Ezra Pound: The Marxist Anti-Semitic Zionist?

Robert Casillo. Journal of American Culture. Volume 17, Issue 3. Fall 1994.

Tim Redman would judge Pound’s relation to Italian Fascism after a “full and fair consideration of the facts” (8). Not only is his work seriously flawed by over-documentation at the expense of ideological analysis and by omission of incriminating facts, it lacks a theoretical grasp of fascist ideology and therefore cannot fully demonstrate Pound’s espousal of Italian Fascism. Redman commits many errors of ideological interpretation while repeating the apologetics of earlier Pound critics, so that Pound is again detoxified. Although Redman deplores the additional segregation of Pound’s poetry from his life and politics (1, 3, 4), he largely ignores The Cantos, thus suggesting falsely that Pound’s politics s marginal to the poem.

Redman insists that Pound, as a “left-fascist,” is sympathetic toward the working class and imbued with a corporatist or democratic rather than statist socialism. He cites Pound’s apparent affinities with Guild Socialism, syndicalism and left-wing fascists who hoped that Mussolini would empower Italian Fascist workers’ associations or syndicates (156, 157, 160, 161). Ever seeking a “rapprochement” with Marxism (273), Redman’s Pound is an anti-capitalist and pro-Leninist who saw World War II as a “class war” against usury (216). Actually, Pound favors neither socialist democracy nor the proletarian ownership or control of the means of production. He detests trade unions as “plunder associations” and frequently denounces socialism (Selected Prose 211). Although Redman stresses Guild Socialism’s influence on Pound, his own evidence suggests that Pound favors monetary reform rather than the industrial democracy sought by the Guild Socialists and the fascist left. Apparently Pound never protests that Mussolini, in denying political and economic power to fascist labor organizations, had reneged on his promise of a genuine corporate state. Pound also seems to accept Mussolini’s prohibition of strikes, his policy of compulsory arbitration by the state (usually deciding in favor of employers), his restriction of labor’s rights of association, his limitation of workers’ political representation to state-controlled organizations and his unequal segregation of employers and workers in separate corporations. Even Redman seems to acknowledge, however extenuatingly, that by the middle 1920s Mussolini had largely abandoned socialism, that he exploited Italian labor and that he frustrated “left” fascists (173).

What was the “sympathy” Pound “always” felt for Marxism (273)? Redman cites scattered Marxist “references” in Pound’s writings of the 1930s to argue for his political “eclecticism” (73, 109), thus implying that he is M, full-fledged fascist. For the same purpose Redman claims that Lenin belongs in Pound’s “pantheon” (73). In reality, Pound’s praise of Lenin indicates admiration not for Bolshevism but for the leadership principle which, unlike Bolshevism, is central to Italian Fascism. By the 1930s Pound regarded Communism, deprived of Lenin, as a “bog” Atrophy of the Leninists, I” 227). Nor is Lenin in Pound’s pantheon, for Pound distrusted Bolshevism and Marxism even in the 1920s. Like Major C.H. Douglas, Pound advanced Social Credit’s financial reforms as a bulwark against Marxist-Bolshevist proletarian dictatorship and, in his radio broadcasts, condemned Communism as a barbaric, Jewish-inspired attack on private property.

Pound’s ideology rendered impossible any rapprochement with Marxism. Far from being an historical materialist (22), he believes that economic health depends on will and intelligence. Such idealism partly explains Pound’s attraction fascism, which was an idealistic and voluntaristic reaction to leftist materialism and historical determinism (Sternhell xvi, 21, 25, 28, 67, 212, 213-65, 270-71, 284-85). Nor does Pound regard class warfare as inevitable, for in his view capitalism is fundamentally healthy. Like A.R. Orage, Silvio Gesell, Hitler and many fascists, Pound attacks loan capital–not capitalism per se–as the true cause of hostility between workers and capitalists, whom Pound (like other fascists) conjoins in the category of “producer” (“Ezra Pound Speaking” 195). Pound would defuse class warfare through monetary reform and an “organic” fascist social system reconciling capital and labor.

Were Pound a Marxist, would he not accept the labor theory of value? Yet Redman notes that Pound prefers Major Douglas’s concept of the “increment of association,” the value inhering in the cultural heritage (144, 145). Does Pound attack private property? For Pound, capital means only finance and implies control of people; whereas, unlike Marxism, property for Pound is not capital, and implies only control of things (Berezin 233, 298, 342). In focusing on financial exploitation, Pound like other fascists exculpates most of what Marxists regard as capitalism. Money, says Pound, is the only economic factor “subject U, socialization” (Pound, Impact 247-48).

