ODYSSEY OF A LIBERAL
FRIENDS IN THE VILLAGE --Greenwich Village during World War II
In spite of nagging money worries and
separation from Jon, life in the Village seemed wonderful.
After I left
Dora was a genius at providing good meals for very little money, and she was the
soul of hospitality like my long-lost sister-in-law in
How much I owe to Dora can never be told. She sustained me with her encouragement, cheered me, helped me with my mother, fed me for a song, and lent me her best dress to wear when I lectured. I have her my heart to hold, confiding in her more than I have ever done to another human being, because I trusted her completely and unreservedly and knew that it was inconceivable that she would ever want to hurt me.
I was also most fortunate in having Hans as a comrade then as still today, in the true sense of this word which means more than friend.
Despite differences of opinion which have sometimes become so acrimonious as to
lead to temporary estrangement, there is an enduring tie of loyalty between us and such
mutual respect and trust that we are always eventually reconciled. During our early penurious years in
So intricate is the web of life that it was thanks to my brothers chance
meeting with an Italian in a pub in
On the occasion of their first meeting over drinks at Macs Hotel in
Not long afterwards during my last visit to
The difference between the Latin and the Teutonic mind, and my own closer affinity
to the former was often illustrated during the many evenings when Hans and I and Rene
argued about the failure of socialism in
Rene Paresce might well have been chosen for a Readers Digest accolade of My Most
Unforgettable Character. Son of a
Russian mother and Italian father, amazingly versatile in his talents and interests,
endowed with a quick intelligence and a compassionate heart, he also had an ironic Latin
sense of humor and love of life. Strikingly
handsome, with a tall slim and lithe figure, Roman nose, light blue eyes and sensitive
generous mouth, fair hair going grey as it receded from his broad high forehead, he was as
fearless as unmindful of his life and health and soon to die of a neglected cold which
developed into pneumonia. After giving up his
Professorship of Mathematics at the
Despite his anti-Fascist sympathies which prevented him from returning to
A decade after Rene Paresce became my dear friend in
As Dora used to point out, it was a funny thing that Americans hated the Germans
for fighting so well and despised the Italians for not doing so. Dora before I knew her had been a buyer at
Macys earning a comfortable income. She
preferred to become a social worker on a small salary and has never regretted it. During her affluent days she had been unhappily
married to a selfish intelligent and was, as I saw it, still sponged on by
some worthless characters in the literary and artistic world who exploited her generosity
and sympathy. The daughter of indigent Jewish
immigrants, she had the inordinate regard for learning and the arts which is one of the
most endearing characteristics of the best of her people but can also mislead them into
too great a reverence for intellectual, good or bad. She has had a hard life but is one of the happiest
people I know because of her extraordinary lack of concern for her own interests and her
perceptive understanding and sympathy for other peoples troubles. Henry Miller once said of her that all the kindness
Far from sharing what still remained of my Puritan prejudices, Dora, although faithful to her husbands, saw no sin in giving herself without regard to consequences when her heart moved her, or a man badly needed her love and care.
Her second husband was an outwardly hard-boiled American journalist to whom I
introdued her one fateful evening in 1941 and whom she married later that year. Wilbur Burton about whom one can read in Vincent
Sheeans Personal History,* had led an
adventurous life as a Baltimore Sun foreign
Digressing for a moment, I must remark here that
Milly, who was far from beautiful in fact, almost ugly was also evidently a
most attractive or sexually desirable woman. She
was not, I think, ever a member of the Communist Party although she worked on the
Wilbur Burton had walked into my life on a winters day in 1941 when he
visited C.V. Starrs offices at
Wilbur Burton rarely agreed with me and on the rare occasions when we found
ourselves in accord it was usually for different or opposite reasons. But I was fond of him and had a high regard for his
sterling integrity, his courage, his scorn for those he called political
whores, and his wide ranging knowledge of literature, philosophy, and poetry. He came from
Seeing no more good in Chiang Kai-shek than in Stalin, opposed to Hitler but
regarding the British imperialists as no better, he was firmly convinced that
During subsequent years when Dora was endeavoring to get him released from prison
Eventually Dora secured Burts release from imprisonment but only on condition
that he become an indentured male nurse in a
Darling Freda: How about la Hahns
read it, and so I expect it by next mail!!!! And did you ever locate a copy of
Your Bohemian Brawl was up to the best Utley standard and I enjoyed it
immensely and my entire stay in your domicile. Dont know when I will
heartbroken not to get to the party; only the serious illness of his sister
The general press and radio reaction to the Crime(a) Conference reminds me
that journalists today perform the same function as the augurs in ancient
but most of our journalists are too naïve to smile when they meet.
