Was Morecai Richler A Paid

Posted on Friday, July 29 at 22:36 by Robin Mathews

Was Mordecai Richler a paid “operative” of the CIA?  [Part Two]


In these dark, turbid, reactionary times the question posed in the title is of special relevance.  That is so partly because the designs upon Canadian democracy, Canadian wealth, and Canadian independent choice have probably never been as urgently pushed forward as they are today.


Mordecai Richler’s contempt for Canada, his attack on almost all things Canadian, and his worship of the U.S.A. – to the point of (at least) approving of integration of the two countries – fit perfectly U.S. “Cold War” designs (1945-1989).  In fact, Richler’s public stance fit U.S. designs for Canada so well the title of this essay can’t be written in jest.


As U.S. world dominance is more and more threatened, its determination to control all land-based wealth within its reach becomes more imperative.  Canada becomes increasingly a target of takeover, especially as financial agglomerates more and more “own” the U.S. government and other governments (like Canada’s) in the Western World. 


As South American countries (also possessing wealth connected by land to the U.S.A.) move toward greater independence from the U.S., pressure on Canada builds. “America’s Backyard” – Central and South America -  have begun to preach a vision of society purposefully in contestation with the U.S.A.


A possible international financial break-down because of the lawless, unhindered tampering with the relation between real wealth and money market activities by huge, government-approved

(in fact) criminal organizations may modify Canada-U.S. relations – but not necessarily for the good.  The problems of the Canadian future may get more complicated; they are unlikely to get more hopeful.


How does Mordecai Richler fit?  We can answer the question by describing his public positions and allegiances with as little psychologizing as possible.  Why he was who he was, psychologically, doesn’t really matter here – we are dealing with the wealth of nations, Canada and its culture, and the unremitting attack on Canadian independence.  Richler’s role helps to point at major, often nearly invisible, realities of his time … and of the present.


Observing his life and work, one might say he wanted literary (and financial) success and saw them in U.S. terms.  He craved the approval of the powerful – especially of powerful reactionaries.  He seems to have been a “natural reactionary”.  But maturing in a time when liberal democratic capitalism was in a “progressive” phase, reality for him was “liberal”.  And so he probably believed he was, as he said, a Socialist. 


Nothing could be farther from the truth – if language has any use other than to disguise what really is.


He (mostly) loathed the country of his birth and (fractured) up-bringing.  He attacked almost any uniqueness it attempted to preserve.  When a move was made to insure that excellent Canadians would fill the majority of cultural posts in the country, he attacked.  When calls were made to preserve independent publishing in the country, he attacked.  When an independent literature was claimed for the country, he scoffed and praised only those who modelled their work on U.S. writing. 


When Quebec demanded powers to preserve an old culture, to prevent linguistic deterioration, and to repair inequalities bred of “the Conquest’, he harangued and over-simplified. In fact, he used the highly dubious work of Esther Delisle to make anti-semitic charges against Quebecers that many consider totally unconvincing. When economic independence was fought for, he joined the forces of economic sell-out and takeover.


He apparently loathed his own country, but he was trapped in it as the source of his sharpest perceptions, experiences, and emotional intensities – the well out of which, a writer, he could draw the material from which to form credible fictions.


One of the greatest U.S. writers, Henry James, found U.S. society greed-driven and crude.  When the U.S. stayed out of the First World War, James took British citizenship as a statement of his beliefs.


Mordecai Richler, forty years later, allied himself with U.S. values and taste, and he lived his life as a (self-declared) exponent of U.S. ‘values’.  Henry James turned away from the U.S. because of its culture and values.  Mordecai Richler embraced it because of them. And he joined with other “continentalists” in Canada to make U.S. culture and values prevail here.


Not often described as such, raw Capitalism is tribalist.  It is, that is to say, a gathering of people welded together by interest – acting offensively and defensively together and sharing a clearly recognized “culture” which they desire to maintain at the expense of any and all others. 


Richler aspired to that culture, and he supported it.  As an artist, however, he could only be “from it”, not “of it” or “in it”.  He was like the New York School of Abstract Expressionist painters who were ‘bought’ by the CIA for propaganda purposes.  They were permitted to be shills for the U.S. power elite – and benefitted – but they never became part of or in the power elite (and the CIA claims they never knew they were being used).


