By James Thompson
Freud's views of communism
In several books written shortly before his death, Sigmund Freud wrote about his views on communism. Although it must be borne in mind that Dr. Freud was very ill at that time with cancer of the jaw and struggled during much of his life with cocaine abuse, they are important statements and are lock step with bourgeois arguments against Marxism. For this reason, it is important to carefully read and critically view his statements. Although he never mentions Marx, they are clearly aimed at Marxist philosophy.
Freud writes in : Civilization and its discontents (Vol. XXI, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Hogarth Press, pps. 112-115):
"The Communists believe they have found the path to deliverance from our evils. According to them, 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. I have no concern with any economic criticisms of the communist system; I cannot enquire into whether the abolition of private property is expedient or advantageous.1 But I am able to recognize that the psychological premises on which the system is based are an untenable illusion. In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest; but we have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in its nature. Aggressiveness was not created by property. It reigned almost without limit in primitive times, when property was still very scanty, and it already shows itself in the nursery almost before property has given up its primal, anal form; it forms the basis of every relation of affection and love among people (with the single exception, perhaps, of the mother's relation to her male child). If we do away with personal rights over material wealth, there still remains prerogative in the field of sexual relationships, which is bound to become the source of the strongest dislike and the most violent hostility among men who in other respects are on an equal footing. If we were to remove this factor, too, by allowing complete freedom of sexual life and thus abolishing the family, the germ-cell of civilization, we cannot, it is true, easily foresee what new paths the development of civilization could take; but one thing we can expect, and that is that this indestructible feature of human nature will follow it there.
It is clearly not easy for men to give up the satisfaction of this inclination to aggression. They do not feel comfortable without it. The advantage which a comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised. It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness. I once discussed the phenomenon that is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other-like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of 'the narcissism of minor differences', a name which does not do much to explain it. We can now see that it is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier. In this respect the Jewish people, scattered everywhere, have rendered most useful services to the civilizations of the countries that have been their hosts; but unfortunately all the massacres of the Jews in the Middle Ages did not suffice to make that period more peaceful and secure for their Christian fellows. When once the apostle Paul had posited universal love between men as the foundation of his Christian community, extreme intolerance on the part of Christendom towards those who remained outside it became the inevitable consequence. To the Romans, who had not founded their communal life as a State upon love, religious intolerance was something foreign, although with them religion was a concern of the State and the State was permeated by religion. Neither was it an unaccountable chance that the dream of a Germanic world-dominion called for anti-Semitism as its complement; and it is intelligible that the attempt to establish a new, communist civilization in Russia should find its psychological support in the persecution of the bourgeois. One only wonders, with concern, what the Soviets will do after they have wiped out their bourgeois."
"1 Anyone who has tasted the miseries of poverty in his own youth and has experienced the indifference and arrogance of the well-to-do, should be safe from the suspicion of having no understanding or goodwill towards endeavors to fight against the inequality of wealth among men and all that it leads to. To be sure, if an attempt is made to base this fight upon an abstract demand, in the name of justice, for equality for all men, there is a very obvious objection to be made-that nature, by endowing individuals with extremely unequal physical attributes and mental capacities, has introduced injustices against which there is no remedy."
Dr. Freud attacks communism, i.e. Marxist ideology, on the basis that it is an "illusion", given the propensity of humans to be aggressive. He maintains that humans are by nature aggressive and that there is no solution to this problem.
Let's examine this premise.
Dr. Freud, father of psychoanalysis, it must be remembered, was influenced highly by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was the so-called "philosopher of the Nazis." The rise of the Nazis in Germany and Austria resulted in Dr. Freud fleeing to London to save his own skin due to their fascist anti-semitism. It is well-documented that the Nazis rise to power resulted in exorbitant carnage throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Jews, and other "undesirable" sectors of the German population were relieved not only of their lives, but of their property. During the economic catastrophe which was Germany, the capitalists bolstered their power and position by preying on the Middle Class Jews and others and seized their property as they sent them off to the concentration camps.
