Wilhelm Reich’s synthesis of Marxism and psychoanalysis

Back in June, in a post fea­tur­ing cri­tiques Karl Korsch and Georg Lukács wrote on Freu­di­an psy­cho­ana­lys­is, I an­nounced that I’d shortly be post­ing a num­ber of works by the Marxi­an psy­cho­ana­lyst Wil­helm Reich. A couple days earli­er, of course, I’d pos­ted an ex­cel­lent piece by Ber­tell Oll­man on Reich from his 1979 es­say col­lec­tion So­cial and Sexu­al Re­volu­tion. Need­less to say, this post is long over­due.

Some brief re­marks are there­fore ap­pro­pri­ate, in passing, to frame Reich’s rel­ev­ance to the present mo­ment.

First of all, Reich is rel­ev­ant to con­tem­por­ary dis­cus­sions of fas­cism. His work on The Mass Psy­cho­logy of Fas­cism re­mains one of the most in­nov­at­ive and pro­found Marx­ist ef­forts to un­der­stand ideo­logy as a ma­ter­i­al force that has ap­peared to date.

Moreover, this forms a pivotal point of de­par­ture for a host of sub­sequent at­tempts to the­or­ize re­volu­tion­ary sub­jectiv­ity — both in terms of con­scious­ness and of de­sire. To­mor­row or the next day I hope to jot down some of my own thoughts on the mat­ter, us­ing Reich for ref­er­ence.

Last but not least, Reich’s thoughts on sexu­al eman­cip­a­tion are con­sid­er­ably ahead of their time. Con­sider, for ex­ample, this ex­cerpt from one of his journ­al entries dated 1939, while in Oslo:

The past few nights I wandered the streets of Oslo alone. At night a cer­tain type of per­son awakes and plies her trade, one who these days must view each bit of love with great fear but who will someday hold sway over life. Today prac­tic­ally a crim­in­al, to­mor­row the proud bear­er of life’s finest fruits. Whores, os­tra­cized in our day, will in fu­ture times be beau­ti­ful wo­men simply giv­ing of their love. They will no longer be whores. Someday sen­su­al pleas­ure will make old maids look so ri­dicu­lous that the power of so­cial mor­al­ity will slip out of their hands. I love love!

While some of his views on ho­mo­sexu­al­ity might seem an­ti­quated or back­wards today — he saw it as a de­vi­ant be­ha­vi­or, linked to lat­ent au­thor­it­ari­an tend­en­cies — the fact re­mains that Reich favored de­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion and pro­tested adam­antly against its re­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion in the So­viet Uni­on un­der Stal­in.

In­cid­ent­ally, this is why I find it so ab­surd that left­ists look to ex­cuse Castro’s ho­mo­phobic policies pri­or to 1980. Eduard Bern­stein was pro­mot­ing gay rights dur­ing the 1890s, and Au­gust Bebel ad­voc­ated the re­peal of laws against sod­omy as early as 1898.

Re­gard­less, here are the prom­ised PD­Fs, along with some rare im­ages and a trans­lated art­icle by the Itali­an Trot­sky­ist Aless­andro D’Aloia. I have taken the liberty of de­let­ing some need­less asides about the Big Bang, a pe­cu­li­ar hangup the In­ter­na­tion­al Marx­ist Tend­ency re­tains with re­spect to the­or­et­ic­al phys­ics des­pite none of its mem­bers be­ing qual­i­fied enough to judge the mat­ter.

Primary sources

English
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  1. Early Writings (1920-1925)
  2. The Function of the Orgasm: Sex-Economic Problems of Biological Energy (1928)
  3. The Passion of Youth, 1897-1922 (1928)
  4. Sex-Pol Essays (1929-1934)
  5. “The Sexual Misery of the Working Masses and the Difficulties of Reform” (1930)
  6. Character Analysis (1933)
  7. The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1934)
  8. Beyond Psychology: Letters and Journals (1934-1939)
  9. The Bion Experiments (1938)
  10. Record of a Friendship: Correspondence with A. S. Neill (1936-1957)
  11. The Emotional Plague of Mankind, Vol. 2: People in Trouble (1927-1945)
  12. American Odyssey: Letters and Journals (1940-1947)
  13. Listen, Little Man! (1946)
  14. On Freud (1952)
  15. Selected Writings on Orgonomy (1951)

German
.

  1. Der triebhafte Charakter (1925)
  2. Die Funktion des Orgasmus (1927)
  3. Sexualerregung und Sexualbefriedigung (1929)
  4. Sexuelle Kampf der Jugend (1932)
  5. Charakteranalyse: Technik und Grundlagen für Studierende und praktizierende Analytiker (1933)
  6. Dialektischer Materialismus und Psychoanalyse (1934)
  7. Massenpsychologie des Faschismus. Zur Sexualökonomie der politischen Reaktion und zur proletarischen Sexualpolitik (1934)
  8. Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie. Band I Heft 2 (1934)
  9. Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie. Band I Heft 3/4 (1934)
  10. Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie. Band II Heft 1 (1935)
  11. Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie. Band II Heft 2 (1935)
  12. Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie. Band II Heft 3 (1935)
  13. Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie. Band III Heft 1/2 (1936)
  14. Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie. Band III Heft 3/4 (1936)
  15. Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie. Band IV Heft 1 (1937)
  16. Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie. Band V Heft 1 (1938)
  17. Einbruch der Sexualmoral. Zur Geschichte der sexuellen Ökonomie (1935)
  18. Masse und Staat. Zur Frage der Rolle der Massenstruktur in der revolutionären Bewegung (1935)
  19. Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf. Zur sozialistischen Umstrukturierung des Menschen (1936)
  20. Experimentelle Ergebnisse über die elektrische Funktion von Sexualität und Angst (1937)
  21. Die Bione. Zur Entstehung des vegetativen Lebens (1938)

Portuguese
.

  1. A Biopatia do Câncer
  2. As Origens da Moral Sexual
  3. Irrupção da moral sexual repressiva
  4. Psicologia de Massas do Fascismo
  5. O que é a consciência de classe
  6. Psicanálise e Educação
  7. A Revolução Sexual

Spanish
.

  1. La función del orgasmo
  2. Analisis del Caracter
  3. Psicologia de Masas del Fascismo
  4. La Revolución Sexual
  5. Materialismo Dialectico y Psicoanalisis
  6. Reich Habla de Freud
  7. Psicoanálisis y Educación

Italian
.

  1. L’assassinio di Cristo: La peste emozionale dell’umanità
  2. Psicologia di massa del fascismo

Secondary sources

Biographies
.

