Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the early 19th century, pre-Marxist utopian socialist mentioned in the article below, Charles Fourier.March Is Women's History MonthMarkin comment:
The following is an article from the Winter 1986-87 issue of "Women and Revolution" that has some historical interest, for old "new leftists", perhaps. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during this Women's History Month.
Additionally, when the issue of sex comes up, as it does in various disguises even in the left labor movement, I like to remind militants of the following. The left labor movement has set its main task among the three great human tragedies: hunger, sex, and death as the struggle against hunger. I like to remember the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky, and his words about his hope that once the struggle against hunger is victorious and that condition is overcome in our communist future sex and death will be less frightening and perilous. From personal experience, I sure hope so.
**************Fourier's Phalanx, Reich's Sex-Pol:
The Trouble with Sexual Utopias By Jack Shapiro
"It is a curious fact that with every great revolutionary movement the question of 'free love' comes in to the foreground. With one set of people as a revolutionary progress, as a shaking off of old traditional fetters, no longer necessary; with others as a welcome doctrine, comfortably covering all sorts of free and easy practices between man and woman," Frederick Engels noted in an article on the biblical "Book of Revelation" (printed in Progress: A Monthly Magazine of Advanced Thought, Vol. 1.2, 1883). Certainly the early, pre-Marxian socialists projected in elaborate detail what life, including sexual life, would be like in their ideal society of the future. The New Left of the 1960s, too, revived a radicalism centering on changing lifestyles. Herbert Marcuse, for example, criticized Marx as insufficiently radical for not directly linking the overthrow of capitalism to individual sexual fulfillment. Marx and Engels adamantly refused to engage in speculation on this question, however, insisting that their position was essentially negative, aimed at eliminating economic and social coercion in personal relations. As Engels stated in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884):
"Thus, what we can conjecture at present about the regulation of sex relationships after the impending efracement of capitalist production is, in the main, of a negative character, limited mostly to what will vanish. But what will be added? That will be settled after a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in all their lives have had occasion to purchase a woman's surrender either with money or with any other means of social power; and of women who have never been obliged to surrender to any man out of any consideration other than that of real love, or to refrain from giving themselves to their beloved for fear of the economic consequences. Once such people appear, they will not care a rap about what we today think they should do. They will establish their own practice and their own public opinion, conformable therewith, on the practice of each individual—and that's the end of it."
This position was not a matter of intellectual modesty on Marx's or Engels' part. Rather it flowed organically from the dialectical materialist outlook. Under communism people will be genuinely and truly free to reshape their interpersonal relations. Of course, this freedom is not absolute. Man cannot transcend his biological make-up and relation to the natural environment. Communist man, too, will grow old and die. Neither can mankind sweep the slate totally clean and build society anew. Communist humanity will inherit for good and ill the accumulated cultural heritage of our species:
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and trans¬mitted from the past.
—Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851)
Nonetheless, men do make their own history, including the history of their sexual practices. We cannot know the sexual practices of communist society because these will be determined in the future. Any attempt to project, much less to prescribe, such sexual practices is an expression of attitudes, values and prejudices shaped by a repressive class society.
Consider two representative figures who sought to combine socialism with a positive program of sexual libertarianism: Charles Fourier and Wilhelm Reich. One of the greatest of the early socialist thinkers, Fourier developed a program for an ideal community— the phalanx—which would gratify all human passions. Wilhelm Reich, as a member of the Austrian and then German Communist parties in the late 1920s-early 1930s, attempted to fuse Marx and Freud both in theory and in practice.
Fourier and Reich were passionate and often insightful in denouncing the sexual repressiveness of bourgeois society. Yet as soon as they sought to positively prescribe codes of presumably liberated social/sexual relations, they went off the rails. They believed they knew what "human nature" is, but their efforts to establish lifestyles appropriate for free men of the future only shows that Fourier and Reich each brought to the notion of "human nature" a lot of the ideological baggage of his own particular time and circumstances, shaped by repressive, class-divided society. Fourier's phalanx, to eliminate sexual frustration, would institute mechanisms of sexual slavery. And Reich's "non-repressive" society would have sexual activities monitored by a central agency of bureaucrats.Fourier: A Utopia Based on Passionate Attraction
Fourier described himself as being "born and raised in the mercantile shops." He existed in the netherworld of French commerce (traveling salesman, correspon¬dence clerk for an American firm, unlicensed stock¬broker). While never absolutely destitute, Fourier knew poverty. He lived in cheap travelers' pensions, boarding houses, dingy apartments. He was a recluse and may well have been a life-long celibate. Added to his personal isolation was his political isolation. His first work calling for the total reorganization of society was published in 1808. For the next 20 years he was totally ignored, a prophet unhonored and unacknowledged. Only in the last decade of his life did Fourier attract a small band of devoted followers. Fourier's was a lonely and miserable life. In his ideas of Utopia one sees the pent-up longings of this deeply frustrated man. This gives to his vision its passionate force and imaginative vividness. It also accounts for his fantastical and often downright weird ideas.
