Communist Party head in historic debate at Univ of Georgia

ATHENS, GA – They call it “the debate that never was.”

In 1963 as the country was coming out of the McCarthy Red Scare but still in the midst of the Cold War, and as the South was roiled by the civil rights movement, the Phi Kappa Literary Society here at the University of Georgia invited a speaker from the Communist Party to the campus in the heart of the Jim Crow South for a public debate. The topic was to be “Is Full Employment Possible Under Capitalism?” but the debate never happened.

According to the society’s history, “the Student Affairs Committee of the University refused to permit the debate and the University President O.C. Aderhold rebuked the Society for attempting to create what he called a ‘sideshow’ and ‘riot’ on campus.”

Fifty years after the incident, Phi Kappa organized a re-creation of “the Debate that Never Was” Monday evening, February 25 in “the spirit of free speech and debate.”

Sam Webb, the national chairperson of the Communist Party USA debated Dr. Greg Morin of the Georgia Libertarian Party on the original topic from 1963 with a new spin: “Is Full Employment Possible Under Capitalism? Solving America’s Jobs Crisis.” (See video below)

Over 300 students, alumni, faculty, and community members attended the event in historic University Chapel.

Webb argued that no, capitalism was not able to achieve full employment, and that an active struggle for jobs would be necessary to win important progress in putting people back to work. He called for “a bold, transformative ‘new jobs’ agenda.”

“For the sake of our fragile planet and ourselves,” said Webb. “Such an agenda would transform our economy from one dominated by Wall Street, Lockheed Martin, Peabody Coal, Exxon and Walmart to a Main Street economy rooted in a green, demilitarized production, clean and renewable energy, livable wages and union protections, publicly owned banks, public controls over the investment policies of the Fortune 500, affirmative action and equality, the modernization of mass transit, aid for small and medium sized businesses, renewal of both urban and rural communities, democratic forms of worker ownership, and a progressive tax structure.”

Dr. Morin, a local businessman, didn’t argue that capitalism as currently constructed could put people back to work. He argued that only a pure “free market” capitalism free from government regulation or taxation would achieve full employment.

“Maximum employment requires maximum freedom,” said Morin. By freedom, apparently Morin meant free markets. “The market comes into equilibrium on its own through competition.” Morin further argued that even the boom-and-bust cycle endemic to capitalist mode of production was only a result of government meddling beginning with the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank and exacerbated by New Deal social programs like unemployment insurance.

“Unemployment insurance is basically paying people to remain unemployed,” said Morin.

Webb countered that the root of the current economic and jobs crisis was in fact the deregulation of financial markets in recent decades and the insufficient consumer demand caused by increasing economic inequality and wage stagnation.

While Webb argued that there is no solution to the jobs crisis under capitalism, it can be curbed, “but only if the American people bring the power of their numbers and unity to bear on government at all levels, much like Americans did in the 1930s.”

Event organizer and Phi Kappa Society member Ben Woodard felt the event was a success. “300 people peacefully gathered to witness an exchange of ideas on our campus,” he said. “Whereas fifty years ago it was not possible. It shows just how far we have come since the dark days of the Red Scare. We must always be vigilant of infringements on our freedom of speech, the most basic of human rights.”

The Phi Kappa Society is a student-led debate organization founded in 1820. It holds weekly student debates on a wide variety of topics. The group counts sixteen governors of Georgia among its alumni.

The main debate in the chapel Monday night was followed by a student debate open to guest participation at nearby Phi Kappa Hall. The topic of the student debate was “Was Jesus a Communist or a Capitalist?” The audience voted overwhelmingly at the conclusion of the debate that Jesus was a red.

The event was made possible in part due to assistance from Speak Progress, a progressive speakers bureau. For more information, or to bring a speaker to your campus or community, contact

Read the full text of Sam Webb’s opening remarks here.

The Debate That Never Happened from Phi Kappa Literary Society on Vimeo.

Photo: Phi Kappa Society


Libero Della Piana
Libero Della Piana

Libero Della Piana is Senior Organizer with Alliance for a Just Society, a national network of 14 racial and economic justice organizations based in Seattle, Wash. Libero has worked extensively as a writer, community organizer, public speaker, digital strategist and trainer. His writing has been featured in such publications as the San Francisco Chronicle, Colorlines, Black Commentator and People's World. Libero was born and grew up in Salt lake City, Utah and lives in East Harlem, N.Y.