Anyway, the Crime(a) should have put us in our proper, humble place:
Uncle Joe is God,-but, and our hearts can swell with pride! FDR is his Vicar
shaken faith of the Russians in Santa Claus. Now what could be sweeter than
Also, the Crime(a) has given us a new definition of realistic internationalism
as opposed to perfectionist internationalism: The Angle-Americans give
multilateral blessing to Stalins unilateral accomplishments. Thus there are
no longer any spheres of influence brought about in the old-fashioned way
of power politics; instead, the Anglo-Ams simply say Praise Uncle Joe from
whom all blessings flow. Of course, Uncle Joe did make one significant
concession to his American Vicar: He had, I think now, established his Free
Germany Committee in
should have proved ungodly enough to not re-elect FDR; now FDR being
re-elected, Uncle Joe is willing to go all out for Unconditional Surrender
so that the war may be prolonged, in some fashion or another, to 1948, and
thus FDR can again run as Commander-in-Chief and the PAC can again do
its stuff. So the Crime(a) may be viewed as a prelude to the Fifth Term
just as Teheran was the prelude to a Fourth Term. (And Uncle Joe may even
enter the Pacific war to help his pal in the White House; after all, he has
keep FDR looting US for him by Lend-Lease as long as possible?) The only
thing I missed at your party was an Englishman to quote my Epitaph to a GI
to. So I will set it forth to you, without apologies to Kipling:
Walk wide of the Muddler at
Weve bought him the same with the sword and the flame,
And weve salted it down with our bones.
(Poor GIs! Its blue with our bones!)
Hands off the lands of the Muddler! Hands off the goods in his shop!
For rival kings must bow, and other imperialists cow,
When the Muddler at
Anyway, Im not sure that the poem is not outdated. Maybe you can compose
one in Russian that is more appropriate!!!!
How about coming up to
At the end of the war in Europe Burt was permitted to go to the 30 acre farm and
ramshackle old house he had inherited near
At this and my other vain endeavors to help Burt re-establish himself, I was given a salutory lesson as regards Whats-wrong-with-the-Right. It lacks, above all, the comradeship and the loyalty of the Left and is generally too heartless, selfish to ungenerous. The only one of Burts previous friends or acquaintances who made some effort to help him was Norman Cousins who had never had any sympathy with Burts views, but who believed in Voltaires axiom that men of integrity should be permitted to speak and to live, however profoundly one disagrees with their views. Cousins failed to secure a job for Doras husband but he at least tried, unlike those who had shared his views but themselves sacrificed nothing to uphold them. I did not agree with Burts consistent isolationist views which made him oppose any American action risking war with the Communist powers as strenuously as he had been opposed to our intervention in the Second World War. But I admired his courage and integrity, and I loved Dora. It was very difficult to help them on account of Burts injured pride which prevented him from making any concessions to conformity and impelled him willfully to outrage people who could have helped him.
The long beard he had grown while he worked his
Burt was the most obstinate and courageous, foolish and uncompromising, old-fashioned radical American I have ever known. He clung to outworn original American concepts long since rendered obsolete by the march of history, while believing that he was in advance of his time. But he was a wonderful guy who deserved a better fate.
Like our friend Lawrence Dennis, who married Dora some years later, Burt was incapable of either forgetting or forgiving the past, or adapting himself to the present and trying to make the best of it. They found infinite satisfaction in saying, I told you so, in surveying the results of American intervention in both World Wars.
The year of Burts despair was far off when I lived with Dora in
When I moved to New York from Baltimore, Huntington Cairns (at this time a high official in the Treasury aspiring to be appointed to the Supreme Court but destined to become Treasurer of the Mellon Art Gallery), asked his friend F.V. Calverton to look after me. George, as his friends called him,* and I clicked, as the British would say, at our first meeting which, as I dimly remember was followed by his escorting me from one to another night spot frequented by the New York literary world.
· His real name was George Goetz. He had originally taken the pen name of F.V. Calverton to
Avoid jeopardizing his teaching job in Baltimore Public Schools when, in 1923, he founded his radical socialist magazine, The Modern Quarterly.