In this age of Penthouse and "adult" home videos, it is easy to be condescending toward old Fourier. Yet this neurotic dreamer was a towering figure in the struggle for social and sexual emancipation. Early in the 19th century it became apparent to those still committed to the ideals of the French Revolution that liberty, equality and fraternity were not compatible with private property in a competitive market economy. Fourier, the most incisive of the pioneer socialists, noted, "Philosophy was right to vaunt liberty; it is the foremost desire of all creatures. But philosophy forgot that in civilized society liberty is illusory if the common people lack wealth. When the wage-earning classes are poor, their independence is as fragile as a house without foundations" (quoted in Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu [Eds.], The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier ).
The status of women represented the most acute and manifest expression of the contradiction between capitalist society and its own ideals. The importance Fourier gave to women's liberation is exemplified in his famous statement:
"Social progress and changes of period are brought about by virtue of the progress of women toward liberty, and social retrogression occurs as a result of a
diminution in the liberty of women In summary, the
extension of the privileges of women is the fundamen¬tal cause of all social progress." —Ibid.
At a time when women were universally regarded and treated as nothing more than babymakers, Fourier championed not only complete social and political equality for women but also their right to sexual fulfillment. He was uniquely responsible for making the demand for the liberation of women from the oppressive nuclear family an integral part of the socialist program, a penetrating insight which the young Marx and Engels embraced. At a time when fathers exercised total authority over their families, especially their daughters, Fourier spoke for the freedom of children.
Even today reading Fourier would give Jerry Falwell or Pope John Paul Wojtyla apoplexy. He exposed the sexual boredom of monogamous marriage with a hitherto unheard-of savagery:
"This is the normal way of life among the mass of the people. Dullened, morose couples who quarrel all day long are reconciled to each other on the bolster be¬cause they cannot afford two beds, and contact, the sudden pin-prick of the senses, triumphs for a moment over conjugal satiety. If this is love it is the most material and the most trivial."
—quoted in Frank Manuel, The Prophets of Paris (1962)
He flayed the petty tyranny of the patriarchal family, especially the stifling of the sexual needs of children and adolescents:
"The children at the age of puberty think only of escaping the insipidity of the household: the young girl lives only for an evening when she is at a ball; the young man, preoccupied with parties, returns to his paternal home as to a place of exile. As to the children below the age of puberty, they are not satisfied except when they manage to escape the eye of the father and the eye of the tutor to enjoy everything that is forbidden to them."
—quoted in Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, The Teaching of Charles Fourier (1969)Fourier's Phalanx: Outlawing Sexual Frustration
Fourier's answer to the repressiveness of bourgeois civilization was a system called Harmony, based on the phalanx. The phalanx was a basically self-contained social and economic unit of approximately 1,700 people. It would contain roughly two each of 810 basic psychological types. This would insure the necessary variety and complementarities. Life in a Fourierist phalanx is attractive. All work is voluntary and not for monetary reward. There is a great deal of sexual freedom and variety. Children especially are intended to enjoy life in a phalanx. They would be subject to little parental or other authority, and would spend most of the day with peer groups (the Little Bands and Little Hordes). Returning to the bosom of his parents at night, the child is overwhelmed with love and affection.
Yet Fourier's Utopia has oppressive and sexually abusive features. Fourier believed that homosexuality, both male and female, would disappear under his system of the phalanx. In the phalanx, "harmonious armies" of young men and women would engage in nonviolent warfare. The losers would for a brief time serve as slaves to the victors. These youthful captives would be expected to meet the sexual needs of older members of the phalanx so that "no age capable of love is frustrated in its desire." Fourier's difficulties arise from two interrelated factors: the problem of work and the guarantee of sexual satisfaction, not merely the pursuit of such happiness as Thomas Jefferson (Fouri¬er's older contemporary) put it in the American Declaration of Independence.
