Getting back to the installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in this section I discuss anarchist ideas connecting sexual repression with authoritarianism.
Authority and Sexuality
Anarchists who sought to understand the popular appeal of fascism turned to the work of the dissident Marxist psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Reich was unpopular in Marxist circles, having described Soviet Communism as “red fascism,” which resulted in his expulsion from the Communist Party. In his book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich discussed the role of the patriarchal nuclear family, legal marriage, enforced monogamy, religion and sexual repression in creating an authoritarian character structure (Volume One, Selection 119).
Reich’s work was similar to the earlier psychoanalytic anarchist critique of Otto Gross (1877-1920), who argued on the eve of the First World War, echoing Max Stirner, that previous revolutions “collapsed because the revolutionary of yesterday carried authority within himself.” Gross believed that “the root of all authority lies in the family,” and that “the combination of sexuality and authority, as it shows itself in the patriarchal family still prevailing today, claps every individuality in chains” (Volume One, Selection 78). Although he put greater emphasis than Reich on the “inner conflict” between “that which belongs to oneself” and the “authority that has penetrated into our own innermost self,” Gross also called for the sexual liberation of women and for a struggle “against the father and patriarchy” (Volume One, Selection 78).
The Japanese anarchist feminist, Takamure Itsue (1894-1964), argued that the ruling class viewed sexual fulfillment “as a mere extravagance for everyone except themselves” and “babies as eggs for their industrial machines… to be chained up within the confinement of the marriage system,” with the burdens of pregnancy, child birth and child rearing being imposed on women. She acknowledged the changes in sexual relations arising from the development of birth control, which potentially gave women more control over their lives, but as with Carmen Lareva and He Zhen before her, warned against mere “promiscuity.” For her, “genuine anarchist love” was based on mutual respect, such that those who seek it can “never be satisfied with recreational sex” (Volume One, Selection 109). The liberalization of marriage laws and the legalization of birth control were not enough, for men would continue to view women as sex objects and deny responsibility for child care.
In Spain, Félix Martí Ibáñez argued that sexual revolution, because it involves the transformation of individual attitudes and relationships, can neither be imposed from above nor completely suppressed by the ruling authorities. The sexual revolution must begin now, “by means of the book, the word, the conference and personal example.” Only then will people be able to “create and forge that sexual culture which is the key to liberation” (Volume One, Selection 121). That this would be no easy task was highlighted by Lucía Sánchez Saornil, one of the founders of the Mujeres Libres anarchist women’s group in Spain. She criticized those anarchist men who used notions of sexual liberation as a pretext for looking “upon every woman who passes their way as a target for their appetites” (Volume One, Selection 123). Such conduct either results in the reduction of women to “a plaything of masculine whims,” or alienates them from participation in the anarchist movement.
Some anarchists felt that Reich’s analysis overemphasized the role of sexual repression in the rise of fascism. A Spanish article suggested that a “completely healthy and well-balanced individual in terms of his sexual life may be a long way off from being a perfect socialist and a convinced revolutionary fighter,” for “an individual free of bourgeois sexual prejudice may lack all sense of human solidarity” (Volume One, Selection 119).
Others were more enthusiastic. Marie Louise Berneri (1918-1949) endorsed Reich’s argument that the “fear of pleasurable excitation” caused by conventional morality and the legally mandated patriarchal family “is the soil on which the individual re-creates the life-negating ideologies which are the basis of dictatorship.” She also drew on the work of the anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski, whose studies indicated that in those societies where people’s sex lives are “allowed to develop naturally, freely and unhampered through every stage of life, with full satisfaction” there are “no sexual perversions, no functional psychoses, no psychoneuroses, no sex murder,” in marked contrast to societies based on the “patriarchal authoritarian family organization.” Berneri accepted Reich’s claim that when his patients “were restored to a healthy sex-life, their whole character altered, their submissiveness disappeared, they revolted against an absurd moral code, against the teachings of the Church, against the monotony and uselessness of their work” (Volume Two, Selection 75). In other words, they became social revolutionaries.
Paul Goodman drew the connection between the repression of homosexual impulses among adolescent males and the war machine. These “boys” are made to feel “ashamed of their acts; their pleasures are suppressed and in their stead appear fistfights and violence.” In the army, “this violent homosexuality, so near the surface but always repressed and thereby gathering tension, turns into a violent sadism against the enemy: it is all knives and guns and bayonets, and raining bombs on towns, and driving one’s lust in the guise of anger to fuck the Japs” (Volume Two, Selection 11).
The libertarian communist, Daniel Guérin (1904-1988), wrote that “patriarchal society, resting on the dual authority of the man over the woman and of the father over the children, accords primacy to the attributes and modes of behaviour associated with virility. Homosexuality is persecuted to the extent that it undermines this construction. The disdain of which woman is the object in patriarchal societies is not without correlation with the shame attached to the homosexual act.” While Guérin urged people “to pursue simultaneously both the social revolution and the sexual revolution, until human beings are liberated completely from the two crushing burdens of capitalism and puritanism,” he agreed with Emma Goldman, Martí Ibáñez, and Paul Goodman that the process of sexual liberation must begin now, not after the revolution. Yet, as with Goodman, he also recognized that the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s “created a whole generation of ‘gay’ young men, profoundly apolitical… a million miles from any conception of class struggle,” casting doubt on the Reichian view that sexual liberation leads to social revolution (Volume Two, Selection 76).
Alex Comfort (1920-2000), who was also a pioneer of sexual liberation, suggested that part of the appeal of fascism lay in people’s consciousness of their own mortality and fear of death. Since “to admit that I am an individual I must also admit that I shall cease to exist,” people take refuge in the belief in “an immortal, invisible and only wise society, which can exact responsibilities and demand allegiances… Each sincere citizen feels responsibility to society in the abstract, and none to the people he kills… Fascism is a refuge from Death in death.” (Volume Two, Selection 20).