MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




Behaviourism is the reactionary trend in psychology which rejects consciousness as a possible subject for science and instead aims to develop the science of control of people’s behaviour.

The real founder of behaviourism was Ivan Pavlov, but Pavlov’s behaviourism was of a different character from the behaviourism that was developed in the U.S. by B F Skinner and others.

The term was defined by B. Watson in 1913: “Psychology as the behaviourist views it, is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behaviour.”

Constructivism on the other hand, is concerned with how a subject uses consciousness to control their own behaviour. For constructivism, it is possible to draw conclusions about consciousnes from the collaboration of the psychologist with the subject, as opposed to the bourgeois scientific norm of experimental science, which requires the isolation of the experimental subject from any form of collaboration.

Originated by J. B. Watson of Chicago University, in 1913, behaviourism arose as a trend in modern bourgeois psychology, based philosophically on pragmatism and positivism.

Behaviourism continues the mechanistic trend in psychology, reducing psychic phenomena to the reactions of the organism. The trend identifies consciousness and behaviour the main unit of which it considers to be the stimulus-reaction correlation. Knowledge, according to behaviourism, is entirely a matter of the conditioned reactions of organisms.

In the 1930s Watson's theory was superseded by a number of neo-behaviourist theories, of which the leading exponents were C. Hull, E. Tolman, E. Guthrie and B. Skinner (b. 1904). The neo-behaviourists (except Tolman) borrowed I. Pavlov's terminology and classification of forms of behaviour, and substituted operationalism and logical positivism for the materialist foundations of his theory.

Skinner also approached the process of education from neo-behaviourist positions and developed the theory of linear programmed instruction, which was criticised by Soviet psychologists such as A. N. Leontiev, P. Ya. Galperin, and others.

While making use of conditioned-reflex techniques, behaviourists ignore the role of the cerebral cortex in behaviour. Contemporary behavioursim has also modified the stimulus-reaction formula by inserting what are called "intermediate variables" (skill, excitation and inhibition potential, need, etc.). This does not, however, change the mechanistic and idealist nature of its essence.

Behaviourism was also criticised by Pavlov in his article, titled, A Physiologist's Answer to Psychologists, 1932.

Contributed by Sugejn Jerdna



The totality of material and social conditions.

People engage in activity with each other (social relations) independently of whether or not they do so consciously, but such relations are built upon the "being" of a society – the totality of the existing material and social conditions in a society. For example, a labourer may do her work because she believes that god has given her that lot in life, but she does what she does regardless, i.e. it was not the idea of "god" that set her to labor, but the practical necessity of achieving her means of sustenance. With the necessity for labor (which is “Being”), her consciousness could assume a variety of forms, in this case the idea of god.

When Marx wrote in the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, the “real foundation” he describes is the “Being”:

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

Further Reading: See also Part A of the German Ideology where Marx and Engels outline in detail the foundations of Being. In Engels' famous formulation in Ludwig Feuerbach & the End of Classical German Philosophy: ‘The great basic question of all philosophy, especially of more recent philosophy, is that concerning the relation of thinking and being’, Engels again clarifies that the term “Being” is synomymous with ‘the world outside consciousness’.

Hegelian Philosophy: "Being" is the stage in development of a process in which things come into existence and pass away without any external contact, when the process is still undeveloped and its significance is still implicit and unrecognised. In perception, Being means immediate sense perception. In social movements, Being refers to the day-to-day events and activity which constitute the basis for a social movement which has not yet manifested itself.

Being is the first of the three divisions of the Logic (Being, Essence, The Notion).

In the Shorter Logic § Hegel says: ‘whatever else you may begin with (the I = I, the absolute indifference, or God himself), you begin with a figure of materialised conception, not a product of thought; and that, so far as its thought-content is concerned, such beginning is merely Being’, and here “being” has a meaning similar to that which it has for the materialists.

Phenomenology: 20th century philosophers like Heidegger or Husserl, use a multiplicity of words such as Dasein ["being there"], or Existenz in addition to Sein [to Be], none of which have the meaning “Being” has for materialism, but rather refer to different grades of individual subjective consciousness. But for both Hegel and Marx, subjective consciousness has its basis in the material, social relations of the society in which an individual lives, not in subjective consciousness itself.

Further reading: See the section in Hegel's Outline of Logic or in the Shorter Logic, the distinction between Being and Essence and Being described from the position of the Absolute Idea. See also the first three chapters of The Meaning of Hegel's Logic and the first part of Getting to Know Hegel.


A reformist trend in German and International Social-Democracy. It emerged in Germany at the end of the 19th century, and got its name from Eduard Bernstein, a German Social-Democrat, who tried to revise Marx's revolutionary theory on the lines of bourgeois liberalism.

Among his supporters in Russia were the legal Marxists, the Economists, the Bund and the Mensheviks.