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There is neglect of the subjective factors involved. In addition, most of the work published since the s has been couched within a liberal perspective, one that emphasises the role of leaders, the structure of the state, or cultural factors — for example, Prussian militarism. The debate in the late s and s between German historians adopting either an intentionalist or a functionalist position is an example of such a liberal approach.

Briefly, the debate was between those arguing that the Nazis had intended from the very beginning to exterminate the Jews, but had to wait for the right opportunity, and as against those who claimed that deteriorating circumstances radicalised the Nazis, driving them to perpetrate the Holocaust. Furthermore, most work on modern genocide has been undertaken from within the confines of a single discipline, reflecting the fragmentation and specialisation of the existing social sciences.

Thus, most books and articles are written by professional historians, sociologists, political scientists, economists or social psychologists, each adopting a conceptual approach derived from their specialism. Rarely do we find an attempt to forge links between the different fields, to grasp the inner ties that unite the partial aspects of what is, after all, a single social and historical reality.

Though many crucial insights have been developed from within these specialisms, in the end their separation amounts to confinement within an intellectual straitjacket, one that allows for no more than a partial explanation. Only by organically linking elements from history, social theory, economics and psychology will it be possible to approach an understanding of the Nazi death-camps and the killing fields of North America, Turkish Armenia and Rwanda.

To illustrate the point: it is, arguably hard to understand the Nazi Holocaust without examining the failure of the German middle class to overthrow feudalism and autocracy in the revolution, and the manner in which German capitalism subsequently developed. From there, it's on to the economic crises that beset Germany following defeat in the First World War and the Great Depression, and the effects of these crises on the urban and rural middle classes. Also crucial are the skilful manipulation of the despair of these strata by the Nazi Party and, finally, the mentality and family background of those who joined it.

Dori Laub makes a similar point, though from a different position. There is one intellectual tradition, however, that has always insisted on the need to view the world as a totality, its parts organically interrelated, our perceptions of its separate aspects fused into an integrated vision. To follow the footpath of this tradition is to discover a large garden segmented into different sectors, each of which is, however, linked to every other, and from each of which one sees the garden as a whole. In other words, no garden wall separates our history from current social and power relations.

Nor does any artificial boundary split off our past from the ideas and emotions that govern or accompany human actions and decisions in contemporary society. The tradition that has always sought to link these different aspects is Marxism. In Marx, the dialectical method aims at understanding society as a whole. Bourgeois thought concerns itself with objects that arise In the last analysis, Marxism does not acknowledge the existence of independent sciences of law, economics or history, etc. So, Marxism is at once a philosophy of humankind and of human history, a theory of society, that is, of social stability and change, and an economic theory of crisis, not just under capitalism but under pre-capitalist societies as well.

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These phenomena, and the theoretical approaches to them, do not fall into separate compartments but are aspects of a single, revolutionary view of our world, one that is, moreover, an integral part of our striving to change it. I therefore want to argue that Marxism, not liberal theory or postmodernism, is the theoretical approach to history and society best suited to deal with the question of genocide.

Nevertheless, to gain a fuller understanding of such extreme human violence, I believe that we do need, in addition, to get to grips with its subjective side. How do we account for hatred and destructiveness on such an enormous scale? Are genocide and war expressions of the same basic destructiveness? Or do we need to analyse the relevant family and character structures and their historical development?

Linked to this is the issue of human nature: is there a set of human features present in all societies, a bundle of universal needs, drives and capacities without which we cannot understand the phenomenon of genocide? Let us be clear. All human actions, even those representing the most rationally devised means to an end, carry an emotional element.

Analysing this dimension of feeling, grasping its links to rational aspects of action, is not, therefore, a dispensable after-thought, but an inescapable part of our task if we are to understand our history. We cannot comprehend such psychic or emotional phenomena through the application solely of economic, political or even ideological concepts. This is true not only at the individual level but also at the collective level. Marx and Engels themselves didn't have much to say on the individual, subjective aspect of history.

