Monday, January 25, 2016
1177 BC: THE YEAR CIVILIZATION COLLAPSED
(Princeton and Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2014)
By ERIC CLINE
Rev. by Hugh Murray
I am no expert on the ancient world, but I am sorely disappointed with this book. For example, Cline describes the expedition of (Queen) Pharaoh Hatshepsut to the land of Punt.(p. 27) He acknowledges no one is certain just where Punt was, but he places it in the band from Sudan to Ethiopia to Somalia to Yemen and Arabia. Cline includes a description of the queen of Punt, who had extra large buttocks and a fat belly. Unfortunately, physical anthropology is now politically incorrect and has been squeezed from university curricula, but in the 1800s the Hottentots were viewed as so different as to possibly be a different species, and a few Hottentot women were displayed in Europe like animals because of their unusual physique – the large protruding buttocks and fat bellies. Sarah Bartman (various spellings) was one of the Hottentot Venuses displayed. Decades ago when I enrolled in an ancient history course, the professor spoke of Hatshepsut’s explorations, contending that the Egyptians even circumnavigated Africa, and the sailors complained that land was suddenly on the wrong side. Could the Queen of Punt been a Hottentot? Could Punt have been closer to southern Africa than to the Horn of Africa? Unfortunately, Cline does not even consider this possibility.
What caused the collapse of civilization in 1177 BC? “Systemic collapse.” Cline invokes a trendy phrase that simply means many factors – some earthquakes, some climate change, some droughts, some invasions by the Peoples of the Sea, some other invasions, some wars between this group and that, some internal revolts, some…and a dash of salt. Though he mentions Sherlock Holmes in the text, this book is more like a Sherlock ending thusly: “Well, Sherlock, who did kill the young woman in the red bathing suit by the swimming pool?” “Watson, don’t you understand, we all did it; we are all guilty.” Readers of Holmes would grit their teeth in anger at such a conclusion. So should the readers of Cline.
What could have caused the collapse of Bronze Age Civilization? There is an elephant in the room ignored by Cline (except on p. 93). I should rephrase, an elephant in the Aegean. When the Thera (Santorini) volcano erupted, scientists maintain that it was more powerful than the massive Krakatoa explosion of 1883 – one which had world-wide repercussions. If Thera were really a more power eruption, it surely would have had gargantuan effects on the nearby civilizations – the Minoan in Krete, the Mycenaean in Greece, the Egyptian, the Hittite and the Mittani in Turkey/Syria, the Assyrian, the Canaanites, et al. Surely, this eruption and tsunami might have unleashed the People of the Sea on quests to find land to replace what the floods had destroyed. Did Thera destroy Bronze Age Civilization?
Cline would argue, NO. The Thera explosion occurred too early, maybe 1650 BC, or 1500 BC at the latest). (Cline is so politically correct he wastes ink by continually writing BCE. Does he also write that his paperback was published in 2014 of the Common Era? 2014 CE?) Cline contends that the Bronze Age Civilizations (BAC) flourished after Thera erupted. The generally accepted chronology is based on Egyptian sources, but until a century ago, we had never heard of King Tut or Akhenaton or the Amarna letters that Cline quotes. Is it possible that the generally accepted chronology is miscalculated, off by more than a century? Perhaps Thera did destroy the BAC, not on 1177 BC but in 1577 BC?
Cline interprets Akhenaton’s religious revolution in Egypt, in part, as an attempt to regain pharoahnic power from the various priesthoods. Cline assesses Akhenaton as “calculating and a powermonger,” and his religion “ a shrewd and diplomatic move.”(52) Yet, Cline never bothers to ask how one of the hymns to Aton wound up as Psalm 104 in the Bible. What were the links between Atonism and Judaism? And what does Cline’s section on the Trojan War add to our knowledge of this event?
Bottom line – this book promises much, but delivers little. Cline does not think outside the box and fails to ask questions that might better answer why BAC collapsed.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
“THE MOST DANGEROUS COMMUNIST IN THE UNITED STATES:”
A BIOGRAPHY OF HERBERT APTHEKER (Amherst and Boston: U. of Mass. Press. 2015)
By GARY MURRELL. Afterword by Bettina Aptheker
Rev. by Hugh Murray
At the rigged CP convention in Cleveland in December 1991, Gus Hall was determined to retain control of the shrunken CPUSA. Surprisingly, on the second day, the Hall faction permitted Herbert Aptheker, by then a dissident, to speak for 5 minutes. Murrell, using the speaker’s notes of the convention, includes some of that speech: “That [the secret financing of the CPUSA] was outrageous. I had spent much of my life denying it,…under oath,…and the party leadership knowing that what I was saying was not true and what the government was saying was true. But we did not know that. We denied that…Gus [Hall] knew it, and supported it, and Gus was paid for it. Gus was on Moscow’s payroll…”(p. 333) It seems that when Aptheker was called as an expert witness in Communist Party trials, he was not so expert at all.
