From Picket Lines to Worry Lines


Review: Iain Ferguson, Politics of the Mind: Marxism and Mental Distress. 2017, London: Bookmarks. 134 pages.

Iain Ferguson has experience as a psychiatric social worker, social work academic, socialist, trade unionist, and co-founder of Social Workers Action Network (SWAN) which advocates “building unity in action between campaigning organizations of service users on the one hand and carers’ organizations on the other” to prevent service cuts and closures. While his book addresses the U.K. and European experience, the basic arguments apply everywhere.

Ferguson aims to use the marxist approach “not only to make sense of mental distress but also help us address and change the material conditions that give rise to it.”

the central argument of this book is that it is the economic and political system under which we live — capitalism — which is responsible for the enormously high levels of mental health problems which we see in the world today.

He begins by describing the ‘crisis in mental health’ that disproportionately affects the unemployed, poor, and oppressed. He attributes this crisis to rising poverty, increased work stress, the shredding of social supports, and a low level of class struggle. Workers feel more burdened, more alone, and less hopeful, leaving the picket lines of the past to join the “worry lines” of the present.

Ferguson emphasizes that the meaning people give to their experience can make the difference between sinking into despair and fighting back. If a worker interprets the loss of her job as a sign of personal unworthiness, she is more likely to sink into depression than if she recognizes that unemployment is necessary to capitalism and feels anger at being victimized.

In the chapter “All in the brain?” Ferguson critiques and rejects the medical model of mental distress, the DSM, the “medicalization of everyday life,” and the “horrible history” of psychiatric crimes. He concludes by briefly reviewing the challenge to biological psychiatry posed by social models of distress.

Ferguson points out that the model of social adversity is preferable to the model of faulty biology. However, it fails to acknowledge the class conditions that generate trauma. As a result, trauma is typically treated as an individual or individual-family problem instead of an intrinsic feature of capitalism. This enables right-wingers to attack distressed families for failing to support their children’s mental development, when studies show that raising family incomes is the most effective way to do this.

The final chapter presents Marx’s theory of alienation as a means to understand the causes of mental distress and how to challenge them. Most people experience alienation as a lack of control over their work, their lives, and society. The resulting sense of powerlessness and disconnection is highly distressing.

to summarize the central message of this book, there is nothing “natural” about emotional misery on this scale. There is no evidence to show it is the product of diseased brains or faulty genes. There is, however, considerable evidence to show that it is the logical outcome of extreme levels of inequality which leave those at the bottom of the hierarchy feeling like useless failures.

There is much in this book to recommend. There are also important weaknesses.

Even though the movement against psychiatric oppression developed in the later 1970s, the revolutionary left has not yet produced a coherent marxist analysis of psychiatric oppression and the fight against it. This has nothing to do with the value of the marxist method of analysis and everything to do with the tendency of marxists to veer into academic debates over what Marx, Freud, and others said or did not say, and what they meant or did not mean when they said it. To be specific, the chapter, “Marxism and Psychoanalysis,” aims to:

assess the extent to which the human development theories of Freud and his successors are useful in making sense both of the way in which personality is formed under capitalism and also of the roots of mental distress.

This chapter pulls the reader into an abstract debate that is off-putting to non-academics and adds little of value. The final chapter also begins “by contrasting Marx’s views with those of Freud.”

As Ferguson points out, a good relationship between the therapist and the person seeking therapy is far more important to a favorable outcome than the theoretical orientation of the therapist or the method used. Therefore, little is gained by delving into whose analysis or methodology is correct.

Similarly, “The Politics of Anti-Psychiatry” centers on a detailed analysis of the works of R.D. Laing and Peter Sedgwick. In a seeming contradiction, Ferguson concludes,

The voices of those who are experiencing or have experienced mental distress should now always be at the heart of debates and discussions about the future of mental health provision and strategy.

However, the voices of distressed people who have been harmed by psychiatry are missing from this book.

Opposition to psychiatry is fueled by outrage against forced confinement, forced ‘treatment,’ brain-damaging interventions, and other human rights violations. For some, the call to abolish psychiatry is a theoretical stance. For most, it is a desperate struggle for self-determination.

Ferguson does not address the real-life struggle against psychiatric oppression. Instead, he argues that anti-psychiatry is based on the belief that “the origins of psychiatric oppression lie in the institution and practices of psychiatry rather than the operations of neoliberal capitalism.”

Psychiatry and capitalism should not be counterposed. A marxist analysis should explain how the two feed each other and why both must be replaced with a socialist society that meets people’s needs.

Ferguson rejects the call to abolish psychiatry because it can be used to cut needed programs. The only alternative is to reform psychiatry so that it offers a more humane response to people in crisis. While this is definitely worth fighting for, how it might be achieved under capitalism is not explained.

We need to hear the voices of those who want more access to better services. We also need to hear the voices of those whose lives have been damaged or destroyed by psychiatry and whose resulting distrust presents a barrier to uniting service providers and service users in common cause.

A book that emphasizes the importance of control, and the suffering that results from the lack of it, should have something to say about psychiatry’s role as a means of social discipline. Unless we acknowledge this role, we cannot explain why service providers who aspire to help people are compelled to function in hurtful ways. As one psychiatric nurse put it,

we have no choice but to be trained, work, and obey the rules of the system. We can bring our own empathy, skills, and politics to our jobs, which has a bearing on how we relate to our patients, but we still have to assist in ECT, administer drugs, participate in forced restraints, and give evidence that determines what happens in people’s lives.

