The songwriter, labor organizer and folk hero Joe Hill has been the subject of poems, songs, an opera, books and movies. His will, written in verse the night before a Utah firing squad executed him in 1915 and later put to music, became part of the labor movement’s soundtrack. Now the original copy of that penciled will is among the unexpected historical gems unearthed from a vast collection of papers and photographs never before seen publicly that the Communist Party USA has donated to New York University.
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).
By offering such an inside view, the archives have the potential to revise assumptions on both the left and the right about one of the most contentious subjects in American history, in addition to filling out the story of progressive politics, the labor movement and the civil rights struggles.
“It is one of the most exciting collecting opportunities that has ever presented itself here,” said Michael Nash, the director of New York University’s Tamiment Library, which will announce the donation on Friday.
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.
Hill’s last rhyme — which begins, “My Will is easy to decide/ For there is nothing to divide” — was discovered in one of the 12,000 cartons. (Hill was convicted, some thought wrongly, of murder.) In other boxes were drafts of the party’s programs with handwritten editing changes and a stapled copy of its first constitution. “The Communist Party is a fact,” C. E. Ruthenberg, the executive secretary wrote on Sept. 18, 1919, days after the founders met in Chicago. A 1920 document marks the merger of the Communist Party and the Workers Party. It lists “Dix” as the secret party name of Earl R. Browder, who would later become general secretary of the party, “L. C. Wheat” as Jay Lovestone, who later turned against communism and worked with the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the C.I.A., and Alexander Trachtenberg as “one of the confidential agents of Lenin in America.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including all you whippersnappers under the age of 50), I’m writing this from somewhere over the Atlantic. At least I hope that’s ... Read More
One: South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg’s father, Joseph Buttigieg, immigrated to the United States from Malta and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1979. He was a professor of European literature who taught at New Mexico State and then Notre Dame. The elder Buttigieg was a fan of Manchester United soccer and ... Read More
She's not a fan. Read More
It never fails. Whenever a Republican president makes a controversial or contentious move to support Israel -- such as moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, or yesterday’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights -- you’ll see various “explainers” and other stories that purport ... Read More
The Senate. The Electoral College. The First Amendment. The Second Amendment. The Supreme Court. Is there a part of our constitutional order that the Democrats have not pledged to destroy? There are some Democrats out there in the sticks — a lot of them, in fact — who simply don’t understand the ... Read More
Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday evening delivered a report to attorney general William Barr detailing his nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Barr will now be tasked with deciding what information from the report ... Read More
Whitcoulls, New Zealand's largest bookstore franchise, pulled the work of Jordan Peterson from its shelves Wednesday in response to the mosque shootings that claimed 50 lives in Christchurch last week. Peterson's book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, which contains a chapter addressing the particular ... Read More