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Essay Review of The Repression of Psychoanalysis: Otto Fenichel and the Political Freudians by Russell Jacoby, New York Basic Books; London, Harper & Row, 1983, pp. xvi+201, Ł14.50.
Reviewed by Robert M. Young
What is to be done with the Ark of the Covenant during the Diaspora? Who shall warn us against false gods who will try to lead us in wrong directions on the very long and circuitous trek to the Promised Land? I find myself thinking of Russell as a deeply serious student of Marx and Freud whose writings return repeatedly to the left's version of these questions. I think of them in Biblical terms, because there is something very Old Testament and rhetorical about his style (more so in earlier works than in this one). In my experience he asks such questions more constructively and insistently than anyone else. His ability to spot and excoriate rationalisation, false consciousness and sheer sell-out is nonpareil. To say that he is constructive, however, is not to say that he is naively optimistic. His work is a fine example of pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. He points clearly to all of the barriers in order to indicate just how much stands in the way of a better world.
In his latest book Jacoby offers a social history of the self-censorship and loss of heart of the radical psychoanalysts who immigrated to America, fleeing from Nazi persecution. It is a sad story of compromise born of prudence in an alien environment in which medical hegemony over psychoanalysis eventually extinguished the radical, subversive vision of many of the émigrés.
This is his third volume on a set of closely related issues about how to think about human nature and society. His previous book, Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism (Cambridge, 1981) has the same mixture of indictment and Sisyphean 'spirit of rescue and retrieval' (p. ix). In it he explored the replacement within Marxism of a revolutionary spirit with a scientistic rhetoric. That book examined
a Marxist challenge to the consecration of Marxism by science. That Marxism is a science is regularly, almost obsessively, restated in orthodox texts. Here Marxism is infatuated with the bourgeois society it despises. If Marxists wanted to expropriate the expropriators, they also fell in love with their instruments: science and technology. In these pages the question is less science itself than its uncritical adoption. Marxists were convinced that they were the appointed and rightful heirs to the science of bourgeois society a science that guaranteed success. The greatest insults in the standard Marxist dictionary were ''prescientific'', ''nonscientific'', "mystical", "utopian", and "romantic". Vulnerability to these charges intimidated the Marxist critics of science. The suppressed critiques took their revenge. Marxism succumbed to science; it shrivelled up into blueprints and state engineering. The most provocative interpretations of science migrated to those outside of the mainstream and to those outside of Marxism.
For the same reason, searching analyses of mass culture, leisure, and urban life found little nourishment in mainstream Marxism. Mesmerized by the glitter of science and progress, Marxists dreamed of new proletarian owners and revolutionary commissars but not a fundamental restructuring...
To challenge Marxism as science does not encourage the occult or mysterious. The single alternative of science or the irrational is posed by the inflexible scientific mind. Rather the challenge is directed against a repressive concept of science, perhaps more accurately dubbed "scientism'' (pp. 5-6).
In short, Dialectic of Defeat was a critique of Marxist objectivism. It is a scholarly work, in which Jacoby generously annotates his argument, inviting the reader to consider the evidence independently. His previous book was an attack on the history of soft options in psychotherapy and the psychoanalytic tradition, i.e., a critique of naively optimistic subjectivism and its effects on political hope. It was entitled Social Amnesia: a Critique of Conformist Psychology from Adler to Laing (Boston, Beacon, 1975; Brighton, Harvester, 1977). He has written reflectively on the book elsewhere (Free Associations, Pilot Issue 1984, pp. 12-18). It was in some ways opposed to the aim of Dialectic of Defeat: 'in a situation where the social noose is invisible and the gasps of the individual are recorded as cries of liberation, I recalled and defended an objective (or non-subjective) theory of subjectivity' (Dialectic, p. 9).
