The records of the Communist Party, USA provide vivid documentation of the organization's trajectory from its birth in 1919 to the early 2000s. The collection includes a diverse mix of correspondence, convention and conference materials, essays and manuscripts, internal discussion documents, reports, speech transcripts, research files, printed ephemera, clippings, legal documents, audio and video recordings, graphics, and a wealth of personal papers. Though materials from as early as 1892 can be found in the collection, the bulk of the records were created between 1950 and 1990.
The lack of a substantial amount of material from the earlier half of the 20th century can be explained by understanding the history of the CPUSA and its documentary record. Researchers should note that the majority of the CPUSA's earliest records were deposited in Moscow for safekeeping beginning in the 1920s when Communist parties throughout the world feared seizure of their records by law enforcement authorities. In 1998 the Library of Congress and the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RGASPI) entered into an agreement to microfilm the records of the Comintern and Communist Party, USA (1919-1938) and make them accessible through IDC Publishers. A copy of this microfilm is available at Tamiment (Files of the Communist Party of the USA in the Comintern Archives, 1919-1943, Microfilm R-7548).
The microfilm provides access to many of the organization's earliest records, while the CPUSA archival records (TAM 132) focus heavily on the later aspects of the Communist Party's history: World War II, the Cold War, the McCarthy period, the New Left, and the post-New Left years. They also fill some gaps in the microfilm collection, such as founding documents from the 1919-1921 period, records describing its first convention, various drafts of political action platforms, materials from the Communist International, and documents relating to underground activities during the post-World War I Red Scare. Together, the RGASPI microfilm and the CPUSA records (TAM 132) provide a comprehensive portrait of communism in the United States.
The value and significance of the CPUSA records can be attributed to two dominant themes in the collection: information on its organizational structure and evidence of its work in a variety of social movements.
The collection provides a detailed look at how the Party was organized and how it functioned. A considerable amount of information about strategy, tactics, and organizational structure is accessible via correspondence, internal discussion documents, public distribution materials, memorandums, and reports. These materials offer a window into the Party's decision making process, internal communication networks, the ways it operated as a bureaucratic entity, and how these processes changed over time. The administrative records of several of the Party's leaders—Gus Hall, Jarvis Tyner, Sam Webb, and Carl Winter, to name a few—as well as many robust files from national conventions and national bodies, shed light on a wide range of processes. Correspondence, discussion documents, and resolutions illustrate how the priorities of leadership were developed and contributed to shaping the Party platform. Files originating from commissions, departments, schools, and youth organizations detail methods employed to attract, educate, and mobilize membership across the nation. They also supply a record of how those methods evolved during the course of the century in response to the changing needs and priorities of the working class and oppressed. Materials from the Party's national conventions show a progression in how Party initiatives were developed. They offer insight into how discussion among Party members was conducted and then built into a consensus as a result of those discussions. Recordings of meetings and conventions further provide documentation of the ways in which Party members engaged in debates and shaped policies over the years. Articles, essays, speech transcripts, and other writings produced by members for a variety of publications and forums provide further evidence of how information was refined for dissemination among the organization and a broader working class audience. Many of those writings are found in Series VIII: Publications and Series IX: Individuals.
The records also offer a compelling narrative of the CPUSA's participation in many major social and cultural movements as they occurred across the country. The role the Party played in the struggle for workers' rights, civil rights, international peace, and social welfare for both urban and rural citizens is extensively documented in the collection, most often by means of correspondence, resolutions, reports, or an individual's personal papers. Participation in these movements can also be seen in the Party's collected graphics, posters, and buttons. The participation of many prominent African Americans in the Party's civil rights and workers' rights efforts is richly illustrated via correspondence, research files, speeches, resolutions, and internal reports. A few examples of this include the writings of William Patterson, Head of International Labor Defense; correspondence and campaign materials from Benjamin Davis, the Communist Councilman from Harlem and James W. Ford, Head of the Harlem Club and 1932, 1936 and 1940 vice presidential candidate; the administrative and personal papers of Henry Winston, National Chairman from 1966-1986; and the personal papers of Paul Robeson, actor, singer, and activist. A sizeable amount of printed ephemera provides evidence of the Party's efforts to fight legal segregation, build a racially integrated union movement, and mobilize support for anti-lynching legislation. The majority of these records can be found in Series I: National Administrative Records, Series IX: Individuals, and Series XII: Graphic and Artifacts.
