Coronavirus and the end of the world

David Pavón-Cuéllar address to the College of Psychoanalysts – UK international conference Psychoanalysis in Adverse Conditions on 7 November 2020

Perhaps the pandemic seems to us like an end-of-the-world movie. Maybe all we want now is to get back to normal. It may be that we have not realized that normality is the real end of the world.

Normality is the devastation of everything by capitalism. It is the destruction of all life for the sake of capital accumulation. It is more and more inert money at the cost of all life in the world.

Normality is the disappearance, in the last 150 years, of almost half of the fertile soil on earth. It is the loss of an equivalent of 40 football fields of tropical forest every minute. It is the daily extinction of 150 species of animals and plants. All this is already the end of the world.

We are also witnessing the end of the world when we read that wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years, that land-based insects have been declining at nearly 1% per year, that annual rate of current desertification is more than 3 per cent. This global devastation is the normalcy to which many want to return.

The normal is that air pollution kills twenty thousand people per day in the world, that is, more than double of the total number of deaths from coronavirus at the peaks of the pandemic. This data allows us to understand a puzzling news that was spread in the beginning of the pandemic. The British tabloid Daily Mail reported that thousands of lives had been saved in China since the coronavirus appeared. The information was right: the interruption of industrial activities due to the pandemic drastically reduced the emission of gases, which, in turn, saved more lives than were lost by the pandemic itself.

We see that the coronavirus is much less lethal than just one of the many effects of capital. We also know that the functioning of capitalism has been affected by COVID-19, which makes us place our hope in this viral agent to cure us of the capitalist terminal illness. It is with this hope that Žižek, from the beginning of the pandemic, conceived the coronavirus as a possible deadly blow against capitalism.

It is obvious that the capitalist system will not die of coronavirus and that Žižek is not naive enough to think this. He knows what we all know, that the circumstances created by the coronavirus can help us, but that we are the ones who must free ourselves from capitalism. At this juncture, as in any other in which the space of uncertainty expands, the outcome will depend mainly on us as subjects, on the subjects that we are and that we will become.

If we want to avoid the end of the world we are living in, we need to transform ourselves. It is necessary to reverse our subjectification by the capitalist system. We must stop being possessive and cumulative, competitive and destructive, compulsive consumers, white-collar murderers, ecocidal and ultimately suicidal individuals.

It is by shaking off capitalism that we will be other than who we are and thus avoid the worst and save ourselves. At the same time, as Žižek has said, “it is through our effort to save humanity from self-destruction that we are creating a new humanity”. All this is the same process of reinvention and salvation, of liberation and transformation, in which we do not distinguish what happens before or after, since everything has to happen at the same time.

Simultaneity requires a certain anticipation like that prescribed by Rosa Luxemburg at the time of the Second International. We have to save ourselves today in order to save ourselves tomorrow. We must anticipate our destiny, prefigure what we fight for, what is achieved through our own struggle, in its development and not only in its outcome. We have to understand that our time is up. We must get rid of capitalism now, at this precise moment, through each of the manifestations of our existence, because the next moment will be too late.

We have to reject a procrastination, such as that represented by Karl Kautsky in the Second International, which will only serve to let the current cataclysm continue to unfold until its final consequences. We cannot accept that the end of the world is, as Kautsky would say, “a necessary direction of evolution”, and that our only task is to “recognize it” and wait, without pretending to act as “revolutionaries at all costs”. What we need right now is precisely a revolution at all costs. There is no time to wait.

Instead of a typically neurotic Kautskian procrastination, we should opt for a Luxembourgian hysterical prefiguration in which we do not waste the only time we have left, the present. It has never been so pressing to learn from Rosa Luxemburg when she warns us against the “vicious circles” that condemn us to wait for something, whatever it is, “before we can make history”. The best thing for us, right now at the end of the world, is to decide once and for all to intervene in the catastrophe, thus making history, which is precisely, for Jacques Lacan, what we call “hysteria”.

No matter how much damage we cause, it will not be comparable to what is happening. The worst would be that everything remains the same until at the end there is nothing left. Any error is now preferable to the patience and supposed prudence of those who fear to rush and make mistakes. Currently, in the absence of time, the most prudent thing is the haste to anticipate the end. In Lacan’s terms, the “too early” of hysteria is better than the “always too late” to which the neurotic procrastination leads us.