And before that, he wrote a pair of articles in (the then anarcho-Marxist) journal, Telos, which explained the struggle in the 20th century to negotiate the boundaries and relations between subjective and objective, history and nature: 'Towards a Critique of Automatic Marxism: the Politics of Philosophy from Lukács to the Frankfurt School' (Telos 10, Winter 1971, 119-154) and 'The Politics of Crisis Theory' (Telos 23, Spring 1975. 3-52). In all of these works he is pondering the relations between orthodoxy and critical thinking, especially the issues raised by the Frankfurt School of Critical theory. The perspective of Herbert Marcuse in The Critique of Neo-Freudian Revisionism, which served as an epilogue to Eros and Civilization. provides the context for much of his work, while the writings of Christopher Lasch who wrote a laudatory Introduction to Social Amnesia are closely related.
I find myself returning again and again to Jacoby's discussions of the concepts of labour (neither nature nor history, but their matrix) (Telos 10, p. 141) and of 'second nature' (pp. 143ff.) He says of the latter: 'second nature is first nature refracted through but not altered by history; it is as unconscious as first nature with the difference that this unconsciousness is historical not intrinsic' (p. 144). If we are to find a way of bringing Marxism and psychoanalysis into a single framework, in my opinion those concepts and the work of Russell Jacoby will be central to making progress on that project.
I have drawn attention to the trajectory of his writing for three reasons. The first is that he has continued to ponder fundamental issues in philosophy, politics and psychology of human nature and society over a considerable period. His range of reference and of concepts is very impressive, indeed, and he provides a constant source of clarity, honesty and resource materials. His method is to study fashion and to attack superficiality always in the service of returning to the requirements of the theory and practice of socialism as a human goal. For him socialism is not an inevitability of technique, evolution, science or economics. Nor is it a matter of mere subjective celebration or catharsis. It is a project which must be pursued in the full knowledge of the internal and external barriers and forms of refractoriness.
My second reason for drawing attention to the range of his work is that I know of no other scholar of comparable attainments who wishes to have an academic position and who is not as Russell Jacoby is not the holder of a well-deserved, tenured post. It is a scandal that no department of history, politics or of social sciences has given him a secure position. When I think of his publications and compare them to those of many, many scholars of lesser vision, care and depth, I am very struck by the way in which his lack of a permanent academic home is a function of the very issues which he examines with such industry and integrity.
My third reason for mentioning his oeuvre is that it complements in philosophy, psychology and Marxism The Repression of Psychoanalysis, which is essentially a social history of 'the repression' (technically, I think it was suppression) of Otto Fenichel and the political Freudians. The heart of the book is an exploration of the 119 Rundbriefe ('round letters'), written during eleven and a half years of exile and ending in July 1945, of a band of analysts of the second generation who shared Fenichel's political and cultural preoccupations. The core of the group was Fenichel, Edith Jacobson, Annie Reich, Kate Friedlander, Barbara Lantos. Edith Ludowyk Gyömröi and George Gero. The aim of the book is to
follow the rise and fall of the political Freudians from Otto Gross in Bohemian Munich before World War I to Robert Lindner in McCarthyite America, the first and last of a tradition. Between these figures, l situate Otto Fenichel and his circle. l hope to reclaim the political Freudians, and a classical tradition that sustained them, from the historical unconscious, and perhaps free psychoanalysis from its own repressions (p. xiii)
It is ironic, in the light of recent trivializations of psycho analysis and petty scandals within what has sadly become a banalised, custodial tradition, that Jacoby says in his acknowledgements, 'I should also record that both Dr. K. R. Eissler, Secretary of the Sigmund Freud Archives, and Dr. Lore Reich Ruben refused to cooperate with my study; both possess materials by Fenichel that would have greatly facilitated my research' (p. xv). Jacoby traces the scandal which should be in the headlines in place of the silly, arcane study by Janet Malcolm of the higher gossip which has recently titillated New Yorker readers (including myself). Those articles, now published by Knopf as In the Freud Archives, deal with the custody of Freud's papers as they bear on the useless question of whether or not Freud suppressed his true beliefs about the seduction theory. It is supposed by J. M. Masson that he did this to curry favour with the Viennese medical establishment, in The Assault on Truth (Farrar, Straus, Giroux). If Freud was so cunning, I cannot think why he replaced the seduction theory with the equally shocking and unacceptable theory of infantile sexuality. It was not Freud who suppressed his true beliefs; it was the politically progressive Freudians who suppressed theirs: 'Fenichel did not alter his views: he hid them' (p. xiii), and the reason that he did so was that he wished to survive in America in the face of 'medical professionalization and theoretical banalisation' (p. 23).
