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Communist International (Comintern) Archives at the Library of Congress

Bringing the Comintern Archives to Scholars

As one of nine institutions participating in the International Committee for the Computerization of the Comintern (INCOMKA), the Library of Congress (LC) played a primary role in making the archives of the Communist International available to researchers around the world. LC assumed responsibility for converting some 175,000 personal names from Russian Cyrillic to their standard spelling in American English usage and translating nearly 20,000 keywords from Russian to English. As a result, researchers who do not know the Russian language have access to the vast Comintern database, including more than a million pages of digitized manuscripts.

The Communist International (Comintern) was established in March 1919 to foment world revolution. Within a few years, communist parties existed in nearly all the countries of Europe and by 1930 in most countries of the world. These generally small, often illegal parties looked to Comintern headquarters in Moscow for support and guidance. After the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) took custody of the organization's records. The Comintern archives constitute an important resource for the study of world history during the inter-war period and early years of World War II. The archives also contain interesting biographic material from the Cold War era, when the International Department of the CPSU continued to add personal files.

The formerly secret Comintern archives were opened to the public in late 1991. Until recently, access to the collections required a trip to the Russian State Archives for Social and Political History (RGASPI) in Moscow, where researchers faced an endurance test to locate specific information among more than 20 million pages of documents. Extensive finding aids to the collections existed, but they were in the Russian language only. Researchers, regardless of language capability, required staff assistance to determine whether personal files on given individuals even existed.

On June 6, 1996, after three years of discussions, the Council on Archives and the Federal Archival Service of Russia (Rosarkhiv) signed an agreement that would make the Comintern archives more accessible to researchers around the world. The agreement set up the International Committee for the Computerization of the Comintern (INCOMKA). Partners in this effort included Rosarkhiv, RGASPI, the Archives of France, the Federal Archives of Germany, the State Archives of Italy, the National Archives of Sweden, the Federal Archives of Switzerland, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of Spain, the Open Society Archives of Hungary, and the Library of Congress.