Were there psychoanalytic writings against fascism?

Results of an (almost futile) research lasting several months.

by Andreas Peglau[1]


Already in the 1920s, Nazi greats such as Alfred Rosenberg had threatened leftist and liberal journalists who attacked the National Socialists with reprisals for the time after a possible Nazi takeover (Rosenberg 1940, pp. 92-112, 119, 401f.). Carl von Ossietzky was among those who actually paid with their lives for their contributions critical of Hitler during the Weimar Republic.
Likewise, Erich Mühsam’s published warnings against fascism probably played a decisive role in his imprisonment and murder in the Oranienburg concentration camp on July 10, 1934.
Ehm Welk was sent to the same concentration camp for three months in 1934 because he had reacted ironically to a Goebbels speech in a newspaper article (Longerich 2010, p. 260). The „National Bolshevist“ Ernst Niekisch’s book Hitler – ein deutsches Verhängnis (Hitler – a German Doom), published in 1932, and other publications critical of the regime earned him an eight-year prison term, from which he was released only in 1945, severely physically damaged (Niekisch 1932; Haffner 1980, p. 255).
The successful conservative author Ernst Wiechert was also imprisoned in 1938, first in the penitentiary and then in the Buchenwald concentration camp, after he had shown solidarity with the politically persecuted Martin Niemöller and refused to participate in the referendum on the annexation of Austria. Wiechert survived the five months of his imprisonment only with the help of fellow prisoners (Barbian 1995, pp. 398-409, 2010b, pp. 405f.; Wiechert 2008). Afterwards, Goebbels made it clear to him personally that he would be returned to the camp „at the slightest occasion,“ but then „for life and with the goal of physical extermination“ (ibid., p. 135f.; cf. Longerich 2010, p. 405).
Jan-Pieter Barbian balances: „[S]henever open criticism of the National Socialist state or the NSDAP was voiced, the Minister of Propaganda did not shy away from the threat of physical violence“ (Barbian 1995, p. 398); as soon as „a writer overstepped the political boundaries set for him by the regime, he risked not only his membership in the Reichsschrifttumskammer and thus his professional existence, but in extreme cases also his life“ (Barbian 2008, p. 20).

But to what extent did this affect psychoanalysis? Which psychoanalytic authors – before and after 1933 – exercised such unequivocal criticism in their publications?

Apparently there were only relatively few who recognized and publicly named the threat emanating from the NSDAP already before 1933 (Koebner 1982). The German Communists, insofar as they followed Stalin’s line, saw the „social-fascist“ SPD as their main opponent (Flechtheim 1976, pp. 263-288; Hoppe 2007, pp. 157-173, 291-328). At worst, they expected a short-lived Hitler government, which would be followed all the more quickly by the final disintegration of capitalism in Germany.
The SPD also believed in this: „After Hitler we come“ (Abosch 1982, pp. 26ff.). In contrast to the communist leadership, however, the SPD executive board changed its course after the NSDAP election success of September 1930 (Zimmermann 2007, p. 9). The content of anti-fascist SPD brochures, which was now often conveyed by means of caricatures, was, however, reduced

„to a few tangible core statements:
– National Socialism will bloodily suppress the workers‘ movement
– all groups of the working population will be worse off under the National Socialists
– Profiteers of a future National Socialist regime will be the ruling economic upper classes.
– Hitler means war“ (ibid., p. 13f.).

In the Weltbühne (circulation about 10,000 copies – Wieland 1982, p. 81), Kurt Tucholsky and Carl von Ossietzky focused primarily on ridiculing the Nazis. Hitler was a „cowardly, effeminate pajama existence,“ Ossietzky wrote in 1930, for example, and saw Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning as the far greater danger (Radkau 1982, pp. 57, 67f.).
But some intellectuals very well anticipated that Nazi rule would mean terror, murder, and war, and made this fear public. For example, Ernst Toller wrote in Weltbühne on October 7, 1930, that a Nazi government would persecute the „left“ with bloody terror; he prophesied a „period of European fascism“ whose „replacement can only be expected in the wake of horrific, bloody turmoil and war“ (ibid., p. 72). Also in Weltbühne, Erich Mühsam announced at the end of 1931 that he expected „summary executions, pogroms, looting, mass arrests“ if the National Socialists took power (ibid.).

