Lately, I've become interested in the possibilities of animalists forming sub-groups within broader left-wing organizations and movements. Today, I will recount the story of brave souls attempting to do just this and failing in spectacularly-hilarious fashion. Without further ado, I present the tragicomic history of the Occupy Wall Street Animal Issues working group.
The group met only nine times, according to the New York City General Assembly. One would be stretching the definition of the word to describe some of these attempted gatherings, for which the minutes were faithfully documented, as "meetings."
The group first met on February 1, 2012, well after Occupy Wall Street was evicted from Zuccotti Park and the movement was on its way to irrelevance. Eight people attended this inaugural meeting, which started half an hour late. A heated debate quickly broke out regarding the costs and benefits of a horizontal- organizational model, as the group argued whether to make everyone an administrator of what one must assume is their mailing list.
"Johanna responds that she wants to feel free to e-mail information and that how the group is choking with bureaucracy and she doesn’t experience this with any other group and things are more flowing and freer," the minutes state. "Ruth disagrees and expresses concern about changing this policy so that everyone could be an administrator. "
But the dispute doesn't end there. "Dan agrees with Johanna and expresses that the spirit of OWS is not to have hierarchies, and that everyone should be an administrator," the minutes state. "Adam replies that is not a question of hierarchies but of making sure things are organized and safely reliable."
This leads one member to threaten to quit. As the minutes say, "Johanna replies that if she is not going to have the freedom to get things done, then she is going to have (to) leave the group." After being interrupted by a passerby asking for potato chips, the meeting was closed.
The group's third gathering, on February 15, did not go well either. The only one in attendance, Adam was listed as the meeting's facilitator and note taker. "Adam walked around 60 Wall Street looking for people looking for the meeting. He found no one," the minutes state. "Adam left."
Turnout for future gatherings was better, but not by much. The fifth meeting, for instance, boasted only three attendees. If the minutes available are complete, months passed between the fifth meeting and the sixth. Listed in attendance at the sixth gathering was a "LOUD coffee grinder," which one guesses made talking difficult. There was no facilitator for the meeting, as presumably the tiny group had given up the pretensions it was necessary.
While the results were sadly humorous, those in the OWS Animal Issues should be applauded for attempting to inject anti-speciesist politics into broader leftist movements. Let's hope that future attempts will be more fruitful. There is evidence that formations of the anthropocentric left can be pushed in progressive directions by what are assumably minority, animalist voices within them. Socialist Party USA, for instance, calls for the ban of the fur trade and animal testing for product development. Though these are obviously piece-meal proposals, if put into practice they would benefit millions of animals every year.
Green Party Candidate Howie Hawkins discusses animal treatment
Howie Hawkins is the Green Party candidate for governor of New York State. Additionally, he is a member of Socialist Party USA and Solidarity. His running mate, Brian Jones, is a member of the International Socialist Organization. Hawkins agreed to an interview with me in which he discussed animal exploitation.
Jon Hochschartner: Why should those concerned by the treatment of animals vote for you?
Howie Hawkins: Because my campaign is building a movement and party to replace the capitalist system that generates the mistreatment of animals, from puppy mills and factory farms to the mass extinction now underway due to habitat destruction and global warming. Capitalism’s inherent drive for endless growth based on competitive accumulation relentlessly destroys animal habitat and mistreats domestic and farm animals in the blind, amoral pursuit of profit.
We want to replace the economic dictatorship of capitalism with an economic democracy that many call socialism or the cooperative commonwealth. In a democratic economy, people will have the power to choose to meet their material needs on an ecologically sustainable basis that protects habitat and treats animals ethically. We support cooperatives in the private sector, democratic public utilities for those goods and services that ought to be available to all as human rights, and democratic planning of technology choices and public investment and spending.
JH: Does the Green Party 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?
HH: The platform of the Green Party of the United States has a section opposing animal exploitation.
JH: For you, how, if at all, are the fights for economic justice and better treatment for animals intertwined?
HH: The same domineering institutions, ideologies, and sensibilities that rationalize the domination of human by human also rationalize the domination of nature, including non-human animals. In order to harmonize society with nature, we must harmonize human with human. The fight against the mistreatment of animals, like the fights against racism, sexism, and exploitation, are part of the fight for a humane ecological society.
When we fight for the economic human rights to decent jobs, living wages, publicly-funded health care, a good education, affordable housing and public transit, and clean energy and a sustainable environment, we are fighting for a society in which the well-being of each is dependent on the well-being of all of its sentient creatures, human and non-human alike.
Does socialist critique of terrorism apply to animalists?
The animalist movement has long been divided between militants and pacifists, between those who support violence against property or institutional exploiters and those who do not. In one camp, we find activists like Steven Best, who argue the scope of animal exploitation is so great that preventative violence is a moral necessity. In the other, we find activists like Gary Francione, who argue all forms of violence are wrong, including those directed at institutional exploiters or their property.
I'd argue that by focusing so intently on the morality of violence, the animalist movement often ignores whether the debated tactics are effective. Additionally, I'd like to investigate what, if anything, we can learn from other movements that have grappled with the question of terrorism. In this essay, I will be examining the revolutionary workers' struggle specifically.
Most socialists don't have a moral opposition to violence, but recognize it's generally incapable of creating large-scale, permanent change when carried out by individuals or small groups. By the 1890s, according to Randall Law, even anarchists were distancing themselves from the doctrine of 'propaganda by the deed,' with luminaries such as Peter Kropotkin declaring a "structure based on centuries of history cannot be destroyed with a few kilos of explosives."
In a 1911 article, "Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism," Leon Trotsky, whatever one's interpretation of the Bolshevik Revolution might be, neatly summarized the socialist case against political violence carried out by individuals. First, it's important to understand how Trotsky defined terrorism for the sake of his article. Terrorism was not limited to "the killing of an employer... (or) an assassination attempt, with revolver in hand, against a government minister." Terrorism included "the damaging of machines by workers, for example."
For Trotsky, the human masses were the fundamental agents of progressive change. Practitioners of terrorism falsely believed they could become these agents themselves and skip past the process of winning the masses to their position. "In our eyes," Trotsky writes, "individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission."
Obviously, the points about agency Trotsky raises here don't apply to the animalist movement. Unlike the human masses, who must collectively liberate themselves, animals cannot do so. They must rely on the human masses for their freedom. Some contemporary socialists, such as Paul D'Amato, have argued this fact justifies denying animals rights. But such a position ignores that many human groups, such as infants or the severely-mentally disabled, cannot fight for their interests either and must rely on the human masses to do so for them.
Still, if Trotsky is right, and terrorism discourages collective action by the human masses, when that is what's required for real change for animals, one must conclude terrorism is a dead-end. On the other hand, one could also argue that collective action by the human masses on behalf of animals is so unlikely in the present era that individual terrorism is the best for which we can hope.
In his article, however, Trotsky goes on to highlight how little terrorism achieves, besides increased police repression. "The smoke from the confusion clears away, the panic disappears, the successor of the murdered minister makes his appearance, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only the police repression grows more savage and brazen," Trotsky writes. "And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusionment and apathy."
Trotsky's point regarding increased police repression is undeniable in the context of the animalist movement to anyone who has read the work of writers such as Will Potter on the Green Scare. Further, as Trotsky says, the wheel of systemic exploitation is generally unaffected by terrorism. Slaughterhouses and laboratories are generally rebuilt. While the non-human lives saved by terrorism should not be ignored, animalists frequently seem to mistake the use of terrorism as the symptom of a robust movement, when in fact it's the opposite. Resorting to such desperate actions represents an inability to garner the mass support needed to create real change.
Anti-speciesists should move beyond abstract debate regarding the morality of political violence to a concrete discussion of its effectiveness. To do this, we needn't reinvent the wheel. Let's learn what we can from other movements that have grappled with the issue of terrorism. Some of the lessons won't be applicable, but many will.
Elisee Reclus was an anarchist animalist
Elisee Reclus, the French anarchist and geographer, was a prosletyzing animalist who practiced prefigurative vegetarianism. Serving as a militia member, he was an active participant in the Paris Commune of 1871, a working-class uprising that Karl Marx dubbed "the glorious harbinger of a new society." After his capture by government forces, Reclus was initially to be deported to New Caledonia, an archipelago off the coast of Australia. But due to the intervention of his supporters, which according to some sources included Charles Darwin, Reclus' sentence was reduced to banishment, which allowed him to live in Switzerland.
Reclus was sensitive to violence against animals as a young child. "One of the family had sent me, plate in hand, to the village butcher, with the injunction to bring back some gory fragment or other," Reclus wrote, recalling an example. "I still remember this gloomy yard where terrifying men went to and fro with great knives, which they wiped on blood-besprinkled smocks. Hanging from a porch an enormous carcass seemed to me to occupy an extraordinary amount of space; from its white flesh a reddish liquid was trickling into the gutters." Overwhelmed by the sight of the slaughterhouse, Reclus apparently fainted.
Reclus wrote perceptively about the process which allows humans to commit such violence, a process we might call speciesist socialization. A child's horrified reactions to the exploitation of animals "wear off in time; they yield before the baneful influence of daily education," Reclus stated. "Parents, teachers, official or friendly, doctors, not to speak of the powerful individual whom we call 'everybody,' all work together to harden the character of the child with respect to this 'four-footed food,' which nevertheless, loves as we do, (and) feels as we do."
Perhaps anticipating the work of writers such as Joan Dunayer, Reclus recognized the role language plays in denying or rationalizing animal exploitation. "The animals sacrificed to man's appetite have been systematically and methodically made hideous, shapeless, and debased in intelligence and moral worth," Reclus wrote. "The name even of the animal into which the boar has been transformed is used as the grossest of insults; the mass of flesh we see wallowing in noisome pools is so loathsome to look at that we agree to avoid all similarity of name between the beast and the dishes we make out of it."
And of course Reclus believed there was a connection between violence against animals and violence against humans. "Is there then so much difference between the dead body of a bullock and that of a man?" Reclus asked. "The dissevered limbs, the entrails mingling one with the other, are very much alike: the slaughter of the first makes easy the murder of the second, especially when a leader's order rings out, or from afar comes the word of the crowned master, 'Be pitiless.'"
Reclus died in 1905 at the age of 75. "It is reported that his last days were made particularly happy by news of the popular revolution in Russia," according to Camille Martin and John P. Clark. "He expired shortly after hearing of the revolt of the sailors on the battleship Potemkin."
Draft horse exploitation in Adirondack-logging industry
Writing history from the perspective of domesticated animals, the group most exploited under capitalism, is incredibly difficult to accomplish. I recently attempted this, researching the exploitation of draft horses in the Adirondack lumber industry in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Unsurprisingly, given society’s speciesism, the labor of these animals is almost completely invisible. Reading through the various popular histories of the region, mentions of the horses’ forced toil, essential to past logging efforts, are rare.
From a Marxist-animalist perspective, there were differences between the animal and human laborers working in lumber production. The human laborers were proletarians, in that they sold their labor power to logging companies incrementally, under the pretense of free choice.
“A good lumberjack with a sharp ax could cut seventy logs a day for a month,” Paul Schneider said. “For this the lumberjack received, at midcentury , about seventy-five cents a day.” Though room and board was provided, Schneider said, “pay was often in company script that was good only at selected local stores and bars, or at the camp commissary.”
The draft horses were closer to slaves, in that their labor power was sold all at once, without any semblance of agency. “Most of the horses were Belgians, often obtained from farms in Ontario for $80 to $110 each,” according to Bill Gove. “In the years after World War I, the price was over $300.” Due to domesticated animals’ obvious lack of political power, even in comparison to human proletarians, these horses produced surplus value at a much higher rate than the lumberjacks working beside them.
Logging was a massive business in the Adirondacks. In the early 1870s, according to Schneider, “upwards of a million logs a year were floating down out of the mountains.” As Frank Graham, Jr. pointed out, wood was always in demand for fuel in houses and factories. In addition, it was constantly needed to construct buildings, furniture, ships, and countless other important products. However, Craig Gilborn said, the profits from the industry did not remain in the Adirondacks, but rather enriched the capitalists “whose businesses and homes were chiefly in Glens Falls and cities outside the region.”
Logging generally took place in the late fall and early winter, according to Schneider. “This was in part because timber left lying through the summer attracted woodworms, and even more because most loggers preferred to spend the warmer months farming or guiding,” Scheider said. “Smaller crews were employed through the summer and early fall building logging roads and constructing camps where the seasonal men would stay.”
Draft horses were made to haul logs. According to Gove, the best animals, from the perspective of their human masters, could interpret the commands of teamsters and were able to quickly pick up on potential dangers. “A well-trained skid horse could even work alone without an escort, twitching a log from the cutting crew down to the man at the skidway and returning without anyone walking along with him,” Gove said. “If the log hung up en route on an obstruction such as a rock, the horse knew enough to ‘gee and haw’ in different directions on his own until the log came free.”
Working in the winter posed specific challenges. “If a horse fell in deep snow, it became quite difficult for him to get back on his feet with the harness in place,” according to Gove. “He would lie still, as trained, until the teamster unhooked the straps and chains. Most horses would readily walk across a railroad trestle, carefully stepping on the ties.”
This involuntary labor, dragging logs, often ended in death for the non-humans involved. “The mortality rate for the horses was high,” according to Lloyd Blankman. “Sometimes fewer than half of them survived when the drive started in the spring. All kinds of accidents befell them. There were sickness, trees falling, unseen holes and cliffs, icy roads, many occasions for trouble.” Besides being dangerous, the work was gruelingly difficult. “Working eleven hours a day during the season, a horse could be expected to last about six years,” according to Gove. Due to his troubling vagueness, one is unsure whether Gove meant the horses died from exhaustion after this period, were slaughtered, or sold for another form of work.
Could a meat-eater advocate for a vegan society?
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the emphasis animalists place on the assumed need to practice personal veganism so as to advocate public veganism. In its most basic form, the question that has been rolling around my head boils down to whether it should be acceptable for a meat-eater to advocate for animal liberation, a phrase I use to mean, as Ronnie Lee does, "an end to all persecution, exploitation and killing of other animals by human beings or for us to reach a situation that is as near to that as possible."
While this issue has been rattling around my head for some time, a few readings and experiences have recently brought it to the fore.
One of these thought-provoking readings was Norm Phelps' book "Changing the Game," particularly those sections which dealt with the distinctions between movements that focus on private morality and those that focus on public policy. He listed regressive campaigns such as prohibition, the war on drugs and the anti-abortion movement as belonging to the former, while highlighting progressive campaigns like the civil-rights movement, second-wave feminism and the LGBT struggle as belonging to the latter.
"The public generally sees animal rights as belonging to the private tradition," Phelps wrote, after pointing out the population of vegetarians and vegans in the United States has not grown or shrank over at least the past dozen years, fitting with the pattern he established of movements associated with the private tradition failing. "They believe this in large part because we place so much emphasis on personal dietary decisions and comparatively little emphasis on institutional and societal attitudes toward animals."
Another of these readings was an interesting article called "Animal Liberation and Marxism," in a recent issue of the Weekly Worker, a publication of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In a section of the article, members and supporters of Assoziation Dämmerung, an animalist group informed by the Frankfurt School, were asked about the importance they place on the prefigurative nature of personal veganism.