In the Fourierist phalanx, work is not only voluntary but positively pleasurable as well as more productive than under capitalism: "in a societary state varied work will become a source of varied pleasures."Yet this work is crude manual labor, mainly agricultural. One of the great advances of scientific socialism (Marxism) was the understanding that technological progress, which under capitalism is used by the ruling class to further enslave and immiserate the working people, will when freed from the fetter of private property provide the material basis for human freedom.
Fourier, with his passion for mathematical exactitude, projects that the phalanx economy will be four-fifths agriculture and one-fifth manufacturing. And by manufacturing he means literally production by hand: "The industrial revolution passes Fourier by; he failed completely to appreciate its significance.... [Division of labor meant to him the simple form well illustrated in market-gardening, not the complex form associated with the machine technique" (E.S. Mason, "Fourier and Anarchism," Quarterly Journal of Economics, February 1928).
The pre-industrial nature of Fourier's Utopia is not simply a reflection of the relative economic backward¬ness of France in his day. His great French contempo¬rary Henri de Saint-Simon projected a socialized system based on continual technological progress. Fourier, however, deliberately rejected this program: "The Saint-Simonian vision, as well as the subsequent Marxist dream, of mechanized socialist mankind wresting a bountiful living from a stingy and hostile environment would have seemed a horrible nightmare of rapine to Fourier, for he knew that the natural destiny of the globe was to become a horticultural paradise, an ever-varying English garden" (Introduction to Beecher and Bienvenu [Eds.], The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier). In addition Fourier feared that, scientists and technical experts would exercise a new guardianship over society, establishing a new theocracy.
Given the primitive nature of work in the phalanx, Fourier could only offer variety, satisfying the "butterfly passion" to flit from one thing to another. In a typi¬cal day a member of the phalanx would care for the animals, engage in forestry, vegetable gardening, beekeeping and so on. Nicholas Riasanovsky, himself a sympathetic student of Fourier's doctrines, has nonetheless pointed out: "In general Charles Fourier's promise of most enthusiastic and most fruitful work by all in Harmony has aroused much skepticism— [Sjwitching in rapid succession from one unpleasant job to another would hardly improve anyone's productivity."
Marx's view of work is directly counterposed to Fourier's. For Marx, socialist economic planning would lead to a fully automated economy in which the "human factor is restricted to watching and supervising the production process" (Crundn'sse). Work then becomes increasingly creative artistic and scientific activity. At the same time, Marx insisted: "This does not mean that work can be made merely a joke, or amusement, as Fourier naively expressed it in shop-girl terms. Really free work, the composing of music for example, is at the same time damned serious and demands the greatest effort" (ibid.). We see here the difference between the Rousseauian and the Marxist outlooks. For Fourier, happiness meant a return to the spontaneous playfulness of childhood. Marx recognized that mankind had developed a real need to fully utilize and extend all its capacities. Artistic and scientific work is not and cannot be made fun in the sense that sex, eating good food and playing games are fun. But this kind of work has also become an object of passionate attraction.
It is not true, as Riasanovsky implies, that Fourier offered no motivation for enthusiastic work effort in the phalanx. In part, he solved this problem in his usual manner: by asserting that there is a psychological type in sufficient numbers to perform any and every needed social role. Who, for example, would do dirty work like collecting the garbage and spreading manure on the fields? Fourier's answer—little boys:
"Two-thirds of all boys have a penchant for filth. They love to wallow in the mire and play with dirty things— These children will enroll in the Little Hordes whose task it is to perform, dauntlessly and as a point of honor, all those loathsome tasks that ordinary workers would find debasing."
—Beecner and Bienvenu, op cit.
Fourier himself was city born and bred and so sentimentalized rural life. Children actually raised on farms, who have milked cows at 4 a.m. and slopped the pigs, can hardly wait to escape to urban civilization.
