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Jules Alford: Freud and the October Revolution

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“There are men of action, unshakable in their convictions, inaccessible to doubt, without feeling for the sufferings of others if they stand in the way of their intentions. We have to thank men of this kind for the fact that the tremendous experiment of producing a new order of this kind is now actually being carried out in Russia. At a time when the great nations announce that they expect salvation only from the maintenance of Christian piety, the revolution in Russia – in spite of all its disagreeable details – seems none the less like a message of a better future. Unluckily neither our scepticism nor the fanatical faith of the other side gives a hint as to how the experiment will turn out. The future will tell us…”

Freud, Theory of a Weltanschauung (1932)

Part I

AW Face ArtThough Marx and Freud first encountered each other in the 1920s the parties of the Third International were indifferent to Freudianism. If there was a position it was that psychoanalysis was bourgeois and therefore incompatible with Marxism and scientific materialism. This jaundiced portrait of Freud predated Stalinism’s rise and Hitler’s triumph which prompted psychoanalysis’s flight to North America in the 1930s though Freud, a lifelong Anglophile, fled to London where he died a few months after arriving on 23 September 1939.

As early as the 1920s some ‘left’ Freudians claimed psychoanalysis was relevant to the class struggle and vice versa. The most significant practical effort to unite Marx and Freud was the Sex-Pol movement led by Wilhelm Reich that aimed to deliver therapy and advice on various sexual questions to the Viennese working class via ‘free clinics’ in the city’s parks and streets. Initially Freud encouraged Reich in a city, Rote Wien (red Vienna), where the Austrian Social Democracy governed after the collapse of the monarchy and empire in 1918. For the next sixteen years the Social Democrats ruled Vienna until they were bloodily suppressed by Dollfuss in 1934.
In these years the Social Democrats introduced an ambitious public health policy among other far reaching reforms that encouraged Freud to try and make psychoanalysis more widely available. Significantly, the stormy year of 1918 was also the highpoint of Freud’s enthusiasm for training lay therapists to deliver therapy for those other than the affluent, a proposal Freud made in his keynote speech to the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) congress in Budapest that year. In 1919, Freud’s colleague and close friend Sandor Ferenczi became the first analyst to occupy a university chair created for psychoanalysis at Budapest University during the short lived Hungarian ‘Commune’ led by Bela Kun. When the ‘Commune’ fell 133 days later, Ferenczi was fortunate to escape the ferocious White reaction with his life.
Despite a common prejudice, psychoanalysis had never been solipsistic about the social factors shaping sexuality even if as the dispute between Freud and Alfred Adler indicated there was some controversy about the scope of the social and its exact relation to the psychical, somatic and biological realm with Adler championing the primacy of the social. Before 1914 Freud had recognized the impact of ‘excessive’ repressive inhibitions and the limited prophylactic import of individual therapy. But it was also Freud’s conviction that some sexual repression was a necessary, if tragic presupposition of ‘civilization’ – a quietist stance that the radical, younger generation of psychoanalysts who emerged after the First World War like Wilhelm Reich and Otto Fenichel would quarrel with.
Freudianism also intersected with other parts of Weimar Germany’s leftist culture. In 1923 the Institute of Social Research (or ‘Frankfurt School’) was founded by Felix Weil, a wealthy young socialist. Weil had been a former student of Karl Korsch and on the Institute’s fiftieth anniversary in 1973 described his younger self as a “salon Bolshevik” though he had counted among his friends many of the KPD’s leaders like Paul Levi. It was the Institute’s second director Max Horkheimer and his brilliant ally Theodor Adorno who pursued the union of Marx and Freud and set up a psychoanalytic clinic at the Institute in 1930 with Horkheimer even receiving a telegram from Freud wishing the clinic every success.
But the most significant impact of Freud on German communism in this period was Wilhelm Reich’s Sex-Pol movement in Germany.
Reich left Vienna for Berlin in 1930 and the following year was the driving force behind the launch of the German Association of Proletarian Sex-Politics (GAPSP) whose inaugural Dusseldorf congress united eight sexual reform groups with 20,000 members in a front led by the KPD. Reich drafted the GAPSP seven point programme which included demands for the free distribution of contraception, advice on birth control, free abortion on demand, abolition of legal distinctions between married and unmarried, the opening of therapeutic clinics, the elimination of prostitution via an assault on its material economic basis, sex education, training medical staff to deliver sexual hygiene, treatment for sexual offences and the protection of children against “adult seduction” (Sharaf 1983: 162-63).
Sex-Pol was one of the last flourishes of Weimar Germany’s hothouse climate and the sexual radicalism unleashed by war and revolution. In the Soviet Union the tide was already turning as Stalin’s breakneck industrialisation signalled a second rebarbative cultural revolution as millions of conservative peasants were sucked into the cities. Inevitably, the rapprochement of Marx and Freud could not survive Stalin and Hitler. Reich’s withering criticism of the KPD’s anti-fascist strategy and the apparatchiks growing hostility to Reich’s overt sexual politics, led to his expulsion from the KPD after Hitler had outlawed the party. A year later in 1934, a ‘stateless’ Reich was also expelled from an embattled IPA (probably with Freud’s approval) which was busy trying to distance itself from its most radical voices in the context of ascendant fascism.
By the early 1930s Freud concluded that psychoanalysis and Marxism were incompatible. Yet Freud had once keenly observed the Soviet Union’s social experiment. In fact Freud’s scepticism largely concerned Bolshevism rather than Austrian Social Democracy though he kept some distance from the SDAPO and was certainly not a supporter of the party’s left wing. In February 1934, Austria’s growing political crisis and the provocative proto-fascist rule of Dollfuss sparked a general strike which rapidly descended into civil war. Dollfuss used the state’s repressive apparatus to crush the working class and outlaw its parties: the SDAPO and the small Communist party.
Freud’s attitude to the resistance and the repression that followed was instructive. In letters to friends, Freud stoically noted the inconveniences of “our bit of civil war” that, for example, meant there was no electricity for a day. Freud pitied Dollfuss’s victims – up to a point. Though “the rebels belonged to the best portion of the population” their victory would have provoked “foreign” (German) intervention. Also the rebels were ‘Bolshevists’ and the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was their goal – an intolerable outcome. Writing to Stefan Zweig, Freud invoked Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet: “a plague on both your houses.” But as his biographer Peter Gay noted, Freud’s studied ‘neutrality’ (or rationalisation of Dollfuss’s victory), tellingly misrepresented the February events. The ‘role’ of the “Bolshevists” was minor but honourable while the Social Democrats, having renounced the revolutionary goal, entered the fray reluctantly in defensive mode. Freud’s sympathy for the defeated was ‘frigid’ and his undisguised relief at Dollfuss’s restoration of ‘order’ was a grave misjudgement (Gay 1984: 594-95).
However hostility to Bolshevism was fed by the repression of Freud’s Soviet followers and though his scepticism toward Marxism and the possibility of remoulding ‘human nature’ was longstanding there existed a degree of ambivalence given that Freud viewed the scientific enterprise as thoroughly critical consistent with the spirit of the radical Enlightenment. Before the war Freud and his Viennese psychoanalytic colleague Alfred Adler (a socialist) had sparred over various questions including Freud’s Oedipus Complex when Adler insisted on its profound historical contingency, subsequently a staple of leftist critiques of Freud’s ‘conservatism.’ So Adler – the only “personality” in the Vienna Psychoanalytic society according to Freud – was the original ‘revisionist’ in the House of Freud, breaking away in 1911 three years before Freud’s self appointed heir apparent Carl Jung, based in Zurich, also parted company with Freud.