Even when we behave like neurotically blameless citizens, we do not want the end of the world either. Death terrifies us and it is for this very reason that we prefer to wait, sometimes betting on the imminent collapse of capitalism. We thus play the neurotic role that Lacan associates with that of the slave in the Hegelian dialectic: that of the one who “yields to the risk of death”, since “he knows he is mortal”, but for the same reason “he also knows that the master has to die”, so that “he can accept to work for the master in the uncertainty of the moment when the master’s death will come”.

In the uncertainty, we continue to work for capitalism, for the end of the world. At least we are sure of staying alive. But perhaps we should not be so sure about it, because “while we wait, we are already dead”, as Lacan warns us. We are already dead like our gestures that translate the functioning of the system, being repeated in a blind, neurotic and compulsive, mechanical way. We are already dead like puppets, like the gears of any machinery, like the zombies, who not by chance obsess us today.

We are already dead in the first place because we renounce our life, because we allow all of it to be possessed and sucked out by the vampire of capital, only hoping in vain that some of it is returned to us at the end of the day, on the weekend, in the next holidays, in retirement or in the collapse of capitalism, which obviously never happens, not only because we are already exhausted to live, but because the lost life is never recovered. But we are also already dead because the only life that is lived is that one that is risked, because there is only self-consciousness of life, as Hegel has explained, in “the fear of death, the absolute master”. We can only exist, as Heidegger confirms, in the anguish of being for death. We only live fully when we relate immediately to death, when we touch it, when we fight to the death against what threatens to kill us, which at this very moment is mainly capitalism. Being anti-capitalist is perhaps the only way to be truly alive, alive before death, in our current situation.

At the point we’ve reached, resigning ourselves to capitalism is abandoning ourselves to our death for the very fact of forgetting it. It is dying in the unconsciousness of dying. It is allowing oneself to be killed in the absence of what Marxism still calls “class consciousness”: consciousness that our life is being annihilated by capital. Lacking this consciousness is, in Lacan’s terms, depriving ourselves of the “knowledge” that should stop us, preferring “jouissance”, the enjoyment of capital that drags us into “progress marked by death”, into the inertia of “death drive”, on the “slope towards the inanimate”.

Instead of knowing that we could face death and thus avoid the worst, we indulge in the ideological fictions of capitalism that operate exactly like the neurotic’s excuses for Lacan. They only serve to keep death “at a distance”, away from us, distracting us from it, forgetting it while we abandon ourselves to it. This is what the cultural industry of capitalism is for, but also the demagoguery of those neoliberal and now neo-fascist politicians who dedicate their lives to supporting fictions such as green capitalism, inexhaustible resources, perpetual growth, responsible companies, consumerism favorable to prosperity, the invisible hand, the self-regulation of the market, the benefits of the competition of all against all, and the democratic character of bourgeois democracy and its rule of law.

As Jorge Alemán has well noted, the “constitutive fictions of capitalism” have been “stripped” by the pandemic. This global crisis offers us a chance to break through fantasy and see capitalism for what it is behind its fictions. This is what we discover in the rows of graves for the victims of coronavirus, in the corpses scattered through the streets of Ecuador and in other images that remind us of end-of-the-world movies.

You can see David deliver this address to the conference here: https://youtu.be/7q83VlPcC9g

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

Coronavirus as a symptom

David Pavón-Cuéllar writes:

 

It has become commonplace to say that the coronavirus pandemic has also been a pandemic of panic, stress, anxiety, ignorance, selfishness, racism, hatred, and even loneliness. This “diagnosis” should not be underestimated. It is not just a metaphor.

The metaphor is the coronavirus. The virus is like a Freudian condensation of the various personal and social experiences associated with the pandemic. These experiences have been assimilated into the viral agent that represents them metaphorically.

The coronavirus is a metaphor for everything we are living through, suffering, and fearing, just as gold is a metaphor for value, money, a sunburst, or the colour of blond hair. Just as blond hair and richness could be symbolized by gold in a dream, so too, the virus could now serve as a dream symbol of our fear and loneliness. It is as if what we are living has the form of a virus.

The coronavirus becomes the metaphorical representation of our existence in the pandemic. We must understand well that we are what the virus means. With its metaphorical structure, the coronavirus is like a dream symbol. It is the condensed symptom of what we are, live, feel, and suffer.

Each one suffers their own symptom. Each one has, as Lacan would say about the symptom, their own “knowledge about oneself,”1 their own “enjoyment of the unconscious,”2 and their own “opaque enjoyment of excluding meaning.”3 In other words, each person has their own coronavirus.

There are as many different coronaviruses as there are different subjects. We could classify them into structures. Each structural configuration would then correspond to a particular manifestation of the viral agent as a symptom of our irreducibly unique existence.