More fundamentally and generally, Fourier replaced money with sex as a reward for work effort. Sexually integrated work groups (the series) were to be an occasion for amorous dalliance. The connection between sexual fulfillment and work effort is especially clear and important in the recruitment and maintenance of industrial armies, huge bodies of tens of thousands which would clear new land, drain swamps, build dams and the like. Accompanying these industrial armies would be beautiful virgins (!) (the Vestals) of both sexes. Work performance in the industrial army would be the primary form of courtship: "the female Vestal is surrounded by her suitors, and she can watch them displaying their talents in the work sessions and the public games of the army." One can hardly imagine work conditions better designed to create anxiety and frustration than this intense, public sexual competition.
Nonetheless, Fourier assures us that the rejected suitors would not suffer sexual frustration. Indeed, eliminating sexual frustration is a basic principle of Harmony. Also accompanying the industrial armies are young women and men (the Bacchantes and Bacchants) who freely give their sexual favors to those wounded in love. Thus this passionate believer in women's equality is led by the logic of his system to project a class of free whores to meet the sexual needs of men. Fourier of course insisted: "Most women of twenty-five have a temperament suited to this role, which will then become a noble one." At the same time, he chastises attractive women who want a life¬long monogamous relation with their loved one:
"What is reason in the state of harmony? It is the employment of any method which multiplies relationships and satisfies a great number of individuals without injuring anybody. A beautiful woman operates in contradiction of this rule if she wants to remain faithful and to belong exclusively to one man all her life. She might have contributed to the happiness of ten thousand men in thirty years of philanthropic service, leaving fond memories behind among these ten thousand."
—quoted in Manuel, op cit.
Sexual libertarianism here becomes its opposite: social pressure toward promiscuity in the name of satisfying everyone's desires.
Sexual coercion outright enters Harmony through the problem of old people, something Fourier felt keenly. He once wrote, "life, after the end of love affairs, is nothing but a prison to which one becomes more or less adjusted according to the favors of fortune." Fourier was realistic enough to recognize that while old people still sexually desired the young, the reverse was not usually the case. His system therefore contains elaborate measures to solve this problem. As we have seen, the youthful captives in the nonviolent war games serve for a short while as slaves to older members of the phalanx. Sexually servicing the aged was also a penalty for transgressing the rules of Harmony. While Fourier's Utopia contains what we would call open marriage, there are also by mutual consent monogamous relations. If one partner in these engages in secret infidelity, he is brought before a "court of love." To expiate this transgression, he orshe may be sentenced to a few nights with older members of the phalanx.
Fourier's "ideal" society was certainly shaped by his own neurotic idiosyncracies. But his views also directly reflect the assumptions of his time. Fourier (and Reich)held that human passions or, in Freudian terms, instinctual drives, were unchanging and unchangeable. Fourier and, more narrowly and dogmatically, Reich believed they knew what was natural and healthy sexuality and what was depravity and perversion. Their program was to adjust social institutions around an emotional make-up conceived as unvarying. Fourier wrote to his disciple Victor ConsideVant: "I am the only reformer who has rallied round human nature by accepting it as it is and devising the means of utilizing it with all the defects which are inseparable from man."
Fourier and Reich belong to the intellectual tradition of Enlightenment naturalism, whose greatest represen¬tative was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Late in life Rousseau wrote that all his doctrines were based on the "great principle that nature made man happy and good, but that society depraves him and makes him miserable." Fourier constantly counterposes the happy and natural man in the phalanx society to the artificial and miserable creature of existent civilization. For Reich, the Freudian concept of id corresponds to Rousseau's "state of nature," man not yet depraved by repressive civilization.
Social Utopias based on Rousseauian naturalism have an inherent tendency toward totalitarianism. If man is naturally good, then "unnatural" social orders can be maintained only through false ideas and ideologies (e.g., religion). Fourier insisted that a society based on the phalanx could have been established any time in the past two millennia—if only someone had thought of it before. Social liberation thus becomes a struggle against bad ideas—rooting them out and preventing recontamination.
The first attempt to establish a Fourierist phalanx was made in what is now Romania in the 1830s by a noble landowner for his serfs. Local Moral Majority types were outraged and launched an armed attack to destroy the phalanx. The peasants valiantly defended their "free love" commune though in the end they were overwhelmed by superior force. The Socialist Republic of Romania has built a historical monument to commemorate the last stand of the Fourierist peasants of Scani.Wilhelm Reich's Sex-Pol
Wilhelm Reich died in 1957 in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania federal penitentiary. He was imprisoned for violating a court order on a charge brought by the Food and Drug Administration that he had transported an empty box, the Orgone Energy Accumulator, across state lines. Medically, Reich had become a quack. Politically he was a rabid red-baiter, an outspoken supporter of McCarthyism.
Yet a quarter century earlier, Wilhelm Reich had attempted to fuse Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis. Reich was simultaneously a member of Freud's inner circle of followers and of the German Communist Party, a mass workers party, at a critical moment in modern history: the rise to power of Nazism. In the 1960s the New Left rediscovered the early Reich and made him into a minor cult figure. A selection of his writings between 1929 and 1934, entitled Sex-Pol, was published in English in 1966, edited by Lee Baxandall of the defunct Studies on the Left. An introduction by Marxoid academic Bertell Oilman declared: "The revolutionary potential of Reich's teachings is as great as ever—perhaps greater, now that sex is accepted as a subject for serious discussion and complaint virtually everywhere."
Many of the activities of Reich and his supporters (who called themselves the Sex-Pol movement) within the Austrian and German Communist parties were entirely commendable. They agitated against sexually repressive legislation and campaigned for the greater economic independence of youth. The Reichian clinics in Vienna and Berlin provided working-class youth with information about contraception and preventing venereal disease, and doubtless performed useful individual counseling. Some of his early writings on character analysis and "body language" remain today standard texts for practicing analysts. Reich became attracted to Marxism by his work in the free psychoanalytic clinic in Vienna, where he became convinced that poverty and oppression contributed to neuroses, and thus that their cure demanded the restructuring of society.
In a 1932 work written for the German Communist Party's youth group he concluded: "In capitalist society there can be no sexual liberation of youth, no healthy, satisfying sex life; if you want to be rid of your sexual troubles, fight for socialism. Only through socialism can you achieve sexual joie de vivre.... Socialism will putan end to the power of those who gaze up toward heaven as they speak of love while they crush and destroy the sexuality of youth." This bouncy, bombastic rhetoric endeared Reich to the New Left. Rejecting the Marxist understanding that sexual life is essentially a private matter, Reich insisted that the Communist movement must struggle for a "satisfying sex life" both for its own members and for society at large.
Reich's basic message can be baldly stated as follows. The sexual repression practiced by the patriarchal, nuclear family (e.g., preventing children from masturbating) produces submissive adults, fearful of bour¬geois authority. Thus the struggle against sexual repression—itself a deep-felt source of discontent throughout society—is of strategic importance in releasing the revolutionary energy of the masses.
In opposition to orthodox Freudianism, Reich refused to accept the patriarchal, nuclear family as a cultural given. The Oedipus complex, the frustrated desire of a child to possess the parent of the opposite sex, he wrote,
"must disappear in a socialist society because its social basis—the patriarchal family—will itself disappear, having lost its raison d'etre. Communal upbringing, which forms part of the socialist program, will be so unfavorable to the forming of psychological attitudes as they exist within the family today—the relationship of children to one another and to the persons who bring them up will be so much more many-sided, complex and dynamic—that the Oedipus complex with its specific content of desiring the mother and wishing to destroy the father as a rival will lose its meaning."
—"Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis" (1929)
Reich's particular recipe for "a satisfying sex life" was rigid and bizarre. At the core of his psychoanalytic theory was the function of the orgasm as the sole release for dammed up sexual energy. The failure of the orgasm to perform this function produced mental illness. He maintained that orgastic impotency was the sole cause of all neurotic and psychotic behavior.
Reich's fellow psychoanalysts objected that many neurotics had quite normal sex lives. But, to paraphrase George Orwell, for Reich some orgasms are more equal than others. To fulfill its function an orgasm must be heterosexual, without irrelevant fantasies and of sufficient duration:
"Orgastic potency is the capacity to surrender to the flow of biological energy, free of any inhibitions; the capacity to discharge completely the damned-up [sic] sexual excitation through involuntary, pleasurable convulsions of the body.'
—The Function of the Orgasm (1927)
In 1939 Reich invented the Orgone Energy Field Meter to measure sexual energy and its discharge. He had long since abandoned both Marx and Freud for the realms of science fiction.
