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.

Refreshing on Freud

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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.

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