The phobic coronavirus causes us to panic and makes us avoid information about the pandemic. The obsessively neurotic coronavirus forces us to scrupulously maintain good sense and realism, to consult endlessly as to the numbers of infections and deaths, but also to “take terribly protective measures against infection,” as Lacan says when pretending to quote Freud.4 The perverse coronavirus gives us a good pretext with which to attack nurses, burn down sick houses, or prevent the installation of hospitals. The normopathic coronavirus leads us to take advantage of the situation by enriching ourselves through financial profit, either by speculating in the stock exchange, buying and reselling face masks, or increasing the prices of ventilators or disinfectant gel.

The melancholic coronavirus comforts us with the certainty that the planet is finally beginning to get rid of something as despicable as us humans. The paranoid coronavirus makes us believe not in the news, but in conspiracy theories as we think that confinement is a ploy to control us or that the virus is either a biological weapon invented in laboratories or an effect of the fifth generation of mobile networks. Meanwhile, the hysterical virus alternately causes us to be suggestible, to sneeze, yawn and sigh, to long for lost contacts, or to console ourselves with computer screens, indulge in the spectacle on social networks, enjoy the pleasures of confinement and oscillate between boredom and desire, between love and heartbreak at a distance, and between despair and hope in the imminent revolution and end of capitalism.

The various coronaviruses could be easily exemplified by the political leaders of the world and the great intellectuals who have spoken on the subject. Perhaps we have the right to have a little fun by thinking, for example, about the hysterical coronavirus of Žižek, the obsessive of Han, the paranoid of Agamben, and so on. It would be interesting to continue this, but it is not the most important thing.

What matters is that the various coronaviruses have something in common. This commonality is, first, our shared existence in the capitalist world in which we live. It is, however, also capitalism itself, which unfolds in our existence and, now, in its symptomatic viral manifestation. It is here, in the capitalist system, where Marx discovered the notion of “symptom” that will later be applied in psychoanalysis, as Lacan has well noted.5

On the one hand, as a symptom of our existence in capitalism, the coronavirus is revealing to us our loneliness in alienation; that is, for Lacan, the only “social symptom”, the one of our “proletarian” condition, for which we do not have “speech to tie between us.”6 On the other hand, as a symptom of the capitalist system, the virus itself is like a lens that reveals much of capitalism. These revelations include the devastation of nature that destroyed the ecosystem in which the viral agent was trapped, the contempt for human life that has caused thousands of infections and deaths by not shutting factories and shops in time, and the inequality that opens a gap in each society between the lucky and the damned, between those who can confine themselves and those who must continue working, and between those who have and those who lack medical care, hospital beds, respirators, and other requirements for survival.7

Everything revealed by the “coronavirus of capitalism,” as I have called it elsewhere,8 must be heard. Real listening, as psychoanalysis teaches us, requires us to act accordingly. The resulting anti-capitalist action must leave Han behind, avoid Agamben’s wall, and reach the Žižekian hysterical point where the impossible is recognized. For the impossible to become the real that it could be, however, we must go further and follow Marx when he prescribes that we face, “in a practical way,” those problems that we cannot solve in theory.9

 

References

1 Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, livre 12, Problèmes cruciaux pour la psychanalyse. Unpublished. Class of the 16th June 1965.

2 Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, livre 22, RSI. Unpublished. Class of the 18th February 1975.

3 Jacques Lacan, Joyce le symptôme, in Autres écrits (Paris, Seuil, 2001), p. 570.

4 Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, livre III, Les psychoses (Paris, Seuil, 1981), p. 281.

5 Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire XVII, L’envers de la psychanalyse (Paris, Seuil, 1991), p. 235.

6 Jacques Lacan, La troisième, intervention au Congrès de Rome, Lettres de l’École freudienne 16, 1975, p. 187.

7 David Pavón-Cuéllar, El coronavirus como síntoma del capitalismo, Rosa, una revista de izquierda, http://www.revistarosa.cl/2020/04/06/el-coronavirus-como-sintoma-del-capitalismo/

8 David Pavón-Cuéllar, El coronavirus del capitalismo, Lacanemancipa, 28 de abril 2020, https://lacaneman.hypotheses.org/1532

9 Karl Marx, Manuscritos económico-filosóficos de 1844, in Marx y Engels, Escritos económicos varios (Ciudad de México, Grijalbo, 1966), p. 87.

 

This paper by David Pavón-Cuéllar was first published in Lacan Salon.

