[back] THE MASS PSYCHOLOGY OF FASCISM
CHAPTER 1: 4. THE SOCIAL FUNCTION OF SEXUAL SUPPRESSION
Lenin was struck by a peculiar irrational behavior of the masses before or during revolts. He writes about the soldiers' revolts in 1905 (Über Religion, p. 65):
The soldier had the greatest sympathy for the cause of the peasant; his eyes shone at the mere mention of land. Several times, the soldiers had taken over the military power, but never was there any decided utilization of this power. The soldiers became hesitant.
A few hours after having killed one of their hated superiors they let the others go free, began negotiations with the authorities and let themselves be shot, lay down again under the rod and let themselves be put in the yoke . . .
The mystic will explain such behavior on the basis of the eternal moral nature of man which makes rebellion against the  laws of God, against the "authority of the state" and its representatives impossible.
The vulgar Marxist leaves such phenomena out of consideration altogether; he cannot understand or explain them because they cannot be explained in purely socio-economic terms.
Freud's concept comes closer to the facts in that it explains such behavior from an infantile guilt feeling toward the father. Yet, it does not explain the social origin and function of the behavior and therefore does not lead to a practical solution either. Also, it overlooks the connection between such behavior and the suppression and distortion of the sexual life of the masses.
The question as to how we can approach such mass-psychological irrational phenomena requires a brief review of the research method of sex-economy.
Sex-economy is a method of research which developed over many years through the application of functionalism to human sex life and which has arrived at a series of new findings. It starts from the following premises:
Marx found that social life is governed by the conditions of economic production and the resulting class struggles. The owners of the social means of production rarely use brute force in their suppression of the ruled classes; their main weapon is their ideological power over the oppressed which also lends powerful support to the state. We have already mentioned the fact that Marx considered living man, with his psychological and physical characteristics, the central factor in history and politics. The character structure of acting man, the so-called "subjective factor in history" in the sense of Marx, remained unexplored: Marx was a sociologist and not a psychologist, and there was, in his day, no scientific psychology. Thus the question remained open as to why people, for thousands of years, have tolerated exploitation and moral degradation, in brief, slavery; Marx explored only the economic process in society and the mechanism of economic exploitation.
About a half century later, Freud, with a special method which  he called psychoanalysis, discovered the processes which govern psychic life. The most important of his discoveries, which had a revolutionary effect on a great many generally accepted concepts and thus brought down the hatred of the world on him, were the following6:
6 For a more extensive presentation, cf. W. Reich, "Dialektischer Materialismus und Psychoanalyse," Unter dem Banner des Marxismus. 1929.
Conscious psychic life is only a small part of psychic life. It is governed by psychological processes which are unconscious and therefore not under the control of the conscious. All psychic phenomena, no matter how meaningless they may appear, like dreams, slips of the tongue, forgetting and misplacing things, the absurd utterances of mental patients, they all have a function and a "meaning" and can be understood from the history of the individual. In this way, psychology—which up to that time had led a miserable existence in the form of a kind of physics of the brain ("brain mythology") or as a teaching of a mysterious objective spirit—became part of natural science.
The second great discovery was that even the small child develops a lively sexuality, that, in other words, sexuality and procreation are not the same thing, and sexual and genital are not synonymous. The analysis of the psychological processes showed, furthermore, that sexuality, or, rather, its energy, the libido, which derives from bodily sources, is the central motor of psychic life. Biological factors and social conditions converge in psychic life.
The third great discovery was the fact that infantile sexuality—which includes the most essential part of the child-parent relationship, the "Oedipus complex"—is usually repressed because of fear of punishment for sexual thoughts and actions (basically, "castration anxiety"). As a result, infantile sexuality becomes excluded from activity and disappears from conscious memory. The repression of infantile sexuality removes it from conscious control. This does not, however, deprive it of its strength; on the contrary, it intensifies it and thus enables it to manifest itself in  various psychic disturbances. As this repression of infantile sexuality is the rule in "civilized man," Freud could rightly state that all humanity was his patient.
