Nigel Collingwood


First published in Energy and Character Vol 17 No 2, August 1986 (David Boadella is the publisher of Energy and Character – see


“Every social order creates those character forms which it needs for its own preservation” (W. Reich, Character Analysis, p. xxii).

This dictum of Reich’s raises many questions. Is it true? If so, how do we know it to be true? Again, if it is true, it implies either that social orders never change, or that character forms which work towards social change have their origin elsewhere. If so, where? Reich’s own approach seems to be to examine the behaviour which is required by the social order – e.g. authoritarian and correspondingly submissive behaviour in the context of fascism – and then to look for ways in which this behaviour is “anchored” by upbringing within the family as well as in institutions such as schools. Such an approach may have been adequate so long as it was assumed that the foundations of character structure are laid down no earlier than infancy. Today, however, it is necessary to include stress on the foetus before birth among the decisive factors. This could lead to such a concentration on the intimate relation between mother and unborn child that the social environment is forgotten. In this paper I hope to avoid such a mistake, by seeking to reinterpret Reich’s insight within current perspectives on pre-natal stressing.

My more general background is a search for ways of bringing together insights from psychology and psychotherapy on the one hand and from politics, which for me means Marxist politics in the Trotskyite tradition, on the other. This is an old search and a number of marriages have been attempted between these two broad approaches to life, by for instance Reich, Fromm and Marcuse. These three writers, even the first of them, all take psychoanalysis as their starting-point. Although the psychoanalytic school has much to offer, the attitude to political change it implies is at best ambivalent, as has been brilliantly argued by Ingleby (1984). Moreover, so verbal an approach seems at odds with the stress on material factors constantly reiterated by Marx, albeit himself a generous spinner of words. Hence it is worth looking at therapies which emphasise the body, such as Gestalt (treated in my short paper, 1984), or Bioenergetics (briefly touched on in another paper, 1983). Above all, the writings of Boadella, another pioneer taking up themes from Reich, are a rich mine of material, even if the social and political implications of neo-Reichian therapy are more often explored by others writing in Energy and Character (see, for example, Bill Payne West, 1979). Boadella’s article “Organ Systems and Life-Styles” (1976) seems to me to offer not only a theoretical foundation for body-based therapy, but a model well-suited to the development of Reich’s position just mentioned. Based on the findings of human embryology, this model locates character structure physiologically in the organ systems and chronologically in the development of the foetus and child. It is, however, fair to add that in a later article (1977) he relativises his findings in terms of a theory of different “projections” in the mapping of character.

In the first part of what follows (sections 2–4) I suggest some consequences of the model at the level of social existence, relating it to aspects of Marxist theory. In the second part (section 5), I explore Reich’s dictum in respect of eight character structures, seeking to understand them in the context of the system of exploitation and oppression that is contemporary capitalism. Finally (section 6) I offer some conclusions on the difficulty and possibility of change. (By contemporary capitalism, I refer primarily to western capitalism; I have to leave on one side the question of how far the models I adopt apply to societies, often labelled “Marxist” in some vague sense, which maintain a class structure and evince a form of capitalism run by the state).


Embryology has found that the human embryo grows out of the spherical, amoeba-like blastocyst by developing specific functions in three layers. The first to appear is the ectoderm, which gradually forms not only the skin but all the sense-organs and the nervous system centred in the brain, providing the organism with its means of contact within and outside the body. Next the endoderm is formed into the gastro-intestinal tube, with the lungs as a further development; thus the feeding, excreting, breathing and sexual functions are made possible, together with important means to express emotional charges that can build up (see M.L. Boyesen, 1974). Finally the mesoderm, which provides the cardiovascular system for pumping blood and the skeleto-muscular systems whereby movement and activity can be performed.

