[Marxism] Letters to Chronicle of Higher Education on Aptheker
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 6 16:20:47 MST 2006
To the Editor:
I read with personal interest Christopher Phelps's "Herbert Aptheker:
the Contradictions of History" (The Chronicle Review, October 6). I
was a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in
1963 when Herb Aptheker was invited to speak at the student union.
Alerted that Aptheker was a Communist, and spurred to action by a
Raleigh TV journalist named Jesse Helms, the state legislature passed
a hasty and ill-conceived law against any known Communist speaking on
any public property.
Lectures at the student union typically drew around a hundred
students. ... Aptheker addressed a crowd of about 2,000 students on
the other side of a wall from the campus. Surrounded by policemen
ready to arrest him if he crossed the wall, he spoke not about black
history in America, as he had been invited to do, but about freedom
and the odiousness of any authority's attempt to suppress it. It was
a defining moment for a southern white boy from a conservative,
segregated farm town. ...
What Bettina Aptheker has revealed about her father is horrible even
in light of her apparent courage in getting beyond it. ... But a
point to take away from all this is that just as there are
contradictions in people of stature, such as Aptheker, there will
always be contradictions in our attempts to deal with them.
We try to hold the intellectual in high regard, while loathing the
lecherous abuser of his own daughter. And a legislature that tries to
protect its people from an evil ideology is capable of becoming the
embodiment of that evil.
Joseph T. Barwick
Carteret Community College
Morehead City, N.C.
To the Editor:
Christopher Phelps, writing about Bettina Aptheker's book on her
father, states, "Incest is only the most painful of a series of hard
truths about Herbert Aptheker that we confront in Intimate Politics."
No, incest is only the most painful of a series of disturbing
allegations about Herbert Aptheker that we confront in his daughter's memoir.
I would have thought a journal devoted to higher education would have
retained some grasp of the concept of evidence.
Professor of Philosophy
To the Editor:
Over a span of four decades, my wife and I enjoyed a warm friendship
with Herbert and Fay Aptheker. The news that Bettina now contends
that her father sexually molested her in her childhood years was
quite disturbing. What is also disturbing is that Christopher Phelps
accepts Bettina's claims on face value, apparently in the absence of
corroboration by any other evidence.
Bettina writes that the molestation ended when she was 13, and that
she only recalled these events when she began writing her memoirs.
This seems to be a case of "recovered memory," a much-debated
Those of us who work as historians are constrained to follow the
evidence. Here the evidence is limited to what Bettina now says she
remembers. No human witness or documentation, so far as is known, exists.
My wife and I find the accusations quite unbelievable, both in terms
of Herbert's moral character and the unlikelihood that Fay, a most
perceptive woman, would have seen nothing grievously amiss in the
relationship between father and daughter.
What has also been called up in this matter is a challenge to the
essentials of Herbert Aptheker's scholarship. If Bettina Aptheker
holds, as Phelps writes, that her father was "foolish and
condescending" in failing to see that in the African-American
experience, weakness and betrayal were just as common as undaunted
heroism, what we have is a distortion of Herbert's work. Herbert
Aptheker did not ignore weakness, but he found that, as a people,
blacks manifested a tradition of resistance to oppression and that
this resistance was heroic. This thesis has found wide acceptance in
the historical profession.
Professor Emeritus of History
University of Cincinnati
To the Editor:
In his review of Bettina Aptheker's new memoir, Christopher Phelps
describes my profile of Aptheker in The Professors as "replete with
errors." This repeats a canard that Professor Aptheker herself is
Jacob Laksin has reviewed and refuted every one of Aptheker's claims
about alleged errors in my text except one. I mistakenly described
her as having been expelled from the Communist Party in 1991, with
Angela Davis and others. I accept Professor Aptheker's correction
that she resigned from the party 10 years earlier.
However, Professor Aptheker has not denied that in 1991 she joined
the Communist splinter group, the Committees of Correspondence on
Socialism and Democracy, which was formed by Angela Davis and others
who had been expelled. This hardly makes my account "replete with errors."
Laksin's article about this is available online
David Horowitz Freedom Center
The Author Replies:
Joseph T. Barwick reminds us that Herbert Aptheker, simply by
speaking to student audiences in the 1960s as a Communist, helped
dispel the McCarthyist fog that denied radicals a hearing. Bettina
Aptheker also contributed to the overturning of paternalistic
restrictions on campus freedom as a Free Speech Movement leader in
Berkeley in 1964. The extent to which Herbert Aptheker could
symbolize intellectual freedom, however, was profoundly limited by
his habitual excusing of repression by single-party regimes cast in
the Soviet mold. This moral double standard was tragic, not only for
American Communism but for the whole of the American left.
Michael Neumann and Herbert Shapiro inject skepticism about Bettina
Aptheker's story. I understand why, but having read Intimate
Politics, I find it believable. A specificity of detail about the
abuse is accompanied by raw honesty about her own shortcomings, and
she states that she and her father discussed this terrible private
history candidly in front of a witness, her lover. Furthermore, her
portrait of her father is redolent with mixed feelings, including
love -- not sheer rage or cold vengeance.
Should we dismiss a memoir because private experience cannot be
corroborated more than 50 years later? Should we deny testimony of
abuse because the abuser had other sides? Disputation of "recovered
memory" of child sexual abuse refers, to my knowledge, to suggestive
interrogations of children, not to adults who recall their own
repressed memories -- a widespread experience in therapy.
I used the word "truths" because legalistic terms such as
"allegations" do not harmonize well with the generous, tender spirit
in which the devastating problem of incest is addressed by Bettina
Aptheker. In a curious way, as I wrote, she honors her parents.
Ultimately readers must read her deeply affecting memoir -- not, as
Neumann has it, a "book on her father" -- for themselves and draw
their own conclusions.
David Horowitz objects to my characterization of his entry on Bettina
Aptheker in The Professors as "replete with errors" and says that my
source for this was Bettina Aptheker herself. I have never had any
contact with Bettina Aptheker in my entire life. I was unaware of any
response by her to his book. My judgment was strictly my own.
Here is why I found fault with Horowitz's book. He states that
Bettina Aptheker was expelled from the Communist Party; she resigned
from it. He declares that this rupture happened in 1991; it happened
in 1981. He holds that her father was expelled from the Communist
Party; he resigned. He asserts that she joined an organization, the
Committees of Correspondence, to which she has never belonged (and
whose full name, the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and
Socialism, he here botches). In short, the entry is replete with errors.
Associate Professor of History
Ohio State University
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