On Bettina Aptheker

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Here is an interesting article about Bettina Aptheker and her relationship with her historian/father, Herbert.   During the 1960s and early 70s, Bettina Aptheker Kurzweil, as she was then known, was a figure of real interest to the F.B.I. and various intelligence agencies.   She was a leading anti-war activist, highly visible at major protests.   Her father’s name and her own Marxist slant on politics and history insured she would be viewed with suspicion by the federal government.

In recent years she has not been much of a public figure and the revelations below shocked many, especially as she was seen as a radical feminist as well as an opponent of the Vietnam War.   Her father, of course, occupied a high place in the Marxist Historical school and his research and writing on slavery remains essential for anyone exploring that field.

This is an excerpt from the article:

Scarcely noticed amid the praise was an enigmatic, disquieting note introduced by the Apthekers’ only child, Bettina, near the end of her own [funeral] address [for her father]. “Ten days after my mother died,” she said, “Dad asked me if he had ever hurt me as a child. ‘Yes,’ I said finally, he had. And so we talked. For someone who never expressed personal emotion, who never processed anything, he was amazing. He stayed with this conversation with me for over an hour. He was filled with remorse and anguish. He asked me to forgive him. Of course I did. And then I wanted so much to help him to heal. But he closed off the subject. It was too much for him. Shutting down was what he had always done.”

The precise nature of that painful past remained obscure until one year ago, when Seal Press published Bettina Aptheker’s memoir Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel. Its central revelation, that her father had sexually molested her when she was a child, set off a furious, still-unsettled Internet debate over the veracity of those memories and came as a bombshell to admirers accustomed to thinking of Herbert Aptheker as a stalwart opponent of oppression. * * *

Her memoir traces a life’s journey from a childhood insulated in New York’s Jewish Communist left to Berkeley’s 1964 Free Speech Movement and beyond. In its pages, Bettina Aptheker, now a feminist studies professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, reveals a great deal more: her inner desperation even as she projected herself as part of a “perfect family,” her self-mutilation and suicidal inclinations, her never fully consensual affair with a Communist Party district leader and her transformation–hesitating at every step–as she became a feminist, divorced, came out as a lesbian, quit the Communist Party and adopted Buddhism.

-Ralph Michael Stein

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0 Responses to On Bettina Aptheker

  1. rootlesscosmo says:

    Aptheker was sharply attacked last year by old-new Lefties–male ones, to be sure–for bringing disgrace on the name of a revered Left scholar; it wasn’t always clear whether they were calling her a liar or urging her not to “give ammunition to the enemy’ (in the fine old watchword of Left hypocrisy), but plainly the message was”: Shut up. In reply, a few of us printed “I Believe You Bettina” t-shirts and wore them to her book-signing appearances in Berkeley and elsewhere.

  2. Ralph M. Stein says:

    Here’s a very short video of Professor Aptheker introducing the main theme of her course in Feminist Theory:


    It’s worth watching but she and I radically part company with regard to her comment about mosquitoes (obviously she’s not into epidemiology, historic or contemporary). I am.