First Harvest

17 November 2005
Article
 
Cover First Harvest

First Harvest
The Institute for Policy Studies, 1963-83

Edited by John S. Friedman
Preface by Gore Vidal
Introduction by John S. Friedman
Grove Press Inc, New York 1983
ISBN: 0 394 62491 2

Introduction by John S. Friedman

On April 14, 1961, several days before the Bay of Pigs invasion, Marcus G. Raskin and Richard J. Barnet, young officials in the Kennedy administration, were participating in a conference on arms control. Seated in a small auditorium were generals and top officials from the Defense and State departments. John J. McCloy, who was coordinating disarmament issues for the government, opened the meeting by announcing: "If this group cannot bring about disarmament, then no one can". Raskin and Barnet laughed, disbelieving that such a group would ever curb weapons.

Following this conference where they first met - Raskin was 26, Barnet 31 - the two lawyers found themselves drawn together in a shared belief that steps had to be taken to combar over-militarized ways of thinking in foreign and national policy. Resigning from government, they decided that an independent academy would be the most effective way to originate and disseminate alternative policies, and in October 1963 - a month before the assassination of President Kennedy - their Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) was born.

It was a time when attempts were first being made by the new left, following the decline of the old left in the 1950s, to chart directions and create systematic critiques of power. It was a time when fissures were appearing in cold war attitudes, even as the cold war itself was intensifying - in Vietnam as well as during and after the Cuban missile crisis. It was also a time when the mass movements that were to convulse America were stirring.

In this atmosphere, the founders of IPS believed that their academy could engage in dialogue with those in power and at the same time challenge the myths and assumptions of state power. They would refuse to accept any government support, an unusual position for a "think tank", and would provide advice and information to policymakers - while disagreeing with many of their assumptions.

Drawing on the American pragmatic tradition of William James and John Dewey as well as Sartre and the French existentialists, Raskin and Barnet created a research center that was not based on any ideology or hierarchical structure but where "existential pragmatism" was to be the dominant theme and social invention a leitmotiv.

In the spirit of social invention, one of their first steps was to try to break through the barriers that had traditionally separated thinkers and doers. Thus, the institute soon became a center of what Raskin called "passionate scholarship", reinforcing values held by front-line activists and encouraging scholars to become involved politically. As Raskin wrote in Being and Doing, "Taking personal risk is the way of maintaining relevance to one's intellectual work".

From 1964 when Lyndon Johnson signed the first broad-based civil rights bill to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., young civil rights workers such as Robert Parris Moses and Ivanhoe Donaldson came to the institute to reflect and test ideas.

When Johnson sent the first ground troops into battle in Vietnam in 1965, The Viet-Nam Reader, edited by Raskin and professor Bernard Fall, was published, becoming the basic text of the teach-in movement. When over 450,000 US troops were in Vietnam in 1967, Raskin co-authored with Arthur Waskow "A Call to Resist", which became a manifesto against the draft and led to Raskin's indictment with Dr. Benjamin Spock as "co-conspirator"; and, in 1968 when US combat deaths exceeded 19,000, Richard Barnet's Intervention and Revolution was published, serving as a theoretical foundation for the anti-war movement.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the institute became a constant source of social invention and a wellspring of popular culture. IPS fellows and former fellows helped found publications including Mothr Jones, In These Times, Working Papers, and Southern Exposure. Neighborhood projects included co-ops, businesses, a bookstore, a mini-school, and a music center where people who could not afford to buy instruments could use them.

Although the emphasis at the institute was primarily on political issues, IPS also became a center of cultural expression. Under senior fellow Saul Landau numerous documentary films were made, and novelists including Rita Mae Brown found the institute conducive for writing fiction.

