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Matthew Feldman: 

Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda, 1935-1945

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Review by Leon Surette

 

The title page identifies Matthew Feldman as “Reader in Contemporary History and Co-Director of the Centre for Fascist, Anti-fascist and Post-fascist Studies, Teesside University.” He has edited thirteen essay collections (3 still at-press at the time of publication), seven of which are concerned with Samuel Beckett, who presumably falls under the anti-fascist rubric. Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda appears to be his first monograph.

            Feldman belongs to the school of fascist study founded by Roger Griffin, and his definition of fascism is recognizably Griffinesque:  Here is his definition in a self-quotation from his edited collection, A Fascist Century

Since it first emerged in the wake of World War One, fascism can be profitably conceptualised as a specifically modern form of secular ‘millenarianism’ constructed culturally and politically, not religiously, as a revolutionary movement centring upon the ‘renaissance’ of a given people (whether perceived nationally, ethnically, culturally, or religiously) through the total reordering of all perceivedly ‘pure’ collective energies towards a realisable utopia; an ideological core implacably hostile to democratic representation and socialist materialism, equality and individualism, in addition to any specific enemies viewed as alien or oppositional to such a programme. (xi, original emphasis)

          Following this citation, he quotes Griffin as (belatedly) in agreement about the “pivotal role of ‘political religion’ as a ‘secular, state religion to encourage the mass experience of national rebirth from decadence and collapse’” (xi).

            To bring Ezra Pound under this definition is possible only if one ignores, or is ignorant of, all of Pound’s literary activity apart from his radio and journalistic propaganda in favour of Fascism, Nazism and anti-Semitism. Unhappily, Feldman meets that necessity. Despite his pro forma mention of several biographical studies of Pound, Feldman has no idea of the genesis of the views and beliefs that Pound embraced between his college years in New England, his poetic apprenticeship in Old England, his early cultural and literary criticism and his radicalization by Major Douglas’ Social Credit ideas during and immediately after World War I. 

            His opening sentence in the preface declares: “It is high time to start taking Ezra Pound’s fascism seriously” (viii), falsely implying that it is a subject that has been much neglected. That he should begin in this way is odd since throughout the text Feldman is generous in his praise (richly deserved in my view) of Tim Redman’s 1992 study, Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism. And, of course, Redman did take Pound’s Fascism seriously—as Feldman acknowledges in the last sentence of his introduction: “this study builds upon the intellectual and methodological framework used to such powerful effect by the principal book in this area to date, Tim Redman’s 1991 Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism, which argued that “Pound’s activity on behalf of Italian [F]ascism needs to be understood historically and with a great deal of specificity” (7). 

            After a further 126 pages detailing Pound’s propaganda activities on behalf of the Fascist regime, Feldman concludes that “one can only concur with Redman’s summation that the period between Pearl Harbor and his indictment for treason witnessed Pound “almost exclusively engaged in the preparation of his radio speeches and in giving aid to Italian propaganda” (133). Feldman certainly provides more details about the contents of Pound’s radio fulminations than Redman did—and even more than can be found in Leonard Doob’s 1978 “Ezra Pound Speaking”: Radio Speeches of WWII, which transcribed 120 typescripts produced by the American Army’s monitoring of Pound’s broadcasts. Feldman reproduces and comments upon a considerable number of previously unexamined texts for broadcast in the Beinecke collection—although it is not known if they were ever broadcast—and consults other files from British and American intelligence agencies. 

            Another principal source that Feldman cites frequently is Roxana Preda’s 2007 collection, Ezra Pound’s Economic Correspondence1933-40, which he justifiably describes as “outstanding.” As for scholarly commentary on Pound’s political opinions and behaviour, his coverage is rather spotty. He cites Carpenter and Wilhelm a couple of times; praises Noel Stock and cites Alec Marsh’ s recent Ezra Pound once (and thanks him in the preface). He even mentions my Dreams of a Totalitarian Utopia (2011) and Pound in Purgatory: From Economic Radicalism to Anti-Semitism (1999), but does not engage the argument of those studies. Massimo Bacigalupo’s 1980 study, The Forméd Trace: The Later Poetry of Ezra Pound is dismissed with the remark that the “neglected insights” offered by Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda “were also raised, now more than three decades ago, by a leading Pound scholar named Massimo Bacigalupo, who described The Cantos as ‘among other things the sacred poem of the Nazi-Fascist millennium’” (x). However, The Formed Trace is never mentioned again, and—like my own books—does not find its way into Feldman’s bibliographic note. The most cited biography is C. David Heyman’s idiosyncratic, The Last Rower.