There is clearly a “division of labour” between these three layers (as well as between smaller organs etc.). But it is reasonable to assume that, as with healthy animals generally, the specific functions can, in suitable conditions, be organised harmoniously. The suitable conditions for human beings are, of course, largely social. Where the groups enjoy some kind of primitive communism, each individual has scope wherein to exercise ectodermal functions in communication and control, mesodermal ones in the meeting of basic needs, including such activities as gathering or hunting for food, and endodermal ones in the consumption and digestion of the food so obtained, in sexual activity and in the discharge of accumulated feeling. It is only with the division of labour in the straightforward, economic sense that the possibility, indeed the inevitability of disharmony arises. For now the control functions tend to be exercised by one person or group of persons; the making function by another, while the consuming function is done by anybody, not necessarily either the controllers or the producers. As a result, people will over-develop on one side, under-develop on another. Productive workers will no longer need more than minimal ectodermal direction and control within themselves. Their labour will be alienated. So will that of the employers or managers, who have little scope for mesodermal activity.

So far this is merely to restate Marx’s position within the perspective of embryology. Readers of Marx and Engels’ German Ideology have sometimes been puzzled that the division of labour is seen as primary, rather than the institution of private property. C.J. Arthur (1970) has, however, defended the authors on their own grounds, namely that the division of labour affects the quality of an activity, whereas private property, the social correlate, is in a sense external. Thus Marx writes: When one speaks of private property, one thinks of being concerned with something external to man. When one speaks of labour, one is directly concerned with man himself (1844). The embryological perspective adds further substance to this claim. For whereas Marx and Engels use the traditional dichotomy between intellect and material activity:

. . . the division of labour implies the possibility, nay the fact that intellectual and material activity – enjoyment and labour, production and consumption – devolve on different individuals. (German Ideology)

the new perspective enables us to see the division of activities as being based on different material systems of the human organism, which are themselves founded on different embryonic layers. More clearly than ever, we are concerned not with something external, but with the human organism itself.

Does this throw any light on the question of Marx’s materialism? When he and Engels saw material factors as of crucial importance in human history, they based this insight on two factors. One was their reaction against Hegelian idealism. The other, clearly related to the former, was their reading of history and their investigation of recent events. In Marx’s case it was through his study of the legal problems arising from the theft of wood in the Rhineland area that he was led from pure politics to economic relationships and so to socialism (letter from Engels to R. Fischer, recalling Marx’s own remarks, cited in McLellan 1971). Approaching materialism from these directions, they were in danger of adopting an attitude of contempt towards ideas. They avoided this danger of anti-intellectualism, in spite of what might be deduced from a misunderstanding of a statement such as ideas can accomplish absolutely nothing (The Holy Family, cited in McLellan, op.cit. p.160). But their followers have not always been so careful, as can be seen in the crude materialism of dogmatic Marxism and in the view that Marxism implies a technological determinism. However, the danger can perhaps be eliminated if the materiality of all three embryological layers is taken into account, to form the basis of what might be termed a psychological materialism. For we can say provisionally that these layers correspond to the three levels envisaged by the theory of historical materialism:

ectodermal layer ideological superstructure
endodermal layer relations of production
mesodermal layer material forces of production

True, Marx is thinking of levels within society, and the embryological layers concern the individual. Yet he is still concerned with the individuals who make up society, who indeed are who they are because of their position in society. As we have already seen, in the division of labour “intellectual and material activity devolve on different individuals”. Thus all that is new is to translate this as “ectodermal and mesodermal activity devolve on different individuals”. However, the correspondence of the relations of production (roughly, relations between employer and employee etc.) to the endodermal layer may seem at first sight to be far-fetched. Certainly if we look at the relations of production from a purely descriptive standpoint, they appear to belong to the ectodermal layer, since that layer carries the function of communication. Yet Marxism is concerned with the subjective side as well. Now it is basically with the endodermal layer that we feel happy, sad, frightened or oppressed in our social relations. Thus the endodermal layer is crucial to the difference between relations among human beings and communication between computers. Clearly we need to avoid a simplistic understanding of the correspondence suggested. All three layers are involved in human living. It is a matter of which layer is, or layers are, salient in a given activity. (In the same way, to go back to Marx’s own formulation, we are not to understand that e.g. working people, on whom devolves “material activity”, have no intellectual engagement at all in their work; they have it, but it is more or less seriously attenuated). Thus it is more correct to see social relations as entailing both ectodermal functions (neatly summarised by Boadella in the word “facing”) and endodermal ones (which can be brought into focus by “centre-ing”). Less salient in this context are mesodermal functions (“grounding”). Under capitalism facing is qualified by the requirement that workers “look up to” their employers, with the likelihood of a build-up of anger in the endodermal areas, and a consequent need to suppress the anger under a veneer of submissiveness. This will come up again when we consider character structure.

