘serious differences over a whole series of theoretical questions, in particular over those concerning the object of psychology’. One hardly runs the risk of being contradicted in saying that the situation is similar today among French psychologists – even, no doubt, considering only those who appeal to Marxism. Is it not the same throughout the world? For several decades a highly remarkable characteristic of psychology has been precisely that in studying its object it has advances with rapid strides even though it still does not know precisely of what this object consists.
In 1929, in one of his last lectures on the psychological evolution of the personality, Pierre Janet said: ‘The idea of a science is always a very difficult and vague thing. One nearly always carries out scientific Investigations without fully knowing what one is doing and where one is heading. This difficulty seems especially clear when it is a question of psychological science, the newest and fastest moving of the sciences today.’
Thirty years later Henri Wallon described psychology as a ‘science of which the domain is still unclear and the methods more or less doubtful’; in the same spirit René Zazzo wrote: ‘Psychology developed well before it was possible for it to be defined, and the continuous growth of its gains and the gains of related sciences has not, be degrees, gradually constituted a real definition.’
Although, more recently, throughout The Insights and Illusions of Philosophy, Jean Piaget defends the adult status of psychology against unrepentant tutelage of philosophers, he did not hesitate to acknowledge the ‘still incomplete character of this still young science’ And to quote approvingly Paul Fraisse’s assertion that ‘the territory which it has conquered is increasingly broad but it has scarcely been cleared.’
Others go still further. To the opportunely direct question ‘What is psychology?’ Michel Foucault replied: ‘It is a matter of common knowledge that the scientific status of a psychology is first not well-established and second not at all obvious’? And elsewhere, with edifying detachment, he says: ‘I do not think that one ought to try to define psychology as a science’.
It seems to me, therefore, that it was on behalf of the whole community of psychologists that Professor A. Leontyev was speaking, in his inaugural address to their 18th Congress in Moscow in August 1966 when, having remarked that ‘psychology is going through a period of impulsive development’ went on to say:
Nevertheless, these undeniable advances should not hide the serious difficulties with which psychology throughout the world is still faced in our time. These difficulties concern the theoretical interpretation of the accumulated facts, the construction of a system of psychological science. Certainly one cannot – like Nicolas Lange at the beginning of this century – compare modern psychology with Priam seated on the ruins of Troy. In our day the psychologist is rather a builder having before him abundant high-quality materials which, in addition, are completed ensembles, but not having at his disposal the general outline of the most complicated architectural whole which he has to erect. Is not this context the source of the impression of anarchy reigning in psychological theory?
These few quotations, to which it would be tedious but easy to add many others, clearly reveal the essential point.. if, while making enormous progress, psychology on the whole has so far remained an incompletely developed science, this is because this progress has still not been decisive on the problem on which everything rests: the overall map of its domain and the coherent demarcation of its objects. And, indeed, this is also why the theoretical immaturity one finds there is spread very unevenly: insensitive, if not questionable, in studying this or that form of behaviour on its own, it reaches its high point precisely where it is a matter of the whole, where the fundamental problems converge in the theory of personality. Here again it is not a matter of an arbitrary judgment: it is the general opinion of the experts. To convince oneself it is enough, for example, to examine the transactions of the Symposium de l’Association de psychologie scientifique de la lange française, held in Liège in 1964, on the problem of models of personality in psychology. At the start of her paper Mme de Montmollin puts forward ‘the idea that no existing model of personality simultaneously and coherently accounts for all aspects of the problem.’
Furthermore, as F. Bresson among others emphasises:
One is struck, in the first place, by a heterogeneity: one can see hardly any common features between the factorial analysis of traits and psychoanalysis, or between psychopathological theories and K. Lewin’s analyses. If we had had papers on Pavlovian typology or on Sheldon’s, or on the theories of Hull or Tolman, this heterogeneity would have been compounded still further. ‘Re only common feature seems to be the term ‘personality’ but we may doubt if it has the same meaning in these different frameworks.
Let us proceed still further: is ‘the personality’ a real scientific object? It appears doubtful to many people. D. Lagache declares:
I have spoken about the model of the personality in order to fit in with the subject proposed to those giving papers at this Congress. However, I wonder whether psychological circles are not dominated by the cult of personality. For my part I will say that the personality as such does not exist: what exists are systems of relations. But the personality itself is only a model.
And L. Canestrelli adds that the personality is ‘only a mental construction’. Are not theories of personality pure ideological constructions then? R. Pagès thinks so:
Characterological and personological ideologies are adaptive features of certain societies. It is in this sense that Ash and Bruner are justified in studying other peoples’ semantic systems of representation and the implicit theories of personality which they reveal. Our scientific psychology of personality is a more or less differentiated part of ideologies which are both normative and cognitive....
And in his turn P. Pichot is of the opinion that models of personality
Might be considered as a reflection of social models. There is probably more than a grain of humour in the remark that Spearman’s hierarchical factorial model could only appear in Great Britain where, following the traditional formula such as the g factor, the Queen is the fountain of honours, whereas Thurstone’s ‘democratic’ model reflected the American view of society.
It is J. Nuttin, it seems, who draws the clearest conclusion from this discussion, by declaring:
One is doing science no service in thinking that one has ‘succeeded’ even though one has still not been able to tackle scientifically the real problems in all their complexity. One sometimes has the impression that the psychology of personality is very much in the state of preliminary exploration.
Thus in the opinions of the psychologists themselves the psychology of personality today is still taken up with unresolved problems over the primary question of the determination of its object and the delimitation of its terrain. How exactly is one to elaborate the theory when one undertakes to construct the theory of personality? It is clear that so long as a question on this crucial point does not receive a satisfactory reply the psychology of personality will remain in a stage of ‘preliminary exploration’, and the actual system of psychological science in general, as Leontyev put it, will continue to be delayed.
But there is worse to come: considered at their highest level of generality, problems of definition in respect of the psychology of personality clearly appear not only to be unresolved but irresoluble. To restrict ourselves to the most basic point, let us first pose the problem of the specificity of the psychological investigation of the personality in relation to the biological approach in the broadest sense of the adjective. In other words, let us pose the general problem of the definition of psychism (psychisme) as a distinct scientific object and supposed substance of the personality, in relation to its demarcation from the object of neuro- and physiopsychological investigations. One can try to map out the boundary in three ways, which exhaust all the theoretical possibilities and which nevertheless all seemingly lead to an impasse.
One can define psychism as an activity – or any other analogous term - essentially distinct from the nervous activity which corresponds to it. In this case there is no way of avoiding the spiritualistic dualism of ‘soul’ and ‘body’ – idealism in the Marxist sense of the word. Whatever its ‘modern’ variants, such a definition is merely an avatar of the outmoded metaphysical idea of psychology as the ‘science of the soul’, an idea which is definitively untenable in the present state of knowledge, for Marxists more obviously than for anyone.
(b) Or, on the contrary, one can define psychism as an activity which is no different from nervous activity. In this case there is no way of avoiding the evaporation of psychology to the advantage of the biological sciences. In the best of cases it will be a question of evaporation at some time in the future, in the meantime leaving a psychology without an assignable status to wander about the fallow lands of the future materialist science. It will be said, for example, that for the moment physiology is unable to tackle certain very complex problems of psychism on its own terrain and this gives a reprieve to psychological tinkering [bricolage]. But the time of total investment in the investigation of human psychism by the true materialist psychology, i.e., the neurophysiology of ‘psychic’ activity, will inexorably come. In the past certain exponents of Pavlovism have supported this liquidationist point of view with regard to all psychology, understood as a basically autonomous science in relation to the physiology of nervous activity. -Re mistakes to which this physiologism has led, its sterility from the psychological point of view, the harm which it has done to materialism itself in the last resort – one will clearly see why later all these drawbacks are such that one may doubt whether it finds adherents today among informed and thinking people.