The CIA – over those important years - “could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines, and public information organizations”. One of its branches, the Congress of Cultural Freedom had offices in 35 countries, and created fake “foundations” to move U.S. Abstract Expressionist art around the world. [Frances S. Saunders, The Independent, October 22, 1995].


It also created and paid for one of the most influential Anglo/American cultural magazines.  Encounter Magazine ran from 1953 to 1991 – despite being exposed as a CIA creation in 1967 when then-editor, poet and critic Stephen Spender resigned.


They were careful, a former CIA officer says, not to inform ‘difficult’ artists of CIA patronage.  What did they do with artists sympathetic to CIA causes?  We don’t know that yet, except editors not opposed to CIA financing were not hard to find to continue the life of Encounter until a few years after the Cold War ended.


The openness of “bare-naked”, “girly” U.S. magazines to Richler’s fulminations reveals his level of power and his relation to the U.S. power elite. He was admitted as an entertainer who belittled his own country and acted as a propagandist against its inner integrity.  He was published, as well, in U.S. magazines generally considered excellent.  They were willing to carry material that was highly suspect ... to carry such material, it seems, almost programmatically.


At war, often, with his Jewish connections in Canada, disliking the larger Canada, writing (to put it gently) offensively and often in error about it and about Quebec, allying with powerful Canadian Reactionaries, and feeling more at home in England or the U.S.A., Richler’s real community was focused in his own family.  (And one suspects that entity was, partly, of necessity, a patriarchal fiction.)


As a result his lonely individualism stands out.  In his life, in his work, in his last (perhaps best) novel, and showing through the very bad biography of him written by Charles Foran, Richler is  plainly one who was forced to build his own fragile tribe out of his own life and the family directly arising out of that life.


That’s plainly a source of pain in his last novel, BARNEY’S VERSION (which might have been called BARNEY’S PERVERSION).  There, and elsewhere, Richler (as if failing to see himself and his loyalties) accuses the Quebecois of tribalism.  Their separatists in fact are not tribalists.  They seek democratic independence and linguistic security – to prevent being invaded and erased as a legitimate culture.  Their object is not to oppress or violate others but to welcome them if they will join the democratic community possessing an established culture worth defending.


The protagonist of BARNEY’S VERSION (at one level a thinly disguised Mordecai Richler) is a man, in fact, without a community, or a country, or even a “tribe”.  He is an anarchist individualist apparently in charge of his own destiny.  He is condemned to his close family as tribe – and when he shatters that small unit, he faces an increasingly deepening void.


The book is a kind of Canadian DEATH OF A SALESMAN, but a uniquely Canadian one.  The protagonist is not destroyed by Capitalist values which he doesn’t even know rule his life – as is the case of Willy Loman.  Barney is destroyed, one feels, by Richler’s own failure to see that the values at work in his life as author are not core to his own society but are imported and imposed.


A part of the pain in BARNEY’S VERSION arises from its difference from DEATH OF A SALESMAN whose author, Arthur Miller, knew very well the nature of Willy Loman’s ‘tragedy’.  Richler, one feels, in comparison, identifies with Barney and champions his view of the world.  And so Barney’s life arises from Richler’s own blindness and pride, his assurance that he can make it alone, that he can become ‘big’ if he only persists.


In a way one can say that the folly of Barney Panofsky is doubly sharp because it is also the folly of Mordecai Richler.  Clinging to his mirage, Mordecai Richler creates a ‘heroic’ product out of that mirage.  Chained to values that destroy both the individual and the community, Mordecai Richler writes his last, perhaps best, novel, one that does not bode well for the community out of which it has come.


That is so because Richler joined forces with the then “neo-Liberalism” of the times to introduce Reactionary values that would transform Canadians into exiles in their own country and would deliver Canadian wealth and politics into the hands of cheap opportunists at home and in the U.S.A.  As operative, he has – so far – been on the winning side. 


PART THREE will discuss Mordecai Richler in the ‘Cold War’.












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