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Work Democracy and The Mass Psychology of Fascism
(and a few other random comments on current social and political matters)
Below is the text of a paragraph from our news page about a possible connection between Wilhelm Reich and George Orwell. The information is in connection with our entry of Artificers of Fraud for the Orwell Prize. Needless to say, there is a big connection between authoritarianism, work democracy, and orgonomy. The possible influence of Reich on Orwell's writing of 1984 has been overlooked by the huge industry of Orwell studies in UK cultural life. This is probably because very few members of UK academe or the London literati possess any deep knowledge of Reich's works. This was very clear in the reviews of the Orgasmatron book.
There is, I believe, quite a significant connection between Orwell and Reich. Those of you who have read Nineteen Eighty Four will remember how the Party plan to 'abolish the orgasm' and how loving sexual contact between a couple is a 'thought crime.' The Party seems aware of the fact that sexual surrender is the last area in which they have no control over the thoughts and emotions of Party-members and that someone capable of feeling this ecstatic contact cannot be coerced by others. The heroine, Julia, who to cover her apostasy, is an activist in the 'Anti-Sex League', referring to all the hate-filled marching and parading that the regime encourages and organises, points out how it is all undischarged sexual energy, a very orgonomic insight. I can't help wondering if Orwell had read The Function of the Orgasm. It was published in 1942 so he could well have seen a copy. At the time Orwell was writing Nineteen Eighty Four Reich was quite popular amongst the London anarchist community. Many of them would have also owned or read Reich's Mass Psychology, which had appeared before World War II and was republished for the first time in English in 1946. Orwell had friends in this community. They cited Reich's concept of work democracy as support for their advocacy of a self-governing society. A chapter in one of Reich's early writings, (?The Sexual Revolution), is actually called Towards a Self-Governing Character Structure. Orwell's life, reading habits, and outside influences have been ploughed over to the nth degree by members of the 'Orwell industry', a thriving enterprise in the UK literary world, so we would have expected someone to have made the connection already, but Reich is, of course, a name not to be mentioned in the world of the London literati and anyway few of them, if any at all, will have enough of a deep textual knowledge of Reich's work to recognise the connection. (4. 1. 14.)
YouTube Video Affirms Reich's MPF
I have just come across an excellent video on YouTube that gives a profound insight into the attractions of Fascism and Nazism for concerned people before World War II, before it was obvious to everyone what these doctrines were going to bring down on the heads of European societies. Here is the link - http://youtu.be/FwpiOb6Bneg . Apart from the foreground topics, the interviews with well-known collaborators and sympathisers, note the frenetic sexualised excitation of the crowds greeting and applauding Hitler during Nazi parades and ceremonies. This video shows graphically the enormous power of the Nazi appeal to the guts of ordinary citizens. It confirms Reich's observations and theories on the bio-energetic foundations of the fascistic character structure and is all the more impressive, because the makers of the film probably know nothing of Reich's book and are simply citing the evidence of their own eyes. The film seems to be a recording of a UK TV programme, though the information given does not give the date of production. (20. 12. 13.)
Work Democracy, Spontaneous Generation and Scientific Fraud
There is a functional identity between bionous disintegration and the spontaneous generation of living, motile forms (bions) and the spontaneous organisation of democratic work processes. I touch on ths important topic in Artificer of Fraud, thanks to information given me by my orgonomic colleague in the US, Dr Philip Bennett. He pointed out to me that within a few years of each other Reich wrote two articles beginning with identical wording - The Spontaneous Organisation of.... Work in Work Democracy (1939) and ... Protozoa from Orgone Energy Vesicles (1942). I put forward the theory that Brown's discovery of bionous motility and the bions, described in his famous 1828 paper on Active Molecules, was suppressed by the social power and influence of the powers-that-be for fear of encouraging the dangerous possibility of rebellion from below, that is, work democracy. If you want to read the whole story, you will just have to buy the book, won't you? (All profits to go to C O R E's building fund.) (6. 4. 13.)
Important Posting on Psychorgone Website: Egyptian 'Revolution'
Will It Last?
http://www.psychorgone.com/sociology/jubilation-in-cairo-would-it-last-an-orgonomic-analysis This is the link to an important posting by Dr Stefan Simonian on the mystical, illusory hopes of the crowds in Egypt baying for the departure of their oppressor, Mubarak. As he points out, they have got rid of him and...? Things are not really different because the forces that crush human vitality in Egypt still have the culture in their totalitarian, anti-life grip. Those anti-life forces exist and have their energy in most individual Egyptians. How can there possibly be any profound human freedom when men want to surround a woman, kidnap her, and sexually assault her as they drag her away, pleading unemployment and economic oppression as the reasons for their revolting behaviour? (One of the protestors recently in Tahrir Square in Cairo, explaing why they were doing this, on a BBC Radio 4 news programme.) Please read his posting, especially if you are new to orgonomy and are trying to understand today's world. (13. 2. 13.)
