Organization Trends

The Anti-American Left: IPS and the National Lawyers Guild

The Anti-American Left (full series)
Communophilism | IPS and the National Lawyers Guild
Democratic Socialists of America | Alliance for Global Justice
The War on Terror and Code Pink | Russian Invasion of Ukraine

IPS and the National Lawyers Guild

Although the roots of the Anti-American Left stretch back further, it probably makes sense to begin in the 1960s with the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), if for no other reason than that IPS was the case study through which Muravchik presented his ideas on communophilism. Founded in 1963, IPS was one of the very first ideological public policy think tanks, and institute personnel—generally known as “fellows”—exercised a lasting influence on subsequent thought and activism. This was especially true of the institute’s co-founders Marcus Raskin and Richard Barnet, who combined political radicalism with considerable intellectual heft. Historian Brian S. Mueller wrote in his 2021 book Democracy’s Think Tank that “the story of the American Left cannot be told without discussing the contributions of IPS.”

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, IPS became well known both for its strident opposition to American foreign policy and for its aggressive anti-capitalism. The Vietnam War dominated the institute’s early years, as it did with much of the era’s New Left, and IPS was generally situated within the New Left. Those at IPS not only opposed the war, but they stood in solidarity with the North Vietnamese communists against an American government that they considered to be led by war criminals bent on exporting American imperialism. IPS was also not shy about assigning blame for the Cold War to the United States and NATO. While not necessarily pro-Soviet in their outlook, institute fellows consistently argued that American interventions did far more to destabilize the world than Soviet interventions.

Presaging what remains a core tenant of today’s anti-American Left, Barnet and Raskin wrote in the early 1970s that “Americans believe that the world must be made safe for America, but for the sake of survival itself, America must be made safe for the world.” Mueller explained in Democracy’s Think Tank that IPS believed true democracy could only be achieved if “the United States renounced empire and its role as guardian of the liberal capitalist international order.” He also noted that those at IPS “tended to mark off certain regions of the world as more important than others when it came to demanding protection of human rights”—a conspicuous asymmetry that remains a hallmark characteristic of the anti-American Left toward left-wing authoritarian regimes.

Through its focus on the Third World (particularly Latin America) in the 1970s and 1980s, IPS pioneered what remains a region of great interest to like-minded activists today. Institute “literature abound[ed] in praise of Ho [Chi Minh] and Mao [Zedong] and Fidel [Castro] and the Sandinistas,” according to Muravchik’s research, alongside Chile’s Salvador Allende and other more obscure leftist revolutionaries. Interviewed in 1980, prominent IPS fellow Saul Landau even argued that Castro was no dictator, but rather “one of the most brilliant politicians in the world today” whose “successes far outnumber his failures.” IPS personnel regularly traveled to Nicaragua during the 1980s to meet with Sandinista leadership and even arranged for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) to do so in April 1985.

IPS remains very much active today. While still generally placed at the radical end of the ideological spectrum, the institute has always been particularly adept at bridging the gap between that radicalism and the liberal establishment. And though IPS fellows hold varying opinions on a full spectrum of contemporary issues, their rhetoric toward American foreign policy and global free-market capitalism remains broadly and consistently critical. In 2020, IPS’s Chief of Race, Wealth and Community Dedrick Asante-Muhammad wrote, “The hard truth is that the United States—and its economy—is based on a white supremacist concentration of wealth and resources.” He argued that “the country’s economic system must be turned right side up.”

The institute’s New Internationalism Project explains that it seeks to “change U.S. policies away from militarism and towards the goals of human rights, equality for all, and peace with justice” and to “challenge U.S. domination of the United Nations.” The project’s director, Phyllis Bennis, has been more explicit in the past. In 2003 (in the context of the Iraq War), she wrote alongside former IPS director John Cavanagh of the need to “empower the [United Nations] as the legitimate replacement for the United States empire we seek to disempower.” The institute’s Foreign Policy in Focus project works “to make the United States a more responsible global partner,” and many at IPS would like to begin with targeting America’s support for Israel.

