Wilhelm Reich on National Socialism and Psychoanalysis

From Reich's 'The Function of the Orgasm' (1942):

Chapter: A Biological Revolution that Misscarried.

"Murder in war gives the victims the feeling of heroism in their suffering. But individuals with a healthy feeling for life have to carry in silence the stigma of depravity with which individuals with perverse, guilt- and anxiety-laden phantasies brand them."

"What are the inevitable conclusions of psychoanalytic theory and therapy? That is, if one continued to adhere to the central significance of the sexual causation of the neuroses!
Is it possible to continue to limit oneself to the neuroses of the individual, as they present themselves in private practise? The neurosis is an epidemic of the masses that works through subterranean channels. All of humanity is psychically ill.
What is the proper place of psychoanalytic theory in the social system?

Why does society produce the neuroses en masse?

The situation clearly called for extensive social measures for the prevention of the neuroses. [...] Success can lie only in the destruction of the sources from which neurotic misery stems.
What are the sources of the neurotic plague?

It was easy to see that the majority of people became neurotic. The question was rather how people- under present conditions of education- could remain healthy!

Psychic mobility and strength go with sexual mobility and cannot exist without it. Conversely, psychic inhibition and awkwardness presupposes sexual inhibition.

The basis of the puberty problem is sociological, not biological.

The function of youth at any given time is that of representing the next step of civilization. The parent generation at any given time tries to restrain youth to their own cultural level. Their motives for doing so are predominantly  of an irrational nature: they have.... become irritated when youth reminds them of what they have been unable to achieve. The typical rebellion of adolescent youth against the parental home is, therefore, not a neurotic manifestation of puberty; it is, rather, the preparation for the social function which this youth will have to fulfil as adults. Youth has to fight for its capability for progress. Whatever the cultural tasks confronting any new generation may be, the inhibiting factor is always the older generation's fear of youth's sexuality and fighting spirit.

The problem of marriage calls for clear thinking. Marriage is neither merely a matter of love, as claimed by some, nor merely an economic institution, as claimed by others. It is the form into which sexual needs were forced by socio-economic process [authors note: Cf. L. Morgan, 'Ancient Society'.] [...] Every marriage sickens as a result of an ever increasing conflict between sexual and economic needs. The sexual needs can be satisfied with one and the same partner only for a limited period of time. Economic dependence, moral demands and habituation, on the other hand, work towards permanence of the relationship. This conflict is the basis of marital misery. [...] Full sexual capacity can make a marriage happy. But the same capacity is at variance with every aspect of the moralistic demand for a life-long monogamous marriage. This is a fact, and nothing but a fact. Again, we may take whatever attitude we care to toward this. But we should not be hypocritical about it. These contradictions... lead to resignation. This requires far-reaching inhibition of the vegetative impulses. This in turn brings forth all possible neurotic mechanisms. Sexual partnership and human companionship in marriage then become replaced by a child parent relationship and mutual slavery... . These things have been described so often and are so well known today as almost to be platitudinous; they remain unknown only to a great many clergymen, psychiatrists, social reformers and politicians.

Freud, though acknowledging natural sexual pleasure to be the goal of human striving, at the same time attempted to demonstrate the untenability of this principle. His theoretical and practical basic formula was always: The human- normally and of necessity- progresses from the 'pleasure principle' to the 'reality principle'. He must renounce pleasure and adjust himself [i.e., asceticism].

Freud was able to justify the renunciation of happiness on the part of humanity as splendidly as he had defended the fact of infantile sexuality [in a culture which denied it, like the denial that there is even anything to deny].

'Life as it is imposed on us', writes Freud [in 'Future of an Illusion'], 'is too hard for us, too full of pain, disillusionment's and impossible tasks. In order to bear it, we cannot do without palliatives. [...] There are perhaps three of these; powerful diversions of interest which makes us think little of our own misery; substitute gratifications which lessen it; and narcotics which make us insensitive to it. Something of this kind is indispensable.'

I had only a faint inkling of the fact that Freud's point of view as well as the dogmatic attitude of the Soviet government, each in its own way, had their good reasons: Scientific, rational regulation of humanity is the supreme goal.

The fact has to be stressed that Freud's attitude was only an expression of the general fundamental attitude of academic scientists: they had no confidence in democratic self-education and the intellectual productivity of the masses of people; for that reason, they did nothing to stem the tide of dictatorship.

All cultural interest (movies, on the novel, poetry, etc.) revolves around sexuality, thrives on the affirmation of the ideal and the negation of the actual. Cosmetic industries, fashion trades and business advertising make their living by this. If all humanity dreams and writes of happiness in love, why could not this dream of life be realized? [...] Why did the striving for happiness continue to remain a phantastic something, at war with hard reality?

It is simply the pleasure principle which sets up the goal of life. This principle governs the operation of the psyche... from the very beginning.

