MARX, FREUD AND HISTORICAL MATERIALISM
In the Preface to the First Edition 1884 of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels writes:
"...According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the last resort, the production and reproduction of immediate life. But this itself is of a twofold character. On the one hand, the production of the means of subsistence, of food, clothing and shelter, and the tools requisite therefore; on the other, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social institutions under which men of a definite historical epoch and of a definite country live are conditioned by both kinds of production: by the stage of labor, on the one hand, and of the family, on the other..."
So, according to Engels, historical materialism requires not only a theory of production- the
satisfaction of human needs through cooperative labor, but a theory of reproduction- the production of human beings, themselves, within the family. But, until Lise Vogel's Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unitary Theory, Marxism had provided only the former. And even with Vogel's important contribution, there is something essential left to be said: "...What is missing...is the psychological dimension which, given the state of knowledge in his time, Marx was ill-equipped to provide..."1 A theory of reproduction would include the nature of childhood development and the dynamics of the family. Freud, on the other hand, does provide such a theory. But are the theories of Marx and Freud compatible?
Both Marx and Freud believed human need was rooted in our biological instincts. But Freud's theory of the instincts underwent a complete revolution during his lifetime. His initial view was that they were a pair, sexual and self-preservative (as was Marx's view); his final view, that they consisted of a life instinct and an aggressive (or death) instinct. But the later view was accompanied by thoroughly pessimistic conclusions that led Freud to deny the possibility of socialism. As a Marxist, I am convinced of the practicality of the socialist project. To my mind, the Russian Revolution of 1917 proved that, under the very worst of historical conditions, the working class could begin the construction of socialism.
Consequently, whatever view of the instincts we adopt, I would maintain its compatibility with socialism. Freud's earlier view is consistent with Marx's conception of human nature and socialism. But even if we adopt Freud's later view, I would argue that his pessimistic conclusions were due to personal opinions only, not to the logical consequences of his theory.
Another problem concerning the compatibility of Marx and Freud is the latter's views on women. But, once again, his personal views must be sharply distinguished from his theory. Freud's Victorian view of women is utterly without excuse; it must be condemned by Marxist and non-Marxist, alike. His view of the development of female sexuality, however, claims to be a purely empirical theory. Whether it describes a universal process, or is limited to a particular family structure within an historical mode of production (i.e. the patriarchal family within capitalist society) is a matter of controversy. Subsequent Freudians and non-Freudians have proposed alternative theories2, so that it is possible to adopt Freud's general theory without committing oneself to his view of women. Another related topic is the nature of homosexual/LGBT development and rights.
Unlike his view on women, Freud's attitude toward homosexuality was remarkably progressive. In several of his works he suggests hypotheses as to the origins of homosexuality; and, on more than one occasion, defended it against fierce social criticism.3 But, like his theory of female sexuality, these hypotheses remain controversial. I would argue, nevertheless, that, they should not prevent us from appreciating the value of his general theory. It could eventually provide us with the theory of reproduction that Engels required.
Let us with a brief sketch of Marx's historical materialism, which will act as a backdrop against which to evaluate Freudian theory.
Marx's Historical Materialism
Marx's historical materialism can be divided into two parts derived from two classic texts: (1) the theory of the labor-process, as described in Capital I; and (2) the theory of the rise, fall, and succession of modes of production, as outlined in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The first concerns the universal condition under which men must cooperate to produce for the needs of the community; the second, the nature of those historical forms of society - modes of production - their rise, fall and revolutionary replacement by other forms. Let us begin with Marx's description of the labor-process as described in Capital I, "The Labor-Process or the Production of Use-Values":
"...Labor is a process in which both man and nature participate...he opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces...setting in motion...the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature's products in a form adapted to his own wants...By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature..."4
And in the, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx writes: "...In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are
indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social
consciousness...At a certain stage in their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or - what is but a legal expression for the same thing - the property relations which have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an
epoch of social revolution..."5
Marxism is a theory about man as the producer and product of society. As a child, we enter the world as a dependant member of a family (or clan) subject to the needs of subsistence and
reproduction. To satisfy these needs, society must act upon the environment through cooperative labor. In so doing, it is further subjected to the laws of the environment (e.g. the availability of food, water, the climate and fertility of the soil). This universal condition, the labor process, is common to all of human history. The labor process is the core of historical materialism, whose basic concepts are forces, relations and modes of production. The forces of production are our means of making a living. They consist of the means of production (i.e. the tools, machines and raw materials from the environment) and labor-power (i.e. our knowledge, strength and skills). The relations of production connect men to each other and to the forces of production. The nature of this connection determines the mode of production (i.e. the economic structure of society). Historical materialism is a theory about the development of modes of production.