While all defended the prioritizing of personal veganism, for the most part they did so less strongly and for different reasons one might expect. None of them, for instance, did so because they believed a product boycott was a feasible way to end or limit animal exploitation, so far as I could tell. Susann Witt-Stahl summarized what seemed to be the majority's defense of personal veganism as primarily necessary for unbiased thinking.
"If you accept our ideas yet continue to eat meat, it is also true that you remain trapped in a process of self-alienation," Witt-Stahl said. "You cannot eat animals if you truly perceive them as tormentable bodies. If you eat animals, you will inevitably have a different relationship to them: they are just things, objects to you - not beings that strive for happiness or at least want to avoid suffering."
Finally, one of the experiences that brought the question of the importance of personal veganism to prominence in my mind was attending a 2013 lecture by Rod Coronado at Skidmore College. For those not aware, Coronado is something of a legend in the animalist and environmental communities for sinking Icelandic 'whaling' ships and releasing mink from research farms, among other things. I had heard a few years back he had given up veganism, but thought perhaps he had adopted it once again, as he was launching a speaking tour that was heavily promoted in the animalist community and included stops at the 2014 Animal Liberation Forum. This wasn't the case. I asked during the question-and- answer section whether he was vegan and he said he wasn't.
While I briefly toyed with the possibility of centering this essay around Coronado, I quickly realized he was not an adequate test case for whether practicing personal veganism was necessary for advocating public veganism because I was doubtful he saw animal liberation, using the definition supplied by Ronnie Lee, as an end goal. My understanding was that he approved of pre-industrial methods of exploitation of animals by humans.
Ultimately, I'm still very confused about how I feel about the issue. For instance, what would the historical equivalent be, in another movement, to a meat-eater advocating animal liberation? Would it be an 19th-century abolitionist who used slave-produced goods? My brief research suggests the majority of abolitionists did not seriously engage in boycotting. Or would it be closer to an abolitionist who owned slaves?
Moving to the worker's movement, with which I am more familiar, would the equivalent be a socialist who used goods produced in sweatshops? Well, as a socialist I can say that most comrades I've come across tend to view such boycotts as hopelessly naive and do not engage in them. Or would the closer equivalent be a socialist who owned a large business? Frederick Engels owned a mill, though he spent a good deal of his fortune bankrolling revolutionaries such as his intellectual collaborator Karl Marx. Perhaps there is no useful comparison.
A negative side effect of animalists' emphasis on the assumed need to practice personal veganism so as to advocate public veganism that I've noticed is that it opens us up to and, in fact, invites what I'll call "gotcha anti-veganism." Gotcha anti-veganism involves criticizing failures or inconsistencies in someone's personal practice so as to ignore their public proposals for animals. For instance, an exaggerated example of this might include someone saying, "Oh, you didn't know Cheerios have vitamin D3 in them, which comes from lanolin, which comes from sheep's wool? Well, you're complicit in the exploitation of animals and therefore have no right to complain about slaughterhouses."
One might assume that gotcha anti-veganism is employed solely by domestication apologists. But animalists reinforce this self-defeating standard all of the time. Gary Francione, for instance, frequently points out that there is little difference between the violence involved in the most egregious, prosecutable cases of animal abuse and everyday treatment of farmed animals. This comparison is a useful tool that I've borrowed. But the way in which it is frequently presented suggests that non-vegans have no right to criticize any form of violence against animals. On a practical level this has a silencing effect on potential allies who are critical of non-human abuse, which is ultimately detrimental to the animalist cause.
Vegan Angela Davis connects human and animal liberation
While Angela Davis is well known for her progressive perspectives on race, gender, and class, less well known are her views on species, which are quite forward thinking. The great socialist scholar, it might surprise some to hear, does not consume animal products.
"I usually don’t mention that I’m vegan but that has evolved," Davis said at the 27th Empowering Women of Color Conference, according to a transcript available at RadioProject.org. "I think it’s the right moment to talk about it because it is part of a revolutionary perspective - how can we not only discover more compassionate relations with human beings but how can we develop compassionate relations with the other creatures with whom we share this planet and that would mean challenging the whole capitalist industrial form of food production."
Challenging this form of food production, Davis said, would involve witnessing animal exploitation firsthand. "It would mean being aware - driving up the interstates or driving down the 5, driving down to LA, seeing all the cows on the ranches," she stated. "Most of people don’t think about the fact they’re eating animals. When they’re eating a steak or eating chicken, most people don’t think about the tremendous suffering that those animals endure simply to become food products to be consumed by human beings."
For Davis, this blindness is connected to the commodity form. "I think the lack of critical engagement with the food that we eat demonstrates the extent to which the commodity form has become the primary way in which we perceive the world," she said. "We don’t go further than what Marx called the exchange value of the actual object- we don’t think about the relations that that object embodies- and were important to
the production of that object, whether it’s our food or our clothes or
our iPads or all the materials we use to acquire an education at an institution like this. That would really be revolutionary to develop a habit of imagining the human relations and non-human relations behind all of the objects that constitute our environment."
Davis struck a similar note in a video recording uploaded to the Vegans of Color blog.
"I don't talk about this a lot but I'm going to do this today because
I think it's really important," she said. "The food we eat masks so
much cruelty. The fact that we can sit down and eat a piece of chicken without thinking about the horrendous conditions under which chickens are industrially bred in this country is a sign of the dangers of capitalism, how capitalism has colonized our minds. The fact that we look no further than the commodity itself, the fact that we refuse to understand the relationships that underly the commodities that we use on a daily basis. And so food is like that."
Davis suggested viewers watch the film 'Food, Inc.' "And then ask yourself," she said, "what is it like to sit down and eat that food that is generated only for the purposes of profit and creates so much suffering?" Davis concluded her comments by explicitly linking the treatment of humans and animals.
"I think there is a connection between, and I can't go further than this, the way we treat animals and the way we treat people who are at the bottom of the hierarchy," She said. "Look at the ways in which people who commit such violence on other human beings have often learned how to enjoy that by enacting violence on animals. So there are a lot of ways we can talk about this."
Assoziation Dämmerung discusses animal issues
Assoziation Dämmerung is a Marxist-animalist group based in Germany that was profiled in a Weekly Worker article earlier this year. They recently agreed to an email interview with me, in which they answered questions collectively.
Jon Hochschartner: Can you describe what involvement, if any, you’ve had with the broader socialist or anarchist left?
Assoziation Dämmerung: Assoziation Dämmerung (the name refers to an aphorism called Dämmerung written by the critical theorist Max Horkheimer, its English title is “Dawn”) is the product of a recent transformative change of the first and oldest left-wing animal rights and later animal liberation group in Germany called Tierrechts-Aktion Nord (TAN). TAN was founded at the end of the 1980s in the city of Hamburg in northern Germany and has undergone some changes on the political as well as theoretical level. Some years ago we transformed the group from an animal liberation single issue group to an eco-socialist or eco-Marxist one that bases its political work on the theoretical insights of Marx, Engels, and other so called traditional communists like Rosa Luxemburg, as well as the critical theory of the Frankfurt School whose best known members were Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse.
We still work on a bunch of animal liberation topics. Last year e.g. we organized a national meeting for the left-wing animal rights and animal liberation movement in Germany to discuss a self-critique of our movement e.g. regarding single issue politics, lifestyle politics, consumerism and so on, and to debate a Marxist approach to animal liberation. We aimed to analyze the industrial capital organizing the German meat industry (which is, by the way, the most powerful in the European Union) or to reflect upon the task to formulate a revolutionary negative moral theory approach towards animal liberation. To this convention we also invited comrades who are not part of the animal rights or animal liberation movement: amongst others the spokesperson for animal rights of the biggest German left party DIE LINKE and the assistant chairman of the German Communist Party (DKP). And we were glad that they came and discussed with the movement about their experiences.
One part of our transformative process has been the broadening of issues we are dealing with. Thus we got involved in various left-wing discussions and movements. For instance we invited the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) to give a talk on socialist struggle in Great Britain to promote proletarian internationalism. We had an event with professor Moshe Zuckermann from Tel Aviv about the conflict in the Middle East and the self-abolishment of Zionism by the politics of the Israeli government. We are part of a coalition which tries to promote left-wing debates on different issues e.g. the conflict in Ukraine, the current economic crisis of capitalism or the authoritarian development taking place in Germany and other Western countries.
We were also engaged in organizing support of the biggest strike in recent history in Hamburg. It officially lasted several months in a small company called Neupack (a plastic producer). Unfortunately the colleagues lost their battle due to the aggressive strategy of the company’s owner and the social democratic appeasement strategy of the union that is dominated by right-wing social democrats. Furthermore some of us work in the German anti-war movement.
So, it is obvious that we are intertwined with the German progressive movements in various ways. Not all people are socialist or anarchist there. And to be honest, anarchism—but not only anarchism—in Germany has become a very life-stylish, radical chic phenomenon of students addressing subcultural discourses or even neo-conservative ones waving the red and black flag together with an Israeli one when the IDF is dropping bombs on Gaza. So anarchism here has in fact largely become part of the problem instead of the solution. There is no real vital tradition of, let’s say, Durruti or Goldman anymore.
Our general line is to work in the best sense of what Rosa Luxemburg called revolutionary realpolitik with all progressive forces of all political branches (anti-imperialist, anti-war, struggles in companies, anti-gentrification e.g.) to form a front of all forces (non-parliamentary as well as parliamentary, unions as well as grassroots initiatives) against capitalism. In this sense we work on the ideological-cultural as well as on the political-economic level. And we stress and insist on the integration of eco-socialist and animal liberation politics into the agenda of the progressive movement. If the animal liberationists and animal rights activists really want to be a part of an anti-capitalist movement that abolishes the present state of things, it has to act like an anti-capitalist movement. Without anti-capitalist praxis it is just lip service.
JH: Is there any way in which speciesism is used to further human class exploitation? If so, how?
AD: Yes, there are some ways. Speciesism, as a bourgeois ideology in the classical-Marxist sense as historically-necessary false consciousness, prolongs the existence of capitalism because it prevents the people from realizing the roots of exploitation in slaughterhouses are the same for workers as well as for animals. This can be directly observed not only in slaughterhouses. When colleagues are on strike and they denounce their working conditions by referring to animals (“we have to work like animals”) on the one hand they express their comprehensible anger. But on the other hand, they distance themselves from the animals and abandon them in their brutal living and working conditions. So they do not realize that their working conditions, the ones of animals and their socially-produced suffering, has common roots.
Speciesism also prolongs the self-alienation of man because it makes humans pretend to be something totally different than animals. It is thus negating the animal and natural needs of humans which obviously have been oppressed in the history of Western civilization. Our comrade Marco Maurizi, an Italian philosopher, once said that the first victim of speciesism is the human animal. This is still true today but on a much higher scale than at the beginning of human times.
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?
AD: One of the big failures of the animal rights and animal liberation movements until today has been the one-sided focus on a culture revolution, namely regarding a change of individual lifestyle as the main means to achieve a society free from animal exploitation. We think that this strategy obviously has failed and turned out to be the wrong path, especially after the capitalist world system has integrated the subcultural movements that came to the surface after the student revolts in 1968. To assume that capitalists will stop killing animals simply because we boycott the purchase of animal products is a consumerist ideology that is based on a misinterpretation of capitalism. It is not the demand that decides what is going to be sold, but the capitalist companies that offer what they want to and what they produce. We have to get control over production and the productive forces to decide in a democratic process what needs to be produced and what does not. A comrade said once in a discussion: “We have to own the slaughterhouses to shut them down.” And we only can achieve that by class struggle, not by an individualistic consumerist approach. We can learn a lot by analyzing the rest of the green movements. The majority has left out class politics and thus contributed to modernizing capitalism and broadening the cultural bases of the bourgeois hegemony and consent.
On the other hand, boycott totally can make sense as an integral element of a direct confrontation, e.g. an animal test laboratory. So we are not against the use of boycotts to achieve some realistic goals in a struggle, but we reject the idea that by veganizing one friend after the other capitalist society can be changed. Obviously, we still insist on vegan diet and we have not given up veganism as an alternative lifestyle as such. In order to politicize the murder of millions of animals, it is still the best way to say no to consuming the dead bodies of other sentient beings. Apart from that, it also makes sense to point out that capitalism produces false needs and that meat consumption nowadays, at least in the capitalist centers, is one of these false needs. And of course, if you are really convinced that other sentient beings must not be killed for profit and that animals do have the right to live, then you do not consume their corpses or parts of them. Because as long as you take part in the death machinery you are part of it. So it is also a question of solidarity and of your standpoint to say no when others go on contributing to the exploitation and the killing.
JH: Is a vegan capitalism possible? Why or why not?
AD: A “veganized capitalism” is possible as well as the “greening of capitalism.” One can observe a huge wave of green consumerism rolling over Germany. Veganism and vegetarianism as lifestyles are not commonly accepted, but the grade of acceptance is now higher in the German society than any time before. Vegan cafés, restaurants and cookbooks spring up like mushrooms everywhere. We even have a vegan supermarket chain now (which is highly expensive by the way). On the one hand, this is an enjoyable development since it is easier to step away from meat, milk and other animal products, and to convince people to try to live vegan. But on the other hand, it reinforces a problem that already had existed with veganism. The rising “vegan industry” (mis)uses veganism as another lifestyle option in the neo-liberal mosaic of possible identities, completely depoliticizing it in order to make money with “healthier,” “more socially and ecologically just” food, clothes and so on — morals as a marketing strategy of green capital. In this respect, veganism has become—on a relatively small scale of course—another start-up-enterprise idea that has documented once again the astonishing ability of capitalism to absorb resistant subcultures by making business out of them. To give an example: one of the most successful benefiters of the vegan lifestyle trend in the German speaking parts of Western Europe is Attila Hildmann, who is a cook and has published various cookbooks in which he shows that through veganism he was able to lose a lot of weight and stuff like that. He eventually got rich with all this (he drives a Porsche and loves to swank around with it in interviews). The same guy does not get tired of stressing that veganism is nothing political and that he wants to distance himself from the “filthy” and “bad” activists. And of course he does not say a word about the fact that his business only flourishes because these activists fought for veganism during the last decades.
A capitalist formation in which human society is reconciled with animals and nature, however, is impossible. The liberation of humans and animals in the end is only possible if we abolish capitalism. There will never be a green capitalism, or one in which all animals are free, in the strict and literal sense of the words. Green capitalism is a contradiction in terms, as is “vegan capitalism.” As long as it is possible to earn profits by producing meat, capitalists are going to produce it. They also have much more effective means to create the false need of consuming animals, in order to sell their products, than we have to spread vegan consumerism. And we can go even further. As we can learn from the tradition of eco-socialism, capitalism is based on the imperative to increase profits, and the increase of profits is equivalent to an increase in the destruction of nature as a whole. Capitalist economic growth and the destruction of nature including animals are welded together.
Unfortunately, a lot of animal rights activists and animal welfarists agitate for a veganized capitalism, although, subjectively, they only “want to do something for animals.” By this form of petit-bourgeois politics they do free marketing for new entrepreneurs. In Germany we have some experience with this kind of development since the Green Party has shown what happens to a party when it degrades from a—at least partly—representation of social movements to a speakers’ association of a new green faction of capital.
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 superexploited living commodities. Where do you stand in the debate?
