First World War: The Effect on the Development of Psychoanalysis

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In July 1914 Sigmund Freud was more preoccupied with Carl Gustav Jung's resignation ("Finally, we are rid of Jung, that crazy brute, and his acolytes!" he wrote to Karl Abraham on July 26) than the war that Austria, following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, had declared against Serbia. "This may be the first time in thirty years that I feel Austrian," he added. He was so unaffected that he allowed his daughter Anna to leave for Great Britain at the beginning of the month. The real problem was organizing the international congress that was supposed to take place that fall in Dresden, but that ultimately took place four years later in Budapest.

The general conflict let loose in August disturbed this sense of calm. Freud's sons weren't mobilized at the start of the war, and the progress of German troops made him hope for an early victory. "My heart would be with the combatants if I didn't know that England finds itself on the wrong side," Freud wrote on August 2, preoccupied with Anna's repatriation through Gibraltar and Genoa, which took place at the end of the month with the help of Ernest Jones ("he is obviously our 'enemy"'). Martin Freud joined the artillery: "According to his letter," his father wrote, "he didn't want to lose the opportunity to cross the Russian border without changing his religion." Karl Abraham wrote to Freud on August 29, 1914, "The news is excellent now, isn't it? The German troops are barely one hundred kilometers from Paris, Belgium has been liquidated, and England is on its last legs. Russia isn't doing much better." On September 13 he added, "During the next few days, we hope to have favorable news of the fighting along the Marne. If this ends well, France's fate will be pretty much sealed, that is, securing fortified positions in the southeast will be only a matter of days."

The principal concern appears to have been the publication of Zeitschrift and Imago with the help of Otto Rank, while Sándor Ferenczi traveled to Vienna at the end of September for an analysis with Freud. Freud had begun writing the "Wolfman," which was published in 1918, but his morale was shaken by the announcement on October 17 of the death of Emanuel, his half-brother, after falling from a train, and then by the global expansion of the war on November 2.

On December 24, 1914, he wrote to Jones, "I have no illusions and realize that the expansion of our science has now been interrupted, that we are heading toward a bad period, and that all we can hope for is to maintain the embers in a few hearths, while waiting for a more favorable wind to help us build it up into a blaze. What Jung and Adler have left of the movement is now crumbling because of the dissension among nations. The Verein is no more tenable than anything having an international dimension. Our reviews will soon cease publication; we may manage to continue the Zeitschrift. . . . The future of the cause, which is so dear to you, does not bother me, naturally, but the immediate future, the only one I can take an interest in, appears desperately dark and I wouldn't cast a stone at the rat abandoning the ship." Because he had fewer patients, he had more time, and so announced, "I am again going to try to put whatever I can contribute into a summary."

These were the twelve essays on metapsychology that were to occupy Freud throughout 1915 not only as a necessary synthesis at a time of upheaval but as an essential next step in developing his ideas. This followed the publication of "On Narcissism: An Introduction" at the beginning of the year, which shook the foundations of psychoanalytic theory by questioning the opposition between "libidinal drives" and "self-preservation drives." The essay on melancholia was the subject of extensive correspondence with Karl Abraham, which allowed Freud to stress the fact that in the future any psychoanalytic explanation of an "affect can only be provided through its mechanism, considered from a dynamic, topological, and economic point of view" (letter of May 15, 1915). On that same day he wrote, "My work is taking shape. I have completed five essays: the one on Instincts and their Vicissitudes, which is of course somewhat dry but essential as an introduction, and will be justified in the following articles, then Repression, the Unconscious, A Metapsychological Supplement to the Theory of Dreams, and Mourning and Melancholy. The first four will be published in the Zeitschrift series currently underway; I will keep the rest for myself. If the war lasts long enough, I hope to be able to combine about a dozen similar essays and publish them, in calmer times, to the uncomprehending public, with the title Preliminary Essays on Metapsychology. I feel that, overall, this represents progress. Same genre and same level as section VII of the Interpretation of Dreams." In 1915 he also published "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death" (1915b), the first in-depth essay on violence, hatred, and the illusion of primal kindness, an essay that provides perspective for the future conceptualization of the death drive. On July 30, 1915, he wrote to Lou Andreas-Salomé, "It is impossible to say when we will be able to meet, we, the scattered members of an apolitical community, nor, when the moment arrives, will we know the extent to which we have been corrupted by politics."