Calverton and his wife Nina Melville lived close to me in the Village
and their apartment was a unique meeting place for writers and poets, philosophers,
artists, critics and teachers. There I met the
elite of the non-Communist intelligentsia as also some who were already travelling along
It was at Calvertons that I first got to know Max Eastman, Norman Thomas, Sidney Hook, Isaac Don Levine, Bertram and Ella Wolfe, Ben Stolberg and Susan LaFollette, Eugene Lyons and other early fighters against Communism who were to remain my friends in the difficult years ahead in spite of differences concerning the war. It may also have been there that I first met Carlo Tresca, the Italian anti-fascist and anti-Communist who was to be assassinated by the Communists without any real effort made by the police to apprehend his murderers.
George Calverton resembled my brother in his aversion to dogma, his wide-ranging
interest in such diverse subjects as psychology and sex, anthropology, art, history,
science and literature as well as politics, and his tolerance, understanding kindness and
sympathy for individual human beings. He was
one of the best and dearest friends I have ever had. Thanks
to him, I soon felt myself more at home in the Village in
As Daniel Aaron has written, ** even the Communists who became his enemies after 1933, when he published Max Eastmans anti-Stalinist articles, found it hard to hate George. It was painful to such former friends of his as Mike Gold, Granville Hicks and Joshua Kunitz to have to fight him on the Ideological front because Calverton was kind and considerate and genuinely comradely toward his opponents.
** Writers on the Left by Daniel Aaron, Harcourt,
Georges heresies were unconfined by fear or prejudice or attachment to
Marxist theories. His inquiring mind,
perceptive intelligence and courage in recognizing facts which undermined his original
beliefs led him to speak out against radical sectarians who ignored American
realities. I am disgusted, he
wrote to Van Wyck Brooks in 1938, with the run of Marxists who try to fit
He had continued to identify himself with Marxism for a period after he broke with the Communists because he felt that originally I owe such a debt to Marx, and that a certain number of his theses hold true today. This, I also believe. The Marxist theory has validity in explaining one segment or aspect of the complex nature of man and society. If one can take Marxism merely as a tool for the limited purpose of unlocking the door to understanding our baser nature and some phases of economic history, it has its uses.
The autobiography Calverton had begun to write might have been the best history of our liberal or progressive generation.
Whenever I felt in need of good cheer and companionship I walked over to visit
George and Nina. Somehow he managed to keep
open house for his friends while writing a great many books, giving lectures and editing
the Modern Quarterly (which had been the Modern Monthly before it lost circulation and
subsidies and contributors following Calvertons denunciation of the Communists). George maintained another wife and establishment in
I went to his funeral with Norman Cousins, who had also loved George and was to remain my friend in subsequent years in spite of our increasingly divergent views on the answers to the problems of our age. Together we wept at Georges passing that of a man who might today be recognized as great had he not dissipated his energies in the writing of too many books on too many different subjects, and spent so much time and effort in helping many people while also expending himself in stimulating talk in convivial company fortified by alcohol.
As he lay dead I felt that we were mourning as much for the doom of what he and the best of our generation had believed in as for the passing of a beloved friend. We belonged to a liberal and hopeful age which believed that it was possible to emancipate mankind from want and injustice, class or race exploitation, war and depressions, but lived to see our best aspirations perverted to become the basis for totalitarian tyranny.
George and I were attuned because we were old style liberals nurtured in the faith of the Age of Reason. To us it seemed obvious that the radical doctrines of our time needed a thorough re-examination in the light of the experience of our era. In contrast, the attitude of the dominant majority of liberals and socialists in America at the time George died, recalled the famous three stone monkeys of Lincoln Cathedral who shut their eyes, ears and mouth in order not to see, or hear, or speak any evil of the first Socialist State.
The sad fact was that most progressives were denying the basis of their
rationalist philosophy by refusing to face facts. They
clung to their old faith that socialism per se must
be good and progressive despite the evidence to the contrary. Their attitude toward the
We had believed that socialism would mean the emancipation of mankind not its regimentation, brutalization and the denial of individual rights and liberties together with contempt for the power of human reason. We had too late foreseen that the dynamic of revolution might serve the cause of tyranny and that the greatest miseries were to be inflicted in the name of Socialism. George Calverton was one of the few socialists who had the wisdom to perceive and the mental courage to admit that public ownership of the means of production and distribution in practice entailed the imposition of a more cruel and soul destroying despotism than any before known to mankind. In my tribute to F.V. Calverton published together with those written by others of his friends in the last issue of the Modern Quarterly I wrote:
We who survive him can only hope that we shall preserve our
balance, our values and our integrity as he did, and refuse to accept
the easy maxims and doubt-resolving faiths which now sway the
world. George never could believe that the end justifies the means,
that socialism is only a question of economic forms, that democracy
can be preserved by abandoning it, or that Satan can be cast out by
There is perhaps no solution to the dilemma which confronts us.
