The hidden story behind CPUSA’s donation of its archives to NYU
The Communist Party of the United States is presently in the news for donating its archive to the Tamiment Library at NYU. As many are aware, this archive was part of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, the library located in the CPUSA building in New York, which was run by ALA Councilor Mark Rosenzweig until its recent closure. Mark made important discoveries in the holdings of the archive over the years, organized them, maintained them, shared them with researchers, and, finally, spent weeks overseeing the transfer of the archive to NYU to ensure that its value would be understood and it’s ins and outs known, as much as possible, to its new custodians.
For anyone who is familiar with the Reference Center or knows about Mark’s work, or for that matter for anyone who knows about the CPUSA as a still-active political party with standards of openness that are the same as other parties’, the news coverage of the transfer of the archive provides a good illustration of the typical shallowness of American journalism.
First, these links, and then Mark Rosenzweig’s commentary:
Mark Rosenzwieg has a complaint about the New York Times coverage of the transfer, and has agreed to let me post the message he sent to PLG member, below:
I must confess to being more than a bit upset about the way Michael Nash of Tamiment library at New York University has spun the story for the New York Times of the transfer of materials from the CPUSA and (altogether unacknowledged) the Reference Center for Marxist Studies (RCMS) to the Tamiment.
First of all, it is a entirely untrue that he was “actually” unaware, as he claims to the Times, of even the continued existence of the CPUSA when he was contacted by Sam Webb, the party’s National Chair. Not at all a trivial thing, it is, I’m sorry to say, a conscious and contrived pose which he knows demeans the very benefactor he is celebrating, and is a bit of conventional and, I daresay, anti-Communist repartee intended, apparently, to delight his Establishment audience at the expense of his donors.
Of course, he knew very well of the organizational existence and ongoing political work of the CPUSA.
And he knew, as well, of the fact that the material had been in the custodianship first of the Historical Commission of the Party and then of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, which had assumed responsibility for providing public access to these resources. The Reference Center was an institution which had been in existence for the last 26 years, the last 6 under my direction.
Indeed, he must have known, because, not that long before being contacted by Sam Webb, a contractual agreement with the Reference Center for Marxist Studies on behalf of the CPUSA for the joint rights in additional papers of the famed Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, published in microfilm by Gale Publications, had been negotiated by me, through the Refence Center, on behalf the CPUSA, with Tamiment, and that was not the first, by any means, of such relations which presumed recognition and prior knowledge of the continued existence of the CPUSA and of the role, until just before the transfer, of the RCMS.
Mr. Nash I’m afraid to say, led the NYT to ignore the fact that the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, housed at the CPUSA headquarters in NYC, with only a short break in the course of transition to a new home for the collection, made as much of this material discussed by the NYT as accessible as possible to scholars and the general public, to the best of its ability, providing services and materials for all inquirers who didn’t mind contacting an organization physically located on the premises of the Party, quite different, as you might imagine from the more posh provinmces of NYU’s Bobst Library at Washington Square.
As the professional librarian who was the director of the RCMS for the last 6 of those 26 years, I object to his disregard of the work of half a dozen librarians over that period and of the long stewardship of the RCMS, until the time of her death, by Lottie Gordon, a life-long member of the CPUSA who was entirely devoted to making the Party’s resources accessible through the Reference Center.
Quite disappointing to me personally, Mr. Nash — I got to know him rather well, since I worked with him for several months on the transfer of the materials from the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, and rather like him — oonspicuously, in the NYT article, tries to take credit for things like rescuing the historically important Joe Hill papers which I myself had carefully preserved, processed and whose discovery I had long ago publicly announced for the Reference Center on the Web and in print. The implication of this posturing on his part is that the CPUSA (and the unacknowkedged RCMS) was unaware of the significance if not the existence of the materials in itrs own collections. This is not just an erasure from history of the role of the RCMS, an important institution in the history of radical librarianship, but an attempt to to try to assert, more significantly, the complete disontinuity and disorganization of the CPUSA, as if in implicit compact with anti-Communists to not ever grant status to the CPUSA as anything but the subject of historical research or worse, radical nostalgia, rather than as an on-going, continuous, if struggling, enterprise and a legitimate political party in the USA.
Sam Webb (see link above) has replied very well to the not unexpected political angle of the NYT article. I just wanted to point out the less momentous, but not insignificant, distortion involved in Mr Nash’s diminishing the role of the RCMS in preserving the CPUSA legacy, a legacy that Mr. Nash now celebrates having had donated to his institution. This is a misrepresentation of history which, to me, is a great disservice to all involved and not a good basis on which to inaugurate new home of this great collection to the Tamiment.
I hope that at the opening event someone will speak for the work of the RCMS — I can’t myself, as I am presently in China — in preserving the continuity of the records of the CPUSA, if not for the memory of Lottie Gordon and her librarian colleagues and all their work, at least to counter the preposterous implication that the party disrergarded its historical legacy until NYU and Mr. Nash came along to recover it.
Mark C. Rosenzweig
former dir. RCMS