In pre-class society men collectively controlled the means of production in the form of
simple tools and skills. The only division of labor was that between the sexes (i.e. men, in charge of hunting; women, of gathering food and child-rearing). Then, in about the year 10,000
B.C., came the discovery of agriculture and the domestication of animals: the most momentous change in human history. This revolution in the forces of production led to a revolution in the relations of production: the division of society into classes and the formation of the state. From this point on, human history became a history of class struggle: one between the direct producers and those who controlled the means of production over the social surplus. Class struggle takes place within a social system, what Marxists call a mode of production.
In class society a mode of production has three components: (1) an economy, based on the
relationship between the owners of the means of production to the direct producers (e.g. slave owners to slaves, feudal lords to serfs, capitalists to wage workers); (2) a unit for the reproduction of labor-power (e.g. family, clan); and (3) a state to maintain the system in the interests of its ruling class. Marxism often describes modes of production in terms of the architectural metaphor of the base, or foundation, and its superstructure. The foundation or base (i.e. the economy) is composed of the relations of production and subject to the forces of production. Upon this base arises the superstructure of the state, family and other social institutions, and the forms of conscious thought.
Freud's contribution to a materialist conception of history concerns reproduction, the rearing
of children within the family. Let us begin with his theory of the instincts. (Page numbers, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay.)
Freud's Theory of the Instincts
Both Marx and Freud recognized that human beings are driven by biological instincts. In Capital I, Marx speaks of the "...drives for self-preservation and propagation..."6 In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud writes "...The fact of the existence of sexual needs in
human beings and animals is expressed in biology by the assumption of a 'sexual instinct', on the analogy of the instinct of nutrition, that of hunger..."7 But, whereas Marx accepted these needs uncritically, Freud explored their nature in a theory of the instincts.
In his New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Freud describes them: "...An instinct, then; is distinguished from a stimulus by the fact that it arises from sources of stimulation within the body, that it operates as a constant force and that the subject cannot avoid it by flight, as is possible with an external stimulus. Its source is a state of excitation in the body. We can distinguish an instinct's source, object and aim..."8 "What instincts should we suppose there are, and how many?...", Freud asks. "...There is obviously a wide opportunity here for arbitrary choices..."9
In Freud's early work, he proposed two conflicting groups of instincts, the sexual and the self-preservative. But his concept of sexuality extended far beyond our commonsense view: "...That extension is of a twofold kind. In the first place sexuality is divorced from its too close connection
with the genitals and is regarded as a more comprehensive bodily function,
having pleasure as its goal and only secondarily coming to serve the ends of reproduction. In the second place the sexual impulses are regarded as including all of those merely affectionate and
friendly impulses to which usage applies to the exceedingly ambiguous word 'love'... 10
Freud's theory of the sexual and self-preservative instincts was later replaced by one featuring a life instinct, Eros, and an aggressive, or death instinct, Thanatos. In, The Ego and the Id, he speaks of his new theory:
"...we have to distinguish two classes of instincts, one of which, the sexual instincts or Eros, is by far the more conspicuous and accessible to study. It comprises not merely the uninhibited sexual instinct proper...but also the self-preservative instinct...The second class of instincts was not so easy to point to...we put forward the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to
lead organic life back into the inanimate state..."11 In Freud's later writings he admits the largely
speculative nature of this hypothesis, and subsequent members of the psycho-analytic tradition have called it into question. It is on the basis of this later theory that Freud expresses his pessimistic conclusions on the possibility of socialism in Civilization and its Discontents. But I would argue (as I will also do with regard to Freud's views on women), that his personal views are not the necessary consequence of his scientific theories. A similar discrepancy between an individual's personal views and his work was suggested by Marx and Engels with
regard to the great French novelist, Balzac. In both cases, a great scientist or artist created works that were of independent value and far superior to their personal attitudes. Contemporary neuroscience also has something to say about the nature and number of the instincts. 12 Later, in
our discussion, I will argue that, whatever theory of the instincts we adopt, it will not effect our commitment to the socialist project. Let us next examine Freud's theory of childhood sexual development.
