Nigel Collingwood


Written 1988, for the International Socialist Journal, but not published.

We have all been, or still are, children. As children, under capitalism, we have all been, or are still being, oppressed.

The first statement is self-evident. The second may seem less obvious. Whereas it is arguable that the stress of life under capitalism, especially life in the working class, leads people to “take it out on the children” in neglectful, violent or sexual abuse, it is easy to assume that the majority of children are unscathed. I want to question this assumption. I will argue that specific patterns of psychological or emotional stress occur in capitalist society (though not necessarily only there), and that these impinge on us particularly at our most sensitive time, our first few years. The most difficult part of the argument concerns the precise relationship between the oppression and the capitalist system. This is hardly surprising. A similar problem arises over the oppression of woman, and its solution requires us to look at the role of women at different stages of the development of capitalism (see, for instance Harman 1984). In the case of children, such an approach would be easy enough as far as the early phase of capitalism is concerned, when children were an essential part of the productive process, and their treatment was by any definition extremely oppressive. Now, however, that children are relegated to a part, albeit an essential one in the process of reproduction of the labour force, a different approach is needed. I will argue that if we pay attention to a number of specific patterns of psychologicial stress, and in particular to the ways in which young children learn to cope with such stress, a picture emerges of a variety of character distortions, each of which has a function in capitalist society. Such a position was first adumbrated by Reich (1950): Every social order creates those character forms which it needs for its own preservation. If my argument leades to a somewhat less grandiose, more cautious. conclusion, it will still aim to show that one of the forms of oppression that capitalism needs and fosters is that of children.

It must be admitted that this claim can seem far-fetched. Much attention has been given to the oppression of women, blacks and gays. Surely the silence, at least until recently, about children suggests that their oppression is much less important. There has certainly been a great deal of public concern about the battering of children, and currently about the sexual abuse of children, but even the most pessimistic estimates of prevalence suggest that only a minority of children are so treated. Certainly, too, these extreme forms of oppression can be seen as consequences of the stress of life under capitalism, specially for the poorest. Rut the suggestion that all children are oppressed, at least psychologically, is not often heard. One reason could, of course, be that the statement is simply false. Another, however, could be that the sheer universality of the claim makes it difficult to examine. For its examination virtually forces us into the painful process of looking at our own childhood, and perhaps even more painfully, at our own way of bringing up children. Thus there is is strong temptation to go along with the position taken by the media, that oppression is significant only where it is gross, in the form of severe violence, acute neglect or sexual abuse. How comforting to be innocent, if indeed we are innocent, of such appalling oppression. By a simple piece of scapegoating we can thus deflect the awkward questions, even if the incidence of these forms of oppression is now thought to be higher than most people realised. Just as in the case of women, gays or blacks, to emphasise rape or actual physical attack can reduce the oppression to a problem of unfortunate individuals, so the current stress on gross oppression could avert our eyes from an all-pervading oppression that is too embarrassing for us to see.

What does “oppression” mean? At the emotional level it seems to connote bearing heavily down upon someone (as in “the heat was oppressive”), in extreme cases crushing them. But the core idea is surely that of this pressure constricting someone’s freedom, hampering then. They cannot do what they want to do. Yet to speak of wants can trivialise the notion, as though oppression meant no more than to curtail, the satisfaction of someone’s whims. Oppression is much more serious than that; it concerns not so much our wants as our needs. In so far as we are oppressed, we cannot do what we need to do. Further, because “need” is a word that implies an aim (as in “I need a knife to cut this bread”), we must spell out the aim that is forfeited because of oppression. Clearly this will differ as we consider one form of oppression rather than another, but the general statement would seem to be this: in so far as we are oppressed, we cannot do what we need to do in order to be fulfilled as human beings.