AD: Animals are not part of the proletariat. It is not up to theorists, thinkers or activists to define what they want animals to be part of. As historical materialists we have to analyze the objective historical social praxis and acknowledge what place it assigns to the different actors and objects. Additionally, we have to acknowledge the various natural and gradual differences between humans and animals as well as among animals.
First, to define who belongs to the proletariat and who does not we have to understand how capitalism works. The capitalist mode of production is fundamentally based on inter-human relationships that are mediated with each other. On the one hand we have the market relation. All humans sell and buy commodities on the market and by doing so they unintentionally organize social labour. On the other hand we have the class relation in the production process, which undermines the apparently equal market relations. Capitalists buy the labour force of the workers to let them produce commodities and by doing so let them produce surplus value. The class relation only exists because the work force is also a commodity which is sold and bought on the market.
If you now look at animals, no matter which sort, you can easily see that animals do not sell their labour force, which most of them obviously do have. They also do not sell and buy their means of subsistence on the market. So, by the objective social determinants given by the capitalist mode of production, animals are not be seen as part of the proletariat. Thus, although animals and workers are both oppressed and exploited by capitalists, they are exploited in different forms. Just the simple fact that they are exploited is not sufficient to count animals as part of the working class.
Secondly, we have different levels of natural potentials. The working class—at least potentially—can control and organize our society. It can and has to re-organize our relationship with nature and animals in a completely different way. Animals cannot do this. And they are not capable of liberating themselves from the oppression and exploitation by capitalists to which they are the object. They cannot build up organization to fight class wars, even though they defend themselves against pain and violence. Thus, animals are the object of liberation and not the subject, whereas the proletariat and the marginalized classes are—at least potentially—the subject of revolution.
We understand the politically-motivated wish to consider animals as active and resisting individuals. But there is a difference between a cow in a slaughterhouse, fighting in agony against its forthcoming murder because of the feeling that something really awful is going to happen, and organized class struggle.
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?
AD: Yes and no. On the one hand Marx, Engels and the other traditional Marxists as well as the original Western Marxists have not dealt with the relationship between animals and humans in particular. On the other hand, they gave a lot of hints and worked on a lot of topics that help us to understand and conceptualize the relationship between animals and humans in a much better way than the post-structuralists and their various currents which dominate the human-Animal or critical animal studies at Western universities.
In the work of Marx and Engels we can learn that there is no relationship between “humans” and “animals.” Since the historic-specific organization of social labour is the pivotal point of every historic formation it assigns its place in it to everything. In the capitalist mode of production animals are treated as exploitable raw material, as means of production, like the whole of nature, whose special qualities only have meaning as far as the production and profit-making process is concerned. And in capitalism capitalists, not “humans,” exploit and murder animals in order to make profit.
Of course, the workers in the slaughterhouses, the testing laboratories and so on, collaborate with the capitalists. But they do it above all because they need to sell their labour force in order to survive. And they are also exploited by the capitalists. In a different way, of course. But we understand, at least, that there are capitalists on the one side and workers and animals on the other in capitalist societies. Especially Marx’s Capital helps us to understand that all sources of wealth are exploited by capitalists. Giving us the basic orientation to find these insights, Marx and Engels have contributed more hints to theorize the relationship between animals and humans than lots of works focused directly on their relationship have done.
But it is true that we need to re-think and widen our understanding of the human-animal relationship with the tools all those great progressive thinkers bequeathed to us. Adorno and Horkheimer e.g. described and criticized the dialectical process of civilization. It would be very helpful to analyze the different historical forms of exploitation and oppression of animals in various social formations to understand how the current capitalist form has evolved and how the historical ideologies differentiate from the present ones. Another interesting and important thing we have to do is to analyze the actual praxis of animal exploitation. We have to apply the insights of Marx and Engels to the meat industry. We have to deal with the “meat capital” and its role in the formation of imperialist relations between metropolis and satellite. We also need to investigate the ideological forms of thinking of workers in the meat industry. Another important project we can use the classics for could be to draw up a revolutionary negative moral philosophy. Adorno, Marcuse and Luxemburg provide fruitful insights to tie to. There is a need to explore and look for explanations of how exactly the ideological forms of speciesism derive from the political economic base of animal exploitation in capitalism. We can also use Gramsci’s work to understand the role of meat capital and its political allies in the political making of the bourgeois hegemony. As you can see, there are a lot of projects we have to pursue which the classics did not deal with and—even more regrettable—even present day eco-socialists have not dealt with yet.
JH: How does the materialist conception of history effect, if at all, your view of how animal liberation can be achieved?
AD: Historical materialism points out that animal liberation is achieved by collective struggle of the working class. Otherwise there is not going to be a reconciled relationship between society on the one hand and nature and animals on the other. That is the simple truth. As we mentioned above, there is no way to free the animals by consumerism, individualistic tactics, and single issue politics, since the basic problem in our society which makes capitalists kill animals is capitalism. And the capitalist mode of production is a system that is going to colonize and integrate literally everything in the process of making profit for the ruling class. Therefore the answer can only be given as a collective effort in all branches of society against the common enemy.
Another insight you can learn from historical materialism is that exploitation firstly is a question of social praxis and then a question of ideologies and culture. Animals are not exploited because of speciesism or the dualism between reason and nature. Bourgeois ideologies like that only exists because of the exploitation of animals. That’s why deconstructionism and other idealistic approaches like Singer’s, Regan’s and so on fail. The political and theoretical representatives of those currents tend to stay on the level of appearances. Therefore they are missing the point of what is to be done for liberating the animals.
That does not mean thinkers should stop criticizing ideologies. The critique of ideology is a necessity we cannot leave aside because the different forms of false consciousness obscure and legitimize political-economic oppression and exploitation. Thus, they keep the people away from acknowledging their situation, the situation of the animals and the destruction of nature.
Laurie Penny's species politics are disappointing
Laurie Penny, a talented British writer, is a rising star among the current generation of international leftists. Her blog, "Penny Red," was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize, and she has subsequently written for the socialist Morning Star and progressive New Statesman, among other publications. While Penny's work stresses intersectionality, the public statements she's made regarding non-human animals are disappointingly reactionary.
The comments were made in a 2009 post to her blog, subtitled "fuck the animals." One hopes that in the intervening years her views have evolved. But evidence of such is not readily available. After justifiably critiquing sexist advertising campaigns run by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, making points feminist animalists have made many times, Penny launched into a broader, problematic attack on animals.
"In case it wasn't clear already, yes, I do think that women - and men, children and intersex people for that matter - are more important than animals," Penny said. "I don't get warm fuzzy feelings for 90% of the animal kingdom. I couldn't care less if pandas finally become extinct despite millions of pounds of national and international money being poured into trying to make them fuck."
The extinction point was obviously absurd, given that species preservation is primarily an environmental concern, not an animalist one. But more troublesome was the false dichotomy she established between political work on behalf of humans and political work on behalf of animals. Many people do both, and Penny's division ignored how speciesism undergirds many forms of human oppression and exploitation. It is no accident, for instance, that throughout history dominant human groups have justified their domination of subordinate human groups by likening the latter to animals.
"Sure, animal cruelty is bad, it probably shouldn’t happen, I’m definitely not down with the kitten-microwavers, but at the end of the day, I prefer people," Penny said, in what was obviously an attempt at humor but nonetheless reinforces the perception animal exploitation is an individual problem, rather than a structural one. Further, Penny supported vivisection. "I’m behind animal testing, if it saves lives, which it does," she said, before making light of horrific non-human suffering. "I’d kick a hundred kittens in the face to save one AIDS victim. I'd shave several litters of puppies to save one junkie. I would even inconvenience an asthmatic gerbil to save James Purnell."
Here Penny used vivisection as the form of exploitation with which to ground debate. This choice was disingenuous, given that vivisection is the only type of use of animal use in which it could be plausibly argued vital human interests were at stake. In the issue of animal agriculture, for instance, which accounts for countless more non-human lives, all that's at risk is human gustatory preference. Still, it's worth engaging her pro-vivisection position. Never mind that animals are not human analogues and research on them often produces misleading results. Never mind there are alternatives. Never mind that most vivisection is done to test redundant consumer products. The real question is why is it acceptable to torture animals, many of whom undoubtedly have higher levels of consciousness than human infants?
One hopes Penny's perspective on animals have developed since writing this. She has a bright future ahead of her, and it would be tragic for her to continue to see the overwhelming majority of sentient life on this planet as mere resources for humans. Such a stance contradicts the admirable sympathy for the oppressed and exploited which runs through all of her work.
Imprisoned Luxemburg identified with animals
While imprisoned for her opposition to World War I, the German communist leader Rosa Luxemburg identified with non-human animals in her letters on a number of occasions. Perhaps most interestingly she did so in a message to her comrade Sophie Liebknecht, in a letter dated mid-December, 1917, after the Russian Revolution.
Addressing Liebknecht by her nickname 'Sonichka,' Luxemburg described a recent
traumatic experience at Breslau prison. "In the courtyard where I walk, army lorries often arrive, laden with haversacks or old tunics and shirts from the front; sometimes they are stained with blood. They are sent to the women’s cells to be mended, and then go back for use in the army," Luxemburg said.
Generally, the army lorries were dragged by horses, but one day she saw buffaloes pulling the loads, who were war 'trophies' from Romania. "The soldier-drivers said that it was very difficult to catch these animals, which had always run wild, and still more difficult to break them in to harness," Luxemburg said. "They had been unmercifully flogged – on the principle of 'vae victis' [woe to the conquered]."
She contrasted the wide spaces and ample food they must have experienced in Romania with the brutal treatment they received when 'tamed.' "There are about a hundred head in Breslau alone," Luxemburg said. "Unsparingly exploited, yoked to heavy loads, they are soon worked to death."
On the particular day which she recalled in the letter, harnessed buffaloes were unable to pull an overburdened lorry into the prison. "The soldier-driver, a brute of a fellow, belaboured the poor beasts so savagely with the butt end of his whip that the wardress at the gate, indignant at the sight, asked him if he had no compassion for animals," Luxemburg said. "'No more than anyone has compassion for us men,' he answered with an evil smile, and redoubled his blows."
Intentionally or not, the driver's answer spoke to the interconnected nature of different forms of oppression and exploitation, including speciesism. Eventually, the buffaloes were able to drag the heavy lorry into the prison. All of the animals were exhausted, but one was visibly injured.
"The one that was bleeding had an expression on its black face and in its soft black eyes like that of a weeping child – one that has been severely thrashed and does not know why, nor how to escape from the torment of ill-treatment," Luxemburg said. "I stood in front of the team; the beast looked at me: the tears welled from my own eyes. The suffering of a dearly loved brother could hardly have nursed me more profoundly, than I was moved by my impotence in face of this mute agony."
She suspected the injured buffalo yearned for the more free, less trying times in Romania. "Instead, [the buffalo experienced] the hideous street, the foetid stable, the rank hay mingled with mouldy straw, the strange and terrible men – blow upon blow, and blood running from gaping wounds." Luxemburg said. "Poor wretch, I am as powerless, as dumb, as yourself; I am at one with you in my pain, my weakness, and my longing."
Luxemburg's comparison between her prison experience and the suffering of this injured buffalo is somewhat ridiculous and a reflection of what might be called her human privilege. After all, by her own admission, these animals would quickly be worked to death. Further, she presumably knew and accepted the risks of her anti- war activism. But the comparison clearly comes from a well-intentioned place. Given the deep love she felt for her cat Mimi and examples like this of her inter- species compassion, one suspects she would be a strong advocate for animals had the Marxism of her era been less anthropocentric.
Chomsky envisions vegetarian future
Noam Chomsky, the renowned socialist intellectual, believes that human society will eventually transition to vegetarianism due to concern for animals. Chomsky's academic influence is hard to overstate. According to the Chicago Tribune, in 1993 he was "the most often cited living author. Among intellectual luminaries of all eras, Chomsky placed eighth, just behind Plato and Sigmund Freud."
Also in 1993, Chomsky made the prediction in an interview with Z Magazine co- founder Michael Albert, according to archival-website Third World Traveler. "I don't know if it's a hundred years, but it seems to me if history continues--that's not at all obvious, that it will--but if society continues to develop without catastrophe on something like the course that you can sort of see over time, I wouldn't be in the least surprised if it moves toward vegetarianism and protection of animal rights," Chomsky said. "In fact, what we've seen over the years--and it's hard to be optimistic in the twentieth century, which is one of the worst centuries in human history in terms of atrocities and terror and so on--but still, over the years, including the twentieth century, there is a widening of the moral realm, bringing in broader and broader domains of individuals who are regarded as moral agents."
While Chomsky said he did not practice prefigurative vegetarianism, he believed the issue of eating animals and vivisecting them was an important one. "Experiments are torturing animals, let's say," Chomsky said. "That's what they are. So to what extent do we have a right to torture animals for our own good? I think that's not a trivial question."
When Albert asked Chomsky if animalists were politically ahead of the curve, Chomsky was noncommittal, but did not dismiss the idea. "It's possible," Chomsky said. "I think I'd certainly keep an open mind on that. You can understand how it could be true. It's certainly a pretty intelligible idea to us. I think one can see the moral force to it." Chomsky went on to trace the evolution of human attitudes toward animal suffering over past few centuries. "You don't have to go back very far to find gratuitous torture of animals," Chomsky said. "The Cartesians thought they had proven that humans had minds and everything else in the world was a machine. So there's no difference between a cat and a watch, let's say. It's just the cat's a little more complicated."
Using a frustratingly limited definition of 'gratuitous torture' Chomsky continued to recount Cartesian speciesism. "You go back to the court in the seventeenth century, and big smart guys who studied all that stuff and thought they understood it would as a sport take Lady So-and-So's favorite dog and kick it and beat it to death and so on and laugh, saying, this silly lady doesn't understand the latest philosophy, which was that it was just like dropping a rock on the floor," Chomsky said. "That's gratuitous torture of animals. It was regarded as if we would ask a question about the torturing of a rock. You can't do it. There's no way to torture a rock. The moral sphere has certainly changed in that respect. Gratuitous torture of animals is no longer considered quite legitimate."
Socialize veterinary care
Refusing treatment to sick animals whose human guardians are unable to pay for care is a "familiar" scenario to veterinarians, according to Phyllis DeGioia, a writer for the Veterinary Information Network. "Financially strapped owners often turn to euthanasia to alleviate an animal's suffering — sometimes prematurely," DeGioia wrote.
Americans spent $14.21 billion on veterinary bills for their companion animals last year, according to a projection made by the American Pet Products Association. Despite this seemingly large figure, my guess is that given companion animals' low status and the limited funds of most human guardians, animals are actually given lethal injections quite frequently, when potential treatment plans exist. We need socialized animal care.
It certainly would have helped Americas, a springer Labrador-retriever mix, and her guardian Kim Welch. "In 2007, Americas was diagnosed with a nerve-sheath tumor just millimeters from her heart. Removing the tumor from its difficult location would require amputating the dog’s shoulder and foreleg. The risky surgery cost $7,000 — money that Welch, a hairdresser and single mother, did not have," DeGioia wrote. Ultimately, Americas received surgery and survived, but only after Welch was forced to sell her belongings on eBay and received donations from Canine Cancer Awareness and a mysterious benefactor. Most companion animals and their human guardians are presumably not so lucky.
