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Social and Sexual Revolution: from Marx to Reich and Back < DIALECTICAL MARXISM: The Writings of Bertell Ollman Social and Sexual Revolution
Chapter 6

Social and Sexual Revolution: from Marx to Reich and Back

Marx claimed that from the sexual relationship "one can...judge man's whole level of development...the relationship of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It therefore reveals the extent to which man's natural behavior has become human."1 The women's liberation movement has provided ample evidence to show that in our society this relationship is one of inequality, one in which the woman is used as an object, and one which does not bring much satisfaction to either party. As predicted, these same qualities can be observed throughout capitalist life. Inequality, people treating each other as objects, as instances of a kind (not taking another's unique, personalizing characteristics into account), and the general frustration that results are major features in the alienation described by Marx.

Yet Marx himself never tried to explain what we may now call "sexual alienation." Pointing to the fact of exploitation and indicating that this is typical of what goes on throughout capitalist society is clearly insufficient. We also want to know how the capitalist system operates on the sexual lives and attitudes of people, and conversely, what role such practices and thinking plays in promoting the ends of the system. What is missing from this dialectical equation is the psychological dimension which, given the state of knowledge in his time, Marx was ill equipped to provide.

Half a century after Marx's death, the task of accounting for sexual alienation was taken up by Wilhelm Reich. Born in Austrian Galicia in 1897, Reich came to Vienna after World War I to study medicine, and in 1920, while still a student, became a practicing psychoanalyst. By 1924, he was director of the Viennese Psychoanalytic Society's prestigious seminar in psychoanalytic technique and highly regarded for his contribution in this field. Almost from the start of his career as an analyst, however, Reich was troubled by Freud's neglect of social factors. His work in the free psychoanalytic clinic of Vienna (1922-30) showed him how often poverty and its concomitants—inadequate housing, lack of time, ignorance, etc.—contribute to neuroses. He soon became convinced that the problems treated by psychoanalysis are at their roots social problems demanding a social cure. Further investigation brought him to Marxism and eventually, in 1927, to membership in the Austrian Social Democratic Party.

Reich's voluminous writings in his Marxist period (roughly 1927-1936) sought, on the one hand, to integrate basic psychoanalytic findings with Marxist theory, and on the other, to develop a revolutionary strategy for the working class based on this expansion of Marxism. The chief of these writings are "Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis," 1929 (in opposition to the Communist-inspired caricature, Reich argues that Freud's psychology is both dialectical and materialist); Sexual Maturity, Abstinence and Conjugal Morality,1930 (a critique of bourgeois sexual morality); The Imposition of Sexual Morality; 1932 (a study of the origins of sexual repression); The Sexual Struggle of Youth, 1932 (a popular attempt to link the sexual interests of young people with the need for a socialist revolution); The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 1933 (an investigation of the character mechanisms that underlie the appeal of fascism); What is Class Consciousness?, 1934 (a redefinition of class consciousness that emphasizes the importance of everyday life); and The Sexual Revolution, 1936 (along with a revised edition of Sexual Maturity, Abstinence and Conjugal Morality, a history of the sexual reforms and subsequent reaction in the Soviet Union).

The social revolution is only a prerequisite (and not a sufficient condition) for the sexual revolution, but Reich believed that recognition of their close relationship, particularly among the young, helped to develop consciousness of the need for both revolutions. With the exception of Character Analysis (1934), which psychoanalysts still regard as a classic in their field, and a few related articles, Reich's early work was devoted almost entirely to the attainment of such a consciousness.

Not content to debate his ideas, in 1929 Reich organized the Socialist Society of Sexual Advice and Sexual Research. A half dozen clinics were set up in poor sections of Vienna, where working-class people were not only helped with their emotional problems but urged to draw the political lessons which come from recognizing the social roots of these problems. Moving to Berlin in 1930, Reich joined the German Communist Party and persuaded its leadership to unite several sexual-reform movements into a sex-political organization under the aegis of the party. With Reich, the chief spokesperson on sexual questions, lecturing to working-class and student audiences throughout the country, membership in the new organization grew quickly to about forty thousand.

By the end of 1932, however, the Communist Party decided—whether to placate potential allies against fascism or because of the general reaction that was then overtaking the Soviet Union—that Reich's attempt to link sexual and political revolution was a political liability. Interpretations which were previously considered "sufficiently" Marxist were now declared un-Marxist, and party organs were prohibited from distributing Reich's books. In February 1933, despite the support of his co-workers in Sex-Pol, Reich was formally expelled from the party.

