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Marxism and Psychoanalysis – An Exchange

Marxism and
Psychoanalysis An Exchange
Joe/ Kovef and fan Craib
foel Kovel has become increasingly well known to a British
public over recent years, firstly with the publication in 1977
of A Complete Guide to Therapy (Harvester) and then with
the publication by Free Association Books in 1988 of four
titles: The Radical Spirit; White Racism; In Nicaragua; and
Against the State of Nuclear Terror. He does not fit easily
into either British or American intellectual culture. In America, where psychoanalysis is bound by highly organised,
orthodox, professional institutions, it is very rare to find a
practising analyst with an interest in and active commitment
to radical politics. Kovel began his psychoanalytic training at
the height of anti-war radicalism in 1967, and he was very
much part of the movement. In The Radical Spirit he describes the tension that has worked throughout his career:

On the one level I was a rising young professional and
academic psychiatrist, committed to mastering an esoteric doctrine the essence of which was antipolitical
and elitist. And on another, I was a political intellectual and activist, committed to radical social transformation and forming a network of associations which
had nothing in common with my professional life (p. 3).

His personal development has led him to Marxism and
to concentrate increasingly on politics and political writing,
away from psychoanalytic practice, whereas in Britain a
number ofpolitical radicals have moved towards training and
practising as psychoanalysts and psychotherapists. This difference provides the framework for the following exchange.

The Radical Spirit provides the best introduction to
his work. He does not try some vast synthesis of Marxism and
psychoanalysis, but explores and works with the tension and
the contradictions between the two and these are apparent in
what follows. Amongst other things, he has tried to bring the
insights of each to the analysis of the other. Throughout his
work, there is an exciting and open-minded commitment to a
humanist radical vision, and little of the very abstract theorising that has often surrounded the reception ofpsychoanalysis
in Britain.

This exchange was originally intended as an interview
when foel was in Britainfor the Free Associations conference
in 1988, but everything went wrong, including the tape recorder. The conversation had covered a large area which
seemed to hinge on alternative choices and commitments and
the possibility – or impossibility – of justifying them. It was
sufficiently interesting and enjoyable to follow up. This is the
result.

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

OPENING STATEMENT: JOEL KOVEL
Marx comes before Freud in my affections, but Freud came
before Marx in my development. To be precise, I arrived at
Marxism as a medically trained psychiatrist-psychoanalyst
with a developing hatred for the US security apparatus and
what it was doing in Vietnam, and a disposition to look
towards radical social transformation. Marxism appeared to
me then as the most cogent and intellectually powerful way of
understanding how the monster got the way it did and how it
behaved. It still does. There was also a latent tension with my
psychoanalytic work, an immanent critique of bourgeois practice and subjectivism, which I could not thematize at that
time. Notwithstanding, I had already deeply internalized the
logos of Freudianism when I encountered historical materialism.

This was not simply a matter of psychoanalytic thinking having been written upon passive clay. I was as disposed
to see things in terms of ‘deep subjectivity’ as I was towards
radical social transformation. I had happened to inherit both
of these contradictory tendencies of the modern zeitgeist, and
each had goaded me onwards from my early years. The
contradiction can be expressed either as an oscillation, variously agonized and impulsive, between periods at ‘inwardness’ and ‘outwardness’, or as one kind of synthesis or another between the two moments. Obviously all these positions
get mixed up in real life where they can be posed as a
continuing series of existential challenges.

That I grew up intrigued by introspection and questions of the inner life is compatible with the fact that I had a
fairly privileged (albeit petit-) bourgeois background; and
this in turn means that my Marxism has been affected by the
lack of a worker’s perspective. It should also be mentioned
that before I found Freud, the abovementioned radical tendencies sought realization in Reichianism. Influenced by a therapist, I was for a while about to become an orgonomist. I still
remained affected in a number of important ways by Reich,
but the position as a whole came to be seen as untenable, and
was set aside. Interestingly, I did not learn of the Marxist
period of Reich until my own Marxist phase began, years after
I had turned away from orgonomy. I suppose I am ultimately
some kind of Heraclitean, disposed to see reality in terms of
eternal flux. In any case, I have never been able to take the
world for granted, and my un-ease, thematized in the oscillation between inwardness and outwardness, found adequate
means of representation in the dialectic between Marx and
Freud. It seemed to me early on, however, that the contradic25

tion between Marx and Freud was not one which admitted of
a synthesis. Nor, despite the many intriguing formal homologies between the two thinkers, could there be any kind of
symmetry or balance between them. The difference between
Marx and Freud is more than one of ‘outwardness’ vs ‘inwardness’ . It is also, and more decisively, one of basic values.

