On Matthew Feldman’s Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda, 1939-1945:
Reply to A. David Moody’s “On Matthew Feldman’s Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda: some notes further to Leon Surette’s review in MIN 1.2 (MIN 1.3)
As the second wave of David Moody’s attack on Matthew Feldman’s Ezra Pound Fascist Propaganda 1935-1945 finds me Feldman’s most credulous reader, I wish to say a few more words of my own, mostly in Feldman’s defence. I also wish to query Moody’s picture of Pound – especially the question of Pound’s mental competence in 1945.
Like a skilled lawyer with a difficult case, Moody picks at Feldman’s credibility by making mountains out of molehills; by exaggerating incautious rhetoric into irresponsible claims. Feldman’s work is a smear-job; his methods comparable to those of Sen. McCarthy – ironically a hero of Pound’s. Feldman’s limitations as a Pound scholar are paraded and if it must be grudgingly conceded that he is an expert on fascisms; it turns out that what Feldman has to tell us Pound scholarship has known for years. There is a sense that we’re tired of all that; yet with some notable exceptions, Pound’s propaganda material has scarcely been read. There has been an understandable, but scarcely scholarly, trend to quarantine this material from Pound’s other writing. Yet Pound himself was unwilling to make that distinction, letting his propaganda bleed into his Cantos, which he latterly called “a political weapon” while his letters and literary prose – frequently propagandistic in tone – bleed inexorably into his out-and out propaganda. With Pound, the public and private man, the poet and propagandist, are all one radical animal.
Although a close reader of Tim Redman’s work, who has been teacher, friend and mentor to me, I was nevertheless stunned by Feldman’s revelations. The cumulative effect of his report is devastating – and I remind myself that he is only addressing Pound’s propaganda in English (the Italian material would be another book altogether). I wrote him and his publisher I found the work heart-breaking – it was full of news I did not want to hear and reopened problems I did not want to face; specifically, the question of Pound’s alleged treason. Some of his material has, as Moody points out, re-crossed ground already covered by Redman. But the body of English propaganda material, as a body, has never been put together quite this way before. What was undeniably new was Feldman’s perspective – this was what Pound looked like from an informed scholar of fascisms, someone for whom Pound is an interesting case, not the focus of one’s intellectual life.
So let’s recall Feldman’s main claim: “Pound was a committed and significant English language strategist and producer of fascist propaganda before, and during Europe’s most destructive war” (Feldman ix). All in all, Pound’s ten-year propaganda effort might be compared to his earlier intense decade with The New Age 1911-1921, his last regular employment before his work for Italy; indeed, the whole complex of Pound’s propaganda work in English, Italian and even other languages is reminiscent of Pound’s involvement in “the modernist moment” in Britain just before the First War. But Pound’s fascist propaganda has not received the same attention by Pound scholars as his path-breaking literary propaganda for Modernism. The value of Feldman’s book is that he does give it that attention. He assumes, rightly, that the hundreds, if not thousands, of propaganda pieces are an important element in Pound’s career as a writer, as important as his other critical writing, for example his work for The New Age. To admit this, it seems to me, is to “change the way Pound is viewed.”
Pound’s propaganda work is not news – and perhaps Feldman himself exaggerates somewhat how Pound scholarship has minimized this aspect of Pound’s career, although he is respectful and well-aware of Redman’s “pre-eminent” (Feldman x) work in this area. Feldman says he will back this claim “empirically” but, as Moody argues, Feldman’s empiricism is less than perfect, tending towards the “speculative” when it comes to estimating Pound’s total propaganda output as contained in the Beinecke files. I was relieved to hear from Moody that the total cannot be “thousands” of items, as Feldman claimed. But by Moody’s count, it might yield a thousand pieces, perhaps many more once the entire area of Pound’s propaganda is properly surveyed. Remember, Feldman is not counting speeches, but items.
