Wilhelm Reich, standing third from left, with a group of communist sympathizers in Vienna (1927) a

The Marxism of Wilhelm Reich

Or, the social function
of sexual repression

Bertell Ollman
Social and Sexual
Revolution (1979)


“Just as Marxism was sociologically the expression of man’s becoming conscious of the laws of economics and the exploitation of a majority by a minority, so psychoanalysis is the expression of man becoming conscious of the social repression of sex.”1 How does sexual repression occur? What forms does it take? What are its effects on the individual? And, above all, what is its social function? Freud deserves credit for first raising these questions, but it is Wilhelm Reich who went furthest in supplying answers. In so doing, he not only developed Freud’s own insights but immeasurably enriched both the theory and practice of Marxism.

Reich’s writings fall into three main categories: 1) that of an analyst and co-worker of Freud’s, 2) that of a Marxist, and 3) that of a natural scientist. In this essay I am only concerned with Reich the Marxist, though excursions into these other fields will occasionally be necessary since the division between them is often uncertain both in time and conception. Reich’s Marxist period runs roughly from 1927, when he joined the Austrian Social Democratic Party, to 1936, when he finally despaired of affecting the strategy of working-class movements. From 1930 to 1933 he was a member of the German Communist Party.

Marx had said, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.”2 This formula has been hotly attacked and defended, but seldom explored. Marxists have generally been content to elaborate on aspects of social existence and to assume a sooner or later, somehow or other, connection of such developments with the mental life of the people involved. Reich is one of the few who took this formula as an invitation to research. How does everyday life become transformed into ideology, into types and degrees of consciousness? What works for such transformation and what against? Where do these negative influences come from, and how do they exert their effect?

Reich believed that psychoanalysis has a role to play in answering these questions. Marxists, however, have always had a particularly strong aversion to Freud’s science. On the practical level, psychoanalysis is carried on by rich doctors on richer patients. Conceptually, it starts out from the individual’s problems and tends to play down social conditions and constraints. It seems to say that early traumatic experiences, especially of a sexual nature, are responsible for unhappiness, and that individual solutions to such problems are possible. It also appears to view the individual’s conscious state as being in some sense dependent on his or her unconscious mental life, making all rational explanation — including Marxism — so much rationalization. In short, in both its analysis and attempts at cure, psychoanalysis takes capitalist society for granted. As if this weren’t enough to condemn it in the eyes of Marxists, psychoanalysis adds what seems to be a gratuitous insult in suggesting that Marxists in their great desire for radical change are neurotic.

Reich is not interested in defending psychoanalysis, particularly psychoanalysis as practiced, from such charges, and even adds to them by carefully restricting what Freud’s science can and cannot do. As an investigation of individual mental processes, it cannot draw conclusions about social processes, either as to how they do or should operate; psychoanalysis is neither a sociology nor a system of ethics. To use psychoanalysis to explain social phenomena — as when S. Laforgue accounts for the existence of the police by reference to people’s need for punishment — is an idealist deviation when it isn’t simply nonsense.3 Similarly, Reich declares, the belief widespread among analysts that the way to social betterment is through a “rational adjustment of human relations and by education toward a conscious control of instinctual life” is not logically derived from Freud’s findings.4

Yet, for Reich, this list of shortcomings does not exhaust the possibilities of psychoanalysis. It is particularly in the effect of social phenomena on individuals that he believes psychoanalysis has something to teach Marxists. In concentrating on what it is about social conditions that produces ideas and attitudes, Marxists have ignored the process by which one gives rise to the other, by which the external situation is transformed into ideology. They also ignore the role played by irrational forces in keeping people from recognizing their interests. According to Reich, Freud’s theories offer the means to correct such oversights.


Freud’s science of psychoanalysis rests on three foundations: the libido theory, the theory of the unconscious, and the theory of the defense mechanisms of the conscious (each understood in light of existing repression). The different schools of psychoanalysis and, indeed, the different periods in Freud’s own life are most readily distinguished by the degree of attention given to each of these foundations.

Of all Freud’s followers, Reich is probably the foremost exponent of the libido theory, which holds that sexual excitement and fantasy are functions of a quantifiable sexual energy. Reich claims: “The basic structure of psychoanalytic theory is the theory of the instincts. Of this, the most solidly founded part is the theory of the libido — the doctrine of the dynamics of the sexual instinct.”5 Even the theory of the unconscious, he believes, is a consequence of the libido theory.6

Paradoxically, Freud’s great “discovery” was known to everybody but was never taken seriously on that account. Who hasn’t experienced a buildup of sexual excitement? Who hasn’t felt a sense of release of sexual tension? Who hasn’t used “more” and “less” in connection with both? People have always discussed sex as if a type of energy were involved. Freud said there is, and, more significantly, gave it a name and function in his broader theory of the personality.

Freud’s conception of instinctual activity focuses on libido but takes in the aim, source, and object of such activity as well. The aim is to increase pleasure and avoid or reduce pain. The source is that part of the body where the tension or irritation is felt, and the object is that which is desired or whatever will relieve this tension. Before Freud, Reich says, instinct theory was in disarray, with as many instincts recognized as there are actions.7 However, the degree of order Freud brought to this situation is somewhat exaggerated. For example, Freud uses “sexual instinct” and “sexual instincts” interchangeably. The former is generally a synonym for libido, while the latter treats each source of libido (mouth, anus, genitals) and, on occasion, each class of objects as indicative of a separate instinct.8

Though Freud spoke of non-sexual instincts, such as the self-preservation or ego instincts, and, later, the death instinct, only sexuality was explored in any detail. In this area, his main achievement lay in expanding the notion of sexuality to include all pleasure functions that are erotic in character and charting their progress from pre-genital to genital forms. Reich, who accepted Freud’s developmental map, was more consistent in linking such views to a single sexual instinct.

Marxists, as a rule, have been very uncomfortable with any theory of the instincts, because talk of instincts is often used to oppose sociological explanations of social phenomena and as a justification for leaving human nature as one finds it. The concept of instinct has also been attacked as but another name for the activities from which it is derived (since it is only in these activities that we observe it), and because what is said to be instinctual behavior differs so much from society to society.9 Such criticisms make a good case for caution, but they do not abolish the need for an instinct theory to explain the universality of the sexual drive. Admittedly, without the assumption of an existing sexual energy, instinct is just another name for observed sexual activity. This is the trap into which Freud, with his occasional talk of sexual instincts, and those of his followers who reject the libido theory fall. With the assumption of libido, on the other hand, different sexual activities become manifestations of one instinct that is something other than the forms it takes.

