Psychology for Revolutionaries
a new psychology, instead of the old psychology that supports the capitalist system. One can begin with the ideas of Marx and Lenin, although they never tried to develop a full theory of psychology. The closest that Marx came to a psychology were his 1845 notes for a study of the philosopher Feuerbach. At the time of Marx psychology had not yet been invented, so it was philosphy that took up these questions.
Marx's had already come up with the concept of alienation in his early 1844 philosophical writings, which remains a key concept to the present day.
In his Theses on Feuerbach, Marx criticizes the philosphy that existed up until his time because it concentrated on ideas and "contemplation" and failed to consider what is most significant: "revolutionary" and "practical-critical activity." In fact, the criticism by Marx is equally valid today. Textbooks of psychology in capitalist countries give very little space to human activity and none to revolutionary activity. Instead they stress passive processes like sleep and dreaming, drugs and yoga, attitude change in which the person is convinced by outside forces, personality traits, intelligence and sex differences (as if they were fixed and unchangeable).
Many modern text books of psychology present human nature as if it were determined by biology, including the claim that violence is part of human nature. Marx and Engels understood full well that human nature is not primarily a biological issue but a matter of culture and social relations.
Although it is true that people are changed by their social context, they are not passive objects because they are also able to change that context. In the end it is only the revolutionary who can truly change his own nature, because he/she can change the social context. As Marx puts it: "The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances ...[which] can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."
What is a person? Marx answers: "the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations." This is very profound, because it means that as we develop our network of social relations, we develop ourselves. It puts the question of communication at the center of the agenda for human development and for revolution.
Marx concludes that "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." Since psychology in the 20th century took the place of philosophy in the 19th century, we may paraphrase Marx to say: "Psychologists have hitherto only interpreted the human being in various ways; the point is to change it." Che Guevara would later develop this theme in calling for the new socialist man
For Lenin, psychology was not theoretical but a matter of practical and revolutionary activity. For example, he addresses the importance of anger in his book Left-Wing Communism. Lenin discusses the letter of a British communist and notes that it is full of anger against the British capitalist class. He says that "In a representative of the oppressed and exploited masses, this hatred is truly the 'beginning of all wisdom', the basis of any socialist and communist movement and of its success." [Note. The original Russian word "nenavist" is usually translated as hatred but in this context is perhaps better translated as anger.]
Lenin's emphasis on the role of anger is echoed by Gandhi and King. In discussing nonviolence, Gandhi said, "anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world." And, in a speech honoring the great African-American communist W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King Jr said, "History had taught him it is not enough for people to be angry - the supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force."
For Gandhi and King, anger and nonviolence went together because nonviolence needs the strong passion of anger. This is not realized by most people who think that anger automatically leads to violence. For Gandhi and King, the challenge of nonviolence was the discipline of learning to use anger constructively.
A fully-developed psychology for revolutionaries needs to address not only activity and anger, but also the skills of affiliation, leadership, and how to sustain activity over the long haul rather than becoming the victim of psychological "burnout." These issues are discussed from the standpoint of the peace activist in the little book, Psychology for Peace Activists