  1. Ilse Ollendorff-Reich, Wilhelm Reich: A Personal Biography (1969)
  2. Myron Sharaf, Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich (1983)
  3. Jerome Greenfield, Wilhelm Reich vs. the USA (1974)

Marxism and psychoanalysis:
Notes on Wilhelm Reich’s life and works

Aless­andro D’Aloia
Falce Martello № 179
(October 15, 2004)
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For a long peri­od in his life Wil­helm Reich con­sidered him­self a Marx­ist. He ap­plied the sci­entif­ic meth­od of Marx­ism to his re­search in­to Psy­cho­ana­lys­is and this led him to break with many of the the­or­ies of Freud. At one stage he came close to Trot­sky, but then drif­ted away. Un­der in­tense per­se­cu­tion he even­tu­ally broke with Marx­ism and even re­vised some of his earli­er bril­liant in­sights. Aless­andro D’Aloia looks at the rise and fall of Reich.

This art­icle was first pub­lished in Itali­an on the web site of the journ­al Falce Martello. The ori­gin­al Itali­an ver­sion can be found at Marx­ismo e psi­coan­al­isi (la figura di Wil­helm Reich).

Wil­helm Reich (1897-1957) was a Marx­ist, a psy­cho­lo­gist, and a sci­ent­ist. His writ­ten works are in­valu­able re­sources in un­der­stand­ing the re­la­tion­ships ex­ist­ing between Marx­ism and psy­cho­ana­lys­is without re­quir­ing the spe­cial ap­proach or know­ledge of a stu­dent of psy­cho­logy. His per­son­al tra­gedies il­lus­trate how a wide range of oth­er­wise ab­stract is­sues can mani­fest and in­ter­con­nect with one’s life.

His edu­ca­tion

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Neither Reich’s his­tor­ic­al role nor his works are re­cog­nized by most psy­cho­ana­lysts, be they stu­dents, pro­fes­sion­als or simple am­a­teurs. This state of af­fairs en­abled renowned in­tel­lec­tu­als, such as those from the “Frank­furt School,” to eas­ily pil­lage from his works (es­pe­cially those from his most mani­festly Marx­ist peri­od) without ever giv­ing a nod of ac­know­ledge­ment to Reich and, moreover, without any­one ever real­iz­ing that fact. [This is not, strictly speak­ing, true. Max Horkheimer read­ily ac­know­ledged his agree­ment with Reich’s in­ter­pret­a­tion of the psycho­sexu­al roots of fas­cism, while dis­agree­ing with his pro­posed solu­tion. Her­bert Mar­cuse dis­cussed Reich’s work on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions. Fi­nally, though he was a peri­pher­al fig­ure at odds with both the Ad­or­ni­an and Mar­cusean wings of Frank­furt School crit­ic­al the­ory, Erich Fromm bor­rowed lib­er­ally from Reich (es­pe­cially in his book, Es­cape from Free­dom). — RW]

As a res­ult, today most people who have an in­terest in psy­cho­logy learn little more than Freud’s clas­sics. This leads to a lack of any know­ledge of a num­ber of ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions made to psy­cho­logy, such as Reich’s, which are es­sen­tial read­ing in or­der to fully un­der­stand psy­cho­ana­lys­is, its cur­rent con­tra­dic­tions, and its cur­rent class stand­point. Were these con­tri­bu­tions more widely known, the so-called “re­formed” Freu­di­an pos­tu­lates would be com­pletely un­der­mined and their re­ac­tion­ary im­plic­a­tions would be ex­posed.

Reich’s most well-known work is The Sexu­al Re­volu­tion, pub­lished in Vi­enna in 1930. His sci­entif­ic products have a much broad­er scope than Freud’s, in­clud­ing im­port­ant works such as The Func­tion of Or­gasm, The Ir­rup­tion of Co­er­cive Sexu­al Mor­al­ity, The In­di­vidu­al and the State, Dia­lect­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism and Psy­cho­ana­lys­is, and Mass Psy­cho­logy of Fas­cism. Reich was an act­ive mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tion­al Psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic So­ci­ety (IPS), which had been foun­ded by Freud. At the time of his first pub­lish­ing (of The Func­tion of Or­gasm) he was widely ac­know­ledged as the most gif­ted of all Freud’s dis­ciples. But even with­in that very work were, in es­sence, all of those ele­ments of thought which were to clash with Freud dur­ing his “second peri­od.”

Reich agreed with Freud that sexu­al de­vel­op­ment was the fun­da­ment­al ori­gin of men­tal dis­order. To­geth­er, they ad­voc­ated the fol­low­ing po­s­i­tions: that most psy­cho­lo­gic­al activ­ity was ruled by sub­con­scious pro­cesses; that chil­dren quickly de­vel­op an act­ive sexu­al­ity; that chil­dren’s sexu­al en­ergy is the cause of most psy­cho­lo­gic­al de­vel­op­ments; that in­fant sexu­al­ity is sub­sequently repressed and that this has ma­jor con­sequences for men­tal health; that mor­al­ity does not de­rive from any su­per­nat­ur­al be­ing or set of rules, but that it is the product of im­posed re­pres­sions against the sexu­al­ity of in­di­vidu­als as they pro­gress in age from a child, to a teen­ager and fi­nally to an adult.

Reich went on, seek­ing to de­vel­op these ideas and to co­here them with con­crete find­ings. He ex­plored and ex­posed the re­la­tion­ships between sexu­al life and bour­geois mor­al­ity, then pro­ceeded to ad­dress in the same fash­ion the con­nec­tion between bour­geois mor­al­ity it­self and the so­cial and eco­nom­ic struc­tures that pro­duced and in­flu­enced it. Reich wrote that bour­geois sexu­al re­pres­sion and its sub­con­scious in­flu­ences were the main causes of neur­oses. He ad­vanced the idea that a sexu­al life that was free from feel­ings of guilt would be the best ther­apy to treat those neur­oses. He con­cluded by stat­ing that such a lib­er­a­tion from shame and re­pres­sion could only be real­ized through a non-au­thor­it­ari­an mor­al­ity, which in turn would only come from an eco­nom­ic sys­tem that had been able to over­come and ab­ol­ish re­pres­sion.

However, Freud was soon to al­ter the con­tent of his thoughts, and in the pro­cess he would break with those ideas that Reich agreed with Freud upon and had taken as his start­ing point. In 1926, in the work, In­hib­i­tion, Symp­tom, and Anxi­ety, Freud claimed that, “…[it is] anxi­ety which pro­duces re­pres­sion and not, as I be­lieved in the past, re­pres­sion which pro­duces anxious­ness…” This was a 180 de­gree turn. Freud’s new the­ory claimed that anxious­ness (sexu­al anxi­ety) was something en­do­gen­ous, from with­in the in­di­vidu­al psyche. Thus, Freud no longer con­sidered it to be the byproduct of ex­tern­al, so­cial con­di­tions. All ex­tern­al, ob­ject­ive, en­vir­on­ment­al factors were simply dropped from Freud’s ana­lyses.