Significantly Freud’s links with Social Democracy were considerable and included treating Irma Bauer, the famous ‘Dora’ and an early therapeutic failure of Freud’s and the sister of the left’s leader, Otto Bauer while close friends numbered some prominent socialists including Victor Adler (Freud’s home and clinic had been Adler’s boyhood home) and Heinrich Braun, a schoolboy friend. After Braun’s death in 1926 Freud wrote to his friend’s widow:
At the Gymnasium we were inseparable friends…He awakened a multitude of revolutionary trends in me…Neither the goals or the means for our ambitions were very clear to us…But one thing was certain: that I would work with him and that I could never desert his party” (Freud quoted in Danto 2005: 26-27).
Also some of Freud’s closest colleagues were socialists like Ferenczi and while the fierce anti-semitism of the Austro-Hungarian empire confirmed Freud’s cynicism about politics it also insulated him against parties of the right (anti-semitic across the spectrum) though Freud was solidly conventional in some respects. For example, he was seized by the patriotism that gripped the majority of his fellow citizens when war broke out. All three of Freud’s sons served in the Austrian army though his livelihood as an analyst was severely affected by the war. As the war unfolded Freud became increasingly sceptical war weary (Gay 1984: 350).
Elizabeth Ann Danto has presented the case for seeing Freud as a radical reformer and points to the watershed 1918 Budapest IPA congress as evidence of Freud’s concern for social justice. In the speech mentioned above, Freud invoked secular progress and the social responsibility of psychoanalysis as well as the importance of alleviating inequality and making therapy universally available, adding:
“It is possible to foresee the conscience of society will awake, and remind it that the poor man should have just as much right to assistance for his mind as he now has to the life saving help offered by surgery; and that the neuroses threaten public health no less than tuberculosis, and can be left as little as the latter to the impotent care of individual members of the community. The institutions and out-patient clinics will be started, to which analytically trained physicians will be appointed so that men who would otherwise give way to drink, women who have nearly succumbed under the burden of their privations, children for whom there is no choice but running wild or neurosis, may be capable, by analysis, of resistance and efficient work. Such treatments will be free” (Freud’s speech quoted in Danto 2005: 17).
Freud clearly felt psychoanalysis’s reach should be extended to the working class and this entailed a progressive alliance with Social Democracy. So Freud proposed free clinics to treat the city’s working class and poor and the introduction of psychoanalytically trained lay therapists in a programme shaped by a radical reformist sensibility and social justice.
But with the Soviet Union by 1932 Freud’s curiosity about the Soviet experiment had ceded to the view that “theoretical Marxism, as realized in Russian Bolshevism, has acquired the energy and self-contained exclusive character of a weltanschauung but at the same time an uncanny likeness to what it is fighting against” – a view that clearly derived from the fact that psychoanalysis had been persecuted out of existence in the Soviet Union, a major cause of friction between Reich and Freud (Freud 1983: 216-17).
Yet in the early 1920s Soviet psychoanalysis appeared to have a promising future.

Part II

Francis BaconThe fate of Freudianism and the sexual and cultural revolution in the Soviet Union were closely related. The October revolution unleashed a ferment of grassroots utopian experimentation (see Stites 1991 for their revolutionary sweep). There was no single authority controlling the radical experimentation and the revolution’s brief ‘heroic’ period witnessed an audacious attempt to erect a new communal social order and remake sexual relations in the urban centres. Stalinism’s rise reversed all this though the daring experiment had been losing momentum before Stalin finally consolidated his dominance. In 1928 the first Five Year Plan was introduced to industrialise the Soviet Union at breakneck tempo heralding a rapid transformation of Soviet society. Stalin’s initiative disorientated many Oppositionists including some in the Left Opposition who concluded Stalin had broken his ‘alliance’ with the nascent bourgeois and petit bourgeois elements embodied by the richer peasants (kulaks) and the NEPmen who threatened the ‘restoration of capitalism’, in order to implement the essentials of the Opposition’s programme. According to this wishful prognosis Stalin was strengthening the hand of his political opponents in the party by increasing the social weight of the working class via industrialisation. Instead the brutal, atomising manner industrialisation was carried out signalled the end of any working class challenge to Stalinism for the foreseeable future.
The ebbing of revolution abroad and the Soviet bureaucracy’s rise meant the window for the unfolding of a sexual and cultural revolution proved to be brief to be brief. Indeed radicalisation in the domain of sexuality could be considered the sine qua non of any authentic revolution. This was certainly true of the proletarian revolution as October 1917 demonstrated even if we allow the Soviet sexual revolution was also rooted in the general demobilisation at the war’s end as Sheila Fitzpatrick has argued. It was certainly the case that war, defeat, demobilisation and revolution had a similar dislocating impact in Germany too (Fitzpatrick 1992: 65-90).
Significantly the Soviet sexual revolution was severely limited in scope because of the formidable barriers facing women’s emancipation and socialism’s construction. The main obstacle was the meagre material basis and archaic cultural inheritance indicating Tsarism’s backward agrarian-peasant dominated economy. As Lise Vogel noted Lenin’s appreciation of women’s oppression in Tsarist Russia was very much shaped by Lenin’s grasp of the fate of peasant women in the country and the back breaking, stultifying, oppressive nature of the domestic labour they conducted in the patriarchal peasant family (Vogel 2012).
Despite the 1861 Emancipation decree formally ending sefdom tradition, illiteracy and poverty weighed down on the peasantry right up to 1917. In rural areas 25% of infants died in their first year at the century’s turn while another 20% never reached adulthood (Ginsborg 2014: 10). Tsarist Russia’s backward economy was impoverished further by war, revolution, foreign intervention and civil war. Shortly after the revolution, the Soviet government granted women the vote, introduced easy divorce, provided for secularized marriages, gave legal status to cohabitation and tried to remove the stigma of being an unmarried mother – measures mostly introduced in September 1918 through the new Family Code (discussed by Ginsborg ibid. 29-31). Abortion was legalized in November 1920 while ‘sodomy’ between consenting adults was decriminalised with the introduction of the new Soviet Criminal Code in 1922. The revolutionary state also tried to provide information on birth control, procreation and pregnancy though in this domain as in welfare provision in general, it was woefully ill equipped to deliver. Even so these modest but impressive first steps put the Soviet Union in the front rank of nations in the struggle for the equality of women and sexual enlightenment. As Lenin observed in July 1919:
“In this field [the position of women – JA], not a single democratic party in the world, not even in the most advanced bourgeois republic, has done in decades so much as a hundredth part of what we did in our very first year in power. We really razed to the ground the infamous laws placing women in a place of inequality, restricting divorce and surrounding it with disgusting formalities, denying recognition to children born out of wedlock, enforcing a search for their fathers, etc, laws numerous survivals of which, to the shame of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism, are to be found in all the civilized countries” (Lenin July 1919).
But the revolution’s meagre material inheritance and the devastation of civil war meant much rested on grassroots initiatives undertaken by various groups fired by the sheer voluntarism and revolutionary elan, inside and outside the Bolshevik party. A huge chasm existed between the poverty of resources and the grand objective of striking a decisive blow against women’s oppression and making strides towards emancipation. Idealism and self sacrifice underpinned experiments in communal living (hostels, kitchens, childcare) that were designed as an alternative to the family hearth and women’s traditional role as mother and domestic slave. Though these experiments enjoyed some popularity in the revolution’s early years they were largely confined to St. Petersburg and Moscow. The communal dining halls (stollovyye) fed almost a million Muscovites between 1918 and 1920 during the civil war. But the food was poor and as Paul Ginsborg observes families returned to preparing their own meals in their own homes at the earliest opportunity. The fledgling Soviet state simply could not resource the ambitious programme of social welfare it wished to. However communal eating enjoyed a modest revival from 1923 when it was reorganised with the support of the Commissariat of Labour and Health and by 1927 there were 678 canteens nationwide though what was provided almost certainly never transcended ‘barracks communism’ (ibid. 48).
