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Beldoch, M. (1994). The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis: By Phyllis Grosskurth. New York: Addison Wesley, 1991, 245 pp., $22.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 42:892-894.

(1994). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42:892-894

The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis: By Phyllis Grosskurth. New York: Addison Wesley, 1991, 245 pp., $22.00.

Review by:
Michael Beldoch, Ph.D.

All history is revisionist; it is merely a matter of how great the revision and in what particular direction it goes. This interesting chapter in the history of psychoanalysis details the form and function of "the Committee" (Ernest Jones's phrase), the old guard that formed around Freud from 1912 to 1927 to protect what they and Freud thought were the core ideas of psychoanalysis. The Committee, which received less than one sentence in Phyllis Grosskurth's earlier 500-page biography of Melanie Klein, seems here to have taken on the quality of an obsession; it is fleshed out and painted in gaudy, fauvist colors, and ultimately degraded as a failure of the individual and collective group experience.

As the author notes, this book "does not have pretensions to dispassion" (p. 219), a caveat entirely unnecessary, as the reader immediately sees from the opening list of "clever" captions for the illustrations that will appear later in the text. Here we find "The passionate duo: Freud and Wilhelm Fliess," followed by "Carl Jung, who refused to be subdued," and "Elma Palos, loved by Ferenczi but rejected by Freud as a surrogate daughter-in-law," and so on. One of the last of these is "Freud with the two problematic women in his life, mother Amalia and wife Martha."

So the author makes very clear the stance from which she writes this account. However, the Committee, with all its successes and failures, is not the true source of the author's main complaint: "It occurred to me," she writes, "that the story of the Committee might serve as a metaphor for the psychoanalytic movement itself. The force of Freud's personality and ideas had engendered a cult of personality in which Freud, as guru, had demanded complete personal and professional loyalty… The subtext of psychoanalytic history is the story of how Freud manipulated and influenced his followers and successors… The various psychoanalytic societies that emerged from the Committee were like Communist cells, in which the members vowed eternal obedience to their leader" (p. 15). "The story of the Secret Committee is one of devotion and betrayal, diligence and carelessness, altruism and selfishness.

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