It is interesting to note that Reich (1976) bears out the triadic approach in his maxim:

Love, work and knowledge are the wellsprings of our life. They should also govern it.

Love corresponds to the endodermal layer, work to the mesodermal, and knowledge to the ectodermal.


Let us look more closely at the well-worn theme of alienation. As we have seen, the division of labour results in the ectodermal functions being concentrated in the employers and the mesodermal ones in the employees. No longer in control of their work, the latter are estranged from the work process, from their product, from their fellow-workers and from themselves. It is sometimes asked whether this is an experienced estrangement, a feeling, or merely a metaphysical one postulated by the theory. So long as the crucial factor is seen simply as control, it can seem reasonable to suspect that there is no feeling due to the division of labour as such. If there is feeling involved and workers are bored and resentful, this need have nothing to do with the division of labour. For it could be argued that they would be equally bored or resentful doing that kind of work under any economic system. However, if we adopt the triadic approach, we are bound to ask: what is happening at the endodermal level? I want to suggest that this is the source of creativity and commitment – the gut feeling that something is worth doing in itself. If this is so, then the absence or attenuation of the gut feeling will be the cause of the subtle pain of alienation. Working for another, the employee may get some satisfaction; indeed, may much prefer such work to doing no work at all. Nevertheless, the creativity, if any, is ultimately that of another person, and the employee’s own creativity is likely to demand expression outside work in a hobby. Commitment is thus simply to the pay-packet.

It may seem less far-fetched to associate creativity with the endodermal layer if we remember that our earliest “creations” are the product of the alimentary canal. Ryle (1969) mentions a classic example of a student having treatment for an inability to produce his weekly essays, who dreamt of his tutor giving an infant an enema “to ensure the production of regular motions”. Again, from another standpoint, alienated work can be seen as taking part of the environment within the boundary of what counts as one’s own, yet doing this at the behest of another: a kind of forced feeding, an introjection in the sense used by Gestalt therapists (see Perls, Hefferline and Goodman, 1951). So the gut feeling of doing creative work is a sense of being nourished by our own activity, of assimilating part of the environ-ment, making it part of oneself and leaving one’s mark on it. It is worth noting that Boadella (1977) puts a “sense of nourishment” as one of the “healthy personality functions” having “some sense of localisation or focus” in the bodily area associated with oral character structure (namely, the endodermal, intestinal area).

Marx himself is concerned with creativity mainly by implication. The famous sketch of life under communism:

in communist society,... (it will be) possible for me to do one thing today, another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic (1970)

implies that work without the division of labour has spontaneity as well as variety. Work is then self-expression. However, the individualistic tenor of his example needs balancing by the possibility of a group of people working together in the expression of their needs as a group.

Once again, we must remember that human activity is activity of the whole person and must therefore involve all levels of the organism. Creativity may come from the gut, but it clearly involves ectodermal and mesodermal functions as well. In a fascinating essay on the hinterland between Marx and Freud, Stephen Robinson (1984) argues that there are two kinds of creativity. One is more rational, and entails having an idea and working it out in practice, to bring it to fruition in external reality. For this he cites Marx’s contrast between the worst architect and the best of bees: the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality (1876: 1970). This is what ultimately distinguishes human work from brute activity. The second is more spontaneous, and Robinson gives as an example musical improvisation, where there is loyalty not to a preconceived idea but to the current feeling and to the product, in this case, to the music, as it is occurring. He suggests that this area, which he identifies not only with improvisation but with play generally, is left out by both Marx and Freud. He finds it in Winnicott, and from him he adopts the characterisation of it as “being”, in contrast to doing or being-done-to. Neither the Marxism of Marx nor the psychoanalysis of Freud has anything of substance to say about the question of Being. There are philosophies of Doing and its passive voice (Robinson, ibid.). This second sense of creativity makes the first sense seem a very cerebral affair. It suggests that Marx’s approach in terms of idea and execution has left out an essential element: the endodermal layer. Thus we can accommodate Robinson’s insight by another rough-and-ready equation:

doing mesodermal layer
being-done-to ectodermal layer
being endodermal layer

It may be worth using three-dimensional diagrams to illustrate the location of various kinds of work in line with this argument: Fig.1. The three co-ordinates represent the three layers or organ-systems; points in relation to them represent the degree to which each layer is brought into play. The employer in his or her office and the manual worker on the job are taken as extreme examples, while a modicum of job satisfaction is shown as a possibility. The furthest point from the origin represents maximum use of all three layers in work that is not alienated but a full expression of the worker.

Figure 1
Figure 1


Is there any priority of importance as between the three organ-systems in the individual? Much of our culture, still under the ban of “cogito ergo sum” and of “mind-forged manacles” (Blake), assumes the priority of the ectodermal layer, though of course this is seen in the context of conventional dualism. The head rules the body as the rider rules the horse. In a sense, this must be admitted in the triadic model too. For the nervous system, ectodermal in origin, does provide controls, both volitional and autonomic, over the general functioning of the organism. The fundamental question is whether “control” is the criterion of importance. Control is the taking of a direction within the area of freedom that is available, i.e. within the limits of possible development. How are these limits set? By the environment, certainly, but also by that on which the nervous system operates, viz. the other two organ-systems. Before birth the mesodermal system was simply in abeyance, since the amniotic cushioning provides an ambience of virtual weightlessness (see Boadella, 1976, p.28). After birth there is a time of much focussing on the mouth (an extension of the endodermal tube) and the eyes. But once the baby can walk, her functioning depends on how she can cope with her weight upon the earth, and so deal with gravity.

The skeleto-muscular system, of mesodermal origin, must get her in the correct position and posture for eating, exploring, being cuddled or sleeping. I suggest that this grounding function now sets limits for the possibility of the others. That is, in the Marxist sense of the word “determine”, it determines their activity. More precisely, the mesodermal system can be said to determine the activity of the endodermal system, and the endodennal that of the ectodermal. For posture and movement (or the lack of it) provides the basis on which the endodermal functions of breathing and digestion can be performed. Fast movement results in fast breathing; rest provides the background for the process of digestion. Of course these changes in the endodermal system are in fact brought about by the autonomic system, which is ectodermal in origin. Yet the change is determined by the activity of the mesodermal system. Again, the communication functions of the ectodermal system may seem to be autonomous and to provide evidence for a basically cartesian view. Nevertheless our thinking is coloured by the emotional state of the endodermal system, whether or not the latter is brought into consciousness.

The case must not be overstated. We are dealing with organ-systems which work, at least ideally, in harmony, supporting one another and mutually determining one another. However, it is still arguable that in the final analysis grounding determines centre-ing and centre-ing determines facing. Now certainly “in the final analysis” is an unsatisfactory phrase. Do we ever make final analyses? Can we not always make further ones? What is being claimed, however, is that physical and emotional nourishment and balance an essential for survival. It is upon these levels of existence which we share with other animals that the specifically human functions of communication and thinking are supported. You can breathe without thinking, but (the achievements of certain yogis notwithstanding) you cannot think without breathing.

There is of course a strong family resemblance between this view of the organ-systems of the individual and Marx’s classic thesis on the primacy of the material forces of production, and their determining influence on the social relations, and the latter’s determining influence on the ideological superstructure: ...these relations of production correspond to a stage of development of (men’s) material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society – the real foundation, on which rise, legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness... It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness. (1859: 1963). As for the “final analysis”, Engels was later to gloss the passage as follows in a letter to J. Bloch:

According to the material conception of history, the ultimate determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. More than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted (1890: 1968).