Jacoby's indictment of the American situation says:
Passed through the academic wringer, psychoanalysis emerges limp and colourless. Academic psychoanalysis does not escape the spell that nowadays bewitches almost all academic thought: it is directed exclusively toward colleagues. In relinquishing a larger educated audience outside its own particular disciplines, academic thought also surrenders readability. The journals and monographs are produced to be cited, not read (p. 15).
As psychoanalysis transformed itself into a private club open only to medical doctors, its language and substance unavoidably shifted. Exclusively engaged with clinical practice, the doctors ignored the cultural and political implications of analysis (p. 16).
It would be interesting to consider the case of Britain, where medical hegemony has not been in operation, but where a striking timidity seems to have overtaken the psychoanalytic establishment.
The current situation is far from the ferment of cultural clinical, philosophical and political ideas of the 1920s and the 1930s. This is how Jacoby describes the young analysts of the period:
More than any text, their own experiences served as the raw material for the direction the political Freudians were to take. The youthful experiences of any generation will necessarily prefigure its future conflicts and plans and will determine even its idiom and emotional tone. For the second generation of psychoanalysts all born within a few years of 1900 there were several decisive influences: the European youth movement World War I, and the postwar revolutions. These events they were hardly events, but storms and cyclones structured their lives. Nearly all the political Freudians participated in the youth movement; as actors or observers, all were affected by the War and subsequent revolution.
These experiences saturated their youthful lives and ultimately saturated their vision of psychoanalysis. They never viewed psychoanalysis as a medical theory or trade, but as a mission that would bring sense to a disjointed world. Their lives did not possess the coherence and stability that would allow them to think of psychoanalysis as a quiet career choice; rather, they embraced it as a "cause". A major psychoanalytic journal of the generation was called Psychoanalytische Bewegung ("The Psychoanalytic Movement") implying an extra scientific almost social dimension. For these Freudians, psychoanalysis was part of a larger project to revamp society (p. 46).
The heart of their exploratory approach was Berlin, the home of theoretical rebels, e.g., Karen Horney, Franz Alexander, Melanie Klein. The Viennese remained theoretically and politically more conservative, e.g., Heinz Hartmann, Robert Waelder and Ernst Kris. Wilhelm Reich moved from Vienna to Berlin and saw the Berlin analysts as ' "far more progressive in social matters than the Viennese"' (p. 63).
Of course, many of the debates and splits in the psychoanalytic movement centred on Marxism and on the complicated personality and movements of Reich. A significant theme in Jacoby's book is the political Freudians' attempt to remain in serious contact with both Reich and Freud. This proved impossible in the former case and very difficult requiring much diplomacy on both sides in the latter. The group was constantly fighting on two fronts against analysts who had no appreciation of the social reality and against Marxists who had no appreciation of individual reality (p. 87).
Similarly, Fenichel and his group were forever trying to avoid the prevailing reductionisms biological and cultural. 'On every issue he distinguished his position from a biologism he associated with Róheim Laforgue, Marie Bonaparte, and sometimes Jones and Freud; and he wanted to avoid the culturalism linked to Horney and Fromm (pp. 102-3). In place of these reductionisms, the group held to two general propositions: 'That the instinctual life of humanity is not accessible to shallow reforms, and that the instinctual life is not damned to eternal sameness' (p. 105). Chapter 5 is entitled 'Psychoanalysis and Its Discontents: Freudians Against Freudians'. It provides a very useful map of the sociology of knowledge the positions in the prevailing debate and the interests they served, e.g., Ludwig Binswanger, Reich, Géza Róheim, Alice and Michael Balint, Abram Kardiner, Horney, Erich Fromm, Edward Glover. It was not easy to make one's way among these positions.
