People’s Republic of China

This was the next big prize, a huge Asian landmass seized from capitalism that would become the centrepiece of revolution not only in the region but around the world as an inspiration to peasant struggles as well as to the industrial working class, and operating as a counterweight to the Soviet Union, providing some different templates for what ‘socialism’ might mean but with an ossified leadership that would cruelly betray what it promised.

 

The full chapter appears in Ian Parker’s Socialisms: Revolutions Betrayed, Mislaid and Unmade, published by Resistance Books and the IIRE (2020).

This was one of the Socialisms series of FIIMG articles

Socialism in the next century

Ten aspects of Marxism are highlighted in this paper by Ian Parker on what we could or should expect socialism to look like.

Socialism in the next century

What can we hope for and strive for in a world in which globalised capitalism is rampant and is driving us all to destruction? We have a responsibility to link theory and practice in order to put an end to capitalism once and for all. The century of revolutions, from 1917 to 2017, has provided progressive political narratives and conceptual tools which deepen and extend revolutionary Marxism, and we need to draw on those conceptual tools to bring the Marxist tradition to life again, acting alongside other progressive forces. Now, in this century, Marxism is a theory and practice of emancipatory politics, providing a revolutionary praxis for liberation movements, and our task is to make socialism visible as an alternative, in our forms of struggle and in our vision of another world beyond capital. We can begin to imagine what a future socialist society might look like, albeit with a status of little more than fiction for us now. We need to start here, with where we are and with what we have as existing conditions of life and resources for struggle. I focus on ten aspects of Marxism, showing what it pits itself against and suggesting what kind of world it makes possible for us.

1.

Marxism is historically constituted, invented in the nineteenth century in order to address and solve a particular problem, the historically-specific and limited nature of capitalism. Marxism is not a worldview, but a weapon in the hands of working people to overthrow a particular economic system predicated on exploitation and oppression. Just as it came into being at a certain point in history, so Marxism will disappear when its work is done, unnecessary and anachronistic in a genuinely socialist society. This means that ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ – the blueprint for which Marx refused to draw up – cannot correspond to the forms of life we endure or imagine today, and it should not be modelled on those restricted forms of life. To begin to lay the foundations of communism is to leap into the unknown, with historically-unparalleled freedom being the prerequisite, and a flourishing of diverse hitherto-unimagined competing worldviews fruitful for new forms of progress in a kaleidoscopically contradictory future civilization.

2.

Marxism is reflexive, which means that it not only transforms its object of study, capitalism, challenging it and facilitating the overthrow of the political-economic system it analyses, but that it also transforms itself, accumulating in the body of its work the historical memory of past failures to end capitalism. Marxism is not a neutral ‘objective’ system of knowledge modelled on bourgeois science, but it contributes to scientific inquiry while questioning the academic distanced character of ultimately destructive technological reason. Science does provide a worldview, for that is necessary and progressive to interpret the world, but Marxism connects with and speaks for forms of subjectivity that break from the ideological role of science under capitalism enabling us to change the world, and us as well in that process. Marxism that is self-critical, as it should be, opens space for other humanistic and quasi-spiritual domains of existence, for a socialist future as a constellation of standpoints that examine and unravel power.

3.

Marxism is unfinished, an incomplete and partial partisan project begun by the first pioneer activist researchers over a century and a half ago. They lay the groundwork for an analysis of capitalist production and the extraction of surplus value and, crucially, elaborated a method of analysis through which an accumulating self-correcting tradition of work could be debated and tested. This work began when capitalism as a global system was in its infancy, and that system has repeatedly adapted itself and mutated to suppress political rebellion against it, posing new questions for Marxism itself. Marxism is not a static theoretical system, susceptible to proof or disproof of separate discrete hypotheses, but it is a flexible multivalent tradition of political resistance to capitalism, speaking for the exploited and oppressed. Communism will not, therefore, entail the final totalisation of Marxism as testament to its success, but will entail the eventual failure and fragmentation of the different elements of Marxism when that political-theoretical framework has succeeded in rendering itself unnecessary.

4.

Marxism is plural, continually encountering traditions of work that are other to it, while learning that these other traditions are often no less Marxist for that. It is not and never can be unitary. An attention to the historical context for the development of socialist theory and practice, and examples of self-organisation that anticipate communist forms of life outside or beyond capitalism, is thus complemented by cultural context through which anti-colonial and postcolonial interventions emerge dialectically against and alongside forms of Marxism developed within the imperial centres of power. This dialectical movement is not susceptible to ‘synthesis’, except at a local tactical level in order to grasp specific political formations, and combat them. Provisional specific syntheses of theory and practice are each grounded in material reality, and so they are neither completely relativist nor omnipotently correct. Neither does Marxism aim to construct a final synthetic picture of the world, envisaging instead a future socialist society in which hitherto marginalised indigenous interpretations of political-economic organisation are valued. The power relations between centre and periphery, and between dominant and subaltern, are thus dialectically reversed in the process of struggle in order that they could be abolished.

5.

Marxism is intersectional, something it has learned from other liberation movements with which it has necessarily allied itself in order to grasp the interlinking of exploitation and oppression. The incomplete attempts to grasp the interrelationship between dimensions of class, culture, ‘race’, sex and sexuality, as well as other axes of power and resistance, have provided different ways for Marxism to decouple itself from dominant White Western and stereotypically masculine ways of understanding and governing the world. Marxism thus actively configures itself as the standpoint of all of the exploited and oppressed, with no interest other than the combined and various interests of those who labour, whether that is in the factory, in the fields or in the home. Marxism thus prepares itself, as form of ‘prefigurative politics’ – that is, politics in which the forms of organisation developed to combat capitalism also thereby anticipate the forms of organisation that we want to replace it – Marxism prepares itself for its own eventual dissolution. This intersectional prefigurative politics is designed to end capitalist class rule and to transform Marxist method under socialism into one of a number of different competing analyses and drivers for the self-reflexive transformation of social relationships.

