Friedrich Engels, close collaborator to Karl Marx, supported the torture of animals in the form of vivisection. This position perhaps should not be surprising given his passion for blood 'sports.'
Writing to Marx in August of 1881, Engels complained about a publication's pro- animal stance. "Since I've been here I have been taking The Daily News instead of the Standard," Engels said. "It is even more stupid, if that is possible. Preaches anti-vivisectionism! Also as deficient in news as the Standard."
Writing to Karl Kautsky later that same month, Engels referenced the same factory inspector Marx's son-in-law Paul Lafargue alluded to in a pro-testing article I discuss elsewhere. Kautsky appears to have written his own defense of involuntary non-human experimentation, called 'Die Vivisektion des Proletariats,' but I've been unable to find an English translation of it.
"In Nature, you will find a speech made by John Simon before the International Medical Conference here in which the bourgeoisie is virtually put on the mat by medical science," Engels said. "Now he, a doctor, finding his own special field invaded by the Church-led bourgeoisie and their anti-vivisection movement, has turned the tables on them."
Here Engels was explicitly linking anti-vivisectionist belief to the capitalist class, seemingly in particular a religious subset, which he saw as opposed to rational thought. Viewing themselves as rational thinkers, Engels and Marx were deeply impressed with the work of Charles Darwin. But as Steven Best pointed out, what they failed to glean from the naturalist's work was "Darwin’s emphasis on the continuity of species, on the continuum of animal existence." This failure to accept the genuine implications of evolution allowed Engels to continue viewing animals as categorically different and inferior to humans.
"Instead of preaching dull and colourless sermons like Virchow, [Simon] goes into the attack comparing the few scientific experiments made by doctors on animals with the vast commercial experiments made by the bourgeoisie on the popular masses, thereby placing the question for the first time in its true perspective," Engels continued.
In a similar way that reactionary socialists might artificially counterpose the consideration of class and gender, or class and race, here Engels suggested a false dichotomy between political work on behalf of humans and political work on behalf of animals. I'd argue this dichotomy propagates what Marxists call 'false
consciousness,' in that it directs proletarian anger away from capitalists, the genuine exploiters of the working class, and toward animals and those humans who defend them. Triumphantly, Engels concluded, "The Congress, by the way, declared unanimously that vivisection was essential to science."
While I try to assess individuals' species politics based on their stated positions, rather than what might be failings in their personal practice, Engel's support for animal testing could perhaps be predicted by his enthusiasm for hunting non- humans. His speciesism, after all, was not a passive acceptance of our society's omnivority. Rather Engels actively sought out opportunities to kill animals for pleasure. He enjoyed it.
Writing to Marx in 1857, according to Tristram Hunt, Engels said, "On Saturday, I went out fox-hunting – seven hours in the saddle. That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish excitement for several days; it’s the greatest physical pleasure I know...At least 20 of the chaps fell off or came down, two horses were done for, one fox killed (I was in AT THE DEATH).”
Lafargue recalled Engels' gruesome talent and passion for murdering non-humans. "He was an excellent rider and had his own hunter for the fox chase," Lafargue said. "When the neighbouring gentry and aristocracy sent out invitations to all riders in the district according to the ancient feudal custom, he never failed to attend."
Engels eventually developed what Hunt, his biographer, describes with abhorrent approval as bloodlust. "Yesterday I let myself be talked into attending a coursing meeting at which hares are hunted with greyhounds, and spent seven hours in the saddle," Engels said. "All in all, it did me a power of good though it kept me from my work.”
Soviets exploited dogs as living explosives
In the Second World War, the Soviet Union exploited dogs as living, anti-tank explosives in their fight against the Germans, following Adolf Hitler's 1941 breaking of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The agreement between the two nations, which had been made in the summer of 1939, was, according to the exiled Bolshevik Leon Trotsky, an "extra gauge with which to measure the degree of degeneration of the [Soviet] bureaucracy, and its contempt for the international working class."
"The training [of the non-humans] was innovative, to say the least, and cringe- inducing in its cruelty." Bryan D. Cummins said. "Accustomed to carrying explosives on their backs, the dogs were kept hungry and fed only under moving tanks. Thus the unfortunate dogs learned to anticipate the weight on their backs, the rumblings of the tanks and a meal. Each dog is alleged to have carried 30 pounds (13 kg) of explosives on its back, to be detonated by wooden levers on their backpacks that hit against the underbelly of the tank as the dog ran under it, seeking food."
The plan largely backfired, Cummins said, because the dogs, trained to look under Soviet-made tanks for food, did so in the field as well, ignoring the German vehicles. In one case, Soviet troops shot all of their involuntary canine soldiers to prevent them from inadvertently destroying Russian tanks. Still, Cummins said, "the Soviets claimed that several German tanks had, in fact, been destroyed using anti-tank [dogs] at the Battle of Kursk in 1943 and captured German documents corroborate the claim."
In his memoir, Soviet soldier Mansur Abdulin recalled meeting the dogs condemned to death. "As someone who grew up in the Siberian forestland, I really
love dogs, and I was appalled to learn about the fate of these creatures," Abdulin said. "What does a meek animal, so dear to children, have to do with this mess? A dog is a faithful friend. Yet we were apparently sending these trusting companions to die under enemy tanks!"
Later, according to Abdulin, during a German attack, perhaps five of the starved dogs, looking for food, were killed by the explosives strapped to their backs. The animals' deaths repelled the Nazi advance, causing his comrades to celebrate. He felt he should be happy too. "But instead I wept, cursing the war and the monsters who started it," Abdulin said.
For its part, the United States War Department was inspired by the Soviet Union's exploitation of dogs, and started a similar trial program at Fort Belvoir in 1943. However, acording to John M. Kistler, "rather than targeting enemy armor, the animals were trained as 'bunker busters' to enter Japanese tunnels and fortifications with timed explosives." Thankfully, nothing came of the program. This was for two central reasons. "No one could be certain that the dog would always go to the target and not return to 'friendlies' and accidentally blow up allies," Kistler said. "[And] no one would donate their dogs to the military once it was learned they might be used as suicide bombers."
London inspired influential animalist group
Many may not be aware that the famed novelist Jack London, author of "The Call of the Wild" and "The Iron Heel" among others, was a socialist. Fewer still might be aware that the writer, who often wrote from the point of view of non-humans, inspired the creation of a powerful animalist organization. Sadly, London's legacy was tarnished, above all, by his racism.
A member of the Socialist Labor Party before joining the Socialist Party of America, London launched a nationwide lecture tour on the subject of working- class revolution in 1906, according to Ira Kipnis. He was an admirer of the Industrial Workers of the World, and met with the Wobbly leader 'Big Bill' Haywood, "although he never joined them in going so far as to recommend sabotage," Clarice Stasz said. After London died at the age of 40, the great socialist Eugene Debs expressed his condolences in a letter to the writer's widow. "Your beloved husband was very dear to me as he was to many thousands of others who never had the privilege of laying their eyes upon him," Debs said. "I felt the great heart of him, loved him, read nearly everything he wrote, and rejoiced in applauding his genius."
London was, according to Lucy Robins Lang, a proselytizing vegetarian for a time, before returning to omnivority. One is unsure whether his temporary abstinence from meat was motivated by concern for animals, and if so, whether his return to flesh represented the abandonment of what he merely saw as a symbolic gesture toward non-human solidarity or the low priority he placed on animal lives and suffering.
In the preface to his novel 'Michael, Brother of Jerry,' which was published after his death, London argued readers should join animalist organizations. "First, let all humans inform themselves of the inevitable and eternal cruelty by the means of which only can animals be compelled to perform before revenue-paying audiences," London wrote. "Second, I suggest that all men and women, and boys and girls, who have so acquainted themselves with the essentials of the fine art of animal-training, should become members of, and ally themselves with, the local and national organizations of humane societies and societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals."
London advocated walkouts of performances that exploited animals as entertainment. "We will not have to think of anything, save when, in any theatre or place of entertainment, a trained-animal turn is presented before us," London said. "Then, without premeditation, we may express our disapproval of such a turn by getting up from our seats and leaving the theatre for a promenade and a breath of fresh air outside, coming back, when the turn is over, to enjoy the rest of the programme. All we have to do is just that to eliminate the trained-animal turn from all public places of entertainment."
According to Earle Labor, his call "was answered with the formation of the Jack London Club dedicated to this crusade. The club achieved an international membership of nearly one million before its disruption by the Second World War." In 1925, in response to protests by the Jack London Club, the Ringling- Barnum and Bailey circus removed all animal acts from their performances, according to Diane L. Beers. As modern socialist animalist Jason Hribal stated, this was "an extraordinary feat which no contemporary organization, such as PETA, HSUS, or the ASPCA, has yet to accomplish." Sadly the victory was short lived. "Just five years later, Charles Ringling announced that his show would once again include trained big cats," Beers said.
Again, it should be mentioned that London's legacy was marred by racism. "As therapy Jack plunged into the works of Nietzsche," according to London's biographer Alex Kershaw. "Nietzsche, like Jack, believed that different races inherited different traits, although he condemned racism. Jack overlooked this key distinction, or perhaps chose to ignore it. Anglo-Saxons, he believed, were the only true supermen. Lesser breeds -- racial weaklings -- should make way for the
Anglo-Saxons, who would alone determine the destiny of the human race."
The socialist George Orwell argued that London betrayed other right-wing tendencies. I don't know enough about London to have an informed opinion on the matter. But Orwell went further, seeming to identify London's empathy with non- humans as indication of latent fascism, which is puzzlingly problematic. "In an intellectual way London accepted the conclusions of Marxism, and he imagined that the ‘contradictions’ of capitalism, the unconsumable surplus and so forth, would persist even after the capitalist class had organized themselves into a single corporate body," Orwell said. "Temperamentally he was very different from the majority of Marxists. With his love of violence and physical strength, his belief in 'natural aristocracy', his animal-worship and exaltation of the primitive, he had in him what one might fairly call a Fascist strain."
Socialist Alternative candidate discusses animal issues
Jess Spear is the Socialist Alternative candidate for the Washington State House in the 43rd district. An ally of Kshama Sawant, who was recently elected to the Seattle City Council on the same party line, Spear exemplifies a new generation of far-left electoralism, the likes of which has not been seen in quite a while. She recently agreed to an interview in which she discussed her views on non-human exploitation.
Jon Hochschartner: Why should those concerned by the treatment of animals vote for you?
Jess Spear: We are facing an environmental catastrophe that threatens every animal on this planet, and has already wiped out thousands of species. Politics as usual is working great for these mega-corporations, but it’s not working for working people or non-human animals.
Those concerned by the treatment of animals should vote for me because I stand in solidarity with them and their struggle to end the needless suffering of animals exacerbated under the economic system we live under —capitalism — that sacrifices everything on the altar of profit. Animal exploitation, environmental destruction, and human suffering are the very reasons I am a socialist fighting for a more just, equitable, and sustainable world.
My opponent, Frank Chopp, takes money from corporations destroying our environment, causing human deaths, and instigating a mass extinction —notably BP Oil. He represents corporations, not people. I take no money from corporations.
JH: Does Socialist Alternative have any official position on animal exploitation of any kind? If not, is this something you would like to change?
JS: As socialists, we see the incredible damage that capitalism has caused to our environment as a byproduct of the profit motive. Oil companies pollute with impunity and are the most profitable corporations in the world. Farms exist not to provide high quality food, nutrition, and jobs to society, but to make the maximum profit for private companies and Monsanto.
Socialist Alternative is primarily focused on human liberation. We stand for democratic socialism, which is the organization of society focused on meeting human need and environmental sustainability, not profit. Through the democratic planning of society we can achieve a world where humans and non-humans alike are treated with kindness and respect. Society has the technology, talent, and resources to realize this goal.
To end animal suffering, we must first work to build the power of the working class, fight for better living standards and reforms, and ultimately usher in a more just, equitable, and sustainable world. We stand with animal rights activists who are fighting this system and pointing out the terrible impact the profit motive has on all life on this planet.
JH: What public policy proposals, that you could take action on, would you support for animals if voted to the Washington state house?
JS: I would support legislation that mitigates the suffering of animals. We would call for:
— End the tax breaks and incentives for large factory farms, and bring them into public ownership under democratic control with compensation to the former owners on proven need.
— Invest in community controlled, publicly owned farms, or a network there of, to provide basic nutritious food for low cost or free, run by the city, state, and community.
— End the use of known and suspected poisons and carcinogens in food products, on animals, and humans until proven safe!
— No gag laws to stop whistle blowers!
— Access to high quality food is a right, not a privilege of wealth. Working people should have the right to know, and a say in how our food is grown, the environmental impact of the process, and the treatment of animals and humans involved in the process.
JH: For you, how, if at all, are the fights for socialism and better treatment for animals intertwined?
JS: Socialists see the economic system we live under, capitalism, as dysfunctional and completely unable to meet the needs of humans and the environment that sustains us (including animals). The struggle for more humane treatment of animals arises from the same core of human empathy that stirs one to speak out against, and act to stop, human suffering.
The suffering of animals and humans alike is unnecessary. We now have the technology and resources to provide a high standard of living for all on the planet — quality food, clean water and sanitation, decent housing, education, healthcare, and purposeful occupations — without causing needless animal suffering. But, the application and sharing of scientific innovations and technology necessary to provide this standard of living is held back by capitalism.
Capitalism depends on exploitation of all kinds and of many species, with the few ruling the many for the benefit of the few and to the detriment of the many. We strive to build working-class power through mass movements, whereby working people realize their inherent power as a class and wield that power to overturn this system and replace it with one of equality and cooperation.