(c) Only one more way out therefore remains: while arguing the unity of psychology and physiology, of the subjective and the objective, one can maintain that psychology and neurophysiology are none the less ultimately distinct sciences because they investigate this single object, psychism, from two different standpoints. It then seems as if a big step ,nay have been taken towards a solution. Unfortunately, therefore, the dilemma recurs in terms which have not been radically altered for having been displaced: is this difference of standpoint a subjective difference of point of view of simply one object or, on the contrary, is it a difference grounded on a real distinction within the object itself? In the first case, whatever way one takes it, it will be impossible to justify the definitive existence of psychology as a science distinct from neurophysiology. The only conceivable science of one, exclusively one, object is itself a single science. But, by that very fact, one will necessarily prefer and strive to replace a psychological investigation confined within the Emits of a compartmentalised point of view of psychism, and which necessarily abstracts from its neurophysiological aspect (i.e. on the supposition considered, quite simply from the actual reality of which psychic activity consists) by a complete unitary investigation which is able not to abstract from any of its aspects, i.e. in other words, a ‘neurophysiopsychology’ which can raise itself to the rank of the sole materialist science of human psychism.
This is what comes out clearly in the work of the very psychologist who has undoubtedly pursued furthest reflection about this problem. In volume 3 of his Epistemologie génétique Piaget maintains that the relations between psychology and physiology are those of ‘two mutually translatable languages’: ‘idealist and implicative’ in the first case and realist or causal in the second. Now, even if one agrees with the Presuppositions on which such a view rests, the fact remains that this ‘Parallel’ and ‘isomorphic’ duality of psychological and physiological languages assumes the unity of an identical text. But then the duality of readings of this single text remains contingent in the last analysis and consequently will only be provisional. Piaget admits it. One cannot deny, he writes, that ‘one day, neurology and psychology will become mutually assimilated or constitute a common science like "physical chemistry"’. We can say that this even appears inevitable. This being so, Psychology, a temporary stage in constituting a single general science of human psychism, cannot be regarded in itself as an independent science. In short, in a very roundabout way and as if taking a step backwards, one is condemned to falling back into impasse (b) and defining psychology appears like an impossible task.
No doubt in actual scientific life and in a partly empirical way a division of labour has developed and crystallised and this seems to cut through this Gordian knot in practice; in the everyday activity of disciplines thus constituted these unresolved boundary problems, i.e. more fundamentally, these problems of rigorously grasping the essence of the objects studied, do not always make themselves so very obvious. But when things get really serious – for example, when it is necessary to clarify the enigmatic concept of personality – the irresolution of primary theoretical questions and the technical, pragmatic (i.e. basically ideological) nature of the demarcation of the field, once more come into focus and one finds that in actual fact, in spite of thriving research work, the stage of ‘preliminary exploration’ has not been surpassed. This is how at the Liège Symposium on models of personality in psychology, J.R. Paillard, a neurophysiologist, came to regret ‘the absence of expression of a biological standpoint at this Symposium’ and to wish for the opening up of a dialogue and the search for a common language among psychologists – or psychoanalysts – and neurophysiologists. What reply did he get? None. At the very most, D. Lagache reminded him that ‘at the present time it is important to bear in mind the specificity of domains and respective methods’ (a specificity the theory of which remains absolutely problematical in principle) and referred to the prospect of a common approach based ‘on general models’ when physiology has ‘turned its attention to internal stimuli’. In short, confronted with this really basic question, one takes refuge behind a simple statement of fact the principle of which one does not succeed in clearly establishing and which is a precise indication of the fact that psychology in general, and the psychology of personality in particular, has not yet been able to reach a fully developed definition of itself in relation to this part of its terrain.
It is this insurmountable difficulty which could be avoided (and this is the final theoretical possibility) by justifying the duality of psychological and physiological standpoints by reference to an objective duality within psychism itself. But since, at the same time, being anxious to ward off entirely the idealism of hypothesis (a), one upholds the essential unity of psychism, this amounts to saying that psychism is conceived as being in essence both unity and duality. In its logical form this idea is not at all unthinkable. It quite simply means that the relations between the object of an independent psychology and nervous activity are relations of real difference within a unity, which is the case in every dialectical contradiction. Unfortunately it is not enough for a statement to be formally acceptable for it to have concrete scientific meaning. As far as we know the effort to give this abstract formulation a clear and convincing scientific meaning has not produced any decisive result: the precise nature of this peculiar quality of psychism which would qualitatively distinguish it from nervous activity, even though it is nothing else than this has, up to now proved elusive. This is to say that it remains to be seen how the investigation of psychism could, in a sense – at least in principle – be entirely exhausted by physiology and how, at the same time, an objectively specific terrain of investigation could continue to exist for an autonomous psychology. In a word – an impasse. It goes without saying that all the foregoing could also be said and is also true to the same extent concerning methods: from the neurological approach to the clinical approach, via the different types of behavioural experimentation, one finds the same ambiguities and contradictions.
For similar reasons it does not appear that the situation is any better if one examines the problems of defining the personality as regards relations between psychology and the social sciences. Here, too, the real difference within dialectical unity remains rather obscure. One may at first detach the personality from the social conditions in which it is formed, but in doing so one deprives oneself of any way of accounting for its deep-seated sociality, and encloses oneself in a hopelessly abstract, non-historical conception of individuality, whether in the form of a spiritualism of the person or a biologism of temperament. In either case the essential historicity of the personality escapes. Conversely one may go so far as to reduce the personality to social facts, but in doing so one fails to account for each individual’s concrete singularity, except by relegating it to chance (i.e. by proving oneself unable to understand its essential character) – or to ‘biological facts’, i.e. relapsing into the opposite error – and one falls into a sociologism which can in no wise provide access to a psychological theory of personality. In short, while there is nothing in psychism which is not nervous activity it is nevertheless clearly necessary for it to be distinguished from it in some way, at least if one is to grant psychology a specific object. Similarly there is nothing which is not social in the personality, and yet its singularity must be clearly understood as essential if the psychology of Personality is not a false science. In other words, the concept of social individuality being a contradiction in terms, there is no alternative but to recognise the dialectical nature of the personality, a unity embracing the real difference. Unfortunately, the precise nature of this quality of the psychological personality which qualitatively distinguishes it from all social facts, although it is social through and through, has so far proved elusive. In other words, we do not see how the investigation of the personality could, at least in principle, be in any way exhausted by the social sciences and how, at the same time, a specific terrain could continue to exist for a psychology of personality. Here again – an impasse.
Let us even assume that, in spite of these clearly insurmountable difficulties, the existence of a specifically psychological domain is taken for granted, even though in these circumstances the rigorous definition of its object is obviously impossible: the difficulties of definition are still not exhausted for all that. In particular, what would be the exact position of the theory of personality in relation to behavioural science in this domain? In the first place one can conceive the theory of personality as dependent on behavioural science, personality being regarded as an ensemble comprised of different types of behaviour. In a general way, this is the viewpoint for example of characterological and typological systems, the range of personalities being described in terms of factorial combinations. But if one argues like this, one foregoes in advance the possibility of understanding the personality as a specific structure and process, i.e. in a word, one simply forgoes understanding the personality. On the other hand, one can immediately lay down that the personality cannot be analysed in terms of behavioural functions. One then treats it as an ensemble of differentiated systems which
do not correspond to traditional faculties; the one is not a mnemonic system, the other a perceptual system, a third willpower; each system corresponds to all the psychic aspects of the individual, motivation, affectivity, perception, thought, willpower, brought to bear on an identical object or activity in the external world in its relations with the individual.
But on this second hypothesis the theoretical demarcation of personality is made according to concepts – systems, instances, roles, etc. – which do not arise from behavioural science and which do not even have a place in it, so much so that it is difficult to see what connection there is between psychology as behavioural science and the science of personality. Let us go further: if the functions which behavioural science studies do not constitute elemental systems of which the personality is the whole, what real status precisely do they have? Indeed, would this not be a leftover of the outmoded psychology of faculties, which the science of personality is expected to dissolve? Thus we have a behavioural science which fads to understand the personality, or a science of personality which rejects the way behaviour is divided up. Here, too, the relations appear highly contradictory and confused, not now externally between psychology and the biological and social sciences but internally, within psychology itself.
In short, it is the whole basic demarcation of the human sciences in the domain of the psychism of individuals which is so radically problematic. And it is hardly difficult to see that it is primarily this unresolved problem of demarcation, i.e. of definition, which still stands between the psychology of personality and its full development.
