Tag Archive | "fascism"

Wilhelm Reich’s Social and Political Insights


Presented at the Institute for Orgonomic Science Conference, entitled: “Science, Love and Society: an Introduction to Orgonomy, the Work of Wilhelm Reich”
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, April 11, 2015

I’ve been studying Wilhelm Reich’s social and political thought for the last ten years. Here is some of what I’ve learned.

Wilhelm Reich was a psychoanalyst but also a profound psychoanalytic theorist, an orgone therapist and social activist, a laboratory scientist exploring physiology and biology, a natural scientist making profound observations and experiments in biophysics and meteorology, a cosmologist and philosopher of science, a social theorist and in one sense a theologist–I’m thinking of one of his later books, The Murder of Christ.

In her Foreword to the compilation Selected Writings, Mary Higgins, the Trustee of Reich’s estate, said: “The vastness of Wilhelm Reich’s scientific accomplishments has always created a problem of too muchness.”

In her Foreword to the compilation Selected Writings, Mary Higgins, the Trustee of Reich’s estate, said: “The vastness of Wilhelm Reich’s scientific accomplishments has always created a problem of too muchness.”

The reference to “too muchness” is an allusion to some comments Reich himself made towards the end of his life in his book, Ether, God and Devil, where Reich noted that he was forced by the facts, especially the discovery of orgone energy, to cross boundaries typically viewed as sacrosanct by scientists.

“As a consequence, I often had to defend myself against the reproach that I did not respect my proper scientific boundaries, that I had undertaken “Too Much At Once.”…No one has felt the TOO-MUCHNESS as painfully as myself.”

In the face of the “too much” I am going to limit myself (mostly) to a single work, Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism. (Hereafter, MPF.)

But even here, I will be forced to ignore a wealth of material: we could easily spend an entire conference on just this one work.

I want to begin by emphasizing the importance of Reich’s social and political thought in his work. Reich first referred to orgone energy in the Spring of 1939. After that his press published twelve titles, including Contact with Space, brought out after his death. At least six belong squarely in the social and political camp.

Here is a list of the titles; those in BOLD I consider social and political:
Further Problems of Work Democracy
The Function of the Orgasm
Character Analysis
The Sexual Revolution
The Mass Psychology of Fascism
The Cancer Biopathy
Listen, Little Man!
Ether, God and Devil
Cosmic Superimposition
The Murder of Christ
People in Trouble
Contact with Space

In what follows I’m going to limit myself by following a script and avoiding examples and other asides, thereby providing what I hope will be ample time for interaction with you all.

Here are the themes I will address:

  • Reich’s understanding of fascism
  • Reich’s answer to fascism: work democracy
  • The determining role of sexuality in all this

Here are the themes I will address:

  • Reich’s understanding of fascism
  • Reich’s answer to fascism: work democracy
  • The determining role of sexuality in all this

Reich on fascism:

Originally, Fascists were members of the Italian political party, The National Fascist Party (Partito Nazionale Fascista; PNF) created by Benito Mussolini in the 1920s.

But for Reich, and many other progressives, fascism is not the name of a party or necessarily a political government or state. He is obviously using the term in a wider sense as did those on the left during the 1920s and 1930s in Europe and as some progressives now refer to the United States as having “fascistic tendencies.”

One theme in MPF is the strong connection between the authoritarian patriarchal family structure and fascism. The stronger the role of the authority the more likely the child will become a good follower or mindless rebel, neither of which moves society forward, and both of which contribute to a fascist like society. For Reich it might be best to speak of a fascistic character structure.

One theme in MPF is the strong connection between the authoritarian patriarchal family structure and fascism. The stronger the role of the authority the more likely the child will become a good follower or mindless rebel, neither of which moves society forward, and both of which contribute to a fascist like society. For Reich it might be best to speak of a fascistic character structure.

While authoritarian family structure remains a dominant one world wide, there has arisen, in reaction perhaps, the anti-authoritarian family, which often takes the form of parents refusing to set any limits at all for children.

