Further Notes on Reading Reich:
The Mass Psychology Of Fascism

"To the ordinary person, the standards by which he lives seem logical,.and natural, and even inevitable. But when we discover how differently other peoples act in identical situations,.or how differently they meet a common problem, the question is raised: "Are these ways really logical? Are they natural? Are they inevitable?" It then becomes apparent that much of what one group may consider logical and natural and inevitable, another will deem illogical, unnatural, and contrived"
– Melvile Herskovitz, 1958

Someone once said Wilhelm Reich was the 'authentic', if unacknowledged founder of Situationism. This book, The Mass Psychology Of Fascism would not dissuade one from that opinion. In my opinion, little more radical (in every sense of the term) in the way of historical treatment has been broadly disseminated since, but with these provisos:

Because of the profoundly various and in fact, hostile semantic implications of the following words used by Reich (as translated into the 3rd english edition), I've chosen to make these substitutions in my reading:

  1. for "social responsibility" I read developing ("to develop in an organic manner", "growing organically") and exercising personal aesthetics, thereby taking "chaotic promiscuity" (or any other idea of systemic antisocial chaos) completely out of the picture and leaving chance openings for personal choice and therefore peak experience – and in fact, rest – throughout one's "everyday life";

  2. for "sexuality" read the more generic "participatory eros" or even "sociality", thus semantically associating its "inhibition" and suppression more closely with "alienation" beyond mere means and ends;

  3. for "sex-economic" read "sexual/gender parity" (this implies a woman's choice over her own so-called "reproductive functions" as well as any individual's choice around "pleasure functions"), and elucidating children's "sexual interest" away "from sexual confusion" and its moralising, reactionary proponents – the ideological apparatus of state and church. Another phrase might be "universal in-out in-out" [I'm thinking here more of R. Buckminster-Fuller than Malcom Macdowel in Clockwork Orange, but either will do];

  4. for "orgastic potency": read "the primary biological impulse is a yearning for pleasure and health and is regulated by the capacity of an organism to discharge accumulated tension completely through orgasm" [ – Jim Martin, Orgone Addicts: Wilhelm Reich Versus The Situationists]. It may be that the cloud-seeding/rain-bursting lexical connection led Reich to presume he could put an end to desertification;

  5. for "work-democratic" read "patamimetic" (assuming Reich would agree that "productive forces" might hypothetically recapitulate mutually-pleasurable 'procreation', even if lacking quite the same sort of enthusiasm);

  6. for "natural human work relationships" read "cooperative relationships" or "mutual aid";

  7. for "work democracy" read "patamimesis";

  8. for "mental hygiene" read "disalienation", more 'mind-wiping' (blowing) than 'brain-washing';

  9. for "rationality" read "ecstatic or aesthetic openness";

  10. for "love, work and knowledge" read "germination, development, continuity" or "spasmodic interpenetration, movement and memory" (leaving me to think love and "necessary work" may at base be the same thing, except the first, "love" more generally implies an emotional over a physical attachment or ingesta, in which case love and memory are more clearly related). Somehow the Zoroastrian motto – "good thoughts, deeds & words" – comes to mind. So does "experimental play", its iteration and communication;

  11. for "orgone biophysics" read "laws of organic development". Reich might say "Sex before economy, not economy before sex", to the certain shudders of "vulgar Marxists";

  12. for "matriarchy" read "matrifocal", "matriculated" or even "non-patriarchal".

    Finally, in keeping with naturally evolving usage,

  13. for "internationalism" read "globalisation" (keeping in mind that when the goodies say it, "internationalism" means "world social revolution" and "globalisation" is the antithetical program of the baddies).

This schizoid sentiment toward social unification is maintained early on by Reich:

"As long as there was a social organization which was not disrupted by serious inner conflicts, such as the clan society, there was no need for any special power to hold this social organism together. If, however, society is split up by all kinds of conflicts, it needs a power which prevents its disintegration".
But he got this functionalism from Morgan, Durkheim and Malinowski and later on, denounces all political stands. Perhaps the circumscribing "necessity" of grand social cohesion is just another patriarchal mystification set up to accompany the "necessary labour" of conquest & industrial production?

