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Short description: Philosophical perspectives

Freudo-Marxism is a loose designation for philosophical perspectives informed by both the Marxist philosophy of Karl Marx and the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud. Its history within continental philosophy began in the 1920s and 1930s and running since through critical theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and post-structuralism.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud himself only engages with Marxism in his 1932 New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, in which he hesitantly contests what he sees as the Marxist view of history.

According to Freud, Marx erroneously attributes the trajectory of society to a necessary "natural law or conceptual [dialectical] evolution"; instead, Freud suggests, it can be attributed to contingent factors: "psychological factors, such as the amount of constitutional aggressiveness", "the firmness of the organization within the horde" and "material factors, such as the possession of superior weapons".[1] However, Freud does not completely dismiss Marxism: "The strength of Marxism clearly lies, not in its view of history or its prophecies of the future that are based on it, but in its sagacious indication of the decisive influence which the economic circumstances of men have upon their intellectual, ethical and artistic attitudes."[2]


The beginnings of Freudo-Marxist theorizing took place in the 1920s in Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviet pedagogist Aron Zalkind was the most prominent proponent of Marxist psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union. The Soviet philosopher V. Yurinets and the Freudian analyst Siegfried Bernfeld both discussed the topic. The Soviet linguist Valentin Voloshinov, a member of the Bakhtin circle, began a Marxist critique of psychoanalysis in his 1925 article "Beyond the Social", which he developed more substantially in his 1927 book Freudianism: A Marxist Critique.[3] In 1929, Wilhelm Reich's Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis was published in German and Russian in the bilingual communist theory journal Unter dem Banner des Marxismus, 'Under the Banner of Marxism'. At the end of this line of thought can be considered Otto Fenichel's 1934 article Psychoanalysis as the Nucleus of a Future Dialectical-Materialistic Psychology which appeared in Reich's Zeitschrift für Politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie, 'Journal for Political Psychology and Sex-Economy'. One member of the Berlin group of Marxist psychoanalysts around Reich was Erich Fromm, who later brought Freudo-Marxist ideas into the exiled Frankfurt School led by Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno.

Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich in his mid-20s

Wilhelm Reich[4][5][6][7] was an Austrian psychoanalyst,[8] a member of the second generation of psychoanalysts after Freud, and a radical psychiatrist. He was the author of several influential books and essays, most notably Character Analysis (1933), The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933),[8] and The Sexual Revolution (1936).[9] His work on character contributed to the development of Anna Freud's The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936), and his idea of muscular armour – the expression of the personality in the way the body moves – shaped innovations such as body psychotherapy, Fritz Perls's Gestalt therapy, Alexander Lowen's bioenergetic analysis, and Arthur Janov's primal therapy. His writing influenced generations of intellectuals: during the 1968 student uprisings in Paris and Berlin, students scrawled his name on walls and threw copies of The Mass Psychology of Fascism at the police.[10]

Critical Theory

Frankfurt School

The Frankfurt School, from the Institute for Social Research, took up the task of choosing what parts of Marx's thought might serve to clarify social conditions which Marx himself had never seen. They drew on other schools of thought to fill in Marx's perceived omissions. Max Weber exerted a major influence, as did Freud. In the Institute's extensive Studien über Authorität und Familie (ed. Max Horkheimer, Paris 1936), Erich Fromm authored the social-psychological part. Another new member of the institute was Herbert Marcuse, who would become famous during the 1950s in the US.

Herbert Marcuse

Eros and Civilization is one of Marcuse's best known early works. Written in 1955, it is an attempted dialectical synthesis of Marx and Freud whose title alludes to Freud's Civilization and its Discontents. Marcuse's vision of a non-repressive society (which runs rather counter to Freud's conception of society as naturally and necessarily repressive), based on Marx and Freud, anticipated the values of 1960s countercultural social movements.

In the book, Marcuse writes about the social meaning of biology – history seen not as a class struggle, but fight against repression of our instincts. He argues that capitalism (if never named as such) is preventing us from reaching the non-repressive society "based on a fundamentally different experience of being, a fundamentally different relation between man and nature, and fundamentally different existential relations".

Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm, once a member of the Frankfurt School, left the group at the end of the 1930s. The culmination of Fromm's social and political philosophy was his book The Sane Society, published in 1955, which argued in favor of humanist, democratic socialism. Building primarily upon the works of Marx, Fromm sought to re-emphasise the ideal of personal freedom, missing from most Soviet Marxism, and more frequently found in the writings of classic liberals. Fromm's brand of socialism rejected both Western capitalism and Soviet communism, which he saw as dehumanizing and bureaucratic social structures that resulted in a virtually universal modern phenomenon of alienation.

Other developments

Frantz Fanon

The French West Indian psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon drew on both psychoanalytic and Marxist theory in his critique of colonialism. His seminal works in this area include Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961).

Paul Ricœur

In his 1965 book Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, the French philosopher Paul Ricœur compared the two (together with Friedrich Nietzsche), characterizing their common method as the "hermeneutics of suspicion".


Jacques Lacan was a philosophically-minded French psychoanalyst, whose perspective gained widespread influence in French psychiatry and psychology. Lacan saw himself as loyal to and rescuing Freud's legacy. In his 16th Seminar, D'un Autre à l'autre, Lacan proposes and develops a homology between the Marxist notion of surplus value and his own notion of surplus-jouissance/objet a.[11] While Lacan was not himself a Marxist, many Marxists (particularly Maoists) drew on his ideas.

Louis Althusser

The French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser is widely known as a theorist of ideology, and his best-known essay is Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation. The essay establishes the concept of ideology, also based on Gramsci's theory of hegemony. Whereas hegemony is ultimately determined entirely by political forces, ideology draws on Freud's and Lacan's concepts of the unconscious and mirror-phase respectively, and describes the structures and systems that allow us to meaningfully have a concept of the self. These structures, for Althusser, are both agents of repression and inevitable – it is impossible to escape ideology, to not be subjected to it. The distinction between ideology and science or philosophy is not assured once and for all by the epistemological break (a term borrowed from Gaston Bachelard): this "break" is not a chronologically-determined event, but a process. Instead of an assured victory, there is a continuous struggle against ideology: "Ideology has no history".

His essay Contradiction and Overdetermination borrows the concept of overdetermination from psychoanalysis, in order to replace the idea of "contradiction" with a more complex model of multiple causality in political situations (an idea closely related to Gramsci's concept of hegemony).

Cornelius Castoriadis

Greek-French philosopher, psychoanalyst, and social critic Cornelius Castoriadis also followed up on the work of Lacan.

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek in 2008

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek promotes a form of Marxism highly modified by Lacanian psychoanalysis and Hegelian philosophy. Žižek contests Althusser's account of ideology, because it misses the role of subjectivity.[12]


Major French philosophers associated with post-structuralism, post-modernism, and/or deconstruction, including Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, engaged deeply with both Marxism and psychoanalysis. Most notably, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari collaborated on the theoretical work Capitalism and Schizophrenia in two volumes: Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980).

