Socialism and Radical Psychoanalysis

Posted on December 12, 2011 by


With the Capitalist Totalitarian Death-States murdering with impunity all over the planet, destroying our environment and our very biological existence, can we who are carrying on the rich legacy of Marxism find a way forward?  This is the fundamental question no matter what political current you are working with.

The class struggle is not only material, it is spiritual-psychological.  The Capitalists are using the same kind of psychological warfare domestically that they use against foreign populations to demoralize them and prevent the masses from knowing the truth.  For example, high unemployment is used to devitalize and depress workers.  The other side of the same coin, sweatshop conditions for both white and blue collar workers, further destroys the psychological wellbeing of the people.  This places intolerable stress on the family, frequently resulting in alcoholism and child/spousal abuse.  In addition to these direct biophysical assaults, the advanced Capitalist States through their 24/7 media control have refined mass mind-control and rely on it to produce the passivity and acquiescence in the population necessary to continue its crimes and exploitation, both domestically and in foreign wars.

Marxists have historically been mistrustful of contemporary psychoanalysts and psychiatrists. [1]  This is because of the adjustment therapy prevalent since World War II that rationalizes the Capitalist exploitation and tries to make people compliantly find their place in the madness. [2]  This has not always been the case.   Radical psychoanalysts once existed who helped people overcome their social-psychological problems to see truth and become revolutionaries.  The attainment of health was signified by the release of revolutionary energies, and self-direction.  We need their knowledge today more than ever before.

Leon Trotsky zeroed in on the main problem facing revolutionaries: the cancer of counterrevolution within the revolution. [3]  This is the failure of the dialectic to throw off all repression and exploitation, continuing in an unbroken chain to freedom.  What has prevented the dialectic from negating the negation and becoming unchained?

Trotsky had dialogues with Marxist psychiatrists and sociologists Alfred Alder and Wilhelm Reich.  These pioneering radical therapists provided biopsychological methods to unchain the struggle for freedom from the internalized repression that 4000 years of class-exploitative civilization left in humanity.  As Herbert Marcuse put it, we have always suffered from the “return of the repressed,” in the historic form of counter-revolution, and in deformed post-revolutionary societies.

What have Adler and Reich to contribute to the revolution in permanence?

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) is best known for his concentration on the “inferiority complex” that produced neurotic symptoms in his patients.  The neurosis, as he defined it, was a reduced ability to function in the fields of love, work and knowledge.  It was anchored by the inhibited aggression produced by internalized class-based repression, and the separation of the worker from the means of production.  Adler extensively studied Marx, and he had a close friendship with Leon Trotsky (when Trotsky was in exile in Vienna).

Trotsky had taken over as editor of the exile newspaper Pravda.  He had on his staff a fellow exile journalist named Adolf Joffee (Joffee later became a key Bolshevik diplomat in the early Soviet revolutionary society).  Joffee became addicted to morphine, and, suffering from depression, sought treatment with Adler.  Dr. Adler cured him, and he thus spoke highly of this to Trotsky.  In this way Trotsky and Adler met and enjoyed a close personal friendship (they played chess together in a Viennese coffee house).  Adler had already read Marx n his student days. [4]

Adler gave a paper to Freud’s Group in Vienna on Marx.[5]  In it he pointed out that healthy aggression was released in the working class by suitable political organization.  This aggression had been repressed by the Capitalists in the interest of exploitation.  It could be released in the service of the higher civiliization that Marx analyzed as gestating in the womb of Capitalism.  I would further argue that this aggression was the unchained dialectic, realizing itself subjectively and objectively in the Notion of freedom.  Later on his in his life, Adler described it as going from a negative through to a positive (by the negation of the negation) in an evolving spiral of compensation building higher civilization.

Dr. Adler stated to the Psychoanalytic Society:

“While in neurosis the aggression instinct is inhibited, class consciousness liberates it.  Marx shows how [the aggression instinct] can be gratified in keeping with the meaning of civilization: by grasping the true causes of oppression and exploitation, and by suitable [political] organization….Marx’s entire work culminates in the demand to make history consciously.” [6]

Significantly, Adler’s first work was a book on the tailoring trade and the diseases that unhealthy work conditions brought to the tailors.  He originally set up medical practice in a poor working class district of Vienna.  Adler was always concerned with the social causation of disease.