In Das Andere Deutschland (The Other Germany) – with 40,000 copies „the most widely circulated German pacifist paper“ – one could read from September 1930 about the National Socialists, who wanted „unrestricted armament […]. Space and world importance for a German people of hundreds of millions […]. Destruction of democracy“, „strangulation of the free trade unions and transformation into semi-militarized fascist entities“; they pursued „nationalist policies of rearmament and intrigue with the aim of blowing up the League of Nations and revanchist war“, were „fanatical fomenters of the new world war“, which would bring „Germany’s destruction“ and „the complete annihilation of European culture“ (Wieland 1982, pp. 91-94).

The Catholic, socialist, and republican magazine Deutsche Republik (circulation about 20,000) recognized as early as the beginning of 1929 that international fascism was „visibly becoming a world political factor“ and that the „march of the German ‚fascists'“ was becoming an elementary threat. From September 1931 onward, the Deutsche Republik considered itself an „anti-fascist fighting paper“ and warned in 1932 that fascism would leave behind „only barracks, penitentiaries and graves in Germany“ (Prümm 1982, p. 108, p. 133).

Already in the 1929/30 annual volume there is even something that turned out to be prophecy, but seemed so absurd to author Hugo Hugin that he formulated it as satire:

„You can beat all the Jews to death at all, 600,000 man, woman and child, since we have 400,000 more mouths to feed every year, from natural population growth the gap will be closed again in 1.5 years“ (ibid., p. 136).

A quotation from the Deutsche Republik of July 1931 (ibid., p. 130) further proves that others also encountered questions such as Wilhelm Reich was then to pursue in the Massenpsychologie des Faschismus. Ernst Fischer, in fact, made „the urgent proposal to think together ‚materialist historical view and psychoanalysis,‘ to connect Freud’s writing Unbehagen in der Kultur (The Uneasiness in Civilization) and the ‚monstrous success of National Socialism'“:“

„To present not the Uneasines in culture, but the Uneasiness in capitalist society, and to show how social diseases (such as National Socialism) arise not only from rational preconditions (in the case of National Socialism: the crisis of capitalism, the proletarianization of the petty bourgeoisie, the burden of the [Versailles] Peace Treaties, etc. ) but also from irrational elements (the longing of an enervated generation for a strong man, for the leader, the dictator, their sexual deviancy, their lust for death, etc.).
Furthermore, to show how social constellations become mental events, how, for example, capitalism succeeds in winning over hundreds of thousands who are far more interested in its overthrow than in its existence, which instincts it is that the demagogue makes effective for himself, how it comes to mass formations and mass uprisings.
Finally, to show what meaning the symbol has (flag, uniform, badge, slogan), what forces are unleashed by completely irrational, by magical means. All this would be a task as tempting as it is unsolved.“ (ibid.)

In part Reich accomplished this task, in part he over-achieved it. Among other things, by making an additional effort to show how mental constellations became social events in the 20th century.

Perhaps some psychoanalysts, especially those who emigrated, had similar worrisome thoughts about the future as those communicated in the journals mentioned above. However, they apparently did not articulate them publicly at all, not even in their publications.

In August 1932, Ernst Simmel made some psychoanalytically based assessments of Hitler and his movement in his article National Socialism and Public Health:

„Hitler […] sets out to free the crowd from the hopelessness of their thinking by the simple means that he dispenses each individual from individual reflection on his situation. He appeals to the feelings and at the same time speculates on the thought-weary responsibility-shyness of the people […]. One does not want to see in Hitler the political leader at all, but a messiah […].
The Hitler movement is now, psychologically seen, a restoration of the state of war for its followers. There is again absolute command of the one irresponsible leader, who relieves all others of their guilt and thus their responsibility. The enemy is again outside the community.
This time it is the Jew, the Marxist, the dissenter in general“ (Simmel 1993a, pp. 154, 161).

As an explanation for „the fact that so many people get into such a movement who actually belong“ on the „side […] of the proletariat because of their class situation and their mentality“, Simmel merely suggests „that Hitlerism […] befogged their clear insight“ and the „conscious ego […] is paralyzed and overrun“ „by uncontrollable strivings of unconscious instincts“(ibid., p. 161f.). What made them willing to be „befogged“ for this, he did not ask.

This article appeared in the journal Der sozialistische Arzt. In psychoanalytic publications, I have found only two passages (both with identical content), which prove that National Socialism was addressed even before its „seizure of power“ – and that by Wilhelm Reich.

