Located at New York University, the Tamiment Library is a repository of literature documenting the history of American radical politics, including most notably communism, socialism, anarchism, and the New Left. In addition to its collection of more than 50,000 books, the Library also owns such historical records as underground newspapers, strike bulletins, leaflets, manifestos, video documentaries, audiotapes of speeches, scholarly journals on radical history, and programs from past labor union conventions.
Originally named the Meyer London Library after one of only two official Socialist Party members ever to be elected to the U.S. Congress, the Library was founded in 1906 as part of the Rand School for Social Science. Formed by the American Socialist Party and modeled after the Socialist People’s Houses in Europe, the Rand School was as an educational center created specifically to indoctrinate workers with leftwing politics. The Rand School was allied with the Socialist Party of New York State and also worked closely with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Teachers at the school included progressive historian Charles Beard, anti-war activist and author Scott Nearing, and British philosopher Bertrand Russell.
At the time, the Library was one of the only repositories of literature on the socialist movement in the United States. Many Socialist Party leaders of the day — including Eugene Debs, J.B.S. Hardman, Harry Laidler, and Meyer London, and — contributed personal materials to the Library.
After a period of financial trouble during the Great Depression and the Second World War, the Rand School was sold in 1956 to Camp Tamiment, a socialist summer camp based in the Pocono Mountains of northern Pennsylvania. The Rand School was incorporated into the Tamiment Institute, an educational facility that worked for a socialist agenda but opposed the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, and the Library was renamed the Ben Josephson Library in honor of the Institute’s leader. In 1963 New York University (NYU) acquired the Library’s vast collection and gave the facility its current name. To this day, the Tamiment Library is run by the Communist and fellow-traveling left.
In 1977 NYU, along with the Tamiment Institute and the New York City Central Labor Council, founded the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives (housed in the same location as the Tamiment Library) with a mission to protect the historical accounts of the New York City labor movement.
The Tamiment Library’s collection includes materials in the following categories:
Communism: In March 2007, the Library acquired 20,000 books, journals, and pamphlets from the Communist Party USA.
Socialism: The Library possesses records of early Socialist Party organizations, the New York Bureau of Legal Advice (precursor to the American Civil Liberties Union), and the Democratic Socialists of America. It also owns the papers of Eugene V. Debs, who founded the Industrial Workers of the World and was a five-time Socialist Party of America candidate for U.S. President.
New Left: The personal papers of United For Peace and Justice Co-Chair Leslie Cagan (a pro-Castro communist) are housed in the Tamiment Library, as are the organizational reports of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting and the Revolutionary Communist Party.
Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives: Formerly located at Brandeis University, this collection of documents focuses on the participation of American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War who joined forces with the anti-fascist Spanish Republican forces in their fight against General Francisco Franco’s military rebellion. Many members of the Brigade were official members of the Communist Party USA.
Also within the Tamiment Library are the editorial offices of the publications, American Communist History and Radical History Review.
Some notable guest speakers at past Tamiment Library events have included Marxist labor historian and Yale professor David Montgomery, and Historians Against the War member (and New York University professor) Barbara Weinstein.
The Library has received funding from the Stephen C. Vladeck endowment, named for the famed New York City labor lawyer. Additional funding comes from labor unions whose records the Library currently manages. The Jacob and Bessye Blaufarb Fund, which provides support to filmmakers chronicling Progressive politics and the history of the Labor movement, assists the Library’s video projects.