 

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

 

 

Twelve lessons from Freudo-Marxism

Twelve lessons from Freudo-Marxism*

David Pavón-Cuéllar

 

Freudo-Marxism and its actuality

Freudo-Marxism is usually understood in two ways. In a broad, vague and diffuse sense, it encompasses all efforts of synthesis between Marxism and psychoanalysis. In a strict sense, which we will choose here, it only includes the efforts made in the interwar period, between the 1920s and 1930s, when attempts were made to systematically integrate the Marxist and Freudian traditions under an assumption of profound affinity and complementarity between them.

Freudo-Marxism in the strict sense includes works by authors as diverse as the great Marxists Leon Trotsky, Antonio Gramsci and José Carlos Mariátegui, the Austro-German psychoanalysts Siegfried Bernfeld, Wilhelm Reich and Otto Fenichel, the Soviets Vera Schmidt and Aleksandr Luria, the Frankfurters Max Horkheimer and Erich Fromm, the surrealists André Breton, René Crevel and Tristan Tzara in France, Karel Teige in Czechoslovakia or Xavier Abril and Elias Piterbarg in Latin America, the Freudian critics of Marxism Henri De Man and Max Eastman, and some unclassifiable ones like the Brazilian Oswald de Andrade, the Hungarian Attila József and the French Jean Audard.[i]

Many of the exponents of Freudo-Marxism have already fallen into oblivion. However, as we will see, they all retain their relevance and their great subversive potential. This is why they can still give us the twelve lessons that we will summarize below.

 

  1. Remember the bodily, impulsive and sexual

Freudo-Marxists remind us that the material-existential basis of our consciousness lies not only where Marx placed it, in the social and economic realms, but where Freud located it, in the sexual and somatic spheres. It is to think about this basis that Trotsky resorts to psychoanalysis, conceiving it as a conjectural approach to the ‘physiology’ underlying any psychology.[ii]

Freudo-Marxism explains the psychological by something as subjective as the bodily, instinctual and sexual tendencies and configurations, and not only by something as objective as the forces and relations of production. Objectivity and subjectivity can even be merged and transcended into a single determining factor. This is what happens in Fromm, who argues that the adaptation of the instinctive to the economic is resolved in a ‘libidinal structure’ that in turn determines thoughts and feelings.[iii]

We think and feel not directly what is decided by capital, but what is determined by our body trapped and pierced by capitalism. Between the capitalist production and our psychological constitution, there is the mediation of what is approached by psychoanalysis. We need Freud to understand how the subject is psychically affected by what we learn from Marx.

 

  1. Do not underestimate the importance of the psyche

Freudo-Marxism also helps us to understand that consciousness is not only effect, but cause of existence. This causality, belatedly recognized by Trotsky,[iv] allows to overcome the Leninist representation of mental content as a passive ‘reflex’.[v] In addition to reflecting the socio-economic reality, the psyche ‘falsifies’ it, and it is also for this, as Horkheimer noted, that Marxism needs psychoanalysis.[vi] It needs it for something that Attila József knew better than anyone: because we are all crazy, we are not realistic, our existence does not obey socio-economic reality, but it obeys our consciousness that distorts that reality instead of reflecting it.[vii]

Socioeconomic reality also determines our psychic life, of course. However, as Reich pointed out, it does not determine it externally by reflecting on it, but internally by ‘taking root’ in it through ideology. [viii] This ideological rooting is one of the factors why consciousness cannot perceive the socioeconomic reality without distorting it.

Deforming the same reality that determines it, the psychic-ideological structure determines this reality. It is transmuted into the determinant base of the socio-economic system. This is how in the inner world, according to Fenichel, the base and the superstructure are inverted.[ix] José Carlos Mariátegui[x] and Max Horkheimer[xi] show us that this inversion is characteristic of a liberal modern society, today neoliberal postmodern society, in which everything seems to obey the subjects, their freedom, their desires and drives.

 

  1. Probe the irrational basis of scientific, technological and socioeconomic rationality

The weight of desires and drives in social life introduces an irrational dimension whose consideration requires the help of the Freudian method. This was very well appreciated in Freudo-Marxism. Breton[xii] and others taught us how to use psychoanalysis to approach a psychic irrationality that is inseparable from the supposedly rational socioeconomic system elucidated in Marxism.

The supposed rationality of society and economy in capitalism, as conceived by Bernfeld, is nothing more than a kind of ‘guilt ideology’ in which the rationalization, transposition and materialization of deeply irrational drives are carried out. [xiii] Henri De Man[xiv] and Max Eastman[xv] thoroughly analyzed how these impulsive forces underlie the seemingly rational interests that govern the capitalist system. Their analyzes highlight all the psychic irrationality of the socioeconomic rationality of capitalism.