Hitler's Germany decimated the young Soviet Union and devastated the gains achieved by the world's first experiment with socialism. Dr. Freud's attack on communism represents a profound identification with the aggressor, on which he wrote extensively. Identification with the aggressor refers to a person's adaptation to abuse by an external source by taking on their characteristics. In other words, when a person is abused, they are likely to mimic the behavior of the aggressor in an effort to save themselves from abuse.
The footnote cited above is inherently contradictory. Freud acknowledges that poverty serves to motivate many people to do whatever is necessary to save themselves from impoverishment. However, he seems to accede that poverty follows from the individual differences in human beings. In other words, some people are biologically superior and others are biologically inferior. This line of thinking led to Nazism and buttresses capitalism and seeks to justify the inequality in the distribution of commodities inherent in the capitalist system. Following from this, we might surmise that some people are endowed with exceptional characteristics which entitle them to exceptional rewards without regard to their contributions to humanity. In other words, the supermen and gods should receive the bulk of the rewards, while people of lesser capabilities should receive only subsistence remuneration or less.
Data to support Freud's chauvinism
On what data does Dr. Freud base his hypotheses?
Dr. Freud was a well-paid servant of the wealthy. He was a much ballyhooed psychotherapist in Austria and later in London. He treated members of the bourgeoisie who suffered from mental illness. Who else, but the bourgeoisie, could have afforded to engage in daily therapy sessions and at an exorbitant rate? Dr. Freud did not live in squalor in either Austria or England.
So, the subjects of his experiments were exclusively members of the bourgeoisie. In other words, Dr. Freud treated the 1% and this is similar to his main proponents in the U.S. today, the Menninger Clinic. The Menninger Clinic, now located in Houston, commands a daily fee of at least $1500 and demands a commitment of at least a month's stay for inpatient treatment.
How many working people could afford such a tariff?
Where do working people stand in light of Freud's conclusions?
Is it possible to generalize Freud's findings from the 1% to the 99%? Are the aggressive impulses which Freud unearthed among the bourgeoisie inherent among the 99%? Are the tendencies of working people the same as those of the wealthy classes?
Can anyone argue the fact that the wealthy have dominated the state since the inception of the U.S.A.? It has been noted that many of the signers of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, etc. were slave owners. It is clear that the purpose of the state is to protect the interests of the ruling classes as recognized by Lenin (State and Revolution, V. I. Lenin).
Lenin also argued that Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism (Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism). This means that at its apex, capitalism must resort to aggressive wars of domination and subjugation of the international working class to maintain its superiority. In other words, capitalism must resort to any means necessary to insure increasing profits for the owners of the means of production, i.e. the owners of major industries, in order to survive.
So, in order to insure increasing profits, which are based on lowering the wages of working people, capitalists are bound to engage in barbaric tactics to rob the workers of the wealth they produce.
How does this play out in the human psyche and behavior?
In which classes are violence expressed most clearly?
In order for the wealthy to maintain their position of domination in the highest economic strata of society, they must resort to extraordinary violence and aggression against the people to which they seek to subjugate to their will. In other words, they must beat the workers into submission. This requires a great deal of violence in order to achieve their ends. A passive observer of this process might misinterpret their deeds as representative of the behavior of the population in general. However, it is the owner class which is delivering violence on the working class to intimidate them into submission and compliance to attain the lowering of wages which only benefits the wealthy class.
Some years ago I became aware of a family in the Southern United States who had been slave owning prior to the Civil War. After the Civil War, they acquired a cotton gin to maintain their profits. At one period, cotton was extremely difficult to obtain. The head of the family learned of a number of beds in a state facility that were available for purchase. The beds included mattresses stuffed with cotton. The family bought as many of these beds as they could get to keep the cotton gin running. They produced a great deal of linen, but at a great price. The beds came from a TB hospital. The workers and many family members contracted TB as a result of their contact with the infected product. These unfortunate people died, but the profits of the family enterprise were increased.