Endorsing Schismogenesis

Who would consider that "insoluble contradiction" might best be handled by intentional dissolution rather than increased negentropic complexification? Do we blame the abused child or battered spouse who "runs away" for breaking up the family? Might even Reich predict character fault (an interesting double entιndre, the image of geological fracture bound up with "blame") from excessively applied negative entropy?

In fact, Reich did point out that the "cohesion" in civilisation is mechanical rather than social. Masters and slaves (by wage or otherwise) are mechanically bound. The "good" in thoughts, words and deeds is not shared except by those at the controls of the machinework. When the good of the machine comes to define thoughts, words and deeds, personal and social "good" (read the double positive "aesthetic interest") is rendered obsolete and even the masters are rendered down into slaves. I think this more accurately defines fascism (in modern jargon, "techno-fascism") than Mussolini's more conventional 'merging of government and corporation' or Perlman's 'marriage between state worm and the octopus of commerce' (the "integrated spectacle").

Perhaps what Debord missed was that all spectacles are integrated until entropy increases to the point that their cloaking device begins to break down. What once appeared two antagonistic forces is now seen as a single oscillating tendency; what was thought a unity is an artificial binding of contradictory institutions. Or perhaps we can only see them more clearly the morning after, when we say to ourselves "What was I thinking last night!?"

Could it be that capitalism inadvertently fetishises the climax such that we do not remember the build-up? Or is this amnesia merely an unfortunate side-effect of orgone biophysics? Could it be that, like cinema, the festival protects us from under- as well as over-stimulation, the explosive burst regulated? Festival, riot, protest, rally, demonstration, the temper tantrum of fist through wall. These release energy (frustration) all at once. Burn out is acute rather than chronic... The festival riot (intermitant explosion) does not initiate change, but prevents it.

Needless to say, circumscription is circumscription, and whether jail cell, zoo cage or office cubicle (one should be no more preferable than the other), busting out may be more psychologically practical than fitting in. The social environment has much more profound effects on growth than any parent can possibly counter. Removal from such a context is the only viable option if adaptation to it is not intended. This is the "human strike" ("The process of becoming stranger"), engaged not in collective ritual mass, but by one human psyche at a time. The most successful mass movements have been displayed by lemmings over a cliff. Who was it who said "Flying is the art and science of falling to the ground ... and missing"? Ah, yes, Ambrose Bierce.

Unfortunately, every dropout seems to have brought bits and pieces of the cage along on every excursion. They are embedded into character, shackles of custom, patterns of culture, bad habits. Reich suggested these bars and chains could be critically examined and in fact, to a large extent discarded. Some, like television and The College of Education, I would think need no examination whatsoever before trashing! But pealing away layers of masks is never easy once they have grown into the skin. Most of us who try find nothing at all underneath, and there is no evidence fascism can be expelled with a healthy sneeze or incredible copulation in a grand orgone burst. But we can stop biting our fingernails if we can remain conscious: mindfulness is just a readiness to be reminded, it does not imply paranoid vigilance. There is hope! "If we exclude surrendering, what’s left?" [ – Freebellions: An Incredible Voyage]

One doesn't always have the option of joining in social upheaval, most often you have to take responsibility and help create it. This isn’t as difficult as you might think at first. It involves taking time away from work. It means saying hello to a stranger. It asks you to stay away from Disneyland. Where possible it involves exploring the wilderness and countryside closest to you. Revolt requires being optimistic in the face of the nearly insurmountable. It means viewing privacy not as something to preserve and protect, but to unburden oneself from. It demands that you spend more time with children, not only yours, but children in general. It requires you to imagine a world without wage-labor, politicians, commodities, banks, mortgages, factories, automobiles, nuclear energy, chemical fertilizers, polluted rivers, depleted ozone layers, global corporations, prisons, police, toxic waste, morality, aristocracies, taxes, money, sweatshops, governments, imperial armies and widespread coercion.

Sadly there are no guarantees. Self delusion is everywhere. Good intentions don't prevent us from reproducing the Old World. – Seaweed

There is no doubt about the cruel effects of the suppression of sexuality (certainly a psychic contraception!), I wouldn't go so far as to suggest its status as prime-mover – it may as well, be an effect. Reich may just have been mystified by scientific reductionism, perhaps a reactionary tendency (certainly exhibited by Freud) in seeking a respectability for psychoanalysis or vegetotherapy, and by extension, for the individual analyst or vegotherian. Innovation is always dangerous!

