|Socialist Animalism: Essays, Interviews, and Fiction
By Jon Hochschartner
Socialists and the animal question
The socialist left remains particularly inhospitable for those concerned with animal domestication. This hostility goes back a long way. As Dr. Steve Best points out,
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels "lumped animal welfarists, vegetarians, and anti-vivisectionists into the same petite-bourgeoisie category comprised of charity organizers, temperance fanatics, and naive reformists." Leon Trotsky railed against those opposed to revolutionary violence, scornfully describing their ideology as "vegetarian-Quaker prattle."
Things aren't that different today. Paul D'Amato, a writer for whom I otherwise have a good deal of respect, took on the animal question in a Socialist Worker column which reads as little more than uninformed trolling.
"Does a mountain lion that kills a deer have a right to a trial by a jury of its peers?" He asks ridiculously. "Should cows have freedom of assembly, speech and religion?"
He acknowledges he is speaking with tongue in cheek, but insists "there is a point to it." D'Amato goes on to recount Adolph Hitler's animal protection efforts, because, you know, animalists are actually closet Nazis.
Things are hardly any different on the anarchist side of the aisle. For instance, log onto the LibCom.org forums, which are maintained by London-based libertarian communists, and ask, as I have, the otherwise nice folks what they think of animalists. And you'll see the British didn't get their reputation for beef-eating for nothing.
In a preface to an edition of Animal Farm, George Orwell explained the central metaphor of his satirical novel, writing, "Men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat." Modern animalists, such as Barbara Noske and David Nibert, have expanded on this unifying theme, injecting Marxist thought into the emerging field of critical animal studies. But there has been no similar effort
on the part of anti-capitalists.
In fact, the attitude toward animalism among the socialist left is arguably more reactionary than that of the general population. My low-wage coworkers might think my views regarding non-humans are privileged and eccentric, but they never display the vitriolic scorn my beliefs earn among the socialist left.
My theory is that large segments of the socialist left, which at the moment are disproportionately made up of white-collar workers, has adopted a misguided workerism, by which I mean a perspective that glorifies a crude caricature of blue-collar culture, in an attempt to bond with those on lowest tiers of the capitalist system. To these more privileged members of the working class, casual indifference to animal exploitation is a defining trait of blue-collar workers. That this is immensely condescending should go without saying. But it's also not based on a socialist understanding of class. For socialists, economic groups are not defined by eating habits, culture, or even income. They're defined by someone's relationship to the means of production.
My class-struggle resume isn't anything to write home about. But it's not something I'm embarrassed about either. I've written for a variety of leftist publications, from Socialist Worker to Z Magazine. I was active in the Occupy movement, for which I spent a couple days in jail. I filed charges against my employer, and won a settlement, for their union-busting. I feel I've made some humble contributions. But I'm also an animalist. And I'm sick of feeling I'll be treated like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield--no respect!--if I don't hide this in socialist circles.
Despard was anti-speciesist socialist
The British activist Charlotte Despard, in addition to being a communist, feminist and Irish nationalist, was an animalist of some degree, practicing prefigurative vegetarianism and campaigning against vivisection. Despard was on friendly terms with Eleanor Marx, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx, and was a delegate to the Second International meeting in 1896, prior to the organization's dissolution during the First World War. Following stints in other socialist groups, she would eventually join the British Communist Party, for which her house was attacked by a right-wing mob.
Despard was, according to Rod Preece, president of the London Vegetarian Society and the National Canine Defence League. She was present at the 1906 unveiling of a controversial anti-vivisectionist statue, according to Coral Lansbury, which sparked riots when trade unionists and feminists defended the monument from attack by medical students. The statue featured a bronze dog atop a fountain, which was inscribed with the following words.
"In Memory of the Brown Terrier Dog done to Death in the Laboratories of University College in February 1903, after having endured Vivisection extending over more than two months and having been handed from one Vivisector to another till Death came to his Release," the inscription stated. "Also in Memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and Women of England, how long shall these things be?"
In 1910, conservatives gained control of the local government and sought to have the statue removed. Despite protests by Despard and other anti-vivisectionists, the monument was dismantled in the middle of the night by government workers guarded by an astonishing 120 police officers, according to Lansbury.
