If you want to understand the extent of the British popular Left’s ineptitude and amnesia, look no further than a recent article from Suzanne Moore for The Guardian about how the revolutionary we need right now is Freud, not Marx — never mind anyone more contemporaneous.
Thankfully, as many Twitterers and other commentators (but, notably, no one on the front line of media punditry) were quick to point out, the Left in the 20th century was basically defined by countless attempts at smelting together Marx and Freud — and to a much higher standard of rigour than Moore’s slow-news ejaculate has been able to muster.
Herbert Marcuse did it best and then just about everyone and their dog followed his lead — Deleuze and Guattari (most famously perhaps) in Capitalism & Schizophrenia, but they weren’t alone in that pursuit — they were building on the back of a few decades of philosophical exploration. This thread of FreudoMarxism is a thread that runs through the entirety of 20th century French thought.
What conjoins the two so effortlessly is their explorations of human desire and many found this connection very apparent but only a fool would rest on their now-canonical laurels as Moore does.
It’s not all wrong, exactly. Moore is correct when she writes that “Freud was able to look around at bourgeois society and say: what you think is rational is dependent on drives you are not fully in control of.” But is she capable of such perceptiveness herself? She notes popular movements of discontent — #MeToo; Brexit — but does she really do anything other than match up these moments with subsections from the Marx and Freud Wikipedia pages? No, she fails utterly to put her hedge clippings into motion, much like the rest of The Guardian‘s opinions panel.
But I wouldn’t care so much if all she was doing was click-baiting her poor Cliff Notes onto her international platform. What I take issue with when she says:
Emotions are at the base of this [discontentment], not simply class positions. Freud understood this…
“Change your mind and the world will follow.” Freud may have understood this but the conflation of his ideas with Marx is undoubtedly an attempt to rectify this blatantly incorrect misstep. As Marcuse and others understood, such unbalanced equations give way to nothing but chicken/egg paradoxes. What came first? The world and its imposing infrastructures, or your mind and its fallible nature which has been projected onto the world at large? Which shapes which the most? What do you have a better chance of changing? Oh, it’s your mind. Go on then, get to it.
This kind of logic is the reserve of the politically disconnected. It should go without saying that your class position and your emotional state are largely entwined. Marcuse understood this. Mark Fisher might have understood this better than anyone. “We must understand the fatalistic submission of the UK’s population to austerity as the consequence of a deliberately cultivated depression,” he wrote. In understanding Marx and Freud, both Mark and Marcuse and others knew that neither was always right but, taken together, a more useful analysis emerges. Freud understood the human mind, the nature of our desires; Marx understood capitalism and its shaping of our desires.
Marcuse’s FreudoMarxist system in his book Eros & Civilisation is an indictment of the affects of our capitalist culture in both of these areas. (For a more in-depth exploration of this, check out my “Egress” post.) The main point is this: Capitalism, in essence, runs on an internalised engine which drives production and promises “fulfilment” whilst ensuring its own survival-in-stasis. It curtails play, pleasure, satisfaction so as to keep the desiring-machines turning in perpetuity. But this indoctrination is not superficially ideological. It has afflicted us at the most fundamental of biological levels.
This is an infiltration which is extreme but not hopeless. It simply requires that we dig a little deeper in resisting capture. Such calls are quite commonplace. In Marcuse’s conjoining of Freud and Marx we find the seeds for a thousand slogans and political positions. The xenofeminist “If nature is unjust, change nature“, for example, is precisely a charge aimed at capitalism’s “biological foundation”.
Our desire is mutable. It is constantly being reshaped and in seizing the means of production in the 21st century we must likewise seize the means of desiring-production. We need a lot more than just Freud for that.
An Acid Freudianism is as blinkered as an Acid Corbynism. We can do better.