Milton Fisk

Socialism From Below in the United States


Chapter VII
The mid-Seventies to the founding of the International Socialist Organization


1. Intensified Industrial Activity

With a unified leadership now realized and with speed-up a reality in the plants in 1973, the IS could begin to intervene more systematically. Later, as the economy turned down in 1974 and then turned up in a half-hearted recovery in 1975, a feeling of instability ran through the working class. The IS positioned itself to take advantage of events of the sort such a “period of boom and bust” made possible.

In July and August of 1973, there were sit-down strikes and wildcats in Detroit Chrysler plants. Wildcats took place at Detroit Forge and at Mack Stamping over working conditions. At Jefferson Assembly a sit-down was used to get a racist foreman fired. Through the United Justice Caucus of Local 7 at Jefferson Assembly and through the rank and file publication, The Mack Safety Watchdog, published by members of the UNC in Local 212 at Mack, members of the IS were actively involved in these events. The third of the strikes to occur, that at Mack, was crushed by Doug Fraser, head of the UAW Chrysler Division, who led a thousand union goons against it. There were reprisals at Mack against radicals from various political tendencies. [1]

In 1973, as contracts signed in 1970 ended, California growers refused to renew United Farm Worker contracts and signed sweetheart contracts with the Teamsters. The IS continued its support of the UFW by joining in the national boycott of lettuce, grapes, and wine. The UFW strike had regular coverage in WP. In the boycott committees, the IS insisted that there was no incompatibility between building picket lines at stores and raising questions concerning UFW policies. After the shootings of farm workers picketing in the fields in September 1973, the pacifist UFW leadership concentrated UFW members in the cities to build the boycott committees. The IS called for building the strike in the fields as well. In September 1974, Caesar Chavez, the leader of UFW, gave up the secondary boycott for the support of the AFL-CIO. Meatcutters’, Retail Clerks’, and Distillers’ officials claimed their members were hurt by the Secondary boycott. ISers were in the forefront of those who pushed for and Won continued use of the secondary boycott on an “unofficial basis. Chavez’ pro-Israel stance and his brief cooperation with the Immigration Service in siding with it against undocumented workers were discussed by ISers in the boycott committees. (Some committees were run so tightly that discussion of these issues was not allowed.) The boycott committees functioned effectively only a short time after the passage of agricultural collective bargaining legislation in 1975 in California. In 1977 the UFW and the IBT came to a settlement that ceded the fields to the UFW.

With rank and file dissatisfaction rising, during the 1974-75 recession, the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO called a rally to protest unemployment, in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 1975. Those who responded to the call were to be feasted with speeches by politicians and labor tops. The IS put together a coalition of locals, caucuses, and individuals to emphasize the point that continuing rank and file protest over unemployment was necessary. The Rank and File Coalition marched, with other groups, under its own banner from the Capitol to the RFK stadium where 60,000 unionists attended the rally. The militants wanted “Jobs Not Jive” and they marched onto the field in the stadium and disrupted the politicans’ and bureaucrats’ jive. A successful meeting after the rally was organized by the R&F Coalition and it heard speeches from teamster, auto, teacher, and telephone militants. The R&F Coalition did not function after April 26.

As an experiment in working basically from the outside, the IS intervened in the fight over the postal contract in the summer of 1975. The inside work was limited to Philadelphia. A comrade in the American Postal Workers Union in Philadelphia, organized the rank and file group in his boil called Postal Action. Through its newsletter, Postal Action Dispatch, and through back-page coverage in WP, the IS contributed to the fight to oppose a sell-out contract. ISers leafletted and sold WP outside the postal centers in most major cities. Both the Letter Carriers and the Postal Workers got poor contracts, but the battle made contacts for the IS and a few more members in an industry where it had had almost no exposure. The Postal Service was given the go-ahead to speed-up workers in the manner outlined by the infamous Kokomo plan.

Beginning in 1973, the IS intervened in telephone in Louisville. A United Action caucus was set up in CWA Local 10310 as a result of the dissatisfaction with the 1974 contract in telephone. Close relations existed with other UAs, especially that in New York CWA Local 1101. The Louisville UA centered around active shop stewards. It defeated a local dues hike three times before its passage at a meeting which didn’t get proper notification. UA demonstrated against charges for directory assistance. With this record it felt itself in a position to move on the local’s leadership in the fall of 1975. The UA put up a slate of officers for the October elections in 1975. The situation was complicated by the racist furor in Louisville over the implementation of the busing plan that fall. This provided the entrenched local leadership with an additional weapon with which to defeat UA. UA associated itself with the pro-busing and anti-Klan forces. Harold Kincaid, a leader of the Louisville UA, spoke at an anti-Klan rally. The UA candidate for president was black; he withdrew for personal reasons. Nonetheless, dissatisfaction with the incumbents was so peat that the UA won the post of Treasurer and forced run-offs for several other positions.

