A note on Bloch, nonsynchronicity, and psychoanalysis vs. cognitive-behavioral therapy

Ernst Bloch’s criticism of official socialism’s  dismissive understanding of fascism as a regressive ideology out of touch with capitalist modernity parallels the psychoanalytic criticism of cognitive-behavioral therapy.    Official socialism regarded fascism as rooted in precapitalist relations of production, a mélange of ideological fragments floating out of economic strata – the rural estates system, small shop proprietors, etc – that were out of synch, non-synchronous, with capitalist development and thereby doomed to disappear.  In its appeal to industrial workers, official socialism sought to promote a perspective on the structure of society and the forces shaping it that would properly orient them to their historical role and prospects.  In their view, fascism, with its hodgepodge of nationalistic and racist appeals, was fundamentally out of touch with these historical processes, and should only be thought of as a manipulative disorientation of workers.

In writings such as Heritage of Our Times Bloch argued that official socialism  failed to appreciate how the fascists, by drawing on these nonsynchronous models of life for their program, were successfully tapping into latent mass yearnings that remained unaddressed and unsatisfied by capitalism.  He believed that socialists needed to deepen and variegate their program, creating a utopian synthesis of  the solidarity of a planned economy and, to put it one way, a rural life of soil, stream, and family, embroidered with a symbolic mystique.  Dismissing this idealization as historically obsolete and passé failed to appreciate how it contained past formulations of a good life that still informed current strivings.  The many inadequacies of capitalism  made such critical, “nostalgic” orientations inevitable, and socialists needed to recognize the “truth” of these attempts to address capitalism’s inadequacies and their colonization of the popular imagination.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, with its emphasis on getting the patient to recognize the “irrationality” of their understandings of self and others and its strong insistence on leaving behind the psychoanalytic focus on the interplay between past and present, rehearses interwar socialism’s mistake.   The idea that apparent irrationality – for example, “I’m a terrible, unlikable person whom everyone hates” –  is  expressive of not only underlying conflict but of attempts to satisfy conflicted strivings is suppressed in favor of an embrace of a rational assessment of what reality can offer to someone who is, in reality, a likable sort.  A  psychological reality of enduring infantile strivings, understood as literal embodied formulations of desire, goes into total eclipse behind the moon of rationality.  The patient is tutored in the art of “thought blocking,” the abstract negation of the negative thought, so that what is affirmed in the thought – for example, a combined challenge to and acceptance of subjugation by a parent – is fended away in the hope that the joys of current social life will win out.  Psychoanalytic attempts to theorize and render these conflicted strivings both communicable and synthesizable in the conduct of life are seen as either unnecessary or, worse, regression inducing, in much the same way as Bloch’s ideas were seen by official socialism as hopelessly petty bourgeois and reactionary.

It is unfortunate that Bloch came to think of psychoanalysis as incapable of respecting the utopian, creative wishful content of the repressed.  In a  paper by Doug Kellner, “Ernst Bloch, Utopia and Ideology Critique,” Kellner quotes Bloch as viewing psychoanalysis as intent only on clarifying “What Has Been… there is nothing new in the Freudian unconscious.”  Bloch continues: “This becomes even clearer when C.G. Jung, the psychoanalytic fascist reduced the libido and its unconscious contents entirely to the primeval. [my emphasis]”  It is puzzling that Bloch chose to exemplarize Jung’s arbitrary archaisms to claim that a psychoanalytically-informed praxis was inevitably regressive.  For instance, Reich’s contemporaneous SexPol movement, whatever its limitations, explicitly used psychoanalytic theory to legitimate the de-repression of sexual strivings and allow their expression in innovative social forms.  This seems very congenial with with Bloch’s insistence on respecting the distorted truth of nonsynchronicity.  That Reich eventually was expelled from official psychoanalytic organizations perhaps attests more to the fact that Bloch was aware of a tension inherent in psychoanalytic theory, not a dead end.