Corbyn on “Islamic opposition” to capitalism

“Free market capitalism cannot provide for everyone, or sustain the natural world. Its very imperative is of ever hastening exploitation of all resources including people, and it needs armies and weapons to secure those supplies. The political appeal, unchallenged in the 1990s, of this concept is fast fading by a combination of Islamic opposition and the radical popular movements of landless and poor peoples in many poor countries. Increasingly, these movements also have a resonance in the cities of the industrial countries as well.”

– Jeremy Corbyn, published March 2011

This is an excerpt from the foreword to a 2011 reproduction of a 1902 book, Imperialism by J. A. Hobson.  Credit goes to Robert Colvile for bringing it to people’s attention.



Corbyn’s foreword starts with 2 pages giving his opinion on Hobson’s 1902 book.  It then has 3½ pages mostly presenting Corbyn’s views on imperialism over the subsequent years. You probably won’t be surprised to read Corbyn’s line that, since the Second World War, “the big imperial force has been the United States on behalf of global capitalism“.  But his writing is quite disjointed, and the above paragraph is all he has to say on the nature of Islamic opposition to capitalism.

So I am not sure exactly what he believes is happening “in the cities of the industrial countries“.  In the preceding sentence he also mentions “the radical popular movements of landless and poor peoples in many poor countries“.  If I had to guess one of the popular movements he might be referring to, I’d go for Venezuelan socialism – a movement he much admires.  But when it comes to the cities of Western-style democracies, I’m not sure how much “resonance” there is with those kinds of politics.  If he was referring to the rise of Islam in such cities, that would make far more sense.  For example, census listings show there are already more children classed as Muslim than as Christian in Birmingham, Bradford and Leicester, as well as in three boroughs of London.[1]

But regardless of what he was referring to in his “resonance in the cities” comment, I am confident that Corbyn sees Islam as an ally in the fight against capitalism.  On this issue I think there is a clear distinction between Corbyn’s faction[2] within the Far Left, and the more traditional Far Left anti-clericalism exemplified by Charlie Hebdo.[3]



As an environmentalist and someone who doesn’t like war, it is tempting for me to see a man worried about “the natural world … exploitation of all resources … armies and weapons to secure those supplies …“, and give him a ‘free pass’ for whatever he says next.  But of course, Corbyn’s alternative world-view should not be assumed to be superior on those measures just because he says it is.  I’ll write a bit more about that in another post.

To me the most interesting thing in his foreword is the assertion that one of the two main factors reducing the appeal of free market capitalism since the 1990s, is “Islamic opposition”.  I am not qualified to judge how much truth there is in this assertion.[4]  What I’m more interested in is the mindset of someone who writes about this in a positive tone.

To me, when I was growing up, a “community” was just the totality of all the people in a certain area.  The word now seems more likely to be used for a collection of people categorized in one particular identity politics grouping, such as the “Muslim community”.  Messages from local government seem less likely to talk about “the community” in the singular than to talk about “communities” in the plural.  And politicians like Corbyn seem to like being able to interact with the public via these communities.[5]

I suppose the language here is just reflecting the truth.  A new reality has been created in Britain.  There really is a distinct Muslim community, with significantly different views on average from the rest of society, on topics like:

  • freedom of expression (esp. blasphemy)
  • freedom of religion (esp. apostasy)
  • homosexuality
  • women’s rights
  • polygamy (presumably only a man having multiple wives, not vice versa, nor LGBT)
  • Jews

What I find unsettling is not just the opinions themselves.  It’s also the fact that there is such a difference.  Even if we were discussing issues on which I thought both Muslims and non-Muslims were equally wrong, and issues about which I wasn’t sure who was right, the existence of a consistent difference between the two groups would still strike me as unhealthy.

So the idea of “Islamic opposition” also being at the vanguard of Corbyn’s desired revolution in our socio-economic system, when Muslims are on average already so separate from mainstream society on so many other issues, seems like a recipe for disaster.