With the Soviet edition of the sexual revolution the cadres of the Komsomol (Communist Youth) earnestly embraced radical sexual mores and loudly ‘rejected’ bourgeois notions of love, possessiveness and jealousy. Alexandra Kollontai’s advocacy of “winged Eros”: of love between men and women based on authentic equality and mutual respect, was a more idealistic imagining of this non-sentimental physiological conception of sexual relations though both positions created unease among some party cadre. Destruction of the stultifying family hearth as the crucible of oppression would only be achieved by ending class exploitation and embarking on the transition to socialism. Kollontai noted the ‘functional’ attitude to sex that she characterised as “wingless Eros” in contrast to her own conception. According to Kollontai “wingless Eros” (the “unadorned sexual drive”), which saw men and women coming together compelled by “biological instinct”, “without great commitment” and parting “without tears or regret”, flourished in the storm of revolution and civil war. This “frightened some” as Kollontai noted – no doubt with the revolution’s enemies in mind but it also provoked puritanical critics of the sexual revolution in the Bolshevik party – though this was perhaps an inevitable outcome of social revolution (Kollontai 1980: 276-77). Ginsborg argues there is no evidence to suggest Kollontai defined unsentimental sexual relations as “drinking a glass of water” whose vogue among young communists Lenin dismissed in his private discussion with Clara Zetkin (see below). Perhaps Kollontai used the expression in one of her popular party speeches to characterise a particular view that was not her own? Whatever the truth Kollontai thought functional attitudes about sex were transitory, a product of the civil war and social conflict, that would be superseded with further cultural and social development culminating in her own vision of “winged Eros” (Ginsborg 2014: 38). In Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations, Kollontai condemned the “bourgeois attitude to sexual relations as simply a matter of sex” evidently with the hypocrisies and unhappiness of bourgeois marriage and prostitution foremost – a critical position that while not wrongheaded per se smacked of moralism. The gap between the revolutionary exalting ‘sexual freedom’ and latter dismissals of ‘promiscuity’ as bourgeois bohemianism alien to proletarian collectivism, was not so great (Kollontai 1980: 231). Yet Kollontai was also attacked for sentimentality for the advocacy of “winged Eros”: a new model of relations that looked beyond the casual couplings of the civil war period, to tender, compassionate relation based on a deeper comradeship.
Soon after the October revolution Kollontai was appointed Commissar of Social Welfare (the only woman appointed as a Commissar in the first Soviet government). But as the revolution became beleaguered in the early 1920s Kollontai – a Bolshevik since 1914 – became prominent in the Workers Opposition (WO). The WO diagnosed the sullen detachment of the working class. Kollontai was fiercely attacked by the leading Bolsheviks: Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev and others, for alleged anarcho-syndicalism and a regression to ‘Menshevism.’ Kollontai’s views about sexual relations and the family were unfairly vilified to obscure her broader political argument about the bureaucratic danger facing the revolution in addition to puritanical incomprehension. Bukharin admired by Kollontai (both were early ‘leftist’ critics of Lenin’s course shortly after October and both sloughed off their ‘leftism’) attacked her “purely physical attitude to sex.” In May 1923 Kollontai and Vera Golubva (deputy director of the Zhenotdel) were denounced for their “feminist tendencies” in Pravda following the Twelfth party congress’s rejection of Golubva’s suggestion that the Zenotdel work more collaboratively with non-party women especially in efforts to establish experiments in communal living in the absence of adequate state resources for canteens, crèches and children’s homes. Both Natalia Sedova (Trotsky’s second wife) and Nadezhda Krupskaya denounced Kollontai as a feminist with Krupskaya even calling for the party press to stop publishing Kollontai’s work (Porter 2013: 384-87).
Kollontai’s writings on sex and the revolution were marked by a lack of censoriousness, an honest acknowledgement that women were sexual beings but also strictures that women should not be solely defined by their sexual relationships. Inevitably Kollontai’s lyrical language was unusual in Bolshevik discourse and its ‘flowery’ character irked a number of her critics but then Kollontai – a popular Bolshevik speaker – was addressing topics that were regrettably unusual in revolutionary discourse.
For many, (Kollontai included), the family as it existed was a redoubt of female bondage that had to be swept away and replaced with an alternative communal order. Among historians of the social and cultural ferment of the 1920s Sheila Fitzpatrick has questioned just how radical attitudes to sexual relations really were among students and Komsomol members in an analysis of student responses in four different surveys of Soviet higher education institutions between 1922 and 1927 (see Fitzpatrick 1992: 70-90). Militant asceticism was evidently quite strong among the leadership and rank and file of the Bolshevik party. Concern in the party ranks grew about the licentiousness of urban youth and Komsomol members especially after the introduction of NEP. The contradictory impulses – sexual libertarianism and anxiety about promiscuity, were real enough with the latter reflecting the pressures exerted on the revolutionary party to transform into the party of Order in a context when the social fabric had been shredded. By the mid 1920s prostitutes and homeless children (the orphans of war and civil war) were visible on the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow as contemporary eyewitness accounts attest (see Walter Benjamin’s Moscow Diary written during a two month visit in 1927). According to Ginsborg between 1921-22 there were between and 4 and 7 million and abandoned and homeless children (besprizornyye) roaming the land (Ginsborg 2014: 20). This was astonishing figure if we bear in mind the deaths that resulted from the impact of the civil war on an already shattered productive apparatus. So the terrible Ukrainian famine of 1921 actually killed nearly all children below the age of three (ibid. 38). Similarly Alexandra Kollontai’s biographer, estimates there was roughly seven million orphans roaming the cities, towns and countryside or confined to the “hellish” orphanages of the Soviet Union by 1922 (Porter 2013: 274-75). Ironically foreign intervention in the Russian revolution and civil war had two sides. By 1922 3.6m children were being fed by foreign aid organisations in the Volga and Crimea like the American Relief Administration (ARA) on the admission of the Soviet government though after the early 1920s homelessness began to fall rapidly (Ginsborg 2014: 52).
As the imperatives of being the party of Order imposed themselves, the Bolsheviks turned against the sexual freedoms of the early post-revolutionary period. Campaigns were launched against ‘lax’ sexual mores among the youth. In 1926-27 there was a party campaign against esininshchina to combat ‘cynical’ and supposedly bourgeois conceptions of sexual relations personified by Sergei Esenin, the Imagist poet and prolific lover who married four times and killed himself in 1925 at the age of 30. In 1926 a notoriously brutal gang rape in Moscow by male Komsomol members received a great deal of press creating anguish in the party and beyond. Some of the young men found guilty were eventually executed.
Maurice Brinton argued the challenges facing the Bolsheviks and the working class were formidable and “in the struggle for sexual freedom classical Marxist teaching had no blueprint.” The belief that the formal abolition of economic exploitation would undermine the oppression entrenched for millennia thus allowing sexual freedom to flourish, was overly optimistic. Equally it was apparent that formal equality did not constitute liberation. Of course the Bolshevik party leadership were keenly aware of the difference between formal equality sanctioned by the law and the real autonomy and independence that would only “blossom forth” on the “basis of the realm of freedom.” Clearly in the Soviet Union of the 1920s the transition to Marx’s “realm of freedom” was a distant prospect. Brinton maintains the Bolsheviks simply failed to grasp the “significance of sexual repression – and of the traditional morality based on it – as a central factor in social conditioning” (Brinton 1974: 49-50). The ‘old Bolsheviks’ who led the party and the militant cadre who followed, not only sublimated sexual desire in the service of the revolution – renunciation, abstinence and fidelity, but also unconsciously feared the unruly, wayward nature of desire.

Part III
The origins of Russian Freudianism can be traced to Nikolai Osipov’s Moscow based journal Psychotherapy first published in 1911. Psychotherapy published Freud but also Freud’s erstwhile supporters and rivals like Alfred Adler and Carl Jung – the two original schismatics. War’s outbreak in 1914 ended the existence of Psychotherapy (Miller 1998: 43-46).