Ernst Freud fought in Galicia, Martin was slightly wounded, most of Freud's followers were mobilized except for Hanns Sachs who had been deferred for nearsightedness, and meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society became increasingly less frequent. The fall of 1915 was a busy one. Freud gave a series of lectures that, after being continued during the winter of 1916-1917, formed the basis for the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1916-1917a). In December Rainer Maria Rilke visited Freud and unsuccessful efforts were made to obtain the Nobel Prize for him. In January 1916 Freud's isolation increased with the departure of Otto Rank for Krakow.

The year 1916 was relatively quiet for psychoanalysis, other than Freud's sixtieth birthday in May. Like the rest of the population, Freud had grown weary of the incessant slaughter, the lies, the cold and hunger. The first generation of psychoanalysts were scattered across enemy territory but, being for the most part mobilized in the medical corps, they largely escaped death. The first really good news came in 1918 when Freud discovered Ernst Simmel's book Névroses de guerre et Traumatisme psychique. "Here for the first time, a German doctor, who relates unequivocally and without condescension to psychoanalysis, who has made use of his position to advocate for the treatment of war neuroses, provides examples to prove it, and shows himself to be completely honest regarding the question of sexual etiology. True, he has not followed psychoanalysis on every point, supports the cathartic point of view, makes use of hypnosis, a method that cannot fail to mask the resistance and strength of the sexual drives; but he alleges with reason the need for prompt results and the imperatives of sequential efforts. I think that with a year of training he would be a good analyst." Freud went on to write to Simmel, "few writings by psychoanalytic novices who I do not know personally have given me as much satisfaction as your article" (February 20, 1918).

The time had come to organize a new congress, the first since the Munich congress of 1913. Planned to take place in Breslau, it was ultimately held in Budapest, a city that assumed considerable importance for Freud, primarily because Anton von Freund, one of his analysands, provided material and financial support to the cause of psychoanalysis. "We are going to become materially powerful, we will be able to maintain and develop our publications, have influence; our current poverty is coming to an end. The man to whom we owe all this is not only rich, he is also well intentioned, highly intelligent, and very interested in psychoanalysis. . . . From now on Budapest is going to become the center of our movement."

The Fifth International Congress on Psychoanalysis was held in Budapest on September 28 and 29, 1918, and Freud spoke on "Wege der psychoanalytischen Therape" (The paths of psychoanalytic therapy)an essay that was to have considerable influence on the evolution of the psychoanalytic movement in the next few years. He planned the extension of psychoanalysis for social purposes, the need to blend the copper of suggestion with the pure gold of psychoanalysis, and introduced the idea of providing free treatment for the poor, which was to lead, two years later, to the creation of the Berlin Polyclinic and the Psychoanalytic Institute, which was needed to train psychoanalysts for the growing number of patients. The congress was a success, especially because the increasing problems introduced by war neuroses attracted the attention of the government authorities to the benefits of employing psychoanalytic methods. One month later a revolution broke out in the Hungarian Republic. Béla Kun's revolutionary government appointed Ferenczi "professor of psychoanalysis" on May 12, 1919; he then assumed direction of the Batizfalvy Sanatorium (from the end of March to the beginning of August 1919).

The armistice on November 11, 1918 provided considerable relief, but Freud was worried about Martin, because he had not heard from him. At the end of the year, he learned that he was a prisoner in Italy and wouldn't be released until October 1919. From Great Britain, Jones wrote on December 21, 1918, "InGermany and America there has been much progress of late. Here, psychoanalysis has awakened general interest in every circle and it is even being taught in medical schools; the younger generation is impatient to learn more about it." He went on to say that he was preparing to "hunt down the 'remaining Jungians"' and establish the new British Psycho-Analytical Society and create the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.

On April 18, 1919, Freud was able to confirm, "I am still standing and in no way hold myself responsible for the world's absurdity. Psychoanalysis is flourishing, I am delighted to learn, on all sides, and I hope that the science will provide consolation to you as well."

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Germany; Great Britain; Hungary; International Psychoanalytic Association; "Lines of Advance in Psychoanalytic Therapy"; New York Psychoanalytic Institute; Simmel, Ernst.


Freud, Sigmund and Abraham, Karl. (1965a). A psychoanalytic dialogue: The letters of Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham, 1907-1926. (Hilda C. Abraham and Ernst L. Freud, Eds. and Bernard Marsh and Hilda C. Abraham, Trans.). New York: Basic Books.

Freud, Sigmund, and Jones, Ernest. (1993). The complete correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Ernest Jones, 1908-1939. (R. A. Paskauskas, Ed.). London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Gay, Peter. (1988). Freud: A life for our time. London-Melbourne: Dent.