Now, I doubt Corbyn would have let slip his thinking on Islam and capitalism if he’d thought he had any realistic chance of becoming Labour leader.[6]  But too late; it’s there in black & white.  If challenged about it now, my guess is that he would try to claim that Islamic “resonance” will somehow convince non-Muslims to come round to a position of opposition to free market capitalism, so that there would be no longer be division between “communities”.  But I’m afraid that Muslims don’t have much influence over non-Muslims on this kind of topic, and a more likely outcome would be a widening of the schism that already strains our society.



Would a Corbyn-led government use immigration to gradually change British society so that in the long term it is more receptive to his kind of politics?

Well, for a political faction that believes diversity is an inherent good, it must surely be tempting to adopt immigration policies that will tend to maximize diversity, bringing in “communities” that are as different as possible from the current mainstream in Britain.  And if that just so happens to increase the Labour Party’s electoral base, and strengthen the Corbynite position within the broader Left movement, it would merely be a happy side effect, right?

Most people are aware that Jewish support for Labour has plummeted under Corbyn (not surprising given his track record.[7])  A survey published back in May 2010 showed Jewish support for Labour at a 31%, compared to 30% for the Tories.  Whereas a survey published in May 2016 (8 months after Corbyn became leader) had Labour at a 8.5%, compared to 66.5% for the Tories.[8]  But fewer people are aware of just how high support for Labour is amongst Muslims.  This 2014 study gave a figure of 73.0% (with the Tories on 14.9%).[9]  I couldn’t find any data gathered about this since Corbyn became leader.  But surely Corbyn must be more popular amongst Muslims than Ed Miliband was, bearing in mind the amount of praise Corbyn heaps on prominent Muslims who openly profess the kinds of views that we see in the anonymous surveys of British Muslims?[10][11]

So it does seem likely that it would be advantageous to Labour (and specifically the Corbynite position within the broader Left movement) to increase immigration from Muslim-majority countries.

But given that only 23% of the UK population[12] actively disagree with the statement “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped“, with 47% actively agreeing and 30% on the fence, Corbyn obviously couldn’t be open about any plans he might have to do the opposite.


More About Corbyn’s 2011 Foreword

Here is the relevant paragraph on Google Books.  I was able to view the whole 5½ page foreword there.  As I’ve mentioned, the first 2 pages give Corbyn’s opinions on Hobson’s 1902 study of imperialism.  The remaining 3½ pages leave me suspecting that Corbyn has worked his way through some simplistic summary of (mostly) 20th Century history, selected bits & pieces that fit his world-view, and combined them all together, along with his analyses, to form a disjointed whole.

Or perhaps he cobbled it together from a selection of his old articles for the Morning Star.

I haven’t followed Corbyn’s career, but I doubt that anyone who has done so would be surprised by anything he wrote here.  As mentioned above, he believes that since the Second World War, “the big imperial force has been the United States on behalf of global capitalism“.

He obviously didn’t like the Congress for Cultural Freedom (an anti-communist CIA front), and he believes it “was the European opening to accompany the [US] military re-occupation under the guise of NATO.

Bringing us into the 21st Century, we are informed that the US military involvement in Afghanistan “is fuelled by notions of security and assertion of military power, but also of the huge unexploited mineral reserves“.

I’ll write a bit more about some of this stuff in another post.



Jeremy Corbyn


I already had very little confidence in Corbyn’s judgement.  Finding out about this quote reinforces my existing view of him.

I offer my sympathy to any Labour Party moderates reading this.  I hope you can reclaim your party, and wrestle it back into something I could consider voting for.



