ATTN: James Billington, Librarian of Congress

Dear Mr. Billington,

As the Chief Librarian and Archivist of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies in New York City, an independent educational institution with custodianship of the library, documentation and records of the Communist Party USA, it is of great interest to me how the historical papers of the CPUSA, sent to the USSR for safe-keeping during a turbulent period, have become the property of the principals involved in the recent announcement from your office "Library of Congress Opens to Researchers the Records of the Communist Party, USA".

There is a unfortunately more than a whiff of the old Cold War mentality in the press release which is most disturbing. In fact, one has the impression that these papers of the CPUSA are being treated as the booty of the Cold War!

These papers in question are, it should be strongly emphasized, the papers of a legitimate, continuously existing and still functioning American organization and there has been, as far as I know, no consultation with the CPUSA about the disposition or further distribution of its records from 1919 through 1944, in particular by the "new Russian government" as you describe it.

The Russian government which took control of these papers did so without warrant, with no discussion with -- or even notification of -- the CPUSA and I believe this, as well as their dealings with LC -- is in violation of ethical archival practice, if not possibly illegal. The disposition of the records generated by the CPUSA and stored in the USSR during this period, primarily to protect its members from the witch-hunts which began with the Palmer Raids in 1919, which continued with the formation of HUAC in 1938 and was followed by the Smith Act "thought control" legislation and prosecutions beginning in 1940, should have been considered, unless otherwise agreed, to have been at the prerogative of the organization which produced them or, at the very least a decision which should have been made in consultation with the CPUSA.

I would like to see the evidence of provenance and documentation --for instance a deed of gift or some legal instrument -- of legitimately accessioning and processing this material by the Russian Archive, with which institution the Library of Congress chose to deal, completely without regard to possible concerns of the generators of this material whose historical legacy they represent.

As  a librarian and archivist I am, of course, pleased that these records exist and that they will provide richer documentation of the activities of the CPUSA and a better understanding of the role it has played in the shaping of modern America.   I, along with many of my colleagues,  should, however, like to hear from a representative of the Library of Congress about the exclusion of the CPUSA from the "opening" of the papers, urge you to address ,as well, the related matters elaborated below, and consider remedy for the mishandling of the CPUSA's material.

Let me dispose of several misconceptions up front.

Besides the obviously 'political' exclusion of representatives of the CPUSA from decisions about its own records, which is invidious, the characterization of the CPUSA in your press release as having "always been a secret organization" is tendentious and incorrect. It is also incorrect to suggest that the availability of documents of the Party has been very limited. Many leaders, organizers, prominent supporters and sympathizers of the CPUSA have left significant holdings of personal papers and organizational records of the Party to various academic institutions and archival facilities for the sake of preserving the historical record of an organization which played such an important part in the labor movement, in the struggle for civil rights, in the fight against fascism, in creating a popular culture with wide and deep influence in American arts and letters and in the achievements of significant social reforms which we all take for granted.

The assertion in the LC press release that the existence of this CPUSA material in the former USSR was a matter  "discoveredî in 1992 by John Earl Haynes is ridiculous. It was a well-know fact that this material was in the Soviet archives. That [Haynes] consequently collaborated in using bits and pieces of the material, when it became accessible, to attempt to document his speculative theories about relations between the CPSU and the CPUSA does not argue for his responsible and fair supervision of an archival project.

Further, given the highly partisan atmosphere in which these papers are being released here through the Library of Congress, and the sensationalist nature of the press release announcing the availability of this microfilmed material -- in addition to the ethical concerns already  pointed out above, about the complete exclusion of the CPUSA , whose papers these are, from all discussion of their disposition and distribution -- there are the following, hardly inclusive,  scholarly concerns:

1) Photocopies of contested archival material: It is impossible to verify the authenticity of documents from microfilm. It is precisely the authenticity of certain documents which is -- or may be in the future even more so -- in question, as well as the impossibility of verification/verifiability of the date, time, provenance etc. of material.

2) The lack of disinterestedness and even extreme prejudice of the project heads against the organizations whose files they are organizing, interpreting and  making available. These are people who have staked their scholarly reputations on proving a highly negative thesis about the relationship between the USSR, the CPUSA and  mutually-arranged significant,  extensive, well-organized espionage, a case (against the CPUSA) which remains unproved even with all the documentation at their disposal, and which involves arguable interpretations of data which bear on the reputations of individuals (some of whom are living).

3) There is no way to know how the microfilming has altered, by accident or design, the arrangement of materials, possibly included materials which were  not there originally,  or altered, elided or made illegible text etc. which appears on film.

4) The irresponsibility of making public papers which may bear on the lives and reputations of living individuals, families of individuals, still-existing organizations, without any discretion given to those people, groups or their representatives.

I remind you and more to the point, those who themselves are actually librarians and archivists bound by certain ethical, professional principles, that the CPUSA papers were sent to the USSR to protect members and sympathizers of the Party against violations of free thought and free speech, to protect fighters against war, fascism, racism, exploitation who were being systematically persecuted by the US government, not for espionage, but for their political affiliation and expression of ideas.

The history of government infiltration, harassment, threats, raids, confiscations, phone taps,  etc. the extent of which is now known, in part, through the heavily redacted records obtained through the FOIA, provides the true background against which the sequestering of this material from the 20s through the mid 40s was considered then and should be considered today. The violation of free speech and free thought which was perpetrated in  past anti-Red campaigns is continued in no small measure by the circumstances under which these papers are being released.

I look forward to the Librarian of Congress addressing these concerns for myself and a growing number of individuals, both in the library/archives profession and in the scholarly community.

As it stands, it seems the Cold War lives at the Library of Congress, and not merely as an historical phenomenon.

Mark C. Rosenzweig
Chief Librarian/Archivist
Reference Center for Marxist Studies

Last update, November 2002. Webmaster: