One of the declared purposes of this space is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-communist wing. To that end I have made commentaries and provided archival works in order to help draw those lessons for today’s left-wing activists to learn, or at least ponder over. More importantly, for the long haul, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common communist future. That is no small task or easy task given the differences of generations; differences of political milieus worked in; differences of social structure to work around; and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses.
There is no question that back in my youth I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available today. When I developed political consciousness very early on, albeit liberal political consciousness, I could have used this material as I knew, I knew deep inside my heart and mind, that a junior Cold War liberal of the American For Democratic Action (ADA) stripe was not the end of my leftward political trajectory. More importantly, I could have used a socialist or communist youth organization to help me articulate the doubts I had about the virtues of liberal capitalism and be recruited to a more left-wing world view. As it was I spent far too long in the throes of the left-liberal/soft social-democratic milieu where I was dying politically. A group like the Young Communist League (W.E.B. Dubois Clubs in those days), the Young People’s Socialist League, or the Young Socialist Alliance representing the youth organizations of the American Communist Party, American Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) respectively would have saved much wasted time and energy. I knew they were around but not in my area.
The archival material to be used in this series is weighted heavily toward the youth movements of the early American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S). For more recent material I have relied on material from the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Spartacist League (U.S.), both because they are more readily available to me and because, and this should give cause for pause, there are not many other non-CP, non-SWP youth groups around. As I gather more material from other youth sources I will place them in this series.
Finally I would like to finish up with the preamble to the Spartacist Youth Club’s What We Fight For statement of purpose:
"The Spartacus Youth Clubs intervene into social struggles armed with the revolutionary internationalist program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We work to mobilize youth in struggle as partisans of the working class, championing the liberation of black people, women and all the oppressed. The SYCs fight to win youth to the perspective of building the Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in socialist revolution, laying the basis for a world free of capitalist exploitation and imperialist slaughter."
This seems to me be somewhere in the right direction for what a Bolshevik youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become professional revolutionaries with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
From The Pages Of Young Spartacus-Juliet Mitchell On Freud And Marx-"Pyschoanalysis And Feminism"- A Book Review (March 1975)
PSYCHOANALYSIS AND FEMINISM by Juliet Mitchell. New York: Random House, Pantheon Books, $8.95 hardcover, 456 pp.
A Review by Ed Clarkson
The pioneering theories of Sigmund Freud have engendered stormy controversy in scientific, literary and political circles ever since their embryonic formulation around the turn of the century. The birth of the psychoanalytic movement was attended by a split between co-workers Freud and Breuer, and dissension was frequently to beset the developing psychoanalytic school as many of Freud's collaborators and followers rejected central tenets of his theories—the role of the unconscious, the importance of sexuality and its energizer libido, and the critical significance of the Oedipus conflict in personality development.
Likewise in the communist movement heated debates have raged over the validity of Freudianism as a science of human behavior. As a consequence of the growing bureaucratic degeneration of the backward and isolated Soviet workers state, Freudian theory came under attack in the Soviet Union in the mid-1920's from both Stalinist-Bukharinist bureaucratic philistines in the party and the intelligentsia following Pavlov, whose ideas had the dual advantage of being more ostensibly materialistic and having a Russian origin—no small consideration for the proponents of ^"socialism in one country."
Marxism vs. Freudianism?
It was the embattled Trotsky who insisted against the vulgar materialists that Freudian psychoanalytic theory required attentive consideration. In a 1926 essay on culture and socialism, which is breathtaking in its brilliance, Trotsky evaluates Freud as follows:
"The school of the Viennese psychoanalyst Freud proceeds in a different way [than Pavlov]. It assumes in advance that the driving force of the most complex and delicate of psychic processes is a physiological need. In this general sense it is materialistic, if you leave aside the question whether it does not assign too big a place to the sexual factor at the expense of others, for this is already a dispute within the frontiers of materialism.
But the psychoanalyst does not approach problems of consciousness experimentally, going from the lowest phenomena to the highest, from the simple reflex to the complex reflex; instead, he attempts to take all these intermediate stages in one jump, from above downwards, from the religious myth, the lyrical poem, or the dream, straight to the physiological basis of the psyche....