IPS operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and receives substantial funding from foundations and other philanthropic institutions. Recent major grants have come from the Ford Foundation ($2,950,000 from 2017 to 2022), the Foundation to Promote Open Society ($1,165,000 from 2018 to 2021), the Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund ($1,050,991 from 2017 to 2020), the JPB Foundation ($850,000 from 2017 to 2019), the NoVo Foundation ($775,000 from 2017 to 2019), and the Wallace Global Fund ($445,000 from 2017 to 2019).

Another group that remains active today and has an even longer history of radical leftism is the National Lawyers Guild. To the extent that Americans are familiar with the guild, it is probably due to having seen some of its more than more than 9,000 members attend leftist demonstrations in order to monitor law enforcement and provide support to protesters. The guild describes itself as a “political organization” and considers the United States government to be “based on and dedicated to preserving white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy and imperialism.” Its overarching objective is to promote “basic change in the structure of our political and economic system.”

Despite its origins as an association for American lawyers, the guild has always had a distinctly internationalist bent. Founded in the mid-1930s, communists held significant sway within the group almost from the beginning, and they generally aligned their positions with the interests of the Soviet Union. Much like IPS, the guild became heavily involved in anti–Vietnam War advocacy during the 1960s, and its then-president Doron Weinberg affirmed the group’s solidarity with the North Vietnamese victory in 1975. William Goodman, Weinberg’s successor, explained that the guild would quickly lose many of its members if it expressed opposition to the Soviet Union or the Communist Party, and in 1978 it declined an invitation to observe judicial proceedings in the USSR out of a reluctance to criticize the Soviets. Historian Guenter Lewy wrote in 1990 that the guild’s “concern with the observance of human rights has always stopped at the borders of the Socialist bloc.”

Today, the goal of the guild’s international committee is to “change U.S. foreign policy that threatens, rather than engages, or is based on a model of domination rather than respect.” It is staunchly pro-Cuba, having affirmed both its unwavering support for the Cuban Revolution “since its triumph on January 1, 1959” and its belief in the “benefits that socialism has brought to all the people of Cuba.” The guild has declared its “solidarity with the people of Iran and Iraq” against “U.S. imperialism” and called upon the UN Security Council to “take all necessary measures to put an end to all US aggressions and interferences in the Middle East.” It is also vehemently anti-Israel, calling the country “a colonizing project rooted in racist ideology” and arguing that American diplomatic support amounts to encouraging complicity in “Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

In 2021, guild observers traveled to Venezuela for that country’s regional elections. Although the U.S. Department of State concluded that the Nicolas Maduro regime had hopelessly manipulated the process to predetermine the results, the guild praised the elections and expressed complete confidence in their legitimacy. Guild president Suzanne Adley accused the United States of spreading lies about the lack of political freedom in Venezuela purely to justify continued sanctions, which she characterized as amounting to “economic warfare.”

The National Lawyers Guild operates as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, with 2020 revenues of $2,781,518. One of its most important sources of funding is the affiliated National Lawyers Guild Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that in turn receives substantial philanthropic support—much of it through donor-advised funds. In recent years, major funding to the guild’s foundation has come from Greater Horizons ($2,935,163 from 2017 to 2018), the Tides Foundation ($1,030,500 from 2018 to 2019), the American Online Giving Foundation ($265,419 from 2020 to 2021), the Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund ($204,850 from 2017 to 2020), and the Schwab Charitable Fund ($172,150 from 2017 to 2021).

In the next installment, the Democratic Socialists of America is the most prominent socialist political group in the country.

Robert Stilson

Robert runs several of CRC’s specialized projects. Originally from Indiana, he has a B.A. from Hanover College and a J.D. from University of Richmond School of Law, where he graduated…
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