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Freud vs Marx

Throughout history, mankind has always struggled to evolve and seek new vision towards the future. Whether it be socially, economically, psychologically, or religiously, we have always been looking for new ideas and answers to satisfy our extraneous need for change. Our society has never reached a point where all spectrums of life have been perfect. Great leaders continue to pass through history, and incredible strides towards an ideal society are made every day. Is that to say that we are close to a utopian civilization, where all men and women alike can live in peace and equality. Well, we aren’t exactly close to this, but we know that we want this and dream for this. Many people have had different ideas on what has been wrong with society and what were the main causes of the conflict and oppressions.

This paper will focus on two men, with two completely different ideas, but who upon closer look, have many similarities. The first man, Karl Marx, a German thinker and revolutionist, believed that societies downfall could be contributed to it’s economic struggles, due to the capitalistic ideology. The second man, Sigmund Freud, an exceptionally brilliant psychologist, believed that mans constant struggle could be abetted to psychological conflict within their psyche. Freud and Marx, it can be argued were both, as individuals, dissatisfied with their societies. Marx more plainly then Freud, but Freud can also be seen as discontent in certain aspects such as his cynical view of human nature. Each were great thinkers and philosophers, but both seemed unhappy. Perhaps the social ills and trouble each perceived in the world around them were only reflections of what each of the men held within themselves. Just like everyone of us, we all see the same world, but we all interpret it differently. Each man understood the dysfunctions within society as being caused by some aspect of human greed or other similar instinct. That is where the disagreement between the two views comes to rest. Freud claimed that tension caused by the struggle to repress anti-social instincts eventually was released and caused the social evils he observed. Marx also saw instincts at work, but not the tensions and super ego conflicts that Freud saw. Marx simply credited man’s greed and the subsequent oppression of other men as the root to all that was wrong with civilization.

This paper will take the position that mankind’s constant adversity throughout history can be largely accredited to inner conflict and psychological struggle. I feel it is important to note that both Freud and Marx saw conflict in society, but each traced it back to sources that each were respectively educated in.

Freud was a psychoanalyst and his understanding of the mind was very conflict orientated. He saw man as a kind of glorified animal who had the same desires and needs of any other animal. He believed the only true difference between the human-animal and other animals was that the human animal possessed an intellect. Freud divided man’s psyche into three parts, the id, ego, and superego. Freud believed that what differed human-animal from any other animal was the super ego, which arose from man’s intellect. The super ego as Freud theorized, was the value’s of one’s parents internalised. He went further to then explain that unhappiness in life is caused by the conflict between the id and the super ego. As stated, all of Freud’s philosophy was very conflict orientated, so it is not very difficult to understand how Freud applied this view entirely throughout society as a whole. Freud addressed this in his essay, “Civilization and It’s Discontents”. In the essay, Freud claimed that “civilizations are developed through the channelling of anti-social erotic and aggressive urges into constructive outlets”. He then went more in-depth and explained that social ills are caused by those members of society who are not satisfied with the substitutes supplied by the channelling of anti-social instincts into social creative energies. In more clear terms, Freud was saying that social problems are created by the people who don’t except new vision or who are uncertain about outside change. Such repression causes a certain tension which after awhile cannot be repressed and is later released in socially unacceptable behaviour. As Freud explained it, “Civilized society is perpetually menaced with disintegration through this primary hostility of men towards one another”. Freud saw humanity as being destined to struggle as long as humanity exists. In Freud’s own words, “This struggle is what all life essentially consists of and the evolution of civilizations may therefore be simply described as the struggle for the life of human species”

If you believe what Freud states, and that mankind’s downfall is mankind itself you have to believe in psychoanalysis. The understanding of the human psyche is a very complicated undertaking, which realistically can never be fully understood. If there is any truth to what Freud theorised, his ideas of the human psyche and all of it’s components (super ego, id, ego)
answer many of man’s life long questions.

Karl Marx, like Freud saw conflict within society, but had radically different ideas and perceptions about humanity and civilization. Marx saw some of the same problems Freud saw, but chalked it up to inter-economic class conflict instead of conflict within one’s psyche. Marx believed that this class conflict was caused by one class, the bourgeois (the upper elite of society), which he characterized as having the great majority of wealth and rule over the lower class of society. The lower class, or the proletariat’s, worked for the bourgeois and depended on the elite members of society whether they wanted to or not. This view of economic class strife was just one stage of Marx’s idea that all history was leading up to some finality and that eventually all of man would be able to live in a utopia. Marx also applied this idea in reverse and attempted to explain that the proletariat class and bourgeois class have existed in varying forms for all of mankind’s history. He tried to illustrate using the example of slavery and feudalism that each time a form of oppression by a class of another class was destroyed a new form took it’s place. Marx felt that it was a communist responsibility too awaken the ignorant proletariat class and help to abolish the concept of private property, which he also believed was the primary means of the bourgeois to oppress the proletariat workers. Marx predicted that capitalism and it’s bourgeois patron’s would eventually thin out due to competition and therefore the wealth would become increasingly more centralised and integrated into the whole of society. Marx believed that the spread of wealth would eventually become so uneven and lop- sided that a revolution would occur and the bourgeois would be overthrown. Marx idea was that capitalism was probably the last form of oppression and once overthrown everyone would live in an equal society.
This was in most part an unrealistic dream, that all men and women alike could live in peace without rule over one another. As Marx once stated, “All history is the history of class struggles”, meaning that our history is based on man struggling to obtain equality, when equality would never be in our reach because of the repetition of class oppression. As attested before, Marx cited examples of slavery and feudalism and how they were suppressed by society.

How could Marx have thought that his communist manifesto would be any different from the suppression of slavery, feudalism, or any other form of societal oppression. Marx thought that when something like slavery was crushed by society that a new form of class oppression would always form, and that was mankind’s downfall. Therefore his idea of communism, and making all men and women equal would not work, because eventually communism would be overthrown by those who didn’t agree with it. This was the most evident complexity in Marx’s theory of communism, and as Marx predicted, society will always overthrow any form of societal oppression eventually, communism being no exception.

Freud and Marx although similar in some ways, held very different views about the world around them. Aside from the obvious difference that Freud believed the cause social evils was within man himself and Marx saw the problem as being an economic one as long as history itself, there are other more specific differences. Freud saw the conflict as being internal and therefore the problems were expressed within the society in which man is a part of, but Marx saw the conflict in a more black and white sense. To Marx, it was between two groups of people, the oppressed, and the oppressor’s. Marx was however more generally optimistic, especially when it came to predictions of the future. Marx saw the underdogs, the proletariat’s eventually overcoming adversity and establishing a utopia. Freud’s vision was much less exciting, for all he could divine was that humanity would continue to struggle. But even though it wasn’t as interesting as Marx’s prediction of a utopia, Freud’s revelation was definitely more accurate then Marx’s. Freud perhaps even thought that the meaning of life was for man to always be struggling. Freud saw nothing of the occasional revolutions in which Marx saw, it was all one long struggle to him.

Freud and Marx theorised about and observed the world around them and interpreted in the terms and ways they were most accomplished at and familiar with. The question remains unanswered though, did Freud and Marx simply observe the true reality of the world and state what they saw, or was the world around them in all actuality reflecting themselves? If this is true then one would think that both men would be wrong in their theories, because of their predisposed view on life itself. But regardless of wether or not Freud’s idea’s were merely a reflection of his own personality, his argument still stands up. That is because Freud’s idea’s, even though partial because of his disposition would explain his struggles as one man, as well as societies struggles as a whole.

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