Karel Teige[xvi] and Jean Audard[xvii] show us that even the perfect scientific and technological rationality of the productive forces is driven and sustained in capitalism by an irrational base of drives and desires. Audard[xviii] convinces us that the recognition of this basis constitutes an indispensable condition for materialism. To be fully materialistic, Marxists should also be Freudians.

 

  1. Take desire and fantasy seriously

Freudo-Marxists, consistent materialists, make us go beyond interests and their idealized rationality, beyond needs and their ideological naturalization. They lead us to the irrational and unnatural materiality of the fantasy in which the drives move and desire unfolds. They teach us that we must go through this space to reach communism.

De Man[xix] explains to us, communists, that the emancipation for which we fight cannot consist in satisfying the needs that exist in capitalism, but requires us to go beyond the capitalist horizon and conceive other needs through our fantasy and based on our desire. This conception of other needs constitutes in itself a gesture, prescribed by René Crevel, in which the ‘cowardly’ and ‘opportunistic’ realism is challenged.[xx] This is how it allows to realize the surreal ideal, enunciated by Breton, of ‘changing life’ and not just ‘transforming the world’.[xxi]

There cannot even be a true objective transformation without that kind of subjective change in which desire is involved. Freudo-Marxism reminds us that it is with desire with which history is made. The history of humanity, as Tristan Tzara said, is ‘the history of man’s desires’.[xxii]

 

  1. Consider sexuality and its repression

By making us take desire and fantasy seriously, Freudo-Marxists lead us to consider the sphere of repressed sexuality that lies beneath desire and fantasy. They also teach us that this sphere, studied by psychoanalysis, cannot be ignored by those who fight for communism. They help us to understand that we cannot ignore repressed sexuality because we are fighting against exploitation and oppression conditioned or at least favored by sexual repression.

Reich[xxiii] showed how sexually repressed people are also susceptible to being economically exploited and politically oppressed. They can be exploited and oppressed because they have already been subjugated, disciplined and tamed through their sexual repression. This repression made them obedient, docile, dominable.

If domination begins with sexuality, it is for a fundamental reason elucidated by the young Fromm.[xxiv] It is because the sexual instinct, compared to the needs of sleep, drink or food, is particularly ductile, manipulable, modifiable, adaptable, postponable, interchangeable, repressible and sublimable. This is why it represents the weak point of subjectivity, the most vulnerable to domination, that by which we must be caught when something or someone intends to dominate us.

 

  1. Confront patriarchy

Freudo-Marxism teaches us how patriarchal domination uses a supplement of repression that selectively targets female sexuality. As Reich[xxv] explains to us, if a woman tends to be sexually more repressed than a man, it is to make her show a greater submission than he does. It is also to make her be oppressed by him. It is to allow the man to dominate the woman socially, politically and economically that she must suffer a greater dose of sexual repression.

We understand, then, that the purpose of women’s liberation is fundamental to freudo-Marxism. Freudo-Marxists are among the first to understand that we cannot fight capitalism effectively without fighting patriarchy at the same time.

Andrade[xxvi] and Fromm[xxvii] even claim matriarchy as their flag. Both feel that the revolution must be feminized to be deepened and radicalized. Fromm does not hesitate to place the matriarchal ideal in the ‘psychic basis’ of the ‘Marxist social program’.[xxviii]

 

  1. Conceive a free and liberating education

Marxism requires the work of Freudo-Marxists to be well based on the subjective, psychic and bodily, sexual and instinctive plane. It is on this plane that repression in the service of domination is discovered. It is on the same level that radical forms of liberation can be conceived, such as those based on desire and fantasy, those that claim matriarchy, and those that take shape in free and liberating educational projects such as those promoted by Bernfeld and Schmidt.

Bernfeld and Schmidt, both inspired by Marxism and psychoanalysis, projected and implemented revolutionary strategies for the education of children and adolescents, which renounced repressive means and thus sought to engender the new men and the new women of socialism. In his colony of Baumgarten, Bernfeld[xxix] prefers understanding and persuasion to coercion and domestication, and tries to strengthen the feeling of community while weakening individualism and familiarism. On the other hand, in the Moscow Detski Dom, Vera Schmidt[xxx] resorts to love instead of fear and authority, and thus tries to develop in children the capacity for sublimation at the expense of repression.