Since 1931 he had been working on the book that was later to be called Massenpsychologie des Faschismus. He presented theses from it for discussion at the Deutsche Psychoanalytische Gesellschaft (DPG) in June 1932. The summary of this lecture was published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 1933, pp. 559f. and in English translation in the Bulletin of the International Psychoanalytic Association, 13/1932. This brief dispatch, marked by sloppiness of language, has, as will be seen, greater significance within the history of analytic publications than one might at first suppose. It read:

„June 28, 1932, lecture by Dr. Reich: Mass psychological problems within the economic crisis (Massenpsychologische Probleme innerhalb der Wirtschaftskrise).
– ‚At the hand of the National Socialist movement it is shown that the family situation of the petty bourgeoisie turns off its radicalization in the sense of political reaction instead of that of revolution. National Socialism fills the rebellion of the middle classes with reactionary content, which the earlier social and family situation particularly disposed them to accept. The analysis of the effective [affective? – A.P.] content of the racial theory shows that Nordic-racial equals pure, i.e. asexual sets, alien-racial, on the other hand, means the sensual, low animal.‘ – Discussion: Staub, Schultz-Hencke, Fenichel, Simmel, Bernfeld.
Dr. Felix Boehm, Secretary.“

In order to locate other psychoanalytic authors besides Reich who dealt with fascism, I went through the five volumes of the Grinstein Index published between 1956 and 1960, as well as their supplementary and addendum volumes published up to 1965. This index has the (not quite fulfilled) claim to cover completely what psychoanalysts published between 1900 and 1952 inside and outside of professional journals, in all languages and on all – also non-psychological – topics. I looked there at all references to the keywords „Fascism“, „fascist“, „National socialism“, „Nazi(s)“, „Nazi Germany“, „Hitler“, „Hitlerism“, furthermore everything to the keywords „Germany“ and „German“, where I thought a thematization of the Nazi system was likely. However, the number of hits given for this was already vanishingly small with just 40 compared to the total of more than 50,000 listed works, of which at least half must have been written after 1930.

The result of the search: Apart from a reference to Reich’s Massenpsychologie, the earliest article listed by Grinstein was from April 1939, Gregory Zilboorg’s A psychiatrist looks at Hitler, published in the US magazine The New Republic. This, however, is a decidedly superficial „psychopathological finding.“ On two printed pages, based on partly rather questionable sources, it is claimed, for example, that Hitler was a lonely man, aggressive in an impulsive way, felt more than he thought. Also the few psychoanalytic sentences are not very productive: „We know nothing about Hitler’s mother, but there is enough evidence that entitles us to assume that Hitler suffers from a terrible unconscious rage towards her […], he likes sweets but hates meat“ (translation A.P.) – which is often found in neurotics whose mother problems are unprocessed, he said. In short, this article cannot be considered a serious engagement of an analyst with the phenomenon of Hitler.

The first mentions of fascism in psychoanalytic publications did not occur until 1940, according to the Grinstein Index, so this suggests that until the end of 1939 – with the exception of various writings by Reich, Simmel’s 1932 article, and Zilboorg’s allegations – no open psychoanalytic discussion of fascism was published.

But I did not want to leave it with this result. Such a low level of public engagement by the analysts of the time seemed inconceivable to me. So I researched further, also asking other colleagues who research the history of psychoanalysis.

First, I read all the headlines of articles written between 1932 and 1939 in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Imago (both published until 1937 and 1939-1941), Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädagogik (published until 1937), Die Psychoanalytische Bewegung (published until December 1933), International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, The Psychoanalytic Review, and American Imago (published from 1939): The keyword „fascism“ does not appear there. Looking at the titles of the psychoanalytic journal articles from 1932 to 1939, which number in the thousands, it is difficult to grasp that topics such as „The Negro and His Church,“ „Sacred and Profane Cats,“ or „The Kreutzer Sonata: A Problem of Latent Homosexuality and Castration“ (trans. A.P.) (Psychoanalytic Review, 1934, 1935, 1938) were given space many times, while the political reality of Europe, which had threatened or was still threatening the existence of many of the writers and their relatives, never made it to the headlines.