Despard connected her feminism to her animal advocacy. "The Women's Movement is related also with the other great movements of the world," she said. "The awakened instinct which feels the call of the subhuman which says — 'I am the voice of the voiceless. Through me the dumb shall speak,' is a modern phenomenon that cannot be denied. It works itself out as food reform on the one hand, and on the other, in strong protest against the cruel methods of experimental research. Both these are in close unison with the demands being made by women."
As I've mentioned in other articles, Stalinist Russia was hostile to vegetarianism. In 1930, Despard toured the Soviet Union in what one must assume was a trip carefully choreographed and managed by her hosts. According to Adam Hochschild, "She found everything to be splendid: the diet was good, children
privileged, education enlightened, orphanages first-rate, and the courts wise and generous." Despite her support for Stalinism and the British Communist Party, which was under the sway of the Soviet Union, one can't necessarily assume Despard had given up her commitment to prefigurative vegetarianism in later life. According to James D. Hunt, she was Vice-President of the London Vegetarian Society in 1931.
Despard died in 1939 at the age of 95. According to the Communist Party of Ireland website, she had been declared bankrupt two years prior, "her finances exhausted from her philanthropic and political activities."
Marx's son-in-law hated animals
Paul Lafargue, son-in-law to Karl Marx and a revolutionary in his own right, supported vivisection in the socialist newspaper L'Egalité in late 1881. Lafargue, who would die in a suicide pact with Marx's daughter, defended the exploitative practice in a manner that revealed his deep speciesism and scathing disdain for animalists.
"When it comes to beasts the bourgeois have the tenderness of angels," Lafargue wrote sneeringly. "Everywhere there are societies for the protection of dogs, cats, sparrows, etc." The subset of animalists that most disturbed him apparently were those opposed to animal testing. "Of all these societies the most bothersome, the most hypocritical, the most nauseating is the anti-vivisection society," Lafargue wrote. Interestingly, however, Lafargue had many of the same criticisms of anti-speciesist organizations that modern animalists do. "All of these societies are speculations," he wrote. "A certain number of influential members (presidents, secretaries, agents, inspectors, etc) are lavishly maintained on the funds intended for beasts."
Lafargue continued on, taking anti-vivisectionists to task for their supposed pretentiousness. "Pigeon shooting, where thousands of tamed pigeons are wounded and mutilated for the amusement of a few imbecilic aristocrats, is highly approved of by the anti-vivisection society," Lafargue wrote. "Several of its most influential members are big pigeon shooters." Whether these accusations are true I'm unsure. But either way, such gotcha anti-veganism, by which I mean criticism of failures or inconsistencies in animalists' personal practice, is inherently ad hominem. It's used to ignore the merits of non-human advocates' policy proposals.
Lafargue bemoaned what seems to be public oversight of animal testing, strangely suggesting that this government regulation was capitalist inspired. "The society of anti-vivisectionist animals of England has pulled so many strings that it has obtained from parliament a law prohibiting physiological experiments on living animals without permission from the police," Lafargue wrote, disbelieving. "This is how the bourgeois treat their illustrious men. They degrade them to the point of putting them under the control of the cops even in the laboratory."
Much of Lafargue's argument rested on a dubious dichotomy between political work on behalf of animals and political work on behalf of the human working class. Animalists, "feel themselves to be closer relatives of beasts than of workers," which, according to Lafargue, was a reflection of their supposedly uniformal ruling-class station. And yet if this were true, why so often was capitalist exploitation justified by comparing the human proletariat to domesticated animals? Challenging speciesism undermines a common ideological rationale for class domination.