The chief importance of libido theory is that it serves as the central organizing principle in Freud’s treatment of sexual repression and the resulting neuroses. The given is sexual energy that is forever pressing for release. Sometimes the pressure is great, sometimes meager. Relations with parents, siblings, friends, teachers and others provide the objects and opportunities for gratification. They are also the instruments of social repression. Repression takes place in all the ways human beings fashion and enforce the command “don’t.” The immediate effects are a blocked libido and the creation of a repressive force, or conscience, within the individual him or herself. As pressure from the libido builds up, alternative means of gratification make their appearance. Generally these are permitted by the individual and society only insofar as their real sexual character is disguised. When these alternative means of gratification make it difficult for the individual to function effectively or comfortably in the given surroundings, they become symptoms of neurosis.

Freud distinguished between two kinds of neurosis, actual neurosis and psychoneurosis. The former includes anxiety neurosis and neurasthenia, and is attributed to current disturbances in one’s sexual life. These are simply the immediate results of dammed-up sexuality. Psychoneuroses, on the other hand, such as hysteria and compulsion neurosis, have a psychic content, primarily the patient’s fantasies and fears. To be sure, these ideas generally revolve around real or imagined sexual experiences, but their relation to the patient’s present sexuality is unclear. Freud, whose clinical practice was almost entirely restricted to cases of psychoneurosis, suggested that every psychoneurosis has an “actual neurotic core,” but he never made explicit what it is.

Reich does. He claims that the actual neurotic core Freud spoke of is dammed-up sexual energy, and that it provides the motor force in every psychoneurosis. The psychoneurosis retains its psychic content, but these ideas become troublesome only in the presence of sexual blockage or stasis. It follows that the inner conflict loses its strength when the sexual block is eliminated.10

The criticism most frequently leveled at Reich’s account of neurosis is that many people who suffer from one or another psychoneurosis have a “healthy” sex life. Indeed, it was this observation that kept Freud from following up his own suggestion in the manner of Reich. Reich, too, was perplexed over the ability of people with severe sexual blockage to have erections and experience orgasm. He began to question his patients more closely about the quality of their sexual activity, and he discovered that none of them had great pleasure in the sexual act and that none of them experienced a complete release of tension in orgasm. In none was there “as much as a trace of involuntary behavior or loss of alertness during the act.”11 Reich concluded that erective and ejaculative potency (the only types then recognized by psychoanalysis) did not necessarily lead to orgiastic potency, which he defined as “the capacity to surrender to the flow of biological energy without any inhibition, the capacity for complete discharge of all dammed-up sexual excitation.”12 Only genital orgasm can discharge the full amount of sexual energy generated in the body, but without orgiastic potency a lot of this energy remains blocked and available for neuroses and other kinds of irrational behavior.

The barriers to orgiastic potency that Reich sees are of three sorts: psychic, physical, and social. Psychically, they lie in the patient’s moralistic beliefs and neurotic fantasies and fears, in which considerable sexual energy is invested. Physically, they exist in the bodily attitudes, in the stiffness and awkwardness assumed in self-repression in order to withstand energy breakthroughs. These psychic and physical restrictions interact, and they were incorporated by Reich into the notion of character structure (of which more later). Socially, the barriers to orgiastic potency are not only the repressive conditions that brought about the original stasis, but also the conditions that make it so difficult to achieve a satisfactory love life in the present. The most important of these are the institutions of monogamous marriage and the double standard applied to premarital intercourse.

Freud never accepted Reich’s orgasm theory as a proper extension to his own theory of the libido. As odd as this may seem, it appears that this was due at least in part to sexual prudery. Reich comments, “It is unbelievable but true that an exact analysis of genital behavior beyond such vague statements as ‘I have slept with a man or a woman’ were strictly taboo in psychoanalysis of that time.”13 Probably more important in determining Freud’s refusal was his unwillingness to openly contest the social order. His overriding concern was that the new science of psychoanalysis be accepted. This fear of consequences for his work had not always determined his behavior. In “‘Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness” (1908), Freud made clear society’s responsibility for a wide range of neurotic ills that crossed his couch, and in 1910 he even considered joining his movement to the “International Fraternity for Ethics and Culture” to fight against the repressive influence of church and state.14 Such decisiveness was soon replaced by more ambiguous social criticism and, eventually, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), by an equally ambiguous defense of sexual repression. The very indefiniteness of the libido theory permitted such mutations. The orgasm theory, which identifies society’s role in denying the cure as well as in providing the illness, put psychoanalysis on the collision course that Freud had so far successfully avoided.

Reich’s other main contribution to psychoanalysis, besides the orgasm theory, is his theory of character structure. Reich understands character structure as the internalized pattern of behavior that each person brings to his daily tasks, as organized habit; it “represents the specific way of being of an individual” and is “an expression of his total past.”15 In character structure, the typical reaction has become an automatic one. With this theoretical innovation, the transformation of the whole character replaced symptom relief as the goal of Reich’s therapy.

Alfred Adler had already introduced the concept of character into the psychoanalytic lexicon, but for him it was a way of drawing attention away from the libido theory. He grasped character teleologically, in terms of the individual’s will to power. Reich, on the other hand, accounts for character formation both causally, as a result of early repression, and functionally, as a requirement of the libidinal economy.

For Reich, character structure has its origins in the conflicts of the Oedipal period as ways of responding to external pressures and threats. Both its form and strength reflect the kind of repression which the individual was subjected to at this time. The motive for developing such a structure is conscious or unconscious fear of punishment. Consequently, Reich refers to character structure as a “narcissistic protection mechanism” and says it is composed of “attitudes of avoidance.”16 By acting as parents want, or hiding what one does, or steeling oneself for a spanking, or any combination of these, the child transforms his spontaneity into character structure. Similar responses to teachers, priests, and others as the child grows reinforce and sometimes modify the pattern.

While protection against the outside world is the chief objective in the formation of character structure, this is not its main function in the adult individual. One’s intellect and muscular structure as well as various social institutions protect him/her against external dangers. After maturation, it is mainly against internal dangers, against unruly impulses, that character mechanisms guard. In this case, character structure blocks the impulse and redirects its energy, acting both as suppressing agent and controller of the resulting anxiety. The energy that goes into the formation and maintenance of character structure also reduces the degree of repression needed by reducing the force of the drives to be repressed. Again, because of the energy expended in its maintenance, character structure serves as a means of reducing the tension that has built up as a result of its own operation.