Uncertain about its definitions and methods, the psychology of personality also has hardly any truly basic concepts – though it has plenty of false ones. Moreover, how could a science correctly lay down its basic concepts without a precise knowledge of the essential nature of its object? Let us consider first of all the series of concepts one meets with most often when it is a question of dealing with the very foundations of personal activity, concepts related to the ‘motor’ – or supposed motor – of this activity such as need, instinct, inclination and desire. All these concepts are at once prone to the general ambiguity pointed out earlier: they all have a biological and a psychological meaning but exactly what each consists of and what their relations are hardly seems clarified. But there is much more: even if one passed over this ambiguity, they would be none the less inadequate as basic concepts. One can verify this even in connection with the one which is undoubtedly the most clearly-grounded of all, that of need. This is definitely a very important concept which corresponds to an undeniably objective reality – whereas, initially at least, the value of concepts like instinct and inclination, which are so often mystifying, and desire, which is inseparable from a complex psychoanalytic problematic, constitutes a problem. Ale concept of need is straight away articulable with historical materialism, and indeed this is undoubtedly why it is generally disparaged and even ruled out by vulgar psychological idealism. And yet, strictly speaking, it cannot be regarded as a primary psychological concept. If one believes it can it seems that this is so in particular because the early stages of individual development are controlled and rythmed by cycles of satisfaction and reproduction of needs; nothing is more current in psychology today than to regard what is or appears to be basic in the initial stage of psychic ontogenesis as being the general basis of all developed psychism, i.e. in short, to assert the identity of basic concepts and concepts pertaining to the early stage. Reflection on Marx’s work induces more caution on such a highly important theoretical question, Marx showed over and over again in connection with historical development that, as a general rule, it is precisely not what is determinant in an earlier stage of social development which essentially determines the later stage but that, on the contrary, the nature of the transition to a later stage involves deep-seated transformations in the course of which what was formerly determinant is reduced to a subordinate place, while new elements secure the determinant role; i.e. that the historical forms which have given birth to a society are not generally those which provide the basic concepts for understanding it and that, on the contrary, ‘human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape’. These are extremely profound views on the dialectic of development, the value of which goes far beyond the boundaries of the social sciences. Since it is often still dependent on genetic ideas which are a little too simplistic, psychology would benefit from assimilating them. The hypothesis, therefore, that the concept of need may be regarded as a basic concept for the psychology of the early years – which is open to question does not automatically mean that it has value as a general basic concept with regard to the developed ensemble of the personality.
This is not all. If it is indeed true that, as opposed to the whole animal world, the nature of man is to born a man in the biological sense of the word, but to be a man in the psychological sense only in so far as he is humanised through the assimilation of the human heritage objectively built up in the social world, it follows that while there is, of course, a continuity between nature and culture it also happens that the relations between them are reversed, so that theory can only derive the cultural from the natural and therefore, also, the psychological from the biological, through an extraordinary optical illusion." This concerns human needs in the highest degree. For in their developed form human needs are not at all the expression of a pre-historical, sub-social human nature, absolutely primary with regard to the psychic activity of which they are supposed to be the basis, but are themselves essentially produced by human history, by men in the course of their history, i.e. in the first place, of their labour. If need itself is a historico-social product, this means not only that it is not the basis of psychic activity but that it is this activity itself which plays the part of a basis with regard to it. In one of the numerous passages in which he simultaneously reflects on theoretical problems of society and those of human individuality, Marx wrote:
Whether production and consumption are viewed as the activity of one or many individuals, they appear in any case as moments of one process, in which production is the real point of departure and hence also the predominant moment. Consumption as urgency, as need, is itself an intrinsic moment of productive activity. But the latter is the point of departure for realisation and hence also its predominant moment; it is the act through which the whole process again runs its course. Ale individual produces an object and, by consuming it, returns to himself, but returns as a productive and self-reproducing individual. Consumption thus appears as a moment of production.
Thus to take need as basic in psychology (or in history, as Sartre does, for example, in the Critique de la raison dialectique, in which need comes before labour"), is to fail completely to understand what, in The German Ideology, Marx calls ‘the basic condition’ of all history: labour, the production of means of subsistence; and it is therefore to fail to understand man. As we shall see further on, it is to let oneself be taken in, through the deviation of biologism, by the appearance of a ‘materialism of need’ which is in reality insidiously idealist. In short, it is a similar error to that in political economy which consists in taking the sphere of consumption as the fundamental sphere and that of production as the secondary sphere. In a word, it is a typical pre-Marxist error.
And it is an error from which a great number of others follow in turn. For example, from the ‘obvious’ illusion that the elementary schema of all activity is: need-activity-need (N-A-N) and not activity-need-activity (A-N-A) also stems the tenacious illusion that activity has no other end than the ‘satisfaction of needs’, i.e. to use an economic metaphor, the circuit of activity has no other function than sample reproduction; whereas, on the contrary, the least historical reflection on human needs shows that their development and thus their differentiation, from this point of view alone, requires a conception of expanded reproduction of activity. This is what a number of psychologists are beginning to acknowledge today, forced by their science to come round on this point to theses which Marx had established more than a century ago. But this acknowledgment is enough to disprove all psychological theory which regards need as a primary concept, and to necessitate the search for basic concepts situated on the terrain of productive activity itself.
These remarks are true not only of the concept of need but of all concepts of the same type including, in my opinion, desire. Of course, in the Freudian sense of the term as it has been refined in the thinking of J. Lacan, desire is no longer a biological concept at all and one can in fact maintain, like Louis Althusser, that ‘the specific reality of desire cannot be reached by way of organic need any more than the specific reality of historical existence can be reached by way of the biological existence of "man"’. The distinction is important. But, nevertheless, in so far as it assumes a representation of activity ruled by the principle of tension reduction, the concept of desire too, just like that of need or other analogues, remains firmly tied to a homeostatic schema of the individual, i.e. it is unable to account for the basic psychological fact of the expanded reproduction of activity. No concept based on the idea of an external ‘motor’, intrinsically preceding activity itself, can play the part of a primary concept and validly identify the basis of a scientific theory of human personality. Whatever efforts one makes to break with it, to not understand this is to remain within a conception in which drives (pulsions) are understood as instincts in the animal sense of the term. It seems that the necessity for concepts located in the sphere of activity itself to be at the basis of the theory of personality has not so far given rise to sufficiently productive research.
But perhaps then, in contrast to the preceding concepts behaviour, conduct, pattern, structure, attitude, role, etc., which do appear to be situated on the terrain of psychic activity, meet the requirements for a real basis? No more that the former, in my opinion. Because for concepts to be able to play the fundamental part of basic concepts in a science, it is not enough for them to describe and classify in a more or less satisfactory way the phenomena most frequently observed; much more, they have to express in themselves or in their relations with one another the determinant contradictions which characterise the essence of its object. This point is crucial and for Marxists, moreover, well-known. Briefly explaining the starting-point of Marx’s dialectical approach in his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Engels wrote:
In this method we proceed from the first and simplest relation that historically and in fact confronts us; here, therefore, from the first economic relation to be found. We analyse this relation. Being a relation of itself implies that it has two sides, related to each other. Each of these sides is considered by itself, which brings us to the way in which they behave to each other, their interaction. Contradictions will result which demand a solution.
This is how basic contradictions between utility and value within the commodity, between concrete and abstract aspects of social labour, etc., appear from the very outset in the exposition of Marxist political economy. The discovery of concepts corresponding to the fundamental contradictions in the object are an essential criterion of the maturity of a science. In this respect it is noteworthy that although Pavlovian physiology was not developed by starting from a previous knowledge of the Marxist dialectic, one nevertheless finds at its base contradictions between excitation and inhibition, irradiation and concentration, analysis and synthesis. One cannot help but reflect also on the fact that, in spite of the doubtful character of a number of its concepts, psychoanalysis derives a considerable part of its theoretical interest precisely from its attempt to represent the contradictory structure of the unconscious and the psychism when, for example, it opposes life and death instincts, the realisation of possibilities and the reduction of tension, object and narcissistic libido, transference and counter-transference, etc. Moreover, in my opinion Marxists have under estimated this contribution of psychoanalysis, which at least tends towards the dialectic, if only for its symptomatic value.