Whatever the total number, Pound’s propaganda efforts were massive and sustained over a decade, filling almost eight full boxes at the Beinecke. Pound’s fascist propaganda before and during the war may well be judged to have taken up the bulk of his time between the publication of Cantos LII-LXXI in 1940 and his arrest in 1945, including the overtly propagandistic cantos 72 and 73. The energy Pound expended on this task is impressive. Naturally, we need to hear exactly what Pound said, no matter how disturbing. Mercifully perhaps, Feldman does not present exhaustively Pound’s content, but there is enough in his concluding chapter “Salò Republic 1943-1945” to make one weep. Moody rightly praises as a “significant contribution” the chapter in Feldman’s book outlining Pound’s radio work for the RSI and Nazi controlled Radio Milan from 1943-45 which passed through German functionaries and is in the mainstream of Nazi propaganda – Pound’s work for “Jerry’s Front” is hard news for those who wish to defend Pound from accusations of treason. Feldman’s third chapter on “Pound’s Unpaid Propaganda ‘for a decent Europe’ 1935-1940” deserves praise as well. It is thorough, well-organized and informative – not old news, but a solid, even empirical, account of Pound’s total commitment to his dream of a decent, if fascist, Europe.
As we all know, Italian Fascism is not identical to German National Socialism, nor was the ideology of the Salò Republic identical to earlier iterations of Italian Fascism. Finally, British fascism has its own agenda and quirks. All are considered fascisms, so given Pound’s work for the four movements Feldman’s use of the more general lower-case fascism is precision, not rhetoric.
Moody wants us to be very careful about just what sort of “fascist” Pound was. He fears, rightly, that the term is mostly an epithet thrown around by irresponsible commentators. Moody reminds us that Pound was not a party man, did not participate in Fascist rituals – although he did use the Fascist calendar on his personal correspondence, did make a pilgrimage to the “Decennio” and sometimes gave the Fascist salute. Occasionally, he signed letters to German functionaries with “Heil Hitler.” Still, Pound’s fascism was as heterodox as his economics. Pound was a fascist the way he was a Social Creditor – he had his own ideas. He called himself a “left fascist” in a letter important to Redman, who concludes his book by agreeing (236, 267).
But Pound’s racial and eugenic views, especially after his enthusiastic reading of the second volume of Mein Kampf in Italian in the spring of 1942, make him much closer to the Nazis and the extreme Right wing of Italian Fascists on that issue, notably to Roberto Farinacci whom Pound praises in the voice of the violent “Ezalino” (sic) for being rough on “all followers of fattened usury” in Canto 72 (72/435), a poem published in a context and environment that can only point to Jews as the primary suspects. Just where Pound sits on the Fascist political spectrum is still worth thinking about, especially his adherence to Salò, which was under Nazi influence: the “Verona Program,” which Pound found so “attractive”(see Redman 235-236, 243) was drafted under German supervision. Its 13th article “alla non della”1is stressed in Redman’s account because Pound did, but the 7th on the Jews, which stigmatized them as foreigners and war enemies was also endorsed by Pound as various works, some cited by Feldman and some by Redman, show.2Naturally, it is a premise underlying Pound’s propaganda from 1943-45. But Redman did not conclude from this that Pound was both a “Left” and a “Right” fascist. Feldman stresses the latter. Pound would seem to be both. One might not know it from his attack, but in fact, Moody agrees when he writes in his authoritative biography that regarding the new racial laws promulgated in Italy in 1938, the Pounds “were far more anti-Semitic than most Fascists and than Italians in general” (Moody II: 260). The war only confirmed Pound’s views, so it was not difficult for him to adapt to Nazi propaganda requirements.
If Pound was not a pukka Fascist, he was a passionate admirer of Mussolini. That this adoration had a religious dimension is to me undeniable. It does not seem exaggerated to see Pound’s epochal meeting with Mussolini as a kind of rebirth. Pound went forth devoted to Il Duce and much like St. Paul, immediately wrote Jefferson and/or Mussolini in six weeks.3 This afflatus sustained Pound right up to and through his imprisonment at Pisa. I was unaware of Roger Griffin and his religious thesis about fascism until encountering Feldman (who had been Griffin’s close collaborator). To me this religious dimension is very important in thinking about Pound. What some have concluded was a mental or ethical collapse might now be seen as religious enthusiasm. I have never seen Pound’s meeting with Mussolini treated as a religious experience.