Anecdotal confirmation for my theory of The Depth Psychology of Consumerism
As a ploy to make Radio 3 more attractive to the casual listener the morning program Essential Classics includes a daily interview with some famous person in the arts, in which they talk about the significant classical music in their life and related matters. This morning, (August 8th), the actress Jane Asher, talking of a particular movement of a Beethoven symphony, (I think it was the last movement of the first symphony, for anyone who is interested), said that it really excited her. It made her feel really alive and want to 'go out and buy a frock or something like that.'
The dynamics of this are close to those of the rabble-rousing orator, who having mobilised the quiescent bio-energy of his listeners, then steers that energy towards political violence and racial/political hatred. Advertisers drum up excitation and try to attach it to the urge to spend money and buy things. People are so used to this dynamic that it now functions even without overt commercial pressure. Feel lively and excited? Go out and buy something. Miss Asher could not have said it more clearly. (8. 8. 12.)
Various events and coincidences have recently reminded of the great relevance of Reich's classic, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, first published in 1933 and still in print. One of the most striking experiences has been my viewing of a series of videos on YouTube, called Mein Krieg (My War). This is obviously an old German TV program made in the nineties. It consists of film-clips taken on hand-held miniature cine-cameras during the war in Russia by ordinary soldiers as their own souvenirs, not for broadcasting publicly. The program also included long interviews with the soldiers who had made the films. It is a graphic revelation of the authoritarianised mind of the ordinary Nazi citizen-soldier of the time. A shocking aspect of the program is how guilt-free and self-justifying some of the men still were at the time of the interviews. The films give us a much realer picture of war than the dramatic newsreels of the day, which on both sides were made to show their own side in a positive, even heroic light, even though the men had not filmed at all during action. These are film of the incidental, everyday life of war between battles - eating, drinking, socialising, lying wounded in a hospital, travelling home on leave and back, lying dead by the roadside, getting buried, burying ones comrades, shaving by a roadside water-pump, and so on.
One incidental episode is an unbelievable testament to the quality of German optical equipment. One of the men talks of the actual hand-held camera which he had used and says he thinks he still has it somewhere. The camera in the contemporary program shows him going to a large storage cupboard full of things and him ferretting about amongst the items there. Eventually he locates the camera, an old Leica, winds it up and presses the button, and we hear it running smoothly, still ready to film again! (Added 14. 6. 12.)
This is a new page on a topic that is almost completely neglected by many students of orgonomy, especially those whose main interest in Reich's work is in the psycho-therapeutic. He wrote a significant essay on The Natural Organisation of Work in Work Democracy in 19391 and this was incorporated in later editions of The Mass Psychology. Perhaps interest in this side of Reich's work is so limited because of the ideological influence of the very conservative US orgonomic bodies. Work democracy definitely reminds us of Reich's radical social interests and his disillusionment with conventional political party politics, while he still remained aware of how anti-life industrial 'democracy' was in his time.
So...what is work democracy? As I understand it, and occasionally have experienced it, it is what happens when individuals without too much armouring carrying out a common task 'click' together to complete that task without any hidden emotional agenda, without the need for spurious, dignity-enhancing authority, often indeed, without any authority at all, and where, when authority is exercised, it is exercised for the benefit of the task, not to enhance the power, income, or status of the person exercising it. As soon as the situation that calls forth the need for the functional authority has passed the authority passes. It may be handed over to another individual or group as the demands of the task change.
Imagine a group of us is building our orgonomic research and teaching centre. We are a mix of unskilled volunteers, a few people with some building experience, and a small nucleus of professionally trained volunteers. The first job is to dig out the trenches for the foundations. For this job to be done effectively and safely, so that the rest of the building can sit safely on the foundations the job needs some input from an engineer with experience and knowledge in this field. We have such a person and he is in charge, because of his expertise. His instructions to the workers are the minimum required to get the job done in the way it needs to be done. The job has been laid out, markers and posts and so on set up and people know what to do. The job starts and he sits back and reads the paper. He has no need for managerial 'presentism'. As long as the job is progressing happily, he is not needed. Now and again he strolls round to make sure everyone is getting on OK. Someone comes across a great big, apparently immovable lump of stone under the ground. The 'manager' works out a solution to this problem, which he has seen before. The work in that area is re-organised and carries on. He comes back after a while to make sure that his plan is working. It is and the job continues. And so on, to the point where the trenches are complete and ready for the concrete. There has been no bossing about, only advice and explanation.
