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What: Capitalism, Socialism, and Social Democracy symposium

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 7

Where: Room 252 of Hellems Hall on the CU campus

Cost: Free

More info: Visit

The conflict between capitalism and socialism has continued for over 200 years. Indeed, the conflict is deeply implicated in all decisive events of recent times. Modern capitalism began in Italian city-states approximately six centuries ago. It eventually grew into a global economic system with the United States as the dominant political power.

The industrial version of capitalism emerged in the early 19th century. The hardships imposed by industrial capitalism nurtured the concept of socialism. This was understood as an egalitarian economic system in which workers rather than capitalist property owners held preponderant power. Social revolutions brought distorted versions of socialism — sometimes called “state socialism” — to power in both Russia and China. But near the end of the 20th century, both Russia and China reverted to capitalism.

The capitalist economic system has impressive historical achievements, as even its greatest critic (Karl Marx) recognized. Under the aegis of capitalism, global per capita production increased over 16 times, global life expectancy expanded by about 50 years, representative democracies emerged in many countries, scientific and technical revolutions flowered, and a substantial share of humanity became literate.

But capitalism also has severe problems. Capitalism fosters extreme forms of inequality. Early capitalism promoted slavery, exterminated native populations and subjected non-European lands to brutal colonial rule. Mature capitalism continues to create extreme inequality. In the USA, for example, the income ratio between top corporate executives and ordinary workers stands at around 300 to 1 and appears to be growing. The corresponding wealth differential is even greater. Mature capitalism is inherently unstable. It generates periodic economic crises in which millions lose employment and also lose what little property they possess.

Growth has always been an essential characteristic of capitalism. The capitalist growth imperative provokes imperialism, the militarism necessary to sustain imperialism and the consequent warfare epidemics. And perhaps most ominously, unregulated growth-oriented capitalism imperils our global environment and, ultimately, the continuation of human life on planet Earth.

Socialism is a system in which democracy is extended from its narrow (and deceptive) capitalist context to the entire economic domain. Under socialism, essential means of production and major financial institutions become public rather than private property and are subject to democratic economic planning. The principal goals of socialism are environmental sustainability, economic and political equality, personal security, and comprehensive participatory democracy. Socialists consider all forms of work equally meritorious and encourage the influence of all workers within their respective employment venues. But capitalist critics claim that socialism is an unworkable system because human beings are inherently unequal and because the economy is too complex for planning. The effort to impose socialism, these critics assert, will establish state tyranny as it did in the Soviet Union and Communist China.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center is sponsoring a symposium on Capitalism, Socialism, and Social Democracy in which these and other ideas will be debated. The symposium takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, in room 252 of Hellems Hall on the CU campus.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.