A society where the economy is democratically run opens the possibility to enjoy the bounties of the world in a way that does not exploit our non-human brothers and sisters. Under capitalism, exploitation of both of humans and non-humans, is unavoidable. It is the only way to secure increasing profits. It is why we live in the richest country in the world, yet so many abhorrent practices towards animals by corporations like Tyson are protected from scrutiny and carry on their exploitation in secret. They know that people would not approve of what they did, which shows that people fundamentally and overwhelmingly do not want to take part in this exploitation.
Under capitalism, however, most people have no choice. Wages for most people are so low that they are barely scraping by. When you are making poverty wages and trying to keep your family alive, you don’t have the luxury to turn down a 99-cent hamburger, no matter how it was made. People eat at places like McDonalds overwhelmingly for the same reason they shop at Wal-Mart: they have no other choice. Under this system, the ability to shop with a conscience is a luxury that most cannot afford. Until we cast off the tyrannical shackles of economic oppression under capitalism, we cannot make any significant headway to change the way animals are treated. Once the exploited workers of the world are free from exploitation, we will have the liberty to move on to ending animal suffering.
Steinem is anti-vivisectionist
Gloria Steinem, honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, has spoken against vivisection and the abuse of companion animals. Her view of other forms of non-human exploitation are unclear. Steinem is perhaps best known as a leading second-wave feminist who co-founded Ms. Magazine.
In a 2014 interview with iBerkshires, Steinem was asked whether she saw a link between the subjugation of non-humans and the subjugation of women. "Yes, actually I do and it's interesting statistically it's true," she said. "The vast majority of the animal rights individual human beings are females." Steinem made a stronger statement regarding this connection, according to a 2007 blog post on the People For Ethical Treatment of Animals website. Protesting Covance Inc.'s use of vivisection, she said, "Animal abuse is connected to domestic abuse — literally in a household, but societally in a more general way, too."
In another PETA post, which is undated, Steinem was quoted in opposition to vivisection performed by the National Institutes of Health. "I am adding my voice to others calling for an end to these and other cruel and useless experiments — on behalf of the animals who are being pointlessly made to suffer and die, on behalf of women whose health concerns are starved for funds, and on behalf of taxpayers who are being defrauded," she said. Her prescription for this 'triple injustice,' as she apparently called it, was merely to reduce the usage of animals in testing. One is unsure if this reformism is tactical or ideological. "I am writing to ask that you address this cruelty, fraud, and waste by drastically reducing reliance on animal models, and improving oversight of grant monies, thus also saving the energy of citizen protest for causes that allow us all to move forward together," Steinem
said. "You must understand that this goes beyond even the famous Golden Fleece Award for wasted tax dollars. In this case, there is blood on the fleece."
I don't believe there are individual solutions to systemic problems like animal exploitation, so I don't particularly care about personal dietary choices. Animalists should be working toward public veganism that is legally enforced at the point of production. Trying to create mass, voluntary change at the point of consumption is a Sisyphean task. But in attempting to assess individuals' species politics, I often check to see whether they practice vegetarianism or veganism, as this can of be a symbolic representation of their opposition to animal slaughter. As it happens, Steinem is some kind of flexitarian, according to a biography of her Patricia Cronin Marcello. But Steinem's diet was not apparently inspired by concern for non-humans. "I'm also a modified vegetarian," she said. "I eat seafood and dairy products but not red meat or chicken, as a result of having breast cancer."
It should be said that, like anyone else, Steinem is not without her critics, including those coming from her economic left. For instance, writing in 2005, Sharon Smith, a leader of the International Socialist Organization and author of 'Women and Socialism: Essays on Women's Liberation,' suggested Steinem was not truly committed to class struggle. "While it is true that the Gloria Steinem of today is quite different than the Gloria Steinem of 1970 — the change in feminism has not been qualitative," Smith said. "Occasional lip service aside, mainstream feminism has never sought to represent any other class of women than the upper- middle class. Feminism has merely evolved to reflect the changing circumstances of this class of women."
Animalists should focus on commonalities, not differences
There's a great joke, of which there seem to be many variations, about the ludicrousness of a certain kind of sectarianism, that animalists could learn from. There appear to be many variations of the gag. In a 2005 article for the Guardian, comedian Emo Phillips claimed to have come up with the it, originally using the context of Christian denominations. But I originally heard the joke in the context of socialism. It was very similar, if not identical, to the version reposted to Louis Proyect's blog, 'The Unrepentant Marxist,' which goes like this.
An elderly fellow named Sam was walking along the Brooklyn Bridge one day when he saw a man of similar age, standing on a ledge, about to jump. Sam ran toward the other man, shouting not to kill himself. The other guy, who we'll call Joe, asked why not? He'd been a socialist all of his life and the possibility of working-class revolution seemed as hopeless as ever. Surprised, Sam said he was a
socialist as well, before asking Joe if he had been in Communist Party USA. Joe said he had. Sam said he had too, before continuing, "Did you join the pro-Trotsky Communist League of America in 1928, which later merged with the American Workers Party to form the Workers Party of America in 1934?" Joe answered in the affirmative.
Sam exclaimed, "Spooky, me too! After the WPA was expelled from the Socialist Party of America in 1936 did you go on to join the Socialist Workers Party USA and the Fourth International?” Joe said he did. It went on like this, question after question revealing their common trajectory in the history of leftist sectarianism. Sam asked, "In the 1940 dispute did you side with Cannon or Shachtman?" He found that they both sided with James P. Cannon. Sam continued, "In 1962 did you join Robertson’s opposition caucus, the Revolutionary Tendency?" And the man on the ledge did, just like Sam.
Sam said, "And I bet that like me you were expelled and went on to join the International Communist League?" Joe said that went without saying. Sam plowed further, "In 1985 did you join the International Bolshevik Tendency who claimed that the Sparts had degenerated into an ‘obedience cult?'” Joe said he hadn't, which Sam hadn't either. Finally, Sam asked, "In 1998 did you join the Internationalist Group after the Permanent Revolution Faction were expelled from the ICL?" Joe answered he had joined the Internationalist Group, and exhilarated by their shared history, began to reconsider suicide. But Sam pushed Joe off the bridge, shouting, "Die, counterrevolutionary scum!"
At the risk of ruining the joke, the humor here, of course, largely comes from how much Sam and Joe had in common in relation to an already microscopic political subset, but how ultimately none of that mattered. When Sam discovered they shared a tiny, irrelevant difference, he had to literally destroy Joe. Ironically, Sam opposed Joe with far more vehemence than he might someone whose politics were genuinely well to the right of his.
This dynamic should sound very familiar to animalists, and one imagines the gag could be easily rewritten for our context. We all know the countless fault lines — whether one supports individual violence, whether one supports the large non- profits, whether one is a reformist, whether one is a tactical reformist. The different ideological litmus tests we have created, and I certainly include myself in this, are endless. And the great irony is that to those outside the incredibly marginalized anti-speciesist movement, none of these differences matter. To them, we are all those 'animal-rights wackos,' just like, to an uninvolved observer, Sam and Joe are both 'socialist nut jobs.'
Our elevation of the comparatively minor tactical or ideological differences
between us is really an expression of the powerlessness of our movement. Consciously or not, when we do this, we are conceding that societal change on behalf of animals, however minor, is impossible. We retreat into a sectarian hovel, where we duke it out amongst ourselves, quixotically fighting those who deviate from the correct animalist line. This of course, doesn't help animals. The only way to create real change for non-humans is to create a mass movement, which involves coalition building with those one might not entirely agree, including those whose species politics are reformist. We have to unite.
HSUS founder implicated in Red Scare
I recently came across the allegation that Fred Myers, a founder of the Humane Society of the United States, was a communist. The charge appeared on HumaneWatch.org, a website maintained by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a shadowy corporate front group. Needless to say, as a socialist animalist, the accusation did not have the desired effect on me. Far from being a scarlet letter for HSUS, an organization with comparatively conservative species politics, it was a potential badge of honor. Sadly, there appears to be no substantive evidence that Myers was a communist, and if he were, he likely would have been a supporter of counter-revolutionary Joseph Stalin.
According to the HSUS website, "Fred Myers provided the essential vision, determination, and direction the fledging organization needed. Under his leadership, The HSUS not only survived its first decade, but established itself as a national animal-protection organization that addressed cruelties which lay beyond the capacity of local societies and state federations."
Myers testified before an investigative Senate subcommittee about his alleged communist ties on May 15, 1956, by which time historians argue the worst of the second Red Scare was drawing to a close. At this point he was executive director of the newly formed HSUS. Myers was questioned primarily by chief counsel Robert Morris. The first aspect of Myers biography that Morris wanted to probe was Myers' chairmanship of the New York Daily Mirror unit of the New York Newspaper Guild in the 1930s. A New York Times reporter had testified that at the time Myers was a communist.
Apparently within the Guild at the time of Myers involvement, there was a right and left-wing faction. The left-wing faction was accused of being run by communists. Morris wanted to know with which Myers sided. "I was aligned with the faction which was accused of being Communist-led," Myers said. In response to further questions, he denied being a communist in the 1930s, and said he had no
memory of his accuser, Clayton Knowles, whatsoever. But Myers said he had no doubt the left-wing faction included communists, and that in fact he had no doubt about this at the time. "I was strongly of the opinion that the cause that the guild espoused was good," Myers said. "I thought it expedient and good to work with whoever would ally himself in that cause. I quite freely worked with people whom I thought to be or suspected of being Communists." Senator James Eastland asked Myers whether he had been a 'fellow traveler,' by which was meant someone sympathetic to communist goals but not a member of a communist organization. Myers denied this.
The interrogation then moved to Myers' tenure as executive director of the American-Russian Institute, following the end of the Second World War and Myer's public-relations work for the American Society for Russian Relief, for which he received the Soviet's Order of the Red Banner of Labor. According to Morris, both Myer's predecessor and successor at the Institute had invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked about their communist affiliations. Morris then questioned Myers about a trip he took to the Soviet Union.
As the testimony continued, it emerged that Myers had actually lost a job at New York Central Railroad in the late 1940s as a result of the Red Scare when the New York World-Telegram ran a story accusing him of being a communist. "I want to make the point perfectly clear that I have not at any time in any employment concealed anything about my career or my personal activities," Myers said. "I have nothing to be ashamed of."
HumaneWatch.org hosts a letter, dated 1958, it claims is from Larry Andrews, another HSUS founder, to a Senate subcommittee, in which Andrews accuses Myers of being a communist and having committed perjury in his 1956 testimony. "Myers is a communist and hence an enemy of our country," Andrews said. "Unless he is exposed and dismissed from his position, he will continue to dupe sincere, but gullible persons of wealth in the humane movement." Ludicrously, Andrews went on to suggest HSUS might be a communist front. While the letter certainly appears genuine, I've been unable to find it sourced anywhere but HumaneWatch.org. In an email to me, a representative of the Center for Consumer Freedom said he believed the letter was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
De Moura opposed animal testing
Born in 1887, Maria Lacerda de Moura, a Brazilian left-wing radical, was an opponent of animal testing. While she is often identified as an individualist
anarchist, this seems reductive, as numerous sources describe her as a supporter of class struggle who condemned capitalism.
According to Francesca Miller, de Moura was "sympathetic to the goals of international socialism, but rejected all political affiliation." Miller suggested she did this on feminist grounds, quoting from a 1932 book written by the leftist. "Up until now, which has been the party or program that presented a solution for the problem of female happiness?" de Moura said. "Who remembered to liberate women? ...Fatherland, home, society, religion, morality, good manners, civil and political rights, communism, fascism, every other ism, revolutions, and barricades...continues to be the slave, an instrument skillfully manipulated by men for their sectarian, power-hungry, economic, religious, political, or social causes."
She distanced herself from the mainstream of the feminist movement, June Edith said, "apparently feeling that the franchise would chiefly benefit middle-class women rather than aid the bulk of Brazil's population or alter the country's social structure." But de Moura "found no constituency for a socialist feminist movement," according to Susan K. Besse.
In a 2011 article titled 'Representations of science and technology in Brazilian anarchism,' Gilson Leandro Queluz provided rare English quotes from de Moura regarding animal testing. "I can only understand vivisection as a frenzy of unspeakable evil," de Moura said. "I cannot even see the advantage of the scientific drunkenness that puts thousands of guinea pigs and dogs and any kind of animal at the mercy of 'scientists.'"
De Moura was aghast at the experiments performed by the French surgeon Serge Voronoff, as many seem to have been. Voronoff, a frequent vivisectionist, was best known for involuntarily transplanting chimpanzees' testicles onto human males in an effort to cure impotence. "By 1923 forty-three men had received testicles from nonhuman primates, and by the end of Voronoff's career, that number reached thousands," according to Nathan Wolfe. "Although Voronoff had inherited a fortune as an heir to a vodka manufacturer, he made more money operating on many of the most important men of his day."
De Moura argued the surgeon's procedures represented "quack science of modern industrialism, the science that served the golden calf, the science of human vampirism exhausted by early senility that sucks the glands of animals." And Voronoff's clients, she said, were "old, wealthy and powerful men, whose conscience was crushed by parasitism, whose safes were enriched at the expense of the exploitation of thousands and thousands of workers, at the expense of the martyrdom and servility of the human herd.”
There appears to be more material available elsewhere regarding her species politics, but it's only in Portuguese. One hopes an enterprising socialist animalist familiar with the language might investigate this. Some sources state de Moura died in 1944, while others say she passed away a year later in 1945. She would have been in her late 50s.