Freud’s new body of ideas be­came a vehicle for all those the­or­ies that main­tain that all hu­man “faults” are in­her­ent with­in the phys­ic­al be­ing of men and wo­men (for ex­ample, the idea that there is a gene that causes crimin­al­ity). This is in stark con­tra­dic­tion to the ma­ter­i­al­ist con­cep­tion, which holds that it is man­kind’s so­cial con­di­tions of ex­ist­ence that shape gen­er­al and in­di­vidu­al con­scious­ness — not vice versa. From the mo­ment that Freud re­jec­ted ma­ter­i­al­ist philo­sophy, his the­or­ies were destined to be­come noth­ing more than an ac­cept­ance of so­ci­ety as it is, thus rul­ing out the pos­sib­il­ity of cre­at­ing real solu­tions to the med­ic­al prob­lems he was seek­ing to ad­dress.

These changes in Freud’s po­s­i­tion oc­curred at a very sig­ni­fic­ant time — the fi­nal years of the 1920s. At that time the gen­er­al mood was that, with the seem­ingly un­stop­pable rise of Nazism, the fas­cists would surely dis­band the IPS if the body did not re­vise its the­or­et­ic­al found­a­tions. As it turned out, threats of re­pres­sion led to Nazism hav­ing an in­flu­ence on the think­ing of many bour­geois sci­ent­ists, even those who were bey­ond any sus­pi­cion of hav­ing Nazi sym­path­ies them­selves. Freud was just one of many bour­geois sci­ent­ists af­fected in this way.

His work

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While Freud was prac­ti­cing self-cen­sor­ship, in 1928 Reich dared to join the Aus­tri­an Com­mun­ist Party (ACP). He quickly proved him­self to be a very act­ive mil­it­ant. He was con­vinced, as a de­term­ined Marx­ist, that the only way to un­der­take ef­fect­ive ac­tion against the cap­it­al­ist sys­tem was through polit­ic­al activ­ity or­gan­ized by the work­ers them­selves on the shop floor. In the same year Reich, to­geth­er with oth­er left-wing doc­tors, had foun­ded the So­cial­ist As­so­ci­ation for Sexu­al Coun­sel­ing and Re­search. This new group was sup­por­ted by the ACP, and it or­gan­ized “cen­ters for psy­cho­lo­gic­al coun­sel­ing.” The goal was for these to be the first clin­ic­al cen­ters to ad­dress the psy­cho­lo­gic­al is­sues of work­ers and to ac­cept them as pa­tients — rather than treat bored bour­geois, who were nat­ur­al cli­ents for the Freu­di­ans.

One must keep in mind that Reich did not take a uto­pi­an stance on the ques­tion of how to solve the masses’ psy­cho­lo­gic­al ail­ments. This is proven by his be­lief that neur­oses and emo­tion­al dis­orders were pro­duced by a giv­en so­cial struc­ture that is cap­it­al­ist­ic and au­thor­it­ari­an, as well as by his sci­en­tific­ally cor­rect con­clu­sion that by smash­ing cap­it­al­ism and build­ing a so­cial­ist so­ci­ety, thereby rid­ding so­ci­ety of these neg­at­ive fea­tures, those psy­cho­lo­gic­al dis­orders would be rendered im­possib­il­it­ies.

Reich’s new re­search as­so­ci­ation en­joyed a lengthy pa­tient roster, the size of which al­lowed for a wealth of thor­ough, con­sist­ent and fre­quent stud­ies. Nat­ur­ally, these provided some im­me­di­ate be­ne­fits to the work­er-pa­tients. By hand­ling a large num­ber of clin­ic­al cases, much great­er than what the Freu­di­ans en­countered in their work, Reich provided ex­cep­tion­al stat­ist­ic­al sup­port for his re­search and his con­clu­sions. His sub­sequent works were to in­clude a num­ber of ob­ser­va­tions and cases that was in­com­par­ably big­ger than that of his “com­pet­it­ors.”

These ex­per­i­ences also provided Wil­helm Reich with an in­tim­ate un­der­stand­ing of many so­cial prob­lems. For ex­ample, the soar­ing num­ber of un­wanted preg­nan­cies, which was in­creas­ing as a res­ult of a peri­od of forced “demo­graph­ic de­vel­op­ment.” His ex­per­i­ences with work­ers also strengthened his op­pos­i­tion to the ab­surd idea of aseptic clin­ic­al work, which was the meth­od that all oth­er “pro­fes­sion­als” sup­por­ted at the time. They felt it un­ne­ces­sary and worth­less to con­sider the ques­tion of re­la­tion­ships between men­tal ill­ness and its pos­sible so­cial causes.

Reich wrote the fol­low­ing on his ex­per­i­ences of that time:

In most cases, we hardly had any reas­on to provide people with a prop­er med­ic­al dia­gnos­is. On the con­trary, us­ing such a tool, that is hid­ing be­hind it, meant clos­ing your eyes in front of the prin­cip­al prob­lem. That would have been really stu­pid, oth­er than crim­in­al, for the moth­er and the child to be…those wo­men, those girls were totally un­able to love a child, tak­ing care of him, help him to grow up and not des­troy­ing his life. All those wo­men, with no ex­cep­tion, were ex­tremely dis­ordered from an emo­tion­al point of view. All of them, with no ex­cep­tion again, had a dis­turbed re­la­tion­ship (if any) with the man that put them in­to trouble. They were fri­gid, shattered by ex­ploit­a­tion, sad­ist deep down in their con­science, or openly mas­ochist … in most cases they had oth­er three or six chil­dren or rather they were bring­ing up some­body else’s. They just hated their ba­bies even be­fore they were born. Quite of­ten they were beaten up by al­co­hol­ic hus­bands. They hated the chil­dren around them. Talk­ing about “holy moth­erly love” in front of such a crim­in­al suf­fer­ing would have soun­ded crim­in­al, in­deed.

Such ap­palling con­di­tions moved Reich to pro­duce a pro­found ana­lys­is of the af­fect of bour­geois mor­al­ity on wo­men’s psy­cho­lo­gic­al de­vel­op­ment. In this way Reich provided an im­port­ant sci­entif­ic con­tri­bu­tion to the is­sue of the “lib­er­a­tion of wo­men.” On this is­sue he openly po­lem­i­cized against the con­tem­por­ary “sexu­al hy­giene spe­cial­ists,” who ex­pli­citly preached fem­in­ine chastity be­fore mar­riage. One of these “spe­cial­ists” wrote, “We must en­noble and cul­tiv­ate fem­in­ine chastity as the greatest na­tion­al wealth; in fact it is just thanks to wo­men chastity that we can have a safe guar­an­tee that we really are our chil­dren’s fath­ers, and that we are work­ing and toil­ing for our own blood. Without such a guar­an­tee there is not any pos­sib­il­ity of an in­tim­ate and safe fam­ily life, which in turn is the in­dis­pens­able pil­lar for the na­tion and people’s prosper­ity…If wo­men are not de­voted to their men it is much more dan­ger­ous than if men are not de­voted to their wo­men…” (Max Von Guber, Hy­giene des Geschlechtslebens darges­tellt für Männer, Stut­tgart 1930 — in Eng­lish, Sexu­al Life Hy­giene for Men). Though surely not in­ten­ded by its au­thor, this pas­sage is ac­tu­ally a clear con­firm­a­tion of a point that En­gels ar­gued in his clas­sic, The Ori­gin of the Fam­ily, Private Prop­erty, and the State — a point which Reich ex­pressed in his own words when he wrote that, “the most im­me­di­ate con­sequence of private prop­erty is the in­terest for chastity be­fore mar­riage and mar­it­al fi­del­ity to the hus­band.”

