Mark Rosenzweig on the response to his letter to James Billington,
Librarian of Congress re
LC/CPUSA papers, sent by Winston Tabb and received 4/24/01:
1) The letter from Mr. Tabb on behalf of the Library of Congress
regarding the dispute over the papers of the CPUSA completely avoided
every specific issue we have raised.
Its author seems to think that just because the LC has had a Foreign
Copying Program "to obtain copies of American records held by foreign
archives" since 1905, that it just stands to reason that they have an
unimpeachable mandate, an unquestioned right, to acquire whatever
"American" material abroad it wants, even if it is doing so in violation
of ethical and legal principles, and in flagrant disregard, indeed
denial, of any legitimate interests in the fate of the material by the
party whose documents they are. It is outrageous that they continue
ignoring that the CPUSA has any legitimate interest in its own archives.
According to John Earl Haynes of LC who brokered the deal, his refusal
to acknowledge the CPUSA flows from his contention that it is not a
legitimate American political party.
2) We contend that the CPUSA should have had the right, for instance, to
have these papers deposited, lets's say ,in the International Institute
for Social History in Amsterdam, http://www.iisg.nl/, well-maintained and
heavily-used collection of materials on social and labor history. Or to
include them in its own archival project.
3) Why is it obvious that because these are "American" historical
documents (which had - let's not forget - to be secretly sent out of the
country to be protected from confiscation and possible destruction by
American government authorities in the first place) that they a priori
belong to/in the Library of Congress, a branch of the US government?
They have - and I say this categorically - no particular claim to the
material over any other archival institution and whatever arrangement
proferred by any such institution, to be valid, must have, at the very
least, involved the CPUSA as a principal party to the agreement, thus
taking into account the wishes of the organization whose documents they
4) We know from Danish labor archivists who contacted us and other
historians and archivists that the national Communist parties in Europe
-- many of which, with the rise and spread of Nazism, clandestinely sent
whatever papers they could to the USSR to protect the lives of their
members and underground organizations etc, which could be compromised by
the confiscation of this material by the Nazis -- had no difficulty EVEN
UNDER THE SOVIETS of arranging the physical return of their archives from
the USSR and were involved in all cases where there was a transfer to any
other institution to which the originating party felt it should send
those papers OR copies of them.
5) This, however, is apparently not the case in the new Russia, where
supposedly new "Russian law" invoked again by Tabb in this official
reply, assures that the Russian government has ownership of the material
with no rights accorded the originating organization, in this case the
CPUSA. The lack of specificity about what "Russian law" is again being
invoked, after so many weeks of consideration of the matter by the LC,
is extremely dubious and unsatisfactory as a response.
6) This, then, is a double confiscation: first by the Russian
government/archives without consultation with the CPUSA and then by the
Library of Congress without consultation with the originators of the
copied documents, an organization which happens to be a legitimate,
legal, existing, active US political party!
7) As for the state of Russian legal opinion in this area, I am not an
expert, but I should bring to people's attention that there has been
widespread public discussion in the Russian federation popular
newspapers/media and extremely heated poilitical debate in the Duma of
the former USSR precisely about the mishandling of the archives of the
former government including the CPSU archives and the Comintern Archives
by the new Russian archival management under the subsequent government,
and it became, over the last few years, a passionate political issue,
covered as an ongoing news story on the various media, attracting
considerable press attention abroad, which smoldered for quite a long
time and remains a matter whose legal interpretation has never been
clarified even with regard to their OWN internal papers being sold to
8) LC says that the formal agreement with the Russian State Archives of
Social & Political History (RGASPI) "Guarantees that it has the right to
copy and transmit to the Library microform copies of the documents
indicated," yet there has apparently been no attempt made by LC to
verify this claim (which would involve contacting the CPUSA at the very
least!) and certainly no documentation which authenticates the Russians'
claim of ownership, no legal instrument, no deed of gift, and no
specificed legal framework (consonant with their law and international
law) which shows in any legally binding way that they have the
aforementioned right. In the absence of this there is no reason to
believe they do indeed have it: it is mere assertion.
9) Finallly, Mr. Tabb concludes by saying that I accused the LC of
"violating free speech and free thought" and that this is "breathtakingly
illogical." I have, however, made no such claim.
Mr. Tabb suggests that the LC, even while ignoring the continued
existence of the CPUSA and its concerns as well as all ethical and legal
issues, has done us ALL a service, as if the only institution which
could preserve & make this material available was our would-be 'national
library". What they have done, however, is approached a scholarly matter
in a partisan spirit of Cold War hostility and, with an arrogant refusal
to recognize the rights of the organization -- a US political party which
was persecuted for so many decades by the Federal government of which the
LC is part -- pirated the papers of that organization and excluded it
from any involvement in the matter of the re-disposition and publication
of its own records.
10) The pointed exclusion of the CPUSA from the negotiations shows a
political animus which can only gravely call into question the
objectivity of the arrangement of the project, the organization of the
materials, the character of the finding aids which were developed ('aids'
which alaways suggest an interpretative framework) and even raises
questions of the authenticity of the documents which they are offering as
primary research materials.
The manner in which this project has been carried out is, in our opinion
ethically dubious and legally questionable, and, I fully intend to
publicize this breach of standards of professional conduct by LC, with
its clearly political intentions. On behalf of the CPUSA --and with the
charge of its Executive and National Chair -- I will pursue litigation on
their behalf for remedy of legal violations of the rights of the CPUSA.
Reference Center for Marxist Studies