The election committee declared the election improper due to faulty ballots. Kincaid was red baited. The local identified the UA as a socialist group run from New York. And indeed several UA members were being brought into IS. They were recruited to IS primarily because they saw IS was deeply Involved in the political struggle against the Klan and other anti-busing forces. Bricks were thrown through the windows of several UA leaders’ cars. In November, the IS led UA in Seattle CWA Local 9102 won several posts in elections held there. When elections were held again in Louisville in December, the UA lost as a result of the smear tactics of the local. Still the UA had a “large and active following” among union militants. [2] It proposed an overtime ban which was passed by the local. But the membership as a whole would not carry out the ban.

In March of 1976, Kincaid won a position on the local executive board. But Southern Bell, with the collaboration of the president of the local, attempted to fire him for passing out “unauthorized materials” – shop steward reports. Since then Kincaid has been isolated within the local. With company and union pressure, the new UA recruits to IS left IS and ceased to function as union militants. In New York at this time UA won 30% of the vote, but in August the union countered with charges against four UA members. The UA was much weaker in New York than it was during the 1974 contract fight when a number of chief shop stewards were in UA. The four were denied membership in the union for using the name of the local in association with that of UA on raffle tickets. In Seattle several UA stewards were decertified by the local president in February. Ma Bell and the CWA had successfully defeated UA where it was a force, in Louisville, in New York, and in Seattle.

The operation in Louisville indicates the intensity with which ISers everywhere threw themselves into activity in the fall of 1975.


2. Revolutionary Feminism in Action

The formation of Coalition of Labor Union Women in March 1974 provided an organizational background against which the IS could begin to implement on a national scale its perspective for building a working women’s movement There were no illusions from the start that the leadership of CLUW was itself interested in building such a movement.

That leadership was tied to the male leadership of the unions and was to see to it that CLUW chapters could take only actions approved by unions that might be affected by those actions. Nonetheless the women labor tops who dominated CLUW could not prevent a number of CLUW chapters from doing support work for strikes and organizing drives. ISers in CLUW made many valuable contacts with the rank and filers who came to CLUW meetings in the first year of its existence. Fifteen women were recruited. These women were appealed to on the basis of women’s liberation and class struggle. By being tied to the male leadership of the internationals, the CLUW leadership could advance neither women’s liberation nor the class struggle. In the words of CLUW President Olga Madar, CLUW existed to train women to be top officers in their unions. After the constitutional convention in December 1975, the possibility of independent action by CLUW was non-existent, and IS ceased its intervention. At that convention the IS put forward a constitution allowing for independent action. The SWP blocked with the CLUW leadership to prevent this proposed constitution from getting to the floor. Sharon Petersons, representing AFT, drafted the proposal.

The commitment of the IS to working on women’s issues was tested in the discussion that began with the November 1974 NC on women’s industrialization. In For a New Industrialization Campaign, Kim Moody argued that women should industrialize in the IS priority industries and that there should be no special women’s priority. [3] “There must be women leaders in basic industry and in the biggest industrial unions who can provide political leadership and direction for working women throughout industry.” These were to be the unions where the rank and file movement will break through first. Workers in dominantly female unions were to go into motion only as the class goes into motion, since those unions are, as things stand, weak.

In a reply by several comrades entitled Women’s Industrialization [4] hospital work was called for as a women’s priority. But in a statement drawn up for the EC Barbara Winslow at once affirmed the importance of women building independent organizations – that was what the fight in CLUW was about – and reaffirmed the position of Moody that the industrial priorities must be chosen so that the IS can have greatest impact on the “emerging working class movement in order to build the working women’s movement.” [5]

The effect of adopting this position was that the IS developed several women leaders in industry. There were IS women leaders in auto, telephone, trucking, and steel. But the IS did not play a role in building the women’s movement. with the disengagement from CLUW, the IS attempted, with little success, to build Women Against Racism, mainly in Detroit, around busing and to build women’s caucuses in the branches.