Paraphrasing an English factory inspector, Lafargue wrote that "there exist two kinds of experiments: one practiced by physiologists on a few animals, the other practiced on thousands of men by speculators." As an example of the latter, Lafargue wrote that "two years ago a manufacturer of rice powder in London, Mr. King, falsified his merchandise with clay and arsenical dust." Human infants who were exposed to the powder died of poisoning. Lafargue seemed to suggest that animalists, who were opposed to vivisection, were not outraged by this. My guess is Lafargue was attacking a straw man here. But even if he wasn't, his accusation that animalists' sympathies were reductionist could easily be flipped to apply to him. Where perhaps anti-vivisectionists were blind to class injustice, he was blind to species injustice. After all, the "few animals" he blithely described as vivisected in the name of anthropocentric science likely had a higher level of consciousness than the human infants poisoned by rice powder.
Ultimately, if indifference to animal exploitation is inherent to socialism as conceived by the likes of Lafargue, it's not a socialism I want to have anything to do with. Animalism and the class struggle are linked, if only because capitalists employ speciesism to justify their exploitation of the human masses.
Towards a Marxist animalism
To develop a Marxist animalism, we must situate non-humans within the labor theory of value, building on the intellectual groundwork laid by anti-speciesists like Barbara Noske and Bob Torres. The socialist animalist George Bernard Shaw reportedly argued, "I don't need a theory of value to tell me the poor are exploited." I'm sympathetic to such anti-intellectualism. But the truth is that for animalists to effect the species politics of Marxists, who have a disproportionate ideological influence on the far left, we must learn to speak their language. While I am very far from an expert on the minutiae of communist theory, this is what I have attempted to begin doing here.
Domesticated animals, like slaves, are distinct from proletarians in that they do not sell their labor power under the pretense of free choice. Rather, they themselves are commodities. Their labor power is sold all at once, unlike proletarians' whose labor power is sold in increments. "The slave did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner, any more than the ox sells his labour to the farmer," Karl Marx said. "The slave, together with his labour-power, was sold to his owner once for all. He is a commodity that can pass from the hand of one owner to that of another. He himself is a commodity, but his labour-power is not his commodity."
Within Marxism, necessary labor is that work needed to reproduce the exploited's labor power. In the human context, it's the work slaves or proletarians perform to create the equivalent of their livelihood. All work over and above this is surplus labor, unremunerated toiling which creates profits for the slave master or capitalist. Domesticated animals also perform necessary and surplus labor for their
owners. When an animal exploiter purchases a non-human, he is not only purchasing the animal herself, but a lifetime of her labor power, which is used to create commodities that include — among others — her offspring, her secretions, and her own flesh. Her necessary labor would be that required to create the equivalent of her food and shelter. Her surplus labor would be all that beyond this, which is used to enrich her owner.
Within Marxism, there are two different methods with which slave masters or capitalists can increase the surplus value their laborers produce. Absolute surplus value is obtained by increasing the overall amount of time laborers work in a particular period. For instance, a slavemaster or capitalist might increase the length of the working day or allow fewer days off a year. Meanwhile, relative surplus value is created by the lowering the amount of work dedicated to necessary labor in proportion to that dedicated to surplus labor. For instance, a slave master or capitalist might reduce what constitutes their laborers' livelihood or increase their laborers' productivity.
Domesticated animals' surplus labor can also be divided into the generation of absolute and relative surplus value. For instance, when a carriage horse's working day is increased from six to nine hours, absolute surplus value is produced for the animal exploiter. In contrast, relative surplus value is created when chickens' productivity is increased through genetic manipulation and the introduction of growth drugs. Similarly, relative surplus value is produced by lowering the cost of chickens' livelihood through intensive confinement.
Of course, what constitutes liberation for slaves or proletarians is different than what constitutes liberation for domesticated animals. Whereas the ultimate economic goal for human laborers is social control of the means of production, domesticated animals, were they able, would presumably not want to seize, say, a factory farm and run it for themselves. They would want to be removed from the production process entirely.
I hope there are no theoretical errors here, besides the intentional subversion of classical Marxism's anthropocentrism. But again, the intricacies of theory are not my strongest suit. I have no doubt others can radically expand, and where necessary, correct, this brief outline of a potential Marxist-animalist analysis
ISO member Brit Schulte discusses animal issues
Brit Schulte is a member of the International Socialist Organization and Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Exploitation, in addition to being an editor of Red Wedge magazine. Among other things, according to her biographical statement on the website of the Marxist art and culture publication, “she helped to coordinate the regional and statewide Walk For Choice marches in Texas, and was also an on-the-ground organizer in Atlanta during the fight to save Troy Davis with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.” Schulte recently agreed to an interview in which she discussed her species politics.
