Monthly Archives: August 2008

Orwell and an Anthropologist

August 22, 2008

Much of George Orwell’s early years was spent investigating social conditions. Luckily for us, more often than not a book would follow – a gift to the world from a man with an incomparable knack for courageous and unbiased observation and truth of language. In this, and in his brutal honesty in matters of politics, he was as a scientist, or sociologist investigating the world.

Orwell first met the anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer during his two socially-engaged years in Hempstead, an “artsy” area of London. Through his mentor Mabel Fierz, Orwell connected with Francis and Myfanwy Westrope, proprietors of “Booklover’s Corner”, a hub of sorts for fledgling writers, who would room upstairs in return for work down in the bookstore by day. According to biographer Crick, it was through the Westropes that Orwell was to meet his wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, accomplished proprietor of a typing/transcription outfit in the neighborhood.

This period – in the two years prior to his dedicated journey north to chronicle miners’ conditions – informed his writing at the time. It became the setting for Keep the Aspidistra Flying (which was, according to biographer Bernard Crick, transparently “Hempstead”). Orwell’s life in the bookshop became fodder for the novel’s protagonist, Gordon Comstock (and perhaps also for 1984‘s Winston Smith, who finds some peace – and love, incidentally – in the sanctuary of a little side-street antique shop). Indeed, publisher Gollancz required revisions to a slew of names/places/products, to avoid possible libel lawsuits (the laws for which, were quite strict in Britain compared with the States, for example).

In Hempstead and through Booklover’s Corner, Orwell brushed shoulders with artists and literary types many of whom were in the neighborhood for like reasons. And though ostensibly still a self-proclaimed “Tory-Anarchist”, Orwell was growing increasingly political (he would be in Spain with the International Brigades by the end of 1936). With the Westropes, he attended ILP meetings, of which a large contingent met in nearby Conway Hall. He roomed with Jon Kimche, later to become editor of Tribune, and then Jewish Observer and Middle East Review

It is supposed that Orwell only entered the socialist camp for good as a result of his experience in the north of England, touring the ‘Black Country’ (“in other words,” Crick writes, “passing through some of the grimmest urban spoil of the first industrial revolution…”) toward his destination – the mining regions, chronicled in The Road to Wigan Pier (pub. March, 1937). He boarded with working-class miners’ families and experienced first-hand their brand of hardened, true-to-life socialism; risking his own health, delved down into the mines to experience for himself the working conditions that counted among the worst in Britain.

It is true that only after this experience did Orwell then take the fateful step of taking up with the ILB in Spain. The shift from Keep the Aspidistra Flying to The Road to Wigan Pier highlight his break with a purely literary, novelistic approach, toward political writing, as well as the later, polemical essays in which Orwell would display some of his sharpest political acumen.

But 1936 was a fateful year in European politics, as Orwell was keenly aware. A socialist government had just won the popular vote and events were heating up. The international nature of politics was becoming more keenly felt in the lead up to the war.

During 1934-35 Hempstead, London, reviews for Burmese Days were being published: most officially by Blair’s old St. Cyprian’s/grade-school mate (whom he’d not seen since those days), Cyril Connolly, for New Statesman and Nation. Forthwith, they met for dinner. (It was also through Connolly that Orwell later met his second wife, Sonia).

His Hempstead/bookshop days also spawned life-long friendship and correspondence following a letter from Geoffrey Gorer (16 July 1935) congratulating him on Burmese Days. Interviewed years later for a BBC television program on Orwell (“The Road to the Left”, 1970, produced by Melvin Bragg) Gorer recalled frankly yet warmly the young Orwell:

I found he was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever known. I was never bored in his company. He was interested in nearly everything. And his attitudes were original. He didn’t take accepted ideas… I would have said he was an unhappy man. He was too big for himself. I suppose if he’d been younger you would have said ‘coltish’. He was awfully likely to knock things off tables, to trip over things. I mean, he was a gangling, physically badly co-ordinated young man. I think his feelings that even the inanimate world was against him which he did have at some times, I mean any gas stove he had would go wrong, any radio would break down… He was a lonely man – until he met Eileen, a very lonely man. He was fairly well convinced that nobody would like him, which made him prickly.

After his return from Spain, Orwell wrote Homage to Catalonia. But Orwell was of necessity walking a fine line, as his publisher, and others on the left, in the tumultuous politics of the day, were concerned about his involvement with the Anarchist POUM during that war. The Communist Party’s line in the aftermath of (and indeed, during) the Spanish war was that the Catalonian brigades and the Anarchists were in league with Franco to undermine the Popular Front (who were Communist sympathizers and receiving aid from Stalin) and the Government, etc., etc.

