Sunday, March 18, 2012
15 July 1927 by Christopher Turner et al.
On January 30, 1927, in the small Austrian town of Schattendorf, near the Hungarian border, members of the home Heimwehr (home guard), a right-wing paramilitary group associated with the Christian Social Party, randomly shot into a Social Democratic Party rally. A war veteran and an eight-year-old boy were killed, and another six-year old child was critically wounded. Six months later in Vienna, the three accused gunman were acquitted of “all wrong-doing” by a right-wing judge.
Ignaz Seipal, the Christian Social Chancellor, supported this controversial decision. However, the next day an editorial in the Social Democratic newspaper, the Arbeiter-Zeitung, declared the acquittal “an outrage such as has seldom if ever been experienced in the annals of justice.” In Vienna, a huge number of workers went on strike and assembled to stage a spontaneous protest rally on the Ringstrasse, the main artery around the city. They marched together to the square in front of the palace of justice. The Christian Social-dominated police force was unprepared for the angry mob. The spontaneous demonstration turned into a riot as the crowd threw stones at the law courts before storming the building, overpowering the police cordon, and breaking down the large iron doors. The unarmed police officers had their uniforms stripped from them and paraded on flagpoles like trophies. Four officers were killed, court records and books were thrown out the windows like confetti, and the building was set ablaze.
When a patient arrived at Wilhelm Reich’s apartment for therapy and informed him that several protestors had already been killed by the police, Reich cancelled their session and went to join the demonstrators, joining the ranks of unarmed workers marching in silence towards the university. When Reich saw that the Palace of Justice was ablaze he ran home to collect his wife. He and Annie stood by the Arcaden Café with about four hundred others, watching the fire, sharing in the sense of collective retribution. Reich heard someone shout, “That shack had it coming.” The offices of the conservative Reichspost, which had declared the court ruling “a just judgment,” were also burned down that day.
[On that morning, the future Nobel Laureate Elias Cannetti, a student at the Chemical Institute, was at home reading the Reichspost. Fifty-five years later, Canetti wrote that he could still feel the indignation he felt reading the giant headline “A Just Verdict.” He quickly biked into the center of town and joined the demonstrations. “It was the closest thing to a revolution that I had physically experienced. Since then, I have known quite precisely that I would not have to read a single word about the storming of the Bastille. I became part of the crowd, I fully dissolved in it, I did not feel the slightest resistance to what the crowd was doing.”]
The demonstrators refused to let fire engines through to put out the fire, and Johann Schober, the Christian Social police chief responsible for crushing the 1919 Communist uprising, issue rifles to his forces so that they could clear a path. Members of the fifty-thousand –strong Republican Defense League, the Social Democratic militia formed in 1923 for precisely the purpose of defending the workers in such a situation, had been ordered by Otto Bauer to return to barracks: the Social Democrats wanted to avoid a full-scale confrontation, and had sent the militia home under threat of expulsion or disciplinary action.
Reich recalled that two hundred yards from where he was standing a phalanx of policemen started to advance, inching forward slowly with their gun barrels lowered. When they were fifty yards away their captain ordered them to shoot at the crowd. A few disobeyed and fired over the onlookers’ heads, but dozens in the crowd fell dead or wounded. Without the Schutzbund to defend them, the crowd was completely helpless. Reich dragged Annie behind a tree, where they his to a void the bullets; others fled down alleys. Ernest Fisher, a journalist for the Arbeiter-Zeitung whose editorial had helped spark the events wrote that he’s seen one worker tear open his shirt and shout, “Shoot, if you have the guts.” He was shot in the chest. Others screamed, “Worker killers! You are workers yourselves!” and begged them to stop.
[“I saw the throng being shot at and people falling.” wrote Cannetti, “The shots were like whips. I saw people run into the side streets and I saw them reemerge and form into crowds again. I saw people fall and I saw corpses on the ground. I was dreadfully frightened.. I ran with the others. A very big, strong man running next to me banged his fist on his chest and bellowed as he ran: ‘Let them shoot me! Me! Me! Me!’ Suddenly he was gone.