'There can be no doubt about its purpose, and yet its program is in conflict with the whole world... . It simply cannot be put into execution; the whole constitution of things runs counter to it. One might say that the intention that man should be 'happy' is not included in the scheme of 'creation'.  What is called happiness in its narrowest sense comes from the gratification- most often instantaneous- of highly pent-up needs, and by its very nature can only be a transitory experience.' [Him quoting Freud, not sure which book, maybe Future of an Illusion?]

According to this argument, it would seem as if asceticism were a necessary prerequisite for happiness. [...] [T]his damming up [of needs] makes the organism rigid and incapable of pleasure if [the] prospect [of gratification] does not exist or if pleasure is constantly threatened with punishment. The supreme experience of happiness, the sexual orgasm, characteristically presupposes a damming-up of energy. From that, one cannot draw Freud's conclusion that the pleasure principle 'simply cannot be put into execution'. [...] To admit the possibility of human happiness would have meant... a criticism of the social institutions which destroy happiness in life. To Maintain his position of resignation, Freud adduced arguments which he borrowed from the existing situation, without asking, however, whether this situation was of its nature inevitable and unchangeable.

In my work, 'man' as patient and 'man' as social being merged more and more into one.

That psychic disturbances are the result of sexual repression was an established fact. [...] What happens, was the question, to the instincts once they are liberated from repression? The answer of psychoanalysis was: the instincts are rejected or sublimated. Of actual satisfaction there was no mention; there could not be, because the unconscious was thought of as the inferno of antisocial and perverse impulses alone.

The whole process of education suffers from the fact that social adjustment demands repression of natural sexuality, and that this repression makes people ill and antisocial.

Happiness, [Freud] said, is an illusion; for, suffering threatens inexorably from three sides. 'From one's own body which is destined to disintegration and decay.' [...] 'From the outer world which is capable of attacking us with overpowering inexorable destructive forces.'

More serious and difficult was the third argument against the human longing for happiness: the suffering which springs from relations with other people, said Freud, is more painful than any other. [...] Here spoke Freud's own bitter experiences with the human species. Here he touched upon... the irrationalism which determines people's behavior. Some of this I had come to feel painful in the psychoanalytic society; an organization the very task of which consisted in the medical mastery of irrational behavior. Now Freud said that this was fateful and inescapable.

Freud's resignation was nothing but a shunning of the gigantic difficulties presented by the pathological in human behavior... . He was disillusioned.

For decades he had now been living in seclusion from the world, for the protection of his own peace of mind. Had he entered upon all the irrational objections that were raised, he would have lost himself in petty destructive struggles. In order to seclude himself, he needed a sceptical attitude toward human 'values'; more than that, a certain contempt for the human of his day. Knowledge came to mean more to him than human happiness.

Freud began to create justifications for an ascetic ideology. 'Unrestricted gratification' of all needs, he said, would seem to be the most tempting mode of life, but that would mean putting enjoyment before caution, and would bring swift punishment. To that I could reply even at that time that we have to distinguish the natural strivings for happiness from the secondary, antisocial strivings which are the result of compulsive education.

True, he said, the striving for pleasure could not be eradicated. But what should be changed was not the social chaos, but the striving for pleasure itself. [...] To an extreme degree this is done by killing the instincts, as taught by oriental philosophy... . [...] This from Freud, the same man who had presented to the world the incontrovertible facts of infantile sexuality and of sexual repression!

The most burning problem of the misery of childhood and adolescence was the killing of spontaneous vital impulses by the process of education in the interest of a dubious refinement. This, science should not condone... .

[T]he striving for happiness had to be clearly comprehended in its biological nature. Thus it could be separated from the secondary distortions of human nature.

There was no escaping the question: Is sexual repression an indispensable part of the cultural process in general?

Sex repression serves the function of keeping humans more easily in a state of submissiveness, just as the castration of stallions and bulls serves that of securing willing beasts of burden. However, nobody had thought of the devastating results of this psychic castration, and nobody can predict how human society will be able to cope with them. Later, after I had forced the issue in print, Freud confirmed the connection between sexual repression and submissiveness:

'Fear of revolt among the oppressed', he writes, 'then becomes a motive for ever stricter regulations. A high-water mark in this type of development has been reached in our Western European civilization... .'

We are... apt to underestimate the gigantic forces that lie fallow in people and press towards expression and action.

[T]he biological goal of human striving... was at variance with... certain institutions of our social order. [...] [N]eurotic psychic structure becomes somatic innervation, a 'second nature', as it were.
For all his pessimism, Freud could not let matters rest in such a state of hopelessness. His final statement was:

'The fateful question of the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent its cultural development will succeed in mastering the derangement's of communal life caused by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. [...] And now it may be expected that the other of the two 'heavenly forces', eternal Eros, will put forth his strength so as to maintain himself against his equally immortal adversary'.

