Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1929, Richard Jackson Barnet earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1951 and a law degree, also from Harvard, three years later. He went on to serve two years in the U.S. Army and then began practicing law in Boston. In 1959 Barnet became a fellow at Harvard’s Russian Research Center. The following year, he published his first book—titled Who Wants Disarmament?—a study of American-Soviet arms negotiations. In 1961 Barnet was appointed as a foreign-affairs officer in the State Department’s Disarmament Administration; he subsequently became deputy director of political research for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and would eventually parlay his commitment to disarmament into an advisory position with the Council for a Livable World.
In 1963 Barnet and his friend Marcus Raskin co-founded the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). According to the Capital Research Center, their purpose in doing so was “to wage political war” against “the American system of government,” which they found “unsatisfactory.”
Later in the decade, Barnet, along with IPS board-of-trustees chairman Philip Stern, helped bankroll the Dispatch News Service, an anti-war propaganda publication.
In 1969 Barnet, who often referred to the United States as an “imperialist” nation, wrote of the “spectacular successes” of various Communist states — e.g., “the rapid modernization of Russia and her transformation into the world’s second power”; the success of Mao’s China in bringing about the “end of massive starvation”; and Cuba’s purportedly remarkable “progress in literacy” under Fidel Castro. By contrast, said Barnet, “revolution is the only answer to [ensure] the physical survival” of societies in “the ‘Free World’,” a place “where thousands starve.”
In February 1969 Barnet was a featured speaker at the third national mobilization of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, a Communist-controlled antiwar group which, according to the House Committee on Internal Security (HCIS), had “given aid and support to American deserters abroad” during the course of the war in Southeast Asia.
In March 1969 Barnet traveled to Paris, where he participated in talks with negotiators from Hanoi and from the National Liberation Front, the Hanoi-run entity through which the Communists were fighting to gain dominion over all of Vietnam.
Eight months later, Barnet traveled to North Vietnam and took part in a “solidarity” rally staged by anti-American propaganda groups which were run by that nation’s Communist government. Publicly denouncing U.S. “aggression,” Barnet told the North Vietnamese that they were fighting “against the same aggressors that we [Americans] will continue to fight in our country.” At that time, Barnet was a leading member of the Lawyers Committee on American Policy Towards Vietnam, which, according to HCIS, had “several leaders [with] close ties to the CPUSA-front National Lawyers Guild.”
Also in 1969, Barnet was admitted to the Council on Foreign Relations.
A 1970 FBI memo referenced Barnet’s “willingness to use his position of influence with the IPS to discredit and undermine U.S. policy, both foreign and domestic”; it cited Barnet’s “known contacts with intelligence agents from Soviet and Soviet bloc countries, plus his conferences with the North Vietnamese”; and it warned that “he could conceivably be considered a potential espionage agent.” Yet another FBI document—from May 1971—likewise provided details about Barnet’s “contacts with Soviet Embassy personnel” and identified him as a “communist.”
In 1970 Barnet was a member of the Committee of Liaison with Families of Servicemen Detained in North Vietnam, which HCIS described as an offshoot of the Communist-dominated New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, as well as a “propaganda tool of the North Vietnamese Government.”
Aiming to discredit and ultimately dismantle all American intelligence agencies, Barnet derided the CIA as “a criminal enterprise which must be eliminated.” Meanwhile he served (along with Marcus Raskin) as a sponsor of the Political Rights Defense Fund, a front group for the Socialist Workers Party.
Barnet’s tenure as IPS co-director ended in 1978, when he became a senior fellow with the Institute. Eventually he earned the title of “distinguished fellow” and retained that designation until his retirement in 1998.
In 1979 Barnet, along with such notables as Julian Bond and Quentin Young, co-founded the Citizens Party, which sought to unite, under a single political umbrella, a host of environmentalist and liberal organizations that were dissatisfied with President Jimmy Carter‘s administration.
In 1981 Barnet participated in a Capitol Hill symposium titled “The U.S. and Cuba: Prospects for the ’80s.” Sponsored by the Center for Cuban Studies, which was funded by the Samuel Rubin Foundation, this seminar promoted the normalization of American-Cuban relations.
During the 1984 presidential primaries, Barnet (and Raskin) worked for Democratic candidates George McGovern and Alan Cranston.
In February 1986 Barnet was a guest speaker at a Columbia University conference for student activists titled “Working Together: Beyond Single-Issue Politics.” The event was sponsored by the youth section of the Democratic Socialists of America. Other speakers included Barbara Ehrenreich and Michael Harrington.
Throughout the Cold War, Barnet consistently tried to downplay the notion of a Communist threat, characterizing it as a “myth … that no one quite believed in.” Further, he depicted Soviet aggression largely as a reaction to American corporate bullying, claiming that “the Soviets moved in a spirit of insecurity and panic.”
To the end of his life, Barnet remained a bitter foe of capitalism. Lamenting that “the concentration of economic power in the hands of a few hundred corporate managers and stockholders is inevitably translated into political power,” he asserted that “the redistribution of economic and political power is the price of maintaining democracy in America.”
Further Reading: “Richard J. Barnet Dies; Founder Of Institute for Policy Studies” (Washington Post, 12-24-2004); “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); “The Soul of the Left’s Machine” (by Arch Puddington, The National Interest, Fall 1988, pp. 111-116, re: Barnet’s praise for China, the USSR, and Cuba); “Obama’s Preferred Future Spy Chief Leon Panetta Supported Communist-Linked Anti-CIA Think Tank” (Militant Islam Monitor, 1-9-2009, re: Barnet’s trip to North Vietnam, and FBI documents of 1970 and 1971); “Richard Barnett” (Keywiki.org).