Wilhelm Reich

Authored by: Christopher Turner

Routledge Handbook of Psychoanalytic Political Theory

Print publication date:  September  2019
Online publication date:  September  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138696310
eBook ISBN: 9781315524771
Adobe ISBN:


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Wilhelm Reich was a psychoanalyst who attempted to fuse the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, thereby initiating what came to be known as Freudo-Marxism or the so-called Freudian Left. Reich came to believe that sexual repression not only caused neurosis but held people back from accepting revolutionary change. He coined the phrase ‘the sexual revolution’, launched a movement called Sex-Pol to help bring it about, and wrote stinging critiques of bourgeois sexual morality and impassioned calls for the sexual freedom of youth. The communist bureaucracy had dwindling sympathies for his psychoanalytically informed arguments, and in 1933, he was ejected from the party. Meanwhile, in 1934, the psychoanalysts excommunicated Reich for his communism. In 1939, to escape Nazism, Reich moved to the United States. Increasingly eccentric, he believed that he had discovered a new, libidinous energy coursing around the universe that he called ‘orgone’ and thought that he could accumulate it by sitting in a metal-lined box. Sitting in such boxes became fashionable among a disillusioned left, a counterculture that saw in Reich’s sexual protest a new politics. In 1957, Reich died in prison, having been accused of peddling his orgone boxes as a fraudulent cure for cancer.

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