Unless I am mistaken the concepts of activity presently used by the various psychological theories, such as behaviour, structure, role, etc. nowhere manage to express really basic contradictions and remain pre-dialectical concepts unable to express the internal logic of psychic development. But, it seems, there may be one exception.. the only contradiction which may seem to have the breadth of ,a basic contradiction in contemporary psychological conceptualisation is the contradiction between individual and society which, in various forms, one finds at the basis of all behavioural psychology as well as psychoanalysis, and it is this very contradiction which haunts the relations between psychology and the biological sciences on the one hand, and the social sciences on the other. However, this ‘basic contradiction’ must also be a false contradiction as is clear if one endeavours to think about it dialectically. Because:
(a) Either the individual-society terminology refers to, or at least includes, a contrast between heredity and environment, innateness and acquisition, nature and culture, or, of one prefers the English terminology, nature and nurture, in short, between biological facts and social conditions. (But in that case, if the biological facts one has in mind are really biologically autonomous – for example, the nervous type in the Pavlovian sense, manifested at a very early stage – then they do not have the least unity with social conditions and they are therefore in no wise opposites in a fundamental dialectical sense. They are not the outcome of the differentiation of a unity into opposed elements the internal struggle of which impels the necessary development, but of the chance encounter of elements which in themselves are independent, i.e. they are what are sometimes called (in an absolutely questionable expression from a dialectical point of view) ‘external opposites’ (as, for example, physical geography and political structures can be in the development of a nation) whose reciprocal relations cannot be determined by an internal dialectical law of growth.
In short, although they may express a real and not negligible aspect of the development of personality, and we will return to this later, they do not, in their external opposition, give rise to really basic concepts expressing the internal contradictions of their object, and therefore can in no wise found, i.e. wholly support, a science.
(b) Or else the facts to which the concept of the individual refers are really themselves masked social facts – as, for example, what is essentially alluded to by referring to needs or ‘instincts’ in man – and, in that case, the ‘contradiction between the biological and the social’ is merely an illusory, mystifying form of a contradiction between social facts and other social facts. This amounts to saying that, in this sense, far from expressing a primary contradiction, the conventional opposition between individual and society in psychology is itself a secondary form of society’s opposition with itself. One can only hope to reach true basic concepts in psychology, therefore, by not merely superficially opposing the individual and society – nor, all the more, by grappling with the absurd task of mathematically estimating the ‘relative influence’ of both these ‘factors of development of personality’, ‘heredity’ and ‘environment’, a task in which mathematical formalism clearly appears to the fig-leaf which covers up the extreme poverty of basic concepts – but by analysing the internal psychological effects of social conditions. In other words, so long as the theoretical foundation of the concept of the human individual is not clarified, the theory of personality remains built on the shifting sands of ideological illusion.
For the moment there is no such theory of personality, based on a truly scientific elucidation of this concept, to be seen. Moreover, many psychologists concerned with these questions to not even appear to be aware of this state of affairs or resign themselves to it with disconcerting case. When one reads in Sheldon’s The Varieties of Temperament, for example, the incredible note about the false problem of ‘heredity-environment’, in which the author can see no alternative to overcoming the opposition all things considered, than to allow ‘no intolerance as to the definition of personality’," i.e. in short, when, confronted with this false problem he suggests accepting indecision as a compromise solution, one is tempted to think that if it were to continue in this way, the psychology of personality runs a great risk of growing old without ever growing up.
As for the general laws of development of the personality, it is hardly necessary to emphasise that nothing in this domain has so far been established. Not only does no-one venture to state such laws scientifically but things are at the stage where the mere act of suggesting such a task is likely to be considered completely incongruous. If one thinks about it, this is an odd situation. In every new science one can usually observe a profusion of evocative and ill-founded generalisation, and of ambitious and stillborn theories: shortcomings of youth, of course, but, at the same time, striking signs of life, beginnings which are delusive but highly necessary for what will be the fully-developed science of tomorrow. Not only has the psychology of personality scarcely known such an heroic period, such a flowering of hypotheses announcing great discoveries, even though it is old enough for it, but with regard to these great theoretical ambitions it often appears to sink into a morose scepticism, ready to be satisfied indefinitely with the juxtaposition of fragmentary and contradictory models. From this point of view, to which one must not give too much significance but which is today quite misunderstood, a certain commotion of deliberately slim works, a sort of insuperable bias towards piecemeal science, and a fixation with the classics, which are undoubtedly important but which one must also be able to surpass, give one the fleeting impression of a discipline in a state of epistemological neurosis. And yet one will agree, if one thinks dialectically that is, that the highest aim of a science and the most striking sign of its coming of age is the formulation of general laws of development of its object. And so long as the psychology of personality does not possess the equivalent of political economy’s law of necessary correspondence between forces and relations of production, the general law of capitalist accumulation, or the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, it will no doubt be progressing down the scientific road – as has already been the case for quite a long time now but it will not be a fully developed science.
So one should not be astonished if its very right to existence is increasingly often brought into question, not by those old-style philosophers who uphold the last avatars of metaphysics against the very idea of a psychological science whom Piaget rightly pitches into, but rather by others who, in the very name of the needs of the most materialist science there is, regard the fate of what today professes to be psychology as ‘unremittingly sealed’. Of course, it is possible for psychologists to be unaware of these attacks; their discipline does, after all, exist; it is a hive of ceaseless, resounding, even profitable activity. But one should not be too complacent at having proved that it is possible to walk by actually walking, for it might turn out that one was merely walking on the same spot. They can also hope to reject the demand for rigorous basic concepts as hyberbolic by invoking famous precedents. It is Freud himself, for example, who, not in a text of his youth but in the autobiography which he drafted at the age of sixty-five, when the greatest part of his work was behind him, wrote that:
I have repeatedly heard it said contemptuously that it is impossible to take a science seriously whose most general concepts are as lacking in precision as those of libido and of instinct in psychoanalysis. But this reproach rests on a complete misconception of the facts. Clear basic concepts and sharply drawn definitions are only possible in the mental sciences in so far as the latter seek to fit a region of facts into the frame of a logical system. In the natural sciences, of which psychology is one, such clear-cut general concepts are superfluous and indeed impossible.
But however great the signature to such a text, one may think that it is only when it has finally broken with this mutation in epistemological theory from sheer historical impotence that psychology will have a chance of becoming fully developed. It will not be possible for this to come about by ignoring the basic epistemological problems or forgetting them but only with their solution. This is to say that in the analysis, psychology will not reach complete scientific maturity without also doing philosophy.
HERE we are then at the very heart of the problem. As a matter of fact, one will ask, why not rely on psychology itself, i.e. on psychologists, for this necessary development of the psychology of personality? This is a crucial question, a challenge to the very existence of this monograph. Indeed, is it not a foolish venture from the outset to get involved in such a task if one is a philosopher, i.e. if one is not a specialist? For, while it is true that psychology is still not a wholly fully-developed science – in the exacting sense which Marxist epistemology confers on this concept – nevertheless one should not lose sight of the gigantic advances which it has made along the scientific path for at least a century and which are appreciably accelerating. Psychology if possibly still only an adolescent, but it is a 20th century adolescent, a huge adolescent compared with what was in the past, a science in process of development. It is enough to have only a very partial view of the immense extent of the field covered by the multifarious branches of psychology, the high technical proficiency attained by most of them, and the richness and variety of the literature which they have amassed, to understand the extent to which amateurism has every chance of being ridiculously ineffectual here. Furthermore, is there not something inconsistent and even ludicrous about planning to contribute scientifically to completing the transition of psychology to adulthood without being an accomplished psychologist oneself? And does not the idea that a mere philosopher might bring psychology not just a few materials but no more nor less than a knowledge of its rigorous definition and theoretical basis, naively betray a typically pre-Marxist picture of science and the persistence of antiquated metaphysical prejudice? Contemporary scientific psychology appears to be entitled to vigorously challenge such a pretentiously conceived philosophy to produce its credentials. Therefore we cannot agree with Piaget, for example, when he declares that:
As a psychologist I absolutely object to the fact – and I think all men of science in all disciplines are with me on this point – that the representatives of a different domain explain to me what my domain is, and to the fact that in the name of a philosophy above science they set limits to it, saying: this is what mathematics is and what it is not, this is what psychology is and what it is not.