3. The Turn to Agitation – 1975

It had been seven years since the French May. The US student movement was dead. The black movement was dead. The IS had not recovered its losses from the ’73 split. There was the damaging competition of the Maoists. The recession of 1974-75 was then seized upon as the opportunity for building the IS Into a small mass party. The recession was to realize the potential for creating a new revolutionary left that had been dormant since 1968.

So the IS responded to the recession with a frenzied mobilization of its forces. The most conspicuous instrument for this mobilization was Glenn Wolfe. He had come from England in 1975. He had been a member of the orthodox Trotskyist Workers Fight, and had remained with the IS-GB when the fusion of WF and the IS-GB ended in 1971. He authored the Report From the Detroit Branch Commission [6] – which contained the new turn in outline –, became the National Organizer, and the, by April 1975, was made the National Secretory by the EC. Zinoviev had ordered the Bolshevization of the CPs in 1925; Wolfe told members that his job was to Bolshevize the IS, an organization of a little over 200 members. Wolfe confidently predicted that the working class would respond to the economic crisis in a manner as explosive as in the ’30s and that by the end of 1975 the IS would double its membership. It didn’t matter that none of this would happen: the majority of IS members intensified their activity and took an increasingly more intolerant attitude toward any member who raised questions about the turn. A revolutionary fanaticism seized the IS: “Any talk of moving too fast is wrong.” [7]

The turn to agitation was initiated by the EC in early 1975 and approved ;by the membership at the July 4 convention. It meant that the IS would now lead rather than just advise, that the emphasis would not be on propaganda, and that workers would be recruited in large numbers. The basis for agitation was to be the approach of “class struggle unionism” put forward by Jack Weinberg at the 1974 convention. This approach would prevent the attempts at agitation from becoming pragmatic and economist.

To carry out the turn the EC needed to have more authority. “The current period demands the speediest moves to tight centralization.” [8] It had assumed this authority in late 1974 and the 1975 convention legitimated it. The EC was not to carry its differences to the organization; it was to be disciplined. The EC and the NC would intervene in the branches to insure the line was being carried. Branch organizers would be appointed by the EC. WP would not carry dissenting articles. Expulsions could take place for politics and not just for discipline.

The turn to agitation had conflicting results: it led to greater openness toward workers but it led to an internal constriction on discussion. A worker recruitment campaign pushed membership to the 300 mark by the end of the year. But with the demands of activism and with tight centralism, many of the workers left. The attitude toward dissenting members was that those who disagree are not to be reasoned with but to be destroyed politically. The genuine desire to build a workers’ combat organization came into conflict with the idealism of the sect mentality. That idealism showed itself in the belief that agreement on program was a touchstone for making the world revolutionary.


4. IS Black Work

The main interventions by the IS around racism in the mid-’70s were associated with busing and the freeing of Gary Tyler. The position of the IS on busing was that blacks had a right to go to school where they wanted. The needs of blacks for equal education in both Boston and Louisville led them to accept busing plans, despite the fact that they had almost nothing to do with the formulation of those plans. The right to equality had to be recognized, and no compromises were to be made with the white working class on the matter of equality.

Most unions in Louisville came out against busing. In the fall of 1975 the IS made a great effort to build a pro-busing response among black and white workers to the large anti-busing forces in Louisville. The battle was an unequal one, and though busing remains, the anti-busing forces of Louisville are still vocal.

The IS youth group, the Red Tide, developed from several independent socialist youth groups in California. After moving its main operation to Detroit in early 1976, the Red Tide began a major struggle around freeing the 18 year old Louisiana black, Gary Tyler, who had been framed on a murder charge. The Red Tide grew rapidly in 1976 as a result of its work in the racially tense Detroit schools and in the Gary Tyler case. However, the Gary Tyler work was not pushed consistently and by late 1976 intervention on Tyler’s behalf had ceased by IS forces.

IS black membership remained small despite its involvement with racial issues in the plants and its sporadic Gary Tyler work. Residual nationalism makes it harder for many blacks to join a white socialist organization. The anti-imperialist line of organizations that support the non-white countries China, North Korea, and Vietnam as socialist remains successful in enabling them to recruit some blacks. With the development of the struggle for liberation in southern Africa, blacks will be drawn to the nationalism expressed in the struggle as well as to the concrete involvement of China, Cuba, and the USSR in the struggle. By contrast, revolutionary socialist forces will continue to fight an uphill battle for the allegiance of US blacks.