Adler was also the pioneer in discovering a biological basis for socialism.  He started by finding that inferior organs could be compensated by other organs in the body, such as one kidney taking on the function of two.  Psychologically, a felt inferiority would be compensated by more intense bio-energetic movement; either in a constructive sense by removing the social cause of the inferiority, or in a destructive sense by turning the inferiority feelings against others to exploit or destroy (The fascists did this with the Jews, or the current right-wing extremists against Muslims.).

Alder noticed that inferiority feelings in workers, produced by class oppression and exploitation, could be compensated in an individual and group by social action in the class struggle.  This strengthened bio-psychological health in both the individual and the group.  He developed the concept of social feeling which was the highest expression of solidarity between workers in the dawning society.  It represented empathy and mutual aid.

He was a supporter of the post-war socialist government in Vienna.  His wife remained a supported of Leon Trotsky until the end of her life.  One of Adler’s daughters was an economist, and perished during the purges of Stalin in the Soviet Union.

Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was a very gifted student of Sigmund Freud.[7]  He joined the German Communist party in the 1920’s.   Reich broke with Freud over the biological origin of neurotic symptoms, arguing that repressed sexual energy fueled psychological disease.[8]  Freud at that time was promoting the death instinct and ego psychology.  Reich developed a therapy that freed the body/mind from repression and helped the bio-psychological energy to flow freely in work and in sexual orgasm.  The therapy involves direct work on hypertensive musculature combined with character analysis (the typical way individuals held themselves and projected or defended against bio-psychological energy).

This newly freed energy enabled a person to unchain the dialectic of freedom.  Where before they submitted passively to the exploitation of Capitalists, now they reacted immediately and fought back.  Reich discovered an inherent work democratic structure developed between freely associated labor without the necessity for vanguard parties or labor bureaucracies.  The parallel with the Soviets and the Paris Commune was strong.

Reich stated: “Every social order produces character forms which it needs for its preservation.”  He created a bio-therapy to release the masses from the cramped-contracted character structure needed by the class structure and division of labor, enabling people to function in a fully revolutionary way.

Dr. Reich worked with the Communist party and developed Sex-Pol, [9] a movement devoted to the sexual counseling of the masses (including abortion and full rights for women in all spheres).  The Stalinist functionaries dislike this and expelled him.  He argued that the party was not reaching the masses emotionally.  Instead, it provided dry economic analysis.  Hitler was to prove more successful with his mass psychology. (See Reich’s “Mass Psychology of Fascism.” [10]  He described the Soviet Union as a state capitalist society in this work.).

Reich found himself on Hitler’s death list, and all of his books were burned in Germany in the 1930’s (later to be repeated in the U.S. in the 1950’s).  He fled to Norway and joined the Norwegian Communist Party.  Later, he had a meeting with Leon Trotsky, also in exile in Norway at the time, and they discussed possible ways of uniting their anti-Stalinist struggles.

Ultimately, Reich felt that the creation of a new Marxist party or international (such as the still-born Fourth International), would not mobilize the masses and unchain the dialectic of freedom.  He felt the movement to freedom must come from the masses of people in their own lives, both individually and collectively.

Trotsky went to Mexico, and Reich went to the United States.  Reich moved to Maine and pursued natural scientific research into cancer and weather control.  He remained a Marxist until the end of his life.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an injunction against Dr. Reich for misbranding his cancer treatment devices (they were cosmic energy accumulators) as a cure for the disease.[11]  He did not answer the injunction and was held in contempt of court for violating the injunction.[12]  He died in Lewisburg prison in November 1957 (murdered by the American Capitalist State for his sexual and political radicalism).

