A Marxist and Feminist Horror Story
Here’s a game; try to map out a series of causation between two sets of views.
Imagine a Marxist Historian, prominent in the history of slavery in the United States, and so slavish in his party identification that he defended the Soviet Invasion of Hungary in 1956.
Imagine also a Feminist historian, with an active interest in race and an “acute understanding of the traumatic consequences of oppression.”
How do these relate? MLA Conference participants? No. The former figure is Herbert Aptheker, renowned Marxist historian and Stalinist. The latter is Bettina Aptheker, his daughter. Bettina, in a new volume called Intimate Politics, reviewed in the Chronicle, reveals that her father sexually abused her. She underwent predictably horrible consequences: “self-mutilation, self-loathing, and contemplation of suicide.” The curious turn is her suggestion that this experience might have lent some greater depth to her work in gender and minority studies. The article notes:
The psychological scars left by her father’s violations lent Bettina Aptheker an acute understanding of the traumatic consequences of oppression, allowing her to intuit that the history of black Americans was far more complex than Herbert Aptheker allowed for in his interpretations.This is accompanied by the suggestion that she has come to also realize “that perpetrators may be victims and victims perpetrators.” Here’s a case of two vastly different figurations of work and personal experience, the Marxist slave historian who wrote “it is intense partisanship on the side of the exploited and therefore on the side of justice that makes possible the grasping of truth” while abusing his daughter, and the academic feminist whose avocation seems to have been pursued, to some extent, due to these very experiences. I can’t really speak ill of any course that Ms. Aptheker takes to reaching peace with herself. Aptheker the elder achieved a difficult feat; demonstrating that there are things far worse than even Stalinist fellow-traveling. Even Hobsbawm looks alright by comparison.