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  • "The Most Broadminded 'Leftwinger' in Europe":Wyndham Lewis and The New Age
  • Nathan O'Donnell (bio)

Wyndham Lewis, in 1937, called himself "the most broad-minded 'leftwinger' in Europe."1 This claim has proven baffling, in particular to those committed to the narrative of Lewis as proto- or crypto-fascist, many choosing to discount it as either a rhetorical pose or a dialectical strategy. However, this was not the only occasion on which Lewis claimed some affiliation with thinkers of the left. In fact, he made a series of such assertions, leading Lewis scholars such as Alan Munton and Andrzej Gąsiorek to attempt, in recent years, a reappraisal of his politics and an excavation of a set of latent, complex, short-lived, and partially disavowed left-wing sympathies in certain of his critical writings.2 In support of this broad scholarly project, the following article excavates Lewis's historical connection—and his intellectual overlap—with the network of intellectuals who contributed regularly to the "Socialist Weekly," The New Age, before and after World War I.3 It does so, on the one hand, as a contribution to the narrow field of Lewis studies; but on the other, I also aim to demonstrate, through Lewis's writings, some of the shared theoretical territory between certain radical prewar and wartime British socialisms, and the development of fascist ideologies in the 1920s. In so doing, I posit that these two intellectual fields might not be simply sequential (as is so often assumed in narratives of individual thinkers' development) but in fact, in some ways, overlapping.

Some of Lewis's earliest pieces of short fiction were published in The New Age before the war, though he was not yet, at that stage, an expressly political writer. Nevertheless, he was close to [End Page 749] a number of writers whose contributions to The New Age were instrumental in forging its political temperament; in particular, his association with Ezra Pound, of whom he made an ally in the years preceding World War I, had a far-reaching, mutual impact. His rather more fractious relationship with T. E. Hulme also had a profound effect upon his—as upon so many of his peers'—intellectual development. This set of critical alliances, among writers on poetry and the visual arts, has been well-documented: most significantly, a 2006 collection edited by Edward P. Comentale and Andrzej Gąsiorek, surveyed Hulme's focal position in the development of the philosophy and ethics of the prewar period, as well as his influence upon the development of postwar thought in England, making the case for what the editors refer to as a "Hulmean Modernism."4 What has been less closely considered is the relationship between Lewis's later political writing and the reportage and criticism of those contributing to the political discourse of The New Age. In particular, in what follows, I will examine the intersections between Lewis's later writing and that of the radical wing of the guild socialist movement, a subtextual presence informing, in particular, The Art of Being Ruled, which was, in Lewis's surprising formulation, "what would be called a 'Leftwing' book" (Blasting and Bombardiering, 339).

In The Art of Being Ruled, Lewis engages with socialist, anarchist, and syndicalist thinkers—as exemplified by the writings of Marx, Proudhon, and Sorel—but does not explicitly mention the guild socialists, who were part of his professional network in the prewar period. As a consequence, the connection between Lewis's reflections on left-wing theory, and the socialist traditions of his native country, have not hitherto been scrutinized. Lewis's 1926 book in fact builds upon this political lineage, continuing a radical, leftist, thread of English socialist writing, reviving in the process a strain of guild socialism such as was advocated during the extremities of the war, rather than the more softened, ameliorative philosophy expounded in its aftermath by writers like Niles Carpenter and R. H. Tawney. By tracing connections between Lewis and the more radical thinkers of The New Age (in particular, A. R. Orage and Ramiro de Maeztu), I want to examine in more detail the complex interactions between socialism and nascent forms of fascism in Britain...


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