64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2000
This book will force the reader to reflect on their own presupposed sexual morality. Reich inadvertently develops a formula for the Nietzschian over-man. As the first, and probably the most thought-out of the Freudian Left, Reich criticizes "dogmatic Marxism" and (to the joy of Marx) gives Maxism a new look without the dictation of unfounded morality. Not to be misunderstood as a nihilist, Reich calls for the reader to sever the ambilical cord of morality and take responsiblity for his or her desires.
Reich undertakes a comprehensive analysis of the capitalist identity, or a dictatoriship like such as the Nazis: a hardened and repressed character, incapable of understanding its desires apart from destruction and conquest. It is also clear that he intended this analysis to be applied to the American way of life.
Few authors are as capable of making both psychoanalysis and Marxism as accessible as Reich. However, this results in no compromise of depth. The reader will undergo a devestating re-evaluation of the role of sexual morality in everday life that is continually overlooked by both layman and acadamics.
In his early years, while under the wing of Freud, Reich learned some bad habits in the overuse of metaphor. Taking this in stride however, "The Mass Psychology of Fascism" is one of the most usefull tools for understanding the inherent relations between fascism, capitalism and morality. In it, he forsees the comodification of the body image and the development of the consumer identity through the corruption of human sexuality.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 1997
Definitely a must-read for anyone concerned with freedom of thought and the development of a rational, just society. Reich is superb, delivering radical thoughts with rational explanations that force one to think even if one doesn't agree. Starting with the basic question of why the National Socialists came to power in Germany in the 1930s, Reich continues with a critique of modern society in general and examines the cultural implications of our attitudes towards sex, religion, the family, and the state. This is one of the few books that everyone should read at least once (if not twice).
62 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
If you want to read an outstanding analysis of why conservative "family values" politics are essential to capitalist society and how they can be defeated by a struggle for women's rights, sexual freedom, and true liberation, read The Mass Pyschology of Fascism.
This work is a product of the marriage of the revolutionary political spirit that erupted in Central Europe with the Bolshevik revolution and the series of near revolutions in the countries Reich lived in until the Hitler Victory in 1933--Hungary, Austria, and Germany--with the great discovery by the Freudians that pathology was a product of patriarchial society and its sexual repression.
In the 1920s and 1930s Reich took Freudianism a step further by pointing out that all the non-materialist, drives, complexes, and factors Freud invented to reconcile his discovery of sexual repression and family produced insanity with conservative views about "family values" were invalid ideologically driven pseudoscience. Reich pointed to the fact that Marxists and anthropologists from Morgan in the 19th Century to Malinowski in Reich's time had discovered a pre Patriarchal stage of development predating patriarchy and had also discovered in these socieities or remnants of them, little of the sexual repression Freud postulated was required to maintain society.
So Reich set out in his study of pyschology and in his intervention in the working class political movement of Central Europe to fight for sexual freedom, for women's rights, and for the ending of imperialist and capitalist society. As his struggle brushed up against the growing adoption of bourgeois antisexual morality in the Soviet Union under Stalin and against the ultraleft and opportunist policies of the Comintern infected with Stalinism, Reich's critique turned on the Stalintern and the degenerated Soviet Union as well. Though he built a Sexpol movement of thousands of youth, women, and workers fighting against Hitler in Germany, Reich was expelled from the German Communist party as a "Trotskyist" in 1933.
Sadly, with the victory of Hitler followed by the Moscow Trials, Reich withdrew from active working class politics, then despaired of revolution, and became obessed to the point of his insanity in the 1950s with the idea of "orgone energy" a basic natural universal energy released among other places in good sex. This bogus theory, observed by no other scientist, grew together with a raging paranoia. In the end it aided the witchhunting govenrment of the US put him in jail as a medical quack, and had all of his books including this great work burned and banned in the USA.
In this book, a product of Reich's active struggle against Hitler, Reich traces the links between sexual repression, patriarchal society, and conservative and right wing ideology. He explains how patriarchy attempts to create the neurotic mental health that dominates modern capitalist society to use it to reign over working people. He shows the etiology of religion as a pathological outgrowth of patriarchy, and how conservative "family values" are decisive to conservatism.
