- The Freud-Klein Controversies 1941-45 edited by Pearl King and Riccardo Steiner
Routledge, 958 pp, £100.00, December 1990, ISBN 0 415 03170 2
There is a growing consensus among scholars and practitioners of psychoanalysis that the most important developments since Freud’s death have taken place in object relations theory. Both American ego psychology and the French school of Lacan provide alternatives, but these have proven less fecund than the British tradition of object relations, which comes in distinct Kleinian and Independent forms. The Freud-Klein Controversies makes it possible to understand why psychoanalysis in Britain should have achieved this preeminence.
The story in its broad outlines is by now familiar. In 1926 Melanie Klein, bereft of intellectual support in Berlin after the death of Karl Abraham, accepted Ernest Jones’s invitation (mediated by Alix Strachey) and settled in London, where her ideas gained a sympathetic hearing. When in 1927 Anna Freud published a book on child analysis, it was sharply criticised by Klein, whose doubts were shared by other London analysts. These aspersions appeared in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, antagonised Freud and led to a rift between the psychoanalytic societies in Vienna and London. In an effort at reconciliation, Jones and Paul Federn arranged a series of exchange lectures in 1935-36, those from London being given by Jones on ‘Early Female Sexuality’ and Joan Riviere, and those from Vienna by Robert Waelder. In June 1938, the Nazi annexation of Austria forced Freud and his family to flee to London, whither they had been preceded by a number of Berlin analysts. (Most of the Viennese analysts went on to America; only Willi and Hedwig Hoffer settled in London.) Freud died 15 months later, but London became Anna Freud’s permanent home, and she and Melanie Klein were forced into proximity. With the outbreak of the war, many analysts (including Klein and her followers) got out of London, and others were called to emergency medical or military service. Klein continued to elaborate her theories about early childhood, which centred on the depressive position – the sense of guilt experienced by the infant when it begins to recognise the mother as the object of its destructive fantasies – and which were rebuffed by the Viennese group. The British Psycho-Analytical Society became unofficially divided into three camps: those who supported Melanie Klein, those who supported Anna Freud, and those, mainly indigenous British members, who were not aligned with either faction. By the end of 1941, many analysts, including Klein, returned to London, and tensions came to a head. A series of Extraordinary Business Meetings was called early in 1942 to address the situation, and what became known as the Controversial Discussions began.
The battles in the British Society were fought on three distinct but inter-related fronts. In addition to the theoretical issues at stake, there were disputes over matters of administration and training. Since 1913, Jones had been the sole president of the British Society, and Edward Glover, an abrasive and unpopular man, loomed as his heir. If the main plot of this epic personal and intellectual struggle is the collision between Klein and Anna Freud, its leading subplot is the downfall of Glover. This was the outcome of a bitter secondary clash between, on the one hand, Klein and, on the other, both Glover and Melitta Schmideberg, Klein’s daughter, who had been Glover’s analysand and with him became Klein’s most implacable opponent.
Although Jones has been justly taken to task for his biased portrayals of Ferenczi and Rank in his Freud biography (he described both of them, unfairly, as mentally ill), he could be critical of Freud. In particular, he showed great independence by supporting Klein (as well as W.R.D. Fairbairn) and by taking the lead in the exchange lectures. He also made life difficult for Klein, however, by bringing Anna Freud to London and by making Glover his deputy. Jones’s attempts to placate both powerful women, each of whom had reason to feel injured by him, may be construed as either diplomacy or doubletalk. On 21 January 1942 he wrote to Klein that Anna Freud was ‘a tough and indigestible morsel’ who ‘has no pioneering originality’; on the same day he wrote to Freud that Klein ‘has neither a scientific nor an orderly mind’ and ‘is also in many ways neurotic’. Jones’s politic equivocations reflect the divided loyalties felt by all members of the Independent group.