The next weekend (the work is only done at the weekends, because of the need for the volunteer labour force to be free), the foundations are poured. As the concrete sets another volunteer, a retired brick-layer, who will be responsible for organising the building of the walls, gradually starts taking over authority for this task. He is thinking of all the demands made by the future walls and their construction, the damp-course, and making sure everything is going to be OK for the brick-laying to start the following week. His authority overlaps with that of the man who has been directing the construction of the foundations. They walk round discussing various points and possible problems. There is animated discussion and conflicting suggestions. But the point of the debate is not the self-promotion of either party or the winning of an argument, it is the achievement in mind, the construction of a usable building, fit for for our purposes.
The very definitely undemocratic process that we see so often in work projects is what happens when someone puts forward a plan and attaches their own ego to it, making it their aim to push the plan through, not for the benefit of the task in hand but for the sake of their own status and power. We cannot imagine such a person saying during a discussion, oh, yes, that's a much better idea. Let's do it that way. Why didn't I think of that before?
As we see, work-democracy 'happens' as the result of spontaneous emotional contact between individuals and an awareness of the necessities of the overall project, not because of an ideology or a plan in advance. Authority shifts, waxes and wanes, and may even disappear for a while. A sure sign of work-democratic authority is a situation when someone in authority appears and has no effect on the work in hand and the workers simply carry on as before. As anyone who has worked in a big organisation like the UK NHS knows, this is not typically what happens when a senior manager appears.
What does Reich say about work-democracy? Does he define it anywhere? The extract below is from the first English edition of The Mass Psychology.
Natural work democracy exists and is in constant operation , no matter whether this or that political party or ideological group knows about its existence or not. The process of natural work democracy may be strictly at variance with existing social institutions, or it maybe more or less identical with them. This work-democratic process requires that social ideologies and institutions be brought into harmony with natural needs and human relationships as they expresss themselves in natural love, in vitally necessary work and in scientific search. These living social functions can be hindered or they can be furthered, the working individual may be conscious of them or or not. But they cannot be destroyed. For this reason, they form the solid and only rational basis of any rational social process. (Page 265 of the 1946 edition.)
You are very unlikely to come across a work-democratic environment in any normal job or organisation in the modern industrial world with its typical 'top-down' management structure and authoritarian culture. You may be lucky enough, though, to experience occasional outbreaks of it when a random group of people working together by chance have a more work-democratic character structure than is common in our culture. A sure sign that work democracy is erupting is when you feel that a manager nominally above you and with power over you is experienced as a positve presence who you are glad to have there and not as a threat and source of pressure. When I worked in the British NHS I slowly became aware of this situation on some occasions when working on the delivery suite, as it is called, in our local maternity hospital. These units are often very busy and stressful to work in. Typically they are staffed by a senior midwife who has overall repsonsibility for what goes on there with a number of ordinary staff midwives under her and giving care to women in labour, as needed. The senior midwife will allocate the work according to the needs of the patients and the abilities and experience of the staff.
The demands of the work vary enormously. One woman may be seriously ill and be having intensive nursing care after an emergency Caesarean section, a massive blood loss, a blood-transfusion running in, a baby at death's door in the neo-natal intensive-care unit, and a distraught husband or mother in the wings. Another woman may have come in to have her third baby after two normal births and be 9cm dilated, almost ready to push, and you wonder why she has bothered to come. All that travel and the baby will be here safely in 15 minutes. The midwife in charge will allocate midwives to each woman according to her needs and the midwives' experience and capabilities, which, in theory, we hope, she knows. She would not allocate a newly qualified midwife to the woman in intensive care, unless, of course, the midwife in question had asked for some experience in giving that sort of care, in which case a work-democratically leaning manager would allocate that woman to that midwife, probably offering to help her out in case of difficulties. She would otherwise allocate the beginner to the multiparous woman about to push, though even that might be a bit demanding for a newish midwife, as things would doubtless develop very quickly with her. Keeping up with that can be quite demanding and need quick reactions.
I remember several occasions on delivery suite when there was a particular senior midwife in charge with a very democratic, supportive approach to the job and it was always much more enjoyable to work with her than with other managers. I always felt it was good to have her there. I knew she was an extra resource if things went wrong, not a source of pressure, a nuisance to be avoided and steered round, a feeling I and many other midwives had about other people who were in charge on delivery suite. You felt that you would be better off without them. When working with the first midwife, the shift always seems to pass very quickly and everything went right of its own accord. That in itself seems to be a symptom of a work democratic set-up developing. I guess that there is a lot of spontaneous orgonotic contact occurring in such a situation. You don't have to ask for help in a crisis. Colleagues know what is happening and appear when needed. The person nominally in charge is not a threatening presence but a supportive extra pair of hands, available when needed. Such a person in charge can wander round without any compulsion to interfere with or to check up on people.