6.

Marxism is relational, its analytic categories deployed not to name independently-existing entities which must then be crystallised into forms of permanent identity, but in order to grasp the particular nature of political-economic class formations; principally capitalism as an exploitative class relation in which surplus value is extracted during the labour process. This pits Marxism against ‘essentialist’ accounts which fail to grasp how a system of exchange values – the circulation of commodities under capitalism – then constitute an apparently hidden and so idealised realm of ‘use values’ of products which people are then induced to yearn for and imagine they can return to. A directly political expression of this relational aspect of Marxism is realised in its refusal of conspiracy-theoretic explanations of society, explanations that are therefore viewed as toxic ideological phenomena. The task of a socialist society is thus to create non-exploitative and non-oppressive forms of relationship, not to simply give expression to hitherto latent ones.

7.

Marxism is international, which is why its political-organisational forms – the ‘Internationals’ – have always, from the earliest days, represented an authentic universal response to the destructive globalising impulse of colonialism, capitalism and then imperialism. Marxism speaks for the singularity of experience, of local and indigenous responses to globalisation, at the same time as it refuses and transcends the particularity of ethno-nationalist reaction. It is particularly critical of centralised great power chauvinism, valuing the right to self-determination, viewing such autonomous self-organisation as itself an expression of what is genuinely universal, self-consciously struggling for progressive global politics in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. There can be no socialism in one country, and defence of any existing partial gains for revolutionary forces requires a dialectical interplay of respect and critique, always enabling the internationalist aspect of liberation to be present so that it may eventually prevail. Our internationalism will be rooted in the local realities of disparate communal life-worlds.

8.

Marxism is democratic, challenging and exposing the false claims made by regimes intent on protecting grotesquely unequal property rights in order to then supposedly ‘represent’ the interests both of those who labour and those who live on the labour of the mass of the population. That ostensible balancing of the interests of different classes configures the bourgeois state as an institutional apparatus for managing and maintaining in their place those who produce surplus value, workers. It is by way of this state apparatus that the ruling ideas express those of the ruling class. In this way the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is cloaked in ideology, that of the lie of meritocracy and the myth of wealth trickling down to benefit everyone, ideology condensed at times of crisis in nationalist reaction designed to strengthen the state, to divide and rule. What is potentially true about the promise of bourgeois democratic rights – including the right to assembly, collective self-organisation, access to media and transparent legal due process – must be made real inside the internal structures of workers’ and other liberation movement organisations and through open debate between different such organisations.

9.

Marxism is liberatory, connecting the organisational and collective realm of the political with the realm of personal experience, connecting the personal and the political in the multi-faceted aspects of the revolutionary process. It is in the course of this process that so-called ‘false consciousness’ under capitalism, the kind of consciousness that is necessary for the many existing ideological justifications for exploitation to thrive, is thereby unravelled and transcended. Socialism as the combined free associations of the producers of wealth functioning at a local, regional, national and international level, with free and unconditional provision of health and welfare for all, is thus given experiential depth as alienation is also dissolved in practice. Socialism lays the ground for the unending reflexive dissolving of the four key facets of alienation under capitalism identified by Marx; enabling new connections to be forged between individuals no longer positioned as competitors, between creative labour and collective decision-making, between conscious awareness of this creative labour process and the bodies of those who labour, and between culture and nature as such.

10.

Marxism is ecological, pitting itself against a ruinous political-economic system that ties ostensibly linear technological ‘development’ to the drive for profit. Capitalism turns nature, our ecological species being, into an ‘environment’ separate from us, from which we are thereby alienated, and it turns nature into a mere resource to be plundered and commodified. Marxist politics entails a revolutionary ecosocialist break from ‘environmental’ state politics that uses the rhetoric of ‘sustainability’ to sustain capital accumulation. The extraction of surplus value is, viewed ecologically, extraction of value from nature, from our nature as productive labouring beings. Something is thereby added during the production process by virtue of human labour power so that this creative labour, turned into commodities, can be bought and sold. Under capitalism something is also taken from nature, used up, destroyed, and so we are driven by the profit motive to destroy the planet. Socialism entails the socialising of the means of production in such a way as to also socialise nature or, better put, and as the dialectical complement of such socialisation, to render human political organisation as authentically ecological.

These ten aspects of Marxism – viewing it as historically constituted, reflexive, unfinished, plural, intersectional, relational, international, democratic, liberatory and ecological – retrieve from the past century of struggle the hopes and promise for a socialist future. In some respects they are not new, and not, as institutionalised bureaucratic ‘orthodox’ Marxists might claim, ‘revisions’; rather, they return us to Marxism as such, bringing it alive for our times. I have had to be brief here, sometimes cryptic. I have drawn on anti-colonial and anti-racist feminist politics in this account that are embodied in keywords for struggle, among which I have mentioned ‘intersectionality’, ‘prefiguration’ and ‘standpoint’; these are concepts that enrich Marxism, and which enable us to grasp the nature of so-called ‘immaterial’ labour in new virtual worlds created by us and harnessed to the needs of capital. These are the dry bare bones of the argument which we now need together to flesh out with examples of revolutionary Marxist praxis.