5. IS Economic Perspectives

The IS took seriously the Leninist view that without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary practice. And it believed that a correct economic appraisal was central to the theory on which it acted. This concern with economic analysis distinguished it from most other groups on the left.

The basic tenets of the IS economic position were, first, the permanent arms economy, developed by Vance for the ISL and then by Michael Kidron of the IS-GB, and second, the developing crisis in the economy resulting from the termination of the arms-fueled post-war boom. According to the PAE, imperialism stabilized capitalism before World War I. But after World War II, it was massive arms spending that stabilized the world economy. A drop off in the relative size of that spending meant a weakening of the US economy and a lesser role for it as a world power. [9]

However, the emphasis at the time of the turn to agitation on the recession – called “depression” by the EC – brought the business cycle into greater prominence for the IS. The ups and downs of the business cycle were given greater importance than the longer term stagnation that began in the late ’60s. In both 1975 and 1976, Geier’s economic perspectives for the convention made predictions as to times of peaks and troughs in the economy. The IS was to position itself for the next “bust” – trough – for there would then be an “upsurge.” A rather close correlation was assumed between class consciousness and the ups and downs of the business cycle.

The emphasis in the 1972 and 1974 economic perspectives on the overall crisis had given way to an attempt to fine tune revolutionary practice to the business cycle. The business cycle is, though, a more superficial thing since it is superimposed on the downward path of stagnation that characterizes the crisis. Two aspects of the new IS economic method were at fault. In the first place, Marxism is not a predictive science; it is a science of the revolutionary possibilities that human action can make real. In the second place, the consciousness of the class tends not to follow the business cycle, and instead has within it the possibility of a qualitative change as a period of stagnation grows deeper.


6. Support for the PRP

The overthrow of the Fascist Caetano regime on April 25, 1974, unleashed a popular revolt in Portugal. The IS was quick to recognize the potential for a revolutionary development in the wake of the overthrow of Caetano by the officers of the Armed Forces Movement. Workers’ commissions grew up in factories and offices, and there were tenant’s commissions in many neighborhoods. From among the various groups to the left of the CP, the IS began to focus on the Proletarian Revolutionary Party as the one having the most potential to lead a revolutionary struggle. A period of mass demonstrations and strikes in the fall of 1975 was ended on November 25 by a right-wing coup within the military. After that the prospects for a socialist revolution were remote, and the SP government began the slow process of consolidating state authority for the defense of Portuguese capitalism.

The situation called for a clear understanding of the class forces in Portugal and for a clear understanding of the aims and methods of the PRP. As for class forces, it was the military that overthrew Caetano, not the working class. This made the Portuguese masses believe they could rely on the left-wing officers of the MFA to lead the country in a socialist direction. The CP was not responsible for this situation, it merely adapted to it with its insistence on an alliance of the military with the people. As for the PRP, it was committed to building united fronts, and not to building a party. Also, since it saw the massive CP taking up economic work in the unions, it saw its role as that of educating for socialist revolution. Moreover, it was convinced that real reforms in the economic sphere were impossible until there was socialism, and so the PRP saw no necessity to devote much effort to economic reforms.

Nonetheless, WP contended [10] that the CP had responsibility for the defeat of November 25, 1975, and that workers would break with the CP – which had 10% of the working class – as it continued to cooperate with the right in saving capitalism. However, it was not the CP that had real responsibility for the defeat on November 25. Behind that defeat was the weakness of the revolutionary left and the tendency of the militant masses to rely on opportunists like Otelo de Carvalho, of the Continental Operations Command. Moreover, workers have not yet broken with the CP as was clear from the CP’s gains in municipal elections in December 1976. CP workers who stand to the left of the CP line and sometimes follow the leadership of the PRP are reluctant to join the PRP because they want a group that acts like a party.

The glowing accounts of the PRP in WP were often belied by subsequent events. For example, the PRP gave its support to Otelo for President in July of 1976. According to WP the PRP was right to do this since the campaign would regroup revolutionary forces and deepen revolutionary consciousness in the working class. [11] The reality was that the Dynamization Groups for Popular Unity, which built Otelo’s campaign, had a reformist program. The reformist Maoist front, Popular Democratic Union, was then able to win control of the GDUPs after the election. The PRP, which is revolutionary socialist, folded its activity into the GDUPs and as a consequence did not build itself as a party.