This con­sequence of private prop­erty causes the sexu­al re­la­tion­ship between men and wo­men to cease ex­ist­ing as a mat­ter in­volving only the sexu­al life and per­son­al choices of in­di­vidu­als, and to sub­sequently be­come a con­struct in which wo­men are doomed to suf­fer great­er re­stric­tions, pres­sures, and in­equit­ies. This was con­firmed by clin­ic­al stat­ist­ics. In fact, at that time, no less than 90% of wo­men were held to have some vari­ety of sexu­al dis­order, com­pared with “just” 60% of men. These were tre­mend­ous and shock­ing fig­ures, chan­ging the defin­i­tion of “nor­mal­ity” and caus­ing sexu­al dis­orders to be con­sidered a mass prob­lem.

It goes without say­ing that such hor­rible con­di­tions did not worry Nazi sexu­al hy­gien­ists, who put for­ward such the­or­ies as, “the fe­male nat­ur­al in­stinct for mono­gamy.” Ac­cord­ing to rub­bish such as this, wo­men were only cap­able of sexu­al sat­is­fac­tion when 20 to 25 years old and only if their sexu­al in­ter­course was un­der­taken for the pur­pose of con­ceiv­ing a child — and of course, ac­cord­ing to these the­or­ies, all of this was due to “nat­ur­al” reas­ons.

It is not sur­pris­ing that there ex­is­ted an ex­tremely strong re­la­tion­ship between these sorts of the­or­ies and the church’s po­s­i­tions on re­lated is­sues. The church had al­ways been the lead­ing pro­du­cer of ideo­lo­gic­al ten­ets for the rul­ing classes throughout his­tory. It had al­ways played such a cru­cial role in the ser­vice of the state that at this time the state it­self could not help but to march along­side of it in de­fense of one of the most fun­da­ment­al in­sti­tu­tions of bour­geois so­ci­ety: mat­ri­mony. The very ex­ist­ence of mat­ri­mony as an in­sti­tu­tion of bour­geois so­ci­ety pro­hib­its any pos­sib­il­ity of solv­ing the con­sequences of a mor­al­ity based on re­pres­sion, wheth­er those con­sequences are psy­cho­lo­gic­al (such as vari­ous neur­oses and sexu­al dis­orders), or phys­ic­al (for ex­ample, abor­tion). As a mat­ter of fact, the end of bour­geois mor­al­ity, which would be the only real solu­tion to these prob­lems, would ne­ces­sar­ily un­der­mine such “val­ues” as “vir­gin­ity be­fore mar­riage” and mar­it­al fi­del­ity. Con­sequently, mar­riage would be freed from its tra­di­tion­al role of en­for­cing the un­fair re­spect and con­trol en­joyed ex­clus­ively by men. Such a role is evid­enced, for ex­ample, in the ra­tionale be­hind the idea that if a wo­man is faith­ful she will nev­er need to un­der­go an abor­tion — as if the only prob­lem in the case of an abor­tion is mar­it­al fi­del­ity alone.

If we found a way to ster­il­ize wo­men tem­por­ar­ily and with the pos­sib­il­ity of re­peat­ing it, through in­tern­al means, it would be ab­so­lutely com­pel­ling to find a way to dis­sem­in­ate such tech­niques and make them af­ford­able, so as to guar­an­tee… a be­ne­fit… for hy­giene, but also tak­ing care of the hor­rible threat this would pose on sexu­al or­der and the mor­ale, or even more on life and civil­iz­a­tion in gen­er­al. (Max Mar­cuse, Mat­ri­mony: Its Physiology, Psy­cho­logy, Hy­giene and Eu­gen­ics: A Bio­lo­gic­al Book on Mar­riage, Ber­lin/Koln, 1927).

The pro­hib­i­tion of abor­tion and con­tra­cept­ives de­prives wo­men of con­trol over their own lives and bod­ies, with their most per­son­al sphere of life fall­ing un­der the au­thor­ity of bour­geois mor­al­ity’s need to keep them sub­jug­ated to men. The ul­ti­mate pur­pose of such pro­hib­i­tions is to pre­serve bour­geois in­sti­tu­tions so as to de­fend and main­tain cap­it­al­ist private prop­erty. Even though the idea of a fam­ily based on “holy mat­ri­mony” is in deep crisis nowadays, the pre­ced­ing lines still hold true today. The whole of bour­geois mor­al­ity is in crisis. The pre­cari­ous con­di­tions of all spheres of life have been brought about by cap­it­al­ism it­self. Everything is sub­jec­ted to sud­den changes; the new “word of God” is “flex­ib­il­ity,” and the new god from whence this word is­sues is the god “Cap­it­al.” The is­sues of abor­tion and con­tra­cep­tion have in turn giv­en rise to a new is­sue: that both the bib­lic­al “word of God” and the bour­geois­ie’s “new word of a new god” alike con­sti­tute theo­lo­gic­al con­tra­dic­tions in the rul­ing ideo­logy.

The­or­et­ic­al core and po­lem­ics with the Freu­di­ans

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Earli­er we ex­plained how Freu­di­an psy­cho­ana­lys­is lost it­self in a blind al­ley after 1926, mak­ing an er­ro­neous de­tour in or­der to jus­ti­fy the ap­proach to so­cial real­ity that Freud and the IPS so­ci­ety as a whole took at this time as they sought to dis­as­so­ci­ate them­selves from so­cial cri­ti­cism. At this point however, we must re­turn to the sub­ject, as it is im­port­ant to ex­am­ine this pro­cess in great­er de­tail. The Freu­di­ans’ re­fus­al to con­nect so­cial con­di­tions with men­tal dis­orders as the “cause” and the “ef­fect” forced them to ad­apt by pro­du­cing a great num­ber of in­cred­ibly re­ac­tion­ary pos­tu­lates. Where­as this new out­look could not ad­equately ex­plain any of the psy­cho­lo­gic­al prob­lems that it had set out to solve, Freud was forced to in­vent the the­ory of the “death in­stinct” as a way to ex­plain the ori­gins of these prob­lems. Ac­cord­ing to his new con­cep­tion, the death in­stinct was a prim­it­ive and self-de­struct­ive im­pulse, tak­ing the in­di­vidu­al back to a prim­or­di­al con­di­tion of in­er­tia — a con­di­tion that all things tend to con­clude in.