Then I sifted through the publication lists of Ernst Simmel, Erich Fromm, and Otto Fenichel – those who were most likely to make political statements. In Simmel’s case, I found only the 1932 article already mentioned (Simmel 1993a, pp. 229-238). Ludger M. Hermanns, however, drew my attention to the fact that a contribution by Simmel to a 1937 issue of the Bulletin of the U.S. Menninger Clinic contains a passage in which the Nazi book burning is mentioned:

„Although the present ruling party in Germany has publicly burned Freud’s works, the historical mission of the time remains unaffected. Freud personally cannot be offended by this, for no one can understand better than he the workings of the death instinct, precisely in the collective soul as it manifests itself, for example, in the practical politics of a nation“ (ibid., p. 175).

In the numerous reviews of Otto Fenichel, who was well informed about international analytic publications and probably preferred to review those that dealt with political issues, there is nothing to indicate an engagement with fascism before 1940 (Fenichel 1998, vol. 2, pp. 2006-2026).

In Fenichel’s circulars, however, I came across a reference (ibid., vol. 1., pp. 567, 568). There it lists an article by Heinrich Löwenfeld, who wrote on The Psychology of Fascism under the pseudonym „Jiri Benda.“ This article was based on parts of a 1935 Urania lecture given in Prague and was printed in 1937 in the Czech journal Geschichte und Gegenwart, which focused on historical issues. Here Löwenfeld used thoughts from Freud’s Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse and Reich’s Massenpsychologie des Faschismus. He left no doubt about his negative evaluation of fascism, especially its German variety. In his postscript to this article (Lowenfeld 1977, p. 578) I discovered that Löwenfeld had already written the article Geburt einer neuen Religion? in 1933 for the Neue Weltbühne published in Prague. Writing under the pseudonym „Heinrich Lind,“ he stated there:

„It is only the juxtaposition of bestial libidinousness and the fervent shuddering of religious idolatry of leader and state, of servile self-destruction and private victimhood, that results in the peculiar air in which Germany lives, results in a spiritual cave existence before which an outsider is stunned“ (quoted in Mueller 2000, p. 132).

Löwenfeld concluded here with a warning about „the German danger to the world.“ However, he did not become an associate member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association until 1937 (ibid., p. 133), so that at the earliest his contribution of 1937 might be regarded as that of a member of an analytical organization.

Looking through Fromm’s reviews (Fromm 1989, vol. 10, pp. 381-391), I did not find any explicit thematization of fascism. The psychoanalyst and Fromm biographer Rainer Funk, however, made me aware to another passage where one would hardly suspect such a thing and which Grinstein apparently did not find either: In The Social Philosophy of „Will Therapy“ – published in 1939 in the Washington-based journal Psychiatry, pp. 229-237 – Fromm dealt with Otto Rank’s views, which seemed to him to show parallels to fascist ideology (without therefore considering Rank to be a fascist). Here Fromm named as characteristics of fascism above all „relativism“ („that there is no truth and that the search for truth is futile or even harmful“) and the „authoritarian attitude.“

„Fascist philosophy divides people into two groups, the powerful who must kill and the powerless who must be killed. It is a hierarchy in which everyone has someone above them to whom they must submit, and someone below them over whom they rule. Even the leader – as the highest being – is subject to fate, providence or God“ (Fromm 1989, vol. 8, p. 106f.).

Regarding the „leader principle of the fascists“ he wrote: „As an individual you are nothing […], but if you completely submit to the leader, then you can […] share in his splendor and strength“ (ibid., p. 108).

Regine Lockot also reminded me of a public controversy of 1934. Here, on one side stood the former „crown prince“ of Sigmund Freud and later analytical psychologist, the Swiss C.G. Jung. Since 1933 he had edited the Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie, published in Germany. His opponent was the Swiss psychoanalyst Gustav Bally, who had become a DPG member in 1930 and had been forced to leave Germany in 1933 because of „hostility to the state“ (Lockot 2002, p. 97). Bally reacted indignantly in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on April 27, 1934, to Jung’s anti-Semitic statements in the Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie, countering Jung, among other things:

„Whoever introduces himself as the editor of a homogeneous („gleichgeschaltetem“) journal dealing with the race question, must know that he is making his demand against a background of organized passion which will give it the interpretation already implicit in his words“ (quoted ibid.).

The Grinstein index makes no reference to this article by Bally among the keywords I checked, nor to the contributions by Löwenfeld and Fromm mentioned above. So perhaps there was more critical of fascism in the abundance of articles published in these eight years, perhaps also hidden in the text, than the respective headings suggest?