Reich dealt with this in a way in his correspondence with Neill, the famous progressive educator and then head of Summerhill school in England. Both had children born in the mid 1940s. (Peter Reich was born in 1944; Zoe Neill in 1946.) In their correspondence we see the two elderly parents struggling to foster a climate which would permit their children to self-regulate their behavior but in less than ideal circumstances.

As for those parents who are fearful of setting limits, I am reminded of the Ancient saying:

Without a firm bank the stream becomes a swamp.                     

(Actually, I made this up but it could be an ancient saying, and now, with time, may become one!) Ideally, those limits would be self-imposed, if a person were truly capable of self-regulation.

Psychoanalysis speaks of transference, where feelings, both positive and negative towards one’s parents, get put on one’s therapist; but there is also transference in real life. From family to school to political affiliation to political engagement: the obedient child becomes the obedient student and later the obedient citizen…or the rebel without a rational cause.

Children go from authoritarian families into authoritarian educational systems and end up incapable of taking responsibility for their own lives, incapable of critical thinking, unable to live freely and fully, fearful of standing out, driven to mindless conformity.

Children go from authoritarian families into authoritarian educational systems and end up incapable of taking responsibility for their own lives, incapable of critical thinking, unable to live freely and fully, fearful of standing out, driven to mindless conformity.

People want to be told what to do.  A brief aside: When I was in therapy with Dr. Sobey, who was trained by Reich (this goes back to the 1960s), Sobey would never give me advice, even when I announced in therapy I was about to do something that was rather silly. (He couldn’t hide his reaction completely: I noticed him flinch slightly, but he didn’t say a word.) Later when it came time to undo that silliness (it had to do with an impulsive marriage), he said, “I wondered how long that compulsive thing would last!”

I recognize that there all sorts of exceptions to this general characterization, but even among less restrictive, more human families and schools, the big “don’t touch it” of sexuality typically remains and continues to be highly problematic.

The repression of emotional expression generally and sexual longing in particular produces anxiety, and one way to lessen that anxiety is to follow the leader, to give up one’s individual responsibility in favor of buying into the all knowing ideology of a political party or a church or a new-age guru.

The repression of emotional expression generally and sexual longing in particular produces anxiety, and one way to lessen that anxiety is to follow the leader, to give up one’s individual responsibility in favor of buying into the all knowing ideology of a political party or a church or a new-age guru.

Reich: “The individual brought up in the authoritarian way does not know the natural laws of self-regulation; he is afraid of his sexuality because he has never learned to live it naturally; he has no confidence in himself. Therefore, he declines responsibility for his actions and decisions and demands guidance.”

It is in the Family that the seeds are planted: Think of the role of the family authority in the context of emotional repression and specifically sexual repression.

At one point Reich refers to the authoritarian family as “the factory of reactionary ideology and structure.”

At one point Reich refers to the authoritarian family as “the factory of reactionary ideology and structure.”

Now our natural emotional responses are quite strong, instinctual, and unless a child has endured all kinds of horrible experiences in utero, we can easily see these responses in a healthy baby:

  • They don’t just cry: they wail
  • They yawn and stretch
  • If startled, they shake all over
  • They smile and soon learn to laugh
  • They have a will of their own, and when thwarted they get furious [terrible twos]
  • They are sexual beings

Think for a moment as to how we repress our natural urges. Take crying for example.  If you are crying, and you are told that big boys don’t cry, or you are told, stop that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about, what do you do? There is only one way: you hold your breath, you stifle the spontaneous movement of your diaphragm, the heaving of your chest.

So early on armoring forms against emotional expression accompanied by the internalizing of an ideology of repression. Once internalized it is then reinforced by the social structures and later acted out against or to one’s own offspring.

So early on armoring forms against emotional expression accompanied by the internalizing of an ideology of repression. Once internalized it is then reinforced by the social structures and later acted out against or to one’s own offspring.