Redman’s interpretation of Pound as a socialist reflects his incorrect assessment of Pound’s indebtedness to two non-fascist writers: A.R. Orage, critic and editor of The New Age, and Major Douglas, who founded Social Credit. These writers helped make Pound a banking and monetary reformer, while Orage (and less so Douglas) supposedly gave his thought a socialist cast. Yet Redman cannot see that, just as Orage came to reject class warfare, so his socialism was limited. This Tory anti-democrat with arlstocratic leanings sought a “Nietzscheian” socialism (Mairet 31). Defining true socialism as “non-class,” Orage called upon the proletariat (as Redman shows) to join with other classes in self-sacrifice for the general welfare (Martin 201, Finlay 24). For Orage, the “poor” were an “intolerable and disgusting spectacle….The socialist hates the poor…he turns from them in loathing” (qtd. Finlay 69). Such is Redman’s “champion” of the working class (24). Orage sought to abolish class warfare through a functional, organic, and neo-feudal harmony of classes organized as producers inlay 70-71, 240, Robinson 90-107; Redman 33). During the 1930s and 1940s Pound extols Italian Fascism for supposedly achieving a similar functional economic collaboration among classes. Contrary to Redman’s claim that Orage desired greater confrontation of capital by labor (22), after World War I he abandoned Guild Socialism’s emphasis on industrial democracy and collective ownership of industry in favor of Social Credit, a change motivated by anti-Marxism (Carpenter 100, 127, 190-91, 218, 250; Martin 268). Henceforth he regarded the interests of capitalists and workers as harmonious, their common enemy being “Finance” (Orage 65, 117, 133).

Redman likewise regards Major Douglas as socialistic. Conflating Douglas’s belief that the “plant of civilization belongs to the consumer” with the Marxist idea that workers should control the means of production, Redman claims that Social Credit “approaches” Marxism (128n). The truth is that Douglas attacked Marxism, rejected the labor theory of value (as Redman notes) and regarded the labor movement as anti-social Douglas 2, 3, 17; Carpenter 156-57). Despite his original loose connection with Guild Socialism, he believed in capitalism and like Orage disavowed the goal of industrial democracy and collective ownership. Rather than wanting labor to control the means of production, Douglas preferred the capitalist system of industrial ownership and management. No political, social and economic radical, Douglas was a financial and monetary reformer who sought to cure the ills of capitalism, in particular private finance, by increasing purchasing power through “social credit,” the distribution of national dividends (Carpenter 127-28, 150, 190-91, 212, 250, 268; Douglas 3, 5, 10, 13, 16, 52, 53; Finlay 105-06). Although John Finlay finds affinities with Marxism and socialism in Social Credit, he acknowledges that it has always been seen as anti-socialist, adding that “Douglas accepted the great bulk of the existing economic system and demanded but a minor accounting change” (Finlay 2-3, 111-12, 181, 211, 220, 223, 227). This description hardly fits a socialist.

Doing all he can to mitigate Pound’s commitment to Italian Fascism, Redman remarks that the fascists disliked his economic theories and suspiciously intercepted his letters (169, 204), that he had difficulty getting permission to broadcast over Rome Radio, that the fascists curtailed his broadcasts (221) and that he had to struggle to get back on the air. Despite Redman’s reference to Pound’s “fede” (“faith,” an Italian Fascist slogan [120-21]), which suggests allegiance, he refers to Pound’s mere “involvement” with Italian Fascism (267). In mistakenly dismissing Italian Fascist ideology as “nebulously” (3), Redman implies that Pound’s fascism is Indefinable, perhaps nonexistent. For him, Pound is no typically totalitarian fascist but a maverick on the movement’s leftist margins, where fascism and socialism blur.

Like other apologists, Redman would defuse Pound’s fascism by defining it as “economic”: Pound believed that Mussolini would implement reforms like those proposed by Douglas and Gesell (7, 78, 107). Redman ignores that the Social Crediters cast out Pound because he sought to combine monetary reform with fascist totalitarianism (Norman 325). Refusing to acknowledge Pound’s advocacy of Mussolini’s totalitarian state, Redman believes that Pound applies the word “totalitarian” only to the “organic” cultures he sought to revive in modernity (21, 96). Yet Pound knew that, in the modern world, such a culture demands political totalitarianism, and he uses “totalitarian” approvingly in this sense. Consider Pound’s self-description, which Redman quotes: “Democratically…he’s a stinker…a fine example of an American one totalitarian” (209).