In so far as a whole speculative conception of philosophy and its powers – and therefore all ‘philosophical’ psychology – is alluded to here, we can only agree of course. Let us even say that Marxists automatically agree since Marxism proclaims precisely the end of all philosophy which claims to know the object of a particular science in its essence better than this science itself through a higher order knowledge than its own, and marks the advent of a fundamentally new type of philosophy whose premises, according to the essential analysis in The German Ideology, are nothing other than the real bases of all human history ‘from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination’ and which ‘can thus be verified in a purely empirical way’. Historical materialism
puts an end to philosophy in the realm of history, just as the dialectical conception of nature makes all natural philosophy both unnecessary and impossible. It is no longer a question anywhere of inventing interconnections from out of our brains, but of discovering them in the facts.
It is precisely for this reason of principle that fifteen years ago I gave up the plan to formulate a number of hypotheses related to constituting a scientific theory of personality, because I had come to the firm belief from Marxism that there is neither any possibility or justification for philosophy as such to move forward on the terrain of psychology – and over the years I have held to this.
Moreover, we have had examples under our very eyes of the impasses and errors which befall even research with Marxist intentions, research which forgets this basic principle and tends to identify Marxist philosophy, qua theoretical basis of the scientific conception of the world, with philosophy of the speculative type which constantly imposes its own schemas on things. A text which it is still instructive to analyse from this point of view appears to me to be the collection of studies on Pavlov which was published in 1953 in Volume 4 of Questions scientifiques, an example which is all the more significant because it is a case of one of the best works on Pavlovism in France and because it is representative not only of the views of its authors, with whom we are not concerned here, but of an approach which was common at that time. This approach lies in showing that Pavlovism brings ‘a resounding confirmation, a further vindication of the only scientific conception of the world, which is that of dialectical materialism’, and this by establishing that every essential feature of materialism and the dialectic has one or several corroborations in Pavlovism – which is quite true. One may remind – or tell – those who are tempted to deride the style of such a work today that what it was fighting against then did not deserve laughter so much as contempt, for it was quite simply the conspiracy of silence, and the most painful ineptitudes on the subject of Pavlovism, like confining oneself to the discovery of psychic salivary secretion in dogs, the general practice even in scientific works on the subject. But the serious weakness of this work in 1953 was that in establishing a complete one-to-one parallelism (an ‘isomorphism’) between dialectical materialism and Pavlovism it necessarily implies the view whether consciously or not, that in principle the move from one to the other is equally possible in either direction. In one direction, Pavlovism appears after the event as the experimental proof of dialectical materialism. In the second, dialectical materialism appears as the theoretical framework of Pavlovism even before the latter came on the scene. It does not appear to be very important then that owing to ‘contingencies’ (Pavlov only became acquainted with Marxism ‘towards the end of his life’) this second direction has not had historical reality: it could have had and things would only (and will only) proceed more and effectively rapidly if this had been so. Moreover, one of the authors asserts, ‘in their general form’ the general philosophical theses of Marxism ‘anticipated the basic principle of Pavlov’s theory’. Thus the idea develops that while the sciences confirm Marxist philosophy, conversely, particular scientific truths in their general form are potentially contained in dialectical materialism: ultimately, one only needs to extract them from it by a deduction which specifically determines them, and in actual fact this is what psychology, for example, is urged to do by taking up its stand ‘on the positions of dialectical materialism’.
While there is a correct and very important idea here ‘ and we will return to it later, there is also a deceptive illusion, as has often been pointed out in recent years, but perhaps still not enough in the specific case of psychology. It is quite true that the great scientific truths established over the last one hundred years for example, those which we owe to Pavlov and his successors substantially fitted with dialectical materialism, while themselves broadening this framework, and this is a fact of primary theoretical importance. For Marxist thinkers especially, it establishes the right and authority to criticise the ideological views which appear in idealist and bourgeois psychology in the name of dialectical materialism as a body of scientifically proven principles – a critique which the Marxist texts in question did not fail to make and often made well in the 1950s. But, for all that, one cannot hold conversely that, like a Sleeping Beauty, scientific truths were lying dormant in Marxist philosophy from its foundation. Because for every particular truth which fits with the general principles of a dialectical materialist conception of the world, there are also a great number of Possible errors, which resemble them like sisters which fit, or would seem to fit, just as well. Precisely because philosophy is philosophy, i.e. thought which is situated at the level of the most general categories and principles of a conception of the world, it is impossible to deduce particular truths from it even if it has a scientific quality – except by imagining that the concrete can be engendered by way of the abstract, which would amount to the idealist illusion characteristic of Hegelianism. In other words, if it makes sense to say that the principles of dialectical materialism contain future scientific truths – in psychology, for example – in advance, this would be somewhat like saying that the French language contained future literary masterpieces in advance: the only thing which is lacking is a way of producing them other than the effort of writing them. This is why, taken in this sense, the idea that Marxist philosophy ‘anticipates’ scientific results to come, and the exhortation to take up one’s stand in this way ‘on the positions of dialectical materialism’, inevitably continues to be fruitless or, worse still, to run the risk of upholding errors and therefore of obstructing real scientific advances. In my opinion, this is precisely what happened when it was believed that Pavlovism founded the psychology in agreement with Marxism on the grounds that it fitted exactly with the principles of dialectical materialism, an error which a later chapter will reconsider at length.
And this is also why one can reply to the demand often presented to Marxism, by Sartrian existentialism for example, that it should constitute a Marxist psychology worthy of the name, failing which ‘others will attempt the coup in its place’, that the act of calling on a philosophy, however scientific, to carry out a task of this nature, is unacceptable in principle. Consequently one can deny that Marxism has any particular responsibility for the persistent immaturity of the psychology of personality. Why should Marxist philosophy be accountable for the fate of this or that particular science? Take phonology or biochemistry instead of psychology, for example, does one not see immediately how this demand is fundamentally mistaken? In this respect one must take careful notice that if Marxists themselves generally speak of Marxist political economy, this is not because this designation is scientifically necessary but simply because it is indispensable ideologically to avoid any confusion between the economic science founded by Marx and developed by those who have genuinely continued his work, and theories which are not wholly scientific and are even purely and simply ideological, which shamelessly present themselves as the science of economics. But this absolutely does not mean that the criterion of the truth of Marxist political economy consists of its agreement (very real, moreover) with the principles of Marxist philosophy, and of its historical origin which was inseparable from Marxist philosophy. The criterion lies solely in its capacity to give a theoretically coherent and practically verified account of the economic facts as a whole. In other words, Marxist political economy is nothing else than scientific political economy, political economy tout court. So, the fact that Marxists have and must have, positions with regard to psychology, just as they do with regard to political economy, phonology or biochemistry, is natural and legitimate. But the quite different idea of a ‘Marxist’ psychology (like a ‘Marxist’ phonology or a ‘Marxist’ biochemistry) is confused on the fundamental question of the criterion of scientific truth – this, in the last analysis, according to the 2nd Thesis on Feuerbach, ’Is not a question of theory but a practical question’ – and inevitably contains at least the germs of a false idea of the relations between philosophy and the particular sciences which is both dogmatic and subjectivist.
