League for Industrial Democracy

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The League for Industrial Democracy's Tom Kahn (left) speaks at the LID's tribute to AFL–CIO President George Meany (front and center).

The League for Industrial Democracy (LID) was founded in 1905 by a group of notable socialists including Harry W. Laidler, Jack London, Norman Thomas, Upton Sinclair, Florence Kelley, and J.G. Phelps Stokes. Its original name was the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, and its stated purpose was to "throw light on the world-wide movement of industrial democracy known as socialism."[1] Under its original name, the League focused its efforts on educating college students about the labor movement, socialism, and industrial democracy. The League is a membership organization. Fees range from $5 to $25 per year, while lifetime memberships are $500.


In its early years, the LID addressed societal problems such as poverty, child labor, work conditions, and poor housing conditions. It became the base for leftwing intellectuals, otherwise known as Muckrackers. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the LID organized radio stations and broadcasts centered around the New Deal. Throughout its history, the LID has called itself a proponent of the labor movement. The group saw this movement as a progressive force that is misunderstood by intellectuals.[2] The goal of this is to break down these perceived boundaries and to promote "education for increasing democracy in our economic, political, and cultural life"[3] Its board is mainly made up of neoconservatives associated with the Social Democrats, USA and the internal divisions of the AFL-CIO.

The LID literature portrays the organization as a progressive and socialist group;[4] however, in recent history, the League has shifted its roots. Today's affiliates are mostly anti-communists and focus their energy on democracy building in places such as Eastern Europe, Africa, and Central America, while paying very little attention to its domestic program.[5]

Student affiliates[edit]

1932 poster for League for Industrial Democracy, designed by Anita Willcox during the Great Depression, showing solidarity with struggles of workers and poor in America

In 1921, the organization assumed its new name and enlarged its scope to addressing society at large. Its campus presence waned until the Great Depression of the 1930s led to an increase in radical student activism. The collegiate section was reorganized into an autonomous Student League for Industrial Democracy in 1933. This merged with the Communist National Student League in 1935 to create the popular front American Student Union. LID activity on campus remained somewhat dormant until 1946, when the Student League for Industrial Democracy was reconstituted.


The LID has been actively supporting the Solidarity movement in Poland since 1980, providing financial, moral and political support. Furthermore, in 1986, the LID coordinated efforts on a campaign to protest the crackdown on Polish universities by the government. The LID, in conjunction with Poland Watch Center and Committee in Support of Solidarity, publishes a quarterly bulletin Solidarnosc. The Brussels-based Committee in Support of Solidarity (CSS) is a group heavily supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a U.S. government-funded organization that sponsors anticommunist,"democracy-building" projects around the globe. In a three-year period, CSS received over a million dollars from NED.[6]

Students for a Democratic Society[edit]

On January 1, 1960 the group changed its name to the Students for a Democratic Society and began to take a more radical direction. At Port Huron in 1960, Tom Hayden clashed with Michael Harrington and Tom Kahn over the Port Huron Statement's

  • identification with students raised in some "degree of comfort" and its criticism of labor unions and working-class culture (which was viewed as upper middle-class elitism by LID officers Harrington and Kahn),
  • its espousal of participatory democracy and dislike of formal offices (which was seen as potentially undemocratic and lacking accountability),
  • its anti-anticommunism and its welcoming the participation of a few members (or former high-profile members) of the Communist Party USA

By 1965, SDS had separated from the LID, but it ended national activity in 1969, after it had been taken over by Maoist groups, some of which advocated and committed political terrorism.[7]


  1. ^ The New York Times, January 28, 1919
  2. ^ United States. Right Web. Right Web. 1989. Print. <http://rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/League_for_Industrial_Democracy>.
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of Associations, Section 9, Public Affairs Organizations, 1989.
  4. ^ United States. Right Web. Right Web. 1989. Print. <http://rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/League_for_Industrial_Democracy>.
  5. ^ AIFLD in Central America: Agents as Organizers (Albuquerque, NM: The Resource Center, 1987)
  6. ^ United States. Right Web. Right Web. 1989. Print. <http://rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/League_for_Industrial_Democracy>.
  7. ^ Gitlin

Further reading[edit]

  • Bernard K. Johnpoll and Mark R. Yerburgh (eds.), The League for Industrial Democracy: A Documentary History. In three volumes. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.
  • Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS. New York: Random House, 1973.

External links[edit]