So, we see that in this example the aggressive tendencies to which Freud alluded are mainly emanating from the wealthy classes.
The working class and the expression of aggression
One only needs to examine the history of the working class movement, which has been for the most part peaceful and opposed to violence, to see the differences in the classes on the issue of aggression.
Anyone who has participated in anti-war marches and/or demonstrations can tell you that the participants are working class. No one in such marches ride in Rolls Royces or Mercedes or sport top hats, spats and/or tuxes. You won't find Donald Trump or Mitch Romney in an anti-war march even though their participation might boost the number of voters who support them in the electoral cycle. Their assigned duties are to bolster the ruling class by any means necessary.
Many revolutionaries have remarked on the non-aggression of the working classes when confronted with violence by the owner classes. Why is it that the working classes do not react with violence when subjugated by the ruling class? After all, the working class constitutes the majority of the population and could easily overcome their oppressors if they proceeded in a principled, unified way.
Identification with the aggressor
Perhaps Dr. Freud's theory of the identification with the aggressor is one answer.
Sometimes people feel that if they submit to their aggressors in the face of aggression, they can save themselves and their family.
However, they soon learn, as many have learned throughout history, that when they show weakness by buckling under, they will become subject to more violence. The violence perpetrated by the aggressor, i.e. the bourgeoisie, results in the workers' loss of privileges and an increase in the profits reaped by the oppressors. Wars, advocated by the wealthy, always result in slaughtering the working people in order to maximize the profits of the wealthy. This line of attack leads straight to war even though the vast majority of the population opposes war. This has been seen in the recent years of the Clinton/Bush/Obama administrations.
I was once told a story by a Latino colleague who grew up in Texas. The story was known by Latinos in South Texas. There was an Anglo farmer on the border with Mexico who hired teams of Latino workers to farm his property. The farmer would contract with the workers to pay them when the job was complete. However, when the job was complete, the farmer would shoot all the Latino workers and bury them in a mass grave.
Were the workers violent? No! Were the landowners violent? Yes!
Although Dr. Freud's formulation of psychoanalytic theory has been revolutionary in the treatment of mental illness, it's generalization to human behavior has been limited by the sample of the population on which the great psychotherapist based his conclusions.
A class analysis of aggressive tendencies
A class analysis of Freud's conclusions indicates that the wealthy classes are inherently aggressive, particularly towards those they seek to oppress, while the working people are generally peaceful. Wouldn't you rather live in a world dominated by peace rather than aggression in the interests of a certain sector of the population? It is unfortunate that Dr. Freud failed to grasp the basic concepts of Marxism and merely responded to his own aspirations to the bourgeois point of view. Although Dr. Freud extolled the virtues of science, he failed to adhere to reality and created notions of human aggression based on an analysis of an extremely limited segment of the population.
Dr. Freud accused the working classes of laboring under an "illusion" that if they seized power, they would be able to end all human aggression.
Marxism does not labor under any illusions. Marxism is based on dialectical materialism, a scientific method which predicted quantum Physics. Dialectical materialism is based on science, while idealism is based on mythology or ideas.
Dr. Freud was very creative in conjuring up some captivating ideas about the nature of the human psyche. He was very weak in his methodology and based his conclusions on examinations of a small number of bourgeois patients.
Making broad based conclusions on the basis of small, homogeneous samples does not generalize well to the entire population of human beings. Such an approach does not conform to standard scientific methodology. His generalizations about aggressive behavior apply very well to the population of which he studied, i.e. the bourgeoisie, or wealthy classes. On the other hand, these conclusions cannot be reasonably applied to the working class.
So, one can surmise from Dr. Freud's research that the wealthy classes are subject to forces which propel them to engage in aggression on a mass scale against the working people when such tactics are likely to benefit them. In other words, when the wealthy must increase their profits to keep capitalism alive, they are likely to resort to violence against workers to reduce wages, which is the only way for the owners of various enterprises to collectively increase their profits, according to Marx.