Reich, who built a real movement in Germany for sexual freedom and women's rights, is adamant about how fighters for human freedom and socialism cannot simply dismiss issues of women's rights and sexual freedom, but must embrace them if they are to have a chance to defeat fascists among women and youth. He explains that attempts to compete with fascists about who is the best defender of "family values" only strengthens conservatism among working men, working women, and farmers who could be won for the struggle. He cites the sad tactics of the German Communist and Social Democratic parties who tried to outdo Hitler in the fight for "family values' while shrinking away from campaigns for abortion rights, equal pay for equal work, and sexual freedom of the youth, that Reich used to win them away from the Nazis.
There is so much rich thought here about the nature of ideology, family life, and psychology in modern society, and how that can be defeated.
As Reich's orgone theory progressed in the 1940s and 1950s, this book was reedited to include allusions to organe theory and other ideas that were a sad fall from Reich's brilliant vision of the 1930s. I remember reading a bootleg edition of this book in the late 1960s--Reich's books were actually banned and burned by the US government after they framed him up for quackery in the 1950s!--without any of the orgone mumbo jumbo.
However, evenwith the addition of orgone theory, Reich's political and psychological vision is clear here.
No doubt, a prescient reader will dectect a kind of theoretical loop in even the original Reich who overplays the power of social pathology to build politically and social compliant mentalities in working people, but underplays the ability of great events in history, social struggles, and the efforts of vanguard fighters like the Reich of the early 1930s, to help millions to come to the kind of realizations that Reich had reached.
Yet, with this weakness, this a book matched by few others in its disection of capitalist ideology, social pathology, and the potential to struggle for a better world. You must read this book!
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2005
It's quite worrying how much of this book is still urgently relevant today. Whatever your views on Reich's conception of a universal 'orgone energy' (of which you need no understanding to comprehend the most pertinent points of the book, anyway) it's difficult to deny the main focus points here: that thousands of years of authoritarian, patriarchal society has left man 'muscularly armoured' against natural sexuality; that the masses are incapable of true freedom and need a father figure to guide them; and that the core reason that revolutions ultimately fail to bring true freedom is because they fail to address the fact that man has largely become *incapable* of freedom, and so fail to seek a remedy for this situation.
A key point is that when natural, self-regulated sexuality is oppressed by society -- and so suppressed by the individual -- this gratification must be found elsewhere, and so is largely funneled into mystical experiences, causing masses of people to have an irrational structure (in short, leaving them ill-equipped to think for themselves). Thus, as highlighted powerfully by the rise of National Socialism in early Twentieth Century Germany, the masses -- incapable of thinking in a truly rational way -- can be stirred by purely emotional and mystical propaganda, even when it contradicts their own best interests. Reich illustrates how the patriarchal household mirrors wider society, and engenders and supports religious mysticism and irrational nationalism; with the father figure representing both God and Homeland/Fatherland, for example. Reich presents empirical data highlighting the fact that when sexuality is allowed to be expressed without ideology or mystical moralism checking it, then individuals invariably begin to think and act in a rational way, free of the inner contradictions that would impede them.
While it can be stated that in many modern societies sexual morals are losing their control over individuals' sex lives, the legacy of patriarchy means that the sex act is still brutalized to an extent, and is still quite often wrapped up in feelings of guilt, or the sense of doing something 'naughty' (think how many young men, for example, have to make the sex act sound like it is something sordid, or that they are 'conquering their prey', instead of feeling like they are doing something biologically normal). Much of this can be traced to the negative feedback given to infants (as noted by Freud) and adolescents, in terms of masturbation and natural sexual urges, which are, usually always to some extent, suppressed.
Reich goes on to offer an insight into the Soviet Union's failure to deliver actual democracy to the people. You'll get a much more detailed conception of this by reading the book, of course but, in summary: The original idea of socialism -- especially as developed in Lenin's writing -- was to give freedom to the masses firstly by giving them a dictatorial power in a formal sense, as a *temporary* measure -- i.e. preventing the existing dominating forces from keeping them enslaved -- and then to gradually let them 'take over the reins', so to speak. When it became clear, however, that the masses were incapable of accepting real freedom (that is, taking control of social processes, as opposed to merely being conferred token democratic privileges, such as electing a representative) the Party failed to search for the underlying factors behind this seeming unwillingness of the people to take responsibility, and instead 're-introduced' 'democracy'; i.e. reverted straight back to an authoritarian system while presenting the illusion that real freedom had been accomplished. It's hardly possible to exaggerate the importance of such facts.