There is a reference in The German Ideology to personality being conditioned by class relationships. They are not to blame for this. The modern psychological sciences could only emerge out of other sciences such as medicine or the social sciences. Rooted in the Enlightenment, Marx and Engels always followed with avid interest new scientific developments, enthusiastically welcoming, for example, the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species or of Morgan's anthropological studies of Native American communities, books about which Engels wrote important works.

Unfortunately, Engels died in , the year in which Freud and his colleague Breuer published Studies on Hysteria. Freud's chapter on psychotherapy is generally regarded as marking the inception of psychoanalysis. Indeed, Engels himself wrote:. Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him He works with mere thought material, which he accepts without examination as the product of thought, and does not investigate further for a more remote source independent of thought.

Indeed, in the s, Trotsky pleaded for tolerance towards psychoanalysis in the face of virulent attacks by many Bolsheviks who dismissed it as incompatible with Marxism due to its alleged anti-materialism and over-emphasis on sex. We are not obliged to adopt Freudism Freudism is a working hypothesis. It can produce, and it does produce, deductions and surmises which point to a materialist psychology. I don't wish to ignore the work of academic and experimental social psychology in the area of modern genocide: there have been important contributions to our understanding of patterns of obedience and conformity.


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But the question remains: conformity to what? Where does the hatred, the urge to destroy, come from? I do, therefore, want to argue that psychoanalysis — because of its dynamic approach, its appreciation of the way the past casts its shadow over the present, its materialist focus on the family and hence on society, and because of its understanding of unconscious sources of motivation — is the psychological theory best equipped to dealing with the subjective factors at the heart of political and social action, in this case, genocide.

The fact remains that there was a gap in classical Marxism, one created by the absence of a theory of subjectivity, of the way external, material conditions become translated into the psyche of the individual, not just as ideology but as their overall emotional life. It suggests they should take seriously the potential ability of psychoanalysis to help us understand how external structures of exploitation and oppression are internalised in the mind of the individual. However, most psychoanalytical approaches deal with the effects on the victims or else investigate the emotional background of the perpetrators without linking this to the broad historical experience of their class.

In short, they divorce psychology from history. Arguably, most psychoanalytical explanations of genocide are of this kind, reducing historical phenomena to the psychology of the protagonists and, conversely, failing to locate their individual psychology within the wider society and its politics. We need to firmly reject such psychological reductionism, which is in no way inevitable. It is not part of the intellectual essence of psychoanalysis, even if, in practice, most psychoanalytical writers have based their work on such a psychologistic approach.

The real problem in most contemporary debate about genocide is the opposite — sociological reductionism. In sum, we need a psychoanalysis that sets out to trace the character and family structures back to their historical roots and class backgrounds.

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This cannot, on its own, amount to a sufficient analysis, but it is an indispensable link in the overall chain of explanation. To my knowledge, however, no work attempting to link the objective and the subjective reasons for genocide has been done since the s. We need, therefore, to rejuvenate this dual approach, and to revisit the contribution of the two generations of psychoanalytic Marxists who consciously struggled to develop ideas that lent themselves to integration within a Marxist framework.

The psychologist Oliver James has stressed Fromm's role in highlighting the link between the materialism of modern capitalism and emotional distress, an argument put forward by Fromm in his classic work, The Sane Society. Specifically, it sought an account of the origin and power of ideology, the subjective conditions for social change, and the processes by which society enters the individual psyche.

The failure of the Russian Revolution to spread, together with the rise of fascism in Europe, led a number of Marxist writers — in particular, but not only, the founders of the Frankfurt School — to attempt to deepen their understanding of the subjective obstacles to revolution. In Germany, following the failure of the revolution ushered in by the military collapse in , most Marxists correctly stressed the absence of revolutionary leadership.

On the contrary, workers seemed to absorb not only capitalist ideology but capitalism's image of them as passive and ineffectual, its need for them to be accommodating and self-suppressing. The early Reich, Fromm and Marcuse set about trying to answer these questions.

To understand them might provide some clues as to the psychological conditions for change. Moreover, if the family is the crucial mediator between society and the individual, the indispensable conveyor-belt of authority and repression, both Marx and Freud are found wanting. Compass - comparative literature in Africa : essays in honour of Willfried F.

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