Now until recently that formulation could have been dismissed out of hand as vacuous, because it used to be thought that Marx held, and therefore Marxists were bound to hold, that there is no human nature, only a constantly changing “ensemble of social relations”. If this were true, then “fulfillment as human beings” would mean quite different things according to social and historical conditions, and oppression would have been defined in a way that is similarly relative to such conditions. However, since Norman Geras has both established with commendable rigour that Marx did indeed have a concept of human nature, and argued strongly that he was right in this, we can retain the above definition of oppression, and see how it can be related more closely to Marxist theory.

In doing this, we can stay with Geras a little longer. For his book brings out clearly how Marx’s concept of human nature was unpacked not only in the Aristotelian way of behaviour or ability (as in “man is a political animal, an animal that can speak, laugh etc.”, and for Marx “man is a producing animal”) but in terms of needs. The importance of this can be recognised as soon as we, recall that the aim of Marx’s writing is not merely “interpreting” society but changing it to an orientation not on profit but precisely on human needs. Following the German Ideology, Geras brings out Marx’s distinction between natural and physical needs on the one hand, and social requirements on the other, the former being geographically and the latter historically conditioned, but, all having an underlying commonality. He lists “food, clothing, shelter, rest and sleep; hygiene, healthy maintenance of the body, fresh air and sunlight; intellectual requirements, social intercourse, sexual needs” etc. The distinction between absolute needs and socially relative ones Can perhaps best be illustrated in the case of language. Human beings need a reasonably constant system of signs for communication, that is, a language or languages, but only in a given society do they need a specific language.

Do children have any (absolute) needs in addition to those of human beings in general? Yes, because they cannot yet fend for themselves in the acquisition of food, warmth, shelter etc. They need to be nurtured. Further, this nurturing cannot be confined to the bare provision of these physical necessities in simply taking care of them; children also need human warmth and companionship – they need to be held and cuddled, to see a recognised face and so recognise their own being; in a word, they need to be loved. Thus a provisional definition of the oppression of children will be: partially or totally to deprive children of the satisfaction of those physical and emotional needs that can be summarised as their need for care and love. To provide for these needs adults must have adequate resources, physical and psychological (or emotional). Now the relevance to capitalism to the first of these is obvious enough. Adults who are exploited will be likely to have insufficent physical resources properly to nurture children for whom they are responsible. A more difficult but quite crucial question arises over the psychological resources. What effect does capitalism have on the psychological resources of people looking after children?

The most obvious effect is that those people are usually two, and increasingly often one, in number. The bringing up of young children is within the nuclear family and thus essentially a private affair. Patterns of upbringing have differed widely over the centuries and from country to country (see de Mause 1982). But under late capitalism the extended family is less and less available (if it ever was all that salient) and the responsibility for children rests with parents. They are expected to provide the full range of emotional requirements for their children’s development, at least until they can go to play school. Indeed, until recently it wan assumed that one parent only, the mother, was really responsible for the well-being of young children. But the change from one to two carers, where it has occurred, is not necessarily a very significant gain, particularly in the first generation. How can fathers, themselves hardly fathered, father? (Nevertheless, the increasing involvement of fathers in bringing up children is an important inroad into the assumptions and emotional barriers of patriarchal society.) At the same time, there has been a large increase in the number of one-parent families so the privateness of rearing children remains substantially intact.

So, given that at most two people are, under capitalism, expected to provide all the emotional needs of their children, do they possess within their own emotional experience the necessary resources? Here we come to the nub of the question: necessary for what?

If (i) we mean, necessary for the continuation of capitalism, that is, necessary for taking part in an intensely alienating process that treats people as commodities, the answer is clearly: yes. Only a small proportion of each generation actually drop out of the process on account of emotional causes; they are too depressed or schizophrenic to be able to stay in or get into it, or even to want to (though this unwillingness to participate in the “advantages” of capitalism can also be seen as kind of sanity: whose consciousness is false?). The rest conform. They have learnt to take and occasionally to give orders; they fit into one or other of the basic two classes. In fact most of the time not all are required; they can suffer unemployment, or “enjoy the leisure society” (the same thing, of course), until needed to fight a war. As for unemployment, parents are not very good at producing the kind of character that does well in this situation, but the increases in depression, addiction and suicide do not affect capitalism. As for military service, they have hitherto usually brought up children ready when adult to fight and die for national causes, and we will shortly be looking at suggestions as to why they have been so successful in this.

If (ii) the question is whether parents have the emotional resources necessary not for capitalism’s continuation, but for the full development of their children, the answer must be: no. Most parents still regard their children as their property, and see their central task as to train them in obedience. There is love, but it is on condition. When the child “oversteps the mark”, the climate is very different on the other side of the mark, where the experience is of emotional guilt and often physical pain. Parent rejects child, but child dare not reject parent. Instead, parents are seen as right in inflicting whatever punishment is given, and children see themselves as worthy to be punished and therefore as bad persons. Repeated experience of this kind is precisely not conducive to human development. To return briefly to the material side, poverty clearly exacerbates this; it is much harder to bring up children with unconditional love if you live in one room with only distant access to space for play. But the fundamental difficulty lies in parents not having received such love themselves.

To justify and expand this last assertion we can turn to the work of Alice Miller. She is a Swiss psychoanalyst who has revived Freud’s early thesis that neurosis arises from actual traumatic events in childhood, as against his later view that it is due to fantasies derived from instincts. In a series of three books (1983, 1985, 1987) she argues that in line with the tradition of pedagogy, children are still regarded as animals to be tamed, that they are tamed by emotional and physical violence such that their only way to express the emotions they dare not show to their parents is to inflict similar punishment on their own children. Thus conscious pedagogy is seen as a rationalisation of a sick process of acting out unacknowledged feelings; the process may ore may not include actions now characterised as child abuse, sexual or otherwise. Miller tends to concentrate on the severe cases that have come to her consulting room. But it is consistent with her thesis to maintain that the same process in its more moderate forms is virtually universal in our society; so that the current awareness of abuse, though genuine, can also be seen as a distraction from what is still taken for granted as “upbringing”.

Thus there seems to be a cycle of oppression, each generation not realising that its moral and/or physical violence upon the next is a retaliation for the violence received from the preceding one. The only way Miller sees of breaking the cycle is by psychoanalysis, albeit of a thoroughly neo-Freudian, or perhaps more accurately, proto-Freudian kind. Here the analyst, instead of taking the side of the parents and blaming the child for her baseless fantasies, takes the side of the child, thus becoming “advocate” for the child (who is now the “inner child” of the person being treated). Even if this approach is correct, it is still as utopian as any purely psychological, i.e. individual, approach to general problems. Nevertheless it is encouraging that in this country there is an attempt to find a slightly less cumbersome approach, in the Institute for Self-Analysis.

Miller’s work brings great clarity to the concept of childhood oppression, and it is based on a lifetime of clinical practice. But because it sees the process as universal over time and space it cannot easily be related to a Marxist perspective of change based on changing modes of production and social relations. The references in her work to society are largely untheorised, except in so far as war is seen as yet another way of acting out repressed emotions. If we wish to find a more socially oriented approach, it is necessary, to look at the work of Wilhelm Reich.

Reich had come to some conclusions not altogether dissimilar from those of Miller, as can be seen from the way A S Neill was able to put then into practice in his school at Summerhill . No doubt the school was elitist, but it expressed the insight of Reich, and now of Miller, that (in the words of a T-shirt slogan I will never forget) “kids are people”. For our purposes perhaps the central point is Reich’s thesis in the Mass Psychology of Fascism that authoritarian parents are working out their childhood oppression while behaving submissively towards their superiors. This can be seen as an example of the generalisation already quoted, that “each society creates the character forms necessary for its preservation”. Here we have a dynamic relationship between oppression and social systems, and at the same time a historical perspective. The historical dimension has been taken up more recently in the writings of Lloyd de Mause (1982), whose work on the history of childhood assembles much evidence to support a theory of stages from infanticide to empathic parenting. Yet this assumes a progressivist view of history that is untenable; one has only to remember that our own age burdens children with a quite unprecedented oppression in the threat of nuclear extinction.