In the German-language publications I searched the keyword indexes – if any were available – for „fascism,“ „fascist,“ „National Socialism,“ „national socialist,“ and „Hitler“.

Result: no corresponding entries. However, if these words were not used at all, the topic could not have been explicitly addressed.
In addition, I looked at what was noted in each case in relation to the keyword „Jews“. Again: no connection with fascism.

Finally, I looked more thoroughly at each article where I thought it was possible that this topic was touched upon. But again: no real hits.

For the aforementioned seven English-language psychoanalytic journals or bulletins, there is another very accurate way to search. The website www.pep-web.org contains their complete texts. Here it is also possible to search for single words.

The result: I found a single open protest against the actions of the German rulers. This was triggered by the threat to Freud after the occupation of Austria. The American Journal of Psychiatry of March 1938 had published a short statement on this, which was reprinted without comment in issue 7/1938 of the Psychoanalytic Quarterly. There it states at the outset:

„For a long time we have watched in silence the humiliations and abuses to which numerous men, women, and their families – friends and colleagues, eminent representatives of the great culture Germany once had – have been subjected. We have been silent because we knew very well that to be vocal about our feelings of contempt and our protest would only harm those for whom we would be speaking out. Not that invading a private home is anything unique; it is all too common. But it pains us especially in this case because it was Professor Sigmund Freud whose apartment was invaded, trashed, and his passport taken from him.“

Against this treatment of Freud – and only against this – a protest was lodged in the last lines „in the name of two thousand American psychiatrists,“ among whom were certainly many psychoanalysts. The assertion that it would have fundamentally harmed persecuted Jews if their persecution had been openly protested, however, I can at best regard as a rationalization.

Without comment („It will be of interest that …“) the readers of the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, issue 3/1934 had also been informed that the „former psychoanalyst“ C.G. Jung was the new editor of the German Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie, which would now be controlled by the state and, according to Jung, would in the future distinguish between „Jewish“ and „Aryan“ psychology. This was followed verbatim by a quotation from „Prof. Dr. jur. Dr. med. M.H. Göring,“ according to which he demanded that all psychotherapists work through Hitler’s Mein Kampf „with all scientific seriousness“ in order to cooperate „in the work of the People’s Chancellor to educate the German people to a heroic, self-sacrificing spirit.“

The word „fascism“ was used only once in the seven English-language publications before 1944, and that was in a review by H. Mayor (apparently not a psychoanalyst, at any rate not registered in either American or English analysts‘ associations) of Reich’s Massenpsychologie des Faschismus (in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis 15/1934). This is at the same time apparently the only review of Reich’s 1933 Massenpsychologie in a psychoanalytic journal. In this extremely brief text (six sentences plus a quote from Reich), however, Mayor did not deal with fascism, but with Reich. He accused Reich of examining the origin and characteristics of fascist and nationalist ideology less from an analytical than from a Marxist point of view, of awakening an „analytical appetite“ but not satisfying it. Because he conceded to Reich that he was right to oppose „vulgar Marxism“, Mayor concluded, „Communists would do well to read this book.“

The word „fascism“ was mentioned only once before 1940, „fascist“ in passing in five places, „nazi“ twice, „nazism“ not at all. „National Socialism“ did not appear at all, „National Socialism“ only in the mentioned translation of the theses of Reich’s lecture of 28.6.1932. „National socialist“ was used once in passing in 1937 as well as once in another review of a Reich writing[…].

The „Third Reich“ was mentioned once – again without further discussion. „Concentration Camp“, „pogrom“: missing.

Before 1940, „Hitler“ was named eleven times, without, however, linking any meaningful statements to it. „Hitlerism“ did not appear, nor did „Goebbels,“ „[Hermann] Göring,“ „Himmler,“ „[Alfred] Rosenberg,“ „Hess,“ „Ley,“ „Streicher,“ „Heydrich,“ „Gestapo“ (Geheime Staatspolizei = Secret State Police), „SA“ (Sturmabteilung = Storm Department), „SS“ (Schutzstaffel = Protection squadron) or „NSDAP“ (National Socialist German Workers‘ Party). Even in the five places where anti-Semitism was mentioned, no or at least no clear reference to fascism was found. The additional check of the nearly 100 places where „Germany“ was named between 1932 and 1939 did not yield any other results either. […]

The fact that a more precise reflection was consistently omitted is all the more astonishing, since many article topics literally cried out to include this reality – when, for example, mass psychological aspects, war neuroses, the present situation and future of psychoanalysis or language problems in emigration were thematized.

