“The fascist madman cannot be made innocuous if […] he is not tracked down in oneself; if we are not conversant with the social institutions that hatch him daily.” (i)
— Wilhelm Reich
With the conquest of Berlin carried out by the Red Army, the Third Reich and the Second World War ended in Europe on May 8th 1945. With the unconditional capitulation of Germany, one of the worst massacres in human history came to its end. What happened under Hitler breaks the categories of conventional thinking in such a way that it has not been possible to really grasp or work through this history to this day. The trauma of National Socialism lies undigested and unresolved in the suppressed psychological underground of the German society and its ramifications persist to this day.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno said that it is ‘barbaric’ to continue writing poetry after Auschwitz. After such absolute barbarism, the systematic and anonymous extermination of millions of people in the Holocaust, there could not be poetic verse written any longer, according to him. While most people could only suppress the events of this time, there was also a movement of those deeply shaken, those who could not carry on with normal life after they had gotten to know the kind of atrocities people were in fact able to carry out. The slogan ‘never again fascism; never again war’ became their sacred vow. Connected to this was the true hope for peaceful renewal. With the establishment of the United Nations, and the declaration of Human Rights, world peace and the dignity of man was intended to be secured once and for all.
But how much of this hope has remained? Seventy years after Hitler, we do not live in a more peaceful world. On the contrary, there have never been as many slaves, as many people starving to death, as many refugees – such extreme injustice as today. More than one million civilians have died in the Middle East in the wars following September 11th 2001. Entire countries were bombed to ash, accompanied by torture, rape, and sadistic excesses. Obama continues this insanity with his drone crusades, a mechanized assassination campaign of colossal scale.
Europe currently lives under imminent threat of once again becoming the scenery of war among the global powers. In the confrontation between the West and Russia, there hardly seems to be any limit. The danger of nuclear war in Europe is closer than it has been for a very long time.
Parallel to this we experience, both in Europe and North America, the impoverishment of ever larger sectors of the population, and we see how small elites accumulate wealth in a way that leads to unprecedented forms of social inequality. People no longer have any prospect for the future and the anger toward the ‘corrupt ruling class’ is growing. These factors generate a social climate which can be compared to the situation at the end of the Weimar Republic. The extreme economic injustice paves the way for fascism. Just look at the rise of right-wing extremist parties in Greece, France, Hungary, et cetera. Why are we so certain that there is no longer the danger of a fascist eruption as it occurred in 1933? What happens with the great indignation if it cannot bring about societal change and transform social conditions? Already some years back, Noam Chomsky warned, “The mood of the country is frightening. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. (…) If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble (…). What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force.” (ii)
During the world economic crisis of the 1920’s and ‘30’s, communists held the firm conviction that the obvious failure of capitalism and the worsening social misery of the working class would logically need to result in a Socialist revolution. But history proved something else – the masses followed the extreme counter-revolution. We need to deeply understand the phenomenon of fascism to be sure to prevent its renewed eruption.
The Latent Structure of Violence: The Basis of Fascism in the Human Character
The novel The Wave by Todd Strasser is based on a true story from a California high school in 1967. Ron Jones, a young history teacher, wants to give his students experiential knowledge about the Third Reich, and begins an experiment. He gives his students common signs and ways of greeting; he introduces strict rules, harsh punishment, and even a secret police force. He transforms the class into a movement following the motto: “Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride.” (iii) Incredible enthusiasm spreads and the members of the new movement appear with great strength in public. More and more students from other classes join. The introverted ones, the ones who had never gotten a say, the nobodies – suddenly they are someone. ‘The Wave’ – this is now what gives meaning to their lives. Violence spreads and after a short time the situation spins out of control. Participants of the group beat up fellow students that do not want to join. Overnight average kids transform into a fascistic crowd. Overnight polite family fathers transformed into concentration camp assassins. Where does the fascination for such an emotional collective originate? And who of us that honestly looks inward and asks, ‘what would I have done in such a situation,’ could really be certain of a calming answer?
I joined the anti-fascist movement in Dresden, Germany after the NPD, a neo-Nazi party, was elected into state parliament with nearly ten percent of votes. I wanted to set a sign and rise up against the spreading fascist scene. In demonstrations against Nazis however, we too experienced the potential for violence hidden within ourselves – the exhilaration to fight against the opponent, regardless of whether fascists or policemen, to surround them, to attack them, to finish them off together. Again and again I came into downright ecstasy – we came into ecstasy – until at some point a spark of consciousness entered me. I began to understand that while fighting fascists, I became fascist myself. I knew that I needed to leave this scene in order to maintain my ethical integrity. Others felt the same. What is it within the human being that allows us to break all barriers of good education and reason? What is it that transforms us into violent monsters in such extraordinary situations?
