On Aptheker

LeoCasey at aol.com LeoCasey at aol.com
Wed Oct 11 07:09:04 PDT 2000

A post I sent to the DSA list on this topic:

Ron Radosh has become what we used to call an "anti-Stalinist Stalinist" -- that is, he uses the heavy-handed authoritarian style and manner of Stalinism, especially the 'take no prisoners' polemic, to attack Stalinism. Like a reprobate Catholic, he has turned on his former Church, but retains all the markings of its rigid morality, all the inability to tolerate ambiguity, all the impatience with nuance and the lack of care with qualifications. In this he is very much like another former Stalinist, now ultra-conservative historian, Eugene Genovese.

One anecdote can illustrate this point. At the point that DSA began from the merger of DSOC and NAM, Radosh was still in our orbit. He had just published his book on the Rosenbergs, to much controversy on the left. It must be said, however, that the test of time has shown the book to be on target. The problem for us at that time was that he wanted DSA to intervene in this debate, and proclaim the main thesis of the book -- that Julius Rosenberg was indeed guilty of espionage -- as an organizational position. I remember vividly a debate on this very subject we had in an Upper West Side bar following Selma Lenihan's funeral. What he never grasped was that it was not the business of a genuinely democratic and pluralist organization to be officially adopting positions on questions of historical interpretation, but rather, that it was the mark of an organization that remained within a sectarian, Marxist-Lenisist-Trotskyist-Stalinist-Maoist organization mindset where issues of intellectual thought and interpretation became official party doctrine. He was already becoming an "anti-sectarian sectarian," following in the footsteps of many before him.

What this means is that the targets Radosh attacks may often be legitimate targets, that one would also want to criticize, but that he does it in ways which almost always leave a bad taste in your mouth, and sometimes are just plain indefensible. His diatribe on Aptheker fits precisely in this category. Aptheker is at best a pedestrian historian, and his record of being an apologist for Stalinism is long and sordid. Whatever contributions he made to the historiography of slavery [one could not rank him with a Genovese, certainly] and to the development of future generations of historians must be balanced against these political failings, especially because he himself so thoroughly mixed politics and historical scholarship. But then one could also say the same of the first thirty years of Radosh's historical writings. And the over the top attacks on Robin Kelley and especially Eric Foner are just completely uncalled for; Foner in particular has produced a very important, very solid and very widely respected body of writing on early Republicanism and the Reconstruction. When Radosh starts going off into his rants about "political correctness" running the academy, he just undermines all of his telling points about Aptheker, and leaves the impression that this is one ideologue running off at the mouth at another ideologue.

Leo Casey United Federation of Teachers 260 Park Avenue South New York, New York 10010-7272 (212-598-6869)

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. -- Frederick Douglass --

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