Reich and Little Rock

Brave young black students comprised the Little Rock Nine, a group that integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in September 1957, flanked by jeering white racists on one side and a cold military presence on the other. US president Bill Clinton created a dramatic scene of his own last Thursday when he greeted the now adult nine at the school with a grip and a grin, and directed them through it's glass doors as a cheering crowd looked on. The White House had orchestrated a warm celebration of school integration, a social engineering triumph. Dogs sniffing for bombs in Ryder trucks at nearby abortion clinics, however, provided a measure of how the psychological, emotional and social dimensions of racism in the US still have been left unaddressed. The plight of the Little Rock Nine was not the only social oppression that America suffered in 1957, of course. Wilhelm Reich had been thrown in jail for daring to explore human energy potential and therapeutic techniques not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He had been condemned as a medical quack, his books had been burned and his orgone boxes were destroyed. Reich had harmed no one and, indeed, had helped many with his understanding and manipulation of "life energy." The FDA never truly followed Reich's scientific protocols and convicted him only on technical violation of its injunction to stop distributing orgone boxes. Authorities threw him in a prison cell in Lewisberg, PA from which he did not emerge alive. In memos to the prison chaplain before his death, however, Reich continued to write passionately about the social situation of his adopted homeland. His note from September 1957 even includes reference to the disturbance at Little Rock Central High School. He emphasized the very psychological and emotional undercurrents he felt were being ignored in the broader social arena of conspiratorial 1950s America: "I am merely fulfilling my public duties as a U. S. citizen and worker in planetary affairs if I continue to point out where the true danger to our social and personal existence is placed: its is Emotional Poisoning: disruption through sowing distrust throughout our society, doping and drugging of our population, espec. our YOUTH; draining us financially through areas [...]race, a camouflage of the true menace, the Emotional Poisoning a la Little Rock racial upheavals; keeping our high placed officials at bay through fear of sexual scandals, railroading efficient men and women into prisons or lunatic asylums through [?] up there environments; subverting justice by whispered little lies & frightening or using judges. Doing all this destruction unnoticed as it were by all those responsible. It was clear from the very beginning that [?] and now lyrics were subverted by such use of stupidities & evasions on our part, especially by the staid reluctance to talk bluntly and take the bull by the horns. The bull is really no more tan a few slimy tape worms eating away at our emotional guts. It is high time to start giving social power to the established functions of Love, Work & Learning as bastions against the tapeworms." (The prison memo form includes this banal and perhaps prescient statement: "Your failure to specifically state your problem may result in no action being taken.") Reich's imprisonment was in part the end result of mis- reporting on him that appeared in the New Republic under the editorial leadership of a now-confessed spy named Michael Straight (see "Toxic Disinformation" below; for information on Straight, see Steamshovel Press #8). New Republic made its own pronouncement about Little Rock in its July 7, 1958 edition, complaining about the Supreme Court's failure to stop legal challenges that were slowing down the integration process. The Supreme Court, opines New Republic, "must stand the ground they themselves have assumed, or the grand experiment they inaugurated will end in bitter farce, with consequences for the state of the union that stagger the mind." Clearly the magazine had a better view of the possible consequences of Supreme Court actions than it did on its own. The consequences of Reich's work, on the other hand, and the implications of the study of character structure on the understanding of race issues has continued over the years. Writing in a chapter called "Racism and Slavery" in The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Company, 1972), historian George Rawick notes the impact of "that great underground classic of modern thought, Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis, 3d ed. rev., first published in German in 1933, and its less well-known but significant companion, Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, first published in German in 1933. While I cannot subscribe to all of Reich's system, this chapter could not have been written without his monumental attempt to relate Marx and Freud which loosened the ideological armouring of Western rationalism for me and many others." --Kenn Thomas