Origin Myths in the Social Sciences: Fromm, the Frankfurt School and the Emergence of Critical Theory0

Neil McLaughlin

Department of Sociology
McMaster University

Canadian Journal of Sociology 24, 1 (1999): 109-39

Abstract: The Frankfurt School provides rich material for the sociology of knowledge since it is an example of how a once marginal school of thought gained widespread influence and crossed the boundaries between disciplines, social movements, psychoanalysis, Marxism and national traditions. Originally a Marxist think-tank funded by the wealthy son of a German millionaire, the Frankfurt School helped create an innovative brand of philosophically oriented radical social science known as critical theory. Critical theory has had an enormous influence on post–1960s intellectual life, and today is most commonly associated with Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin and Jürgen Habermas. Erich Fromm’s central role in the early development of the Frankfurt School has largely been ignored in the literature.
This article is a sociologically informed history of the Frankfurt School with a focus on the bitter and contentious break between Erich Fromm and its other members in the late 1930s, particularly Adorno, Horkheimer and in the 1950s with Marcuse. The break between Fromm and the Frankfurt School is explained with reference to both ideational (different interpretations of Freudian theory and the nature of left ideology) as well as institutional factors (competition over resources within the Frankfurt School and the professionalization of psychoanalysis). Unpacking the history of how Fromm was once seen as a major figure in the Frankfurt School and then gradually written out of the history of critical theory is a case study in the sociology of knowledge that looks at how origin myths are constructed within schools of thought and intellectual movements.

Résumé: L’École de Francfort nous donne un materiel riche d’information pour la sociologie de la connaissance puisque c’est un exemple d’une école de penseé qui est passée de la marinalitée a une qui a gagnée une influance répandus et passée au travers des limites entres les disciplines, mouvements sociaux, psychanalyse, Marxisme et traditions nationales. Prenant naissance comme une “boite a pensée” et financée par le fils opulent d’un millionaire Allemand, L’école de Francfort aida a créer une varieté innovatrice d’une science sociale qui était philosophiquement radicale en orientation, connue sous le nom de théorie critique. La théorie critique a eu une influance énorme sur la vie intellectuelle des années soixantes et de l’époque qui suivit, et aujourd’hui est associée a des noms comme Theodor Adorno, Max Horkeimer, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamen et Jürgen Habermas. Le role central d’Eric Fromm dans les premiers developments de l’école de Francfort a été ignoré dans la littérature.
Cet article est une historie, informée par la sociologie, de l’école de Francfort avec un accent sur la rupture amère et contentieuse entre Eric Fromm et les authre membres vers la fin des années trentes, et en particulier, Adorno, Horkheimer, et dans les années cinquentes, Marcuse. La rupture entre Fromm et l’école de Francfort est expliquée en référence aux facteurs idealistes (Interpretations differentes de la theorie freudienne et de la nature de l’idéologie de la guache) ainsi qu’aux facteurs institutionels (compétition pour les ressources de l’école et la professionalisation de la psychanalyse). Le dévoilement de l’histoire de la facon à laqeulle Fromm est passé comme étant perçus comme un homme de taille dans l’école de Francfort à gradeullement devenir littéralement soustrait de l’histoire de la théorie critique est un cas d’étude de la sociologie de la connaissance qui étudie comment les myths des origines sont construits a l’intérieur des ecoles de pensees et des mouvements intellectuels.


Institute For Social Research
Schools of Thought: A Comparative Perspective
Horkheimer Builds a School
Conflict over the Study
Adorno Replaces Fromm
Freud and the Frankfurt School
Beyond Marxism and Psychoanalysis
From One Orthodoxy to Another
The Economics of Therapy and the Professionalization of Psychoanalysis
Fromm and the Psychoanalytic Establishment
Whither the Frankfurt School?

The Frankfurt School provides rich material for the sociology of knowledge as an example of how a marginal school of thought gained widespread influence and crossed the boundaries between disciplines, social movements, psychoanalysis, Marxism and national traditions. The Frankfurt School is an enormously influential school of thought that helped bring continental philosophy and German intellectual traditions across the Atlantic to America.1 Associated with Frankfurt University in the 1920s and early 1930s and again in the 1950s through the 1960s (with a Nazi era exile in Geneva and at Columbia University and a post-war stay in California), the Frankfurt School thinkers produced an innovative blend of radical philosophy and social science. Critical theory helped shape scholarship and theorizing in contemporary sociology, literary, film, and cultural studies, as well as having a brief but significant influence on the intellectuals associated with the social movement of the New Left (Jay, 1973; Bronner, 1994; Wiggershaus, 1994; Kellner, 1989; Calhoun, 1995). Yet the history of the Frankfurt School has largely been written by partisans, and we have little empirical research on the sociological reception of critical theory.

This article attempts to fill this gap in the literature with a sociologically informed history of the bitter and contentious break between Erich Fromm and the other members of the school in the late 1930s. The break between Fromm and the Frankfurt School is explained with reference to both ideational (different interpretations of Freudian theory and the nature of left ideology) as well as institutional factors (competition over resources within the Frankfurt School and the professionalization of psychoanalysis). Unpacking the history of how Fromm was once seen as a major figure in the Frankfurt School and then gradually written out of this history is a case study in the sociology of knowledge that looks at how origin myths are constructed within schools of thought and intellectual movements (Platt, 1996; Platt, 1983; Platt, 1985; Rodden, 1989; Samelson, 1974). For Jennifer Platt, origin myths in the social sciences are not about accurate historical reconstruction, but are part of a process whereby “contemporary preferences” are legitimated by “providing them with an honourable past” (Platt, 1996: 267–268). We will illustrate and illuminate this larger theoretical point with the example of Fromm and the Frankfurt School.

Institute For Social Research

The Frankfurt School was a tight network of independent radical philosophers, economists and sociologists associated with the German Institute for Social Research — essentially a Marxist think tank bankrolled by the radical son of a German millionaire grain merchant (Wiggershaus, 1994; Jay, 1973). The institute was founded in the early 1920s with the purpose of promoting the development of radical intellectual ideas not controlled by traditional Marxist and social democratic parties or academic disciplines (Jay, 1973).

Historical research clearly documents that Fromm was an important and early member of the Frankfurt School but the origin myth constructed by contemporary partisans of critical theory has replaced Fromm by Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno and, most incredibly, Walter Benjamin (Alexander, 1987; Agger, 1992; Alford, 1988; Buck-Morss, 1977; Therborn, 1970; Whitebook, 1995).2 Both Marcuse and Adorno joined the Frankfurt School well after Fromm (in Adorno’s case, nearly a decade after Fromm) and Benjamin never did formally join as a full-time faculty member and was never part of Horkheimer’s inner circle, but these elementary historical facts are not highlighted in the literature (but see Wiggershaus, 1994; Bronner, 1994).3 Fromm brought psychoanalysis into the institute, helping create the distinctive mixture of Marx and Freud that gave Herbert Marcuse and Frankfurt School notoriety as part of New Left era academic radicalism (Kellner, 1989; Burston, 1991; Richert, 1986; Bronner, 1994; Wiggershaus, 1994). Even though Fromm had an enormous influence on the radical and Marxist social science that emerged in the wake of the social movements of the 1960s, he largely dropped out of the canon of critical sociology.4 By the 1970s, Fromm was written out of the history of the Frankfurt School just as it was carving a small place for itself on the margins of the academy (Funk, 1982).5 Most of the scholarship about the Frankfurt School has, until very recently, underestimated Fromm’s importance to the early development of critical theory (but see Bronner, 1994; Wiggershaus, 1994; Wolin, 1992; Richert, 1986; Kellner, 1989).6 Even Martin Jay’s enormously influential and otherwise excellent book The Dialectical Imagination (1973) repeats some of the origin myths about critical theory promoted by Horkheimer and Adorno. Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Benjamin became the central figures within a revised history, and Adorno’s student Jürgen Habermas became the heir to the tradition (Held, 1980; Jay, 1984; Alford, 1988; Kellner, 1984; Robinson, 1969; Tar, 1985; Buck-Morss, 1984; van den Berg, 1980). How did this remarkable re-writing of the history of a school of thought come to pass?

