- Category: Analysis
- Published on Wednesday, 26 March 2014
- Written by Jules Alford
Whatever happened to the sexual revolution? It is noteworthy that hardly anyone on the left today proposes the sexual revolution as a desirable goal or programme. It is as though the notion of a global, systemic sexual revolution became as quaintly antique as the socialist revolution. But if the socialist revolution were to become a visible, historical actuality again then so would the sexual revolution.
Perhaps no other social theorist can claim to have explored the concept of the sexual revolution like the militant psychoanalyst and Communist party member Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) did in the 1920s and early 1930s or been as insistent that ending sexual repression entailed a global anti-authoritarian cultural revolution indissolubly linked to the socialist revolution. Such a dual revolution would necessarily eradicate the psychical basis of subalternity and conservatism. In contrast to conservatism, tradition, depository of a militant pedagogy of the oppressed, would be recharged with a revolutionary ‘now time’ through anamnesis.
Interestingly, Reich did not coin the term sexual revolution (he first used the term in 1930). This distinction belonged to Wilhelm Heinrich Dreuw in Die Sexual Revolution (1921), a work of enlightened jurisprudence advocating reform of sexual mores and more tolerant laws on prostitution in the hothouse of Weimar Germany (Bennett 2011: 41).
In developing a politics of sexual liberation Reich sought to create an alloy of Marx and Freud and though his sexual theories had undeniable infirmities, his model of the sexual revolution rested on a number of acute arguments about the role of sexual repression and inhibition in capitalism, whose operative locus – the family, was vital in reproducing bourgeois dominance.
Of the exotic, if faded ‘pop cultural’ Reich who captured the radical counter-cultural imagination of the 1960s: the supposed prophet of a libidinal utopia and ‘free love’ (actually coined by the American Owenite socialist John Humphreys Noyes in the 1840s who founded the 300 strong Oneida Commune that practised a form of primitive sexual communism for 40 years in New York state), the pioneer of body therapy, the cranky discoverer of orgone energy (the sexual energia that was literally the ‘stuff of life' and the cosmos or so Reich came to believe), we say nothing. That last – Reich’s orgone energy – was the outcome of Reich’s enduring vitalism that in his earlier political incarnation enjoined a return to spontaneity and nature before the repressive bridling of the libido by ‘civilization.’ Neither, for good or ill, do we explore the Reich who invented the ‘cloud buster’ or the natural scientist and US citizen who died of a heart attack in a US penitentiary after being persecuted by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Instead we maintain that Reich was far more interesting politically and theoretically before he ‘abandoned’ Marx and Freud at some point in the late 1930s.
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