The strength of this book lies in its emphasis on the class basis of mental distress, its rejection of biological determinism, the importance of fighting for the rights of people in distress, and the central role of class struggle in promoting mental health. It is an advance on previous efforts and something to build on.


  1. Anybody read Franz Fanon? I think we could use a little more Fanon, turning anger outward and against the oppressive state, and a little less Sigmund Freud, adjusting folks to the state that oppresses.

    I think, yes, “unemployment is necessary to capitalism and” it is appropriate if one “feels anger at being victimized”. I don’t think however promoting welfare statism, and in that fashion aiding and abetting corporate imperialism, is any sort of an answer.

    Putting more money into the therapeutic state, to utilize a term employed by Thomas Szasz, or the nanny state as some Brits have put it, can only make it more of a problem than it is, and a problem at that that serves the interests of present day neoliberalism and corporatocracy.

    I met somebody recently who told me that she was helped by members of the Republican Party to escape psychiatry because they were willing to take the risks involved in getting her out of an institution that none of her liberal friends were willing to shoulder. This is the reality we’re dealing with.

    What socialist state has been any less traumatizing than the capitalist state when it comes to psychiatric oppression? I can’t think of one. That’s what’s wrong with connecting psychiatric oppression solely with neoliberalism.

    I don’t disagree with the author about the connection with neoliberalism, but I do disagree about the partisan nature of our struggle. Given the, relatively speaking, anti-statist position of libertarians and certain members of the right wing, in some instances, we’ve got more allies on the issue of psychiatric liberation on the right than we do on the left. I think a radicalized position has to take this into account, and utilize a little fancy footwork, and diplomacy, when it comes to crafting it’s own position.

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    • It’s true that libertarians and other right-wingers typically oppose psychiatry. They oppose all social services and supports, including those that most people need, like subsidized education, unemployment insurance, medicare, and child support.

      For those with lots of money, social supports don’t matter. But for the majority of ordinary people, they mean the difference between being able to manage and falling apart.

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      • I have my own issues with the “helping”/hindering professions.

        I can agree about subsidized education, medicare and child support, only people don’t need unemployment insurance, what they need are jobs. As is, you put people on unemployment and when that runs out, either they manage to find work, or, if not, they manage to find a doctor who can give them a label for the “disability” payments. Rather than an service industry designed to manage the under employed, what we need are jobs for the under employed. Much of this service industry is dependent on people being under employed. Get rid of the under employment, and you’ve got another employment problem, as much of this parasitic service industry would then be redundant. There is a whole industry that has developed around “serving” the so-called homeless. The mental health authorities say erroneously that 25 % of the population is mentally “sick”. That is big business. There’s a heck of a lot of room for belt tightening right there.

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    • Also as we noted recently the concepts of “right” and “left” have become meaningless and jingoistic, and without clear definitions. “Left” is applied to everything from liberalism to communism. E.g. what Susan calls the “revolutionary” left is what I call “the Left,” period; if it isn’t revolutionary it’s not Leftist, it’s “left-ish.”

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  2. I am a Marxist and I say that psychiatry is a state institution aimed at repressing legal deviance, alongside prison which represses illegal deviance. As a Marxist, I call for the abolition of the state, that is, the destruction of all its institutions, including psychiatry.

    An institution is an organization that has been given the monopoly of a social function. By this monopoly, the institution presents itself as irreplaceable, and imposes on us the views and the ways of the ruling class, for which it works. But we must not confuse the institution with the social function. Destroy institutions without fear, and immediately create new organizations that match your aspirations and needs. You will realize that you can live independently and freely, and that you do not need institutions.

    Those who oppose your autonomy and your freedom, destroy them by violence. Organize yourself in army, and remove the enemies of your freedom. If you do not, the state will rebuild and crush you; he will destroy everything you have built and will indoctrinate your children against you. But if you fight, you will never be enslaved: you will live free and you will die free, whatever happens.


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  3. Well, Capitalism works by making people feel at fault, that they have a duty to strive to get ahead, and that they have yet to prove their worthyness.

    The Mental Health / Recovery System works with Capitalism and with the Middle-Class Family. So children are exploited, and then sent to therapy and recovery to finish the process.

    So the first step in liberation is to see how this is working and how it has worked in one’s own life and to understand that it is not personal, that it is collective. Then the second step is to politically organize, and the third step is to take actions risking one’s life and liberty in the defense of self and others. This is how one restores their social and civil standing, their honor.

    Here on MIA we debate with white coats and with people who believe in psychotherapy and drugs. We should instead be taking actions to take down the mental health recovery system, and the middle-class family.

    “Hardly any of the ‘symptoms’ of psychological distress may correctly be seen as medical matters. The so-called psychiatric ‘disorders’ are nothing to do with faulty biology, nor indeed are they the outcome of individual moral weakness or other personal failing. They are the creation of the social world in which we live, and that world is structured by power.
    Social power may be defined as the means of obtaining security or advantage, and it will be exercised within any given society in a variety of forms: coercive (force), economic (money power) and ideological (the control of meaning). Power is the dynamic which keeps the social world in motion. It may be used for good or for ill.
    One cannot hope to understand the phenomena of psychological distress, nor begin to think what can be done about them, without an analysis of how power is distributed and exercised within society.”

    Saying that this is a Marxist approach, I think that means first of all recognizing that all human societies have been about class struggle.

    I think also this is about the normative power structures, Capitalism and the Middle-Class Family. The mental health / recovery system is the bully cop, the enforcer.

    And of course, I am a great admirer of Frantz Fanon.