Schools of Thought: A Comparative Perspective

It is useful to think about schools of thought from a comparative perspective. Despite the disruptions of World War Two and various internal fights, the Frankfurt School retained a far more cohesive structure than most schools of thought in psychoanalysis or sociology, for example. This is largely because of the economic and organizational factors that distinguish the Frankfurt School from professional therapy and academic social science. Freudians make their living by therapy and fees for analyst training and they established their own institutes that are often run by charismatic leaders (or even families as in the case of the Menningers) (Roazen, 1974; Friedman, 1990; Kurzweil 1985). Yet unlike the Frankfurt School, Freudians institutes have relatively formal structures and are generally not run for life by one individual.7 And while sociological schools of thought and theoretical traditions are sometimes organized around particular individuals such as Parsons or Garfinkel (although sociological schools of thought are rarely named after people as is the case in psychoanalysis), most prestigious sociologists are employed in departments housed at decentralized universities or colleges that control their own hiring.

Unlike psychoanalytic institutes and sociology departments, the resources and journal of critical theory were controlled singlehandedly, after 1930, by Max Horkheimer as he managed and shaped the Frankfurt School.8 The major figures in the Frankfurt School thus were far more dependent on the economic resources of one institution than is the case for psychoanalysts or sociologists. Horkheimer used his control over the Frankfurt School resources to ensure that he and a limited number of scholars could avoid the pressures of attaining a mainstream academic job. Horkheimer guarded this money carefully, always attempting to support a small core of thinkers loyal to him. He used the money as a “seed” to try to keep a peripheral group associated with the institute but supported by outside teaching, foundation grants or government employment. Rolf Wiggershaus’s important history of the school, for example, makes it clear that Horkheimer put pressure on Marcuse (Wiggershaus calls it a “strategy of financial starvation,” Wiggershaus, 1994:299) to accept a job with the Bureau of Intelligence of the United States government’s Office of War Information and then later at the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) and State Department, freeing up funds for the other members of the Institute (Wiggershaus, 1994: 299–301). These economic and organizational realities are central for understanding the history of the Frankfurt School, even though they are often ignored, an irony, of course, since most critical theorists profess loyalty to materialist analysis.

Horkheimer Builds a School

Horkheimer had initially been interested in merging Marxist politics with the psychological insights of the Freudian tradition. Yet Horkheimer’s knowledge of psychoanalysis was minimal — he was once analysed briefly in order to help get over an inhibition about speaking in public without reading a prepared text (Wiggershaus, 1994).9 Fromm, in contrast, was an expert in psychoanalytic theory and therapy who taught psychoanalysis in a program associated with the Institute at Frankfurt University that Horkheimer had helped set up. Fromm was made the tenured director of the Institute for Social Research’s Social Psychology Section in 1930 (Wiggershaus, 1994: 57–58).

Fromm’s major project with the Institute had began a year earlier with a study on the social psychology of German workers, a piece of research that played a major role in Fromm’s bitter break with his colleagues (Bonss, 1984). In 1929 Fromm began research on German Workers 1929 — A Survey, Its Methods and Results. The theory of the authoritarian character that Theodor Adorno would make famous with The Authoritarian Personality (1950) came directly out of this empirical research (Adorno et al, 1950). Fromm’s contribution to the genesis of the authoritarian personality research was widely known in the 1950s and 1960s (Christie and Jahoda, 1954) although Adorno and Horkheimer would later obfuscate Fromm’s pivotal role (Funk, 1982; Burston, 1994).

This obfuscation was possible because Fromm’s work on the authoritarian character was not published in English in its entirety until four years after Fromm’s death under the title The Working Class in Weimar Germany due to the efforts of a German sociologist (Bonss, 1984).10 Fromm in the 1930s, along with the rest of the early Frankfurt School, was interested in understanding the sources of the mass appeal of the Nazi party as well as why the German working class did not resist Hitler as Marxist theory predicted. This project proceeded slowly partly because of the enforced migration of the institute from Germany in 1933. A first report of the study appeared in German in the context of Horkheimer’s edited collection Studien über Autorität und Familie (1936) where it was suggested that the larger work would soon be published (Bonss, 1984).

Conflict over the Study

While many of Erich Fromm’s later works were best-sellers and were greeted with critical acclaim, he had to fight hostility and indifference to this project from the beginning. Fromm left the Institute in 1939 and the revised plan for a publication of the Weimar workers project was dropped. The study disappeared, as Wolfgang Bonss puts it, “into Fromm’s desk drawer” and “was later also partly deleted from the annals of the Institute” (Bonss, 1984: 2).

There is dispute among scholars as to why this study was so unpopular within the inner circle of the Frankfurt School. Fromm himself stressed Horkheimer’s concern that the study’s controversial Marxism would hurt the institute in anti-communist America (Bonss, 1984).11 Martin Jay repeated the institute’s official justification that the research design was flawed and that many questionnaires had been lost (something Fromm denied to the end of his life) (Jay, 1973).12 Herbert Marcuse was concerned that the study might be used to show that German workers were really fascists at heart (Jay, 1973; Bonss, 1984).13 While there is debate among scholars as to whether the Fromm study is primarily of historical importance or has contemporary theoretical and methodological relevance, there is no doubt that it was central to the early work of the Frankfurt School.14 Horkheimer’s refusal to publish the Fromm study under the auspices of the Institute was a major factor in the rift between Fromm and the Frankfurt School.

In addition to these ideological and intellectual conflicts, the strong personal animosities between Fromm and Theodor Adorno clearly played a major role in the internal conflict within the Institute. Wiggershaus points out, for example, that Adorno was fond on referring to Fromm as a “professional Jew” (Wiggershaus, 1994: 266). Nor was Fromm particularly enamoured of Adorno. In a letter to the Marxist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya, Fromm wrote, “as to Adorno, he was, from personal knowledge and from reading some of his writings, a puffed up phrase-maker with no conviction and nothing to say.”15 Martin Jay stresses cultural style as a key difference between Horkheimer, Adorno and Fromm.16 An analysis of the social organization of the Institute for Social Research, however, suggests that the break between Fromm and the Frankfurt School involved more than methods, political ideology, and personality conflicts.

Adorno Replaces Fromm

The fundamental source of Fromm’s departure from the Frankfurt School for Social Research was conflict between Adorno and Fromm over both Freudian theory and resources. Fromm had entered the tenured core of the Institute in 1930 while Adorno, in contrast, was not central to the institute until the late 1930s. While in Germany and abroad in England during the early Nazi rule, Adorno had been supported by his well-off parents. Horkheimer had initially wanted to tie Adorno to the Institute without committing to him financially (Wiggershaus, 1994). The Institute had substantial but finite resources and Horkheimer’s priority was maintaining his own material security as well as control over the content of the work produced. Horkheimer saw Fromm as an intellectual equal and collaborator in the early 1930s and gradually Adorno replaced him as a core member of the Frankfurt School and Horkheimer’s trusted ally.17 This competition and struggle played itself out most dramatically over the use of psychoanalysis within critical theory.

Freud and the Frankfurt School

When Fromm first developed his psychological thought within the Frankfurt School, he subscribed to an orthodox Freudian libido theory that emphasized the centrality of instincts. By the middle of the 1930s, however, Fromm had broken from orthodoxy to stress the importance of culture and interpersonal relations (Burston, 1991) and an existential analysis of human psychic isolation that gave rise to what he would later call a “fear of freedom” (McLaughlin, 1996b).

Adorno argued that Fromm’s emerging break with Freud was a serious threat to the political and intellectual “line” of the Frankfurt School. Adorno had been suspicious of the collaboration between Horkheimer and Fromm while the Institute was based in Frankfurt. The beginning of open conflict, however, can be dated to Fromm’s essay “The Social Determinate of Psychoanalytic Therapy,” an early version of his later criticisms of orthodox Freudian theory and therapy published in the critical theory’s journal in 1935 (Wiggershaus, 1994).18 In March 1936 Adorno wrote to Horkheimer defending Freud against Fromm’s revisionism. For Adorno, Fromm’s article:

is sentimental and wrong to begin with, being a mixture of social democracy and anarchism, and above all shows a severe lack of the concept of dialectics. He takes the easy way out with the concept of authority, without which, after all, neither Lenin’s avant-garde nor dictatorship can be conceived of. I would strongly advise him to read Lenin. And what do the anti-popes opposed to Freud say? No, precisely when Freud is criticized from the left, as he is by us, things like the silly argument about a “lack of kindness” cannot be permitted. This is exactly the trick used by bourgeois individualists against Marx. I must tell you that I see a real threat in this article to the line which the journal takes...(cited in Wiggershaus, 1994: 266).19

For Adorno, Fromm’s revision of Freudian theory inevitably lead away from a truly radical critique of modern society — substituting soft-hearted therapy for rigorous analysis. By the late 1930s Horkheimer had accepted Adorno’s critique of Fromm’s psychoanalytic theory.20 Both Adorno and Horkheimer insisted that “biological materialism” was “the theoretical core of psychoanalysis which was to be maintained against the revisionists” (Wiggershaus, 1994: 271). This issue had little to do with therapy since no one in the Frankfurt School other than Fromm was an expert in the clinical and empirical basis of Freudian theory.21

This intellectual conflict happened at the same time as a major conflict over resources, something almost uniformly ignored in the secondary literature.22 In the spring of 1939 Fromm was essentially dismissed from his tenured position at the Institute by Friedrich Pollack because of financial reasons. Fromm was asked to go without his salary since he had an income from therapy, an arrangement he declined (Jay, 1973; Bonss, 1984). Horkheimer and Fromm engaged in discussions at the end of 1939, but as Wiggershaus puts it “the breach had already taken place, and only the arrangements for the separation remained to be dealt with (Wiggershaus, 1994: 271).23 Fromm received $20,000 for giving up his tenure (a lot of money at the time in depression era America) and he turned his energies to therapy and writing what would become Escape from Freedom (1941).