How many of us now yawn freely, not just tear up but wail, get truly furious, long for something, shake when we are terrified? Most of us have learned to keep a tight lid on all such expressions.  

All of this is gendered as well: in our society women are given more slack to cry (harkens back to the 19th century notion that women are emotional and incapable of rational thought), while men are allowed to express anger…but certainly not sadness.

Think of the ways in which we pathologize crying. Our language reflects this. We speak of  losing it in public; when I hear this I want to say, “no you were about to gain it, you were about to discharge some of your sadness.” Or we speak of feeling vulnerable. When are knights of old vulnerable? When they take off their armor! Some of us are old enough to remember the brouhaha about Edmund Muskie’s tears and how this undermined his presidential ambitions in 1972.

Fascism is in the body, so to say. That is, muscular armor, originally developed to repress emotional response and then later sexual urges: we carry fascism within us, in our tight muscles, in our inability to give into the natural, in our inability to take complete responsibility for our lives and our environment. 

In his book Function of the Orgasm, Reich uses very telling terms: he refers to “the encrustations and rigidifications of human emotional life.”

With the repression of natural sexuality the organism has to handle the energy in some way. It gets bound up in muscular armor. In some cases it seems bound up completely, leading to lower energy levels and all sorts of biopathies, or patterns of illness. Here Reich refers to the quiet neurotic, homo normalis.

In others when impulses encounter the armoring the impulse comes through in distorted fashion. Instead of the longing for the loving and respectful embrace of an emotional equal, the now distorted secondary layer impulse becomes a longing to dominate the other, to act sadistically towards the other, etc.

These are just examples, but for Reich all so-called “perversions” are due to armoring, in the absence of which we wouldn’t need to worry about foot fetishists, masochistic fantasies (think of the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray) rape, pedophilia, and the like.

but for Reich all so-called “perversions” are due to armoring, in the absence of which we wouldn’t need to worry about foot fetishists, masochistic fantasies (think of the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray) rape, pedophilia, and the like.

This armoring affects more than our sexual impulses: it also effects our thinking, reinforcing the authoritarian attitudes instilled in us as youths.

How else to explain the widespread irrationality we see in the world? Either people are inherently foolish, or something has happened to inhibit our natural good common sense and curiosity about the world.

How else to explain the widespread irrationality we see in the world? Either people are inherently foolish, or something has happened to inhibit our natural good common sense and curiosity about the world.

Reich assumes the latter: he has a positive view of human nature, unlike the later Freud and others, who felt that human nature must be repressed because of our inherent evil impulses. I’m thinking specifically of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, a book which Reich suggests was written in response to Reich’s arguments about preventing neuroses rather than trying to cure it.

And at times these irrational thoughts collude with others, and give rise to what he called “The Emotional Plague.” This phenomenon seems inseparable from fascistic tendencies, so we should pause and describe it a bit.

While Reich uses the phrase throughout MPF, he only defines it once and in this way.

“What philosophers, poets, vacuous politicians, but also great psychologists call “human nature,” is absolutely identical with the sex-economic clinical concept of the “emotional plague.” It is the sum total of all irrational life functions in the animal, man.

His thinking on the emotion plague evolved and later he used it to refer to a particular social phenomenon.

From Character Analysis, 3rd edition, 1949:

“While the emotional plague is indeed a character neurosis or character biopathy in the strict sense of the word, it is also more than that, and this “more” distinguishes it from biopathies and character neuroses. We can define the emotional plague as human behavior that, on the basis of a biopathic character structure, operates in an organized or typical way in interpersonal, i.e., social, relations and in social institutions.

Here Reich distinguishes between the ordinary neurotic, who goes about his business, the typical little man, not making waves, but also not advancing things, etc, and the social organization of such neurotics acting together in ways that inhibit human freedom, and human growth. The attacks on Reich while he was alive and the continued dismissal of Reich as a crackpot are perfect examples of the emotional plague.

The source of this irrationality, whether expressed in the individual or in an organized manner is the same:

Reich:
“As social and clinical sex-economy has convincingly demonstrated, the mechanism which makes the masses of people incapable of freedom is the social suppression of genital love life in children, adolescents and adults.”