Marxism shows us in its analysis of capitalism how we live under this wretched political-economic system, and how we die. We for sure will all die as a result of the catastrophic drive to profit that is burning up the planet if we do not act fast, taking from Marxism lessons as to how to struggle and as to how we may live better. The name we give to that future world is ‘socialism’, a progressive leap into a civilization beyond the ravages of capital, with an ideal that pulls us being ‘communism’, the possibility that we may construct a communist society in which real limits on human freedom are realistically and collectively appreciated rather than brutally and cynically imposed upon us. It is only then that those limits can be reconfigured by and for us as the truth of what it is to be in the world rather than as a contradictory system of lies, poisonous ideological nostrums that function to preserve the privileges of the corrupt few who govern us today. This truth of what it is to be in the world has to be reinvented by us in forms of political narrative and creative fiction if we are to build socialism in the next century.

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Psychoanalysis: Critical Psychology for Liberation Movements

This is a work in progress, preliminary to joint work for a forthcoming book by Ian Parker and David Pavón Cuéllar. We invite critical and constructive comments via fiimgemail@gmail.com

 

This manifesto is for movements of liberation for a better world, about the interrelationship between the miserable exploitative oppressive reality of life today and our ‘internal’ lives, our psychology. Psychoanalysis grasps that intimate interconnection between this reality and what feels deep within each of us. We must understand the nature of that interconnection to build a practical alternative to capitalism, sexism and racism. Our task is to reconstruct psychoanalysis as an authentic form of ‘critical psychology’. We address the role of the unconscious, repetition, drive and transference in clinical and political analysis in order to address questions of subjective transformation.

 

  1. Introduction: Misery, dialectics and liberation

Everyone under pressure, workers in the factory, the fields, the streets or the home, needs practical and emotional support, and all the more so activists struggling to change the world. Psychoanalysis, a theory and practice of our internal mental lives, has often been allied with power, but it actually provides a clinical and political critique of misery. It is not something to be afraid of. On the contrary, it can be a weapon against power. It shows how our own psychology is colonised by reality, and how we can speak and act against that as we engage in own liberation.

Psychoanalysis – a critical psychological approach to distress and a radical treatment at the beginning of the twentieth century – was once explicitly allied to the left. Most psychoanalysts were members or supporters of the communist or socialist movements before their own organisations were destroyed by fascism in Europe and they fled to different parts of the world. Under hostile conditions in their new host countries they adapted to their new reality, and they adapted psychoanalysis, turning psychoanalysis itself into an adaptive treatment. Now we need to take that radical authentic historical core of psychoanalysis and bring it to life again.

Just as the conditions of exploitation and oppression we face are historically constructed, and so can be put to an end by us, so our peculiar alienated forms of psychology can be changed. This is despite the claims of most psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists to be working on universal unchanging essential properties of mental life. Psychoanalysis, like Marxism and other theories of power and liberation, came into being at a specific historical period in order to solve a historically-constituted series of problems. The names for our distress were invented, and psychoanalysis was invented to rebel against them, to transform them.

One key problem we face now is the historical construction of individual isolated experience, psychology separated from the collective shared nature of our lives as human beings. This psychology, and the academic professional discipline devoted to its maintenance, was formed at the same time as capitalism itself, and it has spread, with capitalism, around the world. Closely linked with a psychiatric medical model of distress, this psychology has now developed as a psychotherapeutic tool to adapt people to reality instead of enabling them to change it.

This spread of psychology around the world and into our everyday lives is bringing about a reduction of experience, the way we talk and feel about ourselves. However, we need to demarcate psychoanalysis from this process, and show how psychoanalysis can enable us to resist it. Psychoanalysis itself, because of the history of adaptation it has been subject to, has become implicated with ideology, but it rebels. It is as if psychoanalysis is a symptom of oppression that now can be made to speak, and in the process of speaking well of psychoanalysis we may liberate it and liberate ourselves.

Over the course of its history all kinds of reactionary ideological content were injected into the radical form of psychoanalysis. That ideological content, which includes poisonous ideas about the essential underlying difference between men and women and their sexuality and their gendered relation to each other, is trapped in the body of psychoanalysis as a form of practice, a practice of speech. Psychoanalysis is a ‘talking cure’ that shows us how what we say is interconnected with what we do. We can purge psychoanalysis of that ideological poison now, enabling it to speak for us instead of against us.

In order to do this we need to grasp the dialectical relationship between the clinical work of psychoanalysis and its ever-changing historical context. The historical conditions which saw the birth of psychoanalysis, of alienation under capitalism and the oppressive nature of the Western European nuclear family, were precisely the conditions that psychoanalysis aimed to understand and combat. But those conditions, and the ideological forces at work, entered into psychoanalysis, distorting it. There is no ‘pure’ non-ideological psychoanalysis, but the complex dialectical relationship between its clinical form and ideological aspects of the theory can be clarified and transcended in practice.

Four key concepts of psychoanalysis operate as radical formal elements of the theory that resist the deeply ideological process of psychologisation. We focus on the dialectical tension between the clinic as a private space of transformational work and historical context. Psychoanalytic notions of the unconscious, repetition, drive and transference need to be reconstructed in order to make them thoroughly historical; this, to avoid the trap of ‘applying’ them to liberation movements. As we bring an end to the world that creates such misery we also anticipate the end of psychoanalysis, functioning as a tool and result of that historical process.