Jon Hochschartner: How would you describe your economic politics? Are you a socialist? Would you consider yourself a Marxist, anarchist, social democrat or something else?
Brit Schulte: I consider myself a lot of things, but I most often identify as a Marxist Feminist and Revolutionary Socialist. I believe that a world without exploitation and oppression is possible, where sustainable resources meet human and nonhuman animal need, and people organize themselves by free association.
JH: Can you describe what involvement, if any, you’ve had with organized socialist or anarchist left? How have your views regarding animals been received on the socialist or anarchist left?
BS: I am currently a member of the International Socialist Organization and FURIE (Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Exploitation). I have to say it entirely depends on who I’m talking with. I’ve met leftists of all stripes who have equally varied responses to the fight for animal emancipation or the “vegan question.” I do however find more folks sympathetic to the cause in the anarchist community. There seems to be an understood connection, communicated via the cultural expressions of the anarchist scene, between anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-speciesist struggles. That’s not to say that my socialist and communist identifying comrades aren’t making these connections, but culturally and programmatically speaking I do not see these connections being made expressly.
On the other hand, I have also encountered hostility and crude humor from comrades and allies alike specifically around issues that they perceive as mere lifestyle choices: vegetarianism, veganism, etc.
JH: Does your organization have any official position on animal exploitation of any kind? If not, is this something you would like to change? If so, how might you do this?
BS: There is no official position on animal exploitation per say, but the analysis and commitment to ecosocialism does include a condemnation of “Big Agra” and a firm position against the worldwide environmental degradation that this capitalist system has brought about — which the vast consumption and exploitation of animals for profit is undeniably linked.
I would prefer if a clearer stance was taken, and that anti-speciesism be included in more direct ways. That’s only going to happen by winning people to this position within the organization. It’s going to take free and open discussion and debate about how to include this struggle alongside other struggles for a better world. It’s going to take better analysis and further theoretical exploration- and practical application. There are many of us within the organization that believe in this work, and are prepared to do the patient (even frustratingly patient) task of making the case for animal emancipation to be on the agenda.
JH: Is there any way in which speciesism is used to further human class exploitation? If so, how?
BC: I feel like recommending Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle here…
Animal exploitation is absolutely connected to worker exploitation. The conditions that workers are forced to operate under in factory farms are unfit and unsustainable. The serious health risks and hazards that these workers face isn’t limited to just the encounters with the tormented and brutalized animals. We must consider the industrial accidents — the equipment that dis-limbs, the pesticides, the fecal matter and refuse that workers wade in, the list goes on and can be more gruesome. We should also mention that these jobs, by in large, are worked by folks of color. These workers are often migrant workers, and endure endless abuse because of their citizen status.
Agricultural workers have systematically had their unions busted into nonexistence, and suffer disproportionately from illnesses that are linked to the chemical exposure, and PTSD that results from working in these disgusting and violent conditions. Then there is the genetically modified and hormone riddled foods that these workers have to feed their families because of its low cost. The poor have always eaten the worst, and today’s low wage workers are no exception. Foods are regularly bleached, or cut with filler products. The cheapest food is the worst for us, most low cost meat has growth hormone pumped into it to accelerate development so younger, thinner cattle/swine/poultry/fish can be produced, butchered and sold faster. So if the job itself doesn’t kill you, the food that results from it will.
“Big Agra” is not concerned with worker’s well-being or eco-sustainability; they are solely concerned with profit growth and expansion. This constant drive for profit results in the inhuman, miserable conditions that the animals and workers face. The workers are not trained to use humane methods to butcher; they are trained to produce meat and carcass at break-neck speeds. Most byproducts are dumped (resulting in some of our world’s largest margins of pollution), or can be found in questionable other “mixed meat products” at bargain grocery outlets. It wasn’t too long ago that folks were up in arms about Aldi mixing in horse meat with its beef products. This is a typical practice to cut corners, and cut costs.
