International Socialist Organization

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International Socialist Organization
LeaderCollective leadership
(Steering Committee)
NewspaperSocialist Worker
Left-wing populism
Political positionLeft-wing
International affiliationFourth International (permanent observer)

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) is a socialist organization in the United States that identifies with Trotskyism, Leninism and the Marxist political tradition of "socialism from below".[1]


The ISO advocates replacing the capitalist system with socialism, a system in which society's collective wealth and resources would be democratically controlled to meet human need by those who produce that wealth, i.e. the working class. The organization specifically argues that this working-class majority can end capitalism by leveraging their power over production through mass strikes, and that the creation of a revolutionary workers' party is necessary in coordinating and building the power of such a movement."[2] The ISO supports struggles for economic, political, and social reforms while also maintaining that exploitation, oppression, war, and environmental destruction cannot be eliminated until capitalism is overthrown and replaced with socialism.[3] Because capitalism is a global system, the ISO argues that capitalism cannot be successfully overthrown in individual countries. The ISO holds that the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc as well as China and Cuba are examples of bureaucratic, class-stratified states, not socialist societies.


The ISO originated in 1976 among a number of groups in the American International Socialists (IS) that were growing increasingly critical of the organization's leadership. Among them was the self-identified Left Faction, which was led by Cal and Barbara Winslow and supported by the IS's Canadian and British members. The Left Faction and its international supporters maintained that the IS's leadership had acquired a top-down style of operating that depoliticized the organization and placed too much emphasis on sending student activists into working class employment (a tactic referred to as "industrialization"). These disputes followed the disagreements over the 1974 revolution in Portugal. Additionally, the main part of IS thought that there should be attention to rank and file or reform caucuses in unions, ISO has said (to this day, the ISO is largely a campus-bases group although in recent years they have made some inroads into the union movement), whereas the Left Faction contended that in addition to rank and file work, agitation at the workplace for socialism should continue.[4] In 1977, the Left Faction was expelled from the IS and immediately formed the International Socialist Organization.[5] The ISO began publication of its paper, Socialist Worker, shortly after its formation and continues to produce a monthly print version as well as a daily updated website.[6]

Some of the political theories adopted by the ISO had been developed in the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), including that of "state capitalism" developed though not originated by Tony Cliff, the party's founder. State capitalist theory identifies the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc as exploitative class societies driven by military competition with private Western capitalism, rather than as the "deformed workers' states" that Trotsky maintained they were in The Revolution Betrayed.[7]

In 2001, the ISO was expelled from the International Socialist Tendency (IST) after a dispute with the British SWP. This dispute was framed by the SWP as a critique of the ISO's conservative approach to the anti-corporate/anti-capitalist movement.[8] The ISO disputed this claim and criticized the SWP for maintaining what the ISO viewed as an exaggerated perspective for the 1990s,[9] which the SWP characterized as "the 1930s in slow motion".[10]

In November 2013, nine members of the ISO, mostly in Providence and Boston, announced the formation of the ISO Renewal Faction,[11] resulting in the organization's first national-level faction fight since the dispute with the British SWP. The faction claimed that the ISO was going through an organizational and political crisis[12] and that members critical of the leadership had been "bureaucratically excluded".[13] The ISO leadership denied these claims, stating that "the ISO is more experienced and more engaged than ever".[14] On February 17, 2014, the ISO expelled the Renewal Faction.[15] On March 8, the organization's student branch at Brown University resigned, citing the expulsion of the faction as an indication that the organization had "shown itself to be undemocratic."[16]

Controversy and criticism[edit]

In a 2013 CounterPunch's article, the magazine's editor Jeffrey St. Clair wrote that ISO is becoming less socialist in membership and identification and opined that they are more concerned with "lash[ing] out at nearly every popular uprising of the last 50 years for being doctrinally impure, from the Cuban Revolution to the Zapatistas, from the street protests at the WTO to the Bolivaran Revolution".[17]


The ISO publishes a daily online and monthly print newspaper, Socialist Worker, with a bi-monthly Spanish language supplement, Obrero Socialista.[18] The ISO also distributes the International Socialist Review and titles from the publishing house Haymarket Books, both of which are run by the non-profit Center for Economic Research and Social Change.[19]

Electoral actions[edit]

The ISO participates in several local and national progressive movements. These include the antiwar movement,[20] efforts to end the death penalty,[21] support for gay marriage[22][23] and abortion rights[24] as well as the struggle for immigration rights,[25] among others.