The Russian psychoanalytic movement regrouped after the revolution during the civil war years (1918-21) despite Osipov’s emigration in 1920 because of his conviction that hostility to Freud’s ideas would only grow. A psychoanalytic group was founded in Moscow in March 1921 though few had medical degrees. In the same month the Bolsheviks fateful Tenth Party Congress took place. The Bolsheviks had won the civil war but now faced the spectre of revolt by those who had tolerated Lenin’s party while the threat of the White’s restoration of landlordism remained. There were major peasant rebellions against the Red Army like the Tambov province in the summer 1920 and the revolt at Kronstadt naval fortress in March 1921. Both the peasant rebellions and Kronstadt were brutally crushed while the Bolsheviks moved to offset further restiveness by easing grain requisitioning. Months later captured Kronstadt insurgents were still being shot in batches by the Cheka. Despite the end of the civil war the Tenth party congress banned inner party factions – a supposedly temporary expedient. The Bolsheviks ban mirrored a growing willingness to accept the intolerant idea that Marxism was a seamless weltanschauung legitimating the Communist party’s leading role and enjoining it as the proletarian vanguard to adjudicate between all aspects of social and intellectual life including developments in the scientific field.
In 1922 the Russian Psychoanalytic Society was reformed by Ivan Ermakov, Moshe Wulff and Otto and Vera Schmidt in Moscow. They were soon joined Alexander Luria from Kazan and, with Freud’s encouragement and blessing, Sabrina Spielrein from Vienna. Famously Spielrein was a former patient and lover of Jung whose life saving therapeutic encounter allowed her to resume her medical studies and inspired Spielrein to train as an analyst. When Jung broke with Freud, Spielrein – with some ambivalence – sided with Freud. Spielrein was even credited with originally formulating the death instinct by Freud himself. In 1923 with its 30 members, the unsung Russian society was only the third national psychoanalytic association to start life after the groups based in Vienna and Berlin (ibid. 57; 61).
Freud had fully backed the Russian Freudians efforts to win official sanction (and finance) from the Commissariat of Enlightenment led by Anatoli Lunacharsky. Ermakov and Wulff drafted the appeal explaining psychoanalysis’s relevance to a variety of cultural and scientific fields and effectively committing the group to respect Soviet laws; in essence proposing a state psychoanalytic institute. By the end of 1922 official sanction had been won and the clinical studies of the group began appearing in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. Meanwhile the State Publishing House began publishing an ambitious multi-volume series of Freud’s works edited by Ermakov. Half of these planned volumes appeared before Russian Freudianism was suppressed (ibid. 64-67).
By the mid 1920s the Russian Freudians were starting to arouse opposition from other, rival schools of psychology like Ivan Pavlov and Vladimir Bekhterev who both aspired to found a distinctively ‘Soviet’ psychiatry integrating biology and neuroscience. Rivals flourished their ‘materialist’ credentials in the fight for official recognition and precious resources. The Bolsheviks were ambivalent about bourgeois culture and science – a doubt reinforced by the supposedly temporary reliance of the working class on the expertise of the intelligentsia, scientists and experts from the bourgeois class in the ‘construction of socialism.’ On the other hand creating socialism meant encouraging initiative from below and erecting a new collective Soviet culture. But there was a danger this collective culture could receive a conformist, authoritarian inflection as it was shaped from above by the Communist party exercising its ‘leading role’ and unable to brook rivals, real or imaginary in any domain of social life.
Before returning to the fate of psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union it is instructive to examine the contrasting attitudes of the two most authoritative voices of the revolution to Freud: Lenin and Trotsky.

Part IV
On the face of it we know little directly about Lenin’s attitude to Freud but a great deal can be inferred from the evidence available. For example we cannot be sure Lenin read Freud but Lenin’s personal library did contain three volumes of Ermakov’s translations of Freud including the Introductory Lectures. Also Krupskaya’s marginal notes in these volumes indicate that she at least had read some Freud. According to Miller, Lenin was planning to do a public lecture on Freud and he was acquainted with Otto Schmidt an influential Russian Freudian and possibly Lenin’s point of contact with the State Publishing House’s Freud endeavour. Schmidt’s wife Vera Schmidt headed Moscow’s well known psychoanalytic children’s school which was attended by the children of prominent Bolsheviks.
Do we know anything about Lenin’s opinion of Freud? Following previous commentators Miller warily cites the veteran German socialist Clara Zetkin’s ‘hagiographical’ reminiscences of Lenin. Zetkin quoted the Bolshevik leader from her memory of two long discussions in Lenin’s office in 1920. In the first interview Lenin stressed the importance of organizing and ensuring women played a full role in the struggle and the leadership. After Zetkin’s summarised the German political scene Lenin objected to some of the work carried out under the KPD’s auspices including the “morbid deviation” (Lenin) of women comrades trying to organize prostitutes. Lenin saw this work as mistaken and insisted that it end. Lenin objected to the inordinate time he felt women comrades were devoting to the sexual question and marriage and voiced disapproval of any effort to favour these questions over ‘economics’ or ‘politics.’ For Lenin Freudianism was a “fad” and he objected to those who appealed to Freud as an authority:
“Freudian theory is the modern fashion. I mistrust the sexual theories…which flourishes luxuriantly in the dirty soil of bourgeois society. I mistrust those who are always contemplating sexual questions, like the Indian saint his navel. It seems to me that these nourishing sexual theories which are mainly hypothetical, and often quite arbitrary hypotheses, arise from the personal need to justify personal abnormality or hypertrophy in sexual life before bourgeois morality…However wild and revolutionary the behaviour may be, it is still really quite bourgeois. It is, mainly, a hobby of the intellectuals and the sections nearest to them. There is no place for it in the Party, in the class conscious, fighting proletariat” (Zetkin 1964: 52-53).
Zetkin’s recall of Lenin’s views seems entirely plausible and consistent with Lenin’s militant ascesis. Also there is the fact that Krupskaya publicly and sharply criticized Freud. Of course Krupskaya and Lenin did not share exactly the same views on every question but they did share a common outlook forged through common work stretching back to the early 1890s. The overwhelmingly likelihood is that Lenin shared Krupskaya’s fairly conventional rejection of Freud. In 1923 Krupskaya commented:
“Freud does not take into account the role of sexual attraction in our actions. He inordinately exaggerates that role, while explaining all sub-conscious actions by sexual attraction. Many of his explanations are artificial, stretched out and besides, are permeated by a bourgeois-philistine attitude towards women” (quoted in Miller 1998: 85).
Krupskaya’s objections to Freud chimed with the militant ascesis dominating Bolshevism. As we noted Lenin’s puritanism is a matter of record. Consider Maxim Gorky’s recollection of Lenin’s agitation listening to Beethoven one evening in the apartment of an acquaintance. Lenin expressed amazement that such “superhuman” music could be created in such a “hellish world” and admitted that music affected his “nerves”, made him feel sentimental and want to pat people on the head. Then he half joked that the demands of the struggle meant it was necessary to hit people on the head. Chuckling Lenin confessed revolutionary leadership was a “difficult” office. This symptomatic, seemingly trivial detail, implies sublimation and a wilful goal directed focus but also some awareness on Lenin’s part of the contradictions at the heart of revolutionary political practice.
Another – less known – example of Lenin’s puritanism that chimed with Krupskaya’s conventional contention that Freud had overstated the role of sexuality in human life is paradoxically provided by Lenin’s affair with Inessa Armand. Intriguingly like the affair Freud is alleged to have conducted with Minna Bernays (Martha Freud’s sister), Lenin’s affair with Armand was a highly secretive while much of their correspondence has been destroyed or lost though enough evidence exists (in contradistinction to Freud’s affair with his sister-in-law) to say with some certainty that it had taken place. Lenin and Armand first became lovers in 1911 at a Bolshevik party school in southern France. Their relationship ended in 1913 and in June 1914 Lenin asked Armand to return all the correspondence he had sent her. Armand was attracted to Lenin’s intelligence and charisma but repelled by his over bearing hectoring attitude. Even so Lenin and Armand remained friends and comrades. In 1914 Armand began drafting a pamphlet about love, sexual relations and the family. But the pamphlet never appeared while Armand’s draft has been lost. What did survive were Lenin’s critical comments on Armand’s draft and they are instructive. Lenin was merciless in dismissing the concept of ‘free love’ that Armand employed: “What matters is not what you want to subjectively ‘want to understand’ by it; what matters is the objective logic of class relations in matters of love” (quoted in Ginsborg 2014: 24-26).