As I have suggested elsewhere (1983) this claim can also be seen as resting on our ineradicable dependence on the material world and our inescapable participation in that world of material beings.

As mentioned above, it is tempting to try and see a simple correspondence:

ectodermal layer with ideology
endodermal layer with the relations of production
mesodermal layer with the material forces of production

Yet this is too crude. Clearly all three levels of the individual person are engaged at each level of social existence. Yet ideological functions are mainly carried by the symbolizing sub-system of the ectodermal layer; again, engagement with the forces of production is still substantially at the mesodermal level, even if less so as technology has developed. Indeed technology is in a sense largely a way of extending the powers of the mesodermal system. The relations of production clearly involve “facing” and hence the ectodermal system in both its sentient and its symbolizing sub-systems; yet the endodermal one is also relevant, if only in a suppressed manner. For social relations may seem to be mainly ectodermal (“facing” par excellence), yet under the iceberg-tip which is conscious relating is the vast expanse of unconscious wishes (ectodermal) and emotions (endodermal). Thus there is at any rate a partial parallelism between the categories of historical materialism and those of what I have called psychological materialism.

More illuminating than these correspondences is the functional parallel between the grounding of individuals and the grounding of society. It can be put in this way. Just as how individuals can face themselves and others (an ectodermal function) and how they can be centred (an endodermal one) is conditioned by how they are grounded on the surface of the planet (a mesodermal one), so how one social class, tends to think (ideology) and is related to another class depends, according to Marx and Engels’ thesis, on how each is related to the process of production, i.e. on how it is “grounded” in the environment of work. I have discussed this notion of “political grounding” elsewhere (Collingwood, 1983).


This brings us to the question of the modification of the three organ-systems through neurotic and psychotic defences that have become habitual, and of how far this can be linked to forms of social, as opposed to merely individual, oppression.

Boadella points out that the three layers appear in this sequence: ectodermal, then endodermal, then mesodermal. Drawing on the work of Hartmann and of Kurtz and Prestera, he sees these as concentric tubes: the ectodermal as the outermost tube, the meso-dermal as the next, and the endodermal as the innermost; and also as three “reservoirs” of energy: the brain, the muscle system and the abdominal-pelvic area. If energy is held back in one or more of these reservoirs, there is the basis for the deeply engrained defences of character structure. Thus he suggests that there are three kinds of character structure: uterine character structure belonging to the prenatal period and located within the ectodermal layer; intestinal character structure belonging to the pregenital period (sub-divided into oral and anal); and genital character structure located in the muscular system (often referred to as character “armour” in the strict sense). It is interesting to note that this sequence of locations for holding back energy corresponds to the sequence of development of the three layers in the foetus.


In his article Organ Systems and Life-styles (1976) Boadella treats the schizoid and hysterical structures as having their origins in the prenatal period, and as being respectively a retreat into the head and a flight from the head towards the other area of ectodermal origin, the skin. He also sees them as respectively a regression to the womb and a flight from the womb. In Fig.2 the vertical co-ordinate represents the symboliz-ing, cerebral side of the ectodermal function, the horizontal the sensing, cutaneous side. Defensive concentration at the extremes results hi schizoid and hysterical stressing respectively. The NW/SE diagonal represents the hystero-schizoid polarity; the SW/NE one is the line towards full integration of the two aspects. I am indebted to Wasdell (1984a) for this type of Johari diagram. He sees paranoid splitting, displacement and idealisation as also having a prenatal origin, partly as a result of feelings of being poisoned through the umbilicus in B.P.M. I, but principally as a result of being in the “no exit” position of B.P.M. II (See Grof, 1975 and Lake, Studies in Constricted Confusion, C56). Wasdell sees the pressures of B.P.M. II and III as virtually universal owing to the upright stance of human beings and the large size of the human head in relation to the cervix: 1984b.

