R. Palme Dutt

Book Review

Psycho-Analysing the Bolshevik

Source: Labour Monthly, October 1921, Vol. I, No. 4.
Publisher: The Labour Publishing Company, Ltd., London.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Psycho-analysis and Sociology, by Aurel Kolnai.
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul
Allen and Unwin. 7s. 6d.

THE appearance of a new translation from the busy pens of Eden and Cedar Paul will always win for the author they have selected an attention he might not have otherwise received from the small band of Labour students. They may lead us sometimes into strange paths; but they have a flair for the original and the arresting, and they are almost our only link with some of the movements of thought on the Continent.

This time, following a familiar bent, they have chosen the “new psychology” for their subject, and show us its relation to Bolshevism. Unfortunately, they have given us no information of the nature of their victim (for we assume that Professor Kolnai has been chosen by them as a victim to afford us a fascinating study of the professorial mind confronted with what in its own original terminology it calls “red ruin”); but from internal evidence certain facts can be gleaned. Professor Kolnai, it would appear, has had some personal experience of the Hungarian revolution and was in Buda Pest during the Soviet regime; and this is no doubt what set his mind thinking about the subject.

In addition to this, Professor Kolnai has views of his own. He believes in something that he terms “Liberal Socialism.” What “Liberal Socialism” is he does not deign to explain; but he brings it in occasionally in the course of his studies of the noxious varieties of black and red, much as a student of demonism might occasionally introduce the divinity to point a contrast. From one passage it would appear that “Liberal Socialism” means that typical professorial dream—small proprietorship. But of its divinity he has no doubt. “The place of psycho-analysis,” he tells us firmly, “is by the side of ‘Liberal Socialism.’”

Professor Kolnai has a very pretty imagination. In one passage he says finely: “The womb is the prototype of all prisons and the umbilical cord is the prototype of all chains.” He applies all the correct psycho-analytical formula with the deftest touch. Thus, the idea of salvation of the world by the proletarian class he discovers to signify “the wish fantasy of the son, who is inferior in power to the father, and longs to gain possession of the mother (earth, land, the world).” Red and White, he observes, as symbolising Bolshevism and counter-revolution, simply “express the contrasted pair, man and woman, and the contrasted pair, blood and bone.” And in a charming passage on the British national character he comes to the conclusion that “the peculiar hypocrisy of the British (not wholly antipathetic), the hypocrisy which is so manifest in British foreign policy, becomes unquestionably more comprehensible to one who is acquainted with the manifestations of British prudery”; he further observes acutely that “there is a point of contact between navalism and sexual symbolism; the ‘ship’ is of the feminine gender.”

The solid Marxian student will not lack matter to chew. Thus he may learn that Bolshevism is “a retrogressive dissolution of paranoiac rigidity, to enable the adherents of the movement to draw nearer to their goal,” or, if he prefers a simpler definition, it is “a peculiar feudalist middle course between the direct regression of anarchism and the paranoid regression of Marxian Socialism.” And he will not fail to appreciate the ready accounting for his powers of reasoning that are so disconcerting to his opponents by the simple explanation that “the shrewd dialectic of paranoiacs is familiar.”

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that Professor Kolnai is lacking in a keen perception of the everyday realities of life. Thus he has a penetrating analysis of the position of the proletariat, in which he calls attention to the fact that “very important in the case of the proletarian is his poverty.” This is very true.

There are some good chapter headings in this book: for instance, “Infantile El Dorado Fantasy of Communism.”

R. P. D.