Be­cause Freu­di­an meth­ods of ther­apy de­pended upon such mis­taken the­or­et­ic­al pos­tu­lates, when put in­to prac­tice they did not have any sig­ni­fic­ant pos­it­ive af­fects on pa­tients. The Freu­di­ans were con­sequently led to con­clude that the “self-de­struc­tion prin­ciple,” which they main­tained was in­nate in every hu­man be­ing, was an un­con­scious need for pun­ish­ment strug­gling against the nat­ur­al need for pleas­ure. Hence, for the Freu­di­ans, neur­oses be­came a bio­lo­gic­al con­di­tion of hu­man be­ings. On the basis of that lo­gic, the lives of in­di­vidu­als were marked forever by a “primary mas­ochism.” This was held to be the reas­on why pa­tients “res­isted” treat­ment, re­main­ing ill. Ac­cord­ing to the Freu­di­ans, it was be­cause the pa­tients were bio­lo­gic­ally com­pelled to op­pose re­cov­ery from their dis­orders! Reich con­tin­ued to ad­voc­ate the idea that pa­tients were ill and un­bal­anced due to their fear of re­ceiv­ing pun­ish­ment for act­ing on their nat­ur­al sexu­al im­pulses. The be­liev­ers in the “death in­stinctwere grow­ing in num­ber and prestige. All the while, the Freu­di­ans sought to di­vert psy­cho­lo­gic­al thought away from the ori­gin­al ideas of the ne­ces­sity for so­cial pre­ven­tion of neur­oses through a com­pre­hens­ive re­form of be­ha­vi­or­al rules and prac­tices and of the so­cial in­sti­tu­tions pro­du­cing and in­flu­en­cing them.

In 1931, Freud pub­lished his work en­titled, Civil­iz­a­tion and Its Dis­con­tents. In this work he ar­gued that civil­iz­a­tion as a whole was built upon sexu­al re­pres­sion and on the sub­lim­a­tion of sexu­al im­pulses. By this he meant that re­pres­sion is ne­ces­sary to the cre­ation, main­ten­ance and pro­gress of civil­iz­a­tion; that re­pres­sion is a pre­requis­ite for so­cial struc­ture that man­kind must resign to, and that man­kind must learn to sub­lim­ate its prim­it­ive im­pulses so as to di­vert at­ten­tion and en­ergy to so­cially ac­cept­able goals. This line is a trans­par­ent and com­plete ca­pit­u­la­tion to bour­geois ideal­ism and mor­al­ity. It preaches noth­ing more than the same sort of meek and sub­ser­vi­ent life that or­gan­ized re­li­gion had al­ways preached in or­der to fool the masses and de­liv­er them to sub­jug­a­tion and ex­ploit­a­tion across the cen­tur­ies. Reich com­men­ted on this work of Freud’s, cri­ti­ciz­ing him for hav­ing not taken in­to ac­count the ques­tions of “if” and “to what ex­tent” the real­ity of so­cial con­di­tions were ra­tion­al or not; if they were struc­tured on the basis of serving man­kind’s needs and ad­van­cing its hap­pi­ness, rather than struc­tured on the basis of main­tain­ing the op­pres­sion and ex­ploit­a­tion of man by man. As a Marx­ist, Reich was wholly aware that the “civil­iz­a­tion” that Freud was re­fer­ring to was noth­ing more than a par­tic­u­lar peri­od among many oth­er epochs that col­lect­ively con­sti­tuted hu­man de­vel­op­ment through dif­fer­ent stages of so­cial or­gan­iz­a­tion. It was clear to Reich that Freud was try­ing to for­mu­late gen­er­al con­clu­sions on the ab­so­lute nature of the hu­man psyche from just a single, trans­it­ory, his­tor­ic­ally de­term­ined stage of seri­al civil­iz­a­tion. And what’s worse, Freud was put­ting for­ward a pess­im­ist­ic at­ti­tude, em­phas­iz­ing the in­er­tia of any giv­en so­ci­ety.

A sim­il­ar gen­er­al­iz­a­tion is at the the­or­et­ic­al basis of Freud’s no­tori­ous “Oed­ipus com­plex.” The com­plex de­pends upon the ex­ist­ence of the fam­ily as or­gan­ized on a par­tic­u­lar mono­gam­ous basis — a phe­nomen­on that was the res­ult of spe­cif­ic so­cial con­di­tions and his­tor­ic­al stages. The Oed­ipus com­plex at­tempts to ex­plain the de­vel­op­ment of the sexu­al per­son­al­ity of the in­di­vidu­al by re­fer­ring to the sexu­al per­son­al­it­ies of the par­ents (in a dia­lect­ic­al pro­cess where ex­per­i­ence, not bio­logy, is the de­term­in­ing factor) — but it does so with only a ref­er­ence to the re­l­at­ive (and not to the ab­so­lute) nature of this par­tic­u­lar fam­ily form. Thus, the Freu­di­an the­ory of the Oed­ipus com­plex can­not fully ex­plain the is­sues in­volved. In fact, while with­in the the­ory there is a role played by chil­dren’s sexu­al­ity, this re­mains in­de­term­in­ate throughout the course of the com­plex. That is to say, in the com­pos­i­tion of the coun­ter­vail­ing de­sires for the death of the same-sex par­ent and of the sexu­al at­trac­tion for the op­pos­ite-sex par­ent lies the en­tire psy­cho­lo­gic­al pro­file of the adult in­di­vidu­al.

The im­possib­il­ity of the child’s ful­fill­ment of those de­sires is due to the so­cial and cul­tur­al struc­ture that im­poses the re­pres­sion of this be­ha­vi­or. The act of re­pres­sion it­self in­flu­ences the de­vel­op­ment of the in­di­vidu­al’s per­son­al­ity through the pro­cess Freud called “prim­it­ive im­pulse sub­lim­a­tion.” This re­pres­sion is ne­ces­sary in or­der to de­vel­op a civ­il­ized, bal­anced, healthy so­cial life, in the ac­tu­al con­di­tions of so­ci­ety. But while this pro­cess of “sub­lim­a­tion” (which by the way is im­posed on the child ex­tern­ally by the so­ci­ety that the child has been born in­to) al­lows Freud to ex­plain the de­vel­op­ment of in­di­vidu­als’ psy­cho­lo­gic­al char­ac­ter­ist­ics in a “civ­il­ized so­ci­ety” (that is, one or­gan­ized around the mono­gam­ous fam­ily), it can­not be used to de­vel­op ther­apies to treat the neur­oses with which au­thor­it­ari­an mor­al­ity re­peatedly in­flicts adult in­di­vidu­als. This is be­cause any thera­peut­ic meth­ods de­riv­ing from Freud’s out­look would have to be noth­ing more than pal­li­at­ives to the re­pres­sion of im­pulses, as they nev­er dare to ques­tion the so­cial ne­ces­sity of re­pres­sion. In­stead, re­pres­sion is con­tinu­ally ac­cep­ted, even though it is the ul­ti­mate cause of neur­oses.