  • [1] – Source.
    • N.B.  The census simply records the religion that was listed on the census form, which is usually filled in by the ‘head of the household’.  I actually don’t accept that a young child can possibly have a religion.  And older children may have religious views that differ from what their parents put on the form.  But the reality is that these statistics will be a good indication of the future of these cities.  If anything, given how much more successful British Muslims may be at passing on their religion to their children, these statistics probably understate how much more significant Islamic ideology will be than Christian ideology in those cities (and others) in a few decades.
  • [2] – I’ll refer to them as Corbynites.
  • [3] – The violent reaction to the Jyllands-Posten cartoons started in early 2006.  The response of Charlie Hebdo (the French satirical magazine) to the riots & embassy attacks was to republish the cartoons, along with its own cartoon of Mohammed saying “it’s hard to be loved by imbeciles”.  By contrast, the response of Jeremy Corbyn, four days later, was to speak at a protest against the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, saying “we demand that people show respect for each other’s community, each other’s faith and each other’s religion.
    • I don’t know what (if any) consequences Corbyn would want for people (like me) who might refuse to acquiesce to his “demand” for respect for religion.  And I didn’t find any examples of him condemning specific examples of disrespect towards other religions (such as the episode of Family Guy whose plot is based on Jesus obtaining sex by deception, or the Simpsons episode with a scene mocking Hinduism).  But if you are aware of any examples, please comment below and I may update this post.
  • [4] – The first relevant issue that comes to mind is the ban on interest being charged on loans.  But I’d always just assumed that Sharia finance was merely a ‘workaround’ to allow Muslims to take part in this disgraceful capitalist practice whilst staying technically within God’s rules.
  • [5] – An exacerbated example
  • [6] – Even though the ‘tradition’ of Labour MPs proposing one far left candidate in each leadership election had already been established
  • [7] – Examples: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06,
  • [8] – The surveys probably had different methodologies, but there is no way this alone could account for such a huge difference in results.
  • [9] – Again, probably a different methodology from the other surveys.
  • [10] – People like Ibrahim Hewitt, Anas Altikriti, Raed Salah
  • [11] – It’s worth noting that the 2011 census showed 10 times more Muslims than Jews in England & Wales, and also that Muslims have a substantially more favourable age profile.  Given current survey results regarding British Muslim opinions of Jews, sadly it seems that to some extent politicians may have to choose between the two communities.  So when it comes to electoral tactics (in the short term and even more so in the long term) Corbyn has chosen wisely.
  • [12] – Including me, for what it’s worth.


Speech as “Violence”

There are efforts in sections of the political Left (especially the sections that dominate the less rigorous of the social “sciences” in academia) to redefine the word “violence” to include speech.  Here is an example I came across today.

I wouldn’t necessarily be hugely bothered about the redefinition of the word “violence”, as long as I could invent another word to take on its current meaning.  Say, “kinetivism”, for example.

But first, as a minimum, I’d want to see statements from many of the key people trying to redefine “violence” to include speech, that they would not support the same thing happening to my new word, “kinetivism”.

I am not at all confident that any such undertakings would be forthcoming.  I fear that these are the kinds of people who, upon reading Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, didn’t recoil in horror – but actually quite liked aspects of the political system described.  I fear they approve of the tactic of manipulating the language available to the people in a society, in order to limit the range of ideas that can be expressed.  And I fear that they would actually enjoy a situation where it is not linguistically possible to distinguish between violence, and speech they disapprove of.  What, after all, is the point of their current tactic – if not exactly that?  (That’s not a rhetorical question.  I can think of the beginnings of a few possible answers, but won’t attempt to go into them now.  I do welcome comments down below.)

Proselytizers at Thomas Paine’s Deathbed

At the end of his life, Thomas Paine seems to have had visits from at least five people trying to convert him from deism to Christianity.  This post contains an excerpt of a book by G. W. Foote, first published by 1888, called Infidel Death-Beds.

Foote’s book mostly acts as a rebuttal to claims of deathbed conversion and recantation by famous heretics.  Certainly Paine was a victim of this disgraceful posthumous treatment, with Christians claiming he had died “howling and terrified”, recanting his assaults on organised religion and the reliability of the Bible.  But rather than focus on the rebuttals of all that here, I’ve chosen an excerpt that just gives an idea of Paine’s actual experiences with the proselytizers.

[Text copied straight from here and here, except that I’ve changed the layout & formatting slightly, added my own emphasis to a few bits, and made one correction.]