Now, I should say, that I agree with the socialist animalist Henry Stephen Salt who believed that in the future domestication as a whole, including the domestication of companion animals, would and should be rejected. "The injustice done to the pampered lap-dog is as conspicuous, in its way, as that done to the over-worked horse, and both spring from one and the same origin—the fixed belief that the life of a ‘brute’ has no ‘moral purpose,’ no distinctive personality worthy of due consideration and development,” Salt argued, writing in 1892. “In a society where the lower animals were regarded as intelligent beings, and not as animated machines, it would be impossible for this incongruous absurdity to continue.”
Still, within the context of current-day domestication, public non-human healthcare would improve the quality of life of millions of companion animals in this country alone. Progressive groups should emphasize the socialization of veterinary care in their platforms. This would attract animalists to a leftist coalition at next to no ideological cost, as genuine progressives will support the socialization of significant industries regardless of how it might help non-humans.
In this moment when leftists seem to be converging for the first time in a generation, animalists need to think about how we fit into broader progressive struggles. What demands can we put forward that might be supported by other leftists who might not yet be on board with the entire animalist project? I've seen this discussion begin to play out in a number of different outlets.
Writing in Socialist Worker, for instance, animalist Alan Peck offered four short-term demands that he believed anthropocentric progressives should support. "We should demand an end to the most cruel and environmentally destructive farming practices," Peck wrote. "We should demand the repeal of the fascist Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. We should demand an end to massive subsidies for animal agriculture. And we should demand that all people have access to an affordable, healthy plant-based diet."
This seems like a good start, to which I add socializing veterinary care. I encourage other animalists to begin asking themselves this question. In the short term, what aspects of the animal rights program can we influence broader progressive organizations to adopt?
What can socialist animalists learn from the free produce movement?
Socialist animalists who view the practice of personal veganism as a prerequisite to advocating public veganism should know the history of similar perspectives and tactics in other movements at other times. Because animalists so often associate their struggle with that of abolitionists of human slavery, it's perhaps most worthwhile to focus on the free produce movement.
According to Lawrence B. Glickman, the free produce movement "encouraged consumers to avoid slave-made goods and to purchase products made by 'free labor.' Consciously adopting the strategies of British anti-slavery sugar boycotters of the 1790s, free produce supporters became active in the United States in the 1820s."
The first free produce store opened in Baltimore in 1826, but eventually over 50 stores were situated in eight other states. "Most stores sold clothing and dry goods but some also offered free labor shoes, soaps, ice cream and candy," according to Glickman.
To avoid slave-produced goods, free produce stores often imported sugar from Java, Malaysia and Mexico. This, writes T. Stephen Whitman, "led to higher priced and often lower-quality goods. Efforts to obtain free labor grown cotton and coffee encountered similar problems. In short, purchasers of free produce had to acknowledge that they paid higher prices than for slave-made commodities."
The institution of slavery was not threatened by this individualistic, consumer-
based strategy. "There is little evidence that slaveholders or their political representatives paid much attention to (the free produce movement) and no evidence that it had a discernible economic impact on them," Glickman writes.
By the 1840s, many abolitionists who had previously supported free produce were changing their minds. "The World Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840, held in London, rejected a call for its supporters to endorse free produce, and other anti- slavery bodies followed suit," according to Whitman.
The famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison eventually opposed the free produce movement, arguing, "These (slavery) productions are so mixed in with the commerce, manufactures, and agriculture of the world...so indissolubly connected with the credit and currency of the country--that, to attempt to seek the subversion of slavery by refusing to use them, or to attach moral guilt to the consumer of them, is, in our opinion, alike preposterous and unjust."
Garrison argued, as Glickman summarizes here, that "even if it were possible to divest oneself from all slave-made goods, the quest for what one free produce advocate called 'clean hands' diverted energy from the anti-slavery struggle by shifting the focus to what amounted to a selfish obsession with personal morality."
Abolitionist Elizur Wright argued that the strictures of the free produce movement reduced activists to paralysis. "No anti-slavery agent or other abolitionist must now travel in stage or steam-boat, for the sheets and table cloths of the latter are of cotton," Wright said. "No abolitionist can any longer buy a book, or take a newspaper printed on cotton paper."
Opposing the free produce movement's tactics, abolitionist Wendell Phillips proclaimed he would be perfectly at ease attending the "Great Judgement" in slave-produced clothing. Garrison struck a similar note, saying, abolitionists "claimed for themselves, almost in the name of slaves, the right above all others to wear the product of their blood and travail."
Ultimately, slavery was abolished, with, according to Glickman, little to no help from the free produce movement. According to the sources I've found, most abolitionists did not avoid slave-produced goods. Animalists should study this historical boycott, as well as other examples of consumer activism, more closely. Some of the lessons might not apply to our movement, but no doubt many will.
Salt was a socialist and pioneering animalist
Henry Stephens Salt was a British anti-speciesist and socialist whose influence on the animalist movement perhaps cannot be overstated. According to Bernard Unti, Salt's "prescient work 'Animals' Rights' (1892) anticipates virtually all of the important modern arguments in favor of animals' interests." He influenced prominent 20th-century animalists such as Mohandas Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy.
Salt, it should be said, was a Fabian socialist, a type harshly criticized by many revolutionaries of the time as being overly reformist. The Irish republican and socialist James Connolly, for instance, had this to say regarding the subset: "The Fabian Society recruits itself principally among the astute bourgeoisie, whose aim it is to emasculate the working class movement by denying the philosophy of the class struggle, [and] weakening the belief of the workers in the political self-sufficiency of their own class."
Salt upheld animals' right to live, so long as they did not pose a genuine threat to humans, in a way that distinguished him from many of his welfarist contemporaries.
"Even the leading advocates of animals' rights seem to have shrunk from basing their claim on the only argument which can ultimately be held to be a really sufficient one—the assertion that animals, as well as men, though, of course, to a far less extent than men, are possessed of a distinctive individuality, and, therefore, are in justice entitled to live their lives," Salt wrote. "It is of little use to claim 'rights' for animals in a vague general way, if with the same breath we explicitly show our determination to subordinate those rights to anything and everything that can be construed into a human 'want.'"
As an agnostic, Salt believed many ideological justifications for animal exploitation could be traced to religious sources. "The first [rationalization] is the so-called 'religious' notion, which awards immortality to man, but to man alone, thereby furnishing (especially in Catholic countries) a quibbling justification for acts of cruelty to animals," Salt wrote.
Like many animalists today, Salt believed our diction helps buttress non- human exploitation. "A word of protest is needed also against such an expression as 'dumb animals,' which, though often cited as 'an immense exhortation to
pity,' has in reality a tendency to influence ordinary people in quite the contrary direction, inasmuch as it fosters the idea of an impassable barrier between mankind and their dependents," Salt wrote. "Even the term 'animals,' as applied to the lower races, is incorrect, and not wholly unobjectionable, since it ignores the fact that man is an animal no less than they. My only excuse for using it in this volume is that there is absolutely no other brief term available."
Salt rejected the notion that there was a dichotomy between struggling for the political benefit of animals and struggling for the political benefit of humans. "It is an entire mistake to suppose that the rights of animals are in any way antagonistic to the rights of men," He wrote. "Let us not be betrayed for a moment into the specious fallacy that we must study human rights first, and leave the animal question to solve itself hereafter; for it is only by a wide and disinterested study
of both subjects that a solution of either is possible."
Salt's conception of animalism was progressive enough that he even believed the keeping of companion animals would be rejected in the future. "The injustice done to the pampered lap-dog is as conspicuous, in its way, as that done to the over-worked horse, and both spring from one and the same origin—the fixed belief that the life of a 'brute' has no 'moral purpose,' no distinctive personality worthy of due consideration and development," Salt wrote. "In a society where the lower animals were regarded as intelligent beings, and not as animated machines, it would be impossible for this incongruous absurdity to continue."
Finally, as a socialist, Salt believed the exploitation of animals would continue so long as capitalism existed. "In the rush and hurry of a competitive society," Salt wrote, "where commercial profit is avowed to be the main object of work, and where the well-being of men and women is ruthlessly sacrificed to that object, what likelihood is there that the lower animals will not be used with a sole regard to the same predominant purpose?"
Dismissive term for anti-animal socialists needed
Socialists animalists need a dismissive term for those on the anthropocentric left. It could be used in much the same way as socialist-feminists use the portmanteaus "brocialist" and "manarchist" to undermine socialists with reactionary gender politics.
I'm awful at coining catchy, new terms, as this task requires. And I imagine that anti-speciesist socialists as a whole are capable of brainstorming something much better. But as an initial suggestion, I'd like to offer the term "corpsocialist" to define those on the anti-animal left, which is obviously an amalgam of the words "corpse" and "socialist." I hope the portmanteau would bring to mind the eviscerated bodies of the countless animals whose lives and suffering most leftists ignore or minimize.
In a 2013 letter to Socialist Worker, International Socialist Organization member Benjamin Silverman claimed to have coined the term brocialist. "[It] came about some two years ago in one of my many arguments on Reddit forums, a noted Internet hive of sexism and misogyny," Silverman said. "The word 'manarchist' was becoming popular as a means to describe and call out the prevalence of sexists within the anarchist community, and I felt that there was a need for an equivalent epithet for the socialist movement. So 'brocialist' and 'brocialism' was what I came up with."
Speaking to the New Republic, progressive journalist Sarah Jaffe said brocialists reduce feminist priorities to a distraction from the class struggle. "Brocialists," Jaffe said, are "guys who are so enamored of their own radicalness or progressiveness or whateverness that they are convinced they can do no wrong.”
In an article for the New Statesmen, left-wing writer Laurie Penny engaged in a dialogue with Marxist author Richard Seymour about brocialism and manarchism.
"My experience is that ‘brocialists' don’t openly embrace patriarchy; they deny it’s a problem," Seymour said. "Or they minimise it. They direct your attention elsewhere: you should be focusing on class. You’re being divisive. You’re just middle class (quelle horreur!). Or they attack a straw ‘feminism’ that is supposedly ‘bourgeois’ and has nothing to say about class or other axes of oppression."
Penny compared the brocialist to his equivalent in the anarchist community. "The brocialist's more chaotic cousin is, of course, the manarchist, who displays many of the same traits in terms of blindness to privilege, casual sexism and a refusal to acknowledge structural gender oppression, but has a slightly different reading list and a more monochrome wardrobe," Penny said.
So how might one use the term corpsocialist, or whatever term we decide will better dismiss speciesist socialists? Let me provide an example. At the 2013 Edward Said Memorial Lecture, Noam Chomsky, perhaps the most widely- respected socialist living in the United States, was asked his opinion on animalism. While Chomsky seems to have expressed more enlightened views on the topic in the past, what he had to offer that day was particularly defensive and reactionary.
"Well, just out of curiosity, do you kill insects, like mosquitos when they're bothering you?" Chomsky asked the questioner to widespread laughter from the speciesist audience. "Or do you think when mosquitoes are carrying malaria we ought to develop means to kill them off?"
Hearing Chomsky's response, for instance, one might say, "God, for someone with vegetarian kids, he sure is a corpsocialist." Now, let's make corpsocialist happen. For a portmanteau, to quote the film "Mean Girls," it's so fetch!
Against security culture in the animalist movement
There are certain kinds of animalists, generally young and male, who are obsessed with security culture. Whatever their intentions may be, I believe the cloak-and-dagger measures they promote are ultimately harmful for our movement. In essence, security culture, as it’s generally understood, are those practices which minimize the risk of police infiltration into small groups involved in illegal actions. These secretive measures are generally premised on the idea, conscious or not, that small numbers of highly-committed individuals can change society. I believe this premise is false. As frustrating as it might be, only the human masses can make change. They cannot be bypassed. Instead, we must engage in the hard work of winning them to our side.
In response, some animalists might argue that security culture should be encouraged so as to defend activists involved in mass — as opposed to individual — struggle against animal exploitation. I’m sympathetic to this idea. After all, capitalists who abuse non-humans are increasingly moving to curtail the democratic rights of activists whose work would previously have been considered lawful. Unfortunately, mass movements, by their very nature, cannot take place in private. In the United States alone, a successful movement against animal exploitation would require millions and millions of people. Secrecy cannot exist on such a scale. Risk of government repression is inevitable. Trying to impose security culture is the equivalent to administering a cure with side effects worse than the disease it’s meant to treat.
For instance, there’s a possibility that there are police agents among the nominal animalists I’m networked with on Facebook. Personally, I find such an idea unlikely and hubristic, as I don’t think I’m much of a real threat to structural speciesism. But for the sake of argument, let’s say there are. I have two general options. The first is that I accept surveillance is an unavoidable risk, the cost of any activism that genuinely undermines animal exploitation. The second is that I become highly selective in terms of who I allow in my social media circle, in the hope of preventing undercover operatives from entering it. Obviously, in my view, the first option is preferred. A mass movement can’t be built by atomized individuals communicating via invisible ink from disparate islands of security culture. The growth of our struggle, whether offline or online, requires networking with those we don’t know.
It should also be said there is a large degree of posturing in the performance of security-culture measures, which is embarrassing to watch. Most of those who zealously advocate these practices are not involved in illegal activity on behalf of animals. And given the government’s technological capabilities, we should assume that if the capitalist state wants certain information, it has the means of obtaining it, regardless of animalists’ precautions.
We should reject security culture, at least as it’s currently understood. It’s most often premised on a model of change — created by a small group, operating in secret — that has never worked, is not working, and will never work. As conservative as the human masses might be, they are, like it or not, the fundamental agents of progressive change. Individuals hoping to become these agents themselves, so as to skip past winning the masses over, are engaged in self-indulgent grandstanding. Further, even if one rejects this individualistic model of change, attempting to graft security culture onto a nascent movement will only stifle its growth.
Socialist Kshama Sawant discusses animal issues
If the American revolutionary left held an annual award show akin to the Oscars — I’m imagining they’d be called the Debsies — Seattle City council member Kshama Sawant would undoubtedly win the category of Best Socialist. Running on a platform of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, rent control, and taxing the rich, the Socialist Alternative candidate beat her Democratic opponent in the 2013 election to become the first socialist to win a city-wide vote in Seattle in nearly 100 years. Since her victory, she has helped win a $15 an hour minimum wage for all of Seattle’s workers and helped launch the 15 Now campaign, which is currently active in over 20 cities.
Jon Hochschartner: Why should those concerned by the treatment of animals support you?
Kshama Sawant: A primary example of cruelty towards animals in our times is the corporate American meat and dairy industry. Every year, billions of animals are raised (or more accurately, confined) in unspeakable conditions and inhumanely slaughtered to feed the insatiable profits of the giants of agribusiness. Four top corporations now dominate 80 percent of the American meat and dairy market. With $48 billion in annual revenue, the U.S. dairy industry generates huge profits for its major shareholders by using cruel production methods, like hooking cows to milking machines all day in an unrelenting assembly line.
Factory farms and meat packaging plants also happen to be places with some of the worst forms of exploitation, and where the suffering of animals and workers alike is intense. Agribusinesses and corporate politicians go to great lengths to keep this suffering hidden from most people, as demonstrated by recent Ag-gag bills criminalizing industry whistleblowers. The workers are some of the most marginalized, often undocumented immigrants or otherwise vulnerable, and subject to intimidation and harassment by their bosses. The agribusiness industry is also notorious for its brutal and systematic union busting and for clamping down on conscientious small farmers.