Moody chides me for writing that Pound was “certainly” non compos mentis at the time he was tried. That is not my view only; that was the belief of judge and jury. Four psychiatrists testified to that effect, not only Overholser, who did, to be sure, orchestrate their views. The judge accepted the verdict. The prosecution did not contest it. That’s as close to a “fact” as our society allows. Moody argues that “the psychiatrists who examined him in the DTC in 1945 did not find him insane, and … all the St Elizabeths psychiatrists who examined him, except only their Superintendent, Overholser, could not find him insane in spite of the pressure from Overholser to do so. And those who knew him in the DTC, and nearly all who visited him in St Elizabeths, did not consider him mad. Cornell’s Affidavit to the effect that Pound was mad was demonstrable ‘bunk’ (Pound’s term from a relevant context). And the evidence of the four psychiatrists given at the trial hearings in support of that Affidavit was, to put it mildly, hardly professional.” Under the circumstances, Pound’s debunking might be taken with a grain of salt. Consider this: on March 29, 1941 Pound wrote the following to Yosuke Matsuoka, Japanese Ambassador to Rome: “Men like myself would cheerfully give you Guam for a few sound films such as that of Awoi no Uye, which was shown for me in Washington. I regret deeply that there are not more of us.” (Kodama 249).4 Similar grandiose notions put out by Pound at the time of his arrival in Washington or to others thereafter – that he thought he had been summoned to help MacArthur with the conquest of Japan by converting the Japanese to Confucianism (reported in Carpenter 700),5 or that he might be sent to Tiflis to learn Georgian in order to talk to Stalin (see Carpenter 735) – seem of a piece to me; i.e. not quite sane. The latter instances may be scouted as stuff and nonsense worked up to cop an insanity plea. Or not. As Karen Leick reported a few years ago, judging by FBI files, his friends pretty universally thought him cracked on certain geo-political issues. Moody himself reports that “Mussolini’s secretariat at the Palazzo Venezia thought Pound deluded and out of touch with reality” (Moody II: 202).
Surely, Pound became interested in Fascism because it offered a chance to put his economic ideas into action. Feldman is, of course, not prepared to go into an analysis of Pound’s peculiar economics, but as detailed in Moody’s biography, by the late 1930s Pound was unable to keep anti-Semitism out of his economic discussions. If that was a mistake, why didn’t Jews participate in economic reform? (Many were of course; like his friend Louis Zukofsky, they became Marxists. But Pound already knew Bolshevism was yet another manifestation of the Jewish conspiracy). The problem was not racial, Pound argued, but still “people are being forced into anti-Semitism by Jewish folly...”; that is by the Rothschilds and their ilk. In fact, as Moody judges properly, Pound “was using racial anti-Semitism to enforce his own economic agenda” (Moody II: 242) and he picked an ugly and, I daresay, Nazi-like way to do it: blaming the victim. Pound is legendary for his unstinting efforts on behalf of other artists. So, in retailing that painful account of Pound’s unwillingness to help a “gifted Jewish pianist” trapped in Berlin, a situation brought to his attention by his literary friend Lina Caico, Moody comments that Pound’s adamant, all but hysterical, refusal “shows how his monomania about usury was skewing his intelligence and preventing him from facing the facts of anti-Semitism in the Europe of his time” (Moody II: 242). This “monomania,” this “skewing of his intelligence” is just what I mean by Pound not being in his right mind. Ten years of composing fascist propaganda only skewed Pound’s intelligence even further. He was thinking “twisty thoughts.”
Pound did not just compose Fascist propaganda; he theorized it. Feldman’s sixth chapter, unmentioned in Moody’s letter, claims that “Pound was a far more influential and far more respected, as an Axis propagandist than has been previously argued” (Feldman 114). We have long known that Pound had taken money from the regime to be on the radio, but I was unaware of just how much, nor was I aware that Pound had strategic input into Axis propaganda initiatives – in other words his literary intelligence was fully engaged in political work which took up years of his writing life and spilled over into those unfortunate cantos 72 and 73. Whether Feldman makes good on his claim that Pound was a more influential propagandist than generally realized is of course, debatable, but whether his advice was accepted or not by the Ministry is immaterial. The point is that Pound saw his propagandizing as important work and he put all of his considerable energy into it. Although on rereading, I see Redman appreciated this to a degree, I don’t think scholars generally have digested the full significance of Redman’s observation that Pound contributed over forty articles to Il Popolo de Alessandria “one of the major papers of the new republic” for which Pound was paid (Redman 240). Many have wished to believe Kenner when he said Pound made his own propaganda, something Moody himself argues for, at least regarding Pound’s articles to the British -Italian Bulletin (Moody II: 201). But clearly, this changed during the war. I have also wished to think that Pound was a victim of propaganda (and hunger and the defeat of his illusions) and thus not in his right mind when he wrote screeds like “Corpses of Course” and “L’Ebreo patologia incarnata & bolshevismo e l’usurai”6 but Feldman’s book makes that view harder to sustain; indeed he takes me to task for the suggestion (Feldman 146).7 Here, Feldman and Moody agree: they evidently want Pound to assume full responsibility for this repellent material that is in fact, nothing else than Nazi propaganda inflected with Pound’s idiom, giving a strong appearance of “aid and comfort to the enemy.”