    And why aren’t we here at MIA working to get people out of mental institutions, and even trying to lobby people to get off of drugs and to stop seeing therapists?

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  4. Psychiatry is a state institution and so are hospitals. Both need to be reconstructed from the ground up in the process of remaking society to meet human needs. I don’t believe we will need psychiatry under socialism, however, we will always need ways to support people in distress.

    Because the revolutionary left has not been involved in the anti-psychiatry movement, it has left a vacuum for the libertarian right to dominate. This has to change if we hope to demolish a psychiatric system that profits from the misery that capitalism creates.

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    • There was a disaster. 🙁 The failure of the German revolution, Stalinism, purges … A century of nomenclatura and opportunism on all continents, and idiots who shout: “kill the state but leave it alive!” Killing the state involves destroying institutions, and theoretically differentiating institutions from social functions.

      Are not identical:

      _ school and education,
      _ hospital and health,
      _ police and order.

      Otherwise, no institution can be destroyed and therefore the state either!

      “And above all, preserve the employment of the officials!” Even the libertarians are teaching us: we are ridiculous. 🙁 The “Marxists” of our time are statist and reformist, not revolutionaries.

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    • Psychiatry is a state institution and so are hospitals. Both need to be reconstructed from the ground up

      Why would psychiatry “need to be reconstructed”? This shows clearly the divide between the so-called “left” and the anti-psychiatry movement, and between victims of psychiatry and “progressive” social service/”mental health” professionals.

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        • When people say things like this it makes me believe they have never read Szasz or truly grasped the meaning of “the myth of mental illness.” If “mental illness” is a myth why would the institution of psychiatry, which is based on the notion of “curing” non-existent diseases, be “reconstructed” rather than buried for good?

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          • I could be wrong, but it seems to me from the context that Susan is saying there need to be systems in place to assist people when they have the kinds of problems that currently get diagnosed by psychiatry. Psychiatry obviously doesn’t do this – other than temporarily numbing people out (at best) – but psychiatry *is* taking up a lot of space that could otherwise be filled with support systems that actually help people.

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    • Because the revolutionary left has not been involved in the anti-psychiatry movement, it has left a vacuum for the libertarian right to dominate. This has to change if we hope to demolish a psychiatric system that profits from the misery that capitalism creates.

      This should be the case; however the libertarian/conservatives haven’t exactly been rushing in to fill that vacuum. So that’s no excuse. Psychiatry has something to oppress everybody, even those without a class analysis, so what is needed now is a multilateral attack on the basics, with involuntary intervention at the very top.

      To be continued.

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  5. Susan

    Thank you for this book review and for bringing a Marxist class analysis into the discussion of psychiatric oppression.

    We live in a world dominated by capitalism/imperialism and the inherent class inequalities, daily traumas, and the on going imperialist competition between nation states leading to constant war and plunder.

    I agree with some of your assessment of strengths and weaknesses in this book. However, the following paragraph is confusing at the very least, and definitely wrong if my understanding of its meaning is correct:

    “Ferguson rejects the call to abolish psychiatry because it can be used to cut needed programs. The only alternative is to reform psychiatry so that it offers a more humane response to people in crisis. While this is definitely worth fighting for, how it might be achieved under capitalism is not explained.”

    Yes, most welfare type systems and other support systems should always be defended, because the capitalist system WILL NOT AND CANNOT support the needs of the masses. And waging struggle to support them is just one way to expose the inherent inequality and nature of exploitation under capitalism.

    However, Psychiatry is an overall oppressive institution, and serves a clear social control role in society, especially targeting the more volatile and potentially rebellious sections in society. The programs that Psychiatry (like community mental health clinics etc.) run for the general masses are OVERWHELMINGLY used as a form of oppression with prolific amounts of labeling and drugging, and often far worse forms of incarceration etc. We should ALL want these programs to fail and be disbanded.

    Targeting Psychiatry (and the highly profitable pharmaceutical industry it colludes with) as an important tool of capitalist oppression, and calling for its abolition, is just one more way to educate the masses about the true nature of this System.

    All this can help set the stage for the necessary in depth discussions of what the strengths and weaknesses were of the first round of socialist Revolutions (Russia and China etc.) that were ultimately defeated.

    No great social experiments succeed on the first try. We must learn from those historic efforts and prepare for a new round of class struggle. It is becoming more and more obvious to more people that capitalism is NOT the highest pinnacle of human social organization and needs to be replaced; socialism, as the alternative, is being reconsidered by a growing minority . This planet cannot survive the current system much longer.


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    • 1. When welfare statism insures under employment, I can’t see supporting it, Richard.

      2. When welfare statism supports the psy function, that is, all these careers linked to the psychiatric profession and institutional psychiatry, I can’t see supporting it.

      3. When welfare statism increases medicalization (i.e. raises the numbers of people given psychiatric labels), I can’t see supporting it.

      4. When welfare statism is a matter of “disability” payments made to people who are not in any literal sense “disabled” (i.e. the socially disabled), and, therefore, actual fraud, I can’t see supporting it. There is enough dishonesty in the world already.

      Putting more and more money into providing medical treatment for people who literally are not sick, and thereby injuring them physically, doesn’t strike me as the way to proceed, but that’s where we are at present. How about if instead we cut some of this spending on thus making “invalids” out of people. That, and put money into getting them houses if they need them, an education or a skill, and steady employment instead.

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      • Your frequent objections to a “welfare state” are at odds with your general self-identification as being anti-capitalist.