Tony Cliff of IS-GB criticized the PRP for the slogan “Unite, Organize, Arm,” which was used in the fall of 1975. Only a party with power in the working class can call for arming. [12] With soviets at an embryonic level and with no revolutionary party, the call for arming for insurrection was, Cliff thought, premature in October 1975. The PRP justified itself by reference to, among other things, the Cuban revolution. Later, Cliff criticized the PRP for not emphasizing economic work in early 1976, which was a time of revolutionary pause. [13]

In a reply to a backlog of criticisms from both the IS-GB and members of the IS itself who had been to Portugal, Geier and David Finkel circulated The Portuguese Revolution and the PRP at the 1976 convention. In it they admitted the PRP was weak “theoretically” on party building but that “in practice” it had built a party. It did this, they argued, through taking key initiatives to build the revolution. But in fact those initiatives were the building of united fronts that events tore apart, not a revolutionary party. Disagreement over the PRP began to chill relations between the two ISs.


7. Teamsters for a Decent Contract

The IS received greater attention for its struggle around the Master Freight Agreement and the United Parcel Service Central States contract in 1976 than for any of its activity. It had been building for a struggle for a number of years through rank and file papers in Seattle (The Seattle Semi), LA (The Grapevine), and the Bay Area (The Fifth Wheel). Teamster ISers then took the struggle to the Mid-West. After touring the country in early 1975 several Teamster ISers concluded “the current situation has activated a small, but sufficient number of activists who are prepared to organize.” [14] They outlined a program for wages and conditions for a national contract campaign. The 1973 Master Freight Agreement expired March 31,1976.

Teamsters for a Decent Contract was formed in Chicago on August 16, 1975. TDC at first worked closely with Professional Drivers’ Council on Safety and Health (PROD), run by lawyer Art Fox. In the autumn of 1975, TDC meetings were held from Pennsylvania to California. Teamster Mel Packer said, “It’s clear that now we have the possibility of building a massive, well-organized rank and file movement.” [15] In December of 1975 Pete Camarata of Local 299 in Detroit said there would be a strike in April [16]; TDC was not to say anything about a strike until much later. IBT President Fitzsimmons’ proposed settlement was for more money than TDC was demanding – $2.50 plus COLA against $1 make-up, $1 new money, and COLA – but his proposal asked for nothing on grievances and job security. TDC had called for eliminating the joint company-union grievance boards and for voluntary overtime. In January, 130 TDCers presented Teamster headquarters in Washington with 15,000 signatures on petitions for its demands. At the TDC meeting in Washington, Fox played an important role and ISers split in voting on a motion to limit TDC to legal action, which passed. On January 31, 650 United Parcel Service workers met in Indianapolis. Their organization, UPSurge, was presenting its demands for a new Central States contract beginning on May 1. The success of organizing efforts was evident in the sizeable TDC and UPSurge demonstrations on March 13 in a number of cities. There was a clear strike sentiment then.

Fitzsimmons was forced into a four-day official strike. He settled for $1.65 with COLA in the second and third years – well beyond the operators original 85 cents offer –, pensions for casuals, air conditioned cabs, and single rooms on the road. Local 299 wildcatted half a week after the settlement. The wildcat was led by TDC. But the organization of the strikers was too weak to sustain it against an injunction. [17] UPS was out on strike two weeks in May; the unacceptable settlement led UPS workers to wildcat for one day in numerous Mid-West cities. [18]

Conditions in the trucking industry were bad enough so that TDC and UPSurge continued to exist after the settlements. TDC became Teamsters for a Democratic Union; TDU continues to publish TDCs paper Convoy. UPSurge still publishes UPSurge with a readership of 3,000. The IS managed to recruit around a dozen members from IBT, the most notable recruit being Pete Camarata, a leader of the rank and file in Local 299. After an initial period of being secretive about their political identity, ISers were forced to respond to the red baiting that began toward the end of 1975. [19] The line against red baiting was that socialists know how to build a good trade-union program. [20]

The ranks responded to the call for a better contract. But TDU, at least, is not yet their own organization. In TDC and TDU it has been the IS that has had to provide the organizational skills and determination all the way. [1*] The IS Teamsters were unable at any time to form a working TDC steering committee with a significant number of non-IS members. In the Detroit MFA wildcat Teamster and non-Teamster ISers were indispensable in holding the loose organization of the struggle together. This has implied a vast expenditure of IS effort on organization building. (In 1977 this IS effort is going into using TDU to fight around pensions and union by-laws.)