"The attempt to declare psychoanalysis 'incompatible' with Marxism and simply turn one's back on Freudian-ism is too simple, or, more accurately, too simplistic. But we are in any case not obliged to adopt Freudianism. It is a working hypothesis that can produce and undoubtedly does produce deductions and conjectures that proceed along the lines of materialist psychology."
Psychological theories conflict with dialectical materialism when they attempt to demonstrate that human beings are innately incapable of organizing society in such a manner that would qualitatively advance their material conditions of existence. For instance, Robert Audrey's theory of territoriality and Konrad Lorenz' theory of aggression are counterposed to Marxism precisely because they set out to prove that human cooperation beyond the narrow limits established by class, particularly capitalist, society is impossible.
There is a historical fatalism to be found in Freud's thought, especially in his pessimistic post-WWI writings, in which Thanatos (the death wish) hovers over a self-immolating humanity. Because Freud's petty-bourgeois world view does intrude upon his effort to formulate a scientific theory .of behavior, many in the working-class movement regard Freudianism with hostility.
In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) Freud declares that the possibilities • for human satisfaction and happiness are "limited from the start by our constitution," and "the natural human aversion to work gives rise to the most difficult social problems." The abolition of private property would "in no way alter the individual difference in power and influence." Commenting on a by then Stalinized Soviet Union, Freud confirms his skepticism by accepting the bureaucracy's claims of "socialist" society:
"The Russian Communists, too, hope to be able to cause human aggressiveness to disappear by guaranteeing the satisfaction of all material needs and by establishing equality in other respects among all members of the community. That, in my opinion, is an illusion. They themselves are armed to-day with the most scrupulous care and not the least important of the methods by which they keep their supporters together is hatred of everyone beyond their frontiers." -"Why War?," Collected Papers, Vol. 5
Freud and Feminism
While his views on Marxism and the Soviet Union brought Freud denunciation by the Stalinists and fellow-traveling intellectuals, His theories of femininity similarly evoked considerable antipathy from "feminists. For Freud, two themes were of "paramount importance" in analysis: "the wish for a penis in women and, in men, the struggle against passivity [toward other men]... “("Analysis Terminable and Interminable^ *° Collected Papers Vol. 5). To feminists this theory of penis envy seemed to doom women td the status of biological second-class citizenship—men in wish, but not in being.
In the context of the general anti-Marxist and anti-Freudian biases of New Left feminism, the "socialist-feminism" of Juliet Mitchell's first book, Woman's Estate (1971), appeared as a left bulge in "Movement" feminism. A quasi-Marxist and a "scientific" Freudian, Mitchell argued that Marxism was both relevant to the liberation of women (which it certainly is) and in harmony with the feminist "principle" of women" organizing separately as women (which it is not). Woman's Estate even criticized, albeit mildly, the implications of the anti-Leninist basis of New Left feminism:
"Feminist consciousness will not \// 'naturally' develop into socialism, nor should it. If we simply develop feminist consciousness (as radical feminists suggest) we will get, not political consciousness, but the equivalent of national chauvinism among Third World nations or economist!) among working-class organizations."
The penchant of American behaviorist psychologists to focus on "antisocial" behavior, recently expressed in the extreme by Skinner's apologetics for a benevolent totalitarianism, has prompted the radical petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, yesterday sympathetic to the "progressive" pragmatism of Skinner's Walden II, to search elsewhere for a psychological justification for their liberalism. Much in vogue in the feminist milieu have been the humanist psychology of Maslow, the hyper-genital theories of Reich and the "schizophrenia-is-good-for-you" ravings of Laing.
Debunking Reich and Laing
Juliet Mitchell's most recent book, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, is an 1 attempt to come to terms with a declining movement which has become hardened in its anti-Marxism, anti-Freudianism and virulent bourgeois feminism. By this time, the reconciliation attempted in Woman's Estate between an eclectic Marxism, Freudianism and anti-capitalist feminism had obviously become untenable. Something had to give; it was Juliet Mitchell's "Marxism."
For those who prefer Freud to his detractors, Psychoanalysis and Feminism will prove, at least in part, an eminently satisfying work. Mitchell presents an intelligent and for the most part accurate exposition of the core elements of Freudian theory, especially the analysis of femininity. This is combined with insightful critiques of the "radical psychotherapists" Reich and Laing and of Freud's feminist critics, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Eva Figes, Germaine Greer, Shoal-Smith Firestone and Kate Millet.
