Socialism and Recovery*
There is no mass people’s organization or movement in the United States today which practices socialist principles as thoroughly (in other words, defining the life process of the association), as consistently (in its day-to-day practice), and as extensively (with hundreds-of-thousands, nay, millions of people) as the Recovery Movement, in its variegated manifestations (i.e., AA, NA, OA, Parents Anonymous, Incest Survivors Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Co-dependents Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Obsessive/Compulsive Anonymous, etc.), and thousands of autonomous groups inside these associations.
When people try to mix two phenomena which otherwise have been viewed as distinct from each other, such as trying to merge an Italian culinary bent with Chinese cooking appurtenances for the same dish, or trying to mingle Hip-Hop with gospel music, or trying to blend existentialism with Hinduism, such individuals are generally accused of having committed the methodological crime of eclecticism. Therefore, in this effort to explain the internal, cellular tie between recovery movement practice and that of socialism, we ask the reader to follow this closely. The suggestion here is to let go of prejudgment and listen attentively to the facts as they unfold into what we believe is an organic logic.
The founders of scientific socialism look to the first over one-hundred-thousand years of human social organization, that is, to indigenous/communal society, for clues regarding human nature. According to the method and theory of historical materialism, human nature is not static, but evolves in accordance with the conditions of life of humans. The promise of socialism lies, not only in the cooperative ways of the international working class, but first of all in these first over one-hundred-thousand years, which were lived without hierarchy, without money, without property, and without prestige or power-over. Socialists cite the living and working conditions of the international working class to justify their assertion that human nature now has the conditions which make it possible to return to such a social organization. Socialists see this “return” as one taking place on a universal, planetary basis, rather than on the level of individual bands of 30 to 200 people, as was indigenous society for one-hundred-thousand years (Amin, 1980, p252).
It is well known that the psychology-field practitioner who was most allied with the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous was Carl Jung (Bill W., 2005). Although Jung was a professed and practicing Nazi,1 thousands of new age spiritualists cite his contributions in linking psychology to spiritualism as a breakthrough for the field. Thousands of people in the West are able to get past Jung’s Nazi-ism by referring to his claim to have left it in his past as a mistake. Alcoholics Anonymous, in particular, and the recovery movement, in general, credit Jung with having brought medical science to the firm understanding of the disease of addiction as one which has a spiritual component central to its definition, and to the conclusion that the disease of addiction absolutely cannot be cured by mere medical scientific means, but that a spiritual solution is requisite for its arrest.
Not so well known is how Jung came to these understandings, and how he was able to impart them convincingly to the founders of AA:
Jung spent years researching indigenous peoples of East Africa and of the Americas. (1930; 1960; 1964) He discovered for “civilized people” that these “primitive peoples,” as he called these Native Americans and indigenous Africans, used ritual, community mobilization and spiritualism to address issues of physical, emotional and mental health. 2 (1960; 1964) The conviction that he came away with, as one of the founders of modern psychology, was nothing short of revelatory. As a medical scientist Jung counseled the founders of AA that recovery from addiction was impossible save from help beyond medical science in a power greater than humans. Jung understood that the dis-ease of addiction was inside all who breathe the air of this culture. Paraphrasing Jung, Bill W, one of the founders of AA, has him saying, “Any person who has reached forty years of age, and who still has no means of comprehending who he is, where he is, or where he is next going, cannot avoid becoming a neurotic — to some degree or other. This is true whether his youthful drives for sex, material security, and a place in society have been satisfied, or not satisfied.” (Bill W., 1988, pp266–267)
Again, Jung gained this conviction from his study of the healing practices of indigenous peoples. That he nowhere gives credit to this source, (except in the most contradictory way, that of crediting his own scientific research skills!) is part of the legacy of his Nazi-ism. His advice to the AA founders derives in practice from the organizational forms of the indigenous/communal societies he studied. These societies are the social soil which gave birth to the spiritual principles which Jung espoused in his counsel to the founders of AA.
The common foundations of the recovery movement organizational form (codified in the Twelve Traditions), on one hand, and that of the vision of socialism, on the other, are not fortuitous. As we have propounded earlier, the recovery movement itself is, in practice, a working class movement (Lynn, 2017). The horizontal circle form of leadership (Traditions Two and Three) — no bosses, no experts, no authorities above the group, are of both working class practice and socialist vision.
No money, no property, no professionalism as against the rest of the society (recovering people in the group) (Traditions Seven, Eight and Nine) are all elements of the projections which socialists make of the future in communist association.