Fur­ther­more, the pos­sib­il­ity in prac­tic­al terms of sub­lim­at­ing one’s im­pulses through the means of one’s cre­at­ive activ­ity is a concept that could ap­ply only to a tiny lay­er of so­ci­ety. Surely, it can­not ap­ply to the vast ma­jor­ity of so­ci­ety, the ali­en­ated masses. These in­di­vidu­als have no way in which they can ob­tain any sat­is­fac­tion through the activ­it­ies that their oc­cu­pa­tions as­sign to them. The pos­sib­il­ity to di­vert sexu­al en­er­gies to­wards cre­at­ive activ­it­ies, thus al­low­ing one to “take out” sexu­al ten­sions, can­not be ac­com­plished with­in any so­ci­ety that im­poses re­pres­sion. The ef­fect­ive sub­lim­a­tion of these im­pulses de­pends upon the free­dom to choose one’s out­let for activ­ity. But this is a priv­ilege en­joyed by the tiny minor­ity — the elite: those who have suc­ceeded in ac­com­plish­ing for them­selves pre­cisely the life that they want and those who simply do not have any cause to worry about ma­ter­i­al sub­sist­ence. For every­one else, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of people, the word “sub­lim­a­tion” is ab­so­lutely devoid of any thera­peut­ic value. Deal­ing with the sub­ject of sub­lim­a­tion without mak­ing ref­er­ence to so­cial and eco­nom­ic is­sues is simply too ab­strac­ted from real­ity to be pro­duct­ive.

Ex­pul­sion from the IPS

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By now it is clear that the fun­da­ment­al nature of the dif­fer­ences di­vid­ing Reich from the eso­ter­ic ideo­lo­gies that the IPS ac­cep­ted could res­ult in no oth­er out­come than his in­ev­it­able ex­pul­sion from the So­ci­ety, which came to pass in 1934. The “form­al” reas­on for the ex­pul­sion giv­en by the IPS was Reich’s polit­ic­al mil­it­ancy. This was quite an iron­ic de­vel­op­ment as the now com­pletely Sta­lin­ist ACP had ex­pelled Reich as a “bour­geois psy­cho­lo­gist” one year earli­er! The ACP charged that in the course of the struggle for a “pro­let­ari­an cul­ture” there was no room for psy­cho­logy, which they defined as “bour­geois liv­ing room fash­ion” (in the case of the Freu­di­ans they were cor­rect!). The res­ult of this lo­gic was that a psy­cho­lo­gist could not be a Marx­ist. But the ac­tu­al reas­ons for Reich’s ex­pul­sion were to be found else­where, nat­ur­ally.

The first reas­on was the pub­lic­a­tion of Reich’s Mass Psy­cho­logy of Fas­cism in 1933. This book got Reich in­to trouble with­in the IPS as well, as the group was try­ing not to come in­to con­flict with Nazi diktats. As for the ACP, the Sta­lin­ist lead­er­ship’s con­cern was that Reich had out­lined and ana­lyzed some par­tic­u­lar­it­ies of the mass char­ac­ter of fas­cism, for ex­ample the cult of per­son­al­ity, and that even though Reich was re­fer­ring to fas­cism, his cri­ti­cisms could have been read as an at­tack on Sta­lin­ism and its com­par­able meth­ods.

Reich and Trot­sky

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It was dur­ing this peri­od that Reich grew closer to Trot­sky’s ideas. Reich was con­vinced of the “fun­da­ment­al cor­rect­ness” of Trot­sky’s writ­ings on the rise of Nazism in Ger­many. The worst cata­strophe in the his­tory of Ger­man polit­ics oc­curred in 1933, and it opened the eyes of Reich and many oth­ers to the anti-re­volu­tion­ary nature of Sta­lin­ism. Reich soon got in touch with refugee mem­bers of the Left Op­pos­i­tion, and then wrote a let­ter to Trot­sky in which he pro­posed to him a long term col­lab­or­a­tion. In that let­ter, writ­ten in Oc­to­ber of 1933, Reich ex­plained that, “I am con­vinced that your point of view has been fun­da­ment­ally cor­rect and I fol­low with much at­ten­tion the work and activ­it­ies of the Left Op­pos­i­tion” (M. Kon­itzer, Reich, Erre Emme, page 178 of the Itali­an edi­tion).

Reich was aware that Trot­sky had shown an in­terest in the achieve­ments and de­vel­op­ment of psy­cho­lo­gic­al sci­ence. Trot­sky thought that Freud’s early the­or­ies were en­tirely ma­ter­i­al­ist — though Freud him­self main­tained an ideal­ist philo­soph­ic­al out­look. Trot­sky was con­vinced that the Rus­si­an psy­cho­lo­gist Pavlov should have in­teg­rated and syn­thes­ized his the­or­ies with Freud’s find­ings. In a speech de­livered in Copen­ha­gen in 1932, Trot­sky stated that, “ow­ing to the geni­us of Sig­mund Freud, psy­cho­ana­lys­is has lif­ted the lid of what is po­et­ic­ally defined as the hu­man soul.” Trot­sky’s an­swer to Reich’s pro­pos­al for col­lab­or­a­tion was that it should be hoped for in­deed, but he also con­fessed his per­son­al lack of know­ledge about psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic mat­ters.

A dis­cus­sion star­ted by the be­gin­ning of 1936, but un­for­tu­nately this was not to be the “hoped for” start­ing point for col­lab­or­at­ive work. By this time, Reich’s ideas were already be­gin­ning to de­gen­er­ate. In 1936, Reich had already un­der­taken ex­cess­ive ef­forts to widen the ap­plic­a­tion of psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic­al rules to mat­ters of polit­ics and so­ci­ology. Even as Reich’s iden­ti­fic­a­tion with Marx­ist ideas grew stronger, he al­ways un­der­stated and un­der­es­tim­ated the case for the build­ing of the re­volu­tion­ary party, and ex­pli­citly denied the need for an In­ter­na­tion­al. As he later wrote in his auto­bi­o­graphy, “Trot­sky’s project for a Fourth in­ter­na­tion­al was a com­pletely use­less search for fail­ure.” (Wil­helm Reich, “The In­di­vidu­al and the State”).