Anyway, I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in personal freedom (and, for that matter, probably more so to anyone who *isn't* interested in personal freedom). Maybe after you've read it you'll even decide that the FDA's decision, in 1956, to *burn* all of Reich's books (decades of sociological research) might have been a tad. . . presumptuous.
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2002
I first read this book in 1947. It had been recommended to me by a maverick sociologist. Fascinated from the first page on, I carried it with me on trolley cars, in subways and to class until finishing it. I was awestruck. Bridging the gap, and the seeming contradictions, between Freud and Marx, I could see Reich going beyond either. The book set me on a path that I've pursued for over 50 years, through sociobiology, shamanism, alchemy, medicine and martial arts. Reich's biographer entitles his book "Fury on Earth." For me,"Mass Psychology of Fascism" was a first step into that fury.
54 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2002
This book, in its third edition, is Reich's attempt to account for the failure of Marxism to spot and deal with the evolution of nationalistic Fascism that tore the world apart for 12 years or so. In doing so, he redefines the Marxist proletariat man, an entity modified by the industrial revolution into the democratic working man.
The main difficulty with the book is its poor translation into English. The translator keeps German syntax and as a result it cannot really be read as English. The introduction, however, is fairly lucid and expresses in precis most of the gist of the book.
Reich asserts a big truth here when he says that every man has a fascist inside begging to be set free. Economic and social crises bring these impulses to the fore; all it takes is a demagogue who can ignite our ubiquitous, paternalistic and authoritarian impulses to murder into a mass movement. Re-read GW Bush's state of the union message for clues as to where his cadre is leading us.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted HitlerThis section contains a number of good summaries of the essential insights and concepts that make Mass Psychology of Fascism, I think, a brilliant book. Here, in one place, is a narrative linking global terrorism with harsh authoritarian childhood training. While Reich focused upon the authoritarian sex repressive attitudes of conservative Christian German family structure of the 1920s and 30s, the same functionality can be seen in the authoritarian control of fanatic Islamic childhood programming that results in attacks on women who seek education or attempt sexual freedom. As the twig is bent so grows the tree, and when the tree is part of a bent forest . . .
Ann Nelson has new book, Red Orchestra that describes the Nazi takeover in Germany and throws an interesting side light on Reich's psychoanalytic description of the readiness of the German masses to install and follow a Fuhrer. Liberal minded artists, writers and performers in Berlin watched with horror as the Hitler movement captured the culture. Soon it was no longer safe to deny or oppose the dominant Nazi party program.
That is the background to Reich's Mass Psychology. This is a theoretical treatise born in a time of ultimate horror. Reich describes brown shirted thugs marching a young woman through the streets for public humiliation. Her head was shorn of its blond tresses and she was made to wear a sign around her neck saying "I offered myself to a Jew." The melded themes of racial purity, patriarchal sex repression and mystical religion that drove German youth into a frenzy, formed into fascism and produced the mechanized killing machine of Nazi Germany. This sickness came from the conservative right and was patently apparent in the political propaganda in the years leading up to the actual Nazi seizure of Parliament.
There is no question that in many places in the world, unhappy and impoverished peoples are ready to again embrace authoritarian leaders summoning them to defend national honor, racial and sexual purity and mystical gods. The toxic condition of the masses is a prelude to potential global conflict, and accurate insight into its mass psychology never more relevant.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was an Austrian psychoanalyst, who tried to reconcile psychoanalysis with Marxism, and contended that neurosis is rooted in a lack of what he called "orgastic potency." He claimed to have discovered a cosmic sexual energy he call “Orgone,” self-publishing books about his increasingly controversial theories, and selling “Orgone Accumulator” boxes commercially, for which he was ultimately imprisoned for violation of FDA regulations, had his books burned, and died in prison. He continues to be a popular (if polarizing) figure, and his books are all still in print, such as Early Writings,Character Analysis,Selected Writings: An Introduction to Orgonomy,Bion Experiments,Listen, Little Man!,The Function of the Orgasm),Murder of Christ, etc.