There is, however, also something fundamentally correct in the exceptional compliment at least implicitly paid to Marxism in calling on it and no other philosophy to suggest the bases of a scientific theory of human personality. It is correct, in the first place, because while dialectical materialism in no wise contains concrete psychological truths in advance, none the less, as a scientific theory of knowledge, it is the only guiding thread certain to solve the epistemological problems of constituting the psychology of personality into a fully developed science. Secondly it is correct because, as the philosophy of the proletariat, the revolutionary doctrine and science of the emancipation of man in communism, Marxism establishes the only practical and theoretical way of putting psychology in perspective – what direction is it going in? What use is it? – which can completely protect it from the narrow-mindedness of bourgeois ideologies and the tendencies which make it serve selfish, indeed oppressive interests – a vital obstacle to the advent of a true science of human personality. In short, it is correct because if, in Lenin’s turn of phrase, Marxism ‘is omnipotent because it is true’, – which, in questionable terminology, Sartre acknowledged by writing that it is the ‘philosophy of our time’ – it is therefore necessarily basically responsible for all the necessary major theoretical tasks of our age, on whatever horizon they appear – which does not mean responsible in the sense of a jealous trustee or an arbitrary tyrant, but answerable in the important sense which the workers’ movement has given this term. If, therefore, there is not and literally cannot be a Marxist psychology, what definitely exists and must be further developed, is a Marxist conception and practice of psychology.
This, furthermore, is the general lesson of those old debates and re-examinations which arise out of the question of the ‘two sciences’, ‘bourgeois science’ and ‘proletarian science’ – a formulation which crystallised in French Marxist philosophy from 1948 onwards and criticism of which began in 1950-51, following the publication of Stalin’s pamphlet Concerning Marxism in Linguistics. No doubt, in summing up this debate today people usually record only unilaterally negative tendencies. A few years ago, for example, in a work that in itself was already a sad proof to the contrary, Lucien Sebag went so far as to write: ‘Nothing remains of the opposition between bourgeois science and proletarian science’. ‘The reality is a great deal more complex: scientific knowledge is neither bourgeois nor proletarian; it is true – hence it is one – and the criterion of its truth lies in its adequacy to its object and not in this or that philosophical idea or this or that social class. In this sense, the idea that two sciences might exist is a profound mistake of grave import and which furthermore, is in contradiction with Marxism, qua scientific philosophy, since it inevitably reduces science merely to the level of an historically relative ideology. But through the nature of the ideologies by which it is or is not penetrated at different levels, and the social practices with which it is linked, however indirectly, scientific work necessarily has an ideological orientation and a class character, especially when it concerns the human sciences. In this sense, it remains perfectly legitimate and opportune to speak, for example, of bourgeois psychology – just as over and over again in Capital Marx analyses at one and the same time not only the theoretical merits but also the class limitations of bourgeois political economy. And way back in the past Marxists were perfectly correct to expose (and they were the first to do so) the mystifying ideologies and anti-democratic practices which a certain bourgeois psychology of the time both reflected and sustained. And it was on the trail blazed in the 1950s by Marxist journals like La Nouvelle Critique and La Raison that, for example, Georges Canguilhem was travelling when, in the incisive apologia which serves as a conclusion to his 1956 lecture entitled ‘Qu’est-ce que c’est la psychologie?’, he recalled that when one leaves the Sorbonne by the rue Saint-Jacques, ‘if one goes down the hill one is certainly going towards the Police Station’.
On the other hand, to tackle the problems of the psychology of personality in the spirit of Marxism – which is not the same thing at an as the unfounded claim to construct a Marxist psychology – is above all to pose the problem of organising for the full psychological development of all men, which straight away implies a revolutionary political perspective. Moreover, providing that it has not itself been attenuated beforehand on the basis of historical idealism, the whole history of the human sciences attests to the fact that the conditions of progress of true knowledge never come to their logical aspect but also include practical viewpoints and progressive ideological choices. This is why when somewhat terroristic reminders are piled on Marxists today of the error which the ‘theory of two sciences’ constituted twenty years ago, it is often not difficult to discern implicitly the pretext for a fraudulently ‘impartial’ and really bourgeois conception of research in the sciences in general and the human sciences in particular, and the attempt to combat the party spirit in scientific work, i.e. the conscious adoption and defence of a line of work which holds to a Marxist account of epistemological principles, ideological conditions and practical perspectives – without ever substituting them, however, for specific criteria of the truth. Here, as elsewhere, above all in human sciences while it can arouse appropriate vigilance against any ideological and utilitarian debasement of knowledge, the tendency to revert to so-called a-politicism in scientific work, which is widespread among those holding structuralist ideas also can indicate a retreat, under the manifold pressure of the bourgeoisie, in the fight for the truth.
But the contribution of Marxism to the psychology of personality is not confined to a correct ideological and political outlook on work in general; as the scientific theory of knowledge, and therefore as philosophy, Marxism provides the only fully worthwhile guiding thread to solve the theoretical problems of constituting a fully developed science. For if, as Engels says, dialectical materialism ‘puts an end to the philosophy of nature and history’, it in no wise puts an end to the theory of knowledge but, quite on the contrary, itself achieves the status of a mature philosophical science.
It is Engels himself who, after the remarks quoted above, adds: ‘For philosophy, which has been expelled from nature and history, there remains only the realm of pure thought, so far as it is left: the theory of the law of the thought process itself, logic and dialectics’.
In other words, if the birth of Marxist philosophy puts an end to the chimera of ‘philosophical’ knowledge of scientific objects, it marks at the same time the advent of scientific knowledge of philosophical objects; this is the other side of dialectical materialist philosophy. And this raises the competence and responsibility of philosophy with regard to particular sciences – psychology, for example – to a higher level; this time we can see, not at all in the unacceptable sense of an attempt to deduce or construct their content a priori by way of the principles of a general conception of the world but in the quite different sense of providing assistance to science in solving the epistemological problems which it faces. Contributing such assistance has nothing to do with secretly crossing a border i.e., an indirect manoeuvre by philosophy to dominate research which does not fall within its territory. It is clear that problems like criteria of the maturity of a science, the value of the individual-society opposition as a dialectical contradiction, or again, relations between the basis and the initial stages in a process of development – to take only the example of problems already mentioned above – are not specifically psychological problems but general, epistemological ones i.e. philosophical problems presented by psychology, or presented by philosophy to a psychology which is not sufficiently aware of them. And it is up to philosophy – Marxist philosophy – to answer them. It goes without saying that the turn of phrase it is up to philosophy to answer them, does not automatically mean that it is up to philosophers. The psychologist can of course also be a competent philosopher – and a Marxist philosopher – indeed more competent than many a Marxist philosopher: this is only a question of men in so far as it reflects a question of principle. It goes without saying even more, that the role of dialectical materialism as an epistemological guide with regard to particular sciences should not be conceived of as a kind of hierarchy of rank: besides, in what order of rank would such a hierarchy have to be set up? It is quite simply a question of the basic fact that every scientific approach uses a theory of knowledge and that Marxist philosophy, therefore, does not risk any relapse into the now superseded old-style imperialism of dogmatic philosophy but that, on the contrary, it fulfils a necessary duty if it exercises its own vigilance in the service of psychology.
Moreover, the fact that the psychology of personality is absolutely in need of the assistance of philosophy on this terrain is fully appreciated today by many a specialist. ‘As systems of classification of people’, writes Mme de Montmollin, for example, ‘or as classifications of the individual, theories of the personality are also and perhaps essentially theories of knowledge, and for this reason must be the object of an epistemological critique’.
Such an observation is enough to discredit most characterological and typological theories, the epistemological poverty of which is usually shocking. Inadequate knowledge, indeed a complete ignorance, of post-Hegelian epistemology and even more of the dialectical materialist conception of knowledge unfortunately still prevails even among the theoreticians of personality who take epistemological problems seriously – as in Lewin’s case, for example. His 1935 work on the conflict between Aristotelian and Galilean modes of thought in modern psychology offers undeniable theoretical interest and abounds in apposite remarks. As he points out it is quite true that modern psychology too often remains dependent on Aristotelian epistemological principles without drawing all the lessons which concern it from the scientific revolution marked by the founding of Galilean physics. It is inexcusable, none the less, that Lewin only thinks of drawing on teachings in Galilean physics to assist the founding of a truly scientific psychological theory, completely neglecting to analyse epistemological developments in modern biology (‘which I cannot here especially examine, although I regard psychology in general as a field of biology’) and above all the lessons to be drawn even for non-Marxists from the contribution which is vital to the epistemology of the human sciences constituted by Marx’s method in Capital and more broadly in his work as a whole. If the epistemology which made possible the founding of classical physics four centuries ago still has value for psychology today, how can one not see the much greater value of that which made possible the founding of the science of social formations and their development a century ago? And is it not time to see that psychology has paid and continues to pay dearly for under-estimating the scientific importance of dialectical materialism, so often emphasised by Henry Wallon? This underestimation is in no wise justified by its history: it is the effect of bourgeois ideological discrimination which has nothing to do with the interests of science and which leads to the absurd result that professional psychologists who are prepared to study even Galileo to try to see their way clearly in the fairly confused problematic of their discipline, do not even suspect that, if only from the epistemological and strict professional point of view, Marx’s Capital offers exceptional interest for them.