            Generally speaking, most of the relevant Pound scholarship gets at least a mention or a footnote in Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda with the notable exceptions of Robert Casillo’s The Genealogy of Demons Anti-Semitism, Fascism and the Myths of Ezra Pound (1988)and—more damagingly—“I Cease not to Yowl”: Ezra Pound’s Letters to Olivia Rossetti Agresti (1998). The latter is a collection of Pound’s letters written to a fellow Fascist, between the years 1937 and 1963. ORA, as Pound called his correspondent, although a Fascist, was not an anti-Semite, and castigated Pound for his racist attitudes. Had Feldman consulted this collection, his simplistic view of Pound’s mentality might have been modulated.

            However, I suspect that exposure to a less Manichean view of human nature would not have had much effect on Feldman’s posture. His only concern is to document the fact of Pound’s undoubted commitment to Mussolini’s Fascism and the Axis cause during World War II, and his equally undoubted anti-Semitism. Such documentation—as he concedes—had already been undertaken years, and even decades, before he took up the cause. What then is the purpose of the one hundred and fifty or so pages of his study?  Apart from occasional swipes at identified (Carpenter 50 & 156) and unidentified (139 & 150) scholars who have scanted or denied Pound’s Fascism and/or anti-Semitism, except for recurrent mentions of Tim Redman’s accuracy and wisdom on the issue, Feldman does not engage Pound scholarship on the issues of Fascism and Anti-Semitism.

            Admirable as Redman’s 1991 study is, he does not provide any account of how Pound fell into such egregious error about the merits of Fascism and Nazism, nor his moral blindness on the issues of racism and the brutality of the totalitarian states. That is an issue that I have addressed in both of the books Feldman mentions—but very likely did not read. It is also addressed—in a rather different way—by Massimo Bacigalupo, and in a still different and more accusatory way by Robert Casillo. Feldman, however, does not see it as an issue at all. He is only concerned to demonstrate that Pound embraced Fascism, Nazism and anti-Semitism – as, indeed, he did. 

            Unfortunately, such failings were shared by literally millions of other men and women in Europe in those years. Why should Feldman, or anyone else, be especially concerned with the moral and intellectual failings of an expatriate American living in Italy who wrote poetry? Perhaps because as a putative intellectual he ought to have known better? Other intellectuals made similar “errors”—Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man, to mention only the most notorious. My point is not that Pound’s guilt is diminished because others were just as bad, but rather that it behoves us to try to understand why intelligent and engaged men and women embraced such vicious and immoral doctrines as racism and militarism. And we should not suppose that the thirties and forties of the last century were a unique period and that such moral and intellectual failures are behind us.

            The justification—such as it is—for Feldman’s choice of Pound is that he is representative of European fascists: “Even as an expatriate in Fascist Italy, Pound’s commitment to the ‘Fascist faith’ was far from idiosyncratic; it was representative” (xiii). Accordingly, Feldman claims that “Pound’s fascist propaganda offers remarkable insight into the propagation of ideological faith by the devotee of a totalitarian political religion” (xiv). In short, Pound’s “case” is offered as representative of the typical fascist ideologue. It would be difficult to imagine a less representative Italian Fascist than an expatriate, avant-garde and eccentric American poet. 

            If one is to take the content of Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda, 1935-45 as an indication of the true motivation of Feldman’s choice of subject, it is not that Pound is representative of anything, but rather that Pound has left a massive documentation of his devotion to the fascist cause in typescripts of the radio broadcasts and his print journalism. However, Feldman’s examination of these sources reveals nothing more than what has been well established—Pound was for an extended period a loyal supporter of Fascism and of the Axis cause. Feldman, who restricts his study to the ten years 1935-45, ignores that such loyalty continued into the St. Elizabeth years. Nor is he concerned with Pound’s formative years in London beyond a casual (and erroneous) mention of his association with “Douglas’s exchange rate disparity” theory (16).