Predestined for a thematization of fascism was also the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, edited by Max Horkheimer, which published articles critical of fascism several times (see Horkheimer 1980, vol. 1, p. 63, vol. 9, complete index). In fact, the psychoanalysts G. Bally, M. Grotjahn, O. Fenichel, E. Fromm, F. Fromm-Reichmann, K. Landauer, B. Lantos, and W. Reich published here. But fascism makes almost no appearance in their contributions either. With two exceptions: Karl Landauer reviewed Wilhelm Reich’s Massenpsychologie des Faschismus in 1934, essentially approvingly, as well as his character analysis (Horkheimer 1980, vol. 3, pp. 106f.), and Erich Fromm briefly pointed out that Reuben Osborn commented on „fascist demagogy“ (ibid., vol. 6, p. 433).

If Fromm had had his way, however, he would have taken a more comprehensive stand in this journal as well. Rainer Funk provided me with insight into a letter written by Fromm to Horkheimer on August 20, 1934, to which Fromm had enclosed a review of Conrad Aiken’s book, Hitler über Europa (Hitler over Europe), for the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung.
In this review Fromm wrote:

„The book […] clearly understands Nazism as a consequence of the economic forces and class dynamics of German imperialism. […] It also has sufficient imagination to see the foreign policy plans of Hitler’s imperialism and the military possibilities of its realization. If it keeps itself free from any underestimation of Hitler’s fascism, on the other hand it sees perfectly clearly the purely imperialist function of the regime, aimed at the complete enslavement of the working class and entirely at the service of big business“ (Fromm 2006).

This book review, in which Fromm argued more Marxist than psychoanalytic, but nevertheless named the threatening nature of the Third Reich, was not published. […]

In summary, this means: Apart from the mentioned publications of Reich, Simmel, Löwenfeld, Fromm, Bally, […] and Zilboorg, the protest of American psychiatrists against Freud’s treatment […] I could not discover any contributions openly directed against fascism or National Socialism among several thousand articles, reviews, communications, books and other publications of psychoanalysts in the years from 1932 to the end of 1939. Moreover, Landauer and the non-analyst Mayor referred to Reich’s critique of fascism in their reviews of Massenpsychologie. Explicit attempts to bring the phenomenon of fascism to a psychoanalytic understanding were apparently published during this period only by Reich, Fromm, and Löwenfeld.

This is now also the place to appreciate the significance of that report on Wilhelm Reich’s lecture of 28.6.1932 on mass psychological problems within the economic crisis.

The contributions of Simmel, Fromm, Löwenfeld, Zilboorg, and Bally were all published in non-psychoanalytic journals. I assume that in such publications, especially under a pseudonym, even more criticism of fascism was published by psychoanalysts that Grinstein could not identify. Moreover, the cross-references in Grinstein’s index are not always accurate either.

As far as the psychoanalytic journals are concerned, on the other hand, I think it rather unlikely that additional articles can be found in this period and on this topic in which fascism was openly, let alone extensively, discussed.

That is, regardless of its superficiality and brevity, the 1932 report on the Reich lecture contained the most profound thing that had been communicated in psychoanalytic publications for eight years – from 1932 to the end of 1939 – in terms of fascism analysis.

A tendency toward more open or at least more detailed discussion of the German regime on the part of the analysts is not to be noted until 1940. However, there was no „glut“ of psychoanalytic criticism of fascism; politically neutral topics continued to dominate the psychoanalytic journals.

To name just one of the numerous articles whose titles stood in particularly strong contrast to current world events: In 1940, A.N. Foxe published an article in Psychoanalytic Review on the Terrorization of the Libido and Snow White.

In total, I have been able to discover in the Grinstein Index only just under 20 references to articles and books that explicitly dealt with the subject of fascism between 1940 and the end of 1946. Often, however, no own evaluation of fascism was communicated or only publications of other, also non-analytical authors on this topic were reviewed.