Lafargue promoted speciesist false consciousness
In his 1900 essay, "The Rights of the Horse and the Rights of Man," Paul Lafargue, son-in-law to Karl Marx and a revolutionary in his own right, promoted what socialists should recognize as a speciesist form of false consciousness, in that he directed proletarian anger away from capitalists, the genuine exploiters of the working class, and toward animals and those humans who defend them.
"Progress and Civilization may be hard on wage-working humanity but they have all a mother’s tenderness for the animals which stupid bipeds call 'lower,'" Lafargue said. "Civilization has especially favored the equine race: it would be too great a task to go through the long list of its benefactions; I will name but a few, of general notoriety, that I may awaken and inflame the passionate desires of the workers, now torpid in their misery."
Lafargue, presumably speaking somewhat with tongue in cheek, divided horses into what he termed aristocratic and proletarian classes, with the former made up of non-human individuals exploited for racing and the latter included those exploited for more general work purposes. For Lafargue, an animal hater, the abuse of horses in both these categories was far too gentle.
"The equine aristocracy enjoys so many and so oppressive privileges, that if the human-faced brutes which serve them as jockeys, trainers, stable valets and grooms were not morally degraded to the point of not feeling their shame, they would have rebelled against their lords and masters, whom they rub down, groom, brush and comb, also making their beds, cleaning up their excrements and receiving bites and kicks by way of thanks," Lafargue said, identifying animals as beneficiaries of class exploitation with an unclear degree of seriousness. "Aristocratic horses, like capitalists, do not work; and when they exercise themselves in the fields they look disdainfully, with a contempt, upon the human animals which plow and seed the lands, mow and rake the meadows, to provide them with oats, clover, timothy and other succulent plants."
I'm not familiar with the racing industry of Lafargue's era, but I doubt he was either, as I find it hard to believe the industry was significantly more 'humane,' to
use an anthropocentric term, than that of our era. In today's industry, for instance, horses are regularly killed by heat stroke in races, lethal injection inflicted due to competition-related injuries, or simple slaughter when they're no longer profitable. Were it possible for members of the proletariat to switch places with these animals, I sincerely doubt any informed human workers would want to do so.
"Thrice happy is it for proletarian humanity that these equine aristocrats have not taken the fancy of feeding upon human flesh, like the old Bengal tigers which rove around the villages of India to carry off women and children; if unhappily the horses had been man-eaters, the capitalists, who can refuse them nothing, would have built slaughter-houses for wage-workers, where they could carve out and dress boy sirloins, woman hams and girl roasts to satisfy their anthropophagic tastes," Lafargue mused. This attempt at satire, it should be noted, implicitly concedes the exploitation of domesticated animals is in most cases worse than that of human workers.
"The proletarian horses, not so well endowed, have to work for their peck of oats, but the capitalist class, through deference for the aristocrats of the equine race, concedes to the working horses rights that are far more solid and real than those inscribed in the 'Rights of Man,'" Lafargue said, with offensive ignorance of the exploitation endured by horses used in both competition and labor. "We may still recall the noble indignation of the bourgeois press when it learned that the omnibus company was using peat and tannery waste in its stalls as a substitute for straw: to think of the unhappy horses having such poor litters!"
Again and again, Lafargue tried to manufacture an inherent link between animalism and defense of capitalist exploitation. "The more delicate souls of the bourgeoisie have in every capitalist country organized societies for the protection of animals," he said scornfully. "Schopenhauer, the bourgeois philosopher, in whom was incarnated so perfectly the gross egoism of the philistine, could not hear the cracking of a whip without his heart being torn by it."
Lafargue's speciesism, which is all too common on the socialist left, should be seen for what it is, a form of false consciousness, like homophobia, sexism or racism, which misdirects proletarian rage away from capitalists, who are actually responsible for worker exploitation, toward other victims of the ruling class who face special oppression and exploitation within the current order.
Dr. Murray talks socialist animalism
Dr. Mary Murray, senior lecturer at Massey University, agreed to an interview in which she discussed socialist animalism. She is the author of “The Underdog in History: Serfdom, Slavery, and Species in the Creation and Development of Capitalism,” which appeared in the 2011 compilation “Theorizing 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? Can you describe what involvement, if any, you’ve had with organized socialist or anarchist left?
Mary Murray: Yes, I am a socialist and would call myself a Marxist in terms of Marx’s analysis of different kinds of societies and state systems, though I wouldn’t call myself a Marxist in metaphysical terms. Indeed, ironically perhaps, despite Marx having a materialist conception of history, I think that actually raises the issue of Marxism being tied to a metaphysic, despite and because of its materialist conception of history. I sometimes find myself having sympathies with anarchism. I was involved with the Socialist Worker Party in the UK for several years. I have also been an active animal advocate for over a decade.
JH: Is there any way in which speciesism is used to further human class exploitation? If so, how?
MM: I can think of many ways, e.g. slaughter house workers have their jobs because of speciesism. Slaughter house workers are exploited members of the working class. Similarly people who work for McDonalds are exploited workers and of course speciesism is central to the production of food in that company. Then of course there is the link between poor health and fast food, as well as the destruction of the environment.
JH: How does the materialist conception of history effect, if at all, your view of how animal liberation can be achieved?
MM: Despite Marx’s speciesism I think that the materialist conception of history, tied as it is to forms of political organisation aimed at the emancipation of workers, can be developed to recognise animals as labourers, indeed slaves, and that a commonality of interest exits between humans and animals in this respect. The end of human slavery was brought about by cross-class alliances between humans, and although the ideology of speciesism can create ‘false consciousness’ we can already see that animal advocacy organisations can be a ‘broad church’ in terms of class, gender and ethnicity.
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?
MM: I think that it is possible to argue that personal veganism can be an individualistic solution to a systemic problem. However many people may not have the time or energy to get involved in animal activism, and so personal veganism is one oppositional stance that some people make whilst also recognizing that animal exploitation is a systemic problem. I know a number of people who are animal activists but not vegan, many people who drive cars and are opposed to fossil fuel economies, and some who wear Nike products but are opposed to sweat shops. I think we have to work with where people are at, inclusively as possible, and hope that in time people make choices about what to eat, wear, and modes of transport that are consistent with their values.
JH: Is a vegan capitalism possible? Why or why not?
MM: I think that vegan capitalism could be possible – we already have many retail outlets that sell vegan products whilst making a profit. Vegan capitalism may also lessen the suffering of animals. However I think that the exploitation of humans, animals and the environment are interconnected and that we should be working towards the ending of all three forms of exploitation.
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?
MM: I haven’t read the work of either author. However I consider that animals are part of the proletariat, and in fact they are often slaves. I also think that the development of a revolutionary class consciousness should/could involve humans dropping speciesism. Racism cuts across revolutionary class consciousness, but can be transcended, so why can’t speciesism be transcended? As we know the labour power of humans is exploited. The labour power and reproductive capacity of animals is also exploited, and this I think this raises questions about a Marxist tendency to focus on production, despite the fact that we know from the early works of Marx that production and reproduction were stressed. Is Torres arguing that being a super exploited living commodity somehow undermines revolutionary potential? I will need to read Hribal and Torres to answer this question properly.
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?
MM: Yes, I agree with Seymour. There is much work to be done I think re the state, globalisation, war, and also the relationship between Marxism, feminism and humans and animals, and the use of animals in research.
Wolfe likely motivated by animalist concern
Born in 1875, Lilian Wolfe, whose name is spelled in different ways in different
sources, was a British feminist, anarchist and vegetarian. According to George Woodcock, she was a friend and collaborator to the influential anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin. Given her residency at the Whiteway Colony, a community inspired by Leo Tolstoy, one might assume her diet was inspired by concern for animals.
The seriousness with which Wolfe seemed to regard her vegetarianism can be seen in her steadfastness to the diet during her incarceration for opposing World War I. "The anarchists round the newspaper Freedom had their own anti-war organization," Sheila Rowbotham said. "Lilian Woolf, an ex-suffragette who became an anarchist, was imprisoned [in 1916] for giving out anti-war leaflets to troops. Pregnant and unmarried on principle, she remained a vegetarian in prison and was forced to drink cabbage water to provide herself with some nutrition."
While I no longer put much emphasis on the importance of prefigurative vegetarianism or veganism, I must admire her tenacity in this instance, even if it was for what I see now as a mostly symbolic end. How much time Wolfe served in custody is unclear. She "was sentenced to £25 or two months and went to prison, but there discovered she was pregnant (at the age of 40), so paid the fine and was released," according to Donald Rooum.
She administrated Freedom Press, which identified with libertarian communism, for much of her life. "For more than twenty-five years Lilian Wolfe was the centre of the administration of Freedom Press at its various premises in London," Nicolas Walter said. "She was the person on whom every organization depends — the completely reliable worker who runs the office, opening and closing the shop, answering the telephone and the post, doing accounts and keeping people in touch. She maintained personal contact with the thousands of people who read the paper."
When the socialist George Orwell was sick with tuberculosis in 1949, an illness that eventually claimed his life, Orwell's young son, Richard Blair, was sent to live at the Whiteway Colony, near the sanitarium where his father was being treated. He was placed in Wolfe's care. Orwell, it should be mentioned, was hostile to what Whiteway represented. "If only the sandals and pistachio-colored shirts could be
put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaler and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly," Orwell said. "As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents."
For what it's worth, Blair seemed to enjoy his time at Whiteway. "As far as I can recall I was perfectly happy there and even attended a local kindergarten for a few weeks, until mid-August," Blair said. "I remember regularly waiting with someone to catch a bus to go and visit my father and, on arrival, would always ask him where it hurt."
Orwell described Whiteway and Wolfe herself with no small amount of condescension. The community was "some sort of anarchist colony run, or financed, by the old lady whose name I forget who keeps the Freedom Bookshop," Orwell said. For Walter, this was quite a strange twist. "How nice to know that at the very end of his life Orwell was helped by a high-minded woman who was not only an anarchist but a pacifist, and also a vegetarian and a teetotaler," Walter said. "A perfect irony to close the case of Orwell and the anarchists!" Wolfe died in 1974, at the age of 98.
How does historical materialism affect animal liberation?
Socialist animalists should consider how, if at all, the materialist conception of history, an important facet of Marxism, affects their view of the way in which animal liberation can be achieved. To be clear, I'm using the term 'animal liberation' to mean an end to domestication and other forms of exploitation of other species by humans, or a situation as near to that as possible.
First it's important to understand what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels meant by saying they viewed history from a materialist perspective. "When we say that Karl Marx was a materialist, we don't mean that he hankered after possessions," socialist Paul D'Amato said. "And when we say that Marx was not an idealist, we aren't saying he didn't have ideas about how to change the world. In the history of the philosophy, idealism and materialism have very different meanings than their popular usage. They represent the two main divergent ways of looking at the world we live in."
D'Amato went on to explain the difference between these two divergent views. "For the idealist, the mind—or the spirit, in the form of God—is the origin of all material things," D'Amato said. "For the materialist, all of reality is based on matter, including the human brain which is itself a result of the organization of matter in a particular way."
attempts to trace changes in human economic and societal forms to changes in productive capacity and technology. In contrast, "most historical inquiry is arbitrary in that it fails to discover the key material factors that shape history," D'Amato said. "The idealist conception—that ideas shape history—is the least satisfactory because it is the most arbitrary. It cannot explain why particular ideas arise at a certain moment in history, or why at that particular moment in history those ideas were able to influence the course of events."
Scholars still debate the degree to which Marx and Engel's historical materialism was deterministic. One quote, for instance, from The Poverty of Philosophy, published in 1847, suggests Marx was a strong fatalist. "In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations," Marx said. "The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist." Similarly, Marx and Engels come across as hard determinists in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. "What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers," the pair wrote. "Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable."
Applying what might be called an overly-deterministic view of historical materialism to the possibilities of animal liberation, one might say that, like the triumph of the working class, an end to non-human exploitation is inevitable, but widespread anti-speciesism is impossible without the further development of technologies such as in-vitro meat, and thus animalist struggle is useless in the here and now. In my gloomier moments, this is certainly a thought that has passed my mind. But D'Amato cautioned against such an interpretation, drawing on quotes from Marx and Engels which support a greater degree of agency.
In 1852, for instance, Marx argued, "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past." Similarly, in 1890 Engels stated, "According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase."
D'Amato seemed to uphold the value of individual struggle by citing an observation made by Georgi Plekhanov, in which the Russian revolutionary asked why Marx and Engels would expend so much energy attempting to raise class- consciousness if socialism would be achieved solely through economic necessity. D'Amato summed up what he viewed as an accurate interpretation of the
materialist conception of history this way. "Ideas do change history, but only if they become material forces, supported by masses of people, and in conditions that make the establishment of new social relationships a real possibility," D'Amato said. "To put it crudely, the dream of a society that shares the wealth so that everyone can lead a decent life is merely a dream if the material means of producing that wealth aren't sufficiently developed so there is enough to go around."
So what are the conditions necessary for an end to non-human exploitation? What conditions, if any, are we lacking? How does the material conception of history affect our view of how animal liberation can be achieved?
Mecha, Tofu, and Revolution
(Author's note: what follows is a fiction, heavily based on and inspired by historian Isaac Deutscher’s “Prophet” series and painter Jakub Rozalski's "1920+" project.)
By Jon Hochschartner
Leon Trotsky sat in his Moscow office, sipping on his coffee and nibbling a vegan muffin as he read the morning paper. The year was 1918, and it was late November. Snow gathered on the windowsill, and a massive grey robot, a mecha, operated by a Russian worker inside it, plowed the street below. Trotsky was accustomed to the groans of the machine and the grinding of its plow, so it hardly bothered him.