Reich:
“As social and clinical sex-economy has convincingly demonstrated, the mechanism which makes the masses of people incapable of freedom is the social suppression of genital love life in children, adolescents and adults.”

Sexual Repression; the authoritarian family; children and women having no say; education based on “rote” learning: if these are the seeds of fascism, then the seeds of liberation are easy to discern: egalitarian family structures; women (as well as men) as leaders; children having a voice; children educated to think critically; infantile and adolescent sexuality are recognized and supported in appropriate ways.

To summarize, the more sexuality is taboo, is forbidden or distorted, and when engaged in is rape-like (given the power dynamics between men and women in the authoritarian social setting), the more likely the political structure will be fascistic. And, conversely, the more egalitarian the family, the more sexuality has been allowed its natural expression, the less fascistic the government and society.

To summarize, the more sexuality is taboo, is forbidden or distorted, and when engaged in is rape-like (given the power dynamics between men and women in the authoritarian social setting), the more likely the political structure will be fascistic. And, conversely, the more egalitarian the family, the more sexuality has been allowed its natural expression, the less fascistic the government and society.

So, fascism is not so much a party political phenomena: you don’t get rid of it by banning neo-nazi political organizations, though that is not a bad idea. Fascism is in the blood of the average person. It gets expressed personally in the everyday neurotic; and it gets expressed socially in the emotional plague character structure.

So, fascism is not so much a party political phenomena: you don’t get rid of it by banning neo-nazi political organizations, though that is not a bad idea. Fascism is in the blood of the average person. It gets expressed personally in the everyday neurotic; and it gets expressed socially in the emotional plague character structure.

For Reich, the most important hallmark–road-sign, indiction–is the unfounded belief that someone else will solve your problems for you. Again and again in MPF he rails against the inability of homo normalis to take responsibility for his lived situation. 

As for what Reich means by sexual health, I’ve studied with care his various programs for “sexual hygiene” in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and I don’t think his later thought was in any way different on this score.

A SEXUALLY HEALTHY SOCIETY 

  • Personal control of one’s own sexual life
  • Access to technologies to support personal control
  • End of compulsory marriage [communal child rearing as on Israeli kibbutzes, complete lack of financial dependence of spouses...]
  • Adequate privacy for all
  • Fostering of infantile, childhood and adolescent sexuality [not encouragement nor mere tolerance]
  • Elimination of all forms of sexual exploitation
  • Support for “sexual minorities”

Reich very early on in the 1920s was a vocal supporter for decriminalization of homosexuality, and he was impressed with the fact that that did happen in the Soviet Union right after the revolution, but sadly, as Stalin solidified his power, laws prohibiting male homosexuality were reintroduced, and now we know that in the current day Russia homophobia is quite extreme.

Reich very early on in the 1920s was a vocal supporter for decriminalization of homosexuality.

A sexually healthy society is a prerequisite for a work-democratic one.

A WORK DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY

  • All work is “vitally necessary work,” as defined by Reich as work which meets human needs. [Reich was a vocal critique of advertising and its ability to create false needs: see People in Trouble and Further Problems of Work Democracy.]
  • No economic exploitation. [No private ownership or state ownership but social ownership: workers own and run their businesses.]
  • No environmental exploitation.
  • Work, not labor

This one requires some explanation. Labor is something you engage in in order to get something else, like food, shelter, or to meet your other needs. Work is something you engaged in out of your humanness: it is an expression of your being, comes from your heart or your loins, not from external need.

  • All leadership is local and revocable. 

This one requires some explanation. Labor is something you engage in in order to get something else, like food, shelter, or to meet your other needs. Work is something you engaged in out of your humanness: it is an expression of your being, comes from your heart or your loins, not from external need.