In 1941 Erich Fromm was the first after Reich (and Löwenfeld) to take a more detailed public stand. He devoted an entire chapter of his book Escape from Freedom to the „psychology of Nazism“ (Fromm 1989a, pp. 338-357). „Nazism is,“ Fromm states there,

„a psychological problem, but one must understand the psychological factors from the socioeconomic factors; Nazism is an economic and political problem, but that it has seized a whole people is to be explained by psychological reasons.“

In June 1944, on the initiative of Ernst Simmel, a symposium on „Mass Psychology and Anti-Semitism“ took place in San Francisco; „perhaps,“ writes Russel Jacoby, „the last great gathering of politically oriented Freudians“ (Jacoby 1985, p. 86). In addition to Simmel and Fenichel, speakers included Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno. Most of the lectures (ibid., p. 86, footnote 9), which, however, did not claim to deal comprehensively with the Nazi system, were published in book form in 1946 (in German only decades later – Simmel 1993b; see also Richter 2003, pp. 54-64). Here, too, any reference to Reich or Reich’s writings was omitted.

Even after 1945 there was no systematic reappraisal by psychoanalysts of the political events of the past twelve years.

This ignorance, which is now becoming more and more common within analysis, is all the more disconcerting because – although various works by psychoanalysts on aspects of National Socialism were still produced in the second half of the 20th century – to my knowledge Reich’s Massenpsychologie is still by far the most detailed and, apart from Erich Fromm’s elaborations on this subject (especially in Fromm 1989a, pp. 338-356, 1989e, pp. 271-294, 312-325, 335-393), it is also the only psychoanalytic attempt to formulate a specific and comprehensive theory of the social-psychological preconditions of fascism.




[1] Abridged and translated excerpt from „Unpolitische Wissenschaft? Wilhelm Reich und die Psychoanalyse im Nationalsozialismus,“ 2017, pp. 246-266.
Please cite as: Peglau, Andreas (2023): Were there psychoanalytic writings against fascism? (https://andreas-peglau-psychoanalyse.de/were-there-psychoanalytic-writings-against-fascism/)
Please note: My English skills are not very good. Therefore, I first translated the text with DeepL and then corrected it. I expect that there are still translation errors – and ask those who discover such errors to send a message to info@andreas-peglau-psychoanalyse.de


Here you can download this above article as a pdf.

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Andreas Peglau: Unpolitische Wissenschaft? Wilhelm Reich und die Psychoanalyse im Nationalsozialismus.

With a foreword by Helmut Dahmer and a detailed appendix of documents.

3rd, corrected and expanded edition 2017, Psychosozial-Verlag Gießen. 680 pages, softcover, 49.90 euros.

ISBN 978-3-8379-2637-8

Also available as e-book:

Here you can find the book’s table of contents, preface and index of persons. The complete list of sources and references of the book „Unpolitical Science?“ including all sources used in the above text can be read here : https://andreas-peglau-psychoanalyse.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Quellen-und-Literatur-Peglau-Unpolitische-Wissenschaft-Wilhelm-Reich-und-die-Psychoanalyse-im-Nationalsozialismus-Psychosozial-Verlag-Gie%C3%9Fen-2017.pdf.


The main abbreviations

 AAA: Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes

AOI: The Archives of the Orgone Institute, The Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard University

APA: American Psychoanalytic Association

ARSO: Arbeitsgemeinschaft sozialpolitischer Organisationen

BA: Bundesarchiv Berlin Lichterfelde

BA Koblenz: Bundesarchiv Koblenz

DIPFP: Deutsches Institut für psychologische Forschung und Psychotherapie

DPG: Deutsche Psychoanalytische Gesellschaft

DPV: Deutsche Psychoanalytische Vereinigung

DSt: Deutsche Studentenschaft

EV: Einheitsverband für proletarische Sexualreform und Mutterschutz

FDA: Food and Drug Administration

HADB: Hausarchiv der Deutschen Bücherei Leipzig

IAH: Internationale Arbeiterhilfe

IFA: Interessengemeinschaft für Arbeiterkultur

IPV, IPA: Internationale Psychoanalytische Vereinigung bzw. International Psychoanalytic Association

IZP: Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse

Komintern: Kommunistische Internationale

LA: Landesarchiv Berlin

LHAB Landeshauptarchiv Brandenburg

MASCH: Marxistische Arbeiterschule

Psa., PsA., PsA bzw. psa oder psa. (in Zitaten): Psychoanalyse bzw. psychoanalytisch

ZfN: Zentralblatt für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie

ZfP: Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie und ihre Grenzgebiete einschließlich der medizinischen Psychologie und psychischen Hygiene

ZPPS: Zeitschrift für politische Psychologie und Sexualökonomie