Murrell describes Aptheker’s roll in the Smith Act trial of Communist leader Steve Nelson. On the witness stand Aptheker discussed Marxism and its approach to armed rebellion, and he was cross-examined by the prosecution. Aptheker was asked to elaborate on the Marxist view of armed revolution. (102-104) This 1951 trial is part of the McCarthy era’s anti-Communism, and included in the chapter “Are you now or have you ever been?” However, in April 1943 the FBI had bugged Steve Nelson’s Oakland, Calif., home and overheard the visit there by a member of the Soviet embassy give Nelson money from the Soviet Union for the CPUSA. The Soviet official also gave Nelson instructions for the hiring of Communists who would be assigned posts in the newly created Manhattan Project, whose aim was to create an atomic weapon. This FBI bugging may have provided the agency with its first knowledge of the Manhattan Project and the American attempt to build the bomb, and clearly the Soviet interest was in planting agents who would supply the Soviets with reports on the progress of the atomic bomb. The bug had provided the FBI with most important information about a conspiracy to commit treason. When FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover then alerted an official high in the Roosevelt Administration about this plot to steal atomic secrets, that high official tipped off the Soviet Embassy that the FBI was on to them, essentially urging the Soviets to be more careful in the future and not be caught! In the words of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, “this was a conspiracy so vast.” Meanwhile, Aptheker defended on the witness stand a Communist official who took Soviet funds for the American CP in order to place moles in strategic jobs to make it easier to steal American secrets in building the bomb for the USSR. Murrell praises Aptheker for his enormous courage in standing up against Sen. McCarthy. But on the big issue of that era, McCarthy was right; Aptheker wrong. Moreover, about Nelson’s treason, did Gus know about that too? Did the leadership of the CPUSA?
Aptheker also appeared for the defense at the trial of North Carolina CP leader Junius Scales.(187) Despite Aptheker’s testimony, Scales was convicted, served time, and quit the CP. In his autobiography (written with R. Nickson) Scales concedes that he was never asked, but wondered what he would have done if asked by the CP leadership to perform a treasonous act. Aptheker never seems to have raised such serious questions about his own 5 decades of CP membership, in which he accepted and followed the discipline of the party. This question never rises in his consciousness. How far might he have gone? Murrell is certain that Aptheker was totally dedicated to the Party; for him the Party was “everything.”(332) If ordered, would he have spied? Or what else?
His daughter’s autobiography gained publicity when she alleged that Herbert had molested her for a decade, from age 3 to 13; from 1947 to 1957. Far more damning, Bettina included a paragraph (p. 23 of her autobio) implying that Herbert had gone to Mexico to find the Mexican who had informed for the FBI and caused the capture of Gus Hall, then hiding underground in the belief that the US had turned toward fascism. The clear implication of that paragraph was that Herbert, a recently discharged major from the US Army, had gone to Mexico to “find” the snitch and eliminate him. Bettina’s paragraph presents the impression that the scholar, author, lecturer, theoretician Herbert Aptheker may well have been even more for the Party! Murrell does not address Bettina’s paragraph directly; he simply reports that a couple of comrades had been stranded without funds after Hall was taken by the FBI. Aptheker was asked to bring money to them so they could return to the US.(100) So Murrell’s version is far more innocent – Aptheker is a Party bag man, not a Party hit man! But, could not the Party have gotten funds to the 2 comrades in Mexico easier than by sending such a prominent Communist like Aptheker? Does this make sense? Smells fishy.
As early as 1951 Aptheker was on the FBIs Security Index List of 12,000, and Murrell adds that Aptheker was considered one of the most dangerous – to be arrested in 1 hour if the order were given.(95) If considered so dangerous, was his home bugged? Was there anything to indicate a choo-choo train game? Or any sounds of molestation by Herbert of Bettina? Was there any bugging confirming why Aptheker went to Mexico? Hard evidence might resolve the question of molestation far better than speculation about repressed memory or fantasies horrible or otherwise. And did anything happen to the Mexican who provided information to the FBI about Gus Hall’s presence in Mexico? If there is no hard evidence to support Bettina’s allegations, at this point, I now think Aptheker innocent of the molestation charge.