It’s undeniable that these jobs, which focus specifically on the torture and butchering of other living sentient beings, affect the worker’s psyche. This stress, and brutal work take a toll both mentally and physically. No animal, human or otherwise, should have to live, work, and die in those conditions.
JH: How would you respond to the suggestion that personal veganism is an individualistic solution to a systemic problem? Or that insisting on personal veganism as a baseline for animal activism is the equivalent of saying anyone who drives a car can’t be opposed to fossil fuel economies, or anyone who wears Nike can’t be opposed to sweatshops?
BS: I think that anyone who is involved and active in the fight for a better world should have a critical systemic analysis. One person’s decision to become a vegan or vegetarian is not going to overthrow the environmental-killer capitalism. However coordinated efforts, boycott campaigns, and other collective initiatives are strategic actions that can make an impact. While an individual choice is just that, individual, a creative collective response can help activate those who might not make the same choice on their own. It takes time for folks to unlearn social norms- like eating meat. That’s understandable. Someone who eats meat can still organize to resist capitalism, however I do think it’s time we begin to shift the debate around animal emancipation to include more strategy and tactics to get people excited about cutting meat out of their diets and making a statement in the process.
Obviously there is no “going off the grid” under capitalism. So we clothe ourselves, feed ourselves, and transport ourselves however we can and no one who speaks out against any injustice should be shamed for doing so because of what they’re eating, wearing, or for their mode of transit. While these actions may seem hypocritical, we don’t know where everyone is coming from, so entering into a dialogue instead of a confrontation is always best when talking political perspectives. Someone who is newly radicalizing may be unaware of the latest offense committed by a clothing retailer, etc. Folks should be welcomed on board activist projects and patient conversation and debate should be had when issues arise.
(Unless of course it violates BDS, then we gotta call that shit out.)
JH: Is a vegan capitalism possible? Why or why not?
BS: My short answer is no.
Considering the Big Agra, factory farm meat industry, shrimping/whaling/fishing (read as the disastrously fated oceans) company lobbyists — these major corporations are American institutions. They paint themselves as family businesses, committed to providing “quality products” at affordable prices. Most of them are even linked to green-washing campaigns! All the while they contribute to the proud meat eating identity that so many americans assume.
(Just look at all the goddamn bacon merchandise out there. Or better yet, mention anywhere in public that you’re a vegan or vegetarian and listen to EVERYONE else explain why they are unable to live without cheese or bacon. Or Bacon cheese burgers. This just recently happened to me in my workplace — again.)
Their marketing and sales strategies contribute to the social conditioning which gives rise to meat consumption, while their lobbying firms line the pockets of governmental “representatives” to ensure the Big Agra and meat agenda is positively pushed and protected. That hamburger might be cheap, but its unsustainable and tortuous origins have poor, working people, and animals paying with our lives.
Capitalism needs the oppression and subjugation of the natural world to propagate itself. It’s as simple as that.
JH: Jason Hribal has argued animals should be considered part of the proletariat. Bob Torres has said such a definition obscures the difference in revolutionary potential between animal and human laborers, and that animals are in fact super exploited living commodities. Where do you stand in the debate?
BS: I have to side with Torres on this one, although I find a lot of scholarship from this debate lacking. Animals are not part of the proletariat; they are not capable of self-activity toward revolutionary ends — you’ll notice I use the phrase animal emancipation elsewhere in this interview. They are in bondage, and their natural habitats are being destroyed. We need to begin a process of liberating animals from the unsustainable, for-profit conditions that they live and die under.
JH: British socialist Richard Seymour has said the relationship between animals and humans in Marxism is under theorized. Do you agree? If so, what areas are particularly lacking?
BS: Absolutely. I think we need to better address the question of “living commodities.” There is a real urgency in linking revolutionary theory to practical application across the spectrum of struggles.
JH: Are there additional thoughts or comments you would like to make?
