Request to SAA for Mediation

Letter from Mark Rosenzweig to Karen Benedict of the SAA Committee on Ethics and professional conduct, requesting mediation.

Dear Ms. Benedict:

I am writing to formally request the Society of American Archivists' Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct to assist in resolving a conflict which involves ethical as well as legal issues, a matter which, hopefully, can benefit from mediation of the SAA initiated on the recommendation of your Committee.

The parties to the dispute are the Reference Center for Marxist Studies (RCMS) acting on behalf of the Communist party of the United States and as the stipulated custodian of its papers, on the one hand, and the Library of Congress (LC) along with the archival authorities of the Russian federation on the other.

While the LC has been contacted by the RCMS' legal counsel in an effort to arrange to meet and discuss this matter, there is, I must emphasize NO litigation as yet in process, and I'm hoping that your good offices may make a mediated settlement possible without legal action being initiated.  We, in turn, have been contacted by the legal department of the LC and told there is no reason for us to meet and that we have nothing to discuss. Perhaps an attempt to mediate the outstanding issues by our professional association might be a more appealing and fruitful option.

The LC has repeatedly stated that the CPUSA has no legitimate interest in the disposition of a large and historically important cache (so-called 'fond 515') of archival material; deposited by the CPUSA in the Soviet Union, sub rosa and with no formal agreement, for the sole purpose of keeping it intact and out of the hands of the US government authorities. These materials, clearly generated by the organization now known as the CPUSA, were appropriated by the new government of the Russian Federation after the breakup of the Soviet Union, without any attempt to contact the organization whose records they clearly were and for which they, the Russians, had no title.

That organization, that American political party, acted out of well-founded fear of confiscation,manipulation and destruction of its records by the US police authorities and of intentional abuse of the documentation in witch-hunt style prosecutions of individuals and groups whose records they were or who were mentioned in those records.

These anti-Communist campaigns began with the Palmer Raids in 1919, continuing with the invocation of so-called 'criminal syndicalism laws, the establishment of HUAC, the Smith Act arrests, the Loyalty-Security program, the blacklists, the Internal Security Act prosecutions, the SACB, through the shameful period known as the 'McCarthy era' of the 1950s, not abating even in the 60s and 70s with the FBI's COINTELPRO covert programs aimed directly at the Communist Party and other domestic political organizations and activists.

Asked why these papers were not requested by the CPUSA to be returned from the USSR to the US one can only say that it was well and good that they were in safe storage in the Soviet Union rather than serving as further grist for the mill of domestic political inquisitions. There was, to put it plainly, no reason prior to 1989 to consider retrieving these papers from the USSR only to put them into jeopardy here. After that time, the internal sturm-und-drang in Russia made it unfeasible for the Americans to raise the issue of their sequestered papers in any case, what with the mammoth uncertainties and cataclysmic developments in the now former USSR.

The government of the Russian Federation and its new archival establishment were the sole partners with whom the LC chose to deal in obtaining a microfilm of the entire fond of the material belonging to the CPUSA,  depositing that copy in Washington DC without so much as a word being exchanged with the very much existent CPUSA and its archival representatives. The claim of the LC is that they have a contract or agreement (a copy of which I will fax you) based on the Russians assertion that "under Russian law" the material was theirs to control, to reformat, to sell, to reorganize,  to publish and even to make stipulations about its use in microfilm in the US. Despite the obvious (and advertised) fact that these were the papers of the CPUSA and the obvious domestic origin of this material, the LC looked no further into the matter of ownership and authorized control. One should note that we have been apprised that even the Soviet government didn't consider the papers of fraternal parties deposited in the USSR for safekeeping during dark times to be its property and returned them to the parties when requested.

What we wish to establish through mediation is that the LC formally recognize the CPUSA/RCMS' ownership of the material of which they have purchased a copy; its rights, responsibilities and prerogatives flowing from that, including decisions about re-formatting, sale, re-deposit, publication, and terms of use, and its legitimate desire to itself be credited with enabling access while legitimately and ethically setting the terms under which the material is made available. There should be some understanding that the organization of the material and interpretative apparatus be something over which thee CPUSA itself has, through its own auspices and the RCMS', some ultimate say. It is, finally, highly unethical that this ill-gotten material, what's more, is used to continue to attack and defame the Communist Party by a Federal institution which should be committed to objective scholarship.

One of the major ethical issues we wish to discuss is the violation of privacy rights of persons, some still very much alive, whose personal papers, and records are included in the fond of material and not respected by the LC.

If it were possible, we would like to work with the Library of Congress rather than have to fight it. We are open to many different possibilities in terms of acceptable arrangements and outcomes.

Our presumption is that the CPUSA is a legitimate American political party, with deep indigenous roots in American radical, labor and progressive movements, fertilized by the efforts of hardworking immigrants as well who helped build this country, and that their records are entitled to the same treatment afforded other political parties. The rights of people whose names appear in the files should not on that account, whether members, or mere correspondents or persons mentioned en passant, be in any way impugned by the framework and protocols under which this material is being made available here.

Ultimately we aim at securing the return of the actual archives and not just this simulacrum which the LC is passing off as a primary source, and action is being organized by sympathetic parliamentarians in the Russian Duma to secure the actual papers' return.

We hope, through mediation, we can get the acknowledgement of the LC that the ultimate fate of this material cannot be ethically adjudicated without recognizing the legitimacy of the entity whose reformatted material they have purchased from people with no clear legal title whatsoever.

It is a distortion of history to pretend that the CPUSA does not exist, while at the same time trumpeting the importance of holding a copy of a large part of its archives. If nothing else, we wish, by asserting our rights, to correct the highly ideological and negative framework within which the LC announced its acquisition of this "secret archives", this historically important material of great intrinsic value, a fact which has already created and encouraged a prejudicial interpretative bias.

Mark C. Rosenzweig
Reference Center for Marxist Studies
235 West 23rd St
New York, NY

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