“This was perhaps the eeriest thing of all: you saw and heard people in a powerful gesture that ousted everything else, and then those people vanished from the face of the earth. Everything yielded and invisible holes opened up everywhere. However, the overall structure did not disappear; even if you suddenly found yourself alone somewhere, you could feel things tugging and tearing a you. You heard something everywhere: there was something rhythmic in the air, an evil music. You could call it music; you felt elevated by it. I did not feel as if I were moving my own legs. I felt as if I were in a resonant wind.
‘The crowd persisted. Driven away, it instantly erupted again from the side streets. The fire held the situation together. No matter where you happened to be under the impact of the gunfire, no matter where you seemingly fled, your connection with the others remained in effect. And you were drawn back into the province of the fire – circuitously, since there was no other possible way. If anything loomed out, sparking the formation of the crowd it was the sight of the burning Palace of Justice. The salvos of the police did not whip the crowd apart: they whipped it together. The sight of people escaping through the street was a mirage: for even when running they fully understood that certain people were falling and would not get up again. These victims unleashed the wrath of the crowd no less than the fire did."]
The killing went on for three hours. Eighty-nine people were killed, and about a thousand wounded. The historian David S. Luft has called the violence “the most revolutionary day in Austrian history,” and refers to “the generation of 27…a generation whose adult political consciousness was defined by the events of 15th July 1927.” Wilhelm Reich was very much part of that generation. In his book People in Trouble (written in 1937 but not published until 1953) Wilhelm Reich wrote of the events he witnessed as the defining moment in his political awakening; he called the brutal police oppression a “practical course on Marxian sociology.” He was deeply disturbed by the violence, and described the police as mindless automatons, part of “a senseless machine,” just as he himself had been in the war, firing “blindly on command without thinking.”
Like many others, Reich was disappointed by the Social Democratic reaction to the day’s violence, especially the fact that they failed to take a decisive stand, despite their constant rhetoric of revolution, and protect the workers by mobilizing the Schutzbund when civil war looked imminent. By returning his troops to barracks, Otto Bauer had exhibited, Reich thought, a “dangerously irresolute politics” and thereby failed to prevent the massacre.
In the April elections earlier that year the Social Democrats had received their largest electoral vote to date. Otto Bauer was confident that his party could increase their vote nationally from 42 percent (up from 39 percent in 1923) to a controlling 51 percent in the future, and he didn’t want top jeopardize this ascent by risking civil war. However, the events of July 15 ended Bauer’s illusory optimism, revealing the impotence of the Social Democrats on the national stage. Even in the capital they supposedly controlled (in Vienna they had won 60 percent of the vote), the government was prepared to use violence to suppress what it saw as an irksome “red tide”.
Order was swiftly restored, followed by a reactionary crackdown that, Reich wrote in hindsight, led directly to Hitler’s rise in power. The resulting crisis in Social Democratic leadership would ultimately lead to the collapse of the party and the triumph of fascism,. Heimito von Doderer, who witnessed the events and later centered his novel The Demons (1956) on them wrote that the violence “turned the Austrian middle-class towards fascism” and signaled the end of freedom in Austria. Doderer would have known: he was a member of the Austrian Nazis Party from 1933 to 1938.
[in The Torch in My Ear, Cannetti wrote that “in the following days and weeks of utter dejection, when you could not think of anything else, when the events you had witnessed kept recurring over and over again in your mind, haunting you night after night even in your sleep, there was still one legitimate connection to literature. And this connection was Karl Kraus. My idolization of him was at its highest level then. This time it was gratitude for a specific public deed; I don’t know whom I could ever be more thankful to for such an action. Under the impact of the massacre on that day, he put up posters everywhere in Vienna, demanding the voluntary resignation of Police Commissioner Johann Schober, who was responsible for the order to shoot and for the ninety deaths. Kraus was alone in this demand; he was the only public figure who acted in this way. And while the other celebrities, of whom Vienna has never had a lack, did not wish to lay themselves open to criticism or perhaps ridicule, Kraus alone had the courage of his indignation. His poster were the only thing that kept us going in those days. I went from one poster to another, paused in front of each one, and I felt as if all the justice on earth had entered the letters of Kraus’s name."]