Later I read a very pertinent thought from the psychoanalyst Dieter Duhm. He writes, “The ideological confessions are interchangeable so long as the human structures remain the same.”iv This is what Duhm calls the “most elementary fact of political life.” (v)
“Viewed with respect to man’s character, ‘fascism’ is the basic emotional attitude of the suppressed man of our authoritarian machine civilization,”(vi) writes the Austrian communist and student of Freud, Wilhelm Reich, in his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism published in 1933.
When, already in childhood, human beings are denied expression of their elementary emotional needs; when they are harshly rejected in the places they seek protection or want to trust; when they are punished with violence for expressing their natural drives; when in all societal institutions from the school to the military to the professional sphere, they are never honored as human beings but are repeatedly humiliated as obedient subjects – an indescribable pain and anger grows within, which no longer finds a constructive channel. We find this figure in countless biographies – in sexual perpetrators and dictators the same as in normal family fathers. What makes a mass murderer different from an average citizen? The Swiss psychologist, Alice Miller, discovered through her biographical case studies, ‘almost nothing.’ In both of them, the same structure of latent violence operates. And if this humiliation is experienced by nearly an entire nation, a murderous potential of hatred and blocked aggression arises in a society which will excitedly vent its anger against a presented enemy and will finally discharge itself in massacres and war.
Political Channeling of Blocked Life Energies
All imperialistic systems know this psychological underground and use it for their interests of power – National Socialism used similar mechanisms as the United States now does with their ‘war on terror’ propaganda. The apparatuses of violence could not maintain themselves if they did not obtain subconscious resonance in all of humanity. What would Hitler have been without the projections of millions of enraged Germans? What transformed the impoverished postcard painter from Austria into the ‘Fuhrer’ of the ‘Aryan race’ was the demonic power of blocked life energies in the entire population, which found common expression through his Nazi ideology. Hitler and his people did not care about rational arguments in the least; they exclusively counted on emotionally effective agitation. There was a ticking bomb in the psychological underground in Germany, and Hitler knew how to make it detonate.
What happened between 1933 and 1945 in Germany was the cruel culmination of the epochal madness embodied by 6000 years of patriarchal war history. It was the consequence of a global trauma, which was burned into humankind through the most horrible of means. After millennia where the experiences of escape, genocide, rape, and war have, time and again, been impregnated into the human soul, the global population lives under a genetic program of fear, defense, mistrust, and violence. This information pattern, the morphogenetic field of war, dominates humanity to this very day, and is continuously passed on. The perpetrators of today are the victims of yesterday; the victims of today are the perpetrators of tomorrow – until we recognize this insanity and break the cycle.
The Authoritarian Character
In all patriarchal societies Wilhelm Reich discovered more or less the same structures of ‘authoritarian character.’ On the surface the authoritarian human being is “reserved, polite, compassionate, responsible, conscientious.”vii There would be no societal problem if this superficial layer were connected with the authentic center of the human being, his ‘biological core,’ from which his true drives and impulses originate. Would that be the case, the human being would be faithful to truth, sexually free, loving, and creative without double standards and a hidden potential of violence. He would be authentically ethical without ever needing a moral codex. Ethical behavior would emerge from life itself. However, between this biological center and the modes of behavior in normal life, there is a suppressed, subconscious layer in between, which is full of “cruel, sadistic, lascivious, rapacious and envious impulses.” (viii)
The societal institution perpetuating this double-edged sword was, in Wilhelm Reich’s time, the nuclear family – its strongest means being sexual prohibition. People who, in childhood and youth, are strongly influenced by environments hostile to love and lust develop a chronic blockage of their elementary life energies; they develop ‘body armor.’ The original life impulses coming from the biological core – the impulses of movement, learning, and sexual impulses – will consequentially be diverted and distorted.
One has to imagine how this affects the soul of a child. One is punished by the parental authority to which one is surrendered without protection, this authority figure that one actually loves, for following a physical energy with curiosity, which is in fact connected to nothing other than the pure joy of life. No child is able to understand this, and thus inner confusion begins which cannot be easily dissolved. The sexual life power that had just been joyful and fascinating is, from then on, associated with rejection from the parents and is transformed into something threatening, frightening, disgusting – down to the point that it triggers fear of death. In order to survive, one identifies with the parents and takes on their position toward oneself. One lives in an inner contradiction between ones own drives, longings, and life energies on the one side, and a judging voice of the internalized societal authority on the other. Thereby the structural lie begins. One has to hide, suppress, and fight what actually triggers joy, what is authentic within oneself, and what cries out in justified anger. In this state of suppression, whatever reminds one of free liveliness and sexuality, poses a threat to this rigid inner order and needs to be rejected, for it stirs up the old trauma. Violence arises from this narrowness, from suppressed life energy.