But matters are undoubtedly changing profoundly in this respect. For example, it is not unimportant that in his opening lecture to the i 8th International Congress of Psychology, Professor A. Leontyev could show how ‘in addition to a gnoscological sense’, the concept of reflection, a central concept in the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge, ‘has another scientific, concrete, psychological sense; [and] that the introduction of this concept in psychology has a heuristic significance of the highest importance for solving its basic theoretical problems’.
More fully treated examples of this heuristic value of Marxist epistemological concepts for the psychology of personality will be given in the following chapters. For the time being an outline of one of them will serve to suggest their full significance. I noted earlier that psychology today hardly ventures to tackle the problem of general laws of development of the personality, and it clearly appears that one of the main reasons for this caution is that it scarcely has any idea of the possible form of such laws. Is it without interest then, to reflect on the fact that several fundamental laws of social development – starting with the most fundamental of all – were identified by Marx in the form of laws of necessary correspondence? If one takes into account that on different levels laws of this type are precisely able to express the internal determinism of a structured entity in process of development, i.e. that they are capable of combining the strictest rigour in description of necessary processes with the greatest flexibility in application to infinitely varied and changing concrete situations, one comes around to the idea that the psychology of personality would really not be wasting its time in reflecting on the laws of necessary correspondence. Is this not to be hoped for, moreover, for a science which currently handles concepts of projective correspondence, semantic relations or structural causality, on which so many personality tests and an increasing part of interpretation in psychoanalysis or role theory, for example, are based, but quite often it seems without it having really been considered what a necessary correspondence, i.e. a relation of functional determination means.
But the role of epistemological Ode is not the most important contribution of Marxism to the psychology of personality; much more vital still, in my opinion, although little use has been made of it until now, is its contribution as historical materialism. For, to take up a position on a still controversial question straight away, here stating merely provisionally the conclusions of an argument to which the next chapter will be devoted, historical materialism is the fundamental basis of the science of history – and on this score an integral part of Marxist philosophy – in as much as it is at one and the same time the riddle of philosophical anthropology solved, the foundation of a scientific anthropology, and the corner-stone of every scientific conception of man. In fact it is precisely on this point that in 1845-46 Marx and Engels made the crucial breakthrough to the radically new philosophy which Marxism is: by arriving at the idea in which the human essence, the elucidation of which was the squaring of the circle of speculative philosophy, is nothing other than the ensemble of social relations which men necessarily establish between themselves, in the first place, in the material production of their existence, Marx and Engels together laid bare the roots of the process of production of ideologies, thus making possible the development of a genuinely scientific theory of knowledge – they completed the materialist conception of the world by rethinking it dialectically and adding to it a corresponding conception of man and opened the way for the science of history, And therefore to scientific politics and scientific socialism. Extremely schematically, this is the remarkable nucleus of basic discoveries made by Marx and Engels on the eve of the I848 revolution. For our purpose a major consequence of this is that as the science of concrete human individuality, the psychology of personality must necessarily be articulated with the general scientific conception of man which constitutes historical materialism. Better still, although as a particular science psychology is clearly not constituted by the founding of historical materialism In its concrete content – no more, it must be added, than are the science of history and political economy themselves, which it took Marx and Engels decades of work beyond the actual foundation of historical materialism to elaborate concretely – is not its form of articulation with Marxism as a whole already given, implicitly one might say, in historical materialism as a general scientific conception of man?
At this point in the argument one can suddenly see the possible role of Marxist philosophy in the scientific development of psychology growing, and becoming more precise. This role is not only to provide general epistemological guidelines but much more immediately to accurately describe the ‘form’ of articulation by which the psychology of personality must align itself with historical materialism as a whole and with the sciences which it governs – political economy, science of history – i.e. with a corpus of truths related to man, the consistency and degree of practical verification of which it can be said without hesitation, are noticeable superior to those of all current psychological theories of personality. Here, and this point is fundamental, we are poles apart from the imperialism of a speculative philosophy which still tends to some extent to intervene in the affairs of a discipline like psychology, to oppose its free development along the scientific path from within and to impose its own ideological limits on it. Quite the contrary, without intervening in the affairs of psychology, it is a question here of encouraging its development to maturity by, one might say, providing it with an accurate account of its position in relation to the general scientific conception of man and the particular sciences which it governs. In his lecture to the 18th International Congress of Psychology, did not Piaget himself state that, ‘sociology has the great privilege of locating its research on a higher level than that of our modest [psychology] and therefore of having in its grasp the secrets on which we depend’. – which, after an interval of forty years, vividly highlights the insight of Politzer writing in 1929: ‘Psychology by no means holds the "secret" of human affairs, simply because this "secret" is not of a psychological order’. But Piaget’s observation is only true in so far as we are dealing with a really scientific sociology, and there is no really scientific foundation for sociology apart from historical materialism.
In short, we are therefore confronted with one of those productive and classical conjunctures in the history of scientific theories in which an advance in one sector of the front-line of knowledge helps to break through in another up to that point less advanced sector; just as, for example, when delineating in advance and in an unchallengeable way the form of articulation which any scientific theory of the living world would have to have with it, Lyell’s evolutionist geology opened up the way for Darwin. But, in the case before us, it is not only a question of theoretically fruitful relations between particular connected sciences but even more of relations between a particular science and the whole general scientific conception of man, the whole body of Marxist science of human history. This is also why the relations promise to be even more fruitful, for, on condition of extreme doctrinal vigilance, and by virtue of what one might call the law of correspondence of theoretical forms, one can extract not only partial views from psychology’s form of articulation with Marxism but the overall conception of a scientifically fully adult psychology of personality. It goes without saying that, if by nature this task is clearly basically philosophical in the Marxist sense of the term, it is in no wise the prerogative of professional philosophers. Is it necessary to repeat that there is clearly no incompatibility in principle between the fact of being a professional psychologist and proficiency in Marxist philosophy in general and historical materialism in particular? None the less, it remains necessary to understand clearly that it is this latter proficiency which is crucial in the last analysis, for, especially given its present uncertainties as to its very identity, it is not the psychology of personality which can determine what is essential to the ‘form’ of its articulation with Marxism: it is just the opposite. In actual fact, any other idea would amount to revising Marxism in order to adapt it to this or that prevailing psychological ideology.
The preceding remarks place great value on the Marxist conception of man. Obviously this will have to be justified with the rigour which this assurance implies. But I want to emphasise straight away that this has nothing to do with doctrinarism. It is not Marxists who invented the necessity whereby all psychology and, with greater reason, all psychology of personality is in a position of having to answer the doctrinal question: on what conception of man do you base yourself? This necessity is emphasised by thinkers who are least inclined to philosophical dogmatism. Thus, in a lecture quoted Georges Canguilhem, in the name of a classically critical conception of philosophical thought, showed that ‘it is inevitable that in offering itself as a general theory of behaviour, psychology forms its own idea of man. Philosophy must then be allowed to ask psychology from where it derives this idea and whether fundamentally it is not from some philosophy’.
And, imagining a case in which psychology held that it has no need to take any idea of man from any philosophy in order to develop, he easily shows that ‘in so far as philosophy is not allowed to try to find the answer to it, the question, "What is psychology? " becomes, "In doing what they do, where are psychologists trying to get to?" "What have they set themselves up as psychologists for?" ‘ – a question which, whether one likes it or not, implies philosophical (and political) reflection on the foundations of psychology. And this is why, after having emphasised ‘the constitutional inability [of psychology] to grasp and clearly display its founding project’, Georges Canguilhem concluded that ‘no man can prohibit philosophy from continuing to ask itself about the status of psychology which is poorly defined in relation both to the sciences and to techniques’. It is noteworthy that after this lecture a psychologist, R. Pagès, agreed in his reply that in actual fact all psychology ‘presupposes a certain philosophy of man, partial or total, implicit or explicit’.