Despite the cold, while reading the international news in Pravda, he felt warm with excitement. All of Europe seemed to be on the verge of revolution. Everything he had been working for his entire adult life seemed suddenly possible. Even if the international-capitalist class managed to quell this insurrectionary wave, it would go down in history as one of the greatest blows to carnism and private enterprise to date. In all likelihood, however, it would only be a matter of time before a Soviet Germany, and others, joined Russia in forming a pan-European, socialist federation.
Trotsky took a deep drink from his coffee mug as he gazed out of his frosted study window. Above Moscow’s skyline, stars faded in anticipation of the morning light. What a time to be alive, he thought to himself contentedly.
A few months later, alongside his comrade Vladimir Lenin, Trotsky oversaw a meeting of Left Socialist delegates from abroad. They met around a circular table in the basement of the Kremlin. Hot cider and freshly baked donuts, vegan of course, were served on the Tsar’s old china.
Laughing, one delegate spoke of stealing past a group of his government’s light mecha patrolling the country’s border. “And then I bolted for the forest,” the delegate said, through an interpreter. “The trees were too thick for ‘bots to follow me. Larger mechas could have done it —smashed right through — but not these!” Trotsky and Lenin guffawed along with him indulgently.
The not-so-humble goal of the meeting was to establish a Third International, a global association of communist organizations, or at least begin the process of this. When the group’s conversation drifted into apolitical banter, Lenin gently, but firmly, steered it back toward the formation of a new International, to replace that which disintegrated during and was so discredited by the recently-concluded, imperialist war.
Trotsky, wearing his signature pleather coat, peered out at the assembled delegates from behind his round, wire-rim glasses. Could this rag-tag group of about forty, who admittedly represented many more, change the world? He certainly hoped so. The testimony of the Austrian delegate bolstered this wish.
“The working class of Austria is on the brink of following the bold path of their Russian brethren,” she declared, as an interpreter translated her impassioned monologue for the receptive audience. “We must raid the barracks and arm the workers. With 1,000 mecha we could crush the reactionaries of our country and immediately begin the process of socialization and veganization.”
The other delegates broke into enthusiastic applause. The confidence of the representative from Austria was quite stirring and contagious. However, when the Left Socialist from Germany spoke, he quickly sombered the audience, much to Trotsky’s irritation.
“We must not forget what occurred in my country not two months ago,” the German said quietly through an interpreter. “A premature uprising led to the execution of our leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The Freikorps shot them in the street! Comrade Luxemburg’s body has still not been found.”
The German dabbed at his eyes with his handkerchief, presumably wiping away tears, before continuing on. “The sad truth is that the organizations represented at this meeting, aside from that of our hosts,” the delegate said, motioning toward Lenin and Trotsky, “are too weak to form a new International. We must be realistic.”
While Lenin and Trotsky were careful to treat the memory of Luxemburg and Liebknecht with the utmost respect, they argued against the German representative’s position forcefully. Ultimately, after much debate, the gathering agreed to form a Third International.
Of course, at the time, the newly formed Soviet republic was embroiled in a brutal civil war, which primarily pitted the Bolshevik Red Army against the conservative White Guard, who opposed veganizing and socializing Russia’s economy. It should be said that the Whites were supported by the Allied capitalist governments, who inserted over 100,000 soldiers and perhaps 2,000 mecha into the conflict. Explaining this, the British Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill, told the London press that the Marxist-animalist threat of Bolshevism had to be “strangled in its cradle.”
During that period, Trotsky was chairman of the Bolshevik’s Revolutionary Military Council, which put him in charge of the Red Army as a whole. The overwhelming amount of his time was spent onboard an armored train, carrying approximately 500 soldiers and 200 mecha, which criss-crossed through Russia, wherever the needs of the army might take him.
In 1919, on an evening in early August, Trotsky sat in his makeshift study aboard the rumbling train, which was hurtling through the Ural Mountains at a speed that was likely much too fast to be safe. Mikhail Glazman, Trotsky’s stenographer, was in a chair nearby, smoking a pipe and reading the train’s newspaper, printed on a portable press but a few cars back. The silverware, left over from the vegan kotley Trotsky had just eaten, rattled on the chairman’s desk. Stroking his goatee absentmindedly, he was clearly in a ponderous mood.
Much had changed since the formation of the new International, when one could believe revolution was imminent throughout Europe. Soviet Hungary and Bavaria had been crushed by counter-revolutionary forces. Perhaps the Bolsheviks’ strategy was all wrong, Trotsky thought, as he traced his finger across the map on his desk. “Mikhail,” Trotsky said, clearing his throat, “what if we are faced in the wrong direction? What if the road to a Soviet London and a Soviet Paris is not through the west? Could it be through the east?”
The wheels of Glazman’s mind were turning, like those inside a mecha. “We could exert far more influence in Asia than we might in Europe, at least for now,” the stenographer said cautiously, still mulling it over. But Trotsky had reached his conclusion. The chairman stood up, thumping his fist on the desk in excitement. “Mikhail, take this down!” he said. “I want to dictate a policy recommendation for the Central Committee. We must fundamentally reorient our perspective!”
An hour or so later, Glazman marched a few cars down to the train’s telegraph station. He dropped Trotsky’s missive in the outgoing stack of messages and presumably Trotsky’s memorandum was forwarded to the Central Committee, who ignored it. This did not weigh heavily on Trotsky. His political imagination was constantly firing in so many directions at once that, within a few days, he was onto the next thing and had almost completely forgotten his urgent, foreign-policy recommendation. Events in the west would soon demand the chairman’s attention.
Poland had agreed to an informal ceasefire with the Bolsheviks. But pressured by the French, who saw the interests of carnist-capitalism threatened by the Russian experiment, Poland reneged on the agreement. In early March of 1920, Poland attacked Russia. Hearing the news, Trotsky immediately diverted his military train and returned to Moscow, where he knew Lenin would need him. Trotsky was in such a hurry that a half dozen of the smaller mecha, awaiting repairs, were left in the field to be retrieved later.
The next night, Trotsky paced angrily about Lenin’s Kremlin office, as the head of the Soviet government sat passively behind his desk, listening. “Those bourgeois corpse-munchers!” Trotsky exclaimed, gesticulating wildly. “Did I not say the Poles would betray us?” Lenin nodded as he steepled his hands and sighed. “We have to crush them,” Trotsky said. “We have to hit them so hard, capitalists the world over will not think of such a thing again.” He got no resistance from Lenin. “I agree, comrade,” the Soviet leader said, wearily. “I’m only asking what you need.”
On an early day in June, a few miles from Kiev, Trotsky inspected a brigade of his Red Army that was preparing to assist in the retaking of the Ukranian city from Polish forces. Trotsky walked with the unit’s commander, surveying the 4,000 infantrymen and 200 mecha of various sizes standing before them. The chairman paused before a scouting mecha, approximately 20-feet tall. Craining his neck, Trotsky could see the driver inside the cockpit.
“How are the unit rations, soldier?” Trotsky shouted up. The mustachioed man in the upper innards of the machine was a bit taken aback the chairman was speaking to him, let alone asking his opinion of something. So his response was delayed. “They’re good, sir,” the driver answered. “None of that Romanov chow?” Trotsky continued, referring to the animal flesh served pre-revolution. “No sir,” the driver said proudly. This seemed to please Trotsky and he continued on, stopping occasionally to inquire about diesel and ballistic shipments, as well as buck up those soldiers who needed it.
“We must remember that this is not a nationalist war,” Trotsky shouted, in his eventual address to the whole gathering. “Our enemies are not the Polish people, but the Polish capitalists and landlords.” Thirty minutes later, when he’d finished his speech, Trotsky shook the unit commander’s hand, saluted the assembled troops, and boarded his train to inspect a regiment camped some miles away. In less then a week, the Red Army had retaken Kiev.
By July, there was debate within the Soviet leadership as to whether its army should continue into Poland. Lenin, Trotsky, and Joseph Stalin were eating in an otherwise empty Kremlin dining hall. It was late in the evening. “A few months ago, you told me we must crush the Poles,” Lenin said, putting down his fork, as he spoke to Trotsky. “That’s what a march on Warsaw will do.”
Trotsky, for all his militaristic bluster, did not believe the Red Army should enter Poland. “In 1917, we promised the Poles independence,” Trotsky said, paying no attention to the vegan shashlik on his plate. “Whatever provocations their ruling class engaged in, if we march on Warsaw, the Polish proletariat will think us no better than the Tsar.” Lenin waved his hand at Trotsky in exasperation. He turned toward Stalin, who was shoveling vegan stroganoff into his mouth, spilling a bit on his shirt and dipping his mustache in sauce. “What say you, comrade?” Lenin asked.
Ultimately the Soviet leadership voted to continue the offensive into Poland. As Trotsky predicted, the Red mechas marching through Polish towns were widely seen by the populace not as liberators, but as the latest iteration of Russian domination. On a mid-July afternoon, with his assistant Glazman, Trotsky sat in the audience of the second congress of the Third International held in Moscow. Since the previous year, the number of delegates to the event had swelled significantly.
Lenin stood before the assembled gathering, detailing Soviet advances into Poland on a large map. Since the conference hall was crowded and they sat in the back, Trotsky and Glazman could whisper without distracting notice from the presentation. “This is a disaster waiting to happen,” Trotsky said in frustration. “You can’t carry the revolution into another country on the barrel of a mecha’s machine gun.” Shortly after, he was proven correct. Polish forces routed their Russian counterparts in the battle of Warsaw.
It was a decisive victory for the Poles. Perhaps 100,000 Bolshevik soldiers were killed, wounded or captured. Soviet robots were also destroyed or appropriated in large numbers. Nearly twenty years later, it was common to see rusting Red mechas used as farming plows in the Polish countryside. The defeat was particularly frustrating for Trotsky because Lenin had spent decades insisting on the right to Polish independence, even when Marxist-animalists in that country opposed the idea from an internationalist perspective. In short, Lenin should have known better. By October, the Bolsheviks had made peace with Poland.
In February 1921, Trotsky was in the Ural region, supervising the Red Army’s construction of the Soviet Animal Sanctuary of Sverdlovsk. Gun turrets on the militarized mechas were replaced with fork-lift extensions, which were used to transport fencing and assemble barns. After the revolution, domesticated animals of Tsarist Russia were sterilized and placed in sanctuaries to live out their days free from human violence. However, as the civil war progressed, more animals were continually liberated as the White Army ceded territory to the Bolsheviks.
Trotsky stroked the head of a goat peaking her head through temporary fencing. She was such a gentle creature, he thought, before admonishing himself for his speciesist condescension. A Russian winter was hardly the best time to accomplish construction, but there was no other option. These animals needed shelter. Approaching from behind, Glazman interrupted Trotsky’s solitary contemplation. “Have you heard the news?” Trotsky’s stenographer asked.
As Trotsky turned, his eyes narrowed. He hadn’t. “The Red Army has marched into Georgia,” Glazman said. Trotsky was shocked. Nothing but vapor, visible in the cold air, escaped his mouth. Finally, Trotsky spoke, asking to no one in particular, “Has the Politbureau really not learned its lesson from the Polish debacle?” The nearby goat bleated, and he returned to scratching her chin.
“Apparently it’s on the advice of Comrade Stalin,” Glazman continued, not needing to mention Stalin was from Georgia and the Politbureau tended to defer to him on related matters. “He’s of the opinion a Bolshevik uprising with popular support has taken hold in the country.” Trotsky fumed. It was idiotic adventurism; why hadn’t he been consulted? “There’s no way such a rebellion has the backing of the masses in Menshevik Georgia,” Trotsky said. And it didn’t. A large force of Soviet mecha and ground troops took nearly two weeks to reach the Georgian capital of Tiflis, during which time the Red Army suffered substantial losses.
On his train, rattling its way back to Moscow, Trotsky read an account of the taking of Tiflis in Pravda. Eventually, he sighed and put down the day’s edition of paper. “I guess there’s nothing that can be done about it at this point,” Trotsky said glumly to Glazman, who agreed. “I’ll have to walk a fine line in my public statements. I can talk generally about the right of Russia to militarily assist genuine revolutions, but I won’t go into detail about the Georgian case.”
Glazman nodded. “I just can’t afford to make trouble in the Politbureau right now,” Trotsky said, almost apologetically. He looked out the train window, as the snowy countryside rushed past his view. “I should draft a telegram to Lenin though, about the need to treat the Georgians with a light hand,” Trotsky continued, pouring soy creamer into his coffee. “You know, a minimum mecha force in civilian areas and some respect for local leadership structures.”
Glazman stood up, holding onto the back of his chair for balance as the train shook, and grabbed his notebook from the table on which he’d left it. “Do you want me to take notes, sir?” Glazman asked. Trotsky nodded, sipping delicately at his scalding beverage, before he seemed to reconsider. “On the other hand, what’s the point?” Trotsky said, frustrated. “You can’t really put a pleasant face on occupation. The Georgians are going to see us as continuing the Tsar’s oppressive legacy either way.”
In December of 1919, the Russian economy was grinding to a halt. Conflict with the White Army had destroyed countless railroad tracks and bridges. Under a policy dubbed ‘War Communism,’ requisition squads, typically made up of a few dozen soldiers supported by a mecha or two, scoured the countryside, confiscating the peasantry’s agricultural surplus to feed the Red Army and urban populations. In reaction, peasants by and large stopped producing more crops than their families needed.