Food monopolies now effectively control the diets of most Americans, from the farm to the dinner table, with ordinary working people given little choice in the process. Animals on factory farms are kept in unsanitary and often painful conditions, injected with artificial growth hormones and given a diet of poorly regulated feed. The combination of unhealthy food products and lack of access to health care has had deleterious effects on public health outcomes in this, the wealthiest country in the world. Tens of millions of dollars are spent every year by corporate executives buying elected officials of the Democratic and Republican parties, to grease their wheels and expand corporate subsidies.
Yet another impact of agribusiness has been the intensification of air and water pollution. Additionally, fast-paced water depletion in many areas of the South and Midwest, such as the Oglala Aquifer in Texas County, Oklahoma, is directly attributable to agribusiness. No price is paid by the giant corporations for looting our natural resources.
Globally, the increased poaching of animals, and the near extinction of countless species, is inextricably linked to the horrifying levels of poverty and exploitation from global imperialism and the process of neoliberalism that has denuded hundreds of millions of people of their basic livelihoods and forced them to live on the margins.
No single question of exploitation – whether it be of animals, or workers, or the environment – can be analyzed in isolation from the others. No solution to these crises is possible in isolation, either. Every day, working people all over the world are exploited and abused so that corporations can make lavish profits. The billions of animals raised and slaughtered in factory farms so they can be packaged and sold by the ton face the same predicament. As long as big business runs our economy, particularly in the presence of weak regulation, animals will continue to be brutalized and workers’ basic rights will be violated whenever it is profitable to do so.
People concerned about the treatment of animals should support me because we are, and have to be, part of the same movement and need to fight in solidarity with one another.
The crucial question for both animal rights activists and working people is: how can we stop corporations from exploiting us and everything we care about, only to further add to the already overfull coffers of a tiny global super-elite? We should start by recognizing the common ground we share so we can join forces. Labor, social justice and animal rights activists should link up with those who are fed up with corporate domination of the economy and our political system, the obscene gap between the wealthy and the rest of us, the lack of funding for basic services, education, and health, and the pervasive discrimination of people based on race, gender, and sexual identities. We should struggle alongside the millions of people who are outraged by how big business is ravaging the environment, causing mass extinction and threatening life on earth as we know it, just to make a buck.
This unity should be demonstrated in our activism and the movements we build.
As a Seattle City Councilmember, I have directly challenged big business by fighting for a $15 minimum wage for low wage workers in Seattle and for increased funding for basic human services like homeless encampments and women’s shelters. I also supported animal rights activists calling for the closure of an inhumane elephant exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
I recall a recent inspiring example. During the Seattle City budget discussions, I hosted a People’s Budget Town Hall in Council Chambers, to begin a movement for an alternative to a corporate business-as-usual budget. We had activists from human services, economic justice, and animal rights groups gathered there. One of the passionate animal rights activists, who was there to advocate for the elephants at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, also spoke in solidarity with homeless people.
Expressions of solidarity like this reflect an important step forward, but we have to go further. We need to build a political alternative that reflects our common interests. The United States has a two party system where the Democrats and Republicans are both funded by and thoroughly beholden to big business. People who want to fight against corporate control and provide solutions to the numerous problems it creates – including the cruelty towards animals – are not represented by either party. We urgently need independent candidates and a new political party that gives voice to working people, poor people, environmentalists, and animal rights activists alike, so they have a space to discuss their issues, coordinate struggles, and democratically decide how to take the movement forward.
As a socialist, I use my elected office to fight against injustice wherever it rears its ugly head. At the same time, I work to organize and empower ordinary people to weaken the stranglehold that corporations have over our economy and political system. In this struggle, we open the door to a world where neither workers nor animals are ruthlessly exploited for the sake of profit. For these reasons, I believe people concerned about the mistreatment of animals should support me.
JH: For you, how, if at all, are the fights for socialism and better treatment for animals intertwined?
KS: As a socialist, I don’t believe injustice in any form should be tolerated. I subscribe to the idea that an injury to one is an injury to all. I feel a natural solidarity with those fighting against the mistreatment of animals, especially considering how egregious the brutality is in the corporate animal industry.
There is a direct link between socialism and the animal rights struggle. The animal and food industries are among the most exploitative in the world, not only of animals, but of working people, too. Long hours, low pay, and unsafe, even traumatizing, working conditions are standard fare on factory farms, which employ largely immigrant labor forces that are also oftentimes deprived of their right to organize into unions. Putting an end to the factory farm model that is responsible for so much cruelty to animals also means getting rid of a model that is fundamentally harmful to the workers on those farms. Animal rights activists and socialists should work together on these struggles.
There is also a more fundamental connection. When we try to understand the causes of the problems we see in the world today, whether we are talking about low wages, war, environmental destruction or widespread animal cruelty, it’s clear that they are not simply the product of a handful of bad businesses or industries. The problems are systemic, caused by a capitalist economic model that bases itself on exploitation and greed and puts nearly all of the world’s resources and wealth under the control of a tiny elite.
The decisions of what things to produce, how to produce them, and how society’s wealth is distributed are made by this small group of people, whose only interest is maximizing profit. It is no wonder that working people, animals, and the environment all suffer extreme exploitation and abuse under capitalism.
I am fighting for a global democratic socialist society. In such a world, it will be possible to end exploitation and abuse because under socialism ordinary people will democratically decide what things to produce, how to produce them, and how to distribute society’s wealth. Rather than corporations making these decisions based on profit, people can decide these things based on how to best serve their needs.
Working people will not choose to brutally exploit themselves so that a tiny elite can live in obscene luxury. Similarly, they will not choose to maintain an unsustainable, unhealthy and inhumane animal and food industry, which brutalizes billions of animals every year and creates serious health risks for humanity in the process. Socialism will make it possible to live in a world where animals are treated humanely. Capitalism has proven itself not only incapable of delivering this, but also has been a fundamental perpetrator of animal cruelty.
JH: What public policy proposals, that you can take action on, will you or have you supported for animals while in office?
KS: In recent months a grassroots movement emerged to demand that the elephant exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle be closed and to call for the elephants to be moved to sanctuary. I have supported this movement, using my position on the City Council to endorse it while also submitting an amendment to the City budget that made funding for the zoo contingent on the closure of the elephant exhibit.
Although the budget amendment failed to garner support from any other Councilmember, zoo officials announced in mid-November that they were closing the elephant exhibit. This was an important victory that would not have been possible without the determined efforts of the activists who forced the City and zoo officials to listen to their demands. That said, the zoo has also said it plans to move the elephants to another zoo and not to sanctuary, which I have opposed and which activists are mobilizing against. That struggle continues and I will keep supporting it.
I invite people from various starting points of social, economic, environmental, and animal justice to join with me to build more powerful movements for real change.
Seymour refreshingly sympathetic to animalism
For someone who runs a blog called Lenin's Tomb, Richard Seymour, author of "The Liberal Defense of Murder," has relatively modern views of non-human animals. While by no means advocating an end to animal exploitation, and benefiting from the low expectations created by the typically hateful speciesism of his socialist milieu, Seymour sounded surprisingly sympathetic to animalist thought in a late 2012 review of Alasdair Cochrane's "An Introduction to Animals and Political Theory."
For those not familiar with his work, Seymour is one of the most widely respected thinkers among the emerging generation of socialists. Besides authoring a number of well-received books, and running the aforementioned blog, which is influential, he writes for the Guardian and Al Jazeera, among other publications. Seymour's public break with the British Socialist Workers Party have led many—who wouldn't otherwise—to question the efficacy of the sect form, which stresses the need for top-down organization and ideological uniformity. His resignation inspired reform efforts elsewhere, exemplified by the Renewal Faction, a group which was ultimately expelled from the United States' International Socialist Organization.
Seymour's review, which appeared in the London School of Economics and Political Science's Review of Books, argued that, "our relationships with other animals have been under-theorised in most political traditions," including his own Marxism. Continuing, Seymour describes critical animal studies as a "neglected field of political discourse" and "a highly interesting issue." For Seymour, the dearth of socialist theory on species domination needn't be the case. "Emancipatory ideologies should, in theory, be well-placed to handle animal rights," He said. "But that isn’t always necessarily so. Marxism, for example, is a profoundly humanist doctrine, not known for its concern with animal rights. There are resources within Marxism for addressing animal rights, emphasising their exploitation and un-freedom, but that depends on Marxists being convinced that there is anything illegitimate about the exploitation and un-freedom of animals."
Seymour was most impressed by the contributions feminists have made to the field of critical animal studies. "It is among feminists that some of the most intriguing and telling writing on animals has been produced," Seymour said. "Carolyn Merchant famously argued that the subjugation of nature heralded by the ‘scientific revolution’ and its major apostles such as Francis Bacon, was bound up with the emergence of a violent patriarchy. The exploitation of animals is thus an expression of masculinist assertion over a feminised earth. Similarly, Carol Adams maintained that the reduction of animals to ‘meat’ for consumption is part of modern masculinity, and of the same process that reduces women to ‘meat’ for consumption."
Seymour concludes his review with an apparent endorsement for intersectional politics that take the question of species into consideration. "The inter-dependence of all animals, the relations between the oppression of human and non-human animals, is potentially one of the most productive areas of inquiry," he said. One hopes he will contribute to this inquiry, as he is uniquely qualified to do so on the socialist left. Obviously he is a brilliant thinker. But perhaps more importantly, his credentials as a Marxist are unimpeachable. Were he to publicly support revolutionary change for animals, or even just a robust reformism, he would help tip the scales against the most virulently speciesist elements of the socialist left.
Is there any evidence Goldman wrote animalist article?
Imagine my excitement as a socialist animalist, or whatever we decide to call ourselves, when I read the great American anarchist Emma Goldman had written an article that was deeply sympathetic to non-human animals and endorsed public vegetarianism. Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be any evidence Goldman wrote the article in question, which was a review of Upton Sinclair's novel 'The Jungle.'
Goldman was, according to future FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, one of the "most dangerous anarchists" in America. She was arrested more often than can be recounted here, for allegedly inciting a riot of the unemployed among many other things. She was a feminist who, according to a number of historians, played a mentoring role to Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer who founded Planned Parenthood. She was an atheist and an early advocate of gay rights. Unlike many of her leftist contemporaries, Goldman early on recognized the seeds of totalitarianism planted by the Bolsheviks in Russia.
Anne Fernihough identifies Goldman as the author of the 1906 review, which appeared in Goldman's publication Mother Earth, in Fernihough's 2013 book 'Freewomen and Supermen: Edwardian Radicals and Literary Modernism.' But all of the other sources I've come across identify the author merely by the pseudonym V eritas.
Using the slaughterhouse as a metaphor, Veritas saw connections between the treatment of animals and the treatment of humans in Sinclair's novel. "It is for the most part a tale of the abattoirs, those unspeakable survivals in our Christendom in which man reeks his savage and sensual will on the lesser animals," the unnamed writer said. "Indirectly it is a story of the moral abattoirs of politics, economics, society, religion and the home, where the victims are of the species human, and where man's inhumanity to man is as selfish and relentless as his age-long cruelty to his brothers and sisters just behind him in the great procession."
In calling for public vegetarianism, Veritas tried to give a sense of the overwhelming scope of animal exploitation. "This author uses the squeal, or, rather, the wild death shrieks of agony of the ten millions of living creatures tortured to death every year in Chicago and the other tens of millions elsewhere, to pander to the old brutal, inhuman thirst of humanity for a diet of blood," the anonymous writer said. "The billions of the slain have found a voice at last, and if I mistake not this cry of anguish from the 'killing-beds' shall sound on until men, whose ancestors once were cannibals, shall cease to devour even the corpses of their murdered animal relatives."
It's very possible Fernihough has access to information that I don't, that suggests Veritas was in fact Emma Goldman. Given my politics, I would love this to be case. But sadly I think it's more likely Fernihough made an error of attribution, something that happens to all researchers. There is nothing published under Goldman's own name I've come across that suggests she might have been sympathetic to animalism. Like all public figures of a certain stature, this wouldn't be the first time Goldman was incorrectly quoted. Her most famous saying, "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution," of which there are many slight variations, is apocryphal, according to Alix Kates Shulman, for instance.
SPUSA candidate discusses animal issues
Dean Capone, who has announced his intention to seek the 2016 Socialist Party USA presidential nomination, recently gave an interview to me in which he discussed non-human politics. According to his campaign website, he has been an active member of SPUSA and is a former treasurer of the organization’s Tampa Bay, Fla., local. He supports a national basic income, union growth, and public ownership of heavy industry.
Jon Hochschartner: Why should those concerned by the treatment of animals vote for you?
Dean Capone: I became vegan as an act of compassion and not economics. But I’m am aware that systemic cruelty, exploitation and destruction of animals is, in fact, an underpinning cause of many social, health and economic issues — in addition to being cruel.
JH: What is Socialist Party USA’s official position on animal exploitation? How might it be improved?
DC: [Here’s] the party’s position: “The Socialist Party recognizes the rights of animals to live free from unnecessary pain and suffering, and the responsibility of people to protect those rights. We support the spaying and neutering of pets to prevent the massive extermination resulting from overpopulation. We oppose entertainment that causes pain to animals. We call for the banning of the fur trade. We support greater inclusion and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. We call for a ban on animal experimentation for product development, and for an oversight board to examine and limit the use of animals in scientific and medical research. We oppose factory farming practices of overcrowding, drugging, and otherwise cruelly treating animals.” I believe this could be improved by taking greater action on these points, as well as partnering with organizations who are not necessarily in support of ‘farm’ rights, but animal rights.
JH: What do you mean by farm rights as opposed to animal rights?
DC: Socialists sometimes only think of the workers — farmers — and not other species.
JH: For you, how, if at all, are the fights for economic justice and better treatment for animals intertwined?
DC: Animal exploitation, destruction and consumption is responsible for a great deal of the health, environmental and economic issues mankind places on its own species, by willfully exploiting other species. For instance, destruction of the rain forests, catastrophic injuries, poverty and oppression among workers in the industry, the waste of millions of tons of foodstuffs that could feed people, but is instead used to feed animals for destruction. The relationship between class and species is direct. But if you analyze the growth of say, factory farming in the 20th-21st century, I think one could find many indicators that species exploitation and class oppression are one narrative.
Critique of capitalist environmentalism applies to prefigurative veganism
In an early section of his phenomenal book, "Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis," Chris Williams critiques former Vice President Al Gore's influential film on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," from a socialist perspective. Animalists should consider this criticism as the points Williams makes about capitalist-inspired efforts to prevent climate change through voluntary lifestyle changes by individuals could and should be applied to similar capitalist-inspired solutions to animal exploitation.
"Not only are some of the solutions proposed by the mainstream environmental movement misguided, but there is often an enormous chasm between the problems environmentalists describe and the solutions many of them propose," Williams said. "While there are many examples, Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is a prime case in point. After predicting planet-gone-wild climate gyrations from the continued unsustainable production of greenhouse gases, Gore tells us to consume a bit less stuff, change our light bulbs, make sure our car tires are properly inflated, and bike to work. The gap between ends and means is so absurd as to be laughable."