Figure 2
Layers 2

The social oppression that corresponds to the experiences which give rise to these uterine character structures, and is therefore likely to restimulate the original pain, would seem to be, for paranoid stressing, chemical pollution and irradiation of the environment as perceived or anticipated; for schizoid and hysterical stressing, the sense of being hemmed in and overwhelmed by enemies. In the womb these intolerable invasions and crushings can be coped with only by a defence of splitting, e.g. a projection of badness to an outside, leaving goodness inside, or goodness to an outside, leaving badness within. Late capitalism is replete with situations where groups are pressurising one another, whether across national boundaries or more fundamentally across class boundaries. By the basic rule “compete or die” everyone is pressurised to pressurise everyone else. These pressures will resonate with the virtually universal prenatal experiences and thus be coloured, magnified and distorted by them. One side of the boundary becomes “good”, the other “bad”, as the paranoid defence is reactivated. We are set for fight. If the schizoid defence is paramount, we will be scared of all contact and opt for withdrawal; if the hysterical, we will cling to any substitute for the contact we have lost and be afraid of solitude. We are set for flight. Now it may be that a rational and creative response to a given situation entails fight or flight, but character structure can give us a valency for either, such that it is difficult to be accurate in our judgement; we may over- or under-react, with emotions charged not by current events but by experiences of despairing entrapment or titanic struggle before birth.

So much for the resonance and restimulation of these defences under the competitive system. What of their actual causation? To a significant degree, the pressures of capitalism help to cause these uterine character structures. For the foetal experience of being unwanted, unloved, resented, half-starved, poisoned by nicotine, are partly related to more personal variables, but are significantly due to the deprivation of the mother, the father and the whole society within which the foetus is growing. At the same time, these character structures help to keep capitalism in place. The momentum of the system is kept up by everyone – capitalists and workers alike – colluding with it. When, however, the workers threaten the capitalists with the possibility of an overthrow of the system, it is not only greed that prevents the latter from giving up their privileges, but fear. Not fear merely of being killed, but rather, I suggest, of being annihilated – “becoming a nobody” – which could go back to the experience of near-annihilation in the birth passage. (The same fear is perhaps at the root of the depressive reaction to unemployment). Capitalism is also sustained by the efforts of persons with strongly schizoid characters who will take to intellectual, “back-room”, work with little care for the consequences for others: e.g. nuclear research, arms research. Thus capitalism is partly a cause of the ectodermal character structure that originates in the prenatal period, and is partly kept in place by it, or (to use Reich’s expression (Character Analysis, p.23) is “anchored” by it.


The issues of the prenatal period are issues of existence, life or death, so they come up in connection with the very existence of capitalism and the survival of the class structure. The pregenital period, with intestinal character centred on the endodermal layer, and thus on the abdominal-pelvic area, is concerned with the quality of life: what goes into the system (oral character) and what comes out of it (anal character). Hence it resonates with the aspects of capitalism concerned with consumption and production. Indeed, in a sense the capitalist system is basically oral, for ever creating “needs” and working up new cravings for hitherto unheard-of objects. At the same time it inevitably gives rise to a class of relatively, and often absolutely, deprived people. Thus it not only plays upon the experience of emptiness engrained in those of markedly oral character structure, but provides endless work for those of them who seek to ease their inner neediness by caring for others as social workers, therapists, counsellors etc. – the benign, accepting face of capitalism. Moreover, it benefits from the compliance which can result from the conversion of anger at deprivation into its opposite. For capitalism requires a submissive work force. These, then, are some ways in which it is anchored by orality.

As for capitalism actually causing orality, it is not difficult to see that poverty and the consequent lack of time and energy to devote to children in the nuclear family can lead directly to their oral deprivation and so to their adoption of oral character structure as a defence.

We have already noted the paranoid defence in its prenatal form, but it is also important at the pregenital stage, sharing with orality a reference to basic problems of sustenance and well-being. Now the source of supplies experienced as poisoned and revolting is no longer the placenta, but the breast or the bottle. As David Boadella has pointed out, there are many ways in which the baby’s feeding can be a cause, not of joy, but of stress (Stress and Character Structure, p.38).

The position is basically one of horror (as opposed to schizoid terror) and the defence is to deny the inner weakness with grandiosity and to project the inner badness on to persecutory figures outside. These features are likely to be restimulated by an environment polluted for profit, by droughts and famines, and more generally by the numerous ways in which individuals and groups can be “got at” within the competitive system.