 

  1. Unconscious: Alienation, rationality and otherness

Our struggle, wherever it is, is international in scope, and every liberation struggle progressively expands its horizons to understand how we are divided and ruled. In the process we come to understand how particular others, of different nations, cultures, genders have been rendered ‘other’ to us, and how that ‘otherness’ has worked its way inwards in forms of embedded racism and sexism. We are made ‘other’, even to ourselves in this sad world, and otherness then runs through our experience, our subjectivity, so deep that nature itself is experienced as threatening. This is what psychoanalysis names as ‘unconscious’.

Our nature as human beings is thereby betrayed, our underlying nature in which we are nothing without others. As our intimate relation to others is betrayed, loving relations of solidarity with the pain of others is replaced with hatred and suspicion, and so we are trapped. We are trapped in the temptation of individual competitive solutions to the misery pervasive in this world now as one governed by the drive to accumulate goods and make profit from others. Individual mastery, the isolated ‘ego’, is pitted against the unconscious, but the unconscious speaks and can then connect us with collective action.

There is a dialectical twist to this connection, which is that while the individual ‘ego’ is not the core of the human being, neither is the unconscious. The unconscious, which we assume to be so deep and hidden inside us is, itself, something that speaks of otherness, of the nature of the language we share with others. This unconscious is itself structured by the particular languages we learn and so it functions as an ‘other’ discourse, always present if not always noticed. It is simultaneously, dialectically, inside us precisely because it was, and still is, also outside us.

We are not the centre of our little worlds of meaning, as if each individual could control the meaning of every word they speak. The illusion that we are the centre, with the ego as the master in the house, is an ideological illusion as powerful as the story that human beings are the centre of the world, set against the other sentient beings instead of living at one with them. Psychoanalysis, in its critique of the ego, poses each of us with a choice, as to whether we will continue to attempt to dominate ourselves and others and nature.

Psychoanalysis speaks of alienation endemic in a world that reduces human beings to the status of things to be bought and sold. We are pitted against others as we compete to sell our labour power, our creative labour is then turned against us as something controlled and sold by our masters and, crucial to psychoanalysis, our relation to our own bodies is perverted. Centred in the ego we aim to master our own bodies, our body treated as a machine that must labour for others. We are then, as a personal and ecological question, pitted against nature itself.

The ego, in which we are all the more alienated at the very moment that we imagine that we are escaping the world and protecting ourselves, is thus, among other things, the crystallisation of bourgeois and colonial ideological commonsense. Its ‘rationality’ is profoundly irrational, and the kind of rationality it perpetuates is that of instrumental science that aims to predict and control the nature it aims to subjugate, an enterprise which drives the discipline of medical psychiatry and psychology. It is at one with a peculiar destructive stereotypical masculine rationality, a mental illness of man under capitalism and colonial rule.

A dominant ideological reading of the clinical aim of psychoanalysis is that ‘where it was, there ego shall be’, as if the destructive illusory centre of bourgeois man must be fortified against the otherness that lies in and around him, around us. Against that reading, we return to the ethical grounding of radical psychoanalysis as a critical psychology in which we aim to be where ‘it’ was, finding the broader compass of our subjectivity there. This, just as the colonial master must learn something about their place in the world and their history if they are to redeem themselves.

We cannot say whether any particular aspect of our psychology is timelessly and universally true, including the unconscious. Psychoanalysis needs to remain mindful of its own historically-specific character as diagnosis and treatment of present-day ills. However, there is something in the nature of language, of our nature as speaking beings, which divides us, for we cannot say everything. We learn that we must bend to a symbolic system we cannot completely master when we speak, and so we become divided subjects filled with something unconscious to us. What is important is how we make sense of that division.

What we do know, and what psychoanalysis works with, is that the sense we make of our subjective division is filled with ideological content, as is the unconscious itself. That division in which the unconscious functions as a place that speaks of our distress reflects and exacerbates the alienating division of the subject that is a characteristic of life under capitalism. Of capitalism and its accompanying forms of rule, of patriarchy as the rule of man over woman and of colonialism as the racist division between apparently rational civilisation and the pathologising of so-called ‘barbarians’ who dare to resist it.

We cannot say if this division can ever be healed, perhaps not, but the pain of that division can be alleviated. We need psychoanalysis that addresses this subjective division which creates and perpetuates the unconscious as if it is something inside us and threatening to us, psychoanalysis allied with and informed by collective struggle. Alongside the clinical task is a political task of mobilising unconscious forces while analysing which forces speak of ideology and which speak of freedom. We analyse and speak and act so that we make history instead of simply repeating it.

 

  1. Repetition: History, compulsion and freedom

In an alienated world marked by exploitation and oppression, a world in which we are also consequently alienated from ourselves, we live with alienation as something unconscious to us, as if this comprises forces out of our control. We are subject to the repetitive nature of language, of familial and cultural and ideological words and phrases and narratives that keep telling the same stories about who we are and what it is impossible for us to achieve. And we are symbolically and bodily subject to the repetition of contradictory failed solutions to socially-structured material problems.

We suffer our personal and political history, often as if it was out of our control and incomprehensible. This is a function of familial dynamics structured by patriarchal power, and class dynamics structured by state power. In both cases, and in cases of racism and other forms of oppression, a combination of secrecy and ideological mystification results in an incomplete resolution of each of the problems that are thrown up, and thrown in front of us as obstacles. Those forms of contradiction that are not solved are repeated, and as we live them we are thereby subject to repetition ourselves.

Whether we like it or not and whether we like psychoanalysis or not, history itself is a repetitive process of attempts and failures to overthrow the existing order of things. We do not make history in conditions of our own choosing, and the different patterns of oppression that lock the exploitative alienating conditions of production and consumption into place are organised around one function; to provoke and block the attempt at collective self-organisation. In this way, racism and sexism and other discriminatory ideological practices must repeat their function of enabling the accumulation of material resources, of the realisation of profit.