Both Schmidt and Bernfeld aspire to undermine the repressive base of domination. It is for this purpose that they work in the educational sphere. They give us here a lesson in radicalism by using psychoanalysis to attack the root of what they fight against as communists.

 

  1. Recognize and respect the concrete uniqueness of each subject

One of the teachings of Schmidt’s educational method is to recognize and respect the concrete uniqueness of each subject. This singularity is not here dissolved in abstract generalizations, much less annulled by a standardization of children. In contrast to the prejudiced image of unifying and massifying socialism, Schmidt’s school in the Soviet Union is a space of singularization that was inconceivable in the capitalist countries of the time.

The consideration of the uniqueness of each one is a positive effect of the psychoanalytic gaze in Freudo-Marxism. Amongst what Gramsci[xxxi] values ​​most in psychoanalysis is its attention to the singular. Such attention can serve to avoid the eagerness to level out everyone’s experience, the eagerness of those communists who have confused equality with uniformity and community with an undifferentiated mass.

Freudo-Marxism reminds us that community is made of singularities and that equality only exists between subjects irreducibly different from each other and therefore incomparable to each other as inferior or superior. These subjects, each with his/her own history, constitute the uniqueness addressed by the psychoanalytic method. What psychoanalysis offers Marxism, as Bernfeld[xxxii] well noted, is a historical science of case by case, of the unique history of each subject.

 

  1. Do not ignore the tensions and contradictions of psychic life

Freudo-Marxists bring to Marxism a Freudian science of the subject that is not only historical, but dialectical. The psychoanalytic dialectic is indispensable to consider the tensions and contradictions of subjectivity. Bernfeld[xxxiii] shows us that this consideration requires thinking as dialectically as Freud did in conceptualizing the oppositions between the ego and the id, between the principles of reality and pleasure or between the drives of life and death.

The concepts of psychoanalysis unfold subjective division, tears in the subject, describe and explain them, rather than sidestep and hide them, as psychology generally does. In contrast to the misleading psychological images of harmonic and unitary subjectivity, the Freudian dialectical representation of the subject, as first pointed out by Voloshinov[xxxiv] and later by Gramsci[xxxv], is made up of conflicts and antagonisms that make psychoanalysis mysteriously compatible with Marxism.

Voloshinov[xxxvi] and others teach us how the tensions and contradictions that Marxists uncover in society are, in fact, the same ones that Freudians rediscover in the individual. This is something that no one could perceive as clearly as the Freudo-Marxists. We learn from them that our class struggles run through us and thus summon us to take a position within and not just outside ourselves.

 

  1. Avoid psychological dualism

Freudo-Marxists not only make us consider the inner as well as the outer world, but they urge us to reconcile them, reconnect them, reintegrate them into each other. This impulse was crucial for the surrealist encounter between the respective fields of psychoanalysis and Marxism. Between the two areas, as well as between sleep and wakefulness or between madness and reason, Breton revealed ‘capillary tissues’ and ‘communicating vessels’.[xxxvii]

What it is about, for Luria[xxxviii], is to overcome the psychological dualism in which the psyche is abstracted from the body and the world. This dualism, as Crevel sees it, obeys a political strategy that seeks to ‘divide and rule’.[xxxix] Subjectivity is divided between the soul and the body in order to use the former to dominate the latter.

Freudo-Marxists teach us that fighting domination requires leaving dualism behind and adopting a monistic vision like that of psychoanalysis. In Andrade’s terms, we must undress the ‘waterproof clothing’ between inside and outside.[xl] Subjects must be recovered as what they are, as bodies that are indiscernible from their souls, from their ideas or from their spirits.

 

  1. Do not idealize or spiritualize subjectivity

One of the greatest lessons of Freudo-Marxism is not to reduce the subjective to the ideal or spiritual. We receive this lesson from Oswald de Andrade[xli] and Elías Piterbarg[xlii] when we see them claim the material truth of body nudity against the ideas that cover it, suffocate and betray it. It is the same lesson that Xavier Abril teaches us when he rejects ‘spiritualist psychology’, opting instead for an investigation of the subject as ‘true body’, as revealed by Marxism and psychoanalysis.[xliii]

Marx and Freud inspire the materialistic representation of subjectivity by which Freudian Marxists go back from the ideas, reasons and justifications of people to their brakes and chains, drives and desires. This is how De Man[xliv] and Eastman[xlv] delve into the unconscious impulsiveness that underlies conscious rationality. This is also how Bernfeld goes beyond the ‘reasons’ given by the subject to discover the ‘repressed causes’ that induce them.[xlvi]

Freudo-Marxists instruct us in the art of not being idealistic when thinking about subjectivity. They make us accept that the existence of the subject is not guided only by his/her conscious ideas, by his/her visions, convictions, justifications and deliberate intentions. These ideal factors, in fact, do not constitute the sole determinant for the subject nor do they encompass all that he/she is and animates him/her, but are merely an expression of what is decisive.

