Saturday, March 17, 2012

Jungian Marxism

I honestly am still confused about why no one has tried to find parallels between Jung and Marx, (no English author, at least). This is not that surprising, I suppose, as there are a number of factors discouraging it. I guess what's surprising is how many parallels I can see between the two.

My experience is that spiritual values led me to reject capitalism, and thus into Occupy and Marxism, and so therefore I believe it could do the same for others. It seems to me the biggest problem facing Marxism today is communication. Marxism has pretty good ideas about how to build towards a better world--the problem is to convince other groups that those ideas are in fact good. My hypothesis is that Jung's terminology can bridge the communication gap between Marxism and religious communities. I realize that I have no evidence for this beyond my own individual experience, which contains my sujbective biases, but I still feel compelled to pursue the topic.

While most people see Marx's and Jung's views about religion as irreconciliable, I do not believe this is at all the case. For Jung religion meant religious experience, which is separate from orthodox doctrine and rituals. When Marx says “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness,” he is talking about what Jung would call religious doctrine and ritual. I totally agree that religion as it exists today would wither away as society transitions into socialism. Jung had fundamental issues with orthodox Christian doctrines of both Catholicism and Protestantism, (and is nearly as shut out from the academic theological circles as he is from Marxist writings). For Jung the problem is that society has become overly-rational--we don't put enough energy into the symbolic truths of religion. As a result of society's over-rationality, there is a tendency to interpret religion in historical rather than symbolic terms and to believe that given enough time science or the state will solve all problems. As Jung writes in his autobiography, "The more the critical reason dominates, the more impoverished life becomes; but the more of the unconscious, and the more of myth we are capable of making conscious, the more of life we integrate. Overvalued reason has this in common with political absolutism; under its dominion the individual is pauperized."

Jung's mistake, I believe, is that he didn't recognize that capitalism's competitive markets are the chief reproducers of today's overly-rational mode of existence. 'Rational' means "in accordance with laws", which in a market-dominant society are primarily the laws of the compeitive market, as the necessity of competing leaves people with little time to engage in other systems. There are a few obvious reasons why Jung did not see the political consequences of his idea. First, he was legitimately scared of Stalin's state-mandated atheism, which he saw as a big step backward for civilization. Second, Freud was an outspoken critic of Marxism, saying "But I am able to recognize that the psychological premises on which [communism] is based are an untenable illusion... Aggressiveness was not created by property. It reigned almost without limit in primitive times, when property was still very scanty, and it already shows itself in the nursery." While Jung had long since broken with Freud's school of thought, he still was involved in the same social circles and so I suspect was influenced by his mentor's attitude towards Marxism.

From a Jungian perspective, the most important benefit from Communism's elimination of the competitive mode of existence would be that it would free people to explore their fate, defined by Jung as "a daemonic will, not necessarily coincident with [one's] own." Recall that Socrates speaks of such a Daemon, which compelled him to actions that he otherwise would not have taken. Jung believes that such influences come through our connection to the collective unconscious part of our psyche. The unconscious is a layer of potential mental content underneath consciousness. The unconscious consists of many layers, the first of which is the individual unconscious, which contains the mental content repressed by the ego. The collective unconscious comes next and itself consists of multiple layers, the deepest being the archetype of the Self, which for Jung is equivalent to “God-image.” Marxism would allow people to pursue the "inward journey"--the integration of ego and the archetype of the Self, which for Jung is Holy Grail of religious experience. As Erich Fromm writes, "[Marxism] is the realization of the deepest religious impulses common to the great humanistic religions of the past... provided we understand that Marx, like Hegel and like many others, expresses his concern for man's soul, not in theistic, but in philosophical language."