His last years were full of pain, caused by an abscess in the side, which was brought on by his imprisonment in Paris. He expired, after intense suffering, on June 8, 1809, placidly and without a struggle. [Life of Thomas Paine. By Clio Hickman. 1819. p. 187]

Paine’s last hours were disturbed by pious visitors who wished to save his immortal soul from the wrath of God: —

One afternoon a very old lady, dressed in a large
scarlet-hooded cloak, knocked at the door and inquired for
Thomas Paine. Mr. Jarvis, with whom Mr, Paine resided, told
her he was asleep. “I am very sorry,” she said, “for that, for
I want to see him particularly.” Thinking it a pity to make an
old woman call twice, Mr. Jarvis took her into Mr. Paine’s
bedroom and awoke him. He rose upon one elbow; then, with an
expression of eye that made the old woman stagger back a step
or two, he asked, “What do you want?” “Is your name Paine?”
“Yes.” “Well, then, I come from Almighty God to tell you, that
if you do not repent of your sins, and believe in our blessed
Savior Jesus Christ, you will be damned and –” “Poh, poh, it
is not true; you were not sent with any such impertinent
message: Jarvis make her go away — pshaw! he would not send
such a foolish old woman about his messages; go away, go back,
shut the door.” — [Hickman, pp. 182-183.]

Two weeks before his death, his conversion was attempted by two Christian ministers, the Rev. Mr. Milledollar and the Rev. Mr. Cunningham: —

The latter gentleman said, “Mr. Paine, we visit you as
friends and neighbors; you have now a full view of death, you
cannot live long, and whoever does not believe in Jesus Christ
will assuredly be damned.” “Let me,” said Mr. Paine, “have
none of your popish stuff; get away with you, good morning,
good morning.” The Rev. Mr. Milledollar attempted to address
him, but he was interrupted in the same language. When they
were gone he said to Mrs. Heddon, his housekeeper, “do not let
them come here again; they intrude upon me.” They soon renewed
their visit, but Mrs. Hedden told them they could not be
admitted, and that she thought the attempt useless, for if God
did not change his mind, she was sure no human power could.
[Rickman, p. 184]

Another of these busybodies was the Rev. Mr. Hargrove, a Swedenborgian or New Jerusalemite minister. This gentleman told Paine that his sect had found the key for interpreting the Scriptures, which had been lost for four thousand years. “Then,” said Paine, “it must have been very rusty.”

Even his medical attendant did not scruple to assist in this pious enterprise. Dr. Manley’s letter to Cheetham, one of Paine’s biographers, says that he visited the dying skeptic at midnight, June 5-6, two days before he expired. After tormenting him with many questions, to which he made no answer, Dr. Manley proceeded as follows: —

Mr. Paine, you have not answered my questions; will you
answer them? Allow me to ask again, do you believe, or — let
me qualify the question — do you wish to believe that Jesus
Christ is the Son of God? After a pause of some minutes he
answered, “I have no wish to believe on that subject.” I then
left him, and know not whether he afterwards spoke to any
person on the subject.

Sherwin confirms this statement. He prints a letter from Mr. Clark, who spoke to Dr. Manley on the subject. “I asked him plainly,” said Mr. Clark, “Did Mr. Paine recant his religious sentiments? I would thank you for an explicit answer, sir. He said, “No, he did not.” [Sherwin’s Life of Paine, p. 225.]

It sounds to me like Paine handled these Christian interlopers very well, considering the circumstances.



Some boring extra details …

If you follow the links to the two webpages that I got the plain text of the above excerpt from, you’ll see that they are actually copies of a more recent version of Infidel Death-Beds, with edits and substantial additions by someone called A.D. McLaren.  But the section on Paine is visible in this 1910 edition by Foote alone.

If you’re interested, something claiming to be the 1888 edition was made available in 2010 as a facsimile reprint, yet claims to have A D McLaren as the editor.  I don’t have access to this book in any format, so I don’t know how to reconcile these claims with my suspicion that A D McLaren wasn’t involved with the book until after Foote’s death in 1915.

