Marx and/or Freud?
I found the articles and discussion in the January and February issues on ads, capitalist art, psychology and Amos’s letter interesting; indeed one can make a synthesis of all this, which I would like to try and do, basing my discussion on Amos’s confused critique.
Your reply (Letters, January) was one way of answering him: socialism will be able to expand production of useful things in an ecologically defensive manner. There is another approach, and that is to point out how we see socialism being established. We have always stressed the need for majority, working class political action, based on understanding of and desire for socialism.
Capitalism shapes our needs through ads–you are what you own! Socialist society will certainly not be one of massive consumption since we will develop a new ethos; ideas become material forces when they lay hold of the masses, I believe Marx noted. Amos is judging consumption in socialist society through the eyes of a pro-capitalist when he says that everyone should, or would, be on a par with Western workers. Whoever said the lifestyle of Western workers is desirable? Also we certainly agree with Marx’s idea that humans make their own history, but only within the realms of what is materially possible. This is historical materialism, not utopian thinking of post-modernist idealism.
Seen in this light Amos’s view that social democratic parties are the best bet against fascism and barbarism is ludicrous. Concepts like fascism and democracy do not exist in vacuo. Democracy can only be safeguarded and expanded with the growth of socialist consciousness. That is the lesson Germany 1933-45.
That period does, though, raise troubling questions for Marxists. Class consciousness does not arise entirely spontaneously, it would seem. Some irrational factor is at work. Wilhelm Reich saw this as a result of sexual repression and the patriarchal family structure. Reich, however, was an unrepentant Leninist, and if his theory has any credibility it must be applicable to the truly fascist period of Stalinism as well.
A more credible approach is that taken by Erich Fromm (even though he made the mistake of equating nationalisation with socialism). Fromm is a good antidote to the idealist, psychological nonsense being peddled now, despite his works being some 30-50 years old. He took the concept of alienation, to be found in Marx’s philosophical worldview, and attempted to give it a Freudo-style twist. His Fear of Freedom, The Sane Society, and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness are great books.
Homo sapiens is not in control of the products of sinew and brain, relations to each other, has lost himself and his connection to nature. (It is also factually incorrect of Amos to state Marx wasn’t green—he was, and he need only read Marx to find out.) The impersonal forces can leave the individual truly crushed; open to neurosis and inclined to let someone else solve problems. Only by establishing democratic structures and common ownership (socialism) can the individual and society progress. In this respect can Reich’s idea of human emancipation (necessarily involving sexual emancipation) be defensible.
Capitalism creates the material grounding for socialism, but a society of alienated people. The dialectic, socialisation of production but not in society’s interest, will be solved in socialist revolution. As will be the dialectic of mind: rationality and irrationality. This concept answers those who wonder about anti-social behaviour in socialist society; it will regress.
I realise Freudo-Marxism isn’t held as being tenable by fellow comrades, so it is prudent you comment on it.
Yours for a sane society
GC TAYLOR, Brabrand, Denmark
Reply: It is true that we are Marxians rather than Freudians, historical materialists rather than believers in psychoanalysis. Freud himself of course was not a socialist, but in fact embraced the “human nature objection” in an extreme form. He was a pessimist who believed that without morality and government to channel human sexual energies constructively utter chaos would result. To their credit, some of his followers—Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm—did not go along with him on this and modified his theory to make the existence of a free, socialist society compatible with the Freudian view of human nature.
Reich’s The Sexual Revolution, written in the 1930s, has always been popular because it advocates a more relaxed attitude to sex—which Socialists share—but this message can be accepted without accepting the particular theory Reich put forward to justify it (which was very dubious and eventually led him to claim to have identified and to be able to measure “sexual energy” or “orgone” as he called it). Incidentally, although Reich was a member of the German Communist Party when he wrote it, he was soon expelled, partly because of it. In one of his later works, the pamphlet Listen, Little Man! he uses the term “state capitalism” in relation to Russia.
Marcuse’s Eros and Civilzation, like all his writings, is heavy going but his argument that abundance meant that sexual repression was no longer necessary found an echo amongst some socialists when it appeared in 1955.
You’re probably right about Fromm being the best of them, no doubt because (to the annoyance of the orthodox Freudians and even of Marcuse) he abandoned Freud’s explanations in terms of individual biology for social ones. The books of his you mention have always been popular amongst Socialist Party members—Editors.
In the article, “Chatham House and spies” (Socialist Standard, December 2000), I stated that the Security Service (MI5) has monitored, and heavily infiltrated Trotskyist organisations in this country, since 1943. In fact, the government’s Security Executive under the chairmanship of Viscount Swinton, using information obtained from MI5, reported under the heading of “subversive activities” on the British Union of Fascists, the Communist Party, pacifist and conscientious objectors; organisations, as well as Trotskyists, as early as 1941 (PRO: FO 371 32583).
In particular, the Security Executive considered the activities of Trotskyists in Britain, and concluded that nothing should be done to lessen their embarrassment to the Communist Party (PRO: FO 371 344 34416), and (PRO: FO 371 29523). Three years later, when the Trotskyists formed the Revolutionary Communist Party, Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, submitted a memorandum to the War Cabinet, in which he concluded that the Trotskyists had had little success in penetrating the Trade Unions. Among the leaders named was Ted Grant, the future leader of Militant Tendency, later ousted by the present leader, Peter Taaffe.
PETER E NEWELL, Colchester, Essex