[This document originally appeared in the ISO’s Internal Bulletin #2, published on 24 September 2013, while the author was still a member of the organization. Although the “branch-building” focus of the document is no longer relevant to either him or us, it still offers both critical insights into the pitfalls into which “Leninist” groups have fallen when trying to organize outside the campus setting; and positive ideas for how socialists should approach these tasks. It is republished with the author’s permission. –ed]
In a session on “The History of the ISO” at Socialism 2013, I raised a question: What are we doing when we’re building city branches? What are we building in cities? Brian Jones responded more or less like this: we know what we’re doing on campuses; we have some experience building in workplaces; we have nowhere near as coherent a framework for building “community” branches. Brian’s response was an important starting point to a question I’ve been pondering for at least two years. The ideas in this document are a distillation of the positive and (rather more numerous) negative lessons of organizing in the city of Providence, RI, population 170,000. Many ISO comrades throughout the country have been through Providence at some point in their political careers, almost all as students at Brown University. I have been here for 15 years as a public employee, union member, and active ISO member throughout that entire time, and I’ve learned a number of things about city organizing that I want to lay out to spark a discussion on our framework for building city branches.
The main idea of this document is that our city branches should be organized around a plan for rooting our organization in the working class. All of our routines, contact work, recruitment, everything should be focused on this imperative. Along these lines, what I want to lay out in the following document is, first, a series of observations about what is important and helpful in building a city branch (versus a campus branch) and what is not; thoughts on the development of perspectives; considerations on the concentric circles of the ISO; some thoughts on how to organize the branch around the city and the political priorities it imposes on us; and finally, a plan for getting the branch in Providence rooted in the city in a productive way.