[I am adding this paragraph much later than the rest of this essay. It is something that I have realised recently while reflecting on my experience of midwifery in the NHS. I think it is a sign of a democratic character structure in a manager or anyone in a 'superior' position with notional power over other workers that they will be quite at ease assuming the functions or duties of a subordinate and will be quite capable of doing this job without the least embarassment. What made me realise this was the memory of a situation that occurred very early on in my time, soon after qualifying. I was on the post- and anti-natal ward on a very busy day indeed and there was a staff shortage. There were often only three midwives staffing the ward anyway and this day someone must have been off ill and some senior person had to go to a meeting or something. I was the only midwife left. Now I can cope with a situation like that and it did not throw me at all. I just surveyed the work to be done, worked out my priorities, and started to get on with it. A few minutes later a manager appeared, someone who normally works in an office. She came to find me and said, 'Peter, I hear your're very short-staffed. I've come to help you out. Please give me something to do.' She was saying in effect, I am another pair of hands. I have come to work as an ordinary midwife. Give me a job, please. And as she spoke she was putting a plastic apron on and getting a pair of rubber gloves out. She was taking orders from me because I knew what was going on and what jobs were urgent priorities. I responded in kind, asking her to take over the care of the anti-natal patients, ie, pregnant women in hospital for one reason or another. I gave her a thumbnail history of the individual women, the same summary that I had been given when the shift started. She disappeared into the bay and got on with the job, as if this was what she did every day of the week. There was not the least awkwardness between us. An undemocratic manager, whose sense of herself was wrapped up with a sense of being above people all the time, superior to the squaddies who get their hands dirty, would not have been able to do that.]
It is very easy to automatically blame a senior person when there is an absence of 'democracy' in a work environment, but work democracy can only develop when every worker feels strong and confident as an individual and is willing to take responsibility for their work and the decisions they make. In practice very few people are strong enough to do that. Needless to say, a sense of one's own strength and competence can also be undermined by an authoritarian, suspicious manager.
I have experienced work democracy in action when running orgonomic events in the UK. The week or two before a conference is a really demanding, busy time with jobs falling out of the sky, as people enquire about last minute details and the many small jobs that can only be done at the last minute pile up. Just at the point when I think I can't take any more and will not run another conference, participants start to arrive and suddenly all the work is taken out of my hands. The catering arrangements are a good example of this. I undertake to provide a meal on the first evening and provide a basic supply of essentials such as tea, coffee, milk, bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables. The group know that they will be asked to manage the cooking and buying after that first evening. Immediately the catering is organised. I don't know how, as I am not party to the discussions and the organising that goes on, but I know that volunteers come forward, someone goes round looking at what we have got in the kitchen, and makes a list of what is needed for the next couple of days and the next morning an expedition is organised with a car and three or four helpers and in no time at all meals for the next couple of evenings are organised. I can sit back, do the teaching, and enjoy the food. The sudden change from a sense of being really overburdened to a sudden mood of relaxation is quite palpable. I see people getting together, discussing plans, debating what to eat and buy. The problems just solve themselves. There is no great big effort, few conflicts or quarrels. A spontaneous tradition that seems to have established itself without any arranged discussion is for participants from a particular country, if there are more than one, to prepare a national meal of food from their own traditions. So far I remember Italian, Cypriot, Brazilian, and Norwegian meals made by conference participants.
A particularly relevant section of MPF, still relevant to present-day politics, is where Reich describes the psycho-dynamics of the appeal to emotion of Nazi propaganda as opposed to the cebebral approach of the communist party hacks who wanted to lecture ot the workers on abstruse concepts of Marxist economics. While they were trying to do this, Hitler was appealing to the guts of the average down-trodden, authoritarianised worker, stirring up his bio-energy with appeals to his suppressed secondary impulses, all the hate, anger, and lust for revenge that such a person by virtue of their social deprivation and powerlessness would inevitably feel. Drum up all that stirring energy, which gives a little cog in the economic machine a sense of aliveness and power, and then point all that hostility and rage at the scape-goats for society's ills, in this case the Jews. Compared to the buzz of such an appeal, Marxist economics don't stand a chance.
This appeal to secondary impulses and the directing of the mobilised energy to whatever powerful, socially manipulating forces want is surely the dynamics of modern consumerist marketing. If the orgonomic concept of secondary impulses is new to you, please have a good look at The Function of the Orgasm or CharacterAnalysis.
1 Reich W (1939); Die Natürliche Organisation der Arbeit in der Arbeitsdemokratie, Politisch-Psychologosche Schriftenreihe, and No 4, (The Natural Organisation of Work in Work Democracy, Political-Psychological Writings, No 4), Sexpol-Verlag, Oslo.
Posted May 31st, 2012. Last revised or added to September 20th, 2017.
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