BS: To those on the left who will (undoubtedly) be defensive about their meat consumption: this is not about your personal eating habits. It is however about reframing the debate. As a broad anti-capitalist movement, we should be demanding the right to sustainable and nutritious foods. We should be demanding an end to genetically modified, or hormone injected foods. All food should be safe to consume, and not negatively impact the environment. Everyone should have access to the very best that our natural world has to offer, provided it does not compromise ecosystems. We should champion a world where all sentient beings live healthy lives, and thrive. Mental and physical activity, everything we are able to do as human animals, all depends on the kind of nourishment we get. It is far past time to address these struggles.
Why is it so goddamn contentious to say that our eating habits need not be cruel?
Communard Louise Michel was an animalist
Since I'm interested in both socialism and animalism, historical figures who managed to reconcile the two ideologies fascinate and inspire me. That's why I find the French communard Louise Michel so interesting.
During the Paris Commune of 1871, she served the working-class uprising as an ambulance worker and militia member. When the rebellion was overrun, Michel was captured and tried. She dared the court to execute her, but ultimately was imprisoned in France for almost two years before being deported.
In her memoirs, Michel wrote that she traced her progressive politics to animalist feeling. "As far back as I can remember, the origin of my revolt against the powerful was my horror at the tortures inflicted on animals," she said. "I used to wish animals could get revenge, that the dog could bite the man who was mercilessly beating him, that the horse bleeding under the whip could throw off the man tormenting him."
She wrote that from an early age she rescued animals and that habit continued into adulthood. "I was accused of allowing my concern for animals to outweigh the problems of humans at the Perronnnet barricade at Neuilly during the Commune, when I ran to help a cat in peril," she said. "The unfortunate beast was crouched in a corner that was being scoured by shells, and it was crying out."
Michel believed there was a link between the subjugation of animals and the subjugation of humans. "The more ferocious a man is toward animals," she wrote, "the more that man cringes before the people who dominate him." In fact, she credited her opposition to the death penalty to witnessing the slaughter of an animal as a child.
She raged against vivisection, writing, "All this useless suffering perpetrated in the name of science must end. It is as barren as the blood of the little children whose throats were cut by Gilles de Retz and other madmen."
According to the International Vegetarian Union website, one Louise Michel attended the 1890 International Vegetarian Congress in England. The report of the meeting states she "expressed her views on Vegetarianism. The eating of flesh meant misery to the animals, and she held that it was impossible for men to be happy while animals were miserable."
And yet, search her memoirs for the term 'vegetarian' and you will find nothing. As a very young child, Michel was traumatized by the sight of a decapitated goose. "One result was that the sight of meat thereafter nauseated me until I was eight or ten," she wrote, "and I needed a strong will and my grandmother's arguments to overcome that nausea." This of course suggests she consumed flesh and her memoirs do not immediately mention a later-in-life change in practice.
She also wrote, "Instead of the putrefied flesh which we are accustomed to eating, perhaps science will give us chemical mixtures containing more iron and nutrients than the blood and meat we now absorb." This could be interpreted as anticipating the in-vitro meat now being developed. But it could also be read as a reflection of her belief that animal-derived foods were nutritionally necessary or superior in her era.
While it seems clear where her sympathies were, I'm unsure if Michel was a vegetarian. But ultimately I don’t think individual consumer choices matter a great deal.
Was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn an animalist?
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a leader in the Industrial Workers of the World and later Communist Party USA, practiced prefigurative vegetarianism for at least a portion of her life. The texts I've been able to access suggest her choice was to some degree influenced by animalist concern.
The inspiration for folksinger Joe Hill's song "Rebel Girl," Flynn was
a feminist and founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, in addition to her roles as a socialist and labor leader. Her activism took her from New York City, where she spent her formative years, to Russia, where she died.
Her dietary change was inspired by Upton Sinclair's book "The Jungle," which she apparently read as a teenager. "After reading it I forthwith became a vegetarian!" Flynn stated in her memoir. "He wrote this book in 1906 to expose the terrible conditions of the stockyard workers and advocate socialism as a remedy. But the public seized rather upon the horrible descriptions of filth, diseased cattle, floor sweepings and putrid meat packed in sausages and canned food."
