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The success of the 1918 Congress

In principle, organising an international congress is the responsibility of the President of the IPA, in this case, Berlin analyst Karl Abraham. In a letter dated August 27, Freud wrote Abraham: “I am [...] quite specially looking forward to our meeting at the Congress in Breslau,” planned for September. He seems to be in high spirits, and says: “I can ventru e to join [in the dance] again,” explaining: “I ascribe a good share of my better spirits to the prospects that have opened up in Budapest for the development of our cause.” He is full of praise for Freund, “the sort of person whom one would have to invent if he did not already exist.” Freud ends his letter with a prophecy: “Budapest is well on its way to becoming the center of our movement.” But it was still uncertain whether the Congress could be held in Germany; Abraham was still waiting for authorisation from the German War Ministry. On September 2, Abraham still thought that everything was set for the arrival of the participants on September 21 and 22.

What he didn’t know was that Ferenczi, with support from Rank and Freund, was about to make an important decision, of which he only informed Freud afterwards. The three friends proposed that the Congress be moved fr om Breslau to Budapest. On September 10, Ferenczi explains what led him to take this independent action:

When I made the suggestion of holding it in Budapest, it turned out that I [had] only put into words the secret wish of Rank and Dr. Freund. “En petit comité,” we thereupon decided to proceed on our own recognizance; we sent telegrams “to all” concerned and began preparations for the “Psychoanalytic Congress in Budapest.”

Perhaps Ferenczi thought that his former analyst would be impressed with his decision-making capacity. “It would have cost us much time to seek out your opinion; we also knew that [faced with] such questions you like to reply: ‘I am [staying out of it!]’.” On September 13, not knowing that Freud had written him the same day, Ferenczi worried: “I, Dr. Rank, and Dr. Freund all feel a strong uneasiness, since your concurring reply to our - to be sure, energetic - action still hasn’t arrived.” In his answer of September 17, Freud expresses only one reservation: “The hints that you want to develop the Congress in a ceremonial - official direction have less of my sympathy.”

Thus, the Congress was held in Budapest on September 28 and 29. It was a resounding success. Ferenczi was elected President of the IPA, and Freund its Secretary. Thairks to the anticipated donation, a new German-language international journal was created (Verlag'), and the idea of awarding a prize for exceptional psychoanalytic work was considered. Back in Vienna, on September 30 Freud expressed his wannest thanks to Ferenczi:

On the day of our return, at the threshold of the new work year, I can’t refrain from thanking you for all the evidence of your wann friendship these last few days, and [congratulating] you for the beautiful success of the Congress as well as for your elevation [in rank].

And he adds: “Remember the prophetic words [...] I told you before the first Congress in Salzburg, that we had great things in store for you.” It is becoming clear that Ferenczi holds a privileged place among Freud’s potential heirs: “I am swimming in satisfaction, I am lighthearted, knowing that my problem child, my life’s work, is protected and preserved for the future by your participation and that of others.” On October 4, Ferenczi also confinns that the Congress was a success: “We seem to have greatly impressed the Budapest physicians. I am being congratulated from all sides. I must admit, however, that this elevation hasn’t made me any prouder; it has only increased my sense of duty.”

Aside from the political success which granted Ferenczi a central place in the activities of the psychoanalytic movement - which was regaining vigour as the terrible war was about to end - the Congress also proclaimed the new analytic direction to be pursued. In the paper he presented at the Congress, “Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Therapy,” Freud declared:

Developments in our therapy, therefore, will no doubt proceed along other lines; first and foremost, along the one which Ferenczi, in his paper. “Technical Difficulties in an Analysis of Hysteria” (1919), has lately termed “activity” on the part of the analyst.

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