“Down with fascism, up with science”: Activist psychologists in the U.S., 1932–1941

AHP readers will be interested in a new article in History of Psychology by Ben Harris ““Down with fascism, up with science”: Activist psychologists in the U.S., 1932–1941.” Abstract:

At the height of the Depression, more psychologists in the U.S. were awarded degrees than could find jobs. Master’s level graduates were particularly affected, holding positions that were tenuous, and they rejected second-class membership offered by the American Psychological Association. In response to this employment crisis, two Columbia University MA graduates created The Psychological Exchange, a journal that offered graduates and established colleagues a forum for news, job ads, and for discussing the expansion of psychology to address problems of the Depression. This article describes the Exchange and its unique window into psychologists debating how to reshape their field. In 1934, it was used by young Marxists to launch The Psychologists’ League, which agitated for colleagues who lost their jobs, tried to make research socially relevant, and connected with movements for the “social reconstruction” of society. It raised the consciousness of its members and sympathizers by linking to worldwide antifascist struggles while fighting antisemitism and nativism at home. While previous accounts make the League seem a spontaneous eruption, this article shows how members of the Communist Party created it, then controlled its agenda and activities. During the Stalin-Hitler pact they followed Stalin’s anti-war ideology and the League became a shell organization. Its members, nonetheless, creatively mixed psychological concepts and political ideology, drawing in colleagues through discussion groups, demonstrations, and social events. Sources for this work include unpublished correspondence, a diary, and Federal Bureau of Investigation files that reveal more complex lives than previously portrayed.

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.