Adorno entered the core of the Institute in the late 1930s, and Horkheimer and especially Adorno became bitter enemies of Fromm and attempted to exclude him as best they could from the history of the Institute. Fromm’s fame as the author of Escape from Freedom made the split permanent and even more bitter (McLaughlin, 1996b).24 Horkheimer and Adorno became the public face of the Institute for Social Research in America. Both Horkheimer and Adorno now had an interest in downplaying Fromm’s role in the early authoritarian personality research. Horkheimer and Adorno’s neglect in fully crediting Fromm for his part in developing the F-scale could be seen somewhat generously as what the literary critic Harold Bloom once call the “anxiety of influence.”

Adorno continued to be harshly critical of Fromm’s revision of Freud, and he gave a paper entitled “Social Science and Sociological Tendencies in Psychoanalysis” in Los Angeles in April of 1946 (Jay, 1973). In addition to the early critique of Fromm’s dissent from libido theory, Adorno later argued that the neo-Freudian (without mentioning Fromm’s name now, except with reference to his early orthodox writings) attempt to combine psychological and sociological levels of analysis was misguided (Adorno, 1967; Adorno, 1968). For Adorno, the revisionists “give an oversimplified account of the interaction of the mutually alienated institutions id and ego,” “posit a direct connection between the institutional sphere and social experience” and are guilty of “superficial historicism” (Adorno, 1968: 79; 89).

Adorno’s critique of Fromm eventually became the conventional wisdom among the small number of followers of the Frankfurt School perspective. When the social protest movements of the 1960s created a large market for critical theory among radical students and intellectuals, this critique of Fromm was popularized by Herbert Marcuse and then accepted by a generation of New Left scholars (Marcuse, 1955b; Marcuse, 1956; Jacoby, 1975; Jacoby, 1983; Kellner, 1984; Robinson, 1969; Lasch, 1977; Lasch 1979). Central to this story was an influential Fromm/Marcuse debate published in three issues of Dissent magazine from fall 1955 to spring 1956 (Marcuse’s contribution was reprinted as an epilogue to the 1956 book Eros and Civilization). Marcuse largely created today’s view of Fromm as a naive utopian preacher, essentially the Norman Vincent Peale of the left (Richert, 1986). Marcuse’s initial attack on Fromm was the major theme of a larger essay on “neo-Freudian” critiques of orthodox Freudian theory (Marcuse, 1955b). Marcuse, drawing implicitly on Adorno’s critique, argued that Fromm and other “revisionists” had transformed powerful and radical Freudian ideas into conformist banalities. Marcuse argued that even though Freud and most psychoanalysts were committed to bourgeois society, “psychoanalysis was a radically critical theory” (Marcuse, 1955b: 221). Marcuse likes his Freud straight and defends such speculative and “metaphysical” ideas as the death instinct and the hypothesis of the primal horde. The purging of Freud’s metapsychology from psychoanalysis has meant that the “explosive connotations” of Freud theory of the unconscious and sexuality “were all but eliminated (Marcuse, 1955b: 226).”

The central theme of the revisionists, according to Marcuse, is that the present environment causes more conflicts than allowed for in the orthodox Freudian biological model focused on sexual instincts and the first five or six years of life. As Marcuse puts it, revisionists, “move from past to present,” from biology to culture and from constitution to environment, discarding libido theory and substituting “relatedness” (Marcuse, 1955b: 226).25 The result is an eclectic and banal theory and “the laboring of the obvious, of routine wisdom (Marcuse, 1955b: 227).”

While Marcuse’s essay is framed explicitly around the issue of Freudian theory, there was, as with Adorno’s earlier critique, a Marxist subtext to the polemic. Ever since Marx’s attacks on the utopian socialists, Marxists have looked poorly on moral discourse (Aronson, 1995). Marcuse is rooted in this tradition when he claims that Fromm revives idealist ethics by suggesting that it is possible to write of personality, care, responsibility, respect, of productive love and happiness in the context of a totally alienated market society. Thus Fromm, for Marcuse, is neither a real Freudian nor a genuine Marxist.

For Marcuse, the “style alone betrays the attitude” (Marcuse, 1955b: 232) — the revisionists are moralistic not political, conformist not critical. Marcuse claims that Freud’s writings are full of irony, insight and a willingness to squarely face the inevitable conflict between instinctual necessity and society. In contrast, the neo-Freudian “mutilation” of the instinct theory simply accentuates the positive, preaches about “inner strength and integrity (Marcuse, 1955b: 233),” turns social issues into spiritual concerns and defines neurosis as a moral problem. The writing style of the neo-Freudians, according to Marcuse, “comes frequently close to that of the sermon, or of the social worker, (Marcuse, 1955b: 232)” suggesting “the Power of Positive Thinking (Marcuse, 1955b: 233).” Marcuse rejects both therapy and traditional radical politics as solutions to the modern dilemma, instead arguing for a “fundamental change in the instinctual as well as cultural structure” (Marcuse, 1955b: 238). The first step towards this radical project must be an internal battle within the left, a defence of orthodox Freudian ideas against revision.

Fromm’s rebuttal appeared in the next two issues of Dissent (Fromm, 1955a; Fromm, 1956b). Fromm takes Marcuse to task for indiscriminately lumping Horney, Sullivan and Fromm together as well as making elementary misreadings of both Sullivan and Freud.26 Fromm dismisses Marcuse’s assertion that the rejection of drive theory leads to naive pre-Freudian social theory and conservative conformist politics. And Fromm argues that Marcuse’s politics are deeply flawed by his unwillingness to outline a program that links his critique to practical movements to move beyond the present. Fromm agreed with much of Marcuse’s analysis of capitalism but dissented from his almost total rejection of modern market society. Marcuse’s perspective was a politics of nihilism since it left people only with the options of being a martyr or going insane.
Marcuse attempted a response to Fromm’s discussion of Freud, a difficult task since Marcuse was primarily a left Hegelian philosopher not a psychoanalytic theorist (Marcuse, 1956b). Today one can find few serious defenders of the death instinct, the primal horde or orthodox libido theory. Most of the interesting work in psychoanalysis rejects instinct theory and deals with, as Fromm suggested it must, relatedness and identity (Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983; Benjamin, 1988). Fromm’s neo-Freudian former collaborator Karen Horney is now being rediscovered as an early proponent of feminist object relations (Chodorow, 1989; Westkott, 1986; Sayers, 1991). Sullivan’s work has given rise to the emergence of interpersonal psychoanalysis, an important school of thought within contemporary Freudian theory (Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983). In addition, Fromm’s position on Freudian theory has gained new influence in recent years (Burston, 1991; Cortina and Maccoby, 1996; Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983).

Marcuse’s attack on neo-Freudianism found an audience among the left at the time, however, by the clever way in which he shifted the terms of the debate away from Freudian theory to the issue of Fromm’s political program.27 Marcuse quotes from Fromm’s newly published The Sane Society (1955) in an attempt to illustrate that Fromm’s work is indeed conformist and partakes of alienation (Marcuse, 1956:80). Focusing on Fromm’s practical suggestions for change, Marcuse falsely accuses Fromm of being a promoter of industrial psychology and scientific management (Marcuse, 1956: 80). Marcuse concludes with a dry run for what would later become a famous polemic in One Dimensional Man (1964) for what he calls the “Great Refusal.” “Nihilism,” Marcuse argues, “as the indictment of inhuman conditions, may be a truly humanist attitude — part of the Great Refusal to play the game, to compromise with the bad ‘positive” (Marcuse, 1956: 81).