        Socialism IS a “welfare state,” where the available resources are distributed to all according to their needs and abilities, and no one has to live on the street, etc. due to lack of resources. I think you confuse this with what is called “welfare” under capitalism, i.e. a pittance accorded the poorest to offset the likelihood of revolt. It’s not clear if your main objection is to people being forced to undergo the indignities required to get that (almost useless) government check, or if you are echoing the standard “conservative” objection to people “getting something for nothing.”

        “Jobs” are no solution in and of themselves, people need meaningful and fulfilling work that contributes to the progress and well-being of humanity, as well as keeping food in their stomach. This is impossible under capitalism, at least for the great majority.

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          • I was hoping you, Susan or another Marxist scholar could expand on the “welfare state” of socialism vs. what is meant by the term when used by “conservatives.” Particularly the aspect of the money being “given out” by the state as belonging to the people in the first place.

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        • I don’t think so, OldHead. When it comes to worker ownership of the means of production usually that means workers and not slouchers (i.e. non-workers). I see the welfare state as a product of corporatocracy, and something that serves the interests of the rich.

          Paying people not to work is not my vision of socialism. This is what we’ve got with welfare statism today, and primarily because it serves the interests of big corporations–not as surplus labor–nor to sustain the GPN–but to develop and sustain the newly emergent service industries that would maintain this non-working population.

          “Meaningful and fulfilling”? I dunno, OldHead. It has something to do with bringing home the bacon as well. What do we do? Divide the world up into those that go to the factory and those that go to the playground? This adult childhood gig could get old at some point or other. Maybe there are some fascinating things out there to be doing, and fascinating things that a person could get paid for.

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          • This is where you once again abandon any aspiration to true socialism and revert to right-wing pseudo-morality, which sounds almost like jealousy. If you’re worried about people “getting over” you should be focusing on billionaires, not those collecting some paltry pittance.

            By your logic someone working 9 to 5 for the Pentagon or Monsanto is doing “honest work,” and someone sitting at home blogging or otherwise organizing against the military-industrial complex is “doing nothing.” These judgements are based solely upon the relative value or detriment of such activities in the eyes of capitalism.

            Maybe people who work for Monsanto or the Pentagon should be penalized for “bringing home to bacon” at the expense of humanity, and those who work to stop them rewarded.

            At any rate all this could be avoided via a guaranteed annual income, then there would be no petty quarreling over the crumbs tossed our way.

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        • OldHead, I don’t think socialism is about paying people not to work. If that is “true socialism”, perhaps it is for you, it isn’t for me. Do I think socialism is about getting the tax payer or rich people to, more or less, keep poor people poor? No, I don’t, and I think they do so by, when they aren’t paid a decent wage, their salaries, which aren’t really salaries, amount to a pittance of public charity.

          Your characterization of my logic is certainly incorrect, but I don’t have the time nor inclination to go into it fully. There are bloggers and there are bloggers. Ditto, government workers and double agents of all stripes, as well Muslim terrorists. Our schools of higher education are primarily directed at training people to work for corporations as that is our nations idea of success. That, and winning the lottery. Conventional wisdom has it that the difference between professionals and amateurs is that one works for money and the other doesn’t.

          Sure, there are plenty of people living on charity, however, I think it a stretch to call them working. Perhaps non-working working people will bring about this social welfare revolution you have in mind, but I don’t see it. In my book, rich people, and/or tax payers, paying other people not to work, and by work I mean labor in exchange for money, does not constitute any sort of revolution. If that’s the way we’re going, then the future belongs to robotics, robots can take over, and maintain people the way people maintain vegetable gardens.

          I’m not arguing with you about any “guaranteed annual income”, however, if it’s income for calling comments on blogs work, I wouldn’t bother. Also, if its an income for twiddling thumbs I would have issues with it. My issue is that some people have market value, and others–many, many more people–are like deficits on the stock-exchange. Sad doesn’t begin to describe my feelings about this situation. Unfair it most certainly is. Now we’ve got a brand name President. I don’t see that as any cause for celebrating.

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          • Conventional wisdom has it that the difference between professionals and amateurs is that one works for money and the other doesn’t.

            and by work I mean labor in exchange for money

            some people have market value, and others–many, many more people–are like deficits on the stock-market

            So you are militantly pro-capitalism.

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          • I didn’t say that. I’m not a capitalist. I’m a communist. Even if you’re a Marxist, and I’m not a Marxist by the way, looking to create a workers’ state, the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, we’re talking workers’ state, not gold diggers’ state, not free loaders’ state.

            The slogan, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is problematic in the same way that psychiatry is with it’s illnesses, distresses, traumas, or whatever you want to call labels. Who, for instance, is going to say who is needy, and who is able? Don’t we have a disability problem in psychiatry with the psychiatrist calling all those it labels dysfunctional? There you go.

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          • I’m not a capitalist. I’m a communist. Even if you’re a Marxist, and I’m not a Marxist by the way, looking to create a workers’ state…

            “Communism” is a stateless society envisioned by Marx, which is preceded by a transitional period called “socialism,” during which the dictatorship of the 1%-10% (“capitalism”) is replaced by the dictatorship of the 90% (your “workers state”), and following which society gradually reaches a higher level of maturity in which both classes and state authority dissolve. This is Communism, first conceived and articulated by Marx; you cannot be a Communist and not be a Marxist.

            This is important to recognize, as if everyone means something different by the same words language becomes futile.

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          • I beg to disagree. Marxism has done its best to suppress the voice of anarchy, but anarchy lingers on resurgent. There’s always been this split between the followers of Marx and the followers of Bakunin (and comrades).

