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The Communist Left Tries to Win the Cold War in Retrospect (and Beyond) By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, February 16, 2006


New York University has announced a new Center for the Study of the Impact of the Cold War on the United States. It will offer dissertation and post-doctoral fellowships and a number of summer stipends over the next five years. The Center's mission is to encourage research on how the Cold War and the "red scares" {their term) shaped domestic political culture and foreign policy. The announcement stated a particular interest in proposals that deal with the presumed degradation of civil liberties, civil rights, and academic freedom; the use of political repression; and the resistance these measures provoked. Other topics may include: gender relations, internal security, labor relations, foreign policy, and political economy. NYU is also looking "forward to supporting projects that see the central issue of these years as the U.S. response to revolutionary nationalism and decolonization in Asia, Latin America, and Africa." There was no mention of the Soviet Union, which provided the main support for Marxist radicals in the Third World while its tank armies and nuclear missiles menaced Europe and America.

This year the Center expects to offer one dissertation fellowship, one post-doctoral fellowship, and two summer stipends. Dissertation fellows will receive stipends of $20,000 for a nine-month academic year; stipends for post-doctoral fellows will be $40,000; and summer fellowships are $2,000 per month. One-semester fellowships will be offered at half of the above stipend. Health insurance is also available, and office space will be provided. All fellows will have a formal affiliation with NYU.

The new Center is a joint project of the Faculty of Arts and Science and the Tamiment Library, a special collection at NYU documenting the history of "Labor and the Left." The Tamiment Library began as part of New York City’s Rand School of Social Science, founded in 1906 by the American Socialist Society - a group of socialist intellectuals that included Charles Beard, Morris Hillquit, William Ghent, and George Herron - who wished to found a school for "workers." Teachers included James Harvey Robinson, Stephen Vincent Benet, and John Dewey. Scott Nearing and Bertrand Russell also came there after losing teaching positions elsewhere because of their radical politics, including antiwar agitation.

The Tamiment Library supported the research needs of the Socialist Party and various trade unions. Many of the early leaders of the Socialist Party like Eugene Debs, J. B. S. Hardman, Meyer London, and Harry Laidler donated collections of papers to the Library. The records of the Socialist Party are one of Tamiment's core collections. Tamiment's archival collections also document the activities of the Communist Party of the United States, " its leaders, cadre, rank and file activists, and fellow travelers."

After the Russian revolution, Rand lost a number of instructors and staff who supported the Bolsheviks while the school itself remained "firmly in the right-wing of the party" as described by Andrew H. Lee, a former Tamiment staffer still at NYU, writing for the London Socialist Historians Group in 2004. The school swung leftward again in the 1930s.

In 1956 the People’s Education Camp Society, which operated the Camp Tamiment "socialist summer camp" in the Pocono Mountains, acquired the school and the library. It merged all the operations into the Tamiment Institute. In 1963, after losing its tax exempt status, the library was given to New York University, but retained its radical alignment.

According to the library’s website, "Tamiment has one of the finest research collections in the country documenting the history of radical politics: socialism, communism, anarchism, utopian experiments, the cultural left, the New Left, and the struggle for civil rights and civil liberties." The Library offers an annual $5,000 award for the best video production on the history of labor and radical politics.

The Tamiment Library uses as its logo a red rose. "The red rose has always been an important symbol with anti-authoritarian associations" says its website. After World War II, the rose became widely adopted as a symbol of the European Socialist movement. When it was thought that the "Socialist Party's symbols were considered to be too masculine, and with more women becoming active in the movement, the rose was adopted as a more gender-neutral emblem."

What makes the launch of the new Center for the Study of the Impact of the Cold War on the United States of interest is that despite its long record of radicalism, the Tamiment Library has not made foreign policy a central focus in recent years. In 1998, the aforementioned Andrew H. Lee signed an "open letter" from Librarians Against War (a far left group with sympathies for Communist Cuba) and the Action Council of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association proclaiming:

"As we write, our government is preparing an air assault on Iraq which will be devastating to the already suffering Iraqi people and which will contribute nothing to the cause of democracy or peace....It would be only another macho demonstration of military superiority, an object lesson in U.S. willingness to use any means, no matter how disproportionate, to pursue its ends. There are forces, among them the United Nations, which are striving for a diplomatic solution to the impasse over site inspections in the sovereign nation of Iraq. We support all such efforts."

Of course, Saddam Hussein threw all the UN weapons inspectors out of the country, provoking President Bill Clinton to launch a series of precision air and missile strikes against sites suspected of being part of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.

But since then, Tamiment has concentrated on traditional "progressive" concerns about the plight of international workers, labor laws, racism, and left-wing political movements. The library is also home to the Radical History Review journal, a creation of the radical New Left, which has followed these same themes. The Fall 2005 issue is a departure, being dedicated to Homeland Security, which means a series of articles on American torture, militarism and oppression of minorities (including homosexuals and intellectuals). This is, however, the first time since the Winter 2003 issue to deal with these kinds of topics. The Winter 2003 issue had the theme of "Terror and History" which was, of course, addressed mostly along the lines of seeing terrorists as freedom fighters.

The theme of the Spring 2005 of Radical History Review was "Another World Was Possible: A Century of Movements." Much of the content was dedicated to trying to salvage the revolutionary mission from all the failures of socialist and communist agitation since the 19th century. The new Center for the Study of the Impact of the Cold War on the United States should be seen within this framework, as the Left waxes nostalgic for "another world" in which the United States lost the Cold War and the dogmas of Marx and Lenin prevailed across the world.

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William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.


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