Marcuse had not even attempted to document his assertion that Fromm’s political errors were rooted somehow in his Freudian revisionism. While Fromm drew freely from the Marxist tradition, he was as much of an unorthodox socialist as he was a renegade Freudian. Numerous young radicals would read Fromm’s The Sane Society and its influence was widespread among the younger generation of the late 1950s and early 1960s (Jamison and Eyerman, 1994). Looking back at The Sane Society today, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is, if anything, overly harsh about the realities of modern society not excessively conformist. Marcuse was right that Fromm’s practical suggestions for social change were not well worked out, but Fromm’s critique of modern capitalist society was perceptive and powerful even if his strength was not as a political strategist or organizer.

The polemics of Adorno and Marcuse isolated Fromm not only from the Frankfurt School, but also within Marxism, radical sociology and the general left intellectual culture that he had such an influence on in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.28 The Frankfurt School soon gave rise to a growing body of scholarship under the trademark of critical theory throughout the 1970s and 1980s (for a discussion of theoretical trademarks see Lamont, 1987). By the 1990s, critical theory has expanded in meaning from the original Frankfurt School work to represent a broader body of scholarship in post-modern, post-colonial and cultural studies (Calhoun, 1995). Since Fromm had been excluded from the original Frankfurt School canon, his work was also generally ignored in the broader critical theory scholarship. The Frankfurt School had been transformed from a relatively obscure network of scholars to become an influential school of thought on the margins of the academy. Fromm had become a forgotten intellectual whose books continued to sell but who was no longer taken seriously as an intellectual, radical or social scientist (McLaughlin, forthcoming).

Beyond Marxism and Psychoanalysis

Fromm’s exclusion from the Frankfurt School canon was intimately tied up with conflicts within both psychoanalysis and Marxism over orthodoxies and revisionisms. Adorno’s critique of Fromm consisted of a curious mixture of Leninist and Freudian orthodoxy, two perspectives that hardly seem compatible. Adorno’s marshalling of Lenin’s prestige within Marxism against Fromm was largely a matter of style over substance, however, for Horkheimer and the major members of the Frankfurt School inner circle were hardly Bolshevists or even revolutionaries. It is an irony that although Adorno was attacking Fromm from the left in the 1930s, after the war both Horkheimer and Adorno would leave the Marxist and radical traditions while Fromm was an activist throughout the 1950s and 1960s and maintained socialist commitments until the end of his life in 1980 (Bronner, 1994). Yet the New Left scholars who developed the Frankfurt School tradition in America throughout the 1970s ignored this reality, rejecting Fromm as a conformist liberal while canonizing Horkheimer and Adorno as critical theorists (Agger, 1992; Alford, 1988; Benjamin, 1977; Jacoby, 1975; Jacoby, 1983; Kellner, 1984; Whitebook, 1994; Robinson, 1969; Tar, 1985; Buck-Morss, 1977). Even the critics from both the left and the right of the Frankfurt School tended to ignore Fromm (Therborn, 1970; van den Berg, 1980).29

The origin myths that legitimize schools of thought, intellectual traditions or movements are seldom without contradictions and elements of hero worship. In a certain sense, Adorno’s radical stance was attractive to many New Left scholars who felt the need for a “Great Refusal” and admired Mao, without being revolutionaries themselves. How can one explain the fact the Breines late 1960s collection on the work of Herbert Marcuse was dedicated to Ho Chi Minh and Theodor Adorno? (Breines, 1970). For intellectuals who came of political age during what Todd Gitlin called the “days of rage” of the late 1960s, and then developed their academic careers in the 1970s, Adorno’s style suggested a hard headed radicalism as well as a cultural elitism that was an important part of the attraction of “critical theory” (Jay, 1984). That critical theory had very little in common with either Lenin or Vietnamese communism was beside the point. Even though Horkheimer, Adorno and then Marcuse had modified and departed from Marxist ideas in important ways, they seemed connected to the spirit of Marx, Engels and Lenin in ways that Fromm did not.30

Adorno’s injunction that Fromm must read Lenin was largely a rhetorical move to eliminate Fromm from the legitimate boundaries of debate within Marxism. In Adorno’s 1936 letter to Horkheimer, Fromm was presented as “sentimental,” a social democrat, an anarchist and as someone using the same tricks as “bourgeois individualists” who attempt to dismiss Marxist insights. Adorno’s later writings on Fromm developed other themes, arguing that neo-Freudianism had moved outside the legitimate boundaries of psychoanalysis for being excessively sociological and his sociology was too individualistic (Adorno, 1967; Adorno, 1968), an argument that both psychoanalysts and sociologists have long been sympathetic to (Menninger, 1941; Green, 1946). Marcuse’s critique was simply another version of this boundary work since for Marcuse, Fromm was not a Marxist because he was for scientific management and conformist industrial sociology, moralism, and did not challenge the capitalist ownership of the means of production.

From One Orthodoxy to Another

Adorno and Marcuse’s adherence to Freudian orthodoxy also played a central role in the exclusion of Fromm from the Frankfurt School tradition. One can only speculate why Freud became such an important intellectual influence and icon for the Frankfurt School.31 Whatever the reasons, adherence to Freudian orthodoxy provided important internal as well as external legitimation functions for the Frankfurt School. There was a serious problem emerging within the Frankfurt School, for while they started as a network of left intellectuals, Horkheimer and Adorno were rapidly moving away from radicalism (Bronner, 1994). The largest base of support would eventually be among the New Left generation that would find Marcuse’s work so appealing, yet most historians and scholars of the Frankfurt School ignore Horkheimer and Adorno’s relative conservativism (but see Bronner, 1994). Orthodox Freudian theory provided a glue that united Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse against Fromm, while helping downplay the internal political differences within the school. Orthodox psychoanalysis provided a convenient symbolic foil for the Frankfurt School since Horkheimer and Adorno could identify with Freud’s cultural pessimism while Marcuse could creatively re-interpret libido theory in the course of his argument for a cultural and sexual radicalism. It was the function of the origin myths within the Frankfurt School to obscure these various contradictions.

The irony, of course, is that psychoanalysts largely ignored Adorno and Marcuse, and few contemporary Freudians would defend the orthodox instinct theory that Adorno and Marcuse were so insistent on preserving. Orthodox Freudians in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s appreciated Marcuse’s critique of Fromm since it reinforced their argument that neo-Freudianism was not real psychoanalysis. Yet Fromm’s position won out in the long run even while he himself is largely ignored within Freudian training institutes. Psychoanalysts were not ready for Fromm in the 1930s and 1940s, but contemporary Freudian theory is dominated by object relations, interpersonal and self psychology and a focus on meanings not drives, just as Fromm argued it must be decades earlier (Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983; Burston, 1991; Cortina and Maccoby, 1996; Benjamin, 1988; Chodorow, 1989). Fromm’s work is important for critical theory precisely because his effort to combine radical sociology with depth psychology was based on a firm understanding of psychoanalytic theory while Adorno and Marcuse were dabbling with the Freudian tradition in a highly abstract and speculative matter.

The Economics of Therapy and the Professionalization of Psychoanalysis

Recent scholarship on the Frankfurt School has been re-writing this history but these new origins myths that are re-inserting Fromm into critical theory remain insufficiently sociological (Richert, 1986; Burston, 1991; Kellner, 1989; Bronner, 1994; Anderson, forthcoming; Wiggershaus, 1994). Critical theorists writing about their own history tend to treat the conflict between Fromm, Adorno and Marcuse as being rooted in different interpretations of Freudian theory, personality conflicts or different writing or cultural styles (Jay, 1973). Fromm’s exclusion from the Frankfurt School can only be understood if the conflicts over ideas are placed in the context of a sociologically informed account of the economics of therapy and the professionalization of psychoanalysis.

The major sociological difference between Fromm and the other members of the Frankfurt School was that Fromm was a practising analyst while the others had little interest in therapy. This had profound consequences for the development of critical theory. The contemporary fame of Adorno and Marcuse can obscure the fact that they were relatively marginal German intellectuals stranded in America in the 1930s and 1940s, dependent on Horkheimer’s resources and sponsorship. Neither Adorno or Marcuse could get a permanent academic job in America in the 1930s and 1940s, and they needed support and sponsorship from the Frankfurt School. In contrast, Fromm made a very good living as a therapist.

