A Marxist psychoanalyst of Jewish origin experiences the end of the Weimar Republic.

After 87 years, Wilhelm Reich’s Massenpsychologie des Faschismus (1933) appears for the first time in its edited original text.

by Andreas Peglau


„Society must defend itself against us, because we behave critically against it; we prove to it that it itself has a large share in the causation of neuroses“ (Sigmund Freud, 1910).

Consistent psychoanalysis is critical of society, both as a social science and as a therapeutic method. This is another reason why the original of Reich’s Massensychologie des Faschismus, released in the late summer of 1933, is one of the most important psychoanalytic books ever published. Moreover, within what is now called research on right-wing extremism, it was the first publication on the psychosocial background of the Nazi system.

Nevertheless, this first edition has been almost completely forgotten and remains available only as a pirated edition or as an expensive antiquarian offering. Those who meanwhile refer to Reich’s Massenpsychologie almost always mean the English-language third edition of 1946, which has also been obtainable in German since 1971.
But this third edition differs seriously from the original.


An independent work

Massenpsychologie Originalumschlag

The cover of the 1933 edition

In 1933, Reich had still written as a “ left“ psychoanalyst and critical comrade-in-arms of Freud. His stated goal was to fuse elements from psychoanalysis and Marxism into something new, which he called „sexual economy.“

Having lived in Berlin since 1930, his book was written in direct confrontation with the political „shift to the right“ of the time. As a member of the German Communist Party and as a sexual reformer, Reich was involved in many ways in the struggle against the rising fascism. What he experienced and understood in the process, he recorded for Massenpsychologie.

This book is thus at the same time the report of a contemporary witness: a Marxist psychoanalyst of Jewish origin experiences, comments on, and analyzes the end of the Weimar Republic and the triumph of National Socialism. Reich also uncovered the psychosocial characteristics of international fascism.

He was unable to complete his work until after his arrival in Denmark, his first country of exile, in May 1933. That same year he was expelled from both communist and psychoanalytic organizations.

By the time Reich set out to revise Massenpsychologie in 1942, after living in the United States for three years, not only his life situation but also his scientific and political self-image had fundamentally changed.

He had distanced himself from Freud and Marx, but even more from any kind of party politics. He now classified Stalinism as a „red“ variant of fascism. From December 1941 to January 1942, he was imprisoned for several weeks by the FBI as a „dangerous enemy alien“ – not least because of his Communist involvement in Europe. And he had given his activities a new focus: research into the energy of life, which he called „orgone“.

All this is reflected not only in the content and vocabulary of the third edition, but also in its scope. This grew to more than double its size with the insertion of six texts written between 1935 and 1945. As valuable as these additions were, it was no longer a coherent book.

Gone now, too, was the immediacy of the first edition. Reich’s understandable effort to make more generally valid statements thirteen years later was partly at the expense of the previous accuracy. He now sought formulations that could be applied to all authoritarian-despotic, patriarchal systems-especially including Stalinism. But many of these formulations were not able to portray capitalism, the Weimar Republic, and the National Socialist movement as precisely as had been the case in the 1933 edition.

Undoubtedly, the third edition of Massenpsychologie of 1946 represents a continuation that is again remarkable in its own way. However, it cannot replace the reading of the original.

Suppressed instead of used

The adaptation of psychoanalytic institutions to the National Socialist system and the simultaneous medicalization of Freudian teaching in the United States permanently deprived socially critical analytic currents of their basis from 1933 onward. A psychoanalytic book that offers anywhere near as thorough a reappraisal of the psychosocial roots of fascist currents and „right-wing movements“ as Reich’s Massenpsychologie – and as Erich Fromm’s 1973 Anatomy of Human Destructiveness – has not appeared to date.

Yet Wilhelm Reich continues to be largely hushed up, defamed, or marginalized in the mainstream of psychoanalysis. In particular, Reich’s entire work of social criticism plays virtually no role there, and one searches in vain for an adequate discussion of Massenpsychologie.

Even in current publications on authoritarianism, fascism, the Holocaust, in research on Nazi perpetrators and on right-wing extremism, this work is mentioned only in exceptional cases. This is surprising because Reich’s conception of fascism as authoritarian, nationalistic, racist – especially anti-Semitic – militant, and glorifying (male) violence is highly consistent with definitions of „right-wing extremism“ that are considered valid. And it is unfortunate because Reich additionally introduced crucial points such as the interdependence of leaders and led and the co-induction of „right-wing“ tendencies by lust- and body-hostile religions, by oppression of children, women and sexuality, in short: by patriarchy.
Only this „quite normal“ authoritarian, emotion- and sexuality-suppressing socialization made (and makes) from psychically still quite healthy infants tame subjects, racists and destruction-willing fanatics – and thus: potential fascists.

Numerous studies of fascism could therefore benefit from an examination of Reich, since they generally fail to provide satisfactory answers to two essential questions: What mental state enabled people to actively participate in such destructive movements as the Nazi one, or even in the Holocaust – and how was this state brought about?

Explosiveness for today

„Outdated“ was this work at no time. In the meantime, it has again gained topicality: due to the political „shift to the right“ that can be observed not only in Europe.

The fact that Psychosozial-Verlag Gießen is making the original text available again in January 2020, supplemented by an extensive appendix with biographical and contemporary historical classification, is therefore a gain in several respects.



Here you can download the above text as pdf.


MPF 33 Neuausgabe Werbung