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International Socialist Review, Spring 1962


Lynn Marcus

Erich Fromm on Peaceful Coexistence


From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.2, Spring 1962, pp.57-58.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


May Man Prevail?
by Erich Fromm
252 pp., New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1961, paperback, 95c.

This is a poignant essay on the current world crisis, not to be confused with the usual “expert” trash flooding from the publishers, clearly written, occasionally scintillating with lucid passages of near-genius, but ultimately the pitiable and ineffable product of the author’s own tragic social-reformist delusions. Despite its crippling limitations, it is a book to be read.

Erich Fromm the psychoanalyst has earned his reputation as one of a handful of authentic Freudians and one of the few first-class intellects in the social-reformist movements. It is Fromm who has done the most important practical scientific work of connecting Freud’s “reality principle” with Marx’s theory of knowledge. Through that research Fromm has freed psychoanalysis of certain supra-historical ontological fictions, by developing more thoroughly the conception of human character as historically specific to the material conditions of life as determined by social productive relations. The significance of Fromm’s contributions is perhaps better appreciated if we note that Freud himself, despite his uncompromising commitment to the mate ialist conception of the objectivity of human knowledge, was subject on many particular points to an unhistorical perspective, falling prey to a certain phenomenological conception of some qualitative features of the human personality. Even so great an epigone of Freud as Theodor Reik has lately succumbed to some phenomenological metaphysics on similar grounds. Fromm has almost consistently based his work on the materialist fundamental aspect of Freud’s scientific genius, where most so-called Freudians have tended to emphasize Freud’s weaknesses to the extent that much theoretical “Freudianism” today is extensively corrupted with behavioristic outlooks.

Fromm himself suffers from three serious shortcomings in his attempts to reconcile Freudian and Marxist materialism. We encounter all of these shortcomings at critical points in the essay under consideration here. First, he grasps dialectical conceptions only schematically. Secondly, he tends to substitute the notion of multiple factors for dialectical coherence of processes. Finally, and most fundamental, his attempt to come to agreement on democratic-socialism with the master-capitalist-class make him the frequent prey of delusions which no amount of his logic has enabled him to surmount. Fromm’s thesis is this: “... must the United States (and her Western allies) and the Soviet Union, and Communist China each pursue its present course to the bitter end, or can both sides anticipate certain changes and arrive at a solution that is historically possible and that, at the same time, offers optimal advantages to each bloc?” Fromm argues that there is a basis in common interest of the Soviets and the imperialists for such a “solution”; from the auspices of psychoanalytic practice he argues that the present course of the US “elite” is a form of “semi-pathological” thinking, not in the interests of the US ruling “elite.” He proposes to educate the ruling “elite” on the true nature of their self-interest.

He puts it:

“The United States is ... confronted with the following alternative: either a continued fight against communism together with the continuation of the arms race – hence the probability of nuclear war – or a political understanding on the basis of the status quo with the Soviet Union, universal disarmament (with the inclusion of China), and the support of neutral democratic-socialist regimes in the colonial world.”

This would lead to a world of three blocks, according to Fromm: Soviet, US, and democratic-socialist neutrals under “Yugoslav-Indian leadership.” He proposes a program consisting of,

“1) Psychological disarmament ...,”
“2) Massive economic aid ... to the underveloped countries ...,”
“3) Strengthening and reorganization of the United Nations in such a way ...”

This Fromm represents to be the indispensable “fundamental and authentic change” which alone will “save us.”

He, the good psychoanalyst, reassures his palpably “paranoid” patient, the US ruling “elite,” that the Soviet leadership hasn’t been revolutionary since 1923. Admittedly, the Soviet leaders still talk about Marxism and Leninism, Fromm correctly states, but it is essential to understand the difference between ideas conceived as principles of practice, and ideology. He writes:

“The ideology serves to bind people together, and to make them submit to those who administer the proper use of the ideological ritual; it serves to rationalize and justify all irrationality and immorality that exist within a society.”

“The ideas of Marx were transformed into ideologies.”

Don’t you see, Fromm asks his palpably paranoid patient. The Soviet regime is a conservative bureaucracy just as antagonistic to communist revolutionaries as you are.

The internal structure of a regime determines its attitude toward revolutions. A conservative power has by its very nature no use for revolutionary movements abroad.”

He correctly demonstrates:

“Those who claim that Stalin wanted to conquer the world for the Comintern could hardly answer the question why after the war, with armed and enthusiastic Communists in Italy and France, he did not issue the call for revolution and support it by an invasion of Russian troops; why, instead, he proclaimed a period of ‘capitalist stabilization’ and had the Communist Parties follow a policy of cooperation and a ‘minimum program’ which never had as its aim a Communist Revolution.”

He proceeds to quote the theses of Edward H. Carr, George Kennan, Isaac Deutscher, et al., to make a case to the effect that the Soviet bureaucracy is a managerial class, fundamentally conservative, etc. You don’t realize how much you two have in common, Fromm says to his bourgeois client; you ought to get together, put aside your unfounded “semi-pathological,” paranoid fears, and make a deal.

A great deal of Fromm’s political argument is well-founded from the phenomenological standpoint; that is to say, it is superficial, unscientific, a mere describing of appearances without serious grounding or analysis of the phenomena under consideration. For example, from the phenomenological standpoint, from a consideration of the political character, crimes, stupidities, conservatism, etc., of the Soviet leadership, it is possible to call it by all of the bad names in the book. But appearances are only forms; what is, we must ask, the content of these forms? What is the underlying historic process, the world process, which gives the Soviet Union and the bureaucracy their respective real, historic content?

Fromm proves easily that the present course of capitalist policy is not in the interests of the human race. He leaps rather carelessly from that to the assumption that the interests of the capitalist class coincide with the interests of the same human race. On this specious basis, he advances the suggestion that his bourgeois client is only “insane,” slightly “paranoid,” the victim of “semipathological forms of thinking.” Fromm, therefore, has prepared this book, a kind of psychoanalysis by correspondence-course methods, to help cure his bourgeois patient of his unfortunate neurotic affliction.

Unfortunately, the capitalist class is not insane; its programs, its war economies, its bayonettings of colonial people, its eventual steps toward fascism, etc., are all precisely in that class, unique self-interests. One does not establish the same criteria of sanity for the man-eating tiger and the members of the Indian village; if the tiger and the villager happen to have the same outlook, at least one of them is irreparably psychotic. The fact is that this class is facing a very probable social and economic crisis within a decade, and that the only hope of the capitalist class for its continued survival as a class is to establish the most brutal regimentation of the world with bayonets, gas ovens, or whatever other forms of oppression may be necessary to maintain a brutally accelerated rate of exploitation.

It is perhaps too easy to praise Fromm and too easy to damn him. On the one side, he has exhibited qualities sufficient for one of the great intellects of our age. He comes close to that mark frequently enough, but at each instant of decision, just as true greatness seems within his grasp, he turns back into the mire of social reformism. He sets out in the current essay to discover fundamental truths respecting the human condition and is convinced that he is actually proposing fundamental changes; yet, in practice, he is only a reformer, in a revolutionary age when reformism itself is a betrayal of the human species.

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