  • Wonderful to see that this event was reintroduced and enacted. If not at a supposed institution of learning, then where?

  • Sam Webb was , of course, absolutely right. A cursory history of 20th-21st Century Economic demonstrates that. Poor libertarians…as events unfold they are shown to be nothing but people who are content with their closed ideology and ignore how the world and the economy really works (or doesn’t work).

  • Wow, that really took some stones to invite a Communist to a campus event in the deep south in 1963. The Phi Beta Kappas of that era are lucky that they weren’t hung.

  • Nice to read your account of a 50 years delayed debate,Lebro.Such debates should be made possible in all universities every month,on the initiative of communist party .communist debaters can be assigned to areas by the party.Approach to university students and debate organisers can be under taken by the party functionaries.This is the task that can bring social change a qualitative change quite soon,in deciding about Christ being a communist for sure and never a capitalist,not by you or me,but by voters of America.And bravo,Sam for explaining Socialist features,some of them atleast,
    in transition from a mess called capitalism.

  • Plaudits for the Phi Kappa Society. They showed courage and fairness. I’m convinced that the more the CP can gain access to a public forum, the more that people will accept the message.

  • I’m sorry I didn’t know Sam was going to speak in Athens. Below are two off-the-top-of my head comments Yesterday and today re where I’m at: 1 on the FB cartoon showing capitalist ripping off surplus value and 2 on the Makers of the Women’s Movement.
    I stuck with the party after the split in part because of Sam’s speech at the theory conference c ’89?, noting the high rate of exploitation of or surplus value created by American industrial worker. I would truly welcome open free conversation about freedom as a function of free time, work sharing, reducing the labor time required to reproduce one and one’s child’s labor power. I know just keeping the party alive is a contribution, but I can’t help but think that could be helped by trying to tackle questions and possibilities I see, can’t possibly address alone, but thought more critical than what I took assignments for 20 years hoping to earn attention to, so when we left Berkeley for Atlanta in ’96 tried to show via art in lieu of full time volunteer. I’m not bitter. Still loyal [see my comments re Rachel Maddow and Sen. Cruz: “wish she’d said ‘to be called a communist is an honor not onus. It’s how you know you’re on the side of the people, the future, justice, peace, etc'”

    Re cartoon capitalist and worker:

    But what the trade union organizer missed that the socialists have to win is that the $35 is part of the by now world wide Common wealth [social surplus]  Raising the share going to those who are employed is no substitute for taxing or ensuring  $25 is reallocated not just to the dis- and hopefully yet to be employed, but also real freedom, free time (shorter hours to earn livelihood) and free access to resources for educating and experimenting and public/private [risk sharing] investment in fruits of experiments that may  realize revenues.  European, Canadian and Australian Labor seem to understand this better than the best labor and progressive American leaders and writers I read and read about.  Cross your fingers that a critical mass of the parliaments most bad mouthed by WSJ, FT, NYT are figuring it out.

    Re Makers of womens movement

    In 1968 to prove the promise of male/female equality at work and at home was real, I carried til it crumbled in the bottom of my purse, a clipping from the NYT.  It projected that  in 20 years,  Americans would only have to work half as long to enjoy the same standard of living.   So wives as well as husbands could both earn money,  parent their children,  and  pursue their dreams.  Instead we bequeathed  our daughters and also sons 60 hour weeks some of the time, joblessness other times,  more  stress at home and work than we could have conceived, that they now accept as normal .
      Had we paused to grasp the context within which it was feasible for the movement to be unleashed at that time and had we made it a priority for women seeking equality in the labor force 
    to campaign to “reduce the day but not the pay”  (a viable campaign at the time) the ‘victories of the Makers on TV  tonight would not feel so hollow, nor hollow-out-able tomorrow. 
    I dont know when again, but eventually there will have to start somewhere a campaign to guarantee from the bottom up a vastly reduced number of hours of labor required to support a family.    I’m sad we missed the chance to do this to realize the balance of work life and family life which is even more technically possible now, but not politically.  


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