Evoking the Communist tradition of Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin, the Chicago-based International Socialist Organization (ISO) aspires to "organize activists in workplaces and communities and on campuses in order to mobilize opposition to all forms of oppression and exploitation." The chief source of this oppression and exploitation, in ISO's view, is capitalism -- whose inevitable by-products are poverty, environmental degradation, war, famine, and most other ills that plague humanity. ISO places the blame for international strife largely on the United States, and more specifically the Republican Party, calling President Bush the "bigot-in-chief" and characterizing the "dynasty" of the Bush family as a "virus."
Founded in 1977, ISO traces its intellectual antecedents to Trotskyism and to a rejection of Shachtmanism, so named after Max Shachtman, the onetime head of the Socialist Workers Party; Shachtman and his followers generally supported the hard-line Cold War-era stance against Communist expansionism. Still, ISO rejects the state-sponsored Communism found in China, Cuba, and the old USSR, on the grounds that those states merely create structures to alienate workers from their labor and the sources of capital in the same way that the Western democracies do.
ISO claims the need for permanent workers' revolutions, in the tradition of Trotsky and his denunciation of the Stalinist state. The organization maintains an educational program calling for socialist workers’ revolutions in a variety of venues, including workplaces and college campuses.
ISO's website maintains links to the websites of numerous socialist groups in France, Australia, and Ireland. In 2000, ISO attracted a large number of new members when it worked for the presidential campaign of the Green Party's Ralph Nader. The following year, a small group of ISO members broke away from the group and created a new organization called Left Turn. Currently, ISO claims a membership of approximately 1,000 and publishes the weekly newspaper Socialist Worker, whose articles condemn capitalism and imperialism, and whose editorials call on "militant workers" to form a "revolutionary socialist party." It also publishes the journal Socialist Review. In addition to its national office in Chicago, ISO maintains six regional branches.
Among ISO's official policies are a rejection of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan; an effort to inspire anti-war sentiment on college campuses (particularly by creating fears of a renewed draft); a push for expanded rights for illegal immigrants and unregulated, open borders; and the condemnation of capital punishment.
ISO disparages the Patriot Act and other government efforts to strengthen national security as malicious assaults on civil liberties. It is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition led by Leslie Cagan, a longtime committed socialist who aligns her politics with those of Fidel Castro's Communist Cuba.
ISO views terrorism against U.S. targets and those of America's allies (most notably Israel) as the justified actions of desperate people who have been mistreated for too long by those nations. With regard to the 9/11 hijackers and Palestinian suicide bombers, for instance, ISO asserts, "They weren't born wanting to become suicide bombers. But their lifetimes of humiliation … made them open to terrorism as a means to avenge their oppression."
In 2002, ISO joined the C. Clark Kissinger-led organization Refuse & Resist, a subsidiary of the Revolutionary Communist Party, in condemning military tribunals and the detention of immigrants apprehended in connection with post-9/11 terrorism investigations.
The ISO website discloses no names of the organization's leadership.