IPS became a crossroads where visiting intellectuals, scholars and artists from around the world came to shape humanistic agendas. Leo Szilard, Paul Goodman, and David Riesman were IPS fellows; Hannah Arendt, Hans Morgenthau, and Gunnar Myrdal were seminar leaders and speakers. Students were accepted as well. They attended classes at the IPS Washington School of continuing education and worked as interns. Through an affiliation with the Union Graduate School, the institute also granted PhD degrees.

Across the United States, offshoots of IPS were planted - in Massachusetts, the Cambridge Institute; in San Francisco, the Bay Area Institute; in Atlanta, the Southern Institute; and in Washington DC, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Though IPS eschewed safe positions that would have endeared it to legislators, bureaucrats, and corporate donors, it developed a reputation for thorough research and superior scholarship. Thus, in 1977, fifty-six members of Congress asked for a study of the federal budget. IPS budget studies since then have set forth alternative policies for defense, energy, health, taxation, and other issues.

However, as the movements in the 1960s were gradually co-opted by established power, the institute underwent a period of re-evaluation, which spawned the realization that First World policies were inextricably linked to Third World considerations. As part of this shift toward global concerns, IPS started the Transnational Institute in London and Amsterdam in 1973. In 1976, Orlando Letelier, a former minister and ambassador to the United States under the Chilean government of Salvador Allende, became its director.

The shift in focus enabled IPS to retain an intellectual vibrancy and relevance at a time when citizens' groups within the United States, which had sprouted from similar roots, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), were withering. With these groups, the institute was a target of political repression during the Nixon years. For example, under the Haldeman-Ehrlichman-Colson White House, the Internal Revenue Service tried to strangle IPS and other similarly engaged organizations. In addition, according to a House investigating committee, no less than sixty-two informers were assigned by the FBI to infiltrate and spy on the institute in unsuccessful attempts to find incriminating evidence.

Most harmful of all were foreign agents. Orlando Letelier and his colleague Ronni Karpen Moffitt were killed on orders of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on September 21, 1976 at Sheridan Circle in Washington DC. Following the murders, the institute fell, for a while, into a state of painful discord. By 1980, after the government and IPS had pursued investigations, some of the killers were arrested, tried, and convincted.

As the 1980s began, the institute's founders witnessed issues and scenarios they had earlier projected emerge. Their anti-imperialist critiques, for instance, inspired by the Vietnam War, proved accurate in Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua; their examination of education and knowledge presaged the current educational crisis; and many of the ideas of the "new abolitionism", first advanced at the institute in the 1960s, were reflected in the nuclear freeze movement.

These and other themes that have been central to the work of IPS are highlighted in each of the four sections of this collection. Part one emphasizes the relationship between economic and human rights - reminiscent of Roosevelt's Four Freedoms - which is a focus of the Transnational Institute. Part two points up the institute's abalyses of the national security state and IPS's longtime opposition to the arms race. Part three addresses domestic crises, including civil rights and women's issues. Part four highlights aspects of the institute's cultural contributions as well as its probings on education and the structure of knowledge.

(The forty-tree works selected from hundreds were restricted either to the period when the authors were at the institute or based on research undertaken at IPS - with a few exceptions. Limitations of space necessitated the exclusions of many other significant writings and the condensation of some selections.)

In the encroaching shadows of Reaganism and the lethargy of the American left, the institute remains a beacon of scholarship and moral resistance. Though it has built an institutionalized structure, IPS holds true to its original conception as an independent academy, where scholars challenge fundamental assumptions and offer new proposals, opposing the traditional role of the academy - to justify and aggrandize power. Entering its third decade, the Institute for Policy Studies emerges in its maturity as idiosyncratic and farsighted, emphathetic and committed, a worthy descendant of the philosophy of Walden Pond.

"If this were 1773, and the city were Boston", the political observer Karl Hess once told the Washingtonian magazine, "the Institute would be holding a seminar on British imperialism. There would be tables and charts to show the injustice of the tax on tea. Probably somebody from the Governor's office would be invited. Then, independent of the Institute, six or seven of the fellows would go out and dump a shipload of tea into Boston Harbor".