Mexico and “Wild Psychoanalysis”

Many know the story of Leon Trotsky’s exile to Mexico City in 1936, when he became close friends with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, only to be assassinated by Ramón Mercader del Río, a Catalán activist who bludgeoned the Russian revolutionary to death with an ice axe in retribution for having “betrayed the Revolution.”

Yet few know that this event played an important role in bringing Freudian psychoanalysis to Mexico.

Professor Rubén Gallo of Princeton told the lesser know side of this story in a well-attended talk on February 20, sponsored by the UC Davis Multidisciplinary Psychoanalytic Research Cluster, the DHI’s Global Health Cluster and the Hemispheric Institute of the Americas. Drawing from a chapter in his recently published monograph, Freud’s Mexico: Into the Wilds of Psychoanalysis (MIT Press, 2010), Gallo recounted this intriguing, early episode in the cultural history of psychoanalytic theory in Mexico.

Freud had one book on Mexico in his library, as Gallo’s research discovered, a tome on jurisprudence written by Raul Carrancá y Trujillo. Carrancá was a young, post-revolutionary intellectual and a huge fan of Freud´s work; the two had even exchanged a few friendly letters in the early 30s, as the lawyer, an amateur psychologist, was attempting to modernize Mexican penal code with psychoanalytic theory. By 1943, Carrancá had been appointed judge when he met Trotsky’s assassin and became involved in the case.

Intrigued by Mercader’s insistence on a false Belgian identity, Carrancá subjected the Spanish assassin to intensive psychoanalytic testing for nearly six months. Unsurprisingly, his story lends itself to many Freudian interpretations: Mercader’s mother had left his father in Barcelona to become a spy for Stalin and the lover of one of his hired assassins. Ultimately, it was Mercader’s own mother who convinced her son to murder Trotsky in the name of Stalin. For Gallo, “the complex world of Soviet espionage was reduced to the Oedipus complex.”

This story is but one of several key examples of what Gallo calls “wild psychoanalysis,” by amateur therapists and early converts to Freudian theory in Mexico. Gallo’s presentation was a fascinating glimpse into one of the many, subtle connections between Mexico and Freud.