Book Review: Psychology and Socialism
A reader has asked us to give our views on “Psychoanalysis and Sociology,” by Aurel Kolnai, translated by Eden and Cedar Paul, and published in 1921 by George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. It was an attempt to use psychoanalysis to throw light on the part played by society in shaping the individual. The translation is in a style which often makes it exceedingly difficult to understand what the author is driving at, and there is abundant evidence to show that he was quite unfitted to pursue this study, or in fact any study requiring logical argument backed up by knowledge and evidence.
This may be illustrated from his chapter on “Marxism as a Social Psychosis.” He says (p. 157) that “Marx espoused the Hegelian dialectic with great energy, merely replacing spirit in that system by economics, conceived as autonomous independent, mystically operative ” (italics ours).
What exactly the italicised passage means it is hard to say, but it is certain that Marx himself did not conceive his theories in any such light. The view expressed must therefore be entirely Kolnai’s own, but not one word of justification or explanation does he offer. This is typical of the whole book—an uninterrupted flow of obscurely worded assumptions linked together by the slenderest thread of connections.
Aurel Kolnai says that Marxists show all the signs of paranoia (p. 159), “a form of insanity, characterised by systematic delusions.” All the evidence he offers is contained in two statements; first, that Marxian theories ”suffice to arouse a suspicion ” that they have not a rational basis, and, second, that Marxism ”vividly recalls ” the idea of Christ the Saviour.
But these two assertions do not tell us anything about Marxism and Marxians. What “suffices” for Aurel Kolnai would not suffice for most people; and when he says that Marxism vividly recalls Jesus Christ to him, that only tells us something about Kolnai, about his trend of thought and about his inadequate ideas concerning proof.
And having so easily “proved” that Marxism is paranoia, he just as easily shifts his ground and allows that it is not “ simply a case of paranoia ” (p. 161). He even admits (p. 164) that the conditions under which the workers live may be a “contributory” cause towards moulding their ideas.
It is a pity that Aurel Kolnai did not follow up this one fruitful line of inquiry. If he had done so, he would have discovered that the private ownership, by the Capitalist class, of society’s means of life is not a “systematic delusion,” but a hard fact. It is the determining factor in shaping the worker’s ideas, because it governs the material conditions of his life.