It is my experience that an awful lot of anarchists have cats. I, with two cats as well as a dog, am one of them. It is also my experience that a considerable amount of anarchists are vegetarians or vegans. I am not one of them.
In the short term, this is of no consequence. The main anarchist centre in Liverpool is a vegan space, but I never feel excluded from there. The place has a lively, welcoming atmosphere, and many people who are not vegans go there without feeling excluded. After all, if I want to eat something which contains meat, I can quite easily go somewhere else.
But what of the longer term?
There seems to be little crossover between “veganarchism” and class-struggle anarchist communism. For the working class, daily contending with the realities of life under capitalism, animal liberation can appear the pursuit of middle class hippies. Meat eating, animal rights, and “speciesism” seem to have no direct bearing upon their lives.
How true that perception is, and where (if anywhere) animal liberation fits into anarchism is a topic that deserves some exploration.
In its most basic form, there are few who would disagree with the concept of animal rights. It goes almost without saying that it is immoral and inhumane to needlessly harm, torture, or kill animals just as it is to do the same to human beings. Acts of cruelty towards animals are often become prominent human interest stories for the outrage that they (rightly) evoke from people. This extends not just to individual incidents, but also to institutional practices such as the production of Foie Gras, battery farming, vivisection, hunting, and fur.
Ritual slaughter is also an issue, though not always from an animal rights perspective. For example, many on the right (exemplified, though not exclusive to, the fascists of the far-right) wonder why animal liberationists don’t get so worked up about Halal meat. For example, the Pub Philosopher theorises that this “middle class protest” is “motivated, in part, by a desire to rebel against something but not to take too great a risk,” and that “Muslims are far less docile” than “the employees of the research companies, or the fox hunters.”
In fact, this is a strawman argument. When Asda trialed Halal meat back in 2007, both Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (VIVA) and the RSPCA were quick to condemn it. VIVA’s opposition to Halal is explained in-depth here and the RSPCA’s here (PDF). Moreover, such an argument in fact exposes the double standards of the right, who themselves are largely dismissive of animal rights concerns. Their outrage over Halal is not matched on the subject of the far more brutal practices of Foie Gras, and they often support practices such as fox hunting.
So where does anarchism fit into this?
Obviously, anarchists oppose the exploitation and abuse of animals by the capitalist system, and would argue that cruel and unreliable tests on animals would not occur without the financial incentive to perform them. But some would go further. The term “veganarchy” arose from Brian A. Dominick’s pamphlet on Animal Liberation and Social Revolution (PDF), which made the case “that any approach to social change must be comprised of an understanding not only of social relationships, but also between the relationships between humans and nature, including non-human animals.” At the same time, he stated that “no approach to animal liberation is feasible without a thorough understanding of and immersion in the social revolutionary endeavour.” In other words, the struggles of animal liberation and anti-capitalism are intertwined and have the same ultimate goal.
This is true in the sense that dismantling the systems of hierarchy, domination, and exploitation will lead to a world where animals are not subject to abuse and exploitation. It becomes contentious when the question is raised of what exactly a person means by “animal liberation.” It is here where I disagree, quite strongly, with the veganarchists.
Choice and morality in eating meat
In his Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence, Leo Tolstoy wrote that since “a man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food,” by eating meat “he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.” His sentiment is echoed today by many others. In On Vegetarianism, Elisee Reclus argued that “for the great majority of vegetarians…the important point is the recognition of the bond of affection and goodwill that links man to the so-called lower animals, and the extension to these our brothers of the sentiment which has already put a stop to cannibalism among men.”
More contemporaneously, this view is summed up in the slogan “meat is murder,” and by the more extreme view that the meat industry amounts to an “animal holocaust;”
Mass extinction is not the only human scourge on animals; animals live in a continuing holocaust. The Animal Holocaust is the mass destruction of animals by humanity and is a direct comparison with Nazi mass murder, particularly of Jews. The animals most often referred to in the Animal Holocaust are domesticated animals that people raise for food. However, more generally, Animal Holocaust victims include any animals and their populations that humans control, systematically abuse or destroy, such as fur-farmed animals, laboratory animals and free-living wild animals.