Achieving impulse control in this manner has serious side effects on a person’s overall motility and sensibility. According to Reich, it makes “an orderly sexual life and a full sexual experience impossible.”17 The inhibition and fears, the tense and awkward mannerisms, the stiffness and the deadness, all the manifestations of character structure work against the capacity to surrender in the sexual act and, thus, limit the degree of discharge attained in orgasm. Character structure also deadens people sufficiently for them to do the boring, mechanical work that is the lot of most people in capitalist society.18 The same dulling insulates people from outside stimuli, reducing the impact on them of further education and of life itself. Finally, the increased sexual stasis that results from damming up the libido is responsible for reaction formations, such as the development of an ascetic ideology, which in turn increases the stasis.

Freud had already noted several personality traits and problems that result from sexual repression. Among these are the actual neurosis, tension and anxiety (“modern nervousness”), attenuated curiosity, increased guilt and hypocrisy, timidity, and reduced sexual potency and pleasure. Freud even refers to repressed people as “good weaklings who later become lost in the crowd that tends to follow painfully the initiative of strong characters.”19 This provocative remarks is never developed. Reich, on the other hand, emphasizes those aspects of submissiveness and irrationality that we now associate with the notion of the authoritarian personality. For him, the most important result of sexual repression is that it “paralyzes the rebellious forces because any rebellion is laden with anxiety” and “produces, by inhibiting sexual curiosity and thinking in the child, a general inhibition of thinking and critical faculties.”20 And Reich is unique in rooting these negative qualities in the very character mechanisms responsible for self-repression.

Reich further divides the characterological effects of repression into those that result from membership in a particular class and those that result from living in a class-dominated society. As influences on the instinctual apparatus differ broadly depending on a person’s socioeconomic position, so do certain basic personality traits: “One has only to think of well-known character types such as ‘the bourgeois,’ ‘the official,’ the proletarian,’ etc.”21 Reich’s account of these differences within capitalism is extremely meager compared to what he has to say about that part of character structure that comes from living in class society.

According to Reich, “every social order creates those character forms which it needs for its preservation. In class society, the ruling class secures its position with the aid of education and the institution of the family, by making its ideology the ruling ideology of all members of society. But it is not merely a matter of imposing ideologies, attitudes, and concepts on the members of society. Rather, it is a matter of a deep-reaching process in each new generation, of the formation of a psychic structure that corresponds to the existing social order in all strata of the population.”22 Reich’s concern here is with the widespread respect for private property and established authority, and with the dullness and irrationality that make it so difficult for people in all classes to recognize and act upon their interests. The problem, as he says in one place, is not why hungry people steal, but why they don’t.23

The two dimensions of character structure are not always easy to distinguish, and Reich himself often speaks as if the character of workers, for example, is all of a piece. Yet, the distinction between class-determined and class-society determined character must be maintained if Reich’s contribution is to remain within a Marxist framework. As it stands, the notion of character structure qualifies the base-superstructure formulation of Marx by accounting for the origin and hold of ruling class ideology on people who, nonetheless, possess distinctive class traits. In this way, the theory of character structure is as much a contribution to Marxism as it is to psychoanalysis.

Reich himself believed that with the notion of character structure he “bridged the gap” between social conditions and ideology in Marx’s system.24 It was now possible to supplement Marx’s explanation of why people are driven to recognize their interests with an explanation of why, even in the most favorable conditions, they generally don’t do so. This paradox is represented in Marx’s writings by the tension between the theory of class consciousness and the theory of alienation. The tension remains unresolved, so that Marx never accounts for the workers’ inability to attain class consciousness by referring to their alienation, nor qualifies their alienation with a reference to their skill in “calculating advantages.”25 Though Reich does not seem to have been very familiar with Marx’s theory of alienation (The German Ideology and 1844 Manuscripts first became available in 1929 and 1932 respectively), his concept of character structure can be viewed as bringing elements of this theory into the discussion of class consciousness.26


In 1934 Reich summarized his position as follows:

Basically it contains three parts:

  1. The concepts held in common with Freudian theory (the materialistic dialectic already developed by Freud).
  2. Orgasm theory and character analysis as consistent extensions of Freud’s natural science and simultaneously representing those theories that I opposed to the death-instinct theory and the interpretive techniques. Point two is still in the realm of psychology.
  3. My own concepts of sexuality, based on the orgasm theory and transcending the spheres of psychology (sex-economy and sex-politics). Part three has merely points of contact with psychoanalysis. It forms an independent field: the basic law of the sexual process.27

This essay has dealt so far with Reich’s psychology. Attention will now be directed to the social analysis and political strategy that Reich derives from it.

For Reich, “the basic law of sexual process” has to do with the forms taken by human sexuality, the influences under which these forms developed, their “metamorphoses,” and their effect upon movements for social change. Marx had meant something very much like this in his discussion of economic laws. The question he set out to answer in Capital is “Why is labor represented by the value of its product and labor-time by the magnitude of that value?”28 Reich’s fundamental question may be paraphrased as follows: “Why is sex represented, on the one hand, as screwing, and on the other, as procreation?” In his answer, Marx sought to explain how capitalist forms of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption arose, and how they are dependent on one another and on the character of human activity and achievement in areas far removed from the economy proper. Though much less systematic, Reich’s account of sexual life in capitalism follows the same broad pattern.

The sexual drive is universal. Reich believes that every society structures people’s sexuality by its kind and degree of repression, the sexual objects permitted, the opportunities made available, and the value set upon things sexual. In our era, the limits of sexuality are prescribed, particularly for women, by the twin values of premarital chastity and marital fidelity. These values prevailed, of course, in earlier patriarchal societies, but Reich’s concern is with their special forms and functions in capitalism. The problem with premarital chastity, as every good observer knows, is that even small children desire sexual intercourse. In adolescence, long before marriage becomes possible, this desire becomes overpowering. Sexual desire shows as little concern for social conventions after marriage. Sooner or later, most (all?) couples find themselves sexually attracted to other people, leading to frequent infidelity and its concomitants of hypocrisy and divorce.

The sexual life of young people in capitalism is characterized by extreme frustration and guilt: guilt, because sexual activity of one kind or another occurs despite the social prohibition, and frustration, because such experiences are a fraction of what is desired. Virtually all adolescent boys and most adolescent girls masturbate, but their pleasure in this act is frequently spoiled by notions of sin and feelings of disgust and inadequacy. Homosexual encounters, which again are widespread in adolescence (and which Reich attributes to the early repression of heterosexuality), are even more laden with guilt feelings.29 On the rare occasions when sexual intercourse occurs, it is hidden, done in great haste and worry over being discovered. Too often, youth’s sexual ignorance and the unavailability or high cost of contraceptives take their toll in venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

As indicated, the demands of bourgeois morality are directed primarily against women. Boys who have an active sexual life and married men who philander meet with mild disapproval, while girls and women who act in similar ways are generally viewed as outcasts. The greater repression of women that corresponds to this double morality has the effect of removing most women as love partners for men. One result is the creation of a class of prostitutes and a general commercialization of sex outside of marriage. Another is the division that occurs in the sexuality of most men between the sentiments of tenderness and passion. The man gratifies his “brutish” sexuality with “fallen” women, who are often of a lower class, and reserves his tenderness for women of his own class whom he might marry. Reich says, it is no wonder that ninety percent of women and fifty percent of men have serious sexual problems; the essence of bourgeois morality is “sexual atrophy.”30

Within capitalist society, the fight against extramarital relations, prostitution, venereal disease, and abortion is fought in the name of abstinence. Yet, it is this very abstinence, with its attendant ignorance, that is responsible for these ills. When asked to do what is biologically impossible, people do what they can, with their real living conditions determining the forms this will take.