Vol. 13 No. 24 · 19 December 1991
In his review of The Freud-Klein Controversies, edited by Pearl King and myself, Professor Rudnytsky (LRB, 7 November) has rightly pointed out an omission in a quotation I used from one of Ernest Jones’s letters to Melanie Klein. Whereas I quoted Jones as saying that he considered Glover to be ‘the only medical analyst who can appear before a non-analytical audience without raising sharp criticisms’, Jones actually wrote ‘the only male medical analyst’. While I am grateful to Professor Rudnytsky for pointing out this omission, it leads him to suppose that it confused me, because, according to him, I wonder why Jones did not float the name of Sylvia Payne for the office of President of the British Psychoanalytic Society. She was, after all, medically qualified as well as being a distinguished psychoanalyst. Professor Rudnytsky feels that my omission of ‘male’, which he calls an ‘important error’, led me to assume that Jones could not conceive of authority in the British Psychoanalytic Society passing to a woman.
It seems to me that Professor Rudnytsky has not understood my text, however. It is not I who wonder why Jones did not float the name of Sylvia Payne, but Melanie Klein in her letter to Jones. In fact, I quote Klein on the matter: ‘in your view Glover was your only available successor and this made things more difficult.’ I summarise Klein’s words on Sylvia Payne: words which Professor Rudnytsky attributes to me. Thus though I missed out the word ‘male’, Jones’s views are clearly represented by Melanie Klein’s answer. I also stress in my text that Melanie Klein had to find her own way in a still male-dominated culture.
Yet one cannot reduce everything to Jones’s personality and his lukewarm or contradictory anti-phallocentrism, as Professor Rudnytsky seems to claim. In order to understand Jones’s attitude in defending the choice of Glover as his successor one must bear in mind the difficulties he had in trying to develop psychoanalysis in Britain in the face of a scientist medical establishment dominated by male doctors.
Two other points need to be made. Professor Rudnytsky states that recent infant development research by Daniel Stern has ‘conclusively vindicated’ Melanie Klein’s disagreement with A. Freud’s views concerning an initial narcissistic and auto-erotic phase lasting several months in the psychic life of the baby. This, however, appears to be Professor Rudnytsky’s own understanding of Stern. The latter openly stated his disagreement with Klein in a lecture organised by the British Psychoanalytical Society on 5 December 1990.
Finally, Professor Rudnytsky overlooks the fact that labels such as ‘Middle Group’ or ‘Kleinian Independents’ can only be applied retrospectively to the analysts whom he mentions. Melanie Klein, for example, did not want to be called ‘Kleinian’ at the time of the controversies. It is my conviction that, contrary to what Professor Rudnytsky states, the important developments in object relations and clinical practice which have characterised post-war British psychoanalysis were largely due to the fact that analysts who were deeply committed to different viewpoints were able to stay within the same society and engage in continuing debate. The narcissistic destructive ‘French can-can’ of the various ‘groupuscules’ which today represent Lacan’s psychoanalytic heritage in France is perhaps the saddest example of what splitting and fragmentation can lead to.
Peter Rudnytsky writes: Riccardo Steiner has made an error, but claims that he is not confused. He does not say whether he considers his slip important. I pointed out that Jones could only conceive of a male as his successor. I did not ascribe this blindness to his personality, though it does seem to me to contradict his theoretical views. Doubtless Jones believed that a male president was in the institutional interests of the British Society. Sylvia Payne’s gifted leadership subsequently proved him to have been mistaken. Mr Steiner writes in his introduction: ‘Wouldn’t it at least have been possible to hint at Payne as a possible president?’ He does not indicate that he is paraphrasing Klein.
Concerning Daniel Stern, I did not assert that he agreed with Klein in all respects. As a psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist who gives full weight to environmental factors in infancy, he is far closer to John Bowlby. I merely cited his work as vindicating Klein’s critique of the concept of primary narcissism. I realise that the term ‘Middle Group’ is anachronistic. I stated that the British Society became ‘unofficially divided’ into three camps at this time. I did not use the phrase ‘Kleinian Independents’. Naturally, Klein did not want to be called a ‘Kleinian’; her entire strategy depended on casting herself as the legitimate heir of Freud. This does not mean that there were no Kleinians. I am puzzled that Mr Steiner should think we differ about the success of British psychoanalysis, though I do contend that it has exacted a price. As I wrote in my review, ‘the outcome of the Controversial Discussions was a victory … for British psychoanalysis, which by avoiding a split has reaped the benefits of continuous intellectual cross-fertilisation.’