Does this social and historical perspective enable us to see childhood oppression in any significant relationship with capitalism? Yes, If we draw on Reich’s concept of character structure. Reich noticed that children whose development is distorted by adult behaviour are unable to express some of their feelings; instead, they defend themselves by (a) adopting mental and emotional attitudes that feel safer and (b) creating bodily tensions that will keep threatening feelings at bay. These attitudes and tensions can become habitual, and so form a kind of armour that protects the person from reality, but also distorts their perception of reality (here the Marxist can make connections with the theory of false consciousness). The only way to get rid of this character armour is, for Reich, through therapy that works both on the psychological and the physical levels. Historically, his emphasis on the physical side of great importance, while for the Marxist it has the further interest of an insistence on the “material base”, albeit now of the individual person rather than of the society.

The advantage of this formulation is that it lets us see the oppression as variegated, and thus avoid a monolithic explanation. For parenting can be not only physically violent, but neglectful, overdemanding, seductive, over-protective etc. We can begin to relate these forms of oppression to types of upbringing in the previous generation. However, a caution is needed. Although the character types can be clearly delineated, this does not mean that they often, indeed ever, appear in their “pure” form in individuals. Everybody in our society in fact has character structure to some degree, but as a mixture. Once this is understood, the danger of some crude kind of “labelling” can be avoided. The character forms are rather like primary colours, out of which any number of shades can be blended. It can also be helpful to see character structure in a more fluid way, as a set of “positions” that one can take up from time to time according to the demands of different situations, rather in the sense of a variety of “moods”. Character can then be seen as a series of layers, some more deeply buried, and less often exposed, than others. Thus we can speak in everyday language of a normally gentle person having “a cruel streak”.

Here seven basic character structures will be considered. They will be enough to bring childhood oppression, seen now as the point where character structure is formed in each generation, into relation with capitalist exploitation. (For a more detailed exposition, that relates the theory more closely to Marxist principles, see my article, 1986.)

The schizoid character structure. The central feature here is a withdrawal from contact with other people, and often a split in bodily consciousness. e.g. between the head and the rest of the body. It arises because as an infant the person experienced overwhelming feelings of desertion and abandonment. The consequent pain had to be repressed, and relief was found in the world of the imagination, i.e. in the head. People with a severe amount of the schizoid in their make-up find even everyday contact with others fraught with difficulty; on the other hand they may he very intelligent and able to use their mental fortress to great advantage.

Capitalism needs this aspect of personality in the “back-up” boys and girls of its productive (and educational!) systems. Their withdrawal from feelings can make it relatively easy for them to undertake tasks where others might flinch, for instance in research into nuclear or chemical arms. Capitalism also helps in the creation of the character, since poverty and inadequate housing can make it difficult for parents to give young children the contact they need. (However, it must be remembered that this picture is being made with very broad brush strokes. Children can be schizoid from birth, which compels us to look at prenatal factors in order to understand what has happened. This dimension is discussed in the article referred to, but is omitted here for reasons of brevity.)

The schizoid element in parents: in so far as they are schizoid, parents cannot relate spontaneously and lovingly towards children. They cannot give them hugs and cuddles. But children need these things. Lack of them is a form of oppression just as truly as the more obviously violent forms. In fact it can be seen as an individual parallel to institutionalised violence, such as apartheid. The infant feels rejected and abandoned, and is set for the same defensive reaction against trust as the parents were driven to, leading again to the adoption of the schizoid character structure.

However, the picture is not as simple as that, since there is another possible reaction to rejection and abandonment, the hysterical one. The hysterical character structure: this second way of reacting to similar traumatic experiences is marked by an escape outward instead of inward, and has been described (Boadella, 1976) as a retreat towards the skin. So instead of withdrawing from contact into an ivory tower of the mind, the hysterical trait is to want more and more contact; it is clinging, hungry for touch, but never satisfied, because always afraid that contact will once again be followed by abandonment. In this search for the unattainable there is a tendency to be manipulative.

