Intercollegiate Socialist Society

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Intercollegiate Socialist Letter Letterhead Socialism is the Solution.jpg

The Intercollegiate Socialist Society was a leftist group founded in 1905 by writers Upton Sinclair and Jack London, both of whom were members of the Socialist Party of America. It was active until 1921, when the word "socialist" had become a liability.[1]

According to their organizing secretary Harry W. Laidler, the group's overall purpose was to "throw light on the world wide movement toward industrial democracy known as socialism."[2][3]

In 1921, the group changed its name to the League for Industrial Democracy.


"The Call"

Upton Sinclair issued a call for the formation of a group:

In the opinion of the undersigned the recent remarkable increase in the Socialist vote in America should serve as an indication to the educated men and women in the country, that Socialism is a thing concerning which it is no longer wise to be indifferent. The undersigned, regarding its aims and fundamental principles with sympathy, and believing that in them will ultimately be found the remedy for many far-reaching economic evils, propose organizing an association, to be known as the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, for the purpose of promoting an intelligent interest in Socialism among college men, graduate and undergraduate, through the formation of study clubs in the colleges and universities, and the encouraging of all legitimate endeavors to awaken an interest in Socialism among the educated men and women of the country.[4]

The founding members include Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Clarence Darrow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Graham Phelps Stokes, William English Walling, B. O. Flower, Leonard D. Abbott, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Harry W. Laidler.[4]

Purpose and Criticism

Upon its inception, the ISS faced criticism that it "aims to imbue the minds of the rising generation with socialistic doctrines".[5]

Responding to this criticism, one of the Founding members, Thomas Higginson, wrote that the purpose of the Society was to ensure that "this tendency should be studied seriously and thoughtfully, not left to demagogues alone. For this purpose our foremost universities should take the matter up scientifically, as has been done for several years at Harvard University, where there is a full course on "Methods of Social Reform - Socialism, Communism, the Single Tax." etc., given by Professor T.N. Carver."[5]

One response to this explanation noted that at an International Congress of Socialist Students and Graduates, Professor Enrico Ferri from Palermo University of Italy stated the following: "We should introduce Socialism into the students' minds as a part of science, as the logical and necessary culmination of the biological and sociological sciences. No need of making a direct propaganda which would frighten many of the listeners. Without pronouncing the word Socialism once a year I make two thirds of our students conscious Socialists."[6]


The ISS attracted many of the best minds of the time.[7] Initially, the ISS had difficulty making its way into colleges across the country, but they met with success through the proliferation of affiliates.[Citation Needed]

In its early years, the ISS had for its headquarters the Rand School of Social Science.[8][9][10]

Prominent Members

The group had many prominent members, such as liberal Christian minister Norman Thomas.[11] Other prominent members included Walter Lippmann, W. J. Ghent W.E.B. DuBois, and Randolph Bourne.[12][13]

The society would bring in speakers for its members, such as Congressman Victor Berger.[12][14]

Jessie Wallace Hughan was vice president of the ISS,[15] and a professor of economics at the Rand School of Social Science.[16]


In 1921, a vote was held to which Harry W. Laidler announced: "the members of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society had declared themselves in favor of the change in name and purpose."[17] In November,[17][18] the organization officially became the LID and set its sights beyond college campi. They also presented their new guiding principle: "Education for a New Social Order Based on Production for Public Use and Not for Private Profit."[18][19]

The League would later rename again, leading to the formation of SDS and the Weather Underground.

Family Tree

Intercollegiate Socialist Society
    ↳ League for Industrial Democracy     →                    →                    →
            ↳ Student League for Industrial Democracy (1932)     → American Student Union
            ↳ Student League for Industrial Democracy (1945)     → Students for a Democratic Society
                                                                                                            ↳ Weather Underground


  1. (1966) Fabian Freeway: High Road to Socialism in the U.S.A.. Belmont, Massachusetts: Western Islands, 208. 
  2. The New York Times, January 28, 1919
  3. United States Congressional Serial Set, 2858. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Rand School of Social Science, [1] The American Labor Year Book, Volume 1, 1916
  5. 5.0 5.1 (1905) Harper's Weekly, Letters to the Editor. Harper's Weekly, 1094. 
  6. (1905) The Origin of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society Disclosed. National Civic Federation, 11–20. 
  7. (1966) The Roots of American Communism. Transaction Publishers, 42. 
  8. The Brains of American Socialism
  9. America's Trouble-Makers
  10. (1984) The Rand School of Social Science, 1906-1924: A Study of Worker Education in the Socialist Era. State University of New York at Buffalo, 102. 
  11. The Intercollegiate Socialist, Volume 7
  12. 12.0 12.1 (1998) Forgotten Prophet: The Life of Randolph Bourne. University of Missouri Press, 37. 
  13. (2009) Lives and Times: Individuals and Issues in American History: Since 1865. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 82. 
  14. COLLEGE SOCIALISTS MEET.; Victor Berger and Other Leaders at Mrs. Finch's Reception., The New York Times
  15. The Arbitrator, Volume 3, 58. 
  16. Bulletin ..., Issue 4, pages 8, 9. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 "I.S.S. Gives Way to New League for Democracy", New York Call, November 19, 1921. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Brick and Clay Record: A Semi-monthly Record of the World's Progress in Clayworking..., Volume 68, 852. 
  19. "PLAN TO WIN STUDENTS TO 'NEW SOCIAL ORDER'; League for Industrial Democracy Speaker Calls Agricultural 'Bloc' Communistic.", The New York Times, January 1, 1922. 

Further reading