First Published: Morning Freiheit, May 25, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxist Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
This is the second and final part of this article.
* * *
Dr. Aptheker may say he is a Communist first, second and last of all, but his own view of himself is not always accepted by those who only see him as a Jew. The Negro nationalist writer Harold Cruse, for example, made Aptheker’s Jewish origin the object of his attack. In his book, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, Cruse wrote (of the 1930’s):
“This situation led inexorably to the period of Jewish dominance in the Communist party. It culminated in the emergence of Herbert Aptheker and other assimilated Jewish Communists who assumed the mantle of spokesmanship on Negro affairs, thus burying the Negro radical potential deeper and deeper in the slough of white intellectual paternalism” (page 147).
In 1948 when Stalin conducted his witch hunt against what he called “rootless cosmopolitans” in the Soviet Union many assimilated Russian Jews who also believed they were Communists first, second and last of all and Jews not at all, were harshly reminded they were Jews after all. This was usually done by denunciations in the press in which their original Jewish family names were printed in parentheses after their assumed Russian-sounding names. The readers got the point.
It is a distressing fact that there are no Jewish Apthekers functioning in Poland or Czechoslovakia today, though there were such people eight years ago in both countries. The malevolent “anti-Zionist” campaigns in these countries which barely concealed their anti-Jewish motivation wiped the Jewish Apthekers from the scene in both Poland and Czechoslovakia and, it may be added, without any protest from Aptheker in the United States.
Unlike Aptheker the distinguished Soviet Communist, Ilya Ehrenburg, declared publicly in Moscow on his 70th birthday celebration in January 1961 that “so long as there is even a single anti-Semite in the world I shall answer proudly to the question of nationality: ’I am a Jew.”’
Thus while a progressive Jew will not find the statement, “I am a Jew first of all,” completely satisfactory, he will also not deny that the factor of his being Jewish is of considerable importance in his judgment of events which affect the Jewish people.
It is not really lost on most progressive Jews that when Aptheker and his would-be assimilated Jewish colleagues make any reference to their own Jewish origin it is usually at meetings where they slander the Morning Freiheit and run down Israel. Aptheker and his colleagues deliberately ignore the progressive Jewish culture whether in Yiddish or English.
What is one to think of the Center for Marxist Education in New York, for example, in which Aptheker is a guiding spirit and frequent lecturer, which offers courses in Black history and Black culture and Puerto Rican history and culture and in 1972 offered such lectures as “The World of Islam,” “Muslim Morality and Culture,” or “Pre-Islamic Arabia and the Life of Muhammed” – but hardly ever presents courses on Jewish history and culture and never on the work of such an outstanding Jewish Marxist as Moissaye Olgin? It is good that this institution offers courses, most often to a student body which is largely Jewish, on these subjects, but it is the consistent ignoring of our own history, even of our progressive Yiddish culture and our own great historical figures that indicates ’a policy of deliberate neglect. When, indeed, have Aptheker or any of his associates written seriously about that remarkable and most popular American Jewish Communist leader, Moissaye Olgin, whose name they only invoke when attacking the Morning Freiheit.
This failure on their part is no mystery. The great Jewish Marxists, Winchevsky and Olgin, were also proud Jews and not assimilators. They taught, loved and respected the Jewish people even as they fought the Jewish bourgeois and his politics. They were inspired by what they assumed would be a long and flourishing future for the Jews as a people under Socialism. Morris Winchevsky (1856-1932), the founder of the Socialist movement among the Jews, coined the term “anti-Jewish Jews” to designate the Jewish assimilators and nihilists in the Socialist movement.
It was Moissaye J. Olgin (1878-1939), the founder and first editor of this newspaper who told the World Yiddish Cultural Congress in Paris in 1937:
“We wish to see a proud Jew who is capable of resisting the assimilator with his shabby coin of practicality and the nationalist with his shabby ’thou art chosen’ banner.
“We wish to see a Jew who will not be a stranger in the country in which he lives, a Jew who will know how to link the progressive peoples in the same country or other countries in the struggle for a better, more humane life and who will, at the same time, remain a Jew, a son of his people, a fighter for the future of his people.”
Is it conceivable that Aptheker or one of his associates would ever assert as did Olgin that he will “remain a Jew, a son of his people, a fighter for the future of his people.” Such a sentiment only embarrasses them and makes them uncomfortable. Were Olgin and Winchevsky alive today they would; most likely be the target of the same abuse Aptheker now reserves for Paul Novick.
Aptheker’s occasional and shallow forays into Jewish affairs do not enhance his reputation and neither will they shake the confidence most progressive Jews have in the Morning Freiheit.