            Vladimir Lenin’s first successful Marxian revolution, ran it’s course, and was supplanted by…whatever. It is certainly no classless society. The failure of the soviet system has renewed the anarchist idea, and given it new life.

            You wave the hammer and sickle. I will wave the black and red. Karl Marx is no more a sacred cow than was Sigmund Freud. Screw your authoritarian figureheads of all colors. Nobody gets my vote.

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          • Frank — YOU called YOURSELF a “communist.” Anarchism wasn’t even part of the conversation until you just brought it up. I simply pointed out that “communism” is a Marxist concept, and you can’t separate the two.

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        • Oldhead and Frank and All

          The whole criticism of socialism as a “welfare state” is absurd.

          First off, socialism will work towards creating jobs for everyone, no matter what their abilities or limitations. There will be a clear social expectation that everyone who CAN work, WILL work. AND if you don’t work (when you have been provided a job you are able to do) then you DON’T get paid ANY financial support. (more on this in a moment)

          Under capitalism, the system by its very natures creates under employment and the capitalist owners extract a significant portion of PROFIT from the sale of the products that the workers create. While some people in the society “hit the lottery” and live quite comfortably in a high degree of wealth and consumerism, the broad masses struggle to survive from paycheck to paycheck (or from some type of assistance).

          Under capitalism, other than the the small minority who hit the financial lottery, there is VERY LITTLE motivation to work and/or be a law abiding citizen. This is because most people have some awareness of the inequalities and unfair nature of a system where a small percentage live very well off (and do very little work, if any) and the rest have to struggle daily and work and live in a state of powerlessness doing exploitative jobs and living in slums or economically depressed areas.

          Of course under capitalism there will always be people who feel beaten down (because many are) by the inherently unfair nature of the system, and they will be “content” (???) to live their life with various forms of assistance and never expect (or try to achieve better) during their lives in this class based profit system.

          We must ALWAYS defend people living under these forms of assistance because it is NOT their fault (especially in the collective sense) that they are stuck on the bottom rungs of society. And by supporting these people and their forms of public assistance (we help them survive) AND we can expose to the broad masses the exploitative nature and inherent inequalities in a capitalist system.

          Why have RESENTMENT towards people collecting assistance when they might otherwise be able to work? Do you really think they are “happy” to live this way? And doesn’t your criticisms of these people just reinforce the capitalist narrative that “there are people in the world who are lazy and not motivated to make something out of their lives”? AND that the capitalist narrative of “survival of the fittest” fits better with how THEY wish to characterize their self serving view of human nature.

          NOW YOU ASK (and some of you by now may be chopping on your bit), what about those people in a socialist society who are able to work, but refuse to do so, are you going to let them starve? Didn’t you just say above (more or less) that “if you don’t work under socialism you DON’T get paid”?

          Remember under socialism, there is collective ownership of all the major industries, the masses of people will have a genuine say (not the sham democracy we have under capitalism) in how government is run. Therefore, there should definitely be a QUALITATIVELY DIFFERENT attitude and motivation among the people as to the way they approach working in jobs throughout society. The vast majority of people will now gladly work and reap the benefits of feeling productive and contributing to society AND being financially rewarded for their labor. They will now WANT to work, not try to avoid working, or somehow seek free assistance from the State.

          BUT, you ask, YEAH what about those people, who despite ALL the changes under socialism you describe, who STILL do not want to work (and are able to), are you going to let them starve???

          Of course not. But given all the major shifts in power relationships and attitudes in society, and the way social media will be promoting collective participation in work and governing, it WILL NOT be easy (nor should it be) for someone to now expect a “free ride” in a socialist society. There will now be ENORMOUS collective pressure (carried out in a very supportive and humane way) for EVERYONE to do what their abilities permit to contribute to society in order to receive some financial and other forms of assistance.

          Of course, all of these changes in society under socialism will DRAMATICALLY REDUCE the levels of stress and pressures in daily life that are the major causes of the extreme forms of psychological distress that leads people towards a so-called “mental health” system. This system will be completely dismantled and replace with other forms of genuine support for those needing help to cope with daily life.


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          • I did not want to be contentious, and I’m all for socialism, but I don’t want to understate the complicated nature of our struggle, be for abolition of psychiatric coercion, or for a more just, and equitable, society. I have to be realistic when looking at the matter, and only by joining with people from the right do I see a chance of bringing the house of cards that psychiatry is, and only by ‘consciousness raising’ and education on the left do I see a chance of bringing about an attitude change there towards psychiatric survivors and antipsychiatry.

            As for jobs, Susan mentioned unemployment insurance. Great, but don’t you think we’d be better off with job insurance rather than unemployment insurance? What unemployment insurance insures is that there will, so long as it exists, be people without jobs. As for socialism correcting this situation, yeah, sure, that’s something I’d like to see.

            I think a lot of the problems we’ve got here are due to capitalism, but I think part of the problem with social services is that they tend to reinforce their own existence as service industries rather than deal with the reality of people in trouble/distress, most of whom would love to get out of trouble/distress, and in so doing, out from under the auspices of social services. Social services as an expanding industry thrives on people with psychiatric labels without offering them any kind of working solution because a solution would eventually get rid of their jobs, and many of these people are careerists. I think if socialism could return reason into this situation that would be a vast improvement. I don’t think it is reasonable to make a permanent job out of living off of an under employed population unless you want a permanent under employed population. I would hope that any form of socialism that you’d imagine could do better than that.

