Schwartz, Stephen (Alfred) 1948-
SCHWARTZ, Stephen (Alfred) 1948-
Born September 9, 1948, in Columbus, OH; son of Horace Osman (a bookseller) and Mayme Eileene (a social service employee; maiden name, McKinney) Schwartz; married Mary Uhran, March, 1969 (divorced, 1974); married Rebecca Rae Long (a filmmaker), March 22, 1984; children: Matthew. Education: Attended City College of San Francisco, 1970-72; University of California—Berkeley, 1972-73, 1976, and 1989; and University of London, 1985—. Politics: "Conservative anti-fascist." Religion: "Jewish by affection, Catholic by association, Muslim by sympathy, Buddhist by nature." Hobbies and other interests: Linguistics, non-European art.
Author and editor. City of San Francisco (magazine), San Francisco, CA, staff writer, 1975; Re/Search Publications, San Francisco, staff writer, 1977-81; The Alarm, San Francisco, editor, 1980-83; Pacific Shipper Weekly, San Francisco, senior editor, 1981-84; Sailors Union of the Pacific, San Francisco, historian, 1983-86; Institute for Contemporary Studies, San Francisco, senior editor and fellow, 1984-89; San Francisco Chronicle, staff writer and op-ed editor, 1989—. U.S. Department of State, consultant, 1987-88; U.S. Institute of Peace, research associate, 1988. Also a news writer for Voice of America. Active in Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks and member of board of Albanian Catholic Institute, University of San Francisco; frequent lecturer and commentator at conferences and on television and radio.
The Newspaper Guild, Dictionary Society of North America, Historians of American Communism, Korea America Friendship Society.
Earhart Foundation fellowship, 1986 and 1989; Olin Foundation fellowship, 1988.
(Translator) Antinarcissus, self-published (San Francisco, CA), 1969.
Hidden Locks, Radical America (Cambridge, MA), 1972.
A Sleepwalkers Guide to San Francisco, La Santa Espina (San Francisco, CA), 1983.
Brotherhood of the Sea: A History of the Sailors' Union of the Pacific, 1885-1985, Transaction Books (New Brunswick, NJ), 1986.
(Editor) The Transition from Authoritarianism to Democracy in the Hispanic World, ICS Press (San Francisco, CA), 1986.
(With Victor Alba) Spanish Marxism vs. Soviet Communism: A History of the P.O.U.M., Transaction Books (New Brunswick, NJ), 1988.
Heaven's Descent, Transition (San Francisco, CA), 1990.
A Strange Silence: The Emergence of Democracy in Nicaragua, ICS Press (San Francisco, CA), 1992.
Incidentes de la Vida de Benjamin Peret con Anotaciones Sobre el Comunismo de G. Munis, Editorial Balance (Barcelona, Spain), 1994.
From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind, Free Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Intellectuals and Assassins: Writings at the End of Soviet Communism, Anthem Press (London, England), 2000.
Kosovo: Background to a War, Anthem Press (London, England), 2000.
The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.
Author under the pseudonym S. Solsona of Incidents from the Life of Benjamin Peret, published in The Alarm, 1981.
Contributor to books, including What Is Surrealism?: Selected Writings of Andre Breton, Pluto Press, 1978; (with Gjon Sinishta) Mediterranean Europe Phrase-book, Lonely Planet, 1992; Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, edited by Amb. Richard F. Staar, Hoover Institution Press, 1989, 1990, and 1991; and Fighting the War of Ideas in Latin America, edited by John C. Goodman and Ramona Marotz-Baden, National Center for Policy Analysis, 1990. Contributor to numerous periodicals, including American Spectator, Commentary, World Affairs and the New York Times Book Review.
Stephen Schwartz once told CA: "I was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1948, but shortly thereafter moved with my family to San Francisco.…My parents were very active in the left-literary scene in the city during the 1950s. My father ran a 'little magazine' called Goad, which published the poetry of such notable figures as Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Robert Creeley."