Even if the times of the German empire are over, these mechanisms are still at work, even though they may be much more subtle. Nowadays where many people no longer grow up in traditional nuclear families, but in single-parent homes, it is predominantly the case that mothers are over-challenged and are thus indifferent to the inner movements of their children, while simultaneously the children are exposed to almost unlimited consumption and flooded with sexual stimuli through the media.
Psychological Archetypes of Fascism
National Socialism operated with psychological archetypes that radiated an almost irresistible attraction for people with authoritarian backgrounds. These archetypes originated from the neurotic internal realm in which they had grown up. In nearly mystical ecstasy, people submitted themselves to the ‘Fuhrer’ and found in him the great, strong father they themselves had never had. They found home in the ‘Aryan national community.’ In the Nazi’s mystical symbolism, the nation was synonymous with the mother, to which they were neurotically fixated through the sexual prohibition. In the ‘race theory,’ the fanatic fight against the ‘blood poisoning’ of the Aryan people was the direct reflection of their panic in regards to sexual impurity and perversion, which was actually hidden in themselves as unseen potential for sadistic violence, and from which they paradoxically attempted to purify themselves though exterminating people of another race. The polite, moralistic surface of bourgeois society was merely the pseudo-moralistic front under the boiling perverted substratum.
So long as the world is full of broken characters, of people that could never truly express themselves, totalitarian ideologies will always find fertile ground. Does the development of the Islamic State in the Middle East not currently display the urgency of this realization? What does it tell us about the inner constitution of our own societies that thousands of young men from Europe voluntarily join the Islamic State, a military force that is to transform large parts of the Middle East into a terror regime through brutality, crucifixion, and mass rape?
However we find the same structures in much more subtle a manner in our own society of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy.’ So long as people live in social systems which force them to lie and adapt themselves, there is always the danger of fascist eruption. So long as the cohesion of a society, community, or movement requires the exclusion of, and fight against minorities or chosen scapegoats, it is still structurally fascist. The same applies wherever an authority exercises violence against unprotected people and the masses just stand by watching. We experience this lack of engagement in our direct surrounding, but we also witness it on a much larger scale as a general lack of compassion and participation for the destiny of humankind and the Earth. How many people drown monthly in the Mediterranean Sea at the contrived borders of the European Union, while our security forces do nothing? Hans de Boer, who was in the resistance against Hitler already in his youth and later reported the cruel structures of dominance inherent in globalized capitalism, said, “Indifference is the fascism of our time.” (ix) The more indifferent people are and the smaller their active participation in the political and global process, the more subtle totalitarian systems can operate and the easier it is for them to destabilize and exploit nations in other parts of the world. The existing society presents itself as being open and tolerant, ecological and friendly, but it is based on an unspoken agreement as to what is allowed to be said and what not. If one dares to go even an inch beyond this convention and asks questions that threaten the ideological foundation of society, for example asking whether the September 11th attacks were in fact carried out by the United States government itself, then one is labeled in a way that one’s public reputation can be instantly switched off.
What is to be Done Against Fascism?
Neither political appeals nor moral indignation can structurally overcome fascism. We do not need preaching words. We need a new direction for the high voltage powers of the human soul, a perspective for transforming the latent violence within ourselves. Die Ärzte, a German punk band, sang, “Your violence is only a silent cry for love. Your military boots long for tenderness. Because you are afraid of cuddling, you are a fascist.” x They hit a deep core of truth. Would these young men really join the Islamic State, and back then would have millions of Germans become Nazis, had they a true perspective for love? If we want a world without cruelty, we need to create forms of life in which no person need compensate their boundless longing for love, sexuality, acceptance, adventure, and community with violence any longer.
The ethical laws with which people tried to make the blocked and traumatized human character more noble did not survive the hardships of history. However, it is not the human being himself which is brutal, but the suppression of human nature. When a constricted body of water floods and causes devastation, the question is: what is violent? Is it the river or is it not much more the concrete bed in which it was forced to move through? Both water and the human being need to be liberated from the narrow systems they have been pressed into. When water is allowed to flow freely, it unfolds its life-giving power for all of nature. Freely flowing rivers purify themselves from poison, for they are full of life. They expand and contract, but they do not destroy the surrounding land; they nurture and fertilize it. The same is true for the human being. If he can grow up freely and express himself from the beginning, if he finds adults he can trust and take seriously, if he finds orientation and clarity and can unfold his power in all directions, his humane, compassionate, and helping nature reveals itself. He will never tolerate a totalitarian regime or any other cruelty. No person that knows true trust and experiences acceptance will ever be able to intentionally hurt another human being.