One effect of this organizational effort was that, during the period of TDC, there was a lowering of the internal level of politics in the IS. Another was that the focus on politics in the external work with the Teamsters has been diverted by the organizational imperatives of building a better union. The reformist PROD is for a better union too and has a much larger membership than TDU. The IS may know how to build a good trade-union program, one without the elitism of the PROD program. But organizing to realize such a program will not necessarily change the political consciousness of the ranks. Neither TDU nor UPSurge will become a class struggle rank and file movement unless the socialist leaders intervening in them endeavor to build a base among Teamsters of people who abandon the dominant ideas about the state, racism, and sexism.


8. The Mass Work Approach

The IS theory of trade union work came to be plagued with the problem of the missing link. What was the link between trade union practice and revolutionary politics? It was recognized that without this link, IS work would lapse into economism. The solution to the problem was seen in ideas and not in practice. In the context of trade union practice, industrialized revolutionaries would convince their trade union brothers and sisters of a set of political ideas that would put them on the road to socialist political consciousness. A quite different, though not of course incompatible, strategy would have been to engage those involved in trade union struggle also in political struggles going on in the society at large.

There was a major change in IS trade-union strategy between 1974 and 1976. It was the change from the class-struggle-unionism approach to the mass-work approach. However, this change was within the common framework of seeing the solution to the missing-link problem in terms of ideas rather than political practice.

The 1974 convention adopted the seven principles of class struggle unionism. These included no class-collaboration, worker control, struggle against discrimination, and local and national Opposition caucuses. The IS was to embed itself in the layer of militant activist workers that will emerge during this period. “All agree that a key goal of the IS is to influence workers in the direction of our politics, Marxism. The most important way to concretize this will be to influence them with ideas which change the way they relate to the actual class struggle.” [21] These ideas were to be the principles of class struggle unionism. The organizational vehicle for getting across the ideas of class struggle unionism was to be the national and local rank and file opposition caucus.

The 1976 convention adopted a mass work approach, where mass work was understood as “mobilizing a significant proportion of the people affected by an issue around a limited program designed to deal with that issue.” [22] It was not to be just the militants who were to be organized, but even “those who do not yet understand the class struggle.” It was to be something called “transitional politics” that provides the “ideas that can be the bridge between the direct experience of workers today and an understanding of the struggle for socialism.” Transitional politics were to be carried in Workers’ Power; they were expressed by analyses of trade union events in terms of the ideas of the employers’ offensive, rank and file control, the role of the state, and working class solidarity. The minimum program of mass work was to be broad enough to exclude no one, whereas the caucuses based on class struggle unionism made workers accept a whole range of demands as a condition for cooperation.

Transitional politics was intended to counteract the “economism” that the EC itself saw as a tendency in IS mass work. In practice, though, transitional politics did not get beyond the trade union perspective. This was no accident. For the way in which mass work among industrial workers was carried out made going beyond the trade union perspective irrelevant to that work.

In 1976, mass work was carried out by building the Coalition for a Good Contract in auto, the Teamsters for a Decent Contract, and Ed Sadlowski’s Steel Workers Fight Back. In this work ISers were engaged in holding “broader” forces together with themselves in trade union struggles. How could these broader forces be held together with ISers when (a) the IS is not a force they need and (b) ISers are selling a newspaper that provides a genuine bridge between their struggle and socialism? One of these broader forces was Jim Balanoff, ex-CPer, president of USW Local 1010 at Inland Steel, and now director of USW District 31. Balanoff told the Chicago Tribune during the campaign in early 1977, “Sure there are some left-wing groups that support myself and Ed .... The issues are bread and butter, wages, safety, and better union leadership. That other stuff is nonsense. Anyway those people are crazy.” In evaluating the CGC campaign in auto for the October, 1976, NC, the Auto Fraction Steering Committee said, “It taught us not to be afraid of working with broader forces, that if we were principled about the basis for that work there was no guilt by association. In short it taught us to break with the remnants of sectarianism which persisted until then in our industrial work.” If being sectarian means attempting to analyze in WP the auto industry in a way that points out the necessity of going beyond a trade union perspective to a socialist political perspective, then indeed the IS broke with sectarianism. In TDC transitional politics did not even include an analysis that made clear the necessity of a strike to win TDC’s demands. Yet, as noted, the militant ranks saw the need for a strike four months before it took place.