Reich met Freud at the end of the month in the villa Freud liked to rent on the Semmering Pass. Freud was troubled with stomach problems in addition to the painful complications of his cancer. Reich , none-the-less, talked to Freud about the recent political events and concluded that Freud had completely failed to understand the true significance of the uprising. Martin Freud revealed the family’s collective stance when he wrote of the “civil war” in his memoir: “When the Socialists, inspired by Communist influence, were at the throats of the Conservatives, who at this time appeared to have a strong leaning towards the new Nazi theories,. The Freud’s remained neutral. Unable to decide which was the lesser evil, we kept out of the struggle and were not hurt.”
Freud thought of July 15 in terms of a natural disaster rather than a political turning point; he viewed it “as a catastrophe similar to a tidal wave.” Freud had little confidence in the readiness of the masses for freedom. For him, the crowd was a “primal horde”,” a surging unconscious throng that was searching, herd-like, for an authority figure to guide it. On the street Reich felt he had witnesses something different: a crowd nobly seeking justice and viciously suppressed.
Later that year, in response to the riots, Freud wrote The Future of an Illusion, in which he stated that the masses were “lazy and unintelligent: they have no love for instinctual renunciation.” Freud believed that as a result the masses had to be educated and coerced by an elite into accepting repression as a requirement of civilization (the crowd psychologist Gustav Le Bon, whom Freud cites in his essay, wrote of the masses as “extraordinarily credulous and open to influence”). This belief was exported to the United States by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who sought to use Freud’s insights to manipulate public opinion. In 1928, Bernays wrote his book Propaganda, which explored the ways in which a small band of “invisible wire pullers” might “regiment the public mind.” In a letter to his nephew, Freud praised Propaganda as “clear, clever, and comprehensive…I read it with pleasure [and]…wish you all possible success.” To its author’s horror, Joseph Goebbels was an enthusiast of he book; Bernays wrote that he later used his ideas ass “the basis for his destructive campaign against the Jews.”
Canetti read Freud’s Group Psychology (1921) when he returned home from the riot and was repulsed by it. Freud and other writers such as Le Bon, he wrote thirty-three years later, “had closed themselves off against the masses; they found them alien or seemed to fear them; and when they set about investigating them, they gestured: Keep ten feet away from me! A crowd seemed something leprous to them, it was like a disease…It was crucial for them, when confronted with a crowd, to keep their heads, not be seduced by the crowd, not to melt into it.” Wilhelm Reich also felt the crowd’s contagious energy within him.
Shortly after his meeting with Freud that summer Reich read Marx’s Das Kapital for the first time. Marx led him to Engel’s Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, and to other critics of the patriarchy such as Johann Jakob Bachofen. He joined the Communist Party and was soon speaking about society’s sexual problems at their meetings, promising that if the cornerstone of sexual repression was removed, the whole edifice of class submission would crumble. This line alienated Reich from the Psychoanalytic Movement ( at least as Freud conceived it) and the Communist Party in almost equal measure.
By 1930 the psychoanalytic profession was completely polarized. That year Freud published Civilization and Its Discontents, in which he maintained that civilization demanded the sacrifice of our freedom. “The intention that men should be ‘happy’ is not the plan of creation,” Freud put it with he called his “cheerful pessimism”. But the younger, more radical analysts believed that these repressions of our natural instincts might be jettisoned. Reich, who was become the leader of the dissident group, thought that Freud’s essay was a direct response to his own ideas, specifically his lecture “The Prophylaxis of the Neurosis,” a summary of The Function of the Orgasm. “I was the one,” he immodestly told Kurt Eissler in the 1950s, “who was ‘unbehaglich in der Kultur’ [discontented by civilization].
In fact, Freud had been working on the book well before Reich gave his talk, but it is not unlikely that Reich’s subversive ideas about orgasms, formulated three years earlier, had an effect on Freud’s final; thesis. Freud argued that there is always a fundamental conflict between our primal instincts and the restraints of civilization, which makes us sacrifice the former. The orgasm might offer us a glimpse of former freedoms, Freud wrote, as if addressing Reich directly, and it is tempting to let the “overwhelming sensation of pleasure” we experience in sexual love serve as a paradigm in our search for happiness, but this quest is fundamentally flawed: “We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love,” Freud warned
“It is a bad misunderstanding,” Freud stated, “explained only by ignorance, id people say that psychoanalysis expects the cure of neurotic illness from the “free living out” of sexuality. On the contrary, the making conscious of the repressed sexual desires makes possible their control.”