As the century progressed, the CPUSA continued to make civil rights for minorities a priority. This is evidenced in numerous items in the collection that date from the whole of the organization's lifespan: Party platforms, election materials, resolutions and reports from the national office, articles and essays prepared for publication in Party literature, correspondence and meeting minutes from national commissions, district conference materials, and club discussion documents. The content of pre-convention discussion documents and national convention materials often focuses on details and localized concerns; therefore, they may prove particularly useful for understanding the Party's various initiatives on minority issues. The Party's considerable interest in the efforts in the 1970s to free Angela Davis from imprisonment are also well documented, as is the CPUSA's relationships with the Black Panther Party and other black nationalist organizations.
Material from the Party's earliest years is sparse. However, records that are available are generally of great historical significance, such as documents which detail the birth of the Party and its first tumultuous years as it suffered from in-fighting and factionalism. Documentation of the Party's efforts to educate Party members, youth, and the working class through Workers Schools in the 1920s through the 1940s provides robust evidence of how leadership translated Party ideology into succinct and basic ideas for a diverse audience. Election platforms and campaign literature from the same time period are similarly useful for this purpose.
Records become more substantial in volume beginning in the 1930s through the 1940s. Discussion documents, public distribution materials, reports, and resolutions provide evidence of the Party's work organizing farm workers, factory workers, students, and youth, as well as its support of the unemployed. They also illustrate the role the CPUSA played in the industrial union movement. Other records from the 1940s document the Party's response to Stalin's "move to left," signaled by the April 1945 letter from French Communist Jacques Duclos, and the expulsion of Earl Browder.
Because administrative records created by the Party during the first half of the 20th century are not comprehensively represented in this collection, the personal papers of individual CPUSA members or individuals associated with the Party may be useful in filling out a portrait of the organization during this time period. Though the majority of these personal papers tend to focus on an individual's experiences outside the Party, they do serve to show how Party ideology carried over into all aspects of a member's life. The literary writings of David Gordon, professional work from Lewis Moroze's career in education, the prison correspondence of Henry Winston, Spanish Civil War dispatches from Robert Minor, and memorabilia from the life-long activism of Lottie Gordon and Mary Gale all provide vivid illustrations of communist principles put into practice. Personal papers also include photographs, which touch on the Party involvement as well as personal lives of Party members.
Legal records, found in Series VII: Trials and Legal Records, form the bulk of materials from the 1950s. They mostly document the persecution of Communists during the McCarthy period. Official court records, testimonies, and news clippings from the Smith Act trials are strongly represented; many of these files are supplemented by records from the Communists' defense attorneys. These trials resulted in the jailing of most of the Communist Party's top leadership including Joseph Brandt, Eugene Dennis, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Gus Hall, William Schneiderman, and Robert Thompson. Other files demonstrate the Party's involvement and interest in many court trials which dealt with issues of communist persecution, such as the Rosenberg case, or with racial discrimination and injustice, such as the Scottsboro case.
Party initiatives concerning youth and international peace efforts are captured most fully in Series V: Affiliated and Allied Organizations. These records mostly derive from the 1960s and 1970s. Materials created by youth organizations affiliated with the CPUSA, such as the Young Communist League and the W.E.B. Du Bois Clubs of America, demonstrate the participation of a younger generation of activists in CPUSA dialogue concerning international conflicts, employment issues, and national elections. Records from the National Coordinating Center in Solidarity with Chile, formed in the aftermath of the 1973 coup d'etat which overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende, reflect the Party's deep commitment to supporting human rights at an international scale.
Records documenting the Party's electoral activities at the national, state, and local levels derive from the late 1930s through the 1980s; however, most of these records originate from Gus Hall's four candidacies for U.S. President in the 1970s and 1980s, first with Jarvis Tyner and then with Angela Davis as Hall's running mates. There are also many files from the regional and local campaigns of Party members; most of these focus on New York State and City races during the 1970s and 1980s.
