Joseph Hansen

A Psychoanalyst Looks for a Sane Society

(Spring 1956)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.17 No.2, Spring 1956, pp.65-69.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

The Sane Society
by Erich Fromm
Rinehart & Co., Inc., New York. 1955. 370 pp. $5.

Eros and Civilization, A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud
by Herbert Marcuse
The Beacon Press, Boston. 1955. 277 pp. $3.95.

Outside of Marxism, psychoanalysis is the only science to have felt from its beginning an insistent need to assess society as a whole. This was unavoidable. Although dealing with individual patients, the psychoanalyst is forced to consider their relationships with other people. How else can any individual, sick or well, be understood? But relationships wiith others are manifestations of society. It would seem only natural, consequently, for this science to take an unfavorable attitude toward capitalism, since among the general phenomena of the times one of the most striking is the production of psychoses and neuroses on a mass scale.

However, the main stream of the psychoanalytic movement appears to accept capitalist society, equating it with civilization itself. According to this view human nature is inherently anti-social. The most fundamental drive of the human animal is held to be for pleasure: but gratification of pleasure, in the way our basic nature would have it, is incompatible with civilization. It is not civilization (capitalist society) that must be changed. The key problem, accordingly, is the adjustment that the individual must make. Interest centers therefore on the primeval core of the human psyche and its vicissitudes in process of domestication. Since civilization is a constant – the fixed pattern to which the individual must conform – it can be separated, cut and left aside.

While this seems to be the outlook of the majority, nevertheless, in encouraging contrast, a significant wing of the psychoanalytic movement insists today that the individual cannot be separated from society; that what he is, is largely the consequence of the action of society upon him. Moreover a given society is not necessarily synonymous with civilisation. This wing tends to be critical of capitalism, particularly its development toward authoritarianism. Whether Freud’s basic teachings can be used to support these views is in controversy – those who think Freud has been superseded holding the center of the stage at present. One of the most outspoken representatives of the latter position is Erich Fromm.

In his latest book The Sane Society, Fromm stresses the insanity of capitalism. As objective evidence of the pathological condition of this society, Fromm points to the statistics for suicide, homicide and alcoholism. More interesting than such figures, which have been noted before, are Fromm’s observations on the general unhappiness that pervades capitalist society.

Universal Boredom

This he sees as an effect of the drive for conformity, the incapacity for independence in outlook, the substitution of accumulation of things for cultural achievement as life’s goal. The consequence is spiritual emptiness, universal boredom. The inability to achieve the freedom that comes from genuine cultural achievement is converted into fear of freedom in general. Anxiety is no longer the exception; it is the hall mark of modern man. Such psychological conditions take social and political expression in pathological movements of which fascism is an extreme form. Thus in the psychological shaping of the individual, capitalism reveals its trend toward a new barbarism.

Many of Fromm’s observations are shrewd and penetrating. His judgment that capitalism is insane is certainly to be commended. One might expect an objective author to note how all this confirms the Marxist analysis of capitalist society. However, such is not the case. Fromm opposes Marxism. He advocates a blueprint for the “sane” society. This turns out to be a commodity-producing society arbitrarily divided into small work units – a far from novel proposal, since it can be traced to the petty-bourgeois socialists of pre-Marxist days. And how is this utopia to be reached? Again, the means are far from novel. As the pre-Marxist socialists preached, salvation is to be achieved by converting wrong-thinking individuals to the right view through moral precepts and by offering them elevating examples – showing them sample pieces of the ideal society, colonies of socialism set up on an experimental basis in the crevices between the giant monopolies, trusts and cartels.

The means, in short, is establishment of a new religion that impresses on people by its model canons and its model way of life how superior it is to put man himself in place of the idols of the church and market.

All the answer that is needed to such musty nostrums is contained in the Communist Manifesto, written more than a century ago. Yet Fromm is quite serious in advocating his utopian cure-all for the staggeting evils of capitalism in its death agony. What we have here – to borrow from the language of psychoanalysis – is a case of regression to more primitive levels.