Orwell wrote to Gorer a remarkably concise and candid letter summing up the matter of Spain, and returning also to the lesson of Burmese Days:

The Popular Front baloney boils down to this: that when the war comes the Communists, labourites, etc., instead of working to stop the war and overthrow the Government, will be on the side of the Government, provided that the Government is on the ‘right’ side, i.e., against Germany. But everyone with any imagination can foresee that Fascism, not of course called Fascism, will be imposed on us as soon as the war starts. So you will have Fascism with Communists participating in it, and, if we are in alliance with the USSR, taking a leading part in it. This is what has happened in Spain. AFter what I have seen in Spain I have come to the conclusion that it is futile to be ‘anti-Fascist’ while attempting to preserve capitalism. Fascism, after all is only a development of capitalism, and the mildest democracy, so-called, is liable to turn into Fascism when the pinch comes. We like to think of England as a democratic country, but our rule in India, for instance, is just as bad as German Fascism, though outwardly it may be less irritating [perhaps purposefully ironic understatement]. I do not see how one can oppose Fascism except by working for the overthrow of capitalism, starting, of course, in one’s own country. If one collaborates with a capitalist-imperialist government in a struggle ‘against Fascism’, i.e., against a rival imperialism, one is simply letting Fascism in by the back door. The whole struggle in Spain, on the Government side, has turned upon this. The revolutionary parties, the Anarchists, POUM, etc. wanted to complete the revolution, the others wanted to fight the Fascists in the name of ‘democracy’, and of course, when they felt sure enough of their position and had tricked the workers into giving up their arms, re-introduce capitalism. The grotesque feature, which very few people outside Spain have yet grasped, is that the Communists stood furthest of all to the Right, and were more anxious even than the liberals to hunt down the revolutionaries and stamp out all revolutionary ideas.

(from Collected Essays I, pp. 284-85.)

– dgw

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New book by Unfit for Command co-author Jerome R. Corsi

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Presidential campaign 08: Follow the money trail (Article from Moment Magazine, July/Aug. 2008)

July/August 2008

“When Money Grows on Jewish Trees”, by Benjamin Schuman-Stoler, Moment Magazine, July/August 2008.

No matter how much they emphasize their differences from one another on the campaign trail, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain share a common denominator: Jewish fundraisers. Penny Pritzker serves as Obama’s national finance chair, and Elliott Broidy is the Republican National Committee finance committee chairman.

Through early June, Pritzker helped bring in more than $265 million for the Obama campaign; the Democratic National Committee collected an additional $80 million. Broidy amassed over $165 million for the RNC, while McCain’s campaign brought in $96 million. These amounts are nothing to scoff at, and they highlight the influence of Jews in American presidential races.

It is no secret that Jews are politically active: Up to 80 percent of eligible Jewish voters turned out to vote in the 2004 presidential election, compared to 50 percent of the electorate as a whole. But it is in the realm of campaign finance that Jews—who comprise less than two percent of the population—play a disproportionately prominent role. “Jewish fundraising has become so central to campaigns,” says retired University of Arizona Professor of History Leonard Dinnerstein, “that nobody renounces Jews and expects to be reelected.”

Jews long ago recognized that political influence improved their chances of survival—be it by campaigning, voting or contributing financially, says Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. “The Jews learned from history to take advantage of the great opportunity America gives to participate in politics.”

Although wealthy Jews like August Belmont in the 19th century and Bernard Baruch in the 20th threw their substantial weight behind presidential candidates, the first example of a large-scale Jewish fundraising mobilization occurred around the partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel, Dinnerstein says. The success of that campaign established the small minority as an important—and organized—fundraising network.

Presidential campaigns became the money-raising behemoths they are today after World War II, with the introduction of televised political advertising in the 1950s. This was followed by the 1971 Federal Elections Campaign Act, which created the Federal Election Commission (FEC), to monitor and limit the amount that single donors can contribute. Candidates then had to shift their focus from a few massive donations to a large number of smaller ones, says former FEC Commissioner Michael Toner. “After the FEC Act, the role of fundraisers changed to laying the groundwork for a funding infrastructure, for a network.”

In the 2008 election cycle, the Jewish “network” has helped raise more money than any other cycle in history. Broidy, who previously raised more than $800 million to buoy private investment in Israel, recently hosted a major fundraising dinner for McCain at $2,300 a plate, the maximum campaign donation allowed. Fundraising events such as these have helped the RNC move ahead of the DNC in available funds—and point to Broidy’s considerable fundraising prowess—even though Obama leads McCain in campaign fundraising.