This kind of am­bi­gu­ity pre­ven­ted Trot­sky and Reich from achiev­ing any mean­ing­ful col­lab­or­a­tion. We can­not help but to no­tice what rep­res­ents a fun­da­ment­al con­tra­dic­tion in the Aus­tri­an sci­ent­ist’s thought even in this peri­od, when he was at his best. Though his “tech­nic­al” ar­gu­ments are con­sist­ent with a ma­ter­i­al­ist per­spect­ive, his “polit­ic­al” ideas tend to re­ject and con­tra­dict the duty that every Marx­ist has: that of openly stand­ing for truly re­volu­tion­ary ideas in­side the party, to de­fend them from any kind of de­gen­er­a­tion at the hands of bur­eau­crats. Reich did not feel the need for a “polit­ic­al” cri­ti­cism against Sta­lin­ism. This may have been due to his mis­con­ceived sense of loy­alty to the party. An­oth­er pos­sib­il­ity is that Reich lacked a real un­der­stand­ing of the party’s ut­ter polit­ic­al de­gen­er­a­tion. This lat­ter hy­po­thes­is is sup­por­ted by his own per­son­al his­tory, if we keep in mind that the pro­cess of “Sta­lin­iz­a­tion” was well un­der­way even at the time he had first joined the party.

Con­sid­er­a­tion of this fact is the best way in which we can try to fully un­der­stand Reich’s con­tra­dict­ory at­ti­tude. This is con­firmed in his auto­bi­o­graphy. Even though Reich firmly cri­ti­cized such simplist­ic state­ments as “people are nat­ur­ally re­ac­tion­ary” and counter-posed to it that “people are nat­ur­ally re­volu­tion­ary,” and even though he cor­rectly ex­pressed his ana­lyses in dia­lect­ic­al terms in ex­amin­ing the re­la­tion­ships between hu­man be­ha­vi­or and so­cial and eco­nom­ic con­di­tions, he failed in that he al­ways lim­ited his ana­lyses to psy­cho­lo­gic­al terms and lan­guage. In fact, his ex­plan­a­tion of fas­cism as a mass neur­os­is, present­ing the fas­cist dem­agogues on one side and the nod­ding masses on the oth­er, does not lead to any ad­equate un­der­stand­ing of the polit­ic­al as­pects of Nazism as an ex­treme in­stru­ment of class re­pres­sion against the pro­let­ari­at and its polit­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tions. It seems that Reich felt that dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism could only ap­ply to psy­cho­logy and not to polit­ics!

In Reich’s works on the dis­rup­tion of the mono­gam­ous fam­ily in the so­viet ex­per­i­ence (which were the works that con­trib­uted most to his ex­pul­sions), he re­ferred to Trot­sky’s 1923 work “Prob­lems of Every­day Life,” and hin­ted at ideas found in En­gels’ Ori­gin of the Fam­ily…. Reich fo­cused on the more pro­gress­ive as­pects of that so­cial ex­per­i­ence, be­liev­ing it to stand as an in­com­par­able achieve­ment even though it was faced with huge ma­ter­i­al dif­fi­culties:

…the be­gin­ning of a sexu­al re­volu­tion with the cur­rent dis­sol­u­tion of the fam­ily; the sub­sti­tu­tion of pat­ri­arch­al fam­ily struc­ture with the so­cial­ist col­lect­ive; the grow­ing in­volve­ment of either hus­band or wife in­to pub­lic func­tions; the ac­cess of sons and daugh­ters to col­lect­ives and the sub­sequent com­pet­i­tion of so­cial re­la­tion­ships to fam­ily ones; the trans­fer­al of chil­dren’s re­spons­ib­il­ity from the par­ents to so­ci­ety and the col­lect­iv­iz­a­tion of chil­dren cul­tiv­a­tion.

Reich was able to real­ize that Sta­lin­ism meant dis­rup­tion to those pro­cesses. In 1934, in fact, sud­denly (as part of the so-called “new course”) the wor­ship of the pat­ri­arch­al fam­ily and the laws against ho­mo­sexu­al­ity were re­in­tro­duced. These counter-re­forms sharply con­tras­ted with the laws that Len­in had sponsored dat­ing back to Decem­ber 1917, namely the “an­nul­ment of mat­ri­mony” and the “civil mat­ri­mony, chil­dren and civil re­gister of­fice” acts. Those laws stated that the hus­band was no longer the fam­ily’s lead­er and that wo­men were to be giv­en com­plete ma­ter­i­al and sexu­al self-de­term­in­a­tion in­clud­ing the right of the in­di­vidu­al to choose her name, dom­i­cile and cit­izen­ship.

Mi­gra­tions, para­noia, pris­on, and death

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Even be­fore his ex­pul­sion from the IPS, Reich was forced to move to Den­mark due to open hos­til­ity against him in his work­ing en­vir­on­ment. But very soon af­ter­wards he had to flee to Sweden, then to Nor­way and fi­nally, in 1939, to the United States where, luck­ily, he was per­fectly un­known. Un­for­tu­nately, while his ini­tial years in the United States were re­l­at­ively calm, his work soon led again to open hos­til­ity every­where. It be­came im­possible to carry on his stud­ies and work The un­bear­able con­di­tions drove him to­wards para­noia. It was not long be­fore he was be­ing de­nounced to the po­lice by his big­oted neigh­bors who be­came agit­ated by his strange be­ha­vi­or. The po­lice car­ried out in­quir­ies re­gard­ing his past and soon “ex­posed” the “im­mor­al” con­tent of his writ­ings. In the course of their in­vest­ig­a­tions, the po­lice even­tu­ally dis­covered the Marx­ist ori­gin of his thought.

This pro­cess of in­tim­id­a­tion las­ted a few years, dur­ing which Reich dared to con­tin­ue writ­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, some as­pects of his out­look de­vi­ated in­to semi-sci­entif­ic the­or­ies, also known as his “or­go­nom­ic peri­od the­or­ies.” Sadly these the­or­ies are much more known than those he had held pre­vi­ously. His ex­cess­ive em­phas­is on sexu­al en­ergy led him to be­lieve that it could have been phys­ic­ally meas­ured and even vis­ible through some devices (the “or­gono­scopes”). An ab­so­lute be­lief in the ex­ist­ence of a “pos­it­ive en­ergy” (the “or­gon”) threw him in­to a the­or­et­ic­al frame­work that began to smack of mys­ti­cism. He aban­doned any ma­ter­i­al­ist stand­point and star­ted be­liev­ing in such things as ori­gin­a­tion of the uni­verse from the or­gons through a huge prim­or­di­al or­gasm reached between two prim­it­ive or­gon­ic en­tit­ies. Such a ca­pit­u­la­tion to ideal­ism, all the more shock­ing when com­pared to his pre­vi­ous dia­lect­ic­al-ma­ter­i­al­ist sci­entif­ic prin­ciples, can be ex­plained only as be­ing due to his com­plete de­tach­ment from real­ity. This had, in turn, de­veloped from his ever-worsen­ing polit­ic­al and sci­entif­ic isol­a­tion, which in the last years of his life reached the point of total per­son­al per­se­cu­tion .

