Listen,
Little Man!

by Wilhelm Reich

Translation: Theodore Wolfe
Illustrations: William Steig

A Review


     John Stuart Mill said that "mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision [so that Socrates was] put to death as a criminal."

     In a similar vein, Americans can hardly be too often reminded that there was once a man named Wilhelm Reich who died in an American federal prison on charges which today would be laughed out of any court.

     Reich had attained his medical degree in Germany and studied psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud, becoming one of Freud's favorites. Reich was an activist in the German Communist party during the 1930s, but his ideas and teaching disagreed with the party line, and he was expelled from the party in 1933. He later became one of its most unrelenting opponents. In 1939, with World War II approaching, Reich moved to the United States.

     In 1947, following a vicious smear article in the New Republic by Mildred Edie Brady, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began an investigation into Reich's orgone energy accumulator. The Brady article claimed that Reich was conducting a sex racket, and the FDA assumed that his books must be pornographic literature. The FDA gestapo were uninterested in scientific information concerning the accumulator, and when Reich refused to cooperate with their witch hunt, the investigation bogged down, lacking any evidence against the accumulator.

     In 1954, during the Joe McCarthy era, the American feds decided to go after Reich again. Without any proof whatsoever, the Food and Drug Administration succeeded in having a federal court brand the accumulator a fraud, with the added dictum that orgone energy does not exist, and the order that all literature even mentioning orgone energy should be burned. The FDA placed a ban on transporting or using Reich's orgone boxes. Because one of Reich's co-workers continued to transport the orgone boxes, Reich was imprisoned. He died of a heart attack in prison at the age of 60 in 1957, the day before he was to go up for parole.

     Today, Reich's books are on sale throughout the world and orgone accumulators are sold in the United States, Germany, and other countries. An orgone box is a 5 by 2 1/2 by 2 1/2 foot box made of layers of sheet metal and wood which Reich claimed pulled a physical-psychic energy from the universe. The accumulators were purchased by doctors and psychiatrists in both the U.S. and abroad.

     In 1940 Reich spent five hours with Einstein. When Reich left, he said to Einstein, "You understand now why everyone thinks I'm mad." Einstein replied: "And how."

      Reich wrote Listen, Little Man! in 1946 and it was published in 1948. The book is Reich's warning to the common man in all societies that he, the little, average man, is lethally responsible for the rapidly spreading social cancer of fascism. Reich had seen how common citizens in Germany embraced their enslavement by their Nazi overlords. He was now seeing the reappearance of the same phenomenon in the United States and Europe. Someone needed to tell the average citizen that his personal characteristics were at the root of the world-wide plague of totalitarianism.

Reich explains the nature of his book in his introduction:

"It reflects the inner turmoil of a scientist and physician who had observed the little man for many years and seen, first with astonishment, then with horror, what he does to himself; how he suffers, rebels, honors his enemies and murders his friends; how, wherever he acquires power 'in the name of the people,' he misuses it and transforms it into something more cruel than the tyranny he had previously suffered at the hands of upper-class sadists."

"Those who are truly alive are kindly and unsuspecting in their human relationships and consequently endangered under present conditions. They assume that others think and act generously, kindly, and helpfully, in accordance with the laws of life. This natural attitude, fundamental to healthy children as well as to primitive man, inevitably represents a great danger in the struggle for a rational way of life as long as the emotional plague subsists, because the plague-ridden impute their own manner of thinking and acting to their fellow men. A kindly man believes that all men are kindly, while one infected with the plague believes that all men lie and cheat and are hungry for power. In such a situation the living are at an obvious disadvantage. When they give to the plague-ridden, they are sucked dry, then ridiculed or betrayed."

"It is high time for the living to get tough, for toughness is indispensable in the struggle to safeguard and develop the life-force; this will not detract from their goodness, as long as they stand courageously by the truth. . . . Anyone who wants to safeguard the life-force from the emotional plague must learn to make at least as much use of the right of free speech that we enjoy in America for good ends as the emotional plague does for evil ones. Granted equal opportunity for expression, rationality is bound to win out in the end. That is our great hope."





Most of the articles in this journal and in alternative, progressive magazines and newspapers worldwide, point out the fascistic tendencies of the ruling elites in the various nations. But it is particularly relevant at this period in our national experience as Americans to be aware of the fatal collusion of the "average man and woman" in the rapid increase in totalitarianism, such as the secret military tribunals, the failure of the Bush administration to investigate the causes of the 9/11 attacks, the give-away of trillions to the monied interests, and the deliberate attacks on constitutional liberties.

In Listen, Little Man!, Reich lambastes the average citizen for not only cooperating with dictators such as Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, but actually embracing them and worshipping them, as is now happening in the "high approval ratings" for our illegally non-elected, illiterate, unilateralistic, plutocratic, dictatorial American president, not to put too fine a point on it. The TV stations and New York Times editorials bore us silly with how Bush has turned from a sow's ear into a silk purse, becoming a genuine leader, taking the "moral high-ground," and "making the hard decisions."


It's almost enough to make one think: "the American people are getting the kind of leaders they deserve." Almost, but not quite. No nation deserves the kind of raping and pillaging of our American way of life that the current Bush administration is carrying out.
The 200% American jingoism that we suffered from for several months after 9/11 is somewhat subsiding--one doesn't see the pickups with two large flags blowing in the breeze or the flags flying in front of homes 24 hours nonstop as much as before. But Americans are going to have to wake up and take responsibility for this new dictatorship or we're all going down the tubes!

In the same vein as the recent article in this journal, "The Current Necessity for Critical Thinking," Reich's book hammers away at how the "common man and woman" must learn to think for themselves before they end up as cannon fodder in a so-called new world war against terrorism (which is actually a new war against American liberties).

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