In Memoriam, Howard Zinn (1922-2010), excerpt from his “Second Thoughts on the First Amendment”

Free Speech, Howard Zinn, the First Amendment

Howard Zinn, a tireless activist for civil rights and social justice, and a scholar who strove for clarity, passed, now 5 years ago, on the 27th of January 2010. His words, while polarising at times, aimed at educating and uniting people. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, on the 25th of October 1989, Zinn spoke to his “Second Thoughts on the First Amendment”. His conclusions continue to resonate in today’s social climate:

The First Amendment has always been shoved aside in times of war or near war; 1798 was near war, 1917 was war. In 1940 when the Smith Act was  used against the Socialist Workers Party and then against the Communist Party for things that they said and wrote. In those trials against the Communist and Socialist Workers Parties, the courtroom was full with stuff the prosecution had brought in. What had they brought in? Guns, bombs, dynamite fuses? No, they brought in the works of Marx, Lenin, Engels, Stalin. That’s like a bomb. So people went to jail. National security. People fall prostrate before the words “national security.” All you have to do is use the word “national security.” Oh, well, I’m sorry, do whatever you want if it’s for national security. Any of you read the transcripts of the famous Nixon Watergate tapes? At one point Nixon says to Haldemann—he always had this plaintive tone—“What’ll we do, what’ll we do, gee, what’ll we say, what are thy going to ask us?” Haldemann said, “Say it’s national security.”

National security is invoked to keep people out, to keep out playrights and Nobel Prize winners and writers. A lot of those writers overseas are socialists or communists or anarchists. Keep them out. National security.

There are several problems about free speech I haven’t talked about which are very important… Suppose they didn’t interfere with your right to speak. Suppose none of these restrictions, none of these Supreme Court interpretations, no policemen interfering with you, none of these inferences were there. There you are. Say what you want. What resources do you have to speak out? …It’s not a matter of do you have free speech, like, “In America we have free speech, just like in America we have money.” How much do you have? How much freedom of speech do you have? …

Resources. Who has the resources? The press is monopolized. Turn from CBS to NBC to ABC, it’s all the same. Resources. The biggest problem with freedom of speech is the economic problem—who has the money to speak out, to reach large numbers of people. There is an additional problem… Freedom of speech is meaningless if sources of information are controlled, if the government is putting pressure on the press to withhold information as it did in the Bay of Pigs, as in the CIA overthrow in Guatemala… You have to have independent sources of information.

It puts a tremendous responsibility on all of us. If we want freedom of expression, it’s up to us. We have a tremendous job to do. We have to take risks. We have to speak out. The constitution won’t do it for us, nor the courts. We have to create social movements that create atmospheres of protection for people who will take risks and speak up. We have to create alternative sources of information. We have to do what was done during the Vietnam War when you had teach-ins outside the regular class curriculum, which had given people no information about Asia or Vietnam, just like the whole education system has given people no education about Latin America. This continent which is the closest to us, with which we have the most to do, we have the  least education about. So we obviously need alternative sources of information. We need to do what was done during the Vietnam War: community newspapers, underground newspapers, alternative press services… We need to create that excitement about issues of the time, excitement about the war, excitement about misallocation, the waste, of the country’s wealth on the military. We have to create excitement about homelessness and poverty and the class system in this country. We need information. People have to know things. People have to spread information. That is a job that all of us have to be engaged in day by day. That’s what democracy consists of. That’s the only thing I’ve been trying to say.

The proponents of liberal democracy hail free speech as the bedrock of its form, and so it comes as no surprise that it is included in the First Amendment of the American Constitution. The extent that speech is actually free in the United States and its allied states is, as Zinn points out, intimately related to economy. The ruling authorities must curtail free speech to keep the market free, that is, to maintain private ownership of our resources and our means, and to keep the productive class separate from and under the owning class. Free speech and assembly is curtailed by national security, which is more accurately security of the ruling class, by concentration of wealth, by oligarchy in industry and media, by bought politicians and journalists, by lousy education, by keeping the working class concerned with energy, medical, tuition and credit card bills, by the obfuscation of information made worse by low literacy levels, by extensive propaganda campaigns aimed at obscuring meaning, by costly and menacing attacks on whistle-blowers. One has only to look to Brown, Manning and Snowden to see how costly “free speech” can be in a liberal democracy, and so the list of casualties grows, and remains underreported.  While those who provide information about systemic abuses they have unique access to, that information we need, are hunted and eliminated, those who attack minorities, and then are attacked in retaliation are raised to the status of free speech martyrs, mourned universally by western leadership. The level of hypocrisy by liberal and conservative leadership and its loyal media is brazen at worst, and confounding at best. The Straussian paradigm proliferates, where lies, misinformation, hate and insults are protected under free speech, and information that exposes the true nature of our system and its oppressive forces is condemned as a threat to national security. For the true defenders of free speech in the “democratic” world, it has proven to be anything but free.