It was under these circumstances that Trotsky wrote to the Central Committee, proposing that the civilian workforce be organized on military lines. Lenin supported the idea. But it provoked heated opposition when the pair argued for the change at a conference of Bolshevik trade union leaders the next month. The meeting was held in a large hall on the second floor of the Kremlin. Looking rather uncomfortable, Lenin and Trotsky sat at the head of a long table, around which sat the labor representatives. Along the table were platters of vegan syrniki, beside a bowl of strawberry jam for dipping. The fritters, however, were largely untouched due to the heated nature of the discussion.
Fedor Ugarov, head of the mecha workers union, banged his fist on the table. “Trotsky wants to bring us back to the days of the Tsar, to military-run penal colonies,” Ugarov bellowed. “That’s what the militarization of labor means.” This prompted shouts of agreement. Lenin at least feigned interest in what the union leaders were saying, diligently taking notes on their diatribes. But Trotsky had removed his spectacles, and was rubbing his eyes with a pained expression.
Boris Kozelov, leader of the typographer’s union, was also against the proposal. “The Russian people are sick of war and the demands that come with it,” Kozelov said. “Comrade Trotsky has contributed immeasurably to the Soviet military cause. But he’s the last person who should be making policy for our civilian workforce.”
When it was Trotsky’s turn to speak, he argued the union representatives didn’t know the true danger facing Russia’s economy. “We are on the brink of disaster,” he said. “Was my discipline in the Red Army harsh? Sure. But I did what had to be done to save the revolution. And that’s what I hope to do now.” In the end, however, the conference voted almost unanimously against the proposal for the militarization of labor.
The next morning, Trotsky slumped into a pleather chair in Lenin’s office. He was not accustomed to such a rebuke. But it didn’t appear to have significantly effected Lenin, who asked whether he wanted coffee or tea. Trotsky shook his head. “Chin up, comrade,” the leader of the Soviet government said. “You mentioned the Revolutionary War Council of the Third Army, having completed its duties, doesn’t have the necessary transport to send its troops home at the moment. Why not transform idle units into a labor force? The unions surely won’t object to that.”
This hadn’t occurred to Trotsky. He worked through the implications out loud. “We could use it as a potential jumping-off point for the militarization of the civilian labor force,” he said. Lenin, who seemed to have already reached this conclusion, smiled and raised his coffee mug in a silent toast.
Placed in charge of the effort, in early February, 1920, Trotsky and his staff were aboard a train, en route to the Ural Mountains, where he planned to inspect the labor armies stationed there. It was late in the evening; his assistant Glazman had gone to his quarters to sleep. But Trotsky remained in his study, composing a notice for the train’s newspaper. He was putting the finishing touches on this piece when his makeshift office began to rumble violently. Trotsky could tell something was wrong. Then, with a crash, the car and all of its contents rolled onto its side as the train derailed.
A few minutes later, Trotsky regained consciousness. He was lying in the snow, where he had been thrown clear. The icy storm, which had caused the accident, whipped Trotsky’s face as Glazman shook him awake. It would take nearly ten hours for an agricultural mecha from a nearby village to come to the crash site, place the train back on its tracks, and right those cars which had tipped over. During this time, with the collar of his coat upturned against the bitter cold, Trotsky surveyed the scene gloomily. He wondered whether labor militarization could truly fix Russia’s economic ills.
When he returned to the capital, Trotsky accompanied Lenin on a ceremonial tour of the Soviet Animal Sanctuary of Moscow, as it was the only time that day when the leader of the government was free to speak with him. Inside a heated shelter, Lenin nuzzled in his arms a grey chicken, to whom he cooed. “We need to stop requisitioning the peasants’ surplus,” Trotsky said intently. “Until this crisis has passed, we need to let them sell their crops on the market. They won’t grow them otherwise.”
Lenin laughed, while delicately placing the chicken on the sawdust-covered floor with her counterparts. “You’re a free-trader now?” The Soviet leader asked mockingly. “What’s next? Let the muzhiks return to animal exploitation if it will temporarily earn their favor? Really, I’m surprised at you.” Lenin shook his head in disappointment, before asking one of the sanctuary staff to lead them to the next shelter.
With that rebuke, Trotsky returned to the position he was in before, seeking a solution to Russia’s economic problems within the confines of War Communism. Perhaps realizing he had been overly harsh in his criticism, Lenin requested Trotsky take over the country’s department of transportation, which, beyond the derailing of Trotsky’s train, was in disastrous shape. Lenin surely meant it as a compliment, despite the extra work it would require from Trotsky, who was already overseeing the civil-war effort.
“However you want to handle this, I’ll support you,” Lenin said in the Kremlin cafeteria, while dipping a vegan grilled cheese sandwich in tomato soup. “You’re my best man.” Ultimately, the methods Trotsky used to fix the railroad system — militarization of the transportation workers — did not spark significant outcry and thus did not require any intervention by the Soviet leader on their behalf. This lack of controversy was no doubt due to the war raging in Poland, which had a silencing effect on potential critics.
In late June of 1920, Trotsky, backed by a contingent of Red Army guards, lambasted the workers of the railway repair shop in Murmansk. “Your laziness is killing our brave comrades on the front!” Trotsky shouted at the assembled crowd of workers on the warehouse floor. “The Poles are on the offensive, because they know our transport system is broken and we can’t get mecha reinforcements where they’re need in time. That changes now.” Trotsky went on to outline a dramatic increase in the workers’ hours and pace. As he wound down his speech, someone pushed to the front of the throng and loudly objected to the plan.
Hoping to get a better look at this interrupting figure, Trotsky pushed his round, wire-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Who are you, comrade?” The man in question was wearing suspenders; the shirt underneath was covered in grease. He said he was the union representative for the warehouse. “Ah,” Trotsky said, understanding. “Well, thank you for your services. We will appoint a new leader for this repair shop.” Trotsky was prepared to exit the building, but this dismissal of the union figure provoked an audible ripple of displeasure through the crowd.
“Gentlemen,” Trotsky said, turning back to the group. “We are in the midst of a civil war. Capitalists the world over want to crush us like they did the Communards fifty years ago in France. I’m afraid that for Russian workers it will get worse before it gets better. That’s just the terrible reality.” With that, he walked out of the building, his military entourage in tow. Under Trotsky’s tight grip the Soviet railways were soon repaired.
It was in the wake of this success that he exceeded the mandate granted him by Lenin. Speaking before a congress of trade unions, Trotsky admitted — happily it seemed — that he would seek the dismissal of union leaders in any industry who considered the needs of their membership before those of the revolution as a whole. He was quoted saying so in Pravda, and when the story ran Lenin summoned him to his office in the Kremlin.
When Trotsky arrived there the next day, Lenin stood before a beverage cart, stirring coconut-milk creamer into his coffee with a metal spoon. Grigory Zinoviev sat in one of the pair of wooden chairs before Lenin’s desk, eating a warm bublik, fresh from the oven, and slathered with soy-cream cheese. Zinoviev was, among other things, chairman of the Third International. Upon hearing Trotsky enter, both men turned and greeted him genially. Lenin inquired whether he had eaten breakfast, but Trotsky was well aware this was not a social call, and asked the Soviet leader as politely as he could manage to get to the point.
Lenin sighed, and in placing his mug on his desk, spilled a touch of coffee on the day’s edition of Pravda. Trotsky couldn’t help but notice the paper was open to an article featuring continued coverage of Trotsky’s comments before the congress of trade unions. “Comrade, the Central Committee is going to have to distance itself from you, because of your statements,” Lenin said, motioning to Pravda. “In the current period, the most important thing is reasserting worker democracy in the labor unions. I’m appointing Zinoviev to head up a commission to see that this is accomplished.”
From his chair, Zinoviev smiled at Trotsky, simultaneously appearing pleased and apologetic. Lenin continued, “Going forward, the Central Committee requires that you not make public comments regarding the relationship of unions to the government. Do you think you can manage that?” Fuming, Trotsky chewed his lip, but nodded eventually. Lenin walked out from behind his desk and clapped him on the back. “You’re a good soldier,” the Soviet leader said. Placing the remainder of his bublik on a platter, Zinoviev rose and formally shook Trotsky’s hand.
In early March of 1921, Trotsky travelled nearby to Kronstadt, a Russian naval fort in the Gulf of Finland. An uprising had broken out there, led by anarchist sailors, who demanded free elections to the Soviets, among other things. The Politbureau had voted to subdue the rebellion with force. After having spent years marshaling his mechas against genuine counterrevolutionaries who sought to reestablish the old order, it felt undeniably strange for Trotsky to prepare militarily against those who had been his comrades just a few years prior. And yet that’s exactly what he did.
He established a makeshift center for military operations in a ramshackle building in Petrograd, about 25 miles from Kronstadt. The building was humming with activity, but Trotsky and Glazman had shut themselves away in a comparatively-quiet office on the second floor, heated by a wood-burning stove. Glazman sat in a chair, smoking his pipe, while Trotsky paced about the room, as was his habit when deep in thought. “Take this down,” Trotsky said to his stenographer. “To the rebels of Kronstadt: surrender immediately or face the full force of the Red Army. In the absence of such a concession, 30,000 loyal Bolsheviks and 500 mecha will flatten your irresponsible uprising prior to the thaw of the ice route to Kronstadt. There will be no further warnings.”
Gritting his pipe between his teeth, Glazman scribbled onto a notepad furiously, trying to keep up with the dictation of his superior. Trotsky paused before his desk and bit into a bitter green apple. “How does the telegram sound?” Trotsky asked, after he finished chewing. Glazman nodded approvingly. “It’s strong and clear,” he said. “I’ll send it out tonight.”
The leaders of the rebellion never responded. So in a few days, Trotsky ordered the Red Army to take the naval fortress. Only light mecha, generally used for scouting expeditions, were deployed, as Trotsky feared the larger, more heavily-armed models would fall through the ice. As it was, the machines involved in the assault were kept well away from the infantry units. That way, if the mecha did break through, they would not take additional men with them.
As the Red Army approached Kronstadt, the rebels showered them with gunfire. Wave after wave of Trotsky’s troops were killed as bullets pierced their flesh and cracked open the ice beneath them. Countless Bolshevik infantrymen drowned. And scores of mecha sank into the watery depths; their operators scrambling to escape the leaden weights dragging them downward. But the Red Army was relentless and had numbers on its side. On March 17, a mecha equipped with a battering ram smashed down the Kronstadt gates. Trotsky’s soldiers poured inside the fortress, slaughtered the remaining rebels, and the mutiny was put to rest.
A few days later, Trotsky participated in a victory parade through the city’s streets. Bundled in a heavy winter coat made of faux fur, Glazman was beside him. The Kronstadt residents, who watched the long stream of Bolshevik soldiers and mecha march past their houses, looked angry and haggard. Trotsky seemed determined not to notice the hostility of the populace. “I wish you wouldn’t wear that mock-Romanov jacket,” Trotsky said to his assistant. “It glamorizes speciesism.” Glazman shrugged.
For some blocks, the pair walked silently within the parade formation before Trotsky appeared willing to discuss what was truly on his mind. “So much has changed here since 1917,” Trotsky said, speaking of Kronstadt almost wistfully. “It was a hotbed for the revolution. Every time I came, the sailors gave me a hero’s welcome. And now…” He rambled off. Glazman looked at his superior’s face, which seemed to betray deep, emotional conflict. The stenographer wondered: could Trotsky, the fiery orator, the steely defender of the revolution, be having doubts? It appeared so.
“What does a working-class revolution do when it loses support of the working class?” Trotsky asked pensively, as if speaking only to the cold breeze. “It seems to me that you either give up power and the gains of the revolution, or you hold onto them both tightly and trust the working class will come back around and you’re operating in their best interests. I don’t see another way.” They continued walking in silence until Glazman couldn’t stand it any longer. “But the rebels didn’t want to give up the gains of the revolution,” the stenographer said.
Fitfully, Trotsky adjusted the budenovka hat upon his head. “No, they didn’t,” he conceded. “But do you think the anarchists could run this country? Do you think they could have won the civil war? No one but the Bolsheviks could have held Russia together. Our revolution is the greatest socialist-animalist experiment in history, and we have a duty to see it continues, whatever it takes.” Glazman mulled this over as the parade wound through the streets of Kronstadt. Was Trotsky trying to convince him, Glazman wondered, or himself?
On an early-April evening in 1922, Trotsky had settled in for the night at his family’s apartment in the Kavalersky building. His wife Natalia Sedov sat in an armchair, reading a history of Jainism, while their two teenage sons sat cross-legged on the floor, hunched over a game chess. Trotsky was adding a log to the fire, when there was a knock at the door. “I’ve got it,” Trotsky said pleasantly, before Sedov could get up. At the door was Lenin, who lived with his own wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, down the hall.
“Comrade, I’m sorry to disturb you,” the Soviet leader said. “Can we talk?” Trotsky nodded, waved reassuringly to his family, and stepped into the corridor, shutting the door behind him. With his hands stuffed in his pockets, he waited for Lenin to continue. “I’d like to make you deputy chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars,” the Soviet leader said.
Trotsky was not pleased with this idea, as under it he would be one of three vice-premiers. “You want to put me on the same level as Rykov and Tsuropa?” Trotsky asked incredulously, referring to the heads of the Commissar of Supplies and the Supreme Council of National Economy, who he regarded as lesser revolutionaries. “Meanwhile, Comrade Stalin has all the real power as general secretary of the party!” Lenin, realizing that Trotsky’s pride had been wounded, insisted that Trotsky would, despite appearances, be his genuine second in command. “Absolutely not,” Trotsky said, storming back to his apartment. “I won’t take the post.” He slammed the door behind him.
