Secret Committee

views updated


The "Secret Committee" was the name given by Freud to the intimate circle of his closest collaborators. Its members were Karl Abraham, Sándor Ferenczi, Otto Rank, Ernest Jones, Max Eitingon, and Hanns Sachs. Hanns Sachs revealed its existence for the first time in 1944 in Freud, Master and Friend. Since Sachs was himself a member of this mysterious group, which had a profound effect on the construction and extension of the "psychoanalytic movement," his memoirs must be taken with a grain of salt, especially when it concerns the image of his "hero Freud." Nonetheless, the information is invaluable for understanding the significance of this group for the psychoanalytic movement and the institutionalization of psychoanalysis.

The "psychoanalytic movement" achieved its organizational goals through the drafting of its first bylaws in 1910 by Freud and Ferenczi. What appears to be an alternate process of institutional development was initiated in 1912 with the formation of the secret committee. The creation of an informal organization within the organization was the result of tension between Sigmund Freud and his Swiss "dauphin" Carl Gustav Jung. Between 1910 and 1912 Jung had begun to distance himself from Freud, not only in terms of theory and clinical practice, but also in terms of their personal relationship (Schröter, Michael, 1995).

The history of the secret committee took place in three phases: from 1912 to 1920, from 1920 to 1927, then from 1927 to 1936 (Wittenberger, Gerhard, 1995). Details about the committee's first periodfrom its creation during the summer of 1912 until the Hague congress in 1920are provided in five Komiteebriefe (committee letters), which do not yet present all the characteristics of the Rundbriefe (circular letters). These letters illustrate how, at this time, members of the committee discussed and jointly worked out the policies of the International Psychoanalytic Association (Wittenberger, 1996). The second phase covers the actual history of the institution. From this time, September 20, 1920, until March 14, 1926, there is an extensive correspondence of 361 circular letters.

The significance Freud gave to the creation of the secret committee and the importance of each of its members in the struggle for "the thing" (die Sache) held in common, is reflected in the symbol of the ring bearing a Greek inscription, which he offered to each of his colleagues as a sign of recognition and esteem. Those who were so honored wore the ring as a mark of their intimacy. The uncertainty about when the exchange of circular letters ended is an indication that the secret committee had been disbanded. This was the result of the dynamic of the group as well as the relational dynamic between Otto Rank and Sigmund Freud and between Rank and his rival colleagues.

There is a break in the circular letters (April 1924 to November 1926) corresponding to the period between the gradual cessation of letter writing among the members, following Rank's break with Freud and his colleagues and ultimately from psychoanalysis, and the official renewal of correspondence. At the same time there was an increased exchange of private letters among the members of the secret committee and Freud, which had been noted by Ferenczi in a letter to Freud in March 1924. Because of the important role played by Rank during the peak years of the "international psychoanalytic movement" (Lieberman, E. James, 1985), his departure (end 1924-beginning 1925) and Abraham's death (December 1925), together with Freud's cancer (1923) all contributed to the destabilization and final breakup of the committee. It was only after the appearance of a circular letter, dated November 23, 1926, written by Anna Freud under her father's dictation, that a new agreement was reached to reintroduce the circular letters.

This initiated the third period of the former secret committee, which now functioned as the "central governing body of the International Psychoanalytic Association." Jones relates how "After the Innsbruck Congress (1927), we modified the structure of the committee by establishing our private group at the head of the International Psychoanalytic Association. Eitingon was named president, Ferenczi and myself, vice presidents, Anna Freud secretary, and van Ophuijsen treasurer" (1957). Hanns Sachs left the committee. The governing body resumed writing the circular letters. The eighty-three letters whose existence we are currently aware of provide a glimpse of the problems facing those who were forced to emigrate during the rise to power of National Socialism.

Gerhard Wittenberger

See also: International Psychoanalytical Association; "On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement"; Psychoanalytic filiations.


Grosskurth, Phylliss. (1991). The secret ring. Toronto: McFarlane, Walter & Ross.

Jones, Ernest. (1957). Sigmund Freud: Life and work. London: Hogarth Press.

Lieberman, E. James. (1985). Acts of will: The life and work of Otto Rank. New York: The Free Press.

Schröter, Michael. (1995). Freuds Komitee, 1912-1914: Ein Beitrag zum Verständnis psychoanalytischer Gruppenbildung. Psyche, 49, 513-563.

Wittenberger, Gerhard. (1995). Das "Geheime Komitee" Sigmund Freuds. Institutionalisierungsprozesse in der psychoanalytischen Bewegung zwischen 1912 und 1927. Tübingen: Diskord.

. (1996). The circular letters (Rundbriefe), as a means of communication of the "secret committee" of Sigmund Freud. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 5, 111-121.