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The International Socialist Organization (ISO) is a revolutionary socialist organization in the United States that identifies with Trotskyism, Leninism, and the Marxist political tradition of "socialism from below."
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 are posited to produce that wealth: the working class. To achieve socialism, the ISO argues that the working class majority must lead a revolutionary transformation of society into a workers' democracy. As an anti-Stalinist left organization, the ISO opposes state bureaucracy and all forms of "top-down" socialism.
Because capitalism is a global system, the ISO argues that the struggle for socialism must be international in scope. The ISO holds that the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, as well as China and Cuba, are examples of bureaucratic class-stratified societies rather than socialism. While the ISO supports struggles for economic, political, and social reforms, it also maintains that exploitation, oppression, war, and environmental destruction cannot be eliminated until capitalism is overthrown and replaced with socialism.
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've made some inroads into the union movement.) While the Left Faction contended that, in addition to rank and file work, agitation at the workplace for socialism should continue. In 1977, the Left Faction was expelled from the IS, and immediately formed the International Socialist Organization. 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 web site, Socialistworker.org.
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, but 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.
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. The ISO disputed this claim and criticized the SWP for maintaining what the ISO viewed as an exaggerated perspective for the 1990s, which the SWP characterized as 'the 1930s in slow motion.'
In November 2013, nine members of the ISO, mostly in Providence and Boston, announced the formation of the ISO Renewal Faction, 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 and that members critical of the leadership had been "bureaucratically excluded." The ISO leadership denied these claims, stating that "the ISO is more experienced and more engaged than ever." On February 17, 2014, the ISO expelled the Renewal Faction. On March 8, 2014, 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."
In a 2013 CounterPunch 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."
From May 27, 2014 to June 4, 2014, The North Star released a four-part article series penned by activist and writer Brandy Baker, who interviewed both current and former members of the ISO, including members of the Renewal Faction. Those interviewed for the series claim that ISO organizers mistreated their members, that Renewal Faction members were subject to abuse from "loyalist" members at the 2014 ISO convention, and that contrary to their claims in the Socialist Worker article, "A Response to Slander", the ISO did ignore complaints of attempted rape in their organization, and that there were many more sexual misconduct complaints that were not shared with members.
The ISO publishes a daily online and monthly print newspaper, Socialist Worker, with a bi-monthly Spanish language supplement, Obrero Socialista. The ISO also distributes the International Socialist Review and titles from the publishing house Haymarket Books, both of which are run by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change.
The ISO participates in several local and national progressive movements. These include the antiwar movement, efforts to end the death penalty, support for gay marriage and abortion rights, the struggle for immigration rights, among others.
The ISO does not support the Republican Party or Democratic Party, both of which it views as political representatives of corporate power. The group has, however, campaigned for the Green Party in various races and assisted Ralph Nader's presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004. In California in 2006, ISO member Todd Chretien challenged Dianne Feinstein for a seat in the United States Senate on the Green Party ticket, receiving 139,425 votes (1.8 percent).
The ISO is the co-sponsor, along with the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, of an annual conference titled Socialism. 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.
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