Radical psychoanalysis reading

The pamphlet Radical Psychoanalysis and Anti-Capitalist Action (forthcoming from Resistance Books) was written for the revolutionary Marxist organisation Anti-Capitalist Resistance by Ian Parker. It was written for activists and for those interested in becoming involved in revolutionary politics, those who know nothing about psychoanalysis beyond the caricatures in mass media. Psychoanalysis has a radical history of theory and practice that is very different from popular images of rich people lying on couches spilling their guts to bespectacled doctors scribbling notes who conclude that the problem must always revolve around the relationship of these worried-well neurotics with their mothers and fathers.

There is an emphasis in the pamphlet on the way that psychoanalytic ideas can be intimately linked to personal and social transformation, and towards the end it is clearly acknowledged that the argument is not new. Many writers over the course of the last century have made connections between psychoanalysis and Marxism and feminism and with anti-colonial anti-racist protest at this sick world. Psychoanalysis was inspiration for radical writers and artists, and for revolutionaries who wanted to change the world. Feminism as a consciously internationalist force is central to radical psychoanalysis, and this, alongside anti-colonial anti-racist movements, deepens Marxist analysis. Marxism is concerned with economic exploitation and also, crucial to radical psychoanalysis, with alienation; ecosocialist understandings of Marxist accounts of alienation add to a psychoanalytic account, as does recent work on ‘digital alienation‘ in which reality itself seems to dissolve.

There have been many developments in psychoanalysis since it was invented by Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and as psychoanalysis spread around the world, new and quite different strands of work appeared. The pamphlet does not fix on any one of those strands of work, and makes it clear that there are some ideas in psychoanalysis that are problematic, reactionary, and some ideas that can be progressive, that can help us. Psychoanalysis can be our ally.

The Anti-Capitalist Resistance website includes some articles on psychoanalysis. They include Rowan Fortune on the Marxist psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, Neil Faulkner on ‘digitalised alienation’ which draws on psychoanalysis, among other things, to extend Marxist analysis, and Ian Parker on the French Marxist Félix Guattari, on psychoanalysis in relation to forms of ‘socialism’, and on psychoanalytic psychotherapeutic work in Palestine.  

Psychoanalysis is, among other things, a progressive alternative to medical psychiatry, but it is not the only alternative. You can track arguments in those alternatives at Asylum: Magazine for Radical Mental Health. Asylum was formerly the magazine for democratic psychiatry inspired by the reforms and mass movements against the mad-house asylum prisons in Italy in the 1970s which led to many activists taking seriously the need for real ‘asylum’ as a place of safety from this wretched world when it gets too much for people. We do not treat distress as ‘sickness’ to be cured, and we do not treat ‘disability’ as sickness either; instead we need to understand how this sick world ‘disables’ people.

Revolutionary Marxism must include and work with and learn from feminism, which is why the pamphlet is as much feminist as it is Marxist, and this politics must, especially when it concerns questions of sexuality and distress, be clearly in solidarity with trans liberation. We also stand with the women’s #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment, learning from the work of Marie Langer who connected her psychoanalytic work with revolutionary solidarity. We stand with and learn equally so from the Black Lives Matter movement and the inspiring work of the anti-colonial radical psychiatrist Frantz Fanon.

The arguments in the pamphlet are taken further in the book Psychoanalysis and Revolution: Critical Psychology for Liberation Movements jointly written by Ian Parker and David Pavón-Cuéllar, and there is more detailed background reading for that book available online. As the pamphlet and the book make clear, however, the only way to learn about the ideas is to put them into practice, anti-capitalist practice. 

This reading is also part of the FIIMG project to put psychopolitics on the agenda for liberation movements


Background reading for Psychoanalysis and Revolution

This is the ‘background reading’ section of Psychoanalysis and Revolution: Critical Psychology for Liberation Movements

We have deliberately avoided bibliographic references so as not to dissolve our manifesto into the form of an academic discussion, but we must recognize that we are indebted to authors who have guided and inspired us. There are too many and it would be impossible to mention them all now. We will refer below to just a few texts we have found useful in working on this manifesto, and you will find many ideas from them incorporated in and reworked in it.


This manifesto speaks of psychoanalysis in general, but our work is influenced by a number of radical traditions. We speak about Sigmund Freud, of course, and discuss many of his ideas contained in texts such as The Unconscious, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, The Ego and the Id, and Civilization and its Discontents. Freud’s ideas are central to any psychoanalytic work, conservative and radical. There are many ‘introductions’ to psychoanalysis that are misleading, in some cases quite wrong; a clear trustworthy introduction is Freud: Theory of the Unconscious by Octave Mannoni.

