By Michael Rosen
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Freud debate welcome

This article is over 6 years, 6 months old
Issue 407

May I welcome the fact that SR has begun a discussion about Freud on its pages? It’s not often that you can find a discussion of psychology, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis on the pages of a Marxist periodical. Can I offer some thoughts by way of contributing to the discussion?

1. A Marxist approach to Freud’s ideas would usually consider them in their historical context, spelling out where and how any of them are applicable in the present, beyond the time, place and class of their birth and development.

2. It is possible and useful to put some space between Freud’s descriptions of human development and the practice of psychoanalysis. Though one was dependent on the other for Freud, our views of these need not be so interdependent. In the here and now, we can consider each separate from the other.

3. As others have pointed out, there are many varied schools of thinkers and practitioners who derive at least some of their thoughts and practice from Freud, including some who would describe themselves as Marxists. These are just as worthy of discussion.

4. If Marxists find Freud’s or post-Freudians’ ideas or practice unsatisfactory, we should try to offer alternatives. This is because we are all enmeshed in questions of nurture, mental health and the progress of our relationships, and sometimes these cause us or those nearest us immense pain.

What’s more, much of this directly involves institutions (families, schools, hospitals, prisons, etc) concerned with the construction, control and modification of “behaviour”. We need relevant, accurate critiques of these. These institutions relate to how capitalism positions us but how exactly does it work its way through to the institutions and to us?

5. At the heart of this discussion is a key piece of ideology: the “individual”. One of the pillars that sustains capitalism is the notion that we are “individuals” who are all able to win, succeed, become rich or, in its more benign form, “you should be true to yourself”.

In fact, everything about us is social. Freud came up with a model of how to express this through his notion of a super-ego, ego and id.
To repeat myself, if we think this doesn’t work, we should come up with an alternative.

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