Reich's reasoning is circular. He hypothesizes that mental illness is produced by undischarged sexual energy. But, since the latter is unmeasurable, he then deduces genital incapacity from psychological distress: "Not a single neurotic is orgastically potent, and the character structure of the overwhelming majority of me'n and women are neurotic." The psychoanalyst thus becomes the supreme arbiter of sexual health and unhealth. This opens the door to subjective arbitrari¬ness and outright bigotry.
For example, Reich maintained the orthodox Freudian position that homosexuality is arrested development, the failure of the child to overcome primary narcissism and develop love objects outside himself. He went further than Freud and also identified homosexuality with political reaction:
"The more clearly developed the natural heterosexual inclinations of a juvenile are, the more open he will be to revolutionary ideas; the stronger the homosexual tendency within him and also the more repressed his awareness of sexuality in general, the more easily he will be drawn toward the right."
—"What is Class Consciousness?" (1934)
His New Left admirers understandably turn a blind eye to this aspect of Reich's sexual theories. (To its credit, the Sex-Pol movement continued to call for an end to state laws against homosexuality.)
Like Fourier, Reich's view of what people are "really" like was shaped by the particularities of his time. Reich's brief career in the Communist movement coincided with the greatest defeat for the world proletariat in modern history: the triumph of fascism in Germany, then the strongest industrial power in Europe. Reich's analysis of Nazism was his only effort to apply his theories to a contemporary political problem—and the results are revealing.
Reich's response to Hitler's coming to power was the direct cause of his break with both Marxism and Freudianism. The Mass Psychology of Fascism, published a few months after Hitler became chancellor in early 1933, was denounced by the official Communist leadership as "counterrevolutionary." The official psychoanalytic movement likewise disavowed this work, and Reich was secretly expelled from the German Psychoanalytic Association in 1933.
Everyone in Germany recognized that the social base of the Nazi movement was the lower middle classes— small tradesmen, farmers, civil servants, white-collar workers. The German industrial proletariat remained loyal to the Social Democracy and, to a lesser extent, the Communist Party right up until and a good while after Hitler was appointed chancellor by the old Prussian aristocrat von Hindenburg.
Reich thus begins his famous The Mass Psychology of Fascism with an attempt at a class analysis. He maintains that children from a petty-bourgeois background are subject to a more authoritarian and sexually repressive upbringing than proletarian children. A typical German petty-bourgeois family—on the farm or running a small shop—was also an economic unit. The father was literally a boss who directed and supervised his children at work. Subjectively, a proletarian father might be as authoritarian and sexually repressive, but he had far less control over his children. He left the home for work while they went to school. In adolescence working-class children escaped into the factory, exchanging the tyranny of the family for the rigors of wage-slavery. Obviously such an analysis, even if valid, produced no useful course of action. The millions of Nazi supporters could hardly be psychoanalyzed to remove the neurotic character structure imposed by their upbringing.
A socialist revolution—if it is to be made at all—has to be made by people as they are shaped by an oppressive class society with all its deforming effects. Rejecting the possibility of progressive social struggle by such people, and positing individual psychic health as the precondition for collective political struggle for liberation, Reich was profoundly fatalistic.
In the critical year of 1923 the German petty-bourgeois masses veered sharply to the left and would have followed an aggressive Communist leadership. At that time fascist influence was marginal. Witness the almost comic-opera debacle of Hitler's "beer hall putsch" in Munich. The failure of the German Communist Party to provide genuine revolutionary leadership during the stormy years of the early 1920s left a strong residue of distrust among both the more conservative workers who supported Social Democracy and the petty-bourgeois masses, who turned to fascism under the catastrophic impact of the Great Depression.
That is not to imply that the German Communist Party in the early 1930s was helpless to prevent Hitler's eventual triumph. While Reich is highly critical of the official Communist leadership in many respects, he has little to say about the insane and suicidal policies of the so-called "third period" as laid down by Stalin. The German Communists not only opposed united-front actions with the Social Democrats to combat the fascist terror squads; they labeled the mass reformist party of the German proletariat as "social fascist" and at times treated the Social Democrats as the main enemy.