In a similar way, animalists speak to the public about violence on an incomprehensible scale against animals, before arguing the solution is to buy expensive vegan cupcakes and convince some friends to do the same. Most of the public who are sympathetic to anti-speciest politics correctly recognize their individual sacrifice will make no genuine impact on animal-exploitation industries and understandably forgo what is ultimately a selfish obsession with personal purity.
"More insidiously," Williams continued, "in a move of political jujitsu, the film shifts the weight of change from corporate polluters to individuals." To view the capitalist, who personally makes millions of dollars a year destroying the environment, as equally complicit in the crisis of global warming as the underpaid and overworked laborer who buys the former's products, primarily because they are the cheapest and most convenient, is ignorant and offensive. It's the exact prism through which the rich want the issue seen, because it exonerates them for what they are overwhelmingly responsible. Further, it's the working class who will disproportionately suffer the consequences of global warming and the like, so to argue that they will in some way 'benefit' from environmental devastation is short sighted.
One can see a similar class-blindness at work in the animalist movement. By focusing on the point of consumption, animalists, whether they intend to or not, suggest the capitalist, who makes millions of dollars a year abusing animals, is equally complicit in animal exploitation as the underpaid and overworked laborer who buys the former's products, primarily because they are cheap, convenient and culturally valued. Again, it's through this lense that the rich want the issue examined. Further, I'd argue the belief that the working class 'benefit' from animal exploitation is dubious at best, given the ways speciesism is used to legitimize capitalist domination, and the obvious negative health and environmental consequences of animal agriculture, which, again, workers disproportionately suffer.
"Much of the environmental movement in the North is consumed by arguing for ordinary people to make sacrifices in order to save the planet," Williams said. "They then wonder why more people aren't on the demonstration against global warming and why the movement isn't more diverse." This state of affairs should sound sadly familiar to animalists. Ultimately, to change it, we must focus our anti-speciesist work on the point of production rather than that of consumption. This means giving up the notion of prefigurative veganism as necessary or even relevant to movement activity. Giving this up, of course, does not mean abandoning the animalist project anymore than saying one doesn't have to live like the subject of the film "No Impact Man" to be a committed or radical environmentalist. Rather it merely means giving up a classist strategy that doesn't work but makes us feel good about ourselves.
Vermont socialist candidate talks species politics
Matthew Andrews, a Vermont socialist, who ran on the Liberty Union Party ticket for Congress. A former member of Socialist Party USA, he spoke to me about his views on animals.
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?
Matthew Andrews : I call myself a socialist, and generally don’t bother with adjectives which I believe are redundant, but within the splits of the left, sometimes I call myself a democratic socialist or libertarian socialist.
I wrestled with the idea of being a Marxist for a long time. I found that I agreed with much of Marx and his methods of reasoning even before I formally studied his works. I believe his ideas come to us indirectly in many ways. There’s a stigma, which isn’t always unfounded, that when people use a famous name as a label, they dogmatically follow that person’s ideas. It’s important to realize Marx was a human being, and not put him, or anyone else, on a pedestal above criticism.
As a graduate student I took a class called the Marxian Theoretical Tradition with Richard Wolff (who now does an excellent radio show and podcast called Economic Update). We read essays from a variety of Marxist schools of thought, all written after Marx’s own life. From this class I gained an appreciation for the diversity and debate that can exist under the Marxist umbrella. Marxism isn’t about mimicking Marx. It’s a rich intellectual tradition that continues to grow.
JH: Can you describe what involvement, if any, you’ve had with organized socialist or anarchist left?
MA: I was an active member of the Socialist Party USA for 13 years. For most of that time I was on the National Committee and even served as male Vice-Chair at one point. I helped build a left-wing caucus that shifted the party away from the social democrat politics of Norman Thomas, and back toward the revolutionary politics of Eugene Debs.
I left after most of my comrades who were disgusted with the presidential nominee and our inability to hold the leadership accountable to numerous democratic decisions. Also, a lot of childish and hostile behavior was going unchecked. This was all happening at the same time as the Occupy movement. My comrades and I were excited by this new revolutionary energy, and felt the factional battle that was necessary to save the SP was not worth the energy in that moment. We wanted to be externally focused.
At this time I had also recently moved to Vermont where we have the Liberty Union Party. Liberty Union is a revolutionary socialist political party that came out of the Vietnam anti-war movement. Liberty Union is a homegrown organization that has some odd quirks, but I have found it to be a welcoming place to organize.
Over this same period of time I have intermittently been involved with the Industrial Workers of the World. I have been involved in organizing campaigns at a cafe and a co-op grocery where I worked for over two years.
My comrades from the SP connected with other new people to build new group, Revolutionary Unity. I also recently joined the WIIU (Workers International Industrial Union). The WIIU was originally a faction that left the IWW with Daniel DeLeon after the anarchists took them over. The WIIU is much like the IWW, but without the burdensome hostility to politics or anarchist organizing principles.
JH: Why should those concerned by the treatment of animals vote for you?
MA: My political perspective begins with idea that life is sacred. This is a universal principle that must include all people and species. As an extension of this, the food, resources, and environment that makes life possible is also sacred. Capitalism makes everything vulgar.
Becoming a vegetarian and a socialist was part of the same journey for me. I made a decision that I would consciously control the things I had power over. I wanted to evaluate my cultural norms from an impartial perspective. I knew I would not kill an animal myself for food so I refused to be a hypocrite.
JH: What public policy proposals, that you could put into place if elected, do you support that would better the treatment of animals?
MA: My first summer after college I worked for GREY2K USA to ban greyhound raising. If elected to Congress I would support strong anti-cruelty laws with penalties that include prison time.
The Farm Bill needs to be completely re-written. My opponent, Peter Welch, voted for the Farm Bill, which cut $8.7 billion from SNAP (food stamps). This will amount to an average cut of $90 per month for beneficiaries for years to come. The poor in the US already don’t get enough food assistance. Furthermore, the Farm Bill subsidizes the agribusiness giants, making unhealthy calories cheap. I believe in subsidizing healthy foods that are sustainably produced.
Subsidies for raising livestock must end. This includes re-orienting the mission of the Bureau of Land Management, which caters to the interests of cattle ranchers, rather than the needs of the land and wild animals. Worst among these policies is the killing of wolves and wild horses. This must stop immediately.
I am opposed to the ag-gag laws that are being proposed to censor animal abuse whistle-blowers. Furthermore, law enforcement ought to be trained to go undercover at factory farms and slaughter houses to document and prosecute animal cruelty laws. Corporations and their management must be held accountable for these practices, not just the worker at the bottom of the hierarchy.
I would defend the Endangered Species act, expand our environmental protection laws, and give greater regulatory power to the EPA. Part of protecting animals must include the environment they depend upon.
Finally, I am for limiting the manufacture of guns and ammunition to the most simple kinds of hunting rifles which are sufficient for any legitimate purpose. People should not feel that they must own a gun to protect themselves from other people with guns.
JH: For you, how, if at all, are the fights for economic justice and better treatment for animals intertwined?
MA: Most fundamentally, people who are concerned with animals must understand that capitalism creates enormous inequalities that cannot be overcome within the system. The voiceless and oppressed share a common struggle. Animals, the environment, workers, and people of color around the world are all targets for exploitation and exclusion. Our ability to fight back depends on our unity in action.
Zizek is reformist on animal question
The public statements of Marxist writer Slavoj Zizek, which are sometimes difficult to interpret given his predilection for irony and contrarianism, suggest he supports a lukewarm reformism in regards to the treatment of animals, which, pathetically, makes his species politics more progressive than many socialists. It should be mentioned that though the Slovenian cultural critic may be popular on the left, he's not necessarily respected there. Louis Proyect, for instance, has dismissed him as the intellectual equivalent of a "shock jock," while Noam Chomsky has suggested Zizek's work is "theoretical posturing which has no content."
To begin, there's a widely shared clip on YouTube, which appears to be an excerpt from a 2005 documentary on Zizek, in which Zizek said, speaking of vegetarians, "Degenerates, degenerates. You will turn into monkeys." The statement is so absurdly over the top, one must assume it was intended as humor. Zizek seemed to be more serious in a 2010 lecture at the Birkbeck Institute, in which he appeared to empathize to a limited degree with animal victims of human violence, while explicitly distancing himself from the most prominent contemporary thinker associated with animalism.
"My next example is animal rights," Zizek started. "I mean I am not becoming Peter Singer, don’t be afraid of that." Whatever criticisms animalists have of Singer, we should be aware Zizek almost certainly used the Australian philosopher as a stand-in for all opposed to anthropocentrism. While Zizek appears to have said some quite complimentary things about Singer in the past, his prefatory statement here should be interpreted as an attempt at speciest bonding, in which Zizek reassured the audience of his continued support for human supremacy, before launching into a tepid criticism of animal exploitation. "We know what we are doing to animals," Zizek continued. "You know how chicken are grown. You know how pigs are grown. It’s a nightmare, but how do we survive? We know it, but we act as if we do not know."
Before describing the horrific results of vivisection, Zizek warns the audience he is overly emotional about the topic, as if his reaction was unjustified in the context of animal treatment. "And here I’m a little bit sentimental," Zizek said. "I remember years ago I saw a photo of a cat, immediately after this cat was submitted to some rather unpleasant experiment." His description of the experiment as 'rather unpleasant' is absurd given the brutal description that follows. One might similarly say, after seeing a beaten human face resulting from a batched mugging, that the victim had a 'rather unpleasant' walk in the park.
"This experiment was under the pretext of testing how a living organism — how much pressure and hits can it endure," Zizek said. "It’s not immediately clear to me how this would help people." One can infer here Zizek believed, with obvious anthropocentrism, that if the experiment somehow assisted humans it would be justified. "The cat was put in a centrifuge and it turned like crazy," Zizek said, before making a genuinely perceptive observation into non-human perspective. "What you then got at the end was a cat with literally broken limbs, and most shocking to me most of the hair was gone. But it was still alive and just looking into the camera. And here I would like to ask the Hegelian question. What did the cat see in us? What kind of a monster?"
The year prior, in his book "Violence: Six Sideways Reflections," Zizek made a similar point regarding our willful ignorance of animal exploitation. "What about animals slaughtered for our consumption?" He said. "Who among us would be able to continue eating pork chops after visiting a factory farm in which pigs are half-blind and cannot even properly walk, but are just fattened to be killed?" While obviously preferable to endorsing the heightened suffering in industrial agriculture, Zizek's condemnation specifically of factory farms disappointingly suggests he might approve of less modern and potentially more 'gentle' methods of killing non-humans. Were we to move such non-tactical reformism onto the terrain of the worker's movement, he would no doubt recognize and oppose it.
Zizek is so prolific it would be near impossible to review all of his writing and lectures that touch on species politics. Frankly he is held in low-enough regard by many on the left that it would not be worth the time. But I believe the examples I've provided here are representative. He's a reformist on the animal question, which to the left's discredit, puts him ahead of many socialists.
Bill Martin discusses animals, Maoism, and more
Bill Martin, a professor of philosophy at DePaul University, emerged from the United States’ Maoist movement and is currently working with the Kasama Project. He is the author of ‘Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation,’ which among other things, addresses the treatment of animals.
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?
Bill Martin: I consider myself to be a communist, who is working for a world without classes and without exploitation and domination. To be very specific, though without explaining much of anything, I came through the Maoist movement, have been very influenced in recent years by Alain Badiou, and even more recently by Buddhism (and I practice Zen). I am working toward a synthesis that contains and brings together elements of all three.
JH: Can you describe what involvement, if any, you’ve had with organized socialist or anarchist left?
BM: I worked with organized Maoism, specifically the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, for about 26 years. I was never an actual member of that group, but at times I did work with them very closely, for example going to Peru when the leader of the Sendero Luminoso was captured and threatened with summary execution, and writing a book with the leader of that party, Bob Avakian (we drafted the book in 2002 and it was published in 2005, it’s called ‘Marxism and the call of the future‘). In the years 2003 to 2006 and beyond that group went through some changes that made it impossible for me to work with them anymore (though I did not know about many of these changes until early 2008, and some things I am still learning), and since then I have been working with the Kasama Project, which aims to reconcieve and to re-group around the idea of communism—for some of us this is “post-Maoist,” for others it is post-Trotskyist, and even post-anarchist.
JH: Tell us a little bit about your book ‘Ethical Marxism.’ Would anti-speciesist leftists be interested in it? If so, why?
BM: My main aim in the book was to show that Marxism needs to be motivated first of all by an “ethical moment,” one that is not generated on a merely utilitarian basis or by any conception of interest, including class interest. Although there are important differences, I think there are some ways in which my conception of the “ethical moment” is not so different from what Badiou means by “politics” as an “event.” For Badiou, however, politics does not seem to have anything to do with non-human animals (or even the human as an animal) or ecology, and here we are far apart. In the book I took Kant as the starting place for an ethics set against utility and interest, and I developed my argument on the basis of some twentieth-century Kantian thinkers (or thinkers who have a strong Kantian element), such as Sartre, Derrida, and Davidson.
At the center (literally) of the book is a chapter titled “The animal question,” where I try to show that the treatment of animals in the “global industrial food-animal production system” is a clear evil that cannot be fully understood in categories of human interest, and that, any philosophy (Marxism or whatever) that aims toward a world of mutual flourishment cannot avoid this question. I also argue that the assumption that animals are “natural commodities” because it has always been understood that animals are mere things is illegitimate, that many cultures have oral or written records of the traumatic passage into eating animals. I argue that this is the beginning of reification—”thingification” of the world, and that, ultimately, this state of animal reification has to be resolved. It would be highly speculative to claim to know exactly how this might happen, but, for sure, there will be no society of mutual flourishment that contains anything even remotely like the industrial food-animal production system. Ultimately it seems to me that a society that would deserve the name “communism” will not be one in which people eat or otherwise abuse or enslave animals; to put things more positively, communism will be a society in which humanity has a completely and radically re-worked relationship with animals and with our planet in general.
JH: How have your views regarding animals been received on the socialist or anarchist left?
BM: I really don’t know. As you probably know, in much of “the left” there is an aversion to theory and an aversion to vegetarianism. I don’t know that most of the people who have responded to my book, or to the animal chapter, have really taken the arguments seriously or tried to follow the arguments that I actually make. As usual, they just say the same bullshit about how meat tastes good and how vegans are jerks or whatnot … the usual stuff, that, as I say in the book, is dealt with quite brilliantly in the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa Simpson becomes a vegetarian.
On the other hand, I have a friend who gave a talk about the book, and she said that, initially, she planned to focus on her disagreement with the animal arguments, but that, in getting further into exploring the arguments, she found that not only did she agree with them, furthermore this caused her to become a vegetarian herself. So, this was very heartening.
As far as general reception on “the left,” I really did have large ambitions for the book (and, as you know, it is very long). I really wanted to re-cast some things. As for almost everything that calls itself “Marxism” of one sort or another, though, there is a great deal of imperviousness to re-casting, most of it, and I think just as much anarchism or “socialism” in some “softer” sense, is stuck in a deep rut or series of ruts. I would even give the name “hatred of philosophy” to one of these ruts, and at the same time I would reiterate something I said in the book, that, when it comes to the animal question (which is really an interrelated group of questions), and especially the challenge to make changes in one’s life in terms of what one eats, most philosophers are all too happy to revert to the usual bullshit, too.