If the Communist leaders found Reich's stress on sexuality intolerable, his psychoanalytic colleagues were no more appreciative of his Communist politics. Badly frightened by the import of Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933)—and, as difficult as it is to believe today, still hoping to make their peace with fascism—the International Psychoanalytic Association expelled Reich the following year.

First from Denmark, then from Sweden and Norway, Reich continued his efforts to influence the course of working-class protest against fascism. Most of his writing of this time appears in the Zeotscjroft fur politische Psychologie and Sexualokonomie, a journal he edited from 1934 to 1938. From about 1935 on, however, Reich's interest in politics was gradually giving way to a growing interest in biology, spurred by the belief that he had discovered the physical basis of sexual energy (libido). From being a psychoanalyst and Marxist social philosopher, Reich became a natural scientist, a metamorphosis that was to have drastic effects on both his psychoanalysis and social philosophy. Reich emigrated to America in 1939. Each year added to his spiritual distance from Marx and Freud. After a new round of persecution by the authorities, this time in connection with his scientific research, he died in an American prison in 1957.2

Reich's later work, as fascinating and controversial as it is, lies outside the bounds of this essay, which is concerned, solely with his Marxist period. What does concern us is that the break with his Marxist past led him to dilute much of the class analysis and politically radical content of whatever works of this period he chose to republish. Consequently, The Sexual Revolution (1945) and The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1946), until recently the only "Marxist" works available in English, give a very misleading picture of Reich's Marxism. Two recent pirate editions of The Mass Psychology of Fascism, both taken from the 1946 English version, and a new translation of the third German edition, exhibit the same fault, as does The Invasion of Compulsory Sex Morality (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971), which takes account of textual revisions Reich undertook in 1952. Only "Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis" (Studies on the Left, July-August 1966) and "What is Class Consciousness?" (Liberation, October 1971) are exempt from this criticism, but besides being difficult to obtain, these essays in themselves are hardly adequate as an introduction to Reich's Marxism, Sex-Pol: Essays 1929-1934 offers the English-speaking reader his or her first opportunity to become acquainted with Reich's contribution to Marxist theory.

As indicated above, I believe Reich's main efforts as a Marxist were directed to filling in the theory of alienation as it applies to the sexual realm. Reich himself would have been surprised by such a judgment, since he was only partially familiar with this theory and seldom employed the vocabulary associated with it. The German Ideology and 1844 Manuscripts, which contain Marx's clearest treatment of alienation, because available only in 1928 and 1931 respectively, and it seems as if Reich never read the latter work. Still fitting rather neatly into this Marxian matrix is his discussion of the split between the individual and his natural sexual activity, reflected in part by the split between spiritual and physical love (likewise between tenderness and eroticism); the fact that sexuality comes under the control of another (repression and manipulation); of its objectification in repressive structures (symptoms as well as social forms); of the reification (neurotic attachment) connected with each; of people treatment of one another as sexual objects and the dissatisfaction this breeds; of the role money plays in purchasing sexual favors (which is only possible because they are no longer an integral part of the personality); and of the incipient conflict between repressors and repressed. Moreover, by using the theory of alienation Marx tried to show—in keeping with his dialectical conception—that people were not only prisoners of their conditions but of themselves, of what they had been made by their conditions. It is perhaps in marking the toll of sexual repression on people's ability to come to grips with their life situation (and, in particular, on the working class' ability to recognize its interests and become class-conscious) that Reich makes his most important contribution to Marx's theory of alienation.3

In his investigation of sexual alienation, Reich was greatly aided by Freud's four major discoveries: 1) human psychic life is largely under the control of the unconscious (this show itself in dreams, slips of the tongue, forgetting and misplacing things—all have a "meaning"); 2) small children have a lively sexuality (sex and procreation are not identical); 3) when repressed, infantile sexuality is forgotten but doesn't lose its strength, its energy (this only gets diverted into various psychic disturbances which are beyond conscious control); 4) human morality is not of supernatural origins but is the result of repressive measures taken against children, particularly against expressions of natural sexuality.