With the imperatives of organization building in the trade unions dominating the industrial mass work activity of the IS, the IS was engaged in no trade union activity to which politics that was a bridge to socialism was relevant. A full statement of IS’s mass work approach appeared in October 1976. [23] In concluding it says, “To win widespread support in industrial mass work, we must appeal to workers on a class rather than political basis.” But then it adds, “Unless mass work is politicized, a leadership trained and recruited to the party or its immediate periphery, the successes of mass work will turn into the failures of economism and add up to zero.” This addition recognizes that mass work of the kind IS engaged in poses the problem of the missing link in an acute form, but it does nothing to solve it. As Lenin said about Martynov, “The pompous phrase about ‘lending the economic struggle itself a political character,’ which sounds so ‘terrifically’ profound and revolutionary, serves as a screen to conceal what is in fact the traditional striving to degrade Social-Democratic politics to the level of trade-union politics. [24]


9. The Left Faction

The July 1976, IS convention indicated to many comrades that the IS was on a downhill course. An opposition had formed shortly before the convention and presented the document Build a Worker Leadership – Make the IS a Force in the Class. At the convention the chief spokesperson for the opposition were Ken Smith, Mike Parker, and Joe Fine. It called for strengthening the industrial fractions, giving fraction leaders control of the National Committee, and recruiting through the fractions. The drift toward workerism and economism in the IS expressed itself in this opposition, which had a sizeable minority at the convention. But some comrades were attracted to the opposition simply because of its criticism of the national leadership, whose commandist tendencies were arousing resentment. Those concerned about the general drift of the IS saw little to choose from between the EC with the new mass-work line and the Build a Worker Leadership group with its fraction- building line. Actually, making the fractions into worker baronies was the internal counterpart of making depoliticized mass-work the primary external thrust.

The Canadian IS had representatives at the convention who spoke to comrades about their dropping of industrialization and priorities. In response to a letter to the Canadian IS by Steve Jefferysof IS-GB, the EC defended the IS’s policies of industrialization and priorities. [25] In September, the IS-GB Central Committee wrote the NC complaining of the “triumphalist” course of the IS: the IS was considering itself a real force in the class when it was still in fact a propaganda group. Industrialization and priorities were criticized: industrialized students would become a conservative force, and the first indication of this was the Build a Worker Leadership group. [2*] Priority industries made a more flexible approach to the working class impossible: public sector workers were left out of the four priorities – auto, steel, telephone, and trucking –, and political interventions were minimized by the effort devoted to priorities. There was also a criticism of the mass work approach: the IS should first build a base of its own before blocking with reformists.

Barbara Winslow, IS Women’s Commissioner, and Cal Winslow, IS National Organizer, were among those who saw little to choose from at the 1976 convention. While in Britain in November 1976, they spoke with members of the IS-GB Central Committee about the feasibility of forming an opposition in the IS. They returned to organize a faction, which remained underground until the document The New Course For the IS appeared on December 8 with 59 signatures out of a membership of 280-300.

At a special convention in Detroit beginning on March 12, 1977, this Left Faction was expelled as a first order of business. The Left Faction, with around 85 people, withdrew to the War Memorial Building in the same city to begin the first National Conference of an organization whose name was to be the International Socialist Organization. The first number of ISO’s newspaper, Socialist Worker, appeared April 1. Steve Jefferys from the SWP (GB) [3*] and a number of comrades from IS Canada participated in the ISO Conference.

The Left Faction was formed around opposition to industrialization, national industrial priorities, and mass work as practiced by the IS. Positively the Left Faction advocated local priorities, intervention in political struggles, and orientation both from the inside and the outside of the workplace, to the militant minority among workers. Politics were to be put back in WP. The possibility would be opened up of intervening in the women’s movement by abandoning the priorities, in three of which there were only small numbers of women. In the four months it existed the Left Faction elaborated its position in documents on women, blacks steel, Teamsters, industrialization, propaganda/agitation, the drift to the right, and the economy.

A middle group gradually coalesced called the Political Solution Caucus. The Left Faction and this group comprised half the membership. The PSC thought industrialization was only a tactic which the EC had erected into a strategy, it thought “mass work” had ignored the need to build a base, it thought that correlating the class struggle to the business cycle was mechanical, it criticized the EC for depoliticizing the IS. But it stuck with industrialization, priorities, and mass work. It called for “integrating our socialist politics with agitational work” and for a new leadership. The PSC at first blocked with the so-called Majority, and then left it when the EC domination of the Majority became obvious to it. The PSC was not a coherent tendency but an escape from both the Left Faction and the Majority. Before the faction fight began, its leaders – Bob Brenner, Steve Zeluck, Sam Farber, Joel Jordan – had a vague idea of forming an opposition at the 1977 convention. The formation of a principled faction destroyed their hopes and they then refused to bloc with the Left Faction on any point.

A month before the convention, the Majority voted to propose expulsion of the Left Faction as the first order of business at the convention. Glenn Wolfe circulated a document to the Majority, The Functioning of the Left Faction: Check It Out – The Record Stinks, in which he rather transparently fabricated a case for expulsion based on breaches of discipline. Though discipline was to be the main ground, the Majority was also urged to propose expulsion because the Left Faction had organized before a regular pre-convention discussion period and because “organized opposition to major emphasis on mass work and agitation ... are incompatible with membership in the IS-US.” [26] The PSC was officially opposed to expulsion of the Left Faction. After the EC successfully unseated a number of Left Faction delegates, and seated a number of its own delegates, the PSC and the Left Faction could not defeat the expulsion motion at the convention on March 12. [27]

By the expulsion of the Left Faction, the IS leadership had preserved itself, had isolated the PSC, and could begin to carry out its plan of concentrating the membership in four major industrial centers. But the price was a reduction of the membership by at least a third – if one includes the comrades who left in disgust. The old paranoia over factionalism was rekindled, and the struggle for purity of ideology will continue intensified. The pattern of splitting, which leads to no long term growth, is inevitable when a policy that is out of touch with reality is treated as unrevisable by the leadership.




1*. By contrast, in UPSurge there was more initiative from the Indigenous ranks.

2*. The IS could boast that members in the four industrial priorities were 33% of the organization in 1978 whereas they were only 26% In 1975 and 18% In 1974.

3*. The IS-GB constituted itself as a party – the Socialist Workers’ Party – in late 1976.



1. Jack Weinberg, Detroit Auto Uprising: 1973, IS pamphlet, 1974.

2. WP140, 12-19-75.

3. Moody, IS National Report, III, No.4, 10-(20, 24)-74.

4. Women’s Industrialization, IS National Report, III, No.6, 11-(8, 21)-74.

5. Barbara Winslow, Building the Working Class Women’s Liberation Movement, IS National Report, III, 15, 4-(1, 9)-75.

6. IS National Report, III, No.9, 1-(1, 15)-75.

7. Glenn Wolfe, For a Workers’ Combat Organization, IS convention document, 1975.

8. Joel Geier, The IS, the Revolutionary Party, and Democratic Centralism, IS convention document, 1975.

9. Michael Stewart, The Decline of American Imperialism and the Growing World Conflict, IS convention document, 1974.

10. WP138, 12-5-75.

11. WP164, 6-14-76; 168, 7-26-76.

12. Cliff, Lessons of November 25; this pamphlet was distributed in Portugal and intensified friction between IS-GB and PRP.

13. Cliff and Peterson, Portugal: The Last Three Months, International Socialism Journal 87, March/April ’76.

14. National Teamster Perspective, IS Industrial Bulletin, June ’75.

15. WP134, 11-7-75.

16. WP139, 12-21-75.

17. Teamster Supplement, WP155, 4-12-76.

18. WP167, 5-24-76.

19. WP140, 12-29-75.

20. Kim Moody, A Cause Worth Truckin’ For, Workers’ Power Review 1, 12-13-76.

21. Jack Weinberg, Discussion Document Submitted to the NC by the NAC, summer, 1974.

22. Steps Toward Building the Party, EC convention document, 1976.

23. Mass Work, Politics, Building the Party, an EC document for the October 1976, NC.

24. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 1902, 111.

25. ISUS Reply, IS News of the Month, Aug./Sept. ’76

26. Majority Caucus Resolution, 2-19-77.

27. Steve Jefferys, The Fight Within the ISUS and the Formation of the ISO, SWP (GB) Bulletin 2, 1977, pp.7-8.


Last updated on 9.1.2002