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
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
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
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
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
Reference Center for Marxist Studies