[Marxism] [marxism-thaxis] Pavlov, Soviet psychology, and Harry K. Wells

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Wed Sep 7 18:54:45 MDT 2016

 The kind of pro-Pavlov line in the CPUSA by Harry K. Wells in the 1950's and 1960's by Wells was continued in later decades by writers like  Joseph Nahem, who was a longtime activist in the CPUSA, who endured harassment and persecution in the McCarthy period. He would eventually acquire a PhD when he was over sixty years old. A few years after, in 1981, he put out a book, through International Publishers, titled, Psychology and Psychiatry Today: A Marxist View.  Like Wells, he was very pro-Pavlov. He condemned just about every other school in psychology and psychotherapy as being unscientific and reactionary. Thus, he condemned psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology. He even condemned B. F. Skinner's radical behaviorism too, despite its avowed roots in Pavlov's work. He was also very dismissive of many of the psychotherapies that were popular back in the 1970's and 1980's, viewing many of them as just being passing fads (which of course they were). He also had a solid discussion of such issues as the IQ and race controversy that were receiving lots of attention back then, Not surprisingly, he was not very impressed by the arguments of people like Arthur Jensen and Hans Eysenck.  Given the anti-Freudian stances of both Wells and Nahem, it is curious that neither author seems to have ever mentioned the work of Andrew Salter. As far as I know, Salter was not a Marxist but back in the 1950's, he wrote a book, The Case Against Psychoanalysis, which attacked psychoanalysis as lacking in scientific grounding, and he was also one of the very first behavior therapists, who created a variety of behavior therapy, which he called conditioned reflex therapy, that was based directly on Pavlov's research.

Jim Farmelanthttp://independent.academia.edu/JimFarmelanthttp://www.foxymath.com Learn or Review Basic Math

---------- Original Message ----------
From: "Jim Farmelant" <farmelantj at juno.com>
To: marxism-thaxis at lists.riseup.net,  marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu
Subject: [marxism-thaxis] Pavlov, Soviet psychology, and Harry K. Wells
Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2016 16:25:04 GMT

This came up as part of a thread in an FB group, in which I turned out to be a member. The discussion turned to the role of the great Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, in the Soviet Union. As I pointed out: Pavlov attacked the Bolsheviks. He intended to leave Russia after the October Revolution but Lenin convinced him to stay by giving him his own research institute with virtually unlimited resources. The Soviet regime showered all kinds of honors on him but he remained outspokenly critical of it. In his final years, concerned over the rise of fascism, he softened his opposition towards the Soviet regime.

 Pavlov was the son of a Russian Orthodox priest. He originally intended to follow in his father's footsteps, and so, attended an Orthodox seminary to prepare for the priesthood. However, while there, he read the writings of progressive Russian thinkers like Dmitry Pisarev, who was one of the so-called Nihilists. As a consequence, Pavlov lost his religious faith, and so decided against entering the priesthood. Eventually, he decided to pursue a scientific career, and so went to medical school instead of the seminary.

 It should be noted that years later, when the Bolsheviks decided to crack down on priests and banished the children of priests from attending academic institutions, Pavlov issued a public protest denouncing this move and resigning from his own position. He even took, for a while, to wearing religious medals, even though he was not a religious believer, but wanted to piss off the Bolsheviks.

Throughout Soviet history, Pavlov was always upheld as the model researcher in physiology, and often, psychology. He did not regard himself to be a psychologist. He saw his own work on conditioned reflexes as a part of his physiology research. On occasion, he was openly contemptuous of psychology, although at other times, he did speak respectfully of the work of psychologists. His own standing within Soviet psychology fluctuated over time. In Lenin's day, his status within Soviet psychology was very high, enjoying the backing of Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, etc. During the 1930's and 1940's, his standing declined a bit. Then around 1950, there was a very strong pro-Pavlov campaign in both physiology and psychology.

In discussing the fluctuating fortunes of Pavlovian reflexology under the Stalin regime it is interesting to note B.F. Skinner's comments on this (Skinner having been a great admirer of Pavlov). Thus, in *Beyond Freedom & Dignity*, Skinner wrote:

"Communist Russia provided and interesting case history in the relation between environmentalism and personal responsibility, as Raymond Bauer has pointed out. Immediately after the revolution the government could argue that if many Russians were uneducated, unproductive, badly behaved, and unhappy, it was because their environment had made them so. The new government would change the environment, making use of Pavlov's work on conditioned reflexes, and all would be well. But by the early thirties the government had its chance, and many Russians were still not conspicuously better informed, more productive, better behaved, or happier. The official line was then changed, and Pavlov went out of favor. A strongly purposive psychology was substituted: it was up to the Russian citizen to get an education, work productively, behave well, and be happy. The Russian educator was to make sure that he would accept this responsibility, but not by conditioning him. The successes of the Second World War restored confidence in the earlier principle, however; the government had been successful after all. It might not yet be completely effective,but it was moving in the right direction.Pavlov came back into favor."

n the US, the CPUSA has always had a strong pro-Pavlov orientation. Their publishing arm, International Publishers, has, for decades, been the publisher of some of the main English translations of his writings. Back in the 1950's and 1960's, the CP philosopher/psychologist, Harry K. Wells, wrote a couple of books, comparing and contrasting Pavlov's work with Freud's. Pavlov was held up as the exemplary of scientific psychology, whereas, Freud was denounced as being unscientific. Pavlov was progressive, Freud was reactionary. Wells also wrote a book denouncing the neo-Freudianism of people like Erich Fromm,  I have some other, later books, by people connected with the CPUSA, which took much the same view too. Pavlov was upheld, and almost everybody else in psychology, including even B.F. Skinner, was denounced as being unscientific.

As I said, Wells was very pro-Pavlov. At the time that he started to write about Pavlov, the Soviet Union was officially pro-Pavlov. Wells didn't seem to grasp that the Soviet psychological scene was already starting to channge as he wrote. Following the Khrushchev thaw, the work of people like Lev Vygotsky and his friend, Alexander Luria, was revived in the Soviet Union, so that by the mid-1960's, Vygotskyian psychology had become the dominant school there. Wells said very little about Vygotsky in his books.

BTW here is the NY Time obit for Wells.

 Also, it is interesting to note that in Argentina, apparently, Harry K. Wells's books on Pavlov and Freud appealed to psychology students there who were also radical leftists,  andwho rejected psychoanalysis as idealist.According to the article, linked below, some of these students would eventually become radical behaviorists in the mode of B. F. Skinner.

And in the issue of Vol. 12, No. 1 1999 Nature, Society, and Thought, there can be found an article, "Public Marxist Intellectuals: Barrows
 Dunham, Howard Selsam, and Harry K. Wells," by Edwin A. Roberts.

Jim Farmelant
Learn or Review Basic Math

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