The Stages of Childhood Development
An infant enters the world completely dependent on its parents within the family, driven by
instinct, and genetically programmed to pass through a series of developmental stages. Its mind, sexual identity and moral sense are created through interaction with its social environment. "...psychoanalysis cannot conceive of the child without society...The sexual instinct is modifiable, plastic, capable of sublimation...It is the driving force of psychological development as soon as it comes under the influence of society...The motive force of suppression is the self preservation instinct of the ego...psychological development is the product of the conflict between them..."13
At each stage the child's basic needs are linked by pleasure to a portion of its body. To the functions of nutrition and defecation-- focused on an erogenous zone, the mouth or anus --are. added pleasurable sensations that it seeks to repeat. Its emotions are attached to those in charge of its care. The first and most important of these is its mother. It learns to distinguish itself from its mother's breast, and then from her and others. It learns to recognize its father, and the differences between its parents. It learns to cry to alert its parents to its needs. Eventually siblings may enter its world, and threaten its monopoly of parental love. Then the triangular relationship of the Oedipus complex develops the conflict in its love for its parents and in its competition for their love with its siblings. Early masturbatory activity leads to threats, resulting in the castration complex, the trauma of which (in heterosexuals) forces it to give up its love for one parent and identify with the parent of the opposite sex. This process creates its sexual identity; and in the course of its creation, the super-ego, or moral sense, is formed. Later, it enters puberty and the maturation of sexuality, choosing sexual partners and moral authorities on the pattern of its parents. Such is the bare trajectory of childhood development according to Freud.
In An Autobiographical Study, Freud presents an overview of these stages: "...The sexual
function, as I found, is in existence from the very beginning of the individual's life, though at first it is attached to the other vital functions and does not become independent of them until later; it has to pass through a long and complicated process of development before it becomes what we are familiar with as the normal sexual life of the adult...lt begins by manifesting itself in the activity of a whole number of component instincts. These are dependent upon erotogenic zones in the body...they operate independently of one another in a search for pleasure, and they find their object for the most part in the subject's own body...a first stage of organization is reached under the dominance of the oral components, an anal-sadistic stage follows, and it is only after the third stage has at last been reached that the primacy of the genitals is established and that the sexual function begins to serve the ends of reproduction..."
"...After the stage of auto-erotism, the first love-object in the case of both sexes is the mother...Later, but still in the first years of infancy, the relation known as the Oedipus complex becomes established..."14
The Oedipus complex is the "...central phenomenon of the sexual period of early
childhood..."15and is "...a phenomenon which is determined and laid down by heredity..."16
In, The Ego and the Id, Freud describes it:
"...At a very early age the little boy develops an object-cathexis for his mother, which originally related to the mother's breast...; the boy deals with his father by identifying himself with him. For a time these two relationships proceed side by side, until the boy's sexual wishes in regard to his mother become more intense and his father is perceived as an obstacle to them; from this the Oedipus complex originates. His identification with his father takes on a hostile coloring and changes into a wish to get rid of his father in order to take his place with his mother. Henceforward his relation to his father is ambivalent. An ambivalent attitude to his father and an object-relation of a solely affectionate kind to his mother make up the content of the simple positive Oedipus complex in a boy."
