“It is high time to start taking Ezra Pound’s fascism seriously,” asserts Matthew Feldman in a book based on a wide range of archival and published English-language, but no Italian, sources. In pursuit of this argument, he has a double target. First are those determined to place Pound high in the canon of Modernism while dismissing his politics as eccentricity. For them, Pound’s hatreds may have been shrill and even detestable: “That is what the jew is THERE to produce, war and more war between goyim/UNTIL…all the goyim simultaneously wake up to the cause of the trouble and determine to wipe out the root cause of war, namely YIDDERY” (26 January 1945). But, they have maintained, such views should not distract from our reading of his poetry, a contention that Feldman, at least in regard to the poet’s pronounced, prolonged and fundamentalist anti-Semitism, strenuously and effectively refutes.
However, diatribes against the Jews do not constitute the last word of Pound’s political effusions. Feldman almost takes the anti-Semitism as read as he focuses on the poet as a long-term resident in Fascist Italy, an admiring fan of Benito Mussolini and, during the Second World War, a regular broadcaster on the dictatorship’s Radio Rome. Pound, Feldman states in his preface, was “a committed and significant English-language strategist and producer of fascist propaganda between, and during, the ‘total wars’ in Europe”. He was, therefore, a deep believer in the “political religion” of fascism (the small “f” signifies an ideology that spread beyond Il Duce’s regime), a stance that was reinforced by the fact that Mussolini was pioneering a genuine path to Modernism.
At his most active, that is, during Italy’s war, Pound may have been a radical (although one who possessed some personal obsessions; few Italian Fascists shared his limitless enthusiasm for the works of Confucius or Vivaldi). Even before 1940, Pound may have “gravitated towards the biological anti-Semitism and militaristic expansionism of Nazi Germany”. Yet, Feldman urges, Pound’s paymasters in Rome and, after September 1943, in the Salò Republic, saw him as one of them, an intellectual worker for the revolutionary Nazi-Fascist New World Order. His politics were those of the Mussolini dictatorship.
So much is thesis. In its assertion, however, Feldman stutters as often as he convinces. He spends almost half of his short book on background, urging that Pound had been won over by the Duce by 1923 and was exhilarated by the regime’s Decennale 10th-anniversary celebrations in 1932-33. It was at this point that he actually met the dictator, to be deeply moved when Mussolini told him he found his gift of the draft of XXX Cantos “divertente”, a word that a more critical observer than Feldman might imagine was part of the automatic vocabulary of vague praise deployed by a ruler who spent most mornings in interviews and who, in reality, must often have been scarcely able to distinguish one guest from another.
Over the next years, Pound was a loud advocate of Italy’s imperial cause in its brutal invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. While acting as a sort of foreign correspondent for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, he urged them towards more radical policies and more aggressive anti-Semitism. But the heart of Feldman’s case lies in the Second World War and in Pound’s numerous broadcasts, whether in his own name or under an array of pseudonyms, including Piero Mazda, Marco Veneziano and Mr Dooley. Here Feldman has unearthed useful information. What is less sure is whether readers will be persuaded by the claim that Pound, other than with his crude and violent but scarcely original assaults on “World Jewry”, had forged himself into a coherent intellectual warrior of Fascism (or fascism). Feldman fails to stick for long enough on major potential themes – corporatism, the geographical lineaments of a Fascist empire, “race”, the role of the party, the place of the monarchy and Vatican – to allow proper analysis of what was the more complex and contradictory reality of Fascist Italy than is adequately defined by chat about “political religion” or “Modernism”. The book ends abruptly, avoiding exploration of Pound’s post-war “insanity” (by American military definition) and later cosy sanctuary at what he helped make an increasingly Vivaldi-ised Venice.
Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda, 1935-45
By Matthew Feldman
Palgrave Macmillan, 184pp, £45.00
Published 4 September 2013