Cold War thinking at the Library of Congress


Mark C. Rosenzweig writes:
merican_communists_2.html\">Here\'s an Associated
Press Story of residual Cold War thinking at the
Library of Congress.

My Response:

Open Letter to 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\".

Much More....

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!

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 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.

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 the 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 arrival 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

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.
The assertion in the LC press release that the
existence of this CPUSA material in the former USSR
was a matter \"discovered\" in 1992 by John Earl
Haynes is ridiculous. It was a well-know fact that this
material was in the Soviet archives. That he
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

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 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 look forward to 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.

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.

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