Reich places the origins of sexual repression in the period of transformation from matriarchal to patriarchal society. With the development of the institution of private property, men acquired an interest in marriage because of the dowry that came with it. The sexual repression of female children developed as a necessary means of getting them to accept the restraints imposed by the marriage bond.31 Young people who have an active love life before marriage find it difficult, if not impossible, to remain faithful to a single partner afterwards. The early rule regarding premarital chastity then was meant for women, and its application to men came later (where it came at all) and has never been as severe.

If the desire to accumulate property lies at the origins of sexual repression, its chief function today is to produce submissive beings of both sexes. In our treatment of character structure, the diminution of critical faculties, general passivity, resignation, and other negative effects of repression were identified. According to Reich, people’s sexual satisfaction “is not simply satisfaction of a need, like hunger or defecation, but their spiritual development, their freshness of life, their capacity for work and their enthusiasm for struggle” are affected every bit as much by their sexual life as by their material existence.32 More important still, “the suppression of the gratification of primitive material needs has a result different from that of the suppression of the gratification of the sexual needs. The former incites rebellion. The latter, however — by repressing the sexual needs and by becoming anchored by moralistic defense — paralyzes the rebellion against either kind of suppression.”33 It is the greater suppression of women that makes them more apolitical and generally more passive than men.

The work of sexual suppression is carried on primarily by the family. In his Marxist period Reich believed the suppression that was most decisive in determining character occurred between the ages of four to six in the ways parents respond to sexual play and questions.34 So important is the role of the family in these early years that Reich refers to it as the “factory of submissive beings.”35 To him, it is no coincidence that “the lack of victorious spirit, the outlawry of protest, the absence of personal opinions characterizes the relations of faithful children to their parents just as they do the relations of devoted bureaucrats to the state authorities and that of non-class conscious workers to the owner of the factory.”36

The same suppression that remakes the child’s character severely limits the possibilities of his social development generally. Sexual needs, by their very nature, drive the individual (male and female) into relationships with other people. With their suppression, they find expression only in the family. This event “turns an original biological tie of the child to the mother — and of the mother to the child — into an indissoluble sexual fixation and thus creates the inability to establish new relationships. The core of the family tie is the mother fixation.”37 Thus, the Oedipal complex is not one of the causes of sexual suppression, as Freud believed, but a major result. Other results are guilt and sticky sentimentality that make any rational view of the family so difficult to achieve.

The family also plays the chief role in the character development of adolescents. The increase in libido that occurs at this time corresponds to an increased desire for independence, which in turn leads to a greater conflict with parents. Due to their early upbringing, most people, according to Reich, are more or less neurotic at the start of puberty. The neurosis and its accompanying social attitudes, however, only take on definitive form through the family conflicts of this period and, in particular, through the inhibition of a natural love life.38

Sexual abstinence, by making adolescents more obedient, strengthens the father’s hand in any dispute. It also makes access to “social and sexual reality more difficult… when it doesn’t make it altogether impossible.”39 If parents succeed in stifling this thrust for independence, the young person becomes more attached than ever to the pattern of behavior and authority relationships that prepare him or her for a life of political indifference and/or reaction. Reich notes that youth’s views for and against the capitalist order correspond very closely to their views on the family — conservative youth respecting and often idealizing it, and radical youth opposing the family and, in the process, becoming quite independent of it.

The picture of family relations presented here applies throughout capitalist society, the differences between classes, according to Reich, being chiefly ones of degree. Bourgeois ideology in respect to marriage, family, premarital chastity, abortion, etc., has penetrated to all groups, though to none more than the bourgeoisie themselves. Reich believes that as a worker’s income and style of life approach that of the bourgeoisie, as social respectability becomes possible, the sexual suppression of children is intensified. Minus these pretensions, working-class parents tend to be less repressive. To be sure, this is mostly due to the fact that they have less time to spend with their children, who are left to their own devices — and pleasures. Enough repression and moralizing occur even here, however, for the characters of most workers to exhibit many of the traits described above.40

For the most part, religion and education only reinforce the moralistic attitudes that have already been inculcated in children by their parents. The link between sexual repression and religion has long been known. Every patriarchal religion, which means every modern religion, is anti-sexual to one degree or another. If God is always watching, if he (!) even knows what we are thinking, what does he find out? He finds out what our confessor does — most confessions deal with masturbation and other sexual acts. Reich believes that beside serving as a brake to sexuality, religion offers an alternative outlet to the energy that has been repressed. Going beyond Marx, who said that religion functions socially as an opium, and Freud, who said that its beliefs are illusions, Reich maintains that religion is also a substitute for the very sexual feelings it helps to suppress. Praying, listening to organ or choral music, sitting in a dimly lit church, the ecstasy and mysticism of the true believer, are all, psychologically speaking, means to relieve unbearable sexual tension. They are only partially successful, but as long as the individual will not or cannot obtain full sexual gratification, they perform a necessary stop-gap function. Adolescence, the time of increased sexual desire and repression, is also the period when religious feelings are most intense.41

Education contributes to sexual repression not only when it is openly anti-sexual as in some church schools, but also when it tries to ignore children’s sexuality, when it puts the effects of sexual frustration and tension under other headings, such as “hyperactivity” or “laziness,” in short, when it discusses everything but what children are thinking about. The so-called “objective” approach to sex education, which reduces sex to procreation and venereal disease and leaves out all mention of desire and pleasure is equally destructive. For the result is that the sexually obsessed youngster, meaning practically all young people, considers him or herself a freak. Guilt mounts, and the qualities born in repression become exaggerated.42

Reich’s account of the social function of sexual repression serves as the basis of his mass-psychological explanation of fascism, the social phenomenon that so baffled the intellectuals of his time. Reich does not deny the importance of the economic depression, the Versailles Treaty, or any of the other events that are generally held responsible for German developments. Nor does he disagree that fascism is objectively in the interests of big capitalists, who benefit most from Fascist economic policy, or that it is politically rooted, at least initially, in the lower middle class. However, he wants to know why fascism, this particular non-solution to German problems, appealed to people, including workers. What was there in their lives and characters that prepared the way for the nationalist, racist, and imperialist propaganda of the Nazis? What was there in Nazi symbols, slogans, uniforms, etc. that was so attractive?