The radical traditions that are important to us include psychoanalysts in the first wave of critical work around Freud, his followers who were also Marxists. In particular, we have learned from the work of Wilhelm Reich, whose fight for communism and sexual liberation caused him to be expelled from both the International Psychoanalytic Association and the Communist Party. Reich tried to use Freudian theory to understand the ideological rooting of society in the psyche, as well as sexual repression in capitalist society, and the way that repression was relayed through the bourgeois nuclear family into individuals, in books such as Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis and The Mass Psychology of Fascism.

We also very much like the writings of Erich Fromm, who was a humanist psychoanalyst and a socialist deeply influenced by Marx. Fromm emphasized the way in which capitalism dehumanizes us, alienating us from our humanity, and encourages us to ‘have’ things which we believe will bring us happiness rather than to concern ourselves with ‘being’. This is explored in his books such as The Sane Society and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.

Another key author for us has been Herbert Marcuse, who was an important figure for the liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. In his books Eros and Civilization and One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse taught us to appreciate the repressive aspect of certain forms of freedom in contemporary society. He has also helped us distinguish between the kind of repression that serves culture and the surplus-repression that serves oppression and exploitation under capitalism.

Later psychoanalysts who continued this radical tradition of work include Marie Langer and Joel Kovel. Langer persisted at the end of her life to continue being a psychoanalyst without renouncing her participation in the liberation movements, as she explains in her text Psychoanalysis and/or Social Revolution. Kovel described clinical work in the the capitalist context, with lives affected by capitalism, in books like The Age of Desire. Kovel stopped practising as a psychoanalyst and became involved full-time in Marxist and ecological politics as an ‘ecosocialist’, while Langer helped re-politicize psychoanalysis in Latin America.

The problem with so-called ‘Freudo-Marxism’ is that it is sometimes rather reductive; tending to see class structure as replicated directly in the character structure of individuals, and tending to make sexuality as it is conventionally understood in bourgeois society into an immediate experiential force for freedom. This is especially evident in Reich and to a lesser extent in Fromm, Kovel and Langer, but it was an idea and a problem already discussed by Marcuse. There is an excellent overview of these different traditions in Stephen Frosh’s The Politics of Psychoanalysis: An Introduction to Freudian and Post‑Freudian Theory, and a very inspiring account of the way psychoanalysis was developed before the rise of fascism in Europe as a welfare-practice for all, not for private profit, in Elizabeth Danto’s Freud’s Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis and Social Justice, 1918-1938.

The tradition of work that has most influenced us, but one we are also critical of, is that of Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst who broke from the International Psychoanalytical Association to set up his own school to train analysts. Lacan shifted focus from biological forces and biologically wired-in stages of character development to language. Language organised through the Symbolic is more than just a medium of communication; it is a structure in which we occupy our place, an exteriority that surrounds us; it is ‘Other’ to us, as we explain in this book. We appreciate the critical work of Lacanian psychoanalysts on the history of its practice, for example Christian Dunker’s book The Structure and Constitution of the Psychoanalytic Clinic: Negativity and Conflict in Contemporary Practice, and the attempts to connect Lacan directly with Marxism in the work of Samo Tomšič in The Capitalist Unconscious. We also appreciate the earlier theoretical intervention made in Slavoj Žižek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology, as well as critical-theoretical appraisals of that work in Yannis Stavrakakis’ The Lacanian Left: Psychoanalysis, Theory, Politics. Finally, we feel close to works that try to re-politicize Lacanian psychoanalysis in progressive leftist directions, whether moderate as in Jorge Alemán’s La Izquierda Lacaniana or more radical such as Emiliano Exposto and Gabriel Rodríguez Varela’s El Goce del Capital.

 That Lacanian critical work would be incomplete and not viable without critiques from within the feminist and anti-colonial movements, critiques that are not always fully acknowledged. For us, the work of the psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell in Psychoanalysis and Feminism was crucial for the argument that there were limitations to ‘Freudo-Marxism’ and that Lacan was worth taking seriously for linking personal change with social change. We have also been inspired by the psychoanalytic attempts to understand the embedding of racism inside both white and black subjects in the work of the revolutionary psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, particularly in his path-breaking Black Skin, White Masks.

Critical Psychology

We turned to psychoanalysis because although we were both trained in psychology, we came to see that there was something seriously wrong with that discipline, including its sexism, homophobia, racism, colonial functioning, complicity with capitalism and contempt for working-class people. The discipline of psychology sometimes uses psychoanalytic theory, usually in a reactionary way, and usually also abhors psychoanalysis, seeing it as a threat. Our argument in this book is that psychoanalysis is the most radical possible form of ‘critical psychology’, an attempt to turn around and treat psychology as part of the problem rather than as a solution to our ills.

