The Mass Psychology of Fascism - Summary

Summary

The question at the heart of Reich's book was this: Why did the masses turn to authoritarianism which is clearly against their interests? Reich set out to analyze "the economic and ideological structure of German society between 1928 and 1933" in this book. In it, he calls Bolshevism "red fascism" and groups it in the same category as Nazism, and this led to him being kicked out of the Communist Party.

Reich argued that the reason Nazism was chosen over fascism was sexual repression. As a child, a member of the proletariat had learned from his or her parents to suppress sexual desire. Hence, in the adult, rebellious and sexual impulses caused anxiety. Fear of revolt, as well as fear of sexuality, were thus "anchored" in the character of the masses. This influenced the irrationality of the people, Reich would argue.

As Reich put it:

Suppression of the natural sexuality in the child, particularly of its genital sexuality, makes the child apprehensive, shy, obedient, afraid of authority, good and adjusted in the authoritarian sense; it paralyzes the rebellious forces because any rebellion is laden with anxiety; it produces, by inhibiting sexual curiosity and sexual thinking in the child, a general inhibition of thinking and of critical faculties. In brief, the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation. At first the child has to submit to the structure of the authoritarian miniature state, the family; this makes it capable of later subordination to the general authoritarian system. The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and anxiety.

Reich noted that the symbolism of the swastika, evoking the fantasy of the primal scene, showed in spectacular fashion how Nazism systematically manipulated the unconscious. A repressive family, a baneful religion, a sadistic educational system, the terrorism of the party, and economic violence all operated in and through individuals' unconscious psychology of emotions, traumatic experiences, fantasies, libidinal economies, and so on, and Nazi political ideology and practice exacerbated and exploited these tendencies.

For Reich, fighting fascism meant first of all studying it scientifically, which was to say, using the methods of psychoanalysis. Reason, alone able to check the forces of irrationality and loosen the grip of mysticism, is also capable of playing its own part in developing original modes of political action, building on a deep respect for life, and promoting a harmonious channeling of libido and orgastic potency. Reich proposed "work democracy," a self-managing form of social organization that would preserve the individual's freedom, independence, and responsibility and base itself on them.

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