Monday, November 17, 2008

Introduction to the ISO (Sat, Nov. 15th at NESC)

What I want to do is try and present an introduction to the International Socialist Organization—what we stand for, how we analyze and understand the world, and how that analysis informs how we operate and act concretely to change it.


Inside the ISO, we put a priority on revolutionary theory and history. Theory is important because we want to change the world. And in order to change the world, we need to understand how it works.

The ISO uses Marxism because it best makes sense of the world and is the best guide to action for those that want to change it.

Not Capitalism

Obviously, we are for Socialism, not capitalism.

As Marxists, we understand that regardless of who is in political office or how nice your boss is, capitalism has its own logic. Capitalism is a system based on competition for profits. Corporations run by a small minority ruling class compete with each other by exploiting the labor of the majority, or working class.

The logic of capitalism is being clearly exposed in the midst of this economic crisis when our rulers are trying to fix a broken system on our backs.

The logic of capitalism has been demonstrated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of Bush's lies have been exposed. The real motivation behind the wars is US capitalism's drive for profits in competition with their competitors. If US capitalism is not controlling the oil profits and resources of the Middle East, other competitors will. And if it wasn't oil and the Middle East, it would be competition for control of other resources and profits in other areas of the world.

We argue that imperialism flows right out of capitalism itself. Just like Walmart competing with Kmart inside the US, whole countries compete for profits and resources around the world using military and economic force.

Everything capitalism produces, it does so for profit. And the way things are distributed is based on profits. It is not profitable to distribute the overabundance of food to the starving, so it rots on shelves. It is not profitable to house the homeless, so buildings sit vacant.

This is why we argue that war, poverty and oppression are products of the capitalist system, not of lazy individuals or bad rulers. It is not that there is scarcity. It is that it is not profitable to distribute it based on human need.

The alternative to this system is a society based on workers collectively owning and controlling the wealth that their labor creates.


Currently, workers produce everything. We make the cars, we process the food, cook it, and then serve it, and over at RIT we write the code. But at the end of the day, your boss takes what you have produced and decides how it will be distributed. Your boss decides what will get produced tomorrow and for what purpose. And your boss wants you to produce as fast as possible, for as little pay and benefits as possible because this is how he (or she) will make as much profits as possible.

Why does the ruling class get this privilege? Not because they are smarter or more physically able than you or I. In fact, if you ask any worker, they will tell you that they know how to do their job better than their boss does. Karl Marx pointed out that the ruling class gets to call the shots because they own the means of production—the factories, the buildings, the machinery...etc.

Socialism is about workers—the majority—collectively controlling the means of production democratically: Collective ownership and collective decision-making at the point of production. To sum it up, socialism is worker's power.

If workers ran their work places we could produce for human need instead of for profit and plan out what is needed. The reason this is possible is because there will be no one to exploit if the majority—the working class—is in control.

Revolution Not Reform

So great, how do we get there??

Well any change that has ever come about and benefited the working class has come because of mass working class struggle.

Look at: the right to unionize, desegregation, abortion rights, and an ending to the Vietnam war. These things did not end because our rulers said, "you know I think we need to do something nice for our workers". Workers fought and died for these reforms. They forced whoever was sitting in the White House to follow through. And in the process of fighting for these reforms, there was a tendency for workers to develop more confidence and take on more and more of the system as a whole.

For that reason, socialists want to be at the heart of struggles for reforms.

But reforms to the system do not change the logic of the system as described above. The logic of the system is profit. The system then will always try to dismantle and erode these reforms away from the working class. Look at where we are now with the eight-hour work day, abortion rights, and welfare. If we don't want to be fighting to defend reforms our whole life, we need to change the logic of the whole system. We need socialism.

And socialism needs to come about through a revolution. The ruling class will never just agree to hand the reigns over to workers when we demand it. In fact, if you look throughout history, you will see that strike movements become battles with the police, hired thugs, and even the National Guard very quickly.

The factories will not be given to us. They will need to be forcefully taken. If the workers are already on mass strike, essentially, they have already seized the means of production. The question is that of defending the worker's control. This is why Marx argues that the first stage in a successful socialist revolution is the "dictatorship of the proletariat".