How to Tell an Insane Society

Leaving aside the question of the psychoanalytic reasons for Fromm’s fantasy and the sociological pressures which they reflect, the source of Fromm’s utopian conclusions lies in his method.

His first main problem, as he himself notes, is to find a criterion by which to measure whether a given society is sane or insane. Rejecting the common concept of anthropologists that a society must be judged sane if it is self-perpetuating, he finds his criterion in human nature in general. A society that is compatible with the nature of man in the abstract is sane. If it goes against that abstract concept then we must classify it as pathological to one degree or another.

To substantiate this approach, it is evident that two basic norms must be determined:

  1. what constitutes a normal human being,
  2. what constitutes a normal society.

Fromm’s book is about these norms, the deviations from them that we see about us today and how we should achieve sanity. Everything, it is apparent, hinges on the norms. Grant them and one can admire the logic with which Fromm puts together the rest of his structure.

For example one can understand Fromm’s strange ambivalence toward capitalism. Insofar as it goes against human nature it is negative. Insofar as it corresponds with human nature it is positive. Despite the symptoms of insanity, Fromm finds much that is positive in capitalism, at least in “the economically most progressive country, the United States”:

“... the main demands of the nineteenth-century reformers have been fulfilled ... the economic exploitation of the masses has disappeared to a degree which would have sounded fantastic in Marx’s time. (As fantastic as corporation dividends in 1955? – J.H.) The working class, instead of falling behind in the economic development of the whole society, has an increasing share in the national wealth, and it is a perfectly valid assumption that provided (!) no major catastrophe occurs, there will, in about one or two generations, be no more marked poverty in the United States.”

Fromm obviously sees no internal connection between the current prosperity and a coming depression, or fascism, or imperialist war.

He even believes that “the human and political situation of the worker has changed drastically. Largely through his unions, he has become a social ‘partner’ of management.” Management’s part, if we may inject a dissent, is to determine the degree of automation and speed up; the worker’s part to join the unemployed or move faster on the belt line.

Fromm finds the positive everywhere, interwoven like bright woof in the negative warp of social insanity:

“As far as submission to irrational authority goes, the picture has changed drastically since the nineteenth century, as far as parent-child relations are concerned. Children are no longer afraid of their parents. They are companions, if anybody feels slightly uneasy, it is not the child but the parents who fear not being up-to-date. In industry as well as in the army, there is a spirit of ‘team work’ and equality which would have seemed unbelievable fifty years ago. In addition to all that, sexual repression has diminished to a remarkable degree; after the First World War, a sexual revolution took place in which old inhibitions and principles were thrown overboard. The idea of not satisfying a sexual wish was supposed to be old-fashioned or unhealthy. Even though there was a certain reaction against this attitude, on the whole the nineteenth-century system of tabus and repressions has almost disappeared.”

Happy children, happy GI’s in a standing army that would have seemed unbelievable fifty years ago, and happy youth in sexually free America!

In his use of the “negative” and the “positive,” Fromm resembles the petty-bourgeois utopian Proudhon, whom he quotes approvingly along with Leon Blum and Adlai Stevenson. Like Proudhon he wants to save the positive while discarding the negative. Not even Marx is exempt from his negative-positive approach. Fromm rejects the findings of the mature Marx, by and large, but finds much food for thought in his youthful writings where the influence of Hegel and Feuerbach is most marked.

Strangely enough, Fromm does not mention Feuerbach; yet he appears to owe much to this philosopher. Fromm’s central idea – to retain the alleged values of religion by putting man in place of God and by stressing love – was one of Feuerbach’s main themes. Fromm’s construction of an abstract normal man is likewise in the Feuerbachian tradition. Feuerbach, as the link between Hegelianism and dialectical materialism, played a role of decisive importance. To advance his platform today, however, is anything but progressive.