 

  1. Distrust existing psychology and reject any psychologization

What is decisive in subjectivity, according to Freudo-Marxism, does not correspond to what is studied by academic and allegedly scientific psychology. Nor could it ever be discovered by the psychological instruments of observation. Psychology is not used here to discover anything, but only to cover up, conceal and mystify, manipulate and subdue.

Freudo-Marxists teach us to be wary of psychology. Tzara condemns it for disconnecting us from the world and for shutting us inside our comfortable interior where ‘an armchair has grown’.[xlvii] Reich denounces it for its ideological, idealistic, metaphysical, individualistic, bourgeois, normalizing, adaptive, repressive, conservative and reactionary character.[xlviii]

In addition to questioning psychology, Freudo-Marxists criticize different forms of psychologization. One, denounced by Bernfeld, claims that our thoughts and feelings are the ‘driving forces’ of the economy, when we know that they only ‘justify’ certain economic conditions.[xlix] Another form of psychologization, denounced by Reich, is that of delegitimizing insurrections, rebellions and revolutions by psychopathologizing them, explaining them for ‘irrational’ psychological reasons, when we know that they are ‘rational’ actions that are explained economically, socially and politically by circumstances such as misery, exploitation or oppression.[l]

 

Lessons for the present

The twelve lessons we have just recapitulated show that Freudo-Marxism is not only up to date, but even more timely than in its time, when it was not yet fully timely. The 1920s and 1930s were still too early to elucidate such things as psychologization, the subjective irrational background of economic rationality, or the essential link between capitalism and patriarchy. Isn’t all this better understood nowadays?

We have had to wait a century for Freudo-Marxism to stop being premature. Now it is clear that its time has come. This is why it should no longer give rise to reactions of misunderstanding, aversion and persecution like those that surrounded it in the interwar period, when it was rejected by the communist parties as well as by the psychoanalytic associations.

It is high time for Freudians to concede that they need such radical means as those of Freudo-Marxism to prevent psychoanalysis from continuing to adapt, domesticate, gentrify, ideologize and thus degrade. It is also the time for us communists to resort to a sensitivity such as the Freudo-Marxist to clarify the subjective origin of many of our inconsistencies, failures, defeats and surrenders.

 

* First published in Spanish in Revista Ideas de Izquierda (2020).

[i] For a general review, see David Pavón-Cuéllar, Marxism and Psychoanalysis, in or against Psychology? London, Routledge, 2017. For a selection of the key texts of Freudomarxism, see Ian Parker and David Pavón-Cuéllar, Marxismo, psicología y psicoanálisis, Mexico City, Paradiso, 2017.

[ii] Leon Trotsky, Cultura y socialismo (1926), in Escritos filosóficos, Buenos Aires, CEIP León Trotsky, 2004, p. 154.

[iii] Erich Fromm, Sobre métodos y objetivos de una psicología social analítica (1932), in J.-P. Gente (comp.), Marxismo, psicoanálisis y sexpol I, Buenos Aires, Granica, 1972, pp. 119, 140-141.

[iv] Trotsky, Cuadernos de Trotsky (1933-1935), in Escritos filosóficos, op. cit., p. 68.

[v] Vladimir Lenin, Materialismo y empiriocriticismo (1908), Beijing, Ediciones en Lenguas Extranjeras, 1975, p. 54.

[vi] Max Horkheimer, Historia y psicología (1932), in Teoría crítica, Buenos Aires: Amorrortu, 2008, p. 32.

[vii] Attila József, Hegel, Marx, Freud (1934), Action Poétique 49, 1972, 68-75.

[viii] Wilhelm Reich, La psicología de masas del fascismo (1933), Mexico City, Roca, 1973, p. 29.

[ix] Otto Fenichel, Sobre el psicoanálisis como embrión de una futura psicología dialéctico materialista, en J.-P. Gente (comp.), Marxismo, psicoanálisis y sexpol I, op. cit., p. 183.

[x] José Carlos Mariátegui, Defensa del marxismo (1930), Lima, Amauta, 1976, p. 146.

[xi] Horkheimer, Historia y psicología (1932), op. cit., pp. 27-30.