He states, "Man's authoritarian structure... is basically produced by the embedding of sexual inhibitions and fear in the living substance of sexual impulses." (Pg. 30) He asserts, "the sexual inhibitions and debilitations that constitute the most important prerequisites for the existence of the authoritarian family and are the most essential groundwork of the structural formation of the lower-middle class man are compassed with the help of religious fears, which are infused with sexual guilt-feelings and deeply embedded in the emotions. Thus we arrive at the problem of the relation of religion to the negation of sexual desire." (Pg. 54)
He suggests that "the swastika is often found with a facet, the former being the symbol of the male principle, the latter of the female principle... Lichtenberg found swastikas with a skull in place of the three dots. Thus the swastika was originally a sexual symbol. I the course of time it assumed various meanings... The effect of the swastika on one's unconscious emotionality does not account for the success of fascism's mass propaganda, but it certainly contributes to it." (Pg. 102-103) He adds, "It is sex-economy that gives the political answer to the chaos that was created by the contradiction between compulsive morality and sexual libertinism." (Pg. 114)
He asserts, "In reality, the religious man had become completely helpless. As a result of the suppression of his sexual energy, he has lost his capacity for happiness as well as the aggressiveness necessary to deal with life's difficulties." (Pg. 147) He adds, "Genital shyness and pleasure anxiety remain the energetic core of all anti-sexual patriarchal religions." (Pg. 151) He says, "The cult of the Virgin Mary is drawn upon very successfully as a means of inculcating chastity." (Pg. 167) He adds, "My medical experience has taught me that adolescents who are sexually sick have an unhealthy appreciation of the legend of Jesus." (Pg. 168)
He concludes, "I ask you not to confuse this line of reasoning with the proclamation of messianism. As I have stressed again and again in many of my writings, I regard myself as a 'worm in the universe' and as the mere tool of a certain scientific logic. That great delusive characteristic that helps the plague-ridden general to accomplish his criminal deeds is definitely missing in my case. I lack the conviction of being a superman, and it follows from this that I also lack the conviction that the masses are racially inferior... It is of the very nature of this work that it was... not done in the expectation of medals, riches, academic recognition, and popularity, and certainly not from any sadistic pleasure in torture, suppression, the procreation of lies and deception, the conduct of war, and the killing of life. That's all!" (Pg. 358-359)
Reich's writings were, and are, very controversial. But this is one of his most frequently-cited ones.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2010
With the recent rise of the New Right (viz the Tea Bag and Patriot movement), Wilhelm Reich proves himself as much of a prophet as Marx. Writing in 1933, during the rise of Hitler, he predicts the failure of the Left to engage the working class - without a total transformation in their organizing strategy. He also predicts the steady creep of western democracy towards greater and greater authoritarianism - accompanied by a steady increase in the passive, non-voting majority of the population.
He offers the first convincing sociological analysis I've seen of the allure of fascism and reactionary politics for low income workers - which he bases in the authoritarian family structures they grow up in. In Reich's view, the way in which western society raises their children totally undermines their confidence (as they reach adulthood) in their ability to manage their own feelings and lives. Reich's definition of "freedom" is the ability and esponsibility for each individual to shape his own personal, occupational and social existence in a rational way. He also asserts that there is nothing more terrifying to the average person than the responsibility entailed in this level of freedom.
As Reich outlines, the reactionary right knows exactly how to appeal to these unconscious fears and anxieties - by creating even more rigid and authoritarian structures that provide immediate, but only temporary relief, from these inner anxieties.
He is also extremely critical of leftists and progressives for wasting their time trying to engage the working poor about political and economic injustice without first addressing their innate fear of freedom and social responsibility. Given the current disarray in the progressive movement, I think we should have heeded Reich's advice decades ago.
By Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall, author of THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE
12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2006
The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich
This book is truly an amazing and important read.
Reich delves deep into the origins of Fascism, the rise of Hitler, and the failure of the Soviet movement from the October Revolution of 1917. He shows how and why the masses not only allowed the Nazi state to exist but, also how they perpetuated its existence and the failure of the true democratic ambitions of Lenin, and its take over by Stalin.
I had to stop and remind myself over and over throughout the book that Reich was writing the book over 70 years ago, in the early 1930's, and was writing about Hitler, and not George Bush.
Reich makes balanced and disturbing arguments backed with piles of evidence to show how successful, future revolution can be obtained by recognizing the core of society's illness. With painstaking examples, he shows society's need for the father-like, totalitarian suppression, and it's derivation--sexual suppression.
This is absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how governments like the Nazis, and the police state of Homeland Security in the US got to where they are, and how we can dismantle them.
I highly recommend reading The Invasion of Compulsory Sex-Morality as a prerequisite to this book.