To these basic discoveries, Reich soon added two of his own. Psychoanalysis of the time was puzzled by the fact that many severely disturbed people had a "healthy" sex life, i.e., in the case of men, had erections and experienced orgasm. On investigation, Reich found that none of these people enjoyed sex very much or experienced a full release of tension in orgasm. He concluded that the notion of potency should not be restricted to the ability to erections and ejaculations but should be expanded to include "orgiastic potency", which he defined as "the capacity for complete surrender to the flow of biological energy without any inhibition, the capacity for complete discharge of all dammed-up sexual excitation."4 Without orgiastic potency, a lot of the sexual energy built up through the natural functioning of the body is blocked and made available for neuroses and other kinds of irrational behavior.

Reich also noted that orgiastic impotence in his patients was always coupled with distinctive ways—including both beliefs and bodily attitudes—of warding off instinctual impulses. He labeled these defensive behavior patterns "character structure." The origins of character structure lay in the ways an individual protected himself or herself from the repressive force and techniques used in early socialization, particularly in the area of sexuality. If at the start, character structure develops in response to real or imagined threats in one's environment, once it gets established its main function is to control impulses coming from within the individual that threaten the emotional equilibrium that has been established.

Such instinctual control is not without its price. According to Reich, it makes "an orderly sexual life and full sexual experience impossible."5 All the inhibitions, fears, awkward mannerisms and stiffness associated with character structure interfere with the capacity to surrender oneself in the sexual act, and in this way reduce the pleasure and discharge of tension achieved in orgasm. The same dulling effect makes it possible for people to do the repetitive and boring work which is the lot of most people in capitalist society, while reducing the impact on them, on their beliefs and feelings, of later life experiences.

Drawing upon his clinical experience, Freud had already pointed out a number of disturbing personality traits and problems that result from sexual repression. Specifically mentioned are the "actual" neuroses, tension and anxiety ("modern nervousness"), attenuated curiosity, increased guilt and hypocrisy, and reduced sexual pleasure and potency. On one occasion, he goes so far as to claim that repressed people are "good painfully the initiative of strong characters.6 Though Freud never took this observation any further, it served Reich as the basis for much of his later work. For Reich, the most important effects of sexual repression are submissiveness and irrationality: it "paralyzes the rebellious forces because any rebellion is laden an anxiety" and "produces by inhibiting sexual curiosity and thinking in the child, a general inhibition of thinking and critical faculties."7

But if the human cost of repression is so great, the question arises: Why does society repress sexuality? Freud's answer is that it is the sine qua non of civilized life. Reich replies that sexual repression's chief social function is to secure the existing class structure. The criticism which is curtailed by such repression is criticism of today's society, just as the rebellion which is inhibited is rebellion against the status quo.

Closely following Marx, Reich declares, "Every social order creates those character forms which it needs for its preservation. In class society, the ruling secures its position with the aid of education and the institution of the family, by making its ideology the ruling ideology of all members of the society." To this Reich adds the following "it is not merely a matter of imposing ideologies, attitudes and concepts....Rather it is a matter of a deep-reaching process in each new generation, of the formation of a psychic structure which corresponds to the existing social order in all strata of the population."8

In short, life in capitalism is not only responsible for our beliefs, the ideas of which we are conscious, but also for related unconscious attitudes, for all those spontaneous reactions which proceed from our character structure. Reich can be viewed as adding a psychological dimension to Marx's notion of ideology: emotions as well as ideas are socially determined. By helping to consolidate the economic situation responsible for their formation, each serves equally the interests of the ruling class.

Within the theory of alienation, character structure stands forth as the major product of alienated sexual activity. It is an objectification of human existence that has acquired power over the individual through its formation in human conditions. Its various forms, the precise attitudes taken, are reified as moral sense, strength of character, sense of duty, etc., further disguising its true nature. Under the control of the ruling class and its agents in the family, church and school who use the fears created to manipulate the individual character structure provides the necessary psychological support within the oppressed for those very external practices and institutions (themselves products of alienated activity in other spheres) which daily oppress them. In light of the socially reactionary role of character structure, Reich's political strategy aims at weakening its influence in adults and obstructing its formation in the young, where the contradiction between self-assertiveness and social restraint is most volatile. The repressive features of family church and school join economic exploitation as major targets of his criticism.