I mentioned that Foote’s book mostly acts as a rebuttal to claims of deathbed conversion and recantation by famous heretics.  If you’re interested in that area, Robert Ingersoll seems to have written a whole book just to defend Paine against these Christian claims, called The Vindication of Thomas Paine (available here and here) (1877).  For more recent coverage of the subject, there’s a 2005 article about Paine, Voltaire, Darwin, and others, and a 2016 article on the claims made about Christopher Hitchens (which also mentions Paine).

A portrait of Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine. (NPG 897) © National Portrait Gallery, London

The above portrait of Thomas Paine is from this NPG page, and is reproduced under the “CC BY-NC-ND 3.0” licence.


Treatment of Prisoners: An Excerpt from a Lieutenant’s Account of D-Day

Later that day I noted a white flutter or two from the snipers’ hedge.  What the snipers were using as white flags I know not, but it could have been their undervests.  They surrendered.  A small band of German prisoners began to collect on the beach, to be taken off later in the day.  They were well treated by the British soldiers, a fact which I found significant, for they had after all been sniping away, killing and wounding British soldiers.  I remember our troops selling cigarettes to prisoners, once the battle had passed on.  The commercial instincts of our troops were confirmed over and over again in the following months.  I never saw them robbing prisoners, but the sale of cigarettes at reasonably high prices was fairly common.

That was an excerpt from an account of D-Day by one of the soldiers who participated in the landings.  It is from a book of such accounts.  His entry in that book was titled:

Lieutenant D C Potter

Troop Leader

B Squadron


Even non-geeks should use this geek shorthand for “replace XYZ with ABC”



In some situations when you’re typing (or tapping) some text, every last character counts.  This includes any kind of live online conversation where your correspondent is awaiting your reply.  It could also include the use of any medium that deliberately enforces succinctness – even for formal and non-transient messages with a wide audience.  An example of such a medium is Twitter (with its 140 character limit).  A (random) example of such a message is this tweet:

Notice the use of an ampersand, a forward slash, and two abbreviations – to help keep within the 140 character limit.

Now, let’s say I wanted to reply to that tweet, and part of what I want to say is “Personal relationships matter in all walks of life, not just in business”.  Or what if I just wanted to correct a typo?  Well, I am not aware of any shorthand in widespread use to accomplish those things.  So I would like to propose that everyone adopts a shorthand currently used by some geeks.


Under my proposal, I could reply to that tweet with just these 29 characters, as a way of getting across my message that “Personal relationships matter in all walks of life, not just in business”:

s/business/all walks of life/

If they had misspelled “minister”, I could correct them with just these 19 characters:



Now for two general examples (the ones in the image at the top of this blog post).  Firstly, the example I used in the post title would be:


And secondly, sometimes commas save lives:

s/Let's eat grandpa!/Let's eat, grandpa!/

I think you get the idea.


As you have probably worked out, the shorthand always starts with “s/”, then has the text to be replaced, then “/”, then the replacement text, then a final “/”.


The “s” stands for for substitute.

For what it’s worth, this ‘syntax’ for precisely defining a textual substitution was popularized by a software utility called sed, which has been around since 1973.  Geeks may want to look into it, but I am urging non-geeks to also adopt this syntax as a shorthand – without needing to learn about its origins.

A message using this shorthand contains:

  • the text to be replaced
  • the replacement text
  • just 4 extra characters

There’s no need to use speech marks or anything to indicate the start and end of the texts, which means that they can be part of the texts.  For example:

s/he said "yes but"/he said "yes" but/

In fact, any character can be part of the texts, except a forward slash.  The software utility I mentioned above actually has a way of dealing with them too.  But I recommend that in non-geek contexts, if the replacement text, or the text to be replaced, contains a forward slash, just don’t use this shorthand.  Instead, pick another way to express your message.

Is there a name for this particular shorthand?  Well, in a non-geek context I propose it be known as the “everyday substitution syntax”.


