<h3>Aptheker’s Attack on Paul Novick: The Assimilators and Their Slanders, #1
Jews, Marxism and the Worker's Movement

Sid Resnick

Aptheker’s Attack on Paul Novick: The Assimilators and Their Slanders

First Published: Morning Freiheit, May 18, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Dr. Herbert Aptheker’s mean-spirited attack on this newspaper and its editor which he made in his speech at the recent Jewish Affairs banquet raises the question of what prompted him to so completely change his opinion of the Morning Freiheit. Its position on the Arab-Israeli conflict is exactly the same as when he expressed a more objective and friendly view of it. In November 1967 Aptheker told the International Conference in Support of’ the Arab Peoples in New Delhi, India, “that for the past ten years in the United States there has been only one daily progressive newspaper and that is in the Yiddish language” (Political Affairs, January 1968).

When Aptheker made that statement it was already six months after the Arab-Israel war of June 1967 and it was public knowledge that the Morning Freiheit had backed Israel in that war and maintained it had fought a war of defense. Yet the Morning Freiheit has had basically the same staff and the same position on this conflict in all the intervening years since he declared in New Delhi that it was a “progressive newspaper.” Now he says that Paul Novick, and by inference the Morning Freiheit, is “colonialist,” “chauvinist,” and “annexationist”! Could considerations which have nothing at all to do with the Morning Freiheit position have induced him to completely change his opinion of our newspaper?


Something needs to be said of the tone of Aptheker’s attack on Paul Novick. Once, in a more enlightened period Aptheker was keen on the idea that his party comrades ought to accord “dignified treatment” to those on the Left with whom they had differences. Aptheker then told a Communist convention:

“To really cherish discussion, to really seek mutual dialogue, to expect dignified treatment and to accord it – sincerely and really – all of us have a long way to go in this most difficult matter.” (Political Affairs, August 1966).

Let us examine the “dignified treatment” Herbert Aptheker accorded Paul Novick. We have already noted his insults “colonialist,” “chauvinist,” “annexationist.” (Incidentally, the Morning Freiheit had never personally assailed or even criticized Aptheker by name). Apparently striving for a laugh from his audience Aptheker said at one point:

“... Henry Kissinger has chosen Business Week – there is an organ of democracy that should tickle Mr. Novick’s heart...” (Jewish Affairs, January-February, 1975). This tickle remark was eliminated from the text of Aptheker’s speech that was reprinted in the Daily World (March 29, 1975), but it is a measure of the pettiness of the editor of Jewish Affairs that he allowed this slur to stand. This cheap remark and the sly implication that Paul Novick and the reactionary Business Week have something in common will not easily be forgotten by progressive Jews who appreciate his long and devoted service to the Socialist cause and who esteem him as an outstanding Jewish Marxist.

So much for Aptheker’s “dignified treatment.”


Aptheker’s speech raised other questions which deserve comment. One of these is whether one’s Jewishness or the fact of being a Jew should color one’s attitude to problems involving the Jewish people.

Most people might suppose there is nothing abnormal or sinister if Jews regard problems affecting the Jewish people from the standpoint of their concern or feeling for the Jewish people – at least in part. Nobody is born in space and everyone is born into or raised in families which have some national or ethnic ties or memories and there is nothing wrong if these become considerations where the interests of one’s people are involved or threatened. No one thinks it odd when Black people take pride in Negro history, or declare “Black is beautiful,” or support the liberation struggles of Black Africans. In some quarters, however, this becomes a big problem if the reference is to Jews.

In his speech Dr. Aptheker told of his annoyance with a Jewish Communist whom he had once heard say, “First of all I am a Jew.” Aptheker’s response to that remark was: “A Communist is first of all, second of all and last of all a Communist.” Both of these statements are rather narrow and inadequate, the kind one expects at pep rallies. No one has such a simple personality that it can be defined in one word. A Jewish radical born in the United States is certainly an American, and a Jew, and a radical and perhaps other things.

But when a Jew declares that he is first and second and last of all only a Communist, etc., and demonstratively omits any mention of his Jewishness as a factor in his thinking we may suspect he is either putting us on or is seeking to escape his identification with the Jewish people. Such behavior is not characteristic of internationalists, but of would-be assimilated cosmopolitans. Internationalists, as the very name implies, do respect and reckon with the national or ethnic background of people since it is a normal part of anyone’s personality.

It is ironic that the very same newspaper, the Daily World, which carried Aptheker’s speech denouncing the opinion, “First of all I am a Jew,” prominently displayed an article only a few years ago (June 5, 1971) that bore the headline in Spanish, “Soy Chicana Primero!” (“I am a Chicana First of All!”). The writer of that article explained to her Chicana (Mexican-American) sisters: “If the Chicana chooses to become a Chicana PRIMERO (FIRST), to stand by and for her people, then she has become stronger by joining the struggle of her people.”

Of course, none of the would-be assimilated Jews in the Daily World questioned the idea “I am a Chicana first of all.” Only when Jews make such statements does it become a subject for ideological finger wagging.

(Continued next Sunday)