The Animal Holocaust resembles the Nazi perpetrated Holocaust in the use of business-like mass slaughter, mediated by transports, factory farms (concentration camps) and slaughterhouses (death camps). Other pertinent comparisons are performing experiments on inmates and turning inmates into commodities, such as skin goods and soap. Perhaps the most telling comparison is the contempt for the victims’ humane treatment and the widespread disregard for their rights. People today generally do not think of animals as beings who are mutilated, tortured and slain and see them merely as ‘animals’, there for the purpose of satisfying human needs.
In response to the argument that “the juxtaposition of Holocaust and Animal Holocaust has angered many people and organisations who see it as an inappropriate and corrupting comparison, tasteless and trivialising because of humanity’s (assumed unique) moral basis,” the author responds that “the comparison shows that humanity has the attitude and practical capacity to destroy beings on a vast scale.”
There is a case to be made against the mass-production farming and slaughter of animals that occurs at present. However, I would argue that this is not a case against the idea of eating meat at all, but against the over-production and over-consumption that are products of the capitalist economic system.
As Red & Black Revolution argue in Meat ‘n’ Veg ‘n’ Microlivestock;
Raising animals is not the most efficient use of agricultural land. But a lot of land is not suitable for other forms of agriculture. Animals can be raised in forests, or on the side of mountains, and in areas where the soil is too poor for crop production. Many animals can be reared alongside crops, and others, like poultry, are well suited to small scale farming. Turning over whole prairies to cows for grazing is certainly inefficient, but that’s not the only way to farm animals.
If farming in general still constitutes an act of calculated murder, then it must be noted that the entire evolution of our species is built upon it, the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural society being a key point in our development. If we go back further and say that hunting (for food, not for sport) is wrong, then we must condemn all of the carnivorous animals in nature. Not to mention those other species which, being omnivorous and able to survive without meat, still choose to kill for food.
Of course, I am not condemning the choice of people to be vegetarian or vegan. Nor am I condemning their no doubt sincere efforts in making the arguments as to why this is a better way of living. What I am condemning is the idea that those who choose to eat meat are immoral, without any deeper analysis or a distinction between the act of eating meat and where it might come from.
Then there is the hypocrisy, real unlike that conjured against animal rights activists by the far-right, which certain vegan groups display over the killing of animals;
Hypocrisy is the mother of all credibility problems, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has it in spades. While loudly complaining about the “unethical” treatment of animals by restaurant owners, grocers, farmers, scientists, anglers, and countless other Americans, the group has its own dirty little secret.
PETA kills animals. By the thousands.
From July 1998 through December 2009, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) killed over 23,000 dogs, cats, and other “companion animals.” That’s more than five defenseless creatures every day. PETA has a walk-in freezer to store the dead bodies, and contracts with a Virginia Beach company to cremate them.
Of course, PETA represents a different strain of the animal rights movement than those who argue that the meat industry are engaged in an animal holocaust. I am not using the former’s actions as an argument against the latter’s stance – my point here is perspective. I can agree that the mass slaughter of animals, racing ahead of the consumptive demand for meat, is wrong and needs to be addressed. However, it is not the actual act of using animal flesh for food that is the problem, and indeed if the issue is needless slaughter then the unwillingness of the largest vegan campaign group in the world to take care of the animals placed with it is more deserving of condemnation alongside the multinational meat industry than those who enjoy steak.
Rights and suffering
Those who hold to the abolitionist strain of the animal rights movement would call this “welfarism.” That is, they believe that seeking such things as humane slaughter amounts to “promot[ing] longer chains for the slaves and call[ing] that incremental change.” Instead, they say that “all sentient beings should have one right: the right not to be treated as our property.”
The argument against the rights-based approach, whether seeking a broad set of legal rights or the singular right not to be owned, is that the concept of “rights” is unique to the human condition. In the animal kingdom, instinct and survival rule. Often, as Peter Kropotkin argued, this translates into mutual aid and compassion – the need for survival of the pack, tribe, or species often over-riding the self-preservation of the individual. But the inverse of this is the instinct to hunt, and to kill, in order to maintain that survival.
This is where the case for “speciesism,” as a phenomenon to be overcome, falls flat. Speciesism undoubtedly exists, as we can see when a cat kills a mouse for food, or when a father rescues his child from a burning building first rather than the family dog. But few would argue that this is morally unacceptable. Indeed, a man who brought a dog out of a fire whilst leaving his child behind would be seen as, at best, insane.