Although Freud describes the Oedipus complex as if it were a universal phenomenon, later
Freudians, like Wilhelm Reich, recognize its historically-determined character. "To eternalize the Oedipus Complex is to regard the family form which has given rise to it as absolute and eternal, which would be tantamount to thinking that the nature of mankind has always been as it appears to us today. The Oedipus complex can be assumed to apply to all forms of patriarchal society, but the relationship of children to their parents in matriarchal society is, according to Malinowski, so different that it can hardly be called by the same name...the Oedipus complex is a sociologically conditioned fact which changes its form with the structure of society. The Oedipus complex must disappear in a socialist society because its social basis - the patriarchal
family- will itself disappear..."17
In The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex, Freud discusses how the castration complex develops and contributes to the dissolution of the Oedipus complex:
"...When the (male) child's interest turns to his genitals he betrays the fact by manipulating
them frequently; and he then finds that the adults do not approve of this behavior...a threat is pronounced that this part of him which he values so highly will be taken away from him... what brings about the destruction of the child's phallic genital organization is this threat of castration...to begin with the boy does not believe in the threat or obey it...It is not until a fresh experience comes his way that the child begins to reckon with the possibility...The observation which finally breaks down his unbelief is the sight of the female genitals...With this, the loss of
his own penis becomes imaginable, and the threat of castration takes it deferred effect..." 18
The traumatic belief in the threat of castration convinces the child that it must give up its desire for its mother and replace it with an identification with its father in the form of a super ego:
"...The authority of the father or the parents is introjected into the ego, and there forms the nucleus of the super-ego, which takes over the severity of the father and perpetuates his prohibition against incest...The process ushers in the latency period, which interrupts the child's
The super-ego, "heir of the Oedipus complex"20, is the mental agent of our moral sense or "conscience". The child is not born with a capacity to distinguish good from evil. Like its sexual identity, its moral sense develops through the interaction of a hereditary program with its social environment.' Thus, psychoanalysis "...provides a materialist solution to the concept of morals by tracing it back to experience, to the self-preservation instinct and to fear of punishment. All morals in a child are the result either of fear of punishment or of love of those who bring it
"...As a child grows up, the role of father is carried on by teachers and others in authority; their injunctions and prohibitions remain powerful in the ego ideal, and continue, in the form of conscience, to exercise the moral censorship. The tension between the demands of conscience and the actual performances of the ego is experienced as a sense of guilt. Social feelings rest on identifications with other people, on the basis of having the same ego ideal..."22
Thus, Freud presents us with a materialist theory of the origins of our moral and social feelings for others (i.e. our sense of justice). The crisis of the Oedipus complex is followed by a pause in the child's development, the latency period:
"...the most remarkable feature of the sexual life of man is its diphasic onset, its onset in two
waves, with an interval between them. It reaches a first climax in the fourth or fifth year of a child's life. But thereafter this early efflorescence of sexuality passes off; the sexual impulses which have shown such liveliness are overcome by repression, and a period of latency follows, which lasts until puberty...,,23
"...With the arrival of puberty, changes set in which are destined to give infantile sexual life its final, normal shape. The sexual instinct has hitherto been predominantly auto-erotic; it now finds a sexual object. Its activity has hitherto been derived from a number of separate instincts and erotogenic zones, which independently of one another, have pursued a certain sort of pleasure as their sole sexual aim. Now, however, a new sexual aim appears, and all the component instincts combine to attain it, while the erotogenic zones become subordinated to the
primacy of the genital zone..."24
Freud's views on the stages of childhood development enable us to trace some of the structural components of character. Firstly, there is the series of individuals to which we are later sexually and emotionally attracted (i.e. our object choices):
"...children learn to feel for other people who help them in their helplessness and satisfy their needs a love which is on the model of, and a continuation of, their relation as sucklings to
their nursing mother..?5
And, as a result of this: "...sexual love and what appears to be non-sexual love for parents are fed from the same sources..."26
Next, come the series of adults who serve as our mentors and moral influences:
"...We have already made out a little of what it is that creates character. First and foremost there is the incorporation of the former parental agency as a super-ego, which is no doubt its most important and decisive portion, and further, identifications with the two parents of the later
period and with other influential figures..."27
To summarize, Freud's theory of childhood sexuality enables us to understand the continuum of our desires in their development from infancy through maturity:
"...The resultants of infantile object-choice are carried over into the later period....they now represent what may be described as the 'affectionate current' of sexual life. Only psycho analytic investigation can show that behind its affection, admiration and respect there lie
concealed the old sexual longings of the infantile component instincts..."28
In Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory, Nancy J. Chodorow writes: "...Until we have another theory which can tell us about unconscious mental processes, conflict, and relations of gender, sexuality, and self, we had best take psychoanalysis for what it does include and can tell us rather than dismissing it out of hand..."29
Let us now turn to Freud's view of the structure and principles that govern the mind.
