Wilhelm Reich on tension and fascism

Sunday June 4, 2006

I am reading Wilhelm Reich on therapy and realizing/remembering/suspecting that I am deeply crazy. Not a new thought, but persuasive. But what can I do about it? If we are irrational, if we are systemically flawed, or malfunctioning – how do we get out of it? How can anybody find the way to wholeness and sanity from within fragmented insanity by using tools that – insofar as they seem to him sensible – are that much the more to be distrusted, because they seem, to the malfunctioning person, to be trustworthy? How does a crazy man realize that he is crazy? How does a mostly sane man recognize the areas in which he is not sane? How can someone who is hedged by unseen filters find a way to clear vision? But this is becoming rhetoric instead of real.

Dr. Reich, I have read enough of this book of your selected writings to sense that you were an honest man who came to conclusions that were dangerous to the forces running society. And the fact that merely reading about your work has reminded me that I am severely neurotic in ways I cannot know tells me that your work is important. I have no idea what you thought of Dr. Jung, and I have no real idea what your overall ideas are, though like so many people I have heard of orgone, and bions, and all. I don’t have a specific question for you – don’t know enough to form one – but I invite you to join the conversation. It seems to me that our time is in need of your insights, and I have the strong feeling of being prompted to bring you into this.

Yes. Well. You are attracted to my work because I offer the scientist a link between biology and society and so-called inorganic chemistry. Not all of this will be evident to you, but you are enough of a link to get the thought “out there” as you say – in other words to objectify it, to have written words for people to stumble upon.

The link in your time to my work is that again, as in the immediate aftermath of the breakdown of authority following the World War, fascism is everywhere in the ascendant, and democrats are everywhere disarmed and leaderless. The reasons for this have nothing to do with circumstance and everything to do with the objective situation.

In America the 1960s produced or revealed vast chaotic energies boiling just beneath the surface of the body politic. The assassinations, the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the free love and free speech movements, the surge of what was called the New Left – which meant liberalism untainted by connection to Marxism – all came at once. There was New Math and new ways of looking at everything. There was great upwelling of discontent with accepted ways of looking at, judging, things.

This period has been demonized by traditionalists and glorified (and distorted) by anti-traditionalists. Systemically it amounted to an upwelling of repressed content. The vast number of middle-class college kids who seemed to be rejecting their backgrounds and even their economic interests was perhaps the most striking thing, and, to certain societal elements, the most dangerous symptom of social psychosis.

This ferment terrified a significant percentage of the citizenry, and called forth – created – the means of its repression. But the genie could not be put back into the bottle. Repressed material once brought into consciousness has consolidated a life of its own, one might say. It may be forced underground, but it cannot well be forced back beneath consciousness. It takes enormous energy to hold repressed materials, and the exertion creates unendurable tension. The resulting irrational actions and attitudes are rarely connected to their cause in the repression of unacceptable content – and so the tension is explained away as the result of resistance to malign forces external to the body repressing the content. Hence, Negro dissatisfaction is the result of outside agitators. Hence, student dissent from a meaningless and destructive war is the result of communist influence.

Now you are at the point, after a generation of meaningless and chronic warfare between irrational ideological extremes, where fascism is prevailing, as it must prevail in any situation of tension prolonged long enough, for the very tension creates fascism. Note, this is regardless which ideology or party takes power – for power has to do with the execution of the state machine’s purpose (which always centers on perpetuation of its being). Liberal fascism is not so different from conservative fascism; the difference will be less in means than in ends. It was liberals, not conservatives, who put me into prison, after all!

In Germany’s case, fascism began immediately after 1918, grew through the chaotic ’20s, took full power in the 1930s, and destroyed itself by calling in overwhelming force against itself, as, indeed, must always happen in such cases unless all organized counter-force has been destroyed. Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, all called into being counter-forces that otherwise never would have formed. And so in the United States government in your day. Fortunately for the world, you have Russia, China and Europe as counter-forces. They are all out-gunned – which is why your government feels compelled to continue piling weapons systems upon weapons systems – but there are more ways to resist force than armies. At some point the fascism gripping America will implode, as it did in Russia. But – what will follow? This is the key question.

Liberals are no answer to state fascism, and neither are conservatives, because the root of fascism is not in issues but in unbearable tension. Remove the tension, you remove the seeds of fascism.

But how is this to be done? It can only be done by removing the cause of the tension. In an individual this would mean penetrating to the underlying cause, then bringing that cause to consciousness and assisting the ego – the consciousness – to deal with the cause in a productive rather than automatic and destructive manner. Can one successfully psychoanalyze society?

Well, perhaps it can be done – but it should be clear to you that the effort must involve both conscious and unconscious components. To put it into your terms, it involves work both on your side of the veil and on this side. To state the same thing a third time, it involves external stimuli such as expressed ideas, and internal nudges resulting in receptivity to certain ideas and defense against the contagion of others.

Do you begin to see the thrust of what you are doing? And do you see why Jesus said “resist not evil”? Adding to the tension must produce added neurotic symptoms – fascism, in this case – unless it leads to recognition and cure. But given that no one can cure a society’s neurosis, in effect heightened tension can only lead toward further neurosis. Or rather, I should say the deliberate or incidental heightening of tension by individuals on your side can only lead to a worsening of the situation. Work from our side, however, can be much more carefully directed. This is what your “guys upstairs” would describe as them pushing a situation toward a desired result.

So, the result is this. You do not have the data or the ability to judge the results of actions that heighten social tension; hence cannot productively use such tension. But what you can do – and clearly this means not any one individual but all who will do the work, together and separately – is work to bring yourself and any willing others to greater consciousness. You speak of the shadow. Well, absorb the shadow. Don’t project it and don’t encourage others to project it. Absorb it, and encourage others to absorb it; this is real work, and productive.

I assume you don’t mean don’t speak up against fascist tendencies and actions.

No, of course not. But any actions may be taken from more productive or less productive attitudes. An attitude of “standing at Armageddon and battling for the lord” is very different from an attitude that says “we are all in this mess together, and the fascists among us are not more guilty than we are.” Fascist tendencies, actions, legislation may all be fought vigorously and more successfully by understanding and disarming than by condemning and putting on the defensive.


One thought on “Wilhelm Reich on tension and fascism

  1. “But what you can do – and clearly this means not any one individual but all who will do the work, together and separately – is work to bring yourself and any willing others to greater consciousness.” To me, this clarifies again the importance of the work you do. As one of the “willing others,” I’m grateful for the light you shine as it has certainly fed mine. It means a lot to know that I am not in this mess alone and to see a way to go.

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