“The Mass Psychology of Fascism”

by Wilhelm Reich

1946 The Noonday Press

First written in Germany in 1932 as Hitler was coming to power, then revised in the US in 1944, this is a classic study of the characteristics of fascist movement. Reich, a former Marxist from the Frankfurt School, emphasizes that fascism is not unique to Germany or Japan or Italy, but is instead “the basic emotional attitude of the suppressed man of our authoritarian machine civilization and its mechanistic-mystical conception of life.”

In other words it’s not enough to blame Hitler or the Nazis or any political party for the rise of fascism, we have to understand why millions of people have been, and continue to be, drawn to Right-wing movement (its mass character is what distinguishes fascism from simple authoritarianism).  Finding its base in the Middle Classes, fascist movement feeds upon authoritarian patriarchal social structures, especially the father-dominated family, which prepares children to obey and even revere a harsh “leader.”

But what was most interesting to me about this book is the politics of sexuality.  Reich as a psychiatrist observed that the repression of sexuality, especially from a young age, prepares people for lifetimes of neurotic self-hatred as some of their most basic and healthy life functions become embedded with deep shame and guilt.  I would add, sexual assault and child abuse add much fuel to this fire.  Reich stresses that children, adolescents and women are perpetually denied control over their sexual desires and bodies, which is what gives the patriarchal father so much power in the family, and therefore the sexual repression of masses of people becomes the seeds that grow fascist political movements.

I will write more on this train of thought in my review of Yes Means Yes!, and it’s also something I’ve been sparked to consider after watching the film The Handmaid’s Tale, about a dark future where pollution has made most women sterile, and a Christian fascist movement seizes control of society to make the remaining fertile women into the sex slaves of powerful male leaders.  It’s surprisingly realistic in some scary ways, because it builds from the sad truth that the patriarchal Christian Right is a real force in society and continues to attack the rights of women to control their own bodies and sexuality.  This tendency must be overcome, by women and trans folks taking back their body sovereignty and proclaiming their sexuality as no one’s but their own.

Part 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale.

There’s a lot more in this book.  Reich also dissects the Soviet Union and tries to explain why worker’s self-management breaking down led to dictatorship and state capitalism.  He also quotes at length from Nazi and Soviet propaganda to illustrate his points.  Finally, I need to point out that a fair portion of this book is spent on Reich’s ideas of the “orgone”, which he believed was the fundamental component of life, work, love, and knowledge.  He’s been accused of pseudoscience, but if you look at it from a spiritual point of view, it doesn’t matter what you call that force inside each of us which strives for freedom, the point is to unleash it.

“Freedom does not have to be achieved – it is spontaneously present in every life function. It is the elimination of all obstacles to freedom that has to be achieved.”