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Wilhelm Reich: Sex Molds Society's Psyche

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WILHELM REICH: Sex Molds Society's Psyche

Reich's studies on the function of the orgasm and how sexuality affects mass psychology incurred him the wrath of government authorities. The Food and Drug Administration burned his books, and Reich finally died in an American prison in 1957.

by Pun Plamondon and Ellen Hoffman

"Against the principle of self-denial preached by political reaction, we must set the principle of happiness and abundance on earth."   - Wilhelm Reich 

Remember the feeling you have immediately after a high-powered, explosive orgasm - the total lack of tenseness and the free-flowing of emotions and energy.

   At that moment, you have a sense of the basic teachings of revolutionary psychologist Wilhelm Reich. Expelled from the Communist Party and the International Psychoanalysis Association for his unorthodox teachings, Reich finally died in an American prison in 1957 while the Food and Drug Administration burned his books. His attempts to show that society walls people off from their own sexual lite energy and experience, plus his therapies to help people overcome superficial layers of character angered authorities in each of the countries in which Reich worked. He theorized the biological core of a person was both loving and rational, and in essence, a revolutionary force capable of overturning existing powers in society which oppress the individual.

   Reich's teachings initially synthesized the theories of Sigmund Freud on people 's internal drives with Marx and Engel's analysis of societal shaping of human nature. In an early essay, Reich proposed that a revolutionary ideology needed both aspects:

   "An effective policy, whose ultimate goal is the achievement of socialism and the establishment of the rule of labor over capital, must not be based only on a recognition of those social movements and changes which occur objectively and independently of our will, as a result of the development of the productive forces. Such a policy must also, simultaneously and on the same level, take account of what happens 'in people's heads' i.e., in the psychical structures of the human beings who are subjected to those processes, and who actually carry them out." (What is Class Consciousness, 1934)

   Much of Reich's work is based on years of listening to patients voice their complaints, combined with a critical historic perspective of the events which affected them. Two of his major works, The Sexual Revolution (1940) and The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1938) both evolve from the fascism inherent in Hitler Germany.

   In Mass Psychology, Reich examines the process which shapes people's world outlook, and emotions, which ultimately govern how one does (or does not) act.

Fascism is the process by which the people oppress themselves. How does fascism come about? How do millions of people allow themselves to be put under the iron heel of a dictator? There are economic reasons for the development of fascism; but here we want to deal with what goes on in peoples' heads that they would choose a straight-jacket rather than go naked. The people, in the final analysis, do have the choice.

   Reich shows that the repression of our basic sexual urges, our present family structure and religion, are the three primary subjective forces that shape our conciousness toward the acceptance of facism, indeed, the demand for facism.

   "The authoritarian state gains an enormous interest in the authoritarian family: it becomes the factory in which the state's structure and ideology are molded...In the figure of the father the authoritarian state has its representative in every family, so that the family becomes its most important instrument of power."

   In most families the father serves as a dictator, his rule is absolute, unquestioned. As we grow up in this sort of atmosphere we become passive and unable to function unless we are given commands from a higher authority. In both the family and state this authority is strict and protective at the same time.

   "What this position of the father actually necessitates is the strictest sexual suppression of the women and the children...the sons, apart from subservient attitudes toward authority, develop a strong identification with the father, which forms the basis of the emotional identification with every kind of authority." The young men want to be fathers/fuhrers.

   "The moral inhibitions of the child's natural sexuality...makes the child afraid, shy, fearful of authority, obedient, 'good' and 'docile' in the authoritarian sense of the words. It has a crippling effect on man's rebellious forces because every vital life impulse is now burdened with severe fear.

   "The suppression of one's primitive material needs [food, shelter, etc.] compasses a different result than the suppression of one's sexual needs. The former incites to rebellion, whereas the latter...prevents rebellion against BOTH forms of suppression."