Against the flat culturalism of the neo-Freudians, Fenichel stressed the instinctual and sexual depths. As a political Freudian, he also denounced biological reductionism and the social blindness of mainstream psychoanalysis. For this reason he warmly greeted the neo-Freudians as allies only to criticize sharply their revisions. On this score he sided with the psychoanalytic conservatives with whom he shared little (p. 106).
The result was that he pleased very few. The conservatives denounced social or political psychoanalysis while the neo-Freudians discarded more and more of psychoanalysis and indulged in 'a very lax sociologism' (ibid.).
The final two chapters tell a sorry tale of the professionalization and medicalization of psychoanalysis in America. These had a devastating effect. Coupled with the dreadful situation they were leaving in Europe, American Medical culture demoralized the émigrés.
Fascism compelled the political Freudians to retreat. As Fenichel put it in his parting lecture from Prague, the political Freudians must withdraw and preserve classical psychoanalysis; this was the best the times allowed. The situation in the United States reinforced this deployment of energy; conditions did not prompt political Freudians to advance a more social or militant psychoanalysis. The weakness of a credible Marxism; the relative newness of psychoanalysis: the geographic dispersion of the analysts; and the tenuous legal status of the immigrants all worked effectively against a political psychoanalysis. In addition, the medicalization proceeded most rapidly in the United States, undermining the cultural and political implications of psychoanalysis (p. 120).
As a result. Fenichel's political beliefs became much more muted and implicit. One would have to know a lot about his background to see what lay behind the following remarks in his highly regarded Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1945):
Neuroses do not occur out of biological necessity, like ageing... Neuroses are social diseases... the outcome of unfavorable and socially determined educational measures, corresponding to a given and historically developed social milieu... They cannot be changed without corresponding change in the milieu (ibid.).
In the end, medicalization killed Fenichel. He had to get a US. medical qualification to be professionally legitimate. Soon after sending the last of the 'round letters' he became a medical intern. He never finished the year.
In six months he was dead. The cause was attributed to a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. If the aneurysm was congenital, immediate circumstances may have been decisive in ending his life. He was working rotating night shifts as an intern. He complained frequently of fatigue, and he hoped to transfer to a hospital where night duty was not required. He was also overweight, and very much unlike himself, he expressed doubts about his command of medical knowledge. A visitor recalled him somewhat tragically: an older German-Jewish intellectual in a tight, ill-fitting white uniform. He died 22 January 1946; he had recently turned 48 (p. 132).
The book carries on to tell of the Americanization of psychoanalysis and of the persecution of one of its last rebels, the lay analyst Robert Lindner. When I read his work and that of Theodore Reik (who was the occasion for Freud's 'The Problem of Lay Analysis') in the 1950s, I had no idea how isolated they were from the psychoanalytic mainstream. I especially recall Reik's Listening with the Third Ear, Lindner's The Fifty Minute Hour (1955), Prescription for Rebellion (1952) and Must You Conform? (1956). These books were written at the height and in the wake of McCarthyism - a time for the timid to stick to the narrowest definition of their craft.
The narrowed cultural perspectives which I experienced then, have a familiar feel about them today. The special circumstances of the political Freudians make their demise and self-censorship poignant and understandable. But Jacoby has also written about them as an object lesson and an inspiration. They can, in effect, provide a pedigree and some form of legitimacy for similar initiatives in his own work and on behalf of an urgent current need to broaden psychoanalytic perspectives culturally and politically. Fenichel envisaged future splits in psychoanalysis in which their own perspective would play a role. He wrote, '"Sooner or later a kind of Rundbriefe will come into being in various places which will be very different from ours"' (p. 132).It is the intention of the editors of Free Associations that he shall be proved right.
Reprinted from Free Associations: Pilot Issue (Radical Science No. 15), 1984, pp. 8-15.
Copyright: The Author
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The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM