Green and libertarian branches of bourgeois politics usually receive some interest and attention as the US begins preparing a new electoral season.
This debate in 2004 certainly covered a wide range of issues still pertinent today.
Socialist candidate for Senate in N.Y.
debates Green, Libertarian opponents
BY MICHAEL ITALIE
NEW PALTZ, New York—Martín Koppel, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate in New York, took part in a debate here October 11 with opponents David McReynolds of the Green Party and Donald Silberger of the Libertarians.
The three candidates took part in a similar debate two days later as part of Hofstra University's Day of Dialogue on the U.S. elections. That campus is located in Hempstead, Long Island.
Students Against Empire at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz sponsored the debate on that campus, 75 miles of north of New York City. About 120 people, mostly students, attended.
The candidates of the two main capitalist parties, Democrat Charles Schumer, the incumbent, and Republican Howard Mills, as well as Conservative Party candidate Marilyn O'Grady, declined to participate. Jim Gordon, a reporter for the New Paltz Times and other local newspapers, chaired the event.
McReynolds was introduced as an enrolled Democrat and former Socialist Party candidate for president. "Since Schumer is certain to win in this election you really can vote for what you believe," McReynolds said in his opening remarks, arguing for a protest vote for his campaign. This is in line with the Green Party approach in the elections nationally, which is to try to help the Democrats by not running candidates in "swing states," where the contest between the Democrats and Republicans is close. The Greens have split, with one group backing Ralph Nader, who is running as an "independent," and the other supporting David Cobb, the Greens' candidate for president.
"The SWP ticket is the working-class alternative to all capitalist parties in these elections, including the Greens and Libertarians," said Koppel in his opening statement. The problems working people face—from declining wages to imperialist wars—are rooted in the system of capitalism, he said, which is based on the rule of a tiny minority of billionaire families that run the country off the wealth produced by the vast majority.
"The ruling class today is on an offensive against working people. Through attacks on our wages, job conditions, and living standards the bosses are trying to increase their profits," Koppel stated.
"Whether George Bush or John Kerry is elected they will enforce that system. Others such as Ralph Nader, the Greens, and Libertarians justify that system, or say it isn't working right and needs to be reformed.
"Our starting point is the interests of working people around the world," Koppel said. "Two billion people have no access to electricity. We support the efforts of semicolonial countries to acquire and develop the energy sources they need for economic and social advances, including through the use of nuclear power. We point to the need and ability of workers to organize unions to resist the bosses' offensive on our wages and working conditions."
The Libertarian party candidate, Donald Silberger, is an associate professor of mathematics at the SUNY campus. He said his central demand is to end the government's "war on drugs." Silberger warned against governments that "send out an army of officials to steal our property and put us in prison." His campaign flyer calls for "limited government, lower taxes, [and] opposition to endless wars, foreign and domestic."
After the opening statements, organizers of the debate presented a list of nine prepared questions to the candidates. No direct participation was solicited from the audience. Members of the audience were asked to write down their questions and hand them to the moderator.
"Should the United States have invaded Iraq?" was the first question.
The U.S. invasion was an imperialist war against the interests of workers and farmers both in Iraq and the United States, answered Koppel. He called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Korea, Haiti, Colombia, and Guantánamo, Cuba. "The war in and occupation of Iraq is bipartisan," said the SWP candidate. "In the presidential debates Kerry says he will wage a more effective war. This is not a policy option. There will be no peace as long as capitalism and imperialism—the root of the problem—exists."
The Libertarian candidate said there are U.S. forces in 135 countries and that they "should all come home." But he disagreed with Koppel, saying, "It is not capitalism that must be overpowered, but Empire. We need defense, not offense."
McReynolds said he was too for "the unconditional and immediate U.S. withdrawal" from Iraq. But, he added, "The SWP does not grasp the irrational character of war in the 20th century. World War I, World War II, Vietnam made no economic sense." He concluded that capitalism is only one factor in understanding the cause of war.
Koppel responded that imperialist competition for markets and resources is the source of imperialist wars. "This is not irrational or incomprehensible," he said. "In the first and second world wars Washington was fighting to become the dominant power. For example, the war in the Pacific in World War II was over which imperialist power—Washington or Tokyo—was going to control and exploit China."
Opposing views on whether capitalism is the root cause of the problems working people face came up again over the question of the USA Patriot Act and the death penalty. McReynolds and Silberger called for repeal of the Patriot Act because of its attacks on civil liberties, and for the abolition of the death penalty. Koppel said these measures are part of the employers' offensive against workers' rights to drive up their profits. "The death penalty is a weapon of terror by the capitalists against working people and it should be abolished," said Koppel.
McReynolds disagreed with the SWP candidate. "The death penalty is not a class issue; it's a human issue," he said, receiving some applause.
After Koppel spoke out against the Democrats and Republicans as the twin parties of capitalism and exploitation, McReynolds countered, "You're criticizing the wrong people, none of us here is for Kerry or Bush." The Green Party leader then said if he lived in New Jersey he would vote for Róger Calero, SWP candidate for president, and that in New York he is voting for Ralph Nader for president "because Kerry will win in New York."
"I am also a socialist," McReynolds said.
"Nader and the Green Party are also pro-capitalist," said Koppel. "Nader criticizes 'corporate abuse' and proposes liberal reforms to make capitalism more 'humane.' The SWP campaign proposes a revolutionary course by working people to overturn capitalist rule and join the struggle for socialism."
Koppel also took issue with the self-designation by McReynolds as a socialist. In the debate between the same three candidates at Hofstra University, Koppel said, "My opponent is a social democrat, not a socialist. For decades, social democracy has had a record of upholding capitalist rule and imperialism. These kind of people, these kind of statements, give a bad name to socialism." Schumer is a capitalist politician to the right of Ariel Sharon, Koppel noted. McReynolds and the Greens give Schumer and his party, the Democrats, backhanded support by their approach of only running where the Democrats are assured a victory.
"I am not a social democrat," McReynolds retorted at Hofstra. "I am a democratic socialist." He pointed to imperialist Sweden as a positive example of "socialism."
At New Paltz, the Libertarian candidate dismissed the idea of "class struggle" between workers and bosses. "I don't see any capitalists. I don't see any workers—it's a myth. We shouldn't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs," he said.
Koppel pointed to Cuba as a country where working people made a revolution and took power out of the hands of the capitalists and opened the fight for socialism in the Americas. "The U.S. government has maintained an economic embargo against Cuba for more than 40 years in order to undermine and eventually destroy the example of a society based on human needs, not profits for the few," he said.
"The SWP simplifies the world," McReynolds responded. "For the first 20 years of the embargo its purpose was to crush Cuba. But now it has become a reflection of voting patterns in Florida. Without the Cuban vote in Miami, there would be no embargo."
Silberger said, "If the U.S. wanted to crush Cuba, it would be a walk in the park. There's no point to an invasion, that's why one hasn't occurred."
"The foreign policy of the mightiest imperialist power on earth isn't dictated by a few wealthy Cuban businessmen in Miami," Koppel replied. "The rulers of this country have tried everything to overturn the Cuban Revolution, but they have failed," the socialist candidate continued. "The Cuban people and their leadership cannot be bought, intimidated, or defeated." He said it isn't Cuba's economic weight, but its political example, that Washington fears. "Cuba has sent 15,000 doctors to Venezuela to go to working-class and rural neighborhoods, where there is the most need but where other doctors won't go," said the SWP candidate. As with its selfless aid to other countries oppressed by imperialism, he said, "Cuba is setting an example of internationalist solidarity."
During the day prior to the debate, and a week earlier, socialists campaigned at the SUNY New Paltz campus. Five students subscribed to the Militant through these activities. In addition, students bought more than two dozen books and pamphlets like those featured on the facing page, and hundreds took campaign literature.
That week, Koppel was also joined by Dorothy Kolis, SWP candidate for U.S. Congress in New York's 16th C.D., and other supporters of the SWP ticket in campaigning at the SUNY Albany campus as well as at other schools in New York City. On October 12, Koppel, Willie Cotton, SWP candidate for U.S. Congress in the 15th C.D., and Kolis met with workers during lunch break at a coffee shop at the Hunts Point Meat Market in the Bronx. Two meat packers signed up to subscribe to the Militant following the discussion with the socialist candidates.