This too is not self-explanatory. At one point (in an essay entitled “Work Democracy in Action,” Reich discusses his leadership of the Orgone Institute. He there said that if someone came along who understood the functioning of the institute better than Reich did, then that person would be the new director. Leadership of a group is not a matter of garnering votes (indeed, voting has nothing or little to do with the kind of democracy Reich is promoting) but of figuring out the best person for the job. Assuming the workers are free of greed, longing for power, and other neurotic needs, they will easily recognize who is the best person for the leadership role. Whatever anarchist tendencies one finds in Reich’s work, he did not endorse the magical thinking that a group could miraculously function without a leader.

Finally,

  • Work is in harmony with nature.
  • Every individual worker takes complete responsibility for her or his living and work environment.

Work democracy can be understood as the natural way people relate in the face of social needs and demands: they naturally organize themselves to take on the task before them. Reich firmly believed that within humans is the natural urge/need to work and to do so cooperatively.

Work democracy can be understood as the natural way people relate in the face of social needs and demands: they naturally organize themselves to take on the task before them. Reich firmly believed that within humans is the natural urge/need to work and to do so cooperatively.

Examples abound, but mainly in times of crisis. I was in Dresden when the Elbe last flooded in 2013. I watched as young people came from all over the areas to fill sandbags and place them along the river’s edge. No one appeared to be telling them what to do, or how to do it. They just did it. Immediately after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 “first responders” from all over the country, on their own, drove to NYC, parked their vehicles near the Javits Center on 34th Street, and walked to the site and began searching through the wreckage for survivors. Such examples–and their number can easily be multiplied–give us hints as to how we would behave all the time were we free of armoring. 

As for next steps: I’m in no better position than any of you to say something insightful here, but it seems to me that we have to use the current legislative structures to guarantee a future that will then permit us to evolve into a people who won’t need those very legislative structures.

In 1954, reflecting on his 1952 interview with a representative of the Freud Archives, Reich said: “The developments in science and education within the next one hundred years will be decisive in establishing whether this interview will have any meaning whatsoever, or whether the evasion of the issues of babyhood and motherhood will continue to mess up more centuries of human destiny.

In 1954, reflecting on his 1952 interview with a representative of the Freud Archives, Reich said: “The developments in science and education within the next one hundred years will be decisive in establishing whether this interview will have any meaning whatsoever, or whether the evasion of the issues of babyhood and motherhood will continue to mess up more centuries of human destiny.

Elsewhere I recall him saying something like it will take hundreds of years for people fully to appreciate his work.

But it seems painfully obvious to me that we can’t count on some future understanding if we destroy the planet in the meantime. The end of the state and its replacement by some form of self-governing work democracy, is possible, if Reich is right, but we have to evolve into it. In the meantime, we must clean our nest.

Reich’s discussion of work democracy as I’ve presented it may sound highly utopian. Yet there are many examples worker owned and worker managed businesses, so we know that such a vision is quite practical, at least on a small scale. (See for example the recently published What Then Must We Do: Straight Talk about the next American Revolution, by Gar Alperovitz.) As for the larger ideals, even if they seem darn near impossible, we need a vision of where we are heading:

“Where there is no vision the people perish.” Old Testament.

And we can take responsibility now and begin developing work democratic structures in the organizations to which we belong, and in other aspects of our lives.

We can also strive for sexual health and take on the responsibility for establishing loving, gentle deep natural sexual unions, or seeking therapeutic help that will make such relationships possible.

In The Mass Psychology of Fascism there is a passage in which Reich references his motto:

“According to work-democratic thinking, all politics which is not based on love, work and knowledge, and therefore is irrational, belongs in the field of the emotional plague. In this manner, work democracy provides a simple answer to the perennial question as to how to get at human nature: Education, hygiene and medicine, which always have been struggling with human nature without much success, have a powerful ally against the emotional plague: the rational functions of vitally necessary work.”

Or more succinctly, if you get confused or lost, here is the map that hopefully brings you back to reality of your–of all of ours–task:

Love, Work and Knowledge are the well-springs of our life. They should also govern it.