In the case of the Soviet Union, Fromm finds little that is positive. The remarkable achievements due to planned economy despite Stalin’s role are brushed aside, since he views Stalinism as a consequence of the integration, of economy and the introduction of planning on a nationwide scale. (Big economic units lead to bad consequences because they don’t fit human nature.) He correctly sees Stalinism as having much in common with fascism, but, in accordance with Social Democratic dogma to which he adheres, he sees Leninism as the source of Stalinism. The ultimate origin of Stalinism is found, he thinks, in Marxism.

Trotsky’s powerful refutation of this superficial view and his equally powerful defense of the progressive meaning of the Soviet Union’s planned economy apparently do not exist for this disciple of the utopian cobweb spinners of pre-1848 vintage.

Straightening Out Marx

Consideration of Fromm’s criticism of Marx will enable us to better appreciate how decisively his method affects his conclusions. According to Fromm, Marx “did not recognize the irrational forces in man which make him afraid of freedom, and which produce his lust for power and his destructiveness. On the contrary, underlying his concept of man was the implicit assumption of man’s natural goodness, which would assert itself as soon as the crippling economic shackles were released.” This led to three “dangerous errors in Marx’s thinking.”

First of all, Marx neglected “the moral factor in man.” (Fromm’s emphasis.) Marx “did not see that a better society could not be brought into life by people who had not undergone a moral change within themselves.” The second error “was Marx’s grotesque misjudgment of the chances for the realization of Socialism.” Third, “was Marx’s concept that the socialization of the means of production was not only the necessary, but also the sufficient condition for the transformation of the capitalist into a socialist co-operative society.” (Fromm’s emphasis.) Contributing to this error was Marx’s “overevaluation of political and economic arrangements ... He was curiously unrealistic in ignoring the fact that it makes very little difference to the personality of the worker whether the enterprise is owned by the ‘people’ – the State – a Government bureaucracy, or by the private bureaucracy hired by the stockholders.”

Fromm evidently drew these deductions by setting up his own abstractions about man and society as the criterions by which to measure what he considered Marx’s views to be. Naturally, measured by Fromm’s criterions, Marx turns out to be all wrong about both human nature and the society that should be tailored to fit it. Suppose, however, we refuse to accept Fromm’s criterions as scientific?

Despite his sensitivity on the subject of authoritarianism, Fromm’s criterions, by a curious dialectic, are based on authority. His main authorities are the traditional figures of the leading world religions, particulairliy those in “the Judaeo-Christian tradition.”

Fromm states specifically:

“We do not need new ideals or new spiritual goals. The great teachers of the human race have postulated the norms for sane living.”

“And then again about five hundred years before Christ in the great religious systems of India, Greece, Palestine, Persia and China, the idea of the unity of mankind and off a unifying spiritual principle underlying all reality assumed new and more developed expressions. Lao-tse, Buddha, Isajah, Heraclitus and, Socrates, and later, on Palestinian soil, Jesus, and the Apostles, on American soil, Quetzalcoatl, and later again, on Arabian soil, Mohammed, taught the ideas of the unity of man, of reason, love and justice as the goals man must strive for.”

Fromm’s concepts of human nature and the ideal society are drawn from such authorities plus the Utopians who preceded Marx. While accepting without question Jesus and the Apostles and other saintly authorities a half millenium before them, he rejects some of the findings that Freud considered basic, particularly the importance of sex as a fundamental human drive. Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, you see, only reflected in his limited way the Victorian cast of the late nineteenth-century before capitalist America became sexually free.

Marx’s Criterion

Marx began with the idealist approach developed by Hegel. As his thought matured, however, Marx came to the question what is the material origin of the idealist concepts? He could not escape the materialist answer, they have a class origin and they reflect class interests. Forced to reject the mystical absolutes of idealism, Marx had to search for am objective basic criterion by which to measure society. He found this in the development of the productive forces; that is, technology and the organization of labor.