The structures of the present government have been created by capitalism to protect the rule of the ruling class. The working class needs an entirely different kind of state—based on councils of workers' delegates. It needs to create its own military. It needs its own media…etc. to prevent the ruling class from reclaiming power. Put another way. The dictatorship of the proletariat means enforced rule of the majority over the minority.

After the worker's state has been defended successfully and the resistance of the capitalist class has been crushed, there will no longer be a need for a state. The working class is the vast majority class in society, and without the resistance of the ruling class, who will there be left to repress? No one. The state would lose its purpose.

This is why Marx argues that between the dictatorship of the proletariat—what is usually defined as socialism—and communism—a classless society, the state withers away.

Our analysis of the state informs why socialists cannot use the government and legislate socialism into being. The government and even democracy under capitalism are instruments created to keep power in the hands of the ruling class.

Think about the billion-dollar corporate lobbying industry in Washington. Both Democratic and Republican candidates receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to do the bidding of the ruling class. The judicial system, the banking system, the laws—these are all structures to protect capitalist rule. A socialist government needs something altogether different.

Why the Working Class

Contrary to the way media and much of the Left portrays the working class as lazy and apathetic, the ISO argues that workers are the key to the fight for socialism.

Capitalism has drawn the working class together on the same factory floor or workplace with hundreds of thousands of other workers.

Workers' central role in production gives them social power. Workers can organize not to produce, shut down their workplace, and even grind whole industries to a halt. This hits capitalism where it counts—in their ability to make profits.

To win a strike, workers need to prevent the bosses from getting the machinery up and running again. But workers on strike need also to eat, their children need to be taken care of, and workers in battle with the police may need healthcare.

You can see then that workers through struggle are forced to confront the running of society as a whole. And as workers take this task on, it becomes clearer to them they can run this system better and more efficiently then their current rulers.


It is important to note that this cannot be successful if workers do not come together across racial lines, sexual orientation and nationality as well. Capitalism uses sexism and racism to pit workers against one another. It uses nationalism to justify its wars—pitting one country's workers against another. Socialists reject this because we understand that we have far more in common with other workers regardless of race, sex and/or nationality than we do with our bosses.

It is easy to see the possibility for workers overcoming these divisions when linked arm and arm in the struggle for a new society.

In the ISO, we support all the struggles of the oppressed. The liberation of the oppressed is essential to socialist revolution and impossible without it.


At this point people generally say, "Great! Socialism…revolution…the working class…fighting oppression…now give me an example of what you're talking about."

Well, throughout history, strike committees have tended to develop out of working class struggle itself in order to make decisions, coordinate and organize the strikes. These strike committees were called: soviets in Russian in 1905 and 1917 and there are many more examples throughout history.

We argue as Lenin formulated in April of 1917 that these decision-making bodies are the seeds for a future socialist society—that we can build a society based on direct control of the workplace through workers councils on a mass scale.

This is exactly what happened for a time in Russia in 1917. Lenin did not take power on behalf of the workers. Lenin and the Bolshevik party put forward the slogan "All power to the soviets", workers themselves took power, and a new state was created based on the soviets. Leaders were immediately recallable and paid no more than the average worker.

This is why we defend the Russian revolution as an example of why workers power is possible—the opposite of what our history books and others on the Left tell us.

Revolution Betrayed

Next comes the question: What happened to this worker's state?

Well, concrete historical analysis flies in the face that all revolutions inevitably degenerate into tyranny.

In fact, the Russian revolution failed because it did not spread internationally. Lenin and the Bolsheviks knew international revolution was crucial because the working class is international and capitalism is international. You cannot have an island of socialism within a sea of capitalism. For these same reasons, we in the ISO are internationalists.

So Russian industry was decimated along with the working class while trying to defend the revolution from invading capitalist armies. Socialism—a society based on equal distribution could not and cannot today be built on scarcity.

Eventually, bureaucracy—led by Stalin developed to manage Russia where the working class power had once stood. Stalin gave up on the project of international socialism and led a counter-revolution destroying any genuine memory of worker's power.

State Capitalism

You can see what a far cry from socialism the Stalinist counter-revolution was. And the same can be said for China under Mao, Cuba under Castro, and the Eastern Bloc.