Predictably, Redman ignores the distinctly fascist character of Pound’s totalitarianism. Pound admires Italian Fascism’s organicist social theory, its concept of a hierarchal, functional, non-class and corporate society controlled by the state, which was to ensure class collaboration while dispensing economic rewards to producers (Casillo 51, 194-200; Pound, “Organicly Speaking” 211; Jefferson and/or Mussolini 85, 116; “Ezra Pound Speaking” 280). Redman never assesses Pound’s and Italian Fascism’s aim of replacing parliamentarianism and the liberal concept of citizenship with obligatory political representation according to vocational organization. Nor does Redman distinguish between the liberal concept of rights (“negative” liberty) and the fascist concept of duties, or “positive” liberty, which Pound approves. Like Mussolini, Pound believes that individuals must perform duties commanded by the state. One looks in vain for any discussion of Pound’s attraction to Italian Fascist technocratic elitism and contempt for the masses.

Like Italian Fascism, Pound draws upon two historical models which Redman overlooks. Just as Mussolini was portrayed as an artist and condottiere, so Pound’s fascism is influenced by Burckhardt’s concept of the Renaissance state as a “work of art.” Pound also shares the Italian Fascists’ obsession with imperial Rome, yet Redman says nothing of Pound’s belief that Italian Fascism had revived the best features of Roman imperalism (Pound, Guide to Kulchur 38; Selected Prose 327). So too, Redman ignores the tension in fascist ideology between centralization and medievalizing corporatism, a tension Pound and other fascists resolved in favor of the Roman state (Casillo 51, 347-48n). Given such omissions, Redman understandably ignores the militarism which attracted Pound to Mussolini. Just as Jefferson and/or Mussolini recommends the “ancient Roman legion” over psychoanalysis (100-01), so the Pisan Cantos elegize Mussolini’s “empire,” while Canto 93 regrets Italy’s lost Libyan possessions. Although Redman realizes that Mussolini’s Ethiopian war required Pound to defend militarism after having denounced it, he contends that Pound’s ‘“indifference” to the war proves “how ‘natural’ racist and colonial attitudes were during that period” (158). “indifference” hardly characterizes Pound’s identification with fascist aggression. He celebrates the Ethiopian conquest in Canto 40, in which a Carthaginian expedition parallels Mussolini’s exploits. Incredibly, Redman never mentions this canto. His inability to recognize Pound’s bellicosity reflects a failure to see that Pound, like Mussolini, conceives of life as a violent “Darwinan” competition. Apparent in Pound’s translation of Gourmont’s Physique de l’Amour (1922), such naturalism figures in Canto 30, where Artemis weeds life’s garden. During the 1930s, Pound complains of “soft life and decadence” and asserts that “life exists by destruction of other life” (Selected Prose 68, 246). In his broadcasts, history is a struggle in which the sheep perish.

To understand Italian Fascism one must grasp its origins and “mythic” self-interpretation, Redman might have noted that Pound shares the Italian Fascists’ hatred of Europe’s political “gerontocracy” as well as their cult of youth. Not only does Redman ignore the Monte dei Paschi Cantos, in which the Leopoldine-Habsburg reforms in 18th-century Tuscany supposedly prefigure fascism, he neglects to show how Pound’s anti-liberal reading of the Risorgimento and its aftermath consorts with the Italian Fascist interpretation. Noting Pound’s dismissal of the parliamentary period after 1870 as a forty-year sleep” (105), Redman claims that Pound had a “very particular view of modern Italian history”; yet many Italian Fascists shared it. They too downplayed the Risorgimento’s liberalism while emphasizing its hero-cult, authoritarianism, statism, nationalism and adventurist colonialism.

Nowhere does Redman discuss Pound on the key relation of the Italian Fascist state and the Catholic Church. Guide to Kulchur and other texts of the 1930s would have shown that Pound, like the fascists, views the Church as properly an instrument of the Italian state. Unfortunately, some statements in the book lack this clarifying context: Lina Caico’s reference to the suppression of a papal speech in the fascist press (188); Pound’s ambiguous call in 1944 for “not anti-Catholic, perhaps not even anti-clerical” ethical instruction (261): and his demand in the same year for a “Republican fascist newspaper equal…to the Catholic Crociata Italiana for propaganda purposes” (240).

According to Redman, Pound’s fascism derives from his 18th-century rationalism which led him to a reductively mechanistic ideology (116). Actually, Pound is a romantic oranicist for whom state and society consist of interdependent parts, and whose fascism is driven primarily by emotionalism and mythicism. While Redman recognizes that Pound “succumbed” to Mussolini’s “cult of personality” (104), he never mentions that Mussolini’s view of himself as a political artist consorts with Pound’s aestheticization of politics. Mussolini also appealed to Pound’s male-centered vision of authority, virility and procreation. These sexual attitudes, none of which Redman discusses, underwrite Pound’s commitment to fascist sexism and patriarchal authority which are also ignored. Like Mussolini, Pound extols patriarchal agrarian homesteads, private property, hereditary succession and the breeding of large families. These preoccupations focus in his obsession with Mussolini’s draining of the Pontine Marshes, of which Redman says nothing.