'Eros' presupposes full sexual capacity. Full sexual capacity, in turn, presupposes a general affirmation of life, and a fostering of it on the part of society. Freud seemed secretly to wish me luck in my undertaking. [...] Only the liberation of the natural capacity for love in human beings can master their sadistic destructiveness.

Chapter: Fascist Irrationalism

It would not be too much to say that the cultural revolutions of our century are determined by the struggle of humanity for a re-establishment of the natural laws of love life. This struggle for naturalness, for unity of nature and culture, reveals itself in the diverse forms of mystical longing, cosmic phantasies, 'oceanic' feelings, religious ecstasis... . A humanity which has been forced for millennia to act contrary to its fundamental biological law and has, therfore, acquired a second nature which is actually a counter-nature, must needs get into an irrational frenzy when it tries to restore the fundamental biological function and at the same time is afraid of it.

[W]hat is called the cultured human came to be a living structure composed of three layers. On the surface he carries the artificial mask of self-control, of compulsive, insincere politeness and of artificial sociality. With this layer, he covers up the second one [which he is afraid to confront as the terrible truth about himself, his visible secret, hidden truth], the Freudian 'unconscious', in which sadism, greediness, lasciviousness, envy, perversions of all kinds, etc., are kept in check... . This second layer is the artifact of a sex-negating culture... . Behind it, in the depths, live and work natural sociality and sexuality... . This third and deepest layer... is unconscious and dreaded.

All discussions of the question whether man is good or bad, a social or antisocial being, are philosophical pastimes. Whether man is a social being or an irrationally reacting mass of protoplasm, depends on whether his fundamental biological needs are in harmony or in conflict with the institutions which he has created.

The cultivated European bourgeoisie of the 19th and early 20th century had taken over the compulsive moral forms of behavior of feudalism and made them the ideal of human behavior. [...] As long as the compulsive moral institutions were in force- outside the individual as compulsive law and public opinion, inside him as compulsive conscience- there was a kind of surface calm, with occasional eruptions from the volcanic underworld of the secondary drives. So long as that was so, the secondary drives remained nothing but curiosities, of interest only to the psychiatrist. They manifested themselves as symptom neuroses, neurotic criminal acts, or as perversions. But when the social upheavals began to arouse in the Europeans the longing for freedom, independence, equality and self-determination, they were naturally impelled towards liberation of the vital forces within them.

But this European world, in its striving for freedom, made a grave miscalculation. It overlooked what the destruction of the living function in the human over thousands of years had cultivated into a monstrosity; it overlooked the deepseated, general... character-neurosis. And then, the great catastrophe of the psychic plague... broke out in the form of victory of the dictatorships. The forces which had been kept in check for so long by the superficial veneer of good breeding and artificial self-control, now, borne by the very multitudes that were striving for freedom, broke through into action: [...] in a St. Vitus dance.

In Fascism, the psychic mass disease revealed itself in an undisguised form.
The enemies of Fascism... looked for an answer to the problem either in the personality of Hitler, or in formal political blunders on the part of Germany's diverse democratic parties. The one as well as the other meant to trace the psychic plague back to individual shortsightedness or to the brutality of one single man.

What carried Fascism to power and subsequently secured its place... was essentially its appeal to an obscure mystical feeling, to an undefined, nebulous but nevertheless extremely powerful longing. Not to understand this, means not to understand Fascism, which is an international phenomenon.

[R]ace theory [isnt anything new]; it is nothing but the consistently and brutally applied continuation of the old theories of heredity and degeneration. It is for this reason that the psychiatrists of the hereditarian school and the eugenicists of the old school were particularly accessible to Fascism.

Intense longing for freedom plus fear... of freedom results in Fascist mentality.

Disillusionment in the liberal organizations plus economic crisis plus tremendous urge for freedom result in Fascist mentality... .

In the Germany of 1932, there were about 500,000 people in organizations which struggled for a rational sex reform. Yet, these organizations never dared to touch upon the core of the problem, namely, the longing for sexual happiness. I know from many years' work among the masses that this is exactly what they were looking for. They were disappointed when one gave them learned talks about eugenics, instead of telling them how they could bring up their children to be lively and uninhibited, how adolescents could cope with their sexual and economic problems, and how married people could deal with their typical conflicts. The masses of people seemed to feel that the advice [that was given them], might be profitable to the publisher, but that it did not really touch their problems, nor did they feel that it was in any way a response to their problems. Thus it happened that the disappointed masses hastened to Hitler who, though in a mystical way, appealed to deeply vital forces.