Besides the puritanism that a generous critic might argue was strategic (as Fredric Jamieson proposed in his essay The Politics of Pleasure) there were also limitations to Lenin’s utopian imagination much of which derived from the distance classical Marxism kept from the utopian register. Richard Stites even argued this “limited utopianism” was apparent in Lenin’s most celebrated utopian work The State and Revolution (1917). Stites diagnosed a lack of “utopian fervour” despite the fact that Lenin heralded the end of private property and the social division of labour, the end of egoism, authority and the state, abolition of the division between town and country and the advent of the rotation of work, administration and the arrival of communal life. While perceptively detecting the “aridity” of Lenin’s depiction of the ‘commune-state’ and the telltale absence of detail Stites fails to acknowledge Lenin’s striking endorsement of Anton Pannekoek’s 1912 criticism of Kautsky’s obfuscation of Marx’s teaching that the working class would have to smash the bourgeois state machine following the example of the 1871 Paris Commune. Yet the weaknesses of Lenin’s State and Revolution (1917) were real though Lenin’s argument managed to combine classical Marxism’s repudiation of utopian blueprints and opposition to ‘empty’ speculation about the future with an effort to consider the institutional lineaments of the ‘commune-state’ (Stites 1989: 43-45).
Crucially the Leninist focus on the struggle for political hegemony with the insurrectionary goal of smashing the bourgeois state machine downplayed the necessary cultural transformation that was also a prerequisite of socialism, creating a gap between ‘socialist ideal’ and the actual institutional lineaments of socialism. Thus, the paradox: abjuring reflection on ‘concrete utopia’ meant Leninism retained an unrecognised and therefore strong idealist strain.
The sexual question was linked to a broader cultural revolution unleashed by October whose premise was the creation of a new collective subjectivity. The adventure’s of the cultural revolution after October is a fascinating subject that cannot be fully explored here but some remarks are necessary. Firstly, the sexual and cultural revolution were closely related because they both concerned changes in relations between people in their everyday lives including to their most intimate social and sexual relations. The promise of social revolution was a transformation of everyday life. The festival that was a characteristic of the social revolution would continue beyond the punctum of the insurrection. Secondly Lenin apparently coined the neologism cultural revolution in 1923 but his thinking on the subject was provoked by his strong opposition to Proletkult which though it had no central ideological authority, was clear about the centrality of revolutionary cultural work in the transition to socialism. Thirdly, Lenin’s hostility to Proletkult partly derived from a zealous arrogation of the revolutionary process and social life by the Communist party.
Any project to culturally transform the Soviet Union faced formidable obstacles. The vast peasantry was largely illiterate while the powerful working class – driver of the revolution in the urban centres – was embattled and depleted by the civil war. Also the fledgling Soviet state had few resources other than the revolutionary elan and voluntarism of the revolution’s supporters. As to the arguments in the Bolshevik party, John C. McClelland highlights two facts: the existence of wide disagreements over the desirable cultural policies and goals and the “unreality or inapplicability of virtually all their conflicting plans” because of the “harrowing” material conditions that existed (McClelland in Gleason, Kenez and Stites ed.1985: 114). Arguments within the Bolshevik party were echoed beyond its ranks in the wider pro-Soviet camp.
There is some irony in the fact Lenin coined the term cultural revolution in a deceptively prosaic article titled On-Co-Operation (1923) – one of the last articles written before his death in January 1924 as his interest initially derived from his opposition to Proletkult and yet it was Proletkult that essentially posed the cultural revolution as a crucial moment of the social revolution.
In this article Lenin registered alarm at the impact of NEP on the Soviet state and anxiously championed the co-operatives (many of which were non-party, often rural and some religious inspired), to strengthen the bonds of collectivism and social solidarity. It seemed NEP had gone “too far” and the co-operatives – though utopian, voluntarist experiments beyond the party’s control – were a necessary corrective to reverse the lassitude gripping the Soviet state and party. Lenin defined the cultural revolution in terms of the appearance of new collective subjectivity resting on the assimilation by the populace of the most advanced skills, work habits as well as culture typical of the advanced West (a process that had taken centuries of ‘organic development’ before capital finally consolidated its rule politically). More significant was Lenin’s shift in emphasis from subordinating all social groups and institutions to the leading role of the Communist party – synonymous with the ‘proletarian dictatorship’ – to endorsing the idea non-party, non-state organizations could help realize the collective order of the future. This is not to deny there were still important continuities between Lenin’s earlier views – the dismissal of ‘proletarian culture’, an insistence that conquering illiteracy would be a major achievement for the new Soviet social order and so on – and his 1923 conception of the cultural revolution. But the latter re-evaluation was some distance from Lenin’s original hostility to Proletkult whose extensive influence in 1920 had irked Lenin in the aftermath of the civil war. Proletkult’s historian Lynn Mally observes the movement sprang from a “loose coalition of clubs, factory committees, workers theatres and educational societies devoted to the cultural needs of the working class” in St. Petersburg shortly before the October Revolution (Mally 1990: xviii). Broadly Proletkult championed two major principles: the primacy of culture in the revolutionary process and working class autonomy and leadership. For Proletkult’s majority these two principles were at the heart of a distinctive proletarian culture. Significantly, Proletkult’s profoundest influence coincided with the civil war and by 1920 membership peaked at 400,000 in 300 branches across the Soviet Union.
Lenin was hostile towards Proletkult for two reasons. Firstly, he objected to the idea of ‘proletarian culture’ – a theoretically incoherent idea according to Lenin and other Bolsheviks like Trotsky. The working class was a subaltern, exploited class and could not erect its own culture. The bourgeoisie’s own distinct class culture was the product of the leisure enjoyed by the exploiting class and hundreds of years of organic development while the challenge for the Soviet working class was to assimilate the achievements of bourgeois culture in a broader transitional process that would eventually see the proletariat ‘wither away.’ As Mally notes Lenin was a “cultural conservative” whose aesthetic taste was shaped by the classics of the bourgeois literary canon and he took a “dim view” of the avant-garde and modernist cultural experiments of the revolution (ibid. 199).
Secondly, Proletkult’s chief ideologue was Alexander Bogdanov, Lenin’s old adversary and rival for the leadership of the Bolshevik faction before the First World War. In the infamous 1903 split in the RSDLP Bogdanov had sided with Lenin. Bogdanov had been part of the St. Petersburg party organisation during the 1905 Revolution and a member of the city’s Soviet. But Lenin and Bogdanov’s political paths began to diverge during the reaction after the revolution’s defeat on political questions like the correct attitude toward Duma elections in the context of severe restrictions of the workers franchise. A struggle developed inside the Bolshevik faction that Lenin finally won by means of somewhat dubious manoeuvres. Defeated Bogdanov left the Bolsheviks in 1913.
But in 1920 Bogdanov was only one among a number of Proletkult’s ideologues and the only member of its leading group who was not a member of the Bolshevik party though he had developed a distinctive and original conception of the revolutionary cultural struggle. According to Sochor:
“…Bogdanov proposed a ‘program of culture.’ Class consciousness was not only the recognition by the proletariat of its historical mission but also its ability to fulfil it. Bogdanov argued that ‘the struggle for socialism is not by any means to be equated with an exclusive war against capitalism.’ The former involved ‘the creation of new elements of socialism in the proletariat itself, in the internal relations, and in the conditions of everyday life: the development of socialist-proletarian culture.’ Despite the optimism of Marxism, the self transformation of the proletariat involved a process that was neither spontaneous nor untroubled. Between the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom lay ‘not a leap but a difficult path’” (Bogdanov in quote marks in Sochor 1988: 39).