The resources and connections Fromm gained from association with Horkheimer were a bonus not a necessity. This is one reason, of course, why Horkheimer treated Fromm as an equal but also helps explain why he would break with Fromm in favour of Adorno and Marcuse. It is clear that from Horkheimer’s perspective, Adorno and Marcuse would be far more loyal proponents of the critical theory that Horkheimer insisted on controlling. Unlike Adorno and Marcuse, Fromm was in a position to stand-up to Horkheimer, guaranteeing an eventual break. When Fromm became famous with the best-selling Escape from Freedom (1941), this only solidified an independence that already existed because of the economics of psychoanalytic therapy in the 1930s and 1940s (McLaughlin, 1996a).32 These financial realities played an important part in the polemics within the Frankfurt School.33

The anger with which the Frankfurt School scholars attacked Fromm for his Freudian revisionism was rooted in more than a conflict over ideas. The fight about psychoanalysis within the Frankfurt School was intimately tied up with Horkheimer’s efforts to legitimize critical theory. Horkheimer had helped psychoanalysts establish an institute associated with the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt University, and had even received two letters from Freud thanking him for his efforts (Jay, 1973: 88). While in America, Horkheimer kept up a correspondence with various prominent psychoanalysts.34 Horkheimer was a highly political animal, adept at networking. He could not but notice that Freudians were growing in influence in America and were also a European import looking for legitimation and allies.

Horkheimer and orthodox Freudians had forged an informal alliance. There is no reason to doubt the fact that Horkheimer and especially Adorno had real and sincere intellectual reasons for disagreeing with Fromm’s revision of Freud. Nonetheless, from what we know about both Horkheimer and Adorno’s concern with institution and reputation building,35 it seems implausible that the internal politics of the psychoanalytic establishment were not an important part of their calculations as they positioned themselves against Fromm.

Fromm and the Psychoanalytic Establishment

This account of an alliance between critical theorists and orthodox psychoanalysts risks suggesting an implausible conspiracy theory. Yet psychoanalytic institutes in mid-century America were conspiratorial, resembling a paranoid sect as much as a school of thought or profession (Hale, 1995; Roazen, 1994; Burston, 1991). Furthermore, for close to fifty years now Fromm has been one of the most hated Freudian revisionists (Rogow, 1970). Orthodox Freudians were highly motivated enemies of Fromm and it was not possible for Horkheimer to work with psychoanalysts in the 1940s and 1950s if critical theory was associated with neo-Freudian psychoanalysis (McLaughlin, 1998). The relationship between the Frankfurt School and orthodox Freudians regarding psychoanalytic revisionism could best be described as informal collusion rather than as a conscious strategy to discredit Fromm.

Orthodox Freudian attacks on Fromm and against neo-Freudianism had increased as Horney and Fromm broke with Freud and became famous intellectuals and continued for decades (McLaughlin, 1988).36 Especially after the publication of Escape from Freedom (1941), orthodox psychoanalysts became increasing concerned with what they saw as the distortion and dilution of true Freudian insights (McLaughlin, 1996b; McLaughlin, 1998; Herberg, 1957; Burston, 1991). Psychiatrist Karl Menninger was among the first representatives of the psychoanalytic establishment to attack Fromm for his break with Freudian orthodoxy when he reviewed Escape From Freedom in The Nation (Menninger, 1942). Menninger argued that although Fromm writes as if “he considered himself a psychoanalyst,” his lack of medical and psychoanalytic credentials disqualified him from serious consideration. Fromm is a “distinguished sociologist” who, Menninger concedes, is “wholly within his rights in applying psychoanalytic theory to sociological problems.” Yet as Menninger puts it,

The isolation of the author himself is ... indicated by his singular selection of authorities. Although the book purports to be psychoanalytic in character, almost no psychoanalysts are quoted or cited. The name of Freud, to be sure, is invoked a dozen times or more, but each time with some patronizing remark to the effect that while Freud had some good ideas along this or that line, his great error, which Fromm corrects, is so and so. This curious presumptuousness on the part of a relatively unknown author writing in a field with which he is not specifically identified, makes for strange overtones which blur the clarity and force of the book. No intelligent person believes that Freud said the last word, but in the field of thought which Fromm invokes for the elaboration of his theory Freud did say the first word, and any attempt to revise it should be undertaken with a full sense of the magnitude and seriousness of the task and upon empirical and experimental grounds (Menninger, 1942:317).

Escape from Freedom is a “subjective” book, written in a “heavy, tedious style” that contains “many flatly incorrect statements, especially of Freudian theories.” The doctrinaire Freudian and political radical Otto Fenichel also attacked Escape From Freedom, accusing Fromm of abandoning psychoanalysis and the idea of the unconscious (Fenichel, 1944).

Horkheimer and critical theory’s relationship to Fromm was intimately tied up with these larger intellectual currents. Martin Jay’s The Dialectical Imagination tells the story of how the important psychoanalyst Ernest Kris wrote Lowenthal a letter a year after the publication of Escape from Freedom asking them to clarify the Institute’s attitude regarding Freud (Jay, 1973: 102). Horkheimer’s advice to Lowenthal regarding a proper response is, as Jay puts it, “extremely illuminating” (Jay, 1973: 102). For Horkheimer, “psychology without libido is in a way no psychology” and “we have to refer orthodoxically to Freud’s earlier writings” while “Fromm and Horney get back to commonsense psychology” (Jay, 1973: 102). Horkheimer was clearly concerned about presenting a certain image and a common Institute front in relation to orthodox Freudians who were alarmed at the criticisms of classical psychoanalytic theory presented in Fromm’s work.37

The intensity of Fromm’s conflicts with the Freudian establishment in America can be illuminated partly by a sociological understanding of the professions. Orthodox Freudians disliked Fromm’s criticisms of classical Freudian theory for theoretical reasons, but throughout the 1930s and 1940s Fromm was attacked by orthodox psychoanalysts also because he was not a medical doctor. Fromm and other “lay analysts” threatened the professionalizing strategy of Freudians who were attempting to carve out a position for psychoanalysis as an elite specialization within medical psychiatry (Roazen, 1974; Hale, 1995; McLaughlin, 1998). The fact that Fromm was a famous political radical further threatened the reputation of psychoanalysis since they did not want to be associated with the sexual and literary radical Freudianism that had been so influential among American intellectuals in the 1920s and early 1930s (Hale, 1995; McLaughlin, 1998).

Fromm’s reputation among orthodox Freudians declined even more dramatically in the 1950s when he published numerous popular articles and best-selling books attacking central elements of orthodox Freudian theory (Fromm, 1950; Fromm, 1951; Fromm, 1959; McLaughlin, 1998). Fromm criticized the patriarchal bias of Freud’s view of gender, questioned the universality of the Oedipal complex and argued that psychoanalysis must engage historical sociology and cultural anthropology in order to transcend biological determinism. In addition, Fromm was one of few psychoanalysts willing to challenge Ernest Jones’ hagiographic three volume The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud published between 1953 and 1957 (McLaughlin, 1996a; Roazen, 1996). Worst of all, from the perspective of the psychoanalytic establishment, Fromm made these criticisms of Freudian orthodoxy in mass market books and in a Saturday Review article and not obscure clinical journals (Fromm, 1958; Fromm, 1959) and was a harsh critic of the organizational structure and dogmatism of Freud’s movement. He was thus a threat to the client base as well as the ideology of Freudians (McLaughlin, 1998).

Whither the Frankfurt School?

Contemporary social scientists can usefully draw upon the Frankfurt School for insights but we must remember that the tradition has been selectively constructed over the last 50 years or so. Fromm did not fit into the history that Horkheimer and Adorno needed to accomplish their goals. The Frankfurt School needed a radical image without getting too involved in practical politics, especially in America where they were vulnerable as Jewish Marxists. Horkheimer would later become suspicious of Habermas precisely because he, like Fromm, was getting involved in the movements of the 1960s, jeopardizing critical theory’s mandarin stature (Wiggershaus, 1994). The Frankfurt School also needed a complex and obscure language and an elite cultural sensibility; Fromm’s popularizing style tended to undercut the cultural boundaries essential for the Frankfurt School’s success (McLaughlin, 1996a). Fromm’s books were clearly written and extremely successful on the marketplace for ideas, exposing generations of Americans to German thought, Marx, Freud, Weber and the existentialist tradition. For Horkheimer and Adorno, this was a dilution of critical insights and Fromm’s success was practically proof of the shallowness of his ideas.

