Marx and Freud, Daoism and Gandhi

EDITORIAL, 4 Aug 2014

#335 | Johan Galtung, 4 Aug 2014 - TRANSCEND Media Service

The two giants did something unusual for Western thinkers: they were very holistic. Nothing less than the whole society and the world, and much more than the economy, for Marx; nothing less than the whole body-mind complex, with excursions into culture, for Freud.

Equally unusual: they were very dialectical. There were forces and counter-forces. Means vs modes of production for Marx, simplified to Capital vs Labor; Super-ego vs Id, values from the outside vs drives from the inside for Freud. For Marx the dialectic was inside Structure–of Culture and Nature there was little–for Freud between Culture and Nature–of Structure there was little.

Holism and dialectics are the pillars of daoist thought, giving rise to a dynamic theory of organic systems like societies and humans. Calling the forces yin and yang, over time they will both be vexing and, waning, the dominant will recede and the dominated will grow. In this process there may be some balance point, but it is not stable. Nothing is stable in this perspective, nor is anything–Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, USA–monolithic with only one force. There is yin/yang everywhere, also inside yin and yang, and new dialectics emerging.

Here the great Westerners show their limitations. Marx was an optimist seeing conscious and organized Labor break the shackles of Capital, moving on to socialism and communism; Freud was a pessimist seeing “reality” (his word for structure?) as unchanging, impeding compromises between Super-Ego and Id. They used only the dialectic of their primary contradictions; beyond that they became deterministic.

Moreover, with two forces there are five outcomes: one or the other prevails, neither-nor–like in social or individual death–a compromise is identified–social capitalism, capi-communism, Freud’s maturity–and both-and, transcending, beyond the compromise. They, however, saw only one outcome, the triumph of Labor, or the compromise.

Whatever happens it will be unstable. For stability a stabilizer is needed, but even so any equilibrium is unstable. The State is the social stabilizer freezing the dialectic in favor of Capital, Labor, neither, a compromise or both; but where is the individual stabilizer?

Could be the State again, fearing drives to grab, molest, sex–the classical crimes, theft, violence and sexual violence–and use the Rule of Law, and Super-Egos like the Church, against excesses of Id.

But there is another answer at the individual level, missing in Freud: the Human Spirit, the capacity to reflect on the forces on the self and change them, even transcend, going beyond. Thus, the human Spirit can transcend true vs false creating new Science, good vs bad creating new Values, right vs wrong creating new Morals, beautiful vs ugly creating new Arts, sacred vs evil creating new Religions. The Spirit is holistic and dialectic and much more than the State, hard or soft. But like the State, the Spirit can be more or less developed.

In the contradiction between Capital and State, Capital prevails in the Blue economy; State in the Red economy; neither one nor the other in the Green, local, nature, economy; compromise in the Pink economy; both in the Japanese Golden economy, now reborn in the Chinese economy. But the State is always there, even stabilizing its own apparent absence on the Blue-Green axis, with its Rule of Law.

How about State vs Labor? Labor prevails: as cooperatives run by labor, more local. State prevails: as forced labor-soldiering for the state, fascism. Neither-nor: Capital may take over in a speculation economy with bonuses, no labor, no state interfering. Compromise, both-and: like the Soviet system, a dictatorship favoring Labor.

And Spirit vs Super-Ego? The history of human culture evolving, challenging, transcending anything true-good-right-beautiful-sacred.

And Spirit vs Id? With Id prevailing, Nature runs its course, not much Spirit; with Spirit prevailing it feeds on sublimation.

The State stabilizes through outer control with punishment and reward; the Spirit through inner control with bad or good conscience. Wanting to do what has to be done simplifies human existence.

For decades there has been a search for a synthesis between marxism and psychoanalysis. But “synthesis” sounds very static.

On the other hand there is more than the similarity indicated between the two theories based on holism and dialectics. There is also contradiction between the two contradictions. More precisely: the contradiction between State and Spirit working on contradictions between Capital and Labor and between Super-Ego and Id. Very dynamic.

Is “human spirit” strong enough? Insert Gandhi, unknown to Marx, unused by Freud it seems; the Mahatma, maha-atman, Great Soul, indeed.

His Spirit prevailed over his sex drive, possibly making cascades of sublimation energy available. His Spirit also prevailed over the English State-Capital united gone abroad–also known as imperialism– ending the English possession of the “jewel of the Empire”, India.

His Spirit tried to prevail over State-Capital in India, in favor of the uplift of the spirit, sarvodaya, as self-reliant cooperatives connected not by a state but by “oceanic circles”, equitable exchange. But he failed; they prevailed and still do, in unstable equilibrium.

His method was Satyagraha, clinging to Truth, satya; to Gandhi a concept linking true-right-good-sacred to love. There was yin-yang: boycotting English textiles yet helping merchants suffering; non-cooperation with colonial rule yet good relations with the English. The word “nonviolence” in no way reflects this dialectic approach by inserting his own dialectics (hardly dependent on sexual abstinence).

Insert China, not spiritual, but daoism is part of their culture. The result is very creative compromises that, of course, are unstable.

Marx and Freud are left behind by cultures with more to draw upon; two bricks in the BRICS, the I and the C. Beyond Economics 101.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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2 Responses to “Marx and Freud, Daoism and Gandhi”

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