Redman thinks that Pound’s Jefferson and/or Mussolini contains a “coherent” political doctrine (102, 116, 110). What coherence is there in the notion that ends justify means (120), that Mussolini, being “always right” (104), may change laws at will (103) and that politics require aesthetic criteria? 102, 118, 119). Redman acknowledges the difficulty of reconciling fascism with Jeffersonianism (117-18), yet he would mitigate the contradiction between Pound’s advocacy of free speech and endorsement of Mussolini’s state censorship (103). Nor does Pounds political pragmatism prove his non-fascism (110), for Italian Fascism espoused a similar opportunism without being any less an ideology, however incoherent. Redman also ignores major ideological contradictions in Pound and Italian Fascism: agrarianism versus technological modernization, and historical conservatism versus revolutionary voluntarism.

The claim that Pound never recommends fascism for export is based on a selective reading of the evidence (22, 106). In the broadcasts, however, Pound praises fascist corporatism over American parliamentarianism, recommends a “corporate solution” for American employers and observes that Roosevelt’s sound proposals are “IMITATED from Mussolini and Hitler.” So too, the Axis has “worked out a new system suited to EUROPE” (Ezra Pound Speaking 19, 23, 45, 46, 204). Is this not fascism for export?

Redman documents Pound’s activities between September 1943 and May 1945 when he propagandized for Mussolini’s Salo Republic, a Nazi puppet state. To Redman, as Pound was turning further leftward, Mussolini was returning to socialism (241, 273). Pound supposedly hoped the regime would achieve a Marxist fascism: monetary reform, the abolition of capitalism, the transformation of private capital into credit, the nationalization of industry and workers’ rights and industrial control (235-36, 240, 241, 256-57, 260, 267). Yet Pound’s new” political identity must be regarded skeptically since Pound simultaneously attacked the American left as a Jewish front (272). The radio broadcasts had denounced trade unions and class warfare while defending private property and the fascist system of labor organization. Canto 74, written in 1945, informs Stalin that sound credit reform obviates the collectivization of industry. Even Redman seems to suspect that Pound was making a desperately insincere appeal to Italian workers (241).

Redman also argues that Pound, realizing in 1943 that fascism was “dying” (231, 256, 262), was withdrawing from it (256). Pound’s historical studies and Confucian translations show that Pound, no “servile propagandist” had his own “program” and more “enduring cultural interests” (255, 251, 264). In fact, the Chinese Cantos had paralleled Italian Fascism and ancient China: the fasces, the confino, the Charter of Labor, the ammassi (grain pools), corporatism, hierarchy and militarism, with Buddhists and Taoists doubling for the hated Jews. Having in 1941 praised Mussolini and Hitler for following Confucius, Pound inscribed Confucian slogans on pro-fascist posters during the Salo regime (Heyman 98, Norman 396, H. Carpenter 635). Admittedly in 1944-45 he ventured criticism of Italian Fascism, but his lasting allegiance is manifest in the now public Italian Cantos (72 and 73), which support the Axis counterattack of 1944. Although Redman gives these cantos a mere page and a half, dismissing them as a “[not] particularly shocking” anti-climax, a competent imitation of Dante and Cavalcanti (270), they show that Pound backed the Axis to the last shot. Besides charging that Jewish usury controls the Allies, Pound recommends Confucianism as the cure for fascism, which he portrays as a sacrificial religion. Calling for the recovery of Mussolini’s empire, he aestheticizes fascism in the figures of ET. Marionette and Guido Cavalcanti while finding its Mussolinian prototypes in Sigismondo Malatesta, Cesare Borgia and Ezzelino, da Romano. As Ezzelino served the German Emperor Frederick II, so Mussolini serves Hitler. Alleging that the Papacy had betrayed fascism, Pound calls for its domination by the fascist state.

Whereas Redman’s arbitrary decision to examine Pound only up to 1945 implies that he abandoned fascism for more “enduring” concerns, his subsequent writings prove his unwavering allegiance. Canto 74 elegizes Mussolini who appears (with Pound) in Canto 91 as a fascist “martyr.” Not only do the later Cantos contain Italian Fascist slogans and code words, they endorse fascist imperialism and Mussolini’s labor policies. This list could easily be extended.