Utilizing this criterion, let us now retrace our ground to see what answers we get through its help to the questions raised by Fromm. First of all, how shall we tell a sane society from an insane one? If a society advances the development of the productive forces, it is sane. If it does not, it is insane. The simplicity and obviousness of this way of approaching the problem should not mislead us as to its efficacy. It enables us to measure objectively the sanity or insanity of stages of a given society. It even provides us with the means for answering the crucial question, a question that scarcely occurs to the idealist, what is the material origin of the forms of society? Forms of society become outmoded When they no longer advance the development of the productive forces. Forms of society that open up new possibilities move from potentiality toward actuality. This, we note, is an alternative way of asking about the rationality or irrationality of the forms.

Putting Fromm’s blueprint for an ideal society to the test, we observe that breaking up today’s colossal productive forces into tight little commodity-producing islands would take us back to the level of the 1840’s if not a half millenium before Jesus and the Apostles. The blueprint, if carried out an life, would therefore give us not a sane but an insane society. Our criterion, however, reveals even more. Since it would take us backward instead of forward, the odds for its becoming actual equal zero. That is why, from the scientific viewpoint, we have no choice other than to classify the blueprint as utopian in addition to its being reactionary.

Let us take a more serious example – the capitalist society we live in. First of all we must observe the specification of the criterion that we take the society as it actually is; that is, as a world-wide system. Capitalism is much more than capitalism in the United States, Here our method safeguards us from Fromm’s gross error of making a chiropractic diagnosis of the negative and positive status of the American spinal column of the organism while overlooking the gangrene in the colonial extremities.

In its first stages, capitalism was highly rational, for it developed the productive forces as no other society before it. This is an objective fact that must be recognized no matter what one might think about the real attitude of this society toward “the unity of man, of reason, love and justice.” Today, however, application of Marx’s criterion yields a different result. Capitalism has become such a brake on the productive forces that it is turning them into their opposite – forces threatening to destroy civilization and even mankind itself. Could a society be more insane? Our conclusion is thus much the same as the one reached by Fromm on psychological grounds but the consistent ly materialist judgment is far more severe and sweeping.

What kind of society will replace the irrational one we live in? Certainly not one envisaged in some dusty scheme patented in the dlays of the horse and buggy or handed down from the still more remote times of the ox cart. All the evidence shows that it will be a society based on planned economy. Planning in the Soviet Union has demonstrated in life what steep increases in the rate of development off the productive forces is possible under this system. What is noteworthy, however, is that capitalism itself is preparing all the requisites for planned economy. This is the long-range meaning of the giant enterprises we see appearing throughout the capitalist structure. Marx’s criterion permits us to recognize the signs of the actual inherent evolution of capitalism toward a higher order.

We are now in position to see why Marx considered that the socialization of the means of production was the necessary and sufficient condition for the transformation of capitalist into a socialist co-operative society. This applies to capitalism as a world system. Does it take much perspicacity to see – once world socialism has demonstrated its superiority in developing the productive forces – that all possibility of a return to capitalism will be excluded?

Fromm’s criticism of Marx as to the inadequacy of socialization of the means of production is not based on Marx’s position but on acceptance of the Stalinist lie that socialism has been established in the Soviet Union. It was, of course, quite natural for Fromm to grant this completely unwarranted concession to Stalinism, because his own method permits him to visualize model samples of societies like swatches from big bolts of cloth. In fact Fromm goes the Stalinists one better. They claimed that it was possible to set up socialism in one country. Fromm believes it can be set up in one work shop. But socialism, as the outgrowth of capitalism, is a worldwide system. The difficulties in the Soviet Union do not prove that socialization of the means of production is inadequate to change human nature and that therefore moral persuasion must do the job. The difficulties in tlhe Soviet Union follow from the fact that world capitalism has not yet been transcended. What is really inadequate is the extent of the socialization of the means of production.

Marx’s basic criterion enables us to give a materialist explanation for what to Fromm is most important, “the moral factor in man.” Definite forms of society have in turn advanced and then retarded the development of the productive forces. The forms consist of classes based on particular modes of organizing economic production and distribution. The classes in turn give specific content to sum abstract concepts as “justice,” “love,” “reason,” and “the unity of man.” The content is progressive or reactionary depending on whether it advances or retards the development of the productive forces. The so-called moral “factor” is thus relative, not absolute.

