Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Communist Party USA Donates Important Archives to NYU

In an important gift of historically significant archival records, the Communist Party U.S.A. has donated decades of original papers to New York University, the New York Times reports today. Researchers seeking party documents previously turned to a set of microfilmed documents copied by the Library of Congress from records shipped to the Soviet Union 50 years earlier for safekeeping. The new sources offer a wealth of new information about the nature of Party work in the United States.

"It is one of the most exciting collecting opportunities that has ever presented itself here," Michael Nash, director of NYU's Tamiment Library, told the Times. According to today's news story:

Liberal and conservative historians, told by The New York Times about the archives, were enthusiastic about the addition of so many original documents to the historical record. No one yet knows whether they can resolve the die-hard disputes about the extent of the links between American subversives and Moscow since, as Mr. Nash said, “it will take us years to catalog.” But what is most exciting, said Mr. Nash and other scholars, is the new areas it opens up for research beyond the homegrown threat to security during the cold war....

John P. Diggins, a historian at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York... said he expected a lot of new dissertations and books to result from the new archives.
Handwritten lyrics to Pete Seeger, "Turn, Turn, Turn," and the original, handwritten copy of Joe Hill's will, written in verse, to be put to music after his 1915 execution, are in the records.

The cache contains decades of party history including founding documents, secret code words, stacks of personal letters, smuggled directives from Moscow, Lenin buttons, photographs and stern commands about how good party members should behave (no charity work, for instance, to distract them from their revolutionary duties).
Just one account:

Robert Minor, a cartoonist and radical who covered the Russian civil war, has a clear-eyed and lyrical account of an interview with Vladimir Lenin in Moscow, dated December 1918. Lenin was fascinated by America, calling it a “great country in some respects,” and shot question after question at Minor: “‘How soon will the revolution come in America?’ He did not ask me if it would come, but when it would come.” Minor, who had not yet joined the party, found Lenin a bewitching figure. “When he thunders his dogma, one sees the fighting Lenin. He is iron. He is political Calvin,” Minor says in his typewritten notes. “And yet, Calvin has his other side. During all the discussion he had been hitching his chair toward me,” he writes. “I felt myself queerly submerged by his personality. He filled the room.”
For the rest of the story, click here.