So, that is what the book is up against, even as I have tried, and am working now, to go beyond the book in significant ways. Influenced more by Badiou, Plato, and Buddhism–rather than, just to be formulaic about it, Derrida, Kant, and Judaism/Christianity, I am going in directions that could be called more “ontological” rather than “epistemological.” And yet I still think the book is going in the right direction and could play a good role for whatever parts of the left, Marxism, or, even better, communism, that would open themselves to my arguments.
JH: If you belong to an anti-capitalist organization, does it 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?
BM: The Kasama Project at the present time is involved in the process of deciding what sort of organization it is going to be, and on what its official positions on different subjects will be. As a matter of fact, a national convention will take place this month (October 2014), and I think Kasama will be a different thing after that point, though I don’t know exactly what that will be. I know that there is a basic consensus to not just repeat the party-forms of the past.
Kasama has paid a good deal of attention to ecological questions, as of course anyone must in the world today. However, like most of “the left,” there is not the sense that these questions are intimately related to the animal question. And, indeed, there is the usual, I would say “macho,” posturing about how it is somehow “leftist” or “Marxist” or “working-class” to eat meat and to say obnoxious things about vegetarianism or “those horrible vegans.”
Even without the more general questions of ecological sustainability, there is simply the question of the horrible cruelty toward animals that is the daily workings of industrial food-animal production system (and that is not addressed by the less than one-percent of food-animal production that comes from “free-range,” which is usually not all that it claims to be anyway, or by some proposal for something that could be done in the distant future). I believe it is central to the very idea of “the ethical” that this question be understood in its own terms, apart from how this cruelty might rebound upon humanity. By the way, I argued in one of my other books (‘Humanism and its aftermath‘) that Ursula Le Guin’s novels ‘The Word for World is Forest’ and ‘The Dispossessed’ give us models for thinking ethical connection beyond the sorts of “material” connections that are forged through common interests. Or, to use other examples that involve humans (and that I discussed in ‘Ethical Marxism’), the fact that the horrible destruction that was wrought on the people of Vietnam has not rebounded upon most people in the United States (and certainly not upon the politicians and generals who prosecuted the war) does not make what was done to the people of Vietnam (and that is still being done to them in the form of all of the toxins, including massive amounts of carcinogens, dropped on that country) any less of a moral horror and a crime against humanity (and undoubtedly against nature and countless animals as well).
And yet, at the same time, these things are rebounding against humanity; the industrial food-animal production system is fundamentally unsustainable and is leading to fundamental ecological unsustainability. All of this points to a fundamental fact about capitalism, too—that the kinds of economic conversion that are necessary for even going forward with the capitalist system itself are not possible within the capitalist system. It is insane, really, that even people who believe that we need a new social system cannot address this side of capitalism—that at least one of the core forms of commodification is animals rendered horribly into “food.”
That Marx himself had a blind spot on this question, and on the question of what I am calling “the ethical moment in politics” (which, to give a Zizekian spin to it, might be quite similar to what we could call the “political moment in economics”) is no good reason to keep on with and even endorse inane statements about “loving bacon” and the like with a situation that is now many orders of magnitude worse.
JH: Is there any way in which speciesism is used to further human class exploitation? If so, how?
BM: Very simply, any economic process that reinforces commodification and that reinforces the view that everything is nothing more than a mere thing in a world of things rebounds upon humanity as well. The production of commodities goes back far into human pre-history. Perhaps the earlier forms of this production were not so terrible, though they already depend on divisions of labor, and therefore social divisions, that, as Marx demonstrated in ‘Capital,’ are the seeds of the vast division of labor and extreme commodification that we know today. However, what makes for the actual capitalist economic and social form is the commodification of labor-power. This commodification has immense consequences, one of which I like to characterize as the moment when “all bets are off”—or, as Marx and Engels put it, “everything solid melts into air.” In other words, this is the moment when the door is opened wide to the commodification of everything.
You would think this would have already happened with the commodification of animals, or the commodification of women, or the beginnings of prostitution. But every previous society had some sort of traditional or conventional set of limits, often represented in religious codes. Even capitalist societies have had to work with these limits up to a point, but perhaps it is definitive of our own era that any notion of moral limits just sounds sentimental–in the same way that a member of the G.W. Bush administration (was it the law professor who is now at Berkeley?) described any prohibition on the use of torture in interrogation as “quaint.”
There is the obvious point that people are often treated as animals, first of all working people who are treated as pack-animals or what-have-you, or simply as expendable without a thought. The pre-existing basis for this treatment, however, is the deeply-ingrained assumption that animals can be treated as “animals,” that is, as mere, expendable things.
I suppose a good Buddhist answer to this question, which ought to be embraced within a reconceived communist project, is that anything that deepens the commodification of anything, anything at all, brings harm to humanity, to working people, to all sentient beings, and to the fabric of all existence. Perhaps this harm is done first of all to some parts or nodes within this fabric, but it doesn’t stop spreading out. Indeed, this is why they call the academic discipline “ecology and systematics,” we are talking about the interconnectedness of things.
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?
BM: In some ways the first of these questions is just silly. (I’m not saying you’re silly to raise it, of course.) There are many obnoxious behaviors in the world that depend on individual decisions and that are not at all affected by the withdrawal of any given individual from any particular one of these behaviors. I could give many examples, though I am sure that readers of this interview know what I am talking about. And, just to be clear, this is not a matter of self-righteousness, and I will say that I am not innocent in all of this either. I just try my best, and I try to ask myself what went wrong when I know I didn’t do the right thing.
To go more directly to the point, and to appeal to Kant, if I know there is something that is the right thing to do, why would the question of how many other people are doing it matter one way or another? I feel like some old Sunday-school teacher saying this, but, you know, just because everybody does it doesn’t make it right and just because very few do it doesn’t make it wrong. It’s weird that this needs to be said.
The motivation for even raising this question, as anti-vegetarians do, is, on the one side, this hang-up about how some vegetarians seem either happy or even self-righteous about being vegetarians, and, on the other, surely some guilt that anti-vegetarians are feeling not only about what they are doing, but also the ridiculous things they present as supposed “arguments” against vegetarianism. In ‘Ethical Marxism’ I argued that the rabid carnivorism that is so endemic to many cultures in this world (and no less so in, say, France, than in the United States) goes so far as to warp reason, or at least the ability to reason, itself.
No doubt there are a few vegetarians who are overly self-righteous or happy about what they are doing. So what? I don’t see how that affects the arguments for vegetarianism either way. And people who find vegans “annoying” or “unbearable” or whatever might ask themselves why they find this particular thing so difficult for them to deal with—after all, there is no end of annoyance (and far worse) in this world.
What is especially annoying is when these anti-vegetarian screeds come from ostensible Marxists, anarchists, or other leftists. And this isn’t even so much because of the content of the claims, but rather the way it reveals a mind unable to think critically and self-critically. When I was in graduate school, as a somewhat self-righteous Marxist, there was a professor who seemed to me to be quite reactionary, and his specialization was the philosophy of William James. Now, in hindsight, I don’t know that this professor was all that reactionary so much as he was, in the narrow sense, reacting to me. However, at the time, I somehow thought this was a good reason to not study William James. That was a big, stupid mistake! (Just one of many big and/or stupid mistakes I’ve made in life, for sure.) What might be instructive here regarding the mind of the person who is otherwise politically radical is that we all have blind spots; we all have those moments where our thinking turns out to be just as conventional as everyone else’s, and where we fall into ridiculously reactive and defensive postures. (Again, if it needs to be said, I am not exempt from this, either.)
Not so long ago, in a little Facebook discussion that I allowed myself to get sucked into, someone said one of the usual things one hears, “No one is going to judge me for what I eat.” Now, perhaps there is a point here. One of the things I discuss in ‘Ethical Marxism’ is the fact that this question is so loaded for people because there is no activity more intimate than the bodily processes involved in eating. Nothing starts more as not a part of an individual, then a part of that individual in many different ways, and then not a part of that individual again in some of those ways, than the processes by which food is mixed with the individual body. So it is not surprising that one gets touchy or a bit verklimpt about all this, a bit defensive. After all, especially in daily life, is a person not entitled to at least draw a line where my body is concerned, over against your attempt to intrude?
To bring class back in (and we could run this argument through gender and race as well), in a sense Marx’s argument about “wage slavery” has to do with the disposition of bodies, the social form in which the capitalist appears to pay a fair price (according to the market) for renting bodies—bodies that are disassociated from ownership in the means of production. Just as a hypothesis, I would like to propose that people who already feel thoroughly “thingified” might feel a bit put upon to be pressed, perhaps sometimes by people they perceive to not be from the working class, to change something so fundamental about themselves.
After all, the ruling class for the far greater part are not only carnivores, they “eat up” the working class too. Indeed, they are nothing but parasites on the working people. And when some of the super-rich or “beautiful people” present themselves as vegans and animal activists, this can at the very least provoke a “what does this have to do with me” response from working people, and often something far more reactive.
I would venture, by the way, that quite often this perception of the vegetarian as not coming from the working class is incorrect. It can simply be a projection of one of the other things one hears, “I’m worried about people; I can’t get involved in these other issues.”
The thing is, a lot of what I said about how some Marxists cling to this “workerist” view of vegetarianism and the animal question more broadly is not so different from how many actual working people view Marxism and many Marxists themselves—as not really being of the working people or actually connected to their actual struggles, as being a luxury activity for the better-off classes, and so on. This might apply to anarchists even more, though I wonder if anarchists are statistically more likely to be vegetarians.
In any case, I would draw three conclusions. First, advocates for vegetarianism and for a radically reworked human relationship with animals need to address class questions and to be aware of what it means to advocate on these questions to working people. If we actually care about making a better world, as opposed to showing ourselves as somehow “better people” because of our eating practices, we need to show in both theory and in how we communicate that these are not “elite” matters. We also need to approach in a more practical and sympathetic way the actual hurdles that working people face in both opening these questions in their own minds, their own families, and their own social strata, and in actually obtaining and preparing good vegetarian food in an affordable way. One reason I wanted to develop the analysis that I did in ‘Ethical Marxism’ was to show the depth and breadth of carnivorism as a system, indeed an immense system, that is a very difficult nut to crack. It is a system that is very close to the core, and in important ways it is the core, of the commodity system itself—the same system that commodifies human beings.
The second point is not so different from the first, though perhaps it is less about the theoretical tie-ins with the mode of production and commodity system. Instead, this point is on the “public relations” side of things—I don’t feel very comfortable with this term, of course, and yet the fact is that there are better and worse ways of getting the message out, and the other side is working full-time with vast resources and literally thousands of years of ideological support. Not unlike patriarchy—this is something that requires further thought, even though a great deal has been done already, with an especially important moment being Carol J. Adams’s ‘The Sexual Politics of Meat.’
My point though, is that we have to be careful with the “judginess”—not because it isn’t justified, but because it is not effective and tends to backfire. Here the comparison with patriarchy breaks down; patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, ought to be condemned outright, there should be no putting up with it. And the same with racism, with homophobia, and bigotry in general. Sure, there are different ways of coming at this too, ways that are more or less effective. And, to follow the approach taken by Sartre (“Colonialism is a system”), these things are systems too, and fundamentally we need to be about changing systems. The same with the global industrial food-animal system, we should not spare the system itself from harsh—and systematic—critique. And yet, again, when it comes to the eating practices of ordinary people functioning within this system, again, there is a question of whether we are interested in the “pleasures” of being judgmental and feeling righteous, or are we instead interested in making real change. Again, we have to be mindful of the different living situations that people have, even while maintaining the universality of the value that it is simply wrong to participate in unjustified cruelty toward sentient beings.
I’m in no position to say that a more “positive message” would lead to large results, but I do think the judgmental approach is demonstrably backfiring.
Third, however, and this is more directed toward the Marxists and other supposed champions of the working class who clearly overreact to the fact of encountering a vegetarian, to be sure these “public relations” questions should not be allowed to obscure the ethical horror that is the global industrial food-animal production system. Indeed, there needs to be a deepening of this dimension to show that this system is a political horror as well, even a basic survival horror, for all who inhabit this planet. None of this should be obscured under some sort of “workerist” ideology or rhetoric.
All right, this is a long way around what would seem to be a simple question, this business about personal veganism being an individualistic solution. Suppose some people become vegans out of a simple desire to withdraw from at least one of the horrible ways in which the larger social system functions? Perhaps not everything is right with that that one would want, but it is hard to see what is wrong with it. It’s really hard to see why this would be a reason to not do it. Again, the anti-vegetarian types ought to think a little more deeply about what they think; they are showing here.
Having been a member of a continental European philosophy program for almost twenty-five years now, I have heard many times that there is a problem of the “beautiful soul.” The “problem” was framed by Hegel and some of his contemporaries—Novalis, Holderlin (significantly, it is not unrelated to the notion of “holy anorexia”), but is probably best known in texts by Nietzsche. Years ago, commenting on the fact that my partner and I are vegetarians, a colleague who is a well-known scholar of Nietzsche and Heidegger said he “was right with us, but was concerned about the problem of the beautiful soul.” Now, it seems to me that there is something of the “beautiful soul” itself about this response.
In any case, I would like to understand better exactly what this problem is, what kind of problem it is, and who it is a problem for. Here is what I think I understand thus far. As a cultural phenomenon, a kind of skeptical refusal of politics, there is something like a “problem,” or, better, “problematic,” to use Althusser’s term.
As an “individual” issue, I see this more as, at most, an annoyance, and, as I said before, not an especially big one—perhaps because, even if a person who approaches veganism primarily or even only as a form of “withdrawal” is a bit annoying about it, usually such people are tucked away from others anyway. Whatever is annoying about them to others only comes out on occasions such as a family Thanksgiving dinner or the like. Of course, the “beautiful, annoying soul” does not want to be involved in such occasions in the first place, but attends for the sake of peace with friends and family—only to be treated as a pariah and to be submitted to idiotic discourses about meat. Probably every vegetarian reading this will recognize this scene and be familiar with how our friends and relatives want to choose such an occasion to interrogate us about vegetarianism—and being upset when we either respond with an argument or a simple response to the effect that eating animals is wrong or, as I have done for some time now, the response that a dinner table where animals are being served is not a good place to have this discussion.
I suppose that the question of the beautiful soul who is reclusively tucked away is different now in the age of the internet—some of the most “tucked away” are among the most present in this medium. But again, so what? There’s obviously no end to all kinds of stuff out there. Anti-vegetarians might want to consult a psychoanalyst to determine exactly why they specifically and continually seek out this thing that annoys them.
There is probably something “Christian,” and even “Protestant,” going on with the beautiful soul phenomenon, something that bypasses humanity on the road to salvation. And, for sure, there are people who are doing their best just to withdraw from certain evil pathways in this world. But we might do more investigation into the kind of society that enables withdrawal as the only realistic option for some people. Badiou often points out that this withdrawal from politics (in his sense of the masses being seized by an idea) leads in a “theological and ethical” direction. I would say that, in the case of the beautiful soul, this even takes the form of some secret, hidden, “recording angel” who is marking the hermit’s path of self-improvement and purification. I practice a form of Buddhism where monastic life is not stressed (and I don’t know that I could practice any other kind), but I’m not in a position to say that these forms of withdrawal or hermitage do not help the world. Again, it is hard for me to see how they hurt the world or society, other than that some don’t want to even hear about it on the internet. At the least, for all of us, there certainly ought to be moments to back up and reassess, or just to open our minds a bit without all the distraction of postmodern capitalist society and to let go of accumulated crap or even of things that are in some sense “true” but that are keeping us from seeing something that we need to see.