In order for this other side of the human being to be able to reveal itself, we need new ways of life whereby the human being can, as Wilhelm Reich would say, reconnect to his biological core and overcome the historic trauma. Overcoming the structure of fear is an existential issue of our collective survival today, for the political and economic mechanisms, through which humanity is destroying itself and its basis for life, are the result of humanity’s collective trauma. More and more people around the world recognize the lack of solution within the existing systems and are searching for a new way. We need a planetary movement that is able to unite all these powers in a common action and that sets foundations for a nonviolent way of inhabiting this planet. The matrix of violence and fear that has dominated the Earth for thousands of years needs to be completely replaced by a new global information pattern of trust and cooperation. In order to make this inner and outer system change possible, we need convincing future models where a new way of life is researched and manifested in example cases. The shift from the pattern of structural violence to the pattern of compassion and trust is not a matter of group therapy, but of fundamentally redesigning our entire society. In his latest book, Liebe [Terra Nova: Terra Nova: Globale Revolution und Heilung der Liebe. Global Revolution and the Healing of Love – English edition to be published Autumn 2015], Dieter Duhm summarizes the foundations of such a paradigm shift as it became visible through nearly forty years of experiential research. Duhm therein outlines a global peace strategy: the Healing Biotopes Plan. The plan proposes establishing complex model centers in which the information pattern of a nonviolent way of life is to be manifested in concrete life structures – societal models for dissolving the collective trauma. Such places have already been in development for many years. As this research becomes evermore grounded and complex, the first real-life laboratories emerge as models for a new society of structural peace. It is new ways of socializing, new forms of human coexistence, new communities that allow stable trust to develop among people. Trust is the key to a humane culture. Imagine what this practically means – genuine trust between parents and children, between lovers, between people and nature. An absolute revolution after 6000 years of patriarchy!
In Terra Nova, Duhm writes, “When the informational matrix of peace becomes more powerful than the information of violence, the steering impulses of violence will be extinguished in the human genetic system. The vile war epoch would thereby come to its end. The genetic switch of humanity was adjusted to fear and withdrawal through historic processes of violence and extermination. Through elementary processes of trust and building community it will be shifted to cooperation and solidarity. We can give evolution a new direction when we succeed in flipping the switch in this central area and establishing new genetic information.” (xi)
At the same time we also need new economic, ecological, technological systems that allow self-sufficient supply of water, food, and energy, and a nonviolent relationship toward animals and all co-creatures of the biosphere. As soon as the first models succeed in establishing a functioning alternative, also for the social and inner human issues, this experience can be had in many other places too. There, where fear vanishes, hostility and violence vanish as well. People can no longer be instigated against one another. A new chapter of our evolution begins – the era of the autonomous human being.
I would like to conclude with a passage that the young Jewish Dutch woman, Etty Hillesum, wrote in her diary shortly before her execution in Auschwitz in 1943. She writes, “The misery is really big, but nevertheless, I often walk late in the evening when the day behind me has sunk away into profundity. I walk with whipping steps along the barbed wire and then it wells up out of my heart again and again – I cannot help it, it is the way it is, it is of an elementary power: life is something wonderful and big, later we have to build up a whole new world – and each further crime and each further cruelty we have to contrast with a further piece of love and goodness which we have to conquer within ourselves.” (xii)
Her words are a legacy and an assignment for us all. Never again fascism; never again war!
(i) Reich, Wilhelm. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. [A Psicologia de Massas do Fascismo]. Nova Iorque: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970. xv-xvi. Print.
(ii) Hedges, Chris. “Noam Chomsky Has ‘Never Seen Anything Like This’.” [Noam Chomsky ‘Nunca Viu Nada Assim’] TruthDig. N.p., 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 1 May 2015.
(iii) Strasser, Todd. The Wave. [A Onda]. Nova Iorque: Dell, 2005. Print.
(iv) Duhm, Dieter. “Nonviolence: Attempt at an Answer.” [Não-Violência: Esboço de uma Resposta] Terra Nova Voice. N.p., 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 02 May 2015.
(vi) Reich, Wilhelm. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. [A Psicologia de Massas do Fascismo]. Nova Iorque: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970. xiii. Print.
(vii) Ibid., xi
(viii) Ibid., xi
(xi) De Boer, Hans. Universidade Internacional de Verão. Tamera, Portugal. Agosto, 2002. Discurso. I
(x) “Die Ärzte – Schrei Nach Liebe Lyrics.” www.lyricsmania.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2015.
(xi) Duhm, Dieter. Terra Nova: Globale Revolution und Heilung der Liebe [Terra Nova: Revolução Global e a Cura do Amor]. Belzig: Verlag Meiga, 2014. Print.
(xii) Hillesum, Etty. An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-1943. [Etty Hillesum: Uma Vida Interrompida: Diários e Cartas de Etty Hillesum 1941-1943]. Introdução por Jan Geurt Gaarlandt, tradução de Arnold J. Pomerans. Nova Iorque: Pantheon Books,1984