[xii] André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme (1924), en Œuvres complètes I, París, Gallimard, 2008, p. 316.

[xiii] Siegfried Bernfeld, Sisyphus or The Limits of Education (1925), Berkeley, University of California Press, 1973, p. 64.

[xiv] Henri de Man, Au-delà du marxisme (1926), París, Seuil, 1974.

[xv] Max Eastman, Marx and Lenin: The Science of Revolution, Nueva York, Boni, 1927.

[xvi] Karel Teige, Liquidation de l’art (1925), París, Allia, 2009, p. 82.

[xvii] Jean Audard, Du caractère matérialiste de la psychanalyse (1933), Littoral 27/28 (1989), 199-208.

[xviii] Ibíd.

[xix] De Man, Au-delà du marxisme (1926), op. cit., p. 416.

[xx] René Crevel, Le clavecin de Diderot (1932), Utrecht, Pauvert, 1966, p. 77.

[xxi] Breton, Discours du Congrès des Écrivains. En Œuvres complètes II, París, Gallimard, 2008, p. 459

[xxii] Tristan Tzara, Grains et issues (1935), París, Flammarion, 1981, p. 218.

[xxiii] Reich, Materialismo dialéctico y psicoanálisis (1934), México, Siglo XXI, 1989, pp. 60-61.

[xxiv] Fromm, Sobre métodos y objetivos de una psicología social analítica (1932), op. cit., pp. 114-116.

[xxv] Reich, La sexualidad en el combate cultural (1935), en Sexualidad: libertad o represión, México, Grijalbo, 1971, pp. 95-110.

[xxvi] Oswald de Andrade, Manifiesto Antropófago (1928), en Las vanguardias latinoamericanas, México, FCE, 2006, p. 180.

[xxvii] Fromm, The Theory of Mother Right (1934), en The Crisis of Psychoanalysis, Nueva York, Holt, 1970, pp. 109-135.

[xxviii] Ibíd., p. 135.

[xxix] Bernfeld, La colonia infantil de Baumgarten (1921), en La ética del chocolate, Barcelona, Gedisa, 2005, pp. 43-169.

[xxx] Vera Schmidt, Pulsions sexuelles et éducation du corps (1924), París, Union Générale D’Éditions, 1979, pp. 49-84.

[xxxi] Antonio Gramsci, Cartas de la cárcel (1926-1937), México, Era, 2003, pp. 301-302.

[xxxii] Bernfeld, Socialismo y psicoanálisis (1926), en Marxismo, psicoanálisis y SEXPOL I, op. cit., pp. 16-17.

[xxxiii] Ibíd., pp. 20-21.

[xxxiv] Valentin Voloshinov, Freudismo: un bosquejo crítico (1927), Buenos Aires, Paidós, 1999, p. 143.

[xxxv] Gramsci, Cartas de la cárcel (1926-1937), op. cit., pp. 382-383.

[xxxvi] Voloshinov, Freudismo, op. cit., pp. 160-162.

[xxxvii] Breton, Les vases communicants (1932), París, Gallimard, 1955, pp. 103, 160.

[xxxviii] Aleksandr Luria, Psychoanalysis as a System of Monistic Psychology (1925), Journal of Russian and East European Psychology 40(1) (2002), 26-53.

[xxxix] Crevel, Le clavecin de Diderot (1932), op. cit., p. 67.

[xl] Andrade, Manifiesto Antropófago (1928), op. cit., p. 174.

[xli] Ibíd.

[xlii] Elías Piterbarg, Manifiesto (1930), en Las vanguardias latinoamericanas, op. cit., p. 471.

[xliii] Xavier Abril, Palabras para asegurar una posición dudosa (1930), in N. Osorio (comp.), Manifiestos, proclamas y polémicas de la vanguardia literaria hispanoamericana, Caracas, Ayacucho, 1988, p. 375.

[xliv] De Man, Au-delà du marxisme (1926), op. cit.

[xlv] Eastman, Marx and Lenin: The Science of Revolution (1927), op. cit.

[xlvi] Bernfeld, Socialismo y psicoanálisis (1926), op. cit., pp. 17-19.

[xlvii] Tzara, Grains et issues (1935), op. cit., p. 66.

[xlviii] Reich, La psicología de masas del fascismo, op. cit., p. 26-31. Materialismo dialéctico y psicoanálisis, op. cit., 16-24, 65-66.

[xlix] Bernfeld, Sisyphus or The Limits of Education (1925), op. cit., pp. 63-64.

[l] Reich, La psicología de masas del fascismo, op. cit., p. 31.

 

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