The ISO and James Robertson

April 30, 2019 at 12:42 am (Uncategorized)

No, there’s no connection here, btu a month or so back, the U.S. International Socialist Organization (ISO) dissolved. Then, just a few weeks ago Spartacist League founder James Robertson died.

The ISO might have been the largest ostensible Trotskyist organization in the US, though they would not have used that label. The organization was founded in 1976, the result of a split or expulsion (depending on who you believe) from the International Socialists, a third camp Trotskyist group at one time led by Hal Draper. Earlier splits included the Revolutionary Socialist League which later birth the League for a Revolutionary Party. After the split, the ISO became aligned with the British Internationalist Socialists (who would change their name to the Sociability Workers Party the following year)  and adopted Tony Cliff’s theory of state-capitalism.

I didn’t run into the ISO too often, but they did come up to Toronto periodically for the Canadian International Socialists. During the time I . The impression I got was that the ISO had less tolerance for “sectarians” than their Canadian cousins, and they wondered why the IS put up with us. Eventually I, along with the other members of my group, were later banned from attending IS events.

The ISO and the SWP fell out a few years later, and the ISO went on its own merry way positioning itself as the Marxist/progressive/wing of whatever movement was happening. Its dissolution under circumstances which can be described as murky at best came as a bit of a surprise. Expect some former group of members to refound a little sect, while other appear as leftist ginger groups within the DSA.

The death of Robertson was less of a surprise. He was 90 years old and from all accounts lived a hard life of excess.

Robertson had been a member of the Communist Party and Max Shachtman’s organization before joining the Socialist Workers Party in the late 50s. When the SWP wholeheartedly endorsed the Cuban Revolution, Robertson along with Tim Wohlforth and Shane Mage was part of an opposition  grouping called the Revolutionary Tendency. The grouping split thanks to a maneuver by Wohlforth and both parts were eventually expelled.  Wohlforth went with Gerry Healy and after an abortive conference in London in 1966, Robertson helped to found the Spartacist League.

The history of the Spartacist League is too long to tell, and not one I have much interest in telling. There are already a couple of accounts of Robertson’s career circulating, but I’m waiting for the account in Workers Vampire 


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