To avoid the kind of misunderstanding that had bedeviled most discussion of Reich's ideas, I would like to emphasize that Reich's strategy is not a matter of "advocating" sexual intercourse. Rather, by exhibiting the devastating effects of sexual repression on the personality and on society generally, he wants people to over turn those conditions which make a satisfactory love life (and—though its connection to character structure—happiness and fulfillment) impossible. In a similar vein, Reich never held that a full orgasm is the summum bonum of human existence. Rather, because of the psychological ills associated with orgastic impotence, the full orgasm serves as an important criterion by which emotional well-being can be judged. Furthermore, with the relaxation of repression, Reich does not expect everybody to be "screwing" everybody all the time (a fear Freud shares with the Pope), though such relaxation would undoubtedly lead—as it already has in part—to people making love more frequently with others whom they find attractive.

Many of Reich's critics make it a point of honor never to engage him in intelligent debate, simply assuming that any position which is so "extreme" must be erroneous. Among those from whom we deserve better are Herbert Marcuse, who remarks "sexual liberation per se becomes for Reich a panacea for individual and social ills," and Norman Brown who says of Reich "This appearance of finding the solution to the world's problem in the genitals has done much to discredit psychoanalysis; mankind, from history and from personal experience, knows better."9 Reich's masterly analysis of the social function of sexual repression is duly lost sight of behind these unsupported caricatures.

Another related misinterpretation, which is widespread among Marxists and must be taken more seriously, holds that Reich replaces "economic determinism" with "sexual determinism." At the time of his expulsion from the Communist Party, a spokesperson for the party declared, "You begin with consumption, we with production; you are no Marxist."10 It is only fitting that special attention be given to an objection which calls into question his entire enterprise.

Marxist theory offer Reich two complementary ways of responding: either the notion of production can be differently defined to include sexuality (which his Communist Party critic restricted to a form of consumption), or the interaction between the "base" and such elements of the "superstructure" as sexuality can be emphasized to being out the hitherto neglected importance of the latter. Reich's strategy, as found in several of his works, takes advantage of both possibilities. On the one hand, he points out that Marx's materialism logically precedes his stress on economic factors, such as production, and that sex is a "material want." On the other hand, while willingly declaring even for sexual practices the primacy "in the last instance" of economic factors (work, housing, leisure etc.), he argues that the social effects of sexual repression are far greater than have previously been recognized.

Marx's materialism is first and foremost a matter of beginning his study of society with the "real individual," who may be viewed strictly as a producer but is just as often seen as both producer and consumer.11 In his only methodological essay, Marx is at pains to show that production and consumption are internally related as aspects of the individual's material existence and that information which generally appears under one heading may be shifted—in order to satisfy some requirement of inquiry of exposition—to the other with no loss of meaning.12 Likewise, the "real individual" has both subjective and objective aspects—he feels as well as does—and again, because of this interrelatedness his life situation can be brought into focus by emphasizing either feelings or actions. Based essentially on methodological considerations, this choice simply subsumes those aspects not directly named under those, which are.

Perfectly in keeping with this broader notion of materialism is Reich's claim that "Mankind exists with two basic psychological needs, the need for nourishment and the sexual need, which, for purposes of gratification, exist in a state of mutual interaction."13 Stressing the active component, Engels had said as much" "According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life. This, again, is of a two-fold character. On the one side, the production of the means of existence...on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species."14 The social organization of each epoch, according to Engels, is determined by both kinds of "production."

So little is this dual basis of Marx's conception of history appreciated—not least by Marx's followers—that the editor of the Moscow edition of Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, where this remark appears, accuses Engels of "inexactitude," a serious admission for any Communist editor to make in 1948.15

Reich, too, is not altogether satisfied with Engel's formulation. The parallel Engels draws between production and procreation as determining forces in history requires some emendation. For if people produce in order to satisfy the need for food, shelter, etc., they do not engage in sex in order to propagate the species. Goods are not only the result of production but its aim. Sex, however, is almost always engaged in for pleasure or to relieve bodily tension. For the greater part of human history the link between sexual intercourse and paternity was not even known. Beyond this, sexual desire, which makes it appearance in early childhood, precedes the possibility of procreation in the life of everyone. Consequently, as a material need, as a subjective aspect of the "real individual," sex is essentially the drive for sexual pleasure. It is, therefore, how society responds to the individual's attempt to satisfy his hunger and obtain sexual pleasure that determines the social organization of each epoch.16