There is hardly any other slogan of German Fascism that fired the masses of people as much as the slogan of the 'throbbing of German blood' and its 'purity'. The purity of the German blood means freedom from syphilis, from 'Jewish contamination'. The fear of venereal disease, as a continuation of infantile genital anxiety, is deeply rooted... . Thus it is understandable that the masses of people acclaimed Hitler, for he promised them 'purity of blood'. Every human being feels in himself what is called 'cosmic' or 'oceanic' feelings. Dry academic science felt itself too superior to concern itself with such 'mysticism'. But, this cosmic or oceanic yearning in people is nothing but the expression of their orgiastic longing for life. Hitler appealed to this longing. Therefore, the masses acclaimed him and not the dry rationalists who tried to stifle these obscure feelings for life with economic statistics.

The mass death in the war for the glory of the German race is the apotheosis of this witches' dance.
Hand in hand with the longing for 'purity of blood', i.e., liberation from sin, goes the persecution of the Jews. The Jews tried to explain or to prove that they too were moral, that they too belonged to the nation, or that they too were 'German'. Anti-Fascism anthropologists attempted by way of skull measurements to prove that the Jews were not an inferior race. Christians and historians tried to point out that Jesus was of Jewish origin. But- it was not a matter of rational problems at all; that is, it was not a question of whether the Jews too were decent people, whether they were not inferior or whether they had proper skull sizes. The problem lay somewhere else entirely.

When the Fascists says 'Jew', he means a certain irrational feeling. [T]he 'Jew' has the irrational significance of the 'money-maker', the 'usurer', the 'capitalist'. On a deeper level, 'Jew' means 'filthy', 'sensual', 'brutally lustful', but also 'shylock', 'castrator' 'slaughterer'. The fear of natural sexuality is as deeply rooted... as is the horror of perverse sexuality.

Unconscious longing for sexual happiness and sexual purity, plus simultaneous fear of normal sexuality and abhorrence of perverse sexuality, results in Fascist sadistic anti-semitism.

Picture from 'Der Strumer' contrasting pure, innocent, wholesome German love, with 'filthy Jewish lust and pornography'.
And so it happened that the modern 'sex reformer', sexual psychopath and criminal pervert Julius Streicher was able to put his paper, 'Der Strumer', into the hands of millions... . Nothing could demonstrate more clearly than the 'Strumer' the fact that sexual hygiene has long ceased to be a problem restricted to medical circles; that, rather, it has become a problem of decisive social significance. The following samples of Streicher's imagination, quoted from the 'Strumer', may illustrate the above:

'Helmut Daube, 20, had just graduated from college. He went home around 2 AM, and at 5 AM his parents found his dead body in front of the house. The throat was cut straight through to the spinal column, the genitals were removed. There was no blood. The hands were cut up. The lower abdomen showed several knife blows'.

'The woman's resisting did not check his lust, on the contrary. He tried to shut the window so that the neighbours could not look in. But then he touched the woman again in a vile, typically Jewish manner. [...] He talked to her urgently, saying she should not be so prudish. He locked windows and doors. His words and his behavior became more and more shameless. More and more he cornered his victim. When she threatened to cry for help, he only laughed, and more and more he pushed her toward the couch. From his mouth came the lewdest and vilenst expressions. Then, like a tiger, he leaped upon the female body, to finish his devilish work'.
Up to this point in this book, many readers undoubtedly thought that I was exaggerating when I spoke of the psychic plague. I can only assure them that I did not introduce this term frivolously nor as a neat figure of speech. I meant it very seriously. In millions and millions of people, German and otherwise, the 'Strumer', during the past seven years, has not only confirmed their genital castration anxiety, but, in addition, has stimulated to a tremendous degree the perverse phantasies which lies dormant... . After the downfall of the principal standard bearers of the psychic plague in Europe, it will remain to be seen how one can cope with the problem. It is not a German but an international problem, because genital anxiety and longing for love are international facts.

There are Streichers everywhere in the world.

The only way of combating that pathological sexuality which forms the fertile soil for Hitler's theory of race and for Streicher's criminal activity is to contrast it to the natural sexual processes and attitudes.

[T]he psychic plague... makes it possible for psychopaths to function as dictators and modern 'sex reformers'.

If it is true that Fascism, in an irrational manner but successfully, utilized the sexual longings of the masses of people and thus created chaos, then it must be correct that the perversions which it allowed to erupt can be banished by a universal rational solution of the problem of sexuality.

[T]he experiencing of the Fascist plague will mobilize those forces in the world which are needed to solve this problem of civilization.

The Fascists make the claim of carrying out the 'biological revolution'. What is correct is that Fascism has put before us in unmistakable form the fact that the vital functions of the human have become thoroughly neurotic. In Fascism there operates, at least from the point of view of the masses of its adherents, a tremendous will to life. However, the forms in which this will to life has manifested itself has shown only too clearly the results of an ancient psychic enslavement. For the time being, only the perverse drives have broken through. The post-Fascist world will carry out the biological revolution which Fascism did not create but which it made necessary.