To return to the schizoid character structure. We have seen how capitalism needs and uses this structure. How far can it be said to cause it? Not only does sheer poverty make it much more difficult for parents to give the time and attention that children need, but even better-off working parents can lack the relaxed availability necessary for true bonding (the opposite of schizoid separation) to occur. Thus capitalism helps to produce a character structure that, in its isolation from warm human contact, exactly matches the system’s need to treat people as things, (cf. Marx, Grundrisse: “In exchange value, the social relations of individuals have become transformed into social connections of material things”). The process of creating the schizoid character structure is clearly a form of the oppression of children. At the centre of this process is the nuclear family, as overworked by capitalism as under-resourced by it. Thus the family reproduces the necessary work force not only numerically but also psychologically. More bluntly, the family is the means whereby capitalism procures an oppressive distortion of children’s characters that it needs for its survival.

Psychopathic character structure. Here the only way to relate to others is by controlling them. Like the schizoid, this character structure consists in the person distancing themselves from feeling, but according to Lowen (1975) whereas the schizoid involves dissociation from feelings, the psychopathic character denies feelings. It arises mainly from sexually seductive parenting (again, see Lowen). The parent uses the child for his/her own gratification; the child is seen merely as a means to an end, not a person but an object. The child has no means of holding on to a personal identity, and comes to see other people, in turn, as objects. Thus there is something of the schizoid character here, withdrawal from real human contact, but also something of the hysterical, an approach towards other people in a manipulative way. There is also a form of psychopathy that is not bullying but seductive.

Capitalism has need of people with a markedly psychopathic character structure. They will respond readily whenever it needs to bring out its basic tendency to treat people as things, and amplify it to an open use of force and bullying. Thus there is a place for psychopathy in the armed forces, the police and the prison service. If capitalism cannot be seen as a cause of psychopathy, it certainly provides roles for its bearers, and is vigorously defended by them, especially in time of war.

Psychopathy in parenting: this seems to out in child abuse, as the typical abuser, though not vet well understood, seems often to combine the seductive approach (leading to the violation that constitutes sexual abuse, i.e. the use of a child as a sex-object) with the bullying one (eg threatening and terrifying the child afterwards). The child feels it was his/her fault (a process known as identification with the aggressor), and apart from receiving real help through therapy is liable only to be able to feel good again if able to repeat the pattern as an adult upon other children: the so-called repetition-compulsion.

Thus capitalism is even more clearly supported by the psychopathic character structure than by the schizoid. Its institutions of physical oppression need the presence of a character structure that is central to the most blatant form of childhood oppression. In other words, the system’s survival is secured not simply by the family, but by the brutalisation of children within the family.

The paranoid character structure. This is the character structure that has probably been best understood at an everyday level. It is a way of defending oneself from feelings of badness and weakness within, by denying these feelings and attributing the badness to some outside person or group, who are now felt to be persecutory.

Capitalism has plenty of uses for people with a large amount of this character structure in their make-up. It is at the root, psychologically, of all the scapegoating of minority or weaker groups among the exploited, scapegoating which enables politicians and other leaders to distract people from the real enemy, the exploiters, or more accurately, the exploitative system itself. Hence the persecution of women, blacks and gays. The paranoid character structure is also at the heart of nationalism (our nation is good, the others are bad, indeed, only half-human) and war-mongering (the enemy is subhuman, Hun, Gook, Argy etc.). In fact it enters deeply into class society as such, and can prevent either basic class from seeing the members of the other in a reasonably objective way. Mrs Thatcher presents a markedly paranoid picture in her politics – self-righteous and scapegoating the poor and inadequate. In so far as capitalism renders parents too preoccupied to sustain their children with enough good feelings (for listening rather than blaming takes time and patience.) it is part cause of the paranoid character structure. The family is then dominated by a habit of imputing guilt, i.e. blaming, and there is a prevailing tone of injured righteousness. In extreme cases, one member is scapegoated by all the others and has to bear an identity of unmixed evil.