In the rise of capitalism, justice and reason were with the struggle to overcome and reiplace the outmoded forms of feudalism. The class war was projected on to the moral, religious and philosophical plane. Fierce battles were waged on the printed page and speakers’ rostrum; but that more than words was involved is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the issues were finally decided in civil war. The history of America can offer some evidence as to this. The morals of capitalism displaced the morals of feudalism or slavery. The bourgeois ideologues thought that the success of the new views was due to their consonance with human nature, but they were simply in consonance with the basic task of increasing productivity.

Today capitalist morals have become obscene. Witness the efforts to save the Francos, Rhees and Chiangs as part of the reactionary struggle to prevent the rise of a superior system. The workers on the other hand, although, originating in capitalist society, are developing a new morality in opposition to the outmoded capitalist morality. Love for one’s fellow man, the concept of the unity of man, gain a new content – international working-class solidarity.

To think that Marx neglected the moral reflection of the class struggle is simply not to understand Marx at all. Far him the highest moral obligation was to join in the struggle for working-class emancipation. His whole life was living proof of how seriously he took “the moral factor.”

As for the criticism that Marx made a “grotesque misjudgment of the chances for the realization of Socialism,” we can only express appreciation for this authoritative judgment firm a modern Don Quixote as he sets out to win an erring world back to the values of chivalry.

* * *

The question of the relation between human nature and the development of the productive forces still remains to be discussed. Here it will prove fruitful to bring in Herbert Marcuse’s book Eros and Civilization.

Marcuse does not explicitly define his attitude toward Marx’s outlook in this book. However, in his previous work, Reason and Revolution, where he traces the conversion of Hegel’s idealist dialectic into Marx’s dialectical materialism, there can be no doubt about his favorable appreciation of Marx in, basic essentials. (See especially the sections Marx: Alienated Labor, The Abolition of Labor, The Analysis of the Labor Process, and The Marxian Dialectic.) There is nothing in Eros and Civilization that would indicate a change in his position; in fact, the book appears to be an attempt to apply and extend it in a critique of the fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis.

In his opinion psychological problems have turned into political problems: “private disorder reflects more directly than before the disorder of the whole, and the cure of personal disorder depends more directly than before on the cure of the general disorder.” It is wrong, he thinks, to try to apply psychology in the analysis of social and political events.

“The task is rather the opposite: to develop the political and sociological substance of the psychological notions.”

Freud’s Contradiction

From the start it is thus clear that Marcuse’s approach is the apposite of Fromm’s who seeks to measure society by psychological notions. Marcuse begins with the fundamental contradiction in psychoanalytic theory:

“The concept of mam that emerges from Freudian theory is the most irrefutable indictment of Western civilization – and at the same time the most unshakable defense of this civilization.”

The indictment is that this civilization requires man to sacrifice his happiness.

“According to Freud, the history of man is the history of his repression. Culture constrains not only his societal but also his biological existence, not only parts of the human being but has instinctual structure itself.”

The defense is that without the repression and the constraints civilization would be impossible.

This contradiction deeply disturbed Freud. He recognized man’s claim to freedom and happiness and even asked if civilization were worth the sacrifice. Yet he felt forced to defend civilization. This was the source of the pessimism observable in his writings.

The problem then is to determine whether this contradiction can be resolved or whether it must forever remain an antinomy incapable of being transcended. Marcuse thinks it can be resolved and that Freud’s own basic concepts help point the way out.

It was a mistake on Freud’s part, he contends, to identify civilization with the thousands of years of class society that produced it. Class divisions were a consequence of scarcity even though they made possible an increase in productivity. Granting that slavery in one form or other was historically necessary, nevertheless the ruling class has always had a vested interest in maintaining its exploitation. To the repression of the toiler required by slavery was added “surplus-repression” to maintain the exploitative rule.

However, are we required to assume that scarcity must endure forever? On the contrary, the development of technology and the productivity of labor have become such that it is now possible to relegate scarcity to the past. Humanity now has the possibility of developing civilization on the basis of an economy of abundance. What are the prospects for happiness in this new social order? What will be the fate of repression? What will happen to human nature?