Depth psychology and the ideas of Freud are isolated today in the social sciences, even while psychoanalytic critical theory has found strong defenders in English departments and cultural studies programs, particularly through the influence of Lacan and various post-modernist theorists (Turkle, 1992). Fromm’s exclusion from the history of the Frankfurt School closed him off from the recent interest in bringing psychology back into cultural and sociological theory, since many scholars who came to intellectual maturity during the 1960s and 1970s were influenced by the one side-sided criticisms made of Fromm by Frankfurt School thinkers and the younger scholars and historians who accepted the origin myths developed by the original critical theorists (Robinson, 1969; Benjamin, 1988; Agger, 1992; Alford, 1988; Jacoby, 1975; Jacoby, 1983). This is a shame, however, since the strength of Fromm’s approach to psychoanalysis was that he viewed the tradition as an empirically based social theory, an important counterweight to a sometimes excessively abstract and speculative Freud preferred by post-modern theorists in the humanities. Psychoanalysis can contribute to social science only if the insights of the tradition are articulated clearly and concisely in ways that engage debates outside Freudian institutes and conferences of psychoanalytic influenced academics. Fromm’s work, more so than either Adorno or Lacan, can help in encouraging a dialogue between psychoanalytic perspectives and mainstream social scientists unwilling to enter the hermetically sealed world of critical theory. In addition, Fromm’s focus on emotions and the irrational can provide a useful corrective to what some argue is the overly rationalist version of critical theory developed and promoted by Habermas.

It is not surprising that Fromm’s work was written out of the history of critical theory. Fromm’s synthetic approach, fame and independence and insistence on breaking from all orthodoxies, made it difficult for Horkheimer to carve out and maintain a distinctive Frankfurt School approach, allied with but not identical to psychoanalysis, Marxism and Hegelian philosophy (McLaughlin, 1996a). Fromm shared much with his former Frankfurt School collaborators,38 but the distinguishing feature of his thought was a refusal to be tied to one school of thought or tradition, be it neo-Freudianism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, sociology or critical theory. Fromm’s clear and concise writing was fundamentally at odds with the style of Horkheimer and Adorno’s vision of critical theory.

Horkheimer got the Frankfurt School history he needed, at least until recently. But it is not a history that is particularly useful for those of us interested in using the insights of critical theory to theorize about and empirically study social reality (Fromm and Maccoby, [1970] 1996).39 Further and extensive primary source research should be done on the history of Fromm’s relationship with the Frankfurt School, providing us with details and a nuanced understanding of how both intellectual and resource conflicts shaped the early development of critical theory.40 In addition, it is time for a serious reevaluation of the theoretical status of psychoanalysis within critical theory, an issue that must be addressed on intellectual grounds albeit with attention to the sociological dynamics emphasized here.41 This important empirical and theoretical work will not be produced, however, without first challenging the origin myth that has shaped our understanding of the history of the Frankfurt School and distorted the further development of critical theory.


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0 Thanks to Robert Alford, Scott Davies, Stephen Steinberg, John Rodden, Alan Wolfe, Catherine Silver, Jennifer Platt, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Rolf Meyersohn, Sonia Gojman Millan, Salvador Millan, Deborah Cook, Petra Rethmann, Carrie Ashton, Anita Hanbali, and Mauricio Cortina for feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. A version was presented at a sociology of knowledge session the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association in Toronto, August 1997 organized by Alan Wolfe where Jeff Weintraub and Mark Shields served as insightful discussants. An Arts Research Board grant from McMaster University made possible a research trip to Germany that allowed me to respond to the useful review and editorial comments from The Canadian Journal of Sociology. Rainer Funk’s hospitality at the Erich Fromm Archives in Tübingen Germany was an enormous help in helping me reconstruct the early history of critical theory. back to text

1 Critical theory has become a generic term that applies to a wide range of influential scholarly work in both the humanities and the social sciences but that was not always the case. The term, of course, was originally coined to describe the tradition represented by the German Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, what we now know as the Frankfurt School (Jay, 1973). back to text

2 Careful scholars such as Buck-Morss do not deny that Benjamin was relatively marginal to the Institute, but instead are engaged in a project of re-discovering Benjamin and inserting him into the critical theory tradition. Yet Buck-Morss does ignore Fromm’s role in the Institute and her work has contributed to a situation where younger scholars without Buck-Morss’s historical perspective tend to see Benjamin as more central to the early Frankfurt School than he was and Fromm as more marginal than was the case. back to text

3 Other core members of the early Frankfurt School were Carl Grünberg (who Horkheimer replaced as director in 1930), Leo Löwenthal, Friedrich Pollack, Otto Kirchheimer, Franz Neumann, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Karl Wittfogel and Henryk Grossman. back to text

4 For example Paul Connerton’s 1972 edited collection Critical Sociology is built around selections of readings from the Frankfurt School tradition yet has only one single mention of Fromm. On the cover the names of Adorno, Habermas, Benjamin, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Neumann are written in large blue letters and not a single work by Fromm is listed in a rather extensive bibliography (Connerton, 1972). back to text

5 As Rainer Funk puts it, “The important role Fromm played as a member of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research seems to have been deliberately ignored after he left it toward the end of the thirties, especially by Max Horkheimer” (Funk, 1982: 296 footnote). Funk continues, “Horkheimer was so reluctant to acknowledge Fromm’s membership that when Oskar Hersche asked him in 1969 who the members of the institute had been around 1930 (M. Horkheimer, Verwaltete Welt: 11), he could answer: “There were a number of people. I should begin by mentioning Friedrich Pollock, Franz Borkenau, Henryk Grossman, Karl August Wittfogel, Leo Lowenthal, Karl Korsch, Gerhard Meyer, Kurt Mandelbaum, all of whom except Lowenthal had been hired by Grünberg. All of them published books in the Institute series. There were also some psychoanalysts who belonged to the Institute for we realized that sociology and psychoanalysis would have to work together. But their association was not as close. Karl Landauer, Heinrich Meng and Erich Fromm and some others were members of this group. They held seminars on psychoanalysis, though not at the University but at the Institute.” Funk points out that “It was not true that Fromm’s association was “less close,” nor was he just one among a number of others. In 1930, Horkheimer had invited him, as an expert in psychoanalysis, to become an associate for life” (Funk, 1982: 297, footnote). back to text

6 Trent Schroyer’s The Critique of Domination: The Origins and Development of Critical Theory (1973) has only one short mention of Fromm, as part of a list of critical theorists who have documented reification, including Horkheimer, Benjamin, Adorno and Neumann (Schroyer, 1973: 203). Zoltan Tar’s The Frankfurt School: The Critical Theories of Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno (1985) mentions Fromm four times, but seriously downplays Fromm’s centrality to early critical theory (Tar, 1985: 17, 103, 112, 127). This is just two examples of a widespread tendency in the literature. back to text

7 Psychoanalytic institutes are, of course, relatively cohesive compared to sociology departments. While the history of psychoanalysis has been distorted by the sect-like behavior of Freudian partisans, the influence that psychoanalysis has had within psychiatry departments, academic psychology and the broader intellectual culture has helped create more diversity in Freudian historiography than is the case within critical theory. The major historians of the Frankfurt School have tended to be directly connected to critical theorists or scholars who knew them personally. There is no revisionist historian of the Frankfurt School with the stature and academic credentials of Paul Roazen, for example, a political scientist who has played an important role in up-holding scholarly standards in the writing of the history of psychoanalysis from outside the camp of Freudian orthodoxy. back to text

8 As Martin Jay points out, when the institute was founded in 1923 it was “to have a single director with “dictatorial” control (Jay, 1973: 11). Max Horkheimer took over the directorship from Carl Grünberg in 1930. As Jay points out, “in subsequent years the dominance of Max Horkheimer in the affairs of the Institute was unquestioned. Although in large measure attributable to the force of his personality and the range of his intellect, his power was also rooted in the structure of the Institute as it was originally conceived” (Jay, 1973: 11). back to text

9 Although Gerhard Knapp suggests that Horkheimer came up with the problem of reading his speeches simply to be able to provide some rationale for briefly entering psychoanalysis in order to better understand it (Knapp, 1989). back to text

10 Another factor is that Fromm decided to reformulate his draft manuscript tentatively titled The Authoritarian Character or The Psychology of Fascism in a way that de-emphasized the issue of the authoritarian character and played up “the problem of freedom and anxiety or the fear of freedom or the escape from freedom (Fromm had hit on this new theme in the course of a letter to Columbia sociologist Robert Lynd dated March 1, 1939, available in the Erich Fromm Archives, Tübingen, Germany). Fromm thought that the issue of freedom might be more marketable and was closer to his heart. His decision to frame his book around the issue of an “escape from freedom” ironically helped make his reputation as a major social critic but also left Adorno an opening to lay claim to the intellectual trademark of the “authoritarian personality.” In addition, Fromm felt that Adorno and his collaborators did not fully understand psychoanalytic theory and the psychology of authoritarianism, so Fromm was ambivalent about being associated with the Berkeley study. back to text

