Peter Sedgwick

Hash Rehashed

(Autumn 1966)

Peter Sedgwick, Hash Rehashed, International Socialism (1st series), No.26, Autumn 1966, p.35. (review)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Marxism and Psychoanalysis
Reuben Osborn
Barrie & Rockcliff 21s.

This is a revised edition of the author’s Freud and Marx (Gollancz 1937). The first edition provoked in reply one of the best short books on Freud, Francis Bartlett’s Sigmund Freud. Bartlett (who has also recently published a withering Marxist attack on Pavlov) quite rightly emphasised the irreconcilability of Freud’s thought with a socialist standpoint, and pointed out the culture-determined and speculative character of much of its content.

The new edition of Osborn is the same mechanical amalgam of odds and ends from Freud with the Hegelian ‘dialectical categories’: repression is an instance of quantity-into-quality, for instance. Osborn is totally uncritical of Morgan’s and Freud’s reconstructions of ancient societies, even accepting Freud’s myth of the slaying of the primal father by the sons of the original horde. There are starry-eyed references to questionable psychological systems such as ‘motivational research’ and Eysenck’s psychology of politics. Osborn’s exegesis of Marxism has some useful popularisation, but it seems that ‘Freudo-Marxism’ (Osborn’s coinage) is to be welcomed because both Freud and Marx treated consciousness in terms of social causality. Unfortunately that is about all they have iii common: in any case the concept of the unconscious as a province of the psyche is an unnecessary one in the discussion of human irrationality.

Most curious of all, Osborn refers us to his The Psychology of Reaction (1938) in support of his view that a better acquaintance with Freud would have alerted Marxists to the dangers of Stalin’s personality. The late John Strachey, in his introduction to the present edition, looks back to his original preface to Freud and Marx (reprinted here in full) and feels glad to be reminded too that he was a premature Freudo-Marxist in the Thirties. Like Osborn, he blames the vices of Stalinism partly on the failure of Marxists to learn from Freud.

While one may agree that psychological naivete has been all too common on the Left, the relevant areas of psychology for socialists are not particularly Freudian. Attention to common-sense observation about the dangers of fanaticism, the dynamics of in-groups and committees, and the strategies and sources of rationalisation are a more powerful antidote to degeneracy than speculation drawn from the dreams of emotionally disturbed people. In any case, as Brian Pearce reported in a study of British Stalinism in the old Labour Review, Osborn’s The Psychology of Reaction actually ‘tried to identify fascism and Trotskyism psychologically (“A knowledge of the psychology of fascist leaders is at the same time a knowledge of the psychology of the Trotskyists”) and this was reviewed enthusiastically by John Strachey’ who ‘offered as his own view that “Trotskyists” were recruited mainly from “insufficiently sensitive,” “inhuman” types.’

It seems that this is another case of Freudian error.

Peter Sedgwick


Last updated on 21.12.2007