Besides accepting Marx's notion of "material forces" (however extended), Reich, as I have indicated, also accepted the primacy "in the last instance" of economic factors (narrowly understood). To grasp the latter admission in the proper perspective one must replace the causal model into which it is often forced with a dialectical one. On the basis of the dialectic, mutual interaction (or reciprocal effect) exists between all elements in reality. This basic assumption does not rule out the possibility that some elements exert a proportionately greater effect on others or on the whole as such. As Marx discovered, this was generally the case for economic factors. His claim regarding the primacy of economic factors is an empirical generalization based on a study of real societies, and not an a priori truth about the world. Consequently, Marx himself could call attention to the predominant role that war and conquest seem to have played in the development of ancient societies, and Engels could say that before the division of labor reached a certain point, kinship groups bore the chief responsibility for determining social forms.17 Reich, who made a special study of primitive societies, concurs with Engels' judgment, though his qualification shows him to be even more of an "economic determinist" in this matter than Engels. Basing himself primarily on the anthropology of Malinowski, Reich emphasizes the importance of the marriage dowry (arranged as a form of tribute between previously warring primal hordes) in establishing both clan exogamy and the incest taboo; whereas Engels, under the influence of Morgan and Darwin, attributes both developments to natural selection.18

If Reich's research into the social origins of neuroses, beginning with his work in the free psychoanalytic clinic of Vienna, led him to accept the primacy in the last instance of economic factors, the same research made him want to alter the weight Marx attached to at least one of the elements in this interaction. Marx had mentioned sex as a natural and human power, as a way of relating to nature, along with eating, seeing, working and many other human conditions and functions. He did declare, as we saw, that the quality of the sexual relationship offers the clearest insight into the degree to which man the animal has become a human being. Yet, the only power whose influence is examined in any detail is work.

Reich does not by any means seek to belittle the importance Marx attributes to work, but he does wish to accord greater importance to sexuality, particular in affecting people's capacity for rational action. For very different reasons, Marx and Freud had underestimated the influence on character and social development of the area of life investigated by the other. The result was that "In Marx's system, the sexual process led a Cinderella existence under the misnomer 'development of the family.' The work process, on the other hand, suffered the same fate in Freud's psychology under such misnomers as 'sublimation,' 'hunger instinct' or 'ego instincts.' "19 For Reich, synthesizing Marx and Freud meant breaking out of the prison imposed by such categories to redistribute causal influence in line with the basic discoveries of both men.

Sartre has recently remarked that most Marxists treat people as if they were born at the time of applying for their first job.20 Writing as a Marxist psychoanalyst, it is chiefly this distortion that Reich sought to correct.

The attack on Reich as a sexual determinist has led most Marxist critics to overlook the real differences that exist between Marx's materialist conception of history and Reich's. The chief of these has to do with the different time periods brought into focus. Whereas Marx concentrated on the social-economic forms that have come into existence in the West in the last two to three thousand years (slavery, feudalism, capitalism), Reich—while accepting Marx's division—generally operates with a periodization based on social-sexual developments, whose three main stages are matriarchy, patriarchy (covering the whole of recorded history) and communism. Though they overlap, these two ways of dividing time are not fully integrated, either conceptually—so that one is forced to think of one or the other—or practically—so that one is forced to think of one of the other—or practically—so that followers of Marx and Reich often dismiss economic or psychological factors (depending on the school) in accounting for social change.

This contrast between the two thinkers is nowhere so clearly drawn as in their treatment of contradictions. At the core of Marx's materialist conception of history, insofar as it passes beyond methodology (how best to study social change) to a set of generalizations on how changes occur, is his stress on the reproduction of the conditions of social existence, which at a certain point begins to transform the old order into a qualitatively new one. For Marx, the content of contradictions is always provided by the particular society in which their resolution takes place.

As a kindred thinker to Marx, Reich too is particularly attuned to contradictory tendencies in the material he examines. Yet, with few exceptions, the contradictions he believes will be resolved in capitalism possess a content that is derived from patriarchal society as such. This is the case with the contradiction between repression strengthening marriage and family and, in virtue of the sexual misery caused, undermining them; and likewise of the contradiction he sees between repression producing a character structure which inclines youth to accept parental authority (and by extension all forms of authority) and simultaneously provoking sexual rebellion against parents (and by extension all forms of authority).