The Structure of the Mind
Like one's sexual identity and moral sense, our mind develops through the interaction of a heredity program with the social environment. In An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, Freud writes: "...We know two kinds of things about what we call our psyche (or mental life): firstly, its bodily organ and scene of action, the brain (or nervous system), and on the other hand, our acts of consciousness, which are immediate data and cannot be further explained by any sort of description. Everything that lies between is unknown to us, and the data do not include any direct relation between these two terminal points of our knowledge. If it existed, it would at the most afford an exact localization of the processes of consciousness and would give us no help
towards understanding them..."30
Consciousness is no less a mystery for the science of our own time than it was for Freud's.31
Nevertheless, I would argue that psychoanalysis presents us with a conceptual model that describes the functioning of our minds in a way that has yet to be superceded by modern neuroscience.
The Ego and the ld contains Freud's final model of the mind and the principles by which
it functions: "We have formed the idea that in each individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes; and we call this his ego. It is to this ego that consciousness is attached..."32 "...consciousness is the surface of the mental apparatus; that is, we have ascribed it as a function
to a system which is spatially the first one reached from the external world...".33
"...the ego is that portion of the id which was modified by the proximity and influence of the external world, which is adapted for the reception of stimuli and as a protective shield against stimuli...it has taken on the task of representing the external world to the id...In accomplishing this function, the ego must lay down an accurate picture of it in the memory-traces of its perceptions, and by its exercise of the function of 'reality-testing'...the ego controls the approaches to motility under the id's orders; but between a need and an action it has interposed a postponement in the form of the activity of thought, during which it makes use of the mnemic
residues of experience..."34
The second division of the mind is the id, largely the seat of the unconscious. The ego and the id operate according to conflicting laws, which Freud called the pleasure principle and the reality principle. In "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning", Freud explains:
"In the psychology which is founded on psycho-analysis we have become accustomed to
taking as our starting-point the unconscious mental processes...We consider these to be the older, primary processes...the governing purpose obeyed by these primary processes is...the pleasure principle...These processes strive toward gaining pleasure; psychical activity draws
back from any event which might arouse unpleasure..."35
"...the ego seeks to bring the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavors to substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle, which reigns unrestrictedly in the id. For the ego, perception plays the part which in the id falls to
instinct. The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions..."36
"...the pleasure principle is proper to a primary method of working on the part of the mental apparatus, but that from the point of view of the self-preservation of the organism among the difficulties of the external world, it is from the very outset inefficient and even highly dangerous. Under the influence of the ego's instincts of self-preservation, the pleasure principle is replaced by the reality principle. This latter principle does not abandon the intention of ultimately obtaining pleasure, but it nevertheless demands and carries into effect the postponement of satisfaction, the abandonment of a number of possibilities of gaining satisfaction and the temporary toleration of unpleasure as a step on the long indirect road to pleasure..."37
To summarize Freud's tripartite division of the mind into ego, id and super-ego:
"...Our ideas about the ego are beginning to clear, and its various relationships are gaining distinctness...By virtue of its relation to the perceptual system it gives mental processes an order in time and submits them to 'reality-testing'...All the experiences of life that originate from without enrich the ego; the id, however, is its second external world, which it strives to bring into subjection to itself...The ego develops from perceiving instincts to controlling them, from obeying instincts to inhibiting them. In this achievement a large share is taken by the ego ideal...From the other point of view, however, we see this same ego as a poor creature owing service to three masters and consequently menaced by three dangers: from the external world, from the libido of the id, and from the severity of the super-ego..."38
In a recent article in Scientific American, "Freud Returns" by Mark Solms, the author writes: "...We are still far from a consensus, but an increasing number of diverse neuroscientists are reaching the same conclusion drawn by Eric R. Kandel of Columbia University, the 2000
Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine; that psychoanalysis is "still the most coherent and intellectually satisfying view of the mind."39
Freud's late writings on civilization (i.e. class society) arrive at deeply pessimistic conclusions. But, once again, I will argue these are due to his personal opinions, not the necessary consequences of his theory. Furthermore, his discussions always recognize the important arguments of his opponents; and, with these, often provide the very means to undermine his own. In the first of these, The Future of an Illusion, he presents a description of class society that bears a striking resemblance to that of Marx. For example, he lists the two aspects of civilization (i.e. class society):
(1) "...all the knowledge and capacity that men have acquired in order to control the forces of