Our search for answers to these questions must begin, Marcuse holds, with the basic insights provided by Freud which have been rejected by the revisionists of the Fromm-Homey-Sullivan school. These are the profound and decisive significance of sexuality and its intimate relation to a so-called “death instinct” (destruction or aggression impulses). (Freud’s concept of sex, for those unfamiliar with his writings, is much broader than the meaning usually associated with the term – it means a basic drive that can have any number of derivative manifestations.) Freud held that these drives are lodged in the biology of the human animal.

Form and Content

Marcuse grants that this is a universal truth. But what about the particular forms the instincts take? Is this a question of just biology, affected only by changes in geology? No, says Marcuse. Man lives in society; and the forms of society determine the forms in which his instincts become manifest. Since form and content, however, are interconnected, the form must inevitably affect the content in a most profound way. To use an analogy of our own, the form of bound feet will completely alter a person’s capacity to walk; hobbling will prove more “natural” than running.

If we now look at Freud’s concepts with this consideration in mind a surprising conclusion is forced upon us. Freud’s concepts of psychological forms express a social content. The death instinct, for example, manifests the destructive drives of class society. The important thing to note is the profundity with which the social content becomes rooted in the human psyche by shaping the biological instincts. Freud was correct in estimating the depth of the anchoring but erred in not taking into account the strictly historical influence of society in the vicissitudes of the instincts.

From this it follows that America has not undergone a sexual revolution as Fromm contends. Such a deep-going revolution has not taken place anywhere in capitalist society. Had it occurred a spectacular decline in neuroses and psychoses would have been evident in the new generations reared without repressive binding of the instinct. Marcuse does not take this point up, but very likely he would agree that what we do see are increasing signs of the strain on the monogamic form of the family and perhaps widespread anticipations of its break-up. But that’s not the same as freedom from repression. Freedom won’t come until the new social order appears with whatever will be its form of the family.

If this view of society’s profound shaping of the instincts is correct, as Marcuse believes it is, then Freud’s basic concepts constitute an “irrefutable indictment” of the existing social order. Uneasiness over this indictment is one of the compelling motives for the revisionist abandonment of Freud’s conclusions.

Moreover, if this view is correct, optimistic conclusions follow about what will happen to human nature in a rational society of abundance.

Marx’s View of Labor

In developing this theme, Marcuse relies mainly on Marx’s concept of alienated labor, basing himself, it is evident, on his presentation in Reason and Revolution. (This presentation is much closer to Marx’s view than the one given by Fromm in The Sane Society.) Marx held that work is the normal activity of the human being. Man expresses himself in the labor product, sees and finds himself in it. By changing nature, man has changed his own nature; that is, he became and developed as human.

Class society, however, negates this norm; the producers are alienated from the labor product. The slaveholder, lord or capitalist does the planning and the directing and the product is his. This alienation reaches its culmination in capitalist society where, as proletarian, man is converted into an adjunct of the machine and utterly divorced from the labor product. Moreover, the labor product, an expression of definite economic relations, becomes a strange thing, with seemingly independent powers, ruling man like the fetish of savages or the gods of primitive religions and the Judaeo-Christian tradition. So far as the capitalist labor process is concerned, the proletarian is the negation of a human being. Consequently work becomes tool, animal-like drudgery, and pleasure is put outside the labor process to what is not specifically human – the animal functions.

That is why Marx considered that human history will not truly begin, until this negation has been transcended and the labor process converted into the opposite of what it is under capitalism. Through conscious planning man will master his own social relations and, through this, master the labor product so that it no longer stands against him as an alien power but instead becomes a means through which he may rationally shape himself. According to this, work should become a pleasure, a source of deepest satisfaction, the process through which civilization achieves full flower and man enters his own as a fully developed human.

