Two once-prominent American Communists passed on in recent days; and reading their sanitized and adulatory obituaries in The New York Times, one can only say sadly, "There they go again!"
You wouldn’t know it from their Times obits, but "Marxist historian" Herbert Aptheker was a longtime member of the Central Committee of the CPUSA. And Novelist Howard Fast was a Daily Worker regular and the 1953 winner of the Stalin Peace Prize!
Aptheker played a major role in my life by steering me towards my graduate school and getting me blacklisted (because of my associations with him) from the Merchant Marines.
The Times‘ obit said Aptheker "founded" the American Institute of Marxist Studies in New York in 1964. But Aptheker didn’t "found" the Institute, as all of us attending classes there knew. It was "founded" on orders of, and with money from, the Communist Party, and was located less then a block away from longtime CP national headquarters at 50 East 13th St.
My favorite Aptheker quote, delivered on a visit to Long Island University’s Socialist Club (of which I was vice chairman): "If the ends don’t justify the means, what does?" My very favorite Aptheker book: The Truth About Hungary, justifying the Soviet crushing of the heroic 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Wonder why the Times left that title off its list of Aptheker’s works?
I remember Dr. Thomas Stirton, the liberal and fair-minded chairman of LIU’s History Department, telling me: "Aptheker is not respected in the field of history because what he writes is propaganda, determined by the party line at the time and not by a real effort to find the truth."
Aptheker himself told me he couldn’t ever imagine reaching a conclusion as an historian that contradicted Communist Party positions, because the CP had the best brains and the best analytical tools for finding the truth. Right, and Leon Trotsky was a Nazi agent.
Aptheker, during his long CP career, was an intellectual commissar, a would-be revolutionary, a plotter and a party "historian" who used his keen mind and research skills to advance his goal of estranging Americans from loyalty to their country. The Times should have described him as such.
Howard Fast was, of course, a tremendously talented and prolific novelist with some 80 books (my favorites: Freedom Road and Citizen Tom Paine) under his belt. The Times‘ obit claimed Fast’s career was "slowed but not entirely interrupted by the blacklisting he endured in the 1950s after it became known he had been a member of the Communist Party."
But Howard Fast wasn’t merely a CP member, and his involvement with the Communists didn’t "become known" in the 1950s. Fast, by his own admission, was a longtime open Communist activist and propagandist.
For over a decade, he was one of the party’s leading lights and most important public faces. During the crucial post-World War II period, he sought to portray America as moving towards fascism in order to justify Stalin’s conquest of Eastern Europe. Just read his book, Peekskill USA, written shortly after the infamous "Peekskill Riots" of the late summer of 1949.
"It was the first great open manifestation of American fascism," claimed Fast-happy to cast the ugly, but understandable, hatred of Communism shown by patriotic, blue-collar, Americans with Moscow-generated phraseology.
Sometime between Walter Duranty (the Times‘ Pulitzer Prize-winning Moscow bureau chief who justified Stalin’s murderous purge trials while denying the Ukrainian genocide) and Herbert Mathews (who assured the world in 1957 that Fidel Castro was not a Communist), the Times seemed to understand the nature of Communism. It confronted and dealt with CP members on its own staff.
Alas, that brief wisdom period passed long ago, as the Aptheker and Fast obituaries sadly make clear. (Reprinted with permission, The New York Post.)