This is certainly predictable from his own vitalist orientation (cf. "orgone energy" as a reified cosmic "principle" – together with aesthetic interest and disinhibition, oxygen and caloric nutrition are the energy inputs required to produce mutual orgasms). Patterns are surely meaningful but pattern-matching or correlation do not imply necessary unilinear causality. Of course, this caution derives from a very narrow definition of "sex", something Reich clearly did not intend!

By analogy, where is the causative link between Georgia O'Keefe's flowers or bovine skulls and her vagina and uterine horns? The link is poetic, not mechanical, representational or democratic! Our language is saturated as much with sexual as economic imagery: receive, receptacle, reception, contraception, interception, conception. The root etymology refers to capability: derived from the ability to receive, take, hold, have, handle. In Proto Indoeuropean, there doesn't seem to be a strong distinction between giving and getting (cf., PIE base *bhag- 'to share out, apportion, distribute', also 'to get a share, eat'; Skt. bhajati 'assigns, allots, apportions, enjoys, loves', bhagah 'allotter, distributor, master, lord', bhaksati 'eats, drinks, enjoys'; Pers. bakhshidan 'to give'; O.C.S. bogatu 'rich'. Is there a link with beg and beget? "Sex-economy" is not an unreasonable idea!

While there is little to nothing in this book suggesting the abolition of work (although there is an inkling of a burgeoning critique and supersession by play, and Reich's anti-political sentiments are specifically laid out), there are numerous references to voluntary association. It seems to me sexual liberation (ie., toleration), starting even in infancy, seen in the context of free exploration leading to the development of aesthetic chance/choice would preclude the appearance of a "work ethic" and its commodities, and reunite desire and compassion in the process. Without the meddling interference in any of the child's explorations, the inner fascist is not just still-born or aborted, but fails to conceive.

At the same time, Reich, along with nearly everyone else, was still mystified by the objectivity of "Thing", its representations and its hopes in progressive technology, together with utopian ideas of a more authentic representative democracy to solve the labour problem:

Yet he criticised Spanish anarcho-syndicalists for producing just another state. But as he said, none of us born into patriarchal civilisation are immune to character neurosis. Voyer called character itself a neurosis. Einstein suggested to Reich he take on a more skeptical view. It might be more helpful to suggest we all look in the mirror a bit more often, but also be mindful of our own reflection on the surroundings.

With these things in mind, there seems no limit to the incredible insights (and outsights as well) Reich displayed, even if he encountered some mighty blind alleys and dead ends along the way, experimental ends which placed him in prison, where he died of interstate traffic in therapeutic devices unapproved by the FDA.

Free Love, Free Play ...

The idea of free play (play without rules) and free love (love without rules) fills me only with dread... like Tiresias, I am weary of having to perform 'as if for the first time'. I long to find a pattern, that I might reproduce the same, that I might move on. If there is not a wound, if there is no constriction, where is the pleasure? Where is the release?

But there are always "rules" (so to speak)! This dread describes the "promiscuous" chaos so many think of when they hear "free love". Nothing indiscriminate, random or disorderly about it. "Indiscriminate" suggests a complete lack of aesthetic or stimulus discrimination (arousal). Rules emerge from the situation of playing. But these rules are patterns in free play, not regulations. Where is the pleasure in love-making when arousal, spontaneity and experimentation is forbidden? On tuesdays, it's my turn to be on top. On fridays, you can strangle me, but not too hard lest I capitulate. No sex after ten am for decent folk. No playing with yourself til you've done your homework. Turn off the tunes; I can't hear myself think!

Hearing Mozart is ecstatic, pleasurable, but I wouldn't call it a bursting forth. I get that from Led Zeppelin II! Without the consistency of pattern, I get frustrated. Even as a kid I didn't like the twelve note scales of Stravinsky. Their place is in the more subdued small ensemble of improvisational "progressive" jazz. But that's just my taste.