Reich’s answer focuses on the authoritarian character structure that is produced by strict patriarchal families and sex-negating religion. The submissive, uncritical, sexually anxious person is drawn to fascism, first, as a means of opposing what are felt as threats to his/her neurotic equilibrium. In Fascist propaganda, Jews are consistently represented as sexual perverts, and communism as the sharing of women. The widespread mother fixation (referred to above) is taken advantage of by frequent comparisons of the nation to mother, and of the enemies of the nation (Jews, Communists, etc.) to those who would abuse mother. On the positive side, freedom for the nation and race compensate for personal misery, particularly in the sexual realm. Moreover, like religion, the ceremonies and rituals of fascism offer an alternative outlet for sexual tension, a means to reduce the intolerable frustration that is the lot of most of its followers. Uncritical support for the Leader is a chance — maybe the sexually blocked person’s only chance — to “let go.” Sexuality, through repression, has metamorphosed into sentiments and ways of functioning that — in circumstances of capitalist decay — make fascism appealing. The rich assortment of evidence and argument that Reich brings together in support of this thesis (material I have barely touched upon) makes The Mass Psychology of Fascism the major achievement of his Marxist period.43


Reich’s concern with the laws of the sexual process was not an academic one. Like Marx, he wanted to learn how society works in order to change it. He knew that sexual repression cannot be completely abolished until the conditions that require and promote it — including family, religion and private property — have all disappeared. And until that time, the effects of repression will hamper all attempts at radical change. The question arises whether in these conditions radical change is possible at all.

Asking this question does not place Reich beyond the bounds of a Marxist analysis. The mode of production is still the main factor in determining the character of social conditions generally. Society is still divided into classes based primarily on people’s relationship to the mode of production. Workers still have an objective interest in making a socialist revolution, a revolution that will one day do away with all repression, including sexual repression. The fact remains, however, that a successful socialist revolution requires most workers to become conscious of their interests now, under capitalism, and this has never occurred. Reich’s account of the social function of sexual repression provides an important and hitherto neglected part of the explanation, but as an explanation it offers little hope for change. If sexual repression produces submissive, uncritical workers who in turn set up authoritarian families, there doesn’t seem to be any place to break the circle.

Reich’s own response is twofold: first, he believes it is possible to fight against the suppression of youth from outside the family, to conduct a political struggle on behalf of youth’s right to love. And, second, he believes that the range of rationality of many adults can be extended by speaking to their most personal problems and showing the link between these problems and the capitalist system.

Reich tried to put his ideas into practice in Austria (1929-1930) and Germany (1930-1932). With four other radical analysts and three obstetricians, he founded the “Socialist Society for Sex Hygiene and Sexological Research.” Six clinics were set up in working-class areas of Vienna. Later, when Reich moved to Berlin, he convinced the Communist leadership to unite several sexual reform movements into one sex-political organization under the aegis of the party. Membership grew quickly to around 40,000 people. Reich was one of the organization’s chief spokespersons on sexual questions until the end of 1932 when the Communist Party prohibited the further distribution of his works, charging that his emphasis on sexuality was un-Marxist.

As we saw, Reich did not deny the Marxist interpretation of social conditions or, for that matter, the existence of other natural drives, but his special interest in human irrationality led him to focus on the modes of sexuality he believed most responsible for it. Unfortunately for him, what was sufficiently Marxist for the German Communist leadership in 1930 and 1931 was not so in late 1932 in the face of growing reaction in the Soviet Union and when, it appears, the need to attract Christians (who viewed Reich as the worst of the Communists) to an anti-Fascist front was raised to a higher priority. Despite the strong support of his co-workers, Reich was ousted from the Communist Party in February 1933.44

During his years as a sex-political activist, Reich directed most of his efforts toward working-class youth. In talks, articles, and some personal consultation, he sought to clarify their sexual confusion. Rather than “promote sex,” as he was often accused of doing, he concentrated on correcting the false notions that underlie most sexual prohibitions (sex needs no promoting), and on linking youth’s sexual plight to life in capitalism. Intercourse, masturbation, sexual desire, orgasm, venereal disease, abortion, etc., were all discussed in connection with existing repression and the social prerequisites for a healthy sexual life. Reich scorned a false neutrality, and placed himself four-square on the side of young people and their physical needs. The results, he tells us, were widespread enthusiasm, more effective work on the part of youth who were already radicalized and the radicalization of many who were formerly apolitical.

To lead a healthy sexual life, what adolescents need is complete and accurate sexual information, free access to contraceptives, time to be alone with the other sex, and their own rooms. Adolescents, who want sexual happiness more than anything else, are all more or less aware of these needs. No matter what their political views, Reich believes, they can be appealed to and won over by a platform that addresses itself to these questions. Explaining their sexual suffering is the best way to make youth understand their total oppression in capitalism. This view is qualified by Reich’s admission that the strongest impulse to revolutionary sentiment in the young comes from identification with class conscious parents or older siblings. However, there are very few such adults, and most youth must be won over to socialism by other means.45

For all but a few youth who live in non-repressive socialist families (this is, of course, a matter of degree) the adoption of an anticapitalist perspective begins with rebellion against the father. Striving for independence is a natural phenomenon of puberty. It is always connected with intensified sexual feelings and a greater consciousness of surroundings, including social impingements of various sorts. In this context, rebellion against the father, who represents state authority in the family, carries with it a tendency to opt for left politics. To the oft-repeated criticism that young radicals are simply rebelling against their fathers, Reich seems to answer — yes and no. Yes, every adolescent growing up in a repressive family rebels against his father; no, this rebellion is not simply against father, but against authoritarian relationships and abuses throughout society. Moreover, Reich believes, it is generally the scope and success of this rebellion that foretells who will be a revolutionary and who will be apolitical.46

Reich’s strategy for politicizing the sexual struggle of youth is clearly prefigured in his analysis of sexuality and repression under capitalism. The same cannot be said of his strategy for developing class consciousness among adults. Much of what he says about authoritarian character structure makes it appear that nothing short of therapy or revolution would have a radicalizing effect. Yet, particularly in his essay “What Is Class Consciousness?” Reich argues as if a different approach by Communist parties could convince many adults of the need for a revolution.

