The US-based International Socialist Organization (ISO) has recently voted to dissolve itself. The rs21 Steering Group has collectively compiled the following piece in response.
The US-based International Socialist Organization (ISO) has recently voted to dissolve. The organisation was active in the recent wave of teachers’ strikes, opposing the death penalty, and anti-imperialist campaigning, among many other spheres of organising. rs21 had maintained an informal relationship with the ISO, and often republished pieces from the ISO’s website, SocialistWorker.org. In their dissolution statement, the ISO Crisis Leadership attributed the decision to dissolve to ‘the impact of decades of undemocratic practices, including a hostility to caucuses and the self-organization of members of oppressed groups, as well as the recently revealed egregious treatment of allegations of sexual assault’. The ISO played an important role in Haymarket Books and the annual Socialism conference in Chicago, which brought together many socialists to learn and discuss politics. Both Haymarket and Socialism conference were organisationally separate to the ISO and will continue operation.
The ISO has published a statement explaining the key events and issues at stake, and there have been various articles responding to the situation. In summary, the most recent ISO convention elected a new leadership in an effort to turn around an organisation in which many members had experienced bullying and oppressive behaviours, the right of marginalised comrades to caucus and organise independently had been suppressed, and strategic questions relating to Bernie Sanders, the DSA and new movements in the US were not being effectively addressed. Soon after the change in leadership, it was revealed that there had been a serious mishandling of a sexual violence case in 2013, in which the political leadership of the time had suppressed a decision to expel a member accused of rape and then maintained a silence about what had happened. Since then, other cases have surfaced, including one involving a long-time leader of the organisation.
rs21 stands in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence and abuse, and those working to support them. The crisis that has led to the decision to dissolve the ISO has lessons for everyone on the left. Creating practices that empower and value survivors is an ongoing project that is too often neglected, deferred or stifled. The question of how to make organisations accessible to survivors and those from marginalised groups is one that must inform every aspect of what we do. If we are to be serious about our anti-oppression politics, then our organisation must be a positive space for oppressed people to operate in. rs21’s current guidelines for dealing with cases relating to domestic abuse and sexual violence can be found here. We aim to take a survivor-centred approach (which can be contrasted to the ‘due process’ norms embedded in the ISO’s policies) and are committed to continually developing our guidelines.
Before the dissolution of the ISO, Maryam A and Nikki W of the ISO Survivors’ Caucus wrote:
For us, the question is not do we leave or do we stay (and caucus members have made both decisions), but more simply that there is work to be done. Exiting one organization or another won’t solve the problem of sexual violence on the left. We are too aware that the left is lacking in structures and cultures that protect and believe survivors. The left must be able to recognize and combat gender-based violence in our own spaces if we are going to fight it in the world with any success.
The ISO crisis has also reinvigorated discussions around a whole range of other political issues including organisational culture and structure, centralism and leadership, and analyses of sexual violence in society more generally. We hope to engage in those discussions alongside former members of the ISO, and other comrades in the wider movement. We hope that ex-ISO branches and the newly independent caucuses are able to find their feet, and bring together the revival of working-class struggle with the politics of anti-oppression, internationalism and socialism from below.