Can capitalism also be said to be a partial cause of the parental inadequacies that lead to paranoid character structure? In so far as economic pressures on parents make them too preoccupied to give full attention to the baby’s needs, the answer must be yes. This character structure also anchors the system. For it is readily played upon by politicians in their efforts to justify, or distract attention from, the inequalities and conflicts generated by the system: then must be an enemy, whether within or without Thus antisemitism or other types of racism an examples of persecution, yet they depend on successfully identifying, with the aid of paranoid feelings, the group in question as itself persecutory. The scapegoat guarantees the innocence of the others, while it prevents their noticing their actual persecution by their exploiters.

Oppression is at the core of anal problems. The child is at the exploratory stage and fascinated by her own products (seen by adults as waste-products, but more of a creative achievement for the child herself). Undue pressure from parents can have any of three results: the child’s will may be broken by humiliation and shame, resulting in the resentful submissiveness of the masochistic character, or the child may build up counter-aggression to the point of the overbearing, amoral manipulativeness of the psychopathic character, or by dint of holding back the product she may learn the obstinacy of the obsessional-compulsive character.

Capitalist production is making under the authority of another, whereas, as we have already seen, true creativity is being oneself the author. Hence the masochistic character, submissive though tinged with sadistic contempt, is extremely useful in the capitalist system: production will be carried out obediently, even if grudgingly. In so far as the system encourages actual bullying, it will encourage parental authority to become authoritarian, with consequent masochism in the next generation (see Reich, 1970). If it encourages bullying, it will also encourage the psychopathic element in people’s character, although psychopathy itself seems to develop from seductive parenting, and can take a seductive form instead of a bullying one. Either way, people are manipulated, treated as objects or commodities – an attitude which capitalism requires in the armed forces when competition becomes not merely economic but military, and literally cut-throat.

Thus although masochism and psychopathy cannot be shown to require capitalism as a condition of their existence, it is still true that capitalism both encourages their development and is shored-up by them. All this merely spells out Marx’s thesis that under capitalism people are treated as things, things as people. Does capitalism actually function as partly the cause of these intestinal structures? Yes. In the case of orality, as we have seen, it does so by dint of sheer shortage of material supplies to the family. The case of the anal character structures is less clear. However, oppression by parents may be partly due to, or exacerbated by, anxiety and resentment resulting from social pressures upon them.


Boadella follows Lowen in seeing two basic types of rigidity: an inflexible kind with hypertonic muscles and a flexible one with flaccid hypotonic muscles that conceal a deeper rigidity (cf. Boadella, 1974). Inflexible rigidity in the male results in the phallic-narcissistic character, with the penis a weapon by which to conquer the woman. Thus the extreme form of sexual expression for him is rape. Flexible rigidity in women results in the pseudo-feminine character, submissive and long-suffering, which can be seen as a reaction against a deeper hysterical position. These two produce the modern stereotyped pair: the macho man and the doll-like woman; male dominance and female collusion with it. The pattern is of the essence of the patriarchal society, which appears to go back to the amassing of capital, and thus the defence of capital, by males (see Harman, 1984). Maybe we could abstractly conceive of a capitalism that did not oppress women in this way, but historically it has developed along with this mode of oppression.

At the opposite pole (and remember that you can swing from pole to pole) the inflexibly rigid woman is the over-aggressive “phallic” type, and the flexibly rigid man is the over-compliant, emasculated man known as passive-feminine. This pair also has its uses under capitalism. For if feminism could be restricted to women copying the dominating style of macho men, it would present no threat and could easily be contained. Submissiveness in men has already been seen, in connection with masochism, to be useful in providing the losers in the competitive struggle, and passive-feminity is the form that submissiveness takes at the genital stage.