Fracking Industry Shakes Up Northern BC with 231 Tremors


Warrior Publications

Fracking field in north eastern BC.   Photo: The Tyee. Fracking field in north eastern BC. Photo: The Tyee.

Quakes also triggered by wastewater disposal, finds oil and gas commission.

By Andrew Nikiforuk,, Jan 10, 2015

British Columbia’s shale gas fracking industry triggered more than 231 earthquakes or ”seismic events” in northeastern British Columbia between Aug. 2013 and Oct. 2014.

Some of the quakes were severe enough to ”experience a few seconds of shaking” on the ground in seven areas of the province on top of the large Montney shale gas basin.

The events, many of which occurred in clusters or swarms, showed that the regulation of the industry still lags behind the pace of drilling activity in the region.

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Capitalism and the Commodification of Salmon | Stefano B. Longo | Monthly Review

British Columbia, Canadian Politics, Commodification, Ecosocialism, Environment, Genetic Engineering, Karl Marx, Salmon, Tragedy of the Commodity, Tragedy of the Commons

The story of genetically modified salmon is bound to the commodification of food, the intensification of seafood production, the over-exploitation of fish stocks, and so-called technological solutions to address environmental problems.

via Capitalism and the Commodification of Salmon | Stefano B. Longo | Monthly Review.

The article “Capitalism and the Commodifcation of Salmon” published by Monthly Review outlines Longo, Clausen and Clark’s upcoming book through Rutgers University Press, The Tragedy of the Commodity: Oceans, Fisheries, and Aquaculture. The Tragedy, it is argued, is not that of “the commons”, but the commodification of it, and the capitalist system’s constant need for input, for growth, as it is fundamentally a “grow-or-die system”. Longo et al. write, “Technological innovations are employed in production to further the extraction of surplus value and therefore the exploitation of nature and labor.” The exploitation of nature is to the extent that we know that biodiversity is declining at a rate unseen in some 65 million years, since the last mass extinction event, and that the capitalist system is using the biosphere, “the commons”, as its warehouse, free for plunder and commodification, with its main regard remaining profit, despite empirical data showing the effects of a system based on perpetual growth on a finite planetary ecosystem. The tragedy of the commodity is felt first and most by indigenous peoples living as a part of their respective ecosystem, and also by labour, those who produce profit for the holders who determine where that profit will be directed, and thus the direction of society, which is in essence profit for profit’s sake (or for the sake of those who collect it). Inevitably, if this “grow-or-die system” continues business as usual, the decline of biodiversity, and increasing scarcity, will be felt by the whole of our species. The story of the commodification of salmon, the further commodification of the biotic world, serves as an epitome of the capitalist system, where even life, and the components that are the basic building blocks of it, can be designed for profit and privately owned, where the commons is devastated  for private profit, and where the introduction of privately owned species attempts to keep private profits up while the commons, the biosphere, is unable to to sustain the growth of the free market, and, most importantly, biodiversity and human dependence upon it for the very basics of life.


Peoples’ Rights and Individual’s Rights

Ecosocialism, Environment, Global Overshoot, Group Rights, Human Rights, Karl Marx, Liberal Rights

The Generations of Rights

First generation rights include liberty rights (civil and political rights).

Second generation rights have been described as equality rights.

Third generation rights include group rights (minority groups, solidarity, collectivism).

  • There are 12,000 – 14,000 indigenous and minority groups, these groups account for approximately 1.5 billion individuals (Goodhart 261).