Jung's theory and Marxist theory contain a few parallels that have been largely ignored. For example, in A Marxist Philosophy of Language Jean-Jacques Lecercle follows Valentin Voloshinov in convicting Freud of methodological individualism--the idea that social interactions necessarily start with intentional mental states of individuals. Jung, however, is not guilty of this, as his theory proposes collective layers of the unconscious out of which mental contents can arise, as opposed to Freud for whom the unconscious was completely individual.To be sure there are many complications to work out--Lecercle dismisses the idea of the unconscious as abstraction: “what Freudians call ‘unconscious’ is nothing but the internalisation of public dialogue,” and this charge also applies to Jung. Jung claims the unconscious is more than just abstraction in that it is compensatory to conscious interactions, and that this compensatory nature of the unconscious is empirically verified through a long-term analysis of his patients lives, and more immediately through analysis of their dreams.

While there are obvious barriers, the more I've read, the more optimistic I am, actually, about the potential of combining Jungian and Marxist thought.

My perception is that Jung and Marx had quite different personalities. Jung is more concerned with reflection, while Marx is more concerned with action. For instance, for Marx, "humans as social beings" refers to one's relationships--the people you do things with. Jung, on the other hand, focuses on the meaning of experience. The more fully you understand your inner, subjective biases, the more capably you will navigate the public, social world. Experience happens--the important thing for Jung is the meaning attributed to experience, and that people become aware of all the potentials the experience contains.

Just as action and reflection are both essential in life, my hope is that Jung and Marx can be joined in a complementary way that enhances the theories of each.


  1. I agree with you completely. Synthesizing these concepts is crucial to me as a spiritual individual and I approve 100% of your work here. Do you have any resources that combine Jungs work with Marxism? I was just talking about this today with someone during a conversation about the moral hazards of capitalism, and I used the same idea to salve some issues about the communication between the base populace and governing via a Jungian view of individualization.

    1. Nikkolaus. I recommend you read Wolfgang Giegerich.

  2. Interesting little piece my friend, stubbled upon your article whilst writing my dissertation, a small section of which proposes that it would be viable to elucidate some of the simplisitic articulations Marx makes regarding the psychology of humanity, through Jungian terminology and concepts.

    Specifically I'm referring to Marx's theory of alienation, Marx saw man as alienated from his 'species-being', the true nature of his existence, and proposed it was the need to overcome such alienation which would inevitablly lead to revolution. This I think can be seen as similiar to Jung's idea of man's quest for individuation, the full reconcilliation of man's conscious and unconscious mind.

    Further to that I can see a parrallel in how Feuerbach conceived of man as externalising his own power into Religion, Marx seeing man as externalising his power into money and how Jung saw religion as an expression of the archetypes within our unconscious mind. - All ideas seem to have the common route of taking man's own power and externalising it.

    As mentioned the goals of Marx and Jung seem similiar, to resurrect the dialectic of man's 'species-being' or his consciousness depending on who's terminology you prefer, into a single individuated or self-realised individual. - It's the means they propose of doing so which differ, for Marx it was active engagement with the natural world which provided the means for man to express his 'species-being' and thus come to terms with it. For Jung, I forget, I'm not sure if he ever proposed a theory for individuation as such, but I do know he had interests in eastern philosophy and to my mind a case can certainly be made for meditative exercises as a means to individuation.

    If you're still interested in the similiarities between Marx and Jung it would probably be wise to look at Hegel and Jung comparitively. Marx based his entire philosophy on Hegel, the key difference being that Hegel thought a man who was not free in the physical world could be free in his mind, he could self-realise mentally and this was all that was necessary for self-realisation, whereas Marx saw it necessary to free oneself in the physical world if his mind were to ever be free.

    A final thought, it would be interesting to take Marx's idea of the development of a 'socialist consciousness' - the mode of thought where everyone realises capitalism sucks and works towards abolishing it in favour of communism and then try and intergrate this idea with Jung's conception of a collective unconscious. I'm not here proposing that I myself believe a socialist consciousness to be at a parrellel with the desires of the collective unconscious, but I'd certainly be very interested to hear a staunch Marxist try and convince me this is the case! Haha.

    Anyway, sorry for what is undoubtedly an overly long comment but it really interested me that someone was intrigued by the same similiarities between Jung and Marx that I'm currently brainstorming.