What is pleasure but the actualisation of a possibility, whether of our own or another's doing? Sometimes merely witnessing patterns takes one's breath away. Release is pleasurable and necessary, but so is the foreplay and the rest thereafter. Is foreplay the intension of accumulating tension (or pleasure) only to be scattered in a great diaspora? Is the intension of desired ends even necessary? Too much attention to intension often produces a corresponding counter-tension which in fact, inhibits any release or dispersion.

The function of the orgasm might just be such that we don't kill ourselves – death by Pleasure Principle! – so we can do it again after sufficient rest, a cigarette break or other nutritive replenishment, to enable further mobility or iterate pleasurable patterns, to avoid suicidal grief when we inevitably become extricated?
The opposite of a diaspora, a scattering, is the pressure-cooker, the concentration camp, the refugee camp, ghetto, gated community, urban civilisation which, at least initially, requires the strong patriarch to prevent future motility. The effectively spermicidal dam is not built to restrict population growth, but, ironically, to increase, or minimally, stabilise it. Whether patriarchy or oligarchy, it is a stop-loss program. Future diasporas are organised and imposed to remove the unuseful or fringe elements.

Schismogenesis describes how the inside mimics the outside which goes on to reproduce the system in constant feedback. A three year old assailant mimicking the home dynamics of opposing factions, even without any level of semantic stickiness, assures its reproduction down the road, the continual renewal, eternal return of a social contradiction: social cohesion through persistent but balanced friction, a dividing urge unable to break free. Bateson describes the reinforcement and maintenance of a system of mutual antagonism, even if he suggests it always leads to disintegration. His ideas of conflict resolution maintain the structural cohesion, and tension metamorphoses into compromise – a submission euphemistically called the "win-win scenario". We have yet to experience a revolutionary rupture, only increasing levels of alienation, a pre-explosive fragmentation whose climax does little to society as a whole even if it produces a complete breakdown of the individual psyche. Schismogenesis should produce a diaspora or scattering. Circumscription by real or institutional walls prevents it.

Tiresias was drawn into an argument between Hera and her husband Zeus, on the theme of who has more pleasure in sex: the man, as Hera claimed; or, as Zeus claimed, the woman, as Tiresias had experienced both. Tiresias replied "Of ten parts a man enjoys one only." Hera instantly struck him blind for his impiety. – wikipedia

Does Bateson even talk about a system where the initial inputs do not set up antagonism? Does anyone these days? To suggest this today is labeled "romantic idealism". Whilst the word "eros" is archaic and belongs in the same room with "whilst", passion is now considered false consciousness alongside intuition and instinct. "Who cares?" The fascist machine metaphor is as strong as ever.

Like consensual (or conceptual, concentrical) sex, jazz exhibits complementarity, not antagonism. And it presents no opposition to crescendo and climax. That would describe "bourgeois" easy listening: meaningless background noise also called "canned music". The drum and bugle marching band is certainly orgasmic, but it represents the orgasm of battle and is performed by faux regiments, battalions – fascist musical aesthetics. In the west, it may have evolved from the much more complex and melodically interesting jig and double jig. The fascist dance is a march which only produces regulated machine-like, spectacular speed-like ecstasy we used to call "false consciousness". Today, one can consume ecstasy to induce a faux orgasm (or delay its "premature" expression by extending the accumulating forces of production).

The sperm is not at odds with the egg, the nucleus with cell, the center-point of complimentary circles, the common sense which requires no decision or agreement, the sixth sense which prior to scientific discredit, posited the community or system or synergy of the other five senses.

I've distinguished play and game by the inclusion of competition and authority in the latter. Maybe I got this from being adolescent in the sixties. Games need learned at the expense of play, that spontaneous activity for which a child needs no instruction. We all say "play music" or "play games". We others object and posit "play sans game". We come up with improvisational "free play". Reich's very general notion of fascism is about games (the suppression[1] of play) and the origin of competition and authority in the child, who then goes on to reproduce it.