But as Lynn Mally argues Lenin’s hostile reaction not only indicated animus toward an old rival but also the objective reality of Proletkult’s autonomy and real influence in the working class. At the end of the civil war the revolution was at a crossroads. There was a growing debate about the direction of society and economy. 1920 was the year of the ‘trade union debate’ when Lenin faced demands for greater trade union autonomy on the one hand (for example the Workers Opposition), and the ‘militarisation’ of the trade unions to aid economic reconstruction on the other (for example Trotsky). Both the Workers Opposition and the Democratic Centralists said more working class autonomy was needed and declared the Bolshevik party was overly centralised and its leadership unresponsive to the rank and file. The Bolshevik leadership moved swiftly to check any potential challenges to its continued hegemony and the WO’s and the DC’s groups were wound up with the ban on inner party factions at the Tenth party congress in March 1921 (Mally 1990: 193-95).
Only months before the faction ban Lenin had charged Lunarchasky with pushing through Proletkult’s absorption into the Commissariat of Enlightenment and Education (Narkompros) as Proletkult held its national congress in Moscow in October 1920. But as a former ally of Bogdanov, Lunarchasky recoiled from this task at the congress itself and Lenin directly intervened with the Bolshevik faction that actually led Proletkult to secure the movement’s subordination to Narkompros. Lenin’s notes of the meetings that followed with Pletnev’s Bolshevik faction reveal the faction was unable to understand how Proletkult’s autonomy challenged the party. But the effort to clip Proletkult’s wings was not the first such attempt. Since 1918 Krupskaya had repeatedly argued for the movement’s absorption into the Adult Education Division but was rebuffed by firm opposition. With some difficulty Proletkult’s Bolshevik faction persuaded the movement’s congress to accept Lenin’s proposed five point draft resolution. Its third point declared that Marxism was the distillation of half a century of proletarian struggle and the only weltanschauung consistent with the overall interests of the working class (
Lenin’s fourth point argued that Marxism – far from rejecting the culture (and science) of the bourgeois epoch, instead aspired to assimilate and refashion bourgeois culture in the interests of the working class. The fifth point attacked the vapidity of the ‘proletarian culture’ concept and dismissed Proletkult’s aspiration to autonomy – no doubt to the surprise of many of its members. Rather the movement should become an auxillary of Narkompros. Proletkult’s Bolshevik dominated leadership capitulated and accepted the state’s embrace with the result that a movement encompassing hundreds of thousands of workers who supported the Soviet system tragically went into rapid decline (Mally 1990: 201-05).
A similar logic led the Bolshevik party to adjudicate between different scientific fields including Freudianism as the 1920s unfolded – or at least act as the last court of appeal though no authority invoked the need to assimilate the last advances of bourgeois culture and science vis-a-vis Freudianism. Instead it was enough to denounce Freudianism as bourgeois or idealistic for it to be cavalierly dismissed without serious argument.

Part V

What was Trotsky’s attitude to Freudianism? Unlike Lenin, Trotsky was far more familiar with Freud’s ideas and broadly sympathetic. Trotsky was the most prominent supporter of Freudianism in the Bolshevik leadership though there were others too like Karl Radek. However, Trotsky’s association with psychoanalysis was of no aid to either the embattled ranks of Soviet Freudians or himself because of the factional struggle that escalated after Lenin’s death.
Trotsky was first introduced to psychoanalysis by Adolf Joffe while both men were exiled in Vienna. Joffe came from a wealthy Jewish Ukranian family and used his wealth to support the revolutionary workers movement becoming a Social Democrat in 1900 and joining the RSDLP in 1903. After active participating in the 1905 Russian revolution, Joffe went into exile abroad finally settling in Vienna in 1906 where he first met Trotsky. The two men drew close politically, collaborating to produce the ‘Vienna Pravda’ between 1908 and 1912 when Lenin’s Bolshevik faction gained control of the paper and the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks finally parted company. Five years later as members of the small Mezhraiontsy group, Trotsky and Joffe joined the Bolsheviks on the revolution’s eve as their political line converged with Lenin’s. It was Joffe who chaired the St. Petersburg Military Revolutionary Committee which formally led the insurrection. In 1927 Joffe (a member of the Left Opposition) was refused his request to travel abroad for medical treatment and he committed suicide in a final protest at the expulsion of his long time friend and comrade, Trotsky, from the Communist party.
Isaac Deutscher who touched on Joffe’s ‘nervous breakdowns’ in Vienna, uncharitably described Trotsky’s comrade as a “neurotic intellectual”, a view probably indicative of Deutscher’s lack for sympathy for psychoanalysis. This judgement may also have been coloured by Trotsky’s conclusion that “revolution cured Joffe better than psychoanalysis of all his complexes.” It was Joffe – then Alfred Adler’s patient – who first introduced Trotsky to psychoanalysis by taking him to Adler’s public Viennese lectures (Deutscher 1963: 193). According to Henri Ellenberger Adler’s Russian Jewish wife Raissa was a friend of Trotsky’s wife during their Viennese exile (Ellenberger 1970: 585). In this period Joffe forged links with the small band of Russian Freudians as his autobiographical paper (an Adlerian inspired case study of a gay patient) appeared in the fourth issue of Psychotherapy (Miller 1998: 46).
Trotsky’s favourable references to psychoanalysis are scattered throughout his writings including Literature and Revolution written between 1922 and 1923 where Trotsky suggested Freudianism was compatible with scientific materialism (Trotsky 1981: 57). Other works mentioning psychoanalysis include the 1926 essay Culture and Socialism, Trotsky’s biography My Life and his Speech on the Russian Revolution delivered on the fifteenth anniversary on the revolution in Copenhagen.
As noted, negotiations to determine a suitable relationship between the Soviet Freudians and the Bolsheviks began in summer 1922. The Soviet Freudians had already set up a school in Moscow for orphaned and homeless children led by Vera Schmidt. In the early years of the revolution there was a great deal interest in Freud’s work. The All Russian Congresses of Psycho-Neurology were devoted to Freud in 1923 and 1924 and in 1925 the Communist Academy held a conference on ‘Freud and Art’ (Clark and Holquist 1984: 171). Deutscher briefly refers to Trotsky’s defence of the Soviet Freudians when psychoanalysis began to encounter more vocal criticism in the mid 1920s from conservative elements in the party apparatus and scientific academy. Trotsky wrote to Ivan Pavlov who was busy founding his own rival, behavioural school. In Culture and Socialism (1926) Trotsky claimed that Pavlov’s school and Freudianism were compatible, approaching the same problems from opposite directions. Trotsky did not expect to convince Pavlov of the compatibility between to the two schools but he did hope Pavlov would recognise the need for tolerance and pluralism in the scientific field. Where Freud and Pavlov differed Trotsky said was their method of enquiry but not the underlying materialist philosophy they both shared which meant accepting the somatic, physiological basis of the psyche. While Pavlov delved into the physiological, neurological depths, painstakingly retrieving his insights from the bottom up, Freud peered down into the depths from a loftier vantage point. Crucially:
“…it would be too simple and crude to declare psychoanalysis as incompatible with Marxism and turn one’s back on it. In any case we are not obliged to adopt Freudism either. Freudism is a working hypothesis. It can produce and does produce deductions and surmises which point to a materialist psychology. In due time experimentation will provide the tests. Meantime we have neither the reason nor the right to declare a ban on a method which, even though it may be less reliable, tries to anticipate results towards which the experimental method [for example Pavlov’s experimental method – J.A] advances only very slowly” (Deutscher 1987: 179-80).