With regard to Pound’s infamous broadcasts, Redman interrogates Pound’s sanity and possible treason, demonstrating that he was sane enough to comprehend that his broadcasts might be considered treasonous (214, 229). One disagrees, however, that since “mere words” cannot constitute treason and the prosecution must prove intent to betray, Pound is likely to have been acquitted (227, 230). The broadcasts might well prove that Pound aided the enemy and that, for all NB denials, he aimed to harm the American cause, as in describing American soldiers as pawns of Jewry. It is irrelevant that few heard the broadcasts (230). Even Redman implies Pound’s guilt, attributing his anti-Semitism (preposterously) to a “need to avoid a conscious realization that he had joined forces with the enemies of his native land” (216).

Turning to Pound’s anti-Semitism, Redman repeats the familiar apology that it is motivated mainly by hatred of Jewish “usocracy” (220), and that Pound vilifies the Jewish people only in infrequent, intemperate moments. Although Redman admits Pound’s attacks on the Jewish race and acceptance of Mussolini’s racial laws of 1938, he says that his “racial hatred” becomes “full-blown” only in the wartime broadcasts (216). Actually, by the late 1930s Pound’s anti-Semitism is not simply economic but culturally and biologically racist and thus focused on the Jews collectively. Pound denounces them for monotheism, anti-nature, repression, exploitation, abstract intellectuality, luxury, unmanliness, infertility, mental disorders, psychoanalysis and other evils. In his broadcasts Pound calls for a program of racial breeding which, Redman fails to note, typifies Nazism rather than Italian Fascism.

The causes of Pound’s anti-Semitism are likewise treated inadequately. Pound’s hatred did not persist in its originally mild American form (176) and, while Orage and Douglas probably contributed to his loathing of Jewish usury, Pound’s belief in a Jewish conspiracy does not originate in 18th-century rationalism (116). Pound’s anti-Semitism is largely irrational, combining protection, identification, self-hatred, paranoia and scapegoating. It stems partly from castration fear, the circumcised Jew opposing Pound’s phallicism. Never does Redman grasp that Pound’s totalitarian state and culture demand the Jews’ expulsion, and that opposition to Jewish usury enables Pound (and other fascists) to deflect proletarian hostility away from capitalism.

One cannot trust Redman even on the phases of Pound’s anti-Semitism. Supposedly in 1936 Pound’s “latent’ anti-Semitism” was manifesting itself (176), yet he “fought against” this mere “tendency” (216), so that by 1940 his anti-Semitism was “growing” (193). Only in 1942 did it emerge as “full-blown racial hatred” (216), reaching “new” virulence between 1943 and 1945 (243, 268). Still, Pound remained “somewhat ambivalent” toward anti-Semitism (220). These statements are belied by Pound’s writings of the middle 1930s which vilify Jewish culture and the “Hebrew disease” (Pound, Literary Essays 85, 154). The claim that Pound’s anti-Semitism remained mildly “American” in the late 1930s appears within a few pages of Pound’s contemporaneous remarks: “The Jew parasite on principle….[Westerners] vomit out the Jew periodically” (175, 178). As for the alleged mildness of Pound’s wartime Meridiano di Roma articles (198), is it mild to assert that the “Jew is the enemy of all the people” among other accusations? Nonetheless, Pound’s disavowals of pogroms supposedly show that he “stops just short of advocating the persecution of the Jews” (196, 224). Redman misreads these insincere statements, for in elsewhere comparing Jews to plague, syphilis, rats and vermin, Pound would incite his Gentile audience to expel them.

Attempting repeatedly to mitigate Pound’s anti-Semitism by omission and extenuation, Redman mentions Pound’s correspondence with the Catholic Rev. Charles Coughlin but ignores their common anti-Semitism (161-62). He attributes Pound’s acceptance of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to his lack of a good library (202). Besides asserting that some of Pound’s anti-Semitic statements resulted from pressure from his fascist superiors (248, 271), he claims that Pound was “not a racist” (158), citing his interest, in fact purely anthropological, in Frobenius’s African studies, which have nothing to do with Jews (158-59). In arguing that Pound’s term “aryo-kike,” inculpating Gentiles, departs from racism and raises doubts that Pound was anti-Semitic (243-44), Redman fails to realize that, for Pound, “Hebrewism” is so infectious that it can transform Gentiles into Jews. Redman’s most incredible argument is that Pound, in proposing to sell the Jews the territory where he would quarantine them, desires a Jewish “national homeland” and is an “anti-Semitic Zionist” (178, 192, 224). This absurd phrase typifies the pervasive confusion of Redman’s book.