The fourth important discovery was that human morality, far from being of supernatural origin, results from the suppressive measures of early infantile education, particularly those directed against sexuality. The original conflict between infantile desires and parental prohibitions lives on as an internal conflict between instinct and morals. The moral forces in the adult, which are themselves unconscious, act against the recognition of the laws of sexuality and of unconscious psychic life; they support sexual repression ("sex resistance") and explain the resistance of the world to the discovery of infantile sexuality.
We have mentioned only those discoveries which are most important for our subject. By their very existence, they were a heavy blow to reactionary moral philosophy and especially to religious metaphysics which proclaims the existence of eternal moral values, that an objective spirit governs the world, and which denies the existence of infantile sexuality and restricts sexuality to procreation. These discoveries, however, did not exert an influence commensurate with their paramount importance because the psychological sociology which developed from them robbed them again of most of their revolutionary elements. This is not the place to demonstrate this fact.
Psychoanalytic sociology suffered from the following errors: it attempted to analyze society as if it were an individual; it postulated an absolute antithesis between cultural process and sexual gratification; it considered the destructive drives as biological facts which governed human fate in an inexorable manner; it denied the sociological development of patriarchy from matriarchy and contended that the patriarchal family was a biological fact. As a result of these errors, it ended up in a paralyzing skepticism; it was afraid of the consequences which followed logically from its own discoveries. For a long time now, it has taken an inimical attitude toward attempts at drawing these conclusions, and its representatives consistently fight against such attempts. Nevertheless, we  shall strongly defend Freud's great discoveries against any attack, no matter where it originates.
The methodology of sex-economic sociology which had these discoveries as its starting point is not one of the common attempts to supplement Marx with Freud, or Freud with Marx, or to replace one by the other.
Psychoanalysis should fulfil a scientific function which socio-economics cannot fulfil: the comprehension not of the historical soil of the ideology, but of its structure and dynamics. By including the discoveries of psychoanalysis, sociology reaches a higher level and becomes better able to comprehend reality because, finally, it includes the knowledge of human structure. Only a narrow-minded politician would think of reproaching the character-analytic psychology of structure for not being able immediately to give easily followed practical advice.
It follows that sex-economic sociology which is based on the sociological foundation of Marx and the psychological one of Freud, is in its essence mass-psychological and sexual-sociological atone and the same time. It begins, with its refutation of Freud's cultural philosophy,7 where the clinical-psychological exploration of psychoanalysis ends.
7 With regard to Freud's cultural philosophy, one might say that—in spite of all its idealism—it contains more truths about life as it is than all sociologies and a great many Marxist psychologies taken together.
Psychoanalysis reveals the mechanisms of sexual suppression and repression and their pathological effects in the individual. Sex-economic sociology goes on from here and asks,For what sociological reason does society suppress sexuality and does the individual repress it? There have been many answers to this question. The church says, for the sake of the soul in the hereafter. Mystical moral philosophy says, because of the eternal ethical nature of man. Freud's cultural philosophy says, for the sake of "culture." One has reason to doubt such an explanation and to ask how on earth the masturbation of infants or the sexual intercourse of adolescents will interfere with the building of gasoline stations or airplanes. It is not difficult to see that it is not cultural activity as such which requires the suppression  of infantile and adolescent sexuality but only the present-day forms of cultural activity. And one would readily sacrifice these forms if that would eliminate the untold misery of children and adolescent youth. The question is not one of culture but of the social order. If one studies the history of sexual suppression one finds that it does not exist in the early stages of culture formation. Therefore, it cannot be the prerequisite of culture. Rather, it appears at a relatively late stage of culture, at the time of the development of authoritarian patriarchy and of class distinctions. At that stage, the sexual interests of all begin to serve the profit interests of a minority. This process has assumed a solid organizational form in the institutions of patriarchal marriage and patriarchal family.
With the suppression of sexuality the emotions undergo a change: a sex-negating religion begins to develop which gradually builds up its own sex-political organization, the church in all its forms, which has no other goal than that of eradicating sexual pleasure. This has its sociological reason in the exploitation of human work which sets in at this stage.
