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), formerly the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, came into being in 1921 when members decided it was time to change the group's name to become more inclusive, but also to reflect a new organizational perspective.[1]


Intercollegiate Socialist Society[edit]

The I.S.S. was founded in 1905 by a group of notable socialists, and its stated purpose was to "throw light on the world-wide movement of industrial democracy known as socialism."[2]

Name Change[edit]

In the spring of 1921, the ISS held a vote regarding the name and goals of their organization. Harry Laidler announced: "the members of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society had declared themselves in favor of the change in name and purpose."[3] In November,[3][4] the organization assumed its new name and enlarged its scope to addressing society at large. They also presented their new guiding principle: ""Education for a New Social Order Based on Production for Public Use and Not for Private Profit."[4][5]

Early Years[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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"[6]

The LID literature portrays the organization as a progressive and socialist group;[citation needed] 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.[7]

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

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.[citation needed]

The League is a membership organization. Fees range from $5 to $25 per year, while lifetime memberships are $500.

Students for a Democratic Society[edit]

On January 1, 1960 the SLID 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.[8]


  1. ^ Arnesen, Eric. Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-class History, Volume 1. Taylor & Francis. p. 795. 
  2. ^ The New York Times, January 28, 1919
  3. ^ a b "I.S.S. Gives Way to New League for Democracy". New York Call. November 19, 1921. 
  4. ^ a b Brick and Clay Record: A Semi-monthly Record of the World's Progress in Clayworking..., Volume 68. p. 852. 
  5. ^ "PLAN TO WIN STUDENTS TO 'NEW SOCIAL ORDER'; League for Industrial Democracy Speaker Calls Agricultural 'Bloc' Communistic.". New York Times. January 1, 1922. 
  6. ^ Encyclopedia of Associations, Section 9, Public Affairs Organizations, 1989.
  7. ^ AIFLD in Central America: Agents as Organizers (Albuquerque, NM: The Resource Center, 1987)
  8. ^ Gitlin, Todd (1993). The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. Bantam. pp. 377–409. ISBN 9780553372120. 

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]