nature and extract its wealth for the satisfaction of human needs ..."; and
(2) "...all the regulations necessary in order to adjust the relations of men to one another and especially the distribution of the available wealth..."40
A better description of the forces and relations of production could not have been written by
Marx, himself. Furthermore, these aspects are not independent of one another, because:
"...an individual man can himself come to function as wealth in relation to another one, in so far as the other person makes use of his capacity for work..."41
Exploitation of the worker's labor-power, according to Marx, is it not? And Freud continues, saying that the second of these two aspects of civilization, the regulations (i.e. laws) regarding wealth, are:
"...something which was imposed on a resisting majority by a minority which understood how to obtain possession of the means to power and coercion..."42
The class nature of the state, according to Marx, could not have been more aptly put. But having given us a virtually Marxist description of class society, Freud proceeds to thoroughly un-Marxist conclusions. He claims, on the one hand, that:
"...It is just as impossible to do without control of the mass by a minority as it is to dispense with coercion...For masses are lazy and unintelligent..." And that "...men are not spontaneously fond of work...arguments are of no avail against their passions..." 43
Despite his pessimistic conclusions, Freud considers his opponent's objections. Perhaps this resistance to work on the part of "the masses" - he replies - is the result of unfair regulations (i.e. laws) by the ruling minority? Assuming the voice of his opponent, Freud continues:
"...New generations, who have been brought up in kindness...and who have experienced the
benefits of civilization...will have a different attitude...They will feel it as a possession of their very own and will be ready for its sake to make the sacrifices...for its preservation..."44
But Freud remains skeptical regarding the prospects for such a cooperative society. And, in
an interesting aside, he mentions the recent Russian Revolution - an "experiment in civilization that is now in progress"45 - but refuses to judge it without knowledge of its outcome (This was written in 1927.).
Next, he considers civilization's treatment of the lower classes:
"...If we turn to those restrictions that apply only to certain classes of society, we meet with a state of things which is flagrant..." Once again, his condemnation of class society in the words that follow could easily have been penned by Marx:
"...If, however, a culture has not got beyond a point at which the satisfaction of one portion
of its participants depends upon the suppression of another, and perhaps larger, portion - and this is the case in all present-day cultures- it is understandable that the suppressed people should develop an intense hostility towards a culture whose existence they make possible by their work, but in whose wealth they have too small a share...It goes without saying that a civilization which leaves so large a number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into
revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence."46
So, in The Future of An Illusion Freud is pessimistic, but shows compassion for the lower classes and harsh criticism of class society. But in Civilization and Its Discontents, his pessimism reaches Hobbesian proportions, grounded in his belief in an aggressive instinct:
"...In all that follows I adopt the standpoint, therefore, that the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man, and I return to my view that it constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization..."47
"...The existence of this inclination to aggression...is the factor which disturbs our relations with our neighbors...In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration..."48
And in a positively chilling passage, Freud vents his deeply pessimistic feelings:
"...their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill him, Homo Homini lupus ("Man is a wolf to man"-
Plautus). Who, in the face of all his experience of life and of history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion?..."49
But one can as easily select from history instances of man's compassion and courage as one can list his examples of cruelty. Neither prove we are incapable of controlling our aggression. Furthermore, our knowledge of pre-class society, as described by Engels in The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, suggests that it was class society- not instinct- that multiplied man's capacity for aggression.
Next Freud examines the ideas of his opponents, the "communists". He attributes to them the
view that: "...man is wholly good and is well-disposed to his neighbor; but the institution of private property has corrupted his nature. The ownership of private wealth gives the individual power, and with it the temptation to ill-treat his neighbor; while the man who is excluded from possession is bound to rebel in hostility against his oppressor. If private property were abolished, all wealth held in common, and everyone allowed to share in the enjoyment of it, ill will and hostility would disappear among men. Since everyone's needs would be satisfied, no one would have any reason to regard another as his enemy, all would willingly undertake the work that was necessary...,50
But Freud argues that even if private property were abolished, aggression would continue to be expressed in sexual competition. If the institution of the family were modified to permit greater freedom in sexual life, he admits that this source of conflict might be reduced. He remains doubtful regarding future developments, however. But, in a telling footnotes 51 he admits that eliminating great inequalities in wealth among men is not to be underestimated in creating a more just society. Whether eliminating private property altogether will achieve this, he refuses to judge.