Thus capitalism, of its nature divisive, is riddled with the paranoid character structure, and requires scapegoating to cover up exploitation (for the racist version of this process see Alexander 1987). It thrives on an atmosphere of blaming and scapegoating, well caught by the tabloid press; this atmosphere reaches well within the family and gives rise to yet another dimension of the oppression of children.

Masochistic character structure. Two forms of child-rearing contribute to this character structure. One is forced feeding; the other is the suppression of tantrums (instead of the needed, truly desired, containment). In both cases the result is a sullen submissiveness, an external “yes” masking an internal “no”. Capitalist needs this structure; it is well suited to working on monotonous, meaningless jobs and to being respectful to the employer. The external submissiveness is usually in place, though the internal contempt can come out when provoked. Work will be done obediently, if grudgingly. This character structure is the one most obviously relevant to alienation as understood by Marx in his earlier writings: alienated work is done under the authority of another, whereas in the reativity of non-alienated work oneself is the author. It is, of course, possible to rebel, when an activity (work) has to be done which is alien to the worker. But in so far as we are masochists, we have learnt in childhood to submit, to put up with things. So this character structure leaves people reluctant to strike.

Once again the children pay for this, because, as Reich observed, the masochist is authoritarian over inferiors, and the next generation of masochists is created by an authoritatian refusal to countenance a child’s tantrums. The ruling class encourages such an attitude by its fierce suppression of anything – e.g. the miners’ strike – that smacks of revolt. Hence the basic loyalty to the employers which capitalism requires of the working class is guaranteed across the generations in a pattern whereby children are oppressed at the very point of rebellion, a lesson capitalism needs them to learn early and learn for good. Fortunately for the revolutionary movement, it can be unlearnt in struggle. For struggle takes us out of our vulnerable isolation, and teaches us that healthy anger can be channelled into collective action.

Oral character structure: This structure results from insufficient meeting of the child’s need for love and nourishment; there is a sense of being deprived, or being needy; “the world owes me a living”. Anger at the partial starvation is turned back on oneself, so that there is a tendency to get depressed. Another way of dealing with the anger is to turn it into its opposite, and the person becomes habitually compliant.

Capitalism can make use of this character structure in various ways. The compliance is precisely the quality needed in the work force, while the neediness can be drawn on as the system creates ever-new “needs” and cravings for hitherto unknown artefacts. Since people with strong oral traits often seek to ease their neediness by caring for others, they are useful to capitalism by providing a supply of social workers, therapists, counsellors etc., who can help to minimise the psychological damage done by the system and so give capitalism an accepting face.

To starve a child emotionally is as much a case of oppression as to starve them physically. Can capitalism be seen as a part-cause of this character structure? Yes, since it creates poverty which makes it difficult for parents to be fully available to their children; further, by putting the whole responsibility for bringing up young children on the parent(s), it exacerbates the harmful effect of a parent’s early death – one of the major causes of this character structure.

Rigid character structure: Rigidity is the latest of the character structures to be acquired, perhaps between about three and five years old. It consists of an inability to let go emotionally, including sexually. Among the forms it can take is that of the macho man and the doll-like woman. The former is afraid of tenderness (above all, his own), and the latter takes on an appeasing compliance. In spite of some awareness of the extremes of each pattern – an awareness largely due to the women’s movement – and hence a conscious effort in some people towards a less aggressive masculinity and a more assertive femininity, these two stereotypes are still powerful in our society.

Capitalism has many uses for these character structures. Tough, aggressive men are needed in the armed forces and police. Passive, unassertive women have personalities best suited to the “traditional” role of women as family managers heavily dependent on their husbands.

The rigid pattern can go on from generation to generation. Thus children are easily caught up in a process of enculturation, whereby the macho image is presented as the ideal for boys, the passive one for girls. Feelings are bottled up, ready to boil over at times of provocation and crisis. Such a pervasive deprival of emotional release (only slightly counterbalanced by watching TV) amounts to yet another dimension of the oppression of children.

