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Mass Psychology of Fascism, The


As Wilhelm Reich notes, his The Mass Psychology of Fascism "was thought out during the German crisis years, 1930-33. It was written in 1933; the first edition appeared in September of 1933 and the second edition in April of 1934, in Denmark" (1970b, p. xvii). A genuinely burning question lay at the heart of the book: How did Hitler succeed in imposing himself ? More specifically, how could a people of seventy million cultivated, hardworking individuals let themselves be seduced by a manifest psychopath? Even beyond the period when it was formulated, which culminated in horror, this question is surely still fundamental to any serious political thinking.

As a militant well versed in Marxism and the author of "Dialektischer Materialismus und Psychoanalyse" (Dialectical materialism and psychoanalysis; 1970a), Reich set out to analyze "the economic and ideological structure of German society between 1928 and 1933." He wanted to illuminate the state of mind of the middle classes and the petite bourgeoisie. Their frustrations, resentments, fears, envies, and hatreds together formed what Reich called an "emotional plague," which found release and gratification in the themes and imagery pounded out by Nazi propaganda and ideology.

Reich denounced the authoritarian family (which he described as "antisexual," as a "central, reactionary cell"); strict, repressive education (which oppressed and subjugated the individual); nationalistic feelings; and religious indoctrinationall fertile ground, he argued, for sanctifying a charismatic leader brandishing obscure myths of blood, race, and soil in mystical defiance of human reason.

In Reich's view, the symbolism of the swastika, evoking the fantasy of the primal scene (and reproduced hundreds of thousands of times), showed in spectacular fashion how Nazism systematically manipulated the unconscious. A repressive family, a baneful religion, a sadistic educational system, the terrorism of the party, and economic violence all operated in and through individuals' unconscious psychology of emotions, traumatic experiences, fantasies, libidinal economies, and so on, and Nazi political ideology and practice exacerbated and exploited these tendencies. This unconscious mental dimension was still beyond the ken of traditional politicians, whether liberal or communist, and this ignorance led them to failure and disaster.

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

Roger Dadoun

See also: Collective psychology; Marxism and psychoanalysis; Politics and psychoanalysis; Reich, Wilhelm.

Source Citation

Reich, Wilhelm. (1946). The mass psychology of fascism (Theodore P. Wolfe, Trans.). New York: Orgone Institute; (1933). Die Massenpsychologie des Faschismus. Copenhagen/Prague/Zurich: Verlag für Sexualpolitik.


Dadoun, Roger. (1986). La psychologie de masse du fascisme. In Olivier Duhamel, François Châtelet, andÉvelyne Pisier (Eds.), Dictionnaire des œuvres politiques. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Reich, Wilhelm. (1970a). Dialektischer Materialismus und Psychoanalyse. In Siegfried Bernfeld (Ed.), Psychoanalyse und Marxismus. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Suhrkamp. (Original work published 1929.)

. (1970b). The mass psychology of fascism (Vincent R. Carfagno, Trans.). New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

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