Without roots in the particular society in which they are found (capitalism), it is not altogether clear how these contradictions contribute to the demise of this society, nor why its demise will necessarily lead to the resolution of these contradictions. And adding that repression is greater in the capitalist era does not solve the problem. Even sexual alienation is affected, for to the extent that its peculiarly capitalist features are overshadowed by patriarchal ones it becomes, for the time span with which Marx is concerned, an ahistorical phenomenon. Thus, a form of sexual alienation, as Reich was forced to admit, could exist even in the Soviet Union, still a patriarchal society.21

Reich's error—for all the use he made of Marx's analysis—lies in conceptualizing his findings apart from the findings of Marxist sociology, rather that integrating the two within the same social contradictions. He himself offers a good example of the alternative when he speaks of the capitalist economy fostering family ideology while simultaneously undermining it through inner family tensions caused by unemployment and forcing women to go to work. In this way, that is, through the operation of typical capitalist trends, the family whose ideological function is necessary to capitalism is rendered increasingly dysfunctional.22 Such examples in Reich's work, however, remain the exception.

Marxists have always managed better to explain the transition from slavery to feudalism and from feudalism to capitalism than to explain the onset of class society and, as events show, its eventual replacement by communism. It is just such developments, however, that Reich's work does most to illuminate. Yet, while Reich's contradictions occur in patriarchal times and the main contradictions Marx uncovered take place in capitalism, Reich's contribution to Marx's analysis can only be peripheral and suggestive. If Reich's "sexual economy" is ever to become an integral part of Marxism, the peculiarly capitalist qualities of sexual repression, including its distinctive forms and results within each social class (making allowances for racial, national and religious differences), must be brought out in greater detail. And, conceptually, from a patriarchal social relation, sexual repression must be broken down into slave, feudal, capitalist and even "socialist" social relations, in order to capture its special contribution to each periodas well as the opportunities available in each period for its transcendence. Most of this research and work of reformulation is still to be done.23

Aside from the accusation that Reich's theory is of sexual determinism, another potentially telling criticism raised by many radicals today has to do with the relevance of his ideas in light of all the changes in sexual behavior that have occurred since he wrote. Have Reich's teachings missed their revolutionary moment? Reimut Reiche, in his book Sexuality and the Class Struggle, argues that the spread of sexual education, the availability of birth control pills and abortions, the easy access to cars (if not rooms) in which to make love, etc. have made it impossible to link the denial of a satisfactory sex life with the requirements of the capitalist system. The market has been able to absorb even these needs, turning their satisfaction into a profitable business venture for some section of the capitalist class. For him, the focus of interest has changed from finding out why sexuality is being denied to discovering how in the very means of its satisfaction it is being manipulated to serve the ends of the capitalist system.24

Neither Reimut Reiche's optimism regarding the extent to which repression has diminished nor his pessimism as to the extent capitalism is able to exploit what ever new freedom exists seems fully justified. A recent poll of eighteen-year-old college students in the United States, for example, show that 44 percent of the women and 23 percent of the men are still virgins, and one expects that a far greater percentage have known only one or a few encounters.25 Radicals tend to believe that on sexual matters, at least, their generally liberated attitudes and practices are shared by most of their age peers. This is a serious mistake.

As for capitalist reforms blunting the revolutionary edge of sexual protest, it must be admitted that this can happen. What remains to be seen, however, is whether the new contradictions embodied in these reforms simply make the old situation more explosive. How long can the pill be easily obtainable, venereal diseases curable, etc., and youth still frightened by the dangers of sexual intercourse? At what point in making marriage unnecessary for sex will young people stop getting married in order to have sex? When will the rebellion that has known some success in sexual matters be directed against intolerable conditions elsewhere? Put in Reichian terms, how long could capitalism survive with a working class whose authoritarian character structure have been eroded through modifications in their sexual lives?

The revolutionary potential of Reich's teachings is as great as ever—perhaps greater, now that sex is accepted as a subject for serious discussion and complaint virtually everywhere. The origins of the March Twenty-second Movement in France illustrate this point well. In February 1967, the French Trotskyist, Boris Frankel, spoke on Reich and the social function of sexual repression to a crowd of several hundred students at the Nanterre branch of the University of Paris. I can personally attest to the enthusiastic response of the audience, for I was there. In the week following the talk, Reich's booklet, The Sexual Struggle of Youth, was sold door to door in all the residence halls. This led to a widespread sex-educational campaign based—as Danny Cohn-Bendit tells us—on Reich's revolutionary ideas, and resulted in the occupation by men and women students of the women's dorms to protest against their restrictive rules.26 Other struggles over other issues followed, but the consciousness which culminated in the events of May 1968 was first awakened in a great number of Nanterre students in the struggle against their sexual repression.