I suppose this very proposition makes me more of a Marxist
than a Freudian, since the difference in values is referable to a
difference in sides taken in the class struggle (it is unnecessary to spell out who took what side). To claim that a bourgeois view and a workers’ view are unsynthesizable is to
claim (a) that the class struggle is basic to society; and (b) that
it is unresolvable under capitalism – all of which makes one
either a fatalist, who is willing to accede to historical stasis, or
a Marxist, who takes the worker’s side. I am no fatalist.

Beyond this, Marxism has always signified to me an
embodiment of the spirit of justice. By this I mean that a
world-view animated by outrage against oppression and
domination, and which feels the need to set matters right,
finds its reality best represented within Marxism and presented there, so to speak, for encounter – and more, finds the
effort to set Marxism aside, whether for psychoanalysis, deconstruction, structuralism, semiology or whatever, an evasion of the reality of injustice and an accommodation with the
powers-that-be. Now it is quite possible to say that such a
world-view, animated by the sense of injustice, is not the best
one to hold, for one reason or another.l So long as it figures in
one’s life, however, there is no supplanting Marxism. Thus I
still agree with Sartre when he held that Marxism was the
unsurpassable philosophy of our time, because the conditions
for overcoming its limits have not yet been achieved.

All of which does not nullify the serious shortcomings
of Marxism, nor entitle one to fetishise it. It is quite easy, even
fashionable, to say this in an era of socialist retreat; but the
point would have been equally valid at any moment in the
development of historical materialism. Marxism provides, in
my opinion, the best mode of representing and encountering a
vital aspect of reality. The best, however, need not be good
enough; and representation is not everything. In any case,
reality is richer than our efforts to thematize it. To be true to a
dialectical view of the world means to not accept the hypostatization of the world. At the same time, to lead an intellectually principled life means to establish certain priorities
amongst the limits to which we are subject. I believe this view
to be consistent with Marxism itself. As we know, Marx
insisted he was not a Marxist.

One of the chief limits of Marxism is its inadequate
representation of subjectivity. Psychoanalysis, as the discourse of deep subjectivity, is peculiarly well suited to illuminate this problem. 2 In this respect, though the failings of
socialist transformation do not admit of any simplistic reduction, it is impossible to ignore Freud’s claim that the Marxist
project stumbles over its conception of human needs and
dispositions. 3
We may note a few instances, economic and political,
in which this is so. Economically, capitalist ideologues proclaim that their system, emphasising individual self-maximization and the instinctual gratification afforded by commodities, is compatible with ‘human nature’, whereas socialism
denies human proclivities. This proposition is almost tautological, since capitalism, especially in its late, consumerist
mode, is in some measure the deliberate exploitation of desire. In any case, there is some kind of ‘grain’ against which
socialism runs.

Politically, the appeal of nationalism, which so regularly overrides class interest and Marxist universalism, can
26

only be accounted for by invoking a deployment of desire, for
the understanding of which a psychoanalytic framework is
necessary. That is, nationalism necessarily entails passions
organized so that signifiers of the order of ‘fatherland’ possess overriding motivating power. If there is an explanatory
framework other than psychoanalysis capable of describing
this, I am not aware of it. Obviously, I am not claiming that
psychoanalysis is sufficient to understand something like
nationalism; but it is necessary.

Finally, the problems of Leninism (whether developed
to Stalinist levels or not), may be considered in light of
tendencies which come broadly under the rubric of Freud’s
views on innate aggressivity. That is, the need for a strong,
repressive Party-State is grounded in an appreciation that
there is something to repress – namely, hostile, envious,
power-hungry strivings which cannot be overcome by the
installation of socialist relations. But this is essentially what
Freud would claim.4
Marxism has a reply to this criticism, along the lines
that human badness is ‘second nature’ , imposed by the internalization of the ‘nightmare of history’, which is to be overcome in the long haul by transformed human relations. This is
a powerful notion, to which I happen to subscribe. But it is no
more than a hypothesis, and the burden of proof is on those
who would endorse it, in the face of the evidence of history
itself. That is, the ‘long haul’ may turn out to be very long
indeed, too long, in fact; and second nature may conform so
closely to first nature (Freud’s notion of the innateness of
aggressivity) as to make no practical difference.