However by 1926 Trotsky’s support for psychoanalysis was a liability. Pavlov and his collaborators loudly proclaimed the distinctly Soviet character of experimental behavioural psychiatry – a vision congenial to insular party bureaucrats who were increasingly promoting a self sufficient sui generis ‘revolutionary culture’ antithetical to pre-revolutionary scientific currents and the old order.
As Miller illustrates there were intelligent defences of Freudianism. In 1923 Bernard Byknovsky, a young Bolshevik philosopher published On the Methodological Foundations of Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory in the Bolshevik party theoretical journal Under the Banner of Marxism. Bykhovsky’s favourable article focused on Freud’s theory of the unconscious. A more sophisticated defence was that of M A Reisner who was close to Lunarcharsky. Reisner, previously responsible for drafting the Soviet legislation separating Church and state, applied psychoanalysis to the study of religion in Russia illustrating Marx and Freud’s convergence while also discussing Reik, Jung, Rank and James too. In Reisner’s view Freud’s greatest value was addressing the “psychology of religion” and revealing how displaced sexual drives could be diverted into pathological religious commitment. This subtle analysis not only demonstrated that ideology or the psychological had a material force – or relative autonomy as later theorists would have it – but also marked a departure from economic determinism.
In January at the Psychoneurological Congress in Petrograd, a large gathering of psychiatrists and psychologists engaged in fierce debates about which psychological school ‘fitted’ with Marxism. Nadezdha Krupskaya addressed the congress on the subject of homeless children. Freud was defended by Aron Zalkind the director of the Psychoneurological Institute and a former contributor to Psychotherapy. But Zalkind had a peculiarly conformist interest in “sexual pathology” and maintained that inter-class sexual attraction was a ‘perversion’ – an odd viewpoint that also mirrored some of the more class reductionist prejudices current in the party. Zalkind was well aware of the growing public interest in the ‘sexual question’ and he claimed that capitalism had created a “sexual bacchanalia” enervating the working class (Naiman 1999: 126-27). It is no accident that Zalkind (a supporter of sexual abstinence), had also attacked Kollontai’s call for a more honesty about sexual relations, as debauched (Porter 2013: 367).
Zalkind linked psychoanalysis to scientific materialism and suggested Freud and Pavlov were the harbingers of a new materialist psychology that would usher in a new scientific revolution though Zalkind still felt obliged to air the claim that Freud was overly focused on the individual and exaggerated the importance of sex (Miller 1998: 76). But where Zalkind wished to Bolshevise and domesticate Freud for Soviet consumption, the polemical responses of Freud’s outright Soviet critics was crude. In the autumn of 1924 V Iurinets, a Bolshevik party ideologue, tried to rebut Zalkind and Bykhovsky by claiming Freudianism was irrational, decadent and idealist while rehearsing the common criticism that Freud’s account of the unconscious was speculative and unproven (ibid. 77-78). Responding to Iurinet’s crude denunciations M A Reisner focused on Freud’s relevance to social psychology. Intriguingly Reisner related Freud’s reality principle to the social realm of class society and suggested that a crucial aspect of working class existence extended to the psychological realm – an idea also entertained by Wilhelm Reich in his critique of overly idealist, Cartesian conceptions of class consciousness so popular on the left (Alford 2014). Reisner suggested Freud’s concepts of repression and sublimation were indices of workers oppression and analogues of the Marxist notion of false consciousness. Reisner also tackled the ideological mechanisms of symbolic identification that allowed the exploiting classes to exercise hegemony via identification with the Tsar (father), religion and the fatherland. For Miller, Reisner’s arguments presciently anticipated Freud’s positions in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930).
In 1925 Freud’s most notable Soviet defence appeared bearing the imprimatur of the State Publishing House, Alexander Luria’s Psychology and Marxism. Luria, a student of LS Vygotsky, argued that psychology was in the main marked by a dualism of mind and body. The virtue of psychoanalysis was that it was a dynamic psychology tracing links between the somatic realm and psychical processes of the unconsciousness and consciousness. Crucially psychoanalysis approached the unconscious from an objective double optic: the unconscious implacably shaped an individual’s behaviour in ways they were largely unaware and psychical processes were analogous to the somatic energy flows of the corporeal. Therefore psychoanalysis – a putative “biology of the mind” – potentially heralded a unified psychology that would transcend the mind-body dualism (ibid. 80-81).
But the most brilliant defence of Freud was mounted by LS Vygotsky (regarded by Luria as a bona fide genius) who wrote Consciousness as a Problem in the Psychology of Behaviour in 1925. Vygotsky charged Soviet psychology with neglecting consciousness because of hostility to Freud and proposed instead that consciousness and the unconscious be viewed as inter-related and regarded via the medium of language and social praxis.
Today the most well known work of the 1920s Soviet Freud battles is VN Voloshinov’s 1925 critique which accused Freud of neglecting language. Thus Voloshinov and Vygotsky both shared a common interest in language but Voloshinov – later the celebrated author of Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (1929) – maintained that Freud’s unconscious was de jure pre-linguistic and external to the discursive realm of the speech community. Voloshinov also felt Freud exaggerated the influence of sexuality, a recurring theme of Freud’s foes and friends. But Voloshinov’s most intriguing argument was that many Freudian concepts like the Oedipus Complex, supposedly uncovered in the dialogue at the heart of therapy, were imaginary constructs projected back onto the patient by the analyst. The unconscious itself was inaccessible to the light of inter-subjective dialogue so that there could be no question of retrieving repressed memories, wishes, phantasies from this extra-discursive domain (see Voloshinov 1986: 88 and Voloshinov 2012).
Some view Voloshinov’s Freud critique as quite crude and lacking the nimbleness of his later Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (1929). But whatever the shortcomings Voloshinov’s Freud critique seems far more sophisticated than many of the other, blunter assaults on Freudianism while Voloshinov’s focus on language lends his criticism the status of a serious and novel engagement. After the fiery arguments of the mid 1920s the Freud debate waned and Miller observes that there was a:
“…turn toward more overt political attacks…a far more sinister process that overwhelmed the stimulating intellectual debate over the role of psychoanalysis in communist society. This amounted to an ideological war against ‘Freudianism’ in order to delegitimize it completely. Such combat was a very important aspect of the consolidation of communist authority in the post-revolutionary. It became increasingly common for the government to sabotage an area of potential competitive power…to delegitimize it…” (Miller 1998: 82).
Here Miller seems to lean towards a ‘totalitarian interpretation’ of the Bolsheviks and their actions – a view that starts from aspects of Bolshevik theory and practice like the commitment to one party rule or an ideological tendency to treating Marxism as a self sufficient weltanschauung, and regarding these as the driving causes of descent into ‘totalitarianism’ or degeneration of the revolution. An alternative interpretation focuses on how the tragic and grim context of the revolution besieged selected aspects of Bolshevik theory and practice while nullifying other parts of their tradition. So for example the Bolsheviks embrace of one party dictatorial rule was a historically contingent course dictated by circumstances and at odds with the Bolsheviks previous commitment to democracy. There were “germs” (Victor Serge) or parts of Bolshevik ideology that were selected by the harrowing circumstances they faced. Sheila Fitzpatrick adopts a similar position to Miller arguing that the suppression of opposition appeared to accelerate after victory was achieved in the civil war (Fitzpatrick in Gleason, Kenez and Stites ed. 1989: 57-76).
Fitzpatrick is surely right to identify the polarising impact of the civil war and the commandist, substitutionist habits the Bolsheviks acquired. But Fitzpatrick remains wedded to elements of the ‘totalitarian interpretation’ that is likely to regard this as a cause of the waning of grassroots or Soviet democracy rather than a set of practices arising from the selective pressures of economic collapse, embargo and civil war. This is clear from Fitzpatrick’s failure to consider the implications of the end of the threat of the landlords return once victory was secured – a binding factor among the pro-Soviet forces in the civil war. Then the smycha between town and country threatened to break down. Peasant restiveness was already visible before rebellion in the Tambov region sparked by the Red Army’s brutal grain requisitioning in August 1920. Resistance to this campaign was led by the SR Alexander Antonov which in turn provoked a major Red Army offensive. 240,000 deaths followed and the Red Army opened concentration camps, imprisonment of ‘oppositionists’ and resorted to poison gas against rebels hiding in the forests, to crush rebellion.
