Psychoanalysis

Remember Sedgwick

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Regarding your interview with Iain Ferguson on Marxism and mental health (November SR) I was surprised that there was no mention of Peter Sedgwick, a leading member of the International Socialists (forerunner of the SWP) who published in 1982 Psycho Politics (Pluto Press). This dealt with anti-psychiatry including Goffman, Laing and Foucault.

Peter’s conclusion was that the mental health movements overemphasise civil liberties and individualistic solutions — at the expense of developing collective responsibility for the care of those experiencing mental health problems.

Marxism and psychology

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Continuing a strand of debate, Canadian socialist Susan Rosenthal argues that we must look to social rather than individual solutions to mental ill health.

Marx and Engels described capital as a relationship and capitalism as a system of relationships. Did they mean that every aspect of our relations with ourselves, others, and society is shaped by capitalism, so that a socialist revolution would transform all of these relationships? Or were they being too general? Are some aspects of human experience unaffected by society, so that we need something other than Marxism to understand them and something more than socialism to transform them? This is the core of the conflict between Marxism and psychology.

Freud, sex and the socialist imagination

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Freud’s methods may not have been very scientific, but his insights into the social construction of gender and sexual identity were remarkably radical for a middle class man in conservative Vienna a century ago. Socialists can take those radical insights far further, writes Mark O’Brien.

Freud presents an intriguing paradox for Marxists. His explicit theory of the psyche was clearly not revolutionary. He believed that the psychological repression of desire was the necessary price for the achievements of “civilisation”.

He was also deeply pessimistic about the possibility of human transformation.

Don't deny reality of mental illness

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Lucretia Packham’s letter (October SR) replying to my article on Freud contains some rather obscure statements.

She agrees with me that it’s important to differentiate the baby from the bathwater in Freud’s work and claims that my attempt to do this is unsuccessful. But she does not offer her own view of the baby/bathwater separation in Freud.

My argument about the German and Russian revolutions was simply that psychoanalysis has a contribution to make in helping us to understand those events. I would never claim that psychoanalysis on its own can deal with this issue.

Freud debate welcome

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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.

Revolutionary kernel in Freud's ideas

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There are many criticisms that Marxists can — and should — make of psychoanalysis in general and of Sigmund Freud in particular.

To dismiss Freud, however, as a “career-building opportunist” as Susan Rosenthal does (“What’s wrong with Sigmund Freud?”, July/August SR) hardly does justice to a thinker whose ideas have engaged the interest of successive generations of revolutionary socialists, most notably Leon Trotsky.

Freud's theories led to useful developments

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I read with interest Susan Rosenthal's article “What’s wrong with Sigmund Freud?” (July/August SR), however, I disagree with her conclusion that all Freud’s ideas need to be rejected by Marxists.

Discussion of sexual abuse, and society’s reaction to it, is especially pertinent at this time.

The current abuse inquiries reveal the importance of survivors being believed and heard in society and how the establishment can seek to cover up the sexual abuse of children.

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