There is yet a deeper theoretical problem. This inheres
in Marx’s philosophy of revolution, without which the whole
doctrine dissolves and fades into the general run of bourgeois
thought. Now Marx’s theory of revolution is conditioned by
his view of Communism, as that toward which revolution is
directed. There is a famous passage in the Manuscripts in
which Marx reveals what Communism means·to him.

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

Communism is … the complete restoration of man to
himself as a social … being …. This communism, as
fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as
fully developed humanism equal naturalism; it is the
genuine resolution of the conflict between man and
nature, and between man and man, the true resolution
of the conflict between existence and being, between
objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom
and necessity, between individual and species. It is the
solution to the riddle of history and knows itself to be
the solution.

Of course communist goals have been posited less flamboyantly. Yet to do so misses the ontological core of Marxism, as
contained in this youthful and rhapsodic statement. More to
the point, I think the real historical impact of Marxism cannot
be divorced from the utopian dream set forth here, in which
communism amounts to the final overcoming of differences,
not simply between classes, but, on the basis of the classless
society, between humanity and the universe (‘nature ‘). It is
the overcoming of the loneliness and separateness of the
human condition itself. Communism is the ultimate unification.

Now Freud and the psychoanalytic tradition have a
very powerful critique of the state of mind which accompanies this state of being. It is, Freud would argue, in essence a
primitive mental impulse toward fusion with the breast, or
even the womb. Marx’ s goal here can be read as an instance of
what Freud called the ‘oceanic feeling’, namely, the recapture
of the loss of ego boundary (that is, the sense of separateness
between ‘me’ and ‘non-me’) occurring to the satiated infant
as s/he falls asleep, presumably at the breast, and fancies
union with the source of life. From another angle, Marx’ s goal
of communism can be seen as the sense of absolute omnipotence associated with what psychoanalysis calls ‘primary
narcissism’. In any case, it seems a long remove from the lofty
idealism enunciated by the young Marx. Whatever else one
thinks of Freud’s critique, it is hard to deny that it gives us a
vantage from which to appreciate the flux of unreason which
dogs the radical political project, and in particular, the web of
linkages between communism and religion.

What else is one to think of the Freudian critique? At
the least, that it supplies a powerful corrective to one limit of
Marx’s thought. 5 Marx assumes that persons enter society as
fully formed adults bound by ultimately economic relations of
production. He forgets, or does not see, that there are infantile
social relations which are anterior to, coexist with, and play
some determinative role in mature relations of production and
political action. These relations, which subsume the infantile
body and the child’s relations with other persons, are deeply
affected by the economic, but cannot be said to be ultimately
determined by the economic, in the sense of orthodox Marxism’s fundamental principle. It follows that ignoring or repressing this dimension – which is Freud’s – will have a
deleterious effect on theory and practice.

On the other hand, taking the psychoanalytic dimension at full value can seem to disable the possibilities for
Marxist practice by bringing to the fore powerful elements in
the human situation which are not primarily determined by
the canons of historical materialism, or cast into doubt the
authenticity of Marxist goals. No wonder Marxists have
tended to be so reluctant to take Freud seriously!6
I say here, ‘can seem to disable’, for a reason. Logically, one can accept or reject the Marxist position, and so do
either on Freudian or non-Freudian grounds, that is, by ‘taking the psychoanalytic dimension at full value’, or not. I am
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

arguing that it is wrong to either accept or reject Marxism
without taking Freud seriously, as someone who illuminates a
whole dimension of reality. I also want to argue, however,
that it is wrong to reject Marxism on the basis of the psychoanalytic dimension, because it is impossible to take Freud at
full value without/irst subjecting psychoanalysis to a Marxist
critique. In other words, there is no psychoanalytic principle
which stands entirely outside historical determination. It may
be said that certain things – the existence of desire, for
example, or the yearning for fusion known as the oceanic
feeling – are not primarily determined by the economic, or,
more generally, within the framework of historical materialism. But to deny the primacy of the historical does not deny
the potency of the historical in determining certain aspects of
desire or the oceanic feeling, nor the possibility that those
aspects are the ones which can be overcome through praxis.