Play produces patterns to be repeated. We called it a "groove", based on the phonograph analogy. Free-play is not committed to the situationally derived patterns. They may be observed or altered at our discretion. Free-play endorses both novelty and consistency. Games, on the other hand, impose regulations, which we equated with regimentation. Regulations are fetishized pattern, a "rut" exposed to one and all in guerrilla theatre. We always changed the rules of establishment games to eliminate the possibility of winners and losers or preclude the likelihood of its premature conclusion. In play, there are no losers or cheaters just as in a community refrigerator, there is no theft except by intruders from outside the local system. That outside we called "The System". The previous generation called such intruders "fascist". It's "The Establishment" by any other name.

And again, Fascism

In 1933, fascism was politically correct in the West. The only objection to the nazis was nationalism. Politically incorrect anti-fascism was considered in USA "red". Reich was trying to help the "revolution" back toward Marx (via Lenin) by pointing out red fascism (Stalinism). He was expelled from the communist party and had to flee Berlin for his anti-moral activism (sex-education). He made it to the states only on the basis of his "anti-communist" critique and "liberal" approach to psychotherapy, thought progressive over Freud (at least until its full implications were discovered). You can see his sucking up in the revised 1945 edition, like the US was only potentially fascist, Roosevelt ranked up there in hero status with Lincoln, etc.

By ww2, Hitler had successfully been made into the all time anti-hero (not that he needed any help!). Antifascist sentiment was gaining ground right alongside and overtaking anti-imperialism, which had itself survived ww1. By 1945, Hitler was the fascist. We forgot that in the early to mid thirties, Mussolini was our guy. We were now all antifascist and had always been so. Why else would we have entered the war? Mussolini was hanged to great dancing and applause. Of course, around the turn of the twentieth century, fascism was a workers movement in Sicily – the fascia were not unlike the soviet or kibbutz. By the mid twenties, it was becoming the project of international corporatism. Language changes. So it goes.

Since the publicity trials at Nuremberg in '45 and '46, the big public question which was still being raised and endlessly discussed even in the sixties and early seventies, was how those nice germans tolerated hitler and endorsed his rise to power (they didn't all, but we were never told that). Mass-psychosis or mass-hypnotism was the usual answer.

Reich's analysis was not to be entertained. To suggest we were also fascist, to question parochial, patriarchal civilisation, to think we had sexual hang-ups and character faults, to think our submission to authority was a neurosis learned in early childhood was unacceptable. It was not until the mid fifties with the success of the new middle class right wing fundamentalism and upwardly mobile left-wing righteousness that his sex-economic approach was considered too liberal. Even though the advertisers started to promote every new commodity with "sex appeal", the "sexual revolution" was put on hold 'til the '60's. The very word "sex" was censored from "decent" public discourse. The church fathers (cf., Bishop Sheen) tried to ban "foreign" films (mostly anything subtitled or French) as "sensual and erotic pornography". After all, even the pope had endorsed the christian morality of the nazi program. We were finding out our own corporations had been funding it. "All's fair..." as they say.

I'm starting to believe the fascists won their war to end fascism, just like the slave owners lost the American civil war when they came to realize wage-slaves were more efficiently exploited than the old feudal variety. The imperialists were victors in the first world war, fought to end all imperialist wars once and for all. The fascist white army was defeated in Russia to pave the way for red fascism.

This approach to fascism is one reason I used the word "radical" to describe Reich. He was among many thinkers who came to attract only the "fringe element", but it was this element which, without any grand cohesion whatsoever (in fact, quite the contrary tendency to fragment and explode), influenced the next generation, few of whom even knew of Reich beyond the reference to "Just another old Freudian hung up on sex".

"It is easier to prevent a neurosis than to cure it. It is easier to keep an organism healthy than to free it of disease. Similarly, it is easier to keep a social organism free of dictatorial institutions than to eliminate them."
– Wilhelm Reich



[1]: suppression (n)
  1. punishment – conscious and forceful action or withholding to put an end to something, destroy it, or prevent it from becoming known;
  2. constraint – the state of being forcefully restrained or held back;
  3. psychology – avoidance of thoughts and feelings: conscious avoidance or inhibition of memories, desires, or thoughts;
  4. cybernetics – diminishing of oscillation: reduction of unwanted noise or oscillation in a circuit or of unwanted frequencies in a signal;
  5. biology – developmental failure: the failure of an organ or tissue to develop;
  6. physiology – cessation of body function: the reduction or stoppage of a normal bodily function.