The CPUSA's national headquarters were re-located from Chicago to New York City in the late 1920s; as a result, there is a strong focus on Party activities in New York City and its surrounding areas in this collection. This is clearly reflected in Series II: States and Districts which is largely devoted to the New York State District and the records of its one-time head, Jarvis Tyner. This series, which includes many files from New York City neighborhood clubs, offers considerable detail on Party work at the local level; meeting minutes and correspondence reflect a concentration on localized issues like urban housing and public transit.
Materials created by commissions and departments are useful resources for understanding the Party's primary initiatives during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Files documenting the work of the History Commission reflect a greater focus on the historical accomplishments of the CPUSA as members explored ways to attract a new generation of activists. Meeting minutes and correspondence, which document the creation of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, demonstrate the founders' intentions to serve as a resource for Party members, scholars, activists, and the working class. The preservation and accessibility of many of items of historical value in this collection can be credited to the History Commission and the RCMS founders. Course outlines, Party literature, and recruitment guides from the National Education Department and the New York District Education Department show a continued emphasis on informing and training the rank and file despite the diminished size of the Party.
Administrative records from the national office, some files from districts and clubs, and materials from the 25th National Convention give evidence of the internal schism that formed during the 1990s as the Party divided over its response to Glasnost. Included are some documents that detail the decision of many members to leave the CPUSA to form the Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Despite a severe drop in membership, the collection reflects an active membership throughout the 1990s. Correspondence, memorandums, reports, and resolutions from the national office, the New York District, and various commissions and departments show the Party maintained its focus on advocating for the working class, working towards equal rights for racial and ethnic minorities and women, and promoting international peace. With the rise of environmentalism in the 1980s and 1990s, the CPUSA joined in global efforts to protect the environment; this new focus is reflected in Party literature and directives.
The collection contains approximately 5500 audio cassette tapes, audio reels, films, video cassette tapes, and video reels documenting Communist Party meetings, conventions, public appearances, events, and broadcasts. Approximately 1000 of these recordings document the proceedings of official Party bodies including Central Committee and National Committee meetings and discussions from National Party Conventions. Other recordings document the intellectual discussions and public activism of the Party, including lectures, symposia, courses on Marxism and communist theory, May Day demonstrations, rallies, and special celebrations. Recordings are largely contained on media produced in the 20th century and predominantly document events between the 1970s and 1990s, although some reels are dated as early as the 1950s. An additional 600 audio and video tapes contain recordings of Communist Party programs created for radio and television, and include Chairman Gus Hall's weekly radio address Update, and the television programs People Before Profits and Changing America. The collection also contains over 400 film reels, which consist of exhibition prints and amateur films. The bulk of the exhibition films feature collected documentaries from the Soviet Union and other communist nations, while amateur footage documents events like May Day rallies and Youth Festivals. Graphic materials and artifacts consist of hundreds of buttons, posters, photographs, and artifacts documenting the Communist Party's support for a wide variety of political movements throughout 20th century. A collection of several hundred buttons document the Communist Party's support of campaigns related to civil rights, peace movements, nuclear-disarmament, and environmentalism as well as its own political campaigns. Posters likewise document the Party's interest in political issues in the United States and abroad. While some of these materials were produced by the Party for specific campaigns, the majority were collected and reflect the wide array of topics of interest to the Party.
An additional 11 boxes were added to the collection in 2018. This accretion largely contains video recordings of the Communist Party television program Changing America, and tapes of Communist Party rallies and speeches. Changing America tapes include both Master and Dub copies recorded on DV Cam tapes. Other videos are recorded on U-matic, VHS, and 2-inch open reel. The accretion also includes administrative files of the Young Communist League, which include pamphlets and ephemera from youth festivals, National Convention organizing files, drafts and articles from the publication Dialog, a small amount of correspondence. Young Communist League files also include several CD-R, DVD-R, and floppy disks containing digital images, administrative files, presentations, reports, articles, and discussion drafts dated from 1996 to 2009. A small amount of files from the office of Arnold Becchetti are also included in this accretion and consist of personal notes, correspondence, drafts of essays and articles, as well as national party meeting agendas and reports. There is also small amount of collected memorabilia such as certificates, portraits, a portfolio of photographic reproductions of Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov; and three audio recordings of Communist Party meetings.