Sinclair was himself a vegetarian, but apparently for health reasons, rather than any sort of concern for animals. "It has always seemed to me that human beings have a right to eat meat, if meat is necessary for their best development, either physical or mental," Sinclair wrote later. "I have never had any sympathy with that 'humanitarianism' which tells us it is our duty to regard pigs and chickens as our brothers."
This does not seem to have been the case for Flynn. Writing of her visit to the Chicago stockyards in 1907, she said she "couldn't stand to see the animals killed. The frightened squeals were dreadful. I remained vegetarian. It smelled bad, looked bad, and left a bad taste for days afterward."
Despite her sympathy, it was clear she believed animalist concerns should be prioritized below the class struggle. Writing of the Lawrence textile strike of 1912, she said, "The workers of Lowell, a nearby textile town, led a cow garlanded with leaves, to the strikers of Lawrence. I felt sorry for her with her festive appearance and mild eyes. But she had to be slaughtered to feed hungry children. Her head was mounted and hung up in the Franco-Belgian Hall."
How long she remained vegetarian is unclear. Flynn wrote her memoir at the age of 65 and the tone with which she describes the vegetarianism of her youth sounds patronizing. At the risk of overanalyzing, for instance, the exclamation mark used after declaring her past vegetarianism — "I forthwith became a vegetarian!" — reads to me as if she now thinks her earlier position was absurd or scarcely to be believed at the time of writing.
Her later involvement with Communist Party USA, which was closely tied to the Soviet Union, and of which she eventually became chairwoman, also suggests she might have given up prefigurative vegetarianism. To what degree, if any, this is the product of Red-Scare hysteria I'm not sure, but a variety of sources state that vegetarianism was banned in the Soviet Union.
According to the website of the International Vegetarian Union, for instance, "The revolution of 1917 stopped the development of vegetarianism in Russia. The Soviet State authorities considered vegetarianism as a pseudoscientific theory that reflected the bourgeois ideology and therefore harmed to Soviet people. In 1929 the last vegetarian society in Moscow was closed...The leaders of the vegetarian societies were persecuted, many of them arrested and sentenced." According to the Moscow Times, at one point the Big Soviet Encyclopedia ridiculously stated, "vegetarianism, which is based on false hypotheses and ideas, does not have followers in the Soviet Union."
ISO might form animalist tendency
Alan Peck, a member of the International Socialist Organization, the largest group on the American revolutionary left, hopes to launch an animalist tendency within the organization. He believes capitalism and animal exploitation are connected and suspects a significant minority of the ISO would be interested in joining the tendency.
Peck was first introduced to the ISO in late 2011. "I met the local branch of the ISO during the first general membership meeting of my union after I was hired, right as Occupy Wall Street broke out," he said. "I'd already followed left-of-Obama politics for a number of years, so when a guy made a proposal to endorse Occupy San Diego and form an Occupy solidarity group within our union, I made a point to strike up a conversation with him."
As it happened, the person Peck spoke with was a revolutionary and together they joined the Occupy San Diego Labor Solidarity Committee. There he found that "many of the activists making the clearest, best arguments and being the most effective leaders were all from this strange socialist group," Peck said, referring to the ISO.
His political transformation occurred quickly. While the Occupy San Diego General Assembly fizzled, the Labor Solidarity Committee to which he belonged flourished. "Within a handful of months, I transformed from a disaffected former Democrat who thought a repeal of Citizens United would solve everything, into a full-on Marxist," Peck said.
He believes the ISO needs an organized tendency for those with progressive species politics to agitate for animalist positions within the group. "The combination of laws, customs, and economic incentives that support animal agriculture closely resembles other systems of oppression within capitalism, often eerily so," Peck said. "Just as we believe that racism, sexism, and queerphobia will not end without the overthrow of capitalism, and capitalism cannot be overthrown without challenging these oppressions inside the system, I think that what we do to animals is interrelated with the exploitative system of capitalism in the same way."
Still, Peck seems to concede that widespread veganism is not necessary to overthrow private ownership of the means of production.
"Materially, there is nothing keeping the working class from organizing to overthrow the rulers while still eating animals," he said. "However, the ideologies that support the infliction of unnecessary suffering on non-human animals in the interest of profit are the same ideologies that must be confronted and undone in the process of ending capitalism and building a better world."