Approximately a month and a half later, Trotsky sat at his desk in the family apartment. He was poring over a progress report of the Soviet sterilization plan for cattle, jotting his own notes in the margins, when Sedov entered the study, holding a telegram. “Have you heard the news?” His wife asked. Trotsky hadn’t; he shook his head. “Lenin suffered a stroke,” Sedov said mournfully. “He’s partially paralyzed on his right side.” Trotsky was dumbstruck.
Trotsky was finally allowed to visit Lenin at the Moscow hospital four days later. Propped up by a pile of pillows, the Soviet leader lay in bed. Krupskaya sat in a nearby chair. She was attempting to dab a small amount of soy yogurt mixed with birch syrup into Lenin’s mouth when Trotsky entered the room. Lenin grimaced in what one must assume was an attempt at a grin while Krupskaya stood to greet Trotsky.
“Thank you for coming, comrade,” Krupskaya said. “I know he wanted to see you. He still can’t speak, but if he really focuses, he can write for short stretches of time.” Trotsky squeezed her hands in a way he intended to express his sympathy and support. Krupskaya offered a pained smile, before turning back to her husband and asking if he needed anything. Lenin shook his head as best he could and Krupskaya left the room.
Trotsky sat down in the chair beside the Soviet leader’s bed. “I’m so sorry this happened,” Trotsky said. Lenin motioned toward the pad and paper on his beside table. Trotsky retrieved these and placed them on the Soviet leader’s lap. So they began the tedious process of communicating. Lenin was in a gloomy mood; he believed his death was near. Half an hour later, Krupskaya returned with a doctor, who asked Trotsky to leave so the Soviet leader might rest.
In July of 1922, Trotsky and his family visited Lenin and Krupskaya in Gorki, a locality situated a few miles outside the city limits of Moscow. Lenin had been released from the hospital on the condition he dramatically curtail his work load. So he’d retreated to a palatial estate in Gorki which had been socialized during the revolution. Krupskaya and Sedov shared drinks in the living room. The children played outside while Lenin, who had recovered most of his faculties, and Trotsky watched from a porch bench.
“I’d still like you to take the vice-premier position,” the Soviet leader said eventually. “It will create a good counterbalance to Comrade Stalin’s power as general secretary, if anything happens to me.” Trotsky sighed in frustration. “Can’t we talk about something else?” Trotsky asked. “It’s a beautiful afternoon. The doctors say you’re not supposed to worry so much about these things now.” But Lenin wouldn’t accept this. The discussion was important, the Soviet leader insisted. “You could use the post to take on the bureaucratic misconduct you are always complaining about,” Lenin said enticingly.
Trotsky snorted. “The problem is the misconduct originates from the general secretary,” he said. “You can’t take it on so long as he’s in charge.” Lenin hushed him, shaking his head. “I wish you wouldn’t let your personal animosity towards Comrade Stalin cloud your judgement,” the Soviet leader said in disappointment. “He’s a vital part of what we’re accomplishing here and I rely on him.”
The issue of Trotsky’s appointment to vice-premier was raised again at a Politbureau meeting in mid-September of that year. The group met in the Kremlin, outside of which a construction mecha was loudly demolishing a slaughterhouse which had, prior to the revolution, operated on behalf of the inhabitants of the fortified compound. Every so often, the gathering of the Soviet leadership was forced to temporarily pause discussion, as they couldn’t hear each other over the sound of crashing bricks and wood.
Sitting at the head of the table, Stalin smoked a pipe, and flipped through a stack of papers before him. “The next order of business is filling the position of deputy chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars,” he said acidly. “The Politbureau should know that Comrade Lenin telegraphed me — from his sick bed — asking that Trotsky be given this post. So, whatever I or others might think of the choice, I move that we honor Lenin’s request.”
Those seated around the table turned to Trotsky, who was eating a plate of vegan pelmeni. “As I’ve made clear, I can’t take the position,” Trotsky said impatiently. “I’m scheduled soon for a vacation and am swamped with work in preparation for the next congress of the International.” Outside the Kremlin’s walls, the construction mecha sifted through the debris of the former abbattoir.
Stalin struck a match to relight his pipe. “Those are just excuses,” the general secretary said, before dipping the flame onto the packed tobacco. “This isn’t meant to be a temporary appointment. The job will still be here when your vacation and work for the congress is done.” Trotsky glared at Stalin, who, he was sure, knew from the outset Trotsky would not take the position. The general secretary smiled back, as if chummily. Trotsky reiterated that he would not take the post.
Stalin turned to the rest of the Politbureau, trying to hide the pleasure this result gave him. “In that case, I move that the Politbureau officially censure Comrade Trotsky for dereliction of duty,” the general secretary said in a regretful tone. Trotsky gritted his teeth and forced himself to swallow the remainder of the pelmeni in his mouth. “All in favor?” Stalin asked. Everyone present, except for Trotsky, raised their hands. Trotsky fumed.
A week into December of 1922, Trotsky received a telegram from Krupskaya saying that Lenin sought his presence in Gorki. So the next day, Trotsky headed to the outskirts of Moscow where the semi-retired Soviet leader lived. It was a beautiful afternoon. The landscape was buried in snow but the temperature was warm enough that Trotsky stuffed his hat and pleather gloves away in his pockets. When he reached the entrance of the mansion, Krupskaya answered the door. With obvious frustration, she said that, ignoring the advice of his doctors, Lenin was in the nearby forest, harvesting firewood in a lumber mecha.
Following a trail of compacted snow, Trotsky found the machine and its operator half a mile away. Struggling with the mecha’s controls from a pilot seat twenty feet off the ground, Lenin guided the robot’s sawing arm back and forth across the base of a thick balsam poplar. “Comrade Lenin,” Trotsky yelled. It took a few more shouts like this for the Soviet leader to hear him over the sound of the machine. But finally he waved in acknowledgement. Lenin lowered his chair to the ground and shut down the mecha.
After unbuckling himself and standing up, Lenin shook Trotsky’s hand. “It’s good to see you, comrade,” the Soviet leader said. Trotsky asked Lenin about his health and castigated him for not listening to his doctors, before they got down to business. “You know how I feel about the vice-premier position,” Lenin said. “There’s nothing new there. I just hope you might reconsider the offer in light of what I have to say.”
The Soviet leader continued, explaining that he had been following Stalin’s actions through Pravda and accounts provided by visitors to Gorki. Lenin had come to the conclusion that Trotsky was right. The general secretary was amassing too much power and often used it in an unprincipled way. “At this point, I’m prepared to offer whatever help I can in my present condition to root out the bureaucracy,” the Soviet leader said. “I’d like to form an alliance with you on the matter.” Trotsky was surprised by Lenin’s apparently sudden change in perspective, but happy about it. He readily agreed.
A week later, Trotsky was in Vladivostok, which had only been taken by the Red Army in October, inspecting its newly established animal sanctuary, built just outside the city. Trotsky walked the grounds with the facility’s director. “I’d like to see the indoor shelters expanded,” Trotsky said. “The living quarters for the goats in particular seem too small.” At this point, his assistant Glazman interrupted, announcing the news that had arrived by telegram. Lenin had suffered a second stroke.
In early March of 1923, Lev Kamenev, another member of the Politbureau, met with Trotsky in a Moscow restaurant, mostly frequented by English-speaking expatriates, called ‘Oswald’s’ after the Scottish Jacobin and animalist. While taking their orders, their waiter was starstruck upon recognizing Trotsky, who waved off the man’s praise politely. Kamenev went unnoticed but didn’t seem troubled by this. Kamenev was a quiet, bookish revolutionary. Further, Trotsky suspected that, due to political tensions, he did not want this meeting between them to be known by others on the Politbureau.
After the waiter retreated to the kitchen to communicate their order of two vegan pizzas, Kamenev began. “Lenin has severed all personal and political ties to Comrade Stalin,” Kamenev said, referring to the Soviet leader who, after his most recent stroke, was confined to a wheelchair. “Apparently, Stalin insulted his wife, Krupskaya.” As Kamenev explained, Lenin had dictated a letter to Krupskaya for Trotsky, in violation of his doctor’s injunction against political work. When Stalin heard this, he confronted Krupskaya, angrily calling her a ‘syphilictic whore,’ among other things.
“I think he’s worried you’re forming some kind of bloc with Lenin,” Kamenev said. “You wouldn’t be up to anything like that, would you?” Trotsky shrugged; Lenin wasn’t much use bundled up in Gorki anyway. Kamenev nodded, and finally the Politbureau members’ pizzas arrived. Kamenev folded a soy-cheese slice in half and took a large bite. “Wow, this is good,” he exclaimed as grease dripped onto his beard. A few days later, Lenin suffered a third stroke which left him bedridden and mute.
In late April, Stalin was reelected as general secretary of the party at the annual congress of Bolsheviks. Trotsky did not oppose him. A week later, in early May, Trotsky and his assistant were out for a walk through Moscow, as the pair sought to clear their heads, having read reports of mecha readiness all morning. Trotsky pulled the brim of his cap low on his face in the hopes of not being recognized. Glazman struggled to keep up with his superior’s aggressive pace.
“I don’t understand why you didn’t move against Stalin at the conference,” Glazman said, huffing and puffing. “You could have crushed him. People were complaining about a lack of inner-party democracy. You had Lenin’s backing.” Trotsky sighed heavily and kicked a stone down the sidewalk. “I’m not sure if you are aware of this,” he said sarcastically, “but Comrade Lenin can’t get out of bed, let alone speak. He hasn’t been to a Politbureau meeting in some time.”
This wouldn’t suffice for Glazman. But Trotsky had Lenin’s letters on the matter, the stenographer insisted; he could have reproduced them. However Trotsky still felt an unspoken loyalty to the Politbureau that held him back from publicly criticizing its other members. “Glazman, the revolution is in a supremely fragile state with Comrade Lenin ill,” Trotsky said, as they walked past a bakery. “Now’s not the time for division. Plus, everyone seems to suspect that I’m pining for Lenin’s position. And I don’t want to encourage that impression. It’s unseemly.”
Trotsky and Glazman sidestepped past a small mecha that was sprinkling dirt on the still icy sidewalks to provide pedestrians with traction. Trotsky nodded in acknowledgement to the operator, who had paused her work so as not to spray the pair with earth. Glazman seemed to be losing patience with his boss. “But you know Stalin has no such compunction,” the assistant said. “He’s been using his position to sack local and regional secretaries and replace them with those loyal to him. It’s only a matter of time until you are completely isolated.”
In October of 1923, the director of the political police, Felix Dzerzhinsky, spoke before a session of the Politbureau. During the civil war, Dzerzhinsky was infamous for employing machine-gun mecha for the mass execution of counterrevolutionaries. His comrades generally acknowledged the necessity of his work, but found it unsettling. Following a strike wave and calls for greater Soviet democracy, Dzerzhinsky was now asking the Politbureau to order Bolsheviks to report other party members who were hostile to the leadership.
“Look, you want me to quash the discontent?” Dzerzhinsky said. “You want me to arrest those fomenting it? Well, this is the tool I need. I question party members — even the Old Guard — and they refuse to give up any names. They’re sympathetic. I think this is a bigger problem than you’re aware.”
Later, in the Kavalersky building, while his wife and two sons slept in the adjoining rooms, Trotsky began to write a critical response to Dzerzhinsky’s request. That the Politbureau would even have to consider such a draconian measure was a mark of how out of touch the Bolshevik leadership had become with the masses. No doubt others on the Politbureau would point out Trotsky had overturned trade-union leadership in the period of War Communism. But Stalin’s actions were on a completely different scale, and besides, the civil war was over, Trotsky thought, gazing out into the Moscow night.
A week after Trotsky submitted his Dzerzhinsky response to the Central Committee, in mid-October of 1923, the same body received a statement signed by 46 Bolshevik leaders condemning the bureaucratization of the party and calling for increased internal democracy. While Trotsky was not one of the piece’s signatories, it was suspiciously similar in its wording to many of the criticisms he had made, so he was called before an allied group within the Politbureau made up of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev.
They met in a Kremlin conference room. The trio sat on one side of the table and Trotsky was on the other. “Come clean, Comrade Trotsky,” Zinoviev said accusingly. “Did you organize this?” Trotsky shook his head. That much was true. He had known the salvo was coming and certainly did nothing to dissuade those who wrote it. But he didn’t orchestrate the thing’s creation. Zinoviev leaned in toward Trotsky. “You know it would be a violation of party discipline if you had, right?” He asked.
“I didn’t do it,” Trotsky insisted flatly. Zinoviev fell back in his pleather chair in frustration, as Kamenev seemed to silently implore Trotsky not to mention their meeting at Oswald’s. Stalin chewed an apple while glaring at Trotsky with a look of pure hatred. Finally, the general secretary turned to Zinoviev. “We can’t sweep this under the rug,” Stalin grumbled. “The party members who signed the statement are too prominent and respected. What if, in a gesture of good will, we temporarily opened the Bolshevik papers to debate?” Kamenev gasped. It was a bold proposition. “After three years without it?” Zinoviev asked. “It will be a madhouse.” Stalin shrugged. He didn’t see any other solution.
In early December, in an effort to blow off steam, Trotsky and Glazman spent a day at the Red Army’s mecha shooting range outside Moscow. Trotsky operated a scouting mecha and was doing the firing, while his assistant managed a construction robot, retrieving the thick logs they used as targets after his superior knocked them down. Both machines were over two-stories high. “If you want the trio to continue down this road of increased democracy and freedom of expression, you have to keep applying pressure,” Glazman yelled, as he maneuvered his mecha’s pincers around a slab of wood, riddled with bullet holes, and placed it atop a boulder. “I think you need to write an open letter, explaining your position, to all the party meetings in the country.”