The ISO does not support the Republican Party or Democratic Party, both of which it views as political representatives of corporate power. However, the group has campaigned for the Green Party in various races and assisted Ralph Nader's presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004.[26] In California, ISO member Todd Chretien challenged Dianne Feinstein for a seat in the Senate on the Green Party ticket, receiving 139,425 votes (1.8 percent) in 2006.[27]

In October 2013, the ISO endorsed the candidacy of Socialist Alternative's Kshama Sawant in the Seattle City Council election.[28]

Socialism conference[edit]

The ISO is the co-sponsor, along with the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, of an annual conference titled Socialism.[29] Speakers at past Socialism conferences include filmmaker and author Tariq Ali, actor Wallace Shawn, The Nation sportswriter Dave Zirin, writer Glenn Greenwald, journalist Amy Goodman, professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, environmental writer John Bellamy Foster, The Nation contributor Jeremy Scahill, Iraq Veterans Against the War member Camilo Mejía, Palestinian rights activists Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunimah and actor John Cusack.[30][31]

Notable members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hal Draper: The Two Souls of Socialism, 1966.
  2. ^ Building a Revolutionary Socialist Alternative,
  3. ^ Where We Stand,
  4. ^ Lee Sustar, "Toward a renewal of the labor movement", "International Socialist Review" No. 89, July 2013
  5. ^ Fisk, Milton (1977). Socialism From Below in the US: Origins of the ISO. Hera Press. Retrieved 2008-02-12.
  6. ^ "Celebrating our 500th". Socialist Worker. 2002-02-01. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
  7. ^ Cliff, Tony (1974). State Capitalism in Russia. Bookmarks. Retrieved 2008-02-12.
  8. ^ Ted Crawford, "Split in the IST", What Next?, No. 19, 2001. (accessed 2008-06-26)
  9. ^ "The ISO (US) and the International Socialist Tendency", What Next?, No. 19, 2001. (accessed 2012-2-12)
  10. ^ SWP Central committee, "Statement on Relations Between the SWP (GB) and the ISO (US)", What Next?, No. 19, 2001. (accessed 2008-06-26)
  11. ^ ISO Renewal Faction, "Announcement of the ISO Renewal Faction" (accessed 2014-02-02)
  12. ^ ISO Renewal Faction, "The organizational crisis and its political roots" (accessed 2014-02-02)
  13. ^ ISO Renewal Faction, "In defense of our comrades" (accessed 2014-02-02)
  14. ^ Eric Ruder and Alan Maass "The challenges facing socialists today",, 2013-11-20 (accessed 2014-02-02)
  15. ^ ISO Renewal Faction, "We are Expelled" (accessed 2014-02-22)
  16. ^
  17. ^ The Merchants of Shame, Counterpunch, 31 May 2013
  18. ^ "A new era for Socialist Worker"
  19. ^ Consortium Book Sales & Distribution | Publisher Information. (accessed 2008-06-26)
  20. ^ "SF State Students Hold Rally, Counter Marine Recruiters", October 26, 2006, Campus Antiwar Network website.(accessed 2008-06-26)
  21. ^ "Protesting Bush's Execution Machine", The New Abolitionist, Issue 20, July 2001. (accessed 2008-06-26)
  22. ^ [1] "SGN Exclusive Interview: Sherry Wolf speaks on the National March"], Seattle Gay News, Volume 37 Issue 45, 6 November 2009.
  23. ^ "Before Mayor Mike's Meeting With LGBT Leaders, A Rally Outside City Hall Last Night", Dallas Observer, 28 January 2012 (accessed 2012-2-12)
  24. ^ "Activists defend Madison clinic", Socialist Worker, Issue 690, 9 February 2009.
  25. ^ "Barnard/Columbia International Socialist Organization History" Last update 19 March 2007, visited 18 December 2009.
  26. ^ "The Green Party: offering a real challenge to business as usual, or just Capitalism Lite?", Freedom Socialist, Volume 27, Issue 6, December 2006 - January 2007.
  27. ^ California Secretary of State, Supplement to Statement of Vote - United States Senator - Statewide Summary", Statement of Vote, 2006 General Election, at website. (accessed 2008-06-26), "United States Senator; Green Party Election Information June 6, 2006 Election", at website. (accessed 2008-06-26)
  28. ^
  29. ^ website.
  30. ^ “Ideas for changing the world”,, 22 June 2010.
  31. ^ “Socialism offers the alternative”,, 24 June 2008.
  32. ^ MacLean stated she has been "politically active in the International Socialist Organization since 1980." Steven Freiss, "War thrusted some students, profs from apathy to activism" Daily Northwestern, January 16, 1992

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]