In 1934 Reich did retrospectively criticize the Communists' refusal to engage in united actions with the Social Democrats against the fascists, but he treated this as a question of third- or fourth-rate importance. One gets no sense reading The Mass Psychology of Fascism that there were millions of German workers, Social Democratic as well as Communist supporters, who were prepared to resist Hitler by civil war if necessary. On the contrary, Reich is obsessed with the "submissiveness" of the working class no less than of the petty bourgeoisie, with its respect for authority and fear of revolt:
"From (he standpoint of the psychology of the masses, Social Democracy is based on the conservative structures of its followers. As in the case of fascism, the problem here lies not so much in the policies pursued by the party leadership as it does in the psychological basis in the workers." (emphasis in original)
Within months after Reich wrote this, the Austrian working class, overwhelmingly supporters of SocialDemocracy, rose in armed insurrection against the clerical-fascist regime of Dollfuss.
In the course of writing and constantly revising The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich moved further and further from any kind of Marxism. Increasingly, a class analysis gives way to a mass-psychological approach. The terms worker and petty bourgeois are replaced by "the average unpolitical person," the proverbial man-in-the-street:
"Experience teaches that the majority of these 'nonpolitical' people can hardly be made to listen to anything about their socio-economic situation, whereas they are very accessible to the mystical claptrap of a National Socialist, despite the fact that the latter makes very little mention of economic interests. How is this to be explained? It is explained by the fact that severe sexual conflicts (in the broadest sense of the word), whether conscious or unconscious, inhibit rational thinking and the development of social responsibility."
At every level Reich shifts historic responsibility from political leaderships and social elites to the neurotic character structure of the masses. Paul A. Robinson, who is,generally sympathetic to Reich in his Marxist perio'd, observes that his view of fascism dovetails with that of certain German bourgeois rightists: "Ironically, Reich's mass-psychological analysis of the German problem bore a striking resemblance to the apologies of such German conservatives as Friedrich Meinecke and Gerhard Ritter, who, in their anxiety to excuse the German e"lite (whether cultural, political, or military), were quick to put the blame on the hoi polloi" (The Freudian Left ). In a 1942 preface to The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich accepted fascism as essentially inevitable: "'fascism' is the basic emotional attitude of the suppressed man of our authoritarian machine civilization and its mechanistic-mystical conception of life." In fact, Reich's prescription for a supposedly nonrepressive society provided his own version of totalitarian Big Brother: "sexologically well-trained functionaries" to supervise sexual life "in conjunction with a central sexological agency."Freud and Marx on Work and Love
Paul Robinson, in The Freudian Left, has stated that there was an underlying logic to Reich's break with both Freud and Marx in the mid-1930s. Freud believed that socialized man was beset by basic instinctual conflict; Marx saw civilization as it existed as funda¬mentally riven by class conflict. Reich, says Robinson, tended to regard man as naturally both sociable and productive, and therefore came to view both psychological distress and social conflict as easily and immediately solvable. Robinson concluded, "Freud and Marx may indeed have been fellow-revolutionaries, as Reich had argued in 1929, but they were also realists. Reich, on the other hand, was a romantic, as much in his politics as in his psychology."
While Robinson is probably correct about Reich, his coupling of Marx and Freud as fellow revolutionary realists is misleading. Freud was a historical pessimist; Marx was not. To understand the difference it is necessary to consider Freud's theory of instinctual conflict, or, rather, his two different theories of instinctual conflict.
Freud's original theory was the conflict between the pleasure and the reality principles. A child's striving for the immediate gratification of his needs and wants is blocked by social reality, initially represented by his parents. His desire to monopolize the affection and attention of his parents is frustrated with the birth of a sibling. His desire to defecate whenever he feels like is suppressed through toilet training. To live in society a child is taught to postpone immediate gratification. The socialized human being has learned to pursue by roundabout paths the satisfaction of his needs, especially his sexual needs.
The Marxist response to this Freudian concept is twofold. To a considerable extent we can change social reality to accommodate instinctual gratification. And to the extent there is an ineradicable tension between instinctual gratification and organized social life, why should this be a barrier to psychological well-being? Marxists have never believed that this is or can be made into the best of all possible worlds. But neither do we assume that the price of civilization is universal neurosis.
In 1920 Freud published Beyond the Pleasure Principle in which he posited the existence of innate aggression or "the death instinct." The dating of this work is anything but accidental. A mood of profound historical pessimism swept over European bourgeois intellectuals in the wake of the First World War, which shattered their seemingly stable civilization. This was especially pronounced in German-speaking Central Europe which had lost the war. Beyond the Pleasure Principle was written in the same intellectual climate as, for example, Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. Writing several years later to Albert Einstein, who was a pacifist, Freud maintained that a major cause of war was "a lust for aggression and destruction," that is, "the death instinct."
