By Lucretia Packham
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Refreshing on Freud

This article is over 6 years, 3 months old
Issue 406

It was refreshing to read Susan Rosenthal’s article about Freud (July/August SR). To have Freudian theories placed squarely in a context of capitalist ideology is illuminating.

It was not surprising that Socialist Review carried a follow-up article by Sabby Sagall (September).

While I would agree that it is important not to throw out the baby with the bath water, it is equally important to be clear exactly what constitutes the baby and what the bath water.

Sagall’s article attempts to differentiate these aspects of Freudian theory somewhat unsuccessfully.

For instance he asks, “Why did a majority of the Russian workers come to support the Bolsheviks whereas in Germany they remained with the Social Democrats, even after the splits?” This comparison of two very different societies highlights confusion regarding the social context of Freud’s theories.

Sagall’s suggestion that theories of subjective consciousness could only emerge out of 19th century psychology is a sweeping statement and I would question his assertion that Freud really needed, in order to develop the idea of psychic reality, “his discovery of the sexual fantasies infants have about their parents”.

In view of Rosenthal’s article, these examples appear closer to bath water than baby.

If we are looking for nuggets of value in the work of Freud, it would be more useful to consider the idea of “anxiety defence mechanisms”. Mechanisms such as regression, denial, projection and so on, can be situated within the framework of worker alienation in capitalist society.

Many behaviours consistent with Freud’s anxiety defence mechanisms are characteristic of what Marx called “the muck of ages”.

Beginning to organise and campaign in solidarity with comrades starts to eradicate anxiety, lessen a sense of alienation and diminish a need for expensive psychoanalysis which is unobtainable on what is left of our NHS.


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