There are plenty of instances where species becomes irrelevant as a factor, such as herbivores of several species travelling together for safety against a predator, the reciprocal bond between humans and their pets, or the existence of Ligers and Prizzly Bears. However, such cooperation occurs in tandem with competition and speciesism, rather than as a counterpoint to it, and the limits of each behaviour are defined by nature and instinct. Humans are the only species which can consciously choose whether or not to be speciesist – and even here there remain limits imposed by familial bonds and evolutionary social constructs.
In place of the rights-based approach, which is clearly flawed in several ways, we have utilitarianism. Nature itself is utilitarian, and so the contradiction of “rights” – that only humans can put them into practice – disappears. The Cartesian argument that animals do not feel pain – responsible for so much barbarism in the past – is a nonsense. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued, the key fact is that animals are sentient;
[Here] we put an end to the time-honoured disputes concerning the participation of animals in natural law: for it is clear that, being destitute of intelligence and liberty, they cannot recognize that law; as they partake, however, in some measure of our nature, in consequence of the sensibility with which they are endowed, they ought to partake of natural right; so that mankind is subjected to a kind of obligation even toward the brutes. It appears, in fact, that if I am bound to do no injury to my fellow-creatures, this is less because they are rational than because they are sentient beings: and this quality, being common both to men and beasts, ought to entitle the latter at least to the privilege of not being wantonly ill-treated by the former.
Giving animal legal rights is a wasted endeavour, as they cannot even in theory exercise those rights, but the fact that they can suffer imposes on us an obligation of care not to force unnecessary suffering, pain and torment on them any more than we would upon our own species. This includes random acts of cruelty, barbaric blood sports, inhumane farming and food production practices, and the euthanasia of perfectly healthy animals. It does not, in my opinion, justify the enforcement of veganism upon humans any more than it does another omnivorous species. It also does not preclude keeping pets as companions, as long as they are treated with the care and affection one would treat any other familial dependent.
Making an argument for a meat-free lifestyle, even a meat-free society, is not the same as enforcing such through coercion, and those who strongly believe in such should advocate their position if they can do so lucidly. It is through education, not war or policing, that ordinary people will change their actions.
Animal liberation, direct action, and “ecoterrorism”
But what of the institutions that harm animals? Obviously, there needs to be pressure by protesters if anything is to change, and a push towards environmentally sustainable production methods that do not harm animals. But does this justify what the authorities call “terrorism” and “animal rights extremism?”
If ecoterrorism means harming individuals, such as research scientists or factory farmers, then the answer is unequivocally no. Bringing harm against others, without the justification of self-defence, is not acceptable. The most notorious animal liberation group – the Animal Liberation Front – agree with me on this front. They stipulate that “anyone who carries out direct action according to ALF guidelines is a member of the ALF,” and these guidelines are quite explicit in the purpose of such action;
- To liberate animals from places of abuse, i.e. fur farms, laboratories, factory farms, etc. and place them in good homes where they may live out their natural lives free from suffering.
- To inflict economic damage to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals.
- To reveal the horror and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors by performing nonviolent direct actions and liberations.
- To take all necessary precautions against hurting any animal, human and non-human.
- To analyze the ramifications of any proposed action and never apply generalizations (e.g. all ‘blank’ are evil) when specific information is available.
The fourth and fifth point are important, as they are in line with the anarchist position on nearly all matters. The ALF state explicitly that “the ALF does not, in any way, condone violence against any animal, human or non-human. Any action involving violence is by its definition not an ALF action, and any person involved is not an ALF member.” As such, “in over 20 years, and thousands of actions, nobody has ever been injured or killed in an ALF action.” Under such conditions, and noting the caveats outlined above in regard to capitalist production, freedom of choice, and utilitarianism over the idea of animal “rights,” I cannot condemn direct action “ecoterrorism.”
As to whether the cause represents a distraction from the class struggle, that is for individuals to decide when taking up activism for their own causes. Personally, I would argue that it is not something that can simply be dismissed. A perspective on harm and suffering caused to sentient beings is necessary when we are standing opposed to capitalism, which has institutionalised such harm and suffering on the back of the profit motive. The issue of how corporations such as McDonalds and KFC treat the animals they use can be tied in with the issue of how they treat their workers.
What animal liberation anarchists must not do is lose sight of such a perspectives. In doing so, they only open the way to attacking the individuals who have to work within it rather than the system itself, and they become the violent zealots that the authorities would have us believe all animal liberationists are.