To begin, Reich says, it is important to recognize that the class consciousness of workers is somewhat different from that of their leaders. A class conscious worker understands his needs in every area of life, the means and possibilities of satisfying them, the difficulties in the way of doing so, his own inhibitions and anxieties, and his invincibility when acting as part of the class. Their class conscious leaders, as Reich calls members of the Communist Party, understand all this as well as the historical process outlined by Marx. Furthermore, they are (or should be) particularly aware of the progressive ideas, wishes and emotions that come with being a worker as well as of their conservative counterparts and of the anxiety that holds the former in check.

Reich says that, for the proletariat, working in industry and belonging to a union are the most important influences in becoming class conscious. They permit each» individual to see him/herself as a member of a class and to learn something of the position of this class in the economy. But this is not enough. While a worker remains ignorant of how the rest of his/her life is affected by the work roles of capitalist society, he/she will desire only limited reforms.

Unfortunately, most workers are interested in social problems only insofar as these problems enter into everyday life. The only oppression they recognize is that which involves eating, sleeping, working, making love, walking, shopping, etc. The precise form of each of these activities (meaning, too, why they are so unsatisfactory) is, to a very large extent, given by the capitalist system in which it occurs. Yet, Marxists on the whole have paid little attention to the variety of ways this system intrudes into the personal lives of its inhabitants. Reich would reverse this trend. He wants socialists to hold up the personal life as a mirror in which people can catch sight of their oppression and of the possibilities for change.

Among the practical suggestions Reich offers to realize this strategy are more public lectures on personal problems, setting up consultation and sex hygiene centers, starting radical theaters to do plays on everyday life from a socialist perspective, and devoting three-quarters of every radical newspaper to communications with readers, again, on personal problems.

Reich’s insight into the irrational aspects of character is also the basis for his advice on how to improve socialist propaganda. It is wrong, for example, to constantly stress the power of the ruling class. This not only creates fear but feeds the worker’s authoritarian complex. The weaknesses and stupidities of the capitalists should be stressed instead. He believes, too, that it is wrong to present the main symbol for authority in society, the police, as the enemy, for again this activates authoritarian tendencies. Reich would have socialists emphasize that the police are also workers. Indeed, he says that concentrating on the class nature of personal problems, problems which they as workers share, will bring many police over to the side of the revolution.

Reich also argues that socialist propaganda should be positive and preparatory to the new life awaiting people, as well as being critical. Workers must be helped to see how work conditions and relations would be different in socialism. Women must be given some idea of how cooperative living would deal with the problems of housework and childcare. The same applies, of course, to youth, professionals, farmers, and even the police and the army. In every case, when contrasting present dissatisfaction with the socialist alternative care must be taken to show the special responsibility of the capitalist system and what the people appealed to can do to change it.47

Most of what Reich advocates here, as regards both what to do and say, has been put into practice by one or another radical group in the years since he wrote. Women’s liberation, anarchists, hippies, black and brown revolutionaries and, occasionally, Marxists have all sought to radicalize people by helping them draw lessons from their personal lives. Only Reich, however, has tried to systematize this approach. Only Reich recognizes that sexual concerns are at the center of most people’s personal lives. And only Reich bases his strategy on a deep-going socio-psychological analysis of life in capitalist society.


The criticism of Reich that one hears most often today is that the situation he described has ceased to exist, that for young people the sexual revolution has already taken place. When Daniel Guerin, the French anarchist, suggested this in a talk he gave to Belgian students, he was met with a loud chorus of “no, not true!”48 Certainly, some of the basic facts have altered. The pill did not exist forty years ago. Reich’s discussion of the dangers of venereal disease was also written before the discovery of penicillin. Politically, some humanizing reforms have taken place, the most recent being the abortion laws passed by many American states. Socially, there is more sex with less guilt — or so it appears. Information and pseudo-information, sexy books, films, and advertisements (and with them sexual stimulation) are all more readily available. Psychologically, people are more open to discussions about sex, more ready to accept it as a natural and necessary function even outside marriage than ever before.

What needs to be stressed, however, is that such changes have only improved, and not by much, a very bad situation. On the basis of their own generally liberated sexual lives, young radicals tend to overestimate the degree to which the mores of their peers in out-of-the-way schools and jobs have altered. Furthermore, a lot of what passes for sexual freedom — the wife-trading of the suburbanite, the frantic consumption of pornography, the boom in homosexuality, orgies — have, if Reich is to be believed, little to do with sexual happiness. Instead, they appear to be strong indications of sexual dissatisfaction and evidence of the continued effect of sexual repression.

Most important, youth of all classes still do not receive sufficient information. Contraceptives remain a problem for many. Rooms to be alone with members of the opposite sex are generally unavailable (making love in cars is not a satisfactory substitute). Parents still suppress overt sexuality and offer indirect answers or worse to sexual questions. Religious training continues to produce guilt, and schools to frown on all manifestations of sexuality. Thus, Reich’s analysis still applies and the radicalizing potential of his writings even today is enormous. If anything, our greater openness on sexual matters enhances this potential by making it easier to get Reich’s ideas the wide hearing that was denied them earlier.

If Reich’s analysis of the sexual repression of youth and his strategy to combat it are as useful as ever, his strategy for developing class consciousness in adults is open to the same objections now that it was earlier. I have already said that, in my opinion, Reich’s analysis of authoritarian character structure makes it doubtful that the measures he advocates for modifying this structure once it has taken hold will do much good. Even if he is correct that helping adults understand the social function of sexual repression and their own sexual misery makes them better parents (a doubtful assumption), it is unlikely that their political attitudes will undergo much change. With few real possibilities to improve their love lives — with their social situation and character rigidities fixed — the enlightenment Reich offers is more likely to create anxiety and to arouse hostility and fear. Moreover, the corresponding effort to liberate youth, with its concomitant of family conflict, is bound to be taken as a threat by most parents and to influence the way they react to Reich’s teachings as a whole. This is not an argument against a politics that focuses on the personal life, but is a reason for not expecting too much from it.

Reich’s adult politics suffer from not making adequate distinctions between adults in different age groups and different family situations. Those who do not have teenage children and whose character structures and familial situations have not taken final shape, in short, young adults, are the only ones Reich’s strategy could favorably affect. Older people are likely to react only negatively.

Reich’s strategy then, is one for influencing children, adolescents, and young adults. Therefore, it is a long-term strategy. It is an attempt to assure that ten, twenty, and more years from now oppressed people will respond to the inevitable crises that occur in capitalism in a rational manner, in ways best suited to promote their interests. The upsurge of fascism and the need for an immediate response to it inclined Reich to see in his findings a way to alter adult consciousness. It was not, and, despite all recent changes, is not still.

