Reviewed by Leo Cookman
To say that Psychoanalysis and Revolution, the debut publication from 1968 Press, a new publishing house for left-wing thought, is a quick and easy read would be inaccurate. It is a dense tome. Though despite the complexity of ideas inside, not any longer than it needs to be. Authors Ian Parker and David Pavón-Cuéllar make no apologies for this complexity, stating that the ideas in the book are “not easily turned into the easy narrative form of popular texts” that seek to offer the usual mass market ‘quick fix’ approach to problems, both personal and social. Its complexity is part of its politics, seeking to make conceptual and theoretical ideas a core part of grassroots activism. The book is a critique of the very notion that the myriad problems that face us today can be lived, laughed, loved away or left to the deeply corrupt and nakedly opportunistic people in power to solve.
The Beginnings of Freedom
As the wealthier world begins to draw a line beneath the pandemic, its fallout has laid bare the vast (and growing) inequities at the heart of global society. This is a complex, and as Parker and Pavón-Cuéllar point out, historically entrenched set of issues that encompass misogyny, racism, classism, and militarism. The solution to these problems, this book argues, or at least the beginnings of a freedom from the structures that create these difficulties, is through the practice of Psychoanalysis.
The argument the book makes in favour of this approach is that the criticism and evolution of the analysed subject in Psychoanalysis remains with the subject and is not imposed upon them by an outside source. The authors make clear the distinction between this method and other ‘psych’ schools such as psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, pointing out that these seek solutions from the exterior, or ‘Other’. This is a paradox, as this argues that problems, both individual and social, can be solved by those that might be causing them to begin with. It is the great issue with Capitalism (the sickness of our time that this book aims to treat) that it absorbs, commodifies, then sells criticisms of itself back to you.
Psychoanalysis, this book argues, avoids this by both allowing the subject to create solutions based on our own subjective nature. This allows us to unpick internalised symptoms of this ‘sickness’ and let go of those foisted upon us. “Psychiatry promises to cure what it calls ‘mental illness’ and psychology promises to treat maladaptive thoughts and behaviour,” the book explains, highlighting the way that resistance, dissatisfaction, or any perceived ‘aberrant’ behaviour within the current system is treated as a sickness that must be cured to allow things to continue as they are. Parker and Pavón-Cuéllar, however, see these as the symptoms of the system as a whole, not an individualised illness. “Psychoanalysis does not exist to serve the miserable world in which we live,” as they put it. Which is where the revolutionary aspect of the text develops, making psychoanalysis a way to reveal the impact of capitalism on psychic life.
A Foundation for Collective Interests
Just as Albert Camus argued in his 1951 book The Rebel, to rebel is to align yourself with all mankind. You do not do it from a place of selfishness. Psychoanalysis and Revolution argues the same, stating that, “The potential for this freedom … can only be realised outside the clinic … when what is private becomes public, collective and truly transformative.” By offering a pathway to a much more radical form of personal and sociological critique, psychoanalysis gives us a solid foundation for collective interests and, importantly, collective action. Though this path is not presented as quick or easy, it can offer truly transformative change.
Throughout the book Parker and Pavón-Cuéllar do not treat psychoanalysis as some sanctified, precious practice and are keen to critique the model itself, so that by the end it is much more approachable and a better fit for modern times. This allows it to be able to encompass the severe issues of today that were not considered in the practice’s development in the time of Freud and his early followers (from racism and sexism to trans rights, ableism, and other forms of intersectional oppression).
The only drawbacks are problems inherent to the topic itself. The discussion does lean toward the abstract, concepts can become difficult to grasp, and it occasionally descends into academic jargon. Though practically unavoidable this is still a shame as there is plenty in this book for everyone to adopt and adapt to at a time when truly radical left-wing ideas like abolishing the police, public ownership, and the power of labour are now accepted public talking points.
The great truism that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” still holds, but Parker and Pavón-Cuéllar offer a much needed point of light that may indeed allow for us to not only imagine but desire that outcome. Revolutionary texts are often difficult but always offer us hope. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense wasn’t an easy read, but without it public opinion would not have been swayed to the American revolutionary cause. Psychoanalysis and Revolution is, sadly, not yet such a popular text. But it should be.
1968 Press was founded in October 2021. Its manifesto and published titles can be found at www.1968press.co.uk.