The ISO argues that these revolutions were not the act of the working class itself. Instead, they were the act of a small armies or guerrilla forces that claimed to act in the name of the working class.

There was no worker's power in these countries. Instead, a state bureaucracy called the shots. The state acted as a new ruling class squeezing the entire working class just like an individual corporation would, but to compete with other capitalist countries around the world.

Our tradition therefore calls these countries as State Capitalist, not socialist.

The Party

So I've tried to outline a ton of stuff. But the missing thread in all of this is the role of revolutionaries. In the ISO, we are Leninists because the building of a revolutionary socialist party is necessary for a successful socialist revolution.

Marx explained that workers have mixed and uneven consciousness that is constantly changing. So most workers have a mixture of progressive and reactionary ideas. On some issues, workers sound like socialists. On others, they sound like Lou Dobbs. This develops because of a contradiction within capitalism.

1. Capitalism through exploitation and oppression is constantly pushing workers toward struggle with the system.

2. But at the same time it controls the media—it controls the flow of ideas in society. As Marx put it, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. They are used to justify the status quo.

Marx pointed out that ideas change in struggle, and there is a tendency for worker's ideas to radicalize. But it is not automatic how worker's ideas will change in struggle. It is crucial that the revolutionaries are organized in struggle to ensure that workers draw revolutionary conclusions.

The role of a revolutionary party becomes even more important in a revolutionary situation. It is not automatic that workers will believe that they can run society themselves. It is not automatic that they will know how to take the struggle toward socialism. The revolutionary party trained in revolutionary theory and history—that has learned lessons from years of struggle will need to win leadership by putting forward the ideas that make the most sense.

This is what we mean when we talk about a Vanguard Party. We want to organize all of the most militant and politically advanced sections of the working class into a party to be as effective as possible in winning over new layers and eventually the whole working class in struggle.


We in the ISO do not claim to be the Vanguard Party. This will be decided by who puts forward the best ideas and wins leadership in struggle.

But we are trying to play a role in rebuilding a revolutionary Left in this country. And we hope to someday win leadership on a mass scale within the working class because we think we have pretty good ideas about the world and how to change it.

So I want to finish with some specifics about the ISO and what it means to be a member.

Branch Routine: The ISO has weekly branch meetings. Branch meetings rotate each week to include two organizational meetings, an educational meeting, and a public meeting. Within the branch, we have a division of labor so that we can organize direct interventions into ongoing struggles. So in Rochester, we have a fraction that organizes a section of the branch to intervene in C.A.N., one to intervene in R.A.W., and one to organize building the branch.

Socialist Worker: Every member of the ISO buys, reads, and sells Socialist Worker Newspaper. We do this in two ways.

1) We call the first way "3-for-me's". So members purchase three papers when a new issue comes out. These are to be used to develop political relationships with classmates, co-workers, friends and political contacts—people that may be interested in socialist politics.

Socialist Worker provides a socialist analysis of the world on a regular basis. It is therefore provides a crucial lead for socialists to engage the people around us politically.

2) The second way we use Socialist Worker is on street sales. The enables us to meet people that we would never get to see otherwise. There are far more people out there that are interested in socialism that we can relate to.

By engaging people and selling socialist worker, we develop our members because we have to learn how to articulate and relate socialist politics with the people around us.

And of course, we charge a dollar for our paper because we need to keep it coming out. There are no advertisements in there. We get donations from the people that are politically interested.

Education: Education is a crucial part of every branch routine. No one is going to teach us revolutionary theory and history. This is why the ISO has put so much time, energy and resources into Haymarket Books and ISR. Ideas are our weapons to be used in the struggles around us.

Dues: Every ISO member pays monthly dues to the organization based on a sliding scale. It's pretty obvious that no one is going to fund a revolutionary organization but the revolutionaries. And let's face it. Putting on conferences, producing a newspaper, and now daily online SW website takes resources. Dues allow use to be self-sustaining and remain independent.

Lastly, to wrap up, if you agree with our politics, if you agree with what we stand for, if you agree with our project, and you have a pretty good sense of what we do, you should join. If you're a socialist, you should join a socialist organization.