Marxists cannot disagree with the way in which Georges Canguilhem shows that it is impossible for any psychology to impugn its articulation with a general conception of man – and with an ensemble of social practices. None the less, they would consider that one must go a lot further; for the problem of this articulation was not only posed but received a scientific solution which is contained, potentially at least, in the general scientific conception of man which Marxism both founded and is based on. It is not enough, therefore, to question psychology socratically in order to make it admit that it cannot define its foundation by itself; it must be provided-with the existing theoretical materials with which it can define them.
But what deters a great number of psychologists from trying to find the prerequisite foundation of a general scientific conception of man either in Marxist philosophy, or in any other philosophy, is the firm belief, which is extremely widespread and deep-rooted particularly among men of science that, in R. Pagès’ very significant turn of phrase in his reply to G. Canguilhem, all philosophy without exception is ‘a way of clarifying values which are beyond knowledge’. In the same vein, Jacques Monod asserts that there exists ‘a hiatus in relations between objective knowledge ... and all kinds of judgments or theories of values’ and that consequently the adoption of an ethical system, a principle aspect of any philosophical anthropology, is dependent on ‘a choice [which] will never appear completely satisfactory’.
Now it is perfectly true that until Marx all philosophy rested at least partly on unproved theoretical premises, on opinions which were scientifically contingent. But the birth of Marxism consists of a radical transformation of the formulation of the problem itself. All philosophy rests on theoretical presuppositions which as such are partly arbitrary, and consequently it is impossible for a philosophy to be founded absolutely by itself. But examined in a radically critical way, i.e. in the light of a real science of history, these arbitrary theoretical premises prove to be nothing other than more or less distorted and abstract ideological expressions of real premises on which philosophical activity itself necessarily rests, i.e. real social life. As Marx writes in connection with Max Stirner (but the remark has universal significance):
These real presuppositions are also the presuppositions of his dogmatic presuppositions which, whether he likes it or not, will reappear to him together with the real ones so long as he does not obtain other real, and with them also other dogmatic presuppositions, or so long as he does not recognise the real presuppositions materialistically as presuppositions of his thinking, whereupon the dogmatic ones will disappear altogether.
A fundamental text in which there turns out to be both the formulation of a decisive critique of all philosophy in the previous sense of the word and the pointer to the path of a radically new conception of philosophy, which has become fully scientific in so far as every arbitrary theoretical presupposition being cast aside, it bases itself on the objective investigation of real conditions.
The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they five, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way.
This is a conception ‘which is not without premises, but which empirically observes the actual material premises as such-and for that reason is, for the first time, actually a critical outlook on the world’.
To describe Marxist philosophy as scientific is therefore not a particular kind of self-satisfaction on the part of Marxists, but accurately signifies a fundamental fact of historical importance in the universal development of philosophy, namely that Marxist philosophy – the retention of the word philosophy being justified by the fact that it takes the place of the old philosophy but must not obscure the fact that it brings about a transmutation of its content and forms – does not presuppose the contingent acceptance of unproved premises any more than it presupposes the arbitrary choice of ethical values. ‘Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality (will) have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’.
And this is why the general scientific conception of man which Marxist philosophy offers to psychology does not only constitute an irreplaceable critical contribution to it but also a constructive contribution without any dogmatism. On the contrary, dogmatism on these matters consists in assuming without any real examination that, like all ‘philosophy’, Marxism cannot escape contingent foundations and that consequently it cannot be directly articulated in the required manner with a science, rather than in asserting that it alone supplies a truly theoretical answer to questions that arise for any psychology.
Fifteen years ago I was far from having an accurate picture of the general formulation of these problems. And yet by grasping the fundamental reasons set out above, which render it impossible for philosophy as such to pursue its investigations on the terrain of psychology, I caught a glimpse of the duties and authority of Marxist philosophy not only as to the epistemological problems of psychology but as to its articulation with historical materialism. Therefore, in 1952-53, I thought it useful to join in the debate on what at the time appeared to me to augur a physiologistic deviation in the conception of psychology in part of the remarkable research effort based on Pavlovism and undertaken by a team of French Marxist psychiatrists and psychologists." In order to criticise this physiologistic deviation without being clearly aware of all the theoretical conditions of the task that I was undertaking – I tried to describe the articulation which historical materialism offers psychology in order to make it clear that this articulation does not concern only the physiology of higher nervous activity founded by Pavlov, but also a science of personality of quite a different nature suggested by the classics of Marxism. Unfortunately, what I then took for the articulation of Marxism and psychology and for the site of a Marxist theory of personality was really something quite different, which will be discussed later. and which in current terminology can be regarded as coming under social psychology, i.e. in actual fact, the social sciences and not a psychology of personality. For anyone who rejected this basic error, the internal unity of the enterprise seemed also to invalidate the critique of physiologism itself, which appeared to be the source of the error. By and large it was over this ambiguity that the enquiry floundered and it was brought to a halt at that point.
In any case, for my part I had ascertained through these investigations and debates that Marxist philosophy could and should attend to basic problems in the theory of personality, Moreover, the error of my attempt was dependent not so much on lack of experience in psychology as in Marxism. Since the problems which were raised for the communist movement and for Marxist thought throughout the following years, especially from 1956 onwards, led me, like many others, to a more informed reading of the classics and to more careful reflection on the problems of the basic conception of man, I could not but be deeply struck by the fact that on the whole, whatever Marxist intentions, the psychology of personality still appeared to be unaware of everything which remained to be done in the matter of its theoretical bases and to reach full development. I could not but little by little add up the missed opportunities. For, in so far as one formed a high opinion of scientific psychology, was it not natural to expect it, for example, to have taken part in the intense theoretical debates twelve years ago about the reality of absolute impoverishment in capitalist regimes, or, more recently, about the conception of intellectual abilities underlying Gaullist educational reforms, or, again, about the prospects that communism will open up for the full development of individuals, and to have contributed to those many issues in which psychological enlightenment generally remains sadly wanting, from problems of socialist planning to those of the cult of personality, and from those of aesthetics to those of ethics the benefit of its higher knowledge? One must admit that the expectation has been disappointed.
There was then no alternative but to reflect on the underlying reasons for these silences, and to state that all things considered, psychology, relatively advanced in the investigation of animals, children, indeed even the mentally ill, and very rich in details as in overall views on psychic functions taken separately, with certain exceptions remains exceedingly weak when it is a question of understanding the general economy of the normal, adult human personality, i.e. precisely what interests us most in the last resort. One can thus understand why psychologists are so often silent in ideological debates in which the conception of the human personality is nevertheless most directly involved: in the absence of essential theoretical ideas and precisely because they have a sense of their scientific responsibility, their only way out is often abstention. But then the crucial thought recurs: if, as is clear, the bases of a general scientific theory of personality are still lacking, why not concentrate the most intensive collective research activity on what its articulation with historical materialism can already certainly teach us on this matter? Since, we have seen, Marxism is led for the strongest theoretical and practical reasons to attach extreme importance to the psychology of personality, how can it passively await its progress when it can hasten it itself? And since Marxist philosophy has been led through its own research requirements to reflect on this problem, as as much of it as is accessible to it, why, yes why, should it wait any longer quite simply to give its opinion about it? In doing which, moreover, it will follow the logic of a rich tradition in French Marxist philosophy: that of Politzer and his militant critique on behalf of a genuinely materialist ‘concrete psychology’, which the theoretical conditions of his time no doubt did not enable him to conceive accurately but the requirements of which he had the brilliance to formulate. So long as psychology is not definitively constituted into a fully-developed science through the construction of the scientific theory of personality, Marxist philosophy will have the responsibility and the honour not to allow the great Politzerian tradition, i.e. the tradition of Marx himself as we shall see presently, to perish.