Freudian analysis of the Soviet experiment
Freud speculates on what the Soviets might do when they "do away with their bourgeoisie". He predicts violence by the Soviets.
However, if we look at the concrete history, it was the Soviets who defeated the Nazis on the ground after the Nazis had slaughtered untold numbers of Soviet citizens. The Nazis, who were the party of the ruling class in Germany, i.e. the capitalists, sought to destroy the young Soviet Republic and visited unbelievable violence not only on the Soviets, but anyone who disagreed with them in Europe.
Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,habe ich geschwiegen;ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,habe ich geschwiegen;ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,habe ich nicht protestiert;ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
Als sie die Juden holten,habe ich geschwiegen;ich war ja kein Jude.
Als sie mich holten,gab es keinen mehr, der protestierte.
When the Nazis came for the communists,I remained silent;I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,I remained silent;I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,I did not speak out;I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,I remained silent;I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,there was no one left to speak out. (Martin Niemӧller, 1892-1984)
What did the capitalists do?
Freud's phobias about Communists would not have predicted the incineration of two major cities in Japan, i.e. Nagasaki and Hiroshima, nor the fire-bombing and resultant incineration of Dresden in Germany. These crimes against humanity were perpetrated solely by capitalists.
Freud's fears of the Communists would not have accounted for the endless wars against nations who have opposed the oppression perpetrated by capitalists. These wars include:
VietNam, Cambodia, North Korea, Panama, Cuba, USSR, Chile, Iran, Libya, Iraq, Grenada, Haiti, Yugoslavia, and many others too numerous to list.
Freud's revulsion against the Communists was incongruent with the history of the class struggle as formulated by Marx. Marx noted that the history of mankind is the history of the class struggle. Freud would have had a hard time understanding why African-Americans were enslaved and lynched by capitalists based on data collected during his psychoanalytic sessions on plush couches. He would have had a hard time understanding why Asian Americans were sent off to concentration camps during World War II. He would have had a hard time understanding why Native Americans were relegated to reservations in the U.S.A. and their property was appropriated by the capitalists. He would have had a hard time understanding why vast numbers of the working class, primarily African Americans, are locked away in prisons for petty crimes and are subject to slave labor in the prison system. He would have had a hard time understanding why immigrant labor is exploited so efficiently and then undocumented workers are deported so efficiently.
However, the data he collected among the bourgeoisie on his couches would have accounted for this violence against working people by the wealthy, but could not have been generalized to predict that working people are by nature, violent.
Sigmund Freud maintained that human beings are inherently aggressive. He based his conclusions on human nature on a limited sample of bourgeois patients lying supine on his couch in his office.
History shows that the working class is generally peaceful, while the wealthy classes are violent, aggressive, oppressive and seek to exploit and subjugate their opponents. The wealthy classes also manipulate the workers psychologically by promoting the idea that if a person works hard, they can attain eternal comfort. This is a similar line of thinking to various religions, i.e. that if a person lives a good life, they will be transported to Nirvana upon their demise. "You'll get pie in the sky when you die."
Materialist, or scientific analysis shows that working people are, by nature, peaceful. It is the capitalists who have perpetrated the crimes against humanity and have sought to make working people pay for the capitalists' crimes.
It is necessary for the struggle for working class power to continue with a scientific analysis of the current situation and for working people to employ tactics based on this analysis which will propel the working class forward. Idealistic conceptions, such as those promoted by Freud and his proponents, should be refuted on a truly scientific basis. Such misconceptions should not be used to justify the crimes of the 1%. A new way of thinking is needed.
In the light of the current economic crisis, working people must bear in mind that the crisis is not of their making. Working people should, therefore, refuse to pay for the crisis.
Working people did not make the crisis. We will not pay for it. Make the capitalists pay for their crimes against humanity!