International Socialist Organization

From Academic Kids

This article is about the International Socialist Organization in the United States. See also the International Socialist Organisation (Australia) or the International Socialist Organization (New Zealand).

The International Socialist Organization (ISO), is a Trotskyist organization in the United States, claiming to have approximately 1,300 members. It publishes a weekly paper called (Socialist Worker) and a magazine, the International Socialist Review.



The ISO originated in 1977 when members of the International Socialists became disturbed by moves in that group to abandon its traditional rank and file strategy of working in the trade unions. In addition to which they developed criticisms of the positions adopted by the leadership of IS regarding the then current events in Portugal, views which coincided with those held by the SWP/UK. As the IS was loosely linked to the group of the same name in Britain, which at that point was renaming itself the Socialist Workers Party (SWP/UK), they sought to deepen those links in their struggle against the leadership of the IS. Forming themselves into the Left Faction the minority found themselves expelled from the IS and forced to organise a new organisation.

The new organization took the name International Socialist Organization and began publication of Socialist Worker as an organising tool. It based itself on the same political theories that the SWP had developed in Britain, most importantly, the non-socialist nature of the Eastern Bloc (a theory called "State Capitalism" - see entry on SWP for details) and its members were from the start members of the International Socialist Tendency (IST). As such they are often described as Cliffites after the now deceased founding member of the SWP Tony Cliff.

Having only thirty members, the organization found that its primary orientation towards rank and file work in the unions was not sustainable. This may have been a factor in the departure from the group of its early leaders Barbara and Cal Winslow. But from the early 1980s the ISO was to be oriented towards propaganda work on the campuses and only recently has begun to develop some work in the trade unions. As one of the largest groups of socialists in the USA the ISO has also been involved in many coalitions against various government initiatives especially in regard to foreign policy.

Such work with other political tendencies has not always been harmonious. The organization is controversial in some circles, primarily for its practices in coalition work. This has led critics to charge that the ISO frequently latches on to more popular causes, such as the anti-war movement, at both the national and the local level, as a way to recruit members, and sometimes attempts to take over related organizations. Critics accuse it of recruiting and exploiting naive college students to sell their newspaper and fund the organization.

The ISO and its members of course reject such charges, stating that their actions are the result of an avowed stand to build the organization concurrently with building larger movements, which they see themselves playing a positive role in building. This is seen as being in the tradition of building united fronts in line with the tactics of the Communist International and of the Trotskyist movement historically.

In 2000 the ISO was expelled from the International Socialist Tendency, the only publicly recorded decision known of from that body, after a bitter dispute between the majority of the IST and the leadership of the ISO. In part the dispute was over the attitude of the ISO to the anti-globalisation movement, with the SWP accusing the ISO of being conservative in relation to that movement.

A small number of ISO members remained loyal to the IST and in 2001 they were expelled and formed a group called Left Turn. However, in 2003 Left Turn also severed its connections with the International Socialist Tendency. Thus the IST currently has no affiliates in the United States.


The ISO focuses most of its efforts on college campuses, however there are branches in cities without colleges. Because of their closeness to college campuses, they usually engage in rallies and newspaper sales to get out their opinions.

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