Among the authors of ‘critical psychology’ who have most influenced us is Ignacio Martín-Baró, who connects the critique of psychology with a project of liberation. Martín-Baró insisted that psychology could only serve the liberation of the peoples of Latin America by liberating itself from its own alienation. We think that psychology can only free itself by freeing itself from itself. This is why we turn to psychoanalysis.

In the broad tradition of ‘critical psychology’ are psychoanalytic critiques, for example in the work of Néstor Braunstein who wrote, with Marcelo Pasternac, Gloria Benedito and Frida Saal, Psicología: Ideología y Ciencia. They show that the discipline of psychology pretends to be a science, but it is not, instead corresponding to an ideology and a technique at the service of capitalism. One of the most radical critiques of psychology today focuses on ‘psychologisation’ and the way that ideas from the discipline operate as a global force, in the work of Jan De Vos in, for example, Psychologisation in Times of Globalisation.

Not every critic of psychology looks to psychoanalysis as an alternative, and this is certainly the case inside psychiatry where the so-called ‘anti-psychiatrists’ and ‘democratic psychiatrists’ have often tended to see psychoanalysis as part of the ‘psy complex’, that is, as a ‘psy’ profession that aims to adapt people to society.

It is the internal critiques of psychiatry that have linked with radical politics that interests us most, of course, and these critiques include the work of Franco Basaglia in books like Psychiatry Inside Out, and Marius Romme, who wrote, with journalist partner Sandra Escher, Accepting Voices, which is about the phenomenon of ‘hearing voices’ as part of human experience instead of being seen as a pathological symptom of schizophrenia or a form of ‘psychosis’. We have taken seriously the key phrase from Wolfgang Hüber’s anti-psychiatric intervention SPK: Turn Illness into a Weapon.

We should also mention here critical Lacanian work on ‘psychosis’ by Annie G Rogers, a psychoanalyst who herself has lived with that diagnosis of ‘psychotic’ while continuing to practice, in The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma.


We come from different political traditions on the left. We include in this manifesto many ideas and even key terms and phrases from the work of Karl Marx, of course. Marx’s ideas were crucial to the social movements that made the Russian and Chinese and Cuban revolutions possible, as well as many anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements around the world. Marxism continues to inspire anti-capitalist and anti-fascist struggles throughout the world. We are with the radical spirit of these struggles and of the previous movements and revolutions, and with the defence of what was gained against the encroachment of bureaucracy, against the betrayal by self-appointed leaders.

Among the many critical Marxist writings that have influenced us are Ernest Mandel’s The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx, which makes it clear that Marxism is a historically-specific analysis, an analysis of capitalism that aims to overthrow it, and his book Power and Money: A Marxist Theory of Bureaucracy, in which Mandel explains the collapse of the socialist countries by the disintegration of the political base of working-class power usurped by the bureaucracy.

We also acknowledge the contribution of Marx’s co-worker Frederick Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Although Engels was not a feminist, his interlinking of the institution of the family with the maintenance of private property and the kind of state structure that is dedicated to protect those with power in society is a scathing indictment of patriarchy. Feminist critiques of patriarchy have often, for very good reason, seen Freud as an enemy, for example Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics. The most radical of the so-called ‘second wave’ feminism of the 1960s and 1970s then saw the appearance of socialist-feminist politics, and the slogan ‘the personal is political’.

We are arguing for psychoanalysis in this manifesto, not taking our time to deal with the many critiques of it, though we do take seriously both feminist critiques and anti-colonial critiques, and critiques of the way psychoanalysis unconsciously reproduces the logic of social power, something masterfully elaborated in Le psychanalysme by the sociologist Robert Castel, and pathologises people who criticise it; that last issue is dealt with very well by the cultural anthropologist Ernest Gellner in The Psychoanalytic Movement, or The Coming of Unreason.

Socialist-feminist politics included anarchists, including Jo Freeman who wrote The Tyranny of Structurelessness, which we refer to in this manifesto. The different versions of intersection between radical political traditions are described and discussed in detail by Cinzia Arruzza in Dangerous Liaisons: The Marriages and Divorces of Marxism and Feminism. Black feminism in the work of Audre Lorde, for example in her book Sister Outsider, insists on the importance of speaking truth to power, an argument that we have referred to a number of times in this manifesto.

We have co-edited in Spanish a volume which includes many attempts by different writers to connect radical politics with critical psychology and psychoanalysis, Marxismo, Psicología y Psicoanálisis. This background reading is also available on these two blog pages, on which we have put links, where possible, to access key texts, and which also include articles related to the issues we cover here and updates on the manifesto: https://sujeto.hypotheses.org/ and https://fiimg.com/psychopolitics/

This is also part of the FIIMG project to put psychopolitics on the agenda for liberation movements