Schwartz believes his literary career began in his teens, in the 1960s, during which time he began his twenty-year involvement in revolutionary Marxism. At fifteen, Schwartz studied Communism at the S.F. School of Social Science, where he was trained in dialectical materialism, political economy, and contemporary politics. Schwartz said, "My writings first consisted of poetry, and of translations from Latin American poets. The latter association proved extremely durable, since I ended up seriously studying the Spanish language and becoming a fully bilingual writer."
Schwartz began in the youth branch of the Communist Party of the United States. Eventually, he shifted to Trotskyism, and then to what he described as an "ultra-leftist" position, in affiliation with a European grouping, Fomento Obrero Revolucionario. In 1983, he broke with the left, and joined the San Francisco-based Institute for Contemporary Studies, which he called a "'free-market' think-tank." In his later teenage years he met and cultivated friendships with Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder, the last of whom introduced him to Buddhism. In 1968, Schwartz met Philip Lamantia, the leading American surrealist poet, who became his mentor.
Schwartz commented, "Until 1973, my dual commitment to poetry and radical politics was supplemented by academic study in linguistics. I then dropped out of Berkeley to become a full-time transportation worker, first in the merchant marine and then in the railroad industry. I was active in union reform movements as well as in revolutionary agitation and propaganda, while publishing poetic texts here and there."
In 1975, Schwartz joined the staff of a new weekly magazine called City of San Francisco, published by Francis Ford Coppola. The magazine was short-lived, but it helped Schwartz begin his trek back from an emphasis on Marxist politics to full-time literary activity.
In 1977, Schwartz and a group of friends started a punk rock/new wave magazine called Search & Destroy. According to Schwartz, it was one of the main such periodicals in the country. Seach & Destroy later expanded into the Re/Search label, which is known for its authoritative books on body art and related post-modernist phenomena. Schwartz also managed a well-known punk band, The Dils, whose music had a Marxist edge.
Schwartz told CA: "By 1984 I had regained a certain youthful poetic energy and began writing and publishing poetry more extensively than ever before. My turn to ICS Press and a 'free-market' position also led me to begin contributing to neoconservative journals such as Commentary. I also wrote extensively on politics in the Hispanic world, the fall of the Soviet regime and its aftermath, and on the war in former Yugoslavia."
Schwartz's early literary endeavors helped him hone his writing skills, and in 1989 he became a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, writing on political subjects. Since then, Schwartz has authored several books on political subjects including one on the history of radical movements in California, which was undoubtedly shaped by his Californian roots.
Schwartz's From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind traces the history of revolutionary and bohemian movements in California and the effects these movements have had on the rest of America. Citing California's frontier history, Schwartz argues that the state has always been the home of those exploring the edges of acceptable behavior. While detailing the activities of California writers and artists who broke with convention, Schwartz contrasts these ground-breaking artists with the state's radical totalitarian movements such as the Communist Party. A major goal of Schwartz's history, Harold Meyerson recounted in the New York Times Book Review, is "to demonstrate the moral and esthetic toll Stalinism took on the California left, and to resurrect the reputations of artists, intellectuals, and unionists who were too democratic, bohemian or just plain ornery to toe the party line." Calling Schwartz's study an "ambitious, unorthodox history," the critic for Publishers Weekly cited the author for producing "a 'hidden' or 'secret' history of Californians' forging of a nonconformist cultural identity." According to Harold Johnson in National Review, From West to East contains "a wealth of information ignored or underreported in conventional histories.…If there is a rambling quality to much of Schwartz's book, it is reflective of the creative energies he describes, which at their best and most positive are the antithesis of the totalitarian cultural strains that he labors to expose."
Schwartz also has interests outside of his home state. He told CA: "I travel widely and remain interested in new areas of study and acquisition of other languages. I am one of the leading U.S. experts on newly independent and stateless nations in Europe, including Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Ukraine, Catalunya, and Euzkadi."