The stenographer directed his machine backward, trudging through a deep snow bank. He signaled Trotsky when he was safely out of the line of fire. From the pilot seat, tucked into the scouting robot’s midsection, Trotsky adjusted his control stick before pulling the trigger, releasing a barrage of machine-gun fire. The log was instantly slammed off its perch, exploding in shards of bark and dust. “The Politbureau would accuse me of breaking rank and who knows what else,” Trotsky said hesitantly. “It would get ugly.” Glazman couldn’t disagree there.
The initial reaction to Trotsky’s open letter, in which he demanded more power and freedom for rank-and-file party members, was overwhelming. Glazman came to the apartment, while Trotsky was still eating breakfast with Sedov and their children, to show his superior the large stack of supportive telegrams. “This one’s from the director of the Soviet Animal Sanctuary of Petrograd!” The stenographer exclaimed gleefully, holding a piece of paper aloft. “And this one’s from the Red Army’s chief political commissar!”
But the response from Zinoviev, Stalin, and Kamenev came the next day in a piece the trio coauthored in Pravda. As Trotsky expected, they accused him of hypocrisy and irresponsible individualism, among other things. Huddled by the newsstand nearest the Kavalersky building, he shook with cold as his wife read aloud the relevant sections of the morning paper. “‘Trotsky, the voice of the omnivorous petty-bourgeois, engaged in no such handwringing about democratic rights when Comrade Lenin banned opposition parties and Bolshevik factions during the civil war,'” Sedov repeated. “‘He’s merely frustrated that the Politbureau has blocked him from playing the role of Bonaparte in our Marxist-animalist revolution.'”
In early January of 1924, Sedov insisted her husband see a doctor. Stalin and his countless government appointees had been publicly condemning Trotsky for nearly a month, and she worried he was sinking into a depression. The physician who saw Trotsky recommended he take a holiday to the sea-side resort in Sukhum, where he could escape the cold and political furor of Moscow. “I hear they make fantastic Mimosas,” the doctor said, while Sedov nodded encouragingly. Trotsky was reluctant to go, as it would mean missing the Bolshevik’s thirteenth party congress. But, exhausted by the controversy surrounding him, he agreed. On January 18, Trotsky boarded a train for the Caucasian Coast of the Black Sea.
N&LC member talks species politics
Daniel Read is affiliated with the News and Letters Committees, a socialist organization founded in 1955. He recently agreed to an interview in which he discussed his conception of anti-speciesist leftism.
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?
Daniel Read: I’m most certainly a Marxist, although at the risk of sounding pretentious I’d qualify that in specifying allegiance to the more humanistic side of Marx. So Marxist-Humanist is likely the correct term.
JH: Can you describe what involvement, if any, you’ve had with the organized socialist or anarchist left?
DR: Well I’m currently 31 and have been involved in left politics, to one extent or another, since I was about eighteen. Initially I was a member of the Utopian-orientated Socialist Party of Great Britain, although in retrospect that was a youthful reaction to observing the rather empty-headed “activism for the sake of activism” ethos of more sizable groups such as the Socialist Workers Party, which at that time was very much the first port of call for those looking to get a taste of political dissent, despite how unhealthy and problematic that organisation turned out to be. I subsequently found a home in several other groups such as the Communist Party of Great Britain and the International Marxist Tendency, although in the case of the latter I was compelled to leave due to that group’s rather extreme attitude towards factionalism and internal democracy. As such I’m, unsurprisingly, affiliated to a group known as the News and Letters Committees, which is primarily based in the US, and ascribes to the Marxist Humanism prolifically espoused by one of its founders,Raya Dunayevskaya.
JH: How have your views regarding animals been received on the socialist or anarchist left?
DR: It’s usually met with indifference, although a hostile reception is not unknown. I’ve come across the idea that the concept of animal rights is “petty-bourgeois”, although this term is so heavily and abstracted employed as a method of abuse on the left that it often means essentially nothing. Generally my political stance towards animals and agriculture, as well as my ethical perspective on the consumption of meat/diary, is seen as just a personal lifestyle choice – like my penchant for wearing high-collared jackets – which is actually rather depressing.
JH: Does your organization have any official position on animal exploitation of any kind? If not, is this something you would like to change? If so, how might you do this?
DR: I think there is some potential here, although as such N&LC does not appear to have any official position on animals, agriculture and so forth. I’d very much like us to develop some kind of orientation towards such issues, given that we generally have a very open organisational praxis. Generally when one enters a political organisation you necessarily find that there is no clean slate when it comes to the ideas and prejudice that necessarily builds up within a population often in receipt of some form of net benefit from the operations of imperialism. I’m not saying this is what’s happening in my group, in fact what I had in mind is the more extreme occurrences that I know of within British Trotskyism – the recent scandals regarding rape accusations and general sexism in the SWP comes to mind – but one thing I have come across is that just because somebody believes in revolutionary objectives in the abstract doesn’t necessarily mean they are willing to practice such a thing in the concrete.
I’m thinking again of my experience in other organisations, where what’d you see is a very “top down” relationship between rank and file members and the leadership, which often liked to think of itself as some kind of intellectual elite (and would frame arguments as such) yet would practice distinctly reactionary methods in the day to day course of running an organisation. I think the point I’m trying to make is that it’s very easy to say you want to change the world when change is still a long way off, and your commitment to that change remains purely in the realm of rhetoric. Ascribing to the moral notion that animal life has inherent worth requires some form of immediate commitment in terms of the choices you make each day, and you’ll often find that’s something people find problematic, even when they regard themselves as a “revolutionary”.
JH: Is there any way in which speciesism is used to further human class exploitation? If so, how?
DR: What I find happens is that the violence enacted upon animals reflects back onto us in a distinctly moral and political sense; people become accustomed to having violence inflicted upon others for their own benefit, and psychologically they externalize that suffering through the act of objectifying the suffering subject as being outside of the sphere of moral concern i.e “they deserve it,” “it’s just an animal”, “they’re terrorists” or, a more extreme example in terms of imbecility “they shouldn’t have blown up the twin towers” and so forth.
And it doesn’t stop at animals; it most certainly is not the case that those living in an imperialist nation, such as the UK, will suddenly freak out in absolute moral indignation at the ongoing behavior of this country and the suffering engendered by our foreign policy. We ignore it and trivialize it in much the same way we ignore and trivialize the pieces of hacked up animals lining our shopping basket. If a population accrues a certain material benefit from an exploitative practice it will often display a remarkable degree of moral hypocrisy when challenged on such a front; the common retort of “I like eating meat, it tastes nice, who cares about animals” is often accompanied by an equally callous opinion on the plight of, say, Bangladeshi garment workers who will have likely labored to clothe the fine individual expressing such opinions.
What’s more, the absurd amount of meat demanded by populations in the imperialist centers directly impacts upon the lives of those in the peripheries of the global economy. Land seizures, land clearances, destruction of natural environments to make way for cattle grazing and so forth, plays a serious role in the destruction of indigenous economies and the reshaping of internal markets, or their outright annihilation as is often the case. An interesting comparison can be drawn here between the potato blight that impacted upon much of Europe in the middle of the 19th century – the native Irish were by and large expected to subsist, and did subsist, on a largely plant-based diet, potatoes of course, and continue to export produce, including animal products, to the imperialist center, Great Britain. Yet given that the Irish agricultural economy had largely been reworked precisely to satisfy the import demands of the British ruling class (with Irish landowners of course in tow) this economic relationship had little regard for the material well being of the native population. This isn’t something that has just vanished, and it’s not surprising at all that nation’s with a sizable amount of “food insecurity” continue to export agricultural produce, including dead animals, as part of a subservient relationship to the global north that is strikingly similar to the Irish-British dynamic of the 19th century.
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?
DR: Potentially, yes it is, although I’d say that “personal veganism” is often the beginning of a valuable attempt to grapple with fundamental questions regarding oppression, resistance and emancipation. It doesn’t always go this way, in fact I’ve come across some vegans who will honestly state that they care nothing for humans, even when witnessing horrific suffering on the part of sentient beings that just happen to be homo sapiens. This is obviously more a position entertained by the psychologically deranged, although it must be said that sometimes it’s a product of a general attempt to withdraw from a reality irrefutably stamped with human activity – an activity which, of course, is often intensely unsettling – and seek refuge in kind of deification of the natural world that flies in the face of reality.
Veganism itself, however, is something I find to be politically and ethically revolutionary in potential, for reasons already stated in terms of economics and imperialism, but also in the simple capacity to empathise. Capitalism is not an empathetic system; it directly chips away at human beings in a multitude of ways, dragging everything down to the commodity relation and a simple interaction between buyer and seller, regardless of what horrors are spawned in the process. Veganism can cut around that, allowing people to take hold of personal ethics in their day to day existence and abstain from participating in a dynamic that views oppression and death as routine, or actually desirable if you can make money from it. In that respect veganism can be deeply empowering, yet again in potential it can only prove “revolutionary” once we expand that “ethic of caring”, for lack of a better term, into the political sphere. As to whether this is akin to claiming that you can only be concerned about fossil fuels by refusing to drive, I would say there is obviously a connection there, but in terms of the scale of suffering prompted by a carnist diet each and every day, I’d say there is a quantitative difference here.
JH: Is a vegan capitalism possible? Why or why not?
DR: Potentially, although I find it unlikely that such a thing will ever exist. Outlets selling veganism as a “lifestyle choice” often do very well financially, Whole Foods for instance, yet even these establishments will quite happily sell butchered animals alongside their “ethical” produce. It’s the case that veganism can be accommodated well enough within the system, assuming the individual vegan adopts the peculiar “I hate humans” mindset already mentioned and is perfectly happy to respect animals yet participate in a system that harms people. This is certainly possible, but only if one removes the revolutionary potential inherit in sympathising with those who are the most helpless, the most vulnerable, and indeed often the most exploited and affronted by the operation of the capitalist system, those of course being animals. I find it hard to imagine, for instance, the US having an entirely vegan population yet not changing in a very real, very fundamental way in regards to attitudes towards racial minorities, women, the environment and, of course, it’s role in the global economy. For hundreds of millions of people to make a moral decision to value the lives of pigs and cows yet maintain the same psychotic disconnect when it comes to the peoples of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the abomination of nuclear weapons is, in my view, pretty unlikely.
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?
DR: Super-exploited living commodities is, off the top of my head, the term I would prefer to use, given that, to a Marxist, the proletariat necessarily sells its labor power to capital for the purpose of accumulating surplus value. This is obviously something that only humans are able to do, and so for the sake of clarity I’d prefer to avoid describing animals as part of the proletariat, although no doubt Hribal frames the argument with some sophistication that I’m probably not being entirely fair to.
As such I would stand with Torres, as animals occupy the frightening position of not just being viewed as commodities when they are alive, as human labor power is also, but of having their physical bodies intimately tied to the use value inherent in their status as a commodity. You could argue humans may experience a similar degradation, women in prostitution in particular quite literally sell their bodies to the predations of others, yet with animals it’s something very specific where their manifestation as a commodity involves their physical annihilation. The lines are necessarily blurred, however, what with the alarming proliferation of human trafficking and the literal murder and dismemberment of human victims by organ traders, but in terms of scale and frequency animals constitute “living commodities” in a manner far removed from the experience of most humans.
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?
DR: I’m actually surprised Seymour said this, given his admitted penchant for Louis Althusser and all the joys that come with that. I’d have to learn more about the context in which Seymour argued this, although at a glance I’d certainly agree. As to how and why such a relationship is “under theorized” I’d have to say there are a number of factors, although the moral disconnect that “First World” populations have when it comes to the consequences of their lifestyles and politics certainly plays a role.
The reduction of any and all beings to the status of a commodity is undeniably a prime cause. Even Marxists will quite happily fawn over a cute kitten obtained like any other salable item yet then, ten minutes later, purchase and consume the flesh of a cow. Animals as “living commodities” vary in the nature of their utility the same way any other commodity – a car, chair, hat etc – does, but where as a chair owes it’s entire non-sentient existence to human activity, a “food” animal only manifests its use value through the destruction of it’s own agency – literally in most cases – and as such the entire process takes on a directly oppressive, often murderous character. Why this is not more obvious I have no idea, but a potential cause among the left in particular is the human-centric focus on which Marx and Engels based much of their writings. As we both know Engels in particular had an incredibly unsettling attitude to animals, and I hardly think it’s “revisionist” or “petty bourgeois” to distance ourselves from that. It is interesting though in that Marx came fairly close to the absurdity of how capitalism treats both humans and animals when it came to England and the question of land enclosures, as in the human population in rural areas becoming depleted – largely to provide cheap labor in the cities -, but also to make way for…sheep farms. Marx spits some venom at the bourgeoisie here, but obviously doesn’t make that qualitative leap in terms of analyzing the extreme and deliberate proliferation of animal life as “living commodities”.
It's hard to be looney on the "looney left"
I'm a socialist and an animal-rights advocate. I also live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
After hearing about my mental health challenges, a typical reactionary comment might be: "Well, I should have known you were a nut from your politics!" (Of course, the joke's funny because one would have to be crazy to support an egalitarian society or to oppose killing animals for gustatory preference.) The fear of having my perspective easily dismissed in this way is one factor that has, in the past, led me to delay and sometimes altogether avoid getting the
psychological support I need.
Those who are outside the mainstream are frequently pathologized. And because those on the far left of a particular issue are, by definition, outside the mainstream, it's no surprise that pejoratives used against progressives are often couched in terms of mental illness. One hears phrases like "the looney left" all the time on right-wing radio, for instance. Thus a situation is created in which radicals who suffer from psychological problems are reluctant to admit their trouble for fear of confirming conservative criticism that their politics are not based on principle but on mental instability.