Next, he examines his own theory of the formation of the super-ego as civilization's method for adapting the individual's aggression to society, and concludes with: "...Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual's dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a
Here, Freud presents one of his most powerful arguments against himself. For, even if we assume that there is either an aggressive instinct, or that aggression is the product of the instinct for self-preservation, it simply doesn't follow that this cannot be controlled by society. Freud describes how the formation of the super-ego contributes to this control. It is only his doubts
that super-ego formation is not sufficiently effective, or not effective in enough of us, that leads
him to pessimistic conclusions.
Finally, at the very end of Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud seems to reverse himself, admitting that:
"...I too think it quite certain that a real change in the relations of human beings to possessions would be of more help in this direction than any ethical commands; but the
recognition of this fact among socialists has been obscured and made useless for practical purposes by a fresh idealistic misconception of human nature..."53s
But, if such a change in the relations to property is desirable, why blame "socialists"' misconceptions? And if "socialists" adopt Freud's view of the development of the super-ego in the individual, why shouldn't this enable them to agree to regulations (i.e. laws) in their mutual interest? Only class society- capitalism- stands in our way.
According to Engels, historical materialism requires a theory of production and one of reproduction. Marx supplies the former- which enables us to understand the labor-process, the history of modes of production, the class struggle and the development of capitalism. Freud provides the latter, which enables us to understand the development of the child within the family. If Marx helps the working class fight for socialism, what does Freud contribute to the socialist project? I would suggest two answers.
In the New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Freud provides the first:
"...perhaps the most important of all the activities of analysis is the application of psycho analysis to education, to the upbringing of the next generation..."s4 This would include our understanding of the origins of sexuality, and its defense against all forms of oppression (i.e. the
rights of LGBT individuals and women.) In "Sexual Morality and Modem Nervousness", Freud provides the second, the understanding of sexuality and marriage in order to create a less repressive society. Let us begin with the rearing and education of children.
Having a child is perhaps the greatest responsibility that most adults undertake in their
lifetimes. Psychoanalysis enables us to understand children's sexual, moral and intellectual development, so as to create the conditions that would foster that development. In Marx's
words, so that we may create a society in which "...the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all..."ss This is especially important because, in the treatment of adults, Freud found that their mental illness regularly led back to the patients' early childhood:
"...We recognized that particular importance attached to the first years of childhood - up to the age of five, perhaps- for several reasons. Firstly, because those years include the early efflorescence of sexuality which leaves behind it decisive instigating factors for the sexual life of maturity. Secondly, because the impressions of this period impinge upon an immature and feeble ego, and act upon it like traumas. The ego cannot fend off the emotional storms which they provoke in any way except by repression, and in this manner acquires in childhood all the dispositions to later illnesses. We realized that the difficulty of childhood lies in the fact that in a short span of time a child has to appropriate the results of a cultural evolution which stretches over thousands of years, including the acquisition of control over his instincts and adaptation to society...He can only achieve a part of this modification through his own development; much
must be imposed on him by education..."s6 And Freud goes on to describe that education:
"...Let us make ourselves clear as to what the first task of education is. The child must learn to control his instincts...an optimum must be discovered which will enable education to achieve the most and damage the least. It will therefore be a matter of deciding how much to forbid, at what times and by what means. And in addition we have to take into account the fact that the objects of our educational influence have very different innate constitutional dispositions, so that it is quite impossible that the same educational procedure can be equally good for all
A particularly delicate subject of the child's education is sexuality, itself. In, "The Sexual
Enlightenment of Children", Freud presents a refreshingly modern approach to this topic: "...everything sexual should be treated like everything else that is worth knowing about.