11 In a letter to Tom Bottomore dated March 26th, 1974 (Erich Fromm Archives, Tübingen, Germany), Fromm writes, “Horkheimer, partly motivated by an excessive jealously towards anyone who was productive and partly by an even more excessive fear of suffering from the stigma of being a Leftist, in fact in the American period encouraged work was (sic) was conventional and would destroy any suspicion of radicalism. An example, for instance, is that a very interesting study on the authoritarian character of German workers and employees, based on a little less than 600 questionnaires, made in Germany before Hitler, the analysis of which was finished in America in 1935, was not permitted to be published, by Horkheimer, because it was considered to be too dangerous.” back to text

12 Fromm had an extensive correspondence with Martin Jay before the publication of The Dialectical Imagination and in fact read the manuscript in draft form and sent Jay a lengthy letter disagreeing with various factual and interpretive aspects of the book. Fromm wrote, “As to the publication of the study, I want to say that my departure from the Institute was not a major reason for its non-publication. On the contrary, the unwillingness of Horkheimer to publish it was one of the many conflicts which led to my departure. Pollack’s suggestion that it was not published because too many of the questionnaires where (sic) lost in the flight from Germany must be due to a fault in his memory. To the best of my knowledge no questionnaires were ever lost....” Fromm felt that they received a reasonable amount of questionnaires back given the circumstances in Germany at the time (Fromm to Jay, dated May 14, 1971, in (Kessler and Funk, 1991: 249–256). back to text

13 A key element of Fromm’s argument was that some workers who voted for left parties had authoritarian characters, a position that Edward Shils would later articulate (without reference to Fromm) as a conservative critique of left-wing authoritarianism (Shils, 1954). Fromm, in contrast, was motivated by a left-wing concern with understanding the factors that might attract workers to fascism. Yet for those who argued that there were no enemies on the left, the lower middle and elites were the source of authoritarianism not workers and left parties — Fromm had challenged an important part of left-wing ideology. back to text

14 Richard Hamilton, for example, argues that the Fromm study is “marred throughout by Fromm’s persistent reading of his interpretation into his results,” is “flagrantly ahistorical” and flawed by unrepresentative sampling procedures (Hamilton, 1986:82–83). Hamilton understands that the Weimar study is an important part of the history of both social science and the Frankfurt School, but essentially views the research results and methods as worse than useless. José Brunner, on the other hand, argues that the Fromm study is of historical importance and contemporary relevance to social science. According to Brunner, the Weimar study is “the first opinion survey which applied modern psychological methods to the investigation of electoral and political behaviour (Brunner, 1994: 631). Brunner further argues that “despite questions of authorship, purpose, ideological biases, and technical problems, it warrants attention not only as a historical document; it also constitutes a provocative example of empirical research which can still provide food for thought for today’s students of political psychology (Brunner, 1994: 631). For an attempt to build on Fromm’s earlier research using modern sociological methods, see (Smith, 1997). back to text

15 Dated October 2nd, 1976 (Erich Fromm Archives, Tübingen, Germany). back to text

16 Jay suggests that “Fromm’s sensibility was less ironic than that of the other members of the inner circle, his approach to life less colored by the aesthetic nuances shared by both Horkheimer and Adorno. Adorno’s full entry into Institut affairs at about the same time Fromm was leaving signified a crucial shift in the tone of the Frankfurt School’s work” (Jay, 1973:101). Jay does not highlight the resource connection between Adorno’s entry and Fromm’s departure back to text.

17 Although Fromm was tenured and deeply involved in the early work of the Frankfurt School, he did not spend that much time around the Institute (partly because of illness but also because of the time constraints of his psychoanalytic work). And Fromm was not a member of Horkheimer’s personal inner circle. In only that narrow sense is the conventional wisdom correct about the core of the early Frankfurt School. back to text

18 This was published as “Die sozialpsychologische Bedeutung der psychoanalytischen Therapie.” Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, 4:3 (1935): 365–97. back to text

19 The original letter from Adorno in London to Horkheimer in New York can be found in German in (Horkheimer, 1995a: 496–501). back to text

20 This is how Fromm frames the issue in his letter to Martin Jay written in 1971,” In the first years of the Institute, while it was in Frankfurt and Geneva, Horkheimer has no objection to my critique of Freud, which began very slowly before I left the Institute. It was only in the years after the Institute had been for some time in New York, and maybe since I began to write Escape from Freedom, that Horkheimer changed his opinion, became a defender of orthodox Freudianism, and considered Freud’s attitude as a true revolutionary because of his materialistic attitude towards sex. A strange thing for Horkheimer to do incidentally, because it is pretty obvious that Freud’s attitude toward sex corresponded to the bourgeois materialism of the 19th century which was so sharply criticized by Marx. I remember that Horkheimer was also on very friendly terms with Horney in the first years of his stay in New York, and did not then defend orthodox Freudianism. It was only later that he made this change and it is too personal a problem to speculate why he did so. I assume partly this had to do with the influence of Adorno, whom from the very beginning of his appearance in New York I criticized very sharply. Considering the whole situation of the Institute it is not surprising that when Horkheimer made this change, Löwenthal and Pollack did the same. Adorno was in this respect probably not influenced by Horkheimer, but rather the other way around (Fromm to Jay, Kessler and Funk, 1991: 254). back to text back to text

21 One need not be in therapy to engage in debates about psychoanalytic theory, of course, but it is interesting that Adorno, Marcuse and Pollock had not been in any kind of psychoanalysis nor did they have formal training while Lowenthal, as well as Fromm and Horkheimer had been analysed. back to text

22 Jay and especially Wiggershaus provide us with the basic information to understand the resource aspect of this conflict, but Jay does not systematically connect the differences over ideas to struggles over money and Wiggershaus describes but does not theorize resource issues. The issue of tenure and money in the history of the Frankfurt School almost totally disappears from accounts written by contemporary scholars who use critical theory. back to text

23 For correspondence between Fromm and Horkheimer as the rift was happening, see (Horkheimer, 1995a: 399–400) and (Horkheimer, 1995b: 400–401; 401–404; 408–410; 689; 690). back to text

24 Fromm made only one citation to Horkheimer in Escape from Freedom, and did not mention Adorno or Fromm’s relationship to the Institute although he did cite his own essay in the Horkheimer collection on authority and the family. Adorno resented this although Horkheimer was more philosophical about it. In a letter to Leo Löwenthal dated October 31, 1942 (Horkheimer 1995c:365–377) Horkheimer writes, “Fromm and Horney get back to a commonsense psychology, and even psychologize culture and society. (If you speak of that please don’t let yourself be drawn into any vituperations against our friend. They will be reported to him and I have no intention to reactivate the war at this moment. He should have the impression that we are at least as loyal as he is. Up to now he does not seem to have violated our silent agreement, on the contrary, I know that he mentioned our names and writings — in public at least — with due respect)” (Horkheimer 1995c:367). back to text

25 The phrase “from past to the present,” comes from Clara Thompson, who Marcuse cites (Marcuse, 1955: 226) and calls a “representative historian of the revisionists (Marcuse, 1955: 226). back to text

26 For example, while Marcuse claims that neo-Freudians ignore the early years of life, even a quick reading of Sullivan’s work makes it clear that he was centrally concerned with the early childhood roots of schizophrenia, for example. It was obvious that Marcuse knew little about Sullivan’s work, and did not respond seriously to Fromm’s point. The issue of Marcuse’s reading of Freud is more complex, but most competent experts on Freud would agree that Marcuse’s account of Freud is, to be generous, creative. Fromm outlines a series of misreadings Marcuse was guilty of in his Dissent essay, in his later books The Heart of Man (1964), The Crisis of Psychoanalysis (1970) and in his posthumously published book The Revision of Psychoanalysis (1992). The most simple and amusing error is that Marcuse reproduces a chart in Eros and Civilization that refers to regression compulsion. The proper Freudian term, of course, is repetition compulsion, something Fromm writes in the margins of his personal copy of Marcuse’s book (Erich Fromm Archives, Tübingen). Fromm felt that Marcuse had regression on the mind, blurring an accurate reading of Freud’s thought. back to text

