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The International Socialists is a Canadian socialist organization. It is part of the International Socialist Tendency. The I.S. publishes an English-language monthly paper, Socialist Worker, a French-language periodical, Résistance!, and an annual theoretical journal Marxism. The organization also holds an annual Marxism conference every spring in Toronto.



The highest decision making body is the annual convention, which meets annually, and comprises delegates elected from local branches by dues-paying members. The convention then elects a steering committee which is responsible for the day to day running of the organization. The steering committee has varied in size over the years, from a low figure of seven to a high figure of ten. Branches also elect members of a National Committee which holds weekend meetings twice a year, and a one day meeting prior to the annual May conference called "Marxism". Only delegates can vote at either the convention or the National Committee, but any member can participate in the discussion. Conventions and National Committee meetings are usually preceded by the publication of bulletins, which are open to any member of the I.S..

Early history

The initial members consisted of activists involved in the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada (better known as the Waffle), which had been forced to leave the social democratic New Democratic Party in 1972. A group of students at York University in Toronto formed a Marxist study group, and came into contact with left-Shachtmanites in the International Socialists (USA), an American group founded by Hal Draper.

After the collapse of the Waffle in late 1974, the group organized itself as the Independent Socialists in February 1975.[1] This reflected the roots of the I.S. in the Waffle, which had a "left-nationalist" analysis of Canada's place in the world economy. But the name was in contradiction to the internationalist approach of the I.S., and by 1976, the group voted to rename itself the International Socialists. From 1975, the I.S. published a monthly paper alled Workers Action. In 1985, the paper was renamed Socialist Worker.

The I.S. is often identified as the "state-capitalist" group -- reflecting the position of the I.S. that, from 1928 on, Russia was no longer a workers' state, but state capitalist. This is in contrast to Leon Trotsky's position that the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers state. The state capitalist position was not actually central to the group's founding in 1975. Several prominent members adhered to the "bureaucratic collectivist" position associated with Max Shachtman. But by the late 1970s, the majority position in the group was clearly "state capitalist", outlined most clearly in Abbie Bakan's pamphlet, The Great Lie.

During the 1980s, the group was heavily involved in women's struggles, playing an important role in mobilizing support for a woman's right to choose in Canada, largely as a participant in the broader Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics. Early in the decade, it was prominent as a defender of the new trade union movement in Poland, Solidarnosc.

From 1985 to 6, when the I.S. was no more than 80 members, a crisis led to the division of the Toronto branch. The Toronto Central branch represented the majority and was led by David McNally. The Toronto East branch represented the minority faction and was led by Abbie Bakan and supported by the Montreal branch. The crisis caused leading members of the Socialist Workers Party in the UK to write an open letter of concern, urging the unity of the Toronto branch. Some attributed the dispute to personal animosities between leading members. But there was also a tension between a tendency towards propagandism by the majority, and an emphasis on an interventionist perspective by the minority.

A united steering committee slate was put forward and elected at the 1987 convention of the I.S., addressed by Alex Callinicos, leading member of the SWP. The two Toronto branches fused into a single branch. That year, for the first time, the I.S. counted more than 100 members, and continued to grow through the late 1980s and into the early 1990s – intervening into the campaign to defend abortion clinics in Toronto, helping to build the movement against the war in the Gulf, and building in the student movement across the country. It is in this period that the I.S. also began to flesh out its position on the national question in Quebec, even not being able to operate to any degree in French in Quebec. Background information on this period is available in Origins of the International Socialists by Abbie Bakan and Philip Murton.[2]

The I.S. would not consider itself Trotskyist, although it originated from that tradition.

The 1990s

The I.S. grew rapidly in the early 1990s, from 150 to 340 members in 1993-94 alone according to the group's claims. Further growth was achieved during the "Days of Action", a series of one day general strikes between late 1995 and 1998 against the ruling Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, led by Premier Mike Harris. During this period of growth, the publication of Socialist Worker - the organization's paper - became fortnightly rather than monthly.

The unexpected and rapid growth of the group during this period led to a large split in 1996. A section of the organization argued that there were new possibilities for growth in the 1990s, and a more interventionist, activist organization was necessary. Another section of the organization thought that the interventionist perspective was based on an overly-optimistic analysis of the period, and were loathe to move too far away from a propagandist, educational orientation. The section arguing for a more interventionist line carried the day at the November, 1994 convention, Socialist Worker began appearing bi-weekly in January, 1995, and the organization began publishing a monthly French paper. One year later, several leading members (including David McNally) resigned, and a faction emerged called the Political Reorientation Faction (PRF). The PRF produced a document rejecting the International Socialist Tendency's analysis of an upswing in class struggle during the mid-1990s, ("the 1990s is the 1930s in slow motion") and the Leninist conception of the party. Within weeks, members of the PRF left the I.S. to form the New Socialist Group prompting criticism from the I.S. majority for quitting rather than engaging in a proper political debate. The departing minority, however, argued that their position in the I.S. had become untenable and that their right to debate and organize were not tolerated by the majority.

Recent history

The I.S. has participated in several important campaigns since the rise of the anti-capitalist movement following the Seattle protests of late 1999. The I.S. participated in the large Quebec City Summit of the Americas protests in Quebec City, in April 2001 and, were also present in the smaller G8 Protests in Calgary, Alberta in June 2002. The Quebec City protests marked the launch of Résistance!", the monthly French-language publication of the I.S.

The I.S. played a role in organizing the Canadian anti-war movement, through unions, student organizations and community activist organizations. Leading I.S. members remain involved in some of the larger anti-war groups across the country, notably in Toronto and in groups such as the Canadian Peace Alliance. The I.S. argues that the mass mobilizations against the war in 2002, 2003[3] – particularly the huge demonstrations in Montreal – prevented the Liberal government from actively participating in the Iraq war.[4] This has been challenged by other groups on the left.

The International Socialists have also been involved in Project Threadbare, a campaign to defend Muslims and South Asians against the Canadian government's post-9/11 national security policy. This policy has been controversial. I.S. members and others believe that it is prone to abuse by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The I.S. and other individuals stopped working in Project Threadbare in the spring of 2004 following the occupation of an MPs office by members of the coalition acting without a mandate of the entire coalition.[5]

Student component

Since the mid-1980s when the group took a political turn towards the student movement, much of the I.S.'s work occurs on university campuses and most of their members are either university students or joined while in university. It was once quite active at the University of Toronto where one member became president of the Student Administrative Council as part of a broader left wing slate.

The group is active at York University, the University of Toronto, Trent University, and the University of Victoria. Its largest influence among students is in Ottawa, especially at Carleton University where it is one of the largest political groups with leading members in the Carleton University Students' Association, the Graduate Students' Association, CUPE Local 4600 and the Student Coalition Against War. Originating from the Carleton I.S. branch, the I.S. printed a student-oriented publication, The Agitator for several years prior to it ceasing publication in 2009. The I.S. has a lesser presence at the University of Ottawa and several Cégeps in Gatineau.

Political stances

Unlike much of the mainstream left in Canada, the International Socialists oppose Left Nationalism, which argues that Canada is a colony or dependency of the United States. The I.S. maintains that Canada is a leading capitalist country with an independent ruling class that carries out its own acts of imperialism. At the same time, members of the I.S., including members of its steering committee, were also members of the left nationalist Council of Canadians as recently as 2002.

The group supports international socialism and Québécois and First Nations struggles for self-determination, up to and including independence. In Quebec, the I.S. does not, however, support the separatist Parti Québécois. The I.S. is involved in Québec Solidaire, a merger of the Union des Forces Progressistes and the Option Citoyenne.

The International Socialists argue for "critical support" of the New Democratic Party on the federal and provincial levels. In 2003, members of the I.S. worked on Joe Comartin's NDP leadership campaign despite the fact that I.S. members generally do not join the NDP.


Some in the NDP view IS electoral support for the NDP as an attempt to recruit its members. Other groups and individual leftists are critical of the I.S.'s orientation toward movements, claiming that it tries to take over groups and dominates them in an undemocratic manner, particularly in Toronto where the I.S. is strongest. Smaller socialist groups, such as the International Bolshevik Tendency and the Spartacists, and various anarchists describe the I.S. as left social democrats who are insincere about militancy and revolution. Socialist Action argues that the I.S. does not involve itself in campaigns it cannot recruit from and criticizes its role in labour politics for over-adapting to union bureaucracy.[6]

The I.S. is also criticized for its role in the peace movement in Toronto where it has an influential position in the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War. The June 30th Committee, an independent Toronto anti-war group, argues that TCSW was decisively influenced by the I.S. to sabotage their demonstration on June 30, 2004. It did so by calling a demonstration for the same time and location as the J30 demonstration and then proceeded to split the demonstration. One account can be found Toronto's Now Magazine.[7] TCSW and I.S. members dispute this account. Other detractors argue that the I.S. did the same thing again for an emergency rally in November 2004 called by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

The I.S. has been criticized for its alleged role in undermining an anti-racist demonstration in Ottawa in May 1993. Strong criticisms of the I.S. were made in the second edition of Warren Kinsella's book Web of Hate[8] and in the anarchist magazine Arm the Spirit.[9] Regarding this incident, the Spartacist League produced a leaflet entitled "Love the liberals, trust the cops, and be somewhere else".

External links


  1. ^ Alexander, Robert Jackson (1991). International Trotskyism, 1929-1985: a documented analysis of the movement. Duke University Press. p. 158. ISBN 9780822310662.  
  2. ^ Socialist History Project
  3. ^ See the article "Three hundred thousand march against war", Socialist Worker, No. 396, February 19, 2003.
  4. ^ See the article by Abbie Bakan, "Why Canada didn't go to war", Socialist Worker, No. 402, May 14, 2003.
  5. ^ Read the statements: "Aftermath of Sgro Occupation" (dated 8 April 2004) and "Founding and Organizing Members Leave Threadbare" (dated 8 April 2004) on the NoWar-Paix Website. (accessed 2008-08-08)
  6. ^ Socialist Action Political Resolution. September 2003, on the Socialist Action website. (accessed 2008-08-08)
  7. ^ Mike Smith, "Bay Street War Profiteers", NOW, Vol. 23 No. 45, July 8 - 14, 2004 (accessed 2008-08-08)
  8. ^ Kinsella, Warren (1994). Web of hate: inside Canada's far right network. HarperCollins. pp. 250, 266. ISBN 9780002550741.  
  9. ^ Lola, "On the Prowl", Arm the Spirit, #16, Fall 2004 (accessed 2009-02-25)


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