There is thus a two-fold repetitive process in life under contemporary capitalism. The first aspect is usually understood as operating in the domain of politics, though psychoanalysis has something valuable to say about this because material political-economic forces also drag individuals into self-destructive patterns of behaviour. These forces hook and reward individuals for behaviour that reproduces material structures of domination, of class and geopolitical power, as well as of the family and the distribution of power between the sexes. The contradictions that emerge when there is resistance to this aspect of the process are symptomatic, repetition that speaks of oppression.

The second aspect of this repetitive process operates ideologically, intimately bound up with the political-economic material structural domain but also intimately connected with the personal life-worlds of those subject to power. As they speak of their experience of this process, subjects are prevented from speaking, their own standpoint is delegitimized and their accounts are systematically distorted. The contradictions that emerge here are also symptomatic, repetition of complaint and failure that speaks of oppression. The psychoanalytic clinical task is thus to enable subjects to speak, and here, of course, the clinic becomes political; the personal is, as socialist-feminism proclaimed, political.

Tying together the material and the ideological, the structural and the symbolic aspects of rule and resistance, is the underlying and overarching problem we face today – the nature of global capitalism – and incomplete and distorted solutions available to us in the left and liberation organisations. On the one side, on the side of power, is the compulsive drive to accumulate and protect capital, fruit of exploitation, which takes on an obsessional and repetitive character. On the other side are the organisations of the left that are too-often repetitively stuck in their own failed history, making the same mistakes.

The history of class struggle and the broader more fundamental process of liberation from different forms of oppression is one of repetition and failure, and also, remember, sometimes fortunate and often tragic chance events that are completely out of our control. This is the interminable almost unendurable repetitive context which is then replicated inside the lives of individuals. Individuals are encouraged to imagine that they are free and independent of this double material and ideological historical process so they feel this failure all the more deeply. Inside each life there is repetition; iron-law and chance, which psychoanalysis works upon.

In psychoanalysis, individuals speak, attempt to ‘free associate’ – to say everything – and fail. As they fail they hear themselves repeat the same stories they have been told about themselves, stories they have repeated in their own lives. Such is how they try to make sense of the way that material and ideological conditions of life are embedded in the unconscious and in their unconsciously-driven responses to events around them. As the blockages in their speech reappear again and again, they also repeat and experience those relationships of obedience that prevented them speaking out. Here there is limited and potential freedom.

Repetition is not the simple repetition of the same words and phrases, of the sound images that make up our speech and writing we conceptualise as ‘signifiers’, nor of exactly the same action. Signifiers take on different meaning according on their place in the contradictory ever-mutating language that surrounds us, and our action is situated in ever-changing contradictory cultural and historical contexts. Our history, whether collective-political or personal-political, is not a grid but is always open, depending on our struggle to make sense of who we are and the world we want to make. Contradiction gives space for freedom.

The repetition of the same is perpetuated by ideological lines of force and political-economic structure, force and structure that we resist because they place limits on our speech and action. Psychoanalysis gives space for the subject to experience how they repeat what they say about themselves, and repeat what they do to perpetuate self-destructive patterns of behaviour. In place of the repetition of the same, the clinic opens the space for something different to emerge; the absolute difference that makes a signifier, and a very different absolutely singular sense of their own subjectivity. We are driven to make a difference.

 

  1. Drive: Body, culture and desire

Something compels us to rebel. When we are impelled to act, more so when we make a difference, it is as if we are a force of nature. Such an act is intermeshed with speech, with an accounting for what we are doing and so also with who we are. This act can be accounted for in our speech, and such speech can itself be effective. This is one reason psychoanalysis was called, by one of the first analysands, a ‘talking cure’. We speak the truth, and in the personal-political realm, we speak truth to power. It involves others.

This is life, this drive to speak and act; it is constructive and collective. Everything that is of the human subject, we psychoanalysts say, goes through ‘the Other’, through the otherness that is the mark of human subjectivity. But something of this drive which takes us beyond ourselves, which is beyond our conscious control, can also take on a mechanistic quality in which we feel driven, when what drives us turns into something deadly, destructive, self-destructive; every drive is a ‘death drive’. Those are the times we unconsciously repeat the same actions and signifiers, then we are subject to repetition.

Here we need historically-attuned psychoanalysis, psychoanalysis conceptualised as constituted historically, to grasp the two-fold nature of drive. Drive is constructive, life, what it is within us enabling us to build links with others, to build culture and forms of political organisation, and to speak of other possible worlds. And drive is destructive and repetitive, death, that which is turned against our-selves and against those social links. Our body can be at one with us when we act, but then our nature can be turned into a machine; then our alienated body is a machine turned against us.

We need to be clear that this drive is not biologically wired-in ‘instinct’, nor that there are separate biologically wired-in life and death instincts. There are indeed instinctual processes concerning food and sex and other biological needs that are a function of our deeper evolutionary history as an animal species, of our animal nature, but these are always interpreted by us, consciously or unconsciously. The drive is on the border of the physiological and the psychical. We maintain that fundamental premise of psychoanalysis against the ideological reframing of drive as something of unchanging human nature. Human nature transforms drive.

Drive is real; it operates as an implacable force, outside the signifiers we use to make sense of what is happening to us. It takes form in our lives, as life, when it is elaborated in language, in the signifiers that structure our speech and action. This real aspect of drive is what makes it appear in the body as if it were an instinctual force, need for food or for sex, and it also enables it to appear in our speech, in the repetition of signifiers. Then we are subject to senseless ideological repetition, of ideology as a machine.