And this, when all is said, remains the issue – whether, that is,
human beings themselves undergo evolution within the span
of history; that question to which Freud resoundingly answers, No!, and Marx equally resoundingly, Yes!

This puts the ball back in the court of ‘second nature’ ,
so to speak. I have argued above that the burden of proof
belongs to those who hold to an idea of second nature (as
against the Freudian innate), and are obliged to prove it
against the evidence of history itself, and the possibility that
the ‘long haul’ within which transformed social relations may
change human nature may turn out to be overly long. We may
now elaborate: ‘proof’ in this instance as not something which
can be decided either inductively or deductively. One cannot
prove the transform ability of human beings by invoking some
common principle derived from the whole class of historical
actions, nor by reasoning metaphysically from some divinely
installed human essence. However, one cannot disprove the
proposition, either, by these means. One is more likely to
reveal the effort to prove or disprove the proposition as
motivated by ideological preference than to solve the problem
itself. That is, those who believe human beings unchangeable
do so because it suits them to do so, just as it suits others to
believe that human nature is transformable.

As one of the latter, I take heart in the absence of
disproof rather than discouragement in the absence of proof,
and claim the following: so long as the issue is not settled, one
is simply obliged to act as best as one can. For the principle of
‘proof’, such as it exists, still remains Marx’s Eleventh Thesis
on Feuerbach: the point is to change the world – not as an
alternative to understanding it, but as the deepest, best way of
understanding it. This means to change the world consciously,
27

self-reflectively, in that often invoked and elusive dialectic
between theory and practice. It is not a question of proving
something logically so much as one of moving in the direction
of a proof, a motion which is itself a gesture toward transformation.

So I have chosen to accept Marxism while taking the
psychoanalytic dimension at full value, and to shoulder the
complications. From this perspective, the deepest critique
leveled by Freudianism at revolutionary practice now looks as
follows: the drive toward unity does .indeed comprise the
ontological core of revolutionary practice – what else, for
instance, is the signification of ‘solidarity’, or indeed, communism? But it is a bourgeois prejudice, born of attachment to
the isolated and fragmented self of late capitalism,7 which
would dismiss this notion on the basis either of its infantile
precursor or its perhaps inevitable irrational distortions.

Freud’s insight into the oceanic feeling ascribed it to the
experience of the infant at the breast. Freud’s bourgeois
prejudice, however, reduced the significance of the feeling to
his estimation of the mental level pertaining to its earliest
occurrence. The oceanic feeling became, therefore, stained
with all of Freud’s hostility toward and fear of the sensuous,
the spontaneous, the visionary – all manifestations of what is
non-rational. Oceanic experience was seen, not as the first

occasion, within an individual life, of a process of unification
which can be read as a ‘species destiny’, but as a regression
toward the pathological.

There is a potential conflation between the nonrational
and the irrational, to which even Freud, the great explorer of
unconscious mental life, remained largely blind. The nonrational is what stands outside the given order of things, the
logos, if you will, of civilisation; it is the ‘more things on
heaven and earth than are present in our philosophy’. The
irrational represents the twisted, the distorted, the split-apart,
the violent. 8 There is no sound theoretical or practical way
within psychoanalysis to distinguish between the two – hence
the slide of psychoanalysis toward conformism, apologia, and
irrelevancy. There is, on the other hand, an excellent – and
one might add, essential – way of differentiating nonrational
from irrational in Marx’ s theory of alienation and in the
Marxist view of praxis. Viewed in this light, the sensuous, the
spontaneous, the visionary, and indeed, aspects of the ‘oceanic’ and spiritual – all vicissitudes of desire 9 – are readily
incorporable into a theory of revolution and may be fairly and
non-economistically considered the embodiment of socially
transformative force within the individual. In this way, psychoanalytic understanding may serve the radical project.

