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International Socialism, January 1975


Tirril Harris

Marx and Freud


From International Socialism, No.74, January 1975, pp.30-31.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Marx, Freud, and the Critique of Everyday Life: Toward a Permanent Cultural Revolution
Bruce Brown
Monthly Review Press, £3.35

Freud: The Theory of the Unconscious
Octave Mannoni
New Left Books, £2.25

WHAT is the relationship between personal emancipation and political liberation? How helpful is an understanding of personality development for those engaged in the struggle to transform society? What is the ‘human nature’ which conservatives claim will finally prove that socialism is Utopian? Do people have instincts, and if so what are they and how much do they interfere with or promote freedom? How much is aggression innate and how much a reaction to the unnecessary frustrations of the current social structure? Can one learn from psychological theories about individuals how best to organise a party which will not only bring about revolution but also maintain socialism afterwards in the face of counter-revolution?

These questions are too important to be confined to a play area for New Left humanists. It is sad therefore that Bruce Brown’s serious attempt to answer them by examining the theories of Marx, Freud and the Freudo-Marxists should not be satisfactory. A number of famous names, Reich, Marcuse, Habermas, Enzenberger and Lefebvre have discussed these topics in unnecessarily complex terminology; and though it is useful to have his expositions of their views it is clear that he cannot extricate his thoughts from the tortuous styles of his subjects. (In fact the Freudo-Marxist with the most lucid account of these problems is Eric Fromm whom Brown hardly mentions.) The result is that even his own original contributions tend to get lost in the catacombs of his echoing verbiage - a pity since some are important: especially his discussions of the dangers of ‘top-down directives’ in the party, and of the fragmentation of the issues of struggle (Blacks, women, students). Less satisfactory are his proposals as to the agents of this ‘totalised cultural revolution’ which sound more like therapy groups than party cells, since their aim is to ‘facilitate self-formation and provide a medium for the accumulation of new types of inter-subjective experience’. Though he talks of the struggle he is not specific about the activity involved, though he does devote some pages to the idea of liberating language, ‘an insurrectional seizure of the power of the word’. One can only hope that the liberated language will be more comprehensible than his own.

By contrast Mannoni’s is an elegant, if somewhat elliptical, style, though completely lacking the explicit political or cultural revolutionary content which one expects from a New Left Books publication. The book is basically a rather slight account of the development of Freud’s thought, with a large number of intriguing asides which can only be unsatisfactory unless further developed. His own line of thought clearly owes much to the French analyst Lacan, but once again is never presented in any substance. On the rare occasions when he discusses more social topics his belief in the innate ‘invincible death drive’ makes him anti-revolutionary: ‘Freud approved of the efforts of socialists (though he tended to think of them as Utopians); but they cannot correct what is most important ... the more we move away from aggressive impulses, the more the latter pass into the service of the superego which is thus better armed to torture us.’ Which being interpreted means that if the class struggle is removed by socialism it will be replaced by a worse struggle within each man’s soul, for the unchangeable quotum of aggression in human nature will turn inwards so that people will be tortured by their own consciences. Far from answering the questions of importance in this area he thus raises a whole stream of others about the relationship between ideology, conscience and social structure: a savoury for psychoanalytic gourmets not a serious meal for political philosophers.

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