A Capitalism vs. Socialism Forum, brought together by the Saratoga Peace Alliance and Veterans for Peace, was held in the Saratoga Springs, NY Public Library on Thursday night. Most of the various individuals in the room, who represented various groups of differing ideologies, agreed that Capitalism was an inherently flawed system, although a case was made for the benefits of a Capitalist economy as well. The Communist Party USA, Democratic Socialists of America, International Socialist Organization and New York State Green Party were all represented, while Mehmet Odekon, a Professor of Economics from Skidmore College, and William Carberg, a retired manager of engineering from the GE Corporation, also made presentations of their views.
Sam Webb, Chairman of the Communist Party USA, made the point that a Democratic victory, and particularly a Barack Obama victory, in the upcoming elections could mark a tangible change in American politics, and provide a new ground upon which progressive movements could fight for economic and social justice. Mark Schaeffer of the Democratic Socialists of America argued in favor of Webb’s position, citing various historic struggles in which important social legislation was initiated and passed into law due to pressure from progressive and radical movements.
Peter LaVenia of the New York State Green Party presented a view that was not quite as optimistic, claiming that the Democrats could not be relied upon as viable opposition because they represented corporate bourgeois interests and the status quo in Washington politics. LaVenia also supported the idea that in order to bring progressive and radical change, ties with the Democratic Party must be permanently severed, and that indeed the Democratic Party must be "smashed." LaVenia’s ideas were for the most part shared by members of the International Socialist Organization, as well as Professor Odekon, who argued that constitutional reform in favor of more participatory democracy, such as is currently being witnessed in Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and (to some extent) Argentina, was the key to sustainable change.
Carberg defended Capitalism and claimed that although the globalized economy was still engendering inequality, it was bringing more people around the world into business settings and enabling them to make more money and better lives. Corporate investment, he said, was allowing nations such as China and India to bring millions of people up out of poverty, and companies such as how own were taking important steps to combat the environmental degradation that others on the panel claimed was the result of decades of capitalist rule.
Despite the fact that Capitalism found few supporters in the room, there was quite a bit of partisan bickering over what tactics should be taken to bring down the bourgeoisie. Underlying the apparent division in the room, I think, was a good deal of common ground. Though LaVenia and others could not get on board with Sam Webb’s support for Barack Obama, they seemed to miss Webb’s ultimate point – that although Obama’s campaign would not bring the radical change that we all work for, it has brought thousands of new people into the political process and given them an outlet for their concerns about the direction that our country is currently headed; the political apathy that has come to characterize many working class families seems to be withering in the face of the campaign run by Obama, who Webb called a "remarkable candidate." An Obama victory, Webb said, would give working class people more political leverage – something that cannot be discounted given the current conditions.
The common ground is found in the fact that greater political involvement by masses of people is the first step in creating class consciousness, something that all could agree is important to creating and sustaining mass movements towards socialism. If the U.S. Republican Right is to be overcome, these groups must be able to put aside their differences and recognize the common ground, including the eventual common goals, between them.