What bothers me most about Moody’s view on Pound’s sanity is that it forces us to believe that in full possession of his wits, Pound collaborated in a cynical strategy of side-tracking his trial in hopes of a fairly quick release once the desire for post-war vengeance had run its course. Though Pound considered himself justified in his propaganda work, the red-herring of the question of his sanity might be a relatively safe way through the legal jungle, which might otherwise end unpredictably. Pound was confident of his essential innocence – after all his country had betrayed him – but not confident that he (or Cornell) could convince a jury of it. With the Nürenberg process in train, this is certainly understandable, especially as Cornell could not know how much the Justice Dept. had on Pound; only Pound could guess at that. So, we are to believe that he told Cornell that his work would be mistakenly treated as treasonous by those who didn’t understand his larger agenda, which took too long to explain and therefore an insanity defence was to be cooked up.
If Pound was not insane and by his own lights not guilty, why would he plead as he did? It must have been on his lawyer’s advice – even without full information, Cornell must have feared for his client’s life. The evidence Feldman has gathered from material at the Beinecke from the Justice Department suggests that the US would have a very strong case against Pound. As it happens, a recent article by Milton Hirsch, a sitting Judge on Florida’s 11th Circuit, explores Pound’s legal situation in 1945 and explains how this same case might be adjudicated today. The question that interests Hirsch is not Pound’s guilt, but his competence. Hirsch notes that the key question – “when did Pound’s incompetency begin” was never asked, nor having been found incompetent was Pound’s case ever subjected to review. Pound’s 1943 letter to AG Biddle and remarks made after his arrest show Pound competent. If Pound became incompetent it must have happened when he left Italy, when he sank into “a paranoid state” according to Dr. Overholser. Hirsch notes a continued confusion in the case between “insanity” and “competency” that should not have gone unchallenged. Not only was Pound cheated by avoiding trial, he points out, justice itself was affronted. Hirsch’s article agrees with Moody by hinting at a cultured conspiracy to put Pound away quietly allowing him a “retreat” with which to continue his poetic work. Perhaps Pound’s situation might be compared to that of Milton after the restoration of the Monarchy. Or, we may conclude that Cornell, the Justice Dept. and the psychiatrists conspired to railroad Pound into the bug-house. This would be a very “Poundian” interpretation. The poet was never to come to trial for fear it might reveal far too much about the way the USA really operated i.e. as some variant of the Jewish-communist conspiracy; or simply as the plaything of the Eastern financial establishment, the “usurocracy.” I could find either interpretation plausible, except that I can’t believe that Pound, whose whole life is a tragedy of sincerity, and whose loyalty to his beliefs can’t be questioned, would agree to either way out. He must have been very badly frightened, for if Pound was mentally competent then it appears that he would have been found a traitor. All signs suggest that this appears to be a view Feldman and Moody share.
Moody’s hostile review of Feldman might be construed, as I at first did, as a defense of Pound against a poacher from another discipline, but I now realize having looked into the second volume of Moody’s authoritative biography, that his difficulties with Feldman’s scholarship are much less about Feldman’s view of Pound, with which he apparently agrees in principle, than about the reasons Feldman gives for that view, which Moody finds simplistic. Moody spends many pages parsing exactly the evolution of Pound’s contradictory views on Jews, Fascism and Nazi Germany in Ezra Pound: Poet II, to which Feldman had no access. It was irritating, no doubt, to have a newcomer with a cruder methodology and a more common-sense morality bulldozing the biographer’s carefully laid-out demesne. But Feldman has his own agenda here; his interlocutors are historians of fascisms. To him Pound is an exemplary “case” of a committed fascist. From his point of view as an historian and political scientist, Pound’s fascist symptoms are classic, even florid.8
Instead of bullying Feldman, and, as a lesson to others, listing his (on the whole rather minor) errors, we should accept the challenge Moody and Feldman both present, to take Pound’s radical politics seriously – as seriously as did Pound himself. That means that Pound’s fascist propaganda must be admitted to his canon and to his legacy; this implies that Pound’s alleged treason must be reopened as a live issue and that our view of Pound will be changed. Moody will no doubt dwell on this moral and political crisis in Pound’s life in the third volume of his biography. It will be interesting to see where he comes out on this central issue of Pound’s culpability.