It is es­sen­tial to clearly dis­tin­guish between his two peri­ods. The first one was from 1919 to 1938, and the second was from 1938 to 1957. It is also im­port­ant to con­sider the fact that he re­wrote his pre­vi­ous works, mak­ing severe changes. In fact, in his second peri­od, Reich re­vised and abridged his pre­vi­ous works. In some cases he altered defin­i­tions and sec­ond­ary con­sid­er­a­tions, but in oth­er cases he com­pletely changed the con­tent of his ideas.

A strik­ing ex­ample is the 1946 fore­word to the third edi­tion of Mass Psy­cho­logy of Fas­cism. In that edi­tion, Reich com­pletely con­tra­dicts what he had writ­ten years be­fore. He now de­scribed fas­cism as the “polit­ic­ally or­gan­ized ex­pres­sion of the av­er­age per­son­al­ity struc­ture,” which is an or­gan­ic com­pon­ent of the com­mon man, ac­cord­ing to the three lay­ers scheme he had draf­ted years be­fore. In that the­ory, Reich had di­vided the psy­cho­lo­gic­al life of men and wo­men in­to a bio­lo­gic­al tier con­sist­ing of in­stincts, an un­con­scious tier where au­thor­it­ari­an mor­al­ity en­genders per­ver­sion by its re­pres­sion of bio­lo­gic­al in­stincts, and fi­nally a con­scious tier where the byproducts of the mor­al­ity that repressed those in­stincts pro­duces neur­oses and phys­ic­al dis­orders. In his last ana­lys­is, fas­cism is no longer a polit­ic­al phe­nomen­on, or even a “mass neur­os­is” — but something in­her­ent to man­kind! This idea was more un­scientif­ic and pess­im­ist­ic than the Freu­di­an “death in­stinct,” which Reich him­self had bit­terly fought against in pre­vi­ous years.

Only the edi­tions dat­ing back to his first peri­od are to be con­sidered con­sist­ent with a dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ist­ic view. Reich’s ideas, like those of his ment­or Freud, fol­lowed a des­cend­ing path. The main cause seems to be the same in both of their cases — namely, the re­fus­al to main­tain polit­ic­al cri­ti­cism. In Reich’s case it was the re­fus­al to op­pose Sta­lin­ism that first led him to re­vise his the­or­ies and then to aban­don them.

The pro­nounced sexu­al con­tent of the or­go­nom­ic the­ory gave him a repu­ta­tion as a sexu­al per­vert. In later tri­als, the charge of be­ing part of a “com­mun­ist plot” was ad­ded. Des­per­ate, Reich at­temp­ted to de­fend him­self by re­ject­ing his com­mun­ist past and by try­ing to ap­pear even more anti-com­mun­ist than his pro­sec­utors. In the end, he was totally un­able to suc­cess­fully de­fend him­self due to his sui­cid­al plunge in­to the ideal­ist ideo­logy of the rul­ing class, which — both then and now — equates com­mun­ism with Sta­lin­ism. He even­tu­ally be­came com­pletely un­hinged and para­noid. After years of court tri­als he was sent to pris­on. He died soon after, in 1957.

6 thoughts on “Wilhelm Reich’s synthesis of Marxism and psychoanalysis

  1. Pingback: Wilhelm Reich’s synthesis of Marxism and psychoanalysis — The Charnel-House – radicalsubjectivityblog

  2. I have a first print of “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” and, notwithstanding some interesting insights into the human psychy leading up to the horrors of fascism in Germany and beyond, one has to question the Freudian core of his views and, yes Ross, Marcuse too.

    Are we moving backwards in such analyses from dialectical materialism (materialism underlined) to contemporary Realpolitik. Let’s put Mr. Trump on a couch and find out why he is a narcissistic meglamoniacal monster. Little good that will do as long as you petite bourgoise academics keep muddying the waters with your search for father figures since Studs Turkel died.

  3. The author covers a lot of ground, and it is impossible in the space of a comment like this to do justice to the truths, half-truths, and errors in his article. The author’s refusal to acknowledge the writings of other left psychoanalysts of the period such as Fenichel and Jacobson who were trying to interrelate unconscious psychological life with social structure is a particularly irritating form of the straw manning argument he makes.

    But I’ll try to get to the heart of things by quickly considering what he describes as the pivotal turn in Freud’s writings that came with “Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety.” Yes, it is certainly true that in that work Freud backed away from a position that neurotic symptoms were an expression of, to put it simply, dammed up sexual energy. But to claim that “Freud’s new theory claimed that anxiousness (sexual anxiety) was something endogenous, from within the individual psyche” is, to put it bluntly, stupefying and irresponsible.

    Freud was trying to understand anxiety as a form of fear. In contrast with external fears, anxiety reflected an individual’s sense that an impulse they were experiencing internally was going to somehow put them in jeopardy. Departing from the notion of an “actual neurosis,” anxiety was an inhibitory warning associated with prospective action, not a state of malaise generated by undischarged libio. For the author’s claim to be true, then “endogenous” must mean anything that is internal to the individual, not just something genetic, but also including mental contents such as fantasies, whether conscious, preconscious, or unconscious. It follows, then that for the author’s claim to be true, fantasies would have to be internally generated, without social mediation.

    This is both empirically false and a near-complete mischaracterization of psychoanalytic theory and practice. The standard way for a clinician to think about, for example, someone reporting feeling not just fear but also anxiety about their relationship with their boss is to consider the reality of the threat posed by the boss to be mediated by fantasies that have been complexly formed during childhood and which, considered topographically, are composed of elements that are preconscious and unconscious. Their anxiety might reflect the contribution of a remembered fear of, stereotypically, being enraged with father, wanting to kill him, and simultaneously being afraid of losing him, etc etc. Or it might be about becoming aware of how much they seem to desperately need his confirmation, despite his being an asshole, etc etc. Their anxious passivity in response to the boss is to seek to internally flee, to inhibit themselves. They are blindsided by preconcious/unconscious impulses that originally took shape in conditions that were, ta da, shaped by the social structure. To talk of this as “endogenous” is absurd.

    This should not be taken to mean that sexuality is not involved. But to try to boil anxiety down to an effect of dammed up libido or some related formulation is reductionistic, particularly in the sense that it imagines unconscious psychological processes to be significantly about only the malaise of sexual deprivation.

    With misunderstandings like this the author encourages us to move in the direction of a “materialist” analysis that is dogmatically indifferent with regard to the social and psychological mediation of whatever we choose to fetishize as truly “material.” Haven’t we seen enough of that?

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