In drive our biological needs, for sex among other things, are reconfigured as social needs. As a function of the structure of the family, private property and the state, social needs are both expressed and repressed. When reproduction, a biological instinctual evolutionary process, underpins and is then informed by human sexuality at the level of drive, sex itself is transformed into one of the symptomatic points of society, as relay and rebellion against power. This is why sex is central to psychoanalysis; it operates as the historically-constituted symptomatic kernel of social relationships in class society. It becomes real as drive.

Human beings are social beings, and drive is already transformed in our distinctive forms of subjectivity into desire. As speaking beings we make use of a symbolic realm, shared collective medium of communication, a realm in which we become human. Here our desire for others is reflexively transformed into forms of desire which, though experienced as lying deep within us, are also conditioned by others. But that symbolic realm, as something independent of us, can so easily and often turn into a machine-like force which is exacerbated by ideological repetition of alienating images of ourselves.

Thus, the distortion of sexual need as if it were an implacable drive is intimately bound up with ideological distortion, perversion of sexuality, bound up with images of sexuality and gender that are structured symbolically. Life is turned into death, and communication is turned into commodification, the turning of human beings, human creative labour and human objects of desire into things. Alienated needs become the driving force of commodification under capitalism, and gender becomes the poisonous site of forms of commodification, such as pornography under patriarchy, with women turned into objects to be bought and sold.

The ideological reduction of desire to drive and then the equally ideological reduction of drive to instinct turn our creative human activity, our symbolically-mediated relation to others, into things. In this way our bodies, and parts of our bodies, are turned into alienated sites of biological processes which we fetishise or fear. This ideological reduction is imaginary, as if communication of images of nature and the self could be relayed independently of symbolically-structured historically-constituted social relations; imaginary, as if what we experience as an aspect of commonsense directly reflects what is real.

This reduction and commodification is characteristic of capitalism, and the production of commodified images of gender is a function of patriarchy. This is why feminism is a threat to current arrangements of power. Feminism threatens the personal-political ideological social bonds that structure the bourgeois nuclear family, insisting that these bonds are imaginary representations of real human needs and reflection of symbolically-sanctioned oppression. This is why feminism, and the broader lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and associated struggles, is an indispensable ally of psychoanalysis in the service of liberation movements.

 

  1. Transference: Power, resistance and analysis

Transference, the ‘transfer’ of structural phenomena concerning desire and power from one realm into another, has a technical meaning in psychoanalysis. The reduced technical meaning of the term transference, in which the transferred structural phenomena concern early love relations repeated in relation to the psychoanalyst, is then also susceptible to an ideological reduction. Psychoanalysts are tempted to ‘apply’ their own particular understanding of transference in the clinic back out into other realms of social and political power relationships. Those relationships require particular analysis and action, analysis and action which then help us better understand the nature of psychoanalytic treatment itself.

The mistaken attempt to ‘apply’ psychoanalysis to realms outside the clinic occurs when treatment is turned into a professional disciplinary speciality competing with, and adopting the language of, rival ‘psy’ approaches such as psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy. Psychoanalysis is not a worldview, but many practitioners are understandably lured into imagining that it should function as such by their own precarious claim to expertise. Psychoanalysts who imagine that their approach should operate as a worldview forget a fundamental principle of the treatment which is that it is the analysand who analyses.

Desire for power operates as drive among those who accumulate capital and among those who willingly, if unconsciously, turn themselves into commodities. Desire for power operates among racists who desire domination over others, and among those who willingly, if unconsciously, turn themselves into victims. And, in the liberation movements, desire for power operates among those seeking escape from exploitation and oppression in the bureaucratic apparatuses that then represent and speak for others instead of enabling people to speak for themselves. In the clinic such symbolically-structured desire and power is questioned and challenged by the analysand.

This is why transference in the clinic is crucial to the treatment. What is ‘transferred’ into the clinic and made experientially-visible to the analysand is the peculiar knotting of desire and power that have made them who they are inside the social structures into which they were born. Among the most potent of these symbolically-warranted social structures is the family, condensed into a mechanism with clearly distributed gender-stereotypical functions in the nuclear family. These familial relationships then become the emotionally-invested model for other political-economic structures, each of which are then ‘worked through’ though never left behind in the clinic.

The clinic is an experiential resonating container in which the psychoanalyst constructs the conditions for the treatment in such a way that the analysand is not only speaking directly to them but also to what they represent, what they represent for the analysand. What they represent for the analysand is then inside the transference, conditions for speech which are intimately connected with an intimately close bodily relationship. Desire is thus spoken rather than simply enacted, it is contained and questioned. In this way the analysand hears and speaks the truth, of the relation they have forged between desire and power.

The encounter with desire and power in transference in the clinic as the replication of and reflection upon personal-political symbolic structures enables the analysand to encounter their unconscious and unwitting interpretation of these structures at the level of fantasy. In this way the analysand comes face to face with power and speaks truth to power, and the analyst has an ethical responsibility to handle desire, to direct the treatment, not to direct the analysand. The analyst configures themselves as object of desire, knowing that to allow desire to be enacted instead of elaborated in speech would be abuse of power.

The repetition of forms of power and desire takes on an uncanny dimension through transference in the clinic. It is uncanny precisely because it combines two contradictory aspects of subjectivity, and makes manifest the contraction between consciousness and the unconscious. Transference makes manifest elements of personal-political relations in the analysand’s past, usually in the family, that have been repeated and can be consciously described to the psychoanalyst. It also brings to life unconscious elements that have been shut out of consciousness, repression that bears upon what is so heavily-invested with meaning under patriarchy and exploited by capitalism, sexual desire.

