International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) is a worldwide student organization of the Socialist Equality Party, dedicated to building a political program to empower the working class.
Unbeknownst to most, Cal Poly has a chapter of its own.
Anthropology and geography sophomore and IYSSE President Will Osselburn started the club at the end of his freshman year, but deepened his involvement in building the chapter earlier this year. The club’s genesis wasn’t loud — no Facebook ads, just leaflets.
IYSSE functions like a seminar. The group meets every Wednesday night to stream the IYSSE class at University of California (UC), Berkeley via Skype — but much of the time is spent outside of those meetings, sharing current events and discussing Marxism.
“As of now, we’re trying to build an organization of leaders,” Osselburn said. “People who are going to seriously invest themselves in history, politics and philosophy.”
IYSSE operates on the fundamental conception of Marxist socialism. It is dedicated to arranging a political program that unshackles the working class into power, overthrowing capitalism and leading a mass movement that spans much farther than just college campuses — one that spans all over the world.
On campus, however, most of the students Osselburn said he interacts with are hesitant to get involved.
“I think it’s because there’s an extremely large middle class and wealthy contingency here,” he said. “And while a socialist program would be in their interest, the fact of the matter is they’re comfortable, they’re living a good life. They’re materially and socially tied in to the existing mode of production, and a revolution — which is what we’re advocating for — more or less threatens their comfortable life situation.”
Civil engineering sophomore and club member Christian Kelleher joined less for political reasons — he was mainly interested in the discourse. Kelleher prefers to call himself a humanist.
IYSSE represents the roots of true social change. The ending of slavery, starvation and global crisis, and the beginning of an affluent world without war — with love, peace and music, Kelleher said.
Redistribution of power is of high concern for the IYSSE, especially, as they say, in wake of a projected World War III.
“We need to change, we need to evolve,” Kelleher said. “We need a collective evolution of the human race. It won’t be a physical evolution, but it will be an epithetic one — of the mind. Where love is the new universal language.”
Philosophy junior Lorenzo Nericcio’s initial welcome into the club began through a friendship with Osselbern, who invited him to a few meetings.
However, a few theoretical disagreements have led to his recent withering involvement with IYSSE.
“IYSSE clings to an old Trotsky-st interpretation of Marxism, which I would argue is quite outdated, and doesn’t really fit the complexities of modern economic and socio-political problems,” Nericcio said.
IYSSE, for Nericcio, was more “orthodox” than he agreed with.
Much of what concerns Nericcio is precisely what charges members like Osselburn and Kelleher — the idea of one liberated nation-state, and a united, equal working class.
The foundation of IYSSE projects the working class as having objective interests rather than a diversity of experience. This, according to Nerricio, can prove problematic, and ill-fit for the modern nuances of socio-politics.
“In their commitment to unite the working class, they fail to see that the working class is composed of many different kinds of people,” he said. “We can’t just put working class African Americans and working class white people living in different parts of the nation into the same bucket and hope the same solution will work for them.”
Despite the difference in opinion, Nericcio maintains the importance of a socialist presence on campus and lauds the hard work put forth by the IYSSE.
Especially, he said, because the idealism comes from a place of true care.
“I wish people would understand that socialism came from a good place — people who promote socialism are coming from a place where they’re actually concerned about the well-being of each and every human in the society,” he said. “There’s this kind of laziness associated with socialists, like ‘Oh, you just want to get welfare checks and cruise by.’”
According to him, that is an unfair and wrong characterization.
“The primary concern of people I’ve met that everybody’s needs are attended to in society,” Nericcio said. “That there are millions of people who are getting screwed over because a few tens of people want to get super rich — which is the current situation.”
This is the first IYSSE chapter marked at Cal Poly. And that, for Osselburn, is the perfect stomping ground.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility because I have this knowledge, and because I care so much,” Osselburn said. “When I think of the more than 60 million people who are living as refugees, or the people who are going to die today because the imperialist countries in the West are trying to secure resources — when I think what’s at stake — I just need to do something about it.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misquoted Osselburn’s statement about the amount of people living as refugees.