A country beyond the pleasure principle: Alexander Luria, Death Drive and dialectic in Russia, 1917-1930

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Alexander Luria played a prominent role in the psychoanalytic community that flourished briefly in Soviet Russia in the decade following the 1917 October Revolution. In 1925 he co-wrote an introduction to Sigmund Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle with Lev Vygotsky, which argued that the conservatism of the instincts that Freud described might be overcome through the kind of radical social transformation then taking place in Russia. In attempting to bypass the backward looking aspects of Freud's theory, however, Luria and Vygotsky also did away with the tension between Eros and the death drive; precisely the element of Freud's essay they praised for being ‘dialectical’. This article theoretically unpicks Luria and Vygotsky's critique of psychoanalysis. It concludes by considering their optimistic ideological argument against the death drive with Luria's contemporaneous psychological research findings, proposing that Freud's ostensibly conservative theory may not have been as antithetical to revolutionary goals as Luria and Vygotsky assumed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-182
Number of pages29
JournalPsychoanalysis and History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2016


  • history of psychoanalysis
  • psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union
  • Marxism
  • Russia
  • russian history
  • death drive
  • Alexander Luria
  • Soviet psychology

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