Files of the Communist Party of the USA in the COMINTERN Archives

Following the successful release in 1995 of the COMINTERN Archives: Materials of Congresses and Plenums of the ECCI”, RusAR Publishers is pleased to announce its intention to expand its offering of source materials from the COMINTERN Archives in Moscow. The Library of Congress obtained the records of the CPUSA on microfilm for research use and preservation with no right of additional reproduction.

'General staff of the world revolution'

Formally, the Communist International, or COMINTERN, which was founded in March 1919, was an independent international organization of communists from various countries in Europe, Asia, and America. In practice, it was a Soviet-sponsored agency responsible for coordinating the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism worldwide. Even today, traces of this organization can still be found in countries throughout the world. As with all such semi‑secretive organizations, the COMINTERN became surrounded by rumor, conjecture, and myth. In the past, being unable to reliably distinguish between fact and fantasy, historians had to resort to guesswork. This was because the archives of the COMINTERN were hidden away in the inaccessible repositories of the central archive of the Central Committee of the USSR.

COMINTERN archives

The COMINTERN archive consists of all the records created under the authority of the Executive Committee (ECCI) of the Third International. It contains original documents in more than thirty languages from seven Congresses and thirteen ECCI Plenums, drawn up by more than seventy Communist and Left Socialist parties, together with different international organizations, often with personal corrections by famous figures in the Communist movement. They cover the whole period of the activity of the Third International, that is, from 1919 to 1943. In 1943, after the disbanding of the COMINTERN, its archives were transferred for storage to the Central Party Archive of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism. Today, the COMINTERN archives are held by the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RGASPI) in Moscow.

‘Hidden’ files

The Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) has always been a secretive organization. While occasional government raids, subpoenas, search warrants, and congressional investigations made some documentation part of the public record, the quantity was never large because of the party's practice of hiding or destroying records.

Until 1992, the archives of the Soviet Union dealing with Communist activity in America were closed to everyone except a few Soviet Communist party researchers. However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union has led to the opening of some of these archives. In 1992, Dr. John Haynes from the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress learned of their existence, and in 1993 he became the first American scholar to examine them.

On December 17, 1998, the Library of Congress and the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History (RTsKhIDNI) signed an agreement for the microfilming of [fond = fond?] 515, the records of the CPUSA, held by RTsKhIDNI. The archive was subsequently reorganized and is now entitled the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RGASPI).

The CPUSA collection

The CPUSA collection in the COMINTERN Archives ([fond = fond?] 515) includes 4,313 numbered files (dela). The material in the collection, largely the original headquarters records of the CPUSA shipped to Moscow many decades ago, spans the period from 1912 to 1944 with the bulk in the period from 1922 to 1936.

The files contain the original incoming mail, carbons of outgoing correspondence, reports from regional and local organizers, and internal memoranda produced by officials and offices of the national headquarters. In addition to CPUSA records produced in America, these files contain documents created or gathered in Moscow by CPUSA representatives to the COMINTERN.

The records are very detailed regarding the history of the CPUSA, particularly its origins in the 1920s and the early and middle 1930s. Many of the documents in this collection are unique; for instance, a 1926 memo regarding Soviet subsidies to the American communist movement, documents that illustrate the emphasis the CPUSA placed on organizing African Americans, and some personal papers of two early CPUSA leaders – John Reed and William Haywood – that were in their possession at the time of their death in Russia.

Most of the material in the CPUSA records is in English, although in some files key documents are accompanied by Russian, German, or French translations. In some cases, the English original is not present and only the Russian translation is extant.

Among the items in the CPUSA are:

§         An application for admission to the COMINTERN from the newly organized Communist Party of America (November 1919).

§         1926 memo regarding Soviet subsidies to the American communist movement

§         Documents that illustrate the emphasis the CPUSA placed on organizing African Americans

§         Personal papers of two early CPUSA leaders – John Reed and William Haywood – that were in their possession at the time of their death in Russia.

General information

Scope 4313 files (dela) from fond 515
Number of reels  326 microfilm reels containing 435,165 frames
Size of reels 35 mm.
Film type Positive silver halide
Internal  Title frames on every reel
Reduction ratio Varies depending on the size of the original finding aids
External Opisis (unpublished inventories in Russian) published by RGASPI. Incomka database in English, to be completed end of 2002
Languagues  Most of the material in the CPUSA records is in English, although in some files key documents are accompanied by Russian, German, or French translations. In some cases, the English original is not present and only the Russian translation is extant.

Please contact Rusar Publishers for further information at info@rusar.com.


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