The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 12, 2003

Thinkers who shaped human thought
Manisha Gangahar

Karl Marx by Leon Trotsky
Sigmund Freud
by Robert Waelder
Rupa & Co. Pages 221 and 172 respectively. Rs 195 each.

HUMAN nature has always fascinated theorists and philosophers around the globe. Endeavours have been made to understand it on social as well as personal levels. Both psychoanalysis and Marxism attempt to study the human mind and its instincts. Sigmund Freud studied the psychological conflicts within the individual and asserted that it was not only the conscious but also the unconscious that contributed to the production of ‘meaning’ and, was responsible for the social and cultural conflicts in the outside world. Karl Marx maintains that the cause of all conflict and the source of all development is the forces of production. While Freudian psychoanalysis insists that "irrationality", of human behaviour is an intrinsic part of individual pysche, Marxism maintains that capitalism provides ground for the unfounded acts of human beings. In Civilisation and its Discontents Freud writes: "The communists believe that they have found the path of deliverance from our evils. According to them, man is wholly good... but the institution of private property has corrupted his nature." In spite of Freud’s anti-communist statement, many Marxist analysts carried out psychoanalytical interpretations to serve their needs.

Psychoanalytical insights which prove very useful in understanding the political and social behaviour of an individual, can be relevant for Marxist interpretation as well. Both Freudianism and Marxism are necessary for understanding human actions. The presentation of the ideas and contributions of great thinkers like Freud and Marx in Rupa’s The Living Thoughts Series exemplifies this fact. The books offer the views and theories of these scholars in an easy-to-understand manner.


Robert Waelder traces the development of psychoanalysis and discusses the key elements of Freud’s work. Freud’s most significant contribution to this field has been the discovery of the repressed unconscious which comes to the surface in some form or the other. What one usually refers to as a "slip of tongue" is actually, according to Freud, bringing of the hidden into the light; the repression finding an outlet. Furthermore, he believed that the chief constituent of the unconscious is sexual desires, the suppression of which results in hysteria and paranoia. Although Freudian theories were quite outrageous for the bottled up society of his days, yet they swayed public interest. The book elucidates the process of ‘dream formation’ and ‘dream interpretation’ while explaining different methods to carry out dream analysis. Dreams, in Freud’s view, are "forms of wish fulfillment" through which unconscious desires are conveyed. For a better understanding of the mind Freud divided it into three sections — Id, Ego and Super-Ego.

Discussing the last works of Freud, Waelder explains the Freudian assumption that past events and experiences are not only influential in shaping an individual’s life but also in drafting the future of a nation: "The remote past still has power over us; psychoanalysis has proved that for our individual lives; now we are told that it is not different in the lives of nations and even of mankind as a whole." Along with the study of races and nations, psychology has proved useful in critical interpretations of literary and artistic works. In fact psychoanalysis has made it possible to tread new paths as was believed by Trotsky, a Marxist thinker, who endeavoured to "transform the pessimistic Freudian vision of the role of the unconscious into an optmistic revolutionary one."

Leon Trotsky played an important part in the Russian Democratic Movement. He formulated the "Theory of Permanent Revolution" according to which the proletariat and salaried people could not depend on the capitalists for their liberation. However, after the death of Lenin he was exiled to Alma Ata and then to Mexico. Trotskyist canon gave birth to the theory Russia was a "degenerate worker’s state" and a professional proletarian revolution was essentially needed to resist any kind of imperialism.

Although Trotsky’s emphasis was on the revolutionary character of the working class yet he held the opinion that Marxian fundamentals cannot be done away with. In the present book he clarifies that the objective of Marx was not "to discover the eternal laws of economy ... the history of the development of human society is the history of the succession of various systems of economy...." Marx was more concerned about capitalist economy rather than economics in general. Trotsky touches upon the various concepts and laws put forward by Marx. The "theory of labour value," which is central to the Marxist doctrine has been quite lucidly explained as have been other concepts like "fascism", idea of "crisis" and more. In fact, the Marxist premise of "base and superstructure", that is considered responsible for social and ideological structures, is extremely significant for cultural studies. For Marx "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness." The author also discusses the relevance of Marxism in comparison to other schools of thought, while focussing on Marx’s Das Capital.

The contribution of the two fields in the formation of the idea of identity cannot be denied but at the same time post-colonial and feminist critics attack the Eurocentric and phallocentric attitudes of these thinkers. Nonetheless, whatever tenets one may adhere to, a wider perception of various theories is crucial to a meaningful existence. Such philosophical studies are not only valuable from the academic point of view but also useful for the layman.