Finally, one can only worry that young scholars interested in this relatively unexplored area will be intimidated by Moody’s ferocious schooling of Feldman, which might have been left for private correspondence. They will interpret Moody’s letter as the latest manifestation of a protracted unwillingness within the Pound community to face the darker sides of Pound’s career. And there is a great deal of darkness there – some of which Feldman’s book makes visible. It is the shadow of Pound’s self-blinding light philosophy, mostly indefensible in ordinary terms. That Pound was extraordinary does not make it any easier to justify his anti-Semitism, his willingness to work for Fascists and Nazis and his probable treason, to say nothing of his efforts on the wrong side of the American Civil Rights struggle in the 1950s – all issues with which all serious Poundians must struggle.
Carpenter, Humphrey. A Serious Character. The Life of Ezra Pound. New York: Delta, 1988. Print.
Feldman, Matthew. Ezra Pound’s Fascist propaganda, 1935-1945. London: Palgrave, 2013. Print.
Hirsch, Milton. “Till the Detail of Surface Is in Accord With the Root in Justice”: Treason, Insanity, and the Trial of Ezra Pound. St. Thomas Law Review 25.2 (2013): 143-181. Free online.
Kodama, Sanehide. Ezra Pound and Japan. Letters & Essays. Redding Ridge, CT.: Black Swan, 1987. Print.
Leick, Karen. “Madness, Paranoia, and Ezra Pound’s FBI File.” Modernism on File. Writers, Artists and the FBI. Eds. Claire Culleton and Karen Leick. New York: Palgrave, 2008. 105-126. Print.
Moody, David A. Ezra Pound: Poet. A Portrait of the Man and His Work. Vol. II. The Epic Years 1921-1939. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.
Pound, Ezra. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1998. Print.
Pound, Ezra. “‘Corpses of Course’ ‘26 genn XXIII;’” (Jan 26, 1945) Pound/ anonymous. YCAL MSS 43, Box 97, folder 5425.
Pound, Ezra. “L’Ebreo patologia incarnate & bolshevismo e l’usurai”  YCAL MSS 43, Box 97, folder 4118.
Redman, Timothy. Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993. Print.
- “the right to not of property.” (Ed.)
- No references given by author to support this claim. (Ed.)
Internal evidence from J/M suggests that Pound may have just finished in six weeks an earlier draft of the text made the year before. Pound describes in J/M his experience of reading Van Buren’s autobiography and his indecision as to how to present this material in the Eleven New Cantos he had been writing since 1930. We know from his correspondence with Olga Rudge that Pound read the van Buren material between February and April 1932. Pound had finished van Buren’s portrait in Canto 37 three months before he met Mussolini. (Letter to Olga Rudge, 2 Nov. 1932, Beinecke: Rudge I). (Ed.)
- Further contextualization of this quotation may be here apposite: the letter is not a political recommendation, but an apology which Pound felt he had to write as an American who continued Fenollosa’s work of building bridges between America and Japan. He was ashamed of American anti-Japanese film propaganda shown in movie theaters two years before Pearl Harbor and wrote the letter to dissociate himself from it. (Ed.)
- Carpenter’s quotation was from an unpublished manuscript by Laughlin recording a distant memory of what Pound had told him long ago, probably as a joke. Carpenter himself comments on it “The MacArthur story was spoof” (700). (Ed.)
- “L’Ebreo patologia incarnata & bolshevismo e l’usurai” is a typescript at Beinecke: Box 97 Folder 4118, not mentioned by Feldman. “Corpses of Course” is a typescript at Beinecke dated by Feldman as 26 January 1945: Box 130 Folder 5425. Feldman quotes from and comments on it on pages 3 and 159 of his study. (Ed.)
- “There was resistance and civil war in Italy at this time, but there was simultaneously persistence amongst an intransigent core of ‘believers’ still committed to the Axis cause. If Pound was “off his head”, then so too were the 400 (of 1500) remaining propagandists moving with Minculpop to work from the shores of Lake Garda.” (Feldman 146). (Ed.)
- Matthew Feldman is not only a historian of fascisms but also a literary scholar. He co-edited seven volumes on Beckett between 2006 and 2012.(Ed.)