Additionally, Peck said, the worst animal abuse occurs on factory farms, the same spaces where the most severe exploitation of human workers and degradation of the environment also take place. "Given these facts, I think it is right for revolutionaries, and. revolutionary organizations, to challenge the system of animal exploitation," he said.
Peck is hopeful that a sizable portion of the ISO membership would join an animalist tendency. "In the branch, about a fifth are vegan or vegetarian," Peck said, adding he believed that percentage would join the tendency. "I don't know the landscape in other branches. I suspect the numbers are similar in other urban branches."
Still, Peck might have his work cut out for him in forming a tendency, as the organization's rules don't explicitly condemn or condone their formation. While there has been a lively discussion of the need for caucuses and factions within the group, he said, there has been little talk of tendencies. "We see caucuses as organizations of members who are part of a specially oppressed group, and we see factions as temporary formations to agitate for a political position," Peck said. "Most members see factions as probably necessary at times but inherently hostile. A tendency on the other hand would not be hostile to the main politics and practice of the organization, but nonetheless advocate a minority position."
'Dehumanization' made possible by low-status of animals
Throughout history, when one human group exploits or oppresses another, the dominant group invariably justifies its actions by likening the subordinate group to animals. This isn't a coincidence.
By successfully linking subordinate groups to animals in the popular imagination, dominant groups are able to justify their position by tapping into society's widespread speciesism, which views the exploitation or oppression of animals as legitimate. In this way, the fight against speciesism and those against racism, sexism, and classism, among others, are connected. Let's look at a few examples of how dominant groups link subordinate groups to animals.
In "The Eternal Jew," a racist, 1940 Nazi propaganda film, Jewish people were explicitly compared to rats, a species upon which humans place particularly little value. "Where rats appear, they bring ruin by destroying mankind's goods and foodstuffs," the narrator intoned. "In this way, they spread disease, plague, leprosy, typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, and so on. They are cunning, cowardly and cruel and are found mostly in large packs. Among the animals, they represent the rudiment of an insidious, underground destruction - just like the Jews among human beings."
In 2013, a white 911 operator in Texas compared African Americans to animals on social media. "Call after call are black people fighting and screaming and hitting each other and they want to yell at me and treat me like shit," the operator wrote. "Black people are outrageous! They are more like animals."
The writer Samuel Johnson, who died in 1784, reportedly compared women's participation in public life to animals unnaturally mimicking human behavior. "A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs," Johnson said. "It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."
Arguing in favor of forcing women to carry pregnancies to term after 20 weeks, in 2012 a Georgia state representative implicitly compared women to livestock. "I've had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive – delivering pigs, dead and alive." The male lawmaker said. "It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it."
In "The Principles of Scientific Management," an influential 1911 monograph by Frederick Winslow Taylor in which the techniques of modern capitalist exploitation are outlined, Taylor repeatedly compares human workers to domesticated animals. "Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type," Taylor wrote. "The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character."
More recently, for instance, in 2012, Terry Gou, the chairman of Hon Hai, parent company of the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer Foxconn, compared his workforce to animals and suggested he could learn management
techniques from the director of the Taipei Zoo. "Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache," Gou said.
The struggles for human liberation and animal liberation are linked, if only because dominant human groups employ speciesism to justify the exploitation or oppression of subordinate human groups that society deems "animal-like." By bettering the conditions of animals, we better the conditions of humans.
Take the subject of class. Progressives are well aware that raising the wage of the lowest-paid workers will boost the income of higher-paid workers as expectations for 'fair' compensation rise. Conversely, progressives know that lowering the wage of the lowest-paid workers will drag down the income of higher-paid workers as expectations for 'fair' compensation fall.
The same relation can be seen when one looks at the treatment of animals and the treatment of humans. As expectations rise for what constitutes 'fair' treatment for animals, the supposed lowest of the low, expectations for what constitutes 'fair' treatment for humans will also rise. In contrast, the 'dehumanization' of human groups is made possible by the low status of animals. The sooner the anthropocentric left recognizes this, the better.