If German political events pushed Reich to misrepresenting his long-term strategy as a short-term one, it is important to see that this error was abetted by his conceptual scheme. Reich was able to conceive of his strategy drawing psychologically crippled people into the revolutionary movement, because, for all his effort to create a Marxist psychology, he kept his psychological and sociological findings in separate compartments. Rather than combine Marx and Freud, Reich showed that the main discoveries of these two giants are complementary and argued that each needed supplementing by the other. This is what he tried to do in taking psychoanalysis, as he believed, to its logical conclusion. But the basic conceptions with which Marx and Freud circumscribe their respective subject matters are hardly tampered with. Reich’s “logical” conclusion is not without its logical problems.49 The exception is the concept of character structure that Reich introduced to capture the meeting place of Marx and Freud’s teachings, but progress to and from this juncture is made within two incompatible schemes.

Freud’s categories of instinct, ego, id, energy, neurosis, etc., which Reich passes on, all focus on the individual in abstraction from his social situation. Freud does not neglect society, but — except for early family training — relegates it to the background. Individuals, he believes, enter into social relationships only to satisfy needs. Marx does not neglect the individual and his needs, but for him they have no existence outside the social situation. These opposing views as to what is important are embedded in their conceptual schemes. And though both thinkers accept an interrelationship between phenomena on all levels, the concepts each uses convey a distorted, one-sided view of the phenomena studied by the other. Reich was unusual in adopting both conceptual schemes and applying, on each occasion, the one that was most appropriate to his subject matter — Freud for individuals and Marx for society. When the two led to different conclusions on a topic that spanned both systems, Reich was at liberty to choose either one. This is what happened when his study of character structure carried on within a Freudian framework indicated workers could not become class conscious, and his study of character structure carried on within a Marxist framework indicated they could.

To correct this double distortion, a set of concepts must be constructed that unites the two perspectives so that Freud’s discoveries are not attached as an afterthought to Marx’s, nor Marx’s to Freud’s, and so that attention to one oversight does not lead to getting lost in the other. What are needed are concepts to “think” people in all their concreteness, people as they are and become, and not as they have been carved up by competing disciplines.

I should like to propose the concept “relations of maturation,” understood as the interaction between natural growth and the sum of the conditions in which it occurs, as a first step in uniting the Marxian and Freudian perspectives. Just as Marx in his concept “relations of production” sought to bring out the fact that production is more than the act of making something, that it includes distribution, exchange, and consumption in a complex pattern that takes us eventually into every area of life — in the same way, by “relations of maturation” I intend to highlight the fact that maturation is more than a physical process of growth, that it includes the full conditions in which human development occurs and particularly the effect upon the individual of family, church, school, and media.

Within the context of the relations of maturation, desire, for example, is seen as a structure that includes libido, the developmental stages through which an individual passes, and the objects made available by circumstance. As such, desire is rooted as much in history as in biological processes. The puberty of today’s youth becomes a capitalist social relation.

The individual is no longer independent of his setting nor absorbed by it. If Freud grasps the human as a biological entity, and Marx as a social relationship, I am proposing that humans be grasped as a bio-social relationship. The dialectical character of Marx’s conception is retained, but merely extended (perhaps simply explicitly extended) to cover elements whose great importance has been demonstrated by Freud. The interaction and flux of all elements within the relations of maturation are taken as given, so that one may focus on any segment without becoming one-sided.

It was the lack of concepts like relations of maturation, of adequate means to think his subject matter, that led to a contradiction between Reich’s psychological analysis and his political strategy for adults. Perhaps more important, it made possible, if not likely, Reich’s own drift away from radical politics. The immediate cause, of course, lay in his mistreatment at the hands of the German Communist Party and his growing disillusionment with the Soviet Union. Stalinist politics had a similar effect on many intellectuals of the period. What makes this an inadequate explanation for his turnabout is that he understood better than most of his equally tramped-on comrades why “Thermidor” happened. Moreover, Reich’s analysis of capitalism is in no way faulted by the reaction he saw in the Soviet Union.50 So it is that Reich continued to espouse a revolutionary war against capitalism for a few years after his ouster from the Communist Party.51

Then, the analysis underlying his political stance began to erode. It began to erode because Reich, still operating with two conceptual schemes, introduced psychological concepts to help explain social phenomena, such as the policy of the Communist Party. Marxism was clearly insufficient to account for the behavior of the largest Marxist organization. But Freud’s and Marx’s concepts are incompatible; they cannot occupy the same account. With the introduction of Freud’s psychology into the social realm, Marxism was pushed aside.

It is not clear when exactly Reich ceased to be a Marxist, but after The Sexual Revolution (1936) the class analysis that served as the social framework for his psychology gradually disappeared. The parts — Reich’s Marxism and Freudianism — became disconnected because they were never conceptually welded together. With his Marxism gone, Reich eventually fell prey to the same mistake for which he had earlier condemned other psychoanalysts, to wit, generalizing from the individual to society and treating the latter as the patient. The result was the notion of the emotional plague, understood as the irrational social activity of sexually sick people, which he then, in good psychoanalytic fashion, blew up to be the determining force in history.52

Reich’s later work, as fascinating and controversial as it is, lies outside the bounds of this essay. My interest has been to show that Reich’s analysis of capitalist relations of maturation and the political strategy for youth and young adults based upon it are, for all the updating required, extremely relevant today. To determine how relevant, we must study recent developments in sexual life as well as Reich’s writings, and test our conclusions in revolutionary practice.53


