Dissertation on Republicanism

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By Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade and Jean Pierre Chauvin*

The multiple crisis that overflows around us has and will have a profound impact inside and outside each of us, but also on the set of institutions that organize our societies.

“The Ego has the task of fulfilling the requests of the three instances with which it deals – reality, the Id and the Super-Ego” (Sigmund Freud, The Psychoanalytic Technique)

The scene may be familiar.

Imagine that two colleagues are talking about fundamental readings of their time. At a certain point, one of them, an expert on Karl Marx, claims to distrust psychology, assuming that this theory is limited to the psychic dimension and is limited to the individual orbit of man. His interlocutor, who has read Sigmund Freud the most, replies. He suggests that the anomalies of society, driven by power rage and pecuniary illogic, cannot neglect relations between the subject and the collective in which he participates, as an actor and patient.

Discounting the anecdotal tone of the episode, it is more frequent than one might think. It is possible that the reader will laugh(m), especially if they remember that Freud was one of the first to consider the coexistence of two instances of confrontation of the Eu: one, on the psychological level; another, on the outside. The hypothesis that psychology is a science alien to social discussion would be easily contested if the reader who is unfamiliar with it were presented with the essays that Freud wrote between 1914 (“Introduction to the Concept of Narcissism”) and 1940 (“Compendium of Psychoanalysis”). To forward the discussion, we indicate two texts that underlie Social Psychology: Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis (1929), by Wilhelm Reich, and “Civilization and its Discontents”, by Sigmund Freud (1930). For the first:

Like any social phenomenon, psychoanalysis is linked to a specific stage of historical development; likewise, its existence is determined by the degree of development of the means of production. Like Marxism, it is a product of the capitalism era, but it does not maintain such an immediate relationship with the economic base of society as the former; but its mediated relationships can be clearly established: psychoanalysis is a reaction to the cultural and moral conditions in which the socialized individual lives (Reich, 1970, p. 69).

According to the second:

More energetic and radical is another procedure, which sees in reality the only enemy, the source of all suffering, with which it is impossible to live and with which, therefore, all ties must be broken, in order to be happy in some sense. . The hermit turns his back on this world, wants nothing to do with it. But more can be done, one can try to remake it, build another one in its place, in which the most intolerable aspects are eliminated and replaced by others in line with one's own desires (Freud, 2018, p. 37).

After them, having broadened the bases of Social Psychology, we recommend the reading of two essays published in 1955: Eros and Civilization, by Herbert Marcuse, and The Sane Society (translated in Brazil as Psychoanalysis of Contemporary Society), by Erich Fromm. In the “Political Preface” to the 1966 edition, Marcuse (1982, p. 7) recalled that: “In affluent society, authorities are rarely forced to justify their rule. Provide the goods; they satisfy the sexual and aggressive energy of their subjects. Like the unconscious, whose destructive power they so successfully represent, they fall short of good and evil, and the principle of contradiction has no place in their logic. As the affluent society depends more and more on the uninterrupted production and consumption of the superfluous, on new inventions, on planned obsolescence and on the means of destruction, individuals have to adapt to these requirements in a way that exceeds the traditional ways. In turn, Fromm (1976, p. 164) warned of the disease of consumerism: “Another aspect of our economic system, the need for mass consumption, played an instrumental role in creating a trait of the social character of modern man, which constitutes one of the most striking contrasts with the social character of the nineteenth century. I refer to the principle that every desire must be satisfied immediately, and none frustrated. The most obvious illustration of this principle is provided by our system of installment purchases”.

The pathologies of individuals, isolated or in social life, became more recurrent guidelines in the interwar period, and were combined with psychosocial diagnoses, after the defeat of the Nazis in 1945. From Jacques Lacan to Edgar Morin; from Guy Debord to Michel Foucault; From Henri Lefebvre to Jean Baudrillard, keywords such as “resignation”, “standardization of behavior”, “contradiction”, “oppression”, “scission”, “dissociation” etc., were related to a tripod constituted by human automatism – which would explain the transformation of the subject into a “cybertrope”, as proposed by Lefebvre in Position: against the technocrats (1968); institutional violence and the various modes of “interdiction”, as Foucault explained in The Order of Discourse (1977); and the pleasurable compensation of unbridled consumerism, as the engine of owner-happiness, distinguishing those who (de)had from those who could not. Symptom of a fragmented, superficial and overexposed society, which did not unite people, but juxtaposed narcissistic cells – as Debord showed in The Society of the Spectacle (1967). In 1989, David Harvey (2010, p. 207) advanced in discussions around “post-modernity”, under the rubric that: “First, who defines the material practices, forms and meanings of money, time or space fixes certain basic rules of the social game (…) ideological and political hegemony in every society depends on the ability to control the material context of personal and social experience”.

We transcribe a few words, we say these things because we have questions to ask: 1. To what extent has republican zeal been effective in contesting authoritarianism and denialism that suffocates the country? 2. Would the excess of republicanism be a symptom of self-censorship, exercised precisely by those who are at the forefront of class institutions, such as trade unions and associations of professional categories?


The multiple crisis that overflows around us has and will have a profound impact inside and outside each of us, but also on the set of institutions that organize our societies. This “discomfort” that many feel, this discomfort with the world, this is felt by the individual and in their broader social relationships. It is certainly not just another short-term and passing economy or policy. The inability of capitalism and the “markets” to provide solutions for the immense humanitarian disaster reveals a civilizational crisis. Its impacts are already in our closest and apparently insignificant and personal daily lives. Psychologists seem to have built the best instruments or analytical sensitivities to capture these more subtle or imperceptible changes in the political and economic reality of societies.