Schwartz's interests in other countries and languages is evident in several of his books. In Intellectuals and Assassins: Writings at the End of Soviet Communism, Schwartz discusses the abuse of power by political leaders and intellectuals, paying special attention to Russian intellectuals in the 1930s. His book describes the intellectuals who worked for the Soviet secret police and were involved in terrorist activities as well. The book combines historical information with newspaper articles and other materials. In Kosovo: Background to a War, Schwartz, who lived for a time in Sarajevo, describes the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Albanian-Serbian controversy which resulted in international conflict.
Schwartz continued the international scope of his writings with The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. In the book Schwartz attempts to differentiate for readers between the tolerant, peaceful Islam of most Muslims, and the terror-ridden violence of Wahhabi Islam practiced by individuals like Osama bin Laden. Schwartz's book explains to readers that Wahhabi Islam is the form of Islam practiced by Saudi Arabia, one of America's closest Arab allies. According to Booklist's John Green, Schwartz's book asserts that "U.S. alliance with the Saudi regime only furthers the cause of terrorism." In the book, Schwartz traces Wahhabi Islam from its beginnings in the royal family of Sa'ud to the present day. Schwartz writes, according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, that "Wahhabi Islam is the principal source of Islamic terror." While Schwartz does lay blame on Wahhabi Islam for its violent practices, the Kirkus Reviews writer noted, "Schwartz's analysis is more sophisticated than much of the media punditry since September 11, and certainly more sympathetic to in-the-street Islam, for which, he says, the Saudi royal family and its allies, including Osama bin Laden, have no regard."
The Two Faces of Islam was met with some controversy, but as Ray Takeyh wrote in World and I, "Schwartz's argument cannot be easily dismissed, as the evidence he marshals and the unfolding course of events offer ample substantiation of his narrative." Takeyh continued, "Schwartz has written a powerful condemnation of the Saudi state. There is much in this book that is noteworthy, and certainly Saudi behavior merits careful dissection and criticism." Robert Looney, in the Middle East Journal, commented, "While Islamic scholars and academics undoubtedly will find fault with points raised by Schwartz, this should not detract from the fact that he provides a fresh, highly thought provoking wake-up call." Richard Bernstein wrote in the New York Times, "His book demonstrates a comprehensive mastery of history and historical connections."
Schwartz once told CA: "My advice to young writers is to cultivate mentors, resist ideology, ignore negative criticism, work through blocks, and don't ever stop. The only writers who succeed are those who write because they cannot stop themselves, because they have no other choice than to write."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1998, Alice Joyce, review of From West to East, p. 1090; October 1, 2002, John Green, review of The Two Faces of Islam, p. 290.
Choice, July, 1998, review of From West to East, p. 1916.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1998, review of From West to East, p. 182; September 1, 2002, review of The Two Faces of Islam, p. 1289.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 15, 1998, review of From West to East, p. 9.
Middle East Journal, spring, 2003, Robert Looney, review of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror, p. 337.
National Review, April 20, 1998, Harold Johnson, review of From West to East, p. 50.
New York Times, April 7, 1998; November 8, 2002, Richard Bernstein, review of The Two Faces of Islam.
New York Times Book Review, March 15, 1998, review of From West to East, p. 41.
Pacific Historical Review, August, 2000, William Deverell, review of From West to East, p. 477.
Publishers Weekly, February 2, 1998, review of From West to East, p. 75; August 12, 2002, review of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror, p. 286.
Reason, December, 1998, Nick Gillespie, review of From West to East, p. 58.
Reference and Research Book News, May, 1998, review of From West to East, p. 50.
Wall Street Journal, March 3, 1998, review of From West to East, p. A16.
World and I, April, 2003, Ray Takeyh, "Terror Exporter? An Experienced Journalist's Condemnation of the Saudi State and Its Relation to Wahhabi Islam Is Powerful and Insightful Despite Its Biases," p. 244.
Doubldeay Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/doubleday/ (November 24, 2002), description of The Two Faces of Islam.*