Major works

See also


  1. Freud 1973, p. 214.
  2. Freud 1973, p. 215.
  3. Voloshinov, V.N. (1976). "Translator's Introduction". Freudianism: a Marxist critique. Titunik I. R., Bruss Neal H.. New York, New York: Academic Press. pp. xxiv–xxviii. ISBN 978-1-4832-9679-1. OCLC 899000369. 
  4. "J.6 What methods of child rearing do anarchists advocate?". "Wilhelm Reich is again the main pioneer in this field (an excellent, short introduction to his ideas can be found in Maurice Brinton's The Irrational in Politics). In Children of the Future, Reich made numerous suggestions, based on his research and clinical experience, for parents, psychologists, and educators striving to develop libertarian methods of child rearing. (He did not use the term "libertarian," but that is what his methods are.) Hence, in this and the following sections we will summarise Reich's main ideas as well as those of other libertarian psychologists and educators who have been influenced by him, such as A.S. Neill and Alexander Lowen." 
  5. "In an earlier article ("Some Thoughts on Libertarianism," Broadsheet No. 35), I argued that to define a position as "anti-authoritarian" is not, in fact, to define the position at all "but merely to indicate a relationship of opposition to another position, the authoritarian one...On the psychoanalytic side, Wilhelm Reich (The Sexual Revolution, Peter Neville-Vision Press, London, 1951|Character Analysis, Orgone Institute Press, N.Y., 1945; and The Function of the Orgasm, Orgone Institute Press, N.Y., 1942) was preferred to Freud because, despite his own weaknesses – his Utopian tendencies and his eventual drift into "orgones" and "bions" – Reich laid more emphasis on the social conditions of mental events than did Freud (see, e.g., A.J. Baker, "Reich's Criticism of Freud," Libertarian No. 3, January 1960)." "A Reading List for Libertarians" by David Iverson. Broadsheet No. 39
  6. Martin, Jim. Orgone Addicts: Wilhelm Reich Versus The Situationists.. "I will also discuss other left-libertarians who wrote about Reich, as they bear on the general discussion of Reich's ideas...In 1944, Paul Goodman, author of Growing Up Absurd, The Empire City, and co-author of Gestalt Therapy, began to discover the work of Wilhelm Reich for his American audience in the tiny libertarian socialist and anarchist milieu." 
  7. Baker, A.J. (March 1975). "Sydney Libertarianism & The Push". Broadsheet (81). "In the summer of 1950-51, numerous member of the A.C.C. and other interested people held a series of meetings in the Ironworkers' Hall with a view to forming a downtown political society. Here a division developed between a more radical wing (including e.g. Waters and Grahame Harrison) and a more conservative wing (including e.g. Stove and Eric Dowling). The general orientation of these meetings may be judged from the fact that when Harry Hooton proposed "Anarchist" and some of the conservative proposed "Democratic" as the name for the new Society, both were rejected and "Libertarian Society" was adopted as an acceptable title. Likewise then accepted as the motto for this Society - and continued by the later Libertarian society - was the early Marx quotation used by Wilhelm Reich as the motto for his The Sexual Revolution, vis: "Since it is not for us to create a plan for the future that will hold for all time, all the more surely what we contemporaries have to do is the uncompromising critical evaluation of all that exists, uncompromising in the sense that our criticism fears neither its own results nor the conflict with the powers that be.". 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Pavón-Cuéllar, David (2017). "Marxism, psychoanalysis, and critique of psychology – Reich: subversive Freudo-Marxist proposals against adaptive psychological concessions of burgeois psychoanalysis". Marxism and Psychoanalysis: In or Against Psychology?. Concepts for Critical Psychology (1st ed.). New York City and London: Routledge. pp. 125–129. ISBN 9781138916586. 
  9. That he was one of the most radical figures in psychiatry, see Sheppard 1973.
    • Danto 2007, p. 43: "Wilhelm Reich, the second generation psychoanalyst perhaps most often associated with political radicalism ..."
    • Turner 2011, p. 114: "[Reich's mobile clinic was] perhaps the most radical, politically engaged psychoanalytic enterprise to date."
    • For the publication and significance of The Mass Psychology of Fascism and Character Analysis, see Sharaf 1994, pp. 163–164, 168.
    • For Character Analysis being an important contribution to psychoanalytic theory, see:
    • Young-Bruehl 2008, p. 157: "Reich, a year and a half younger than Anna Freud, was the youngest instructor at the Training Institute, where his classes on psychoanalytic technique, later presented in a book called Character Analysis, were crucial to his whole group of contemporaries."
    • Sterba 1982, p. 35: "This book [Character Analysis] serves even today as an excellent introduction to psychoanalytic technique. In my opinion, Reich's understanding of and technical approach to resistance prepared the way for Anna Freud's Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936)."
    • Guntrip 1961, p. 105: "... the two important books of the middle 1930s, Character Analysis (1935) by Wilhelm Reich and The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936) by Anna Freud."
  10. For Anna Freud, see Bugental, Schneider and Pierson 2001, p. 14: "Anna Freud's work on the ego and the mechanisms of defense developed from Reich's early research (A. Freud, 1936/1948)."
  11. Lacan, Jacques (18 August 2011). The seminar of Jacques Lacan : Book XVI : From an Other to the other : 1968-1969.. pp. 9. Retrieved 4 May 2022. "Just as every object carries in it something of surplus value, in the same way surplus enjoying [plus-de-jouir] is what allows the isolation of the o-object [objet a]." 
  12. Žižek, Slavoj (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. London & New York: Verso Books. p. 43ff. 


  • Freud, Sigmund (1973). New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 

Further reading

External links