Outline of History and Criticisms:

  1. Generations of rights: first two generations primarily include individual/liberal rights. Third generation includes group/fraternal/collective rights.
    • For the individual rights camp, there is the belief that the “individual human rights regime would deliver equality and make group rights largely irrelevant, except in extreme circumstances” (Goodhart 266), and has its foundation in the utlitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. For Bentham, an individual’s happiness coincides with the happiness of the group, or, in other words, ‘what’s good for me is good for you’ (Moore 303).
  2. The rights of individuals have dominated Human Rights discourse. Group rights have begun to emerge primarily to protect minority groups from the majority, and to begin the decolonization of indigenous peoples.
  3. Criticisms of liberal rights emerged shortly after their theoretical creation, and have continued. Critics include:
  • Karl Marx: considers rights to be the rights of the ruling ideology: the bourgeois. Individualistic rights express the division and alienation of human beings (Goodhart 94). From the Marxian perspective on liberal rights, it is explained that liberal rights

“have been denounced for presupposing as well as reinforcing artificial social divisions—between the social and the political, the public and the private—and thus for obscuring the real bases of inequality” (Baynes 452).

“In the secular state, as in religion, the individual can thus be “spiritually” or “politically” free while still bound to material unfreedom and inequalities. Both represent a form of “unactual universality” in the service of concrete inequality” (454).

  • Malcolm Waters argues that “the rise of human rights cannot be explained simply through notions of human vulnerability, institutional threats, and collective sympathy, but rather by the assertion of powerful class interests” (95).
  • Melville Herskovit’s (Anthropologist) emphasises that the individual rights regime, which is largely pushed by liberal states and the United Nations, are not universal, as “some cultures may exhibit more collective value systems that emphasize things like collective ownership of land rather than individual private property rights” (99).
  • Human rights regimes have in many instances been ineffective in protecting the rights of minorities and marginalized groups. This has resulted in a need for group rights to emerge in national and international politics. Fundamental group rights that have entered into the UN discourse include the freedom from genocide (the right to existence), and the freedom to self-determination. Advocates of group rights continue to criticise private property rights as they exist today, and the individualistic form that universal rights discourse has taken.

4. Criticisms of group rights:

  • Group rights indicate that “universal human rights” may not be universal, and have not been successful, as there is a need for group rights. This notion is troubling to Universalists.
  • Concerns that group rights may take precedence, and the individual rights of people within the group may be abused (i.e. right to exit the group).
  • Marx’s radical egalitarianism has been criticized for, like liberal human rights, being a normative assumption (Baynes).
  • May threaten state sovereignty (i.e. indigenous peoples right to self-determination).


Late 20th and early 21st Centuries:

The group rights that have thus far been recognized have, largely, not been a hindrance to individual rights. However, documents that do include group rights have taken care to limit group rights to the point that they are often ineffective (i.e. 1960 UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (267)). Despite the ambivalence of declarations, progress in rhetoric, at least, is improving over time (i.e. 2007 UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted). Our relationship with the biosphere raises substantial questions about current rights and views on individual human entitlement. Indigenous groups belonging to colonised lands are often the first and the most adversely affected by industrialisation and anthropogenic affects on the biosphere and climate (this is not to argue that the decline of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems and the global overshoot will not have a serious impact on the entire species, but points out the reality of the burden paid by humans thus far has significantly been on indigenous populations). We have seen group rights begin to emerge in the global discourse through a number of UN documents, to try and alleviate the sufferings of groups who are not benefiting from the liberal rights regime. Of course, the group rights so far granted are only effective if individual states choose to grant them. Instances we have seen include:

Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace (UN 1984)

The Declaration on the Right to Development (UN 1986)

Article 1: 1. The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized. 2.   The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UN 2007)

includes right to self-determination for “dispossessed ‘peoples’ and ‘nations’ in contrast to the individual citizenship rights” given by the state.

Liberal rights in the late 20th century and early 21st has manifested in ways that include the right to hate speech, the right of media platforms to lie to the public (USA) to benefit what can be identified as the ruling class and the military-industrial complex, the right to amass concentrations of wealth and capital with few constraints. As is, the average American, in one lifetime, consumes 70 times the amount of resources and energy as one Bangladeshi (Pojman). Such a rate of consumption, even on the individual scale, in liberal democracies can, in contemporary context, be seen as detrimental to the continued existence of human habitat on earth, with a global overshoot of 1.5, and an expected rate of growth into the foreseeable future, liberal rights, as they are, pose a significant threat to the future of the our species. Within America, and globally, the gap between the propertied people and the unpropertied, between capital holders and wage labourers, unemployed and indigenous still able to subsist traditionally, widens each year. Each year the toll on the biosphere needed to sustain liberal democracies grows, without concern for what is actually needed to sustain our global population.