            I don’t find present assistance services very helpful, and I’d like to see socialism change things by making the essentials–jobs, shelter, food, and clothing–more available to everyone. An industry based upon keeping people down, and oneself up, I have a great deal of issues with. Yes, I’d like to see a lot of changes come with some sort of socialist revolution within, and/or outside of, the capitalistic system.

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          • The vast majority of people will now gladly work and reap the benefits of feeling productive and contributing to society AND being financially rewarded for their labor. They will now WANT to work, not try to avoid working, or somehow seek free assistance

            There will of course be exceptions, as cynicism will not disappear overnight, nor will some inequity. The degree of cooperation will also depend on how democratic an assessment is made as to what work benefits society as a whole and needs to be done as a condition of collective survival, and not as a source of private gain.

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    • Richard, I apologize for my delay in responding to the rest of your postings.

      I share and appreciate your optimism for revolutionary change. As you say, just because the first attempt to create socialism was defeated doesn’t mean that we should give up and accept the horribleness of capitalism. Thank you for that – it is most welcome at a time when so many people are pessimistic.

      There is much to consider in everyone’s comments, far more than can be clarified in a comments section. If anyone wants to communicate with me in more depth, feel free to contact me through my website:

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  6. I agree that psychiatry should be abolished, along with all of the oppressive institutions of class rule. The problem is in the practice.

    When we call for psychiatry to be abolished, who do we think will do the abolishing? The capitalist state will not do it. The only social force capable of abolishing psychiatry is the majority working class, and they can only do this in the process of transforming all of society.

    Of course, there are humane alternatives to psychiatry, but they will never become mainstream as long as capitalism needs psychiatry for social control.

    So the question of abolishing psychiatry must be put in context. Are we moralists and libertarians who want to replace psychiatry with individual solutions that only the fortunate few can access?

    Or are we revolutionary socialists who understand that abolishing psychiatry can be achieved only in the process of remaking society from the bottom up? To my mind, that is the only way we can end the horribly oppressive conditions that push people over the edge and the only way we can build a completely different society that provides what everyone needs to thrive.

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    • Susan

      I agree that Psychiatry will never be abolished under the capitalist system. Next to Executive branch of government in the U.S, Psychiatry is the ONLY other institution that can legally incarcerate (and drug) someone without due process of law. And when they do get some type of hearing a several days after incarceration, it usually is a complete sham, and psychiatric victims rarely win those decisions.

      Psychiatry has now become such an integral part of how this System controls and demoralizes people, that it has become TOO BIG AND IMPORTANT to be allowed to fail or go out of existence. The future existence of Psychiatry is inseparably bound to the future existence of the entire capitalist/imperialist empire.

      However, that being said, that DOES NOT mean we should WAIT for the fall of this capitalist system to call for the abolishment of Psychiatry.

      On the contrary, calling for the abolishment of Psychiatry, as part a broader struggle against ALL forms of psychiatric abuse, can become a major tributary of struggle (like the women’s movement, Black Lives Matter, environmental movement etc) that gathers more and more people to see how inherently unjust and bankrupt life under capitalism truly is – as are all the institutions, like Psychiatry, that prop up and maintain this system.


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      • I agree that Psychiatry will never be abolished under the capitalist system.

        Can’t go there, Richard, obviously. If my memory serves me well, what used to be the Soviet Union had special psychiatric camps for dissidents, and doing so doesn’t exactly strike me as the abolition of psychiatry. Now the present Russian government although no longer Marxist/socialist has returned to seeing dissidence as a “mental illness”. I think that speaks for itself, as well as exposing the entire psychiatric enterprise for the fraud that it so obviously is.

        Coercion is, was, and will continue to be the primary issue regardless of who happens to be using the coercion. First, we’re expected to believe that some totalitarian state is going wither away into a classless society. Fat chance. Second, do you really expect that this classless society knows right now that it’s going to be a psychiatry-less society as well? At least, lacking the ideology that says so? That goes for the approach of any ideologue. You can revise, revise, revise, but abolishing coercive psychiatry is not directly attached to political or economic agendas, and I’m not in a mood to help our opponents divide and conquer us.

        Although I do believe psychiatric liberation as tied up with the movements of all people everywhere seeking liberation from oppression, and thus it is connected to black liberation, women’s liberation, gay pride, (dis)ability liberation, etc., etc. I think we must keep our focus on the objective of abolishing coercive and institutional psychiatry while working in solidarity with these other movements. Getting rid of capitalism, yeah, that, too, but we must see it in perspective, as we’ve got plenty of allies on the right there, and we don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot if we can help it. I don’t want to anyway.

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        • Frank

          Every time I make a call for socialism to replace this outmoded and oppressive capitalist system you start talking about psychiatric oppression that allegedly existed under past socialist regimes. This history is debatable as to whether or not these were genuine socialist regimes that you are referring to when there were attacks on dissidents that involved the use of psychiatry.

          My point in my above comments is that today capitalism NEEDS Psychiatry (to continue its existence) as an INHERENT necessity to control certain potentially volatile sections of the masses. AND the ruling classes need Psychiatry to divert people’s attention away from the inherent inequalities in their system and have the masses focus on “personal flaws” and/or genetic defects and so-called mental “diseases.”

          Please tell me where is there an INHERENT need for the existence of the institution of Psychiatry in a socialist system? A genuine socialist system WANTS and ENCOURAGES the broad masses to become active for the interests of transforming the old class based capitalist system into one which gradually eliminates ALL class based inequalities, starting with the ownership of the means of production. The existence of Psychiatry is contrary to the interests of building a NEW socialist society.