The dilemma consists in the fact that by combating evil with evil we
produce only more evil and become like that which we oppose; and
yet that if we refuse to meet fire with fire we appear to condone what
we abhor. It is an old, old problem, but to us it seems new because for
a generation or more we have believed that capitalism was the root of
all evil, and that socialism would put an end to inequality, injustice,
poverty, hatred, envy and war. Now we know that the end of the
profit system may mean production not for use but for war may
mean tyranny, concentration camps, terror and oppression of the
weak at home and abroad, whether such Socialism still covers
itself with the tattered remnants of nineteenth century humanism as
primitive values and standards and myths as in
The hope of a democratic form of socialism fades with each
month the war is prolonged, with each rise in the tide of hysteria
and hate and unreason and fear. Perhaps there is no hope now of
avoiding the Dark Ages upon which we seem to be entering. But
it is possible to hope that mankinds need of liberty and beauty and
love will prove strong enough in the long run to start once again the
age-old struggle for social justice and liberty under new conditions
and by new methods. We know now that the society we dreamed
of requires more for its establishment than the abolition of the
capitalist system. The capitalist system is already dead or dying
but the world is worse, not better off.
Had he lived, I concluded, George Calverton would have found life more and more painful and increasingly harder to exist, both materially and spiritually, in an age of unreason, hatred and fear.
Today, a quarter of a century after his death, I imagine that George, could he return from the shades, would, even as I, rejoice that our worst fears concerning the shape of things to come have not been realized. Despite the follies and some crimes of the Western Powers who demanded the unconditional surrender of their enemies at the cost of an unconditional alliance with Stalin, the world today by and large seems to be a better place with greater hope for the emancipation of all mankind from the chains of poverty and fear than when George Calverton was alive.
After his death, life in the Village would never be the same although many of his friends continued to be mine. His spirit hovered over us long after he had passed into nothingness.
Other dear friends of mine have recently in increasing numbers passed into the valley of the shadow of death. Among them star spangled on the grass George Calverton is the one who I would enjoy most talking with once again even if it were in purgatory.
In the Village in the early 40s I also belonged to the circle of Dwight and Nancy Macdonald, her brother Seldon Rodman, and their friends and collaborators grouped around Partisan Review and Common Sense.
Dwight Macdonald then still called himself a Trotskyist but was too independent a thinker and too kind a human being to tie himself down to any dogma. His friends included various types and kinds of disillusioned ex-Communists or anti-Stalinists, liberal socialists, anarchists, pacifists and such unidentifiable characters as James Farrell who was also a friend of Doras. As also such uncommitted intellectuals as Mary McCarthy who, although she had been a member of the Trotsky Defense Committee had become an anti-Stalinist, as she herself relates, not out of conviction, but in reaction to the threats of the Stalinists then so powerful in the literary world.
The guests at the Macdonalds parties were less diversified than at George Calvertons but there was great argument about it and about within the confines of their Socialist ideology, with all of us, to quote the Persian poet once again, coming out by the same door as in we went.
Dwight Macdonald himself was a lover of life and good cheer but, unlike George, abstemious. He had already made himself a reputation as a brilliant and witty writer on the New Yorker, but was far too interested in politics to spend his time amusing the bourgeoisie and making good money on that smart magazine. He was soon to split with his collaborators on Partisan Review and start his own magazine called Politics, in which he wrote brilliantly for a season, its contents being mainly his own contributions. Eventually, tiring of subsidizing his own magazine, or realizing that he would be more effective in expressing his views by accepting the many opportunities offered him to write in publications of wide circulation, he jettisoned Politics. He rejoined the New Yorker and, as its movie critic, helped make Esquire into a magazine worthy to be read by intellectuals.
Not long ago, meeting William L. White again in
It was already unpopular to express dislike, or doubts, concerning the Workers Paradise in Russia in the pseudo liberal circles which were soon to become an entrenched Establishment which a writer defied at the cost of being ostracized. But in 1940-41 one was not yet altogether outside the pale by reason of anti-Communist views. Nor was it until many years later that on account of my testimony against Owen Lattimore before the Tydings Committee, and my book called The China Story, that I was consigned to limbo.