Superfluous Notes

Here is a list of Twitter recommendations, including several shorthands (such as using “+” instead of “and”).  Perhaps the everyday substitution syntax will be included on lists like that in the future.


I have been using the term “forward slash” for the following character:


This character has various other names, including just “slash” – which is the title of the relevant Wikipedia article.


In case it ever gets deleted, here is a screenshot of the aforementioned tweet:



Email Address Leaks

I have access to a ‘catch all’ email mailbox.[1]

This enables me to run a system in which, when a company or other organization asks me for my email address, I give them one that is unique to them.  I keep track of which email address I have given out to which organization in a list, and I try quite hard to avoid giving the same address to more than one organization.  This means that if an email address receives anything it shouldn’t (such as phishing attempts or spam), I can tell which organization is probably[2] responsible (either directly responsible, or indirectly responsible by allowing the address to be leaked to the people who were directly responsible).

So how have I used this knowledge?  Well, I haven’t much, to be honest.  I think ever since I started doing this I have believed there should be a website where all the people who do the same thing as me can record instances of abuse.  If enough reports were received from different people for a particular organization then it would be good evidence that the organization had leaked their list of people’s email addresses.  If anyone knows of such a website, please comment below.

For now, I’ll simply record my own such reports in this blogpost – just in case anyone in my situation ever uses a search engine to look for any other ‘victims’ of the same particular instance of leaking of personal data.

  • Organization that was given the email address : Subsequent use of that address
  • : Invitation from on 2016-09-28
  • : “investment” spam
  • : spam
  • : spam
  • : spam
    • And they seem to have leaked at least part of my postal address as well
  • : “IT jobs” spam
  • : spam



[1] – ‘catch all’ mailbox

To explain what I mean by this I’ll use “” as an example.  If I had access to the ‘catch all’ email mailbox for “” then I would receive all email sent to – almost regardless of what the ‘something’ was replaced by.  So I would receive email sent to and and and and … you get the idea.

[2] – “probably responsible”

I use the term “probably responsible” because there are some other possibilities: the leak could have come from me, or from an eavesdropper (since email is not intrinsically a secure medium), or it could even be that the unique email address was actually guessed by someone.  But all theses are far less likely than the possibility that the relevant organization is responsible (either directly or indirectly).

Freedom of Speech Debate, Hart House Debating Club, University of Toronto, 2006-11-15


It seems there was a debate by Hart House Debating Club at the University of Toronto on 2006-11-15, featuring four student debaters and Christopher Hitchens.  There doesn’t seem to be any official resource on the Web about this event, so I thought I’d create this post to act as a possible single point of reference.  Please feel free to comment below with any suggested additions / corrections / etc..

Main Sources of Info

The best written explanation of the event seems to be this report published 5 days later in The Varsity (“The University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880”).

(For the record, the “Archives” drop-down menu here only goes back as far as July 2012.  And neither this page nor this website seem to have any archive information at all.)

Presumably, the main reason the event still interests people today (nearly 10 years later) is that a video recording was made, and broadcast by TVO, and has ended up being made available in various places online.  This TVO feed currently links to this MP4 file (duration 41:47), which seems to be the ‘main’ video of the debate, showing the speeches by the Speaker of the House, the four student debaters, and Christopher Hitchens.

And it seems that the actual TVO broadcast was an episode called “Christopher Hitchens” (duration 51:11) of a series called Big Ideas.  A transcript is available.  You can see that the extra 10 minutes of footage comes from the TVO presenter Andrew Moodie in a studio, giving an introduction, a cutaway just as Hitchens starts speaking, and his own opinion at the end – before finishing the episode with a discussion of an unrelated topic (the Ontario “2007 Best Lecturer Competition”).

Debate Details

From the transcript: “The resolution before the house today is: be it resolved that freedom of speech includes the freedom to hate“.  This resolution seems to be a reaction to a Canadian law that criminalizes ‘promoting hatred’, which is mentioned by James Renihan at the start of his speech.