Freud's "discovery" of a death instinct in man was thus not simply, or even primarily, based on clinical experience with individual therapy but was rather an attempt to explain mass destruction on a political and historical plane. For Marxists, the explanation is class and national conflict ultimately rooted in economic scarcity. We thus do not accept that the human species has an inner drive toward self-destruction. Reich, incidentally, never accepted the death instinct and squarely based his own theories on the original Freudian concept of the pleasure versus reality principles.
Freud's most developed and comprehensive statement of historical pessimism is Civilization and Its Discontents, published in 1930. Reich maintained this work was a direct response to his own views. Whether or not this is the case, it does contain a polemic against communists, to whom Freud attributes the view that "man is wholly good and is well-disposed to his neighbour; but the institution of private property has corrupted his nature." In opposition to this he insists "that the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man...."Therefore he concludes that even the most radical and far-reaching changes in social institutions cannot alter the human psyche:
"If we do away with personal rights over material wealth, there still remains prerogative in the field of sexual relationships, which is bound to become the source of the strongest dislike and the most violent hostility among men who in other respects are on an equal footing. If we were to remove this factor, too, by allowing complete freedom of sexual life and thus abolishing the family, the germ-cell of civilization, we cannot, it is true, easily foresee what new paths the development of civilization could take; but one thing we can expect, and that is that this indestructible feature of human nature will follow it there."
However, even if we set aside the concept of innate aggression and "the death instinct," Freud still remains a historical pessimist toward the goals of communism. He was convinced there was a fundamental conflict between the enjoyment of sexual love and the work effort needed to create and sustain civilization. "When a love-relationship is at its height," he wrote, "there is no room left for any interest in the environment; a pair of lovers are sufficient to themselves, and do not even need the child they have in common to make them happy." By contrast, he maintained:
"... as a path to happiness, work is not highly prized by men. They do not strive after it as they do after other possibilities of satisfaction. The great majority of people only work under the stress of necessity, and this natural human aversion to work raises most difficult social problems."
What kind of work is Freud here talking about-plowing a field in the broiling sun,operating a machine on an assembly line, typing business letters at a hundred words a minute? Naturally people don't strive after this kind of work as a path to happiness.
The debate between Reich and Freud in the late 1920s over love and work was scholastic in the sense that the vast majority of people have neither the option of a rich, fulfilling sexual life nor of creative, self-expressing work. Most people have to do dull, tiring and often body-destroying labor. It is entirely illegitimate to speculate about communist man on the basis of the few, exceptional, creative individuals—a Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin or Sigmund Freud—in oppressive, class-divided society. At the same time, most people cannot lead a gratifying erotic life. This is prevented not simply by repressive laws, ideologies (e.g., religion) and mores but also by basic economic factors—being physically exhausted after long hours of labor; youth forced to live with their parents long after puberty; the practical burdens of raising children.For the Communist Future
Marx and Engels did not counterpose human nature to civilization, the individual to society. The individual's capacity for gratification and fulfillment is based upon the development and wealth of society. The oppression and degradation of the individual in class society has its roots in economic scarcity, ultimately in man's lack of sufficient control over nature, including his own nature:
"...it is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world and by employing real means, that slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and that, in general, people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. 'Liberation' is an historical and not a mental act—"
—Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology (1845-46)
It is this understanding which separates Marxism from the radical advocates of sexual liberation here and now.
Only under communism, when people have access to creative work and a rich erotic life, will it be possible to determine the relation between these two spheres of human activity. Is work always and necessarily a deflection of sexual energy as Freud believed? Or is a satisfying love life in the long run a necessary condition for work capacity as Reich insisted? Let's create a society in which we can find out.
The great 19th century French revolutionary Auguste Blanqui had little patience for the disputes among the Utopian radicals of his day. He once wrote that the debate between Cabet and Proudhon over the future ideal organization of society is like two men who "stand by a river bank, quarrelling over whether the field on the other side is wheat or rye. Let us cross and see."
Labels: SEX AND POLITICS, women and culture, women's history month, women's liberation