The same struggle is being repeated with local variations at universities and even high schools throughout the capitalist world. Generally lacking, however, is the clear consciousness of the link between restrictions on sexual liberty and the capitalist order that one found at Nanterre. Reich's teachings, whatever their shortcomings, are the indispensable critical arm in forging these links.


  1. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trans. By Martin Milligan (Moscow, 1959, 101.
  2. There is no good biography of Reich available. The only English-language account of Reich's life to which I can in good conscience refer readers is Paul Edward's brief essay, "Wilhelm Reich," in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, VII, Paul Edwards, ed. (New York, 1967), 104-115. A more detailed study by Constantine Sinelnikov, L'Oeuvre de Wilhelm Reich, which also contains a good bibliography of Reich's Marxist writings, will soon be brought out in English.
  3. For a fuller treatment of the theory of alienation, see my book, Alienation: Marx's Concept of Man in Capitalist Society.
  4. Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm, trans. By T.P. Wolfe, (New York, 1961), p. 79. First published in 1948, contains a very useful account of the development of Reich's psychology and particularly of his changing relationship to Freud.
  5. Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis, trans. By T.P. Wolfe (New York, 1970), pp. 148-149
  6. Sigmund Freud, "Civilized' Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness," Collected Papers, II, trans. By J. Riviere (Long, 19 48), p. 92.
  7. Wilhelm Reich, Mass Psychology of Fascism, trans. By T.P. Wolfe, (New York, 1946), p. 25 Character Analysis, XXLL.
  8. Character Analysis, XXLL.
  9. Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization, (New York, 1962), p.128; Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, (New York, 1961,. 29.
  10. Wilhelm Reich, "What Is Class Consciousness," Sex-Pol Essays 1929-1934, ed. by Lee Baxandall and trans. By A. Bostock (New York, 1971) p. 350.
  11. Karl Marx and Frederich Engel, The German Ideology, trans. By R. Pascal (London, 1942), p. 7.
  12. Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, trans. By N. I. Stone (Chicago, 1904), pp. 274-292. Marx also says that the forces of production have their subjective side, which is the "qualities of individuals," and refers to the "communal domestic economy" which replaces the family in communist society as a "new productive force." Karl Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations, ed. By E.J. Hobsbawm and trans. By Jack Cohen (New York, 1965), p. 95; and The German Ideology, p.18.
  13. Wilhelm Reich, "The Imposition of Sexual Morality," Sex-Pol, p.232.
  14. Friedrich Engels, "Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State," Marx / Engels Selected Writings, II (Moscow, 1951), 155-156.
  15. Ibid. p. 156
  16. "The Imposition of Sexual Morality," Sex-Pol, p. 231-233
  17. Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations, p. 83; Engels, Selected Writings, II, p. 156
  18. "The Imposition of Sexual Morality," Sex-Pol. 183-225
  19. Wilhelm Reich, People in Trouble, (Rangely, Maine, 1953), p.45
  20. Jean Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique (Paris, 1960), p. 47
  21. For Reich's account of the sexual reforms and subsequent reaction in the Soviet Union, see this book The Sexual Revolution, trans. By T.P. Wolfe (New York, 1951).
  22. Wilhelm Reich, La lutte sexuelle des jeune, (Paris, 1966) trans. From the German, p. 121.
  23. For further discussions of the conceptual difficulties involved in integrating Reich's theories into Marxism, see my article, "The Marxism of Wilhelm Reich: or the Social Function of Sexual Repression," particularly the final section, republished as chapter seven of my book Social and Sexual Revolution.
  24. Reimut Reiche, Sexualite et lutte de classes, trans. By C. Parrenin and R.J. Rutten (Paris, 1971).
  25. Quoted in "The International Herald Tribune" (Paris, Aug. 13. 1971)
  26. Daniel Cohn Bendit, Obsolete Communism and the Left Wing Alternative. Trans. A Pomerans (London, 1969), p. 29. Reich's Sexual Struggle of Youth is now banned in some French high schools.