Above all, schools should not evade the task of mentioning sexual matters...In this way the
curiosity of children will never become very intense, for at each stage in its inquiries it will find that satisfaction it needs..."58
Freud's writings trace the child's earliest intellectual curiosity back to its first questions concerning 'Where babies come from?' and the difference between the sexes. He suggests that failing to instruct children in sexual matters may discourage their wider desire to learn:
"...The answers usually given to children in the nursery wound the child's frank and genuine
spirit of investigation, and generally deal the first blow at his confidence in his parents; from this time onwards he commonly begins to mistrust grown-up people and keeps to himself what interests him most..."Later, he adds "...To be sure, if it is the purpose of educators to stifle the child's power of independent thought as early as possible, in order to produce "good behavior" which is so highly prized, they cannot do better than deceive children in sexual matters and
intimidate them by religious means..."59
From the rearing and education of children, we proceed to our understanding of the origins of our sexuality and its part in the defense of LGBT and women's rights. According to Freud, the infant is potentially bisexual. Both heterosexuality and homosexuality are equally the developmental result of its early relationships with its parents. And any judgments as to what forms of sexuality are "normal" or "perverse" are culturally relative: entirely the product of the prejudices of the society that made them:
"...The uncertainty in regard to the boundaries of what is to be called normal sexual life, when we take different races and different epochs into account, should in itself be enough to cool the zealot's ardour. We surely ought not to forget that the perversion which is the most repellent to us, the sensual love of a man for a man, was not only tolerated by a people so far our superiors in cultivation as were the Greeks, but was actually entrusted by them with
important social functions. The sexual life of each one of us extends to a slight degree - now in this direction, now in that- beyond the narrow lines imposed as the standard of normality. The perversions are neither bestial nor degenerate in the emotional sense of the word. They are a development of germs all of which are contained in the undifferentiated sexual disposition of the child..."60
In, "Sexual Morality and Modem Nervousness", Freud discusses capitalist society's attitudes toward sexuality and marriage:
"...A certain degree of direct sexual satisfaction appears to be absolutely necessary for by far
the greater number of natures, and frustration of this variable individual need is avenged by manifestations which, on account of their injurious effect on functional activity and of their subjectively painful character, we must regard as illness..."61
The chief cause of this frustration is capitalist society's attitude toward pre-marital sex. A double standard allows men to have sexual relations before marriage, while women are subject to the moral prohibition of chastity. This prepares men to be sexual partners and prevents women from gaining the same experience, so that their early sexual relations in marriage are often unsatisfying. Freud describes the result:
"...Anxiety for the consequences of sexual intercourse first dissipates the physical tenderness of the married couple for each other, and usually, as a more remote result, also the mental affection between them which was destined to succeed the originally tempestuous passion. Under the spiritual disappointment and physical deprivation which thus becomes the fate of most marriages, both partners find themselves reduced again to their pre-conjugal condition, but poorer by the loss of an illusion..."62
At this point the double-standard applied to men and women once again comes into play, as men are easily forgiven their "straying", while women are branded adulterers, and their frustration often leads to excessive devotion to their children, or even mental illness. The excessive devotion often proves injurious to the child, as well: "...As a mother, the neurotic woman who is unsatisfied by her husband is over-tender and over-anxious in regard to the child,
to who she transfers her need for love..."63 Thus, the problems of the parents are often visited
upon their children, reproducing neurosis from one generation to the next.
Marx and Freud are our two greatest theorists of human nature. Each deals with a universal of our experience: Marx, with production through labor for our collective needs; Freud, with the development of the child within the family. Both were "godless Jews" and dialectical materialists. Marx taught us about the development of historical modes of production through the conflict between the forces and relationships of production, and through the class struggle; Freud, about the development of our minds, our morality, our sexuality and mental illness itself, through our instinctual conflicts within the family and society. Together, their theories might eventually comprise a complete materialist conception of history.
1p. xi, Bertell OHman: Introduction; Wilhelm Reich: Sex-Pol: Essays, 1929-1934.
2Chapter 9, Nancy J. Chodorow: Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory.
3p. 21'-47: Kenneth Lewes, Ph.D.: The Psychoanalytical Theory of Male
4p. 177-180: Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, New York: International Publishers, 1967.
5p. 8, 9: Karl Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:
Progress Publishers, 1979.
lO p. 23
12 p. 87: "Freud Returns" by Mark Solms, Scientific American, May 2004.
13p. 23, Wilhelm Reich: "Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis"; Sex-Pol: Essays,
14p. 21, 22
17p. 47, Wilhelm Reich: "Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis".
21P. 23, Wilhem Reich: "Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis".
23p. 21, 22,23
27p. 113, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis.
30p. 1, 2.
31David J. Chalmers: The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory;
Oxford University Press, 1996.
34p. 104, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis..
36p. 635, 636
37p. 596, Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
49p. 749 sop. 751
s 1p.751, footnote 1. s2p. 756
s3p. 770, 771
ssp. 53, The Communist Manifesto.
58p. 23, 24,
60p. 50, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, (1905e, VII).
62p. 32, "Sexuality and Modem Nervousness", from Sexuality and the Psychology of
Love, edited by Philip Rieff.