The International Socialist Organization (ISO) is a revolutionary socialist organization in the United States that identifies with the politics of International Socialism, a branch of Trotskyism, and the Marxist political tradition that American Trotskyist writer and activist Hal Draper called "socialism from below".
The ISO is a revolutionary organization that advocates the replacement of the global capitalist system with socialism, which it defines as a system where the working class owns and controls the wealth (use-value) created by their labor. It maintains that just as capitalism is a global system, so too must the struggle for socialism be international in scope. According to the ISO's definition of socialism, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc, China, and Cuba are examples of state capitalism rather than socialism. While the ISO declares that it supports struggles for economic, political, and social reforms as a means to improve the immediate conditions of the working class and as a means to build the confidence of this class, it also maintains that capitalism's oppression cannot be eliminated until it is replaced by socialism.
The ISO considers itself a Marxist organization, and advocates the emancipation of the working class led by a vanguard party. While it supports existing trade unions as essential components of the workers' struggles, it maintains that workers need to organize themselves independently to make the union leadership fight for the workers' rights. The ISO also maintains that racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression are perpetuated by the capitalist system to keep the working class divided against itself, and therefore supports struggles for equality and civil rights. The ISO also identifies itself as a Leninist organization because it calls for the formation of a revolutionary party by the most militant workers, and states that it is working to build the foundations for such a party.
The ISO originated in 1976 among a number of groups in the 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 organisation and that it 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. 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. 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. Disagreement over whether the Soviet Union constituted a state capitalist entity or a deformed workers' state continues to be a point of contention between socialists, as it can affect how contemporary struggles against Western imperialism are framed.
Having a small membership in the 1980s, the ISO found that its primary organizing efforts toward rank and file work in the unions was unsustainable. From the early 1980s, the group began organizing and recruiting on university campuses. The decision to focus primarily on students was regarded as a necessary retreat, given the conservative nature of the Reagan era.
In the 1990s the ISO expanded and participated in a series of movements and campaigns, including the movement against the first Gulf War and other US military interventions, against racism, and for abortion rights. The group was involved in building a number of the major protests against corporate globalization in the early 2000s, and has been active in opposing what it refers to as "US imperialism" connected with the "war on terror" in the wake of September 11th, including the invasion of Afghanistan as well as the Iraq War. The group has also been active in opposing Israel's occupation of Palestine.
In 2001 the ISO was expelled from the International Socialist Tendency (IST) after a dispute between the British SWP and the leadership of the ISO. 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 termed 'the 1930s in slow motion.'
After some years with very little contact between the ISO and the British SWP, relations seem to be improving. Ahmed Shawki, a leading member of the ISO, was invited in 2010 to speak at the SWP summer school while SWP National Secretary Martin Smith will be speaking at the ISO's Socialism 2010 conference, an invitation which had not been made for a number of years.
The organization 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 either the Republican or Democratic party, both of which it views as capitalist representatives of corporate power and empire. 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 Diane Feinstein for a seat in the United States Senate on the Green Party ticket, receiving 139,425 votes (1.8 percent).
- Journalist, author and womens' rights activist Sharon Smith
- Journalist, author and LGBTI activist, Sherry Wolf
- Former Green Party candidate for United States Senate in California, Todd Chretien
- Author, editor and Secretary of the Vermont chapter of the National Writers Union, Ashley Smith
- Author and National Council of Arab-Americans steering committee member Ahmed Shawki
- Board of directors member of Haymarket Books and National Writers Union activist Anthony Arnove
- List of Trotskyist internationals
- Workers' Councils
- International Socialists
- Democratic Socialists of America
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- Official Website of ISO
- Socialist Worker - Paper of the ISO
- International Socialist Review - Magazine of the ISO