Capitalism requires a degree of rigidly in all its population; the process is too tightly bound in time and space to allow people a chance really to “let go”. Since the fundamental activity is one of competition, accumulation, and of turning more and more of the planet’s surface (as well as labour itself) into commodities, emotional life has to take a subsidiary position, its function is instrumental, in that it can be played on through advertisements that help to sell the commodities, and generally through the media which legitimate what is happening. Thus both through public institutions and through the family, capitalism causes the oppressive rigidification of children which is a condition of its survival.

Thus in every case capitalism is both part of the complex web of relationships from which character structure develops, and firmly underpinned by the presence of the characters among the population. Moreover, in each case children are oppressed either to the extent of direct physical deprivation and attack (including sexual abuse) or in the less dramatic, but even more widely prevalent, manner of emotional damage. Thus the oppression of children is less like the oppression of a minority, e.g. gays, and more like that of women, yet more general still. For since we all have character structure to a greater or lesser degree, we have all been oppressed in some way as children. True, in most populations children form only a minority, but it is a minority which the majority belonged to in their day. The majority carry the traces of their membership of an earlier cohort of the minority. These traces are their character structure, and this must influence the way in which they bring up the current minority. Hence (perhaps to labour the point) a distinctive feature of this type of oppression is that we move from the ranks of the oppressed to those of the oppressors. That there are many pathways for this tragic promotion is made clear by the variety of character structures that occur. But the general pattern is one of abuse, whether severe or less so; in other words, we use children as the objects of the unrecognised, raw feelings bottled up from our own childhood. This cyclical nature of childhood oppression gives it an extremely powerful momentum, such that to explain the oppression by capitalism as its sole cause would be absurdly simplistic and misleading. Sole causes are rare anyway. Equally it would be absurd to claim that therapy (which certainly can, where effective, help to disarm us of our character structure), even if freely available to and conscientiously used by all, could break the cycle of oppression without undermining the capitalist system itself. If one can imagine a population of emotionally unarmoured people, i.e. without any character structure, they would contain noone prepared to continue in the role of either worker or employer; in other words, revolution would be inevitable. However, this is to stray towards utopia. What we can see in the real world is how within capitalism the cycle of oppression trains us in just those emotional habits and traits needed for our participation somewhere in the system.

Of course, the training is not perfect, in the same way that the ruling ideas do not rule unchallenged. In virtually everyone, under the layers of defensive armour which constitute character structure there remains intact what Reich regarded as the central core. In this core, under favourable social conditions, man is an essentially honest, industrious, cooperative, loving, and if motivated, rationally hating animal (Preface to The Mass Psychology of Fascism, p xi). From this core the working class can resist capitalism and overthrow it. To say that people are changed in struggle is to say that in struggle they can bypass their character structure and so work from the core. This is a bold claim to make. Interesting evidence in support of it came during the miners’ strike, when (as reported in Changes, vol 3, no 4) a woman who had suffered from agoraphobia became an activist overnight once she was involved in work for the miners, her husband being one of them. Unfortunately when the strike was over some of her symptoms returned, which suggests that though enabled to bypass her psychological defences she had not succeeded in bringing them under her control. Oh the other hand, it is necessary to balance this highly beneficial effect of struggle with the possibility that people can take part in struggle while seriously distorted by character structure, so that their judgement would be impaired by the biassed appraisal of people and situations that is its consequence.

Hence the oppression of children, while not making it impossible for a healthy, i.e. revolutionary, process to occur, does make it more difficult. As with other forms of oppression, liberation will come not through the abolition of capitalism narrowly conceived as an economic and political change, but only through a thoroughgoing process involving also changes in relationships, including those between adults and children. The reforms regarding divorce and women’s responsibilities enacted immediately after the Russian revolution are, of course examples of this. Women’s liberation is now firmly on the socialist agenda. How long will it be before equal attention is given to the formative years, so that we can aim, before, during and after revolution, at the liberation of children?

Alexander, P, Racism, resistance & revolution, Bookmarks, London, 1987.

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Lowen, A, Bioenergetics, Coward McCann and Geoghegan, New York, 1975.

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