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Freud and the Bolsheviks: Psychoanalysis in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.

Freud and the Bolsheviks: Psychoanalysis in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. By Martin Miller. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998. Pp. xvii, 237. $30.00.)

This is one of those books about which reviewers like to say, "It fills a gap in our knowledge," and indeed it does, despite the importance of some earlier works that Martin Miller cites, such as Nancy Mandelker Frieden's Russian Physicians in an Era of Reform and Revolution, 1856-1905 (1981), and James Rice's Freud's Russia: National Identity in the Evolution of Psychoanalysis (1993). In Freud and the Bolsheviks, Miller sets forth in readable prose the birth, death, and resurrection of Freudian theory in Russia. Even scholars who consider themselves well-informed about twentieth-century Russian culture may find some surprises in "Part One: Before the Revolution." For example, he shows that early twentieth-century Russia was as much a part of the avant-garde in psychoanalytical theory as it was in poetry, music, and painting. Thus, Miller notes that in 1909 the Psychotherapeutic Library published a series of Freud's work, including Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Miller is surely right to emphasize that "In no other country had the collected works of Freud been published in translation"(35).

The history of Freudian ideas and of psychoanalysis in Soviet Russia follows the now well-known pattern that appears in philosophy and art: initial government approval, then harsh denunciation as Stalin consolidated his power, and finally limited rehabilitation in the Gorbachev era. This story comprises a substantial, well-researched section, "Psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union" which is about 100 pages long. Miller also includes some archival material, as many Russian historians do these days, and an informative appendix that features Freud's letters to Russian psychiatrist Nikolai Osipov.

However, this well-written, well-researched volume may leave the reader asking, "So what?" The problem is that Miller ably summarizes the written record, but he does little else. He does not ask any questions that would relate his topic to the cultural dynamics of his time. For example, books such as Jerry W. Diller's Freud's Jewish Identity (1991) have thoroughly documented the Jewish origins of psychoanalysis. Freud's ideas were widely denounced as "Jewish science," and not just in Vienna. But it never occurs to Miller to comment on the significance of Jewish names such as Feltzman and Rosenthal among the early Russian Freudians, nor does it occur to him to wonder whether the Jewish origins of psychoanalysis might have had something to do with its demise. Since Stalinism more or less successfully stifled the growth of modernity, especially as represented in the work of Jews such as Freud, Kafka, Einstein, and Bergson, might there not be something worth discussing here?

However, merely to pose such questions is to wish that Miller had written a different book. For the moment, it must suffice to hope that he will follow up Freud and the Bolsheviks with a more probing discussion of the topic.

James M. Curtis University of Missouri-Columbia

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Curtis, James M.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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