          Frank, you made the statement: “Getting rid of capitalism, yeah, that, too, …”
          So obviously you are anti-capitalist. What do you call for capitalism’s replacement?

          Is not socialism the next step for humanity in building a more free and humane world? And WHY can’t committed and intelligent people who adhere to socialist ideology, thoroughly sum up the mistakes that were made in past socialist experiments, and re-chart a new course for the next round of socialist revolutions in coming years?

          Capitalism needs Psychiatry. A successful socialist revolution cannot ultimately advance and/or succeed with Psychiatry still around.


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          • As an psychiatric survivor, I can’t link abolishing coercive psychiatry to socialism. As an anticapitalist, I can, but ultimately I’m stuck with the question, what has more chance of success at the moment, socialist revolution or reversing medicalization (i.e. the medical treatment of people who aren’t sick)? Even a capitalist society has some sense.

            I don’t think capitalism needs psychiatry in order to continue its existence. I guess that is where you and I differ. I do consider myself an anti-capitalist, but for strategic and tactical reasons I have to compartmentalize these two different struggles. In my book, they aren’t the same struggle, in your book, they are.

            There is no way I’m going to link abolishing psychiatric coercions to achieving socialism simply because this allows an excuse not to struggle against psychiatry because we’re living under capitalism today. Antipsychiatry can’t be linked to socialist revolution. I’m not waiting, in other words, for socialist revolution to end psychiatry. I think it would be very foolish to do so. Especially considering the socialist systems we’ve seen, none of which has considered psychiatry a product of capital.

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          • Frank

            Thank you for clarifying your thinking on these questions. However…

            You said: “… but ultimately I’m stuck with the question, what has more chance of success at the moment, socialist revolution or reversing medicalization (i.e. the medical treatment of people who aren’t sick)?”

            This type of thinking is EXACTLY what leads most people and most movements into REFORMISM.

            We have no choice but to link all our current human rights struggles to the struggle to get rid of capitalism and replace it with socialism. The planet will NOT survive too many more decades of capitalism/imperialism. If nuclear war between competing Imperialists does not kill us all, then destruction of the environment certainly will.

            Do you you not believe this to be true AND are you willing to take the risks by NOT making socialist revolution a priority right along with building focused anti-psychiatry struggle?

            And do you not believe the masses of people are eventually capable of coming to an understanding that capitalism needs to be replaced?

            And you said: “Antipsychiatry can’t be linked to socialist revolution. I’m not waiting, in other words, for socialist revolution to end psychiatry.”

            Who said we should wait to vigorously organize struggle against Psychiatry? Not me; the key question is HOW do we wage this struggle to have the BEST chance of actually making meaningful change in the world, and NOT slipping into reformism and/or being co-opted by the System.

            I am afraid your approach (more single issue and narrowly oriented) has the highest probability of leading to reformism and co-optation.


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          • Your position is a rhetorical position until we have socialism, and I don’t see any reason for going there. Reform or no reform. I can’t do the let’s get lost in ideological rhetoric thing, thank you.

            You have people here who think socialism is welfare statism. I think that’s absurd. Are we talking about workers owning the means of production, or, again, non-workers?

            Paying people not to work? Really? When was that ever the way to go? As is, what do we call them? Dysfunctional functionaries, or functional dysfunctionaries?

            If this has something to do with the old childhood trauma excuse. What is it they used to say? Oh, yeah. Grow up!

            I’m saying the “mental health” system is complete BS. You would heal people who aren’t ill. All sorts of people get injured by believing that jive. If there is no “mental illness”, literally, there goes the excuse of so many people for not working.

            I don’t see linking abolishing the “mental health” system to establishing socialism unless, 1. either you don’t want to abolish the “mental health” system in reality, or 2. you don’t want socialism. I certainly DON’T expect socialism to abolish psychiatric coercion. Should it EVER do so, that would be a first. You apparently do have such an expectation, in which case, I have to ask what is it that you’ve been smoking.

            I do think we need to link the struggle for socialism with the struggle against psychiatry, and vice versa, however, it’s the left that must be enlightened here, and that is an uphill curve. We can’t let doing so alienate us from the antipsychiatry right. It’s that uphill curve. On this subject the right has, as they have the numbers on us, in many cases, done substantially better than the left.

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          • Paying people not to work? Really? When was that ever the way to go? As is, what do we call them? Dysfunctional functionaries, or functional dysfunctionaries?

            We call them capitalists. But you’d rather perpetuate negative stereotypes about poor people and trauma survivors.

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          • Call who capitalists? The bourgeoisie or the disability fraudster? I’m not attacking poor people, unless you have another definition for poor person besides a person who is lacking in wealth.

            What stereotypes? The NIMH tells us something like 25 % of the population has a “mental illness”. The WHO tells us that “depression” is going to overtake heart disease as the leading cause for disability payments in the world. I’d rather see people with jobs, and without government checks. Anything wrong with that?

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  7. What utter confusion. It’s wonderful that people wish to combat evil and coercive psychiatry. It’s just a shame that so few understand why Marx and Freud are partially responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves. As long as people are beginning to understand the truth about psychiatry, I guess we can momentarily put up with the ideological confusion that we have inherited from Marx and Freud.