RESPONSE: IAN CRAIB
Reading Joel’s opening contribution, I am struck by two
things. In the first place, it is good to see the issues addressed
not merely in terms of theory – and a theory which allows
contradictions and disjunctures, and perhaps the absence of a
solution – but also in terms of feelings, beliefs, commitment
and action. It is good to see a difficult reality acknowledged,
rather than absorbed into problems of discourse. In the context of much academic debate now, this is old-fashioned and
refreshing, and what it all ought to be about. Secondly I agree
with nearly everything he has to say. I do not believe there can
be a synthesis of Marx and Freud; they each illuminate some
aspect of the human condition, and some aspect of human
possibilities, but at some level they are irreconcilable. That
level has to do with conceptions of human nature and in many
ways I find myself entirely on the Freudian side, and of postFreudian work, I find Melanie Klein’ s development of the
idea of a death-instinct most fruitful. That leaves me, I suppose, profoundly pessimistic about future possibilities. Yet I
would also want to maintain that there is an optimism to be
drawn from this, that it is better to recognise a fundamental
destructiveness in human beings that may be socially channelled in all sorts of directions, but has to be contained, and
more importantly is containable, than it is to deny that destructiveness. Joel’s desire to maintain Freud and Marx side-byside is perhaps a recognition of this: a Marxist critique of
psychoanalysis could easily consign it to the dustbin of history.

We would both like to keep hold of the Marxist and
Freudian sides of looking at the world; the difference is that I
suspect I find the Marxist end more difficult to hold onto,
much less satisfactory than he does. Teaching sociology, I
have often found myself saying that, in theoretical terms, the
best reason to be a Marxist is that it breaks down in more
interesting ways than its alternatives. Yet I still find Marxism
important for the very thing that Joel takes from it: the humanist vision. In my view the only reason to be a Marxist is that
vision contained in the early work; without it the analytic bite
28

and sophistication of Marxism is only an intellectual pursuit.

But I have found myself disillusioned with that ideal as well.

Joel has himself outlined the reason that the Marxist
ideal has come to seem dangerous to me. There are all sorts of
reasons to avoid a direct analogy between the personality and
society – they are qualitatively different, tho.ugh intimately
linked; each has its own laws of development, its own structure. But on this issue an analogy seems permissible. Just as
an individual who seeks to be perfect, seeks some form of
omnipotence over his or her own unruly desires, tries to
avoid, remove moral chaos and uncertainty, does so at a cost
to themselves and those around them, so a society which aims
to be perfect must get rid of its disruptive elements. The more
pefect the society aims to be, the more it must repress.

Yet I think the ideal is still necessary. We need a way
of thinking about what might be possible, we need some
direction in which to move and the vision offered by Marx and
by socialism is still the best. The difficulty comes, somehow,
when we believe that ideal is possible, that it can really be
created. There will be times, when the world changes quickly,
when it does seem possible. In the late 1960s it moved over
the horizon, even if it did not come as close as we thought at
the time. In other situations, it has perhaps seemed much
closer. These experiences are, I believe, important, but so is
the aftermath, the decline of hope. If in the face of this
decline, we maintain the hope, the ideal, then we begin to try
to force the world and other people, it becomes necessary to
remove dissidents and the dissident part of ourselves. The
experience of disillusion is important in politics, just as it is
important in infancy, but so is the presence of the illusion.

I want to try to develop the psychoanalytic critique of
the Marxist ideal that Joel himself begins to outline. He
concentrates on the argument that it is a regression to an
infantile oceanic experience, and to infantile omnipotence. I
would add that involved as well is a denial of a very real and
strong rivalry that we experience in relationship, initially, to
parents and siblings. This is a very conservative psychoanaRadical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

lytic critique and I think psychoanalysis can do better, offering a critique which can, in one sense, be seen as more radical,
but less utopian, less revolutionary.

In each case, the oceanic experience, infantile omnipotence, the denial of rivalry, we do not have to dismiss the
experience or the defence because it is infantile. To do this is
to deny a fundamental insight of psychoanalysis: that the
infant within us remains, the unconscious is timeless, and
must be catered for – it does not disappear with our access to
maturity. Beyond this, I think the infant plays an essential
role, in a modified form, in our adult life.

Let us take the oceanic feeling to begin with. It is true
that as adults we can surrender ourselves to it, or rather to the
search for it. We can seek a permanent high: the only alcoholic I have known intimately was a slave to such a feeling.

We can seek such a high through our political practice and
ideas, and if we are lucky, we might find it occasionally. The
more desperately we seek it, the less likely we are to find it.

Yet such an oceanic feeling can be there without overwhelming us, we do not have to become addicted to it. Just as we can
drink occasionally without becoming an alcoholic, so we can
allow ourselves such an experience. A conservative analyst
such as Erikson points towards religious institutions as the
social organisation to maintain and satisfy such a need, but we
could also point to politics, the activity of working together to
change the world, as a possible way of carrying out the
necessary task of allowing such a feeling expression and a
concrete realisation. The important point is that it can inform
our relationships with others without hiding the other, less
pleasant and downright destructive aspects of our nature.