  • “Ethan Hoddes as Speaker of the House”
  • “James Renihan as Prime Minister”
  • “Adrienne Lipsey as Member of the Opposition”
  • “Christina Veira as Minister of the Crown”
  • “Rory McKeown as Leader of the Opposition”
  • “Christopher Hitchens as himself”

As you can see, there seems to be some kind of debating society role-playing, similar to this.

Presumably after Hitchens spoke there was a vote.  “The resolution calling for the decriminalization of hate speech was upheld by 205 to 87 votes.”

Hitchens Partially Wrong About Justice Holmes

It seems that Hitchens was partially wrong in what he said at the start of his speech, about Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Everyone knows the fatuous verdict of the greatly over-praised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, asked for an actual example of when it would be proper to limit speech or define it as an action, gave that of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

It is very often forgotten that what he was doing in that case was sending to prison a group of Yiddish-speaking socialists, whose literature was printed in a language most Americans couldn’t read, opposing President Wilson’s participation in the First World War, and the dragging of the United States into this sanguinary conflict, which the Yiddish-speaking socialists had fled from Russia to escape.

In fact it could be just as plausible argued that the Yiddish-speaking socialists, who were jailed by the excellent and over-praised judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, were the real fire fighters, were the ones who were shouting fire when there really was fire in a very crowded theatre, indeed.

(The above text is not from the TVO transcript, but from a transcript just of Hitchens’s speech, provided by the Skeptical Libertarian, which includes useful hyperlinks, and three minor corrections in square brackets.)

The “fire in a theatre” meme was indeed from a (1919) opinion by Holmes in which SCOTUS was upholding the criminal conviction of some socialists who opposed the First World War.  But the Yiddish-speaking Russians seem to have been defendants in a separate case, heard by SCOTUS later that year.  They were apparently anarchists supporting the Russian Revolution, and their conviction was actually opposed by Holmes.

Of course, correcting Hitchens’s mistakes doesn’t affect his argument.  Doing so just makes it briefer, as follows:

Everyone knows the fatuous verdict of the greatly over-praised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, asked for an actual example of when it would be proper to limit speech or define it as an action, gave that of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

It is very often forgotten that what he was doing in that case was sending to prison a group of Yiddish-speaking socialists, whose literature was printed in a language most Americans couldn’t read, opposing President Wilson’s participation in the First World War, and the dragging of the United States into this sanguinary conflict, which the Yiddish-speaking socialists had fled from Russia to escape.

In fact it could be just as plausible argued that the Yiddish-speaking socialists, who were jailed by the excellent and over-praised judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, were the real fire fighters, were the ones who were shouting fire when there really was fire in a very crowded theatre, indeed.

N.B.  I am not an expert.  This is my own simplistic research, mostly using Wikipedia, instigated by a You Tube comment I saw pointing out the mistake.  It is fashionable to be snobbish about Wikipedia but I shall remind you of their Verifiability policy, which means there should be reliable sources for all claims, and “any material lacking a reliable source directly supporting it may be removed” (by anyone, even you).  So in theory there should be reliable sources for everything I have claimed above (because I’m just repeating claims made on Wikipedia).  But as I said before, if you think I need to update this blog post, feel free to comment below.

More on Holmes

The “fire in a theatre” case is called “Schenck v. United States”.  Here are a couple of archive links:

  • originally at
    • UPDATE 2017-02-01: This is now giving an error.
      • (“Page cannot be displayed due to robots.txt.”  But I’ll leave the link here in the hope that this will one day be rectified; I think there’s a good chance that didn’t really want to prevent from making those resources available.)
  • originally at

Holmes also wrote the opinion in “Debs v. United States“, a similar outcome to Schenck.

For more thoughts about Holmes’s record on freedom of speech, here are two articles (both somewhat critical):

Books that discuss Holmes’s record on freedom of speech include:


Other Resources

Hitchens’s speech viewable on You Tube:

N.B.  In case anyone was wondering, the “2006-11-15” in the title of this blog post is in the ISO date format.