Marcus Raskin was born April 30, 1934 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the second son of Russian Jewish immigrants. At age 16, he left home to study piano at New York’s Juilliard School. In 1954 Raskin graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in liberal arts, and three years later he earned a JD from the University of Chicago Law School. In 1958 he moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as legislative counsel to a group of Democratic congressmen.
In 1961 Raskin became an assistant (on national security affairs and disarmament) to McGeorge Bundy, national security advisor to President Kennedy. But Raskin’s relationship with Bundy, who supported the escalation of U.S. military engagement in Indochina, was fraught with tension that led eventually to Raskin’s reassignment to the Bureau of the Budget.
Raskin and political activist/rabbi Arthur Waskow co-authored a 1961 paper, later expanded into a book, advocating America’s unilateral disarmament. In 1962 Raskin served as group secretary for a publishing project known as The Liberal Papers, which advocated such measures as United Nations membership for Communist China, East Germany, North Korea, and North Vietnam; America’s unilateral cessation of nuclear testing; the dismantling of NATO; the withdrawal of all American forces from Berlin; and allowing the USSR to access the American DEW early-warning defense system, which had been set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers.
Also in the early Sixties, Raskin was a board-of-directors member with Ramparts magazine, described by the House Committee on Internal Security (HCIS) as a “pro-Hanoi, pro-Castro” publication. Meanwhile, he derided American capitalism as a system in which “the rich, the quick, the clever, the unseen, set out paths which the wretched and mystified must travel.” Having felt powerless to change this system from within the halls of government, Raskin decided to pursue the creation of an independent non-governmental organization to critique official policy and undermine capitalism. Thus did he and his friend Richard Barnet co-found the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in 1963.
In 1965 Raskin and IPS associate fellow Bernard Fall edited The Vietnam Reader, which became a textbook for anti-war teach-ins across the United States. Two years later, Raskin and then-IPS fellow Arthur Waskow co-authored “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority,” a document that helped launch the draft-resistance movement.
Associated with the Radical Education Project of the Students for a Democratic Society, Raskin in 1968 was indicted—along with William Sloane Coffin, Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, and Benjamin Spock—for conspiracy to aid resistance to the military draft. Raskin was ultimately acquitted of these charges.
In 1968 Raskin chaired the Committee for the Formation of a New Party, which created a socialist-oriented political entity advocating the “dismantling of an obsolete, dangerous [American] military establishment that is over-extended and over-reaching.” In the late 60s as well, Raskin became a member of the so-called Committee to Defend the Conspiracy, which was established to aid the defendants who had participated in the violent antiwar disruptions during the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago.
In February 1969 Raskin (along with Barnet) was among the speakers at the national mobilization of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, an organization whose purpose was to deliver medical supplies and equipment to areas of Indochina that had been struck by U.S. military fire. The following year, Raskin told the group Federal Employees for Peace that “government agencies such as the FBI, Secret Service, intelligence services of other government agencies, and the military should be done away with in that order.”
In the spring of 1972, Raskin went to Paris as part of an American delegation that met with North Vietnamese Communist leaders and representatives of the Khmer National United Front of Cambodia. The delegation was sponsored by the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice, which the HCIS characterized as being under the “generally predominant influence” of the Communist Party USA.
In the mid-1970s, Raskin served as an advisory-board member of the Organizing Committee for a Fifth Estate, producer of the anti-CIA publication Counterspy. Also in the Seventies, he was a sponsor of the Political Rights Defense Fund, a front group for the Socialist Workers Party.
In a 1979 New York Times op-ed piece, Raskin and Michigan congressman John Conyers asserted that “government’s responsibility is to revitalize the nation’s economy through creative forms of public ownership.”
In 1982 Raskin served as a board-of-directors member of SANE, a.k.a. the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (now known as Peace Action). Fellow board members included such notables as Tom Harkin, Ramsey Clark, and Edith Tiger. Raskin also helped organize the Progressive Alliance, a coalition of 16 labor unions and some 100 public-interest groups that laid out a progressive political agenda.
In April 1982, Raskin was the principal spokesman for an IPS-sponsored delegation (which included also Robert Borosage) that traveled to Moscow to meet with high-level Soviet officials who were involved with disseminating disinformation and propaganda for U.S. consumption.
During the 1984 presidential primaries, Raskin and Richard Barnet advised Democratic candidates George McGovern and Alan Cranston.
In 2007 Raskin published The Four Freedoms Under Siege, a book that speculates about a transformed America where corporations are controlled by government.
On January 7, 2015 in Washington, Raskin was a guest speaker at an event honoring Rep. John Conyers for his “50 Years of Service” in the U.S. Congress.
The author of more than 20 books, Raskin served variously as a professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Policy, an advisor to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and an editorial-board member of The Nation (along with such notables as Deepak Bhargava, Barbara Ehrenreich, Richard Falk, Eric Foner, Tom Hayden, and Victor Navasky).
Further, Raskin was a board-of-trustees member with IPS, and he directed the Institute’s “Paths for the 21st Century” project, designed to develop “new models of equality and alternatives for the 21st century on questions of peace, economic and social justice, cultural rights, democratic reconstruction, and racial and gender equality.”
Raskin is the father of Maryland activist and political figure Jamie Raskin.
Raskin died on December 26, 2017.
Further Reading: “Marcus Raskin, Think Tank Founder Who Helped Shape Liberal Ideas, Dies at 83” (Washington Post, 12-26-2017); “Institute for Policy Studies” (The Heritage Foundation, 4-19-1977); “The Institute for Policy Studies: Architects of American Decline” (Capital Research Center, 2-4-2011); “Our History” (IPS-dc.org); “Marcus Raskin” (Keywiki.org); “Marcus Raskin” (IPS-dc.org).