Similarly infantile omnipotence has its place in adult
life. It emerges clearly from Winnicott’s analysis, for example, that out of this experience of omnipotence comes the
infant’s ability to learn, to do things and to withstand frustration. The Marxist ideal provides our politics with a sense of
the possibility of change, of betterment. But again to believe
the ideal can be realised is equivalent to the pathological
continuation of omnipotence into adult life. It would be like
believing that tomorrow I could retrain as a brain surgeon.

Clearly I can’t, but I could learn something about the physiological structure of the brain.

Finally we can, in a classical Kleinian way, find the
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

sublimation of destructiveness and envy in ideas of freedom
and equality; the ideal offers us a protection against our worst
desires. But again, it does not eliminate them.

Everything I have been saying moves towards this
idea: that we can find a psychoanalytic critique of Marxism
that recognises its value and modifies it. It says not that the
Marxist project is infantile and pathological, only that it can
be; it can also be a form of what for want of a better word I will
call maturity, a desire and a vision of something better. It only
becomes dangerous, pathological, if it involves the denial of
everything that makes the vision impossible to achieve, if it
becomes a sort of absolutist project.

The history of Marxist politics is full of debates about
the correct line; I think that this is associated with the belief
that the ideal (even if it is denied) is possible. The radical
nature of my argument comes from the implication that all
sorts of other politics become relevant, useful and possible
once we get rid of this absolutism. It leaves us saying something like: Marxism gives us the direction in which to move.

We will never get there, and there are all sorts of ways in
which we can move in this direction which perhaps can’t be
envisaged by Marxism. Modern feminism and the ecological
movement are perhaps examples; but so are the traditional
liberal and social democratic ideas of industrial capitalism. At
times the ideal will have to be emphasised, must be given its
place. At other times, the impossibility of the ideal becomes
important, and during these other times, emphasising the
impossibility can open up different, less totalising paths to
change. It is in this context that the Freudian critique becomes
radical. Joel mentions Sartre’s point that Marxism is as far as
we can go; the implication of my argument is that as the
inadequacy of Marxism becomes apparent, we might have to
return to a range of pre-Marxist ideas as a way of going
forward, or at least not losing too much.

I take Joel ‘s point about the irrational, non-rational and
rational. At least I did when I first read and ·was tempted to
call back the manuscript of a recently completed book and rewrite it. I clearly had to think of a way out of such a horrendous task and I hope I have done so. It is a tenable interpretation of Freud that he can see only the rational and the irrational, the latter as ‘the twisted, the distorted, the split apart
and the violent’. But there is a different position, perhaps
implicit in his work, and certainly present in the work of the
Kleinian and British schools, that the irrational is the source
of creativity and change, that it is closer to the things we
dream of and the things we cannot yet dream of. Winnicott
says somewhere that we are poor indeed if we are only sane.

In the context of this argument, we could say that we are poor
indeed if we are only grown up (rational and realistic), but if
we are only infantile (Marxist and Utopian), then we are lost.

29

REPLY: JOEL KOVEL

Ian and I both agree that one should not get trapped in splitting
and totalization. More, I strongly agree that human society,
like the individual, is headed for a monstrosity, when it demands perfection. At least in the present, fallen age, such a
demand must force a violent degree of repression. This is one
reason, by the way, I have been attracted to the theology of
liberation, even if I cannot share its theism: because it holds
out an ideal with respect to which all social projects may be
judged, and none may aspire to meet. I believe we have to
build such an ideal into praxis – not as Ian suggests (following
Erikson), by religious institutionalization, which reproduces
the ‘opium of the people’ function of religion, but by an
organic incorporation of the notion of transcendence into
politics.

Here I feel myself led onto ice I know to be thin but feel
the necessity to explore. For I do tend to grant ontological
priority to those positions whose ideal is a society without
domination. I would not mind calling this ‘communism’,
were there not so much else to explain the term. In any case,
for me, overcoming domination is more than a question of
justice; it also, somehow, inheres in the’ order of things’. This
is the ‘thin-ice’ position, as it suggests the reintroduction of
transcendental signifieds into a discourse from which they
have long seemed banished.