Sexual repression results in a lowering of self-confidence, we begin to think of sexual suppression in terms of honor, purity, duty, bravery, and self-control. These emotions are further developed and exploited by the absolute control state, especially in times of war. 

   When our natural sex drives are twisted and deformed our sexual energy seeks release and satisfaction in perverted ways, in individual sadism for one, but this can be heightened and manipulated into racism, nationalism, imperialistic wars and a fascist state. Look at the Vietnam War and My Lai, massive police brutality, the brutality that prisoners inflict upon one another in prisons in our own society.

   So, repression of natural sexual instincts is key to developing the superior father family structure that the authoritarian state needs to survive. There is another institution that effects this anti-sexuality and the family and facist state organization, Reich calls this third institution "mysticism" [religion] .

   "Every form of mysticism derives its most active energy and, in part, also its content front this compulsory repression of sexuality."

   Religion's basic doctrine is that men and women are naturally wicked and evil (original sin), that things on earth always have been awful and always will be, we shouldn't expect happiness here on earth but look for our just reward in heaven.

   The whole family and sex order is a primary part of religion. A young child might be heard to pray - "Please, Mother Mary Virgin Pure, I sinned, Billy and Sally and I played doctor, ask God the Father not to send me to Hell."  God sees everything and knows everything, so don't touch yourself when you go to bed, in fact, don't even think about touching yourself or anybody else. And Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father, who obeyed His Father all the way to the end, he never had a hard on in 33 years. Again, purity, honor, self-control; "No, No, I can't -  l'm saving it for when I get married." 

   "What religion calls freedom from the outside world really means fantasized substitute gratification [religious ecstasy] for actual gratification [physical]."

   Religion leads us to put all our faith in God, but it also leads us to put our faith in the Leader, or our faith in Daddy. What we need to do is put our faith in ourselves, our faith in each other.

   As the U.S. drifts closer to fascism, as we reap more and more of the rotten fruit of sexual repression, i.e. sadism, war, perversion, confusion, dual personalities, etc., the pressure of the "moralists" increases, they tell us we must strengthen the family, Christ and morals, that is to say, patriarchy, religion and sexual repression that has led us into the center of this madness.

   In The Sexual Revolutíon, Reich delves deeper into the sexual roots of societal disfunctioning, and spells out what must change in the individual in order to bring about a sane society of complete human beings.

   Reich saw people underneath their roles and personna masks as biological organisms - functional life systems undivorced from the life energy permeating the universe. In our society, the human animal is walled away from his/her own life energy and nature by what he calls "character armor." One of the major factors contributing to this phenomenon is moral inhibitions, especially sexual, taught young children by family, school and church. Reich examines these trends in both Germany and Russia (following the Bolshevik Revolution) as a controlling mechanism by the state. As a means of showing the alternatives, he discusses the Russian laws immediately after the Revolution (and later repealed under Stalin) - repeal of anti-homosexuality legislation, abortion legalized, economic independence for women and children, end of registered marriage - the separation of economy and sexuality.

   Reich spent his later years concentrating on bioenergetics, with his discovery of the orgone (a life energy source) and its therapeutic value. While less directly political than much of his early work. his later research on a continually flowing cosmic energy source, the function of the orgasm, and his discussions of "character armor," or inhibitions of energy flow leading to such deseases as cancer, ulcers or arthritis proved equally radical and generally unpopular. In fact, Reich's writings remain a sort of underground literature, not commonly taught in schools and still not widely available.

   Reich's goals are the underpinnings of much radical activity today, and his works have much to say to current organizers. Unless we recognize our need to change our character, we will never be able to create a more sane society.


The Mass Psychology of Facism (Touchstone) $3.95

The Sexual Revolution (Noonday) $2.95

The Function of the Orgasm (Meridian) $3.95

Selected Writings: An Introduction to Orgonomy (Noonday) $4.95

Reich Speaks on Freud (Noonday) $2.95

The Murder of Christ Noonday) $2.75

The Cancer Biopathy (Noonday) $4.95

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