On Winston Tabb's reply to to Mark Rosenzweig

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3) Why is it obvious that because these are "American" historical documents (which had - let's not forget - to be secretly sent out of the country to be protected from confiscation and possible destruction by American government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 indisputably are.

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 foreign institutions!

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.

Mark Rosenzweig
Chief Librarian/Archivist
Reference Center for Marxist Studies


Last update, November 2002. Webmaster: rcms@libr.org.