Two versions of Marxist concrete psychology: Politzer and Mérei compared

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece now available online from History of Psychology: “Two versions of Marxist concrete psychology: Politzer and Mérei compared,” by Csaba Pléh. Abstract:

This article will compare the life and work of two Marxist psychologists of the midtwentieth century, George Politzer (1903–1942) and Ferenc Mérei (1909–1986). Both were Hungarian Jews who were educated at the French Sorbonne. They were both involved in covert activities related to the French Communist movement in the 1920 and 1930s. As young communist intellectuals, they combined Marxist ideology with the need to elaborate a new psychology. I present their work as an alternative to better known versions of Marxist psychology, namely, Freudo-Marxism and Soviet action theories. Unlike these theories, Politzer and Mérei created a partly empirical, partly theoretical psychological oeuvre that operationalized the ideas of a concrete dramatic psychology anchored in the actual social life of humans. Politzer and Mérei shared desire for a psychology that is rooted in dynamics, changes, and interactions—a psychology that is rooted in the human drama, rather than in abstractions of academic laboratory psychology, and in the static topography of Freud. For Politzer, the critique of traditional psychology was mainly conceptual. Mérei looked for concrete psychology in data from field work in social psychology and from applied clinical research. The work of Mérei provided an empirical, concrete psychology, which eventually led to an influx of many new psychologists within the field in Hungary. Politzer’s contributions, in contrast, remained largely conceptual and philosophical. The main message of their work is that it is an almost impossible task to combine a Marxist-Communist engagement with a commitment toward traditional civic values of enlightenment and rationality. The combination of social-political commitment and an analysis of concrete human interactions remained a formal combination, rather than a real synthesis.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.