Luminary texts by Freud and Reich on the rise of European fascism in the 1920s and 1930s became references. To a great extent prophetic, due to the sensitivity and astuteness of their arguments, they also focused with originality on the political and economic phenomenon of the first major crisis of capitalism in the 1929th century. Freud wrote at the turn of the great crisis of 1931, his “The Discontents of Civilization” finished in XNUMX and bearing in mind the dangerous offensive of the Nazi hordes in Germany. Freud already pointed out religions as collective delusions and as attempts to obtain certainty of happiness and protection against suffering. He also resumed in a broader dimension the search for a powerful protective Father that could expand to a collective dimension, seeking to weave analytical possibilities of using psychoanalytical concepts to explain the historical development of civilizations. But the central issue that worried him was the social and political crisis at the time and how to explain it: “Civilization is built on a renunciation of instinct… If civilization imposes such great sacrifices, not only on man's sexuality, but also on his aggressiveness, we can better understand why it is difficult for him to be happy in this civilization... Man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities for happiness for a portion of security.” (…) “The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether, and to what extent, its cultural development will manage to overcome the disturbance of its communal life caused by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction…”.

Shortly afterwards, it was Reich who would dedicate his “Massenpsychologie des Faschismus” in 1933 to the theme, later reissued in New York with new additions in 1946 as “The Mass Psychology of Fascism”. He also highlighted that the problem of fascism was not only a socio-political issue, but also concerned the organization of our instincts, for example, in the repression of the love life of men and women. An illness or social disturbance caused by a deeper rupture that would need to be investigated further.

In this same perspective, one of the most interesting approaches he investigated considered fascism from a psychological and social perspective – as a phenomenon of “false consciousness” (see J. Gabriel, The concise fausse) – and presents it as accompanied by a perspective of degradation of temporalities and of historicity itself, under the valuation of the “eternal”, of an “end of history” (“Mussolini’s Eternal Rome”, the Third Nazi Reich, the “ Kingdom of Heaven”…): irrational, anti-scientific and mystical-religious, perhaps comparable to a certain current discourse in Brazil today. A parallel world or a kind of collective schizophrenia?

Explanations of a psychological nature were followed with great interest by Marxist revolutionary circles in the 1920s and 1930s. Freud, in the aforementioned essay, keeps the doors open to the socialist solution, even though he does not openly adhere to and support the revolution. On the other hand, in the USSR prior to the Stalinist dictatorship, there was a lively interest in psychoanalysis. The incipient character of psychoanalysis as a science did not convince the then leader Vladimir Lenin, who had little time to get involved with the theme from that perspective.

It was Leon Trotsky who made contact with the Freudian group, which was developing in the nascent USSR, with an interest in a materialist psychology. In that period, they approved abortion, sexual freedom, civil marriage, divorce, the expansion and recognition of women's rights. If this was positive for the impetus of psychoanalysis in Russia, these reflections later motivated, during the Stalinist period, persecutions. Psychology was considered a bourgeois, individualistic or biological theory, no longer compatible with the socialist revolution. This also corresponded to the measures of sexual repression and puritanism that followed from the 1930s onwards in the USSR.

Sigmund Freud becomes a persecuted and fugitive from Nazism, in the 1930s. And Leon Trotsky also seeks to survive in that same infamous decade, but also vibrant, the vindictive fury of Stalinism. The Stalinist caricature of Marxism created, at the time, many obstacles to these necessary dialogues between Marxism and psychoanalysis. At the end of the decade there is a luminous text written by Trotksy in collaboration with André Breton and Diego Rivera, the “Manifesto for a Revolutionary and Independent Art”, which reveals, in 1938, the rich dialogues between Marxism and psychology:

5 – Under the influence of the totalitarian regime of the USSR and through the so-called “cultural” organizations that it controls in other countries, a profound twilight hostile to the emergence of any kind of spiritual value descended all over the world. Twilight of abjection and blood in which, disguised as intellectuals and artists, wallow men who have made servility a trampoline, apostasy a perverse game, false venal testimony a habit and the apology of crime a pleasure. The official art of the Stalinist era reflects with a cruelty unmatched in history the derisive efforts of these men to deceive and mask their true mercenary role. (...)

7 – The communist revolution does not fear art. She knows that at the end of the research that can be done on the formation of artistic vocation in capitalist society that is collapsing, the determination of this vocation can only occur as the result of a collision between man and a certain number of social forms that are his. adverse. This single conjuncture, except for the degree of awareness that remains to be acquired, converts the artist into his potential ally. The sublimation mechanism, which intervenes in such a case, and which psychoanalysis has highlighted, has the object of restoring the broken balance between the coherent “ego” and the repressed elements. This re-establishment operates in favor of the “ideal of the ego” that raises against the present, unbearable reality, the powers of the inner world, of the “id”, common to all men and constantly in the process of development in the future. The spirit's need for emancipation has only to run its natural course in order to be brought together and reinvigorated in this primordial need: man's need for emancipation.

The unfinished biography of Stalin, written by Trotsky, is also pointed out as an interesting example of these interactions and dialogues with psychology. And why are we talking about Trotsky and Freud anyway? Both lived and died at a moment in history that the writer Victor Serge would call “the midnight of the century”. The abyss that approached, deepening in the 1930s and 1940s, was felt and affected not only the supposedly more sensitive human beings, cultivated or acculturated, but every single fisherman, gravedigger or factory worker.

*Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade He is a professor in the Department of History at USP.

*Jean-Pierre Chauvin is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP.


BRETON A., Rivera D., Trotsky L., Manifesto for a revolutionary and independent art, 1938. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/portugues/breton/1938/07/25.htm – Accessed on 26.4.2020.

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