On a short trip to NYC in the early 1960s I found the Jefferson Bookshop off of Union Square and chatted with a young woman clerk – Bettina – who informed me that her father was lecturing that night about a block away. I went. Herbert Aptheker so impressed me that I still recall something of that lecture 53 years ago. His subject was that day’s New York Times. I had attended Tulane U. in New Orleans, which had a large student contingent from New York, and they all boasted of the reporting in The Times. Using that day’s newspaper as a text, Aptheker opined out the distortions and omissions on page 1. I recall he pointed to a smaller article on that page about Vietnam; he said that the headline was not the important story. What was important was in the 2nd paragraph, revealing the number of American military advisors then in Vietnam. What was important, it was higher than the last previous count of American advisors. The American Government was expanding its military efforts in Vietnam, he warned. That was the important story.
Aptheker was a most effective speaker, and he had a sharp mind. Furthermore, he was a man of great courage. He was a scholar who pioneered aspects of Black history, challenging the conventional wisdom of his day that slavery, contending that there were hundreds of slave revolts and conspiracies, that Blacks were important to the success of the Union in the Civil War, finding documents to encourage an interest in Black history and protest, writing and lecturing, editing, and finding a suitable publisher for the works of W. E.B. Du Bois. Aptheker even ran for political office, and he established the American Institute for Marxist Studies, which he hoped might be a popular-front type of institution, providing information for various shades of the Left. He did this and more even though blacklisted, and was denied any university teaching posts from 1946 (when he exited the army until 1969 when he finally got a part-time post at Bryn Mawr? He was bitter about being blacklisted, but as Anthony Flood revealed in a recent article, Aptheker basically blacklisted C. L. R. James from all of his own writings. James wrote Black Jacobins, about the slave revolts in Haiti, a topic similar to Aptheker’s own American Negro Slave Revolts. But understand, how could Aptheker stoop to mention the book about Haiti? C. L. R. James, the author, was a Trotskyist!
Not only was Aptheker not provided a teaching post, he was often denied the right to speak on many campuses. The FBI sought to prevent and disrupt his lectures, and a young Pat Buchanan also sought to do the same. Aptheker had his critics in the CP, including some of the Black comrades who were jealous and resented that Du Bois had left his papers, etc. to Aptheker, and not to a Black. The ex-Communist Harold Cruse vehemently denounced Aptheker in his Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. Murrell reported that Aptheker only thrice answered the Cruse attack in print.(257) That may be true, but Aptheker, as leader of AIMS, published my booklet on anti-communism and history writing, in which I devoted a section to an attack on Cruse’s intense Goebbelist, anti-Jewish rhetoric and interpretations,
Once in the early 1970s while Herbert was opening the mail at AIMS, he saw the first page of a North Korean newspaper. He held it up so I could see how the “dear leader” of that era was shown, almost as a deity. Aptheker remarked, “There must be something about the Asian mind that wants a god-like leader.” It was an off-the-cuff remark, and I do not mention this to be politically correct and accuse him of “racism.” Indeed, a few years earlier in New York’s China Town I had seen a Chinese film that opened, not with a roaring lion, but with a large red background, in the center of which was a picture of Mao’s head, and from all round his head, like rays of the sun, gold flashes emanated. Nevertheless, what stunned me upon reading Murrell’s book was Aptheker’s criticism of the CPUSA in the early 1950’s – he complained it was not doing enough to show the true nature of the life (how wonderful it was) in the USSR! The early 1950s. Stalin! What even the CPSU would soon denounce as the cult of the personality! And those cults were evident in all of eastern Europe. The “dear leader” syndrome may or may not occur in Asia, but it seems intrinsinkly linked to Communism when it achieves power. It was not “the Asian mind,” but the Communist minds that required such an adored leader.
The Apthekers were involved personally with Angela Davis and her trials, figuratively and literally, in California. At one point, in a hurried session with Angela in her jail cell, he proposed a possible line of defense – she was a member of the CP, the CP opposes individual acts of terrorism, therefore Angela Davis must be innocent of any complicity in the murder of the judge and others in the California courtroom. Gus Hall’s Party leadership staunchly opposed this strategy. To me it was like a syllogism, John is a Christian, Christians accept the 10 Commandments one of which is “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” therefore John cannot be a murderer. But life is not a syllogism, and many Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Communists have been found guilty of murder. Herbert also was more prone to defend criminal actions by Blacks under the notion that they were an oppressed people and therefore could not be gangsters. (279) It probably made him unable to recognize the anti-white racism in crime when both he and his wife were mugged near their home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Like Jews who fled for their lives from Hitler dominated Europe, leaving their homes behind, the Apthekers fled for their lives from the Black ghetto in Brooklyn. Sociologists, infected by anti-white racism, naturally blame white racism for whites abandoning central cities. In reality, many like the Apthekers had to flee for their lives from Black racist criminals. Ideology blinded Aptheker, and the academedia complex, on such issues.
