(and he opposed those who argued that there was a “break” between the young Marx of the manuscripts and the mature Marx).
Although by his own admission, he was never primarily an activist, he did play an active role in the social movements of the 1960s—against nuclear weapons, around civil rights and in opposition to the Vietnam war, as well as being a lifelong opponent of Zionism and the Zionist state.
For reasons that will be discussed below, Fromm has been an unfashionable, even forgotten, figure on the political and academic left for several decades even though (or perhaps because) his books such as attracted a huge popular readership (the latter having sold in the region of 25 million copies—in Germany second only to the Bible! The current revival of interest in his work, however, suggests that a re-assessment of his legacy from the perspective of classical Marxism is overdue.
This article is an attempt to contribute to such a reassessment.
More than three decades after his death, the ideas of Erich Fromm are enjoying something of an intellectual renaissance.
Fromm (1900-1980) was a German-Jewish psychoanalyst, writer, public intellectual and activist whose life-long concern was with developing an understanding of the relationship between capitalism and mental health, based on his attempt to integrate the ideas of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.This was a highly significant period in Fromm’s life.It was at Heidelberg that he first systematically studied Marx’s writings.Although Karl Marx (1818-1883) was born 38 years before Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and died 56 years before him, their ideas had quite different histories of academic influence, especially as they concerned interpretation of literature.Freud's ideas found more broad acceptance during his lifetime.He referred to these writings as “an inexhaustible source of vitality”.After initially studying jurisprudence at Frankfurt University, Fromm transferred to Heidelberg where he studied sociology under Alfred Weber, brother of the sociologist Max Weber—though in contrast to his more famous brother, Alfred was described by Fromm as “a humanist, not a nationalist, and a man of outstanding courage and integrity”.Secondly, he held at least some political positions in common with the traditions of this journal.For example, during the 1950s he viewed the Soviet Union as being state capitalist and, immediately following the statement quoted above, went on to “deeply regret the fact that a distorted and degraded ‘Marxism’ is preached in almost one third of the world”.As he wrote in My concern in this book…is only with Marx and Freud.By putting their names together the impression might easily arise that I consider them as two men of equal stature and equal historical significance.