Later, in 1933, from Copenhagen’s relative oasis of tolerance, Reich looked back critically at his former home and experiences in Vienna and Berlin and began writing his classic study of dictatorship, The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Reich damned the German Communist Party’s blinkered emphasis on economics, which he though failed to explain fascism. He criticized the party for ignoring the sexual question; his focus on it caused him to be increasingly marginalized and eventually thrown out of the Party. But Reich maintained his faith in the proletariat’s “open and untrammeled attitude towards sexuality", which he thought was an untapped resource of revolutionary energy. The book is a manifesto for his sex-pol views: if things had been done his way, if the Communists had worked top eliminate sexual repression, Reich implied, the masses would not have swept Hitler to power.
The picture Reich painted of the Nazis as sexual puritans became the dominant view for decades (especially in America). However, revisionist historians such as Dagmar Herzog have shown that as soon as the Nazis had crushed the “Jewish” sex reform movement , they appropriated many of their arguments, although the fascist embrace of sexual freedom was controversial among some Nazis. In 1938 a Nazi physician named Ferdinand Hoffman complained that 72 million condoms were used a year in Germany and that only 5% of the brides were till virgins. But some Nazis seemed to share distorted versions of Reich’s sexual beliefs.
In his party-endorsed advice manual Sex – Love- Marriage (1940), the Nazis psychologist Dr. Johannes Schultz described sex as a “sacred” act and endorsed child and adolescent masturbation and extramarital sex, calling for all young women to throw off the shackles of repression to enjoy the “vibrant humanness” to which they were entitled. Like Reich, Schultz differentiated between the hasty, superficial orgasm and the orgasm that led to a “very intensive resolution…extraordinary profound de-stabilizations and shakings of the entire organism.” Schultz, however, had a totalitarian solution for those who fell short of what Reich would have called an “orgastically potent” ideal: he called for the extermination of handicapped people and homosexuals, who he deemed “hereditarily ill”. Schultz forced homosexuals to have sex with prostitutes under his clinical gaze. Only those who achieved a satisfactory orgasm were saved a train ride to the camps.
Many on the left saw the Nazis sexual libertarianism as proof that Reich’s ideas were misguided. Reich’s former colleague, the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who incorporated many of Reich’s ideas into his best-selling Escape from Freedom (1941), questioned the link between sexual repression and authoritarian tendencies, arguing that the Nazis proved instead that sexual freedom did not necessarily lead to political freedom. Contrary to Reich, the philosopher Herbert Marcuse also observed how the Nazis Party actually encouraged sexual pleasure within the confines of a racial elite, thereby “nationalizing” the realm of even the most private act in the service of the state.
Two years after it was disowned by the Communists, The Mass Psychology of Fascism was banned and then burned by the Nazis, along with Reich’s other works. This particular book, however, developed a secret afterlife. Contraband copies were smuggled into Germany by the antifascist underground, disguised to look like prayer books. It was to become Reich’s most influential political work and the book on which his later intellectual reputation would principally be bases; it became required reading for postwar intellectuals trying to understand the Holocaust and by the 1960s it would become the seminal text for anti-authoritarian groups in both Europe and the United States.
In Anti-Freud; Karl Kraus’s Criticism of Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry,one way Thomas Szasz represents the views of Canetti’s idol of those years in the works of Egon Friedell , who objected to psychoanalysis as a non-falsifiable set of propogandistic propositions:
“ It is impossible to convict the psycho-analysts of a false diagnosis, as they are such adepts in refuting all criticism by means of catch-words with which they make play – terms like “ambivalent,” “inverted,” “symbolic,” “repressed,” “transferred,” and “sublimated. The convincingness of their argumentation here rests on the assumption that the pettifogging verbal quibble is the organizing principle of all spiritual life.”
“Many psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, social scientists, and intellectually (Szaz continues) generally still find it rather shocking to see psychoanalysis bracketed with Marxism, Communism, and even National Socialism. Yet the logic of this classification – namely- that psychoanalysis is the name of a militant sect, not of a medical science, of a cult, not a cure – is irrefutable.”
Adventures in the Orgasmatron; How The Sexual Revolution Came to America. By Christopher Turner; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, N.Y. 2011.
The Memoirs of Elias Canetti, 1999.
Anti-Freud by Thomas Szasz; Syracuse University Press, 1976