Mitchell argues convincingly that most criticisms of psychoanalysis are based on a misunderstanding of an important distinction in Freudian psychology: the distinction between the psychic representation of the conflict of social reality with instinctual forces (the data of psychoanalysis) and the biological instincts themselves. Freud fully realized that he was dealing only with the former; the latter he regarded as the subject of investigation for a future, more advanced science.
Reich asserts the matter in more "basic" terms: the repression of sexual energy is bad, its "ultimate" orgasmic expression good; heterosexual genitality is natural, homosexuality unnatural; the vagina is thus the biological counterpart of the penis. Lost are Freud's insights into the inherently bisexual natural of human sexual development and the extent to which the conflict between human drives and social reality both shape (through sublimation) and distort happiness and role. For Reich, instinct is all. Similarly, where Freud analyzes both normal and abnormal behavior as manifested through the a-logical operations of the unconscious, Laing sees the delusional world of the schizophrenic as a logical response to a current conflict. For Laing, humans are simply reactive.
Although Mitchell is frequently brilliant and incisive in her defense of the "science" of psychoanalysis, she is disquieted by Freud's insistence that all understanding of behavior, in the final analysis, must be grounded on the bedrock of biology. In Mitchell's schema biological determinism has no place, and her uneasiness with its presence in Freudian theory leads her to distort precisely that area of Freudianism she is most concerned to defend—his hypotheses concerning the "psychological consequences of the anatomical distinction between the sexes."
Freudianism and the Oppression of Women
Generally Freud carefully distinguishes between the psychological impact of biological factors and the factors themselves. When Freud takes up the problem of the psychological development of women, however, he sidesteps this distinction.
Freud posits that the fear of castration for males is caused not merely by the sight or conception of penisless beings (women), but in addition by an actual, although perhaps implied, threat of castration. The female case is different:
"A momentous "discovery which little girls are destined to make [is that] they notice the penis of a brother or playmate, strikingly visible and of larger proportions, at once recognize it as the superior counterpart of their own small and inconspicuous organ, and from that time forward fall a victim to envy for the penis.... A little girl... makes her judgment and her decision in a flash. She has seen it and knows that she is without and wants to have it." (our emphasis)
— "Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes," Collected Papers, Vol. 5
For Freud, the esteem for the penis is established not socially, but phylo-genetically: "The penis (to follow Ferenczi) owes its extraordinarily high narcissistic cathexis to its organic significance for the propagation of the species" (ibid.). The penis is valorized because of its role in reproduction.
Although the clitoris is "analogous to the male organ," Freud regards the vagina as the "true female organ" (Female Sexuality). Freud thus considers women as constitutionally inferior to men.
Freud's error is a logical one, based, no doubt, on the intrusion of male chauvinist assumptions into his scientific thinking. His letters to his wife are1 adequate testimony to his susceptibility to such influences. They reek of sexism, although of the icky-poo, "women-as-the-salt-of-the-earth" variety. Mitchell's aversion to Freud's biologicisms, however, is motivated not by political opposition to their anti-feminist implications, but by the desire for an idealistic revision of psychoanalysis which could provide the long-sought feminist "answer" to Marxist dialectical materialism.
Mitchell Contra Engels
In Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Mitchell sweeps aside the self-proclaimed Marxist orientation of Woman's Estate and poses anew the, "fundamental question of the cause of women's oppression:
"The longevity of the oppression of women must be based on something more than conspiracy, something more complicated than biological handicap and more durable than economic exploitation (although in differing degrees all these may feature)."
The missing link turns out to be "culture"; specifically, patriarchal culture:
"It seems to be the case that contemporary anthropology supports Freud's contention that human society in many ways equals patriarchy rather than Engels' notion that patriarchy can be limited to strictly literate civilization."
Using the anthropological theories of academic doyen Claude Levi-Strauss, Mitchell argues that since the exchange of women by men between kinship groupings (exogamy) has characterized all human societies, all human society has been patriarchal, i.e., "fathers not men" have "determinate power." The Oedipus complex now becomes for Mitchell the internalized manifestation of the cultural tyranny represented in the incest taboo. With the dissolution of the Oedipus complex, "man finally enters into his humanity."