Marcuse seeks points of support for this view in Freudian theory. Sublimation, he thinks, shows in theory that work can acquire the pleasurable quality of play. The aggressive impulses, too, can be successfully teamed up with work. And in any case a free society of abundance will provide far more room for unrepressed sexuality with its pleasures than we can easily visualize.

Whatever we may think about Marcuse’s speculations concerning human nature in the vast future that will open up to mankind under socialism, it must be admitted that he has powerful logical support. He accounts for the universal side of human instincts as grounded in biology and for the particular forms they assume in relation to the development of society. Moreover, he sees the forms as a dialectical progression – the first shaping of the human being through work, then the negation in class society, and finally the overcoming of the negation in a social order of abundance. He thus ties the forming of human nature to the basic criterion of Marxism, the development of the productive forces. In addition he links his views with Freud’s concepts, yet resolves the basic contradiction in Freud’s theory.

It should also be pointed out that Freud’s concept of the role of fantasy, which is also a kind of knowledge as Marcuse insists, fits in with this outlook. The memory of a happy time in the distant past, whether of the history of the species or of the individual, fuses with the vision of a future that must be happier than this foul and tragic time in the death agony of capitalism.

Let us say what Marcuse fails to say. This side of the mind escapes the repression imposed on the individual. In the artist it finds one kind of language; in the mathematician or scientific theoretician another; but creative imagination is not confined to these specialized types. The workers too have this gift. And that is why when an economic order becomes irrational, although it destroys many people and warps most, it cannot blot out the capacity to conceive a better organization of society on the basis of what has already developed.

In fact the repression itself impels the mind, in search of pleasure or at least escape from pain, to turn away from the present world. In this primitive manner the mind seeks to negate the inhuman quality of reality. To many this ends in daydreaming, delusion, and perhaps worse. From this stems the construction of utopias and the opium-like dreams of a beatific life in the hereafter. To some, however, the imagination yields new concepts that point to changing reality for the better. These concepts give direction to the chaotic pressure of rebellion and therefore begin to concentrate the elemental mass force against the weak points in the given organization of society. No matter how the ruling class exerts “surplus-repression,” a time finally comes when the will of the masses can no longer be contained. The slave arises and takes his destiny in his own hands. Anyone seriously interested in the study of revolutions will find this to be a fact in the history of the most diverse kinds of economy.

But here we have come to another science – Marxism. In the consciousness of its vanguard, the proletariat has long passed the stage of mere revolutionary fantasy, the construction of utopias. The proletariat is not limited to elemental upthrusts that grind forward without a correct guiding theory. Of all the revolutionary classes in history it is the first to have a tested body of scientific knowledge and political experience in advance of its own revolution.

In Marxism is summed the heritage of all the rebellion of the lowly and oppressed, since class society began. If the proletariat finds its economic position to be an utter negation of what is human, its theory on the other band by subjecting capitalism to scientific criticism has already established the bridge to the new order where truly human civilization begins. That should be sufficient guarantee that its road to success will prove far shorter and less costly than the one travelled by the bourgeoisie from feudal society.

* * *

Marcuse’s book is not, like Fromm’s, written for popular consumption. It assumes on the reader’s part some acquaintance with philosophy and considerable familiarity with psychoanalytic literature. Those interested in the questions raised by Fromm will, however, find Marcuses’s final chapter, at least, well worth while. It is a quite readable criticism of neo-Freudian revisionism.

This school, Marcuse feels, has dumped overboard some of Freud’s most fruitful insights. The criticisms of society levelled by Fromm and the others, while at times pointed, are really superficial, tending to be grounded in “idealistic ethics” of one variety or other. Thus the school is eclectic in theory. Their general framework of thought is acceptance of the status quo. Instead of “‘curing’ the patient to become a rebel,” their “therapy is a course in resignation.”

Marcuse himself offers no specific political! road leading toward the future society of abundance. He contents himself with indicating the unfavorable political tendencies of the various wings of the psychoanalytic movement. On the other hand, he offers no blueprint utopia, and that is decidedly in his favor after the bad taste left by Fromm’s “sane” society.


Last updated on: 23.2.2006