Melanie Klein’s influence on British psychoanalysis had begun in the mid-1920s. British analysts who went to Berlin for analysis with Abraham or Sachs were the first to hear of her work with children . This included Edward Glover, his brother James and Ernest Jones. Jones was hesitant about her work to start with, but when she came to London in 1925 to lecture he became more enthusiastic. Klein herself felt spurned in Vienna and isolated in Berlin even though she was appreciated by Ferenczi and Abraham. She moved to London in 1926.
Klein’s departure from classical analysis at this time centred on her treating children’s play as equivalent to free association . In 1926 Anna Freud published her book on child analysis and her views on the early nature of fantasy and transference were very different to those of Melanie Klein, who attacked them at a meeting of the British Society. Klein’s criticisms were supported by Riviere, Sharpe and also Jones. The proceedings were reported in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis . Although Freud took pains to appear neutral it seems likely that his antipathy towards Klein stemmed from that time .
The dispute also fueled Viennese suspicions of London and Jones’s ambitiousness. During the 1930s a series of exchanges began between London and Vienna, but these were cut short by world events . In 1933 the Nazis came to power in Germany. As president of the International Association Jones set about helping refugees leave Germany and settle in England and other countries. Even though he and Anna Freud were on opposite sides of the Klein debate they collaborated to save many lives.
In 1938 the Nazis annexed Austria. Jones immediately went to Vienna and worked with the American diplomat William Bullitt to persuade the Nazis to let Freud and his family move to London . Nearly all the analysts in Vienna came at about the same time.
From the late 1920s Klein had begun to clarify and become more definite about her theories. In 1928 she traced the Oedipus Complex to the earliest months of life and by 1935 she had introduced her concept of the depressive position. While she was in London and the Vienna was in Austria she was well protected by Jones and others, but in 1938 the hostile Viennese became part of London society and a distance of a thousand miles became a thousand yards.
As early as 1935 Klein’s daughter Melitta Schmideberg had begun to dispute with her in scientific meetings. Schmideberg found support from her analyst Edward Glover, who had earlier been a supporter of Klein, but turned against her. She also found support from other ISTD members such as Kate Friedlander and Barbara Low .
In 1939 Jones left London to practice in Sussex. Though still President he left the running of many meetings to his right hand man Edward Glover. By 1941 tensions were running high. Glover became one of the main protagonists in the quarrel and was generally disliked for the high handed and anti-democratic way that he ran the Society .
In 1942 there were a series of acrimonious business meetings chaired by Jones. As a result he decided to hold a series of theoretical discussions to air the controversial views. These became known as the ‘Controversial Discussions’ and took place between October 1942 and February 1944.
Susan Isaacs and Paula Heimann, two of Klein’s closest collaborators spoke on her behalf. Anna Freud, Glover, the Schmidebergs the Hoffers, Friedlander, Low, Burlingham and Lantos vehemently objected to the Kleinian papers. Isaacs is remembered for brilliant defense of Klein. Other British analysts such as Balint, Bowlby and Gillespie supported Klein on some issues and disagreed with her on others – these later became known as the Independent School.
Although in other spheres of life the war helped people pull together, this was not the case for psychoanalysis. During one of these heated ‘Controversial Discussions’ Winnicott is said to have raised his hand and when eventually allowed to speak suggested that they postpone these urgent theoretical discussions in order to take shelter as the air raid siren had sounded some time ago. Overall, the impact of the discussions was to clarify the issues, but if they were intended to resolve the conflict they failed, doomed, not least, by the fact that Jones left the chairing to Glover, who was thoroughly partisan throughout.
The British Society was left riven by dissent and to help resolve matters a general meeting appointed John Rickman, Sylvia Payne and William Gillespie to work out a new constitution. This was drawn up in 1944 and Glover, realising that he had no chance of being elected President, resigned, claiming that ‘the British Psycho-Analytic Society is no longer a Freudian society’. After Jones stood down as president Sylvia Payne was elected. A new tripartite structure was created in the British Society, which was thenceforth divided into the A stream (Kleinian), B stream (Anna Freudian) and the middle group (Independents). The issues were never resolved, the typically British solution was to find a way of working together where no one would ever have to talk about it.