In order to understand this, we must study that social institution in which the economic and the sex-economic situation of patriarchal society are interlaced. Without a study of this institution, a comprehension of the sexual economy and of the ideology of patriarchy is impossible. Character-analytic investigation of people of any age, nationality or social stratum, shows thatthe interlacing of the socio-economic with the sexual structure, as well as the structural reproduction of society, takes place in the first four or five years of life, and in the authoritarian family. The church only continues this function later on. In this way the authoritarian state develops its enormous interest in the authoritarian family: the family is the factory of its structure and ideology.
We have found the institutions in which the economic and the sexual interests of the authoritarian system meet.
We have to ask ourselves how this comes about. This question is also answered by character-analysis, provided one does not exclude such questions from character-analytic investigation. 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 adjust 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 sexual anxiety.
To understand why sex-economy considers the authoritarian family the most important place of reproduction of the authoritarian system, we only have to take the example of a conservative worker's wife. Her economic situation is the same as that of the revolutionary worker's, but she votes fascist. The difference between the sexual ideology of the average revolutionary and the average reactionary woman is decisive: the anti-sexual, moralistic structure of the conservative woman makes it impossible for her to develop a consciousness of her social position, it ties her to the church as much as it makes her afraid of "Sexualbolschewismus." Theoretically, the situation is the following: the mechanistically thinking vulgar Marxist assumes that the consciousness of the social position would be most acute when economic misery is sharpened by the additional sexual misery. If that were so, the masses of women and of adolescents would be far more rebellious than the men. The exact opposite is true, however, which the economist is at a loss to understand. He will not understand why the reactionary woman does not even want to listen to his economic program. The answer is the following: the suppression of the gratification of primitive material needs has a result different from that of the suppression of the gratification of the sexual needs. The former incites rebellion. The latter,  however—by repressing the sexual needs and by becoming anchored as moralistic defense—paralyzes the rebellion against either kind of suppression. More than that, the inhibition of rebellion itself is unconscious. The conscious mind of the average unpolitical individual does not even show a trace of it.
The result of this process is fear of freedom, and a conservative, reactionary mentality. Sexual repression aids political reaction not only through this process which makes the mass individual passive and unpolitical but also by creating in his structure an interest in actively supporting the authoritarian order. The suppression of natural sexual gratification leads to various kinds of substitute gratifications. Natural aggression, for example, becomes brutal sadism which then is an essential mass-psychological factor in imperialistic wars. To take another example: the mass-psychological effect of militarism is essentially libidinous. The sexual effect of a uniform and of rhythmically perfect parades, of military exhibitionism in general, are obvious to the average servant girl, even though they may not be obvious to learned political scientists. Political reaction, however, makes conscious use of these sexual interests. Not only does it create peacock-like uniforms for the men, it uses attractive women in its recruiting campaigns. One only has to remember the recruiting posters with texts like this, "If you want to see the world, join the Royal Navy." The far-away world is represented by exotic women. Why are such posters effective? Because our youth, as a result of sexual suppression, is sex-starved.
Sexual moralism, which inhibits the will for freedom, as well as those forces which tend in the direction of authoritarian interests, derive their energy from repressed sexuality. Now we understand a basic element in the "retroaction of ideology on the economic base."Sexual inhibition alters the structure of the economically suppressed individual in such a manner that he thinks, feels and acts against his own material interests.
This is the mass-psychological explanation and confirmation of Lenin's observations in the soldiers' rebellion of 1905. To the unconscious of these soldiers, the officers represented their fathers  who denied their sexuality and whom one was not allowed to kill even though they destroyed one's joy in life. Their hesitation and repentance after having seized power were the expression of their hatred turned into its opposite, into neurotic sympathy; thus, the hatred could not be translated into action.
The practical problem of mass psychology, then, is that of activating the passive majority of the population which always carries political reaction to victory; and the elimination of the inhibitions which counteract the will to freedom as it is generated by the socio-economic position. If the psychic energies of the average mass of people watching a football game or a musical comedy could be diverted into the rational channels of a freedom movement, they would be invincible. This is the standpoint which guides the following sex-economic investigation.