The neurotic defence that is rigidity is induced by the restriction of infant and adolescent sexuality. Can capitalism be said to be a cause of its prevalence? Certainly one of its central institutions has been the property-owning and property-bequeathing family. It is in the interest of the head of the family that his property be kept intact. So his offspring must make secure marriages; they must be deterred from sexual activity outside marriage to avoid bastardy; hence their sexuality must be restricted, whether physically (female circumcision) or psychologically and morally. In Reich’s words: the impairment of genital sexuality creates the conditions for the acceptance of marriage, i.e. of monogamy in the ecclesiastical and bourgeois sense (1932: 1972). Thus capitalism does cause rigidity, in that it puts parents in a position where they need rigid children. Clearly, the process reinforces itself, as the rigid offspring become parents themselves. Although society under modern capitalism has tolerated an increasing measure of sexual freedom, it still needs the family to provide and educate new generations of workers. It cannot be expected to tolerate the process of the family’s subversion going too far.


What capitalism has to fear is the truly genital character in both men and women, a character that has no interest in its competitive “games”.

It has access to the deepest level of human potential. In the words of Reich: in this core, under favourable social conditions, man is an essentially honest, industrious, cooperative, loving and, if motivated, rationally hating animal (1942, Preface). The scope for rational hatred and anger in the exploitative society is almost limitless. Yet just as the oppression is both external or political and internal or psychological, this healthy emotion will be vacuous unless expressed in hard co-ordinated political action. The only goal commensurate with such motivation is the overthrow of the oppressive system and its replacement by a sharing society, powered by its necessary correlate: non-alienated work. As we have seen (Fig. 1 above), such work involves a full flow of energy in all three organ-systems. Now, such a free flow of energy is precisely what marks the genital character. It is not feasible to represent the various forms of character structure by means of the three-dimensional diagrams of Fig. 1. However, if high readings on each co-ordinate are taken to mean a free flow of energy with little or no habitual defensive holding, a picture of the genital character emerges (Fig. 3) that has a strong affinity to that of non-alienated work in Fig. 1.

Figure 3
Layers 3

This comparison brings out in a positive way what has been argued throughout this article: that problems of social structure and psychological problems are systematically related to one another. Only a strategy that takes into account both dimensions can have any chance of success.

The prospect is daunting. As we have seen, the division of labour and the oppressive power of capital (in its national and multinational forms, it should be remembered) result in a society with ectodermal functions split off from mesodermal ones, while endodermal functions are attenuated not only in the alienation of uncreative work but in social relations generally. For greater sexual “freedom” has not necessarily led to orgastic potency (Reich 1942: 1973), but has been accompanied by an increasingly desperate search for excitement through drugs or violence (whether fantasised with the aid of television and video or practised). The competitive system has in fact led us to the brink of both nuclear annihilation and ecological catastrophe. Yet by dint of partly causing and partly using character structure in each of the three organ-systems it blinds us to this appalling reality. For character structure, a hardening of a once useful defensive posture, necessarily entails both an avoidance of what is now happening and a reduction of our capacity to change it.

Thus the social and psychological oppressions are so interconnected and mutually supportive that the boundary between politics and therapy must be crossed again and again. Indeed, the very recognition of such a boundary is surely a product of the individualistic ideology required by the system. Only a socio-economic revolution integrated with an equally radical programme for individual change has a chance to break the cycle of oppression. The groundwork for such a revolution is available in the technology that makes possible a truly social, that is, not competitive but shared interaction with the productive environment. The therapeutic approaches that could work towards the necessary changes in consciousness are available, if as yet mainly within elitist structures. What is needed is a political movement by those who stand to gain most from change, i.e. by the class of the oppressed – a movement that is both clear as to the necessity of replacing the oppressive system with a mutually supportive one and committed to a diminution of character structure sufficient to loosen the grip of capitalism on the three organ-systems. Such an integration of the political with the therapeutic will be immensely difficult, not only technically but because it goes against the grain of so many assumptions. Yet many who have taken part in political struggle and found themselves psychologically changed and liberated by it, can bear witness that the project is within the bounds of what is possible. For the oppressive social system calls forth not only the neurotic, paranoid anger and scape-goating that “it needs for its own preservation”, but the rational anger and genuine solidarity that are needed for its overthrow.


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