As for these “baseline” questions, the veganism/animal activism question is, I think, different from the other examples mentioned, one of these at a something of an extreme. Activist or not, it undermines and should undermine the credibility of someone who claims to “love animals” if they also eat animals. Again, I don’t see the efficacy of judginess toward individuals, but I also don’t see that it hurts to point out that one person’s beloved cat or dog is what’s for dinner in some parts of the world. Unfortunately, I don’t know that such inconvenient truths have so much efficacy in this society, either, because one thing that postmodern capitalism does is to undermine a sense of universality—people are more than willing to just spin the wheel and take their chances, at least insomuch as they think about something like John Rawls’s “original position” (a thought experiment where one does not know in what circumstances and with what attributes–race, gender, class, etc.—one will come into the world). In other words, they are fine with “taking their chances” in the abstract, when in the world they are in a comfortable position. Still, I don’t quite understand how a person can work in a rescue shelter by day and then go home and eat an animal for dinner. I suppose it requires a kind of compartmentalization that I don’t experience—generally whatever mess is going on in one part of my life spreads to every other part!
I don’t see quite that kind of contradiction in something like energy and ecology activism. In general it’s good, of course, to take alternative transportation. But a good bit of the time that is either quite impractical or almost impossible–and it’s no accident that things are this way. All power and respect to those working to change that. But if they have to sometimes drive or ride in a car as part of this work (or in their day jobs or whatever), I find that far more understandable than the person who stops for a Big Mac on the way to the animal shelter or whatnot.
At the same time, I think it is good if we are appreciative and encouraging every time anyone starts to move in the right direction—for example, the person who begins by not eating meat on Mondays, that sort of thing. Of course there have to be refusals, great and small, but if all of that is without affirmation, I don’t think we’ll change the world in the ways we need to. This isn’t to say that we should be uncritical in our thinking, such that we don’t see the difference between a “positive step” and a “fatal compromise” (though there really are many cases where that is a difference that is hard to see, perhaps even where the distinction is, as Derrida used to put it, undecidable, and we just have to make a leap in the dark and hope for the best), but, again, we have to do more than just say “no” to the world all the time.
Certainly, there is great positivity in saying no to the global industrial food-animal system, and to the eating of animals. But I think we can go forward a lot more by stressing compassion for sentient beings.
It might be useful to go a little further in framing something fundamental here in Buddhist terms. Everything we do in this world displaces something else, on many levels. If we live in a building—and I think most of us live in buildings of one kind or another—then something else that used to live on that land doesn’t live there anymore. Perhaps this was “just” bugs and worms, but, as we understand better every day, the ecological system of at least the dry land on earth depends on bugs and worms.
You most likely know the story of Sidhartha Guatama, how he was raised in a setting where everything was pleasure and nothing indicative of pain or decay was allowed to enter his sphere of awareness. Supposedly, the first instance of death that the young Siddhartha saw was a worm being cut in half by a farmer’s plow. Another version of the story has a bird flying off with a worm that has been turned up by the plow. There is no easy way to render the Sanskrit term “dukkha,” and it is perhaps not the most relevant way in Buddhist thought to render it as “displacement,” but this translation might be helpful in the present case. In other words, the most basic translation of the first Noble Truth, “dukkha,” is “life is suffering.” Many, many generations of scholars and monks have reflected on both the simplicity and complexity of “dukkha” and the idea of beginning there. To give a Badiouean twist to this idea, I would suggest that bodily life is a series of displacements (within any given body as well) where nothing can ever really “work out” to full satisfaction. Hence the need for mindfulness. We cannot avoid displacement entirely, but we can be mindful about it.
Lately, “mindfulness” has been promoted as a New-Age corporate practice, in a way disconnected from Buddhism, which is to say disconnected from the questions of attachment, compassion, and the path of right living represented by the Eightfold Path and the Bodhisattva vows and precepts. Instead, this model of mindfulness is being taken up into the corporate and capitalist theme of “corporate sustainability.” Of course there is no discourse that cannot be abused and even turned into its opposite (including, most outstandingly, discourses of Marxism, socialism, and communism). But leave it for now that this “corporate mindfulness” is not what I am getting at here.
Indeed, we need to take real mindfulness further than most Buddhists do, toward a mindfulness of systems. In Buddhism there is the idea of the “three poisons,” greed, hatred, and ignorance. Sometimes these are also called the “three unwholesome roots.” Now, it could be said that the “roots” of capitalism are the ever-expanding development of commodity production in general and the commodification of labor-power in particular. Which of the three unwholesome roots does commodity production fit under? It might be argued that the cruel outcomes of this commodity system, never seen in any more horrible form than in the global industrial food-animal system, come under one or all of these poisons, but even that is unclear. I suppose, up to a point, some carnivorous humans can plead ignorance, and we can see the profiteers from this system as motivated by greed, but these just don’t go far enough in helping us to understand a system, and therefore they don’t go far enough in helping us to overturn this system. (The focus on “greed” was one of the weaknesses of the Occupy movement as well, though on the whole I think Occupy was a great thing.) So perhaps we need a further turning of the dharma wheel, something that addresses what might be called “systemic karma” with another category of mindfulness.
There is a point to thinking further about karma here, if “karma” is properly understood not as something one wants to either “store up” in the case of “good karma,” or to avoid, as in the case of “bad karma.” Karma simply means “action,” and the basic idea is that actions have consequences. The point is to break with the mode of simply continuing in some chain of cause and effect without being mindful of the consequences of one’s actions. This goes back to the “no one is going to judge me for what I eat” question. It’s not a matter of judging, at least not primarily. Meat-eating practices perpetuate themselves and are perpetuated (through great effort on many levels) through the absence and even negation of mindfulness. In Buddhism, the saying is to “live by vow rather than karma.” By “vow” is meant principle. Is it simply an “individual question” or “individual solution” for a person to ask her or himself, “What am I a part of, how do my actions and practices fit into some larger scheme? And what should I do about this?” There is a point to doing some things and not doing other things after all, even if there is always more to be done.
And, as for ostensible Marxists or leftists who just sneer at principle, I don’t really mean to be quite as “nice” as I might have come across as earlier, when I said what I did about “judginess.” Again, this isn’t really about judging, but, if anything, there is a real problem with someone claiming to be a Marxist or leftist or anarchist and then sneering at someone who is trying to live by certain principles–especially when these are precisely the people who cannot claim simple ignorance of what is going on. Unfortunately, the dismissal of principle and the refusal to think has an all-too-rich history in leftism–and we’ll never change the world in any good way if we keep on with this sort of thing.
I did want to say that there is nothing in this entire interview, and especially on this point, where I haven’t been deeply influenced by my life-partner, Kathleen League. She is a vegan, utopian philosopher who has done some important work on the philosophy of Theodor Adorno and also a good deal on questions of class, and she comes from the lower part of the working class herself (and grew up below the poverty line). I don’t have the patience or stomach for this most of the time myself, but Kathleen will get into debates with some of these leftist or Marxist anti-vegetarians, especially on Facebook and other social media. I’m sure it’s not at all unknown to people who will read this how quickly these anti-vegetarians turn into mindless jerks–there is just something about this particular subject that brings it out of them. This is very disturbing, because these are people who are not ordinarily mindless jerks, it almost seems that the dynamic is that these leftists are frustrated at not having had much effect in the world, and so they take that frustration out on someone–and how strange it is that the people they pick as targets in this regard are vegetarians and animal activists. Stated more positively, and this goes to your last set of questions, there is much to be gained in sorting all of this out.
JH: Is a vegan capitalism possible? Why or why not?
BM: The question would seem to hinge on whether it is possible to have a system of food production that is both vegan and profitable for capitalists.
Now, why would the food-production system in a capitalist society become vegan? Would it be because of some sort of regulation, or some sort of (pretty much inconceivable) moment where capitalists as a set of global classes (I agree with Marx that there is no “trans-national bourgeoisie) became ethically-repulsed by the system and its horrors? Can capitalists really reach the point where they say, to paraphrase the popular song, “I would do anything for profit, but I won’t do that?” We know that everything in capitalism runs in the opposite direction. Capitalists are not even constrained by what Marx called “bourgeois right;” they don’t even have any reason, apart from some countervailing force, to stay within the supposed principles of their own system.
Just to press the point, we now live in a world enveloped in capitalist social relations–and yet this world contains a sector (analytically speaking; in geographical or geo-political terms, many sectors) of slavery-based production that is by all accounts larger than ever. There are more people who have been pressed into slavery now than there ever have been. And by this I do not mean the far larger sector of working people whose conditions of work are not in effect any different from slavery.
As for regulation, from time to time there are measures taken regarding cruelty toward animals, but, as most anyone reading this will know, facilities of food-animal production are generally exempt. Even beyond the slavery (de jure or de facto) point, the “free market” will go where it goes, it is exceedingly difficult to just deal with part of it. There are global markets in heroin and cocaine, and, qua market, they aren’t any different from any other markets. As such markets become articulated over space and time, they become integral to the overall market system. I’m writing this in Mexico City (where I am spending a month teaching at Universidad Iberoamericana), and there is absolutely no ignorance here whatsoever about the fact that the “drug economy” is no different from some other thing that could be called the “Mexican economy.”
Just to go back to Marxist basics, it seems the only thing that can really place a constraint on capitalist profit-seeking and accumulation is the conscious activism of the people. If we somehow got to the point where this conscious activism–on a large, mass scale–included a very central concern for our fellow creatures in this world, then it doesn’t seem likely that achieving a vegan capitalist society would be the horizon of this struggle. I certainly hope it wouldn’t be. As for what would be the basis of such a solidarity between the people and other animals, or whether “solidarity” is really the proper term for some sort of “alliance,” that comes under the purview more of the next set of questions, so I’ll come back to this in a moment.
Could a vegan capitalism emerge from a breakdown of food-animal production, something on a cataclysmic level such that this system could no longer function? This is highly-speculative territory, but it is hard to imagine this sort of cataclysm being contained in such a way that it doesn’t lead to a complete civilizational collapse. Economic conversion is not a strong suit of capitalism, at least in terms of the displacement and redeployment of “the workforce,” but we might ask if, on a less apocalyptic level, capitalism could convert food production from animals to plants in a way similar to how it has converted from typewriters to personal computers.
There is probably no purely analytical way to say that a vegan capitalism is simply impossible, even given, as I’ve argued, the central role that the making of animals into commodities plays in the emergence and spread of commodity production more generally.
If a vegan capitalism were possible, should we hope for such a thing–even if most of us hope, ultimately, for a post-capitalist society? Should we work for such a thing? I suppose one could say that it is right to work for a society that does not have the present food-animal production system, regardless of what happens with capitalism. This is probably similar to the way that it is right, for instance, to work for a society that has gender equality and full reproductive rights and freedoms for women, regardless of what happens with capitalism. I tend to think that neither a vegan food system nor the full liberation of women is possible in a capitalist framework, but I am not entirely sure how to argue this point. Furthermore, while I tend to think that true liberation involves interconnections and a kind of “comprehensive” struggle that addresses all of the root questions of exploitation, domination, and oppression, I also have no doubt that people who struggle in these “separate” spheres, for women’s liberation, or for the end of racism and race domination, and so on, are on the side of the angels.
For now, though, I think I have more questions than answers on this point. I hope that I have helped to develop some of these questions, at least.
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 superexploited living commodities. Where do you stand in the debate?
BM: In terms of the specific sources you cite, first of all I see some homework I need to do. At the moment, though, let me explore a few things about these two positions, as you state them.
There are two basic questions I have about these positions. First, if animals were to be considered to be “part of the proletariat,” what would be the meaning of this term, “part of?” Second, what is the relationship between “revolutionary potential” and forms of exploitation and forms of commodification?
Certainly I am willing to think further on the position I set out in ‘Ethical Marxism,’ but I have a concern about the idea that somehow animals need to somehow be made a “part of” the proletariat in order to enter the realm of political consideration. There is very little that can be done to really cover over the endless horror that is the food-animal production system—unlike, say, capitalism itself. Many of the covers have been ripped off from capitalism, too, though generally without getting to the heart of the matter (this is the business about “greed” again). But with the food-animal system, there is very little that can be done to make it look good—that’s why people, many philosophers included, are willing to make the most ridiculous claims in order to continue their participation in this system.
Rather than fold animals into the proletariat in some way, I think there is still something to be said for extending the idea, which we have from Marx, that it is the proletariat’s historical task to liberate itself, and all humankind–and all sentient beings.
We can talk about the way that class works today, how we understand the proletariat and working people more generally. However, I tend to agree with Alain Badiou that the part of this analysis that is more or less sociology should not be taken as some sort of “calculus” that will show us how a radical transformation will emerge. There is no reason in principle why the animal question could not turn out to be the leading factor in cracking the world open, as unlikely as that might seem from the standpoint of the present time.
How this might work in terms of the matrix of social classes and the possibilities for solidarity, however, is another matter. After all, it is hard enough to figure the bases of human solidarity, especially if one hopes to move beyond the narrowly-motivating factor of “interest.” Having said that, a big part of my argument on the animal question in ‘Ethical Marxism’ was to show (or to try to show, but in the Kantian sense that “trying” counts for a lot!) that the animal question provides the outstanding example of an ethical question that cannot be assimilated to human interests. Of course we have a human interest in not undermining the ecosystem of the whole planet or even of regions, but I am talking about the vast cruelty of the food-animal system and how it would be, or should be (in the ethical sense of “should”), simply unimaginable in any society that could even be called “decent,” much less “good.” And I also mean the cruelty that effects the animals in this system individually, and, to be simplistic about it, this can be understood well enough on the model of what would be called “animal cruelty” when someone does it to a cat or a dog but somehow is not animal cruelty when it happens within the food-animal system.
To use this term, “cruelty,” is to perhaps separate what happens to animals in the food-animal system and what happens to humans in the labor-exploitation system. Even on a “non-interest”-based argument for solidarity, such as what I try to supply in ‘Ethical Marxism,’ or such as what Sartre supplies in the ‘Critique of Dialectical Reason’ with his notion of the “group-in-fusion,” I think there is a significant gap between the basis of human or “human-class” solidarity and whatever term we might use for how the “collectivity” of animals might be considered.
Perhaps we could develop a distinction between what might be called “collectivity” in the sense we see in Sartre or Badiou, for instance, and what we can call “mutuality.”
I’m skirting a certain issue here, because it seems that it could lead to the kind of debate that gets very contentious very quickly, but also because it would only be worth exploring in the case that the proletariat and animals could truly combine in something that would truly be a “political formation.” I take it this would be quite different from saying that any just polity would include animals, not base its food system on eating animals, would do the best it could to not displace different species of animals such that species sustainability is endangered. All of this, however, is a matter of human polity.
So, without going much further in the issue that I am skirting, I think that the animal-friendly human polity that is possible actually entails the gap that I mentioned previously, because the gap is necessary to taking the animal question as a question of justice in its own right. This is a plenty good enough reason for not collapsing the distinction between animals and humanity (or the proletariat), as appealing as this move, toward a supposedly-larger solidarity, appears on first reading.