Baynes, Kenneth. “Rights as a Critique and the Critique of Rights: Karl Marx, Wendy Brown, and the Social Function of Rights”. Political Theory. Volume 28.4. August 2000, Pages 451-468. . Site Accessed 20 October 2012.

Goldstein, Joshua S. 2004. International Relations. Canadian Edition. Ed. Whitworth, Sandra. Toronto: Pearson Education.

Goodhart, Michael. 2009. Human Rights: Politics and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Homer-Dixon, Thomas, et al. 2003. “Debating Violent Environments”.

Jones, Peter. “Human Rights, Group Rights, and Peoples’ Rights.” Human Rights Quarterly. Volume 21.1. February 1999, pages 80-107.

Marx, Karl. 1998. The German Ideology. New York: Prometheus Books.

Mill, John Stuart. 1905. Considerations on Representative Government. New York: George Routledge & Sons.

Moore, Brooke Noel, and Kenneth Bruder. 2008. Philosophy: The Power of Ideas. 7th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Pojman, Louis P. “The Challenge of the Future: Private Property, the City, the Globe, and a Sustainable Society.” 2008. Environmental Ethics. Fifth Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth.

Tarnation: an Introduction to Enbridge Northern Gateway Project

British Columbia, Canadian Politics, Carbon Bomb, Ecosocialism, Environment

The universality of man appears in practice precisely in the universality which makes all nature his inorganic body – both inasmuch as nature is (1) his direct means of life, and (2) the material, the object, and the instrument of his life activity. Nature is man’s inorganic body – nature, that is, insofar as it is not itself human body. Man lives on nature – means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.
Karl Marx’s “Estranged Labour”, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project (NGP), a federally approved pipeline slated to carry bitumen 1177 km from Bruderheim, Alberta through to the Douglas Channel at Kitimat, British Columbia, is one of five major pipeline projects intended to expand delivery of Alberta crude to international markets. The NGP will cross more than 1000 streams and rivers (including the Fraser and Skeena Watersheds), cut through the Great Bear Rainforest, through to the Douglas Channel, where 520,000 barrels per day will be shipped by super-tanker along the tumultuous coastline.

NASA Climatologist James Hansen has famously cautioned against emissions exceeding 350 ppm, meanwhile industry and consumption has expanded to exceed this level, and globally, we are now approaching, and preparing to exceed, 400 ppm of CO2. The expansion of extraction of bitumen from the Athabasca tar sands of Alberta is estimated to increase global emissions by an additional 2 ppm. The NGP alone is estimated to contribute, at the low end, 80 Mt of CO2 per year, which is more than the total emissions of British Columbia for one year. The unfettered expansion of the tar sands has been described, accurately, as a carbon bomb, and is, increasingly, a threat to our species’ place in this world.

With watersheds, salmon habitat, human and ecosystem health; a rugged coastline en route; and anthropogenic global climate change on the rise, threatening biodiversity at a scale unseen in some 55 million years, democratic opposition to NGP along the approved route has been strong, as has Conservative disregard for overwhelming democratic consensus. Provincially and federally, parties opposing the NGP and tanker traffic on BC’s northwest coast have dominated the coast and communities along the proposed route. More than 130 First Nations have signed on to the Fraser Declaration, banning tar sands from their territories, 9 coastal First Nations have banned tanker traffic, the Union of BC Municipalities has passed resolutions opposing NGP and its accompanying tanker traffic, municipalities along the path of the pipeline, including Kitimat, Terrace, Smithers, Prince Rupert and Masset, have voted against the NGP, the Wet’suwet’en have delivered a ceremonial feather to Enbridge’s representatives as warning that Enbridge, and its pipeline, are not welcome on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.

Despite public opposition and the carbon bomb, the NGP has been given federal approval to go ahead, and BC Liberal approval by Premier Christy Clark (partner with Burrard Communications, who lobbied for the NGP) isn’t expected to be far behind. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has eroded environmental protections and accountability, and ignored affected areas’ democratic consensus for the benefit of the oil barons, effectively crystalising Canada’s dirty energy dictatorship.