Marc Raskin, who died on December 24, was a valued friend of this magazine, to which he contributed, over many years, articles, ideas, inspiration, and wise counsel. “Marc mentored and inspired many, and touched us with his brilliance, humanity, and humor,” said Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. “He was a true radical—never dogmatic, always curious, in search of new ideas, new pathways.” Former Nation editor and publisher Victor Navasky, who originally recruited Marc, commented: “It was my honor and privilege to invite Marc to join the Nation editorial board and work with him over the decades. I always learned from him and counted on him to show us the way. He combined a radical intellect with common sense.”
One is tempted to dub Marc the left’s premier idea man because of his immensely varied contributions to the philosophy and praxis of liberal/left organizations, but that doesn’t begin to describe his influence. True, he sparked many articles, editorials, programs, and dialogues—yet for Marc, ideas were serious business, seedlings that needed to bear fruit in effective political action.
The San Francisco Chronicle recognized Marc’s importance as a thinker early on, extolling his book Being and Doing (1971) as “an important indictment of our society by a political thinker who in some quarters is held to be the most brilliant in the field.” An earlier book, The Viet-Nam Reader (1965), which he co-edited with the legendary Bernard Fall, became a bible for the university teach-ins that enriched the student antiwar movement. In 2003, Marc conceived the Cities for Peace program, creating a network of city governments to pass resolutions opposing the Iraq War.
Sometimes Marc’s activism carried a personal risk. In 1968, he was indicted by the federal government—along with Dr. Benjamin Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Michael Ferber, and Mitchell Goodman, collectively dubbed the “Boston Five”—for conspiracy to resist the draft. Unrepentant after his own surprise acquittal (he wondered sarcastically if he should demand a retrial), Marc went on to co-write, with Richard Barnet and Ralph Stavins, another book on Vietnam, Washington Plans an Aggressive War (1971).
That same year, Marc received from a source (later identified as the whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg) “a mountain of paper, some 2,000 to 5,000 pages,” that became known as the Pentagon Papers. Playing his customary catalytic role, he put Ellsberg in touch with New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan, who drew heavily on the material for his series on the United States’ secret early involvement in Vietnam. A longtime passionate proponent of nuclear disarmament, Marc would also serve in the 1980s as chair of the SANE/Freeze campaign.