The Sozialistisches Patientenkollektiv [Socialist Patients’ Collective, or SPK] was an organization that formed at the Psychiatric Clinic at the University of Heidelberg in 1970. Under the direction of radical psychiatrist Dr. Wolfgang Huber, SPK advocated an amalgamation of non-hierarchical psychiatry and revolutionary Marxism.
The most famous of the SPK publications, Turn Illness into a Weapon, promoted a radical restructuring of the epistemologies of sickness and health. Believing, as Sartre states in the introduction, that “illness is…the only way of life in capitalism,” they sought to prove that those labeled ill by society had in their illness both the cumulative effects of capitalism as well as healthy responses to an unjust system. For the SPK, the plight of the mentally ill was the center of a robust argument of how capitalist society produces mental illness and that reclaiming this illness is an explosive revolutionary tool.
The SPK’s heterodox views on mental illness were too much for some, even in their milieu of leftist militancy. Upon its publication, Turn Illness into a Weapon was attacked by Ulrike Meinhof of the Red Army Faction, who wrote to Huber, “You were always crazy, but now you have gone completely insane, no, still worse, you have betrayed communism…no worker would read that [book], nobody could understand it. You are forbidden to drag the Party into your filth and I never want to hear thename of Rosa Luxemburg in one of your filthy mouths, for it was her who wrote ‘truth is simple.’” Despite its critique by radicals such as Meinhof, the book was embraced and praised by intellectuals like Sartre, who argued “because capitalism produces illness in everybody, and because ‘psychiatric healing’ only means re-integration of sick people into society…collectives have to struggle to the aim to bring illness to its whole evolution, that means to bring it up to that point where disease becomes a revolutionary power by means of becoming jointly aware by consciousness.” Or, as SPK put it: “Let’s bury the silly hope for health! …there must be no therapeutic act which has not been previously clearly and uniquely shown to be a revolutionary act.”
The radical philosophy of Huber and the SPK eventually led to Huber's removal from Heidelberg University as well as the jailing of several members. Linked continually to more explicitly leftist militant groups like the Red Army Faction, they were persecuted throughout their existence. Though short-lived in its first incarnation (officially disbanding in 1971), different iterations of the group have existed since then and into the present. This collection of 15 SPK publications includes much of the groups’ self-documentation, as well as reflections on the original group by its descendent groups from the 1970s to the present. A crucial collection for anyone interested in the 1960s and ‘70s anti-psychiatry movement. Housed in one museum box.