- Terror, Transformation, and Conceptualization in the Americas, South and North
Over its history, psychoanalysis has had a complex relationship to both the political left and social activism. Originally viewed as avant-garde, early psychoanalysis was often associated with radical and bohemian movements. It was not by accident that the anarchist Emma Goldman was among Freud's audience at Clark University, that the Bloomsbury authors were interested in it, or that the first academic chair in psychoanalysis was at Budapest Medical School during the Communist Bela Kun's four months in power in 1919. And, as Jacoby (1983) explained, an impressive number of second-generation, European analysts were men and women of the cultural and political left, a significant minority of whom identified with the radical Left.
At the same time, historically, few psychoanalysts have simultaneously been social activists. The most well known exception was Wilhelm Reich, who organized the SexPol (Sexual Politics) movement in early 1930's Germany (Reich, 1972). By and large, however, like many left-wing intellectuals, at least in the United States and Europe, those psychoanalysts attracted to left-wing ideas wrote social critiques and theorized about social change, while leaving actual activism to others.
This book, Uprooted Minds: Surviving the Politics of Terror in the Americas, calls attention to groups of Latin American psychoanalysts who in the 1970s constituted major exceptions to this divorce between theory and practice. These analysts pursued social change with the same passion that they learned and practiced psychoanalysis. Author Nancy Hollander complements her account of Latin American psychoanalytic activism and its political and social contexts with a discussion of neo-liberal and authoritarian tendencies in post-9/11 United States and nascent efforts by psychoanalytic activists here to put their [End Page 568] psychoanalytic ideas at the service of social change at the center of the empire.
Hollander brings impeccable credentials to her task. In addition to being a psychoanalyst and psychologist, she is a Professor Emerita of Latin American history and a social activist, with experience reaching broad audiences as a filmmaker and decade-long public radio host. Drawing on these multiple talents, the core of the book consists of oral histories of small groups of radical psychoanalysts from Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile who were active before, during, and after repressive U.S.-backed dictatorships came to power in their home countries. Hollander supplements these personal histories with sections enlightening readers about the history of Latin America in the last fifty years. These sections cover struggles over differing models of economic development, the possibility of radical social change in the 1960s and early 1970s, and the imposition of repressive policies and authoritarian measures leading to military coups. The post-coup dictatorships used terror as their major tool of social control, resulting in rampant human rights abuses, including the political killing of thousands and the systematic torture of tens of thousands.
The potential for change countered by massive repression and terror provided the context in which the radical psychoanalysts interviewed by Hollander lived and worked and dreamed and feared. In the heady days when it seemed that radical action could move their societies in more egalitarian, just, and democratic directions, these activists strove to develop a radical theory and praxis in which psychoanalysis was an element of social transformation. They created psychoanalytically informed, community based programs in workplaces and poor communities. They treated activists and revolutionaries, including in some cases members of underground groups like the Uruguayan Tupamaro and Argentine Montonero guerillas. During the dictatorships they experienced terror, often accompanied by arrest, torture, and exile. When the dictatorships fell, they and their fellow citizens in newly democratic states confronted not only the neo-liberal economic order that accompanied the new regimes, but also a climate of impunity that surrounded past abuses. Simultaneously with these broader struggles, these [End Page 569] analyst-activists fought the psychoanalytic establishment to encourage the inclusion of social perspectives in psychoanalytic thinking and training. And they used psychoanalytic theory to understand the changing nature of their societies.
The grandmother and most influential of these...