The substitutionist “germs” (Victor Serge) in the Bolshevik party were reinforced by overweening claims that Marxism – as the depository of over half a century of proletarian struggle lodged in the party of the proletarian vanguard – was the arbiter of scientific objectivity or what was true. As noted above this was the essence of Lenin’s resolution urging the absorption of Proletkult into Narkompros in October 1920.
During the controversies on psychoanalysis and psychiatry in the mid 1920s, rival groups implicitly and explicitly appealed to the Communist party for its ideological blessing and official favour. In 1926 the Bolshevik’s official theoretical journal Under The Banner of Marxism published the crudest assault of Freud’s ideas to date. D Sapir’s Freudism and Marxism closely analysed Freud’s major concepts and damned psychoanalysis for being ahistorical and dismissed its empirical assertions about the sexual instincts as at odds with dialectical materialism (Miller 1998: 84).
In 1927 Luria resigned as Russian Psychoanalytic Society’s secretary with Vera Schmidt stepping into the breach. Moshe Wulff resigned as President and left the Soviet Union for good. Two years later Wulff condemned Wilhelm Reich’s ‘complacent’ appraisal of Soviet psychoanalysis’s health during a two month visit to the country in August 1929. At the time Reich was still practising in Vienna while various differences with Freud were coming to a head. Reich delivered several lectures at the Communist Academy and pleading for tolerance of psychoanalysis. But Reich also aired his own criticisms of Freud. Even so Wulff exiled in Germany was offended by Reich’s roseate optimism. Wullf retorted to Reich’s report:
“The reader who thinks he will find [Reich’s] article an objective description of the present situation…will be heavily disappointed…Reich’s publication is, basically, only an attempt to adapt psychoanalysis to the wishes and demands of its communist critics in order to make it more acceptable from their point of view. But psychoanalysis has badly suffered from the attempt, and such a great deal has been sacrificed that the remains hardly deserve the name of psychoanalysis…The real situation in the Soviet Union is quite simple, and by no means exceptional. The fate of [psychoanalysis] is shared by, for instance, the theory of relativity, quantum theory, phenomenology, gestalt theory, modern philosophy, and psychology, and even biology…Each new thought, each idea, each new theoretical-scientific discovery is being received with the utmost distrust and suspicion…and it is not surprising that psychoanalysis, standing trial before this strict Party tribunal, could not be pronounced free of all guilt…” (Moshe Wulff quoted in Miller 1998: 91-92).
However legitimate Wulff’s overall assessment of situation facing various scientific fields he was perhaps too harsh in accusing Reich of temporizing with the official Soviet circles. Reich did not support the suppression of Freudianism but the incident stoked Freud’s growing anger toward Reich. On returning to Vienna Freud and Reich clashed at Freud’s home. Myron Sharaf was more judicious in summarising the impact of Reich’s visit to the Soviet Union in 1929:
“Reich was clearly influenced by the liberal policy of the Soviet Union toward sexual issues. He had read much about what was going on in the ‘first socialist society.’ Then, in the summer of 1929, he and Annie visited Russia for a few weeks, where Reich gave some lectures. He came back more convinced than ever that sexual misery and economic exploitation were inextricably linked and that a solution to the sexual question could not take without a social revolution. His trip also convinced him that certain measures then being taken in the Soviet Union – simple divorce, legalized abortion, attempts to breakdown the economic dependence of women, and some sexually permissive ‘children’s collectives’ (especially the one run by the psychoanalytically orientated educator Vera Schmidt) – were only possible in a Communist society. He noted the signs indicating that by 1929 the Soviet Union was already beginning to retreat from this kind of revolutionary policy, although formal reactionary measures would not fully emerge until the 1930s” (Sharaf 1983: 143).
Also in Psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union (1929) published shortly after his visit to the Soviet Union, Reich honestly acknowledged the impossibility of speaking of the existence of a Soviet psychoanalytic movement though there was still a small group in Moscow. Reich considered the causes of Soviet hostility to Freudianism and he answered it in two parts – there was the resistance of a Communist party leadership that wished to keep Marxism “pure” and a self-sufficiency bred by actually constructing socialism that inevitably fed the rejection of ‘bourgeois’ science. Also the noisy promotion of Freudianism contra Marxism as rival explaining a variety of social phenomenon was increasingly apparent. Reich also underlined the sheer ignorance of what psychoanalysis was that prevailed among Marxists (Reich 1972, 2012: 77-81). But perhaps the gravest misconception of psychoanalysis concerned the relation between the social and the biological:
“Another reproach is that psychoanalytic theory overemphasizes the biological aspect of personality to the detriment of the social aspect; as a result, social performance – for instance, creative or productive work – is ascribed entirely to instinct. This objection is based entirely on the argument that no attempt has been made by psychologists to define the influence of social factors as against that of biological factors. And it is true that in psychoanalytical literature one encounters attitudes which suggest that instinct independent of any moulding influences from the outside world, is all that matters. Yet this view does not form part of Freudian psychology, which states very clearly that psychological development is due to the moulding of instincts by influences from the outside world. Even the Oedipus relationship is not a biological but a social phenomenon, determined by the patriarchal structure of the family. Surely neither Marxist nor the psychoanalyst can have any objection to the view that psychological development results from the conflict between individual needs and social limitations (which also includes the conflicts of the Oedipus age)” (ibid. 82).
Like Otto Fenichel, Reich’s work between 1929 and 1934 illustrated the fruitful potential of Marxism and psychoanalysis’s in the Soviet Union. Reich therefore took issue with the editorial board of the Moscow based Pod Znameniem Marxisma that published Reich’s comprehensive Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis (1929) but felt obliged to add a disclaimer disputing Reich’s description of psychoanalysis – clearly because it did not echo the growing official caricature of Freud. According to Reich, a proper appreciation of psychoanalysis was essential because the Soviet Union stood on the threshold of conducting mass prophylaxis of neurosis to combat sexual misery in contrast to the West where individual therapy for a small privileged layer was the rule (ibid. 86).
The last report of the Russian Psychoanalytic Society was penned by Vera Schmidt in 1930. Reporting on the First All-Union Congress of Psychologists in Moscow in 1930 Schmidt sombrely noted that no one had dared defend Freud from the criticisms raised at the Congress. 1930 was also the last year Ermakov officially translated Freud into Russian.
Stalin’s launch of the First Five Year Plan in 1928 not only signalled the triumph of the party-state bureaucracy but also the ‘conservative’ assault on the earlier libertarian gains of the October revolution that appealed to the philistinism of the bureaucracy and the credulous peasants drawn to the cities in vast numbers (Fitzpatrick 1992: 115-48). This gathering counter-revolution inevitably meant liquidating psychoanalysis – because of its focus on sexuality, on the unconscious and the instinctual realm all of which implied the subject could no longer be treated as a transparent, rational Cogito who was fully present to itself. This could be described as the constitutive illusion of the self. Instead in the Freudian universe the putative ‘subject’ was traversed by all sorts of subterranean conflicts – an idea that had all sorts of subversive implications in terms of a theory of ideology, the obstacles to the formation of collective subjects that depended on a clear understanding of their material interests and so on.
In order to establish a new order on the ashes of the short lived Soviet order it was necessary for Stalin’s counter-revolution to bury the first edition of the sexual and cultural revolution in the Soviet Union. Ultimately the Bolsheviks militant asceticism, their limited strategic appreciation of the role of sexual repression in class society and their lack of a consistent libertarian sexual politics, played some part in the re-imposition of conservatism and authoritarianism – a trajectory that was reflected in the vicissitudes of Soviet Freudianism.

Jules Alford, 2015-vi

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