Finally, and most importantly is Tradition Twelve, “the spiritual foundation of all our traditions”: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
This principle of anonymity, as it is practiced by hundreds of thousands, nay millions of people in recovery, emerged in the same way that all lasting principles emerge — through trial and error, through social practice. The experience, first of hundreds, and then of thousands of recovering alcoholics, was that making the spiritual practice public, by self-promoting, seeking individual notoriety because of their success (in recovery or anything else), always led to the failure of their recovery — to relapse, to further destruction and death at the hands of the disease.
(This, again, is one of the central distinctions between religion and spiritual practices. Where religion proselytizes, spiritual practices — the recovery way in this case — reach others through “attraction rather than promotion;” Tradition Eleven.)
Any faithful practitioner of the method of historical materialism, and any socialist worth her oats, understands that socialism is a living, breathing organism. It grows and changes as our experience of revolution and liberation are strengthened, deepened and extended. In this connection, the cult of personality has been exposed as a social/political disorder — a major mill-stone ‘round the neck of any popular movement. While the cult of personality led to the calamitous countenance of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, it was used behind the back of the great socialist revolutionary, Mao Zedong, as a way of making him an abstraction, and thereby reducing his vision to that of quasi-religious or mystical irrelevance.
Socialist revolutionaries around the world are aware of the deleterious effect of the cult of personality. Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) of Peru, once a very powerful socialist revolutionary movement, which distinguished itself by its reliance on the indigenous ways of the Native American population in Peru’s hinterland (jungle interior), lost its way in no small part due to the cult of personality surrounding its leadership. This cult of personality was directly contradictory to what gave Sendero Luminoso much of its legitimacy as a social movement — it’s reliance on a horizontally organized population with no prestigious leaders, that is, the Native population.
In an interview with Askeget Stefanos, founding member of both the Eritreans for Liberation in North America and the Association of Eritrean Women in North America, she insisted that, “Real leadership has a personality that is irrelevant…; real leadership is collective and not of an individual, it is of an organization, and its personality needs to be anonymous. This method of leadership reflects a culturally constructed way of how people treat each other in Eritrean society, a collective way of life which the EPLF [Eritrean People’s Liberation Front then, and now the government of Eritrea] has revived and turned into an instrument of the construction of the national identity.” (Healing in the National Liberation Movements, 1999, pp23–24)
Likewise, the revolutionary African American youth organization, Free My People, developed a concept of leadership which was distinct from individual attributes. Basing its political activism in recovery principles, Free My People dedicated itself to propagating a leadership which was an attribute of the community and not of any one person.
That the recovery movement has flourished on the basis of the principle of anonymity (“the spiritual foundation of all our traditions”) is at once a function of, and at the same time a condition of the fact that it could not have survived at all, on the level of an association, or on an individual level, without adherence to this principle. Without adhering to the principles of humility, humbleness, and honoring the collective over any one leader, it was proven in practice that the groups could not survive (the ones which did not follow this principle died a quiet death) and the individuals would relapse into what this study is calling the core of the spiritual identity of the present dying social order, addiction.
The principle of anonymity is a permanent contribution to socialism made by a spiritual movement in the West, the recovery movement.
If I were asked which of our blessings I felt was most responsible for our growth as a fellowship and most vital to our continuity, I would say, the ‘concept of anonymity’.”
Bill W, co- founder, Alcoholics Anonymous
1 Jung’s history with the Nazis is storied and irrefutably documented. See in this regard the most authoritative compendium of Jung’s collaboration with, and embracing of, the Nazis in Against Therapy, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (1994).
2 Regarding Jung’s break with Nazi-ism, there is no question that his contribution to the recovery way is a major contribution. To the extent that he borrowed from the traditions of native peoples, indigenous peoples, in his research, while European states were militarily occupying the land of and enslaving the peoples of the nations he was studying; and to the degree to which this borrowing is nowhere acknowledged by the founders of AA, we must call this borrowing cultural imperialism. In this connection, as African Americans, for example, “adopt the recovery way,” we are in fact reconnecting with ways which are part of our ancestral heritage. The pre-democratic ways, the non-hierarchical circle ways of the Recovery Movement, have been put to great use by oppressed people of all nationalities in this country, and viewed from this perspective we have overcome the original perpetration (imperialism and cultural imperialism) and reclaimed, in the search for righteousness, health and wholeness, our traditional healing ways.
Amin. Samir. (1980). The law of value and historical materialism. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Bill W. (2005). The Language of the Heart. New York: The AA Grapevine, Inc.
Lynn. Alexander (1999). Healing in the National Liberation Movements. Boston: United Youth of Boston.
Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff. (1994). Against Therapy. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.
* This essay is excerpted from Alexander Lynn, The Community Teacher’s Guide to Liberation Pedagogy, pp174–177, Chapter Four, “People’s Spirit”.