The importance of a Marxist psychology to free the creative energy of the masses, as Adler and Reich developed, is of the first importance in unleashing a movement from practice that will itself become a form of theory.  Capitalism makes work energy, which is also a form of biological energy, into an inert commodity, and requires the freezing of movement and sexuality in order to produce submissive people.  How else could people be trapped in dull offices and factories?  As the coal miners on strike stated: “what form of work is worthy of human beings? [13]

Herbert Marcuse, a philosopher of radical psychoanalysis and long-time correspondent of Raya Dunayevskaya (he wrote an introduction to “Marxism and Freedom”[14]) theorized a biological need for freedom from the repression of the class-structure.  He pointed the way to a new society of production as art, and a higher civilization based on ever greater unities of life in Eros. [15]

As Marx indicated, the goal of socialist society is to allow the full development in freedom of the all-around capacities of human beings.  These capacities already exist in the masses of people and need to be unleashed.  Marxist psychotherapy and mass psychology will help the dialectic freely extend itself as Absolute Mind-Body by helping free the masses to strive for freedom in a self-directed movement.  This does not in any way detract from self-determination, it only enhances it. [16]

[1] See Dunayevskaya, Raya, Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution, “On the Death of Erich Fromm,” pgs. 241-42.

[2] See Laing, R.D., The Politics of Experience (N.Y., Ballantine Books, 1968).  This is a deep and brilliant poetic analysis of the pathology of the “normal” in State Capitalist societies.

[3] See Trotsky, Leon, The Revolution Betrayed (Mineola, NY, Dover Publications, 2004).

[4] Hoffman, Edward, The Drive for Self – Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology, Foreword by Kurt A. Adler, M.D., Ph.D., pgs. 63-65 (N.Y., Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994).  See also, Rattner, Josef, Alfred Adler (N.Y., Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983).  Dr. Rattner’s work delineates the socialist philosophy behind Adler’s sociological and therapeutic work.  His brother Leo Rattner practiced a form of libertarian socialist therapy in Forest Hills for 40 years.

[5]  Hoffman, pgs, 63-65.

[6] Adler, Alfred, “On the Psychology of Marxism,” Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (March 1909).  Recorded in the minutes of the Society by Otto Rank.

[7] See: Sharaf, Myron, Fury On Earth – A Biography Of Wilhelm Reich (N.Y., St. Martin’s Press/Marak 1983).  See also, Corrington, Robert S., Wilhelm Reich – Psychoanalyst and Radical Naturalist (N.Y., Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).

[8] See: Reich, Wilhelm, The Function of the Orgasm (N.Y., Noonday Press, 1961).

[9] Reich, Wilhelm, Sex-Pol – Essays 1929-1934, edited by Lee Baxandall (N.Y., Vintage Books, 1972).  This book contains Reich’s sociological work from his most active Marxist period.  Also of great interest in this collection: “What Is Class Consciousness?” pgs. 277-358. Reich deals with the passivity of workers in the face of the power of Capital, and the resulting propping up of Capitalism rule.   He also has very interesting comments on the newly formed Fourth International of Trotsky.  Reich did not believe in the dichotomous separation of masses, party and leadership.  At all times he fought for self-activity on the part of people in the face of oppression.

[10] See: Reich, Wilhelm, The Mass Psychology Of Fascism, pgs. 237-238  (N.Y., Orgone Institute Press, 1946).

[11] See: Reich, Wilhelm, The Cancer Biopathy (N.Y., Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973).

[12] See: Greenfield, Jerome, Wilhelm Reich vs. The U.S.A. (N.Y., W.W. Norton and Co., 1974).

[13] Phillips, Andy, & Dunyevskaya, Raya, A 1980’s View – The Coal Miners’ General Strike of 1949-50 and the Birth of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S., pg. 33 (Chicago, Illinois, A News and Letters Publication, June 17, 1984).

[14] Dunayevskaya, Raya, Marxism & Freedom, pgs. xx-xxv (Amherst NY, Humanity Books, 2000).

[15] Marcuse, Herbert, An Essay on Liberation (Boston, Beacon Press, 1969).

[16] For (low cost) Adler’s therapy: NY: The Alfred Adler Institute of NY, 212-254-1048; Chicago: Dreikurs Psychological Services Center, 312-201-5900 x248.  For Reich’s therapy: NY, Dr. Harry Lewis, 212-675-6592; Howard Chavis, M.D., 212-534-4578;  California, Dr. Daniel Schiff, 503-290-4655.  For group bio-energetic therapy, call the Alexander Lowen Foundation, 203-966-3474.  The Core Energetic Institute in NY also has low cost therapy. For one such therapist, Cynthia Kagoshima, call 917-806-7170.  These sources should have information for referral if you do not live in their areas.

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