Herbert Aptheker had many admirable qualities, and I did and still do admire him on many levels. But he had a major flaw. Even at the end, he seemed not to have gained wisdom from his treatment in the Party. Murrell notes, had Gus Hall been in power in the US, Aptheker probably would have been executed for his opposition to Hall.(335) But had Communist Aptheker been in power, how many would he have found necessary to eliminate?
The flaw in Herbert Aptheker was his faith, his faith in the Communist Party.(300) It was not simply a god that failed. Failed? Communism was a god that succeeded in many nations and the result was the murder of up to 100 million people. All faiths are not equal. For example, I now see Islam, with its barbarous sharia law, as a threat to Western civilization. Communism, in its ruthless, brutal, and murderous demands for equality has also proved itself an enemy of Western Civilization. Aptheker’s CP opened his mind in many areas, but the same CP closed it shut in many others.
While the mainstream press invariably referred to Herbert Aptheker as the leading “theoretician” of the Communist Party, there seems to be no valid reason for the media’s appellation. Murrell quotes Dorothy Healy that the leadership of the CP viewed the role of intellectuals as simply to rationalize the Party line, whatever it might be.(143) In effect, their role was no different from that of the Party troubadours, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie – to present and spread the Party line in artistic or academic formats. As Aptheker became ever more prominent in defending Communists at trials, publishing Black history, ing lecturing to university gatherings, he became a rock star of the Party. Perhaps not the best known Communist: the Rosenbergs and other spies made bigger headlines in a negative way. Aptheker, however, presented a positive picture of the Party. Gus Hall probably viewed Aptheker like the President views his official spokesman. Unfortunately, for Hall, Aptheker was more independent than most Presidential spokesmen.
Does a Presidential spokesman need to know about secret troop deployments here or there? Clearly not. That information is for the President and his closest advisors. The media spokesman has to know only that which will make a more effective presentation of the President’s policy. Indeed, more knowledge may make it more difficult for the spokesman to lie for the President effectively.
In December 1991 Aptheker, outraged, whined, in effect, “Gus Hall, you let me lie to the public. You knew we were financed by the Soviets. You lied to me and I then repeated the lie to everyone.” During the speech, Murrell informs us that Hall was laughing at Aptheker. One can imagine Hillary Clinton laughing if Under Secretary Susan Rice whined about appearing on 5 television networks to lie to the American people by repeating that a video had caused the killing of Americans in Benghazi. Susan Rice was expected to do her job, and spin and lies were a part of it.
Why would the CP leaders tell a public relation spokesman that the CPUSA was subsidized by the Soviets? With such knowledge, would that make him a better spokesman for the Party? Why would the CP leaders tell a media spokesman that the CPUSA had enabled members to engage in espionage? With such knowledge, would that make him a better Party spokesman? Of course not. So for very practical reasons, keep the intellectuals and folk singers out of the loop.
Aptheker enters the loop only with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of files. He was the “theoretician”: he thought he was snfluential in the Party, the Party in which he had such faith. But the Party saw him as just another intellectual, another flunky, who must toe the Party line or be hurled into history’s dustbin.
But Aptheker might have been aware earlier. When Aptheker established the American Institute for Marxist Studies (AIMS), he envisioned it as a popular-front organization, open to various shades of the Left. Hall soon wanted to take control and restrict AIMS to a rigid, orthodox Party approach. The tension over the development of the organization could have taken another path, if Aptheker were willing. Aptheker and 2 others inheritied a million dollars. If Aptheker had kept his third, he would have had sufficient funding to maintain an independent AIMS. Instead, he gave the large sum to the Party leaders. Later, he inherited a smaller amount of $58,000, which he did not give to Hall, but kept for AIMS. With this small inheritance Aptheker kept AIMS independent of Hall for some time, but the small inheritance ran out, and Aptheker had to go to Hall for new funding. Hall, with his Soviet bankroll, then made AIMS the narrow Party-line institution he wanted.
There was something quite pathetic in Aptheker’s speech in December 1991. People lose in politics – that is not news. But the sudden awareness that the Party leadership used him for 50 years, yet in the end held him (and all intellectuals) in contempt. The faith and love he had given the Party was not reciprocated. In his speech, Aptheker was outraged. Gus Hall just laughed. Pathetic.