The ‘clinic’ operates not only inside the material architecture of the consulting room, but has a symbolic dimension of existence outside it by virtue of the spread of psychoanalytic discourse in contemporary society. This gives a peculiar prestige to psychoanalysis among those who can pay for treatment, and it evokes suspicion among those who cannot. There is then a structured discursive-practical frame to the ‘clinic’ as a form of social relationship that can be constituted and reproduced alongside other movements for liberation. Transference can be a way of intensifying the privatisation of distress or of connecting treatment with political resistance.

It is tempting to wish away the repetition of symbolic structure that the phenomenon of transference in psychoanalysis names and works with. It is more tempting among those with power threatened by those who undermine it when they speak of desire. Those subject to power are the subjects who notice its operations. Here ‘standpoint’ in feminist politics gives voice to what we speak of in psychoanalysis, enabling us better to counter the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’, the illusion that there is pure unmediated ‘communication’, imaginary ideological evasion of political contradiction. There is always structure, in the clinic and in politics.

Transference is thus one way, in the particular limited domain of the psychoanalytic clinic, of condensing, harnessing and working through the repetition of signifiers in the life of an individual and the repetition of behavioural patterns, structures of action. Working through the transference in the clinic conceptualised as a peculiar singular knotting together of power and desire opens the space for limited freedom of speech and freedom of movement. But the potential for this freedom opened up by the clinic can only be realised outside the clinic in personal-political activity, when what is private becomes public, collective, and transformative.

 

  1. Subjective transformation: Time for understanding and moment of concluding

We live in a world that has given rise to forms of psychoanalytic theory and practice which are themselves commodified, turned into private treatment available to a limited few. This is not surprising, for every theory and practice of liberation has, at one moment or another, been turned into an academic commodity, distorted and turned against the social movements. It is necessary, then, to grasp what is true about psychoanalysis, not to let those with power rob us of its liberating potential as critical psychology. We live in a world where psychoanalysis is necessary but impossible.

Psychoanalysis is made ‘impossible’ for many people, particularly by those in liberation movements, by the fetish for payment elaborated as self-justification for the exercise of professional expertise, symbolic status and power. We must include in our psychoanalytic work sustained focus on the repressed historical memory of our practice, of the radical history of the free psychoanalytic clinics in continental Western Europe. We must enable transference to operate again as something authentically psychoanalytic rather than as a manifestation of dependence induced by payment to one who pretends to know what we think or what lies inside the unconscious.

The impossibility of psychoanalysis is replicated in the medical psychiatric reframing of treatment in which aspects of our distress are separated into discrete elements specified as different kinds of pathology. We are made ill by this political-economic system, by capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism. We need to treat this illness as a symptom of the lives we lead, not as indications of personal pathology. We need to turn illness into a weapon, to speak of it as a weapon against power, to work through it as we speak of our desire for another world and act collectively on that desire.

The impossibility of psychoanalysis in these conditions of pervasive racism, heterosexism and repetitive demeaning of those excluded from power is intensified by the reduction of distress to the level of individual. Here forms of psychology, including forms of psychoanalytic psychology, operate alongside medical psychiatric psychoanalysis. Psychology pretends to replace psychiatry as a replicator of pre-capitalist relations of professional mastery and servitude in which those who suffer are treated as ‘patients’. But this psychology, which then arrogates to itself psychoanalytic theory the better to inform quick adaptive cognitive-behavioural treatments, thereby replicates capitalism as such.

This is impossibility that psychotherapy then pretends to salve, a problem it pretends to solve. It is an instance of the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’, promising a cure for distress in a world that is structurally-organised around alienation. Psychotherapy systematically evades the question of power, or, if it addresses power, pretends to dissolve it in imaginary communicative relationships it constructs in its own form of clinic. Just as psychoanalysis is a critique rather than a form of psychiatry and psychology, psychoanalysis is also, or should be, the diametric opposite of psychotherapy, including psychoanalytic psychotherapy which recuperates, neutralises and absorbs psychoanalytic notions.

These three elements of the ‘psy complex’, the dense network of theories and practices about the human subject that warrants and reinforces power under capitalism and patriarchy, are now woven together in the contemporary global ideological phenomenon of ‘psychologisation’. Psychologisation in its different competing contradictory aspects reduces social phenomena to psychological processes, as if the distress endemic in this world is the responsibility of each of us as individuals to solve. Neither should we pretend that psychoanalysis has not also played a role complicit with this psychologisation of everyday life, including the psychologisation of political resistance.

The fundamental technical rule of ‘free association’ in psychoanalysis is designed to make evident to the analysand what they cannot speak of rather than produce the illusion that they could ever be free to say everything. This rule of ‘free association’ we are invited to follow inside the clinic also speaks of political desire. We speak about desire in the clinic so that we may speak about it outside, not so that we continue to carry the clinic around with us in everyday life, evangelising about it, but so that we can transcend it, move beyond the clinic, into politics.

This makes use of psychoanalysis in order to achieve the dialectical ‘sublation’ of it; with it in order to transcend it. The aim is not to keep psychoanalysis in place, but to abolish the social conditions that have made it operate, to transform forms of subjectivity that call for psychoanalytic treatment. The ethical-political impulse is that another world is possible, a world in which we freely associate with each other and in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. We aim to build a world in which psychoanalysis is possible but unnecessary.