I would say that there exists a primitive, ontological
rationality within the category of the non-rational. That is, not
all non-rational positions are equivalent; there is a priority
among them, to be granted to those praxes whose content is
the overcoming of domination. In other words, a revolutionary goal is closer to the marrow of things, despite its dangers
and unreasonableness – or perhaps, as part of these.

Here, if I am not mistaken, Ian would tend to conclude
the game was not worth the candle – that the risks of totalization outweighed the benefits of emancipation. If I differ, it is
perhaps because of a different attitude toward the oceanic
experience. Ian concedes the validity of the oceanic experience – ‘we do not have to dismiss the experience’ , he claims
at one place – yet his treatment of the theme is mainly
psychological, in terms of the feeling state associated with it.

My tendency, rather, is to emphasize that the oceanic experience is not a mere feeling, but the perception of an ontological
existent. It is not so much a memory of an impossible wish
which can be at best integrated into an adult life from which
hope and joy are otherwise banished. It is, rather, the first
occasion in which a human being can grasp the actual interconnectedness of all beings. It provides ‘proof’ that we are, in
fact, all one, and sets into motion the demand for justice and
the affirmation of freedom, across the immense panorama of
human history. I believe that the demand posed by the oceanic
experience keeps rising so long as we have flesh whose
desires are unrealized. Put onto the world stage, the unrealization of the flesh takes the form of imperialism, capitalism, the
domination of nature and patriarchy, all linked together. I
would like to show, too, that the root of these evils (I would
not shrink from this word) can be derived ontologically as
well, as a kind of flight from, or splitting of, being. But
whether I am capable of doing so or not, and however my
views may place me in the camp of quixotic believers, I think
that we have within us a spirit which insists upon the realisation of the human species. And that is why I think we should
all join hands and smash imperialism.

Notes

2

3

4

30

I take a position within which the ‘world-view of an individual is decisively anterior to the philosophy s/he adopts. In
my opinion we are idealistically prone to think in terms of
autonomously generated intellectual positions rather than in
terms of (socially produced) predispositions which lead us to
find intellectual and political justifications for the way we
are. Of course this way of thinking is essential to both Freud
and Marx … and of course the quality of the said justifications is by no means an indifferent matter.

Similarly, the limits of psychoanalysis, which mainly come
under the heading of subjectivism, are peculiarly well disclosed by Marxism. Freud’s claims to universality are severely undermined once the Marxist perspective is taken,
revealing the character of the bourgeoisie to which Freud
was and psychoanalysis is loyal, and the obvious self-interest and hypocrisy expended by Freudians in rationalizing
their allegiance. Thus a Marxist viewpoint makes it impossible to sustain the moral and intellectual claims of psychoanalysis.

Freud said that Marxism was grounded in a ‘fresh idealistic
misconception of human nature. Civilisation and its Discontents was largely written to counter Marxist tendencies
within psychoanalysis.

Along with the corollary that repression does not ultimately
work, but makes matters worse; hence the unpleasantness
associated with one-party states. Again, I do not wish to
oversimplify the complexities surrounding Leninism or Stalinism. Nevertheless, to take only the instance of Stalin, it is

obvious that those sorts of things Freud built his discourse
about somehow played an overriding role in Stalin’s development. It seems to me that the burden of proof is on those
who would argue that elements such as narcissistic rage,
sadism and paranoia were merely accidental in the emergence of Stalinist terror.

5

Another major limit to Marx’ s thinking – his attitude toward
nature – is, by contrast, in no way ameliorated by Freud’s
contribution. Both Marx and Freud share the dominant
Western view of nature as radically Other. For Marx nature
is largely inert (at best, ‘man’s inorganic body’), while for
Freud nature is largely hostile. An interesting distinction,
but not significant in practice.

6

Just as psychoanalysts have usually been unable to take the
disabling implications of Marxism seriously. In my own
case, taking Marxism seriously had a good deal to do with
the fact that I am not currently practising psychotherapy.

7

This historical version of self is inscribed as the Ego in
established psychoanalytic discourse, where it is mystified
as a quasi-biological substance.

8

This is scarcely the place to develop the theme, but the
irrational should not be regarded as a subset of the nonrational. The critique of science and technocracy depends
upon recognition that the greatest unreason occurs dressed
as reason – witness the nuclear arms race.

9

By which we mean, capable of being mapped and comprehended by the Freudian canon, or, better, some de-bourgeoisified version of it.

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

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