27 It is also clear that Fromm did not fully understand at the time how harmful this polemic would be to the reception of his work in America. There is no question that the fact that Fromm’s The Art of Loving (1956) was published the next year reinforced, however unfairly, Marcuse’s argument that Fromm was not a radical. In addition, Fromm hesitated to respond to Marcuse too strongly, since he worried about reinforcing the conservative attacks on Marcuse that had emerged during the 1960s. Over the years Fromm would return to clarify his disagreements with Marcuse (Fromm, 1964; Fromm, 1970). Fromm’s essay “The Alleged Radicalism of Herbert Marcuse,” published in English 12 years after his death provides the fullest development of his critique of Marcuse’s understanding of Freud and his politics( Fromm, 1992). back to text

28 Despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that Adorno and Marcuse articulated a similar critique of Fromm, there was no love lost between Adorno and Marcuse on this issue. Marcuse had tried to enlist Horkheimer’s help in getting what would later become Eros and Civilization published in Germany but when Adorno read Marcuse’s Dissent essay he wrote Horkheimer: “In Dissent there is a long article by Herbert against the psychoanalytic revisionists, which basically contains the ideas we hold on the matter, although we are not mentioned in so much as a single word, which I find very strange” (cited in Wiggershaus, 1994:497). Adorno advised against helping Marcuse publish his work in Germany (Wiggershaus, 1994). back to text

29 Neither the Althusserian Marxist critic of the Frankfurt School Therborn, or critical theory’s mainstream sociological opponent Axel van den Berg discuss Fromm in their articles on critical theory (Therborn, 1970; van den Berg, 1980). Therborn knew that Fromm was “closely associated” with the early Institute (Therborn, 1970: 66) but only discusses who he sees as the “core members”: Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer. Van den Berg refers to “the original members of the Frankfurt School (particularly Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse (van den Berg, 1980: 449)” and devotes the bulk of his discussion to Habermas without a single mention of Fromm. back to text

30 This is in fact why Lukács was so important a figure to scholars interested in constructing a useable history of “critical theory” (Jay, 1984). Lukács’ relationship to the Frankfurt scholars and the critical theory tradition has been exaggerated, partly because he had the revolutionary credentials that legitimated critical theory’s place in Marxism while also providing a philosophical foundation for the cultural criticism and analysis that was the central focus of Frankfurt School scholars in the academy. My point here is not that Lukács’ philosophical and literary work is without value, but only that the legitimation needs and political concerns that scholars brought to reading his work profoundly influenced his reception. back to text

31 Freud was a thinker who had comparable stature to Marx and this provided important cultural capital for critical theory. In addition, orthodox psychoanalysts were increasingly gaining influence among the intellectual elite in America from the 1930s through to the early 1960s (Hale, 1995). Adorno and Marcuse’s defence of orthodox psychoanalytic theory assured them of allies among the literary and cultural elite (Wiggershaus, 1994). All this was politically convenient for the Frankfurt School scholars who made a point of emphasizing their adherence to a conservative Freud, as they were trying to survive as radical Jewish emigres in Cold War America (Coser, 1984). back to text

32 Wiggershaus argues that Horkheimer’s probable goal was to keep Fromm associated with critical theory in a more informal way while not using resources on him. In my view, the conflict between Fromm and Adorno, the politics of psychoanalysis, Fromm’s new found fame and insistence on breaking from all orthodoxies made this strategy impossible. back to text

33 The vehement tone of Marcuse’s denouement of Fromm, for example, was perhaps related to the fact that Marcuse himself worked for the United States government throughout the post-war period until the Korean war while during this period Fromm had been the independent radical that Marcuse aspired to be. One need not be an orthodox Freudian to suggest that Marcuse was protesting too much when he claimed that Fromm was a political sell-out. Fromm himself was perplexed as to Marcuse’s employment choices. In a letter to Raya Dunayevskaya, Fromm writes that “I never understood why Marcuse stayed at the State Department for several years after the war. For a man with his theoretical ambitions and capacities this seems a strange way to spend time. Not that I have ever taken seriously what some of his enemies said, that he was really something like spying on the radical movement, but still it puzzles me why he did that at all (Letter from Fromm to Dunayevskaya, dated November 25, 1976, Erich Fromm Archives, Tübingen). back to text

34 For example, see the letters between Horkheimer and Karl Landauer (Horkheimer 1995b:140–143), Karl Menninger (Horkheimer 1995d: 140–142), Erik Erikson (Horkheimer 1995c: 762–765), and Heinz Hartmann (Horkheimer 1995d:330–332). In Horkheimer’s letter to Menninger written from Frankfurt June 20, 1950, he was very direct in pointing out how critical theory could help the Freudian cause. He wrote: “Unfortunately, apart from our little group, nobody seems to realize the tremendous contribution psychoanalysis could make here in education of future teachers, politicians, writers, moulders of opinion and therefore in the fostering of peace. Shortly before the outbreak of National Socialism, I was instrumental in bringing the first Psychoanalytic Institute to a German university. It was much too late as to do some good. Today I would like to help making psychoanalysis part of the German academic education before it is again too late (Horkheimer 1995d:140–142). back to text

35 Wiggershaus refers to the fact that Adorno fought over the book attributions in The Authoritarian Personality, particularly over the credit for the F-scale chapter, “even though (Nevitt) Sanford had written it (Wiggershaus, 1994: 410–411). back to text

36 A typical example is C.G. Schoefeld’s “Erich Fromm’s attack upon the Oedipus Complex: A brief critique,” in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,” (Schoefeld, 1965). Schoelfeld suggests that “Fromm’s criticisms of one of the cornerstones of Freudian theory — the Oedipus Complex — are seriously questionable” ... and “ought to be examined, especially since Fromm’s view (sic) are influential and his books reach what appears to be an ever-increasing audience” (Schoefeld, 1965: 580). There are numerous other examples (Burston, 1991). back to text

37 In response to reading a draft of The Dialectical Imagination, Fromm made a point that was ignored in Jay’s book. Fromm wrote, “I just wanted to say that I was interested to read about Lowenthal’s letter to Horkheimer and the statement that “under no condition would he like to reveal our basic theory about the role of psychology.” This sentence gives a real clue to the spirit in which the Institute has developed more and more: Its secretiveness and lack of frankness. I think aside from an institute under a dictatorship, one would rarely find such a statement, and in addition the need for Lowenthal to get Horkheimer’s approval, or in fact, direction, for whatever he would have to say to Dr. Kris” (Fromm to Jay, in Kessler and Funk, 1991: 234) back to text.

38 It is interesting that Marcuse tried to get Fromm to review One Dimensional Man (1964) for The New York Times Book Review, feeling that Fromm would understand the work in ways that few others would. Marcuse obviously also was thinking of the market value of a review by as famous an intellectual as Fromm. Marcuse did not realize how negatively Fromm would have reviewed the work if he had agreed to do so. Nonetheless, Fromm and Marcuse shared similar intellectual training and world views and the intensity of their disagreement was related to how much they had in common. back to text

39 Fromm and Maccoby’s recently republished Social Character in a Mexican Village is an important example of how Fromm was committed to empirically testing critical theory, in engagement with social science literature and methods. See Michael Maccoby’s Introduction to the Transaction Press version of Social Character for information about how this book is essentially a revised and more developed version of the Weimar workers study (Fromm and Maccoby, [1970] 1996). back to text

40 Clearly my account here is overly polemical, but I am raising an issue that has been largely ignored by a generation of scholars otherwise quite interested in the “power/knowledge” connection. A sharp framing of the issue will stimulate further research and debate. If it is the case that only the exaggerations are true in psychoanalysis, then perhaps the same is true of the sociology of knowledge. While the literature we have now is dominated by Frankfurt School loyalists and hostile detractors of critical theory as well as partisans of Fromm, intellectual historians could provide us a useful service by writing the history of the Frankfurt School again in a balanced manner. back to text

41 A fuller discussion of the intellectual differences between Fromm and the Frankfurt School over the issue of Freud would be difficult because only Fromm wrote extensively about psychoanalytic theory, and Marcuse and especially Adorno seldom systematically addressed these concerns after their polemical attacks on neo-Freudianism. Even as ardent a defender of Adorno’s social psychology as Deborah Cook concedes that he “made no systematic attempt” to reconcile psychoanalysis and Marxism (Cook, 1996: 191). back to text
My argument that Adorno and Marcuse were motivated by a concern with excluding from the history of the Frankfurt School is, in my view, reinforced by the fact that they generally avoided mentioning Fromm in print in later years. Moreover, despite the fact that Habermas understood Fromm’s important role in the Institute and to his credit stayed above that fray, his discussion of Freud largely ignores clinical data and the all important issue of emotions. At a later date, I intend to publish a fuller engagement with the theoretical issues raised by the use of psychoanalysis within critical theory. back to text

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