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      • Looks like another big yawn here, but I thank Susan for bringing attention to this cauldron of contradiction. Where to start, where to start…ok…

        the revolutionary left has not yet produced a coherent marxist analysis of psychiatric oppression and the fight against it

        Actually the (it says here) “revolutionary left” (as well as the constipated right) have no awareness of psychiatric oppression, except in rare cases, other than as an aberration. They still speak of “mental health” and want more money for it. “Capitalist alienation” is a nice intellectual concept but few socialist-minded folks really understand that it permeates our lives in more intimate and pervasive ways than they can consciously fathom. Then when they start to barely scratch the veneer of the morass they decide they’re on the vanguard cutting edge; that’s when they start pontificating about “anti-psychiatry” as if they’re experts when, as the references to Laing reveal, many don’t even know the difference between anti-psychiatry activism and the appropriation of the term by Laing et al.; Laing was a practicing psychiatrist with no agenda of abolishing the field, and has nothing to do with what is currently meant by anti-psychiatry.

        To expect the Left to come up with an analysis of something they don’t even recognize is sort of a cart-before-the-horse kind of hope. The consciousness of the Left has deteriorated since the 70’s, when we had much more support from the places we should be able to expect it from. But at least it looks like we have a decent discussion brewing.

        So thanks again, Susan, I’ll be back. Oh, and this isn’t a direct response to Uprising, I clicked on the wrong reply box.

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        • I think, OldHead, it’s kind of up to the antipsychiatry left, assuming there is an antipsychiatry right as well, to inform and influence the left. The first consideration that is sometimes more hard for people to make than you would think is that there are prejudices beyond blatant racism, sexism, and the standard lot that we’ve got to do something about. Psychiatric oppression is invalidating, but it is an invalidation that would be taking place even if you’d done something about the other isms. The left with it’s conventional struggles is actually more likely to be, as it is, sanist or mentalist than the right. It is, to my way of thinking, up to the antipsychiatry leftwing to enlighten and raise the consciousness of the more sanist or mentalist left on these matters. That they would have this blind-spot or that is only to be expected.

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          • I agree it is one of our tasks to educate the left. However it is also the responsibility of those who see themselves as “revolutionaries” to reach out for that education rather than lecturing US about their half-baked theories which essentially exclude us; as I mentioned the true Left in the 70’s had a much clearer understanding of the issues. I have a leaflet from the SmithKline boycott (around 1978) with 20-30 endorsements from Left organizations. Now they’re all social workers or something.

            PS I think I could maybe count the members of the “anti-psychiatry left wing” on my fingers and toes, which is another consideration.

            Psychiatric oppression is invalidating, but it is an invalidation that would be taking place even if you’d done something about the other isms.

            If racism & sexism were abolished the need for psychiatry as a control mechanism for those who “break the roles” would diminish. But I don’t think we have to “worry” about that happening any time soon.

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          • “On my fingers and toes”…There you go, OldHead, telling it like it is.

            Part of the problem with many lefties, and some of them following the example of Noam Chomsky, is that many of them are often out to “diagnose” their opponents “sick”. Okay, automatically, knowing where those oppressed by the psychiatric system are coming from, we’ve got a communication issue. You can’t go “diagnosing” the opposition without insulting, after a fashion, everybody in the “mental health” system, and then some. Given this situation, no wonder the “diagnosed” right-wing is finding itself sympathetic.

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          • Part of the problem with many lefties, and some of them following the example of Noam Chomsky, is that many of them are often out to “diagnose” their opponents “sick”.

            Do you have a concrete example of Chomsky doing this? (Not disagreeing, just looking for some examples to cite.)

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          • I saw him talk here, and that was the impression I had, which is similar to complaints made by many here at MIA. Perhaps I should read Chomsky. I haven’t done a lot of that yet. This is a situation I intend to correct when I have the occasion though.

            I don’t want to knock Chomsky. I just see it as similar to what others of the left are saying about “sick” reactionaries and Fascists. I think the left has it’s own blindside with regard to prejudices, but maybe eventually it will be able to get beyond them.

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          • It will have to. I know Judi Chamberlin was disappointed after her meeting with Chomsky.

            It’s particularly vexing that a linguistics expert would fail to see the obvious absurdity in a concept such as “mental illness.”

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  8. “I agree that psychiatry should be abolished, along with all of the oppressive institutions of class rule. The problem is in the practice.”

    You can do it via the neurotoxin companies (pharma) using credit default swaps. (learn about them) Also by continuing to inform psychiatrists of the harm they are doing with biological facts… it sets up a mind fcuk in them, then you have them going into melt down:

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  9. I think it’s more a question of sharing things out (if some people want to have more – they can still have more).

    We’re not living in the 1970s:- cars can now drive themselves, technology can produce electricity from natural resources and computerised manufacturing can produce most of the goods needed.

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  10. I agree with you Susan that the Libertarian Anti-Government movement is a problem. We have lots of people on this forum who go along with it, and so they don’t believe in child protection. They don’t seem to understand that approaching things there way, children become property, and live only at the whims of the parents.

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  11. Abolishing the family has always been an idea in Marxism, in the Manifesto, and in Lenin’s first minister of women’s affairs, Alexandra Kollontai, and it’s in Wilhelm Reich. I suspect that it started with Plato’s Republic. But in 1930, responding to the Frankfurt School, Moscow disavowed and forbade any attacks on The Family.

    The middle-class family is always the unstated normative standard of the Mental Health and Recovery systems. And that it is seen as a norm is why Foster Care is usually so horrible.

    The middle-class family is something akin to slavery.

    Highly recommended:

    And showing how all the mental health system really is, amounts to a theory of The Family:

    Full text online:

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