Posted in SociologyComments (1)

The Mass Psychology of Fascism


Recently, in Europe, protesting groups of women have been demanding the freedom to wear restrictive attire (burqa, hijab).  The controversy started in France with the proposed ban on the traditional head wear .  Shortly thereafter, Germany started struggling with its own version of the controversial French law.  This divisive issue unlike any other in our recent times has sparked a heated debate overlapping religion, culture, oppression, freedom, judgement and mass psychology.  This has lead to a dilemma for European leaders in reconciling the demands of group of people with its own democratic principals.

This has happened many times throughout the history , albeit  in different forms and various masks.   Here we will explore a historical  parallel .

Dr. Wilhelm Reich’s book, The Function of the Orgasm states “Hitler promised male supremacy.  Women were to be relegated to the kitchen at home, denied the possibility of material independence and be excluded from the process of molding social life.  Women whose personal freedom had been suppressed for centuries and who had developed an especially strong fear of leading an independent existence were the foremost in hailing him,…  Intense longing for freedom on the part of masses,plus the fear of the responsibility which freedom entails produces fascistic mentality, whether this longing and fear are found in a Fascist or in a Democrat,…The masses of people affirmed and concretely implemented their own suppression. The need for authority proved to be stronger than the will to independence.”

The Women who cheered for Hitler in the 1930’s and 1940’s and in doing so voted for their own restrictions are the same women that today in France and Germany are demanding their own restrictions in a different dress.  These women, distanced by time and different in many features  share a common basic element with each other.  They are both structurally incapable of attaining freedom.   Both groups of women suffer from structural restrictions within themselves which we call emotional armoring.

The process of armoring was discovered by Dr. Wilhelm Reich and has been described in detail in orgonomic literature and in the Journal of Psychiatric Orgone Therapy.  Physical and psychological armoring occurs in children and adolescents, as they struggle with their oppressive environment and sexually repressive family upbringings.  The clash of primary instinctual desires with outer prohibitions is what leads to armoring. The stronger and more vicious the oppression, the more profound the armoring.

Armoring of the organism distorts its primary and natural impulses and impedes the flow of Biological Eneregy- Orgone energy- from the core to the periphery.  Armoring changes the primary drives and distorts them into secondary manifestations.

This then becomes the source of neurotic symptoms that disturb and agonize the inflicted individual.  Primary biological energy that seeks expansion and expression also gets distorted into destructive, sadistic actions towards society.  Reich called this “the emotional plague”.  Armored men and women become full of contradictions within themselves.  They become helpless and incapable of freedom because they become trapped from within.  They loose the ability to make decisions based on their primary desires and they seek authority to make decision for them. Their primary desires and wishes become distorted and manifest in irrational ways causing their own suffering. Then soon they hate anyone who reminds them of freedom that they once so ardently desired and finally would prosecute and murder anyone who speaks about it.

European leaders are now scratching their heads about how to resolve this conflict.  However, to those familiar with orgonomy and the work of Dr. Reich, this conflict comes as no surprise.

Reich says, in the book Reich Speaks of Freud, “I don’t believe that there will be any solution to any social problem as long as children and adolescents grow up with stasis of biological energy….You can’t impose freedom on the ruined bioenergetic system of children.

Human psychological structure  which is shaped in a mutilating authoritarian family, creates the potential for self destructive irrational actions.  Case in point are the women who today are hailing for the right to wear restrictive attire.  Knowledge of this process is essential for those who intend to introduce democratic change, establish freedom and foster human dignity.

It is therefore essential,from our point of view, for our leaders and those who long for democracy to familiarize themselves with the principals of orgonomy in relation to the human psyche.  Without such knowledge nothing will change and we will witness the repetition of history again and again.

Posted in SociologyComments (12)


Upcoming Conference

Subscribe Via Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wilhelm Reich – Founder of Orgone Therapy

Annals of The Institute for Orgonomic Science (December, 2015)

Featured Book: Character Analysis

Available for purchase via the Wilhelm Reich Museum.

Browse our Archives