Mitchell realizes that kinship systems are obviously neither operative nor relevant in modern capitalist society and therefore maintains that the bourgeois nuclear family is socially redundant, merely "created to give that law [the patriarchal law] a last hearing." The struggle against the oppression of women no longer must be directed against capitalism or even the "domination of men," but must become a "struggle based on a theory of the social non-necessity at this stage of development of the laws instituted by patriarchy."
This contention that fathers have "determinate" power flies in the face of the fact that their role in anthropologically earlier (avuncular) societies was not significantly greater than the mother's. Nor is the father's son prohibited from copulating with the father's wife (the Oedipus complex as understood by Freud), although biological mother-son sexual relationships have apparently generally been taboo. The most primitive societies seldom have mechanisms for identifying either the father’s sons or his mates (i.e., the nuclear family).
Incest (the prohibition of heterosexual copulation between certain biologically related individuals) only imperfectly correlates with the more primitive forms of unilinearity (kinship determined by membership to either the mother's or the father's clan) and exogamy (marrying out of one's clan). The incest taboo as such is a more recent historical development associated with increasingly differentiated social arrangements and the rise of the monogamous family.
Completely absent from Mitchell's analysis is any sense why the "law of patriarchy" should endure. Basing his hypothesis on inadequate anthropological data (Morgan's studies), Engels wrongly inferred that a matriarchal stage preceded the development of patriarchy. But the essence of Engels' method, however, is the appreciation of the role of social relationships (the emergence of private property) in causing a qualitative perforation of the condition of women. Mitchell draws her analysis, however, from Freud's unfounded, fanciful hypothesis that in the dawn of primitive society exogamy and the incest taboo resulted from the successful alliance of sons against the sexual privileges of the all-powerful father, which resulted in the cannibalization of the father and the sharing out of his women.
Forward to the Pages of Ms.
Psychoanalysis and Feminism thus floats above any concern for the actual oppression of women. The degradation suffered by women imprisoned within the nuclear family and oppressed by capitalist society simply becomes the equivalent perforce of men exchanging women. Prostitution, social isolation, divestiture of legal rights, sole responsibility for child raising—all features of the monogamous nuclear family noticeably absent in most primitive societies —recede in importance for Juliet Mitchell. The bourgeois nuclear family is "not in itself important. V Rather, it is the kinship system, which "in our society... barely can be seen to regulate social relationships," that is the source of women's oppression, because "it is within kinship structures that women, as women, are situated"!
Mitchell has accomplished an idealist subversion of even that rudimentary Marxist understanding revealed in Woman's Estate. Now she conceptualizes culture as having its own dynamic (exactly what, remains unstated) and being transmitted through the unconscious independent of material conditions. Mitchell now recognizes "two autonomous areas: the economic mode of capitalism and the ideological mode of patriarchy."
In Woman's Estate Mitchell envisioned the revolution as the product of a coalition of oppressed groups, each raising its consciousness of its own particular oppression by a theoretical operation-bootstrap and then working to a point of solidarity. From her revised perspective, Mitchell has come to consider even a tactical unity between the women's liberation movement and the labor movement as unnecessary:
"Because patriarchy is by no means identical with capitalism the successes and strengths of the two revolutionary movements [the women's liberation movement and the working-class movement] will not follow along neatly parallel paths."
Not only are these paths not "neatly parallel," but they may in fact diverge. Mitchell readily admits that "It is perfectly possible for feminism to make more gains under social democracy than it does in the first years of socialism." Indeed, if capitalism has already rendered women's oppression redundant, then it is difficult to explain why the liberation of women could not occur under any form of capitalist government, from reformist Laborism or the popular front to fascism. In fact, the most optimum conditions could well be a fascism where there are sufficiently strong drives toward racial purity as to necessitate the challenging of the "utility" of the incest taboo.
The politics of Psychoanalysis and Feminism are a justification for "Movement” feminism at any of its-stages, from the radical, anti-capitalist; New Left period through its current trivial, careerist and venal expression. For Juliet Mitchell the battle against cultural oppression no longer need be waged in the streets; the need for a Popular Front against Patriarchy can 'be propagated with equal efficacy from the pages of MS.