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The Daily Worker - May 19, 1956
The Current Scene

Freud and Science

Howard Fast

The meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, recently held in Chicago, brought sharply to the public's attention the intensity of the polemical struggle in the field of mental health. Perhaps the newspaper correspondents present were more interested in dramatic moments of disagreement than in more basic areas of agreement; but even if that is the case, one cannot set aside the conflicting theories held by the advocates of the biochemical approach and advocates of psychoanalysis and various other therapeutic methods.
In other words, fur flew, tempers rose high, and voices were raised in that holy intensity that conflicting scientific theories seem to evoke. All this is proper and necessary, for the state of the mental health of the American people is worsening, and the statistics concerning it are almost terrifying in their implications.
As a layman, I can take satisfaction in the fact that many avenues of approach are being explored by men and women who have devoted their working lives to the question. The polemics engaged in were the result of years of practice and experience and come on top of a vast amount of collated material; inevitably, there are mistakes, errors, as well as concrete achievements and substantial advances. All of this is a part of developing at least the beginnings of a very new and very important branch of medicine; and we can rest assured that the results of progress in this branch of medicine will be of inestimable benefit to all of mankind.
Within this complex, Freud and the development of his theories has an important place. This is not to speak of the correctness or incorrectness of these theories or their development; I am not equipped to do so, nor do I feel that anyone is who has not devoted years of the most careful study to the subject is equipped to do so; but the fact is that hundreds and hundreds of physicians have proceeded along such lines of inquiry, and their conclusions must be greeted with respect, examined seriously and investigated fully. In the very nature of their training as physicians, these men are scientists – some good, some bad, some mediocre – but nevertheless scientists, who work experimentally within the area of their discipline, accumulate facts, and generalize results.
The related truths which they will progressively uncover through their work are their responsibility, even as it is their responsibility to analyze their mistakes and to publicize their failures. This is the scientific method, and the record of science indicates that we can place our trust in it.
I say responsibility because it is bigotry as well as the crassest Philistinism for individuals totally apart from the work and experience of these physicians to render absolute judgments concerning it. Political leadership of one kind or another does not make a person an authority in any of the arts or sciences, nor is Marxism any crystal ball that will substitute some "mysterious" insight for the solid avenues of research, practice and experiment – which have been the foundation of art and science for as long as they have been practiced by mankind. Frequently, the fact that a scientist or an artist is a Marxist as well, will allow him to open new doors, to engage in sounder thinking than his idealist colleague; but even this is not always the case, and when it is the case, he is armed with science and knowledge as well as Marxism. If he lacks the first two and extends the third to cover up his inadequacies, then he is a fraud as well as a Philistine.
It is well said that this is an age of specialization. It was precisely because the scientific knowledge of his age was comparatively small that the Renaissance man was able to master so much of it in one lifetime; but today a highly-trained physician requires from 10 to 14 years of post-secondary school education; and other sciences, like nuclear physics, require almost as much. The education of political leaders who are not Marxists can only be discussed negatively, and here in America it is a rare individual indeed who goes beyond legal training; Marxist political leaders on the other hand are frequently brilliantly versed in both history and economics – and the very nature of their being Marxists provides an intense curiosity concerning a host of related subjects. But a smattering of knowledge is one thing; the whole grasp of a discipline is another; and the first, unless used with wisdom and tolerance, can be hurtful as well as beneficial.
It is an incredible presumption – made by some on the left – that capitalist science has simply blundered along through endless mistakes and false theories; indeed, it is as incredible as the presumption by so many American "authorities" that the Russians have neither scientific talent nor achievement; for the truth of the matter is that capitalist science has recorded magnificent achievements that are a boon to all of mankind, and the same can be said of socialist science. The two are not in opposition, but move most often along the same paths, and with increasing exchange of information.
Capitalism, by and large, does not interfere with the development of a science through a materialistic course of inquiry. There are, however, some notable exceptions, principally history and economics; for a materialist development in these areas becomes a basic threat to the whole capitalist theory of property and profit. This interference is sometimes so crass and violent that many kindred disciplines are affected and distorted; but it is the duty of the Marxist to exercise the utmost caution and wisdom before deciding that through his own understanding of the materialist interpretation of history, he is equipped to broaden his decisive judgments.
I do not mean, in what I have written, to reject the right of criticism by Marxists; such criticism can be important and immensely creative. But the attitude of angry damnation, as expressed so often toward developments in modern psycho-therapy, is a far cry from intelligent criticism. Even in the wisest and best-informed, damnation is a sorry business, and in the half-informed, it is quite shameful.
Unless psychoanalysis demonstrates its scientific validity, it will not survive. But it is for American psychiatry and its international colleagues to decide that; and as the study of mental illness proceeds, Marxists will find many useful and creative functions for the social criticism and understanding they can bring to it.
This should not be taken to indicate that where Freudianism is put forth as a social philosophy to maintain capitalism in all of its unjust and degrading aspects, it must not be opposed. But such opposition must take a form of philosophical polemics. It cannot be a critique of the medical aspects of specific therapy.