Monday Book: A battle between Marx and Freud


CAN FREUD be reconciled with Marx? Interestingly, the ideologues of both superpowers during the Cold War said no, and in the US it was fashionable to use Freud as a weapon with which to "refute" Marx. In the Soviet Union, for 60 years from 1924, the official line was that Freud's doctrine represented both "idealist mystification", and "bourgeois individualism".

It was left to the Frankfurt School, especially Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse, to underline the many significant ways in which Marxism and Freudianism converged, and to argue convincingly that the very last belief-system for which psychoanalysis could act as a support was capitalism. Only at the very beginning of the history of the Soviet Union, during Lenin's New Economic Policy, and at the very end, during Gorbachev's glasnost, did the id, ego, superego and the unconscious gain a foothold in the USSR.

Freud originally hoped that he would find an apostle to take the gospel of psychoanalysts to Russia - someone who would rival Jung in Switzerland, Ferenczi in Budapest, Abraham in Berlin and Ernest Jones in Britain. He had great hopes for Nikolai Osipov, who pioneered the application of Freud's theories to Russian literature, especially Tolstoy, but Osipov had two drawbacks. He was influenced more by Jung and the Swiss psychiatrist Paul Dubois, and he had no stomach for a fight.

When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, Osipov fled to Prague, leaving Russian psychoanalysis in the hands of Tatiana Rosenthal. When she committed suicide in 1921, the movement was without a leader until Sabina Spielrein, one of Freud's most brilliant students and a former lover of Jung's, returned to her native Ukraine. She was initially aided by the favourable attitude of both Lenin and Trotsky, but already the Stalinist clouds were gathering.

Martin Miller's scholarly volume concentrates on the period until 1924, analysing in detail the writings of Bernard Bykhoysky and M A Reisner, and the years after 1953, focusing particularly on the work of the subtle psychologist Omitri Vznadze. About the Stalinist era there is little to say. Psychoanalysis was declared a bourgeois heresy, incompatible with Marxist-Leninism, and four main reasons were adduced.

First, Stalin's doctrine of "socialism in one country" meant that any movement with an international dimension was regarded as "antisocialist". Secondly, sexuality or Eros was seen as an aggressive instinct incompatible with the new brotherly love under socialism. Psychoanalysis was also thought to be "soft on homosexuality", which the Stalinist regime viewed as criminal depravity. Finally, the vulgar Marxism of Stalin postulated an utopia where human misery and conflict would wither away, whereas Freud saw them as ineradicable aspects of the human condition.

By the 1930s, it had become much too dangerous for any Russian to attempt a fusion of Freudian and Marxist thought. It became the party line that Pavlov was the last word in psychology, and that psychoanalysis should he consigned to the rubbish dump of bourgeois garbage, along with Gestalt psychology, relativity and quantum theory. Discouraged by the failure of psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union, Freud hit back at his Bolshevik critics, accusing them of naivety: human beings were not perfectible and there was a limit to what social amelioration could do for individuals.

Freud was nettled by charges that Freudianism was simply a new religion and, as such, merely a new opiate for the people. Freud replied that it was Marxism that replicated the worst faults of Christianity: the salvation and the Second Coming, the intolerance of unbelievers and the use of the Inquisition to silence dissenters.

Martin Miller's political perspective on the Soviet Union reads like unreconstructed John Foster Dulles-speak from the 1950s, but there can be no denying his erudition, nor the clarity with which he differentiates his four distinct epochs: 1917-24, the Stalin years, 1953-85, and the Gorbachev age of "openness". The flaw with the book is its dry, disinterested quality. Miller is content merely to report the various attempts to reconcile Freud and Marx, but he does not seem to find the issue of any intrinsic interest and there is an above-the-battle flavour to his treatment of the Russian psychoanalysts, as if they were specimens in a laboratory. Miller, alas, proves the truth of the maxim that scholars are rarely intellectuals, and American academics seldom committed.

The reviewer's latest book, `1066: the Year of Three Battles', is published by Cape

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada