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Organizing a branch

The basic unit of local organization is the ISO branch. Most of the day-to-day decisions about the ISO‘s local activities are made in the branches. Therefore, the ISO places great importance on branch work.

In formal terms, a minimum of five ISO members who live close enough to one another to meet regularly constitutes a branch. There is no upper limit to the number of members that a branch can have, though branches of more than thirty members can become unwieldy. In cities with a large number of members, it may be practical to organize more than one branch. Decisions about whether and how to divide branches should be made in consultation with the ISO organizing department.

The branch organizes the essential tasks of local organizing, movement activity and the political education of members. In order to be most effective, even the smallest branch should elect a comrade as “branch organizer,” who is in charge of overseeing basic organizational and political tasks. Larger branches – which by definition are capable of more ambitious tasks – should also elect a branch committee of two to four members, which is explained more fully below.

Branch meetings

Branch meetings are the center of the branch's political life. Branches should provide an environment in which members can learn our politics and learn how to apply those politics in everyday situations.

The branch meeting is where discussions and assessments of political work take place. Therefore, branch meetings must be well organized and planned to stimulate discussion and decision-making, so that every member takes part in determining the direction of branch activities. Branch meetings should have a chairperson who follows basic democratic procedure (see "How to chair an ISO branch meeting"), and decisions should be made by majority vote.

All branches should encourage healthy political debate among members – debate and discussion help to clarify our politics. But this also requires all members to behave in a collaborative manner when airing disagreements. Most often, branches have no trouble maintaining a supportive and comradely atmosphere. But it is worth keeping in mind that it is unacceptable for any member to behave in a hostile or otherwise uncomradely manner toward other members or allies. Never forget that we are all on the same side, even when we disagree about particular issues, and we cannot afford to let debates result in a breakdown of mutual trust and collaboration.

Branch meetings should occur weekly, preferably at the same time and place. While all members are expected to attend branch meetings, nonmembers who are sympathetic to the ISO should also be encouraged to attend weekly meetings. The meetings should be held in a public place where possible - for instance, in a campus lecture hall or at a community center - to make them more accessible. Meetings should be kept to a two-hour time limit to make sure everyone can stay until the end of the meeting – and hopefully stick around for informal discussion at a nearby restaurant or coffee house afterward.

There are three kinds of branch meetings: organizing, educational, and public meetings, which are rotated week by week (although specific decisions about how often to hold which kind of meeting depend on the circumstances of each individual branch). The purpose of each type of meeting is explained below.

Organizing meetings

These meetings are important to ensure that the entire branch is involved in decision-making about all aspects of the branch’s work – from deciding the topic for the next public meeting to discussing members’ involvement in building movements. There should be an agenda for each meeting, proposed by the branch committee or branch organizer, which branch members vote to accept or amend at the start of each meeting. While every meeting cannot involve discussions about every aspect of the branch’s work, branches should aim to hold focused discussions about all areas of work that members are involved in over a roughly two month time span.

Educational meetings

All members need ongoing political education, and this should be reflected in branch meetings. Although educational meetings can include one or two organizational items on the agenda, the bulk of these meetings should be taken up with a discussion of one planned educational item, with recommended readings from books or publications such as the International Socialist Review (ISR). New branches can consult the Becoming a Marxist reading guide for help in planning branch education.

Public meetings

Well-publicized and well-organized public meetings are a key way to both meet new people interested in radical politics and also engage people who have already expressed interest in the ISO. For this reason, branches should plan to hold a public forum monthly. The topics for public forums include a wide range of possibilities, but branches should aim for a balance between responding to the issues of the day and more focused political presentations. Meetings on the war in Afghanistan, fighting racism, labor struggles, abortion rights, fighting budget cuts, LGBT rights, etc. are important in attracting people becoming radicalized around a particular issue.

But it is also important to hold meetings that draw on our political tradition and history, such as “The Meaning of Marxism” or “The Case for Socialism,” which can draw people interested in a broad radical analysis of society. (See the step-by-step guide to organizing a public meeting.)

Fractions

When there are a number of activities going on at the same time, larger branches will want to organize themselves into fractions. A fraction, (subcommittee or working group), is simply a group of members that focuses on a particular political activity or area of movement work. Not all fractions need to be permanent, but should focus on fulfilling the needs of the branch at any particular time. For example, a fraction might be organized to focus on anti-death penalty or immigrants’ rights work, to build for a national demonstration, or to build for an upcoming ISO conference. It is important that members get involved in fractions, but also make sure to focus themselves mainly on only one fraction. One purpose of fractions is to establish a division of labor in the branch that allows all members to be involved in activity while at the same time ensuring that no members are spreading themselves too thin.

Fractions should report on their activities periodically (at least once every two months or so) to branch meetings in order to generalize the lessons they have learned and to allow input from the collective experience of the entire branch. No branch should allow fractions to operate autonomously: Every fraction is accountable to the decisions of the branch regarding its approach to a particular area of work, just as every branch is accountable to the rest of the national organization. This requires regular reporting to the branch at branch meetings.