The late documentary filmmaker and Institute for Policy Studies associate Saul Landau in 2010. (AP Photo/Institute for Policy Studies)
The Institute for Policy Studies, an invaluable fount of progressive ideas and action, marks its fiftieth anniversary this month. The roll of its past and present scholars and associates reflects the richness of America’s independent left, including Richard Barnet and Marcus Raskin, IPS’s founders, as well as Saul Landau, Gar Alperovitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bob Moses, Paul Goodman, Arthur Waskow, Rita Mae Brown, Mark Hertsgaard, Michael Klare, Susan George, Roger Wilkins, Mary Kaldor, Eqbal Ahmad, Fred Halliday, William Arkin, Sarah Anderson, Phyllis Bennis, Chuck Collins, Sanho Tree, Robert Borosage, E. Ethelbert Miller and legions more.
The Nation has enjoyed a long and deep relationship with IPS and its fellows. Raskin and Wilkins have served for many years on our editorial board, helping to guide our reporting, with Ehrenreich joining more recently. Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation’s publisher and editor, is a member of the IPS board, and IPS fellows and associates have been frequent contributors to The Nation. In 2008 IPS collaborated with us to produce a prescient and award-winning special issue on “The New Inequality” [June 30]. We are proud to join in celebrating this vital institution.
IPS was formed just as New Frontier idealism was beginning to curdle into Vietnam War disillusion. It was the brainchild of Raskin and Barnet, then brilliant young officials in the Kennedy administration. The legend is that they met when John McCloy, the dean of the establishment, opened a meeting on arms control attended by Pentagon officials, national security mandarins and military contractors by saying, “If this group cannot achieve disarmament, no one can.” Marc and Dick, the only two who laughed at the absurdity of the statement, bonded—and went on to create the institute. Its start-up funding came from Sears heir Philip Stern, banking heir James Warburg and Fabergé cosmetics founder Samuel Rubin, later supplemented by a generous endowment from Wall Street whiz Daniel Bernstein. IPS refused to take money from the government, to be free to “speak truth to power.”
But as the war deepened and the civil rights movement expanded, the institute’s founders came to realize that power often knows the truth. The question, as Nation national affairs correspondent William Greider titled one of his books, is “Who will tell the people?” IPS would do just that, growing into a hub for progressive activism and inquiry. Legendary civil rights activist Bob Moses found a home there. Raskin, Barnet and Waskow became leaders in the antiwar movement. IPS published The Vietnam Reader, which became the basic text for teach-ins across the country. Saul Landau created a body of engaged documentary filmmaking focused on Latin America that educated a generation of activists. From the women’s movement to the anti–nuclear weapons campaigns, IPS became a center of ideas, energy and activism.
And the movement in turn helped deepen the institute’s commitment to critical thinking. Raskin led the search for what he called “new ways of knowing,” making the case for social reconstruction and nonviolent, radical transformation that went far beyond reform but avoided the paroxysm of revolution. Barnet and Raskin elaborated their critique of America’s emerging national security state, warning of the perils that would plague a nation committed to constant foreign intervention. In his path-breaking book Global Reach, Barnet accurately described the challenge posed by global corporations and the economy they were forging. Orlando Letelier, a leading figure in Salvador Allende’s left-wing government in Chile, joined IPS after the US-inspired 1973 coup that overthrew him. In a prophetic 1976 Nation article—published just one month before his shocking car-bomb assassination on the streets of Washington, carried out by Pinochet’s goons—Letelier warned of the drastic purgatives inflicted on the Chilean people by the Chicago School of economists trained by Milton Friedman. Letelier’s piece was among the first to detail the dangers of the neoliberal doctrines that the “Washington Consensus” would enforce first on the developing world and eventually on the so-called First World [see Letelier, “The ‘Chicago Boys’ in Chile: Economic ‘Freedom’s’ Awful Toll,” August 28, 1976]. In 1974, IPS founded the Transnational Institute, in Amsterdam (Letelier was its director before his assassination), which, among other initiatives, provided ideas and energy for the European revolt against nuclear weapons. The Transnational Institute also developed, with Jamaica’s Michael Manley and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, the case for a New International Economic Order, torpedoed by Reagan after his 1980 election. IPS’s William Arkin did path-breaking work exposing the scope of the nuclear weapons complex, while the institute sponsored an exchange with Mikhail Gorbachev after he became the Soviet leader in 1985, exploring unconventional disarmament ideas.