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BETTINA APTHEKER Printer Friendly Page

The Political Is Personal: Bettina Aptheker's Odyssey to Nowhere
By David Horowitz
November 10, 2006


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  • Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Communist and lesbian activist
  • Daughter of Herbert Aptheker

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1944, Bettina Aptheker is a fulltime professor of Women's Studies and History at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). She is the daughter of a famous American Communist, the late Herbert Aptheker.

Bettina Aptheker is by her own proud admission a Communist and a "lesbian activist." Her introductory course in feminism, which she has taught since 1980, is usually attended by more than 400 students. The course syllabus describes lesbianism as the "highest stage of feminism," a trope she borrowed from Lenin. In other words, change in sexual orientation is an inevitable final stage in the development of the socially conscious individual. Aptheker's lectures in this course have been filmed at university expense as an important contribution to what the UCSC describes as lesbian “herstory.”

Aptheker describes her teaching philosophy as a "revolutionary praxis." The crux of this approach, she has said, is to subvert the traditional mission of the university by breaking down the distinction between subjective and objective truth, what Aptheker dubs "breaking down dualisms." This approach is especially relevant to Women's Studies, Aptheker notes, because it allows her to inject a "women-centered perspective" into the curriculum to correct what she claims was the "male-centered" bias of traditional university study. Aptheker has based an entire course around her notion of a feminist pedagogy, called "Feminist Methods of Teaching." She also teaches a graduate-level course titled "Feminist/Radical Pedagogies." 

Aptheker does not have a single work of reputable scholarship to her name. Most of her books -- including Intimate Politics: Autobiography As Witness; The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis; and If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance (co-authored with Angela Davis) -- are frankly political. Her lone ostensibly scholarly effort is the 1982 book Woman's Legacy: Essays on Race, Sex, and Class in American History. Radical feminist writer Adrienne Rich has approvingly hailed the book as "feminist to its core."

A leading member of the anti-war movement during the 1960s, Aptheker has not shed her unfailing opposition to U.S. military intervention. Appearing at an April 2003 UCSC faculty teach-in against the Iraq war, where she proclaimed, "This war in Iraq is an obscenity."

At the teach-in, Aptheker also claimed to see similarities between the political strategies of the United States under George W. Bush and those of Nazi-era Germany. "We should make no mistake between the kinds of diplomacy Hitler's regime engaged in during the 1930s and the kinds of diplomacy the Bush administration has engaged in," she said. "There are direct parallels, and it's very frightening."

Writing several months later, in the Summer 2003 issue of The Wave (the newsletter of the UCSC Women's Studies Department), Aptheker accused the Bush administration of "[i]mplementing a proto-fascist program of racist abuse directed especially toward peoples of Arab heritage, while giving license to the worst forms of persecution of all peoples of color."

Aptheker has also labored to bring anti-Israel activism to the UCSC campus. She signed an open letter to the U.S. government demanding the abrogation of all American aid to Israel. In 2002, she authored an article in The Wave pledging support for Palestinian terrorists, who she described as "anti-occupation activists," and she applauded Israeli reservists who refused to serve in the "occupied territories."



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