Progressive writers, while respectful of mental-health issues, seem all too aware of the potential unwanted implications that leftists with psychological trouble would represent. I'm very, very far from an Encyclopedia Brown of socialism or animal rights. But I've read a bit. And off the top of my head, I can't think of a single significant radical figure who has been identified as suffering from psychological
trouble. This is surprising, even assuming those who rise to leadership positions are least likely to be those in mental distress, given what we known about the frequency of mental health problems in the general population.
I can only assume a history of women and men working for change with the burden of mental health problems exists, but progressives choose to not to discuss it for fear the left is at the moment so weak it can't bear the additional
stigma. Whether this realpolitik is justifiable in today's conservative climate, I don't know. But it has been unhelpful for me and I imagine many others.
The potential of leftists with mental health problems having their politics pathologized is quite real. I experienced this during the breakdown that led to my diagnosis with OCD intrusive thoughts. To be fair, this was done less by mental- health professionals and more by my family, who believed they were acting in my best interest.
To understand this, one must know a little bit about scrupulosity, which is often described as "OCD plus religion." The classic sufferer might repeat a prayer thousands of times a day in the hope of thinking or saying it in just the "right" way. The Catholic Church has long been aware of this destructive phenomenon of hyper-morality and one could speculate that significant figures, such as the founder of the Jesuits, who confessed petty sins unceasingly for hours and couldn't bear to step on pieces of straw that formed a cross, as he feared doing so was blasphemous, were sufferers.
As our society has become more secular, psychiatrists are beginning to diagnose obsessive adherence to non-religious ideological systems as scrupulosity. And here's where it gets complicated. I believe at times I have been pathologically scrupulous in my commitment to socialism and animal rights. Now, this might give you the impression that I am or was some kind of perfect progressive. But that would be inaccurate and represent a misunderstanding of how OCD works.
First, scrupulous obsessions often focus on completely meaningless things, as shown by the example of avoiding the crossed straw. Second, OCD sufferers often avoid what triggers their obsessive thoughts because the mental and behavioral compulsions associated with them are simply too exhausting.
For instance, most people would assume that those who engage in cleaning rituals have immaculate houses. This isn't always the case. Sometimes their hygienic compulsions become so burdensome they will allow their living spaces to degenerate into squalor rather than engage their obsessions.
"If something dropped on the floor I couldn't pick it up again," one poster
on OCDForums.org relates. "If I did pick it up I went into cleaning compulsions."
In a similar way, at various times in the past I have avoided politics altogether, often moving intentionally in reactionary directions, because I knew from experience that engaging with progressive thought could bring me to
create arbitrary, hyper-moral, and increasingly restrictive rules for myself that would eventually lead to a nervous breakdown.
But the difference between those with a religious scrupulosity and those with a leftist strand (such as mine) is that sufferers of the former are never counseled to give up religion altogether. Instead, they are encouraged to adopt a less draconian and more self-tolerating faith. I, on the other hand, was encouraged to avoid political activism completely. My family, for instance, discouraged me from publishing broad critiques of capitalism in our local newspaper and argued
with me when I decided to resume my veganism, which I had given up in the immediate wake of my breakdown. I don't blame them for this, especially considering the amount of heartache my turmoil put them through. But I think their position needs to be examined within a context of religious ideology today being mainstream and therefore sane, and socialist and animal rights ideology being outside the mainstream and thus potentially pathological.
OCD is often described as pathological intolerance of doubt. This can be seen in how I am most comfortable in being completely politically committed or, conversely, totally disengaged. I am uneasy in the uncertain middle ground that most of us belong to. It's going to be a long-term struggle for me to learn to tolerate that uneasiness and find balance, without either engaging in a self- destructive, impossible search for political perfection or abandoning my ideals entirely. Still, my OCD affects only my expression of my political ideals, not their essence.
I'm a socialist and an animal rights advocate with mental health challenges. My politics are not a symptom of my disorder.
We need new anti-speciesist imagery
I’d like to talk a little bit about the symbolism and imagery the animalist movement and its socialist and anarchist subsets use to represent themselves. Specifically, I’d like to examine the paw-and-fist design and the employment of green as an emblematic color, both of which I find lacking.
Some may view this discussion as a little superficial. And to a degree, they’d be right. But I also genuinely believe this kind of symbolism and imagery is important. If it wasn’t, capitalists wouldn’t spend billions of dollars a year on advertising campaigns. So I’d argue we should learn from our enemies and consider these sorts of things with some amount of seriousness, as they have an effect.
So I’d like to look at the paw-and-fist design first. If you have spent even a brief amount of time in the animalist movement you are surely familiar with it. The design features what appears to be a dog’s paw raised aloft, alongside a clenched human fist. This is often superimposed over a five-pointed star, which is associated with socialism. I’m not sure who originally came up with this design. If they happen to read this, I hope I don’t offend them. But I’m not a big fan of this logo, even though it seems to be one of the more widely used symbols the animalist movement has produced.
My problems are with the paw. First, it appears to be that of a dog, beings that are generally exploited as companion animals. The socialist animalist Henry Stephens Salt argued, “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.” I’m sympathetic to this.
That said, I often feel that as bad as pet ownership on the whole may be for dogs, in general it’s not as bad as, say, animal agriculture is for chickens. Humans are socialized to view dogs with a greater degree of respect, little as it might be. Additionally, the population of beings exploited as food animals is exponentially larger than that used as companion animals. For these reasons, to me it seems opportunistic or just plain inaccurate to attempt to use a dog to represent the non-human struggle.
Beyond this quibble, the pose of the dog’s paw just looks unnatural and anthropomorphic. One finds it hard to imagine a situation in which a dog would raise his paw in such a manner. It appears uncomfortable. And while the clenched fist is a recognized symbol of human resistance, an aloft paw has no such association. Were the dog to rebel against his human owner, a raised paw would presumably not be the form such resistance would take.
Now I’d like to move onto the color green as a symbol of anti-speciesism. Again, I’m not a big fan. If someone out there thought it up and I hurt their feelings here, I’m sorry. But I suspect this link arose more organically, with no one originator. One can see examples of the connection between the color and the ideology in designs such as that which features the word ‘vegan’ superimposed over a green star, or that which contains twin black and green flags surrounded by the words “anti-speciesist action.”
Again, anti-capitalist symbolism, such as the five-pointed star of socialism and the black flag of anarchism, is evident. But both on the far left and in society more generally, green is associated with environmentalism, which is in no way popularly understood to be synonymous with anti-speciesism. However, perhaps we are not a large enough movement to ‘claim’ a color for ourselves, as socialism has done with red, anarchism has done with black, and environmentalism has done with green.
Socialist sheriff candidate Angela Walker discusses species politics
Angela N. Walker is running as an independent socialist for the office of sheriff in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. She recently agreed to an interview in which she discussed her campaign and perspective on animal issues.
Jon Hochschartner: Why are you running for the office of sheriff specifically?
Angela Walker: I am running for sheriff because Milwaukee needs a shift in the way things are addressed here. We are a city in need of a focus on social justice versus “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” We need help here, and a different perspective. I believe I can be helpful.
JH: How would you describe your economic politics?
AW: I believe in planned economies where the needs of people are provided for without profit motive. I believe in workers being at the center of all work-related decision-making.
JH: Why should those concerned with the treatment of animals vote for you?
AW: My concern for the treatment of animals is reflected in purchases and decisions I make. I avoid buying things that were made by companies who conduct animal testing, as I view the practice as unnecessary cruelty. I will never support factory farming, animal testing, animal fighting, or any other form of abuse and exploitation. SeaWorld will never get me in. I think that all living things have a right to their lives and are entitled to respect even when grown for food. I’m not a strict vegetarian, but am primarily vegetarian. I think people who care about the treatment of animals can feel good about voting for me.
JH: In practical terms, if elected, how could you better the treatment of animals?
AW: I can use my platform to speak out against the exploitation and abuse of animals, and to advocate for their responsible and humane treatment in all areas. Wild spaces need to be left alone, habitats need to be respected. Human settlements need to be planned with environmental and animal impact in mind.
JH: For you, how, if at all, are the fights for economic justice and better treatment for animals intertwined?
AW: For me, economic and environmental justice are intertwined. We can not keep upsetting the balance of nature and its creatures and think all will be well for us as a species. A large part of caring for the environment is respecting the creatures who inhabit it, everywhere they are. This planet and its creatures do not exist for anyone’s profit.
Animal exploitation in Hobbit production
Besides overseeing the creation of a remarkably dull film, from a Marxist-animalist perspective, the capitalists behind “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” were unusually brutal on their non-human workforce. As many as 27 animals involved in shooting — including horses, chickens, goats and sheep — were killed.
Based on a section of a 1937 novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, the film was released in 2012 and made over one billion dollars at the box office worldwide. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it was only the 15th film, not accounting for inflation, to pass this milestone.
Like the human actors, grips, and camera operators, the animals involved in the movie’s production were laboring toward the creation of a commodity, an astoundingly profitable blockbuster. Unlike their human proletarian counterparts, however, the animals did not sell their labor power to Warner Bros. or related subcontractors under the pretense of free choice. Rather, the animals themselves were commodities. Their labor power was sold all at once, unlike the proletarians’ whose labor power was sold to the studio or others in increments.
According to an Associated Press story, animal wranglers involved in the film “said the farm near Wellington was unsuitable for horses because it was peppered with bluffs, sinkholes and broken-down fencing. They said they repeatedly raised concerns about the farm with their superiors and the production company, owned by Warner Bros., but it continued to be used.”
Animal wrangler Chris Langridge told the news agency that a horse named Rainbow had broken his back and was given a lethal injection as a result. Wrangler Johnny Smythe said a horse named Claire died after falling from a bluff. According to the Associated Press, “the six goats and six sheep [Smythe] buried died after falling into sinkholes, contracting worms or getting new feed after the grass was eaten. He said the chickens were often left out of their enclosure and that a dozen were mauled to death by dogs on two separate occasions.”
So why weren’t these hazards addressed? One must assume that the capitalists in charge of production hoped to increase the animals’ surplus labor. Surplus labor is work over and above what’s called ‘necessary labor,’ that used to create the equivalent of the animals’ livelihood. The movie-industry capitalists might have achieved this by making the animals produce absolute surplus value, which is obtained by increasing the overall amount of time laborers work in a particular period.
But in disregarding their animals’ welfare, these capitalists were making their non-human labor force create relative surplus value. Relative surplus value is produced by the lowering the amount of work dedicated to necessary labor in proportion to that dedicated to surplus labor. So in choosing not to spend the money needed to create a safe environment, the capitalists were extracting a greater percentage of profits from their animals.
Ultimately, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the American Humane Society gave Peter Jackson’s fantasy epic a passing grade on its treatment of animals, stating that the organization had “monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action.” This despite the fact Smythe tried to get the AHA to investigate the animal deaths incurred by production of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
Again, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “An AHA official told him the lack of physical evidence would make it difficult to investigate. When he replied that he had buried the animals himself and knew their location, the official then told him that because the deaths had taken place during the hiatus [in filming], the AHA had no jurisdiction.”
HSUS’ Paul Shapiro discusses alliances with labor
Paul Shapiro is the vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States. He agreed to an interview with me in which he discussed alliances with the workers’ movement, among other things.
Jon Hochschartner: You recently coauthored a piece with the vice president of the United Farm Workers. How can the animal movement develop a better relationship with the labor movement, so we might work together on issues we agree on?
Paul Shapiro: Factory farms are terrible places to be a farm animal, and they’re also bad places to be a farm worker. There’s a reason turnover is so high at these facilities. Not only is it physically draining to work inside animal factories, but the mental toll which comes from being around such violence all day long is also quite serious. One need only peruse Human Rights Watch’s report on the working conditions for slaughter workers, for example, to know that these are very dangerous jobs.
So there should be a good amount of common ground between those seeking to help farm animals and those seeking to help farm workers. That’s one reason The Humane Society of the United States regularly works with the United Farm Workers on joint efforts. We’ve also partnered with other workers’ rights organizations to challenge a particularly inhumane poultry slaughter method that also causes traumatic injury to workers.
These are just a couple examples, but certainly there are more.
JH: For you, how, if at all, are the campaigns against worker and animal exploitation linked?
PS: They’re linked in many ways. For example, many dairy farm workers don’t want to perpetrate cruelties against cows, but are forced to do so to remain in their jobs. They sometimes have to cut the cows’ tails off, and without any pain relief for the animals. This practice causes substantial animal suffering, and yet many dairy workers still are compelled by management to do it, despite the fact that they don’t want to.
In other cases, workers who are treated poorly may sometimes in turn take out their frustrations on animals, leading to a cycle of violence. And yet in other cases, such as in conventional poultry slaughter, the very method of slaughter which is so terrible for the birds also increases the risk of injury to workers compared to other methods which cause less animal suffering.
JH: How do you respond to those animalists who argue the species politics of the Humane Society are too conservative?
PS: There’s a reason the meat industry routinely attacks HSUS above any other organization in the animal movement. The editor of Pork Magazine, for example, says, “HSUS won’t go away; in fact it has gained strength. It has the formula down and will replicate its strategies within the pork sector as well as across the agriculture sector.” And the editor of Egg Industry magazine seems to agree, writing in 2013 that “The Humane Society of the United States is a formidable adversary for all of animal agriculture.”
JH: Does the Humane Society have any sort of democratic mechanisms so that those animalists who are dissatisfied with the organization might help steer it in a more agreeable direction? If so, can you describe these mechanisms?
PS: HSUS policies are largely determined by our board of directors, and board members are elected by a vote of the HSUS membership.