Another influential Jew in McCain’s campaign is Donald R. Diamond, a longtime friend of the senator and benefactor of the Tucson, Arizona, Jewish community. Known at times as “The Donald,” Diamond is chairman of Diamond Ventures, Inc. and a co-chair of McCain’s national finance committee. Wayne Berman, also a Jewish co-chair, is managing director of the influential Ogilvy Government Relations and raised money for George W. Bush in 2004.

On the Democratic side is Pritzker, Chicago-based Hyatt Hotel billionaire heiress and the chairwoman of Classic Residence by Hyatt. Besides the fundraising of so-called bundlers (fundraisers who assemble large donors to contribute), the campaign has used the Internet to great effect. In fact, National Jewish Democratic Council executive director Ira Forman says that because Obama’s Internet fundraising success has come substantially from small donors, large donors—Jewish and not—have become “less important.”

Among the Jewish bundlers is Alan D. Solomont, a longtime Bill Clinton fundraiser, who is currently Obama’s northeast finance director. Solomont, head of Solomont Bailis Ventures, led a group that raised $35 million for John Kerry in 2004. Obama is also supported by George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management, LLC, and a well-known financier of liberal causes. Soros has bankrolled MoveOn.org and gave $18 million to support various Democratic groups opposing President Bush’s 2004 re-election.

Polls and voting studies show that the majority of Jews support the Democratic Party and its candidates. For example, the Solomon Project, a Democratic Jewish organization, concluded that 78 percent of Jews voted for Senator John Kerry in 2004.
It is a pattern that seems unlikely to change. According to a June 2008 CBS News poll, taken before Obama claimed the Democratic nomination, he led McCain 65 percent to 28 percent among Jewish registered voters. This lopsided support of a liberal candidate is reflected in the realm of fundraising.

Regardless of party affiliation, Jews are among the country’s most generous political supporters. Says Forman: “There is no doubt that part of what makes the Jewish community so good at fundraising is a certain philanthropic ethic.”

—Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

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Vivace Roasteria: An Appreciation

Una bella tazza di caffe: An Appreciation

July 9, 2008

Dear Vivace,

I wanted to offer my gratitude and appreciation for, in its waning days, Espresso Vivace’s E. Denny/Broadway Roasteria.

Vivace is so much more than a mere locale, or scene, even – there are a million espresso joints in this city. And a million scenes.

My Roasteria – with its grand, wood-paned windows peering out on Cal Anderson; Seattle’s golden, July 47˚ sun-beams angling off marble countertops – have become a dear part of my routine and life on “the Hill”.

The always lively local (and beyond) Capitol Hill folks who come for talk, for work, for engagements of all kinds; for peace – are greeted first by a friendly professional and then by the primo, unbeatable espresso that here has indeed been “raised to an art” by your baristas, whose faces, if not as often names, I know well.

Your departure is a little anti-climactic. Here it is July 9 and sitting here drinking my tall triple latte with a Cure song playing it could easily be July 9, 1998…but this is apropos; in character for Vivace; part of its charm. The space is as the Capitol Hill community and its people: things change – time is fluid, winds on, shifts, as do lives and as does the city landscape. And so this space, too arrives at a juncture.

After first discovering the Roasteria through friends several years ago after arriving from the east, I wondered to myself, why hadn’t I before? Well, I think perhaps it is the quasi-hidden view from the street: a small, shade-covered side-entrance lets the uniniated slip by and easily miss it.)

Such a magical space! And so inviting. So laid back. So “Seattle”, to risk cliché. But for those who know – and I count myself among these fortunate – the space will be dearly missed.

I know many, many other people will so, as well. How many ideas have been hatched? How many intuitions and impulses and creative sparks realized, both in solitude looking east to “the village green” of “the Hill”, or catalyzed, actively in joyful, engaged discussions with friend or colleagues?

And so this space is special, has touched many. Obviously. But this is no rueful lament!

Una bella tazza di caffe

As successful as you’ve become, with Mr. Schomer and many others’ guidance, you surely have more future than past: folks will go on with the same routine, in the same neighborhood – quaffing the same café lattes, macchiatos, nicos, mochas; espresso dolce and vita (and Beautiful Stephanies here and there). But this is the passing of an era; it is a milestone.

Yet, as we’ve only a couple days left and I reflect on just how valuable a physical space can be in life. Here indeed, it is a loss.
You will be much missed, Roasteria! Thanks for the memories, and best wishes for the future,

David. G. Wilhelm

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