 

Bibliography

Here is an incomplete bibliography, simply listing indicative texts, among which are not included key founding texts by psychoanalysts.

 

Adorno, T. W. and Horkheimer, M. (1944/1979) Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso.

Bruno, P. (2020) Lacan and Marx: The Invention of the Symptom. London and New York: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London and New York: Routledge.

Danto, E. A. (2005) Freud’s Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis and Social Justice, 1918-1938. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1972/1977) Anti‑Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. New York: Viking.

Dunker, C. (2010) The Structure and Constitution of the Psychoanalytic Clinic: Negativity and Conflict in Contemporary Practice. London: Karnac.

Foucault, M. (1976/1981) The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction. Harmondsworth: Pelican.

Freeman, J. (1970) ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’, http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/structurelessness.htm

Frosh, S. (1987) The Politics of Psychoanalysis: An Introduction to Freudian and Post‑Freudian Theory. London: Macmillan.

Gellner, E. (1985) The Psychoanalytic Movement, or The Coming of Unreason. London: Paladin.

Harding, S. (ed) (2003) The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies. London: Routledge.

Millet, K. (1977) Sexual Politics. London: Virago.

Mitchell, J. (1974) Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

O’Connor, N. and Ryan, J. (1993) Wild Desires and Mistaken Identities: Lesbianism and Psychoanalysis. London: Virago.

Parker, I. and Pavón-Cuéllar, D. (eds) (2017) Marxismo, psicología y psicoanálisis. Morelia, Mexico: Paradiso editors, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo.

Pavón Cuéllar, D. (2017) Marxism and Psychoanalysis: In or Against Psychology? London and New York: Routledge.

Stavrakakis, Y (2007) The Lacanian Left: Psychoanalysis, Theory, Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Tomšič, S. (2015) The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan. London: Verso.

Wolfenstein, E. V. (1993) Psychoanalytic‑Marxism: Groundwork. London: Free Association Books.

Žižek, S. (1989) The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso.

 

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

 

 

 

Marxist introductory reading

What to read as an introduction to Marxism and revolutionary politics if you are beginning to wake up to the world and want to know more? Here are some suggestions (the links are to help you track the details of the books to get hold of them yourself):

Why Marx was Right by Terry Eagleton does not exactly bring us up to date – we need some more attention to feminist and ecological arguments at least to do that – but it does underline the relevance of Marx for us today. Terry Eagleton is, in some ways, an ‘old Marxist’, but he writes well and this is a passionate argument for Marxism now. Sharp and sometimes funny, the book shows how, far from being out of date, Marxism is absolutely essential as a theoretical framework and political practice to understand capitalism and overthrow it.

Marx: A Graphic Guide by Rius is a classic comic format introduction to Marxist theory, originally published as Marx for Beginners. A little dated in its mistaken references to the Soviet Union as ‘socialist’, Rius shows his allegiance to some of the more traditional monolithic forms of Marxism. But it does go through basic political-economic concepts ranging from the difference between ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value’ to the difference between individual idealist accounts of the world and collective materialist practice, and you get a historical grounding in what Marx was writing and why.

A Marxist History of the World: From Neanderthals to Neoliberals by Neil Faulkner is a magisterial review of the scope of world history, doing what it says on the tin. The book is published by Counterfire, a small Marxist group that Neil Faulkner has since left, and here, as always, he is an independent Marxist writer. This book gives the broadest possible sweep of historical analysis, situating the development of Marxist theory under capitalism in the context of the emergence of our current brutal political-economic global system against a backdrop of slavery and feudalism.

Dangerous Liaisons: The Marriages and Divorces of Marxism and Feminism by Cinzia Arruzza is a detailed and almost exhaustive account of the variety of connections that have been made between the struggle to end capitalist exploitation and women’s struggles for equality and freedom from oppression. Cinzia Arruzza wrote the book as a supporter of the Fourth International, and the book was translated for sections of the Fourth International, including into English for Socialist Resistance as the British section. The book ranges from the Paris Commune in the nineteenth century to the role of women in the Russian Revolution in 1917 to the emergence of socialist feminist and then ‘third wave’ feminisms.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein is a marvellous account of the way that capitalism lurches from crisis to crisis bringing death and destruction in its wake, and harvesting the benefits in the form of increased profits. Naomi Klein is not a heavy-handed ‘Marxist’ writer, but someone who is able to connect revolutionary disgust at what capitalism is doing to the world with an acute analysis of how all kinds of disasters are not external to this political-economic system but intrinsic to it.

Green Capitalism: Why it can’t work by Daniel Tanuro puts the case for an ‘ecosocialist’ transformation of Marxism. It brings to the fore the best of Marx’s own insights into the way that capitalism as a system which is driven by the search for increased profits must, of necessity, exploit human labour and the planet, driving us to barbarism unless we act now. Daniel Tanuro is a member of the Fourth International, a Marxist who is able to show that the ecological crisis and climate change is not merely an optional extra that we must factor into our understanding of capitalism, but that environmental disaster is fuelled by this system.

Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan by Michael Knapp, Anja Flach and Ercan Ayboga is a clear account of why Rojava is so important to revolutionaries today. In incredibly difficult conditions, in the midst of attacks by the Syrian and Turkish regimes, something is being built here from a blend of Marxist and feminist politics. These writers are not explicitly writing as Marxists here, rather as journalist activists, and the translation from German is by Janet Biehl, partner of the anarchist Murray Bookchin. It shows that another world is possible, that if it can be begun here, it can surely be begun by all of us in solidarity with Rojava everywhere.

Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left by Ian Parker is also quite good, check it out.