1 Wilhelm Reich, “Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis,” translated by A. Bostock Studies on the Left, 6, no. 4, 1966, p. 41.
2 Karl Marx, Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, trans, by N. I. Stone (Chicago, 1904) pp. 11-12.
3 Wilhelm Reich, “Pour l’application de la psychanalyse a la recherche historique,” Matérialisme dialectique, matérialisme historique et psychoanalyse (Paris, 1970), pp. 37-38.
4 Wilhelm Reich, “Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis,” p. 6.
5 Ibid. p. 12. For Freud’s views see Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, trans, by A. A. Brill (New York, 1962), pp. 74-76.
6 Wilhelm Reich, Reich on Freud, edited by M. Higgins and C. Raphael (New York, 1967), p. 15.
7 Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm, trans, by T. P. Wolfe (New York, 1961), p. 9.
8 See, particularly, Freud’s “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” Collected Papers, vol. 4, trans, by Jean Rivierre (London, 1956).
9 For a clear statement of such criticisms from a radical vantage point (the authors would not call themselves Marxists), see H. Gerth, and C. W. Mills, Character and Social Structure (London, 1954), pp. 8-9.
10 For Reich’s development of Freud’s theory of the neurosis see Function of the Orgasm, pp. 66-72.
11 Ibid. p. 78.
12 Ibid p. 79.
13 Ibid p. 77.
14 Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, vol. II (New York, 1955), p. 67.
15 Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis, trans, by T. P. Wolfe (New York, 1970), p. 44.
16 Ibid. pp. 158, 185.
17 Ibid. pp. 148-149.
18 Wilhelm Reich, People in Trouble, (Rangely, Maine, 1953), p. 74. This highly provocative remark appears in an essay written in 1936-1937; it was never developed.
19 Sigmund Freud, “‘Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness,” Collected Papers, vol. II, trans, by Jean Rivierre (London, 1948). Unfortunately, this explosive essay receives little attention today.
20 Wilhelm Reich, Mass Psychology of Fascism, trans, by T. P. Wolfe (New York, 1946), p. 25. Other effects of sexual repression noted by Reich are “the pallor, depression, nervousness, disturbances in the ability to work, quarrelsomeness, criminal inclination and perversion.” People in Trouble, p. 81. Reich found strong support for his and Freud’s views on the characterological effects of repression in Bronislaw Malinowski’s comparison of the Trobriand Islanders, who have sexual intercourse from about the age of five, with their close neighbors, the Amphlett Islanders, who share our sexual taboos. See, particularly, Malinowski’s The Sexual Life of Savages (London, 1930). Despite such confirmation, it must be admitted that this central thesis of Reich’s work is still not wholly understood or verified.
21 Character Analysis, p. 146.
22 Ibid. XXLL.
23 Wilhelm Reich (pseudonym Ernst Parell), Was ist Klassenbewusstsein? (Copenhagen, 1934), p. 17.
24 People in Trouble, p. 46.
25 This useful caption for the rational qualities Marx ascribes to workers comes from Thorstein Veblen’s The Place of Science in Modern Civilization and Other Essays (New York, 1961), p. 441.
26 For a discussion of Marx’s theory of alienation, see my book, Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (Cambridge, 1971). I attempt to integrate Reich’s theory of character structure into Marx’s theory of alienation in “Social and Sexual Revolution” republished as chapter six of this book.
27 Reich on Freud, pp. 197-198. Reich’s fullest account of Freud’s materialist dialectic appears in “Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis,” Studies on the Left, pp. 22-39.
28 Karl Marx, Capital I, trans. S. Moore and E. Aveling (Moscow, 1958), p. 80.
29 For Reich’s views on homosexuality see his La lutte sexuelle des jeunes (Paris, 1966), pp. 93-100.
30 Wilhelm Reich, La crise sexuelle (Paris, 1965), p. 58.
31 The origins of sexual repression is the subject of an entire book: Wilhelm Reich, Der Einbruch der Sexualmoral (Berlin, 1932).
32 La lutte sexuelle des jeunes, p. 107.

33 Mass Psychology of Fascism, pp. 25-26.
34 La crise sexulle, p. 70.
35 La lutte sexuelle des jeunes, p. 119.
36 Ibid.
37 Mass Psychology of Fascism, pp. 47-48.

38 People in Trouble, p. 82.
39 La crise sexuelle, p. 70.
40 For Reich’s treatment of the family, see, particularly, The Sexual Revolution, trans, by T. P. Wolfe (New York, 1951), pp. 71-80; and Mass Psychology of Fascism, pp. 28-62, 88-96.
41 For his treatment of religion, see Mass Psychology of Fascism, pp. 122-142.
42 For his treatment of sex education, see, particularly, The Sexual Revolution, pp. 61-70.
43 Erich Fromm’s better known psychological study of fascism, Escape From Freedom (New York, 1942), was greatly influenced by Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933).
44 The chief source of information on Reich’s sex-political activities is the semi-autobiographical work, People in Trouble.
45 La lutte sexuelle des jeunes was written for young people in an attempt to politicize their sexual struggle.
46 Ibid. pp. 119-123.
47 Was ist Klassenbewusstsein? is rich in suggestions on how to radicalize people on the basis of their unsatisfactory personal lives.
48 Daniel Guerin, Essai sur la revolution sexuelle (Paris, 1969), p. 25.
49 Reich showed some awareness of this failure later in his life when he admitted that his attempt to unite Marx and Freud “failed logically.” People in Trouble, p. 42.
50 Reich’s fascinating account of the sexual changes and reforms that took place in the Soviet Union after the revolution and the subsequent reaction is found in The Sexual Revolution, Part II.
51 Was ist Klassenbewusstsein?, pp. 40-41.
52 For a discussion of the Emotional Plague, see Character Analysis, pp. 248- 280. This chapter was added to the third edition, 1948.
53 Sex-Pol: Essays 1929-1934, edited by Lee Baxandall (New York, 1971) brings together Reich’s most important Marxist essays, including several which have not otherwise appeared in English. Only now can English speaking readers acquire a clear understanding of Reich’s Marxism. The reason is that the English editions of Mass Psychology of Fascism (1946) and The Sexual Revolution (1945), the best known works of Reich’s Marxist period, underwent political adulteration at Reich’s own hands.

8 thoughts on “The Marxism of Wilhelm Reich

  1. That’s some bat crazy craziness, but if it means hookers for Marx & flirty fishing you can sign me up. Looking forward to the first Occupy orgy. Nuits Debout indeed.

    • The poor know that now, but as psychoanalysis tells us, knowing that is not enough. The resistances must be worked through.How do people sabotage themselves to keep all this in place.Capitalism is a machine, just like your car, you can’t anthropomorphize human characteristics in a machine.

  2. I am pretty shocked to read such an essay which mindlessly sets up long debunked and misogynist works as somehow demonstrative that the Third Reich occurred because Germans were sexually repressed is an astonishing demonstration of having read nothing about German history.
    Richard von Krafft-Ebing anyone?

    Moreover, this shows how little the writer knows of Klein, Irigaray, Deleuze and Guattari, Kristeva, deLauretis, and dozens more who have written cogent critiques of this phallocentric hokum. This above essay reads like a uni research paper written at the last minute. Sorry, Ross, but I have read your other pieces on architecture which actually show some degree of knowledge. This is a pathetically written pile of misogyny. That said, it puts into place your current lashing out of women through your branding of them as TERFs.

    This does leave the question for you if women exist outside of your own desire. I think the above speaks to your erasure of them as subjects and one can only wonder why you are invested in taking out the already disenfranchised. Even in 2016.

    • I didn’t write this essay. Bertell Ollman wrote it back in 1979. Sorry if that wasn’t clear: the author’s name and the date of publication are listed near the top.

      As for the rest of your comment, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Usually I’m branded a crypto-TERF myself, despite having taken issue (especially of late) with the transphobic intransigence of much “radical” feminism.

  3. Pingback: Wilhelm Reich’s synthesis of Marxism and psychoanalysis | The Charnel-House

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